“Public finances in India, state and Union, show appalling accounting and lack of transparency. Vast amounts of waste, fraud and malfeasance get hidden as a result. The Congress, BJP, official communists, socialists et al are all culpable for this situation having developed – over decades. So if you ask me, “Is the Indian state and polity in a healthy condition?” I would say no, it is pretty rotten. Well-informed, moneyed, mostly city-based special interest groups (especially including organised capital and organised labour) dominate government agendas at the cost of ill-informed, diffused masses of anonymous individual citizens ~ peasants, forest-dwellers, small businessmen, non-unionized workers, the destitute, etc. Demarcations of private, community and public property rights frequently remain fuzzy. Inflation causes non-paper assets to rise in value, encouraging land-grabs. And the fetish over purported growth-rates continues despite measurements being faulty, not reaching UN SNA standards, probably hiding increasing inequalities. India’s polity and economy are in poor shape for many millions of ordinary people. Armed rebellion, however, does not follow from this. Killing poor policemen and starting class-wars were failed Naxal tactics in the 1970s and remain so today. Naxals should put down their weapons and use Excel sheets and government accounting data instead.
Dr Subroto Roy, economist and adviser to Rajiv Gandhi 1990-1991.”
I have had a close interest in China ever since the “Peking Spring” more than thirty years ago (if not from when I gave all my saved pocket money to Nehru in 1962 to fight the Chinese aggression) but I had not published anything relating to China until 2007-2008 when I published the ten articles listed below:
With new tensions on the Tibet-India border apparently being caused by the Chinese military, these may be helpful for India to determine a Plan B, or even a Plan A, in its dealings with Communist China.
I got to Washington in the summer of 1992, just before the Clintons arrived, and lived there through all of 1993 and a bit of 1994. It is fair to say I have been continually critical — right until Mrs Clinton’s brilliant speech at the Democratic convention last year. Now I may have become a bit of a fan. Could the successful North Korea visit be Bill Clinton’s most dignified and single most poignant political deed? And Hillary appears to have finally found her calling as Secretary of State. She was an excellent diplomatist on her recent India-visit — and certainly put our rather dull political class into the shade. President Obama gets some credit here for good managerial decisions behind the scenes.
We in India shall soon be hearing the talking-heads on TV, mostly in New Delhi, jabbering away about “swings” and “anti-incumbency” and “mandates” and “fractured mandates” etc. Most of it will be waffle without any basis in hard facts because nobody wants to actually do any of the work necessary to acquire a serious opinion.
Just as you cannot win at cricket unless you bowl out the other side and you cannot win at soccer unless you score more goals than the other side, you are not going to win a General Election in India unless you win more Assembly Segments of Parliamentary Constituencies than your competitors.
It is not logically impossible but it is factually unlikely that you can lose, say, five out of six Assembly Segments and still win the Parliamentary Constituency by winning the sixth with a sufficiently large margin. Raw votes generally translate into winning Assembly Segments and winning Assembly Segments generally translate into winning Lok Sabha seats.
In 2004, the top five winners were as follows, where the first number is raw votes won, the second the number of Assembly Segments won, and the third the number of Lok Sabha seats won:
Notice the BSP won some 4 million more raw votes than the SP but fewer Assembly Segments and fewer Lok Sabha Seats. And the CPM won barely a million more raw votes than did the BSP but 215 more Assembly Segments and 26 more Lok Sabha seats. Clearly Uttar Pradesh voting patterns need a lot more detailed analysis — my ex ante hypothesis would be that the BSP’s results are affected by the policy of some constituencies being “reserved”.
More significantly, at the head of the race, notice that the BJP lost the raw vote to the Indian National Congress by a margin of almost 17 million votes which translated into winning 81 Assembly Segments fewer than the INC which translated into winning 7 fewer Lok Sabha seats — and hence ended up sitting in the Opposition in the Lok Sabha for five years.
A central question is whether the BJP has or has not done enough over the last five years to get in its favour a net change in the raw vote — and that too by a sufficient amount to change the number of Assembly Segments won in its favour.
Putting it differently, has the INC done enough to at least maintain its share of the raw-vote and its leading position, and hence be likely to win the largest number of Assembly Segments and Lok Sabha seats again?
Here is the overall picture:
And yes, of course, there have been demographic changes over five years so those changed parameters shall have affected the new outcome too (notice the INC’s emphasis on the “youth vote”).
This is original research which could come to be published in a scientific journal if I find the time to send it, so please try not to steal and instead acknowledge its source properly if you want to discuss it elsewhere.
“AT a business meet on 12 January 2005, Dr Manmohan Singh showered fulsome praise on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as “dynamic”, “the Nation’s Best Chief Minister”, whose “wit and wisdom”, “qualities of head and heart”, “courage of conviction and passionate commitment to the cause of the working people of India” he admired, saying “with Buddhadeb Babu at the helm of affairs it appears Bengal is once again forging ahead… If today there is a meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata, it is because the ideas that I and Buddhadebji represent have captured the minds of the people of India. This is the idea of growth with equity and social justice, the idea that economic liberalization and modernization have to be mindful of the needs of the poor and the marginalized.” With such support of a Congress Prime Minister (as well as proximity to Pranab Mukherjee), Mr Bhattacharjee could hardly have feared the local Congress and Trinamul would pose any threat in the 2006 Assembly Elections despite having more potential voters between them than the CPI-M. Dr Singh returned to the “needs of the poor and the marginalized” at another business meet on 8 January 2007 promising to “unveil a new Rehabilitation Policy in three months to increase the pace of industrialisation” which would be “more progressive, humane and conducive to the long-term welfare of all stakeholders”, while his businessman host pointedly stated about Singur “land for industry must be made available to move the Indian manufacturing sector ahead”. The “meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata” seems to be that agriculture allegedly has become a relatively backward slow-growing sector deserving to yield in the purported larger national interest to industry and services: what the PM means by “long-term welfare of all stakeholders” is the same as the new CPI-M party-line that the sons of farmers should not remain farmers (but become automobile technicians or IT workers or restaurant waiters instead). It is a political viewpoint coinciding with interests of organised capital and industrial labour in India today, as represented by business lobbies like CII, FICCI and Assocham on one hand, and unions like CITU and INTUC on the other. Business Standard succinctly (and ominously) advocated this point of view in its lead editorial of 9 January as follows: “it has to be recognised that the world over capitalism has progressed only with the landed becoming landless and getting absorbed in the industrial/service sector labour force ~ indeed it is obvious that if people don’t get off the land, their incomes will rise only slowly”. “
I went on to say
“Land is the first and ultimate means of production, and the attack of the powerful on land-holdings or land-rights of the unorganised or powerless has been a worldwide phenomenon ~ across both capitalism and communism.”
It is interesting and amusing to see today’s newspapers report that the person who appointed Dr Manmohan Singh to be India’s PM, namely Sonia Gandhi, has taken a 180-degree turn on this subject while sitting beside Mamata Banerjee yesterday.
She apparently said: “I am happy so be sharing the dais with Mamata Banerjee once again….in Nandigram and Singur the State Government had unleashed dictatorship in the garb of democracy… . In the name of development (the CPI(M)) created terror in Nandigram and Singur. In the name of development, they snatched the land from the poor people there.”
Now what is the poor old CPI(M) to think after all this! Politics can be so entertaining. 😀
In Chapter 6 of my Philosophy of Economics, is to be found a quote from Solzhenitsyn: “(Also Solzhenitsyn: “Fastenko, on the other hand, was the most cheerful person in the cell, even though, in view of his age, he was the only one who could not count on surviving and returning to freedom. Flinging an arm around my shoulders, he would say: To stand up for truth is nothing! For truth you have to sit in jail!”)”.
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, along with Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, were heroes of mine after I had left school in India in December 1971 and reached Paris where my father was with the Embassy. My father had purchased Solzhenitsyn’s books and these I devoured eagerly at our then-home at 14 Rue Eugene Manuel, during breaks from my pre-University education at Haileybury College, across the English Channel. We had been in Odessa before Paris, and in Stockholm before Odessa. In 1969, we had travelled by ship and train from Stockholm via Helsinki to Leningrad, Moscow and Odessa. In December 1967, my father had gotten me to fly to Stockholm through Moscow and stay for a day or two with a colleague of his during my winter holidays from India. Moscow in December 1967 was celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution — I recall what the city felt and seemed like to me as a 12 year old: foreboding, awesome, intimidating.
Now in 1972-73 in Paris, the works of Solzhenitsyn and the example of Sakharov explained to me that brief boyhood experience of the USSR and a great deal more.
As it happens, the present PM of India, as a friend of my father’s, visited us at 14 Rue Eugene Manuel in the summer of 1973 at my father’s request to advise me about studying economics (I was on my way to the London School of Economics as an undergraduate). He stayed about 40 minutes during his busy schedule as part of an Indian economic delegation. I was 18, he was about 41. We ended up having a tense debate about the merits (as he saw them) and demerits (as I saw them) of the Soviet influence on Indian economic “planning”. He had not expected such controversy from a lad but he was kindly disposed and offered when departing to write a letter of introduction to a well-known Indian professor at the LSE for me to carry, which I did.
The works and example of Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov built my youthful understanding of the USSR at age 17-18. This contributed to my libertarianism at Cambridge University and later in America (until my experience of the American federal judiciary at age 37 or so).
When I mentioned my admiration for Solzhenitsyn’s work to Milton Friedman at a memorable luncheon at his San Francisco home in 1989, he said that they had been neighbours in Vermont though they had not interacted because of Solzhenitsyn’s desire to be reclusive.
Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov symbolised shoots of new life in the swamp that had been Soviet totalitarianism.
Time & Tide Wait For No One In Politics: India Trails Pakistan & Nepal!
The Karnataka legislative elections, as well as to lesser extent the Bengal panchayat polls, have revealed the vacuum that exists across the leadership of India’s national-level politics today.
To start with the BJP: had India been a normal democratic country on the Western pattern, Mr Arun Jaitley would have rocketed to the top of his party’s leadership by now. Besides being articulate in both Hindi and English and in his fifties (the age-group of most leaders in democratic countries), Mr Jaitley’s political acumen and organisational skills have been acknowledged even by his Congress adversaries after the Karnataka result. He himself has been frank and expansive about his formula for winning in Karnataka, which was simply to focus on real issues, especially state-specific ones, as well as to project a single credible leader. Had the BJP been a normal political party in a normal country, Mr Jaitley would have been given the task of leading it to victory in the next General Election and, assuming he won a Lok Sabha seat, to become its prime ministerial candidate.
Instead, the BJP chooses to remain backward, backward, backward in the majority of its thought-processes and behaviour-patterns ~ from its kneejerk anti-Muslim psychology via its hyperinflationary macroeconomics and protectionist trade to its embrace of astrology and bovine exclusiveness. The idea of uniting behind someone relatively modern-minded in his politics like Mr Jaitley would be simply unacceptable not merely to people in the party within his own age-cohort (including the present party president) but even more so to those in age-cohorts decades older (including the party’s present prime ministerial candidate).
The opposition of the first group would arise from, in a word, jealousy. The opposition of the second group would arise from, in a word, dadagiri, i.e. the gerontocratic idea that merely because one is older, one is owed respect, authority and the plums of office in precedence over someone who is younger. Jealousy is a universal emotion not something specific to Indian politics, but dadagiri and the lack of meritocracy in our political culture is one reason India remains an abnormal polity in the modern democratic world.
LK Advani, driven by his unfulfilled personal ambition, will likely lead the BJP in the next election and do so with Mr Jaitley’s explicit support; Mr Advani may lead it into defeat or even to a victory in which he, given his age, is not as successful a PM as a Jaitley might have been. Yet our sclerotic political culture is such that neither Mr Advani nor Mr Rajnath Singh will simply stand aside now and hand over the reins to a newer, more competent and progressive leadership.
The same idea of dadagiri pervades what passes for the official “Left” in India as exemplified by the CPI-M. Mr Jyoti Basu has in a recent letter to Harkishen Singh Surjeet reminisced of their times together, and in doing so remarked that he remained the Chief Minister of West Bengal for as many years as he did because the Party had instructed him to do so, and when he handed over power to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, he did so with the Party’s agreement.
Those who believe in India’s parliamentary democracy might have thought that what our system requires is for a Chief Minister to hold the confidence of the legislative assembly from the bottom up but clearly that is not so because what a CM or PM seems to need are Party instructions from the top down. When Mr Bhattacharjee was anointed the new CM, the present author had remarked to the then Editor of The Statesman that the transition seemed to take place even without a formal vote of confidence in the Assembly. Does anyone in fact recall the last confidence vote debated and passed in the West Bengal Assembly? Democratic legislatures the world over routinely begin their new sessions with a debate and vote of no confidence being brought by the Opposition against the Government-of-the-day.
Does that happen with us, purportedly the world’s largest democracy? Let aside State legislatures, even our Parliament sees only the rare vote of confidence, and LK Advani specifically as Leader of the Opposition seems to have introduced none. Oppositions that do not wish to properly oppose are of course complicit in a government’s misdeeds.
It is the dadagiri culture shared by the official Communists that has caused the generational handover of power from Mr Basu and Mr Surjeet to the JNU coterie of the Karats and Mr Sitaram Yechuri. The “Left” like the “Right” and everyone else in Indian politics, can only handle cherubic “known” faces at the top ~ genuine grassroots activists like Binayak Sen or Medha Patkar must languish in jail or starve on hunger-strike in seeking to represent the politically and economically powerless in India while the entrenched dadas of Indian politics continue with their dissimulation.
In case of the Congress, it is an even deeper aspect of the Indian joint family system than dadagiri that has dominated its political culture, namely, the question who is the karta of the family and, if the karta is or seems too young or naïve or inexperienced, who will act as Regent on the karta’s behalf? Indira Gandhi was successfully guided in international politics for several years by a coterie led by PN Haksar. Rajiv Gandhi was attempted to be guided by several different competing coteries of senior party dadas ~ one of whom first brought up the name of Manmohan Singh in Indian politics on 22 March 1991 in a challenge addressed to the present author on liberalisation plans that Rajiv had authorised.
It is almost true to say that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been in recent years played by puppet-masters of whose personal interests and intrigues they remain clueless. As has been said before by this author, the most salubrious thing Sonia Gandhi could have done for the Congress Party was to remain steadfast in her decision to stay out of Indian politics, and to have organised a fair, tough intra-party contest among its putative senior leaders based on differences of political and economic ideology.
Instead there is now paralysis in decision-making induced by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh each mistakenly relying upon the other’s purported economic wisdom and political acumen. This confusion came to be most clearly illustrated in the choice of Head of State last year though that was something politically costless ~ the failures of which Karnataka is the current example may lead the Congress to lose what it, like other Indian parties, loves most of all, namely political power in Lutyens’ Delhi.
Indians should make no mistake: our good neighbours in Pakistan and Nepal (Muslim in Pakistan, Hindu and Buddhist and communist in Nepal) have been through healthy cathartic political experiences in recent months and years of a kind we have not. There continues to remain a dangerous intellectual vacuum around the throne of Delhi.
China’s force & diplomacy: The need for realism In India
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, May 31 2008,
It is almost as large an error to overestimate Chinese military aims and capabilities as it has been to underestimate them. On 8 May 2008 at Tokyo’s Waseda University, China’s President Hu Jintao declared in a speech broadcast live “China has taken a defensive military policy and will not engage in any arms race. We will not become a military threat to any country and we will never assert hegemony or be expansionistic”. This was as clear and authoritative a reply as possible to the June 2005 statement in Singapore of the then American defence minister Donald Rumsfeld: “China appears to be expanding its missile forces, allowing them to reach targets in many areas of the world, not just the Pacific region, while also expanding its missile capacities here in the region. Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: why this growing investment?”
By 2006, Rumsfeld’s generals were saying China had “the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States,” and could “field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional US military advantages absent US counter strategies”. The “sizing” of China’s military by American and other Western analysts became a parlour game ~ one with major business implications since the threat perceived or misperceived from China affects American decisions on the size of its own military.
As recently as 13 May 2008, the Wall Street Journal carried opinion that China’s military expansion demanded America have a 1000-ship navy not a 280-ship one, 40 aircraft-carriers not 11, 1000 F-22 aircraft not 183. Exaggerating China’s military and the threat posed by it to the world can mean big business for militaries opposing it!
Communist China’s physical, political and psychological domination of independent India since the 1950s has been achieved more by diplomacy, subterfuge and threat of force than actual military conflict. In its first phase, the policy was expressed clearly by the Chinese Ambassador to New Delhi on 16 May 1959 when he told India’s Foreign Secretary: “Our Indian friends, what is your mind? Will you agree to our thinking regarding the view that China can only concentrate its main attention eastward of China but not south-westward of China, nor is it necessary for it to do so?…. Friends, it seems to us that you, too, cannot have two fronts. Is it not so? If it is, here then lies the meeting point of our two sides. Will you please think it over?” (BN Mullick, Chinese Betrayal, p. 229).
At the time, Pakistan was in military alliances with the USA through CENTO and SEATO, and the Pakistan-China alliance was still years away. The Chinese had used subterfuge to construct their road linking Tibet and Sinkiang through Aksai Chin, ignoring India’s sovereignty, and were now suggesting they had no interest in fighting India because their major military interests were to their east as India’s were towards Pakistan.
The second phase was the short border conflict itself in 1962-63, which consolidated China’s grip on occupied territory in Aksai Chin while establishing its threat to the Brahmaputra Valley that has been perpetuated to this day. The third phase is represented by the 27 November 1974 conversation between Henry Kissinger and Deng Xiaoping, recently made publicly available:
“Deng : There’s something very peculiar about Indian policy. For example, that little kingdom Sikkim. They had pretty good control of Sikkim. Why did they annex it? Kissinger : It is a good thing India is pacifist, I hate to think (of what they would do) if they weren’t. (Laughs). Deng : Sikkim was entirely under the military control of India. Kissinger : I haven’t understood Sikkim. It is incomprehensible. Deng : After the military annexation, their military position was in no way strengthened. Kissinger : They had troops there already. Deng : And they haven’t increased their troops since. We published a statement about it. We just spoke for the cause of justice. Kissinger : Is it true that you set up loudspeakers to broadcast to the Indian troops on the border? It makes them very tense. (Laughs) Deng : We have done nothing new along the borders, and frankly we don’t fear that India will attack our borders. We don’t think they have the capability to attack our borders. There was some very queer talk, some said that the reason why the Chinese issued that statement about Sikkim was that the Chinese were afraid after Sikkim that India would complete the encirclement of China. Well, in the first place we never feel things like isolation and encirclement can ever matter very much with us. And particularly with India, it is not possible that India can do any encirclement of China. The most they can do is enter Chinese territory as far as the Autonomous Republic of Tibet, Lhasa. And Lhasa can be of no strategic importance to India. The particular characteristic of Lhasa is that it has no air-because the altitude is more than 3,000 metres. Kissinger : It’s a very dangerous area for drinking mao tai (a Chinese hard liquor). Deng : Frankly, if Indian troops were able to reach Lhasa, we wouldn’t be able to supply them enough air! (Laughter) Kissinger : I don’t think their intention is with respect to Tibet, their immediate intention is Nepal. Deng : That is correct. They have been recently exercising pressure on Nepal, refusing to supply them oil. It is the dream of Nehru, inherited by his daughter, to have the whole subcontinent in their pocket. Kissinger : And to have buffer zones around their border…. It is like British policy in the 19th Century. They always wanted Tibet demilitarized. Deng : I believe even the British at that time didn’t make a good estimate of whether there was enough air. (Laughter) Kissinger : I think an Indian attack on China would be a very serious matter that cannot be explained in terms of local conditions, but only in terms of a broader objective….”
The attitude that is revealed speaks for itself, and has been essentially continued by Deng’s successors in the next decades, especially Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. It is because China does not perceive a military threat from India that it has agreed to military exercises with us ~ exercises which, if anything, reinforce their psychological dominance by helping to spook our military’s morale. During this third phase also, China went about systematically creating a major military threat to India in its support of Pakistan’s military, exploiting our subcontinent’s communal conflicts fully to its own strategic advantage.
China has been engaged for more than a decade now in a massive exercise of modernisation of its armed forces, improving productivity, technology, organisation and discipline while trying to cut corruption. It has a right to do so, and such modernisation does not in and of itself signal aggressive intent. The last aggressive war China fought was almost 30 years ago against Vietnam. It is possible that what simply explains the military modernisation (besides conflict with Taiwan) is China’s awful history of being exploited by foreign powers over the centuries.
Indian analysts have expressed concern about nuclear submarines based in Hainan; but where else would China put them? We delude ourselves if we think we are the guardians of the Straits of Malacca. We may do better being concerned to try to modernise, improve productivity and reduce corruption in our own forces, as well as integrate them better with national goals as China has done instead of continuing to maintain them in a rather old-fashioned colonial / imperial manner.
China’s India Example: Tibet, Xinjiang May Not Be Assimilated Like Inner Mongolia And Manchuria
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article March 25, 2008
Zhang Qingli, Tibet’s current Communist Party boss, reportedly said last year, “The Communist Party is like the parent (father and mother) of the Tibetans. The Party is the real boddhisatva of the Tibetans.” Before communism, China’s people followed three non-theistic religious cultures, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, choosing whichever aspects of each they wished to see in their daily lives. Animosity towards the theism of Muslims and Christians predates the 1911 revolution. Count Witte, Russia’s top diplomatist in Czarist times, reported the wild contempt towards Islam and wholly unprovoked insult of the Emir of Bokhara by Li Hung Chang, Imperial China’s eminent Ambassador to Moscow, normally the epitome of civility and wisdom. In 1900 the slogan of the Boxer Revolts was “Protect the country, destroy the foreigner” and catholic churches and European settlers and priests were specifically targeted. The Communists have not discriminated in repression of religious belief and practice ~ monasteries, mosques, churches have all experienced desecration; monks, ulema, clergymen all expected to subserve the Party and the State.
For Chinese officials to speak of “life and death” struggle against the Dalai Lama sitting in Dharamsala is astounding; if they are serious, it signals a deep long-term insecurity felt in Beijing. How can enormous, wealthy, strong China feel any existential threat at all from unarmed poor Tibetans riding on ponies? Is an Israeli tank-commander intimidated by stone-throwing Palestinian boys? How is it China (even a China where the Party assumes it always knows best), is psychologically defensive and unsure of itself at every turn?
The Chinese in their long history have not been a violent martial people ~ disorganized and apolitical traders and agriculturists and highly civilised artisans and scholars more than fierce warriors fighting from horseback. Like Hindus, they were far more numerous than their more aggressive warlike invading rulers. Before the 20th Century, China was dominated by Manchu Tartars and Mongol Tartars from the Northeast and Northwest ~ the Manchus forcing humiliation upon Chinese men by compelling shaved heads with pigtails. Similar Tartar hordes ruled Russia for centuries and Stalin himself, according to his biographer, might have felt Russia buffered Europe from the Tartars.
Chinese nationalism arose only in the 20th Century, first under the Christian influence of Sun Yatsen and his brother-in-law Chiang Kaishek, later under the atheism of Mao Zedong and his admiring friends, most recently Deng Xiaoping and successors. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is the slogan of the present Communist Party but a more realistic slogan of what Mao and friends came to represent in their last decades may be “Chinese nationalism with socialist characteristics”. Taiwan and to lesser extent Singapore and Hong Kong represent “Chinese nationalism with capitalist characteristics”. Western observers, keen always to know the safety of their Chinese investments, have focused on China’s economics, whether the regime is capitalist or socialist and to what extent ~ Indians and other Asians may be keener to identify, and indeed help the Chinese themselves to identify better, the evolving nature of Chinese nationalism and the healthy or unhealthy courses this may now take.
Just as Czarist and Soviet Russia attempted Russification in Finland, the Baltics, Poland, Ukraine etc., Imperial and Maoist China attempted “Sinification” in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia as well as Tibet and Xinjiang (Sinkiang, East Turkestan). Russification succeeded partially but backfired in general. Similarly, Sinification succeeded naturally in Manchuria and without much difficulty in Inner Mongolia. But it has backfired and backfired very badly in Tibet and Xinjiang, and may be expected to do so always.
In India, our soft state and indolent corrupt apparatus of political parties constitute nothing like the organized aggressive war-machine that China has tried to make of its state apparatus, and we have much more freedom of all sorts. India does not prohibit or control peasant farmers or agricultural labourers from migrating to or visiting large metropolitan cities; villagers are as free as anyone else to clog up all city life in India with the occasional political rally ~ in fact India probably may not even know how to ban, suppress or repress most of the things Communist China does.
Hindu traditions were such that as long as you did not preach sedition against the king, you could believe anything ~ including saying, like the Carvaka, that hedonism and materialism were good, spiritualism was bunkum and the priestly class were a bunch of crooks and idiots. Muslim and British rulers in India were not too different ~ yes the Muslims did convert millions by offering the old choice of death or conversion to vanquished people, and there were evil rulers among them but also great and tolerant ones like Zainulabidin of Kashmir and Akbar who followed his example.
India’s basic political ethos has remained that unless you preach sedition, you can basically say or believe anything (no matter how irrational) and also pretty much do whatever you please without being bothered too much by government officials. Pakistan’s attempts to impose Urdu on Bengali-speakers led to civil war and secession; North India’s attempts to impose Hindi on the South led to some language riots and then the three-language formula ~ Hindi spreading across India through Bollywood movies instead.
China proudly says it is not as if there are no declared non-Communists living freely in Beijing, Shanghai etc, pointing out distinguished individual academics and other professionals including government ministers who are liberals, social democrats or even Kuomintang Nationalists. There are tiny state-approved non-Communist political parties in China, some of whose members even may be in positions of influence. It is just that such (token) parties must accept the monopoly and dictatorship of the Communists and are not entitled to take state power. The only religion you are freely allowed to indulge in is the ideology of the State, as that comes to be defined or mis-defined at any time by the Communist Party’s rather sclerotic leadership processes.
During China’s Civil War, the Communists apparently had promised Tibet and Xinjiang a federation of republics ~ Mao later reneged on this and introduced his notion of “autonomous” regions, provinces and districts. The current crisis in Tibet reveals that the notion of autonomy has been a complete farce. Instead of condemning the Dalai Lama and repressing his followers, a modern self-confident China can so easily resolve matters by allowing a Dalai Lama political party to function freely and responsibly, first perhaps just for Lhasa’s municipal elections and gradually in all of Tibet. Such a party and the Tibet Communist Party would be adequate for a two-party system to arise. The Dalai Lama and other Tibetan exiles also have a natural right to be issued Chinese passports enabling them to return to Tibet~ and their right to return is surely as strong as that of any Han or Hui who have been induced to migrate to Tibet from Mainland China. Such could be the very simple model of genuine autonomy for Tibet and Xinjiang whose native people clearly do not wish to be assimilated in the same way as Inner Mongolia and Manchuria. India’s federal examples, including the three-language formula, may be helpful. Once Mainland China successfully allows genuine autonomy and free societies to arise in Tibet and Xinjiang, the road to reconciliation with Taiwan would also have been opened.
Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP, Sena Etc Reveal Equally Bad Traits
By Subroto Roy
First published in
The Statesman, March 4 2008,
Editorial Page Special Article
A “black” American, born of a black Kenyan father and white American mother, and having a Muslim middle name Hussein though Christian by faith, may become the freely elected President of the USA in January 2009. He has stood up himself and anyone who knows Western cultures will know how hard it would have been to overcome workplace prejudices. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of America becoming a nation where people “will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” might start to be fulfilled.
Can the same be said of modern India, ever? When will Muslims, Dalits, tribals and whomever become well enough integrated with mainstream Hindu societies ~ and vice versa ~ that we have army generals, fighter pilots, submarine commanders, nuclear scientists, media moghuls, top executives, and yes, freely elected Prime Ministers of India from any externally identifiable group without batting an eyelid? The policies followed by the Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP etc., exemplified by Mr Chidambaram’s pandering Budget-Speech last week, suggest that the answer will be never.
Mr Chidambaram mentioned “Scheduled Caste” six times and “Minority” (meaning “Muslim”) five times in his speech~ if he or the Sonia-Manmohan Government genuinely felt any of the schemes mentioned were in the true interest of these groups, these schemes could have been simply and quietly implemented without fanfare or political advertisement. Making a big deal about them in Parliament during a Budget-Speech precisely reveals the actual underlying cynicism and hypocrisy. The fact may be it is not the schemes themselves that are important but the illusions created and sold about them, illusions that have electoral value because they deceive the purported beneficiaries into thinking that somebody powerful cares about them and controls their well-being.
A quarter-century ago in Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India, I applied the arguments of the black American economist Thomas Sowell to the Indian case. I said: “the racial composition of contemporary American society is a complex mosaic, and no-one can say with certainty how it has come to be what it is today. In such circumstances, for the government to try to isolate a single contingent characteristic like “race”, partition society on the basis of census data according to this characteristic, and then construct public policies accordingly, is to introduce an enormous arbitrariness into economic life. By merely defining a group by reference to a single contingent characteristic, which all its members seem to possess, the intrinsic complexity of the individual person is lost or overlooked. Two members of the same race may be very different from each other in every relevant characteristic (income, education, political preference, and so on), and indeed resemble members of other races more closely in them. A policy which introduces a citizen’s race as a relevant factor in the assignment of jobs or college places partitions the citizenry into vague groups: members of groups who are very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race rarely competing with each other anyway, while the burden and beneficence of the State’s policies fall on members of groups who are not very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race”.
Sowell himself (in Knowledge and Decisions) put it like this: “costs are borne disproportionately by those members of the general population who meet standards with the least margin and are therefore most likely to be the ones displaced to make room for minority applicants. Those who meet the standards by the widest margin are not directly affected ~ that is, pay no costs. They are hired, admitted or promoted as if blacks did not exist. People from families with the most general ability to pay also have the most ability to pay for the kind of education and training that makes such performance possible. The costs of special standards are paid by those who do not. Among the black population, those most likely to benefit from the lower standards are those closest to meeting the normal standards. It is essentially an implicit transfer of wealth among people least different in non-racial characteristics. For the white population it is a regressively graduated tax in kind, imposed on those who are rising but not on those already on top.’”
What Sowell said about American blacks may well apply to India’s religious and caste minorities today. Problems of tribal India are more subtle requiring more technical sociological and anthropological study.
The Leftist idea common to the Congress, Communists, BSP etc has been to perpetuate dependency of Muslims, Dalits, OBCs etc upon the whims of State power (as wielded by such Leftists themselves). By contrast, the Rightist/Fascistic idea of the BJP, its RSS parent, the Sena etc has been to try to bludgeon Muslims, Dalits and everyone else into submission whereby they must adopt majority customs, habits or political beliefs or (in true Nazi fashion) come to be exiled or banned from mainstream society. Both Left and Right in India have also promoted new government-induced “Sex Wars” between males and females ~ passing laws drastically raising the risk and cost of maintaining marriages and family households, which then simply collapse as has happened elsewhere.
In general, the Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP etc have been united in being wholly incapable of seeing India’s people as individuals in their own right in all the diversity and complexity that entails ~ as free citizens who possess individual rights to belief, property, security, privacy etc. Instead the idea has been to politically categorize people as members of mass-groups that may be then manipulated as puppets using State power in one direction or another. The result has been a general failure in the country to develop the notion of responsible individual citizens (hundreds of millions in number) dealing with responsible public and civic institutions including the State.
Citizens and State
Even in nations that are heirs to a long history of democratic political development, the link often has not been made in the public mind between enjoyment or lack of enjoyment of public services, and costs upon individual citizens from whom resources must be ultimately raised. In a fiscal democracy “those who bear the costs of public services are also the beneficiaries” (JM Buchanan); conversely, those who demand public services must pay for them in real resources one way or another. If citizens feel they receive little or nothing of value from government, there is an obvious loss of incentive to be counted as responsible voting members of the same community, and instead reason to evade taxes or flee the country or cynically believe everything to be corrupt.
On the other hand, if citizens demand public services without expecting to contribute private resources for their production, this amounts to being no more than a wish to be free-riders on the general budget. While Indian citizens have been arbitrarilty partitioned by government according to religion, caste etc., widespread cynicism has prevailed about secular provision of public services by government at any level. At the same time the idea is far from understood that beneficiaries of public services must sooner or later expect to bear real resource-costs one way or another. Everyday politics thus becomes highly irresponsible. Political New Delhi has created such a state of affairs over decades and continues to contribute to it.
Once upon a time, not very long ago, there was something called “Brand Buddha”. The basic idea was that the CPI-M had quietly reformed itself, passing the baton from old unreconstructed communists like Jyoti Basu and Harkishan Surjeet to a new generation of pragmatists and modernists represented by Prakash Karat’s JNU coterie at the national level and the smartly dressed bhadralok persona of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Kolkata itself.
Big businessmen and their foreign collaborators were no longer the “comprador bourgeoisie” but rather were allies to whom government subsidies and concessions, especially land, would be and should be granted. The “investment climate” and “work culture” under a CPI-M government would be among the best in India. High employment levels would be the hoped-for result, especially employment for those associated positively with the CPI-M and its friends. The usual set of academics, journalists, film and TV actors, dancers, sportsmen, singers, NRIs etc who were directly or indirectly recipients of the largesse of the West Bengal Government helped to contribute to the idea that a viable political brand had been identified and it represented the unique way forward for the State. “You are either with us or against us” has always been the brief philosophy of communist and fascist parties around the world ~ joining up with Brand Buddha meant you were part of the bandwagon of progress, if you did not join up you would be left behind. (No one thought Brand Buddha could be or would come to be actively opposed.)
At the national level, the old Indira Gandhi-Communist alliance was restored by way of a new one led by Sonia Gandhi. Jyoti Basu had frankly described Sonia as “a housewife” but now that the housewife was running the country and needed the Communists’ help in doing so, the opportunity was not to be missed to extract whatever price was possible. The main broker between 10 Janpath and West Bengal’s Communists was Pranab Mukherjee who was most familiar with the old Indira-style of opportunistic Indian politics, and who was given the mandate of appeasing the Communists with whatever they needed while also being the pointman to make a phone call to his friend Buddhadeb to see to it, e.g., that the CPI-M like everyone else enjoyed the American and Indian air force show at Kalaikunda.
The “enemy” (for, after all, every unholy alliance must have an identifiable enemy) was the wicked old BJP. Everyone from Sonia Gandhi via Pranab Mukherjee to Jyoti Basu would voice the fear that if they did not join hands in socialist secularist unity, the BJP Boogeyman was destined to return to power. And of course the BJP did nothing and had little positive in its record to dissipate those fears. It was indeed filled with old men and it had indeed behaved wickedly while in power. From negligence in the Graham Staines murder in Orissa to the pogrom in Gujarat, there was little to suggest the BJP’s leadership had any clear ideas or principles about right and wrong governance. In office from 1998-2004, its macroeconomic record was woeful, mainly because it knew no better than maintain the same economic bureaucrats as its predecessors, and allow its finance and other economic ministers to be wholly manipulated by big business lobbies. Now when those bureaucrats and big business lobbies created, endorsed and marketed Brand Buddha itself, the BJP found it had been successfully finessed and could hardly speak a word in opposition. If the BJP thinks it can win in 2009 by its discredited leaders merely recycling anti-Muslim or anti-Christian formulae as before, it may be in for a surprise and a disappointment.
Brand Buddha reached its pinnacle when Sonia Gandhi’s Prime Minister endorsed it personally at a big business meeting in Kolkata on 12 January 2005. But the contradiction involved in Sonia Gandhi then giving merely a perfunctory speech on behalf of the West Bengal Congress in the 2006 election campaign could not be covered up and did not escape the notice of her local partymen.
Brand Buddha started to unravel when Mamata Banerjee realized that all the CPI-M really had was a brand being marketed, not something based on any new and fresh political and economic reality. Mamata has never accepted Sonia’s right to lead the Congress which is what had led to the Trinamul breaking away ~ at the same time, even when she was allied to the BJP, no one could accuse her of being anti-Muslim or anything but secular in her political identity. Her three-week long fast over Singur blocked Metro Channel and riveted the country’s political attention while TV broadcasts of the police-behaviour at Singur acted as a signal to the people of Nandigram to prepare for the same or worse.
The fact the Nandigram peasants who feared losing their land were mostly Muslim caused the central Sonia-Pranab-Buddhadeb myth to explode that only they stood to protect Muslims from the BJP. Once that myth had exploded, the fact the emperor was naked came to be seen by all. There never had been a viable political or economic product behind the brand that was being so heavily advertised and endorsed. If Buddhadeb and his party had been genuinely confident of possessing a constructive new economic policy for West Bengal, they should have transparently and honestly discussed it in detail and gone to the people to ask for a mandate on it before the 2006 elections.
Or when the issue boiled over and Mamata went on her fast at the end of 2006, Buddhadeb could have dissolved the Assembly and gone for fresh elections asking for a specific mandate from Bengal’s voters. Instead, the Chief Minister or his senior ministers not once found the need or courage to address all of West Bengal’s people on television even though the State came to be rocked by violence, mayhem and tragedy – hardly a climate for investment and new employment.
2007 saw the CPI-M and its New Delhi Congress friends being revealed to be bunglers, who could not cope with things as small as Rizwanur’s love-marriage or Taslima’s writings except with heavy-handed repression. The CPI-M’s own unions had crippled their own Government and the State before with bandhs, but not until the Cooch Behar firings has the anarchy become complete. The Forward Bloc protesters were, after all, merely asking for implementation of Sonia Gandhi’s favourite scheme of rural employment guarantees! Anarchy is the absence of government and when a government is so divided that its members cannot decide if they are the government or the opposition, it has to be said there is an absence of government.
Recovery requires candour which in turn requires honesty and introspection, all of which may be qualities too difficult to find. What Brand Buddha could have and should have been about is this: the CPI-M cutting waste, fraud and abuse of publicly owned resources from all the organs, departments and projects of the West Bengal Government that they have controlled for decades, and drastically improving the productivity of all those receiving State government wages or contracts. Real governance does not require any phony advertising because success advertises itself.
Our Dismal Politics
Will Independent India Survive Until 2047?
By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Statesman Editorial Page, Special Article, Feb 1 2008
Mayawati and Narendra Modi are both in their 50s. So are the current leaders of Russia, Germany, Britain, France, the USA. No country, not even Communist Party China, is as pretentiously corrupt as ours in allowing a whole generation to be bred of “babalog” politicians among children of dead politicians or existing elderly politicians in their 70s and 80s. These babalog, Rahul Gandhi pre-eminent among them, are usually in their late 30s or early 40s. Having developed no useful marketable skills in life nor done anything worthwhile or creative, they have tended to arbitrage the political positions of their parents (whether departed or living) into gaining access and advantage in Delhi or the State capitals. Some nepotism is being seen in the USA with the Bush and Clinton families but nobody had heard of a Putin, Merkel or Sarkozy before they won their way into political power.
The Indian phenomenon of the inheritance of advantage is also seen in organised business, in Bollywood and in journalism, which, like our politics, tend to be sold via TV. Academic institutions and the civil and military services are not far behind although there the phenomenon more usually involves exporting adult children (and bank accounts) especially to the USA or UK or Australia, and then making annual trips abroad during the hot summer months to be able to tell the neighbours about later.
The idea that the future of Indian politics is in the hands of a babalog GenNext is sheer nonsense and fantasy. The victories of Mayawati and Modi were also defeats of the expectations raised by Rahul Gandhi’s Congress. There is a continuity of years between someone like Sonia Gandhi and her children which implies there can be no discontinuous jump from Sonia to Rahul in the leadership of the Congress. In between, as it were, are people like Kamal Nath among “Friends of Sanjay” or Mani Shankar Aiyar (a solitary Rajivist), both of whom have won seats in the Lok Sabha unlike Sonia’s current elderly PM. If Sonia Gandhi devolves political power to her son who then leads the Congress into another defeat, of which UP and Gujarat have been examples, there will be a revolt among senior middle-aged politicians in the Congress, and the Congress may splinter into a Right Faction and Left Faction leaving Rajiv Gandhi’s family to look after the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation which is what they should have been doing in the first place rather than playing at Indian politics.
A Congress disintegration may or may not finally cause a useful bipolarisation in Indian politics because Indian politics has not only an economic dimension, it has a social or communal dimension too. Besides being (ostensibly) pro-poor or anti-poor, you can be either “Islamophilic” or “Islamophobic” ~ i.e. either pro-Muslim “secularist” /”pseudo-secularist”/minorityist, or anti-Muslim “communalist”/ “fascist”/majority communitarian.
Narasimha Rao cleverly manipulated the median parliamentary vote along these two dimensions so as to maintain a weak Government in power for five years by seeming to ally with the BJP on economic issues and seeming to ally with Leftists on social issues. If the Congress splits after another major defeat caused by Sonia-Rahul incompetence, with the Right Faction joining hands with whatever the BJP morphs into, and the Left Faction joining hands with whatever the CPI-M and CPI morph into, the central question will become which side of the split along the economic dimension holds the median voter along the pro-Muslim/anti-Muslim social dimension.
The BJP remains as dreadful and unscientific a gathering as it has been always without displaying the slightest creative trace of being able to evolve into a serious Conservative Party that India remains in desperate need of. AB Vajpayee and LK Advani led it into electoral defeat but that was not enough for their patriarchy to be disturbed by competent new younger people. In any case, the BJPs more articulate better-educated members in their 50s and 60s are unable to command nation-wide respect nor, with the exception of Modi, are they able to win an election on their own steam. The idea that e.g. Pramode Mahajan’s son could “succeed” him on the 10 JanPath pattern fortunately self-exploded. The best the BJP could do was to choose an inarticulate member as its nominal head while the patriarchy continued unchanged in its backward communalised thinking. Its RSS parent occasionally shows a little savant-like intelligence but generally remains in mental and physical regression.
As for the so-called Left, its multi-dimensional hypocrisy and incompetence has been permanently exposed in the heartland of what passes for Indian communism, Bengal. After the demise of the USSR and transition of Communist China towards Capitalism/ Fascism, there has been no real reason why the CPI and CPI-M cannot merge into one and then renounce together their retrograde ideology in favour of becoming a genuine Social Democratic and Labour Party representing working people and the poor. But that, like any corporate merger, would mean administrative redundancies, retrenchment and new management, and the last thing Stalinist politburo members like is the idea of losing their Rajya Sabha sinecures (in Russia and China they lost their heads but Indian conditions are kinder, gentler, more non-violent).
Besides the Congress, BJP and “Left”, most other parties in India revolve around the whims, personality and IQ of some single local political warlord/warlady. The Naxals and other extremists, including Hindu and Muslim religious terrorists, at least make some pretence at representing political interests of some sections of the people; there is thus at least a slight authenticity about them, no matter how disengaged their thought processes may be from realities around them.
Endless deficit finance
The 2008 Budget or the 2009 General Election seem likely to remain in the grip of all such dramatis personae permanently on the Indian stage, and no new real creative constructive force seems likely to appear. Every political misdemeanour will be paid for by endless deficit finance and money-printing, the accounts and auditing of all public institutions shall remain in a shambles while private pockets of the heads of public institutions come to be lined with gold, the armed forces shall be ready to fight their Pakistani counterparts while deferring to any more formidable adversary, rich business people will continue with their grotesque conspicuous consumption, young people graduating from India’s pampered institutions of tertiary education will continue to line up outside foreign embassies to seek hope and escape.
Can India survive as an independent democratic republic for 100 years after 1947, let alone be a country where all citizens are reasonably free and comfortable? A worst-case scenario may see North India in endless conflict with a chaotic Pakistan, Eastern India hived off under Beijing’s influence, and peninsular India from Surat to Vizag being Western-dominated with “SEZs” on the pattern of pre-communist Coastal China. The failure of our elite classes to provide healthy creative governance over generations must inevitably result in the putrefaction of our body politic.
My two main works, namely my book of 19 years ago Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (first published by Routledge, London & New York, 1989, 1991), and my monograph of 24 years ago Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India (first published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, London, 1984) are both now republished here, each with a new preface. I have also published here for the first time the full story of my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi — an abbreviated version appeared in Freedom First in October 2001 which focussed on economic policy and deliberately excluded mention of my warnings about his vulnerability to assassination and my attempts in vain to get people around him to do something about it. I have also republished my three advisory memoranda to him between September 1990 and March 1991, which were first published in The Statesman‘s Editorial Page of July 31, August 1 and August 2 1991.
I have also published here now for the first time a public lecture I gave as the Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham in 2004 titled “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”. Also republished is “A General Theory of Globalization and Modern Terrorism” which was my keynote address to the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats at their Manila meeting in November 2001; it appeared first in September 11 & Political Freedom: Asian Perspectives(eds. Smith, Gomez & Johannen) in Singapore in 2002.
I have also published for the first time my April 29 2000 address titled “Towards a Highly Transparent Monetary & Fiscal Framework for India’s Union and State Governments” to the Reserve Bank’s Annual “Conference of State Finance Secretaries”.
Also to be found in one place are my most recent signed writings since 2005 in The Statesman and elsewhere on India’s economy and foreign policy, Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Tibet, Taiwan, the United States, etc.
My political affiliation in India would be to a non-existent party — as may be seen from the article on a Liberal Party for India; and I trust it will be seen that I have dispensed criticism upon the present-day Congress Party, BJP/RSS and Communists equally harshly.
Readers are welcome to quote from my work under the normal “fair use” rule, but please quote me by name and indicate the place of original publication. Readers are also welcome to comment or correspond by email, though please try to introduce yourself.
The new preface of Philosophy of Economics is reproduced below as it is partly biographical.
