I may add my father, back in 1973 in Paris, had predicted to me that you would become Prime Minister of India one day, and he, now in his 90s, is joined by myself in sending our warm congratulations at the start of your second term in that high office.
The controversy though that you and I had entered that Paris day in 1973 about scientific economics as applied to India, must be renewed afresh!
This is because of your categorical statement on June 9 2009 to the new 15th Lok Sabha:
“I am convinced, since our savings rate is as high as 35%, given the collective will, if all of us work together, we can achieve a growth-rate of 8%-9%, even if the world economy does not do well.” (Statement of Dr Manmohan Singh to the Lok Sabha, June 9 2009)
I am afraid there may be multiple reasons why such a statement is gravely and incorrigibly in error within scientific economics. From your high office as Prime Minister in a second term, faced perhaps with no significant opposition from either within or without your party, it is possible the effects of such an error may spell macroeconomic catastrophe for India.
Indeed the idea that China and India have had extremely high economic growth-rates based on purportedly astronomical savings rates has become a commonplace in recent years, repeated endlessly in international and domestic policy circles though perhaps without adequate basis.
1. Germany & Japan
What, at the outset, is supposed to be measured when we speak of “growth”? Indian businessmen and their media friends seem to think “growth” refers to something like nominal earnings before tax for the organised corporate sector, or any unspecified number that can be sold to visiting foreigners to induce them to park their funds in India: “You will get a 10% return if you invest in India” to which the visitor says “Oh that must mean India has 10% growth going on”. Of such nonsense are expensive international conferences in Davos and Delhi often made.
You will doubtless agree the economist at least must define economic growth properly and with care — what is referred to must be annual growth of per capita inflation-adjusted Gross Domestic Product. (Per capita National Income or Net National Product would be even better if available).
West Germany and Japan had the highest annual per capita real GDP growth-rates in the world economy starting from devastated post-World War II initial conditions. What were their measured rates?
West Germany: 6.6% in 1950-1960, falling to 3.5% by 1960-1970 falling to 2.4% by 1970-1978.
Japan: 6.8 % in 1952-1960 rising to 9.4% in 1960-1970 falling to 3.8 % in 1970-1978.
Thus in recent decadesonly Japan measured a spike in the 1960s of more than 9% annual growth of real per capita GDP. Now India and China are said to be achieving 8%-10 % and more year after year routinely!
Perhaps we are observing an incredible phenomenon of world economic history. Or perhaps it is just something incredible, something false and misleading, like a mirage in the desert.
You may agree that processes of measurement of real income in India both at federal and provincial levels, still remain well short of the world standards described by the UN’s System of National Accounts 1993. The actuality of our real GDP growth may be better than what is being measured or it may be worse than what is being measured – from the point of view of public decision-making we at present simply do not know which it is, and to overly rely on such numbers in national decisions may be unwise. In any event, India’s population is growing at near 2% so even if your Government’s measured number of 8% or 9% is taken at face-value, we have to subtract 2% population growth to get per capita figures.
2. Growth of the aam admi’s consumption-basket
The late Professor Milton Friedman had been an invited adviser in 1955 to the Government of India during the Second Five Year Plan’s formulation. The Government of India suppressed what he had to say and I had to publish it 34 years later in May 1989 during the 1986-1992 perestroika-for-India project that I led at the University of Hawaii in the United States. His November 1955 Memorandum to the Government of India is a chapter in the book Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s that I and WE James created.
“I don’t believe the term GNP ought to be used unless it is supplemented by a different statistic: the rate of growth of the average consumption basket consumed by the ordinary individual in the country. I think GNP rates of growth can give very misleading information. For example, you have rapid rates of growth of GNP in the Soviet Union with a declining standard of life for the people. Because GNP includes monuments and includes also other things. I’m not saying that that is the case with India; I’m just saying I would like to see the two figures together.”
You may perhaps agree upon reflection that not only may our national income growth measurements be less robust than we want, it may be better to be measuring something else instead, or as well, as a measure of the economic welfare of India’s people, namely, “the rate of growth of the average consumption basket consumed by the ordinary individual in the country”, i.e., the rate of growth of the average consumption basket consumed by the aam admi.
It would be excellent indeed if you were to instruct your Government’s economists and other spokesmen to do so this as it may be something more reliable as an indicator of our economic realities than all the waffle generated by crude aggregate growth-rates.
3. Logic of your model
Thirdly, the logic needs to be spelled out of the economic model that underlies such statements as yours or Meghnad Desai’s that seek to operationally relate savings rates to aggregate growth rates in India or China. This seems not to have been done publicly in living memory by the Planning Commission or other Government economists. I have had to refer, therefore, to pages 251-253 of my own Cambridge doctoral thesis under Professor Frank Hahn thirty years ago, titled “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”, where the logic of such models as yours was spelled out briefly as follows:
Kt be capital stock
Yt be national output
It be the level of real investment
St be the level of real savings
It = K t+1 – Kt
Kt = k Yt 0 < k < 1
St = sYt 0 < s <1
In equilibrium ex ante investment equals ex ante savings
It = St
Hence in equilibrium
sYt = K t+1 – Kt
s/k = g
where g is defined to be the rate of growth (Y t+1-Yt)/Yt .
The left hand side then defines the “warranted rate of growth” which must maintain the famous “knife-edge” with the right hand side “natural rate of growth”.
Your June 9 2009 Lok Sabha statement that a 35% rate of savings in India may lead to an 8%-9% rate of economic growth in India, or Meghnad Desai’s statement that a 44% rate of savings in China led to a 10.4% growth there, can only be made meaningful in the context of a logical economic model like the one I have given above.
[In the open-economy version of the model, let Mt be imports, Et be exports, Ft net capital inflows.
Mt = aIt + bYt 0 < a, b < 1
Et = E for all t
Balance of payments is
Bt = Mt – Et – Ft
In equilibrium It = St + Bt
Ft = (s+b) Yt – (1-a) It – E is a kind of “warranted” level of net capital inflow.]
You may perhaps agree upon reflection that building the entire macroeconomic policy of the Government of India merely upon a piece of economic logic as simplistic as the
s/k = g
equation above, may spell an unacceptable risk to the future economic well-being of our vast population. An alternative procedural direction for macroeconomic policy, with more obviously positive and profound consequences, may have been that which I sought to persuade Rajiv Gandhi about with some success in 1990-1991. Namely, to systematically seek to improve towards normalcy the budgets, financial positions and decision-making capacities of the Union and all state and local governments as well as all public institutions, organisations, entities, and projects in general, with the aim of making our domestic money a genuine hard currency of the world again after seven decades, so that any ordinary resident of India may hold and trade precious metals and foreign exchange at his/her local bank just like all those glamorous privileged NRIs have been permitted to do. Such an alternative path has been described in “The Indian Revolution”, “Against Quackery”, “The Dream Team: A Critique”,“India’s Macroeconomics”, “Indian Inflation”, etc.
4. Gross exaggeration of real savings rate by misreading deposit multiplication
Specifically, I am afraid you may have been misled into thinking India’s real savings rate, s, is as high as 35% just as Meghnad Desai may have misled himself into thinking China’s real savings rate is as high as 44%.
Neither of you may have wanted to make such a claim if you had referred to the fact that over the last 25 years, the average savings rate across all OECD countries has been less than 10%. Economic theory always finds claims of discontinuous behaviour to be questionable. If the average OECD citizen has been trying to save 10% of disposable income at best, it appears prima facie odd that India’s PM claims a savings rate as high as 35% for India or a British politician has claimed a savings rate as high as 44% for China. Something may be wrong in the measurement of the allegedly astronomical savings rates of India and China. The late Professor Nicholas Kaldor himself, after all, suggested it was rich people who saved and poor people who did not for the simple reason the former had something left over to save which the latter did not!
And indeed something is wrong in the measurements. What has happened, I believe, is that there has been a misreading of the vast nominal expansion of bank deposits via deposit-multiplication in the Indian banking system, an expansion that has been caused by explosive deficit finance over the last four or five decades. That vast nominal expansion of bank-deposits has been misread as indicating growth of real savings behaviour instead. I have written and spoken about and shown this quite extensively in the last half dozen years since I first discovered it in the case of India. E.g., in a lecture titled “Can India become an economic superpower or will there be a monetary meltdown?” at Cardiff University’s Institute of Applied Macroeconomics and at London’s Institute of Economic Affairs in April 2005, as well as in May 2005 at a monetary economics seminar invited at the RBI by Dr Narendra Jadav. The same may be true of China though I have looked at it much less.
“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.”
“India has followed in peacetime over six decades what the US and Britain followed during war. Our vast growth of bank deposits in recent decades has been mostly a paper (or nominal) phenomenon caused by unlimited deficit finance in a fractional reserve banking system. Policy makers have widely misinterpreted it as indicating a real phenomenon of incredibly high savings behaviour. In an inflationary environment, people save their wealth less as paper deposits than as real assets like land, cattle, buildings, machinery, food stocks, jewellery etc.”
