Transparency & history: India’s archives must be opened to world standards

Transparency & history: India’s archives must be opened to world standards
by Claude Arpi & Subroto Roy
First published in Business Standard New Delhi December 31, 2008, 0:26 IST

The Government of India continues to hide India’s history from India’s people using specious excuses. An example is the Henderson-Brook report on the 1962 war, a single copy of which is said to exist locked away in the Defence Ministry. An anti-Indian author like Neville Maxwell is among the few ever given access to it; he has reiterated his factually incorrect theory (accepted by Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai and the US and Chinese establishments since) that the 1962 war was due to Nehru’s aggressive policy and China had no choice but launch a “pre-emptive attack”.

In Parliament not long ago, Defence Minister A K Antony said: “Considering the sensitivity of information contained in the report and its security implications, the report has not been recommended to be declassified in the National Security interest.” This is nonsense. Nothing from as far back as 1962 can possibly affect anything significant to India’s security today. In any case the Defence Ministry’s official history of the 1962 war, though officially unpublished, is openly available.

Even the 2005 Right to Information Act goes against transparency of research into India’s history. Article 8 (1) (a) says, “there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,— (a) information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.” This can cover all files of the MEA, Defence and Home; there seems to be no right to academic freedom for India’s people to research their own history.

China itself is more open with its archives. Since 2004, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing has begun a systematic process declassifying more than 40,000 items from its diplomatic records for the period 1949-1960. The Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC has recently published Inside China’s Cold War; the Project Director admits this has been possible due to China’s “archival thaw”.

In the USA, official documents are made available after 30 years or when a reasonable demand is made under the Freedom of Information Act. Numerous groups exist whose only work is to make sure the law is followed. The recently released Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume XVIII, China (1973-1976) published by the American foreign ministry reveals several interesting aspects of the India-USA-China relationship. Last year the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) posted some 320,000 declassified cables on-line. The text of once-secret diplomatic cables indexed is today retrievable from the NARA Website. It also includes withdrawal cards for documents still classified, so these can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act. Out of 119,356 documents for 1973 and 200,508 for 1974, some 7,484 were related to India. Indians scholars today have to rely on US documents for their own history!

In an open society, the ordinary citizen has reasonably easy access to any and all information relating to the public or social interest— whether the information is directly available to the citizen himself/herself, or is indirectly available to his/her elected representatives like MPs and MLAs. Different citizens will respond to the same factual information in different ways, and conflict and debate about the common good will result. But that would be part of the democratic process. In an open society, both good news and bad news is out there in the pubic domain— to be assessed, debated, rejoiced over, or wept about. Citizens are mature enough to cope with both— the experience causes a process of social maturation in formulating the common good as well as responses to problems or crises the community may face. People improve their civic capacities, becoming better-informed and more discerning voters and decision-makers, and so becoming better citizens.

The opposite of an open society is a closed society— in which a ruling political party or self-styled elite or ‘nomenclatura’ keep publicly important information to themselves, and do not allow the ordinary citizen easy or reasonably free access to it. The reason may be merely that they are intent on accumulating assets for themselves in the dark as quickly as possible while in office, or that they are afraid of public anger and want to save their own skins from demands for accountability. Or it may be they have the impression that the public is better off kept in the dark— that only the elite ‘nomenclatura’ is in a position to use the information to serve the national interest. Bad news comes to be suppressed and so good news gets exaggerated in significance. News of economic disasters, military defeats or domestic uprisings gets suppressed. News of victories or achievements or heroics gets exaggerated. If there are no real victories, achievements or heroics, fake ones have to be invented by government hacks— though the suppressed bad news tends to silently whisper all the way through the public consciousness in any case.

Such is the way of government propaganda everywhere. Closed society totalitarianism permitted the general masses to remain docile and unthinking while the ‘nomenclatura’ make the decisions. Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor said that is all that can be expected of the masses. Open society transparency was instead defined by Pericles for the Athenians: “Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well; even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics— this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.”