“(Philosophy of Economics) germinated when I was 18 or 19 years of age in Paris, Helsinki and London, and it was first published when I was 34 in Honolulu. I came to economics from natural science (biology, chemistry, physics), not mathematics. It was inevitable I would be drawn to the beauty of philosophy as a theoretical discipline while being driven, as a post-Independence Indian, to economics as the practical discipline that might unlock secrets to India’s prosperity and progress. I belonged to an ancient family of political men, and my father, who had joined India’s new foreign service the year before I was born, inculcated in me as a boy an idea that I had “a mission” (though he later forgot he had done so).
I was fortunate to fail to enter Oxford’s PPE and instead go to the London School of Economics. LSE was at an intellectual peak in the early 1970s. DHN Johnson in international law, ACL Day in international monetary economics, Brian Griffiths vs Marcus Miller in monetary economics with everyone still in awe of Harry Johnson’s graduate lectures in macroeconomics, Ken Wallis, Graham Mizon, JJ Thomas, David Hendry in econometrics with the odd lecture by Durbin himself – I was exposed to a fully grown up intellectual seriousness from the day I arrived as an 18 year old. Michio Morishima as my professorial tutor told me frankly that, as an Indian, I would face less prejudice in Western academia than in the private sector, and said he was speaking from experience as a fellow-Asian. He turned out to be wrong but it was wise advice nevertheless, just as wise as his requiring pupils to read Hicks’ Value and Capital (which, in our undergraduate mythology, he himself had read inside a Japanese gunboat during war).
What was relatively weak at LSE was general economic theory. We were good at deriving the Best Linear Unbiased Estimator but left unsatisfied with our grasp of the theory of value that constituted the roots of our discipline. I managed a First and was admitted to Cambridge as a Research Student in 1976, where fortune had Frank Hahn choose me as a student. That at the outset was protection from the communist cabal that ran “development economics” with whom almost all the Indians ended up. I was wholly impecunious in my first year as a Research Student, and had to, for example, proof-read Arrow and Hahn’s General Competitive Analysis for its second edition to receive 50 pounds sterling from Hahn which kept me going for a short time. My exposure to Hahn’s subtle, refined and depthless thought as an economist of the first rank led to fascination and wonderment, and I read and re-read his “On the notion of equilibrium in economics”, “On the foundations of monetary theory”, “Keynesian economics and general equilibrium theory” and other clear-headed attempts to integrate the theory of value with the theory of money — a project Wicksell and Marshall had (perhaps wisely) not attempted and Keynes, Hicks and Patinkin had failed at.
Hahn insisted a central question was to ask how money, which is intrinsically worthless, can have any value, why anyone should want to hold it. The practical relevance of this question is manifest. India today in 2007 has an inconvertible currency, vast and growing public debt financed by money-creation, and more than two dozen fiscally irresponsible State governments without money-creating powers. While pondering, over the last decade, whether India’s governance could be made more responsible if States were given money-creating powers, I have constantly had Hahn’s seemingly abstruse question from decades ago in mind, as to why anyone will want to hold State currencies in India, as to whether the equilibrium price of those monies would be positive. (Lerner in fact gave an answer in 1945 when he suggested that any money would have value if its issuer agreed to collect liabilities in it — as a State collects taxes – and that may be the simplest road that bridges the real/monetary divide.)
Though we were never personal friends and I did not ingratiate myself with Hahn as did many others, my respect for him only grew when I saw how he had protected my inchoate classical liberal arguments for India from the most vicious attacks that they were open to from the communists. My doctoral thesis, initially titled “A monetary theory for India”, had to be altered due to paucity of monetary data at the time, as well as the fact India’s problems of political economy and allocation of real resources were more pressing, and so the thesis became “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”. When no internal examiner could be found, the University of Cambridge, at Hahn’s insistence, showed its greatness by appointing two externals: C. J. Bliss at Oxford and T. W. Hutchison at Birmingham, former students of Hahn and Joan Robinson respectively. My thesis received the most rigorous and fairest imaginable evaluation from them.
I had been attracted to Cambridge partly by its old reputation for philosophy, especially that of Wittgenstein. But I met no worthwhile philosophers there until a few months before I was to leave for the United States in 1980, when I chanced upon the work of Renford Bambrough. Hahn had challenged me with the question, “how are you so sure your value judgements promoting liberty blah-blah are better than those of Chenery and the development economists?” It was a question that led inevitably to ethics and its epistemology — when I chanced upon Bambrough’s work, and that of his philosophical master, John Wisdom, the immense expanse of metaphysics (or ontology) opened up as well. “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes, He star’d at the Pacific…”
It has taken me more than a quarter century to traverse some of that expanse; when I returned to Britain in 2004 as the Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham, I was very kindly allowed to deliver a public lecture, “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”, wherein I repaid a few of my debts to the forgotten work of Bambrough and Wisdom — whom I extravagantly compared with the Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism, also saying that the trio of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough were reminiscent of what Socrates, Plato and Aristotle might have been like.
I had written to Bambrough from within Cambridge expressing my delight at finding his works and saying these were immensely important to economics; he had invited me to his weekly discussion groups at St John’s College but I could not attend. Between 1979 and 1989 we corresponded while I worked in America on my application of his and Wisdom’s work to problems in economics. We met only once when I returned to Cambridge from Blacksburg for my doctoral viva voce examination in January 1982. Six years later in 1988 he said of my Philosophy of Economics, “The work is altogether well-written and admirably clear”, and on another occasion he said he was “extremely pleased” at the interest I had taken in his work. The original preface of Philosophy of Economics said he was not responsible for the use I had made of his writings, which I reiterated in the 2004 lecture. At our meeting, he offered to introduce me to Wisdom who had returned to Cambridge from Oregon but I was too scared and declined, something I have always regretted. It is only in the last few years that I have begun to grasp the immensity of Wisdom’s achievement in comprehending, explaining and extending the work of both Wittgenstein and Freud. His famous “Virginia Lectures” of 1957 were finally published by his admirers with his consent as Proof and Explanation just before his death in 1993. As for Bambrough, I believe he may have been or become the single greatest philosopher since Aristotle; he told me in correspondence there was an unfinished manuscript Principia Metaphysica (the prospectus of which appeared in Philosophy 1964), which unfortunately his family and successors knew nothing about; the fact he died almost in obscurity and was soon forgotten by his University speaks more about the contemporary state of academic philosophy than about him. (Similarly, the fact Hahn, Morishima and like others did not receive the so-called Economics “Nobel” says more about the award than it does about them.)
All I needed in 1980 was time and freedom to develop the contents of this book, and that I found in America — which I could not have done in either Britain or India. It would take eight or nine very strenuous years before the book could be written and published, mostly spent at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (1980-1985) and University of Hawaii (1986-1990) Economics Departments, with short interludes at Cornell (Fall 1983) and Brigham Young (1985-86). I went to Virginia because James M. Buchanan was there, and he, along with FA Hayek, were whom Hahn decided to write on my behalf. Hayek said he was too old to accept me but wrote me kind and generous letters praising and hence encouraging my inchoate liberal thoughts and arguments. Buchanan was welcoming and I learnt much from him and his colleagues about the realities of public finance and democratic politics, which I quickly applied in my work on India, published in 1984 in London as Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India and republished elsewhere here. The visit to the Cornell Economics Department was really so I could talk to Max Black the philosopher, who represented a different line of Wittgenstein’s students, and Max and I became friends until his death in 1988.
Buchanan’s departure from Blacksburg led to a gang of inert “game theorists” to arrive, and I was immediately under attack – one senior man telling me I was free to criticise the “social choice” work of Amartya Sen (since he was Indian too) but I was definitely unfree to do the same of Sen’s mentor, Kenneth Arrow, who was Jewish! (Arrow was infinitely more gracious when he himself responded to my criticism.) On top of that arose a matter of a woman, fresh off the aeroplane from India, being assaulted by a senior professor, and when I stood for her against her assailant, my time in Blacksburg was definitely up.
The manuscript of this book was at the time under contract with University of Chicago Press, and, thanks to Mrs Harry Johnson there, I had come in contact with that great American, Theodore W. Schultz. Schultz, at age 81, told me better to my face what the book was about than I had realised myself, namely, it was about economics as knowledge — its subject-matter was the epistemology of economics. Schultz wrote letters all over America on my behalf (as did Milton Friedman at Stanford and Sidney Alexander of MIT, whom I had also met and become friends with), and I was able to first spend a happy year among the Mormons at Brigham Young, and then end up at the University of Hawaii where I was given responsibility for the main graduate course in macroeconomics. I taught Harry Johnson-level IS-LM theory and Friedman-Tobin macroeconomics and then the new “rational expectations” vs Keynesian material.
I was also offered a large University grant to work on “South Asia”, which led to the books Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, and Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, both created by myself and WE James, and which led to the origins of India’s 1991 economic reform and the India-Pakistan peace process as told elsewhere. Also, this book came to be accepted for publication by Routledge, as the first economics book in its famed International Library of Philosophy.
Just as I was set to be evaluated for promotion and tenure at the University of Hawaii, I became the victim of a most vicious racist defamation (and there was some connection with Blacksburg). Quite fed up with the sordidness of American academia as I had experienced it, I sued in the federal court, which consumed much of the next half dozen years as the case worked its way through the United States Supreme Court twice. Milton Friedman and Theodore W. Schultz stood as expert witnesses on my behalf but you would not have known it from the judge’s ruling. There had been not only demonstrable perjury and suborning of perjury by the State of Hawaii’s officers, there was also “after-discovered” evidence of bribery of court-officers in the US District Court for the District of Hawaii, and I had to return to India in 1996 quite exhausted to recuperate from the experience. “Solicitation of counsel, clerks or judges” is “embracery curialis”, recognized as extrinsic fraud and subversion of justice sinceJepps 72 E R 924 (1611), “firmly established in English practice long before the foundation” of the USA, Hazel Atlas, 322 US 238 (1943). “Embracery is an offense striking at the very foundation of civil society” says Corpus Juris 20, 496. A court of equity has inherent power to investigate if a judgement has been obtained by fraud, and that is a power to unearth it effectively, since no fraud is more odious than one to subvert justice. Cases include when “by reason of something done by the successful party… there was in fact no adversary trial or decision of the issue in the case. Where the unsuccessful party has been prevented from exhibiting fully his case, by fraud or deception practised on him by his opponent, as…where an attorney fraudulently or without authority assumes to represent a party and connives at his defeat; or where the attorney regularly employed corruptly sells out his client’s interest to the other side ~ these, and similar cases which show that there has never been a real contest in the trial or hearing of the case, are reasons for which a new suit may be sustained to set aside and annul the former judgment or decree, and open the case for a new and a fair hearing….” (Hazel Atlas). There is no time-limit in United States federal law for rectification of fraud on the court of this sort, and I remain fully hopeful today of the working of American justice in the case.
The practical result was that this book was never able to be properly publicized among economists as it would have been had I become Professor of Economics at the University of Hawaii by 1992 as expected. The hardback sold out quickly on its own steam and went into paperback by 1991, and a friend told me it was being used for a course at Yale Law School. The reviews were mostly intelligent. Upon returning to Britain as the Wincott Visiting Professor in 2004, I found times had changed and so had Routledge who would not keep it in print let alone permit a second revised edition. But I am now free to republish the book as I please, and today in 2007, with the Internet growing to a maturity which allows the young geeks at WordPress.com to want to encourage blogging worldwide, I can think of no more apt place to reproduce the first edition of this book than here at my own blog http://www.independentindian.com.
This is not a second or revised edition, and it is unchanged in content except for this lengthy new preface made necessary by the adventures and dramas the book’s author found himself unwittingly part of since its first publication. I am 52 now and happy to say I endorse the book just as I had published it at 34, though I do find it a little impatient and too terse in a few places. The 1991 paperback corrected a few slight errors in the 1989 hardback, and has been used. I am planning an entirely new book which shall have its roots in this one though it will be mostly in philosophy and not economics — the outlines it may take may be seen in the 2004 public lecture I gave on the work of Bambrough and Wisdom mentioned above and published elsewhere; its main aim will be to uncover for new generations the immense worth there is in their work which is in danger of being lost.
At least two names failed to appear in the original list of acknowledgements. G. Bruce Chapman, now of the University of Toronto, and I talked much of serious ethics and political philosophy when I first arrived at Cambridge in 1976. And in 1980 in Blacksburg, Anil Lal, then a graduate student and house-painter, borrowed my copy of Bambrough’s work, read it, and later made a comment on the metaphysics of John Wisdom which allowed me to see things more clearly.
How American foreign policy did a U-turn about Communist China’s India aggression. The Government of India should publish its official history of the 1962 war.
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Jan 6 2008, The Statesman Jan 7 2008
Editorial Page Special Article
THE 1972-74 conversations between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger on one hand and Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping on the other, especially about India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have been public for a few years now. They make disturbing reading for Indians and Bangladeshis, and for Pakistanis too who may be concerned about the political health of their country. Yahya Khan, Pakistan’s debauched military dictator, made the Nixon-Mao meeting possible and received much praise from Zhou and support from Nixon and Kissinger. Pakistan’s official assessment of Yahya following the 1971 military defeat and secession of Bangladesh was far more candid and truthful, giving the lie to the praise bestowed upon him by Nixon and Zhou in their conversation.
Nixon and Kissinger were decidedly second-rate intellects in political power who believed themselves first-rate ~ a dangerous circumstance. Their policy caused Chiang Kaishek’s Republic of China to be expelled from the UN, its veto-wielding seat taken by Mao’s People’s Republic. The Government of India, under influence of communist sympathisers like Krishna Menon, KM Pannikar, KPS Menon et al, had been pleading the same case at the UN since 1949/1950, rebuffed each time by American veto. Now Nixon and Kissinger yielded to the idea to the delight of Mao-Zhou, and ganged up with Pakistan’s military against democratic India and the new Bangladesh.
Nixon went to Beijing at a time the catastrophic American involvement in Vietnam had reached a peak ~ something that itself was an outcome of the Dulles-Nixon doctrine of a “domino effect” in South East Asia. The Americans failed to comprehend Vietnamese nationalism against France or recognise how that had been historically directed at imperial China. Nixon’s carpet-bombing of Cambodia in needless extension of the Vietnam conflict was to cause the rise to power of Pol Pot and his vicious Khmer Rouge (to remove whom Vietnam attacked, causing China to attack Vietnam in 1979).
Nixon was in Beijing in February 1972 ostensibly to seek Chinese cooperation in ending the Vietnam War, as well as opening an Eastern Front in the Cold War against the USSR. Nixon fancied himself a Metternich-like statesman whose wisdom and brilliance would redesign the international order for a century. What was plain to unsentimental observers was that his underlying purpose was greedy and hardly statesmanlike, namely, winning re-election in November 1972 by outflanking domestic left-wing criticism using photos of having been toasted by Mao himself. That Nixon was no Machiavelli, Metternich or Bismarck but more likely just delusional and paranoid came to be revealed in his subsequent political debacle over Watergate.
The US attitude towards China’s 1959-1962 aggression against India changed drastically because of Nixon’s Beijing visit. Tibet’s people and culture had not been attacked and brutalised by Chiang Kaishek’s Nationalist Army nor by India’s soldiers ~ the Mao-Zhou Communist war machine, fresh from their Korean adventures, did that. There would have been no border conflict between China and India today in 2008 if Communist China had not first invaded and occupied Tibet.
All such fundamental facts used to be perfectly clear to the Americans as to everyone else. India’s Defence Ministry’s excellent official history of the 1962 war acknowledges the vital aid sent by President Kennedy with the help of Ambassador Galbraith. Ten years later, in 1972, Nixon and Kissinger in Beijing changed all that completely and did a U-turn against India using the dubious book of a single journalist as cover for their dissimulation:
“ZHOU: …. Actually the five principles (of peaceful coexistence) were put forward by us, and Nehru agreed. But later on he didn’t implement them. In my previous discussions with Dr Kissinger, I mentioned a book by Neville Maxwell about the Indian war against us, which proves this.
NIXON: I read the book.
KISSINGER: I gave it to the President.
NIXON: I committed a faux pas ~ Dr Kissinger said it was ~ but I knew what I was doing. When Mrs Gandhi was in my office before going back, just before the outbreak of the (1971) war, I referred to that book and said it was a very interesting account of the beginning of the war between India and China. She didn’t react very favourably when I said that. (Zhou laughs)
ZHOU: Yes, but you spoke the truth. It wasn’t faux pas. Actually that event was instigated by Khrushchev. He encouraged them. In looking at 1962, the events actually began in 1959. Why did he go to Camp David? In June of that year, before he went to Camp David, he unilaterally tore up the nuclear agreements between China and the Soviet Union. And after that there were clashes between Chinese and Indian troops in the western part of Sinkiang, the Aksai Chin area. In that part of Sinkiang province there is a high plateau. The Indian-occupied territory was at the foot of the Karakorums, and the disputed territory was on the slope in between.
KISSINGER: It’s what they call Ladakh.
NIXON: They attacked up the mountains.
ZHOU: We fought them and beat them back, with many wounded. But the TASS Agency said that China had committed the aggression against India…..They just don’t want to listen to reason. Anyway, the TASS Agency account had the effect of encouraging India. And also Maxwell mentioned in the book that in 1962 the Indian Government believed what the Russians told them that we, China, would not retaliate against them. Of course we won’t send our troops outside our borders to fight against other people. We didn’t even try to expel Indian troops from the area south of the McMahon Line, which China doesn’t recognize, by force. But if (Indian) troops come up north of the McMahon Line, and come even further into Chinese territory, how is it possible for us to refrain from retaliating? We sent three open telegrams to Nehru asking him to make a public reply, but he refused. He was so discourteous; he wouldn’t even do us the courtesy of replying, so we had no choice but to drive him out. You know all the other events in the book, so I won’t describe them, but India was encouraged by the Soviet Union to attack.
NIXON: I would like to ask the Prime Minister a question with regard to Bangladesh recognition. We have delayed recognition though Britain and other countries have done so.
ZHOU: France has also recognised Bangladesh.
NIXON: Before we make a decision on that, we have tried to find the attitude of (Zulfikar Ali) Bhutto. And Bhutto indicated he does not object to recognition. In fact he could see that we would have some advantage in not leaving the field clear to the Soviet Union in that region. It is our understanding that India is supposed to withdraw all its forces from Bangladesh by the 24th of March. And based on what we have for consideration, we have for consideration the possibility of recognising Bangladesh about that time….”
“ZHOU: …. we truly wish to see (India) truly withdraw their troops in East Pakistan, now called Bangladesh. We wish to see them truly do this and not just with words. Of course they can only do that superficially, because if they get some Bengali forces to remain and join Mujibar Rahman, there would be no way to be sure because the Bengalis all look the same. But that would trouble to the future of India and Mrs Gandhi herself. The Indians said they have no territorial ambitions, but the development of events is that they have remained in their place and refused to withdraw. Once again we can only cite the events of Indian aggression in the 1962 war. At that time our troops pressed to the foothills quite close to Tezpur in Assam, and when they reached that place, Chairman Mao ordered that all troops should turn back. We turned back to the Indians ~ this is in Maxwell’s book ~ and we withdrew all troops back north of the so-called McMahon Line because one must show one can be trusted and must not wait for others to act…. India should withdraw its troops from the areas it is occupying in West Pakistan, and Pakistan should also withdraw from the lesser areas it occupies in India. Bhutto agrees. These two things, at least, the Indian side should abide by. If the US recognises Bangladesh after this situation is brought about, then we believe this would raise the prestige of the US in the United Nations.
After all, what you want is to bring about the withdrawal of all troops from Bangladesh and West Pakistan. Also, you will be able to encourage Mr Bhutto and give him some assistance. That is what they need. You said your actions should be parallel to ours, and we don’t mind that. We said this both to Yahya, the former President, and to the present President. Both of us owe something to Yahya, although he didn’t show much statesmanship in leading his country, for (bridging) the link between our two countries.
NIXON: He is a bridge.
ZHOU: We should not forget and we cannot forget, especially that Dr Kissinger was able through him to come secretly for talks here. And when a man makes a contribution to the world, we should remember him.
KISSINGER: Actually the President sent a message to Bhutto that he should treat Yahya well in retirement and we would not look favourably on any retribution. It was a personal message from Pakistan.
ZHOU: …. At the time of the ceasefire they (the Pakistanis) still had 80,000 troops in East Pakistan. It was not a situation in which they couldn’t keep fighting….. Yahya should have concentrated his troops to win a victory, and once the Indians had suffered a defeat they would have stopped because West Bengal was not very secure either. So at that time even our Vice Foreign Minister still believed they could win the war. Bhutto too…. .
KISSINGER: (Reading from a cable) Mr President, you were speaking of military shipments. We have information that the Soviet Union has shipped since November 150 tanks from Poland and 100 armored personnel carriers from Czechoslovakia. They were shipped in two ships each month in November and December. In January a third ship was to bring military equipment to India.
NIXON: To India?
KISSINGER: To India.
NIXON: The problem is to find some way that West Pakistan can find some military equipment and assistance. On our side, what we will do is to supply substantial amounts of economic assistance to West Pakistan. That would enable West Pakistan to ~ we would think in the interest of its defence ~ to acquire arms from other sources. As a matter of fact, that is the tragedy of our policy in India. We supplied almost 10 billion dollars in assistance to India in the last 20 years ~ very little was military assistance, it was economic ~ and that relieved India so it could purchase very substantial amounts of arms from the Soviet Union, and also manufacture arms. That was not our intent, but that’s what happened. With regard to our aid to India on this point ~ economic assistance ~ we are going to move in a very measured way. I am resisting considerable pressure from the public and the press to rush in and resume economic assistance at former levels. We are going to wait and see what India does with regard to the border problem and our relations generally.
ZHOU: And India actually is a bottomless hole. (Nixon laughs)
NIXON: When the Prime Minister referred to the problem India has with Bangladesh, as I look at India’s brief history, it has had enough trouble trying to digest West Bengal. If now it tries to digest East Bengal it may cause indigestion which could be massive.
ZHOU: That’s bound to be so. It is also a great pity that the daughter (Madame Gandhi) has also taken as her legacy the philosophy of her father embodied in the book Discovery of India (in English). Have you read it?
KISSINGER: He was thinking of a great India empire?
ZHOU: Yes, he was thinking of a great Indian empire ~ Malaysia, Ceylon, etc. He would probably also include our Tibet. When he was writing that book in a British prison, but one reserved for gentlemen in Darjeeling. Nehru told me himself that the prison was in Sikkim, facing the Himalayan mountains. At the time I hadn’t read the book, but my colleague Chen Yi had, and called it to my attention. He said it was precisely the spirit of India which was embodied in the book. Later on when I read it I had the same thought.
NIXON: …. Germany and Japan, received US aid…. why (they) have done so well, it is because they have qualities of drive and are willing to work hard, whereas some other countries we have helped do not have this quality. This brings me to the point: it is not the help that is provided a country that counts, it is whether the people of that country have the will to use this help. If they don’t have that, the money just goes down a rathole. A pretty good example is aid to India. (Zhou laughs)… India is not able to do much with aid because as compared with Japan, it does not have the drive, or the spirit of determination that the Japanese people have…..”
Every Bangladeshi knows the causal role Z A Bhutto had in Pakistan’s civil war yet it is upon the word of such a man that Nixon’s recognition of their nation seemed based. The famous “Archer Blood telegram” by the American Consul-General in Dhaka reporting the genocidal Yahya-Tikka assault on East Pakistan starting March 25 1971 meant nothing to Nixon and Kissinger. Benazir retained her charm in Washington’s power circles because she was Bhutto’s daughter. Similarly, as recently as the 1999 Kargil conflict, Bill Clinton flatteringly referred to China for advice on how to deal with India and Pakistan.
Perversely enough, many in New Delhi, Kolkata etc express so much confused love for both China and the United States that they have accepted as their own the biased baseless opinions about India expressed by Nixon, Kissinger and the Communist Chinese. They would do well to read instead the Defence Ministry’s excellently researched historical account of the 1962 war, which the Government of India should not only publish properly at once but have translated into Mandarin as well.
Dr Manmohan Singh has as recently as 29 November 2007 expressed the opinion: “The type of leadership that China has produced since the days of Deng, I think, is the greatest asset that China has”. Dr Singh might have said, but did not, that China’s greatest asset has been in fact the preservation of Confucian values despite decades of communist tyranny and destruction. With such deep misapprehension about post-1949 China on the part of India’s present Head of Government, it may be unlikely that New Delhi or Kolkata acquires a realistic view of our neighbour or of a healthy China-India relationship in the 21st Century.
Freedom is the Road to Resolving Taiwan, Tibet, Sinkiang
First published in The Statesman, December 17 2007, Editorial Page special article
War between China and Taiwan would lead to nothing but disaster all around. Everyone recognises this yet China’s military and political establishment threaten it sporadically when provoked by Taiwan’s leaders, and both sides continue to arm heavily and plan for such a contingency. China’s military is mostly congregated in its North West, North, East and South East with between one third and one half of its total forces facing Taiwan alone in an aggressive posture for an amphibious invasion. Taiwan faces 900 Chinese missiles targeted at it. China’s South West has been left relatively unguarded as no threat has been perceived from India or the Tibetans in fifty years.
The 23 million people of Taiwan have made themselves relatively secure across the 100 miles of sea that separate them from the Mainland. A sea-borne Communist invasion following a heavy missile barrage and blockade would undoubtedly leave the Taiwanese badly bruised and bleeding. But there is enough experience from World War II to suggest that trying to invade and occupy islands turns out as badly for the invader as it does for the defender. The Taiwanese military are confident they may be able to defeat an attempted invasion after two or three weeks of fierce fighting even if their promised American ally fails to materialize by their side.
In any case, for China to succeed in forcibly establishing its rule someday over Taiwan would be a pyrrhic victory, since it would lead to tremendous political and economic costs upon all Chinese people. Gaining control after a terrible war would rule out the Hong Kong “One Country Two Systems” model, with nominal Chinese sovereignty being established over an otherwise unchanged Taiwan. Instead the Chinese would have to institute a highly repressive political system, which will incorrigibly damage Taiwan’s flourishing technologically advanced economy, as well as lead to drastic irreparable political and economic retrogression on the Mainland.
Political repression will lead backwards again to the long-gone era of Mao-Zhou communism, displacing the glacial positive trends seen since Deng Xiaoping. Foreign confidence and investment would vanish, boycotts may cause China to lose lucrative and hard-earned new markets in the USA, Europe and Asia, as the world recoiled from the bloodshed to wait to see what the new repression led up to. The Chinese Communist Party (CPC), tiny as it is in size compared to China’s vast population, would become much weakened and lose whatever little confidence it has among an increasingly modern- minded and aware Chinese public. Occupying Taiwan in the 21st Century will not be a tea-party.
The alternative to war is “peaceful reunification” which is the official policy of the CPC, and which also has been a major plank of United States foreign policy since the time of George C Marshall. Unlike Britain, Japan, Russia, France, Germany, even Sweden and Belgium, the Americans were not among the 19th Century powers that exploited China, and that is something that has left some residual goodwill, implicit as it may be, since all Chinese despise the fact their country was humiliated by greedy foreign powers in the past. The USA has subscribed to “One China” and peaceful unification even after its cynical near-betrayal of Taiwan since 1972, having normal diplomatic and trade relations with Communist China while agreeing to help Taiwan if the Communists attempted a military invasion.
Communist China’s strategy towards peaceful reunification with Taiwan has been unlimited allurement: offer Taiwanese businessmen a free hand in investing in China, offer Taiwan students places in Mainland universities, offer Taiwanese airlines flying rights etc. The Taiwanese see their giant ominous neighbour offering such allurements on one hand and threatening a missile attack and invasion and occupation on the other, as if they are animals who will respond to the carrots and sticks of behaviourism.
Taiwan in recent decades has seen its own history and future much more clearly than it sees the Communists being able to see theirs. A marriage can hardly occur or be stable when the self-knowledge of one party greatly exceeds the self-knowledge of the other. It is thus no wonder that the Taiwan-China talks get stalled or retrogress, as the root problem has failed to be addressed which has to do with the political legitimacy of a combined regime.
Political China consisted historically of the agricultural plains and river-valleys of “China Proper” and the arid sparsely populated mountainous periphery of Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Sinkiang. The native people of Formosa (Taiwan) had their own unique character distinct from the Mainland until 1949 when Chiang Kaishek’s Kuomintang moved there after being defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communists.
Today the Hong Kong Model of “One Country Two Systems” can be generalized to “One Commonwealth/ Confederation of China, Six Systems”, whose constituents would be Mainland China, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Chinese Hong Kong, Tibet, Sinkiang and Inner Mongolia. A difference between a commonwealth and a confederation is that a commonwealth permits different heads of state whereas a confederation would have one head of state, who, in view of Mainland China’s predominance, could be agreed upon to be from there permanently.
Taiwan is the key to the peaceful creation of such a Chinese commonwealth or confederation, and Taiwan may certainly agree to “reunification” on such a pattern on one key condition ~ the abolition of totalitarian Communist one-party rule on the Mainland.
The CPC’s parent party was the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which became the Bolshevik Party which became the All-Union Communist Party in 1925. This still exists today but to its great credit it agreed sixteen years ago, more or less voluntarily, to abandon totalitarian power and bring in constitutional democracy in the former USSR. East European Communist Parties did the same, mostly transforming themselves back to becoming Social Democrat or Labour Parties ~ so much so that Germany’s present elected head of government is a former East German.
Hearts and minds
Mainland China must follow a similar path if it wishes to win the hearts and minds and political loyalties of all Chinese people and form a genuine confederation ~ which means the CPC must lead the way towards its own peaceful dissolution and transformation.
Historically, China’s people followed an admixture of three non-theistic religious cultures, namely, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, individually choosing whichever aspects of each that they wished to see in their daily lives. Lamaist Buddhism governed Tibet and Mongolia and deeply affected parts of Mainland China too. China’s theists include the Uighurs of Sinkiang who were and remain devout Muslims, as well as the many Catholics and other Christians since the first Jesuits arrived five hundred years ago. Sun Yatsen himself was a Christian. Marx, Engels, Stalin, Mao and even Deng have never really been able to substitute as a satisfactory new Chinese pantheon.
A free multi-party democracy in Mainland China, flying the Republican or some combined flag and tracing its origin to the 1911 Revolution, even one in which Communists won legitimate political power through free elections (as has been seen in India’s States), would earn the genuine respect of the world, and be able to confidently lead a new Chinese Confederation. The Chinese people who have been often forced against their will to resettle in Tibet and Sinkiang under the present totalitarian regime would be free to move or stay just as there are many Russians in Ukraine or Kazakhstan today. And of course the Dalai Lama would be able to return home in peace after half a century in exile. Freedom is the road to the peaceful resolution of China’s problems. Let freedom ring.
War is not a cricket match or Bollywood movie. Can India fight China if it must?
By Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Dec 4 2007, Editorial Page Special Article
Armies of the subcontinent, all deriving from rather antiquated British military traditions, have only once since 1947 fought an external army ~ when China’s Communists, using Lin Biao’s military doctrines, attacked India in 1962 and India lost territory, soldiers and self-respect, gaining ignominy for half a century instead. India and Pakistan have fought wars against each other, India’s army has fought Kashmiri, Naga and other rebels, Pakistan’s army has brutalised Bangladeshi and Baluchi civilians and fought Pashtuns in Waziristan, Bangladeshi soldiers have brutalised tribal minorities and shot at Indian border guards, Sri Lanka’s military has fought Tamil rebels, Nepal has fought communist rebels, etc. Other than the 1962 Chinese attack, all warfare in the subcontinent has been domestic and internecine.
Official 1962 history
The official Government of India history of the 1962 war frankly says: “The Indian Army trained and fought like the British Army, unimaginative, elephantine, rule-bound and road-bound. Armies of Germany, Japan, USSR or China were vastly better war machines, and patterned very differently.” During the 1962 war, the US Ambassador JK Galbraith wrote to President Kennedy: “The great question is what the Chinese intend…. The Indians have consistently underestimated Chinese intentions…. the Indian Army in its command, organisation, tactics and equipment is extremely old-fashioned. The individual soldiers carry personal arms that are sixty years old and this can hardly give them the feeling of equality with opponents carrying modern light automatic weapons. The tactics are stuffy and rigid… Some of the commanders are very good. More still are the amiable frauds that rise to the top in any peacetime Army… ”
When diplomacy is exhausted and international conflict arises, there is always an option of surrendering or yielding sovereignty instead of standing up to fight, e.g. Vichy France yielding before Nazi Germany. There is always a choice between submission and fighting. Pakistan’s military has geared itself over decades only to fight India, and chosen to serve the West and China as desired towards that end. Whatever America wants in Pakistan, America gets, e.g., if American missiles need to enter Pakistani airspace to hit Afghan targets, the US Government does not seek Pakistani permission but merely informs them not to think offensive missiles have been sent from India, and they say okay.
India’s Army may be under some suspicion of being similarly geared to fight only Pakistan ~ and when India and Pakistan are armed and obsessed only with fighting one another, they can hardly think of taking on other adversaries. “India’s soldiers now stand sentinel along India’s frontiers; but they perform guard-duties and are not spear-heads for her advancing armies”, Peter Lyon in FS Northedge (ed), Foreign Policies of the Powers, 1973.
Certainly India’s military has not seemed keen to have anything but a highly defensive posture against Communist China. On 23 March 1991, Rajiv Gandhi at his residence released a fat book by a retired Army Chief on Indian military defence titled Prepare or Perish. The book’s author and the present author had been working together for Rajiv, and the former was asked why in the hundreds of pages of the book there was barely a mention of Indian military preparation against China. He replied that our strategy against China would have to be a defensive holding action which relied on the international community’s intervention before matters escalated ~ revealing a rather wild optimism about the efficacy of international relations. Another Army Chief years before him, General Thimayya himself, is reported to have said “as a soldier he could not think of a total war with China and would leave the dispute to be settled by the diplomats” (BN Mullick, The Chinese Betrayal, p. 318).
Thimayya realised India was weak after World War II facing Mao’s Communists who had two and a half million armed men, had acquired large stocks of American and Japanese weapons after defeating Chiang Kaishek, and were aggressive and experienced after decades of fighting culminating in the Korean war. (Three divisions were trained in India by the Americans and sent for Chiang in 1942-45 with supplies along the Stilwell Road or flown across the “hump”.) Indian soldiers had fought mostly under British or American commanders; in 1947, they disintegrated in chaos into the new armies of India and Pakistan who went to war with one another immediately over J&K.
Not only was India militarily weak until 1962, our political and diplomatic policies since 1949 had been consistently ones of flattery and appeasement, betraying our interests as well as our relationships with Chiang’s Nationalist Chinese and, most cruelly of all, with the Tibetans who shared India’s culture. Our first Ambassador to Beijing was a communist sympathiser, his son-in-law a leading Indian communist. India was the first country outside the Soviet bloc to recognise Communist China, the first to help Mao diplomatically in the Korean war, the pioneer of many UN resolutions to have Communist China admitted as a veto-holding Security Council member in place of Chiang’s Nationalists. We bent over backwards to accommodate and appease them over Tibet. All this got us less than nothing ~ Communist China soon enough joined hands with Pakistan’s greedy generals against us.
Zhou Enlai was said to be “one of those men who never tell the truth and never tell a lie. For them there is no distinction between the two. The speaker says what is appropriate to the circumstances. Zhou Enlai was a perfect gentleman; he was also a perfect Communist” (Father Laszlo Ladany, The Communist Party of China and Marxism, 1921-1985, Stanford 1988). Zhou enforced India’s political and diplomatic surrender, and then we failed to fight adequately on the military front. Communist China thus established its dominance over India. After Nixon and Kissinger made their devious opening to Mao and Zhou using Pakistan, American policy changed too, almost betraying Taiwan and certainly stamping American approval on the idea that between Communist China and India, China shall be seen as dominant.
For recent Chinese Ambassadors to New Delhi to brazenly use today the same language as Zhou did half a century ago is not a good sign but an indication of Communist China’s wish not to have a relationship with modern India on the basis of sovereign equality. For them to say Tawang must be theirs because the monastery there was where the sixth Dalai Lama was born and the Dalai Lama is Chinese and not Indian, is to reveal an aggressive subconscious against us. We may next hear it said Buddha himself was Chinese since he was probably born in Nepal, as an excuse for further Communist encroachment.
The last time China’s Communists attacked India the world was distracted by the Cuban missile crisis just as it is distracted today with Iran and Iraq. The Tawang monastery issue today is symbolic of India’s entire relationship with China since 1949. There is no economic reason why bilateral trade in goods and services cannot continue but it may be high time India gathers some remaining self-respect and downgrades and then considers ending diplomatic relations with this aggressive dictatorship, awaiting instead the development of democracy and a free society for all of China’s great people, perhaps on the Taiwan-model. The Dalai Lama was greeted with great warmth in Taiwan and there is no doubt a free democratic China will seek a healthy new relationship with Tibet as befits great cultures. Militarily, India must indeed prepare for the next Communist aggression or perish, which requires real modernisation and efficiency in the armed forces and an end to corruption, indiscipline and incompetence.
German Historians Discover Logic Behind Communist Military Strategy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, Nov 5 2007
There are four main aspects to the China-Tibet-India problem over the last century, some of which are only now becoming apparent. The first is historical prior to the 1949 Communist takeover, in which the British, Tibetans and Kuomintang were participants in background discussion and events. The second is historical too, namely, the appeasement by Nehru and his diplomats of the Mao-Zhou Communists and betrayal of normal Tibetan and Indian interests in the period 1949-1959. The third is political, to do with reaction, confusion and conflict among Indian Communists leading to the CPI/CPI-M split in response to Communist attacks upon Tibet and India. The fourth is military, to do with the 1962 war itself, the nature of the surprise Chinese attack and Indian defeat.
A 1954 Beijing publication not only claimed Tibet but alleged vast areas of Asia to be Chinese: Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, NEFA (Arunachal), Assam, the Andaman Islands, Burma (Myanmar), Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, Indo-China, the Sulu Islands, the Ryukyus, Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), the whole of East Turkestan (Sinkiang), Kazakhstan, Siberia west of the Amur River, maritime provinces east of the Amur down to Vladivostok, and Sakhalin (viz., Coral Bell in FS Northedge (ed) Foreign Policies of the Powers, 1973).
America’s CIA reported in a secret 1962 analysis, declassified in May 2007, that the Left faction of India’s Communists had been repeating what Mao Zedong said to Ajoy Ghosh: “that Tibet, Sikkim, Bhutan, and NEFA are provinces peopled by the same race, that China had a historic right to these territories, that the McMahon line was not valid, and that the Indian government’s raising of ‘the bogey of Chinese aggression’ had resulted from its realisation that Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and India would be deeply affected by the social and economic revolution in Tibet” (CIA The Indian Communist Party and the Sino-Soviet Dispute, Feb 1962, page 76). Referring to Chinese designs on Mongolia, Kruschev’s USSR condemned its fellow-Communists: “… The true schemes of the Chinese leaders (are) obvious. They are permeated through and through with great-power chauvinism and hegemonism”, Pravda 2 Sep 1964, quoted by Bell, op.cit.
China’s 1962 India war was rationally consistent with carrying out precisely such an expansionist policy in Sinkiang and Tibet. As the German historians Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund have stated most succinctly, the NEFA conflict was merely a deliberate diversionary tactic which has worked brilliantly for decades:
“The consolidation of the Chinese hold on Tibet, as well as on other areas of Central Asia… (required military infrastructure) to maintain it and a ring road was constructed which led from China to Tibet and from there via the Karakorum Range to Sinkiang and Mongolia and then back to China. At a crucial point some Indian territory (Aksai Chin) obstructed this connection. Beyond Aksai Chin was the terrible desert, Takla Makan, which was a major obstacle. Faced with the dilemma of violating Indian territory or getting stuck in the desert, the Chinese opted for the first course and quietly built a road through Aksai Chin. In the meantime, they provoked incidents on the northeastern border so as to divert attention from their real aims. They also published maps which showed the border in Assam at the foot of the mountains rather than on the watershed. The watershed line had been settled by the McMahon border commission, which had also included a Chinese delegate who initialled the protocol, although it was not subsequently ratified by the Chinese government. Actually, there was no disagreement about the watershed line at that time when debate was focused on a different line, supposed to divide Tibet into an Inner and Outer Tibet on the same pattern as Inner and Outer Mongolia. Inner Tibet was to be under Chinese influence and Outer Tibet under British influence. But Communist China made use of the fact that the agreement had not been ratified and accused India of clinging to the imperialist heritage with regard to the Himalayan boundary. This harping on the legal position in the northeast was a tactical move made in order to build up a bargaining position with regard to Aksai Chin where the Chinese could not raise similar claims… Finally, a border war broke out in October 1962. It was a typical demonstration war conducted with great finesse by the Chinese. They completely perplexed the Indian generals by pushing a whole division through the mountains down to the valley of Assam and withdrawing it again as quickly as it had come. The Indian strategic concept of defending the Himalayan boundary by cutting off the supply lines of the enemy if it ventured too far beyond the border could not be put into operation: the Chinese were gone before the supply lines could be cut. But why did they do this? They wanted to divert attention from their moves in the northwest, where they did reach the Karakorum Pass in a swift offensive and did not withdraw as they had done in the east.” (History of India, 1998, pp 321-322).
Chinese casualties were some 1,460 dead, 1,697 wounded, Indian casualties some 3,128 dead, 3,968 captured, 548 wounded, each as reported by itself. JK Galbraith, the friendliest and fairest observer India may have hoped for, found our Army populated by “tragically old-fashioned” peacetime generals full of bluster, while brave soldiers under them remained woefully ill-equipped and came to be outgunned and out-manoeuvred.
Mao Zedong’s racist reference to the people populating NEFA being of Chinese origin was misguided, even nonsensical. On such a basis, China might claim Japan or Korea next, as might West Africa claim sovereignty over North and South American blacks or Mongolia over Turks and Afghans. NEFA’s five administrative divisions ~ Kameng, Subansiri, Siang, Lohit and Tirap ~ are populated by indigenous animistic tribes including the Momba, Mishmi, Abor, Miri, Dafla and Aka, each with defined areas. The 1883 Survey of India showed these areas administered de facto by British India from Assam. The 1908 Edinburgh Geographical Institute’s map by JG Bartholomew showed most of the same to be part of Bhutan, a British Indian protectorate, as did earlier 18th Century maps.
Less than legitimate
Communist China’s claims of sovereignty over NEFA (Arunachal) in any case derive from its claims of sovereignty over Tibet. Britain, India and other nations guided by international law have allowed that Lhasa, though long independent, may acknowledge Chinese suzerainty ~ but only subject to the condition of traditional autonomy. The 1907 Anglo-Russian Treaty stipulated Tibet would be dealt with officially through China, leading to the Henry McMahon Commission of 1914 which followed the normal international cartographic practise of the watershed defining the boundary in NEFA. That came to be generally followed by British and Indian maps of NEFA since. The CIA’s official 1959 map of the region concurred and the United States Government explicitly instructed Galbraith, its New Delhi Ambassador during the 1962 war, that the American position was the same as the British and Indian. There appears to be no record of any serious Chinese cartography of the region ever ~ Chinese maps prior to 1935 agreeing with the British Indian position but disputing it afterwards, placing Tibet’s boundary along the margin of the Assam plain. China was ravaged by war, civil war and revolutionary excesses during much of the 20th Century and hardly had well-preserved national archives at a time when its own capital and central government was changing several times.
China’s Communists, being themselves in political power for decades somewhat less than legitimately as a one-party dictatorship, have been loath to admit all such inconvenient facts, and instead continue in their hegemonic mode. A new liberal democratic China guided by law on the Taiwan pattern may have to be awaited before this conflict comes to be resolved.
India-USA interests: Elements of a serious Indian foreign policy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, Oct 30 2007
If there is a “natural alliance” between India and the United States, it arises to the extent that both are large democracies and more or less free societies that happen to be placed half way across the globe and pose no perceptible military threat to one another. The real long-term strategic and political dimensions of such an alliance are quite independent of the business interests driving the “nuclear deal” or selfish interests of the few million “elite” Indians who have fled to the USA as immigrants in recent decades. The interests of Indian immigrants in the USA and interests of the vast masses in India are, after all, quite distinct. Also, America derives most if its own energy not from nuclear reactors but from abundant hydroelectric resources. If the nuclear deal has been ill-conceived and fails in implementation at any stage, India will not import expensive nuclear reactors but can still learn much from the USA in developing hydroelectric power which constitutes India’s greatest energy potential as well.
China and Pakistan
Key strategic interests of India and the USA are fully convergent in East Asia, especially in respect of Communist China. But in West Asia, American attitudes and actions towards the Muslim world, specifically the invasion and occupation of Iraq and now a possible assault on Iran, have been deeply disconcerting for India which has some 120 million Muslim citizens.
It is not a coincidence that Pakistan, an overtly religious Muslim state, has had a marriage of convenience with Communist China, an overtly atheistic anti-religious state. Both have been militarist dictatorships that have seen democratic India as a strategic adversary, especially over territorial claims. It was Pakistan that facilitated President Nixon’s desired opening to Communist China and later permitted President Reagan’s attack on the soft underbelly of the USSR in the Afghan civil war (an attack in which China participated too). With the USSR’s collapse, the USA removed its main strategic adversary only to be left with two new adversaries: Islamic fundamentalism in the short run and China in the long run!
Indian diplomacy can credit a rare (indeed exceptional) success in having warned the USA from the early 1990s onwards of the dangers brewing in the jihadist camps in Pakistan sponsored by the ISI. The US Government has now declassified its assessments of those dangers and what it tried to do as early as 1995 and as late as 2000 through the Saudis with the Taliban’s Mullah Omar ~ who refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden to Saudi Arabia and openly spoke of plans for revenge against American interests. With a continuing Cold-War mindset, US policy-makers thought state-actors like Saddam Hussein were a graver risk to Israel than non-state or pan-state actors like Osama could be to the American mainland. Having distracted itself with Saddam, the US Government’s response to Osama has been far too much far too late ~ the maddened bull chasing the matador’s cape, in Stephen Holmes’s recent metaphor.