If you asked me “What then is India’s real savings rate?” I have little answer to give except to say I know what it is not – it is not what the Government of India says it is. It is certainly unlikely to be anywhere near the 35% you stated it to be in your June 9 2009 Lok Sabha statement. If the OECD’s real savings rate has been something like 10% out of disposable income, I might accept India’s is, say, 15% at a maximum when properly measured – far from the 35% being claimed. What I believe may have been mismeasured by you and Meghnad Desai and many others as indicating high real savings is actually the nominal or paper expansion of bank-deposits in a fractional reserve banking system induced by runaway government deficit-spending in both India and China over the last several decades.
5. Technological progress and the mainsprings of real economic growth
So much for the g and s variables in the s/k = g equation in your economic model. But the assumed constant k is a big problem too!
During the 1989 perestroika-for-India project-conference, Professor Friedman referred to his 1955 experience in India and said this about the assumption of a constant k:
“I think there was an enormously important point… That was the almost universal acceptance at that time of the view that there was a sort of technologically fixed capital output ratio. That if you wanted to develop, you just had to figure out how much capital you needed, used as a statistical technological capital output ratio, and by God the next day you could immediately tell what output you were going to achieve. That was a large part of the motivation behind some of the measures that were taken then.”
The crucial problem of the sort of growth-model from which your formulation relating savings to growth arises is that, with a constant k, you have necessarily neglected the real source of economic growth, which is technological progress!
I said in the 2007 article referred to above:
“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.”
“The mainsprings of real growth in the wealth of the individual, and so of the nation, are greater practical learning, increases in capital resources and improvements in technology. Deeper skills and improved dexterity cause output produced with fewer inputs than before, i.e. greater productivity. Adam Smith said there is “invention of a great number of machines which facilitate and abridge labour, and enable one man to do the work of many”. Consider a real life example. A fresh engineering graduate knows dynamometers are needed in testing and performance-certification of diesel engines. He strips open a meter, finds out how it works, asks engine manufacturers what design improvements they want to see, whether they will buy from him if he can make the improvement. He finds out prices and properties of machine tools needed and wages paid currently to skilled labour, calculates expected revenues and costs, and finally tries to persuade a bank of his production plans, promising to repay loans from his returns. Overcoming restrictions of religion or caste, the secular agent is spurred by expectation of future gains to approach various others with offers of contract, and so organize their efforts into one. If all his offers ~ to creditors, labour, suppliers ~ are accepted he is, for the moment, in business. He may not be for long ~ but if he succeeds his actions will have caused an improvement in design of dynamometers and a reduction in the cost of diesel engines, as well as an increase in the economy’s produced means of production (its capital stock) and in the value of contracts made. His creditors are more confident of his ability to repay, his buyers of his product quality, he himself knows more of his workers’ skills, etc. If these people enter a second and then a third and fourth set of contracts, the increase in mutual trust in coming to agreement will quickly decline in relation to the increased output of capital goods. The first source of increasing returns to scale in production, and hence the mainspring of real economic growth, arises from the successful completion of exchange. Transforming inputs into outputs necessarily takes time, and it is for that time the innovator or entrepreneur or “capitalist” or “adventurer” must persuade his creditors to trust him, whether bankers who have lent him capital or workers who have lent him labour. The essence of the enterprise (or “firm”) he tries to get underway consists of no more than the set of contracts he has entered into with the various others, his position being unique because he is the only one to know who all the others happen to be at the same time. In terms introduced by Professor Frank Hahn, the entrepreneur transforms himself from being “anonymous” to being “named” in the eyes of others, while also finding out qualities attaching to the names of those encountered in commerce. Profits earned are partly a measure of the entrepreneur’s success in this simultaneous process of discovery and advertisement. Another potential entrepreneur, fresh from engineering college, may soon pursue the pioneer’s success and start displacing his product in the market ~ eventually chasers become pioneers and then get chased themselves, and a process of dynamic competition would be underway. As it unfolds, anonymous and obscure graduates from engineering colleges become by dint of their efforts and a little luck, named and reputable firms and perhaps founders of industrial families. Multiply this simple story many times, with a few million different entrepreneurs and hundreds of thousands of different goods and services, and we shall be witnessing India’s actual Industrial Revolution, not the fake promise of it from self-seeking politicians and bureaucrats.”
Technological progress in a myriad of ways and discovery of new resources are important factors contributing to India’s growth today. But while India’s “real” economy does well, the “nominal” paper-money economy controlled by Government does not. Continuous deficit financing for half a century has led to exponential growth of public debt and broad money, and, as noted, the vast growth of nominal bank-deposits has been misinterpreted as indicating unusually high real savings behaviour when it in fact may just signal vast amounts of government debt being held by our nationalised banks. These bank assets may be liquid domestically but are illiquid internationally since our government debt is not held by domestic households as voluntary savings nor has it been a liquid asset held worldwide in foreign portfolios.
What politicians of all parties, especially your own and the BJP and CPI-M since they are the three largest, have been presiding over is exponential growth of our paper money supply, which has even reached 22% per annum. Parliament and the Government should be taking honest responsibility for this because it may certainly portend double-digit inflation (i.e., decline in the value of paper-money) perhaps as high as 14%-15% per annum, something that is certain to affect the aam admi’s economic welfare adversely.
6. Selling Government assets to Big Business is a bad idea in a potentially hyperinflationary economy
Respected PradhanMantriji, the record would show that I, and really I alone, 25 years ago, may have been the first among Indian economists to advocate the privatisation of the public sector. (Viz, “Silver Jubilee of Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India”.) In spite of this, I have to say clearly now that in present circumstances of a potentially hyperinflationary economy created by your Government and its predecessors, I believe your Government’s present plans to sell Government assets may be an exceptionally unwise and imprudent idea. The reasoning is very simple from within monetary economics.
Government every year has produced paper rupees and bank deposits in practically unlimited amounts to pay for its practically unlimited deficit financing, and it has behaved thus over decades. Such has been the nature of the macroeconomic process that all Indian political parties have been part of, whether they are aware of it or not.
Indian Big Business has an acute sense of this long-term nominal/paper expansion of India’s economy, and acts towards converting wherever possible its own hoards of paper rupees and rupee-denominated assets into more valuable portfolios for itself of real or durable assets, most conspicuously including hard-currency denominated assets, farm-land and urban real-estate, and, now, the physical assets of the Indian public sector. Such a path of trying to transform local domestic paper assets – produced unlimitedly by Government monetary and fiscal policy and naturally destined to depreciate — into real durable assets, is a privately rational course of action to follow in an inflationary economy. It is not rocket-science to realise the long-term path of rupee-denominated assets is downwards in comparison to the hard-currencies of the world – just compare our money supply growth and inflation rates with those of the rest of the world.
The Statesman of November 16 2006 had a lead editorial titled Government’s land-fraud: Cheating peasants in a hyperinflation-prone economy which said:
“There is something fundamentally dishonourable about the way the Centre, the state of West Bengal and other state governments are treating the issue of expropriating peasants, farm-workers, petty shop-keepers etc of their small plots of land in the interests of promoters, industrialists and other businessmen. Singur may be but one example of a phenomenon being seen all over the country: Hyderabad, Karnataka, Kerala, Haryana, everywhere. So-called “Special Economic Zones” will merely exacerbate the problem many times over. India and its governments do not belong only to business and industrial lobbies, and what is good for private industrialists may or may not be good for India’s people as a whole. Economic development does not necessarily come to be defined by a few factories or high-rise housing complexes being built here or there on land that has been taken over by the Government, paying paper-money compensation to existing stakeholders, and then resold to promoters or industrialists backed by powerful political interest-groups on a promise that a few thousand new jobs will be created. One fundamental problem has to do with inadequate systems of land-description and definition, implementation and recording of property rights. An equally fundamental problem has to do with fair valuation of land owned by peasants etc. in terms of an inconvertible paper-money. Every serious economist knows that “land” is defined as that specific factor of production and real asset whose supply is fixed and does not increase in response to its price. Every serious economist also knows that paper-money is that nominal asset whose price can be made to catastrophically decline by a massive increase in its supply, i.e. by Government printing more of the paper it holds a monopoly to print. For Government to compensate people with paper-money it prints itself by valuing their land on the basis of an average of the price of the last few years, is for Government to cheat them of the fair present-value of the land. That present-value of land must be calculated in the way the present-value of any asset comes to be calculated, namely, by summing the likely discounted cash-flows of future values. And those future values should account for the likelihood of a massive future inflation causing decline in the value of paper-money in view of the fact we in India have a domestic public debt of some Rs. 30 trillion (Rs. 30 lakh crore) and counting, and money supply growth rates averaging 16-17% per annum. In fact, a responsible Government would, given the inconvertible nature of the rupee, have used foreign exchange or gold as the unit of account in calculating future-values of the land. India’s peasants are probably being cheated by their Government of real assets whose value is expected to rise, receiving nominal paper assets in compensation whose value is expected to fall.”
Shortly afterwards the Hon’ble MP for Kolkata Dakshin, Km Mamata Banerjee, started her protest fast, riveting the nation’s attention in the winter of 2006-2007. What goes for government buying land on behalf of its businessman friends also goes, mutatis mutandis, for the public sector’s real assets being bought up by the private sector using domestic paper money in a potentially hyperinflationary economy. If your new Government wishes to see real assets of the public sector being sold for paper money, let it seek to value these assets not in inconvertible rupees that Government itself has been producing in unlimited quantities but perhaps in forex or gold-units instead!
