Posted on 18-05-2014
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

India’s month long election process finally came to an end last Friday.  Everyone expected the ruling coalition led by the Congress to lose and the Bharatiya Janata Party coalition to win or become the largest grouping in the new parliament.  The actual margin of victory was unclear.

After 10 years in power the Congress government was drifting aimlessly.  Corruption scandals had sapped its credibility.  Economic growth had slowed down, and the government was unable to offer up a meaningful economic program short of blatant populism.

Meanwhile, the BJP had anointed the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its standard bearer.  Even though he was tainted by the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, Modi was able to point to the stellar economic performance of Gujarat on his watch and his acumen as an administrator.  In contrast, all the Congress Party had to offer was a hapless bumbling dynastic scion, Rahul Gandhi.  As the Congress declined in the last few years, the BJP and regional parties had stepped into the void.

Then there was the newest player in the political scene, the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party.  The 2014 elections came too soon for the party to take advantage of a population tired of the coruption that permeates all parts of Indian life.  And as it turned out, the AAP would be a bit player in the emerging “Tsunamo”.

As the image below shows, the results were breathtaking.

2014 Indian Lok Sabha Election Results (Source: Wikipedia)

2014 Indian Lok Sabha Election Results (Source: Wikipedia)

The BJP won…and it won Big.  For the first time since 1984 a single party won a majority in Parliament.  For the first time since 1984, a pre-election coalition won over 300 seats.  The once mighty Congress party was reduced to less than 50 seats, which due to a constitutional quirk requiring 10% of seats to recognize a leader of the opposition means that the position will stay vacant for the first time since 1989.

The map shows how the BJP reached victory by winning close to 100% of the seats in its base states.  While it won relatively few seats along the eastern seaboard, the BJP made deep inroads in the vote count that should unsettle the ruling regional parties.

Yet the results in Punjab, show the potential pitfalls for the BJP if it fails to deliver.  Punjab is ruled by a coalition of the BJP and a Sikh party the Shiromani Akali Dal.  The incompetent Akalis are unpopular and so is the Congress.  As a result, the fledgling Akali Dal won its only 4 seats in Punjab – a sign for the AAP that should it gets its act together, there is political space to for the party to grow.

For the ruling Congress, the results could be a death knell.  Reliant on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, the party has been allergic to any other politicians with mass appeal.  Yet the unimpressive scions on offer leave them little hope but to pray for the BJP to stumble.

When he takes office this week (likely on Wednesday), Narendra Modi will become the first Prime Minister of India born after independence.  He will also be the first non-Septuagenarian/non-Octogenarian to hold the office in 18 years.  India’s youth bought into his promise of change and getting India working again and with a comfortable majority in Parliament he will have all the opportunity to succeed.  Yet, his party does not hold a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, whose consent is needed on certain legislation.  Many of the problems facing India also fall under the power of the states.  In Gujarat, Modi operated as a one man show.  He will now have to learn to play nice with others.

Modi brings with him a feeling of euphoria in the aftermath of a national election not seen in decades.  His personal story of rising to the top from an economically disadvantaged background makes his thumping of India’s most enduring dynasty even more compelling.  India’s stock markets have shown their excitement by jumping to new peaks.

Congratulations Mr. Modi.  Good luck as you get to work. Don’t eff it up.

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In a rare moment of decisive action the Indian government hanged Ajmal Kasab, the surviving Pakistani terrorist from the 2008 26/11 Mumbai attacks.  The last couple of years have seen tedious posts in this blogger’s Facebook feed with friends whining that the Indian government managed to do _____, “BUT KASAB IS STILL ALIVE.”  A few weeks ago when Kasab fell ill in prison with rumors of dengue fever, snarky comments that a mosquito may manage to do what the Indian government could not proliferated.

The reality is that there never was much chance of Kasab receiving a reprieve from the hangman.  He was captured on photograph participating in the Mumbai attacks.  He had been abandoned by his home country Pakistan.  Even with India’s reluctance to use the death penalty, no Indian government would have dared to pardon the most notorious criminal in Indian custody.  It was only a matter of time before the bloodlust of the mob was sated.

While no tears need to be shed for his fate, Ajmal Kasab was merely the vicious tool of murderous masters.  The Pakistani terrorists in the 26/11 attacks received their instructions from handlers in Pakistan – almost certainly handlers from Pakistan’s rogue spy agency the ISI.  The wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba that supplied Kasab and his terrorist brethren from Pakistan’s lost underbelly has merely changed its name and its leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed still roams free.

Pakistan reluctantly admitted the nationality of Kasab, but has done little else to curb its support of terrorism as a tool of state policy.  The aftermath of the Osama Bin Laden raid has pushed some of these activities underground for now but nothing has been done to curb the flow of available recruits to the terrorist recruiting mills.  Even the outrage over the Malala Yousafzai attack has not led to any concrete steps on the ground.

Pakistan is essentially a failed state.  Its state security agencies still shelter the Taliban and Kashmiri jihadist fronts.  Its policies towards its neighbors on the west and the east are largely negative.  Its corrupt civilian government has little legitimacy.  The judiciary appears to have overreached and has lost the heroic halo from its role in bringing down the Musharraf dictatorship.  The army has indicated that it is not subject to any civilian oversight.  The state has no control over large parts of the tribal north-west.  Rebellion simmers in Baluchistan.  Nobody seems to have any control over what the ISI is up to.

Indians woke up today to the news that Ajmal Kasab has been hanged.  While they celebrate they should remember that his ISI handlers still roam free.

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Posted on 20-11-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

“Vae, puto deus fio” (Dear me, I must be turning into a god.)

– The emperor Vespasian on his deathbed.

One wonders whether Bal Thackeray (obituary here) uttered some similar sentiments.  Evidently the Maharashtra police seem to think that a new deity has been added to the Hindu pantheon.  In the latest assault of free speech in India, a mild Facebook rant and a Facebook like ended with the arrest of two students.  The “offensive” post questioned why the whole city of Mumbai was forced to shut down on the death of a private citizen when national heroes were ignored.  The resulting criminal charge was “hurting religious sentiments” of Thackeray’s followers who followed up the police complaint by ransacking an orthopedic clinic run by the original poster’s uncle – which does bring up the question why Shiv Sena goons keep trashing hospitals…but i digress.  The terrified young women have withdrawn the post and apologized for the temerity of engaging in free speech.

Indian civil society and social media is now up in arms and the state government has promised strict punishment “if the policemen are found guilty” – i.e. nothing will happen.  The Shiv Sena thugs are typically unrepentant.   India has lately been showing a depressing tendency to crack down in free speech on social media.  Many colonial era laws enacted to suppress dissent have been retained by India after independence to preserve communal harmony.  The result is a thin skinned populace that runs to the police every time anything remotely offensive gets uttered.