Pakistan’s consistent motivation was one of gaining advantage with the Americans in the hope of undermining India, and indeed the nexus created in Washington by Pakistan’s bureaucrats, politicians and military over decades has been the envy of all lobbyists. But Pakistan overplayed its hand, and once the 9/11 genie was let out of the bottle it could not be put back in again. Meanwhile, Pakistan allowing Gwadar port to become a haven for China’s Navy would have obvious new strategic repercussions.
American interests in West Asia are to protect Israel, to protect trade-routes and to defend against non-state or pan-state terrorism. American interests in East Asia are to protect Japan, South Korea and Taiwan from communist attack, to protect trade-routes and to defend against new terrorism arising from places like Indonesia or the Philippines. All American interests in Asia would be facilitated by appearance of genuine multiparty democracy and free societies in China and Pakistan.
China as a two-party or multi-party democracy and a free society, even on the Taiwan-model, is unlikely to be an expansionist militarist aggressor in the way it has been as a dictatorship and unfree society. Communist China in the early 21st Century makes the same outrageous unlawful claims on Indian territory as it did half a century ago. Only the USA came to India’s assistance in a tangible way when Communist China attacked in Ladakh and Arunachal in the late months of 1962. John Kenneth Galbraith was President Kennedy’s Ambassador in New Delhi and his memoirs tell the tale of the landings of C-130 aircraft in Kolkata carrying infantry weapons, light artillery and quartermaster stores for the beleaguered Indian Army in Tezpur and Leh.
Nehru, Krishna Menon and India’s whole political and diplomatic leadership revealed gross incompetence as did the Army’s top brass. Indian Communists virtually betrayed the country. The Chinese massed in the Chumbi Valley near Nathu La, and had they attacked all the way to Siliguri, India’s North East would have been cut off. As a demonstration, the Chinese in division strength took and held the whole of Arunachal for a month, withdrawing before there could be anyIndian attempt to retaliate or cut supply lines. The geography has not changed in fifty years. What can yet change is the ideology, away from the communism that has ruined China’s great people, to a new and bold commitment to liberal democracy and the Rule of Law.
As for Pakistan, its people under crude military rule have hardly allowed themselves to become the source of Muslim culture that Iqbal had dreamt of. Pakistan today is not a place even the most ardent pro-Pakistani person in Jammu & Kashmir can find very appealing or inspiring. If there was multiparty democracy and a free society in which the military had a normal small role of defence (as opposed to a large purportedly offensive role against India), Pakistan could calm down from its neuroses and become a normal country for the first time~ one in which the so-called “extremists” of today are transformed into a politically legitimate religious conservatism, who could seek to take power responsibly through the ballot box.
India should be a friendly neutral in the conflict between the West and Muslim world, doing whatever we can to bring better understanding between the two sides. Both have been invaders in Indian history, bringing both evil and good in their wake. India’s culture absorbed and assimilated their influences and became more resilient as a consequence. India also was a haven for Jews and Zoroastrians fleeing persecution. India as a country must condemn fanatical terrorist attacks on the West and bizarre reactionary attempts to return to a caliphate in the world of modern science. Equally, India must condemn vicious racist bombing and warfare unleashed by technologically advanced countries upon ancient societies and cultures struggling to enter the modern world in their own way.
As for the central issue of Israel in Palestine, Martin Buber (1878-1965), the eminent Zionist scholar and philosopher of Judaism, said to Rabindranath Tagore in 1926 that the Jewish purpose should be one of “pursuing the settlement effort in Palestine in agreement, nay, alliance with the peoples of the East, so as to erect with them together a great federative structure, which might learn and receive from the West whatever positive aims and means might be learnt and received from it, without, however, succumbing to the influence of its inner disarray and aimlessness.” If India could guide the region towards such a “great federative structure” of reason and tranquillity, while encouraging democracy in China and Pakistan, the aim of our “natural alliance” with the United States half way across the globe would have been fulfilled.
The World Needs to Ask China to Find Her True Higher Self
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, October 22, 2007, Editorial Page Special Article
The most important factors explaining China’s progress since the deaths of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai have been the spread and quick absorption of modern Western technology under conditions of relative peace and tranquillity. The “capitalist road” came to be taken after all and the once-denounced Liu Shaoqui was posthumously rehabilitated by his shrewd old friend Deng Xiaoping.
To be sure, the new technology itself has combined with democratic hatred felt by young Chinese against the corrupt elitist police-state gerontocracy, and this produced first a Wei Jingsheng and Democracy Wall and later the Tiananmen Square protests. There have been also in recent years many thousands of incidents of peasants resisting State-sponsored brutality, fighting to prevent their lands being stolen in the name of purported capitalist industrialisation, in an economy where, as in India, land is an appreciating asset and the paper-currency remains weak because inflation by money-printing is the basis of public finance. China’s multitudinous domestic tensions continue to boil over as if in a cauldron, and it seems inevitable Chinese Gorbachevs and Yeltsins will one day emerge from within the Communist Party to try to begin the long political march towards multiparty democracy and a free society ~ though of course they may fail too, and China will remain condemned to being a dictatorship of one sort or other for centuries more.
Absence of war
What has been seen in recent decades is the relative absence of war. The last military war the Chinese fought was a month-long battle against fellow-Communist Vietnamese in 1979, after Vietnam had run over and destroyed the Chinese (and Western) backed Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Before that, fellow-Communists of the USSR were fought in a border war in 1969. Before that was the border-war with India in 1959-1963 and occupation of Tibet 1950-1959.
The really savage, fierce large-scale fighting in 20th Century Chinese history was seen in the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, the Civil War of 1945-1949 and the Korean War of 1950-1953. The occupation of Tibet and fighting against India resulting from Tibet’s occupation were really, from a Chinese Communist point of view, merely light follow-ups to those major wars of the Mao-Zhou era, especially fighting the USA and UN in Korea. Peaceful Tibet and naïve non-violent India stood no chance against the aggressive highly experienced Mao-Zhou war-machine at the time.
It may even be that Mao could live only with incessant external tumult ~ after fighting military wars, he orchestrated domestic conflicts in the Little and Great Leap Forward of 1949-1963 and Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1964-1969, all among the failures of a cruel ill-educated man who led his people into social, political and economic disaster from which trauma they have been slowly recovering over the last thirty years.
Today, Communist China’s military is geared to fight the non-Communist Chinese of Taiwan in a continuation of the Civil War. It seems unlikely there will be an actual invasion for the simple reason that Taiwan, though much smaller, may not suffer eventual defeat but instead inflict a mortal wound upon invading forces. Mao succeeded in driving Chiang Kaishek across the Taiwan Straits but it is post-Chiang Taiwan that displays the model of how strong, prosperous, democratic and self-confident Chinese people really can strive to be in the modern world. Everyone agrees Taiwan and China must one day unite ~ the interesting question is whether Taiwan will get absorbed into China or whether China shall take Taiwan as its new model! Just as Liu Shaoqi had the last word over Mao on the question of taking the capitalist road, Chiang Kaishek may yet have the last word over Mao on the best constitutional method for modern China’s governance.
Peculiarly enough, China’s Kuomintang and Communists were both allies of Russian Bolshevism (not unlike India’s Congress Party and Communists). Sun Yatsen’s collaboration with Comintern’s founders began as early as 1921. By 1923 there was a formal agreement and Stalin sent Gruzenberg (alias Borodin) to China as an adviser, while Sun sent many including Chiang to Russia on learning expeditions. “In reorganising the party, we have Soviet Russia as our model, hoping to achieve a real revolutionary success”, said Sun hopefully. But by March 1926, Sun’s successor Chiang, had begun purging Communists from the Kuomintang-Communist alliance; in July 1927 Borodin returned to Russia after failing at reconciliation; and by July 1928 Chiang had unified China under his own leadership, and Moscow had repudiated the Kuomintang and ordered Chinese Communists to revolt, starting the Civil War and instability that invited the vicious Japanese aggression and occupation.
China’s problems today with Taiwan and with Tibet (and hence with India) will not come to be resolved until China looks hard in the mirror and begins to resolve her problems with herself. No major country today possesses a more factually distorted image of its own history, politics and economics than does China since the Communist takeover of 1949. “Protect the country, destroy the foreigner” was the motto of the Boxer revolts in 1900, a natural defensive reaction to the depredations and humiliations that Manchu-dynasty China suffered at the hands of the British, French, Germans, Russians, Japanese etc for more than a century. The Boxer motto seemed to implicitly drive Mao, Deng and his modern successors too ~ hence the “One China” slogan, the condemnation of “splittism” etc. But the ideology that Mao, Liu, Deng et al developed out of Stalin, Lenin and Marx seems base and stupid when it is unsentimentally compared to the great political philosophy and ethics of ancient China, which emerged out of wise men like Mo Tzu, Meng Ko (Mencius) and the greatest genius of them all, K’ung Fu Tzu, Confucius himself, undoubtedly among the few greatest men of world history.
India has not been wrong to acknowledge Outer Tibet as being under China’s legal suzerainty nor in encouraging endogenous political reform among our Tibetan cousins. The Anglo-Russian treaty of 1907 undertook that Tibet would not be dealt with except through China, and the Indian Republic has been the legal successor of British India. Lhasa may be legitimately under Beijing as far as international relations goes ~ the more profound question is whether Beijing’s Communists since 1949 have not been themselves less than legitimate, and if so whether they can now transform themselves in the post Mao-Zhou era through good deeds towards greater legitimacy.
The root problem between China and India has not been the Tibet-India border which was almost always a friendly one and never a problem even when it remained imprecise and undefined over centuries. The root problem has been the sheer greed and aggressiveness of Chinese Communists ~ who now demand not merely Aksai Chin but also a minimum of some 2000 sq km of Tawang and Takpa Shiri in Arunachal. The CIA’s 1959 map of the region, which would be acceptable to the USA, UK, Taiwan and the international community in general as depicting the lawful position, shows the Communist Chinese territorial claim to be baseless and Indian position to be justified.
Nehru’s India was naïve to approach the Mao-Zhou Communists with the attitude of ahimsa and a common Buddhism. But Mao-Zhou Communism is dead, and the Deng capitalist road itself has lost its ethical way. What India and the world need to do now is ask China or help guide China to find her true higher self. China’s Tibet problem and hence border-dispute with India would have been solved peacefully by application of the ways of great men like Confucius, Mencius and Mo Tzu, who are and will remain remembered by mankind long after petty cruel modern dictators like Mao, Zhou and Deng have been long forgotten. Why China’s Communist bosses despise Taiwan may be because Taiwan has sought to preserve that memory of China’s true higher self.
First published in two parts in The Sunday Statesman, September 23 2007, The Statesman September 24 2007
Manmohan and Sonia have violated Rajiv Gandhi’s intended reforms; the Communists have been appeased or bought; the BJP is incompetent
WASTE, fraud and abuse are inevitable in the use and allocation of public property and resources in India as elsewhere, but Government is supposed to fight and resist such tendencies. The Sonia-Manmohan Government have done the opposite, aiding and abetting a wasteful anti-economics ~ i.e., an economic quackery. Vajpayee-Advani and other Governments, including Narasimha-Manmohan in 1991-1996, were just as complicit in the perverse policy-making. So have been State Governments of all regional parties like the CPI-M in West Bengal, DMK/ AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, Congress/NCP/ BJP/Sena in Maharashtra, TDP /Congress in Andhra Pradesh, SP/BJP/BSP in Uttar Pradesh etc. Our dismal politics merely has the pot calling the kettle black while national self-delusion and superstition reign in the absence of reason.
The general pattern is one of well-informed, moneyed, mostly city-based special interest groups (especially including organised capital and organised labour) dominating government agendas at the cost of ill-informed, diffused anonymous individual citizens ~ peasants, small businessmen, non-unionized workers, old people, housewives, medical students etc. The extremely expensive “nuclear deal” with the USA is merely one example of such interest group politics.
Nuclear power is and shall always remain of tiny significance as a source of India’s electricity (compared to e.g. coal and hydro); hence the deal has practically nothing to do with the purported (and mendacious) aim of improving the country’s “energy security” in the long run. It has mostly to do with big business lobbies and senior bureaucrats and politicians making a grab, as they always have done, for India’s public purse, especially access to foreign currency assets. Some $300 million of India’s public money had to be paid to GE and Bechtel Corporation before any nuclear talks could begin in 2004-2005 ~ the reason was the Dabhol fiasco of the 1990s, a sheer waste for India’s ordinary people. Who was responsible for that loss? Pawar-Mahajan-Munde-Thackeray certainly but also India’s Finance Minister at the time, Manmohan Singh, and his top Finance Ministry bureaucrat, Montek Ahluwalia ~ who should never have let the fiasco get off the ground but instead actively promoted and approved it.
Cost-benefit analysis prior to any public project is textbook operating procedure for economists, and any half-competent economist would have accounted for the scenario of possible currency-depreciation which made Dabhol instantly unviable. Dr Singh and Mr Ahluwalia failed that test badly and it cost India dearly. The purchase of foreign nuclear reactors on a turnkey basis upon their recommendation now reflects similar financial dangers for the country on a vastly larger scale over decades.
Our Government seems to function most expeditiously in purchasing foreign arms, aircraft etc ~ not in improving the courts, prisons, police, public utilities, public debt. When the purchase of 43 Airbus aircraft surfaced, accusations of impropriety were made by Boeing ~ until the local Airbus representative said on TV that Boeing need not complain because they were going to be rewarded too and soon 68 aircraft were ordered from Boeing!
India imports all passenger and most military aircraft, besides spare parts and high-octane jet fuel. Domestic aviation generates near zero forex revenues and incurs large forex costs ~ a debit in India’s balance of payments. Domestic airline passengers act as importers subsidised by our meagre exporters of textiles, leather, handicrafts, tea, etc. What a managerially-minded PM and Aviation Minister needed to do before yielding to temptations of buying new aircraft was to get tough with the pampered managements and unions of the nationalized airlines and stand up on behalf of ordinary citizens and taxpayers, who, after all, are mostly rail or road-travellers not jet-setters.
The same pattern of negligent policy-behaviour led Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in an unprecedented step to mention in his 2007 Union Budget Speech the private American companies Blackstone and GE ~ endorsing the Ahluwalia/Deepak Parekh idea that India’s forex reserves may be made available to be lent out to favoured private businesses for purported “infrastructure” development. We may now see chunks of India’s foreign exchange reserves being “borrowed” and never returned ~ a monumental scam in front of the CBI’s noses.
The Reserve Bank’s highest echelons may have become complicit in all this, permitting and encouraging a large capital flight to take place among the few million Indians who read the English newspapers and have family-members abroad. Resident Indians have been officially permitted to open bank accounts of US $100,000 abroad, as well as transfer gifts of $50,000 per annum to their adult children already exported abroad ~ converting their largely untaxed paper rupees at an artificially favourable exchange-rate.
In particular, Mr Ratan Tata (under a misapprehension he may do whatever Lakshmi Mittal does) has been allowed to convert Indian rupees into some US$13,000,000,000 to make a cash purchase of a European steel company. The same has been allowed of the Birlas, Wipro, Dr Reddy’s and numerous other Indian corporations in the organised sector ~ three hundred million dollars here, five hundred million dollars there, etc. Western businessmen now know all they have to do is flatter the egos of Indian boxwallahs enough and they might have found a buyer for their otherwise bankrupt or sick local enterprise. Many newcomers to New York City have been sold the Brooklyn Bridge before. “There’s a sucker born every minute” is the classic saying of American capitalism.
The Sonia-Manmohan Government, instead of hobnobbing with business chambers, needed to get Indian corporations to improve their accounting, audit and governance, and reduce managerial pilfering and embezzlement, which is possible only if Government first set an example.
Why have Indian foreign currency reserves zoomed up in recent years? Not mainly because we are exporting more textiles, tea, software engineers, call centre services or new products to the world, but because Indian corporations have been allowed to borrow abroad, converting their hoards of paper rupees into foreign debt. Forex reserves are a residual in a country’s international balance of payments and are not like tax-resources available to be spent by Government; India’s reserves largely constitute foreign liabilities of Indian residents. This may bear endless repetition as the PM and his key acolytes seem impervious to normal postgraduate-level economics textbooks.
Other official fallacies include thinking India’s savings rate is near 32 per cent and that clever bureaucratic use of it can cause high growth. In fact, real growth arises not because of what politicians and bureaucrats do but because of spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing of the general population ~ mostly despite not because of an exploitative parasitic State. What has been mismeasured as high savings is actually expansion of bank-deposits in a fractional reserve banking system caused by runaway government deficit-spending.
Another fallacy has been that agriculture retards growth, leading to nationwide politically-backed attempts at land-grabbing by wily city industrialists and real estate developers. In a hyperinflation-prone economy with wild deficit-spending and runaway money-printing, cheating poor unorganised peasants of their land, when that land is an asset that is due to appreciate in value, has seemed like child’s play.
What of the Opposition? The BJP/RSS have no economists who are not quacks though opportunists were happy to say what pleased them to hear when they were in power; they also have much implicit support among organised business lobbies and the anti-Muslim senior bureaucracy. The official Communists have been appeased or bought, sometimes so cheaply as with a few airline tickets here and there. The nonsensical “Rural Employment Guarantee” is descending into the wasteland of corruption it was always going to be. The “Domestic Violence Act” as expected has started to destroy India’s families the way Western families have been destroyed. The Arjun-DMK OBC quota corrodes higher education further from its already dismal state. All these were schemes that Congress and Communist cabals created or wholeheartedly backed, and which the BJP were too scared or ignorant to resist.
And then came Singur and Nandigram ~ where the sheer greed driving the alliance between the Sonia-Manmohan-Pranab Congress and the CPI-M mask that is Buddhadeb, came to be exposed by a handful of brave women like Mamata and Medha.
A Fiscal U-Turn is Needed For India to Go in The Right Economic Direction
Rajiv Gandhi had a sense of noblesse oblige out of remembrance of his father and maternal grandfather. After his assassination, the comprador business press credited Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh with having originated the 1991 economic reform. In May 2002, however, the Congress Party itself passed a resolution proposed by Digvijay Singh explicitly stating Rajiv and not either of them was to be so credited. The resolution was intended to flatter Sonia Gandhi but there was truth in it too. Rajiv, a pilot who knew no political economy, was a quick learner with intelligence to know a good idea when he saw one and enough grace to acknowledge it.
Rule of Law
The first time Dr Manmohan Singh’s name arose in contemporary post-Indira politics was on 22 March 1991 when M K Rasgotra challenged the present author to answer how Dr Singh would respond to proposals being drafted for a planned economic liberalisation that had been authorised by Rajiv, as Congress President and Opposition Leader, since September 1990. It was replied that Dr Singh’s response was unknown and he had been heading the “South-South Commission” for Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, while what needed to be done urgently was make a clear forceful statement to restore India’s credit-worthiness and the confidence of international markets, showing that the Congress at least knew its economics and was planning to take bold new steps in the direction of progress.
There is no evidence Dr Singh or his acolytes were committed to any economic liberalism prior to 1991 as that term is understood worldwide, and scant evidence they have originated liberal economic ideas for India afterwards. Precisely because they represented the decrepit old intellectual order of statist ”Ma-Bap Sarkari” policy-making, they were not asked in the mid-1980s to be part of a “perestroika-for-India” project done at a foreign university ~ the results of which were received, thanks to Siddhartha Shankar Ray, by Rajiv Gandhi in hand at 10 Janpath on 18 September 1990 and specifically sparked the change in the direction of his economic thinking.
India is a large, populous country with hundreds of millions of materially poor citizens, a weak tax-base, a vast internal and external public debt (i.e. debt owed by the Government to domestic and foreign creditors), massive annual fiscal deficits, an inconvertible currency, and runaway printing of paper-money. It is unsurprising Pakistan’s economy is similar, since it is born of the same land and people. Certainly there have been real political problems between India and Pakistan since the chaotic demobilisation and disintegration of the old British Indian Army caused the subcontinent to plunge into war-like or “cold peace” conditions for six decades beginning with a bloody Partition and civil war in J&K. High military expenditures have been necessitated due to mutual and foreign tensions, but this cannot be a permanent state if India and Pakistan wish for genuine mass economic well-being.
Even with the continuing mutual antagonism, there is vast scope for a critical review of Indian military expenditures towards greatly improving the “teeth-to-tail” ratio of its fighting forces. The abuse of public property and privilege by senior echelons of the armed forces (some of whom have been keen most of all to export their children preferably to America) is also no great secret.
On the domestic front, Rajiv was entirely convinced when the suggestion was made to him in September 1990 that an enormous infusion of public resources was needed into the judicial system for promotion and improvement of the Rule of Law in the country, a pre-requisite almost for a new market orientation. Capitalism without the Rule of Law can quickly degenerate into an illiberal hell of cronyism and anarchy which is what has tended to happen since 1991.
The Madhava Menon Committee on criminal justice policy in July proposed a Hong Kong model of “a single high-tech integrated Criminal Justice complex in every district headquarters which may be a multi-storied structure, devoting the ground floor for the police station including a video-installed interrogation room; the first floor for the police-lockups/sub-jail and the Magistrate’s Court; the second floor for the prosecutor’s office, witness rooms, crime laboratories and legal aid services; the third floor for the Sessions Court and the fourth for the administrative offices etc…. (Government of India) should take steps to evolve such an efficient model… and not only recommend it to the States but subsidize its construction…” The question arises: Why is this being proposed for the first time in 2007 after sixty years of Independence? Why was it not something designed and implemented starting in the 1950s?
The resources put since Independence to the proper working of our judiciary from the Supreme Court and High Courts downwards have been abysmal, while the state of prisons, borstals, mental asylums and other institutions of involuntary detention is nothing short of pathetic. Only police forces, like the military, paramilitary and bureaucracies, have bloated in size.
Neither Sonia-Manmohan nor the BJP or Communists have thought promotion of the Rule of Law in India to be worth much serious thought ~ certainly less important than attending bogus international conclaves and summits to sign expensive deals for arms, aircraft, reactors etc. Yet Rajiv Gandhi, at a 10 Janpath meeting on 23 March 1991 when he received the liberalisation proposals he had authorized, explicitly avowed the importance of greater resources towards the Judiciary. Dr Singh and his acolytes were not in that loop, indeed they precisely represented the bureaucratic ancien regime intended to be changed, and hence have seemed quite uncomprehending of the roots of the intended reforms ever since 1991.
Similarly, Rajiv comprehended when it was said to him that the primary fiscal problem faced by India is the vast and uncontrolled public debt, interest payments on which suck dry all public budgets leaving no room for provision of public goods.
Government has been routinely “rolling over” its domestic debt in the asset-portfolios of the nationalised banks while displaying and highlighting only its new additional borrowing in a year as the “Fiscal Deficit”. More than two dozen States have been doing the same and their liabilities ultimately accrue to the Union too. The stock of public debt in India is Rs 30 trillion (Rs 30 lakh crore) at least, and portends a hyperinflation in the future.
There has been no serious recognition of this since it is political and bureaucratic actions that have been causing the problem. Proper recognition would entail systematically cleaning up the budgets and accounts of every single governmental entity in the country: the Union, every State, every district and municipality, every publicly funded entity or organisation, and at the same time improving public decision-making capacity so that once budgets and accounts recover from grave sickness over decades, functioning institutions exist for their proper future management. All this would also stop corruption in its tracks, and release resources for valuable public goods and services like the Judiciary, School Education and Basic Health. Institutions for improved political and administrative decision-making are needed throughout the country if public preferences with respect to raising and allocating common resources are to be elicited and then translated into actual delivery of public goods and services. Our dysfunctional legislatures will have to do at least a little of what they are supposed to. When public budgets and accounts are healthy and we have functioning public goods and services, macroeconomic conditions would have been created for the paper-rupee to once more become a money as good as gold ~ a convertible world currency for all of India’s people, not merely the metropolitan special interest groups that have been controlling our governments and their agendas.
Author’s Note: Shortly after this, I published in The Statesman beginning October 2007 more than a half dozen articles on China, Tibet, Taiwan, etc beginning with “”Understanding China”. https://independentindian.com/2009/09/19/my-ten-articles-on-china-tibet-xinjiang-taiwan-in-relation-to-india/
Dalai Lama’s Return: In the tradition of Gandhi, King, Mandela
The Dalai Lama must exercise his traditional right in international law, enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to enter his own country, namely Tibet. After he left Tibet as a young man to seek political asylum in India decades ago, the de facto sovereign over Tibet had become the new People’s Republic of China following the brutal attack its armies had made upon the Tibetan people. It was not clear if the de jure sovereign over Tibet was the PRC or Republic of China (Taiwan) though since then the PRC has been included in the United Nations at the expense of Taiwan. The Dalai Lama may declare his intention to exercise his right to return to his country, and then simply do so – walking across the Nathu La Pass or any other convenient location, and then travelling on foot or by other means to Lhasa. The Government of China may ask to be assured that there will be no public disturbance to law and order by his followers, and subject to that mild and reasonable condition, it shall have no right to stop him from entering his own country. At the same time, the Government of India (e.g. at the behest of the Government of China) will have no right to prevent him from leaving India. The same body of international law that gives a person the right to enter his/her own country also gives a person the right to leave any country. The Dalai Lama is manifestly a man of peace and non-violence. His return to his own nation and his people is long overdue. He has been in forced exile in Dharamsala, and even if he has been a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize during this time, his heart and soul are in Tibet and that is where he must be free to return to. It will be a walk similar to Gandhi’s to Dandi, or Martin Luther King’s in Alabama, or Nelson Mandela’s first walk in freedom. They are similar men, all four of them, men of courage and peace and non-violence and yet of firm political principle who shall be remembered with love for all time by their peoples. The Government of the People’s Republic of China must demonstrate to the world that it is a civilised, legitimate and magnanimous authority. It must not kill, shoot at, assault, arrest or otherwise stop the Dalai Lama from returning to Tibet. Rather, it must encourage him to walk home in peace and freedom as is his right to do.
First published in The Statesman, August 29 2007, Frontpage comment,
The West Bengal Government and Tata Motors have come into what appears to be a most bizarre financial agreement regarding 645.67 acres of agricultural land in Singur. What we are told from court documents submitted on August 27 by Tata’s counsel Mr Samaraditya Pal to the Honourable Division Bench of the Chief Justice Mr SS Nijjar and Mr Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose is that a complicated schedule of payments is being planned for 90 years.
First there is a plan for 30 years with changes occurring every five years, then there is a plan for another 30 years with changes occurring every ten years, and finally there is a plan for the last 30 years with no changes occurring at all. 90 years is a very long time. A child born today will likely not be alive when this agreement comes to end though his/her grandchildren could be.
Tata Motors itself is hardly today what it was ten years ago and is unlikely to be the same corporate body 50 or 90 years from now. The political entities known as West Bengal or for that matter the Republic of India itself may well be very different in 2047, one hundred years after Independence, let alone in 2097 when this purported agreement shall end. 90 years ago the Ford Motor Company was mass-producing its famous Model-T – any product that Tata Motors produces at Singur today is hardly going to be the same 90 years from now. Our great grand children may look back at all this when the agreement ends and say it all looks pretty ridiculous in retrospect.
Even so, the numbers that have been now released to the Honourable Court allow some simple calculations to take place. The first point is that a payment made in 2007 cannot be added directly to a payment made in 2008 or to one in 2009, etc. It is meaningless to do so. However, if, say, Rs 1000 is paid in each of these years, and the market interest-rate is, say, 10%, what we may do is add Rs. 1000 with Rs. 1000/(1.1) with Rs. 1000/(1.1) squared to obtain a summable stream of Rs. 1000+Rs.909+Rs826 = Rs. 2735.
That sum of Rs 2735 is the present-value of the stream of three payments of Rs 1000 in each of three years given a constant interest-rate of 10%. On such a basis, given the payment-structure stated to the Honourable Court by Tata Motors, and assuming a constant interest-rate of 8% per annum in each year for the next 90 years, the present-value of all the payments to be made by Tata to West Bengal for the 645.67 acres of Singur land comes to Rs. 274.13 million (Rs. 27.413 crore), or a price of about Rs. 0.4246 million (Rs. 4.246 lakh) per acre. That is the effective market price of the land as valued in the contract, assuming a constant interest-rate of, say, 8%. (If a variable market-determined interest-rate had been used e.g. some rate added to the London InterBank Offer Rate in a given year, we could not make such a calculation today.)
If we further assume that the value of paper-money relative to land and goods and services in general may itself deteriorate through inflation, this figure would change. If, for example, we assume a low rate of inflation of 4% per annum for each of 90 years, that would mean the relevant interest-rate to discount the stream of payments would have to be 8%+4% = 12%. On that assumption, the present value of the entire stream of payments proposed to be made by Tata to West Bengal comes to Rs. 140 million in current rupees, and the price per acre of land becomes Rs 0.217 million or Rs. 2.17 lakhs. If the rate of inflation was high, say 10% per annum, the present value becomes Rs. 81.7 million and the price per acre of land being paid by Tata Motors is Rs 0.126 million or Rs. 1.26 lakhs. In other words, the higher the rate of paper-money inflation that occurs in the future, the cheaper Tata has obtained the land (and, conversely, the worse off the original peasant owners of the land who have been left with paper money paid to them by the West Bengal Government).
The point is also clear that the higher the rate at which one discounts the future, the lower shall be the present-value of the land. And also the higher this discount-rate, the more irrelevant the future becomes to present decision-making.
It is astonishing that neither Tata Motors’ high-powered MBA embellished management cadre nor anyone entrenched in the Marxist academic or policy establishment of West Bengal seems to have made such obvious calculations for the Honourable Court to understand things easily. Instead they have “added” the total payments to be made “raw” and said that some Rs. 8.558 billion (Rs. 855.8 crores) is due to be paid over 90 years – a meaningless statement because no such addition over time makes any financial sense at all. Are there no Marxist MBAs, or are all MBAs being mistaught the basics in their finance-courses?
First published in The Statesman 31 July 2007, Editorial Page Special Article
Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University
Dear Professor Sen,
Everyone will be delighted that someone of your worldwide stature has joined the debate on Singur and Nandigram; The Telegraph deserves congratulations for having made it possible on July 23.
I was sorry to find though that you may have missed the wood for the trees and also some of the trees themselves. Perhaps you have relied on Government statements for the facts. But the Government party in West Bengal represents official Indian communism and has been in power for 30 years at a stretch. It may be unwise to take at face-value what they say about their own deeds on this very grave issue! Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and there are many candid communists who privately recognise this dismal truth about themselves. To say this is not to be praising those whom you call the “Opposition” ~ after all, Bengal’s politics has seen emasculation of the Congress as an opposition because the Congress and communists are allies in Delhi. It is the Government party that must reform itself from within sua sponte for the good of everyone in the State.
The comparisons and mentions of history you have made seem to me surprising. Bengal’s economy now or in the past has little or nothing similar to the economy of Northern England or the whole of England or Britain itself, and certainly Indian agriculture has little to do with agriculture in the new lands of Australia or North America. British economic history was marked by rapid technological innovations in manufacturing and rapid development of social and political institutions in context of being a major naval, maritime and mercantile power for centuries. Britain’s geography and history hardly ever permitted it to be an agricultural country of any importance whereas Bengal, to the contrary, has been among the most agriculturally fertile and hence densely populated regions of the world for millennia.
Om Prakash’s brilliant pioneering book The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal 1630-1720 (Princeton 1985) records all this clearly. He reports the French traveller François Bernier saying in the 1660s “Bengal abounds with every necessary of life”, and a century before him the Italian traveller Verthema saying Bengal “abounds more in grain, flesh of every kind, in great quantity of sugar, also of ginger, and of great abundance of cotton, than any country in the world”. Om Prakash says “The premier industry in the region was the textile industry comprising manufacture from cotton, silk and mixed yarns”. Bengal’s major exports were foodstuffs, textiles, raw silk, opium, sugar and saltpetre; imports notably included metals (as Montesquieu had said would always be the case).
Bengal did, as you say, have industries at the time the Europeans came but you have failed to mention these were mostly “agro-based” and, if anything, a clear indicator of our agricultural fecundity and comparative advantage. If “deindustrialization” occurred in 19th Century India, that had nothing to do with the “deindustrialization” in West Bengal from the 1960s onwards due to the influence of official communism.
You remind us Fa Hiaen left from Tamralipta which is modern day Tamluk, though he went not to China but to Ceylon. You suggest that because he did so Tamluk effectively “was greater Calcutta”. I cannot see how this can be said of the 5th Century AD when no notion of Calcutta existed. Besides, modern Tamluk at 22º18’N, 87º56’E is more than 50 miles inland from the ancient port due to land-making that has occurred at the mouth of the Hooghly. I am afraid the relevance of the mention of Fa Hiaen to today’s Singur and Nandigram has thus escaped me.
You say “In countries like Australia, the US or Canada where agriculture has prospered, only a very tiny population is involved in agriculture. Most people move out to industry. Industry has to be convenient, has to be absorbing”. Last January, a national daily published a similar view: “For India to become a developed country, the area under agriculture has to shrink, urban and industrial land development has to take place, and about 100 million workers have to move out from agriculture into industry and services. This is the only way forward for bringing prosperity to the rural population”.
Rice is indeed grown in Arkansas or Texas as it is in Bengal but there is a world of difference between the technological and geographical situation here and that in the vast, sparsely populated New World areas with mechanized farming! Like shoe-making or a hundred other crafts, agriculture can be capital-intensive or labour-intensive ~ ours is relatively labour-intensive, theirs is relatively capital-intensive. Our economy is relatively labour-abundant and capital-scarce; their economies are relatively labour-scarce and capital-abundant (and also land-abundant). Indeed, if anything, the apt comparison is with China, and you doubtless know of the horror stories and civil war conditions erupting across China in recent years as the Communist Party and their businessman friends forcibly take over the land of peasants and agricultural workers, e.g. in Dongzhou.
All plans of long-distance social engineering to “move out” 40 per cent of India’s population (at 4 persons per “worker”) from the rural hinterlands must also face FA Hayek’s fundamental question in The Road to Serfdom: “Who plans whom, who directs whom, who assigns to other people their station in life, and who is to have his due allotted by others?”
Your late Harvard colleague, Robert Nozick, opened his brilliant 1974 book Anarchy, State and Utopia saying: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)”. You have rightly deplored the violence seen at Singur and Nandigram. But you will agree it is a gross error to equate violence perpetrated by the Government which is supposed to be protecting all people regardless of political affiliation, and the self-defence of poor unorganised peasants seeking to protect their meagre lands and livelihoods from state-sponsored pogroms. Kitchen utensils, pitchforks or rural implements and flintlock guns can hardly match the organised firepower controlled by a modern Government.
Fortunately, India is not China and the press, media and civil institutions are not totally in the hands of the ruling party alone. In China, no amount of hue and cry among the peasants could save them from the power of organised big business and the Communist Party. In India, a handful of brave women have managed to single-handedly organise mass movements of protest which the press and media have then broadcast that has shocked the whole nation to its senses.
You rightly say the land pricing process has been faulty. Irrelevant historical prices have been averaged when the sum of discounted expected future values in an inflationary economy should have been used. Matters are even worse. “The fear of famine can itself cause famine. The people of Bengal are afraid of a famine. It was repeatedly charged that the famine (of 1943) was man-made.” That is what T. W. Schultz said in 1946 in the India Famine Emergency Committee led by Pearl Buck, concerned that the 1943 Bengal famine should not be repeated following dislocations after World War II. Of course since that time our agriculture has undergone a Green Revolution, at least in wheat if not in rice, and a White Revolution in milk and many other agricultural products. But catastrophic collapses in agricultural incentives may still occur as functioning farmland comes to be taken by government and industry from India’s peasantry using force, fraud or even means nominally sanctioned by law. If new famines come to be provoked because farmers’ incentives collapse, let future historians know where responsibility lay.
West Bengal’s real economic problems have to do with its dismal macroeconomic and fiscal position which is what Government economists should be addressing candidly. As for land, the Government’s first task remains improving grossly inadequate systems of land-description and definition, as well as the implementation and recording of property rights.
With my most respectful personal regards, I remain
“Stonewalling” has come to mean being continually evasive and misleading in politics by, for example, parroting a party line against fair public inquiry or criticism. “I want you to stonewall it”, was Richard Nixon’s infamous instruction during Watergate. (The original meaning was not ignoble: General T. J. “Stonewall” Jackson, during the US Civil War stayed on his horse under constant fire, taking all the bullets “like a stonewall” until he was killed.)
Stonewalling is what we are likely ever to receive from Pratibha Patil and the present day Congress Party. It is not as if India and the world will not survive if she becomes our President. Rashtrapati Bhavan has had undistinguished occupants before, even ones with clouds of disreputable or nefarious public deeds hanging over their heads. All that will happen is that our political institutions shall retrogress for five years; a pity but not something catastrophic in view of our long history ~ Nadir Shah’s brief stay set the standard for catastrophic behaviour in Delhi.
“Individuals may form communities, but it is institutions alone that can create a nation”, said Disraeli. Nation-building would become that much harder, our pessimism and disillusionment about whether we will ever succeed would become that much greater.
The corrosion of our political, financial, academic and other public institutions over decades has been something in which all our official political parties and religious formations are hand-in-glove complicit. In the case of Pratibha Patil, it is the PM and UPA Chair who are directly responsible for the institutional corrosion taking place in full view of all with respect to the highest office of the land.
But then Dr Manmohan Singh, despite his sojourns as a young social scientist in Britain, has not cared a hoot that the Prime Minister in a parliamentary democracy must seek to be an elected member of the House of the People. Also, ever since 1991, he has permitted the flattering fiction to develop that he or any of his acolytes had something to do with the origins of the economic reform. As for Sonia Gandhi, her list of naïve misjudgements only grows longer ~ cardinal among them being her having apparently retained as trusted advisers around her persons who had been warned about the vulnerability of her husband to assassination. Had Rajiv not been assassinated, Sonia would have been today merely a happy grandmother and not India’s purported ruler.
Stonewalling has become standard government practice in 21st century India across party-lines. The BJP stonewalled after the post-Godhra pogrom in 2002 and held none of its own responsible; the CPI-M has done precisely the same after the Nandigram pogrom a few months ago.
In October 2005, the Supreme Court ~ proving yet again that there are or can be institutions which do work in India ~ found the Union Government had behaved unconstitutionally. Lesson 101 of Constitutional Politics says: If you are uncertain whether a head of government commands confidence, ask him/her to prove his majority on the floor of the house. Instead the Sonia-Manmohan Government had launched a pre-emptive putsch against an aspirant for a democratic majority in a State assembly. What Sonia-Manmohan should have done in response to the Supreme Court’s finding was to recall or transfer the apparent culprit, and express regret to Parliament and the Court. That would have ended the matter and also engendered some moral growth in the polity. What they did instead was stonewall. Worse stonewalling was to follow from the whole of Parliament itself in the “office-for-profit” scandal.
Aristotle said politics was the supreme good because the ends of all other activities are subsumed in politics. This means that if the politics of a national society gets corroded, so does everything else. It is because India’s politics have become rotten, that our financial, academic and other institutions have followed.
The private American “equity group” Blackstone recently purchased Hilton Hotels for 26 thousand million American dollars cash. Why is that significant to Indians? Because India’s Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, took the unprecedented step of naming Blackstone along with one private Indian citizen, Deepak Parekh in his February 2007 Budget Speech. He referred to a Government of India financial scheme by which favoured private businesses can “borrow” India’s foreign exchange reserves to pay for purchases of foreign assets. The same Reserve Bank of India which cracked down on Pratibha Patil’s dubious bank-dealings has now been bullied into allowing India’s foreign exchange reserves to be “borrowed” ~ and quite possibly never to be returned. Furthermore, foreign exchange reserves are not like tax-revenues but largely constitute already borrowed funds!
In academia, Mr Arjun Singh tyrannises defenceless medical students but presides (like his predecessor Dr Murli Manohar Joshi) over appointments at national institutes of full professors without postgraduate degrees or any experience of teaching or research. The Union Finance and Education Ministers report in the Government and their party to the PM and the UPA Chair. But neither Dr Singh nor Mrs Gandhi can have any effective control over the rot in India’s macroeconomic, financial, academic or other institutions when they are presiding over political rot themselves.
Stonewalling is the political behavour of the shameless. Shame used to be a cultural means of political self-control in traditional societies. Modern politics makes a distinction between private and public domains, and says that transmuting valuable public property of any kind into private wealth or advantage constitutes nefarious corruption. It is possible our subcontinent has not wished to or has not yet entered the world of modern politics. Instead we remain feudal in our political behaviour ~ where large rival clans perpetually battle over what is the ill-defined common property of the realm. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, the militaries predominate and participate in this feuding. In India the feuds take place within a framework which outwardly seems democratic with institutions of a free society like a free press and official civilian control of the military. Our feuds are between three large rival clans: the Indira-Sonia Patriarchal Matriarchs, the Hindu Patriarchs, and the Communist Matriarchal Patriarchs. The Congress, BJP and Communists are yet to become modern parties, and unless and until they do, our politics shall remain in retrogression.
THE theatrics surrounding the choice of presidential candidates refer to the highest and most dignified office of the land. Otherwise, India’s public would have been justified to think we were watching an absurd farce. Even so, lessons may be learnt about the nature of our polity, especially our purported Government and its purported Opposition.
Consider first how the name of the Congress’s candidate apparently arose. “Why don’t you think of Pratibha Patil?” was the rhetorical suggestion apparently made by Manmohan Singh to Sonia Gandhi at a joint meeting of the UPA and Left where no other person could be agreed upon. What could have been the emotional state of the Prime Minister of India in addressing such a question to its specific addressee? It had to be the same unconscious perplexity and mental contradiction he has experienced throughout the UPA Government, saying to himself: “I am the Prime Minister but I am not the Prime Minister, I am the Head of India’s Government but I am not the Head of India’s Government”.
Instead of leading the country as he was chosen to do in the belief he possessed some superior wisdom and capability for the job, Dr Singh has constantly deferred to and followed the person who chose him to lead. The Head of Government in our system recommends an appropriate Head of State. If Dr Singh truly felt himself India’s leader, not merely someone permitted for some time to enjoy the office and perquisites of India’s Prime Minister and being nominally referred to as such, he could have said: “I think we should consider Pratibha Patil, what say all of you?”
Such words would have displayed too much assertiveness in the presence of Sonia Gandhi, too much leadership from someone flatteringly described as mild and gentle but unflatteringly described as obsequious in the face of power. It is the same excess of deference displayed when he allows himself to be bullied or insulted by the DMK or receive the open contempt of his own Cabinet ministers. Dr Singh has just returned from the so-called “G-8 summit” where he was an invitee. In a group photo standing above and behind the American President, Dr Singh was seen gently touching George Bush on the shoulder as if Bush was a rich younger brother who needed a lift in spirits. Afterwards Dr Singh reportedly said the summit was useless ~ from his long bureaucratic experience he should have known that long beforehand, and declined to waste India’s time there. But then Europe is nice this time of year when Delhi is so hot. China is next on his itinerary, and he will surely not want to miss the Great Wall despite China’s continuing insults.
What the Pratibha episode reveals about Sonia Gandhi is her continuing bewilderment and confusion about the parameters of her life since her husband’s assassination sixteen years ago. There is a very simple candid explanation why, after her years in mourning, she entered politics following the Sitaram Kesri period: she and her children could not financially sustain a lifestyle to which they had become accustomed at 10 Janpath except as part of India’s politics via the Congress Party. Running the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation was not enough, and Rahul Gandhi’s income in a normal private sector career would have been unexceptional. Hence the lure of power has remained strong and cannot be walked away from even if walking away would be the right thing to do for sake of the political health of the Congress Party ~ which would finally have to grow up, find some political principles, and develop some normal processes of internal competition.
When Pratibha Patil’s name was mentioned for the first time in this manner, the rational course of action for the UPA Chair would have been to say, wait, if we are now thinking about a woman definitely, may we please have two or three such names to consider for a few days? But it was Dr Singh mentioning the name, and his supposed wisdom is what Sonia Gandhi believes, in her bewilderment, she should defer to, so she agreed at once in a parallel state of mental confusion as his: “I am India’s Leader but I am not India’s Leader”. Hence Pratibha Patil becomes the nominee. A little “game-theory” may help to explain the outcome (see table).
The paralysis and/or sclerosis of the Congress’s thinking processes is matched by the BJP and Communists. If Sonia Gandhi could bring herself to walk away from Indian politics, a genuine leadership contest in the Congress would have to occur for the first time in decades. Similarly, if Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani could bring themselves to honestly walk away from BJP politics, there would have to be a genuine leadership contest and some new principles emerging in their party. There is an excellent and very simple political reason for Vajpayee and Advani to go, which is not that they are too old (which they are) but that they led their party to electoral defeat. Had they walked away in May 2004, there might have been by now some viable conservative political philosophy in India and some recognisable new alternative leadership for 2009. Instead there is none and the BJP has not only failed very badly at being a responsible Opposition, it will go into the 2009 General Election looking exceptionally decrepit and incompetent.
Indeed, Vajpayee and Advani may not have walked away for the same reason as Sonia Gandhi, namely, the “10 Janpath Effect” or what may be generalised to the “Nice-New Delhi-Government-Housing-Effect”. Besides, like our ageing cricketers, cinema stars, playback singers and tons of ageing bureaucrats and corporate executives, where would they go, what would they do, how would they live, what do they know how to do if they were not doing what they have been doing for so long? Golf and grandchildren is the usual American formula.