In the 2004-2005 volume Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant, edited by myself and Professor John Clarke, there is a chapter by Professor Patrick Minford on Margaret Thatcher’s fiscal and monetary policy (macroeconomics) that was placed ahead of the chapter by Professor Martin Ricketts on Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation (microeconomics). India’s fiscal and monetary or macroeconomic problems are far worse today than Britain’s were when Margaret Thatcher came to power. We need to get our macroeconomic problems sorted before we attempt the microeconomic privatisation of public assets.
Twenty years ago, I wrote in Philosophy of Economics (Routledge, London & New York, 1989) quoting from Solzhenitsyn’s experience:
“….the received theory of economic policy… must be silent about the appropriate role of the expert not only under conditions of tyranny (Solzhenitsyn: “The prison doctor was the interrogator’s and executioner’s right-hand man. The beaten prisoner would come to on the floor only to hear the doctor’s voice: ‘You can continue, the pulse is normal’” ); but also where the duly elected government of an open and democratic society proceeded to do things patently wrong or tyrannical (the imprisonment of the Japanese Americans). Hence Popper’s “paradox of democracy” and “tyranny of the majority”..… A theory of economic policy which both assumes a free and open society and bases itself upon a moral scepticism cannot have anything to say ultimately about the objective reasons why a free and open society may be preferred to an unfree or closed society, or about the good or bad outcomes that may be produced by the working of democratic processes…”
“When the CIA began what it called an “increased pressure phase” with captured terrorism suspect Abu Zubaida in the summer of 2002, its first step was to limit the detainee’s human contact to just two people. One was the CIA interrogator, the other a psychologist. During the extraordinary weeks that followed, it was the psychologist who apparently played the more critical role. According to newly released Justice Department documents, the psychologist provided ideas, practical advice and even legal justification for interrogation methods that would break Abu Zubaida, physically and mentally. Extreme sleep deprivation, waterboarding, the use of insects to provoke fear — all were deemed acceptable, in part because the psychologist said so. “No severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted,” a Justice Department lawyer said in a 2002 memo explaining why waterboarding, or simulated drowning, should not be considered torture. The role of health professionals as described in the documents has prompted a renewed outcry from ethicists who say the conduct of psychologists and supervising physicians violated basic standards of their professions. Their names are among the few details censored in the long-concealed Bush administration memos released Thursday, but the documents show a steady stream of psychologists, physicians and other health officials who both kept detainees alive and actively participated in designing the interrogation program and monitoring its implementation. Their presence also enabled the government to argue that the interrogations did not include torture. Most of the psychologists were contract employees of the CIA, according to intelligence officials familiar with the program. “The health professionals involved in the CIA program broke the law and shame the bedrock ethical traditions of medicine and psychology,” said Frank Donaghue, chief executive of Physicians for Human Rights, an international advocacy group made up of physicians opposed to torture. “All psychologists and physicians found to be involved in the torture of detainees must lose their license and never be allowed to practice again.” The CIA declined to comment yesterday on the role played by health professionals in the agency’s self-described “enhanced interrogation program,” which operated from 2002 to 2006 in various secret prisons overseas. “The fact remains that CIA’s detention and interrogation effort was authorized and approved by our government,” CIA Director Leon Panetta said Thursday in a statement to employees. The Obama administration and its top intelligence leaders have banned harsh interrogations while also strongly opposing investigations or penalties for employees who were following their government’s orders. The CIA dispatched personnel from its office of medical services to each secret prison and evaluated medical professionals involved in interrogations “to make sure they could stand up, psychologically handle it,” according to a former CIA official. The alleged actions of medical professionals in the secret prisons are viewed as particularly troubling by an array of groups, including the American Medical Association and the International Committee of the Red Cross. AMA policies state that physicians “must not be present when torture is used or threatened.” The guidelines allow doctors to treat detainees only “if doing so is in their [detainees’] best interest” and not merely to monitor their health “so that torture can begin or continue.” The American Psychological Association has condemned any participation by its members in interrogations involving torture, but critics of the organization faulted it for failing to censure members involved in harsh interrogations. The ICRC, which conducted the first independent interviews of CIA detainees in 2006, said the prisoners were told they would not be killed during interrogations, though one was warned that he would be brought to “the verge of death and back again,” according to a confidential ICRC report leaked to the New York Review of Books last month. “The interrogation process is contrary to international law and the participation of health personnel in such a process is contrary to international standards of medical ethics,” the ICRC report concluded….” (emphasis added)
Twenty-five years ago, the draft-manuscript that became the book Philosophy of Economics got me into much trouble in American academia. As I have said elsewhere, a gang of “inert game theorists”, similar to many (often unemployable ex-mathematicians) who had come to and still dominate what passes for academic economics in many American and European universities, did not like at all what I was saying. A handful of eminent senior economists – Frank Hahn, T W Schultz, Milton Friedman, James M Buchanan, Sidney Alexander – defended my work and but for their support over the decade 1979-1989, my book would not have seen light of day. Eventually, I have had to battle over years in the US federal courts over it – only to find myself having to battle bribery of court officers and the suborning of perjury by government legal officers too! (And speaking of government-paid psychologists, I was even required at one point by my corrupt opponent to undergo tests for having had the temerity of being in court at all! Fortunately for me that particular psychologist declined to participate in the nefariousness of his employer!).
I find all this poignant today as Philosophy of Economics may have, among other things, described the general theoretical problem that has been brought to light today. I was delighted to hear from a friend in 1993 that my book had been prescribed for a course at Yale Law School and was strewn all over an alley in the bookshop.
Separately, I am also delighted to find that a person pioneering the current work is a daughter of our present PM. I have been sharply critical of Dr Singh’s economics and politics, but I have also said I have had high personal regard for him ever since 1973 when he, as a friend of my father’s, visited our then-home in Paris to advise me before I embarked on my study of economics. My salute to the ACLU’s work in this – may it be an example in defeating cases of State-tyranny in India too.
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.
Editorial Page Special Article 1, 2, 3 December 2005
This article has its origins in a paper “Towards an Economic Solution for Kashmir” which circulated in Washington DC in 1992-1995, including at the Indian and Pakistani embassies and the Carnegie Endowment, and was given as an invited lecture at the Heritage Foundation on June 23 1998. It should be read along with other articles also republished here, especially “History of J&K”, “Law, Justice and J&K” , “Understanding Pakistan”, “Pakistan’s Allies” and “What to Tell Musharraf”. See https://independentindian.com/2011/10/13/my-seventy-one-notes-at-facebook-etc-on-kashmir-pakistan-and-of-course-india-listed-thanks-to-jd/ The Washington paper and lecture itself originated from my ideas in the Introduction to Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy, edited by WE James and myself in the University of Hawaii project on Pakistan 1986-1992.
Postscript 30 Dec 2015: I have made clear at Twitter that I find the K.M. Kasuri book, promoted and publicized in India by Mani Shankar Aiyar, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Barkha Dutt and others in Delhi and Mumbai, to be mendacious where it is not merely self-serving. Its clear intent is to get India to accept the (entirely false) ISI/Hurriyat narratives about 1947, Kashmir, Bangladesh, terrorism etc. Its purported ideas of demilitarisation and a borderless Kashmir are essentially lifted without the decency of normal acknowledgement from my earlier 1980s work in America cited above — which I myself have rejected as naive since the 1999 Pakistani aggression in Kargil…
I. Give Indian `Green Cards’ to the Hurriyat et al
India, being a liberal democracy in its constitutional law, cannot do in Jammu & Kashmir what Czechoslovakia did to the “Sudeten Germans” after World War II.
On June 18 1945 the new Czechoslovakia announced those Germans and Magyars within their borders who could not prove they had been actively anti-fascist before or during the War would be expelled — the burden of proof was placed on the individual, not the State. Czechoslovakia “transferring” this population was approved by the Heads of the USA, UK and USSR Governments at Potsdam on August 2 1945. By the end of 1946, upto two million Sudeten Germans were forced to flee their homes; thousands may have died by massacre or otherwise; 165,000 remained who were absorbed as Czechoslovak citizens. Among those expelled were doubtless many who had supported Germany and many others who had not — the latter to this day seek justice or even an apology in vain. Czechoslovakia punished none of its nationals for atrocities, saying it had been revenge for Hitler’s evil (“badla” in Bollywood terms) and the post Cold War Czech Government too has declined to render an apology. Revenge is a wild kind of justice (while justice may be a civilised kind of revenge).
India cannot follow this savage precedent in international law. Yet we must recognise there are several hundred and up to several hundred thousand persons on our side of the boundary in the State of Jammu & Kashmir who do not wish to be Indian nationals. These people are presently our nationals ius soli, having been born in territory of the Indian Republic, and/or ius sanguinis, having been born of parents who are Indian nationals; or they may be “stateless” whom we must treat in accordance with the 1954 Convention on Stateless Persons. The fact is they may not wish to carry Indian passports or be Indian nationals.