This is creates a mockery of India’s guarantee of free speech. As previously noted on this blog, freedom of speech implies the freedom to offend – otherwise it would not be a freedom that needed codifying.  In India, thin skinned crybabies are using loosely drafted laws to suppress any dissent.  This is rapidly becoming a gut-check moment for Indian democracy.  Will it retain the liberal free speech traditions embodied in its constitution and encouraged by its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru?  Or will it continue down the road traveled by his grandson Rajiv Gandhi – whose government was the first to ban Rushdie’s Satanic Verses?

So far India’s vibrant civil society has loudly challenged such free speech violations.  Yet India’s politicians and their (sometimes uniformed) thugs continue to persist in such conduct.  Without stringent electoral and legal consequences for such acts, Indian free speech will remain under siege.

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Posted on 20-11-2012
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

He was originally a cartoonist by trade.  He never held political office.  He was reviled, hated and feared by millions.  Yet the death of Balasaheb Keshav Thackeray brought India’s commercial capital Mumbai to a standstill.  Two million people (including many of India’s film, commercial and political elite) attended his funeral which included state honors and a 21 gun salute.  The state of Maharashtra was shut down, partly from respect and more so from fear of his thuggish followers.

Thackeray’s claim to fame and power was his political party the Shiv Sena which he founded in 1966.  His virulently anti-communist party was originally encouraged by the state’s ruling Congress Party as a rival to Mumbai’s dominant communist trade unions. It was also a nativist regional party that tapped into the resentment of native Maharashtrians who felt displaced by immigrants from the rest of India (particularly South Indian Tamils, Marwaris and Gujaratis).  It also aggressively embraced Hindu causes and engaged in Muslim baiting.

The Sena’s rise to power was steady, winning control of the Bombay municipal corporation in the 1980s and the Maharashtra state government (in alliance with the BJP) in the 1990s.  However, the Sena could not stay at top of the peak.  Power brought factional infighting and later a split as Thackeray designated his surviving son Uddhav as his successor instead of his thuggish but more charismatic nephew Raj.  Raj Thackeray founded his own political party which split the Sena vote and prevented a return to power at the state level.

Thackeray attained national notoriety in the 1990s when his party was accused of causing the anti-Muslim Bombay riots in 1993.  Over the years he shocked the intelligentsia by professing admiration for Hitler and engaging in crude Muslim bashing.  He was even briefly stripped of his right to vote for soliciting votes with inflammatory statements.  Yet Thackeray had a strong base of support from blue collar Maharashtrians who benefited from social services from local Shiv Sena branches and appreciated a son of the soil party that vocally supported their interests.

Many educated Maharashtrians, like this blogger, had little use for the Shiv Sena.  The Sena displayed little tolerance for dissent and was notorious for using brute force and thuggery for perceived slights.  As an example, in 2001 after the death of Sena leader Anand Dighe in an accident its thugs ransacked and burnt down the state of the art hospital where he died.  The hospital has never been rebuilt and its shell still stands as a mute reminder of Sena thuggery.  When Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was banned in India, Thackeray told Muslims to learn how to take their lumps.  Yet when a later Rushdie book “The Moor’s Last Sigh” contained a caricature of Thackeray, it was banned in Mumbai to protect his sensitive feelings.

However as a cousin noted a few days ago, Thackeray was not that different than the chauvinistic regional chieftains in other Indian states.  The primary difference was the openness with which he uttered his prejudice and sent his thugs to suppress dissent.  He was the first man to give a legitimate alternative to the over-powerful Congress party in Maharashtra.  Yet in the grand scheme of things the influence of Thackeray and his ilk is largely negative to the Indian political fabric.  A country as diverse as India with political parties looking primarily and often solely to protect their parochial interest runs the risk of turning the country into the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In his last years, Thackeray was a bit of a defanged tiger.  His nephew Raj Thackeray had stolen much of the nativist thunder from the ailing old man.  He and not the designated heir Uddhav is likely to be the ultimate heir of Thackeray.  And so Balsaheb Thackeray’s legacy will live on.  How India manages to contain it will decide whether the Union of India survives or slowly splinters.

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Posted on 10-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

This weekend I posted about the travails of Aseem Trivedi, who is being accused of sedition for mocking venal India politicians who deserve to be mocked.  Trivedi’s alleged offense is mocking national symbols, the constitution etc.  However, a blog article I noticed right now made a very important point.  It notes that all Trivedi did was mock India’s Parliament in cartoon form.  India’s politicians have degraded the entity they shed crocodile tears far more grievously and far more frequently.

The complaint that landed Trivedi in jail was a private complaint.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  So dear Indians, start filing these complaints against these political thugs.  Harass the hooligans who turn Parliament and the legislatures into physical battlegrounds by hauling them in court for sedition, like they did to Aseem Trivedi.  If the police officers refuse to register your complaints, file sedition charges against them too.  But above all act within the strict letter of the law.  Turn these draconian laws on their head.

A few months ago when a hockey stick wielding uniformed apparatchik was harassing Mumbai’s night life I had joked to a friend who was particularly worked up that they should use Section 3 of the Prevention of insults to National Honour Act, 1971 to their advantage.

3.     PREVENTION OF SINGING OF NATIONAL ANTHEM
whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extended to three years, or with fine, or with both.

When the apparatchik interfered with them, make sure to file the proper police complaint under strict letter of the law.  Make sure the judges are aware of the minimum punishments in Section 3A.

3A.        MINIMUM PENALTY ON SECOND OR SUBSEQUENT OFFENCE
Whoever having already been convicted of an offence under section 2 or section 3 is again convicted of any such offence shall be punishable for the second and for every subsequent  offence, with imprisonment for a term, which shall not be less than one year.

A Google search as I was typing this article discovered that this draconian act was already being used for civil disobedience.  Sadly in that case the high court is shielding the bureaucrat whose reaction to the protest was to basically abuse criminal law.

India’s political and police systems are ridiculously out of control.  In the aftermath of partition and secessionist movements in different parts of the country, India’s politicians realized the utility of Colonial era police laws that remain on the books.  But many of these laws are antiquated and grant a private citizen the right to initiate complaints.  Perhaps it is time for Indians to use them against their tormentors, and bury them with paperwork in strict accordance with the letter of their ridiculous laws.

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Posted on 09-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

India’s politicians are not covering themselves in glory these days.  Widely despised for their venality, they increasingly take shelter behind presumed outrage to national institutions.  Last year communications minister Kapil Sibal drew widespread condemnation for trying to censor social media sites for offensive posts that mocked the government leadership.  Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has dissipated the goodwill from ending more than 30 years of communist rule last year by bizarre displaying a megalomaniacal persecution complex.  First a professor was locked up (after being roughed up by her party goons) for the “cybercrime” of forwarding a fairly innocuous political cartoon.  When asked inconvenient statements at public rallies students and farmers can be labelled maoists and arrested.