In case of the Communists, it is not electoral but ideological defeat, indeed ideological annihilation, that their leaders have led them into. When was the last time we heard our Communist leaders extolling Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Zhou or even Fidel Castro? Not for a long time. The bankruptcy of official communism is obvious even to them, at least in their candid moments in front of the mirror every morning. Even for the CPI and CPI(M) to merge into a genuine modern socialist party is too creative and productive an outcome to be handled since top and middle management retrenchments would be inevitable. Also, the Cannot-Leave-Nice-Housing-Effect applies here too, and so the most we find by way of communist transformation is a perverse alliance with organised big business in trying to cheat very poor and unorganised peasants of their land in an economy where runaway paper money printing threatens a hyperinflation.
Nobody in power wants to address the rotten state of our public finances, since all of them have contributed to causing the stench. Our Finance Minister finds time to attend posh parties and publish books while presiding over an RBI-supported capital flight of India’s super-rich: “ultrahigh networth individuals are looking forward to buy overseas equities and real estate” Business Standard (25 April 2007) blithely said. The Finance Minister should have been instead burning the midnight candle getting public budgets and government accounting cleaned and healthy nationwide.
We in India have had more than enough time and democratic experience to have developed by now a set of normal conservative, liberal democrat, social democrat and socialist parties. That we have nothing of the kind speaks to the rot in the political culture we are witnessing in our capital and other major cities. Politically, we may be in for an especially ugly, unpleasant and incoherent few years starting with the presidential election currently underway.
American Turmoil: A Vice-Presidential Coup – And Now a Grassroots CounterRevolution?
First published in
The Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article June 18 2007
The Cold War was lost by Soviet and East European communism, and the laurelled victor was the USA along with its loyal allies. Russia and East Europe then transformed themselves. Once there had been Dubcek in the Prague Spring and Sakharov in his apartment. Then there was Lech Walesa the electrician, who, on 14 August 1980, climbed over a fence and led an 18-day strike from which arose the first independent trade union ~ Walesa said “the very basic things: he stood on the shipyard gate and called things by their real names”. Then came Gorbachov and Yeltsin. The despised Berlin Wall was smashed into small saleable bits in November 1989 and people just walked across. That was the end of communism. An unknown student stood down the tanks in Tiananmen Square — though a dozen years earlier the death-watch of Chinese communism had begun with Wei Jingsheng’s “Democracy Wall”. Communist apparatchiks everywhere (except New Delhi and Kolkata) started to unlearn communism; communist societies and economies began to be placed on a road to health and taken off the road to misery.
What happened to the victors? Germany quietly unified. Italy’s politics stabilised a little. France achieved its wish of being undominated in Europe. Britain, already forlorn from loss of empire, was left trying to arbitrage between Europe and America (though there too there was new competition from the Irish Republic).
Some political learning, reconciliation and growth took place in Europe but there was none in America ~ the biggest victor of all, the one country but for whose efforts all of Europe might have become and remained communist. Instead, the USA chose to gorge itself on self-accolades, bloated, then started to choke on its own hubris.
The result is that as the 2008 Presidential election campaign gets underway, and the Second Iraq War is at its peak, America’s polity at its highest level may be in turmoil of a sort not seen since the student revolts at the peak of the Vietnam War.
Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were an interregnum after the Vietnam and Watergate traumas. It was during the Reagan “restoration” that communism collapsed and Osama bin Laden was befriended. Carter’s military mission to rescue American hostages in Iran notoriously failed; Reagan restored American pride by sending in the US Army’s crack Rangers to defeat an almost non-existent enemy ~ in Grenada. It was the first successful American military action in a long time. But there was also failure in Beirut where Reagan withdrew after 241 US soldiers were killed by a suicide-bomber.
George Bush Sr glided into the Presidency in Reagan’s wake. He felt sure of being re-elected when Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait gave him a war with which to seal his chances. For his part, Saddam had primly and properly called in the US Ambassador to Iraq, the top career diplomat April Glaspie, and told her he had accounts to settle with Kuwait over the Iran-Iraq war. Glaspie, under instructions of the Bush-Baker State Department, famously told him the USA had no opinion on inter-Arab conflicts. Saddam took this to be a green signal, or at least not a red signal, from America and went ahead with his attack on Kuwait.
The American President worked himself into an angry indignation ~ and soon there were large numbers of American troops in Saudi Arabia, soon Iraq was forced to retreat with thousands slaughtered in a turkey-shoot from the air, soon there would be severe sanctions and bombings by the USA and UK. Bush was sure he would be re-elected in 1992, and indeed he led all the polls ~ except an oddball surprise Ross Perot pulled away his votes, and caused the third man running, a young governor of a minor State, to push through to victory instead. Bill Clinton was as surprised as anyone that he was President of the USA in 1992. Dissimulation and mendacity reached new heights during his time yet he came to be re-elected in 1996.
Osama bin Laden started to rant against his former ally. Remove your troops from our holy land, he said. Clinton and Madelaine (“It’s worth it”) Albright continued to bomb Saddam instead ~ who after all had launched a few backward Scuds at Israel during the First Iraq War of 1991. Somehow or other, Osama and/or someone else then designed the destruction of Manhattan’s tallest buildings on September 11 2001; it remains unclear what projectile hit the Pentagon or exactly what happened over a field in Pennsylvania the same morning. The mass murder of thousands remains unsolved.
America, under Bush’s elder son, attacked Osama’s hosts in Afghanistan (but not so as to upset their common Pakistani friends too much), then turned their really motivated firepower against their old foe, Saddam Hussein. Iraq by the summer of 2003 was destroyed as a nation-state, and today in 2007 under American occupation has been almost wholly destroyed as a culture and a society. The new US Embassy in Baghdad is as large as the Vatican. Fourteen permanent American military bases have been built. The US Government has spoken of moving troops from Saudi Arabia to Iraq, and of being in Iraq for ever on the Korean pattern.
United States history and political culture had never seen a Vice President as being anything more than an invisible silent shadow of the President of the land. That has changed drastically. Indeed in recent months there has been much serious Washington talk of the incumbent Vice President having unlawfully usurped political power from the President himself. Cheney’s people throughout the Bush Administration have been in almost open battle against the official foreign and diplomatic policy of Condoleeza Rice and the professional military represented by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Before the attack on Iraq they had overturned the CIA’s official intelligence assessments. There is a general perception that Cheney’s people have been far shrewder and more experienced of the Washington Beltway than Bush’s.
Attack on Iran?
Now the central issue has been whether to attack Iran, and if so how and when. Cheney’s people and their think-tank friends are determined America must do so, perhaps with a new Netanyahu Government in Israel early in 2008 or sooner. The President was apparently warned by his generals in December 2006 that such an attack would gravely endanger the supply lines of US troops who would face a Shia insurrection in Iraq; that may have been the sole reason no attack occurred, and also one reason for the present infantry “surge”. Three aircraft carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf indicate a potential strike, and that level of force has been coming and going from there for months.
The main Democratic Presidential candidates, especially Mrs Clinton, have said nuclear weapons are “not off the table” in reference to striking Iran without provocation. Nine out of ten of the Republican Presidential candidates agree. The exception is Ron Paul who has recognised the United States was not intended by its founders to be launching aggressive nuclear war against non-nuclear countries in the 21st Century. The Reagan-era economist Paul Craig Roberts has said such war will leave America more reviled than Hitler’s Third Reich.
A grassroots democratic counter-revolution could be starting to overturn the elitist coup d’etat that may have occurred in Washington. “People power” beat organised State power in many times and places. Can it win here? Or could there be tanks in Dupont Circle forty years after the tanks in Wenceslas Square?
When will normal political philosophy replace personality cults?
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, June 11 2007,
A decade after Solzhenitsyn’s classic 1962 memoir One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch, an ambitious young Delhi photographer published a hagiography called A life in the day of Indira Gandhi. Indira was shown gambolling with her little grandchildren, guiding her dutiful daughter-in-law, weeping for her father, greeting her loyal subjects from around India, reprimanding her ingratiating sycophants, imperiously silent during political meetings, smiling and scolding alternately at press conferences, and of course standing in victory at Shimla beside the defeated Bhutto. “Indira is India” the sycophantic slogan went, and the cult of her personality was one of showing her as omniscient and omnipotent in all earthly matters of Indian politics.
She had indeed fought that rarest of things in international law: the just war. Supported by the world’s strongest military, an evil enemy had made victims of his own people. Indira tried patiently on the international stage to avert war, but also chose her military generals well and took their professional judgement seriously as to when to fight if it was inevitable and how to win. Finally she was magnanimous (to a fault) towards the enemy ~ who was not some stranger to us but our own estranged brother and cousin.
It seemed to be her and independent India’s finest hour. A fevered nation was thus ready to forgive and forget her catastrophic misdeeds until that time, like bank-nationalization and the start of endless deficit-finance and unlimited money-printing, a possible cause of monetary collapse today four decades later under Manmohan Singh whose career as an economic bureaucrat began at that time.
Hitler, Stalin, Mao
Modern personality cults usually have had some basis in national heroism. In Indira’s case it was the 1971 war. Hitler, Stalin and Mao were seen or portrayed as war heroes too. Because there has been leadership in time of war or national crisis, nervous anxious masses extend their hopes and delusions to believe such a leader has answers to everything. The propaganda machinery available as part of modern state apparatus then takes over, and when it is met on behalf of the citizenry with no more than a compliant docile ingratiating mass media, the public image comes to be formed of a parental god-like figure who will protect and guide the community to its destiny.
Beneath this public image, the cunning play of self-interest by anonymous underlings in the allocation of public resources continues unabated, and so it is possible some truth attaches to the idea that an individual leader is not as responsible for evil misdeeds or depredations done by “the party” in his/her name.
In the Indian case, hero-worship and ancestor-worship are part of the culture of all our major religions. Hence we have parades of parliamentarians garlanding or throwing flowers and paying obeisance at this or that statue or oil-painting or photograph regularly ~ though as a people we have yet to produce rigorous intellectual biographies of any major figures of our own modern history, comparable to, say, Judith Brown’s work on Gandhi or Ayesha Jalal’s on Jinnah.
Indira continued to dominate our political culture until her assassination more than a decade later, but there was hardly a shred of political or economic good in what she left the country. Her elder son (leaving aside his blunders in Sri Lanka, J&K etc.) did have the sense to initiate fundamental change in his party’s economic thinking when he found a chance to do so in the months before his own assassination.
Rajiv was the son of Feroze Gandhi too and a happy family man; he seemed not to have psychological need for as much of the kind of personality cult his mother clearly loved to indulge in. It is not clear if his widow is today trying to follow his example or his mother’s ~ certainly, the party that goes by the name of Indian National Congress would like to relive for a second time the worst of the Indira personality cult around Sonia Gandhi. And Rahul Gandhi, instead of seeking to develop or display any talent as befits a young man, has shown disconcerting signs of longing for the days of his grandmother’s personality cult to return. He may have been more effective pursuing a normal career in the private sector.
The Congress’s perpetual tendency towards personality cults has extended by imitation to other political parties in New Delhi and the States. Atal Behari Vajpayee at his peak as PM did not find it at all uncomfortable to be portrayed by his sycophants as a wise, heroic and loving father-figure of the nation ~ an image shattered when, immediately after perfunctorily commiserating the Godhra and post-Godhra horrors, he was pictured fashionably on a Singapore golf-cart sporting designer sunglasses.
India’s organised communists make a great show of collective decision-making since they most intimately followed the details of Kruschev’s denunciation of Stalin’s personality cult. It has not stopped them routinely genuflecting to China’s communists. There also has been a communist tendency to deny individual merit and creativity at junior levels and instead appropriate all good things for the party bosses. New brilliant faces will never arise in the Left and we may be condemned to see the usual characters in perpetuity. If personality cults around Jyoti Basu or Buddhadeb Bhattacharya have failed to thrive it has not been through lack of trying on part of the publicly paid communist intelligentsia and their docile artists, but rather because of resistance from Bengal’s newspapers and a few clear-headed journalists and well known opposition politicians.
Tamil Nadu has seen grotesque rivalry between Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha as to whose personality cult can alternately outdo the other, supplanting all normal political economy or attempts at discovery of the public interest. In Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, J&K, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (but not Gujarat or Rajasthan lately), two-party democratic politics has succeeded in limiting tendencies for personality cults to develop. The North Eastern States have had inadequate coverage by modern media, which, fortuitously, along with tribal traditions, may have restrained personality cults from developing.
Facts explode cults
Facts are the most reliable means by which to explode personality cults. It is not a coincidence that facts are also the source by which to develop modern political philosophies, whether conservative, classical liberal/ libertarian, or socialist. Facts have to be discovered, ferreted out, analysed, studied and reflected upon by those civil institutions that are supposed to be doing so, namely university social science, economics and related departments, as well as responsible newspapers, radio and other mass media. Julian Benda once titled a book The Treason of the Intellectuals. India will begin to have a normal political philosophy when the treason of its modern intellectual classes begins to be corrected.
It is not a treason in which the state has been betrayed to an enemy. Rather it is one in which the very purposes of public conversation, such as the discovery of the public interest, have been betrayed in the interests of immediate private gain. This may help to explain why there is so little coherent public discussion in India today, and certainly almost nothing on television, or in the business papers or what passes for academia.
Pakistan and Bangladesh, unlike ourselves in India, have yet to properly establish elementary constitutional institutions. “Individuals may form communities, but it is institutions alone that can create a nation”, said Benjamin Disraeli. The continual political chaos on the streets of Pakistan and Bangladesh ~ not just in recent weeks but in recent years and decades ~ indicate such institutions are still lacking or stillborn there. Tear gas, water cannon and hordes of armed policemen to charge at enraged stone-throwing crowds are not part of any solution but part of the political problem itself.
One main purpose of constitutional institutions has to do with peaceful transfer of power from one political party to its adversary. Mulayam Singh Yadav has just transferred political power to Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, an Indian State more populous than either Pakistan or Bangladesh. Not long ago Lalu Prasad Yadav did the same to Nitish Kumar in Bihar, and Atal Behari Vajpayee to an appointee of Sonia Gandhi for all India itself. Modern democratic institutions are precisely about such peaceful transfers of power after voters have acted periodically to try to “throw the rascals out”.
It would be foolish to suppose an incoming Government of UP, Bihar or all India itself will be very much better than the one it displaces. But certainly in its first few “honeymoon” months or weeks at least, it will not be any worse. The tail-end of any scheduled democratic government, whether in India, Britain, the USA or elsewhere, is quite a disgusting sight, as those in their last days of power grab whatever they can from office before departure without any pretence of shame or embarrassment. Serious decision-making in the public interest would have long ago ceased. Almost anything new would be better.
At the same time, among those coming into power there will be some earnest wish at least to make some small difference for the better ~ a wish that will surely disappear within weeks of entering office after which the old cynicism and corruption will take hold again, and it will be the same ugly business as usual. But certainly, voters can expect slightly fresh air for a brief time after they have thrown one party out of power and chosen to bring in another. That is as about as good as democracy gets in modern practice.
Of India’s dozen or more larger States, we have, in the sixth decade of our Constitution, quite a few in which bipartisan democratic processes have been taking shape. UP was not one of them, and it is to Mayawati’s credit that she has broken the pattern of hung assemblies and now heads a majority government. Bihar too had seemed in the monolithic grip of Lalu Yadav until Nitish Kumar broke it, though the latter’s honeymoon period is now long over and it is business quite as usual there. Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and even J&K each have a noticeable bipartisan nature developing with at least one “national” party present to be counted. Tamil Nadu has been bipartisan but in an unhealthy way based on the personality cults of antagonistic leaders rather than any political principles or class-interests ~ which is a pity as the old Madras once had seemed a source of some new rationality in Indian politics. West Bengal’s voters have been definitely bipartisan, the communist vote being no more than that of the Congress and Trinamul combined. But for decades the local Congress has been notoriously sold down the river to its communist adversary by the Congress “leadership” in Delhi, and that has allowed an entrenched and wholly corrupted communist cultural and political mindset to rule in Kolkata. The Basu-Bhattacharjee Government was palpably bewildered over the Singur and Nandigram events because of their self-induced delusion about the economic and political realities of the State.
Throughout India though, periodic elections have acquired enough legitimacy to be accepted as the means of peaceful change of government. And with bipartisan politics there is a tendency for the median voter to be wooed at election-time.
We have of course many other continuing problems in our political economy ~ most notorious of which is the rotten state of our public finances and the continuous massive deficit finance that has ruined our paper currency and banking system ever since Indira Gandhi’s rule, coinciding with the start of Manmohan Singh’s career as an economic bureaucrat and Pranab Mukherjee’s as a politician in the early 1970s. Our acceptance of the democratic way has to an extent depended on our notoriously irresponsible macroeconomic policies ~ since every State and Union Government entity has been allowed to face no effective binding financial budget-constraint, and all its perverse decision-making can flow eventually into the swamp that is our Public Debt which constitutes the asset-side of the domestic banking system. India’s cardinal problem then becomes one of how to improve our macroeconomics without losing our democracy ~ something the Sonia-Manmohan-Pranab Congress, the BJP/RSS and the Communists are all equally clueless about.
Across our borders, our Pakistani and Bangladeshi cousins were cut from the same constitutional cloth as ourselves, namely the 1935 Government of India Act and the Montague-Chelmsford reforms before that. But after Jinnah’s death they refused to admit this and instead embarked on trying to write and implement a Constitution for a new Caliphate. The initial demand was “That the sovereignty in Pakistan belongs to God Almighty alone and that the Government of Pakistan shall administer the country as His agent”. In Rashid Rida and Maulana Maududi’s words, Islam becomes “the very antithesis of secular Western democracy. The philosophical foundation of Western democracy is the sovereignty of the people. Lawmaking is their prerogative and legislation must correspond to the mood and temper of their opinion… Islam… altogether repudiates the philosophy of popular sovereignty and rears its polity on the foundations of the sovereignty of God and the viceregency (Khilafat) of man.” (Rosenthal, Islam & the Modern National State, Cambridge 1965). Pakistan’s constitutionalists thus have faced an impossible battle to overcome the ontological error of assuming that any mundane government can be in communication with God Almighty.
Now Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was as pious a Muslim as any but was far more modern in his 5 November 1951 speech to J&K’s Constituent Assembly: “You are the sovereign authority in this State of Jammu & Kashmir; what you decide has the irrevocable force of law”. Referring to the American and French Constitutions, he said the “basic democratic principle” was of the “sovereignty of the nation”. “We should be clear about the responsibilities that this power invests us with. In front of us lie decisions of the highest national importance which we shall be called upon to take. Upon the correctness of our decisions depends not only the happiness of our land and people now, but the fate as well of generations to come.”
Can a modern conclave of Pervez Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto and Chaudhry Iftikhar Ahmed decide or declare any better for Pakistan today? Or one of Khaleda, Hasina and whichever cabal of generals and bureaucrats happens to head Bangladesh at present?
If Pakistan and Bangladesh each chose to restart with the modern-minded constitutional example Sheikh Abdullah set more than a half century ago in J&K, they may find their political problems less severe in due course. It is a long road ahead.
Maharashtra’s Money: Those Who Are Part Of The Problem Are Unlikely To Be A Part Of Its Solution
first published in The Statesman April 24 2007, Editorial Page
by Subroto Roy
Mr Percy Mistry, according to the World Bank’s official chronology, worked there with Moeen Qureshi, and S Javed Burki. Mr Qureshi was doyen of Pakistani bureaucrats in Washington and something of a king-maker back home, briefly becoming Pakistan’s PM himself; Mr Burki briefly became Pakistan’s Finance Minister and is an author in the book Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy created by WE James and myself in the 1980s in the USA. Although Mr Mistry claims no special expertise about India’s monetary economy or public finances, he was appointed by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram to head an official committee that has given an opinion on a crucial monetary issue facing the country today, namely, the rupee’s convertibility. Mr Mistry apparently authored the report but resigned before its release, making it unclear who is responsible for its contents.
Mr Mistry has glossed over India’s present fiscal circumstances, said nothing of the limitless waste, fraud and abuse of the public purse the Sonia-Manmohan Government have been indulging in (like their Vajpayee-Advani predecessor) yet declared the rupee should be freed in 2008 ~ telling Business Standard a convertible rupee will allow people like “Ratan” and “Kumar” to raise capital in India for their foreign purchases, and not have to go to London as they must do now, poor things. All this in a report purporting to be a plan to make Mumbai an “international financial centre”, which is a different subject altogether.
Mr Mistry thus becomes a certifiable member of the “Dream Team” of Dr Singh, Mr Chidambaram, Mr Montek Ahluwalia, Mr Deepak Parekh and their big business/big labour/big media friends across political parties. Dreaming involves constructs in which normal logic and facts have no place. In the waking world, India is a labour-rich, capital-scarce country where wages are lower and interest-rates are higher respectively than in labour-scarce, capital-rich Western countries; hence India will be importing not exporting capital. In the real world too, Mumbai is not an off-shore island-resort outside India (like the so-called SEZs are going to be from a legal standpoint) but happens to be located in Maharashtra, whose public finances urgently require hard investigation and sober thought.
Now there used to be a “Bombay State” coinciding with the old Bombay Presidency plus “princely states” plus Marathi-majority districts of MP and Hyderabad and excluding Kannada-majority districts to Mysore. On May 1 1960, after much agitation, this became the new States of Gujarat and Maharashtra. There was talk of making Bombay city a Union Territory but the Marathis would have none of it. In fact, within a few weeks, Maharashtra reverted to calling itself “Bombay State” and it was not until the end of the year the Government of India officially declared it must be called Maharashtra.
The same quest for, or confusion about, cultural and political identity continues in recent times and may be at the root of the Shiv Sena’s erratic political behaviour which rocks Maharashtra politics so frequently. “Bombay” may be “Mumba Bai” or “Mumba Devi” but it had not been a Marathi town any more than Calcutta had been a Bengali town. Bombay’s traders and businessmen descended there while it developed after the decline of Surat, where the British initially came to trade in the 17th Century. Modern Bombay retains some of its “all-India” character and even today you cannot make money in its markets unless you speak Gujarati. Marathi-speakers have tended to wish Maharashtra was “Maratha-rashtra” reminiscent of the great Shivaji Bhonsla (1627-1680) but others have read the name only as “Great State”.
This continuing identity crisis had its most devastating costly impact through the Dabhol-Enron fiasco. As recently as March 4 2007, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said frankly “We could not generate a single megawatt of electricity in the last 10 years due to the Enron issue”, adding demand for electric power had been growing in the State at 10% per annum.
Indeed, before the 2005-2006 nuclear or any other deal could be contemplated with the Americans, the US-India Business Council, the American business lobbyist (and recent guest and soon-to-be host of the CPI-M’s Buddhadeb Bhattacharya), insisted India pay up fully for the Dabhol-Enron fiasco. Maharashtra and its sovereign guarantor the Government of India, duly paid out at least $140-$160 million ($14-$16 crore) to each General Electric and Bechtel Corporation in “an amicable settlement”. It was only then that Dr Manmohan Singh could be hosted in the White House and in turn play host to President George W. Bush.
Without entering the intricacies of the fiasco, it may be still asked who was responsible. And in retrospect the finger must point both at the Mahajan-Munde BJP/ Thakeray-Joshi Shiv Sena, and at the Sharad Pawar Government and Manmohan-Montek Union Finance Ministry at the time. The BJP-Shiv Sena declared an intent to “throw Enron into the Arabian Sea” and thus vitiated the atmosphere with the Americans. Americans are shrewd and practical people in commercial matters and accounted for such contingencies in their deal-making, tidily earning their money anyway, winning the arbitration awards in due course. Maharashtra’s identity confusion was exemplified by Rebecca Mark having to visit Bal Thakeray before a policy flip-flop could be permitted.
If the basic technical cause Enron’s electricity became too expensive was that it was denominated in dollar prices and the rupee depreciated rapidly during and after the deal-making, then the financial responsibility for the fiasco must be ultimately traced to India’s Finance Minister in the early 1990s, namely Dr Singh, and his chief acolyte and Finance Secretary Mr Ahluwalia. Maharasthtra is not a sovereign country, and it was the Union Finance Ministry’s responsibility to oversee the necessary cost-benefit and project appraisal analyses, and these if properly done would have accounted for exchange-rate depreciation scenarios. It is no wonder the World Bank later refused to finance the project because they had done their studies better. The same kind of cavalier unprofessional attitude in spending scarce foreign moneys earned by India’s public has been displayed now more than a decade later by the Manmohan-Montek duo, though on a vastly larger scale, in regard to the planned purchase of nuclear reactors from Russia, the USA etc on a turnkey basis.
Maharashtra may be a Great State but its public finances are in as great a shambles as any other. The table for 2003-2004 (before the Enron payments were made) reveals the very high continuing public indebtedness, and the same pattern as the budgets of West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh described in these columns earlier. A closer look would reveal, e.g., that Rs 814.36 crore (Rs. 8.14 billion) were spent in collecting Rs1,205.97 crore. (Rs. 12.05 billion) of “Vehicle Tax”! There is much that Mumbai’s and Maharashtra’s and India’s citizens have to ponder over and act upon before serious thought can be put to restoring the integrity of India’s money. In that process, those who have been part of the problem are unlikely to be part of its solution.
Govt. of Maharashtra Finances 2003-04
EXPENDITURE ACTIVITIES: RsBn (Hundred Crore)
governance & local governance 18.19 2.58%
judiciary 2.96 0.42%
police (including vigilance etc) 19.81 2.81%
prisons 0.86 0.12%
bureaucracy 27.97 3.97%
collecting land revenue & taxes 42.25 6.00%
government employee pensions 26.36 3.74%
schools, colleges, universities, institutes 93.74 13.31%
health, nutrition & family welfare 23.42 3.33%
water supply & sanitation 10.22 1.45%
roads, bridges, transport etc. 12.96 1.84%
electricity 16.96 2.41%
irrigation, flood control, environ, ecology 70.79 10.05%
agricultural subsidies, rural development 41.30 5.86%
industrial subsidies 2.60 0.37%
capital city development 6.25 0.89%
social security, SC, ST, OBC, lab.welfare 25.40 3.61%
tourism 0.89 0.13%
arts, archaeology, libraries, museums 0.75 0.11%
miscellaneous -0.47 -0.07%
debt amortization & debt servicing 261.03 37.07%
total expenditure 704.22
tax revenue 285.52
operational income 35.49
grants from Union 22.70
loans recovered 4.82
total income 348.53
GOVT. BORROWING REQUIREMENT (total expenditure minus total income) 355.70
new public debt issued 317.02
use of Trust Funds etc 38.68
from author’s research and using C&AG data
First published in slightly abbreviated form as “A scam in the making” in The Sunday Statesman April 1 2007, Front page comment
A gigantic financial scheme is in the making. Will it come to be seen in future years as having been in fact a scam – indeed India’s scam of the 21st Century for which India’s unknowing masses will be made to pay for many generations? The scheme is mind-boggling in size as well as its sheer audacity. Bofors, Quattrochi etc amount to peanuts in comparison.
No less a personage than the Finance Minister of India, P Chidambaram, has openly praised the potential of this financial scheme. And he has done so in no less an open and transparent place than his latest Budget Speech to Parliament last February.
It is a scheme openly advocated and currently being developed by our Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s closest acolytes, Planning Commission head Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia and HDFC head Mr Deepak Parekh, in collaboration with Reserve Bank Governor Dr YV Reddy and the Finance Ministry’s top bureaucrats. The PM himself has come close to endorsing it explicitly. And this PM is not an elected member of the Lok Sabha but holds office and acts as the executive agent of the UPA Chairperson and Lok Sabha Member from Rae Bareilly, Sonia Gandhi.
I hasten to add nobody in the BJP has objected to this financial scheme — in fact had the BJP been in power today instead of Congress, they would have been likely even more agreeable to the scheme given their close proximity to business lobbies and organized capital. As for the Communists, none of their JNU economics professors is technically competent enough to comprehend or recognize what is going on.
The scheme involves private companies “borrowing” India’s foreign exchange reserves from the Reserve Bank of India, allegedly for purpose of “infrastructure” creation — in collaboration with the American bank Citigroup, the American financial business, Blackstone Group, and possibly the American giant, GE Capital too. Mr Chidambaram took the unprecedented step of naming Mr Deepak Parekh as well as Citigroup and Blackstone in the text of his Budget Speech.
To begin to comprehend the nature of this scheme, we need to recall an earlier case.
Foreign exchange reserves of countries typically include foreign currency holdings as well as gold stocks. One of the biggest Wall Street scams of the 1980s-1990s involved private companies borrowing not countries’ foreign currency reserves but their gold reserves.
In that scam, it was not the Reserve Bank of India that was cheated but the Central Banks of Poland, Malaysia, Portugal and Yugoslavia. The New York financial company involved was a subsidiary of the Drexel Burnham Lambert Group. The Drexel parent went bankrupt on February 13 1990 and its subsidiary followed on May 9 1990.
A report on June 4 1990 by Leah J. Nathans (now Leah Nathans Spiro) in New York’s highly respected Business Week magazine said: “Central banks, those pillars of monetary virtue, lost $219 million ($21.9 crore) to an obscure commodities subsidiary called Drexel Burnham Lambert Trading Corporation”. The sum was small by American standards but it was “a big, big number” for the countries involved at the time.
What had these national central banks done? They had been lured into becoming greedy. They had been sitting on stocks of gold as part of their national reserves which they felt “just collect dust”. So they yielded to the temptation offered by the Drexel subsidiary of leasing the gold to private parties.
In Ms. Nathans’ words, “By leasing gold, a central bank earns a modest interest rate, ranging from less than 0.5% to 2.5%. Typically, the central bank consigns the gold to a dealer – say, for 90 days. The dealer can then lend the gold to a customer, at a higher interest rate. It may be a speculator, who hopes to repay the borrowed gold when the price falls, or a gold mine that wants to repay the broker with gold produced later.”
But the Drexel parent and subsidiary went bankrupt through bad financial decisions. Drexel’s Michael Milken went to jail. The Central Banks of Poland, Malaysia, Portugal and Yugoslavia were left empty-handed – and had to sue as creditors in New York’s courts trying desperately to get back the gold they had been lured into parting with. It would be unwise to take bets on how much of their gold they ever got back.
All the present PM’s men — Messrs Chidambaram, Ahluwalia, Parekh, Reddy et al in collaboration with one or two American financial companies – now have a scheme that will use not the RBI’s gold but its foreign currency reserves.
Mr Ahluwalia and Mr Parekh have made the outlandish claim that “India needs US$320 billion” (US 32,000 crore) by way of “investment for physical infrastructure” during the so-called “Eleventh Five-Year Plan”. (How many so-called “Five Year Plans” is India going to have incidentally? We had our “First Plan” when Manmohan Singh was a student at Punjab University. Stalin, who invented the “Five Year Plan”, died during that time, and even his old USSR has ceased to exist, let alone its “Five Year Plans”.)
That vast amount of “investment for physical infrastructure” is what Mr Ahluwalia says he knows India needs for his purported “9% growth rate” to be achieved. Where are the macroeconomic models and time-series data sets from him or his friends to back such assertions? There are none. None of the PM’s men, no one in the Finance Ministry or RBI or Planning Commission, nor any of their JNU economics professor friends or anyone else in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata etc have any such models or data with which to back such assertions. Nor do the World Bank etc. It is all sheer humbug – all a lie. It is part of the mendacity and self-delusion that our capital city has been floating upon.
In any event, the RBI reportedly has “opposed the idea of deploying forex reserves for infrastructure development on the grounds that it will create monetary expansion”. But Mr Chidambaram’s Finance Ministry owns the RBI, and the Ministry has said “the RBI’s concerns had been taken care of, as the investments would be deployed only through a structured mechanism”. (Business Standard 23 March 2007, p. 3)
What is a “structured mechanism”? Mr Chidambaram, mentioning Citigroup and Blackstone Group specifically, said in his Budget Speech that Mr Deepak Parekh has “suggested the establishment of two wholly-owned overseas subsidiaries of India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd with the following objectives: (i) to borrow funds from the RBI and lend to Indian companies implementing infrastructure projects in India, or to co-finance their External Commercial Borrowings for such projects, solely for capital expenditure outside India; and (ii) to borrow funds from the RBI, invest such funds in highly rated collateral securities, and provide ‘credit wrap’ insurance to infrastructure projects in India for raising resources in international markets. The loans by RBI to these two subsidiary companies will be guaranteed by the Government of India and the RBI will be assured of a return higher than the average rate of return on its incremental investment.”
You do not understand? Well, no one is supposed to. The most exquisite thievery occurs after all not in darkness but in broad daylight with everyone watching but no one able to see or comprehend anything. So let us return to elementary first principles.
What are foreign exchange reserves and why do countries hold them? It is quite simply answered. Consider the USA and Canada, each with its own dollar. Canadians want to purchase American goods and services, give gifts and make loans to American residents, and make investments in the USA. Americans want to do the same in Canada. Each has to use the domestic money of the other when it does so. If an American wishes to lend money to a Canadian or to purchase something from him, he receives Canadian dollar notes from the Canadian Government to make his Canadian transactions, handing over his American dollar notes instead. The American dollar notes he hands over become part of Canada’s foreign exchange reserves, held by its Central Bank. Roughly speaking, a country’s foreign exchange reserves are the residual foreign currency assets its central bank holds after all these transactions are carried out on both sides of the border.
In the US-Canada case, neither Government prevents its citizens from exchanging domestic money for foreign money. In India, our rupee has been inconvertible since about 1940. The average Indian cannot freely exchange his/her rupee-denominated assets for foreign exchange denominated ones even if he/she wished to. There has been some import-liberalisation in recent years but only someone with the political access of Mr Tata or Mr Birla can purchase foreign assets and foreign companies using their Indian money – because the rupee is inconvertible, any bad financial decisions they make in using their foreign assets will be implicitly paid for by the Indian public.
Now a country’s central bank, such as our Reserve Bank, is the custodian of its foreign exchange reserves. India’s reserves are supposed to have reached $195.96 Billion ($19,596 Crore) as of March 16 2007. Keep in mind we do not know why they have risen: they can rise merely because foreigners (including NRIs) have lent us more of their money, not because foreigners have bought more of our goods and services. In fact Business Standard yesterday 31 March 2007 said on its front page “external commercial borrowing” was “a major source of accretion” of India’s reserves.
Also keep in mind that the Reserve Bank has the duty to manage these foreign-denominated assets against which it has already issued Indian rupees. It might receive a small conservative income from the cash-management aspect of this but it may not risk them or place them in any jeopardy!
Yet the whole idea behind the Chidambaram-Ahluwalia-Parekh-Reddy scheme under discussion by the Sonia-Manmohan Government is that the RBI will “lend” some of the billions of Americans dollars in its custody to overseas subsidiaries of Indian companies – say, for example, to the Tatas who have now bought foreign “capital assets” of some US$ 12 Billion ($1200 Crore) from Corus without having anything near that kind of foreign income.
Such favoured Indian companies might then use these “borrowed” funds as collateral for other borrowings. In exchange, they will go about undertaking purported “infrastructure” projects in India. So much for the “structured mechanisms” being touted by Messrs Chidambaram, Ahluwalia, Parekh et al.
Before India’s public understands it, the schemers will shout (as they have done with the SEZ Act) that Parliament has passed it. The BJP will applaud with envy. The Communists might uncomprehendingly complain a little, and then be bought off with a sop or two that they do understand, like a little pro-China rhetoric or being let off lightly on Nandigram.
Now international institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of International Settlements officially exist to advise central banks to stay along the straight and narrow and to avoid all such mischief. Here is what the IMF explicitly warned about such schemes in its Guidelines for Foreign Exchange Reserve Management dated September 20 2001:
“Liquidity risk. The pledging of reserves as collateral with foreign financial institutions as support for loans to either domestic entities, or foreign subsidiaries of the reserve management entity, has rendered reserves illiquid until the loans have been repaid. Liquidity risks have also arisen from the direct lending of reserves to such institutions when shocks to the domestic economy led to the borrowers’ inability to repay their liabilities, and impairment of the liquidity of the reserve assets. Credit risk. Losses have arisen from the investment of reserves in high-yielding assets that were made without due regard to the credit risk associated with the issuer of the asset. Lending of reserves to domestic banks, and overseas subsidiaries of reserve management entities, has also exposed reserve management entities to credit risk.”
Dostoevsky believed man could have evil intent. Socrates was more generous and said man does not do wrong knowingly. It is not impossible our Indian schemers have innocent intent and do not even realize how close they are to becoming scamsters, or are already in the grip of scamsters. But at least we are now forewarned: India faces a clear risk of being swindled of its foreign exchange reserves. Prevention is better than cure.
Fallacious Finance: Congress, BJP, CPI-M et al may be leading India to hyperinflation
first published in The Statesman, 5 March 2007
Editorial Page Special Article
It seems the Dream Team of the PM, Finance Minister, Mr. Montek Ahluwalia and their acolytes may take India on a magical mystery tour of economic hallucinations, fantasies and perhaps nightmares. I hasten to add the BJP and CPI-M have nothing better to say, and criticism of the Government or of Mr Chidambaram’s Budget does not at all imply any sympathy for their political adversaries.
It may be best to outline a few of the main fallacies permeating the entire Governing Class in Delhi, and their media and businessman friends:
1. “India’s Savings Rate is near 32%”. This is factual nonsense. Savings is indeed normally measured by adding financial and non-financial savings. Financial savings include bank-deposits. But India is not a normal country in this. Nor is China. Both have seen massive exponential growth of bank-deposits in the last few decades. Does this mean Indians and Chinese are saving phenomenally high fractions of their incomes by assiduously putting money away into their shaky nationalized banks? Sadly, it does not. What has happened is government deficit-financing has grown explosively in both countries over decades. In a “fractional reserve” banking system (i.e. a system where your bank does not keep the money you deposited there but lends out almost all of it immediately), government expenditure causes bank-lending, and bank-lending causes bank-deposits to expand. Yes there has been massive expansion of bank-deposits in India but it is a nominal paper phenomenon and does not signify superhuman savings behaviour. Indians keep their assets mostly in metals, land, property, cattle, etc., and as cash, not as bank deposits.
2. “High economic growth in India is being caused by high savings and intelligently planned government investment”. This too is nonsense. Economic growth in India as elsewhere arises not because of what politicians and bureaucrats do in capital cities, but because of spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing on part of the general population. Technological progress is a very general notion, and applies to any and every production activity or commercial transaction that now can be accomplished more easily or using fewer inputs than before. New Delhi still believes in antiquated Soviet-era savings-investment models without technological progress, and some non-sycophant must tell our top Soviet-era bureaucrat that such growth models have been long superceded and need to be scrapped from India’s policy-making too. Can politicians and bureaucrats assist India’s progress? Indeed they can: the telecom revolution in recent years was something in which they participated. But the general presumption is against them. Progress, productivity gains and hence economic growth arise from enterprise and effort of ordinary people — mostly despite not because of an exploitative, parasitic State.
3. “Agriculture is a backward sector that has been retarding India’s recent economic growth”. This is not merely nonsense it is dangerous nonsense, because it has led to land-grabbing by India’s rulers at behest of their businessman friends in so-called “SEZ” schemes. The great farm economist Theodore W. Schultz once quoted Andre and Jean Mayer: “Few scientists think of agriculture as the chief, or the model science. Many, indeed, do not consider it a science at all. Yet it was the first science – Mother of all science; it remains the science which makes human life possible”. Centuries before Europe’s Industrial Revolution, there was an Agricultural Revolution led by monks and abbots who were the scientists of the day. Thanks partly to American help, India has witnessed a Green Revolution since the 1960s, and our agriculture has been generally a calm, mature, stable and productive industry. Our farmers are peaceful hardworking people who should be paying taxes and user-fees normally but should not be otherwise disturbed or needlessly provoked by outsiders. It is the businessmen wishing to attack our farm populations who need to look hard in the mirror – to improve their accounting, audit, corporate governance, to enforce anti-embezzlement and shareholder protection laws etc.
4. “India’s foreign exchange reserves may be used for ‘infrastructure’ financing”. Mr Ahluwalia promoted this idea and now the Budget Speech mentioned how Mr Deepak Parekh and American banks may be planning to get Indian businesses to “borrow” India’s forex reserves from the RBI so they can purchase foreign assets. It is a fallacy arising among those either innocent of all economics or who have quite forgotten the little they might have been mistaught in their youth. Forex reserves are a residual in a country’s balance of payments and are not akin to tax revenues, and thus are not available to be borrowed or spent by politicians, bureaucrats or their businessman friends — no matter how tricky and shady a way comes to be devised for doing so. If anything, the Government and RBI’s priority should have been to free the Rupee so any Indian could hold gold or forex at his/her local bank. India’s vast sterling balances after the Second World War vanished quickly within a few years, and the country plunged into decades of balance of payments crisis – that may now get repeated. The idea of “infrastructure” is in any case vague and inferior to the “public goods” Adam Smith knew to be vital. Serious economists recommend transparent cost-benefit analyses before spending any public resources on any project. E.g., analysis of airport/airline industry expansion would have found the vast bulk of domestic airline costs to be forex-denominated but revenues rupee-denominated – implying an obvious massive currency-risk to the industry and all its “infrastructure”. All the PM’s men tell us nothing of any of this.
5. “HIV-AIDS is a major Indian health problem”. Government doctors privately know the scare of an AIDS epidemic is based on false assumptions and analysis. Few if any of us have met, seen or heard of an actual incontrovertible AIDS victim in India (as opposed to someone infected by hepatitis-contaminated blood supplies). Syringe-exchange by intravenous drug users is not something widely prevalent in Indian society, while the practise that caused HIV to spread in California’s Bay Area in the 1980s is not something depicted even at Khajuraho. Numerous real diseases do afflict Indians – e.g. 11 children died from encephalitis in one UP hospital on a single day in July 2006, while thousands of children suffer from “cleft lip” deformity that can be solved surgically for 20,000 rupees, allowing the child a normal life. Without any objective survey being done of India’s real health needs, Mr Chidamabaram has promised more than Rs 9.6 Billion (Rs 960 crore) to the AIDS cottage industry.
6. “Fiscal consolidation & stabilization has been underway since 1991”. There is extremely little reason to believe this. If you or I borrow Rs. 100,000 for a year, and one year later repay the sum only to borrow the same again along with another Rs 40,000, we would be said to have today a debt of Rs. 140,000 at least. Our Government has been routinely “rolling over” its domestic debt in this manner (in the asset-portfolios of the nationalised banking system) but displaying and highlighting only its new additional borrowing in a year as the “ Fiscal Deficit” (see graph, also “Fiscal Instability”, The Sunday Statesman, 4 February 2007). More than two dozen State Governments have been doing the same though, unlike the Government of India, they have no money-creating powers and their liabilities ultimately accrue to the Union as well. The stock of public debt in India may be Rs 30 trillion (Rs 30 lakh crore) at least, and portends a hyperinflation in the future. Mr Chidambaram’s announcement of a “Debt Management Office” yet to be created is hardly going to suffice to avert macroeconomic turmoil and a possible monetary collapse. The Congress, BJP, CPI-M and all their friends shall be responsible.
First published in The Sunday Statesman February 25 2007, Editorial Page Special Article, www.thestatesman.net
There is urgent need for calm, sober thought, not self-delusion. Foreign trade, world politics are not what State Governments are constitutionally permitted to do.
By SUBROTO ROY
Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is fond of saying his hoped for industrialization plans will lead to jobs for “thousands” of unemployed young men and women emerging from West Bengal’s many schools, colleges and universities.
Now ever since JM Keynes’s time, economists have understood the phenomenon of unemployment quite well. Some unemployment is voluntary: where someone declines to accept a job at the prevailing wage or chooses leisure instead, e.g. withdraws from the labour-force in order to go to college or care for children or family or be involved in search for a better job. Some unemployment is seasonal, as in agriculture ~ where there often is “overfull” employment at harvest-time. Some unemployment may be frictional or structural, depending on dynamic unpredictable industrial or technological changes. In none of these cases is any large role defined for government investment using public resources, though there can be smaller roles like providing job-information, advice and training.
Keynes himself was concerned with systematic “involuntary” unemployment, where masses of people are willing but unable to find work at the going wage because there has been a general collapse of the market economy, as arguably happened in the 1930s in the Western countries. There has been no such situation in independent India.
And it is important to remember our labour markets are mostly unrestricted by State boundaries: unlike totalitarian China, we do not have internal passports in the country, and Indians are mostly free to work anywhere they wish to. Talk from CPI-M, Congress, BJP or other politicians of alleged Keynesian “multiplier” effects arising from government expenditure is mostly talk. And as for Sonia Gandhi’s “National Rural Employment Guarantee”, to the extent it was argued for at all by Amartya Sen’s disciples like Jean Drèze, the argument was not on Keynesian grounds but of a purportedly more equitable distribution of government expenditure.
What then is the Bhattacharjee Government supposed to be doing?
Chandrababu Naidu started a trend among Chief Ministers flying off to exotic foreign vistas, addressing international conferences and signing memoranda with foreign businessmen. But world politics, international relations and foreign trade are not what Indian State Governments are permitted by our Constitution to be engaged in doing. Nelson Mandela is a great man of history but Jyoti Basu’s Government had no constitutional right or business to gift him five million American dollars of West Bengal public money after he was released from jail in South Africa in 1990 by De Klerk.
Our Constitution is crystal clear that the legitimate agenda of India’s State Governments is something very mundane and wholly unglamorous: State Governments are supposed to be managing Courts of Law; the Police, Civil Order, Prisons; Water, Sanitation, Health; State Debt Service; Intra-State Infrastructure & Communications; Local Government; Liquor & Other Public Sector Industry; Trade, Local Banking & Finance; Land, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry; Libraries, Museums, Monuments; State Civil Service & Administration. In addition, “concurrent” with the Union Government are Criminal, Civil & Family Law, Contracts & Torts; Forests & Environmental Protection; Unemployment & Refugee Relief; Electricity; Education. It is relative to that explicit agenda that State Government performances around the country must be evaluated.