In this respect their juridical persons resemble the few million “elite” Indians who have in the last few decades freely placed their hands on their hearts and solemnly renounced their Indian nationality, declaring instead their individual fidelity to other nation-states — becoming American, Canadian or Australian citizens, or British subjects or nationals of other countries. Such people include tens of thousands of the adult children of India’s metropolitan “elite”, who are annually visited abroad in the hot summer months by their Indian parents and relatives. They are daughters and sons of New Delhi’s Government and Opposition, of retired generals, air marshals, admirals, ambassadors, cabinet secretaries, public sector bureaucrats, private sector businessmen, university professors, journalists, doctors and many others. India’s most popular film-actress exemplified this “elite” capital-flight when, after a tireless search, she chose a foreign husband and moved to California.
The difference in Jammu & Kashmir would be that those wishing to renounce Indian nationality do not wish to move to any other place but to stay as and where they are, which is in Kashmir Valley or Jammu. Furthermore, they may wish, for whatever reason, to adopt, if they are eligible to do so, the nationality of e.g. the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan or the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
They may believe themselves descended from Ahmad Shah Abdali whose Afghans ruled or misruled Kashmir Valley before being defeated by Ranjit Singh’s Sikhs in 1819. Or they may believe themselves of Iranian descent as, for example, are the Kashmiri cousins of the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Or they may simply have wished to be, or are descended from persons who had wished to be on October 26 1947, citizens of the then-new British Dominion of Pakistan — but who came to be prevented from properly expressing such a desire because of the war-like conditions that have prevailed ever since between India and Pakistan. There may be even a few persons in Ladakh who are today Indian nationals but who wish to be considered Tibetans instead; there is, however, no Tibetan Republic and it does not appear there is going to be one.
India, being a free and self-confident country, should allow, in a systematic lawful manner, all such persons to fulfil their desires, and furthermore, should ensure they are not penalised for having expressed such “anti-national” desires or for having acted upon them. Sir Mark Tully, the British journalist, is an example of someone who has been a foreign national who has chosen to reside permanently in the Republic of India — indeed he has been an exemplary permanent resident of our country. There are many others like him. There is no logical reason why all those persons in Jammu & Kashmir who do wish not to be Indians by nationality cannot receive the same legal status from the Indian Republic as has been granted to Sir Mark Tully. There are already thousands of Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Nepalese nationals who are lawful permanent residents in the Indian Republic, and who travel back and forth between India and their home countries. There is no logical reason why the same could not be extended to several hundred or numerous thousand people in Jammu & Kashmir who may wish to not accept or to renounce their Indian nationality (for whatever personal reason) and instead become nationals, if they are so eligible, of the Islamic Republics of Afghanistan, Iran or Pakistan, or, for that matter, to remain stateless. On the one hand, their renunciation of Indian nationality is logically equivalent to the renunciation of Indian nationality by the adult children of India’s “elite” settled in North America and Western Europe. On the other hand, their wish to adopt, if they are eligible, a foreign nationality, such as that of Afghanistan, Iran or Pakistan, and yet remain domiciled in Indian territory is logically equivalent to that of many foreign nationals domiciled in India already like Sir Mark Tully.
Now if you are a permanent resident of some country, you may legally have many, perhaps most, but certainly not all the rights and duties of nationals of that country. e.g., though you will have to pay all the same taxes, you may not be allowed to (or be required to) vote in national or provincial elections but you may in local municipal elections. At the same time, permanently residing foreign nationals are supposed to be equal under the law and have equal access to all processes of civil and criminal justice. (As may be expected though from human frailty, even the federal courts of the USA can be notorious in their injustice and racism towards “Green Card” holders relative to “full” American citizens.) Then again, as a permanently resident foreigner, while you will be free to work in any lawful trade or profession, you may not be allowed to work in some or perhaps any Government agencies, certainly not the armed forces or the police. Many Indians in the USA were engineering graduates, and because many engineering jobs or contracts in the USA are related to the US armed forces and require US citizens only, it is commonplace for Indian engineers to renounce their Indian nationality and become Americans because of this. Many Indian-American families have one member who is American, another Indian, a third maybe Canadian, a fourth Fijian or British etc.
The same can happen in the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir if it evolves peacefully and correctly in the future. It is quite possible to imagine a productive family in a peaceful Kashmir Valley of the future where one brother is an officer in the Indian Armed Forces, another brother a civil servant and a sister a police officer of the J&K State Government, another sister being a Pakistani doctor, while cousins are Afghan or Iranian or “stateless” businessmen. Each family-member would have made his/her choice of nationality as an individual given the circumstances of his/her life, his/her personal comprehension of the facts of history, his/her personal political and/or religious persuasions, and similar deeply private considerations. All would have their children going to Indian schools and being Indian citizens ius soli and/or ius sanguinis. When the children grow up, they would be free to join, if they wished, the existing capital flight of other Indian adult children abroad and there renounce their Indian nationality as many have come to do.
II Revealing Choices Privately with Full Information
For India to implement such a proposal would be to provide an opportunity for all those domiciled in Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Laddakh to express freely and privately as individuals their deepest wishes about their own identities, in a confidential manner, citizen by citizen, case by case. This would thereby solve the fundamental democratic problem that has been faced ever since the Pakistani attack on the original State of Jammu & Kashmir commenced on October 22 1947, which came to be followed by the Rape of Baramulla — causing the formal accession of the State to the then-new Dominion of India on October 26 1947.
A period of, say, 30 months may be announced by the Government of India during which full information would be provided to all citizens affected by this change, i.e. all those presently governed by Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. The condition of full information may include, for example, easy access to Afghan, Iranian and Pakistani newspapers in addition to access to Indian media. Each such person wishing to either remain with Indian nationality (by explicitly requesting an Indian passport if he/she does not have one already — and such passports can be printed in Kashmiri and Urdu too), or to renounce Indian nationality and either remain stateless or adopt, if he/she is so eligible, the nationality of e.g. Afghanistan, Iran, or Pakistan, should be administratively assisted by the Government of India to make that choice.
In particular, he/she should be individually, confidentially, and without fear or favour assured and informed of his/her new rights and responsibilities. For example, a resident of Kashmir Valley who chooses to become a Pakistani citizen, such as Mr Geelani, would now enjoy the same rights and responsibilities in the Indian Republic that Mr Tully enjoys, and at the same time no longer require a visa to visit Pakistan just as Mr Tully needs no visa to enter Britain. In case individual participants in the Hurriyat choose to renounce Indian nationality and adopt some other, they would no longer be able to legally participate in Indian national elections or J&K’s State elections. That is something which they say they do not wish to do in any case. Those members of the Hurriyat who chose e.g. Pakistani nationality while still residing in Jammu & Kashmir, would be free to send postal ballots or cross the border and vote in Pakistan’s elections if and when these occur. There are many Canadians who live permanently in the USA who cross home to Canada in order to cast a ballot.
After the period of 30 months, every person presently under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution would have received a full and fair opportunity to privately and confidentially reveal his/her preference or choice under conditions of full information. “Partition”, “Plebiscite”, and “Military Decision” have been the three alternatives under discussion ever since the National Conference of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and his then-loyal Deputy, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, helped the Indian Army and Air Force in 1947-1948 fight off the savage attack against Jammu & Kashmir State that had commenced from Pakistan on October 22 1947. When, during the Pakistani attack, the Sheikh and Bakshi agreed to the Muslim Conference’s demand for a plebiscite among the people, the Pakistanis balked — the Sheikh and Bakshi then withdrew their offer and decisively and irrevocably chose to accede to the Indian Union. The people of Jammu & Kashmir, like any other, are now bound by the sovereign political commitments made by their forebears. Even so, given the painful mortal facts of the several decades since, the solution here proposed if properly implemented would be an incomparably more thorough democratic exercise than any conceivable plebiscite could ever have been.
Furthermore, regardless of the outcome, it would not entail any further “Partition” or population “transfer” which inevitably would degenerate into a savage balkanization, and has been ruled out as an unacceptable “deal-breaker” by the Indian Republic. Instead, every individual person would have been required, in a private and confidential decision-making process, to have chosen a nationality or to remain stateless — resulting in a multitude of cosmopolitan families in Jammu & Kashmir. But that is something commonplace in the modern world. Properly understood and properly implemented, we shall have resolved the great mortal problem we have faced for more than half a century, and Jammu & Kashmir can finally settle into a period of peace and prosperity. The boundary between India and Pakistan would have been settled by the third alternative mentioned at the time, namely, “Military Decision”.
III. Of Flags and Consulates in Srinagar and Gilgit
Pakistan has demanded its flag fly in Srinagar. This too can happen though not in the way Pakistan has been wishing to see it happen. A Pakistan flag might fly in the Valley just as might an Afghan and Iranian flag as well. Pakistan has wished its flag to fly as the sovereign over Jammu & Kashmir. That is not possible. The best and most just outcome is for the Pakistani flag to fly over a recognised Pakistani consular or visa office in Srinagar, Jammu and Leh. In diplomatic exchange, the Indian tricolour would have to fly over a recognised Indian consular or visa office in Muzaffarabad, Gilgit and Skardu.