Now comes the case of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi.  Americans who huff and puff in outrage about flag burning being called protected speech should pay close attention to what happens when a state criminalizes the mockery of national symbols.  Trivedi’s crime was posting the cartoons below on the internet during Anna Hazare’s protests last year.  The cartoons range from pure mockery to over the top.

 

National Toilet

 

 

National Emblem

The hand of Congress on the mouth of the common man

Facebook

National Drink

Gang Rape of Mother India

Cross of Corruption

But that has got Aseem Trivedi his day in court.  Arrested Saturday he now faces jail time for putting into cartoon form something 99% of Indians say, think or feel every day.  Fulfilling Kapil Sibals censorship wet dreams, his website was taken down after a private complaint by a Bombay lawyer.  Samuel Johnson once said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.  India’s scoundrels have added national emblems as an additional refuge.

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Posted on 03-04-2011
Filed Under (Sports) by Rashtrakut

The cricketing gods have smiled on India.  Twenty-eight years after a huge upset won them their first world cup, India regained the trophy on Saturday after a thrilling and competitive win over Sri Lanka.   It has been many years since I watched a complete one-day international cricket match, but the adrenaline rush from watching the Indian victory eased my bleary eyed exhaustion from watching the game through the night.

India’s world cup victory in 1983 is my earliest memory of watching cricket on television.  Unfortunately at the age of eight I was unable to stay awake through the late hours to watch Kapil’s Devils shock the cricketing world by upsetting favorites and defending champions West Indies.  In 2003 (the last time I managed to watch a complete game), an Indian team that was probably the second best team in the world came up short against defending champions Australia.

This world cup was different.  India entered as one of the favorites and after a forgettable first round brushed aside Australia (which won the last 3 world cups) and national rival Pakistan to make the finals.  Sri Lanka was a legitimate contender and I had every intention sitting through this game.  Yet when Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed early in India’s run chase leaving India dangling at 31-2, a familiar sense of despair that every Indian cricket fan has experienced through the years reappeared.

Yet this is a different Indian cricket team that does not fold at the first sign of adversity.  The fielding had been phenomenal during Sri Lanka’s batting (normally not an Indian strength), and now the Indian batsmen kept their cool gathering steady runs in singles and doubles (eschewing the riskier crowd-pleasing boundaries).  They gradually sucked the oxygen out of the Sri Lankan team which desperately varied permutations of bowlers to get a breakthrough.  In the end Indian captain M. S. Dhoni emphatically sealed the win (see video below) by knocking Sri Lankan bowler Nuwan Kulasekara for a six, igniting raucous celebrations around India and the Indian diaspora.

The beaming smile on the face of legend Sachin Tendulkar (video below from the 3:00 mark) who played in his sixth world cup (1992, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2007 & 2011) showed what the win meant to him.   The Indian players celebrated by carrying him around the stadium on their shoulders and lavished praise on him afterwards (video below from the 6:50 mark). Teammate Virat Kohli summed up India’s feelings towards its icon the most succinctly (at the end of the clip below):

“He has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It is time we carried him on our shoulders.”

 

;

 

A friend commented today on the coincidence of rising nations obtaining validation of their rise by success in the sporting arena.   After years of futility in the emotional heart of the cricketing world, a billion people in an increasingly confident nation are celebrating the culmination of their recent cricket resurgence.  And the greatest batsman of our time finishes (probably) his last world cup as a champion.  

Congratulations India, congratulations Dhoni, congratulations Tendulkar. Chak de India!!!

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Posted on 09-11-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Daniel Larison’s column discussing Barack Obama’s endorsement of India’s dreams of permanent security council membership notes the following:

The more interesting question is whether the U.S. is able to acknowledge that major and rising powers do not share its preoccupations and to adjust expectations of their cooperation with U.S. policy accordingly. Washington isn’t likely to abandon its fixation on Iran’s nuclear program, but it should give the administration some pause that it has just publicly endorsed permanent Security Council status for what is, in fact, one of the chief “rogue” nuclear states in the world. This is not a criticism of the administration’s engagement of India. On the contrary, the administration’s correct dealing with India stands as a rebuke to the administration’s Iran policy. Further, the favorable treatment shown to nuclear-armed India confirms that states that never join and flatly ignore the requirements of the NPT and go on to build and test nuclear weapons are not censured or isolated in the least. Instead, they are rewarded with good relations and high status.

The assignment of “rogue” status to India and Iran based on pursuit of nuclear weapons is a false equivalency.  For one major reason – India refused to sign the NPT because of its arbitrary limitation of nuclear powers to the five who got there first.  Iran (and North Korea – which has since withdrawn from the treaty) signed the NPT and by pursuing nuclear weapons violated its treaty obligations.  Larison fails to explain why a country falls into rogue status for not abiding by the requirements of a treaty it never accepted in developing its own nuclear weapons.  I make the distinction because non-signatory Pakistan earned its rogue status not for testing its own nukes, but for selling them to North Korea and Libya.  The stark contrast to Pakistan along with Indian assurances that they would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in any conflict (a commitment not offered by the United States which during the Cold War felt itself to be at a conventional weapons disadvantage) is among the factors contributing to India’s special treatment (a booming economy does not hurt).

Left unsaid is the fact that the third non-signatory to the NPT, Israel appears to have been developed its own nuclear arsenal through NPT violations by Western Powers and apartheid South Africa (which renounced the bomb shortly before the transfer of power to Nelson Mandela).

That said Larison has a point in noting an element of hypocrisy in the wailing about Iran’s nuclear program.  However that does not stem from the treatment of India.  It is ultimately rooted in the NPT’s arbitrary designation of permitted nuclear weapon states that has miserably failed to stop the domino effect of countries seeking the bomb.

Larison closes out his column with the following:

More to the point, if the administration had what it wanted and India were on the Security Council as a permanent member with veto powers, how much weaker would U.N. sanctions against Iran have had to be to satisfy India? Put another way, if India is ready to be considered such an acceptable and responsible power, what does Indian indifference to Iran’s nuclear program tell us about the rationality of our government’s obsessive hostility towards the same?

The Indian posture is not very different from that of the Russians and the Chinese.  None of the three shares America’s hostile relationship with Tehran.  While none is eager to see an Iranian nuke they are not hyperventilating about it like the United States or Israel.  It is not clear that India would have diluted the sanctions against Iran even further than the Russians and the Chinese.  Most likely and in the finest traditions of modern Indian diplomacy, it would have abstained  – a posture that will have to gradually change if India wants to be taken seriously as a great power.