The finances of the West Bengal Government and those of every other State of the Union appear in a condition of Byzantine confusion. Even so, it is not impossible for any citizen to understand them with a little serious effort. The State receives tax revenues, income from State operations (like bus fares, lottery tickets etc), and grants transferred from the Union. Of the State’s total revenues, more than 80% arise from taxation. Of those taxes, about 30% is collected by the Union on behalf of the State in accordance with the Finance Commission’s formulae; 70% is collected by the State itself, and about 60% of whhat the State collects is Sales Tax. On the expenditure side, more than 60% goes in repaying the State’s debts as well as interest owed on that debt. The remainder gets distributed as summarily shown in the table. (What would be revealed at a higher level of detail is that e.g. Rs. 2.63 Bn is spent in collecting Rs. 9.93 Bn of land revenue!) The wide difference between the State’s income from all sources and its expenditures implies the State must then issue new public debt. That typically has been a larger and larger sum every year, greater than the amount of maturing debt being amortised or extinguished. The potentially grave consequence of this will be obvious to any householder, and makes it imperative that calm, sober thought and objective analysis occur about the State’s financial condition and budget constraint. There is no room for self-delusion, especially on the part of the Bhattacharjee Government. We are still paying interest on the money we borrowed to make Nelson Mandela a gift seventeen years ago.
Govt. of W. Bengal’s Finances 2003-2004
Rs Billion (Hundred Crore)
government & local government 8.68 1.68%
judiciary 1.27 0.25%
police (including home guard etc.) 13.47 2.61%
prisons 0.62 0.12%
bureaucracy 5.69 1.10%
collecting land revenue & taxes 4.32 0.84%
government employee pensions 26.11 5.05%
schools, colleges, universities, institutes 45.06 8.72%
health, nutrition & family welfare 14.70 2.84%
water supply & sanitation 3.53 0.68%
roads, bridges, transport, etc. 8.29 1.60%
electricity (mostly loans to power sector) 31.18 6.03%
irrigation, flood control, environment, ecology 10.78 2.09%
agricultural subsidies, rural development, etc. 7.97 1.54%
industrial subsidies 2.56 0.50%
capital city development 7.29 1.41%
social security, SC, ST, OBC, labour welfare 9.87 1.91%
tourism 0.09 0.02%
arts, archaeology, libraries, museums 0.16 0.03%
miscellaneous 0.52 0.10%
debt amortization & debt servicing 314.77 60.89%
total expenditure 516.92
tax revenue 141.10
operational income 6.06
grants from Union 18.93
loans recovered 0.91
total income 167.00
GOVT. BORROWING REQUIREMENT
minus total income ) 349.93
new public debt issued 339.48
use of Trust Funds etc 10.45
From the author’s research and based on latest available data published by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India
Dr Singh’s India, Buddhadeb’s Bengal, Modi’s Gujarat have notorious US, Soviet and Chinese examples to follow ~ distracting from the country’s real economic problems
By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, Jan 14 2007
AT a business meet on 12 January 2005, Dr Manmohan Singh showered fulsome praise on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as “dynamic”, “the Nation’s Best Chief Minister”, whose “wit and wisdom”, “qualities of head and heart”, “courage of conviction and passionate commitment to the cause of the working people of India” he admired, saying “with Buddhadeb Babu at the helm of affairs it appears Bengal is once again forging ahead… If today there is a meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata, it is because the ideas that I and Buddhadebji represent have captured the minds of the people of India. This is the idea of growth with equity and social justice, the idea that economic liberalization and modernization have to be mindful of the needs of the poor and the marginalized.”
With such support of a Congress Prime Minister (as well as proximity to Pranab Mukherjee), Mr Bhattacharjee could hardly have feared the local Congress and Trinamul would pose any threat in the 2006 Assembly Elections despite having more potential voters between them than the CPI-M.
Dr Singh returned to the “needs of the poor and the marginalized” at another business meet on 8 January 2007 promising to “unveil a new Rehabilitation Policy in three months to increase the pace of industrialisation” which would be “more progressive, humane and conducive to the long-term welfare of all stakeholders”, while his businessman host pointedly stated about Singur “land for industry must be made available to move the Indian manufacturing sector ahead”.
The “meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata” seems to be that agriculture allegedly has become a relatively backward slow-growing sector deserving to yield in the purported larger national interest to industry and services: what the PM means by “long-term welfare of all stakeholders” is the same as the new CPI-M party-line that the sons of farmers should not remain farmers (but become automobile technicians or IT workers or restaurant waiters instead).
It is a political viewpoint coinciding with interests of organised capital and industrial labour in India today, as represented by business lobbies like CII, FICCI and Assocham on one hand, and unions like CITU and INTUC on the other. Business Standard succinctly (and ominously) advocated this point of view in its lead editorial of 9 January as follows: “it has to be recognised that the world over capitalism has progressed only with the landed becoming landless and getting absorbed in the industrial/service sector labour force ~ indeed it is obvious that if people don’t get off the land, their incomes will rise only slowly”.
Land is the first and ultimate means of production, and the attack of the powerful on land-holdings or land-rights of the unorganised or powerless has been a worldwide phenomenon ~ across both capitalism and communism.
In the mid-19th Century, white North America decimated hundreds of thousands of natives in the most gargantuan land-grab of history. Defeated, Chief Red Cloud of the Sioux spoke in 1868 for the Apache, Navajo, Comanche, Cheyenne, Iroquois and hundreds of other tribes: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept any except one: they promised to take our land, and they took it.”
Half a century later, while the collapse of grain prices contributed to the Great Depression and pauperisation of thousands of small farmers in capitalist America in the same lands that had been taken from the native tribes, Stalin’s Russia embarked on the most infamous state-sponsored land-grab in modern history: “The mass collectivisation of Soviet agriculture (was) probably the most warlike operation ever conducted by a state against its own citizens…. Hundreds of thousands and finally millions of peasants… were deported… desperate revolts in the villages were bloodily suppressed by the army and police, and the country sank into chaos, starvation and misery… The object of destroying the peasants’ independence…was to create a population of slaves, the benefit of whose labour would accrue to industry. The immediate effect was to reduce Soviet agriculture to a state of decline from which it has not yet recovered… The destruction of the Soviet peasantry, who formed three quarters of the population, was not only an economic but a moral disaster for the entire country. Tens of millions were driven into semi-servitude, and millions more were employed as executants…” (Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism).
Why did Stalin destroy the peasants? Lenin’s wishful “alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry” in reality could lead only to the peasants being pauperised into proletarians. At least five million peasants died and (Stalin told Churchill at Yalta) another ten million in the resultant famine of 1932-1933. “Certainly it involved a struggle ~ but chiefly one between urban Communists and villagers… it enabled the regime to obtain much of the capital desired for industrialization from the defeated village… it was the decisive step in the building of Soviet totalitarianism, for it imposed on the majority of the people a subjection which only force could maintain” (Treadgold, 20th Century Russia).
Mr Bhattacharjee’s CPI-M is fond of extolling Chinese communism, and the current New Delhi establishment have made Beijing and Shanghai holiday destinations of choice. Dr Singh’s Government has been eager to create hundreds of “Special Economic Zones” run by organised capital and unionised labour, and economically privileged by the State. In fact, the Singur and Nandigram experiences of police sealing off villages where protests occur are modelled on creation of “Special Economic Zones” in China in recent years.
For example, Chinese police on 6 December 2005 cracked down on farmers and fishermen in the seaside village of Dongzhou, 125 miles North East of Hong Kong. Thousands of Dongzhou villagers clashed with troops and armed police protesting confiscation of their lands and corruption among officials. The police immediately sealed off the village and arrested protesters. China’s Public Security Ministry admitted the number of riots over land had risen sharply, reaching more than seventy thousand across China in 2004; police usually suppressed peasant riots without resort to firing but in Dongzhou, police firing killed 20 protesters. Such is the reality of the “emergence” of China, a totalitarian police-state since the Communist takeover in 1949, from its period of mad tyranny until Mao’s death in 1976, followed by its ideological confusion ever since.
Modern India’s political economy today remains in the tight grip of metropolitan “Big Business” and “Big Labour”. Ordinary anonymous individual citizens ~ whether housewife, consumer, student, peasant, non-union worker or small businessman ~ have no real voice or representation in Indian politics. We have no normal conservative, liberal or social democratic party in this country, as found in West European democracies where the era of land-grabbing has long-ceased. If our polity had been normal, it would have known that economic development does not require business or government to pauperise the peasantry but instead to define and secure individual property rights and the Rule of Law, and establish proper conditions for the market economy. The Congress and BJP in Delhi and CPI-M in Kolkata would not have been able to distract attention from their macroeconomic misdeeds over the decades ~ indicated, for example, by increasing interest-expenditure paid annually on Government debt as a fraction of tax revenues (see Table). This macroeconomic rot originated with the Indira Gandhi-PN Haksar capriciousness and mismanagement, which coincided with the start of Dr Singh’s career as India’s best known economic bureaucrat.
Political Collapse In Bengal: A Mid-Term Election/Referendum Is Necessary
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, January 9 2007,
By Subroto Roy
For the 1991 Assembly elections, I happened to draft the West Bengal Congress’s election manifesto although I was not then or ever a member of that or any other party. There was no Trinamul but its future leader had made her jibe of there being watermelons who were red inside and green outside, aptly in case of a few senior leaders. The manifesto quoted George Orwell’s denunciation of communist ruling classes, and was so hard-hitting that the CPI-M’s Sailen Dasgupta came out with a statement he had never read a Congress manifesto that had been so harsh on them; privately, I took that to be a compliment though the Congress of course lost the election. There is no one in Bengal who does not want to see Bengal prosper, and the most candid vigorous political conversation is necessary to discover what in fact is true and what ought or not to be done.
The functioning of the Basu-Bhattacharjee CPI-M is quite utterly amazing. It deserves to be called such because of the seamless transfer of power that occurred between the two men in November 2000. The Chief Minister in a parliamentary democracy is supposed to have the confidence of the House, yet when Jyoti Basu stopped being CM and anointed Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to succeed him, not even a perfunctory vote of confidence was asked for in the House ~ a fact I brought to the attention of the-then editor of The Statesman who agreed with me it signified the CPI-M’s contempt for the parliamentary institution they have been ruling over for decades. By contrast, there is already talk in Britain of an early general election as soon as Gordon Brown takes over from Tony Blair.
It is the same contempt for democratic parliamentary norms that Mr Bhattacharjee and company reveal today in pushing through their diabolical plan to acquire farmers’ lands on behalf of their businessmen friends.
All of 37% of those voting in the 2006 Assembly Elections voted for the CPI-M. By contrast, 41.2% voted for Trinamul and Congress together. Add also the 11.4% of those who voted for the Forward Bloc, RSP and CPI all of whom though part of the Left Front have been opposing the CPI-M on this cardinal issue. That constitutes prima facie evidence that a majority of 52.6% vs. 37% of voters may oppose the CPI-M’s present course of action. Mr Bhattacharjee heads a Government that is supposed to act not merely in the interest of members or groups of his own party or those who have flattered or financed it, but everyone in West Bengal including those who voted against the CPI-M as well as those who did not vote at all.
Gerhard Schröder dissolved the German Bundestag in 2005 though his own party held a majority there. He did so merely because his party lost a provincial election and he felt that indicated loss of confidence in it at the federal level also. Such is how genuine modern democracies work. In India to the contrary, we have had notorious misuse of the Constitution when State Governments were dissolved merely because they were ruled by parties opposed to that which had won a Union-level General Election. Even so, India remains a Parliamentary democracy at Union and State levels, and the Government of the day may advise the Head of State to dissolve the House and call for new elections to be held. It may do so even when there is no legal necessity to do so, i.e., even when it is secure with a majority of seats. It may do so because a political necessity has arisen for doing so.
If Mr Bhattacharjee is a genuine democrat, as he wishes to convey an impression of being, he should advise the Governor to dissolve the Assembly because the CPI-M wishes to go to the people to seek a mandate for its plans for the State’s industrialisation and forced acquisition of farm lands towards that end. The Trinamul, Congress, SUCI, Maoists and others including perhaps the CPI, FB, RSP and others will state their opposition, while he, Mr Nirupam Sen and their party will be able to articulate for West Bengal’s voters exactly what they propose to do and why. The CPI-M is adamant its cause is right while the Opposition have been agitating in the streets for months, and miniature civil war conditions now prevail in parts of rural Bengal; worse may be yet to come. There is only one way in a supposedly democratic society like ours to discover what should be done, and that is to dissolve the Assembly and call an election. Both sides will have a chance to articulate their positions to the public, and a vote will be held. There the matter would end. It is the one constructive way forward for the State, and indeed for the nation as a whole. (Alternatively, the Governor could be advised to request the Election Commission to administer India’s first referendum on a single agreed-upon question like “The West Bengal Government’s industrialisation and land-acquisition plan deserves citizens’ support: Yes/No”.)
If an Assembly election comes to be called and the CPI-M falls below a pre-set target of the vote-share, say 33%, or the Left Front below, say, 45%, then Mr Bhattacharjee, even if he commands a majority of seats again, will know he has no mandate and that he must stop and reconsider what he is doing. As I have said in these columns, West Bengal’s main economic problems are financial, having to do with Rs. 92 billion (Rs 9,200 crore) being paid as annual interest on the State Public Debt in 2004, and this may reach Rs 200 billion shortly. Economic development of the State has precious little to do with private businessmen making small cars or motorcycles or putting up buildings for information technology institutes, as Mr Bhattacharjee and his Government have deluded themselves into believing.
CPI-M 2003 statement
Besides its lack of democratic mandate, what surprises most about the modern CPI-M is its sheer hypocrisy. This is a party whose “Central Committee” in June 2003 in Kolkata condemned “non-Left State Governments” for allegedly “giving away thousands of hectares of land either on sale or on lease at throw-away prices to multinational companies and domestic monopolists”, and the Union Government for allegedly issuing “a circular calling for forcible eviction of lakhs of adivasis from the land”. The Basu-Bhattacharjee CPI-M is now clearly hoist with its own petard. Tilak said that what Bengal thinks today, India will think tomorrow. It was not for nothing that he said it. If the CPI-M refers the land-acquisition question to the people in a free and fair election or referendum today, it will set a positive precedent for other States and parties in the country. If instead it pushes forward its current diabolical plans, the example it will have set will be one of initiating a class war in reverse, where the poor shall become poorer and the rich richer. India’s poorest consist of those rural inhabitants without land, and Government would have deliberately contributed to their numbers swelling.
(Author’s Note March 2007: The original article in its first paragraph referred mistakenly to Promode Dasgupta when Sailen Dasgupta had been meant, an error corrected in the next day’s paper.)
Government must act in good faith treating all citizens equally ~ not favouring organised business lobbies and organised labour over an unorganised peasantry
By SUBROTO ROY First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article, December 31 2006,
EVERY farmer knows that two adjacent plots of land which look identical to the outsider may be very different in character, as different as two siblings of the same family. Adjacent plots may differ in access to groundwater and sunlight, in minerals and salts, in soil, fertilisers, parasites, weeds or a dozen other agronomic factors. Most of all, they will differ in the quality and ingenuity of thought and labour that has gone into their care and cultivation over the years, perhaps over generations.
John Locke said: “Whatsoever that (a man) removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property… For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no one but he can have a right to what that once joined to, at least where there is enough and as good left in common for others” (Second Treatise of Government). Plots of land are as specific as the families that have “mixed” their labour with them. Locke wrote of labour being something “unquestionably” the labourer’s own property; in the same libertarian vein, Robert Nozick opened Anarchy, State and Utopia saying “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)”.
But as we recognise the universal sanctity of the individual person and his/her private property, we have to start qualifying it. If you purchase a field, forest or estate through which runs a pathway traditionally used by the public to get from one side to the other then even as the new owner you may not have a right to forbid the public’s use of the pathway. By extension, it is clear the State, the community of which you are a citizen, may approach you and demand there should be and will be a public road or thoroughfare through your property in the common interest. Such is the sovereign’s right of “eminent domain” recognised throughout the world, not only in times of war or natural disaster but also in normal times where private property may be taken for public use. The individual’s right to free use of his/her property is circumscribed as a result.
What may be certainly expected though in all matters is that the State will act in good faith, i.e., that it has conducted proper technical surveys and cost-benefit analyses as well as transparent public hearings, and has honestly decided that the road must be constructed using this route and no other. The doctrine of eminent domain implies that while the right to private property may be basic, it is not absolute, as indeed no right is, not even the right to one’s own life. In India, one key difference between the landmark Golaknath (AIR 1967 SC 1643) and Kesavananda Bharati (AIR 1973 SC 1461) rulings had to do precisely with the former recognising the right to property being fundamental as in our original 1950 Constitution, while the latter consented to the Indira Parliament’s denial of this.
When private property is taken, fair compensation must be paid. For example, the American Constitution says “no private property may be taken for public use without just compensation”. What is just compensation? Typically it would be the “fair market value” — but that must be properly adjudged accounting for the best future use of the land, not merely the historical or traditional past use of the land.
Consider, in a mature urban real-estate market, a plot made vacant because a warehouse located on it has accidentally burned down. What is the value of the plot now? Another warehouse could be built, but other bids could come in too for construction of offices or residential flats or a multi-storey garage. The plot’s value would differ depending on which use it is ultimately put to. And this value would be ascertained by calculating the expected cash flows into the future from each of these possibilities, discounted appropriately to account for the fact the future is less valuable than the present, with the highest value alternative being chosen. That is how a mature private real-estate market works in theory, though in practice there would be zoning and environmental restrictions to account for the traditional nature of the neighbourhood as well as possible pollution by effluent waste etc.
In India, Government departments and ministries have inherited prime urban real estate from British times. Amidst the highest value real estate in Kolkata, Bangalore, Delhi etc. will be found a military camp or flats built for military personnel, having nothing whatsoever to do with furtherance of the nation’s defences today. The appalling state of government accounting and audit of our public property and institutions includes the fact that neither the Union nor State Governments and municipalities have the faintest idea of assets, including real estate, that they own. These public assets are frequently open to abuse by managerially uncontrolled government employees.
Fallacies even more curious seem to be currently at work in Indian policy-making, whether by this or that political party. The “eminent domain” doctrine requires a public purpose to exist for acquisition of private property by the State: e.g. construction of a road, bridge, dam, airport or some other traditional public good which is going to be used by the public. In India as elsewhere, “land reform” did involve taking an absentee landlord A’s land and distributing it to B, C, D and E who worked as peasants on it. But nowhere else outside formerly communist China has land been forcibly taken from peasants B, C, D and E and handed over to this or that private capitalist in name of economic development (in a reverse class war)!
Eminent domain doctrine requires good faith on part of the State with respect to its citizens and that implies treating all citizens’ interests equally – not e.g. favouring an organised business lobby or organised industrial labour over the unorganised peasantry uneducated in the wiles of city people.
Also, there is no reason why Government should be interested in a particular product-mix emerging out of a given private factory (such as the so-called inflation-unadjusted “Rs one lakh car” instead of telecom equipment or garments or textiles). Dr Manmohan Singh’s statement last week that he wishes to see “employment-intensive” industries merely added to Government confusion: from Henry Ford to Japanese “lean business” today, everyone knows the direction of change of technology in the automobile industry has been towards robotics, making modern manufacturing less and less manpower-intensive! The Tatas themselves underwent a major downsizing and restructuring in the last decade, hiving off industries not considered part of their “core competence”.
Traditional agriculture of Singur’s sort represents the most labour-intensive employment-generating kind of rural economy. While such rural life may appear unsatisfying to the urban outsider, there is, as Tolstoy, Rabindranath, Gandhi and others knew, subtle happiness, contentment and tranquility there absent in alienated industrial sprawls. “Surplus” labour occurs in agriculture because of technological improvements in quality and delivery of agricultural inputs as well as new education and awareness (Theodore W. Schultz,Transforming Traditional Agriculture). It is mostly seasonal and all hands are used during the harvest when even urban migrants flock back to help. Industry did not leave Bengal in the 1960s and 1970s because of Mamata Banerjee but because of urban unrest, the culture of gheraos and lockouts, and bad regulations of the labour and capital markets associated largely with Ms Banerjee’s Left Front adversaries.
The basic fiction the Union and State Governments have made themselves believe is that their idea of an industrialisation plan is necessary for economic development. It is not. Real economic problems in West Bengal and elsewhere are financial to do with State budgets. “Debt overhang is there” is how the RBI Governor apologetically put it last week. Interest payments on the West Bengal State public debt consume larger and larger fractions of the revenue: these payments were at Rs 13 Bn in 1995 but grew to Rs. 92 Bn by 2004, and may jump to Rs 200 Bn in the next decade. The communists have been in power thirty years and no one but they are responsible. Making the State’s budget healthy would require tackling the gargantuan bureaucracy, slashing ministerial extravagance (foreign trips, VIP security) etc. It is much easier to hobnob with the rich and powerful while tear-gassing the peasants.
Mob violence remains a monthly occurrence in modern India; it gives the lie to our claims of political maturity and democratic development.
By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article December 10 2006
Mob violence certainly signals collapse of the Rule of Law and absence of normal political conversation and decision-making. Mob violence in modern India remains a monthly occurrence: a child is killed by a speeding bus, the driver if he is caught is thrashed to death by a mob of onlookers and the bus burnt down; a factory closes and workers go on a rampage; a statue or political personality or religious figure is perceived to have been insulted or desecrated, and crowds take to the streets to burn vehicles and cause mayhem; a procession is said to be insulted, and rival mobs go to battle with one another. (In fact, elected legislators in Parliament and State Assemblies frequently conflate mob behaviour like slogan-shouting with political conversation itself, carrying into the House the political methods they have learned to employ outside it. And contrary to what our legislators may suppose, they do need to be constantly lectured to by the general citizenry whose paid servants they are supposed to be).
Such may be relatively simple cases to describe or diagnose. More complex cases include the deliberate burning alive of Graham Staines and his two young sons by a mob in 1999 as they slept in their vehicle in rural Orissa, or countless deeds of similar savagery during Partition and the innumerable other riots we have seen in the history of our supposedly tolerant and non-violent culture.
We are not unique in our propensity for evil. French women knitted and gossiped watching the guillotine do its bloody work during the Jacobin terror. Long before them, as the Catholic scholar Eamon Duffy reports in Faith of our fathers, Pope Gregory IX in 1233 had initiated the “Inquisition”: two anonymous witnesses could cause any person to be arrested as a heretic, tortured and then burnt alive. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII endorsed “witches” to be burnt, causing “deaths of countless thousands of harmless or eccentric women over the next 300 years. In all, as many as 25,000 people, most of them women may have been burnt as witches in Germany” alone. American history has seen countless cases of mob violence, from witch-burnings and other religious violence to cold-blooded lynching on trees of individual black men by white mobs, black mobs looting inner cities, street clashes between political groups etc. Soviet Russia and Maoist China saw systematic ideologically driven violence by Party cadres and “Red Guards” against countless individuals ~ forced to confess to imaginary misdeeds, then assaulted or shot. Nazi Germany, Czarist Russia and many other countries saw mobs attacking, dispossessing or killing individual Jews and innumerable others, again in systematic ideologically motivated pogroms. Indeed as Hannah Arendt and others have noted, the similarities between totalitarian regimes as outwardly different as Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia or Communist China included the ideologically driven targeting of identifiable small minorities for systematic violence by majorities in power. Even Tony Blair’s supposedly Cool Britannia today, besides having the most notorious soccer hooligans in the world, is also a place where no individual, non-white or white, will pass a drunken mob of adolescent school-children on the streets on a Friday night without trepidation.
Every case of mob violence is different; yet what could be common is a temporary, if deliberate, suspension of the normal human sense of responsibility on part of a mob’s individual members. Reason and responsibility return if at all only after the evil has been accomplished ~ whether it is killing or assaulting someone or destroying something ~ and it can be accompanied by a sense of remorse and regret. Even where mob tyranny has been systematic, long-term, ideologically-driven and state-sponsored, as with the Inquisition or French Revolution or Nazi, Soviet or Chinese terrors, future generations look back at the past misdeeds of their ancestors and say: “That was wrong, very wrong, it should never have happened”. Moral learning does take place at some time or other, even if it is long after the evil has occurred. It is as if, when sobriety and rationality return, an individual participant in a mob realises and recognises himself/herself to have revealed a baser ignoble side which is shameful.
“Sometimes a society acts as if all power lay in the hands of the most babyish and animal members, and sometimes as if all power lay in the hands of strict old men, and sometimes it acts more as a whole ~ mostly when there’s a war on. Sometimes a man is not himself and acts as if a babyish or cunning animal had gained control ~ that’s the id ~ sometimes as if an exacting parent, a sarcastic schoolmaster, or an implacable deity possessed him ~ that’s the super-ego. Sometimes a man is more himself and acts more as a whole, a new whole which is not a combination but a synthesis of the id and the super-ego. Some are constantly at the mercy of the id, some are slaves to the super- ego, and in some first one and then the other gains an unhappy victory in a continual struggle, and in some conflict and control have vanished into cooperation…” Such was the description the Cambridge philosopher John Wisdom gave in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis in the 1940s and 1950s, when he translated into normal idiomatic language some of the difficult technical findings and theories of the mind propounded by Sigmund Freud in the previous half-century.
When the mob forms itself, its members individually choose to suppress their normal rational personalities and sense of adult responsibility, and permit instead their cunning animal or babyish instincts to take over and reign supreme within themselves. It must be a collective decision even if silently taken: for one person to behave in such a manner would look identifiably stupid and criminal but for him/her to do so in a group where everyone has simultaneously decided to abandon reason (whether spontaneously or shouting slogans together) allows the loss of individual responsibility to become hidden in the mass, and the collective to take on features of a hydra-headed monster, capable of the vilest deeds without the slightest self-doubt. The victim of their violence or abuse will often be an individual who stands out in some way ~ perhaps by natural or social attributes or even by heroic deeds: indeed Freud suggested that primitive tribes sometimes engaged in parricide and regicide, cannibalising their individual heroes in the belief that by consuming something of the hero’s remains those attributes might magically reappear in themselves.
In modern India, the presence of mob violence on a monthly basis somewhere or other in the country gives the lie to our claims of maturity of our political and democratic development. Those posing as our political leaders may make as many foreign trips and wooden prepared speeches on TV as they wish to, but their actual cowardice is manifest in having failed to address the real disjunction that exists in this country between political interests and political preferences at the grassroots on the one hand, and the lack of serious parliamentary conversation addressing these within our representative institutions on the other. The reliance by the Executive on often brutal police or paramilitary forces reflects failure of the Legislative and Judicial branches of our Government, as well as a lack of balance between them arising from our political and constitutional immaturity.
By SUBROTO ROY First published in The Sunday Statesman October 22 2006, Editorial Page Special Article Communists, socialists and fascists exist in the Left, Congress and BJP-RSS ~ but there is a conservative/”classical liberal” party missing in Indian democracy today
We in India have sorely needed for many years a serious “classical liberal” or “conservative” political party. Major democratic countries used to have such parties which paid lip-service at least to “classical liberal” principles. But the 2003 attack on Iraq caused Bush/McCain-Republicans to merge with Hilary-Democrats, and Blair-Labour with Tory neocons, all united in a cause of collective mendacity, self-delusion and jingoism over the so-called “war on terror”. The “classical liberal” or “libertarian” elements among the Republicans and Tories find themselves isolated today, just as do pacifist communitarian elements among the Democrats and Labour. There are no obvious international models that a new Indian Liberal Party could look at ~ any models that exist would be very hard to find, perhaps in New Zealand or somewhere in Canada or North Eastern Europe like Estonia. There have been notable individual Indian Liberals though whom it may be still possible to look to for some insight: Gokhale, Sapru, Rajagopalachari and Masani among politicians, Shenoy among economists, as well as many jurists in years and decades gone by.
What domestic political principles would a “classical liberal” or conservative party believe in and want to implement in India today? First of all, the “Rule of Law” and an “Efficient Judiciary”. Secondly, “Family Values” and “Freedom of Religious Belief”. Thirdly, “Limited Government” and a “Responsible Citizenry”. Fourthly, “Sound Money” and “Free Competitive Markets”. Fifthly, “Compassion” and a “Safety Net”. Sixthly, “Education and Health for All”. Seventhly, “Science, not Superstition”. There may be many more items but this in itself would be quite a full agenda for a new Liberal Party to define for India’s electorate of more than a half billion voters, and then win enough of a Parliamentary majority to govern with at the Union-level, besides our more than two dozen States.
The practical policies entailed by these sorts of political slogans would involve first and foremost cleaning up the budgets and accounts of every single governmental entity in the country, namely, the Union, every State, every district and municipality, every publicly funded entity or organisation. Secondly, improving public decision-making capacity so that once budgets and accounts recover from having been gravely sick for decades, there are functioning institutions for their proper future management. Thirdly, resolving J&K in the most lawful and just manner as well as military problems with Pakistan in as practical and efficacious a way as possible today. This is necessary if military budgets are ever going to be drawn down to peacetime levels from levels they have been at ever since the Second World War. How to resolve J&K justly and lawfully has been described in these pages before (The Statesman, “Solving Kashmir” 1-3 December 2005, “Law, Justice and J&K”, 2-3 July 2006).
Cleaning up public budgets and accounts would pari passu stop corruption in its tracks, as well as release resources for valuable public goods and services. A beginning may be made by, for example, tripling the resources every year for three years that are allocated to the Judiciary, School Education and Basic Health, subject to tight systems of performance-audit. Institutions for improved political and administrative decision-making are necessary throughout the country if public preferences with respect to raising and allocating common resources are to be elicited and then translated into actual delivery of public goods and services.
This means inter alia that our often dysfunctional Parliament and State Legislatures have to be inspired by political statesmen (if any such may be found to be encouraged or engendered) to do at least a little of what they have been supposed to be doing. If the Legislative Branch and the Executive it elects are to lead this country, performance-audit will have to begin with them.
The result of healthy public budgets and accounts, and an economy with functioning public goods and services, would be a macroeconomic condition for the paper-rupee to once more become a money that is as good as gold, namely, a convertible world currency again after having suffered sixty years of abuse via endless deficit finance at the hands of first the British and then numerous Governments of free India that have followed.
It may be noticed the domestic aspects of such an agenda oppose almost everything the present Sonia-Manmohan Congress and Jyoti Basu “Left” stand for — whose “politically correct” thoughts and deeds have ruined India’s money and public budgets, bloated India’s Government especially the bureaucracy and the military, starved the Judiciary and damaged the Rule of Law, and gone about overturning Family Values. While there has been endless talk from them about being “pro-poor”, the actual results of their politicization of India’s economy are available to be seen with the naked eye everywhere.
One hundred years from now if our souls returned to visit the areas known today as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc, we may well find 500+ million inhabitants still below the same poverty-line despite all the gaseous prime ministerial or governmental rhetoric today and projections about alleged growth-rates.
If the Congress and “Left” must oppose any real “classical liberal” or conservative agenda, we may ask if the BJP-RSS could be conceivably for it. The answer is clearly not. The BJP-RSS may pontificate much about being patriotic to the motherland and about past real or imagined glories of Indian culture and religion, but that hardly ever has translated concretely into anything besides anti-Muslim or anti-Christian rhetoric, or breeding superstitions like astrology even at supposedly top technological institutes in the country. (Why all astrology is humbug, and a pre-Copernican Western import at that, is because all horoscopes assume the Sun rotates around the Earth in a geocentric solar system; the modern West’s scientific outlook arose only after astrology had declined there thanks to Copernicus and Galileo establishing the solar system as heliocentric.)
As for a “classical liberal” economic agenda, the BJP in Government transpired to be as bad if not worse than their adversaries in fiscal and monetary profligacy, except they flattered and were flattered by the organised capital of the big business lobbies whereas their adversaries flatter and are flattered by the organised power of the big labour unions (covering a tiny privileged class among India’s massive workforce). Neither has had the slightest interest in the anonymous powerless individual Indian citizen or household. The BJP in Opposition, instead of seeking to train and educate a new modern principled conservative leadership, appear to wish to regress even further back towards their very own brand of coarse fascism. “Family Values” are why Indian school-children have become the envy of the world in their keen discipline and anxiety to learn – yet even there the BJP had nothing to say on Sonia Gandhi’s pet bill on women’s property rights, whose inevitable result will be further conflict between daughters and daughters-in-law of normal Indian families.
At the root of the malaise of our political parties may be the fact we have never had any kind of grassroots “orange” revolution. There has been also an underlying national anxiety of disintegration and disorder from which the idea of a “strong Centre” follows, which has effectively meant a Delhi bloated with power and swimming in self-delusion. The BJP and Left are prisoners of their geriatric leaderships and rather unpleasant ideologies and interest-groups, while the Congress has failed to invent or adopt any ideology besides sycophancy. Let it be remembered Sonia Gandhi had been genuinely disdainful of the idea of leading that party at Rajiv’s death; today she has allowed herself to become its necessary glue. The most salubrious thing she could do for the party (and hence for India) is to do a Michael Howard: namely, preside over a genuine leadership contest between a half-dozen ambitious people, and then withdraw with her family permanently from India’s politics, focusing instead on the legacy of her late husband. Without that happening, the Congress cannot be made a healthy political entity, and hence the other parties have no role-model to imitate. Meanwhile, a liberal political party, which necessarily would be non-geriatric and non-sycophantic, is still missing in India.
Seven phases of Indian foreign policy may be identifiable since Nehru; the current phase seems to involve subservience to the strong, jingoism otherwise
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Sunday Statesman 8 Oct 2006, The Statesman 9 Oct 2006 Editorial Page Special Article
The outlines of a new tri-partisan Indian foreign policy may be becoming discernible. That it is “new” or that it commands near unanimity among the Congress, BJP and “Left” and their respective friends in the Indian media and political classes, does not make it sound or robust in any way. In fact, its basis in the history, geography and economics of India is wholly inadequate, and it is also entirely divorced from any clearly enunciated new Indian political ethics for the modern world.
The new policy, which may be fairly dubbed the Jaswant-Manmohan policy after the BJP and Congress politicians who have been its putative authors and leading practitioners, is as likely as not to lead to an India that is no longer a free decision-maker in any meaningful way in world affairs by 2047, one hundred years after Independence. Our great grandchildren may well be taught that for some decades in Indian history a sovereign unitary republic actually existed which then came to be effectively lost.
Indeed the new policy may amount to being less a coherent new doctrine of India’s role in international relations than a mere change in attitude on the part of politicians, bureaucrats and their intelligentsia friends: from seeming universally arrogant in the world to becoming pliant and subservient towards those world powers perceived (accurately or inaccurately) as strong, combined with a vainglorious jingoism towards all others. It is an application to international diplomacy and politics of the classic bureaucratic principle of “kiss up, kick down” in an organisation, and may reflect the fact the two main institutions the Mughals and British used to run their empires were the bureaucracy and military ~ both of which have grown and continued to run New Delhi (and Islamabad) afterwards, co-opting whatever domestic political development that has arisen. There is plenty of wishful waffling too about India becoming a “great power” or being a “swing state in the global balance of power”, and about how well the economy is supposedly doing ~ as if what Government spokesmen say about the economy is to be believed at face-value. Indian Leftists and their fellow-travellers ~ as great lovers themselves of bureaucracy, collectivist groupthink and propaganda on the USSR or PRC pattern, and fearful or envious of all individual criticism, creativity and achievement – have taken to the same principle like fish to water.
The first phase of Indian foreign policy was Nehruvian in that it began with Nehru’s Fabian misperception of Stalin’s USSR, and ended with the military debacle he led the country into at the hands of Zhou’s “human wave” armies in the mountains of Ladakh and NEFA.
A second phase was Kashmir-centric, overlapping with the first insofar as it may be traced to Karan Singh’s iniquitous dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah’s first Government, but really beginning after Nehru’s death with the Ayub-Abdullah summit, and being marked by Ayub’s 1965 attack in J&K ~ Shastri’s riposte reaching the Ichogil Canal signalled that no longer would war over J&K be confined to J&K.
A third phase was forced on India by the Pakistani civil war that led to Bangladesh’s creation, and was marked by the Indira/ Haksar alliance with Brezhnev’s USSR, as well as by Pokhran-I.
A fourth phase of Indian foreign policy may be identified in the late 1970s and 1980s, marked by rebellion of the fundamentalist Sikhs whom Indira and Sanjay Gandhi had provoked, which led in due course to her assassination. The turmoil that followed in Punjab and North India was financed by anti-Indian Sikhs from Vancouver,California and Britain, with gleeful help from the Pakistanis, and Indian diplomats had their hands full in trying to counter that phenomenon. It was during this phase of domestic Indian turmoil that New Delhi wholly missed the seismic changes occurring in the USSR, East Europe and international relations generally, and completely failed to predict its consequences for India.
The phase came to end when the Narasimha Rao Government (upon advice of a well-known communist cabal in the IFS and JNU) instantly showered praise on the anti-Yeltsin coup in August 1991. When Yeltsin returned to power, the new anti-communist Russians took their revenge on New Delhi, exacting hard dollars for the soft rouble-trade of friendlier times.
A fifth phase may be seen in retrospect as one of relative success.The main plank of Indian foreign policy in the late 1980s and early 1990s was to get Pakistan designated a “terrorist state” in American eyes, as well as to warn of the dangers of a Pakistani nuclear bomb. It had been prompted by the end of American involvement in the Afghan war, which caused the ISI to shift the jihadis to J&K, and the Indian policy was destined not to succeed. No matter how hard Kanwal Sibal tried in 1992-1993 as Minister-Political in the Washington Embassy to tell the Americans that their Pakistani friends were dangerous, he was destined to fail as the MEA had entirely failed to realise how far ahead the Pakistanis were in their lobbying power in Washington ~ the Pakistani super-elite has been entrenched among the K-Street lobbyists and in expensive real-estate along the Potomac River for more than two generations. Yet after the 9/11 attacks several years later, the Indians were able to look back at that fifth phase and say to the Americans, “We told you so”.
In the late 1990s came a short-lived sixth phase of Pokhran-II and the Lahore bus-trip, which may be credited as Vajpayee successes, and also contained the Kargil War and Kandahar hijacking, which were more dubious. This overlapped with the last and currently continuing seventh phase of Indian foreign policy with Jaswant Singh breaking the ice with the Americans when they had recovered from the fact the CIA’s failures included not foreseeing Pokhran-II; it coincided too with Osama bin Laden’s declarations of jihad against the USA. The Americans enlisting themselves on the side of the Northern Alliance to defeat the Taliban after 9/11 was beneficial from an Indian standpoint since Afghanistan had been effectively lost to secular Indian influence for two decades, and the Taliban had shown themselves no friends of India during the Kandahar hijacking.
But the BJP’s anti-Muslim thought processes quickly took over, as did its proximity to organised business lobbies. When Iraq was attacked and occupied in 2003, there was hardly a whimper from the BJP leadership, and instead their businessmen friends started to fly to Amman hopeful of “reconstruction” contracts. The Sonia/ Manmohan Congress/Leftist combine has effectively continued and expanded that trend, though now the business lobbies have been much more muted and subtle, especially in their backroom dealings and payoffs with respect to the nuclear deal. There is also an occasional burst of anti-Americanism from leftists though it is hard of course to beg for American foreign investment in Marxist-run areas while also being sincere in quaint street demos or agitprop.
Running through the new foreign policy is a fiction that it is driven by a new economic motivation to improve development and mass well-being in India. The bizarre idea of creating hundreds of so-called “Special Economic Zones” (reminiscent of 17th and 18th Century colonial fortifications) illustrates this. India’s ordinary anonymous masses ~ certainly the 850 million people entirely outside the organised sector ~ have little or nothing to do with any of this. Benefits will accrue only to the ten million Indian nomenclatura controlling or having access to the gaping exit holes to the outside world in the new semi-closed economy with its endless deficit finance paid for by unlimited printing of an inconvertible domestic currency.
It is as fallacious to think private investment from foreign or domestic businessmen will support public “infrastructure” creation as it is to think foreign exchange reserves are like tax revenues in being available for Government expenditure on “infrastructure”. Such fallacies are intellectual products of either those who know no economics at all or those who have forgotten whatever little they might have been once mistaught in their youth. What serious economics does say is that Government should generally have nothing to do with any kind of private business, and instead should focus on properly providing public goods and services, encourage competition in all avenues of economic activity and prevent or regulate monopoly, and see to it all firms pay taxes they are due to pay.
That is it. It is as bad for Government to be pampering organised foreign or domestic business or organised labour with innumerable subsidies, as has been happening in India for decades, as it is to make enterprise difficult with red tape and hurdles. Businessmen are grown ups and should be allowed to freely risk their capital and make their profits or their losses without public intervention.
An economics-based policy would have single-mindedly sought to improve the financial condition of every governmental entity in the country, with the aim of improving the provision of public goods and services to all 1,000 million Indians. If and when budgets of all governmental entities become sound, foreign creditors would automatically line up before them with loans to sell, and ambitious development goals can be accomplished. As long as public budgets (and public accounts) remain in an outrageous shambles, nothing can be in fact achieved and only propaganda, corruption and paper-money creation results instead. Whatever economic growth does occur is due to new enterprise and normal technological progress, and is mostly despite and not because of New Delhi’s bureaucrats (see “The Dream Team: A Critique”, The Statesman 6-8 January 2006).
The first aspect of the new Indian foreign policy has been for Government to become wholly ingratiating towards any and all “First World” members visiting India who may deign to consider any kind of collaboration whatsoever. The long line of foreign businessmen and heads of government having photo-ops with the Indian PM began with Vajpayee and has continued with Manmohan, especially when there is a large weapons’ or commercial aircraft or other purchase to be signed. The flip-side has been ministerial and especially Prime Ministerial trips abroad ~ from Vajpayee’s to a Singapore golf-cart immediately after commiserating Gujarat, to Manmohan receiving foreign honorary doctorates while still holding public office.
Subservience to foreign business interests in the name of economic policy extends very easily to Indian naval, military or diplomatic assets being used to provide policing or support services for the great powers as and when they may ask for it. Hence, Indian naval forces may be asked by the Americans to help fight pirates in the Indian Ocean, or escort this vessel or that, or India may be asked to provide refuelling or base facilities, or India may be requested to vote against Iran, Venezuela or whomever here or there. But there would be absolutely no question of India’s role in international politics being anything greater than that of a subaltern or comprador whose response must be an instant “Ji, Huzoor”. The official backing of the Tharoor candidacy was as futile and ridiculous as the quest for UN veto-power or the willingness to attend G-8 summits as an observer.
While subservience towards the First World’s business and military interests is the “kiss up” aspect of the new foreign policy, an aggressive jingoism towards others is the “kick down” aspect. One influential voice among the media friends of the new foreign policy states it as follows: “The search for `equity oil’ has been the single most important new element of Indian economic diplomacy in recent years… Equity oil raises India’s stakes in the stability of regimes or even individuals who preside over these resources… the big question is how far would India go in defence of `regime stability’ elsewhere? And if it’s assets fall into hostile hands, would India be prepared to consider promoting `regime change’?” Just as surely as a pacifist Fabian socialist Nehru misperceived Stalin’s USSR, New Delhi’s new capitalistic jingoists have misperceived the Cheney-Rumsfeld grab for “equity oil” and have even defined Bush-Blair adventurism as being “the side of the angels”. How they must love to want to project Indian military force ~ paratroopers in the Maldives perhaps, though they need to recall what happened with the LTTE too!
Multiple Jallianwalla Bagh massacres may have been occurring in front of us in Iraq, Afghanistan and Balochistan, and there may soon be an attack on Iran too. New Delhi’s new “kiss up, kick down” attitude has rendered India’s once-dignified and sober voice silent, our eyes closed or our face turned away.
The obvious alternative to bureaucratic “kiss up, kick down” would be “kick up, kiss down” loved by all individualists and anti-bureaucrats. In other words, it would be for India to take each case and circumstance in international politics on its merits; be seen to stand up seriously to the powerful in world politics wherever and whenever necessary; seek to protect those who may be vulnerable to international or other brutality in world affairs, while getting on properly with the mundane business of ordinary government and commerce at all other times. That mundane business may call for a gradual withdrawal of India from all or most of the fancy, corrupt international bureaucracies in New York, Washington, Geneva etc, focussing calmly but determinedly instead on improved administration and governance at home. Such was what Rajiv Gandhi was advised in January 1991 (see “Memos to Rajiv,” The Statesman 31 July-2 August 1991; Freedom First October 2001), when for one futile moment he even formed a peaceful bridge between the Americans and Saddam during the first Gulf War. The New Delhi establishment may be too intoxicated with power and insecure intellectually to be able to reflect on such sober alternatives.
Indian Money & Credit by
First published in The Sunday Statesman, August 6 2006, Editorial Page Special Article
One rural household may lend another rural household 10 kg or 100 kg of grain or seed for a short time. When it does, it expects to receive back a little more than the amount lent ~ even if that little amount is in services or in plain goodwill among friends or neighbours. That extra amount is “real interest”, and the percentage of its value relative to the whole is the “real rate of interest”. So if 10 kg of grain are lent for two weeks and 11 kg are returned, an implicit real rate of interest of 10 per cent has been paid over that short period. The future is always less valuable than the present in the sense that 10 kg of grain today is worth something more than the prospect of the same 10 kg of grain tomorrow.