Pakistan also may have to act equivalently with respect to the original inhabitants of the territory of Jammu & Kashmir that it has been controlling — allowing those people to become Indian nationals if they so chose to do in free private decisions under conditions of full information. In other words, the “Military Decision” that defines the present boundary between sovereign states must be recognised by Pakistan sincerely and permanently in a Treaty relationship with India — and all of Pakistan’s official and unofficial protégés like the Hurriyat and the “United Jehad Council” would have to do the same. Without such a sovereign commitment from the Government of Pakistan, as shown by decisive actions of lack of aggressive intent (e.g. as came to be implemented between the USA and USSR), the Government of India has no need to involve the Government of Pakistan in implementing the solution of enhancing free individual choice of nationality with regard to all persons on our side of the boundary.
The “Military Decision” regarding the sovereign boundary in Jammu & Kashmir will be so recognised by all only if it is the universally just outcome in international law. And that in fact is what it is.
The original Jammu & Kashmir State began its existence as an entity in international law long before the present Republics of India and Pakistan ever did. Pakistan commences as an entity on August 14 1947; India commences as an entity of international law with its signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919 20 1918. Jammu & Kashmir began as an entity on March 16 1846 — when the Treaty of Amritsar was signed between Gulab Singh Dogra and the British, one week after the Treaty of Lahore between the British and the defeated Sikh regency of the child Daleep Singh.
Liaquat Ali Khan and Zafrullah Khan both formally challenged on Pakistan’s behalf the legitimacy of Dogra rule in Jammu & Kashmir since the Treaty of Amritsar. The Pakistani Mission to the UN does so even today. The Pakistanis were following Sheikh Abdullah and Jawaharlal Nehru himself, who too had at one point challenged Dogra legitimacy in the past. But though the form of words of the Pakistan Government and the Nehru-Abdullah position were similar in their attacks on the Treaty of Amritsar, their underlying substantive reasons were as different as chalk from cheese. The Pakistanis attacked the Dogra dynasty for being Dogra — i.e. because they were Hindus and not Muslims governing a Muslim majority. Nehru and Abdullah denounced monarchic autocracy in favour of mass democracy, and so attacked the Dogra dynasty for being a dynasty. All were wrong to think the Treaty of Amritsar anything but a lawful treaty in international law.
Furthermore, in this sombre political game of great mortal consequence, there were also two other parties who were, or appeared to be, in favour of the dynasty: one because the dynasty was non-Muslim, the other, despite it being so. Non-Muslim minorities like many Hindus and Sikhs in the business and governmental classes, saw the Dogra dynasty as their protector against a feared communalist tyranny arising from the Sunni Muslim masses of Srinagar Valley, whom Abdullah’s rhetoric at Friday prayer-meetings had been inciting or at least awakening from slumber. At the same time, the communalists of the Muslim Conference who had broken away from Abdullah’s secular National Conference, sought political advantage over Abdullah by declaring themselves in favour of keeping the dynasty — even elevating it to become an international sovereign, thus flattering the already pretentious potentate that he would be called “His Majesty” instead of merely “His Highness”. The ancestry of today’s Hurriyat’s demands for an independent Jammu & Kashmir may be traced precisely to those May 21-22 1947 declarations of the Muslim Conference leader, Hamidullah Khan.
Into this game stumbled the British with all the mix of cunning, indifference, good will, impatience, arrogance and pomposity that marked their rule in India. At the behest of the so-called “Native Princes”, the 1929 Butler Commission had hinted that the relationship of “Indian India” to the British sovereign was conceptually different from that of “British India” to the British sovereign. This view was adopted in the Cabinet Mission’s 12 May 1946 Memorandum which in turn came to be applied by Attlee and Mountbatten in their unseemly rush to “Divide and Quit” India in the summer of 1947.
It created the pure legal illusion that there was such a thing as “Lapse of Paramountcy” at which Jammu & Kashmir or any other “Native State” of “Indian India” could conceivably, even for a moment, become a sovereign enjoying the comity of nations — contradicting Britain’s own position that only two Dominions, India and Pakistan, could ever be members of the British Commonwealth and hence members of the newly created UN. British pusillanimity towards Jammu & Kashmir’s Ruler had even extended to making him a nominal member of Churchill’s War Cabinet because he had sent troops to fight in Burma. But the legal illusion had come about because of a catastrophic misunderstanding on the part of the British of their own constitutional law.
The only legal scholar who saw this was B R Ambedkar in a lonely and brilliant technical analysis released to the press on June 17 1947. No “Lapse of Paramountcy” over the “Native Princes” of Indian India could occur in constitutional law. Paramountcy over Indian India would be automatically inherited by the successor state of British India at the Transfer of Power. That successor state was the new British Dominion of India as well as (when it came to be finalised by Partition from India) the new British Dominion of Pakistan (Postscript: the deleted words represent a mistake made in the original paper, corrected in “Law, Justice & J&K” in view of the fact the UN in 1947 deemed India alone the successor state of British India and Pakistan a new state in the world system). A former “Native Prince” could only choose to which Dominion he would go. No other alternative existed even for a single logical moment. Because the British had catastrophically failed to comprehend this aspect of their own constitutional law, they created a legal vacuum whereby between August 15 and October 22-26 1947, Jammu & Kashmir became a local and temporary sovereign recognised only by the Dominion of Pakistan (until October 22) and the Dominion of India (until October 26). But it was not a globally recognised sovereign and was never going to be such in international law. This was further proved by Attlee refusing to answer the J&K Prime Minister’s October 18 1947 telegram.
All ambiguity came to end with the Pakistani attack of October 22 1947, the Rape of Baramulla, the secession of an “Azad Kashmir”declared by Sardar Ibrahim, and the Pakistani coup détat in Gilgit on October 31 1947 followed by the massacre of Sikh soldiers of the J&K Army at Bunji. With those Pakistani actions, Gulab Singh’s Jammu & Kashmir State, founded on March 16 1846 by the Treaty of Amritsar, ceased to logically exist as an entity in international law and fell into a state of ownerless anarchy. The conflict between Ibrahim’s Muslim communalists backed by the new Dominion of Pakistan and Abdullah’s secularists backed by the new Dominion of India had become a civil war within a larger intra-Commonwealth war that itself was almost a civil war between forces of the same military.
Jammu & Kashmir territory had become ownerless. The Roman Law which is at the root of all municipal and international law in the world today would declare that in the ownership of such an ownerless entity, a “Military Decision” was indeed the just outcome. Sovereignty over the land, waters, forests and other actual and potential resources of the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir has become divided by “Military Decision” between the modern Republics of India and Pakistan. By the proposal made herein, the people and their descendants shall have chosen their nationality and their domicile freely across the sovereign boundary that has come to result.
The attempted murder of #SalmanRusdhie #Rushdie deserves to be punished with all severity… Rushdie & I had a meeting at Senate House London c 1974 when he was about 26, I 18/19. I’d done a good job as a reporter on the London Univ student paper “Sennet” (?) on a story about the Greek military coup, or revolt or whatever, and the extreme leftist demos outside the Greek embassy…. I recall a formidable bunch of bulky bearded Macedonians (they made clear they were Macedonians not Greeks) came to the paper’s office to check on what we were going to say about them as they were leaders of the leftist demo — (these, incidentally, may have been the core of the Nov 17 terrorist group later!)… I had to leave but the editor insisted I stay as Salman Rushdie (who’s he? I asked) was due in the office too after the Greek leftists left… The editor thought it would be good for me an Indian to meet Rushdie a Pakistani, with the Dec 1971 events still fresh. Rushdie charged in in due course, nattily dressed, said he had just come down from a visit to Cambridge. We were introduced by the editor who then left us to talk, tho’ there may have been some food and a meal too. Rushdie learning I was Indian, and the son of a diplomat at that, started with a vicious anti-Indian tirade; I sat thru silently assuming he was a Pakistani (which he was I think); the Dec 1971 defeat of Pakistan was still fresh; he then started a critique, perhaps a bigger critique, of Pakistan & ended saying he was in process of becoming British; the meeting ended sweetly with him saying he had a flat and a phone — both rarities back then, gave me his phone no in sweet Big Brotherly (dadagiri) fashion, invited me to call for help anytime; a few years later when I’d left London for Cambridge I did call him in London, as I needed a place to “doss” the night, but he couldn’t put me up… Decades later I found myself writing the definitive review of his most notorious book…https://www.facebook.com/notes/10157728274867285/
The Case For and Against *The Satanic Verses*: Evaluating Diatribe and Dialectic as Art
by Subroto Roy
June 2001, Kolkata, India. First published at www.chowk.com on December 23, 2002. First appearance in print in The Statesman Festival Volume, October 2006. (Note, April 2007: this article is an example of how the Internet age has transformed meanings: before the Internet, to be published and to be printed referred to practically simultaneous events; but this article was published on the Internet almost four years before it came to be republished in print.)
Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is a manifold document; in reading it more than a dozen years after publication, what is brought to mind is the relation between art and criticism described by Lawrence and advertised by Leavis:
”We judge a work of art by its effect on our sincere and vital emotion, and nothing else. All the critical twiddle-twaddle about style and form, all this pseudo-scientific classifying and analysing of books in an imitation-botanical fashion, is mere impertinence and mostly dull jargon. A critic must be able to feel the impact of a work of art in all its complexity and its force. To do so, he must be a man of force and complexity himself, which few critics are. A man with a paltry, impudent nature will never write anything but paltry, impudent criticism. And a man who is emotionally educated is rare as a phoenix…”
The sincere and vital emotions most obviously provoked by Rushdie’s book are nausea, anger and irritation. It appears at first sight an abusive, incoherent masquerade of a novel with little artistic value, a mere moneymaking vehicle for a preening, self-seeking author and his publisher. The decisions of the Republics of India and Pakistan to ban it for being gratuitously offensive to the religious sentiments of millions of people, or the finding against it of blasphemy by the Islamic authorities of Iran seem understandable.