It is about time Washington appreciated that countries have different interests and policies – something that was lost in the first George W. Bush term as the Cheney/Rumsfeld duo went out of the way to alienate anybody who did not kowtow to American policy.  If the United States wants a puppet in the Security Council, it already has the United Kingdom.  It is also important to note that while Obama endorsed India’s permanent membership of the Security Council, he did not say anything about the veto power.  Frankly granting another 4 members (Japan, India, Brazil and probably South Africa) the veto power would make the Security Council even more irrelevant than it already is.

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Posted on 30-09-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs, History, India, Religion) by Rashtrakut

One Hundred and Forty Seven years after the dispute began, the Allahabad High Court rendered a Solomonic verdict designed to end a dispute that rocked and changed Indian politics over the last 25 years.  The court appears to have formalized the solution implemented by the British when riots first broke out over the controversial Babri Masjid.

The mosque was built on the orders of the first Mughal Emperor Babur on the site of either an old or existing Hindu temple that Hindus believed marked the birthplace of one of their prominent deities Ram.  The original British solution was to give both sides access to the site for worship.  Ninety years after the first attempt at a Solomonic compromise the issue flared up again in 1949 when idols were smuggled into the mosque  resulting in Indian government sealing the site.  The dispute picked up steam in 1984 and burst into Indian national consciousness when the Bharatiya Janata Party seized the issue to highlight simmering grievances of the Hindu majority.  The mosque was destroyed by a mob in 1992 resulting in riots across India.

Today’s decision split the site among three litigants (2 Hindu and 1 Muslim) and dismissed a couple of other cases.  The Sunni Waqf Board (which recieved the Muslim portion) has indicated it will appeal.  Given the political consensus rallying around this verdict it is likely that the Indian Supreme Court will uphold the decision.  With the troubled Commonwealth Games about to start, the Indian government must be breathing a sigh of relief at the calm that has greeted the verdict.  Oddly enough the street protests are occurring in neighboring Pakistan whose militants will add this to their litany of perceived grievances at the hands of India.

I am not surprised by the verdict.  It was the only way to resolve an intractable dispute.  But splitting the baby is not the solution for all such disputes in India in the future.  The Babri Masjid was not the only mosque built on the ruins of a Hindu temple.  However, the length of the dispute, the fact that the rights of Hindus to worship on the site had essentially been conceded in 1859, and the mosque being unused since 1949 were all special circumstances that made this verdict possible.  This will not be the case in other disputes.  At some point there has to be a statute of limitations for resolving medieval wrongs.  Hopefully with this verdict the statute has now run out.

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Posted on 04-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

As predicted in previous posts (see here and here) the Indo-Pak talks have hit a dead end.  See link.   The talks were taken for the benefit of the United States and Europe and were never going to go anywhere.  The undiplomatic truth from the Indian perspective is that there isn’t much to talk about as long as Pakistan keeps its terror proxies in reserve.  After being burned by the Pakistani security establishment many times New Delhi is not eager to repeat an experience akin to the classic clip from Animal House below.

What use is a composite dialog of the sort Pakistan wants when there is no trust on the ground and when Pakistan’s civilian government does not have the ability to rein in its military.  In the meantime Pakistan continues to ratchet up its complaints.  The latest concerns alleged violations of the long standing Indus Waters Treaty.  See link.  So the dance between the nuclear emerging power and the nuclear failed state continues.  The result will be headaches for the persons in charge of Washington’s Afghan policy.

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Posted on 24-03-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Pakistan’s foreign minister visited the United States this week.  On deck were a discussion for aid to Pakistan, a civilian nuclear deal similar to what India was granted in the Bush administration and a familiar litany of complaints on Indian intransigence on bilateral talks.  The timing seems propitious as Pakistan is still basking in the warm afterglow of approval for finally moving against its erstwhile Taliban proxies.  Some of the sheen on that accomplishment has started to wane, with Hamid Karzai angrily complaining that Pakistan had disrupted ongoing talks and with intelligence communities still suspicious of Pakistan’s motives.  See here.  Yet, it may be some time before Pakistan gets as favorable a reception in Washington.

However, apart from some more money Pakistan is unlikely to get much of its wish list.   See link.  Since independence Pakistan has aggressively sought diplomatic parity with India.  However, the economic, military and geopolitical gulf between the two countries has widened in the last 20 years.  It is a bitter pill that the Pakistani establishment has not come to terms with.

There was a lot of Congressional resistance for the nuclear deal with India.  A similar deal for a country whose nuclear scientists sold nuclear technology to Libya and North Korea will be dead on arrival.  The thin-skinned Indian response to the prospect does not seem needed.  See link.

The litany of complaints against India is not likely to go too far either.  For the last 30 years Pakistan has agressively sought to internationalize its dispute with India and India has stubbornly pointed to the 1972 Simla Accord as the bench mark for bilateral negotiations.  Foreign diplomats like Robin Raphael or David Miliband who hinted at third party facilitation of negotiations drew a sharp Indian response.  See here.  That is unlikely to change in the near future, particularly with Indian sensibilities sore after the plea bargain by (and the promise not to extradite) David Headley.  See here.

Pakistan’s security establishment seems still stuck in the 1980s when its allies in Congress would issue annual anti-India resolutions and India would have to go all out to stop them.  By the mid 1990s, Pakistan’s staunchest ally Dan Burton could not even get a sufficient number of co-signers for his resolutions to proceed.  The best Pakistan can hope for on the subject are bland statements calling for dialogue.  See link.

As noted in a previous blog the talks are meaningless so long as Pakistan’s terror support infrastructure remains in place.  See link.  From India’s perspective there is no point coming to the table to discuss disputes while Pakistan treats terrorism as a bargaining chip.  For all of Pakistan’s bluster of similar Indian activities in Baluchistan, precious little evidence has been made public.  Unlike Kashmir, Baluchistan does not lie along the India-Pakistan border making it hard logistically for India to provide much meaningful support to Baluch separatists.

On the flip side it is time for India (and its media) to recognize India’s rising maturity as a global player not hyperventilate on perceived slights every time the Obama administration dangles Pakistan a carrot.  American policy makers in both parties are only too aware of the greater desirability of India as a strategic ally.  However, the realities on the ground in Afghanistan force the United States to make some concessions to Pakistan.  It is the only strategic card Pakistan has at present and it is hardly surprising that it will be played as often as possible.  With low global tolerance of terrorism as a tool of foreign policy, Pakistan’s diplomatic options are limited.

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It has become a predictable pattern ever since Pervez Musharraf as chief of the Pakistani army instigated the the Kargil War.  Barely a week after the announcement that India and Pakistan would resume the talks that were put on hold after the Mumbai attacks, comes a bomb attack.  See link.  This time the target is the city of Pune.  As in Mumbai, the target of the attacks was a location where foreigners congregated.  Even though the perpetrators have not been identified, the site of the attack was surveyed by David Headley, the Chicago man of Pakistani origin who is being investigated for his connection with Mumbai attacks.  See link.