But loans may be made in terms of money rather than real units of grain, thus the change in the value of money over the period of the loan becomes relevant. If a loan of Rs 100,000 is made by a bank to a borrower for one year at a simple interest rate of 13 per cent per annum, and the value of money then declines at 8 per cent over the year, the debtor is paying real interest of just about 13 per cent-8 per cent = 5 per cent. The Yale economist Irving Fisher described how this monetary rate of interest equals the real rate of interest plus the rate of monetary inflation, while the great Swedish economist Knut Wicksell predicted inflation if the monetary rate fell below the real rate, and vice versa.
And there is another consideration too. A new cycle-rickshaw costs about Rs 5,000. A rickshaw driver who does not own his own machine has to pay the owner of the rickshaw a fixed rental of about Rs 15 per day. Now a government policy may want to see more cycle-rickshaw drivers owning their own machines, and allocate bank-credit accordingly. But some fraction of the drivers are alcoholics and hence are bad credit-risks, while others are industrious, have strong family lives and are good credit-risks. If a creditor is unable to distinguish between who is an alcoholic and who is not, credit terms will tend towards subsidising the alcoholic and taxing the industrious.
On the other hand, a creditor who knows each debtor individually will also know their credit-risks, and price individual loans to them accordingly. India’s credit markets, both rural and urban, have been segmented always into “formal” and “informal”, and remain so despite (or perhaps because of) much government intervention in recent decades.
Banks and the Reserve Bank of India operate in formal financial markets, but the informal credit market is where the real action is. For example, a mosaic-machine used in the construction business costs Rs 15,000 brand new and gets to be rented out at the rate of Rs 150 per day.
Someone with access to formal sector bank loans at say 13 per cent per annum, might borrow the Rs 15,000, buy a machine, rent it out, break-even within a few months and make a whopping profit afterwards. Everyone would thus hunger after subsidised formal sector bank loans, and these would be rationed quickly and then come to be allocated to people known to bank officials (like their own friends and relatives).
Rates of return on capital, i.e. real profits, are and always have been massively high in India, and that is what is to be expected because capital, both machinery and finance, is relatively scarce as a factor of production. Rates of return on labour, i.e. real wages, are on the other hand relatively low in India thanks to our vast population. For these reasons we have had for three centuries foreigners coming to India to invest their capital in enterprise and make a profit, while Indians have emigrated all over the world from Fiji to Britain to America in search of higher wages.
Now all of this is very elementary reasoning well known to serious monetary economists, yet it seems to have always escaped India’s monetary and fiscal decision-makers. For example, just the other day, the Finance Minister said in Parliament that all rural banks had been instructed to lend farmers credit at a 7 per cent (monetary) rate of interest, and failure to do so would lead to punishment. By the rickshaw example (in fact many cycle-rickshaw drivers are also marginal farmers), the FM did not wish to, and of course cannot in practice, distinguish between good and bad credit-risks among the recipients of such loans. If the value of money is declining by, say, 8 per cent per annum, a 7 per cent monetary rate is equivalent to a minus 1 per cent real rate. i.e., the FM would have done some Humpty Dumpty economics and caused the future prospect of holding Rs 1,000 tomorrow to be more and not less valuable than the certainty of holding Rs 1,000 today. It is inevitable there will be credit-rationing when credit is so massively subsidised, so the typical borrowing farmer will get some little fraction of his credit-needs at the official government price of 7 per cent per annum and then have to get the bulk of his credit-needs fulfilled in the informal market ~ at a price perhaps of 1 per cent-5 per cent PER DAY! The FM promising in his Budget to subsidise farm credit sounds nice on TV but may be wholly futile as a way of stopping farmers’ suicides.
The same kind of Humpty Dumpty monetary economics has been religiously pursued by the Reserve Bank of India for decades upon directions from its owner and master, the Finance Ministry ~ which in turn has always meekly followed the dictates of India’s unreasonable politicians of all parties. Formal sector interest rates in India have been for decades so artificially lowered that even if we use official figures measuring inflation, this leads to real interest rates being lower in capital-scarce India than in the capital-rich West! (See graphs). Negative or near-zero real interest rates in India’s formal financial sector coexisting with massively high profit rates in informal credit markets point to continuous processes of low risk profits being made by arbitrage between the two. That is why the organised private and public sectors seem so pleased with official credit policies ~ while every borrower in the informal credit markets always has suicide not far from his/her mind.
Other than Dr Rangarajan who once mentioned it, we have never had an RBI Governor who has wished to see the Reserve Bank of India constitutionally independent of the Government of the day, and hence dedicated to restoring the integrity of India’s money. Playing with the repo rate or other short term monetary rates is fun and makes the RBI think it is doing something as important as the US or UK central banks. Certainly the upward trend in such short term rates over the last few months is better than the nonsensical flip-flops previously. But it is small potatoes compared to the really giant variables which are all fiscal and not monetary in India. For example, Sonia Gandhi (as advised by another naturalized Indian, Jean Drèze, disciple of the Non-Resident Amartya Sen) insisted on a massive “Rural Employment Guarantee”; Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee have insisted on massive foreign weapons’ purchases and government wage increases; Praful Patel on massive foreign aircraft purchases; Arjun Sengupta on Scandinavian welfare benefits; Montek Ahluwalia on nuclear reactor purchases (so South Delhi will be able at least to run its ACs in 20 years’ time). All this adds endlessly to the stock of government paper being held as bank-assets, while the currency remains inconvertible (See e.g. The Statesman 30 October 2005, 6-8 January, 23 April 2006).The RSS/BJP and JNU/Left have been equally bereft of serious thought.
Tell any suicidal farmer that the Government of India has been borrowing larger and larger amounts every year just to pay interest on previously incurred debts; it may make him realise there are famous and powerful people who are even more unwise than himself and amount to effective suicide-prevention therapy. But do not tell him that they unlike himself have been playing with public money ~ or you may have the opposite effect.
First published in two parts in The Sunday Statesman, June 4 2006, The Statesman June 5 2006, Editorial Page Special Article
by Subroto Roy
From the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar creating the State of Jammu & Kashmir until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Britain and later the USA became increasingly interested in the subcontinent’s Northwest. The British came to India by sea to trade. Barren, splendid, landlocked Afghanistan held no interest except as a home of fierce tribes; but it was the source of invasions into the Indian plains and prompted a British misadventure to install Shah Shuja in place of Dost Mohammad Khan leading to ignominious defeat. Later, Afghanistan was seen as the underbelly of the Russian and Soviet empires, and hence a location of interest to British and American strategic causes.
In November 1954, US President Dwight Eisenhower authorized 30 U-2 spy aircraft to be produced for deployment against America’s perceived enemies, especially to investigate Soviet nuclear missiles which could reach the USA. Reconnaissance balloons had been unsuccessful, and numerous Western pilots had been shot down taking photographs from ordinary military aircraft. By June 1956, U-2 were making clandestine flights over the USSR and China. But on May 1 1960, one was shot or forced down over Sverdlovsk, 1,000 miles within Soviet territory. The Americans prevaricated that it had taken off from Turkey on a weather-mission, and been lost due to oxygen problems. Nikita Kruschev then produced the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, who was convicted of spying, though was exchanged later for a Soviet spy. Powers had been headed towards Norway, his task to photograph Soviet missiles from 70,000 ft, his point of origin had been an American base 20 miles from Peshawar.
America needed clandestine “forward bases” from which to fly U-2 aircraft, and Pakistan’s ingratiating military and diplomatic establishment was more than willing to offer such cooperation, fervently wishing to be seen as a “frontline state” against the USSR. “We will help you defeat the USSR and we are hopeful you will help us defeat India” became their constant refrain. By 1986, the Americans had been permitted to build air-bases in Balochistan and also use Mauripur air-base near Karachi.
Jammu & Kashmir and especially Gilgit-Baltistan adjoins the Pashtun regions whose capital has been Peshawar. In August-November 1947, a British coup d’etat against J&K State secured Gilgit-Baltistan for the new British Dominion of Pakistan.
The Treaty of Amritsar had nowhere required Gulab Singh’s dynasty to accept British political control in J&K as came to be exercised by British “Residents” in all other Indian “Native States”. Despite this, Delhi throughout the late 19th Century relentlessly pressed Gulab Singh’s successors Ranbir Singh and Partab Singh to accept political control. The Dogras acquiesced eventually. Delhi’s desire for control had less to do with the welfare of J&K’s people than with protection of increasing British interests in the area, like European migration to Srinagar Valley and guarding against Russian or German moves in Afghanistan. “Sargin” or “Sargin Gilit”, later corrupted by the Sikhs and Dogras into “Gilgit”, had an ancient people who spoke an archaic Dardic language “intermediate between the Iranian and the Sanskritic”. “The Dards were located by Ptolemy with surprising accuracy on the West of the Upper Indus, beyond the headwaters of the Swat River (Greek: Soastus) and north of the Gandarae (i.e. Kandahar), who occupied Peshawar and the country north of it. This region was traversed by two Chinese pilgrims, Fa-Hsien, coming from the north about AD 400 and Hsuan Tsiang, ascending from Swat in AD 629, and both left records of their journeys.”
Gilgit had been historically ruled by a Hindu dynasty called Trakane; when they became extinct, Gilgit Valley “was desolated by successive invasions of neighbouring rulers, and in the 20 or 30 years ending with 1842 there had been five dynastic revolutions. The Sikhs entered Gilgit about 1842 and kept a garrison there.” When J&K came under Gulab Singh, “the Gilgit claims were transferred with it, and a boundary commission was sent” by the British. In 1852 the Dogras were driven out with 2,000 dead. In 1860 under Ranbir Singh, the Dogras “returned to Gilgit and took Yasin twice, but did not hold it. They also in 1866 invaded Darel, one of the most secluded Dard states, to the south of the Gilgit basin but withdrew again.”
The British appointed a Political Agent in Gilgit in 1877 but he was withdrawn in 1881. “In 1889, in order to guard against the advance of Russia, the British Government, acting as the suzerain power of Kashmir, established the Gilgit Agency”. The Agency was re-established under control of the British Resident in Jammu & Kashmir. “It comprised the Gilgit Wazarat; the State of Hunza and Nagar; the Punial Jagir; the Governorships of Yasin, Kuh-Ghizr and Ishkoman, and Chilas”. In 1935, the British demanded J&K lease to them for 60 years Gilgit town plus most of the Gilgit Agency and the hill-states Hunza, Nagar, Yasin and Ishkuman. Hari Singh had no choice but to acquiesce. The leased region was then treated as part of British India, administered by a Political Agent at Gilgit responsible to Delhi, first through the Resident in J& K and later a British Agent in Peshawar. J& K State no longer kept troops in Gilgit and a mercenary force, the Gilgit Scouts, was recruited with British officers and paid for by Delhi. In April 1947, Delhi decided to formally retrocede the leased areas to Hari Singh’s J& K State as of 15 August 1947. The transfer was to formally take place on 1 August.
On 31 July, Hari Singh’s Governor arrived to find “all the officers of the British Government had opted for service in Pakistan”. The Gilgit Scouts’ commander, a Major William Brown aged 25, and his adjutant, a Captain Mathieson, planned openly to engineer a coup détat against Hari Singh’s Government. Between August and October, Gilgit was in uneasy calm. At midnight on 31 October 1947, the Governor was surrounded by the Scouts and the next day he was “arrested” and a provisional government declared.
Hari Singh’s nearest forces were at Bunji, 34 miles from Gilgit, a few miles downstream from where the Indus is joined by Gilgit River. The 6th J& K Infantry Battalion there was a mixed Sikh-Muslim unit, typical of the State’s Army, commanded by a Lt Col. Majid Khan. Bunji controlled the road to Srinagar. Further upstream was Skardu, capital of Baltistan, part of Laddakh District where there was a small garrison. Following Brown’s coup in Gilgit, Muslim soldiers of the 6th Infantry massacred their Sikh brothers-at-arms at Bunji. The few Sikhs who survived escaped to the hills and from there found their way to the garrison at Skardu.
On 4 November 1947, Brown raised the new Pakistani flag in the Scouts’ lines, and by the third week of November a Political Agent from Pakistan had established himself at Gilgit. Brown had engineered Gilgit and its adjoining states to first secede from J&K, and, after some talk of being independent, had promptly acceded to Pakistan. His commander in Peshawar, a Col. Bacon, as well as Col. Iskander Mirza, Defence Secretary in the new Pakistan and later to lead the first military coup détat and become President of Pakistan, were pleased enough. In July 1948, Brown was awarded an MBE (Military) and the British Governor of the NWFP got him a civilian job with ICI~ which however sent him to Calcutta, where he came to be attacked and left for dead on the streets by Sikhs avenging the Bunji massacre. Brown survived, returned to England, started a riding school, and died in 1984. In March 1994, Pakistan awarded his widow the Sitara-I-Pakistan in recognition of his coup détat.
Gilgit’s ordinary people had not participated in Brown’s coup which carried their fortunes into the new Pakistan, and to this day appear to remain without legislative representation. It was merely assumed that since they were mostly Muslim in number they would wish to be part of Pakistan ~ which also became Liaquat Ali Khan’s assumption about J&K State as a whole in his 1950 statements in North America. What the Gilgit case demonstrates is that J&K State’s descent into a legal condition of ownerless anarchy open to “Military Decision” had begun even before the Pakistani invasion of 22 October 1947 (viz. “Solving Kashmir”, The Statesman, 1-3 December 2005). Also, whatever else the British said or did with respect to J & K, they were closely allied to the new Pakistan on the matter of Gilgit.
The peak of Pakistan’s Anglo-American alliance came with the enormous support in the 1980s to guerrilla forces created and headquartered in Peshawar, to battle the USSR and Afghan communists directly across the Durand Line. It was this guerrilla war which became a proximate cause of the collapse of the USSR as a political entity in 1991. President Ronald Reagan’s CIA chief William J. Casey sent vast sums in 1985-1988 to supply and train these guerrillas. The Washington Post and New Yorker reported the CIA training guerrillas “in the use of mortars, rocket grenades, ground-to-air missiles”. 200 hand-held Stinger missiles were supplied for the first time in 1986 and the New Yorker reported Gulbudin Hikmatyar’s “Hizbe Islami” guerrillas being trained to bring down Soviet aircraft. “Mujahideen had been promised two Stingers for every Soviet aircraft brought down. Operators who failed to aim correctly were given additional training… By 1986, the United States was so deeply involved in the Afghan war that Soviet aircraft were being brought down under the supervision of American experts”. (Raja Anwar, The Tragedy of Afghanistan, 1988, p. 234).
The budding US-China détente brokered by Pakistan came into full bloom here. NBC News on 7 January 1980 said “for the first time in history (a senior State Department official) publicly admitted the possibility of concluding a military alliance between the United States and China”. London’s Daily Telegraph reported on 5 January 1980 “China is flying large supplies of arms and ammunition to the insurgents in Afghanistan. According to diplomatic reports, supplies have arrived in Pakistan from China via the Karakoram Highway…. A major build-up of Chinese involvement is underway ~ in the past few days. Scores of Chinese instructors have arrived at the Shola-e-Javed camps.”
Afghan reports in 1983-1985 said “there were eight training camps near the Afghan border operated by the Chinese in Sinkiang province” and that China had supplied the guerrillas “with a variety of weapons including 40,000 RPG-7 and 20,000 RPG-II anti tank rocket launchers.” Like Pakistan, “China did not publicly admit its involvement in the Afghan conflict: in 1985 the Chinese Mission at the UN distributed a letter denying that China was extending any kind of help to the Afghan rebels” (Anwar, ibid. p. 234). Support extended deep and wide across the Arab world. “The Saudi and Gulf rulers … became the financial patrons of the Afghan rebels from the very start of the conflict”. Anwar Sadat, having won the Nobel Peace Prize, was “keen to claim credit for his role in Afghanistan…. by joining the Afghanistan jihad, Sadat could re-establish his Islamic credentials, or so he believed. He could thus not only please the Muslim nations but also place the USA and Israel in his debt.” Sadat’s Defence Minister said in January 1980: “Army camps have been opened for the training of Afghan rebels; they are being supplied with weapons from Egypt” and Sadat told NBC News on 22 September 1981 “that for the last twenty-one months, the USA had been buying arms from Egypt for the Afghan rebels. He said he had been approached by the USA in December 1979 and he had decided to `open my stores’. He further disclosed that these arms were being flown to Pakistan from Egypt by American aircraft. Egypt had vast supplies of SAM-7 and RPG-7 anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons which Sadat agreed to supply to Afghanistan in exchange for new American arms. The Soviet weapons, being light, were ideally suited to guerrilla warfare. … the Mujahideen could easily claim to have captured them from Soviet and Afghan troops in battle.… Khomeini’s Iran got embroiled in war (against Iraq) otherwise Kabul would also have had to contend with the full might of the Islamic revolutionaries.” (Anwar ibid. p. 235).
Afghanistan had been occupied on 26-27 December 1979 by Soviet forces sent by the decrepit Leonid Brezhnev and Yuri Andropov to carry out a putsch replacing one communist, Hafizullah Amin, with a rival communist and Soviet protégé, Babrak Karmal. By 1985 Brezhnev and Andropov were dead and Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev had begun his attempts to reform the Soviet system, usher in openness, end the Cold War and in particular withdraw from Afghanistan, which by 1986 he had termed “a bleeding wound”. Gorbachev replaced Karmal with a new protégé Najibullah Khan, who was assigned the impossible task of bringing about national reconciliation with the Pakistan-based guerrillas and form a national government. Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan in February 1989 having lost 14,500 dead, while more than a million Afghans had been killed since the invasion a decade earlier.
Not long after Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution, Gregory Zinoviev had said that international communism “turns today to the peoples of the East and says to them, `Brothers, we summon you to a Holy War first of all against British imperialism!’ At this there were cries of Jehad! Jehad! And much brandishing of picturesque Oriental weapons.” (Treadgold, Twentieth Century Russia, 1990, p. 213). Now instead, the Afghan misadventure had contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Empire itself, the USSR ceasing to be a political entity by 1991, and even Gorbachev being displaced by Boris Yeltsin and later Vladimir Putin in a new Russia.
What resulted for the people of the USA and Britain and the West in general was that they no longer had to live under threat of hostile Soviet tanks and missiles, while the people of Russia, Ukraine and the other erstwhile Soviet republics as well as Eastern Europe were able to throw off the yoke of communism that had oppressed them since the Bolshevik Revolution and instead to breathe the air of freedom.
What happened to the people of Afghanistan, however, was that they were plunged into further ghastly civil war for more than ten years. And what happened to the people of Pakistan was that their country was left resembling a gigantic Islamist military camp, awash with airfields, arms, ammunition and trained guerrillas, as well as a military establishment enlivened as always by perpetual hope that these supplies, provisions and personnel of war might find alternative use in attacks against India over J& K. “We helped you when you wished to see the Soviet Union defeated and withdrawing in Afghanistan”, Pakistan’s generals and diplomats pleaded with the Americans and British, “now you must help us in our wish to see India defeated and withdrawing in Kashmir”. Pakistan’s leaders even believed that just as the Soviet Union had disintegrated afterwards, the Indian Union perhaps might be made to do the same. Not only were the two cases as different as chalk from cheese, Palmerstone’s dictum there are no permanent allies in the politics of nations could not have found more apt use than in what actually came to take place next.
Pakistan’s generals and diplomats felt betrayed by the loss of Anglo-American paternalism towards them after 1989.
Modern Pakistanis had never felt they subscribed to the Indian nationalist movement culminating in independence in August 1947. The Pakistani state now finally declared its independence in the world by exploding bombs in a nuclear arsenal secretly created with help purchased from China and North Korea. Pakistan’s leaders thus came to feel in some control of Pakistan’s destiny as a nation-state for the first time, more than fifty years after Pakistan’s formal creation in 1947. If nothing else, at least they had the Bomb.
Secondly, America and its allies would not be safe for long since the civil war they had left behind in Afghanistan while trying to defeat the USSR now became a brew from which arose a new threat of violent Islamism. Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, whom Pakistan’s military and the USA had promoted, now encouraged unprecedented attacks on the American mainland on September 11 2001 ~ causing physical and psychological damage which no Soviet, Chinese or Cuban missiles ever had been allowed to do. In response, America attacked and removed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, once again receiving the cooperative use of Pakistani manpower and real estate ~ except now there was no longer any truck with the Pakistani establishment’s wish for a quid pro quo of Anglo-American support against India on J&K. Pakistan’s generals and diplomats soon realised their Anglo-American alliance of more than a half-century ended on September 11 2001. Their new cooperation was in killing or arresting and handing over fellow-Muslims and necessarily lacked their earlier feelings of subservience and ingratiation towards the Americans and British, and came to be done instead under at least some duress. No benefit could be reaped any more in the fight against India over Jammu & Kashmir. An era had ended in the subcontinent.
(Of related interest here: “Understanding Pakistan”, “Solving Kashmir”, “Law, Justice & J&K”, “History of J&K”, “What to Tell Musharraf”, “Saving Pakistan”, “Pakistan’s Kashmir Obsession”, “Two Cheers for Pakistan!” , “The Greatest Pashtun” .)
Preface April 25 2009: This article of mine has become a victim of bowdlerization on the Internet by someone who seems to support Dr Singh’s political adversaries. I should say, therefore, as I have said before that there is nothing personal in my critical assessment of Dr Singh’s economics and politics. To the contrary, he has been in decades past a friend or at least a colleague of my father’s, and in the autumn of 1973 visited our then-home in Paris at the request of my father to advise me, then aged 18, before I embarked on my undergraduate studies at the London School of Economics. My assessments in recent years like “The Politics of Dr Singh” or “Assessing Manmohan” etc need to be seen along with my “Assessing Vajpayee: Hindutva True and False”, “The Hypocrisy of the CPI-M”, “Against Quackery”, “Our Dismal Politics”, “Political Paralysis” etc. (Also “Mistaken Macroeconomics”, June 2009). Nothing personal is intended in any of these; the purpose at hand has been to contribute to a full and vigorous discussion of the public interest in India.
First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article, May 21 2006
Manmohan Singh matriculated during Partition, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from Punjab University in 1952 and 1954. He then went to Cambridge to read for the BA over two years. The pro-communist Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor were dominant influences in Cambridge economics at the time. Mark Tully reports Dr Singh saying in 2005 he fell under their influence. “At university I first became conscious of the creative role of politics in shaping human affairs, and I owe that mostly to my teachers Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor. Joan Robinson was a brilliant teacher, but she also sought to awaken the inner conscience of her students in a manner that very few others were able to achieve. She questioned me a great deal and made me think the unthinkable. She propounded the left wing interpretation of Keynes, maintaining that the state has to play more of a role if you really want to combine development with social equity. Kaldor influenced me even more; I found him pragmatic, scintillating, stimulating. Joan Robinson was a great admirer of what was going on in China, but Kaldor used the Keynesian analysis to demonstrate that capitalism could be made to work.”
Now, in fact, what was going on in China at that time was the notorious catastrophe caused by Mao Zedong known initially as the “Little Leap Forward” (with a Stalin-like collectivization of agriculture) and then as the “Great Leap Forward”. Mao later apologised to China’s people for his ignorance of microeconomic principles, admitting he “had not realised coal and steel do not move of their own accord but have to be transported”. If what Robinson was extolling to young Indians at Cambridge like Amartya Sen and Manmohan Singh in the mid 1950s was Mao’s China, it was manifest error.
As for Kaldor, the Canadian economist Harry Johnson independently reported that “being a man who rolls with the times fairly fast”, Kaldor “decided early on that capitalism actually was working. So for him the problem was, given that it works, it cannot possibly work because the theory of it is right. It must work for some quite unsuspected reason which only people as intelligent as himself can see.” Like Robinson, Kaldor made a handful of fine contributions to economic theory. But in policy-making he exemplified the worst leftist intellectual vanity and “technocratic” arrogance.
Returning to India, Manmohan Singh was required to spend three years at Chandigarh. In 1960, he left for Nuffield College to work for an Oxford DPhil on the subject of Indian exports. He returned to Chandigarh as required by government rules for another three years, and in 1966 left again until 1969, this time as a bureaucrat at the new UNCTAD in New York run by Raul Prebisch. A book deriving from his doctoral thesis was published by Clarendon Press in 1964.
In 1969, Dr Singh returned to India becoming Professor of International Trade at the Delhi School of Economics. A technical survey of mainstream Indian economic thinking done by his colleagues Jagdish Bhagwati and Sukhamoy Chakravarty published in the American Economic Review of 1969, made footnote references to his book in context of planning and protectionism, but not in the main discussion of Indian exports which at the time had to do with exchange-rate overvaluation.
After Indira Gandhi’s March 1971 election victory, Dr Singh came to the attention of Parameshwar Narain Haksar, who launched his career in bureaucracy after inviting him to write a political paper “What to do with the victory”. Haksar had been an Allahabad lawyer married into the Sapru family. In London as a student he was a protégé of R. Palme Dutt and Krishna Menon, and openly pro-USSR. He was close to the Nehrus, and Jawaharlal placed him in the new Foreign Service. He was four years older than Indira and later knew her husband Feroze Gandhi who died in 1960. By May 1967 Haksar was Indira’s adviser, and became “probably the most influential and powerful person in the Government” until 1974, when there was a conflict with her younger son. But Haksar’s influence continued well into the 1990s. His deeds include nationalization of India’s banks, the Congress split and creation of the Congress(I), and politicisation of the bureaucracy including the intelligence services. High quality independent civil servants became politically committed pro-USSR bureaucrats instead. Professionalism ended and the “courtier culture” and “durbar” politics began.
Haksar and T. N. Kaul were key figures negotiating the August 1971 “Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation” with the USSR, which was to run 25 years except the USSR collapsed before then. Indira had hosted Richard Nixon two years previously, and the Nixon-Kissinger attempt to get close to Zhou En Lai’s China using Pakistan’s Z. A. Bhutto and Yahya Khan (coinciding with Pakistan’s civil war) were undoubtedly factors contributing to India’s Soviet alliance.
As Haksar’s protégé, Dr Singh’s rise in the economic bureaucracy was meteoric. By 1972 he was Chief Economic Adviser and by 1976 Secretary in the Finance Ministry. The newly published history of the Reserve Bank shows him conveying the Ministry’s dictates to the RBI. In 1980-1982 he was at the Planning Commission, and in 1982-1985 he was Reserve Bank Governor (when Pranab Mukherjee was Finance Minister), followed by becoming Planning Commission head, until taking his final post before retirement heading the “South-South Commission” invented by Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, from August 1987 until November 1990 in Geneva.
Dr Singh joined Chandrashekhar’s Government on 10 December 1990, when Rajiv Gandhi was Leader of the Opposition yet supporting Chandrashekhar “from the outside”, and left when new elections were announced in March 1991. The first time his name arose in context of contemporary post-Indira Congress Party politics was on 22 March 1991 when M K Rasgotra challenged the present author to answer how Manmohan Singh would respond to proposals being drafted for a planned economic liberalisation of India by the Congress Party authorised by Rajiv since September 1990 (viz., “Memos to Rajiv” The Statesman 31 July-2 August 1991 republished here as “Three Memoranda to Rajiv Gandhi”; “The Dream Team: A Critique” The Statesman 6-8 January 2006 also republished here; see also “Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform” published elsewhere here, and in abbreviated form in Freedom First, October 2001).
Rajiv was assassinated on 21 May 1991, resulting in Narasimha Rao (who had been ill and due to retire) becoming PM in June 1991. Dr Singh told Tully: “On the day (Rao) was formulating his cabinet, he sent his Principal Secretary to me saying, `The PM would like you to become the Minister of Finance’. I didn’t take it seriously. He eventually tracked me down the next morning, rather angry, and demanded that I get dressed up and come to Rashtrapati Bhavan for the swearing in. So that’s how I started in politics”. In the same conversation, however, Dr Singh also said he learnt of “the creative role of politics” from Robinson, and hence he must have realised he actually became politically committed when he began to be mentored by Haksar — Indira Gandhi’s most powerful pro-communist bureaucrat. Before 1991, Dr Singh may be fairly described as a statist anti-liberal who travelled comfortably along with the tides of the pro-USSR New Delhi political and academic establishment, following every rule in the bureaucratic book and being obedient in face of arbitrary exercise of political and economic power. There is no evidence whatsoever of him having been a liberal economist before 1991, nor indeed of having originated any liberal economic idea afterwards. The Congress Party itself in May 2002 passed a resolution saying the ideas of India’s liberalisation had originated with neither him nor Narasimha Rao.
Indeed, the 1970s and 1980s saw onset of the worst macroeconomic policies with ruination and politicisation of India’s banking system, origins of the Rs 30 trillion (Rs 30 lakh crore) public debt we have today, and the start of exponential money supply growth and inflation. Along with Pranab Mukherjee, Dr Singh, as the exemplary Haksarian bureaucrat, must accept responsibility for having presided over much of that. If they are to do anything positive for India now, it has to be first of all to undo such grave macroeconomic damage. This would inevitably mean unravelling the post-Indira New Delhi structure of power and privilege by halting deficit finance and corruption, and enforcing clean accounting and audit methods in all government organisations and institutions. Even the BJP’s Vajpayee and Advani lacked courage and understanding to begin to know how to do this, allowing themselves to be nicely co-opted by the system instead. Rajiv might have done things in a second term; but his widow and her coalition government led by Dr Singh, who exemplified India’s political economy of the 1970s and 1980s, appear clueless as to the macroeconomic facts, and more likely to enhance rather than reverse unhealthy fiscal and monetary trends.
“Throughout the 19th Century and spilling into the 20th, from the rise of Napoleon to the start of WWI, first France and then Britain were in rapid ascendancy in the world – only to decline (into near nothingness in case of France) in WWII before recovering to return to the rank of respectable powers in the second half of the 20thC. The 20th C saw rise of Germany, Japan, Communist Russia & the USA to world supremacy; Germany and Japan then vanquished themselves into near nothingness by wars they created, and Russia too, perhaps less so, by the (Leninist-Stalinist) ideology it had adopted as a cost of progress; the victor in each case was the USA and its allies Britain and France. At the close of the 20th C, the USA was unquestionably predominant in the world – only to receive a sudden and near-blinding blow in the eye by way of the 9/11 attacks from which it has taken a decade to recover. China, India and the Muslim world remain, in the main, defensive powers, not seeking foreign dominions themselves so much as seeking to prevent further foreign domination as they have suffered in the past – in this China, both Communist and Non-Communist, may be more successful than the others. Israel and Iran are indeed the new kids on the block and their unruly conflict does indeed portend the gravest risk to world tranquility in the 21st Century. Martin Buber’s statement suggesting Israel should seek to be an Asian and not a European power “pursuing the settlement effort in Palestine in agreement, nay, alliance with the peoples of the East, so as to erect with them together a great federative structure, which might learn and receive from the West whatever positive aims and means might be learnt and received from it, without, however, succumbing to the influence of its inner disarray and aimlessness”, holds an important key.
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article May 7 2006
MUCH as we in India might like to think we were the central focus of Britain’s national life in the 19th and 20th Centuries, we were not. India’s matters were handled mostly by a senior cabinet minister to whom the governor-general or viceroy reported. Though possession and control of India gave the British a sense of mission, self-importance and grandeur, and events in India (mostly bad ones) could hog the newspapers for a few days, it was never the case that India dominated Britain’s political consciousness or national agenda for any length of time. British prime ministers and diplomatists, from Pitt through Canning, Palmerston, Peel, Gladstone, Granville, Disraeli and Salisbury, mostly had other concerns of foreign policy, mostly in Europe and also in the Americas, Africa, and the Near and Far East. India was peripheral to their vision except as a place to be held against any encroachment.
A French historian used to begin lectures on British history saying “Messieurs, l’Angleterre est une ile.” (“Gentlemen, Britain is an island.”) The period of unambiguous British dominance of world diplomacy began with Pitt’s response to the French Revolution, and unambiguously ended in 1917 when Britain and France could have lost the war to Germany if America had not intervened. Since then, America has taken over Britain’s role in world diplomacy, though Lloyd George and Churchill, to a smaller extent Harold Wilson, and finally Thatcher, were respected British voices in world circles. Thatcher’s successor Major failed by seeming immature, while his successor Blair has failed by being immature to the point of being branded America’s “poodle”, making Britain’s loss of prestige complete.
Between Pitt and Flanders though, Britain’s dominance of world affairs and the process of defining the parameters of international conduct was clear. It was an era in which nations fought using ships, cannon, cavalry and infantry. The machine-gun, airpower and automobile had been hardly invented. Yet it is amazing how many technological inventions and innovations occurred during that era, many in Britain and the new America, vastly improving the welfare of masses of people: the steam-engine, the cotton gin, railways, electricity, telecommunications, systems of public hygiene etc. The age of American dominance has been one of petroleum, airpower, guided missiles and nuclear energy, as well as of penicillin and modern medicine.
It was during the period 1791-1991, between the French Revolution and the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that world diplomacy created the system of “Western” nation-states, from Canning’s recognition of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia etc to the emergence of the European Union. There is today peace in Europe and it has become unthinkable there will be war between e.g. France and Germany except on a soccer pitch. Even the unstable Balkans have stabilised. The transition from British to American dominance occurred during and because of the 1914-1918 World War, yet that war’s causes had nothing to do with America and hence America’s rise has been somewhat fortuitous. The War superficially had to do with those unstable Balkans in the summer of 1914 and the system of alliances developed over the previous 100 years; beneath was the economic rise of the new Germany.
Austro-Hungary went to war against Serbia, causing Germany its ally into war with Russia, Serbia’s ally. Belgium’s neutrality was guaranteed through British diplomacy by the Treaty of London in 1839 signed by Austria, France, Britain, Russia and Prussia. This “scrap of paper” Germany tore up to invade Belgium on 4 August 1914, because it was easier to attack France through Belgium than directly as most French generals had expected. Though Germany had no dispute with France, France was Russia’s ally, and the Germans had long-feared fighting on two fronts against larger but more slowly mobilising forces. Violation of Belgian neutrality caused Britain into war with Germany. So all Europe was at war from which it would fail to extricate itself without American intervention. This arrived in 1917 though it too had been provoked by German submarines sinking American ships in the Atlantic. The actual impact of American forces entering the battlefields was small, and it was after the Armistice, when the issue arose of reparations by Germany to everyone and repayments by Britain and France to America, that America’s role became dominant. New York took over from London as the world’s financial capital.
Woodrow Wilson longed to impose a system of transparent international relations on the Europeans who had been used to secret deals and intrigues. He failed, especially when America’s Senate vetoed America’s own entry into the League of Nations. America became isolationist, wishing to have nothing more to do with European wars ~ and remains to this day indifferent towards the League’s successor. But the War also saw Lenin’s Bolsheviks grab power after Russia extricated itself from fighting Germany by the peace of Brest-Litovsk. And the Armistice saw the French desire to humiliate and destroy German power for ever, which in turn sowed the seeds for Hitler’s rise. And the War also had led to the British making the Balfour Declaration that a Jewish “National Home” would arise in Palestine in amity and cooperation with the Arabs. The evolution of these three events dominated the remainder of the 20th Century ~along with the rise and defeat of an imperialist Japan, the rise of communist China, and later, the defeat of both France and America in Vietnam.
Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, and Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September. The next day in faraway India, the British in a panic started to place Jinnah on an equal footing as Gandhi ~ astounding Jinnah himself as much as anyone since his few supporters had lost the 1937 elections badly, especially in the provinces that today constitute the country he wished for. After the defeat and occupation of Germany and Japan, America’s economic supremacy was unquestionable. Utterly exhausted from war, the British had no choice but to leave India’s angry peoples to their own fates, and retreated to their fortified island again ~ though as brown and black immigration increased with the end of Empire, many pale-skinned natives boarded ships for Canada, Australia and New Zealand. America came to have much respect for its junior British ally during the fight against Hitler and later in the political battle against the USSR. It was Thatcher who (after battling Argentina in the South Atlantic) led Reagan to make peace with Gorbachov. With the end of Soviet communism, Germany would be unified again. All across Christendom there was peace for the first time ever, and a militarily powerful nuclear-armed Israel had been created too in the old Palestine. In this new period of world history, the Security Council’s permanent members are the modern version of the “Great Powers” of the 19th Century. The American-led and British-supported destruction of Baathist Iraq, and threatened destruction of Khomeinist Iran mark the final end of the League of Nations’ ethos which had arisen from the condemnation of aggression. In Osama bin Laden’s quaint idiom, there seems a battle of “Crusaders” and “Zionists” against Muslim believers. Certainly Muslim believers (which means most Muslims as there are relatively few agnostics and atheists among them) think that it is obvious that the Universe was created, and that its Creator finally and definitively spoke through one human being in 7th Century Arabia. Many people from North Africa to the Philippines are not often able to conceive how things might have been otherwise. The new era of history will undoubtedly see all kinds of conversations take place about this rather subtle question.
King Gyanendra of Nepal has lost legitimacy in the eyes of almost all his people. His days as a monarch are numbered. It is as inevitable as night follows day that his dynasty is over, and Nepal will sooner or later become a secular Republic. The practical questions that follow include what is to be done with him and his family, that is, which country should they seek exile in and at what pension, to whom exactly should sovereignty in Nepal pass immediately and in the long term, how may needless bloodshed, civil chaos and mayhem come to be avoided, and how soon can a viable democratic republic and a healthy economy and society emerge.
Salus populi suprema lex: the good of the people is the supreme law. And the good of the people in Nepal today requires Gyanendra to depart (that is, for exile in Britain), after abdicating in favour of his son ~ or better still his infant grandson, placing a Regent acceptable to the Seven-Party Alliance in charge of calling a Constituent Assembly as everyone and especially the Maoists have demanded.
The Government and people of India seem strangely ignorant or indifferent about what is happening right next door to us, even when that door is open. While the people of Nepal almost stormed their Bastille, we witnessed instead the bizarre televised parade of politicians and Bollywood personalities to visit another celebrity in hospital (we should be thankful they have not been allowed anywhere near him).
Our Prime Minister/foreign minister, with his “national security advisor” sitting next to him, flew off to a brief spring holiday in Europe to discuss importation of uranium and BMWs and other such posh things. The Congress Party has said the Prime Minister may have expressed “his own views” on the subject of supporting King Gyanendra’s Friday offer but that the Government of India always supported “multiparty democracy” and the Congress Party supported the government! Have people become even more detached from reality here? If it is the case the Prime Minister has become so utterly consumed by personal hubris that he is making impromptu remarks contrary to his own government’s policies, then it may be time for him to realise he has filled his quota of foreign trips and put in his papers. At the very least, MK Narayanan has been derelict in his duties by joining the Prime Minister in the European spring rather than remaining in India watching Nepal. The Prime Minister has been so negligent as his own foreign minister (for example, handing over his America policy to personal diplomacy by his favoured aide, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia) that he is making the country almost miss the foreign minister who had to be fired, an unfortunate thought!
In the last six months, Nepal’s non-Maoist opposition coalesced and the Maoists declared a unilateral cease-fire. India remained preoccupied with the vanities of its own petty dynasties. Why we Indians, despite our pretensions as the world’s largest democracy (in reality, the world’s largest voting public), may have been so dull and ignorant with respect to Nepal’s “trinamul” democratic movement is that we have never had any kind of revolution ourselves.
Revolution is anathema to the pompous bureaucrats of New Delhi, just as it is to the pompous generals of Islamabad. Partition was the one all-consuming trauma experienced by the Indian and Pakistani ruling classes, and they are simply unable to understand populist rebellions of the kind now being seen in Nepal or seen under Sheikh Mujib in East Pakistan almost 40 years ago. The Indira Gandhi brand of populism practised by India’s “democratic leaders” has to do with renting crowds and giving speeches while waving to the TV cameras, always making sure to fly back to air-conditioned comfort in Lutyens Delhi by the end of the day if at all possible. Lutyens Delhi is Royal India, and Royal India secretly sympathises with all Royalty and pseudo-Royalty. Ours has become a democracy upside down where it is not a question of how the interests of the people of India should be represented in New Delhi but how New Delhi’s interests can come to be projected upon the people of India.
In Nepal on the other hand, the questions now precisely have to do with the most difficult issues of sovereignty, political legitimacy and representation. The forced exile of the Shah of Iran was followed by the return of Ayatollah Khomeini from Qom and the brutality and bloodshed of the Islamic Revolution. The exile of Sihanouk of Cambodia was followed by the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. Can mass bloodshed and class war be averted if the exile of King Gyanendra is followed by a Maoist takeover in Nepal? The Maoists are indisputably led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) who does not appear to be a murderous Pol Pot and has been projected as principled and statesmanlike. But will he be able to control his own creation or could he himself be swept aside? “Revolution is not a tea party” said Mao Zedong. There are at least two other proximate models that are more benign. One was the forced exile of Ferdinand Marcos and his odious family to the USA in 1986, leading to Mrs Benito Aquino becoming President of the Philippines. She and Fidel Ramos had led ordinary people to the most peaceful bloodless revolution ever seen until then, and coined the term “People Power”. Democracy has had its problems here but has survived intact ever since. Another relevant model has to do with the forced departure for Bombay of Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir (who pretended to “abdicate” in favour of his young son though in fact no such alternative existed in international law). Sheikh Abdullah knew his constitutional politics well enough and then led J&K to a reasonable Constituent Assembly. Our Pakistani cousins, cut from the same political cloth as ourselves, embarked haplessly saying “That the sovereignty in Pakistan belongs to God Almighty alone and that the Government of Pakistan shall administer the country as His agent”. In the words of Rashid Rida and Maulana Maududi, Islam becomes “the very antithesis of secular Western democracy. The philosophical foundation of Western democracy is the sovereignty of the people. Lawmaking is their prerogative and legislation must correspond to the mood and temper of their opinion… Islam… altogether repudiates the philosophy of popular sovereignty and rears its polity on the foundations of the sovereignty of God and the viceregency (Khilafat) of man.” Sheikh Abdullah by contrast told the J&K Constituent Assembly: “You are the sovereign authority in this State of Jammu & Kashmir; what you decide has the irrevocable force of law. The basic democratic principle of sovereignty of the nation, embodied ably in the American and French Constitutions, is once again given shape in our midst. I shall quote the famous words of Article 3 of the French Constitution of 1791: `The source of all sovereignty resides fundamentally in the nation. Sovereignty is one and indivisible, inalienable and imprescriptable. It belongs to the nation.’ We should be clear about the responsibilities that this power invests us with. In front of us li e decisions of the highest national importance which we shall be called upon to take. Upon the correctness of our decisions depends not only the happiness of our land and people now, but the fate as well of generations to come.”
The fact the young son of Hari Singh then caused or contributed to a putsch against Abdullah is among the most regrettable events contributing to the misfortunes of J&K’s recent history. Nepal is going through its own French Revolution in which Gyanendra is no longer able to claim the “Divine Right of Kings” simply because his people have permanently withdrawn their acceptance of his legitimacy.
In the circumstances, Nepalese of all political colours would do very well to remember that the greatest of them in the history of mankind was a Hindu prince who became the founder of Buddhism. As the Himalayan home of Hindus and Buddhists and many others, the Nepalese Revolution could be among the most exemplary in being peaceful without bloodshed. The aim of Indians and all other friends of Nepal must be to seek to ensure that.
Note: This article may have initiated the public debate on the economics of the Indo-US nuclear deal. It was published as a Special Article on the Editorial Page of The Sunday Statesman of April 2 2006 but it failed to be uploaded at the website http://www.thestatesman.net because there had been a fire on March 31 2006. The politicians who led the parliamentary debate in 2006 subsequently made reference to it.
See also republished elsewhere here e.g. “India’s Energy Interests”, “India and Energy Security”, “Need for Clarity”/”From Confusion to Clarity”, “Against Quackery”, “Jimmy Carter and the Indo-US Nuclear Deal””, NuksaanFaida Analysis”.
“Towards an Energy Policy”
by Subroto Roy
First published in
The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article 2 April 2006
When was the last time we heard a thorough, well informed debate in Parliament about India’s long-term energy needs and policy-alternatives? The answer is never. Just as Pakistan tends to be run by Islamabad’s generals, we tend to be run by New Delhi’s bureaucrats; both are a legacy of the Raj which was run by small numbers of pompous civil servants and soldiers. Bureaucrats keep as much decision-making information as they can to themselves, give it to Parliament only under duress and then too in garbled opaque form, and share it voluntarily with the public never at all. A bureaucrat of conscience who shares vital information transparently becomes a “whistleblower”, and may risk his/her life and career because assorted mafias invariably surround all government contracting, and, like vampire bats, cannot stand the light of day shed upon them.
The problem with the Manmohan/Montek deal-making with the USA on behalf of India’s people has less to do with rational assessments not having been made of the relative costs and benefits of e.g. nuclear/fossil fuel/renewable energy, as it has to do with the fact it reflects the same lack of transparency (and is accompanied by the same politically correct propaganda) as has existed in other policy-making – like the $12 billion worth of commercial aircraft from Boeing and Airbus bought for our bankrupt nationalized airlines, or spending untold billions of borrowed dollars on new weapons from France, Russia, Britain or whomever to fight unknown enemies in unimagined wars, or throwing newly printed paper-money at every government project that any fool or knave cares to mention.
To be fair, the UPA/Communist dispensation of the public’s largesse is no worse than that of the NDA/RSS. Both are part of New Delhi’s own “Inside-the-Beltway” syndrome, and turn up at the same celebrity wedding-receptions and iftehar parties. Neither minds too much when the other is in power so long as they can keep their government accommodation. Our fundamental political problem may be the absence of any serious party of Left or of Right which is secular, scientific, liberal, nationalist, clean, law-abiding, and fiscally prudent.
Since no national debate on energy-policy has been offered by New Delhi, ordinary citizens will have to create such a debate for themselves. What follows constitutes a few of the barest facts needed to start such an analysis of India’s alternative energy scenarios and their respective costs.