Yet such an initial response may be followed by another very different set of sincere and vital emotions. Upon reflection and a second reading, it is possible to feel exhilaration, delight, even the calm of a Shia Muslim spiritual experience from the book. These may be accompanied by a conviction that Rushdie has produced a significant work of art even if he himself remains unaware of its nature. This kind of unusual and dichotomous critical experience needs to be explained. College professors around the world have been writing theoretical essays portraying Rushdie as a “magic realist” or some such oxymoron. The truth may be more prosaic: The Satanic Verses is nothing if it is not a second, perhaps definitive, autobiographical experiment in which Rushdie has attempted to reconcile himself with his own experiences, a task in which he has achieved at best partial success. It is as if he has tried to comprehend his own life as an English-speaking Indo-Pakistani Muslim in the Western world, and in that process the words of The Satanic Verses just came tumbling out. And there is little even a bitter enemy can say about one’s search for self-knowledge, especially on matters of religious belief.
The cover says The Satanic Verses is a novel; what may be called its superficial plot amounts to something a giggling adolescent might have written for an undergraduate essay. Here is its outline:
Once there were two young Muslim boys of Bombay, Najmuddin and Chamchawalla. N. is born poor and raised in the slums; from delivering tiffins he becomes a small-time and then a major screen idol of Hindi cinema, a kind of Muslim NTR/Bachan mixture. In his profligacy he has an affair with R. who later murders her young children and commits suicide because of her unrequited love for him; N. travels in an aeroplane to England which is blown up midair by Sikh hijackers at 30,000 ft; he falls unharmed to the ground, is found on the English coast by an old woman whose lover he becomes until her death; then he returns to a lovely Jewish girlfriend who seems to have no reason to want to be with him, he returns to India, murders the Jewish girlfriend and kills himself, all along being tormented by a notion he may have invited divine wrath for having willfully eaten pork. In parallel, the other young Muslim boy, C. grows up in a privileged Bombay neighbourhood, is sexually molested by a dhoti-clad street-vendor, has peculiar and perverse parents and servants, is sent to a public school and University in England, ends up in London advertising, is on the same aeroplane which explodes in the sky, also falls unharmed to the ground and is found by the same old woman, but is taken in by British police and immigration authorities, and, most oddly, finds himself transmogrified gradually into a goat like being and then Satan himself, is forced by British police to eat his own goat-pellets, escapes to find refuge among a generous Bangladeshi family in London’s immigrant ghettos, is re-transformed into a human being again after his hatred becomes focused on a single individual, his fellow Mumbaikari, Najmuddin. C attempts to avenge himself on N. for no particular reason except jealousy, yet N. saves his life and there is supposed to be a moral of good and evil there. C. also at some point acquires a splendid English wife who divorces him — again a woman whom we see no reason to want to be with a jerk like him (though we are not told he might have wanted her for the British passport). C. finally returns to Bombay, is reconciled with his dying father, meets up with an old girlfriend, and the book ends with these two being together.
This is not “magic realism”, it is palpably poor writing. If the superficial plot suffices to make The Satanic Verses a novel, then your or my singing in the shower suffices for us to be in grand opera.
Seen as an autobiographical experiment, however, the superficial plot begins, ever so slightly, to make sense as Rushdie appears himself as both Muslim boys whose lives are traced from Bombay to London and back. He is Najmuddin to the extent he torments himself throughout for having willfully violated Muslim practice
“his mouth full of unclean meat ”(p. 31);
in his relationship with at least one of Najmuddin’s three women, the Jewish girlfriend Allie; and perhaps more generally in his having
”managed to bury his greatest talent so deep that it might easily have been lost forever, his talent, that is, for loving genuinely, deeply and without holding back, the rare and delicate gift which he had never been able to employ” (p.26)
Rushdie is Chamchawalla more obviously in having grown up in a privileged Bombay neighbourhood, been sent to school and university in England, gotten married to and divorced from an English woman named Pamela. Both Najmuddin and Chamchawalla are left with their fathers after their mothers’ early deaths, and Rushdie is original and most authentic in describing these father-son relationships where he appears to draw deeply on his own emotional life. There is a short delightful scene of him teaching his own son to ride a bicycle. Then he makes rare records of the terrible conflicts possible between fathers and adult sons:
(N.) “would understand how much the older man had resented him, and how important it was for the father to defeat the son and regain, thereby, his usurped primacy in the affections of his dead wife”. (p.19)
(C.) “wrote his father a letter full of cruelty and anger, whose violence was of the type that exists only between fathers and sons, and which differs from that between daughters and mothers in that there lurks behind it the possibility of actual, jaw-breaking fisticuffs. “(p.47)
The son returns to India to be tenderly reconciled with the emaciated dying old man from whom he has been estranged:
”Abba, I came back because I didn’t want there to be trouble between us anymore.
That doesn’t matter any more. It’s forgotten, whatever it was.”
Whatever it was. Death makes family feuds seem petty and inconsequential in retrospect. The old man is just happy to see the boy, his own life, once again. The son unexpectedly finds in himself love, devotion and respect for the old man whom he had long feared and despised:
”First one falls in love with one’s father all over again, and then one learns to look up to him, too…. He is teaching me how to die… He does not avert his eyes, but looks death right in the face…” (pp. 543 et. seq, italics original)
A child sees his parents initially as God-like beings said Sigmund Freud; an aspect of maturity arrives when the child begins to see them no longer as deities but as humans, warts and all. When Rushdie has applied himself to his own inner life and relationships with his father and his son, he delves into a vast pool of expressiveness, and, ever so briefly, discovers and establishes his artistry. His poignant reconciliation with a dying father is a small treasure.
Another episode worth notice in the superficial plot of The Satanic Verses has to do with the growth to maturity of the character of the young Bangladeshi-British adolescent, Mishal Sufyan, and her marriage to the white-fathered, Pakistani(?)-mothered Hanif Johnson. Their love signals fresh hope and new life in Britain’s grim immigrant neighborhoods filled with fear and hatred. The race riots in England in 2001 could have been taken from a chapter of The Satanic Verses. Rushdie has been a self-conscious observer here as nice boys from Rugby School don’t normally go slumming even if they are wogs themselves, yet even so the Indian preppie from Rugby or Harvard must still reconcile the continuous threads which bind him to the people cleaning the lavatories at Heathrow or pumping gas or running motels in America.
In parallel with this superficial plot, The Satanic Verses contains a theological dialectic mostly on the origins, beliefs and practices of Islam, the faith in which Rushdie was born and raised. This is practically independent of the superficial plot, or at best the two have been clumsily pasted together. The link is once more Rushdie himself. While he appears as the main protagonists Najmuddin and Chamchawalla in the superficial plot, he makes a triple appearance in the theological treatise, at three different levels of Muslim doubt or faith.
At the greatest level of scepticism, Rushdie appears as the infidel poet and satirist Baal who gives his life to the cause of an absolute artistic and intellectual freedom, mocking Prophet Muhammad and The Quran, saying he recognizes no authority except his artistic Muse:
”A poet’s work (is to) name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep. “(p. 100)
Under the sword of his Muslim captors, Baal ends with
“I’ve finished. Do what you want”;
he is beheaded but dies a spiritually free unbroken man. Rushdie may have relied on Islamic legend here though his fellow Anglo-Pakistani, the social anthropologist Akbar Ahmed, has apologetically said that as a matter of historical fact:
“The conquest of Makkah cost less than 30 lives…. The charge of those critics who accuse the Prophet of the (death) of a poet who wrote satirical verse… will not hold. An over-zealous Muslim infuriated by his verses set out to silence the poet.”
At a lesser level of scepticism or a greater level of Muslim belief, Rushdie appears in the theological dialectic as a fictional Salman Farsi, supposed to be the “calmest” (p. 107), and “most highly educated” (p. 377) of the Prophet’s intimate disciples. This character becomes in course of time a drunken apostate after starting to doubt the authenticity of The Quran as Divine Revelation, as well as the transcription of the Hadith.
As a safety measure perhaps, Rushdie put in
”Where there is no belief, there is no blasphemy” (p. 393).
But in real life the authorities of contemporary Iran were not amused or impressed by legal niceties as to whether young Salman sitting in England had renounced Islam or his Pakistani passport for a British one. In 1989 they roundly pronounced The Satanic Verses to be blasphemous to Islam and sentenced Rushdie to death in absentia, causing as we know a significant recent incident of international law.
Ironically, Rushdie`s experience since might have been scripted by himself:
”Your blasphemy, Salman, can’t be forgiven.”
In response, Salman Farsi is
”unable to muster the smallest scrap of dignity, he blubbers whimpers pleads beats his breast abases himself” (p. 387)
and escapes death only by promising to denounce Baal, the idolatrous satirist.