The attacks promptly brought calls to suspend talks with Pakistan, which the Indian government has said will continue.  Personally, I see the talks as a charade played out for public (particularly Western) consumption.  President Zardari’s government simply does not have the power to make the compromises necessary for a lasting peace treaty and does not control the Pakistani security establishment.  Islamabad still tries to distinguish the jihadi movement in Afghanistan from the proxies launched against India.  India is never going to accede to a demand to sever Kashmir from the Union of India, at best the Kashmiris on the Indian side of the LOC can look forward to a type of enhanced autonomy (which should probably be extended to the other states of India).  If Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at the height of his power did not have the ability to recognize the LOC as the international border with India (when he signed the Simla Accord), his widely despised son in law (Asif Zardari) who genuinely seems to want peace with India will not be able to do so either.

So the impasse will continue.  A few months from now Pakistan will complain the Indians are not serious about negotiations.  India will respond that the jihadi network still flourishes in Pakistan.  A terrorist strike that tests India’s patience will occur.  Pakistan will make some token arrests and bans to deflect attention.  One difference from the Musharraf years is that Pakistan stands alone and bereft of world sympathy as a result of its role in midwifing global terrorism.  As the Indian economy grows stronger and as Pakistan crumbles the balance of power is inexorably tilting in New Delhi’s favor.

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Posted on 11-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Many observers have noted that one of the unintended side effects of weakening European nation states in the cause of European integration has been to give the long suppressed sub nationalities their opportunity to claim greater autonomy.  For example the Catalans and the Basques in Spain, some Scots (and increasingly many English) in the United Kingdom do not see the advantage of being a constituent part of the national unit when they could instead get the protection of the super-national European Union.

This has been most evident in Belgium.  Created in 1830 after a Catholic and often French speaking region revolted  against the Dutch dominated United Kingdom of the Netherlands, the country has always been divided among the French speaking Wallonia in the south and the Dutch speaking Flanders in the north.  Last year there were serious concerns that the country that houses the headquarters of the EU would dissolve. (For analysis of possible scenarios of dissolution see here, for the experiences of a bemused American tourist making sense of the situation in Brussels see here).  An artificial country that some joke is united only by its soccer team and monarchy in a region that has almost never been united, Belgium may have outlived its purpose.

The secessionist trend started by Woodrow Wilson’s famous calls for self determination 90 years ago is not one I look on with much favor.  I can understand it in national units that suppress regional languages and cultures (like France) or where the majority community oppresses the minority and exploits the resources in the minority region (Pakistan in Baluchistan; Sudan with its southern half), but in many of these European countries such a situation does not exist.

What often exists is rank selfishness.  In Belgium a once dominant community is now the economic underclass taking more than its fair share of state resources.  In Italy some in the more prosperous North would rather get rid of the far poorer South (if that was where Italy would end up, they might as well have left poor Francis II on his throne).  It is a sentiment sometimes expressed in the United States where residents of certain states are convinced they are subsidizing everybody else (some with more justification than others).   It is also evident in India as noted by the recent brouhaha in Maharashtra.  See link.

It is a short sighted approach that ignores the inevitable swings of history.  Belgium where poorer Flanders is now economically dominant is a fine example of this.  A cacophony of small states will eventually bring with it far more intransigent battles over national resources (notably water and in the case of England and Scotland oil reserves), inherited debt and other conflicts and a much harder job to divide aid at the European level.  They would be better off working towards a common national purpose while retaining their regional culture (that includes you too Quebec).

But then I do not speak from the perspective of a paranoid or threatened minority.

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Posted on 09-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Iran has now come out and repeated India’s position on Afghanistan vis a vis the good Taliban.  See link.  Iran’s motivations are pretty clear since there never has been any love lost between Iran and the Taliban, the former considering the Taliban as backward fanatics and the latter considering the Iranians as schismatic heretics.  Given Washington’s inclination to disregard anything Iran says, this will not prevent the Karzai government from seeking a rapprochement with elements of the Taliban.  But any increase in Taliban influence in Kabul raises the chance of Iranian meddling and counter-meddling from Pakistan.  The vicious cycle continues.

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A recent Foreign Policy article highlights a danger to stability in Afghanistan not often discussed – the toxic relationship between India and Pakistan.  See link.  This dates back to the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.  Afghanistan (even under the Pakistani created and supported Taliban) never accepted the Durand Line drawn by the British as the border between the two countries.  This line divides the Pashtun people between the two countries.  As a result every government in Kabul (other than the Taliban) has had a frosty relationship with Pakistan and a warm one with India.  Paranoid about facing hostile states on both flanks, Pakistan has always sought to install a more pliant regime in Kabul.

Baluch and Pashtun dispersion between Pakistan and Afghanistan

Durand Line border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (in red). The blue area represents the predominant Pashtun and Baloch area.

It is one of the reasons why Pakistan has proved so unwilling to dump its Taliban clients and has eagerly pushed the idea of a reconciliation with the “Good Taliban.”  India having faced a tide of Pakistani sponsored Islamic terrorism in the past decades sees this as a distinction without a difference.

India has been one of the major aid contributors to rebuilding Afghanistan.  This has, as usual, stirred paranoia about Indian intentions in Pakistan with wilder theories speculating that India intends to install military bases in the region once the Americans leave.  In 2008, these fears appear to have prompted an attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul allegedly sponsored by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.  See link.

Given its ethnic divisions, Afghanistan is always likely to be a weak state subject to meddling by its neighbors.  The Indo-Pakistani tussle is yet another destabilizing influence that imperils any attempt to pacify Afghanistan.  And then there is Iranian meddling in the western part of the country.  The world community should prepare contingency plans if (or maybe when) things fall apart after the United States departs the region.

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Posted on 01-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Barely a week after I commended the Indian constitutional set up and politicians for marching towards a common nation purpose (see link) comes a piece of rank demagoguery arising out of cynical political opportunism.  As with any culturally diverse nation, India has had to deal with various ethnic groups feeling threatened from time to time.  The early 1960s saw a dispute over language where the southern state of Tamil Nadu successfully opposed the imposition of Hindi as a national language.  Assorted regional grievances spawned separatist movements along India’s periphery in Kashmir, Punjab and Assam.  The Assamese insurgency is relevant to the events of the past week as it arose from concerns over illegal Bangladeshi immigrants taking away local jobs (not to mention like any good neighbors Assam and Bengal have had about 1300 years of mutual enmity).  The rise of regional parties caused some concerns about the balkanization of India, but apart from making sure that immigrants learned the local language in schools an active campaign of discrimination was never proposed by any major political party.  Until last week.