Hydroelectric power does not involve burning any fuels. Instead, the gravitational force of the movement of water from the mountains to the oceans is harnessed to generate electricity. But hydroelectric projects (like the Narmada Dam) can displace people, who must be then compensated and resettled. Burning of organic “fossil fuels” like coal, gas and oil, causes atmospheric oxygen to turn into carbon dioxide, which may affect climate in unknown ways. In 2004, the International Energy Agency’s estimated the new energy capacity worldwide required by rising economic growth in the year 2020 will derive 1400 GW from burning coal (half of it in China and India), 470 GW from burning oil, 430GW from hydro, and 400 GW from renewable sources (like solar or wind power). On the Agency’s assumptions, gas prices will remain low, making construction of new nuclear plants for electricity uneconomical. By 2030, new energy expected to be required worldwide is 4700GW, of which only 150GW is expected from new nuclear plants — which will be replacing existing nuclear plants due to be retired. (Such is the scenario before any new nuclear plants were going to be exported by e.g. USA to India).
Now the fission of an atom of uranium produces perhaps 10 million times the energy produced by combustion of an atom of carbon from coal. Gas and fossil fuels may be cheap and in plentiful supply worldwide for generations to come but the potential for cheap energy from nuclear sources seems practically infinite. Nuclear power can arise from fission of radioactive uranium, plutonium or thorium. India has perhaps 8 million tonnes of monazite deposits along the seacoast of which half may be mined, to yield 225,000 tonnes of thorium metal; we have one innovatively designed thorium reactor under construction. But almost all nuclear energy worldwide today arises from uranium, and there are practically unlimited reserves of that. There is so much uranium in sea water that mankind’s total electricity needs can be satisfied for 7 million years. There is more energy in the uranium impurity present in coal than can arise from actually burning the coal. There is plenty of uranium in granite. None of these sources will become profitable for centuries because there is so much cheap uranium possible to be extracted from conventional ores. In 2001, uranium cost about US$20 per kg or so, translating to US$0.0004 per kwh of electricity. The known reserves of uranium that can be profitably sold at $120 per kg are enough for at least a hundred years. Design improvements in reactors will also improve productivity; e.g. “fast breeder” reactors “breed” more fissile material than they use, and may get 100 times as much energy from a kilogram of uranium as existing reactors do. India has about 95,000 tonnes of uranium metal which may be mined to yield about 61,000 tonnes net for power generation.
Natural uranium is 99.3 percent of the U-238 isotope and 0.7 percent of the radioactive U-235 isotope. Nuclear power requires “enriched uranium” or “yellow cake” in which U-235 has been increased from 0.7 percent to 4 to 5 percent, and that “separation” process is expensive. (Nuclear bombs require highly enriched uranium with more than 90% of U-235). Yellow cake is broken into small pieces, put in metal rods placed in bundles, which are then bombarded by neutrons causing fission. In nuclear bombs, the fission occurs in a small space, and the blast that results kills all life for miles around it by sucking up all the atmospheric oxygen, besides causing firestorms, shock waves and radioactivity. In a civilian reactor, the energy released turns water into steam, which moves turbines powering the generation of electricity. However, while there is no carbon dioxide “waste” as in burning fossil fuels, the “spent” rods of nuclear fuel and other products constitute grave radioactive waste, which is hard if not impossible to dispose of. Many countries like the USA just bury their nuclear waste in remote thinly populated desert areas.
Rational choice between energy sources depends on costs determined by history and geography. France has 59 of the 441 or so civilian nuclear reactors in the world, and generates 78% of its electricity from them, 22% from hydroelectricity. Japan has 54 reactors and generates 34% of its electricity from them. The USA has 104 reactors but generates only 20% of its electricity from them, principally because it has vast alternative sources of energy. In India, installed power generating capacity as of 2003 was 107,533.3MW, of which 71% was from burning fossil fuels. Hydroelectric potential is 150,000MWe. In 2003, total installed hydro capacity with utilities was 26,910MWe (about 18% of the potential). More than 70% of India’s hydroelectric potential is in the North and NorthEast regions put together.
India’s 14 nuclear reactors produce less than 4% of the total electricity being consumed in the country. Even if all other sources of electricity remained constant, and our civilian nuclear capacity alone was made to grow by 100% under the Manmohan-Montek deal with the USA, that would mean less than 8% of total Indian electricity produced. So the first question India’s citizens must ask is why such a fuss has been created about the Manmohan-Montek deal with America. Clearly, the Government of India must come wholly clean with all the facts and analysis it has available on the whole problem of India’s energy future in all its complexity and detail. If and when it does so, we may simply find that the fault lies not in the stars but in ourselves. Whether the US-India nuclear deal stands or falls, it will have scant effect in satisfying the country’s energy needs.
First published in The Sunday Statesman, March 5 2006 Editorial Page Special Article,
“Atoms for Peace” was Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1953 speech to the UN (presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister) from which arose the IAEA. Eisenhower was the warrior par excellence, having led the Allies to victory over Hitler a few years earlier.
Yet he was the first to see “no sane member of the human race” can discover victory in the “desolation, degradation and destruction” of nuclear war. “Occasional pages of history do record the faces of the ‘great destroyers’, but the whole book of history reveals mankind’s never-ending quest for peace and mankind’s God-given capacity to build.” Speaking of the atomic capacity of America’s communist adversary at the time, he said: “We never have, and never will, propose or suggest that the Soviet Union surrender what rightly belongs to it. We will never say that the peoples of the USSR are an enemy with whom we have no desire ever to deal or mingle in friendly and fruitful relationship.” Rather, “if the fearful trend of atomic military build-up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind…. if the entire body of the world’s scientists and engineers had adequate amounts of fissionable material… this capability would rapidly be transformed into universal, efficient and economic usage”. Eisenhower’s IAEA would receive contributions from national “stockpiles of normal uranium and fissionable materials”, and also impound, store and protect these and devise “methods whereby this fissionable material would be allocated to serve the peaceful pursuits of mankind.…to provide abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world… to serve the needs rather than the fears of mankind.” When Eisenhower visited India he was greeted as the “Prince of Peace” and a vast multitude threw rose petals as he drove by in an open limousine.
Now, half a century later, Dr Manmohan Singh read a speech in Parliament on February 27 relating to our nuclear discussions with America. But it seems unclear even his speech-writers or technical advisers knew how far it was rhetoric and how far grounded in factual realities. There is also tremendous naivete among India’s media anchors and political leaders as to what exactly has been agreed by the Americans on March 2.
Churchill once asked what might have happened if Lloyd George and Clemenceau told Woodrow Wilson: “Is it not true that nothing but your fixed and expiring tenure of office prevents you from being thrown out of power?” The same holds for George W. Bush today. Wilson made many promises to the world that came to be hit for a six by US legislators. In December 2005, Edward Markey (Democrat) and Fred Upton (Republican) promised to scuttle Bush’s agreements with India, and once the pleasant memories of his India visit fade, Bush may quite easily forget most things about us. All the Americans have actually agreed to do is to keep talking.
It needs to be understood that submarine-launched ballistic missiles are the only ultimate military deterrent. Land and air forces are all vulnerable to a massive first-strike. Only submarines lurking silently for long periods in waters near their target, to launch nuclear warheads upon learning their homeland had been hit by the enemy, act as a deterrent preventing that same enemy from making his attack at all. Indeed, the problem becomes how a submarine commander will receive such information and his instructions during such a war. (For India to acquire an ICBM capability beyond the MRBM Agni rockets is to possess an expensive backward technology — as retrograde as the idea India should spend scarce resources sending manned moon missions half a century after it has already been done. The secret is to do something new and beneficial for mankind, not repeat what others did long ago merely to show we can now do it too.) A nuclear-armed submarine needs to be submerged for long periods and also voyage long distances at sea, and hence needs to be nuclear-powered with a miniature version of a civilian nuclear reactor aboard in which, e.g. rods of enriched uranium are bombarded to release enough energy to run hydroelectric turbines to generate power. Patently, no complete separation of the use of atomic power for peace and war may be practically possible. If India creates e.g. its own thorium reactors for civilian power (and we have vast thorium reserves, the nuclear fuel of the future), and then miniaturised these somehow to manufacture reactors for submarines, the use would be both civilian and military. In 1988 the old USSR leased India a nuclear-powered submarine for “training” purposes, and the Americans did not like it at all. In January 2002, Russia’s Naval Chief announced India was paying to build and then lease from 2004 until 2009 two nuclear-powered Akula-class attack submarines, and Jaswant Singh reportedly said we were paying $1 thousand crore ($10 bn) for such a defence package. Whether the transaction has happened is not known. Once we have nuclear submarines permanently, that would be more than enough of the minimum deterrent sought.
Indeed, India’s public has been barely informed of civilian nuclear energy policy as well, and an opportunity now exists for a mature national debate to take place — both on what and why the military planning has been and what it costs (and whether any bribes have been paid), and also on the cost, efficiency and safety of the plans for greater civilian use of nuclear energy. Government behaviour after the Bhopal gas tragedy does not inspire confidence about Indian responses to a Three Mile Island/Chernobyl kind of catastrophic meltdown.
That being said, the central question remains why India or anyone else needs to be nuclear-armed at all. With Britain, France or Russia, there is no war though all three are always keen to sell India weapons. Indeed it has been a perennial question why France and Britain need their own deterrents. They have not fought one another for more than 100 years and play rugby instead. If Russia was an enemy, could they not count on America? Or could America itself conceivably become an enemy of Britain and France? America owes her origins to both, and though the Americans did fight the British until the early 1800s, they have never fought the French and love the City of Paris too much ever to do so.
Between China and India, regardless of what happened half a century ago, nuclear or any war other than border skirmishes in sparse barren lands is unlikely. Ever since Sun Yat-sen, China has been going through a complex process of self-discovery and self-definition. An ancient nation where Maoism despoiled the traditional culture and destroyed Tibet, China causes others to fear it because of its inscrutability. But it has not been aggressive in recent decades except with Taiwan. It has threatened nuclear war on America if the Americans stand up for Taiwan, but that is not a quarrel in which India has a cogent role. China (for seemingly commercial reasons) did join hands with Pakistan against India, but there is every indication the Chinese are quite bored with what Pakistan has become. With Pakistan, our situation is well-known, and there has been an implicit equilibrium since Pokhran II finally flushed out their capacity. Had India ever any ambition of using conventional war to knock out and occupy Pakistan as a country? Of course not. We are barely able to govern ourselves, let aside try to rule an ideologically hostile Muslim colony in the NorthWest. Pakistan’s purported reasons for acquiring nuclear bombs are spurious, and cruelly so in view of the abject failures of Pakistan’s domestic political economy. Could Pakistan’s Government use its bombs against India arising from its own self-delusions over J&K? Gohar Ayub Khan in 1998-1999 threatened to do so when he said the next war would be over in two hours with an Indian surrender. He thereby became the exception to Eisenhower’s rule requiring sanity. An India-Pakistan nuclear exchange is, unfortunately, not impossible, leaving J&K as Hell where Jahangir had once described it as Heaven on Earth.
America needs to end her recent jingoism and instead rediscover the legacy of Eisenhower. America can lead everyone in the world today including Russia, China, Israel, Iran and North Korea. But she can do so only by example. America can decommission many of her own nuclear weapons and then lead everyone else to the conference table to do at least some of the same. Like the UN, the IAEA (and its NPT) needs urgent reform itself. It is the right time for serious and new world parleys towards the safe use of atoms for peace and their abolition in war. But are there any Eisenhowers or Churchills to lead them?
Indian diplomacy has, almost accidentally, shown some wisdom. The King of Saudi Arabia should have been long ago invited to be Chief Guest on Republic Day. His Majesty immediately reciprocated with the most gracious words possible: “I consider myself to be in my second homeland. The relationship between India and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an historic one, we have been old friends and, God willing, this visit will renew these historic ties”. Indeed the King should be invited to make a full State visit in the near future travelling all over India, including Srinagar Valley ; where Khruschev and Bulganin went in 1955!
India has the second largest population of Muslim believers in the world after Indonesia, and it is only right the Keeper of the Holy Places of Islam should see for himself that India is indeed dar-ul-aman, not the dar-ul-harb that the propaganda of the Pakistanis and their terroristic protégés have made it out to be in Saudi and Gulf power circles.
Kalam and the King
The Vajpayee Government deserves a little credit for the present success, because it was they who caused the fact that His Majesty Faisal Ibn Abdullah Ibn Muhammad Al-Saud was hosted by an Indian rocket scientist born in a Muslim family in an impecunious fishing village of Tamil Nadu. The King and his princes would not have failed to feel the poignancy in that. India is also the second largest country of Shiá Islam after Iran, and Ayatollah Khatami was Chief Guest a few years ago when he was President of Iran. It has been argued in these columns (“Solving Kashmir”, The Statesman, December 1-3, 2005) that the solution to J&K requires Indian diplomacy with Iran and Afghanistan as well ; which, incidentally, will make the hollowness of Pakistan’s claims in J&K most obvious.
Now the President of the United States is due to visit India shortly. George W Bush is the third Republican President to come to India after Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. His predecessor Bill Clinton came as a single man at the end of his second term, on holiday from a rocky marriage, to dance with Rajasthani women and indulge his love of Indian food. Before Clinton in 2000, the last American President to visit was Jimmy Carter in 1978, who gave a stirring speech to Parliament about democracy after Morarji Desai had defeated Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. George Bush, also in his second term, will come to India amid controversy.
“You’re a good man”, Bush condescendingly said to Manmohan Singh in Washington, half-remembering that morning’s intelligence briefing memo. Had our PM been more experienced of the world he could have replied equally loudly: “Thanks, you’re not so bad yourself. Let’s chop some wood next time”. It is almost definite there will be no agreement on the nuclear collaboration deal, and that the dispute erupting over Iran may have enlarged itself. Platitudes will be exchanged but the fact that the President has chosen to combine his visit to India with a visit to his buddies in the Pakistani Government will not go unnoticed in the MEA.
“Balance of power” has been the motif of Anglo-American foreign policy in Asia at least ever since the Arabs were induced to revolt against the Turks by Allenby and Lawrence, followed by pitting Iran and the Arabs against each other. The same goes for India and Pakistan. Also, our rather uncouth Communists have vowed to make their presence felt in street-protests and boycotts of Parliament when Bush comes.
FDR & Martin Luther King Jr
In this tense atmosphere, where the summit may actually falter rather badly on substance, Manmohan Singh will need to make some important symbolic gestures. Going to meet the Saudi King at the airport was an appropriate gesture. Clinton had expected the Indian PM to meet him too, and was visibly disappointed to land in the middle of the night only amidst the lights of the TV cameras. The Bushes should be met at the airport by our PM and his spouse. The President is our honoured guest and guests are to be treated like gods.
In the same vein, four boulevards across India’s largest cities deserve to be named after four American heroes: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Dwight D. Eisenhower and Abraham Lincoln. The first two were Democrats, the latter two Republicans.
Naming a boulevard in New Delhi after FDR would belatedly acknowledge his small, spontaneous yet critical and principled role in support of Indian independence that, shockingly, remains unrecognised in India. Britain could not expect American support against German and Japanese imperialism while expecting the Americans not to support Indian aspirations for national freedom. India’s own academic historians, mostly under influence of either Communist or RSS methodologies, have failed even to produce objective biographies of major national leaders, let aside candid accounts of British rule, the development of the Indian nation-state, the Transfer of Power or Partition.
The same intellectual sloppiness has extended to economics too, and underlies the gross misunderstanding of India’s monetary and fiscal histories as was outlined recently in these columns. It has required a young American scholar, Dinyar Patel, writing in an official American Government publication to outline Roosevelt’s role during India’s independence (Span, March 2005).
Where FDR helped India’s struggle for freedom, Martin Luther King Jr adopted India’s method to lead America’s blacks (“Negroes” and “coloureds” as they were then called) to freedom within their own country. MK Gandhi had corresponded with Tolstoy after beginning his campaign of passive resistance to unjust South African laws, and he read Henry Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience when he was already in jail for that very same offence. Many years later, the young Alabama preacher put to use Gandhi’s example of courageous peaceful defiance of injustice in his own sweet land of liberty. On receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on 10 December 1964, King said: “Non-violence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilisation and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that non-violence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation”. Of course, King like Gandhi would have been appalled by the religious, colour, caste and racial prejudices of contemporary Indians, Pakistanis etc today, and naming a boulevard in King’s name may do more for our own moral well-being than anything else.
Eisenhower and Lincoln
As for Dwight Eisenhower and Abraham Lincoln, the former may well be seen in later centuries as the greatest of 20th Century American Presidents as the latter was of the 19th. Though they had nothing to do with India, naming boulevards after them would remind Indians of the existence of great men in world history.
Jyoti Basu’s Communists once named streets in Kolkata after Lenin and Ho Chi Minh, and still pay annual obeisance at Lenin’s statue with clenched fists and garlands. Ho Chi Minh was a great nationalist and may have deserved an Indian street but it was a cheap and gratuitous insult by the Communists to name the very street on which the American Consulate stood after the Vietnamese leader who was then their enemy. The Americans were mature enough at the time to ignore it and not pull out their Consulate from Kolkata — the very same Consulate that is so highly in demand with Basu’s successor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
Under influence of the well-known academic apologists for Communist China, Bhattacharjee has been recently extolling the virtues of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai too – apparently ignorant of the 40 million Chinese that Mao killed and apparently forgiving Zhou’s hatred of and perfidy against India. Before any further such nonsense occurs, we should name roads after FDR, King, Eisenhower and Lincoln, and the time to do it would be when George W. Bush makes his visit.
By SUBROTO ROY
first published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article,
January 22, 2006
Constitutions and communists do not go together. The most glaring example comes from Russia — the Motherland not only of modern communism but also of great brave individual souls like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov, and the many other men and women who struggled to defeat communism there over seven decades. Before Russia managed to liberate herself from communism — i.e. before the Communist Party of the Soviet Union began under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin to liberate itself from itself in the late 1980s — the only genuine elections that ever occurred in the country were to the Constituent Assembly of November 1917.
That Constituent Assembly was a multiparty legislative body and it happened to have a large anti-Bolshevik majority. It met only once in January 1918 and was destroyed under Lenin immediately because it quite naturally refused to adopt Bolshevik proposals. Under the Czar, the “Constitutional Democratic Party” (the “Cadets”), formed in 1905, “constituted the most dangerous ranks of revolution”. Under the government of the proletariat, the very same Cadet Party represented “the most dangerous ranks of reaction” (Solzhenitsyn). Constitutionalists inevitably end up battling both the Fascists of the Right and the Communists of the Left. As Hannah Arendt made clear, the organisation of totalitarian governments whether of Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s USSR or Mao’s China were remarkably similar in nature. Upon seizing power in November 1917, Russia’s Bolsheviks attacked the constitutionalists first, outlawing the Cadet Party and arresting its members, and doing the same to students, workers and soldiers associated with the “Alliance for the Constituent Assembly”.
This is not a coincidence. Communists and fascists are powered by instincts of grabbing State political power for themselves any which way they can, in order to impose by brute force on everyone else the rather shoddy obsolete ideologies they subscribe to themselves. Karl Marx himself most famously said the words “I am not a Marxist”. Communists and fascists cannot stand the idea of the anonymous individual citizen standing up on his or her own; their instinct is one which cannot attribute credit to the individual person for any good that may be done, instead purloining it into a fake “collective” effort. Similarly, errors cannot be simply acknowledged, and instead responsibility is diffused all around until nobody remembers who said or did what or when, and all history becomes a jumble.
Every great scientific and artistic achievement has been an expression of individual genius, often against the reactionary collective will. And constitutions from Magna Carta onwards have been built on the idea of protecting the anonymous, powerless individual citizen against the violent arbitrary power of the established State and its comprador organisations. Britain and America may have contributed their share of evil to world history but they have made up for at least some of it by pioneering Anglo-Saxon constitutional jurisprudence. It may be no coincidence Britain and America have been home to the greatest outpourings of human creativity and invention in modern times, from the steam engine to the Internet.
In fact it has been a singularly American contribution to pioneer the very idea that parliamentary majorities themselves need to be restrained from their own baser proclivities. In 1767, before America had herself become free from British rule, the British Parliament once issued a declaration that a parliamentary majority could pass any law it saw fit. It was greeted with an outcry of horror in Britain’s American colonies. Patrick Henry of Virginia — later famous for his cry “Give me Liberty or give me Death” — led the battle for the anonymous free individual citizen against the arbitrary power that comes to be represented by the herd or mob instincts even of elected parliamentary majorities. Constitutions are written to protect parliaments and peoples from themselves.
The philosopher John Wisdom, who translated the subtle work of Wittgenstein and Freud into normal idioms, once said: “Sometimes a society acts as if all power lay in the hands of the most babyish and animal members, and sometimes as if all power lay in the hands of strict old men, and sometimes it acts more as a whole — mostly when there’s a war on. Sometimes a man is not himself and acts as if a babyish or cunning animal had gained control — that’s the id — sometimes as if an exacting parent, a sarcastic schoolmaster, or an implacable deity possessed him — that’s the super-ego. Sometimes a man is more himself and acts more as a whole, a new whole which is not a combination but a synthesis of the id and the super-ego. Some are constantly at the mercy of the id, some are slaves to the super-ego, and in some first one and then the other gains an unhappy victory in a continual struggle, and in some conflict and control have vanished into cooperation…”
Similarly, we may say that political processes in any country appear to often give play to the most “babyish” and “cunning animal” instincts of the society, while at other times the “strict old men” or “exacting parent” take over. The constant struggle of political reasonableness is to find the rational, normal national self that rests in between.
India at present has been set upon an unproductive and pointless course of inevitable Constitutional collision between Parliament and the Supreme Court. That course has been singly set by the present Speaker even though every attempt is being made now to diffuse his responsibility for the situation that has arisen, so that soon nobody will be able to remember exactly what happened or why. The incumbent Speaker, instead of being wholly self-effacing as called for by the job-requirements of the high and grave office he holds, has remained too much of a normal parliamentary advocate. Before grave irreparable damage comes to be done to India’s Parliamentary and Constitutional traditions, he needs to return at once to the Front Benches of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) as a distinguished senior Member of the House, and from there make whatever arguments he wishes about Parliament’s rights under the Constitution. The high self-effacing office of the Speaker is not from where such arguments as he has been making should be made — unless India’s Parliament and Constitution are soon to be thrown into the dustbin for ever (as has similarly happened for half a century across the border with our Pakistani cousins).
The incumbent Speaker is right that the Supreme Court does not oversee Parliament. The Supreme Court oversees something greater than Parliament, namely, India’s Constitution. Parliament, its Speaker, its Prime Minister, the President of India, and the Supreme Court itself are all creatures of the Constitution. However, the Constitution of India that was adopted on 26 January 1950 is not sui generis a creature of itself. It is the outcome of a clear and well-known constitutional history which has among its modern milestones the Government of India Act of 1935, and thence all the ancient milestones of Anglo-American constitutional jurisprudence going back to Magna Carta. And India’s Supreme Court — sitting not in any of its normal division benches but as a Constitutional Bench — does indeed have jurisdiction, indeed it has sole jurisdiction, over whether India’s Constitution is being made to suffer crimes or misdemeanours at the hands of India’s Government or Parliament of the day. For the Speaker to decline to receive a notice from the High Court is an irrelevancy; many people who are served notices ignore them; it does not reduce jurisdiction by an iota. An “All-Party” meeting of MPs can rail all it wants against the Supreme Court — even the whole of the present Parliament can pass as many unanimous resolutions as they want against the Supreme Court. They will only make themselves look silly and petulant in the eyes of history. As for the BJP Opposition in particular, the present situation may make it perfectly clear that there is not among them a single, principled, liberal constitutionalist hidden in their proto-fascistic ranks.
First published in The Statesman and The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, January 6,7,8, 2006
(Author’s Note: Within a few weeks of this article appearing, the Dream Team’s leaders appointed the so-called Tarapore 2 committee to look into convertibility — which ended up recommending what I have since called the “false convertibility” the RBI is presently engaged in. This article may be most profitably read along with other work republished here: “Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform”, “Three Memoranda to Rajiv Gandhi”, “”Indian Money & Banking”, “Indian Money & Credit” , “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Fiscal Instability”, “Fallacious Finance”, “India’s Trade and Payments”, “Our Policy Process”, “Against Quackery”, “Indian Inflation”, etc)
1. New Delhi’s Consensus: Manmohantekidambaromics
Dr Manmohan Singh has spoken of how pleasantly surprised he was to be made Finance Minister in July 1991 by PV Narasimha Rao. Dr Singh was an academic before becoming a government economic official in the late 1960s, rising to the high office of Reserve Bank Governor in the 1980s. Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia now refers to him as “my boss” and had been his Finance Secretary earlier. Mr Ahluwalia was a notable official in the MacNamara World Bank before being inducted a senior government official in 1984. Mr P Chidambaram was PVNR’s Commerce Minister, and later became Finance Minister in the Deve Gowda and Gujral Governments. Mr Chidamabaram is a Supreme Court advocate with an MBA from Harvard’s Business School. During 1998-2004, Dr Singh and Mr Chidambaram were in Opposition but Mr Ahluwalia was Member-Secretary of the Vajpayee Planning Commission. Since coming together again in Sonia Gandhi’s United Progressive Alliance, they have been flatteringly named the “Dream Team” by India’s pink business newspapers, a term originally referring to some top American basketball players.
Based on pronouncements, publications and positions held, other members or associates of the “Dream Team” include Reserve Bank Governor Dr YV Reddy; his predecessor Dr Bimal Jalan; former PMO official Mr NK Singh, IAS; Chief Economic Advisers Dr Shankar Acharya and Dr Ashok Lahiri; RBI Deputy Governor Dr Rakesh Mohan; and others like Dr Arvind Virmani, Dr Isher Ahluwalia, Dr Parthasarathi Shome, Dr Vijay Khelkar, Dr Ashok Desai, Dr Suman Bery, Dr Surjit Bhalla, Dr Amaresh Bagchi, Dr Govind Rao. Honorary members include Mr Jaswant Singh, Mr Yashwant Sinha, Mr KC Pant and Dr Arun Shourie, all economic ministers during the Vajpayee premiership. Institutional members include industry chambers like CII and FICCI representing “Big Business”, and unionised “Big Labour” represented by the CPI, CPI(M) and prominent academics of JNU. Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar joins the Dream Team with his opinion that a gas pipeline is “necessary for the eradication of poverty in India”. Mr Jairam Ramesh explicitly claimed authoring the 1991 reform with Mr Pranab Mukherjee and both must be members (indeed the latter as Finance Minister once had been Dr Singh’s boss). Dr Arjun Sengupta has claimed Indira Gandhi started the reforms, and he may be a member too. External members include Dr Jagdish Bhagwati, Dr. TN Srinivasan, Dr Meghnad Desai, Dr Vijay Joshi, Mr Ian Little, Dr Anne O. Krueger, Dr John Williamson, IMF Head Dr R Rato, and many foreign bank analysts who deal in Bombay’s markets. Harvard’s Dr Larry Summers joins with his statement while US Treasury Secretary in January 2000 that a 10% economic growth rate for India was feasible. His Harvard colleague Dr Amartya Sen — through disciples like Dr Jean Dreze (adviser to Sonia Gandhi on rural employment) — must be an ex officio member; as an old friend, the Prime Minister launched Dr Sen’s recent book while the latter has marked Dr Singh at 80% as PM. Media associates of the Dream Team include editors like Mr Aroon Purie, Mr Vinod Mehta, Dr Prannoy Roy, Mr TN Ninan, Mr Vir Sanghvi and Mr Shekhar Gupta, as well as the giddy young anchors of what passes for news and financial analysis on cable TV.
This illustrious set of politicians, government officials, economists, journalists and many others have come to define what may be called the “New Delhi Consensus” on contemporary India’s economic policy. While it is unnecessary everyone agree to the same extent on every aspect — indeed on economic policy the differences between the Sonia UPA and Vajpayee NDA have had to do with emphasis on different aspects, each side urging “consensus” upon the other — the main factual and evaluative claims and policy-prescriptions of the New Delhi Consensus may be summarised as follows:
A: “The Narasimha Rao Government in July 1991 found India facing a grave balance of payments crisis with foreign exchange reserves being very low.”
B: “A major cause was the 1990-1991 Gulf War, in its impact as an exogenous shock on Indian migrant workers and oil prices.”
C: “The Dream Team averted a macroeconomic crisis through “structural adjustment” carried out with help of the IMF and World Bank; hence too, India was unaffected by the 1997 ‘Asian crisis'”.
D: “The PVNR, Deve Gowda, Gujral and Vajpayee Governments removed the notorious license-quota-permit Raj.”
E: “India’s measurable real economic growth per capita has been raised from 3% or lower to 7% or more.”
F: “Foreign direct investment has been, relative to earlier times, flooding into India, attracted by lower wages and rents, especially in new industries using information technology.”
G: “Foreign financial investment has been flooding into India too, attracted by India’s increasingly liberalised capital markets, especially a liberalised current account of the balance of payments.”
H: “The apparent boom in Bombay’s stock market and relatively large foreign exchange reserves bear witness to the confidence foreign and domestic investors place in India’s prospects.”
I: “The critical constraint to India’s future prosperity is its “infrastructure” which is far below what foreign investors are used to in other countries elsewhere in Asia.”
J: “It follows that massive, indeed gargantuan, investments in highways, ports, airports, aircraft, city-flyovers, housing-estates, power-projects, energy exploration, gas pipelines, etc, out of government and private resources, domestic and foreign, is necessary to remove remaining “bottlenecks” to further prosperity for India’s masses, and these physical constructions will cause India’s economy to finally ‘take off’.”
K: “India’s savings rate (like China’s) is exceptionally high as is observable from vast expansion of bank-deposits, and these high (presumed) savings, along with foreign savings, will absorb the gargantuan investment in “infrastructure” without inflation.”
L: “Before the gargantuan macroeconomic investments bear the fruits of prosperity, equally large direct transfer payments also must be made from the Government to prevent mass hunger and/or raise nominal incomes across rural India, while existing input or other subsidies to producers, especially farmers, also must continue.”
M: “While private sector participants may increasingly compete via imports or as new entrants in industries where the public sector has been dominant, no bankruptcy or privatisation must be allowed to occur or be seen to occur which does not provide public sector workers and officials with golden parachutes.”
Overall, the New Delhi Consensus paints a picture of India’s economy on an immensely productive trajectory as led by Government partnered by Big Business and Big Labour, with the English-speaking intellectuals of the Dream Team in the vanguard as they fly between exotic conferences and international commercial deals. An endless flow of foreign businessmen and politicians streaming through Bangalore, Hyderabad, five-star hotels or photo-opportunities with the PM, followed by official visits abroad to sign big-ticket purchases like arms or aircraft, reinforce an impression that all is fine economically, and modern India is on the move. Previously rare foreign products have become commonplace in India’s markets, streets and television-channels, and a new materialist spirit, supposedly of capitalism, is captured by the smug slogan yeh dil mange more (this heart craves more) as well as the more plaintive cry pardesi jana nahin, mujhe chhorke (foreigner, please don’t leave me).
India’s Rupee became inconvertible in 1942 when the British imposed exchange controls over the Sterling-Area. After 1947 independent India and Pakistan, in name of “planned” economic development, greatly widened this war-time regime – despite the fact they were at war now only with one another over Jammu & Kashmir and, oddly enough, formed an economic union until 1951 with their currencies remaining freely convertible with each other.
On May 29 1984, the present author’s Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India proposed in London that the Indian Rupee become a convertible hard currency again — the first time liberal economics had been suggested for India since BR Shenoy’s critique of the Second Five Year Plan (a fact attracting an editorial of The Times). The simple litmus test whether believers in the New Delhi Consensus have or have not the courage of their stated convictions – i.e., whether what they have been saying is, in its empirical fundamentals, more signal or noise, more reality or rhetorical propaganda – would be to carry through that proposal made 21 years ago. The Dream Team have had more than enough political power to undertake this, and it remains the one measure necessary for them to demonstrate to India’s people and the world that the exuberant confidence they have been promoting in their model of India’s economy and its prospects is not spurious.
What does convertibility entail? For a decade now, India has had limited ease of availability of foreign exchange for traders, students and tourists. Indeed some senior Government monetary economists believe there is convertibility already except forex dealers are being allowed “one-way” and not “two-way” quotes! That is wrong. The Government since 1942 has requisitioned at the border all foreign exchange earned by exporters or received as loans or investment — allocating these first to pay interest and amortisation on the country’s foreign debt, then to make its own weapons and other purchases abroad, then to release by ration what remains to private traders, students, tourists et al. Current account liberalisation has meant the last of these categories has been relaxed, especially by removal of some import quotas. What a convertible Rupee would mean is far more profound. It would allow any citizen to hold and save an Indian money that was exchangeable freely (i.e. without Government hindrance) into moneys of other countries. Full convertibility would mean all the paper money, bank deposits and rupee-denominated nominal assets held by ordinary people in India becomes, overnight, exchangeable without hindrance into dollars, yens, pounds or euros held anywhere (although not of course at the “one-way” rates quoted today).
Now money is a most peculiar human institution. Paper money is intrinsically worthless but all of India’s 1,000 million people (from street children onwards) have need to hold it temporarily to expedite their individual transactions of buying and selling real goods and services. Money also acts as a repository of value over time and unit of account or measure of economic value. While demand to hold such intrinsically worthless paper is universal, its supply is a Government monopoly. Because Government accepts obligations owed to it in terms of the fiat money it has itself issued, the otherwise worthless paper comes to possess value in exchange. Because Government controls its supply, money also can be abused easily enough as a technique of invisible taxation via inflation.
With convertibility in India, the quantity of currency and other paper assets like public debt instruments representing fiscal decisions of India’s Union and State Governments, will have to start to compete with those produced by other governments. Just as India’s long-jumpers and tennis-players must compete with the world’s best if they are to establish and sustain their athletic reputations, so India’s fiscal and monetary decisions (i.e. about government spending and revenues, interest-rates and money supply growth) will have to start competing in the world’s financial markets with those of the EU, USA, Japan, Switzerland, ASEAN etc.
The average family in rural Madhya Pradesh who may wish, for whatever personal reason, to liquidate rupee-denominated assets and buy instead Canadian, Swiss or Japanese Government debt, or mutual fund shares in New York, Frankfurt or Singapore, would not be hindered by India’s Government from doing so. They would become as free as the swankiest NRI jet-setters have been for years (like many members of the New Delhi Consensus and their grown children abroad). Scores of millions of ordinary Indians unconnected with Big Business or Big Labour, neither among the 18 million people in government nor the 12 million in the organised private sector, would become free to hold any portfolio of assets they chose in global markets (small as any given individual portfolio may be in value). Like all those glamorous NRIs, every Indian would be able to hold dollar or Swiss Franc deposit accounts at the local neighbourhood bank. Hawala operators worldwide would become redundant. Ordinary citizens could choose to hold foreign shares, real-estate or travellers’ cheques as assets just as they now choose jewellery before a wedding. The Indian Rupee, after more than 65 years, would once again become as good as all the proverbial gold in Fort Knox.
When added up, the new demand of India’s anonymous masses to hold foreign rather than Rupee-denominated assets will certainly make the Rupee decline in price in world markets. But — if the implicit model of India’s economy promoted by the Dream Team is based on correctly ascertained empirical facts — foreign and domestic investor confidence should suffice for countervailing tendencies to keep India’s financial and banking system stable under convertibility. Not only would India’s people be able to use and save a currency of integrity, the allocation of real resources would also improve in efficiency as distortions would be reduced in the signalling function of domestic relative prices compared to world relative prices. An honest Rupee freely priced in world markets at, say, 90 per dollar, would cause very different real microeconomic decisions of Government and private producers and consumers (e.g., with respect to weapons’ purchases or domestic transportation, given petroleum and jet fuel imports) than a semi-artificial Rupee at 45 per dollar which forcibly an inconvertible asset in global markets. A fully convertible Rupee will cause economic and political decisions in the country more consistent with word realities.
Why the Rupee is not going to be made convertible in the foreseeable future – or why, in India’s present fiscal circumstances if it was, it would be imprudent to do so – is because, contrary to the immense optimism promoted by the Dream Team about their own deeds since 1991, they have in fact been causing India’s monetary economy to skate on the thinnest of thin ice. Put another way, a house of cards has been constructed whose cornerstone constitutes that most unscientific anti-economic of assumptions, the “free lunch”: that something can be had for nothing, that real growth in average consumption levels of the masses of ordinary households of rural and urban India can meaningfully come about by nominal paper-money creation accompanied by verbal exhortation, hocus-pocus or abracadabra from policy-makers and their friends in Big Business, Big Labour and the media. (Lest half-remembered inanities about “orthodox economics” come to be mouthed, Maynard Keynes’s 1936 book was about specific circumstances in Western economies during the Depression and it is unwise to extend its presumptions to unintended situations.)
3. Rajiv Gandhi and Perestroika Project
On 25 May 2002, India’s newspapers reported “PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh lost their place in Congress history as architects of economic reforms as the Congress High Command sponsored an amendment to a resolution that had laid credit at the duo’s door. The motion was moved by…. Digvijay Singh asserting that the reforms were a brainchild of the late Rajiv Gandhi and that the Rao-Singh combine had simply nudged the process forward.”
Now Rajiv Gandhi was an airline-pilot and knew no economics. But the origins of the 1991 reform did come about because of an encounter he had, as Opposition Leader and Congress President from September 1990 onwards, with a “perestroika” project for India’s political economy occurring at an American university since 1986 (viz., The Statesman Editorial Page July 31-August 2 1991, now republished here; Freedom First October 2001). In being less than candid in acknowledging the origins of the reform, the Dream Team may have failed to describe accurately the main symptoms of illness that afflicted India before 1991, and have consequently failed to diagnose and prescribe for it correctly ever since.
The Government of India, like many others, has been sorely tempted to finance its extravagant expenditures by abusing its monopoly over paper-money creation. The British taught us how to do this, and in 1941-43 caused the highest inflation rates ever seen in India as a result. Fig. 1 shows this, and also that real growth in India follows as expected the trend-rate of technological progress (having little to do with government policy). Independent India has continually financed budget- deficits by money creation in a process similar to what the British and Americans did in wartime. This became most conspicuous after Indira Gandhi’s bank and insurance nationalisations of 1969-1970. Indeed, among current policy-makers, Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh, Arjun Sengupta, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Bimal Jalan, NK Singh, Amaresh Bagchi and Shankar Acharya, were among those governing such macroeconomic processes before 1991 — albeit in absence of the equations that illustrate their nature. Why the Rupee cannot be made an honest, internationally convertible, stable money held with confidence by all Indians today, is because the Dream Team have continued with the same macroeconomics ever since. The personal and political ambitions of the tiniest super-elite that the New Delhi Consensus represent (both personal and political) have depended precisely on gargantuan unending deficit-financing backed by unlimited printing of paper-money, and hence the continuing destruction of the integrity of India’s banking system. A convertible Rupee would allow India’s ordinary people to choose to hold other stores of value available in the world today, like gold or monies issued by foreign governments, and thus force an end to such processes.
Two recent articles in The Statesman (Perspective Page 30 October 2005, Front Page 29 November 2005) outlined India’s financial repression and negative real interest rates (which suffice to explain the present stock market boom the way athletes perform better on steroids), and also how deficits get financed by money creation accompanied by wishful projections of economic growth in an upside down imitation of how macroeconomic policy gets done in the West.
“Narrow Money” consists mostly of hand-to-hand currency. “Broad Money” consists of Narrow Money plus bank-deposits. Modern banking is built on “fractional reserves”, i.e. a system of trust where your bank does not literally hold onto deposits you place there but lends these out again – which causes further deposit expansion because no individual banker can tell whether a new deposit received by it is being caused by the depositor having himself borrowed. As a general rule, bank lending causes further deposit expansion. Why India’s (and China’s) bank deposits have been expanding is not because Indians (or Chinese) are superhuman savers of financial assets in banks but because the Government of India (and China) has for decades compelled (the mostly nationalised) banks to hold vast sums of Government debt on the asset side of their balance-sheets. Thus there has been humongous lending by the banking system to pay for Government expenditures. The Dream Team’s macroeconomics relies entirely on this kind of unending recourse to deficit finance and money creation, causing dry rot to set into banks’ balance sheets (Figs. 2,3, 4). If the Rupee became convertible, those vast holdings of Government debt by banks would become valued at world prices. The crucial question would be how heavily New York, London and Hong Kong financial markets discounted Indian sovereign debt. If upon convertibility, the asset sides of domestic Indian banks get discounted very heavily by world financial markets, their insolvency upon being valued at international prices could trigger catastrophic repercussions throughout India’s economy. Hence the Rupee cannot be made convertible — and all our present inefficiencies and inequities will continue for ever with New Delhi’s rhetorical propaganda alongside. The capital flight of 10 out of 1000 million Indians will continue, leaving everyone else with the internal and foreign public debts to pay.
4. A Different Strategy had Rajiv Not Been Assassinated
Had Rajiv Gandhi not been assassinated and the perestroika project allowed to take its course, a different strategy would have been chosen. Honest money first demands honest Government and political leadership. It would at the outset have been recognised by Government (and through Government by all India’s people) that the asset-liability, income-expenditure and cash-flow positions of every public entity in the country without exception — of the Union Government, every State and local Government, every public undertaking and project – is abysmal. Due to entanglement with government financial loans, labour regulations, subsidies, price controls, protection and favouritism, the same holds for the financial positions of vast numbers of firms in the organised private sector. Superimpose on this dismal scene, the bleak situation of the Rule of Law in the country today – where Courts of Justice from highest to lowest suffer terrible abuse receiving pitiable amounts of public resources despite constituting a third and independent branch of India’s Government (while police forces, despite massive expenditure, remain incompetent, high-handed and brutal). What India has needed ever since 1991 is the Rule of Law, total transparency of public information, and the fiercest enforcement of rigorous accounting and audit standards in every government entity and public institution. It is only when budgets and financial positions become sound that ambitious goals can be achieved.
The Dream Team have instead made a fetish of physical construction of “infrastructure”, in some grandiose make-believe dreamworld which says the people of India wish the country to be a superpower. The Dream Team have failed to properly redefine for India’s masses the appropriate fiscal and monetary relationship between State and citizen – i.e. to demarcate public from private domains, and so enhance citizens’ sense of individual responsibility for their own futures, as well as explain and define what government and public institutions can and cannot do to help people’s lives. Grotesque corruption and inefficiency have thus continued to corrode practically all organs, institutions and undertakings of government. Corruption is the transmutation of publicly owned things into private property, while its mirror image, pollution, is the disposal of private wastes into the public domain. Both become vastly more prevalent where property rights between private and public domains remain ill demarcated. What belongs to the individual citizen and what to sovereign India –their rights and obligations to one another – remains fuzzy. Hence corruption and pollution run amuck. The irrational obsession with “infrastructure” is based on bad economics, and has led to profoundly wrong political and financial directions. The Rupee cannot be made an honest stable money because India’s fiscal and monetary situation remains not merely out of control but beyond New Delhi’s proper comprehension and grasp. If and when the Dream Team choose to wake up to India’s macroeconomic realities, a great deal of serious work will need to be done.
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Nov 13 2005 and The Statesman, Nov 14 2005, Editorial Page Special Article
Atal Behari Vajpayee, mentored by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee himself, became Prime Minister of India for less than a fortnight in 1996, then again in 1998 and again in 1999 and remained so until he was voted out in 2004.
He became PM holding the trust of India’s 120 million Muslims. He was supposed to be the genial, avuncular “good cop” who would keep at bay the harsh forces represented by the unpredictable “bad cop”, his Deputy PM and long-time colleague LK Advani. It was the first time RSS members had come to lead India’s government. How is the Vajpayee-Advani duumvirate to be candidly assessed? The question is important not only for the RSS and BJP engaged in their own introspection and petty politics but for the country as a whole. India needs both a competent Government and a competent Opposition in Parliament, and it is not clear we have ever had either.
Overall, Vajpayee-Advani, as the chief public symbols of the RSS-BJP, earned relatively high marks in office handling India’s strategic and security interests, including the nuclear issue and Pakistan. Equally, they failed badly in their treatment of India’s Muslims and religious minorities in general. This is a paradox that can be explained by the general failure of putative Hindutvadis to acquire an objective understanding of the processes that had led to Independence, Partition, and Pakistan’s creation.
Roughly, their comprehension of these processes has been one which sees all Muslims everywhere as cut from the same communal cloth, regardless of the beliefs or actions of individual Muslims. In such prejudiced eyes, there is no conceptual or ultimate difference between a Jinnah and an Azad, between a Salauddin who attacks India at Kargil and a Lt Hanifuddin who dies for India at Kargil. This is the product of a sloppy and erroneous philosophy of history, which in turn is an outcome of an attitude towards modern science and modes of rigorous reasoning that can only be called backward and retrograde.
It has been signalled most conspicuously by the extremely public adherence of many putative Hindutvadis (and millions of other Indians) to astrology — in apparent ignorance of the fact that all horoscopes assume the Sun rotates around Earth. Astrology, a European invention, came to decline in Europe after the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo became widely understood there.
Like Indian Communists, Hindutvadi ideologues with rare exceptions played no role in the movement that led to Indian independence in 1947 and creation of the modern Indian Republic in 1950. They remained to their credit constantly suspicious of and hostile towards the foreign phenomena that were Bolshevism, Stalinism and Maoism. They remained to their discredit constantly suspicious of and hostile towards Indian Muslims, even at one point seeing virtuous lessons in Hitler’s attitude towards the Jews. They have in their own way subscribed to Ein Reich, Ein Volk but fortunately have always failed to find Ein Fuhrer (on a pattern e.g. of a modern “Netaji”).