In real life Rushdie blubbered, whimpered, pleaded and abased himself to win a reprieve without avail. If the Iranian authorities have since reduced their hatred of him, it seems because they became bored and found him less consequential as time went by, not because of anything he said or did in repentance. In June 2001, Ayatollah Khatami, then President of Iran, said the blasphemy case was “closed”, and that Iran had always seen Rushdie’s book as part of a modern Western assault on Islam.
Yet one must be grateful the Iranian death sentence did not get carried out because there is evidence to reasonably conclude that, all things considered, Rushdie may well be innocent of blasphemous intent. Though he may be guilty of several literary crimes and misdemeanors, he may have been wrongly placed on Iran’s death row for a dozen years.
The evidence suggests that what The Satanic Verses has attempted to be is a genuine Muslim dialectic between faith and doubt — albeit one not expressed in Arabic, Farsi or Urdu to attract serious Islamic scholars, but one done in English in the manner of a Hollywood screenplay designed to attract as much hard currency as possible for Rushdie and his publisher. Commercial English comedy as hermeneutics you might say: Monty Python meets Prophet Muhammad.
That Rushdie has lacked blasphemous intent is evident from his third appearance in the theological treatise, this time as the secular Indian Muslim, Mirza Saeed Akhtar, who loves and lusts after both his sick wife, Mishal, and her new friend, the epileptic orphan woman Ayesha. The two women are dogmatic Shia Muslims, who insist on leading a vast, pious pilgrimage from central India into the Arabian Sea in the belief their faith will miraculously make the waters part and allow them to walk to Mecca.
Rushdie does not identify them as Shia Muslims but the story is based on actual events in 1981-1983 in the Naseem Fatima “Hawkes Bay” case in Pakistan. According to the sociologist Akbar Ahmed, Naseem Fatima,
“a shy, pleasant looking girl with an innocent expression on her face, who had a history of fits,”
after a series of miraculous religious experiences which were scorned by Sunni Muslims but were not inconsistent with Shia doctrine, led 38 people into the Arabian Sea at Karachi believing the waters would part and they would be transported miraculously to Shia holy sites in Karbala in Iraq.
“(The women and children locked) in five of the six trunks died. One of the trunks was shattered by the waves and its passengers survived. Those on foot also survived; they were thrown back onto the beach by the waves… The survivors were in high spirits — there was neither regret nor remorse among them. Only a divine calm, a deep ecstasy. The Karachi police in a display of bureaucratic zeal arrested the survivors. They were charged with attempting to leave the country without visas…. Rich Shias, impressed by the devotion of the survivors, paid for their journey by air for a week to and from Karbala. In Iraq, influential Shias, equally impressed, presented them with gifts, including rare copies of the Holy Quran.”
In The Satanic Verses, Rushdie has altered and transformed these facts into a rich allegorical dialectic between rationalism and scepticism on the one hand, and dogmatic faith and ecstatic religious experience on the other. The husband Mirza Saeed, representing Rushdie himself, condemns what he says is the foolishness of the faith-filled women, begs them, pleads with them to change their minds, and finally when they cannot be stopped, follows behind them in his Mercedes, collecting stragglers, hypocrites and apostates on the way. The intellectual and spiritual tension between the rationalist and believer is built up excellently. The reader is finally certain that Ayesha and the other pilgrims walk to their earthly deaths in the Arabian Sea, but is left uncertain whether the miracle may have in fact occurred even so, whether they have in fact walked into Paradise itself on the strength of their faith. It is a splendid, exhilarating and unexpected spiritual experience emerging from the book. Moreover, the Rushdie-character, though he survives the pilgrimage, tempers his scepticism by the end of his life, and eventually dies in fusion with the ghost of his love, the believer Ayesha, and, we are led to think, is finally absorbed with her into the Paradise described in The Quran.
Thus in the attempted theological treatise that is contained within The Satanic Verses,
(i) as Baal the disbelieving, mocking, satirist who gives his life for artistic freedom;
(ii) as Salman Farsi the Muslim believer who turns to apostasy; and
(iii) as Mirza Saeed Akhtar, the rationalist and sceptic who turns eventually towards Muslim faith and belief.
In making this triple appearance, Rushdie has tried to construct a genuine Muslim dialectic between scepticism and dogmatism; if the sceptical parts have outraged Muslim believers, some of his descriptions of Muslim belief and practice might do no less than add new sympathisers or converts to Islam among the heathen and infidels. It is a creative achievement for a modern English-speaking Muslim, perhaps unintentionally, to try to turn the tide of hostile opinion that exists against Islam in the English-speaking world, through a sympathetic rendering of aspects of Islam. E.g., a practice like halal, which seems cruel or at least pointless to the non-Muslim, is given new meaning by Rushdie, and made into a point of existential philosophy:
”(The Prophet)… required animals to be killed slowly, by bleeding, so that by experiencing their deaths to the full they might arrive at an understanding of the meaning of their lives, for it is only at the moment of death that living creatures understand that life has been real, and not a sort of dream.“(p. 376).
It is only at the moment of death that life may make its fullest sense. Such would be to look back at life from the point of death; T. S. Eliot in Burnt Norton seemed to speak of looking forward at life all the way to the point of death:
“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
…Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”
Leavis drew attention to the religious meaning assigned to these lines by the critic D. W. Harding:
“For the man convinced of spiritual values, life is a coherent pattern in which the ending has its due place, and, because it is part of a pattern, itself leads into the beginning.”
The Satanic Verses is preoccupied with the possibility of such patterns of birth, death and rebirth, conflict and its resolution, tension and its relaxation.
“To be born again … first you have to die” (p. 1)
Rushdie was raised a Muslim exposed to the university of critical thought and dialogue; as such he owed himself a responsibility to examine Islam to determine whether he would render it his individual allegiance, not by fiat or blind faith but by the canons of reasonableness. In The Satanic Verses he has traversed a range of logical possibilities between disbelief, doubt and faith in Islam. On the strength of the Mirza Saeed Akhtar character in the book, he may have been truthful in declaring himself a genuine believing Muslim who was innocent of the charges of blasphemy against him. He needs to be absolved of the charges, and his conviction by the Iranians set aside, as in effect has been done by Iran’s President Ayatollah Khatami in June 2001. Here ends the case for The Satanic Verses.
The case against Rushdie however must continue. He has produced a few ounces of artistic and philosophical gold but these are contained in mountains of muck, which remain to be disposed of. Rushdie shows himself emotionally alive and expressive as a son to his father and a father to his son, as well as a keen social observer of Britain and a thoughtful and philosophical Muslim believer; but at the same time he also reveals himself immature, dishonest and cowardly as a writer. These aspects are summarily revealed in Rushdie’s desire to be gratuitously abusive or offensive towards a wide range of chosen targets, from the memory of Prophet Muhammad to the innocuous Chinese.
For example, for no discernible reason except to show that little Salman can say bad words and get away with it, a Mallory-like ghost on Mt. Everest is made to converse about “Goddamn Chinese” and “Little yellow buggers”. Then an implausible Sikh woman terrorist (named after the Delhi journalist Tavleen Singh though reminiscent more of Leila Khaled, the pioneer Palestinian hijacker) leads Khalistanis to hijack an Air India jumbo (numbered 420) and explode it mid-air.
In June 1985 an Air India jumbo did explode mid-air killing all 329 lives on board, and it took painstaking work by the Canadian police to arrest and prosecute (unsuccessfully) the major suspects who were Canadian Sikhs. The victims’ families whose tragedies are trivialized in The Satanic Verses join the list of people Rushdie has wished to pointlessly upset by his personal fantasy of two survivors falling unharmed from that aircraft.
Then, Rushdie’s Khalistanis go about yelling
”those mother-f…..g Americans and sister-f…..g British”,
when in fact Khalistan seemed plausible mostly to North American and British Sikhs in Vancouver or California who (unlike perhaps Rushdie himself at the time he authored the book), tend not to be abusive of America or Britain in that kind of way. The cursing merely shows how our purportedly great British writer keeps despoiling the possibility of his own artistry.
Hindus and India come in for special abuse in Rushdie’s worldview. India is that rather amusing and grotesque country
”of hundreds of millions of believers…. in which, to this day, the human population outnumbers the divine by less than three to one,”
where a Muslim NTR/Bachan cinema star can become
“the most acceptable, instantly recognisable, face of the Supreme” (p. 17).
A Hindu character
”coming as she did from a polytheistic tradition”
”plainly… incapable” (p. 334)
of comprehending the scriptures of the Semitic faiths.
Rushdie reveals himself incompetent here in his purported role of theologian, as he has failed to see that the secular outlook of Hinduism and its heterodox descendants like Buddhism does not imply belief in more than one god. Rushdie is not alone in this prejudice for the most venerable Oxford English Dictionary itself announces
“Hinduism is the polytheistic religion of the Hindus”.
In fact, Indian traditions always have freely allowed questioning whether there is any God at all, let alone whether there is one God or many gods. I.e., there always has been space freely available within orthodox Hinduism and its heterodox offshoots for all manner of religious scepticism, including nihilism and pyrrhonism. This is highly problematic for a believing member of any of the Semitic faiths like Rushdie, or the author of the entry on Hinduism in the Oxford English Dictionary. Thus even Pope John Paul VI said Buddhism is not a religion in his sense of what a religion must be, namely, a doctrine entailing belief in God.