The western Indian state of Maharashtra has been India’s industrial and financial powerhouse.  Its capital Mumbai is the most cosmopolitan city in India.  As the home of India’s financial markets and the Hindi film industry Bollywood, it is at once India’s New York and Los Angeles.  Since the 1960s it has been the magnet drawing fortune, dream and job seekers from across India.  The competition from outsiders and a perception that the immigrants only hired their own has always created an undercurrent of tension.  It is this tension and the perceived plight of the “Marathi manoos” (the Marathi man) that the Shiv Sena a local right wing party founded by former cartoonist Bal Thackeray has historically tapped into.  Thackeray has a history of baiting Muslims and others and controversially claiming Hitler as a hero, but until last week had not crossed beyond a certain line.

But times have changed.  A succession struggle over the ailing Thackeray has split his party.  Thackeray anointed his son Uddhav as his successor.  This caused Thackeray’s thuggish but more charismatic nephew Raj Thackeray to split off and form his own party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.  For the last two years Raj Thackeray has stirred up protests and occasional violence against North Indian immigrants in Maharashtra.  It had the unusual effect of making the Shiv Sena look like a mature party.  However, the 2009 Indian parliamentary and Maharashtra elections showed that Raj Thackeray had tapped into an undercurrent of resentment.  His MNS split the Shiv Sena vote costing it seats in parliament and the state assembly.

Threatened by the emergence of the MNS, the elder Thackeray has decided imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Starting with his comments on the cricket dispute noted in this blog yesterday he has ramped up the volume by asserting that cosmopolitan Mumbai belonged to Marathis.  See link.  Fuel was thrown on the fire when the Congress party which rules Maharashtra suddenly issued a directive (since withdrawn) that all Mumbai taxi drivers needed to speak Marathi.  See link.  The xenophobic oneupmanship is escalating with Raj Thackeray asserting that jobs in Maharashtra must go only to people of Marathi descent (not just people who spoke Marathi).  See link.

This is a line no political party in India has crossed so far.  It has also caused serious rifts in the Shiv Sena’s already strained alliance with the national Bharatiya Janata Party and the Hindu nationalist organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.  See here and here.

One heartening feature of this has been the united front put forward by every other political grouping to the Shiv Sena and MNS’s insanity.  Less heartening is the threat by local demagogues else where to engage in retaliatory attacks on Maharashtrians in their states for attacks by the Shiv Sena/MNS.  The Shiv Sena’s stance is hypocritical for a political party that has railed against Article 370 of the Indian constitution granting special rights to (Muslim majority) Jammu and Kashmir (one guess on what fuels the opposition to Article 370).  Indian nationalists can be forgiven for wondering if the uncle-nephew duo are in fact Manchurian candidates trying to achieve what Pakistan sponsored terrorists have not managed for the past 25 years.

While the bluster of the Thackerays’ practically amounts to a lot of hot air at present, a dangerous line has been crossed.  Without electoral repudiation of such tactics it will encourage demagogues in other parts of India.  While the increasing percentage of India’s labor force crossing state lines for work will cause some tensions, it is the best way to encourage national integration in a country that sometimes resembles the Tower of Babel.  The past week also demonstrates the delicate balance Indian democracy must maintain to achieve its dreams of becoming a world power.

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Posted on 31-01-2010
Filed Under (Sports) by Rashtrakut

Ever since the notorious Bodyline series in 1932-33 caused a diplomatic incident between England and Australia, politics has rarely stayed away from the game.  In stark contrast to many other team sports, international cricket has generally been played at the national level with various domestic leagues within cricket playing countries.  While some like English county cricket occasionally brought in a few foreign players, domestic cricket as the name suggests generally consisted of teams stocked with local lads.

Until the formation of the Indian Premier League two years ago, cricket did not have a private league (and even this one was started by the Indian cricket board with private team owners) akin to the various soccer, baseball, basketball and ice hockey leagues around the world.    The new IPL also had to reach an accommodation with various national cricket boards to make sure that players would be available for international tournaments.  A very different setup than that which exists in the United States where the MLB and NHL seriously consider not making their baseball and hockey players available for the Olympics.

But these controversies pale before the brouhaha sweeping the subcontinent today.  It started when the latest IPL player auction failed to select a single player from World Twenty20 champion Pakistan.  See link.  This promptly brought tit for tat exchanges between the Pakistani and Indian governments.  Pakistan alleging that this was orchestrated by an Indian government not serious about peace with Pakistan and the Indian government retorting that they had placed no restrictions on the operations of the private league Pakistan should look to themselves as to why the snub occurred.  The Pakistani media has resorted to its typical bout of conspiracy theories involving the Indian spy agency RAW, the local mafia and hard right nationalist politicians.  See link.  Stung by the snub, Pakistan has revoked future participation by its players in the IPL.  See link.

I think Occam’s razor rather than any deep conspiracy to humiliate Pakistan probably provides the likeliest explanation.  Emotions in India still run high from the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the half-hearted Pakistani attempts to suppress the terror groups Pakistan spawned. The 2009 IPL season was played in South Africa due to concerns for player security (not helped by the attack on the Sri Lankan team visiting Pakistan).  It is likely that the IPL owners simply did not want to deal with the security hassles involved with Pakistani players.

Then there is the issue of local xenophobes disrupting play.  Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray has already lashed out at film actor Shah Rukh Khan (the owner of an IPL team) for suggesting that he would have signed a Pakistani player.  See link.  While purists can hope for the old Olympic ideal of suspending hostilities during a major athletic event, the reality never lives up to the ideal.  Right wing nuts like the Shiv Sena have been disrupting Indian-Pakistani cricket matches scheduled to be played in India for the past 20 years.

It is hard not to sympathize with IPL owners for wanting to avoid this headaches.  It is not the only one they have had to deal with.  Thackeray has also turned his fire on the Australian cricketers as scapegoats for the rash of attacks on Indian students in Australia in the past year.  Now the Australians are considering skipping the lucre offered by the IPL.  See link.  A group in the Telangana region agitating for statehood within the Indian union is promising to disrupt local matches as this would distract from their pet cause.  See link.

While Pakistan sulks and opportunists and xenophobes bask in the sun, the toxic mix of nationalism, xenophobia and idiocy threaten to deny cricket fans an entertaining sports spectacle.

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Posted on 26-01-2010
Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

The Indian constitution (and the Indian republic) celebrated its 60th birthday today on January 26, 2010.  Apart from a 2 year suspension when Indira Gandhi imposed a national Emergency, the Indian constitution has been the foundation of the world’s largest democracy.  It is no small achievement.  At its birth few thought that democracy could flourish in a poor country with deep cultural, linguistic and religious divides and with such a large illiterate population.  But the creaky wheels of Indian democracy have kept on churning and have so far overcome some structural flaws within the constitution’s federal layout (see link), an over-centralization imposed as a reaction to the partition of India and from the insecurities and authoritarian tendencies of Indira Gandhi.