Where Nazis saw communists and Jews in conspiracies everywhere, Hindutvadi ideologues have tended to see communists and Muslims, and also Christians and “Macaulayite” Hindus, in conspiracies everywhere. (An equal methodological admiration for Nazism occurred on the part of Muslims in the 1930s led by Rahmat Ali, the Pakistani ideologue — who saw “caste Hindus” as the root of all evil and in conspiracies everywhere.) The paradox of the RSS-BJP success in handling nuclear and security issues quite well and domestic issues of secular governance badly, is explained by this ideology of double hostility towards communism and Muslims.
On the positive side, Vajpayee-Advani advocated a tough clear-headed realpolitik on the issue of Indian’s security. “We should go nuclear and sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a nuclear weapons’ state. The whole world will recognise us by our power. We don’t want to be blackmailed and treated as oriental blackies. Nuclear weapons will give us prestige, power, standing. An Indian will talk straight and walk straight when we have the bomb”. That is what the BJP told the New York Times in 1993.
Three years later, the moment Vajpayee first entered office as PM in May 1996, the government’s scientists who had already secretly assembled the bomb for testing, were instructed to stand by for orders to go ahead. Vajpayee did not know if his Government would survive the vote of confidence required of them. When it was pointed out that if he tested the bomb and lost the vote, a successor Government would have to cope with the consequences, Vajpayee, to his credit and reflecting his political experience and maturity, cancelled the test. When he lost the vote, the public demonstration of Indian nuclear weapons capability was also postponed until May 1998, after he had returned as PM a second time. The bomb was a celebration of Hindu, or more generally, Indian independence in the world. India had nominally freed herself from the British but not from Western culture, according to the RSS. Where the Congress had been in the grip of world communism, the RSS-BJP led India to nuclear freedom – such was their propaganda.
In reality, a long line of prime ministers including Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh and IK Gujral had authorised India’s bomb, and a long line of scientists starting with Homi Bhabha had developed it over several decades.
Vajpayee’s decision finally flushed out Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear weapons developed with North Korea and China. Pakistan is an overtly Islamist state where liberal democracy shows no signs of starting even 65 years after the Lahore Resolution. Its nuclear bombs remain a far greater threat to the world than anyone else’s. Moreover, while India has renounced first use of such weapons, Pakistan has not only not done so, its Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan boasted in 1998-1999 that the next war would be over in two hours with an Indian surrender.
Such glib talk about nuclear war is beyond contempt in its irresponsibility. A study by medical doctors estimated that a Hiroshima-sized bombing of Mumbai would cause 9 million deaths from blast, firestorms, radiation and fallout. An Indian retaliation would end Pakistan’s existence (though the Pakistani super-elite has long ago fled with its assets to Britain and America). An India-Pakistan nuclear exchange would leave a vast wasteland, finally ending all intellectual controversies about Partition and Jinnah’s theory. In reality, each is hardly able to cope with natural calamities like earthquakes, cyclones and floods, and also has very grave macroeconomic crises brewing because of unending deficit-finance and unlimited printing of paper money. For either to imagine itself a major power is a vain boast regardless of the polite flattery from visiting foreign businessmen. Of course, while each remains the principal enemy of the other, neither is a serious military force in the world.
After the exchange of nuclear tests in 1998, Vajpayee took the bus across the Wagah border to meet Nawaz Sharif in February 1999. He claimed it was a diplomatic and psychological breakthrough as indeed it was for a moment. But it had not been his original idea. AM Khusro, who accompanied him on the bus, had worked with Rajiv Gandhi in 1990-1991 when Rajiv was advised to make such a Sadat-like move. Furthermore, Vajpayee failed to see the significance of the Pakistani military chiefs led by Pervez Musharraf refusing to meet him formally, which would have entailed saluting him when he was their enemy.
Vajpayee also may not have known the Pakistani monument he visited was later “purified” with rose water by orthodox Muslim believers. So much for Indian diplomatic triumphs or Pakistan’s diplomatic niceties towards their kaffir guest. BJP foreign ministers later ingratiated themselves with Ariel Sharon because he was an enemy of Muslims — though again the BJP seemed unaware that “a single hair” shorn from idol-worshipping Hindu women at Tirupathi was enough for orthodox rabbis to declare as “impure” the wigs worn by Jewish women made from such hair. The evil of “untouchability” has not been a “caste Hindu” monopoly.
According to the Sharif-Musharraf plan secretly brewing during Vajpayee’s Pakistan visit, the Kargil infiltration followed. India’s Army and Air Force gamely fought back in the initial weeks suffering relatively severe losses, but the country seemed mesmerised by World Cup cricket and there was no significant political leadership from Vajpayee’s Government until the second week of June 1999. It was only after Brajesh Mishra was provoked by an analysis of how Pakistan might actually succeed (with the possibility of hidden Pakistani plans of a blitzkrieg and missile attacks), that Vajpayee’s Government seemed to wake up from its stupor, mobilised forces rapidly and threatened Pakistan with direst consequences, a threat made credible because it was conveyed by Mishra via the Americans. The Pakistanis backed down, which led soon to Musharraf’s coup détat against Sharif, and the world has had to deal with a Pakistani state synonymous with Musharraf ever since. The Vajpayee-Advani military triumph at Kargil was short-lived, as it was followed within months by an abject surrender to the Taliban’s terrorists at Kandahar airport.
In the meantime, on 23 January 1999, the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons were murdered by a savage anti-Christian mob as they slept in their car in rural Orissa. Vajpayee, the agreeable face of the RSS-BJP with allegedly impeccable secular credentials, responded without the moral strength that was necessary from a leader of all of India’s people. It was a model of weakness of political will and comprehension that would be followed in the larger catastrophe to occur in Gujarat.
On 27 February 2002, a train approaching Godhra station had a bunch of travelling rowdies bullying ticketed passengers, ticket-collectors and local tea-vendors. The vendors belonged to a lowly Muslim caste whose members were entrenched around Godhra and the nearby Signal Falia. During an extended stop at Godhra station, the altercations grew fiercer — the rowdies forcing people to shout slogans and roughing them up when they did not. False rumours flew that the rowdies had molested a Muslim woman and her two daughters who had been waiting on the platform. As the train left Godhra, a gang of rioters led by one tea-shop owner and other tea-vendors gathered before Signal Falia, stopped the train and assaulted it with stones and petrol-bombs.
One whole compartment was completely burnt, scores of passengers, including 26 women and 12 children, were incinerated, many of whom remain unidentified. (Some of those supposed to be in the compartment according to Railway lists were later found alive and well, as they had moved due to the rowdyism.) Throughout the day, Godhra District Collector Jayanthi Ravi stated on television and radio that a riot had occurred and appealed for calm. But after 7 pm, the State’s political executive called it a “pre-planned violent act of terrorism”, and an organised pogrom began against Muslims across the State. Over several weeks, thousands were killed and raped and turned into refugees inside their own country.
Gujarat’s chief political executive, a Vajpayee-Advani protégé, should have been immediately held accountable; instead he continued to receive their political patronage. Vajpayee, en route to a planned business trip abroad, made a perfunctory visit to the scene of the civil horror, then proceeded to Singapore, where he was shown moving around on a golf-cart wearing designer goggles. He had clearly failed to grasp the dimensions or the gravity of the nature of the office he held. Vajpayee thus came to lose the trust of India’s Muslims and minorities in general which he had earned by his moderation and maturity over many decades in the Opposition. The RSS-BJP had lost, perhaps permanently, the last opportunity to make their actions tally with their sweet words about a united Indian people living in bliss in a common sacred Motherland.
Vajpayee’s finance and economic planning ministers were as ignorant of the reality of India’s macroeconomics as the Stalinist New Delhi bureaucrats pampered by Congress and its Communist friends. These bureaucrats continued in power under Vajpayee. Plus the RSS’s pseudo-economists were enough to scare away all except a minor econometrician and a shallow economic historian. The latter led the BJP up the garden path in 2003-2004 with talk about India’s economy being on the point of “take off” (based on defunct American theory from the 1960s), which misled them into the “India Shining” campaign and electoral defeat. The BJP finance minister, thus misled, revealed his own ignorance of his job-requirements when he happily spoke on TV of how much he sympathised with businessmen who had told him CBI, CVC and CAG were the initials holding India back from this (bogus) “take off”. Equally innocent of economics, the BJP’s planning chief went about promising vast government subsidies to already-rich Indians abroad to become “venture capitalists” in India! Instead of reversing the woeful Stalinism of the Congress decades overall, Vajpayee’s Government super-imposed a crony capitalism upon it. Budgetary discipline was not even begun to be sought — another BJP finance minister revelling publicly in his ignorance of Maynard Keynes.
The signal of monetary crisis that was the UTI fiasco was papered over with more paper money printing. Privatisation was briefly made a fetish — despite there being sound conservative reasons not to privatise in India until the fiscal and monetary haemorrhaging is stopped. Liquidating real assets prior to a likely massive inflation of paper assets caused by deficit-financing, is not a public good.
RSS members and protégés appointed to government posts and placed in charge of government moneys revealed themselves as corrupt and nepotistic as anyone else. The overall failure of the management of India’s public institutions and organs of State continued under Vajpayee-Advani just as it had done for decades earlier. Vajpayee-Advani evinced no vision of a modern political economy as reformers of other major countries have done, such as Thatcher, Reagan, Gorbachev-Yeltsin, Adenauer-Erhardt, De Gaulle, even Deng Tsiaoping.
The overall explanation of the ideological and practical failure of the putative Hindutvadis must have to do with their irrational obsession over two decades with the masjid-mandir issue. Ramayana and Mahabharata are magnificent mythological epics yet they are incidental aspects of the faith and culture deriving from the Vedas and Upanishads. The motive force of a true Hindutva is already contained in the simple Upanishadic motto of the Indian Republic, Satyameva jayathe (let truth prevail) which is almost all the religion that anyone may need. The search for all truth necessarily requires individual freedom, and taking its first steps would require the RSS-BJP denouncing all their backward pseudo-science and anti-science. Who among them will liberate them from the clutches of astrology, and bring instead the fresh air and light of modern science since Copernicus and Galileo? Without rigorous modern reasoning, the RSS and BJP are condemned to their misunderstanding of themselves and of India, just as surely as their supposed enemies — literalist Muslim believers — are committed to a flat earth and an implacably stern heaven placed above it. Pakistan’s finest academic has reported how his colleagues pass off as physics the measurement of earth receding from heaven if Einstein and The Qúran could be amalgamated. The RSS and BJP need to free themselves from similar irrational backwardness in all fields, including politics and economics. It is plain Vajpayee, Advani or any of their existing political progeny cannot lead themselves, or Indians in general, to that promised land.
First published in The Statesman Perspective Page under the title “Flunking inteligence” Oct 26 2005
There have been three or four enormous failures of American espionage (i.e. intelligence and counter-intelligence) in the last 20 years. The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of Soviet communism were salubrious events but they had not been foreseen by the United States which was caught unawares by the speed and nature of the developments that took place. Other failures have been catastrophic.
First, there was the failure to prevent the attack that took place on the American mainland on September 11 2001. It killed several thousand civilians and caused vast, perhaps irreparable, psychological and physical destruction to the United States.
The attack was without precedent. The December 7 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, though a surprise, was carried out by one military against another military and did not affect very many civilians (except that thousands of American civilians of Japanese ancestry came to be persecuted and placed in concentration camps for years by the US Government). And the last time the American mainland had been attacked before 2001 was in 1814 when British troops marched south from Canada and burnt down the Capitol and the US President’s house in Washington.
Secondly, there has been a failure to discover any reasonable justification for the American-led attack on Iraq and its invasion and occupation. Without any doubt, America has lost, at the very least, an incalculable amount of international goodwill as a result of this, let aside suffering two thousand young soldiers killed, fifteen thousand wounded, and an unending cost in terms of prestige and resources in return for the thinnest of tangible gains. India at great cost liberated East Pakistan from the brutal military tyranny of Yahya Khan and Tikka Khan in December 1971 but the average Bangladeshi today could hardly care less. Regardless of what form of government emerges in Iraq now, there is no doubt the mass of the Iraqi people will cheer the departure of the bulk of foreign troops and tanks from their country (even if a permanent set of a dozen hermetically sealed American bases remain there for ever, as appears to have been planned).
When things go wrong in any democracy, it is natural and healthy to set up a committee to investigate, and America has done that several times now. For such committees to have any use at all they must be as candid as possible and perhaps the most candid of the American committees has been the US Government’s 9/11 Commission. But it too has appeared no closer to finding out who was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks or who financed it and who, precisely, executed it. Osama Bin Laden may have been the ideological head of a movement allied to the perpetrators, and Bin Laden undoubtedly expressed his glee afterwards, but it beggars the imagination that Bin Laden could have been executive president in charge of this operation while crawling around Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. If not him, then whom? Mossad the Israeli spy agency was supposed to have pointed to a super-secret invisible Lebanese terrorist but nobody really knows. The biggest modern mass murder remains unsolved.
As for solutions, the American 9/11 Commission went into the same politically correct formulae that came to be followed in 2005 by British PM Tony Blair’s New Labour Cabinet, namely, that “moderate” peace-loving Muslims must be encouraged and bribed not to turn to terrorism (indeed to expose those among them who do), while “extremist” Muslims must be stamped out with brute force. This rests on a mistaken premise that an economic carrot-and-stick policy can work in creating a set of external incentives and disincentives for Muslims, when in fact believing Muslims, like many other religious believers, are people who feel the power of their religion deep within themselves and so are unlikely to be significantly affected by external incentives or disincentives offered by non-believers.
Another committee has been the United States Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence which reported in July 2004, and from whose findings have stemmed as an offshoot the current matter about whether high government officials broke the law that is being investigated by Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.
Bertrand Russell said in his obituary of Ludwig Wittgenstein that he had once gone about looking under all the tables and chairs to prove to Wittgenstein that there was not a hippopotamus present in the room. In the present case, however, there is in fact a very large hippopotamus present in the room yet the entire American foreign policy establishment has seemed to refuse to wish to see it. Saddam Hussain and OBL are undoubtedly certifiable members of the international gallery of rogues – but the central fact remains they were rogues who were in alliance with America’s defined strategic interests in the 1980s. Saddam Hussain’s Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 and gassed the Kurds in 1986; an Iraqi Mirage on May 17 1987 fired two Exocet missiles at the USS Stark killing 37 American sailors and injuring 21. The Americans did nothing. The reason was that Saddam was still in favour at the time and had not yet become a demon in the political mythology of the American state, and it was expedient for nothing to be done. Indeed Saddam’s Iraq was explicitly removed in 1982 from the US Government’s list of states sponsoring terrorism because, according to the State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism, it had “moved closer to the policies of its moderate Arab neighbours”.
The very large hippopotamus that is present in the room at the moment is April Glaspie, the highly regarded professional career diplomat and American Ambassador to Iraq at the time of the 1990 Gulf War. Saddam Hussein as President had a famous meeting with her on July 25 1990, eight days before he invaded Kuwait. The place was the Presidential Palace in Baghdad and the Iraqis videotaped the meeting:
U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – “I have direct instructions from President (George Herbert Walker) Bush to improve our relations with Iraq. We have considerable sympathy for your quest for higher oil prices, the immediate cause of your confrontation with Kuwait. (pause) As you know, I lived here for years and admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. We know you need funds. We understand that, and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. (pause) We can see that you have deployed massive numbers of troops in the south. Normally that would be none of our business, but when this happens in the context of your threats against Kuwait, then it would be reasonable for us to be concerned. For this reason, I have received an instruction to ask you, in the spirit of friendship – not confrontation – regarding your intentions: Why are your troops massed so very close to Kuwait’s borders?
Saddam Hussein – As you know, for years now I have made every effort to reach a settlement on our dispute with Kuwait. There is to be a meeting in two days; I am prepared to give negotiations only this one more brief chance. (pause) When we (the Iraqis) meet (with the Kuwaitis) and we see there is hope, then nothing will happen. But if we are unable to find a solution, then it will be natural that Iraq will not accept death.
U. S. Ambassador Glaspie – What solutions would be acceptable?
Saddam Hussein – If we could keep the whole of the Shatt al Arab – our strategic goal in our war with Iran – we will make concessions (to the Kuwaitis). But, if we are forced to choose between keeping half of the Shatt and the whole of Iraq (i.e., in Saddam’ s view, including Kuwait ) then we will give up all of the Shatt to defend our claims on Kuwait to keep the whole of Iraq in the shape we wish it to be. (pause) What is the United States’ opinion on this?
U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – We have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960’s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America. (Saddam smiles)
Saddam had seen himself fighting Islamic Iran on behalf of the Kuwaitis, Saudis and other Arabs, and Islamic Iran was of course the sworn adversary of the USA at least since Khomeini had deposed America’s ally, the Shah. Therefore Saddam could not be all bad in the eyes of the State Department. On August 2 1990, the Iraqi troops seen by American satellites amassed on the border, invaded and occupied Kuwait.
On September 2 1990, the Iraqis released the videotape and transcript of the July 29 Saddam-Glaspie meeting and Glaspie was confronted by British journalists as she left the Embassy:
Journalist 1 – Are the transcripts (holding them up) correct, Madam Ambassador? (No answer from Glaspie)
Journalist 2 – You knew Saddam was going to invade (Kuwait ) but you didn’t warn him not to. You didn’t tell him America would defend Kuwait. You told him the opposite – that America was not associated with Kuwait.
Journalist 1 – You encouraged this aggression – his invasion. What were you thinking?
U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – Obviously, I didn’t think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait.
Journalist 1 – You thought he was just going to take some of it? But, how could you? Saddam told you that, if negotiations failed , he would give up his Iran(Shatt al Arab waterway) goal for the whole of Iraq, in the shape we wish it to be. You know that includes Kuwait, which the Iraqis have always viewed as a historic part of their country!
Journalist 1 – America green-lighted the invasion. At a minimum, you admit signalling Saddam that some aggression was okay – that the U.S. would not oppose a grab of the al-Rumeilah oil field, the disputed border strip and the Gulf Islands (including Bubiyan) – the territories claimed by Iraq?
Glaspie said nothing, the car door closed behind her, the car drove off. Nothing has been apparently heard from Glaspie ever since, and we may have to wait for her memoirs in 25 years when they are declassified to come to know what happened. It is astonishing, however, that the 521 page report of the US Senate’s Select Committee on espionage about Iraq before the 2003 war finds no cause whatsoever to mention Glaspie at all (at least in its public censored version). It is almost as if Glaspie has never existed and her conversation with Saddam never happened. Glaspie has disappeared down an Orwellian memory-hole. Yet her conversation with Saddam was the last official, recorded conversation between the Americans and Saddam while they were still on friendly terms.
There may be many causes explaining how such serious failures have come to occur in a country where billions of dollars have been annually spent on espionage. Among them must be that while America’s great strengths have included creation of the finest advanced scientific and technological base on earth, America’s great intellectual weaknesses in recent decades have included an impatience with historical and philosophical reflection of all sorts, and that includes reflection about her own as well as other cultures. This is exemplified too in the third palpable failure of intelligence of the last 20 years, which has been to have not foreseen or prevented atomic weapons from being developed by America and Britain’s Islamist ally and client-state, Pakistan, and thence to have failed to prevent the proliferation of such weapons in general. The consequences of that may yet turn out to be the most grave.
The Mitrokhin Archives II from an Indian Perspective: A Review Article
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Oct. 11 2005, Perspective Page
Vasili Mitrokhin’s defection from the former Soviet Union to Britain in 1992 caused a treasure-trove to reach MI-6 and the CIA and FBI, because he exposed many dozens of Soviet agents and their plots and intrigues around the world. But this fact that his material greatly helped Anglo-American counter-intelligence does not per se make it a source of accurate evidence with which a historian’s history book can be created. Rather, what this monumental and extremely informative volume amounts to being is a vast documentation, from an Anglo-American perspective, of what MI-6 and its allies have agreed to make public about what they now know of Soviet foreign policy and KGB practices, and of how Russian diplomacy and the KGB’s successors might function in the future.
That this is not a detached and disinterested history of intelligence is revealed by the three chapters on the subcontinent which have been causing a stir in India for the wrong reasons.
Everyone in the 1970s and through the 1980s knew of the tight grip around New Delhi’s policy-making circles of top bureaucrats, academics, journalists etc who were blatantly and incorrigibly pro-Soviet, some being active communists or fellow- travellers. Some of those complaining today know fully well that a cardinal implicit reason the CPI(M) broke from its parent party had to do precisely with Moscow’s control of the CPI. Moreover, while it might have been newsworthy when the KGB honey-trapped a senior diplomat or a junior cipher clerk in the Indian Embassy now and then, there were also hundreds of public sector bureaucrats, military personnel, journalists, technology professors, writers, artists, dancers et al who were treated most hospitably by the Soviet state – getting freebies flying to Soviet cities, being greeted by singing Young Pioneers, touring L’Hermitage with Intourist, receiving dollar honoraria and splendid gifts, sitting in on “technical training”, even receiving bogus Soviet doctoral degrees to allow themselves to be called “Dr” etc. Purchasing influence in New Delhi or any other capital city has never been merely a crude matter of cash-filled suitcases sloshing around in the middle of the night. Much of what Mitrokhin’s material says about the KGB’s penetration of India should, candidly speaking, generate but a desultory yawn from us –although even this book seems not to know that Narasimha Rao’s infamous, catastrophically damaging remarks in August 1991, in favour of the abortive KGB coup led by Kryuchkov against Gorbachev and Yeltsin, had been prompted by a staunchly pro-Soviet retired Indian diplomat at his side long-associated with the CPI.
Yes there are many titbits in this book that may be of interest from an Indian perspective — such as that Sanjay Gandhi’s entourage contained both a Soviet and an American mole in it (where are they now?). But what may be far more interesting to us today is what can be deduced from what Mitrokhin is silent about. For example, India and the Soviets were close allies in 1971 when Kissinger had teamed up with Yahya Khan and Bhutto to send Nixon to China. It is well known our Army Chief, General Maneckshaw, had demanded and received from Indira Gandhi and Jagjivan Ram enough time to prepare to go to war, and when Maneckshaw finally did move to liberate Bangladesh in December, it surprised Yahya and the Americans. Were the Soviets also quite surprised? If so, it would mean that although the Indian establishment was as porous as a sieve with respect to arms’ deals etc, on a matter of paramount national interest, namely, the just war on our own against Yahya Khan and Tikka Khan’s brutality in East Pakistan condoned by Nixon and Kissinger, India had kept her secrets secure. If, as seems likely, Indira Gandhi and her overtly communistic advisers had kept India’s war plans from not leaking to the KGB between March and December 1971, we may not have been in fact too badly compromised despite the widespread “shallow” penetration that occurred through corruption all around in the bureaucracy, academic institutions, media, political parties, etc.
Mitrokhin’s material describes this kind of shallow corrupt penetration that everyone knew was (and still remains) part of the lobbying process in Delhi. But there is no evidence in the book that the KGB knew of General Maneckshaw’s military preparations or plan of action until the lights went out in a blackout in Delhi on the night of December 2 1971 — that at least is something of which Indians may be slightly proud today. The same goes for the Pokhran nuclear tests. It is well known the CIA was caught by surprise by Pokhran-II in 1998; was the KGB caught by surprise by Pokhran-I in 1974? Probably so. Equally, the book says the KGB had at one point cracked Pakistani codes; did the Soviets share this information with India? Almost certainly not. Our Government’s chummery with the Soviets during the Cold War probably stopped well short of complete incest.
Unfortunately, many questions of interest to India or other countries have simply not been asked in the book. The Soviets (and Harold Wilson) had seemed to broker the India-Pakistan ceasefire in 1965, and Lal Bahadur Shastri died the day after he signed the Tashkent Declaration. What is the inside KGB information on that?
We do not know from this book. What do Soviet archives say about communist influence through the 1940s in Jammu & Kashmir (upon some of the very names who became Indira Gandhi’s inner circle later in Delhi)? Or about the uncritical adoption in the 1950s of Sovietesque economic models by the Planning Commission (and the suppression of Milton Friedman’s November 1955 memorandum to the Government of India, as well as the tarnishing of BR Shenoy as a CIA agent)? The answers are not present in this book because these and analogous questions of interest to India or many other countries simply have not been asked. Mitrokhin’s material has been mined only from an Anglo-American point of view, and until it is thrown open completely to everyone, a detached and disinterested history of permanent and universal interest on the important matters it touches upon is not available.
Several factual and methodological problems result as a consequence, and these need to be identified for purposes of future progress in understanding. For example, the book speaks many times of the KGB having forged or fabricated documents around the world as a technique of spreading disinformation.
Doubtless this was standard operating procedure for intelligence agencies but it is left completely impossible for the average reader to come to any assessment whether a given document mentioned was genuine or forged.
Consider a case in Iran. The book states that in February 1958, the KGB “forged a letter from the American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, to his ambassador in Tehran belittling the Shah’s ability and implying that the United States was plotting his overthrow. The Teheran residency circulated copies of the letter to influential Iranian parliamentarians and editors in the confident expectation that one would come to the attention of the Shah – which it duly did. According to the KGB files on the operation, the Shah was completely taken in by the fabricated Dulles letter and personally instructed that a copy be sent to the US embassy with a demand for an explanation. Though the embassy dismissed it as a forgery, the Teheran residency reported that its denials were disbelieved. Dulles’s supposedly slighting references to the Shah were said to be a frequent topic of whispered conversation among the Iranian elite.” (p. 171)
It is impossible for anyone who has not seen this document or other supporting evidence to come to any assessment of what actually happened here. Matters are made worse by a note that says the KGB “claimed improbably that the Americans blamed the forgery not on the KGB but the British, who were said to be jealous of the strength of US influence in Iran”.
Was the document genuine or was it forged and if so by whom? If forged, must we believe the KGB was so astute in 1958 in its knowledge of American idiom that it could achieve the tremendous deception of mimicking the greatest of Cold Warriors writing to his own ambassador, enough to fool the Shah of Iran who had been placed in power by the very same Americans? No one can really tell unless the documents are opened up completely.
Another example is of more topical interest, and also reveals that this book must be seen as a contribution to a continuing (if friendly and academic) battle between rival intelligence agencies. Yevgeny Primakov, the former KGB chief and reformist Prime Minister (and Soviet Ambassador to India) is quoted as saying about the American help to the Pakistan-based guerrillas against the Soviets in Afghanistan: “the idea of deploying the Stingers (shoulder-held ground-to- air-missiles) was supplied by Osama bin Laden, who had been cooperating closely with the CIA at the time.” (Russian Crossroads, Yale University Press, 2004.)
Professor Andrew denies this flatly: “There is no support in the Mitrokhin material (or any other reliable source) for the claim that the CIA funded bin Laden or any of the other Arab volunteers who came to support the mujahideen. Most were funded through charities and mosques in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and were frequently viewed with suspicion by the Afghan mujahideen.” (p. 579)
It is obvious why this question is important: if Primakov is right and Andrew is wrong the Americans must be acutely embarrassed in having been allies or supporters or financiers not long ago of the very same Bin Laden who has now become their most bitter enemy. The United States Government’s “9/11 Commission” in 2004 made a much weaker statement than Professor Andrew: “Saudi Arabia and the United States supplied billions of dollars worth of secret assistance to rebel groups in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet occupation. This assistance was funnelled through Pakistan: the Pakistani military intelligence (ISID) helped train the rebels and distribute the arms. But Bin Laden and his associates had their own sources of support and training and they received little or no assistance from the United States…. In his memoirs, (Bin Laden’s deputy) Ayman al Zawahiri contemptuously rejects the claim that the Arab mujahideen were financed (even `one penny’) or trained by the United States… CIA officials involved in aiding the Afghan resistance regarded Bin Laden and his `Arab Afghans’ as having been militarily insignificant in the war and recall having little to do with him.”
Bin Laden was a callow youth when he got to Afghanistan shortly after the Soviet invasion in December 1979. Yet his contributions of funds, military effort and religious zealotry made him emerge age 33-34 as the “Emir” of Al Qaeda by the time the Soviets were compelled to withdraw in 1989, having suffered 14,500 dead. The Americans then began to lose interest in the region and in their Pakistani clients, and it was in that atmosphere that Pakistan decided to declare its independence in the world with its clandestine nuclear programme (never having felt part of the nationalist movement which led to Indian independence in 1947). It was in the same period that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda grew to become implacable and formidable enemies of the West, which culminated in the 9/11 mass murders in 2001. The claim that while the CIA certainly supported “Afghan” jihadists, it did not support Arab or African ones like Bin Laden and his friends is highly implausible. The New Yorker and Washington Post reported in 1986 the CIA supplying and training Hekmatyar’s “Hizbe-Islami” in the use of Stinger missiles to bring down Soviet aircraft. It is impossible to imagine the admittedly myopic American policy at the time included checking passports of these trainee- beneficiaries, saying “OK, you’re an Afghan resistance fighter you get a Stinger, you’re an Arab/African terrorist-of-the-future-who-may-attack-New York, you don’t”. Professor Andrew quotes positively the work on Bhutto of Raza Anwar, the Pakistani socialist, but he may have been unaware of Anwar’s The Tragedy of Afghanistan (Verso, 1988) where the precise nature of the American, Chinese and Arab support for the thousands of guerrillas in the dozens of camps in Zia’s Pakistan is quite fully and objectively documented. Foreign jihadists in Jammu & Kashmir came to be known as “Afghans” because they were veterans of the Afghan conflicts, not because they were Afghan nationals. Unlike Britain’s MI-6, the United States Government’s 9/11 Commission has made no bones about the connection between Bin Laden and the Pakistani ISI whose intent has been to attack India: “Pakistan’s rulers found these multitudes of ardent young `Afghans’ a source of potential trouble at home but potentially useful abroad. Those who joined the Taliban movement, espousing a ruthless version of Islamic law, perhaps could bring order in chaotic Afghanistan and make it a cooperative ally. They thus might give Pakistan greater security on one of the several borders where Pakistani military officers hoped for what they called `strategic depth’ (…. Pakistan’s need for a friendly, pliable neighbour on the west due to its hostile relationship with India on the east.)… It is unlikely that Bin Laden could have returned to Afghanistan (in 1996) had Pakistan disapproved. The Pakistani military intelligence service probably had advance knowledge of his coming, and its officers may have facilitated his travel. During his entire time in Sudan, he had maintained guesthouses and training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These were part of a larger network used by diverse organisations for recruiting and training fighters for Islamic insurgencies in such places as Tajikistan, Kashmir and Chechnya. Pakistani intelligence officers reportedly introduced Bin Laden to Taliban leaders in Kandahar, their main base of power, to aid his reassertion of control over camps near Khowst, out of an apparent hope that he would now expand the camps and make them available for training of Kashmiri militants.”
Regardless of the fondness of the very strong lobby of British apologists (led by a former British High Commissioner to Pakistan) for the ISI and Pakistani Army, no detached history of modern intelligence in our part of the world can be written which whitewashes the misdeeds of Pakistan’s generals over several decades. Aside from what The Mitrokihn Archive II signifies about our region, there is a great amount of invaluable material on other parts of the world too, from Chile and Peru to Cuba and Nicaragua, to South Africa and Egypt and Israel, to China and Korea and Japan.
Indeed the keenest pages have to do with the internecine tensions between communists, like Castro and Gorbachev, or Khrushchev and Mao Zedong, in which no Anglo-American interests were involved. We in India have had our share of academic apologists and fellow travellers for totalitarian communist China, but the roots of the Sino-Soviet split have never come to be aired in Indian discussion. Professor Andrew is a leading member of the vitally important Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC, whose website displays new and vitally important data from formerly communist countries (like Mongolia, Russia and East Germany) about how Chinese communists saw and felt about India, Pakistan, Tibet etc, which needs urgent attention from serious Indian observers. The Mitrokhin Archive II gives us a privileged glimpse of some of what happened: “The Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s brought to an acrimonious end the deference from the PRC which Stalin had taken for granted. The first public attack on Moscow was made by Mao’s veteran security chief, Kang Sheng, whose ferocious purges during Mao’s Great Leap Forward were largely modelled on techniques he had learned in Moscow during the Great Terror. On the Soviet side, the ideological dispute with China was compounded by personal loathing for Mao – the `Great Helmsman’ – and a more general dislike of the Chinese population as a whole, Khrushchev `repeatedly’ told a Romanian delegation shortly before his overthrow in 1964 that `Mao Zedong is sick, crazy, that he should be taken to an asylum, etc.” An assessment of Chinese national character circulated to KGB residencies by the Centre twelve years later claimed that the Chinese were `noted for their spitefulness’. What most outraged both the Kremlin and the Centre was Beijing’s impudence in setting itself up as a rival capital of world Communism, attempting to seduce other Communist parties from their rightful allegiance to the Soviet Union. Moscow blamed the horrors of Pol Pot’s regime… on the takeover of the Cambodian Communist Party by `an anti-popular, pro-Beijing clique’.
If nothing else, The Mitrokhin Archives II provides an honest opportunity for India’s Left to come clean with their frank and non-ideological opinions about Soviet, Chinese and other communist histories, and hence to candidly gain self-knowledge. Will they take it? Are there any George Orwells out there?
A General Theory of Globalization & Modern Terrorism with Special Reference to September 11
This was a keynote address to the Council of Asian Liberals & Democrats meeting on November 16 2001, Manila, Philippines, and was published in Singapore in 2002, Alan Smith, James Gomez & Uwe Johannen (Eds.) September 11 & Political Freedom: Asian Perspectives. It was republished in the West on January 26 2004 on the University of Buckingham website, when the author was Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics there. It came to be followed a few months later by a public lecture at the University, titled “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom: Reason’s Response to Islamism” which has also been published here.
1. Globalization Through a Wide-Angle Lens
2. Suicide, Terrorism & Political Protest
3. Science, Religion, Art, and the Necessity of Freedom
4. Asia’s Modern Dilemmas: Named Social Life or Anonymous Markets
5. September 11: the Collapse of the Global Conversation
Synopsis: The world after September 11 2001 has seemed a very bewildering place — as if all liberal notions of universal reason, freedom, tolerance and the rule of law since the Enlightenment have been proven a lie overnight, deserving only to be flushed away in the face of a resurgence of ancient savageries. One aim of this essay is to show this would be too hasty an assessment; another is to provide a general theory of “globalization”, a notion which often has seemed lost for meaning.
1. Globalization Through a Wide-Angle Lens
The perpetrators of September 11 subjectively acted in the name of Islam. It would have surprised them to know of the great respect with which the religious experience of Prophet Muhammad (572-632 AD) had been treated in the English language by Carlyle in 1842:
“The great Mystery of Existence… glared in upon (Muhammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact, ‘Here am I!’. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.” 1
Carlyle told the story of Muhammad once not abiding by his own severe faith when he wept for an early disciple saying “You see a friend weeping over his friend”; and of how, when the young beautiful Ayesha tried to make him compare her favourably to his deceased wife and first disciple the widow Khadija, Muhammad had denied her:
“She believed in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had but one friend and she was that!”
Carlyle suggested the simple humanity and humility of Muhammad’s life and example, and even an intersection between Islamic belief and modern science (“a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart”). He quoted Goethe: “If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?”, suggesting there might be something of universal import in Muhammad’s message well beyond specifically Muslim ontological beliefs.
In general, the life or words of a spiritual leader of mankind like Muhammad, Christ, or Buddha, as indeed of discoverers of the physical world like Darwin or Einstein, or explorers of secular human nature like Aristotle, Adam Smith or Karl Marx, may be laid claim to by all of us whether we are explicit adherents, disciples or admirers or not. No private property rights may be attached upon their legacies, but rather these remain open to be discussed freely and reasonably by everyone.
A second example is more proximate. It is of M. K. Gandhi the Indian sitting in South Africa reflecting on the Christian ideas of Thoreau the American and Tolstoy the Russian, synthesizing these with Hindu-Jain notions of “ahimsa” or “non-hatred” into a technique of political action to be applied eventually to end British rule in India; then transferred a decade after Gandhi’s assassination to the U. S. Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr, and later, after King’s assassination, back to Nelson Mandela languishing in prison, who ends apartheid and brings in its place a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in South Africa.2
Construing globalization to mean merely Westernization of the East has been a commonplace error, leading to a narrow cramped perspective and reflecting ignorance of both East and West. There are countless examples of the Easternization of the West including the exportation of Judaism and Christianity, and of Indian and Arab mathematics and astronomy in the Middle Ages. There have been and will be countless cross-fertilizations between East and West, let aside the subtle influences of Africa and other cultures and continents on art, music, dance, sports and beliefs around the world. In general, whenever an idea, practice, institution or artifact transmits itself from its origin elsewhere, we have a little piece of globalization taking place. The speed and volume of such transmissions may have vastly increased in recent decades thanks to the growth of modern transport and communications but that is not to say some of the most important transmissions have not already taken place or may not yet take place. Ours like every generation may be biased in favour of its own importance.
2. Suicide, Terrorism & Political Protest
Global transmissions can be as soft and salubrious as Americans learning to enjoy football which is not American football. But they can be grim and desperate too — like the transfer of “suicide bombing” techniques from Sri Lanka’s civil war to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; or the idea of schoolboys firing automatic weapons germinating from A Clockwork Orange to actuality thirty years later in an American or a German school.
In fact the Thoreau-Tolstoy-Gandhi techniques of civil disobedience or a hunger-strike inflicting pain or sacrifice on oneself to show an adversary his folly, slide naturally to a limit of suicide as political protest — as when the Buddhist Superior Thich Quang Duc, protesting religious persecution by Diem’s regime in South Vietnam, immolated himself on June 2 1963, soon to be followed by other Buddhist monks and nuns, leading to the end of the Diem regime and start of the American war in Vietnam. Six years and half a world away, Jan Palach, on January 19 1969, immolated himself in Wenceslas Square protesting the apathy of his countrymen to the Soviet invasion that had ended the Prague Spring. Suicide as political protest still abides by the Socratic injunction that it would be better to suffer wrong than to wrong others.3
Terrorism by suicide killing crosses that line — over into a world of utilitarian calculation on the part of the perpetrator that his or her suicide as political protest would be inadequate, and must be accompanied by causing death among the perceived adversary as well.
Gandhi, King and Mandela each had conservative, accommodative currents on one side, as well as radical dissident or parallel terrorist offshoots on the other, and we will return to ask why no non-violent political movement seems identifiable of which September 11 was the violent terrorist offshoot.
Where political protest is absent from the motivation, and killing the adversary becomes the aim with suicide merely the means, as with Japan’s kamikaze pilots, we have passed into a realm of international war between organized authorities in contrast with mere terrorism against some organized authority. A suicide-killer may of course subjectively believe himself/herself to be making a political protest though his/her principals may see him/her as an instrument of war.
Also, if it is correct to distinguish between kamikaze pilots and the perpetrators of September 11 by absence and presence of political protest in their motivation, terrorism typically arises as rebellion against some organized authority, and is to be contrasted precisely with war between organized authorities. “State terrorism” can then only refer to an organized authority being repressive to the point of using its power to cause terror, physical or mental, upon a people or individuals under its control. “State-sponsored” terrorism would be something else again, where an organized authority assists a terroristic rebellion against some other organized authority, amounting effectively to an undeclared international war.4
3. Science, Religion, Art, and the Necessity of Freedom
The question arises whether anything in human nature or society may be identified to help analyse, explain or predict the myriad transmissions of globalization taking place, whether salubrious or not. If such a theory claims to be “general”, it will need to be wide enough to try to explain the motivation for modern terrorism and September 11 2001 in particular.
We could start with the observable fact there is and has been only one human species, no matter how infinitely variegated its specimens across space and time. All have a capacity to reason as well as a capacity to feel a range of emotions in their experience of the world, something we share to an extent with other forms of life as well. And every human society, in trying to ascertain what is good for itself, finds need to reason together about how its members may be best able to survive, grow, reproduce and flourish. This process of common reasoning and reflection vitally requires freedom of inquiry and expression of different points of view. The lone voice in dissent needs to be heard or at least not suppressed just in case it is the right voice counselling against a course which might lead to catastrophe for all. To reason together implies a true or right answer exists to be found, and the enterprise of truth-seeking thus requires freedom as a logical necessity. It takes guts to be a lone dissenter, and all societies have typically praised and encouraged the virtues of courage and integrity, and poured shame on cowardice, treachery or sycophancy. Similarly, since society is a going concern, justice and fairplay in the working of its institutions is praised and sought after while corruption, fraud or other venality is condemned and punished.
A flourishing society may be viewed as one advancing in its scientific knowledge, its artistic achievements, and its religious or philosophical consciousness. Each of these dimensions needs to be in appropriate balance in relation to the others during the process of social and economic growth, and each has a necessity for its own aspect of freedom.
Science is our public knowledge regardless of culture or nationality gained of ourselves as members of the world and the Universe, and has been the most important common adversary of all religions. Who or what is homo sapiens relative to other living species? What is the difference between plants and animals? What constitutes a living organism? What is the structure of a benzene ring or a carbon atom or any atom or subatomic particle? What is light, sound, gravity? What can we say about black holes or white dwarfs? When did life begin on Earth and when is it likely to end? Are we alone in the Universe in being the only form of self-conscious life? Such questions have been asked and attempted to be answered in their own way by all peoples of the world, whether they are primitive tribes in hidden forests or sophisticated rocket scientists in hidden laboratories. Our best common understanding of them constitutes the state of scientific knowledge at a given time.
At the bar of reason, all religions lose to science wherever they try to compete on science’s home grounds, namely, the natural or physical world. If a religious belief happens to imply a material object can be in two places at the same time, that something can be made out of nothing, that the Sun and planets go around the Earth, that if you offer a sacrifice the rains will be on time, then it is destined to be falsified by experience. Science has done a lot of its work in the last few centuries, while the religions pre-date this expansion so their physical premises may have remained those of the science understood in their time. In all questions where religions try to take on the laws of scientific understanding head on, they do and must lose, and numerous factual claims made by all religions will disappear in the fierce and unforgiving heat of the crucible of scientific reasoning and evidence.
With the enormous growth of science, some scientists have gone to the limit of declaring no religious belief can possibly survive — that we are after all made up of dust and atoms alone, that there is no real difference between a mechanical talking doll and a gurgling baby who has just discovered her hands and feet.
Yet reasonable religious belief, action and experience does exist and may need to make its presence felt. Religion may not battle science and expect to win on science’s home ground but can and does win where science has nothing and can have nothing to say. It has been reasonable everywhere for men or women faced with death or personal tragedy to turn to religion for strength, courage or comfort. Such would be a point where religion offers something to life on which science has nothing of interest to say. These include the ultimate questions of life or death or the “Mystery of Existence” itself, in Carlyle’s term.
In fact the ultra-scientific prejudice fails ultimately to be reasonable enough, and is open to a joint and decisive counter-attack by both the religious believer and the artist. Modern science has well established that our small planet orbits an unexceptional member of an unexceptional galaxy. Copernicus by this started the era of modern science and began the end of the grip on Western culture of astrology, which was based on a geocentric Ptolomaic worldview (many Asian cultures like India and perhaps China still remain in that grip).
Yet the pre-modern geocentrism contained a subtle truth which has formed the foundation of both art and religion: to the best of scientific knowledge to this day, Earth is the centre of the Universe inasmuch as it is only here that reason and intelligence and consciousness have come to exist, that there is such a thing as the power to think and the power to love.5
We are, as far as anyone knows, quite alone in having the ability to understand ourselves and to be conscious of our own existence. The great galaxies, black holes and white dwarfs are all very impressive, but none of them is aware of its own existence or capable of the thought or love of any human baby or for that matter the commonest street dog.
What responsibility arises for human beings because of the existence of this consciousness? That is the common and reasonable question addressed by both religion and art, on which science is and must remain silent. We may come to know through science that life has existed for x million years and is likely to be extinguished in y million more years, but we do not know why it arose at all, or what responsibility devolves on those beings, namely ourselves, who have consciousness and reason to comprehend their own existence in the Universe.
D. H. Lawrence meant to raise this when he said the novel was a greater invention than Galileo’s telescope. Great painters, composers, or other artists can be imagined saying something similar. Art is the expression of life, and human cultures, like plants, may be fresh and vigourous with life or decadent and doomed to death. The society which both recognizes and comprehends its own artistic traditions through reasonable evaluation while encouraging new shoots of artistic creativity, will be one with a vibrant cultural life; the society incapable of evaluating its own art self- critically enough will be likely also to kill new creativity from within itself, and become vulnerable to a merger or takeover.
Science, religion and art each vitally requires freedom in order to thrive. In art, the function of reason arises in critical evaluation of literature, paintings, cinema, drama, music, dance, architecture and other aspects of aesthetics. Swimming against a full tide of majority opinion here often may be the right thing to do. The critic F. R. Leavis spoke of the importance of there being an educated public to maintain serious cultural standards; he meant that the freedom to be vigourously critical, often against shallow entrenched coterie opinions, may be the only safeguard preventing artistic or cultural standards from collapse. In science, the activity of reasoning whether in public with one another or privately within oneself, dispels scientific illusions (like astrology) and so enlarges the area occupied by a common empirical understanding. Freedom is logically necessary here to keep potential avenues towards the truth open; it extends also to protecting through tolerance those factual beliefs which may be manifestly false — it may be a crime to steal or commit murder but it is not a crime to hold erroneous factual beliefs about the world as such (e.g. astrology is wrong because Copernicus is right, but it would be illiberal to jail people for believing in astrology.) Such a need for freedom of belief and experience, as well as the tolerance of dissent, becomes most obvious in religion, where the stupendous task facing all human beings is of attempting to unravel the “Mystery of Existence”. The scope of these ontological questions, unanswered and unanswerable by science, is so vast it would be only wise to allow the widest search for answers to take place, across all possible sources and religious faiths, wherever the possibility of an insight into any of these subtle truths may arise. Perhaps that is why some solitary thinkers have sought to