The Hindu, or at least the philosophical Hindu, is very troublesome to all others because he is somehow able to accommodate all of them within his own folds.
“You want to worship the sun, the seas, the mountains, rivers, trees, snakes or stones as God Immanent?; that’s fine with me,”
he says to the animist.
“You think there is no God as such?; that’s cool”,
he says to the Buddhist.
“You’re telling me Jesus of Nazareth was God’s incarnated Son?; okay that’s great, I like that,”
he says to the Christian.
“You’re telling me the Holy Quran was revealed by Al-Lah to Prophet Muhammad near Makkah?; I’ll accept that,”
he says to the Muslim. And so on. The Hindu’s all-inclusive catholicity can drive other believers up the wall, especially those closest to him like Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs who may most urgently want to differentiate themselves from Hindu practice.
Rushdie momentarily accepts the Hindu view when Najmuddin
”is often filled with resentment by the non-appearance, in his persecuting visions, of the One who is supposed to have the answers, He never turns up, the one who kept away when I was dying, when I needed needed (sic) him. The one it’s all about, Allah Ishvar God. Absent as ever while we writhe and suffer in his name” (p. 113)
Here Rushdie momentarily acknowledges his secular Indian childhood as well as his Christian schooling about Christ on the Cross. But mostly he has taken the easy path of branding the Hindu a rather silly polytheistic idolater or animist. There is a reminder of the destruction of religious idols by the new Muslims in pre-Islamic Mecca (Jahilia). Then there is a long development of the wickedness of the character of the chief idolater, the female Hind. The real Hind was a foe turned convert of Prophet Muhammad; Rushdie’s Hind converts, is forgiven by Prophet Muhammad, then secretly continues as an idolatrous witch who plots and causes the Prophet’s demise. Her name “Hind” is the Urdu/Persian name for India and the root of “Hindu”, so it is possible Rushdie’s years as a Pakistani have led him to absorb some of the views prevalent in that country about Hindus and Hindustan being implacable foes of Islam.
Then, Rushdie makes pornographic allusions to Ganesh and Hanuman, and a pointed reference to
”these Shiv Sena bastards in control”
of contemporary Bombay. A Brahmin and an “Untouchable” (there can be no Harijans or Dalits in Rushdie’s British world) seem to convert to Islam only to retract, while pious Muslim pilgrims are attacked by the wicked VHP and RSS in scenes Rushdie might have lifted from Attenborough’s Gandhi. No mention here of East Pakistan, Yahya Khan, Tikka Khan or Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto — just
for Bangladesh. In Rushdie`s view, the ominous forces of Hindu nationalism (the folks who gave him a visa to finally visit India in 2000) are to be kept at bay only by arm-in-arm socialism. It all amounts to a rather stale politically correct ideology fashionable in the 1970s, which crashed with the Berlin Wall one year after The Satanic Verses was published. Rushdie, a one-time child citizen of India, knows in his middle age next to nothing about modern Indian society or its political economy, yet apparently longs to prove his correct Limousine Socialism credentials to his Western publishers and clientele. He keeps putting his thumb in the pan.
He also has been cowardly. Living in Britain, he did not set out to write a modern diatribe against all religious traditions he had encountered which might have amounted to a nihilism or pyrrhonism worth examining. Jews and Christians are conspicuous by their absence from his target-list, allowing him to duck away from the savage criticism he would have received from within the Judeao-Christian countries where he has led his adult life. The Satanic Verses has been received with considerable applause there, and earned him a lot of money. The few characters identified as Jews in the book (Mimi, Cohen, his wife, and daughter) are all normal and sympathetically drawn (Cohen is even made a Holocaust survivor who survived Nazi “monsters” but now commits suicide). There is one identified Christian, who, consistent with Rushdie’s ideology of Limousine Socialism, is made a comical American creationist who bites off his own tongue in fear during the hijacking.
The Satanic Verses was banned in India and Pakistan after its publication; but had Rushdie attacked Jewish or mainstream Christian beliefs and characters with the same kind of parody he hurls at Muslim and Hindu beliefs and practices, he likely would not have been published at all in the West, drying up his dollar-income.
It was simply too risky for Salman Rushdie to be as offensive towards Jews and Christians in Britain or America as he has been to Muslims and Hindus in India or Pakistan. Much easier and more lucrative to write “Monty Python meets Prophet Muhammad” or some Peter-Sellers pidgin Indian English dialogue or dig up some dowry-deaths from reading the Indian newspapers. Goes down well with the people who matter. Fits in with their own post-Imperial pretensions about the state of the wogs today. Even better that the Chief Wog himself is saying so. That has been the principal point made by the Iranian authorities against Rushdie, as for example when Ayatollah Khattami said in June 2001 in “closing” the blasphemy case, that Iran always took The Satanic Verses to be a part of the Western assault on Islam.
Indeed Rushdie’s single worst and most pointless example of offensiveness has to do with his distortion of the memory of Prophet Muhammad himself.
Muhammad (572-632 AD) was without doubt one of the greatest men of history, as may be measured by his vast impact on human civilization. His greatness was marked by a magnificent humility; at his death, it was famously said:
“If you are worshippers of Muhammad, know that he is dead. If you are worshippers of God, know that God is living and does not die”;
indicating the total self-effacement of the man to his mission. Arabic is the language of Islam, but even in Rushdie’s chosen language of English there has been a vast literature over the centuries on Prophet Muhammad’s life and example. One of the best known is Carlyle’s fully sympathetic 1842 account , which made the message of the Prophet’s religious experience one of universal import well beyond Muslim ontological beliefs:
“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.”
Carlyle quoted Goethe:
“If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?”
And Carlyle told the stories of how Muhammad could not abide by his own severe faith when he wept over the dead body of an early disciple:
“You see a friend weeping over his friend”;
and of how the young beautiful Ayesha once tried to get Muhammad to compare her favourably to his deceased wife and first disciple the widow Khadija, and how 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!”
In face of such an enormous wealth of rich legendary material to select from to write about Prophet Muhammad, what does Salman Rushdie, purportedly a major British-educated 20th Century Muslim novelist, choose to do? He invents a pointless sequence of pornographic allusions and events to do with how a Mecca whorehouse increases its business! It makes highly offensive reading, not just to Muslim believers but to decency and the truth of Muhammad’s life; rather like the person who associated Christ on the Cross with a urinal and claimed artistic freedom for himself, outraging Christian opinion in the United States of America a few years ago. Why do it, one may ask? Where is the art in it? Where could the art in it possibly be? Why should it not be seen as merely base and revolting?
In putting together then, the case for and against The Satanic Verses, it may be seen how Rushdie’s artistry might have made him a great writer and also how his vast incorrigible faults have kept him permanently from becoming one. To draw a contrast, in The Brothers Karamasov one hundred years ago, Dostoevsky wrote perhaps the definitive internal critique of Christianity, of how Jesus Christ had made true Christian practice impossibly difficult, of how Christianity demanded too much of mankind, more than man’s nature could possibly achieve. Lawrence said of it:
“As always in Dostoevsky, the amazing perspicacity is mixed with ugly perversity. Nothing is pure. His wild love for Jesus is mixed with perverse and poisonous hate of Jesus: his moral hostility to the devil is mixed with secret worship of the devil. Dostoevsky is always perverse, always impure, always an evil thinker and a marvellous seer.”
Rushdie would have liked a similar comparison in respect of Prophet Muhammad and Islam; but he does not deserve it because he lacks the honesty possessed by the great writers while he possesses a greed and cupidity they disowned. As a novel, The Satanic Verses is about as far from The Brothers Karamasov as the music of David Bowie or Boy George or Madonna is from the music of Tchaikovsky or Beethoven. Superficially, it paints nauseous grotesque absurd accounts of incoherent events, mostly with cartoons and caricatures where real people should have been, forcing the reader to take a most unpleasant journey largely because Rushdie`s deliberately cultivated notoriety pleads for his book to be read. The nausea comes to be suspended for a page here, a handful of pages there, when Rushdie demonstrates that a splendid artistry does exist within him even if he finds it impossibly difficult to muster enough discipline to maintain it. That other Indian writers have been imitating his style in the last few decades often without his substance may merely go to show how far critical editorial standards have collapsed in the book-publishing industry.
It is only when The Satanic Verses is seen as a tortured self-exploration by Rushdie to reconcile his Western life with his Islamic upbringing that it begins to become sensible and comprehensible. Madonna or Boy George’s music is not that of Beethoven and everyone has forgotten it already while no one forgets Beethoven, but it is still a kind of music. Similarly, no one forgets Anna Karenina or Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor and everyone will forget Salman Rushdie, but even so his work still needs to be tested for the presence of significant art. That there is some art in it, perhaps hitherto undiscovered, has been the purpose of this essay to reveal.
Akbar Ahmed, Discovering Islam; Pakistan Society
Thomas Carlysle, Heroes and Hero Worship
D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix
F. R. Leavis, The Living Principle; Valuation in Criticism (G. Singh ed.)
The search engine above should locate any article by its title; the Index and Archives may be used as well.
Readers are welcome to quote from my work under the normal “fair use” rule, but please try to quote me by name and indicate the place of original publication in case of work being republished here. I am at Twitter @subyroy, see my latest tweets above