A lot of the credit must go to India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.  Ever since the dismantling of the license raj and the beginning of free market reforms in India in 1991, it has become fashionable to criticize Nehru.  However, unlike many of the early leaders of the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa, Nehru was at heart a believer of democracy and its institutions.  He did not attempt to turn his ruling party into a gaggle of sycophants, create a cult of personality or attempt to create a political dynasty by aggressively promoting his daughter Indira.  The ultimate respect for constitutional norms survived Indira Gandhi’s failure on all these three points (and even the Emergency was imposed based on a constitutional provision).  And even with this failure, Indira Gandhi like her father did take steps that created a national identity.

As Kashmiri Brahmins who grew up in the North Indian heartland, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi projected an Indian identity.  Buttressed by the boost to their reputation by their history in the independence struggle they belonged to India in a manner that few leaders other than Mahatma Gandhi could.  While this did have the deleterious effect of choking the growth of an alternative set of leaders, it delayed the rise of regional satraps  until a core Indian national identity was nurtured.  India has suffered secessionist movements along the periphery, but with the rise of coalition politics reliant on regional support some of this tension has eased.  This has eased the concerns (more often raised in Western media about the fragmentation of India).

Finally credit must be given to the professionalism of the Indian armed forces and their willingness to obey civilian authority.  In most newly independent countries, Nehru’s neglect of the army in the 1950s followed by the debacle at the hands of the Chinese in the 1962 war would have sparked a coup.  It did not happen.  Western media raised similar fears of a coup in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, a thought not seriously considered domestically within India.  Today such an eventuality seems unthinkable.

And so India’s democratic republic continues to move on into is projected rise as a new world power.  There are issues of concern.  The division of revenues (as noted in the article linked above) is and will continue to be a source of tension between haves and have nots within India.  India has punted the issue of reapportioning parliamentary seats till 2026.  When reapportionment does happen, it will cause tension as the more prosperous states (which have done a better job implementing family planning policies) lose parliamentary seats (and as a result political power) to poorer states.  Indian democracy, like many young democracies, is often rooted in support of personalities as opposed to policies and political dynasties dot the landscape.  This phenomenon is not unknown in the United States, but the next step to the maturation of Indian democracy has to be the strengthening of parties based on political ideologies rather than vehicles for personalities.

So far India’s politicians have generally shown a sense of flexibility in working towards a common national purpose.  As long as that continues, the passage time will buttress the sense of Indian national identity and the Republic of India will continue to thrive.  So here are birthday wishes to the longest written constitution in the world.

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Jyoti Basu died this Sunday.  The nonagenarian had been ailing for some time.  The usual round of obituaries, paeans and critiques have poured in.  See here, here, here, here, here and here.  In 1977, the English educated Basu initiated the longest running elected rule by communists (which likely will draw to a close next year).  The common theme in the articles on Basu since his death generally refer to the following:

  • His unusual length of tenure,
  • The land reforms initiated in Bengal that broke the feudal hold on society,
  • His secular outlook that saw few religious riots on his watch,
  • And finally the historic moment in 1996 when he bowed to the command of his party’s politburo and turned down the prime minster’s job.

The more critical articles also refer to the industrial stagnation, if not regression, that occurred on his watch.

Basu in many ways is an overrated figure.  His importance is inflated by the collapse of all opposition parties in West Bengal, aided by the general unwillingness of the Congress party to challenge the reds on their home turf and the communists ruthless utilization of the instruments of state to quash dissent.  This is in stark contrast to the other communist bastion in Kerala, where Communist and Congress led coalitions alternate power with mind numbing regularity.

However, the untrammeled power Basu and his communist colleagues had locally, ultimately showcased the ideological bankruptcy and incompetence of the communist movement in India.

Land reform in Bengal was long overdue, and that early accomplishment marks the high water mark of communist rule in West Bengal.  Unlike Kerala, the other social indicators remain average.  The Bengali peasant is still poverty stricken, businesses have fled the state and Kolkata’s status as the cultural capital of India has long since been taken over by Mumbai.  The violent collapse of the communist party’s attempt to entice the Tata Motor Company to build a plant at Nandigram, symbolizes why businesses are not keen to enter Bengal.

The impact Basu would have had in the rejected prime ministership (he later cryptically referred to the rejection as a historic blunder) is also overrated.  Basu would have headed a ramshackle coalition united by the pursuit of power and a loathing of the Hindu nationalist Bharaitya Janata Party (subsequent events would show that many of the constituents of the coalitions valued power over their loathing of the BJP).  The coalition was supported from the outside by the just deposed Congress party which was smarting from its electoral humiliation and itching for the opportunity to force a new election.  It is hard to see how Basu’s tenure as prime minister would have been markedly different or longer than what actually transpired.  The BJP would have still made the necessary electoral adjustments and Basu’s mismanagement of West Bengal’s economy hardly supports the theory that any good governance on his part would have prevented the BJP’s ultimate rise to power.

The humbling of Bengal’s communists in India’s parliamentary elections last year has given rise to hope that their  33 year old grip on power may come to a close in the next state elections.  However, with the successor likely to be the mercurial populist Mamata Banerjee, it is hard to see West Bengal’s lot improving anytime soon.

Meanwhile, one of the last of India’s “gentlemanly” politicians of a bygone era has passed on, fortunate that he will not see the collapse of the creaky edifice he nurtured in West Bengal for so many years.

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Posted on 21-12-2009
Filed Under (Checks & Balances) by Rashtrakut

The ruckus about the creation of a new Telangana state in India brought to the forefront the issue of “small” vs. “big” states in India.  Federal polity in India has one marked difference that that in the United States.  The United States of America was created by a compact among its constituent states which preceded the national entity.  As a result, even though the constitution permits the splitting or merging of states (Article 4, Section 3, Clause 1) with two exceptions (Maine which was carved out from Massachusetts to create a free state to balance Missouri under the Missouri compromise and West Virginia which seceded from Virginia at the start of the civil war) the American states (territories are a different matter) have been relatively sacrosanct.

This was not the case in India.  The mish mash of the provinces of British India and the princely states that acceded to the India at independence made the reorganization of states essential.  Even though the trauma of partition ensured that the power of states would be curbed (more on that later), in the 1950s the fateful decision was made to reorganize the states on linguistic grounds rather than administrative efficiency.  Larger states have always brought with them a concern that the political influential areas would reap state largess while the less fortunate areas would be ignored.  As a result, demands for breaking up some of the larger states have simmered in the background since the reorganization of the states.

A decade ago the agitators for smaller states found some hope.  Uttarkhand and Jharkhand were carved out of the two most populous states in India.  Chattisgarh was carved out of the geographically largest state in India.  This brought the demand for Telangana to the forefront.  A Telugu speaking region merged into Andhra Pradesh, Telangana previously was part of the former princely state of Hyderabad.  While some of the princely states like Mysore, Baroda and Gwalior were relatively well administered, Hyderabad was not.  The region remained a resource poor economic and educational backwater.  Apart from the capital Hyderabad, a large portion of the province has felt ignored in favor of the more prosperous coastal regions of the state.  The argument was that a Telangana state would create with a more responsive local government which will boost regional development.

Unfortunately the  backing for the position is mixed. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted on 20-12-2009
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Rashtrakut
  • Urban development killing the pigeon rearing tradition in Bangladesh.  Having seen the amount and stench of droppings the birds nicknamed rats with wings can create, somehow I don’t think the other city dwellers are too unhappy.
  • Getting pregnant is now a court martial offense.  Only celibate married soldiers need apply for this General’s army.
  • More climate change in India.  The rainfall in the wettest place in the world is dropping rapidly.
  • Britain looks at modifying its onerous libel laws.  There is a reason why the brilliant South Park episode on Scientology ended with a threat to sue in England.
  • Religious fundamentalism in Israel.  Rabbis say that loyalty to God trumps the orders given by the state (of course they interpret God’s word).  Why exactly are the American right wing so eager to give these religious zealots a free pass?  How exactly are they different than the so called “Islamofascists”?

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The New York Times has a an interesting read about Pakistan’s unwillingness to take on its pet Afghan militant as part of its posturing for a post American Afghan future.  After riding the militant tiger and finding it hard to get off Pakistan is not yet willing to learn its lessons from the past.  Instead as many observers including this blog have noted, it remains steeped in denial and paranoia about Indian intentions in Afghanistan.  It is much easier to engage in tit for tat blame of India (with no real evidence presented) rather than face up to the mess they have made of their country.  While the Pakistani establishment fiddles, its country burns.

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Posted on 15-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

After an unexpected hiatus from blogging activities, kick starting the first post of the week with some thoughts on events that would have merited longer posts at the time.

  • I liked the general tenor of Barack Obama’s speech but was amused to see some of the blinders come off on the left and the right as a result.  Liberals unhappy about the decision on Afghanistan saw the president expound a doctrine of just war which in some ways could have been delivered by George W. Bush. Conservatives who had convinced themselves that Obama was a weak anti-war liberal seem to have heard for the first time that the President does not rule out war (they seem to have forgotten his comment in the campaign that he was only against “stupid wars” (though he left may argue that the Afghan escalation IS a stupid war).  Time will tell whether the “Obama Doctrine” fares better than the “Bush Doctrine.”  With its understanding of the limitations of American power, it does have a greater chance of success.
  • The Indian government dropped a bombshell with the creation of a new state.  Will discuss the virtues and pitfalls of smaller states in the Indian constitutional context later this week, but words cannot describe how badly the decision making process was bungled.  First the government gave in to emotional blackmail of a hunger strike, then nobody seems to have discussed the decision with the local government and laid the groundwork, and the critical question of who gets Hyderabad still remains unanswered.  The abrupt decision making process has also suddenly brought to the forefront demands for at least 9 new states.  Before the virtues of these demands are assessed, first the Indian government deserves brickbats for sheer incompetence.
  • The Iranian regime returns Shirin Ebadi’s Nobel peace prize medal.  Previous blog here.
  • One of the two Chicago men arrested for planning a terrorist attack in Denmark seems to be singing about his involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.  Not surprisingly, India wants him extradited.

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Indian authorities (with silent Bangladeshi cooperation) appear to have arrested the head of the United Liberation Front of Asom.  ULFA now appears a spent force and hopefully the mistakes of the past that gave rise to the insurgency will not be repeated.  While the Indian constitution explicitly protects minority religions, cultures and languages and the Indian government has generally not actively discriminated against minorities, India has been plagued by repeated insurgencies and secessionist movements along its periphery.  This was often created by excessive centralization in the aftermath of partition and particularly in the Indira Gandhi years.  The central government also repeatedly dismissed opposition governments in sensitive states like Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.  While this was also carried out in different parts of the country, needless to say states with large minority populations took umbrage.

The insurgency in Assam was different in that unlike Kashmir, Punjab or Nagaland the state is largely Hindu.  Assam, like Kashmir, has historically very much been a part of the Indian cultural mileu but due to geographical location was somewhat isolated on the periphery.  The name of the state itself comes from the Ahoms who conquered the ancient Indian region of Kamarupa.  While the Ahoms would defeat Mughal invasion attempts their civil war plagued kingdom was eventually conquered by Burma.  A few years later the British annexed Assam after the First Anglo-Burmese War.

Assam like Punjab saw its territory drastically reduced after independence when Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh were carved out of the state.  Even now certain tribal gorups like the Bodos have agitated for their own states.  If this was a bruise to the Assamese ego, the Indian government made it worse.  Even though Assam contains most of India’s land based oil reserves the refineries (and the resulting jobs) were relocated to electorally more promising states.  From the 1970s illegal immigration from Bangladesh threatened the religious and demographic make up of Assam, a problem aggravated by unscrupulous politicians enrolling these politicians on the electoral rolls.  By the 1980s Assam was the site of a simmering insurgency.

Countries don’t often get a chance to fix repeated mistakes.  However, the decline of the Indian National Congress and the emergence of coalition politics at the national level in India has helped ease some of the regional unrest.  Article 356 of the Indian constitution that was repeatedly misused in the past has rarely been used in the last 15 years.  This has allowed Indian state governments to rise and fall on their own merits without New Delhi being used as a scape goat.  The decline of ULFA is an opportunity to finish the transition from the bullet to the ballot to resolve Assam’s problems.

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Posted on 03-12-2009
Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

Suketu Mehta with a passionate column on how 25 years after the Bhopal gas disaster legal immunity from corporate structures, government apathy and the unspoken fact of a lower value assigned to deaths in certain places have contributed to the continuing environmental and human catastrophe in the area.  Some of the charges against Union Carbide fit into the caricatured stereotype of  the evil multi-national that will have superior safety standards in the West but will ignore them in the third world.  The Indian government also fully lives up to its stereotypes of incompetence and bureaucratic apathy.

Bhopal also presents the delicate balance between a company’s legal and moral obligations.  Right now the legalists are winning.  So while the activists complain, the Indian government dithers, Dow claims legal immunity the contamination in the area continues, people still fall sick and die and as usual nothing gets done.  The dead in Bhopal are currently the collateral damage to India’s aspirations for the future for which future profits will not be endangered.

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