The study of the subcontinent’s history using archival material is crucial to disentangle difficult problems like the Jammu & Kashmir issue or the border problem with China. Yet today nobody can access independent India’s primary sources locked in South Block and North Block in New Delhi. Most bizarrely, Jawaharlal Nehru’s papers are under control of his descendants like Priyanka Vadra and Sonia Gandhi, who claim copyright. Someone may need to tell them there is a universal principle that there can be no copyright on the public life-work of historical figures like presidents and prime ministers.

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Two (and a half) critical reforms for America’s polity

American friends tell me they have liked what I had to say in my November 2006 article “American Democracy”,  which may be found elsewhere here.   I continue to think the polity of the United States needs long-term reform for the reasons stated in that article.

Surprisingly enough, the critical reforms would be rather simple and two-fold:

(A) Extending the tenure of the House of Representatives to, say, four years.

(B) Separating the Head of State from the Head of Government.

The former cannot be something very hard to accomplish, relatively speaking, though of course it would need amending the Constitution. Its positive result would be to calm political discussion and behaviour, making them less myopic and nerve-racking than at present.

The latter would be more complicated as there are alternatives possible.  A French model preserves the political power of the Head of State relative to the Head of Government.  Other models, e.g. of Germany or Britain or India, has the Head of State being a mere (but crucial) constitutional figurehead, while the real political business is carried out by the Head of Government.

My own recommendation would be to have an indirectly elected Head of State in the United States (elected, for example, by the House and the Senate as well as the State Legislatures) who maintains the dignity  of the nation and the decorum of the office and is above the fray, while the Head of Government is elected directly much like a President is now (except there need be no Veep running-mate).

Indeed the present nomenclature need not be too hard to modify once it is seen possible for a President as Head of State to be elected indirectly and be a constitutional figurehead, while the Vice-President (?)/Prime Minister (?) could be elected as the Head of Government much in the way a current President is.  The term in office of the Head of State and  that of the Head of Government probably should not coincide.

Politics is a tough and ugly business and it is dismaying  (and destructive) to see, under the present American system, every Head of State inevitably dragged through the mud as has happened since the end of the Eisenhower Administration (coinciding too with the rise of the television age).

Subroto Roy

 

Of a new New Delhi myth and the success of the University of Hawaii 1986-1992 Pakistan project (with 2015 Postscript)

A leading Indian commentator says in this morning’s paper (November 15 2008) about Manmohan Singh:

“His formulation on Kashmir (“I have no mandate to change borders, but we can make borders irrelevant”), became the obvious solution once he articulated it.”

Such may be how  modern New Delhi’s myths and self-delusions  get born — since in fact there is no evidence that Manmohan Singh  or any of his acolytes had anything to do with originating the Pakistan-India peace process in recent decades, just as there has not been that Manmohan Singh or  any of his acolytes had anything to do with originating the  Congress Party’s new economic thinking in 1990-1991.

(Lest I be misunderstood I should add at the outset that I have the highest personal regard for Dr Singh, he has been  in decades past a friend of my father’s, he at my father’s request consented to discuss economics with me in Paris in 1973 when I was a callow lad of 18, he himself has not claimed the originality that has been frequently mis-attributed to him by others for whatever reason, etc.)

The origins of  the idea  about India-Pakistan and J&K expressed by Manmohan Singh’s words are to be found in the last paragraph of the Introduction by the Editors of a book which arose from the University of Hawaii’s 1986-1992 Pakistan project, which read:

“Kashmir… must be demilitarised and unified by both countries sooner or later, and it must be done without force. There has been enough needless bloodshed on the subcontinent… Modern Pakistanis and Indians are free peoples who can voluntarily agree in their own interests to alter the terms set hurriedly by Attlee or Mountbatten in the Indian Independence Act 1947. Nobody but we ourselves keeps us prisoners of superficial definitions of who we are or might be. The subcontinent could evolve its political identity over a period of time on the pattern of Western Europe, with open borders and (common) tariffs to the outside world, with the free movement of people, capital, ideas and culture. Large armed forces could be reduced and transformed in a manner that would enhance the security of each nation. The real and peaceful economic revolution of the masses of the subcontinent would then be able to begin.”

The University of Hawaii’s Pakistan project, involving Pakistani and other scholars, including one Indian, led to the volume Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s published in Karachi, New Delhi and elsewhere. The book reached Nawaz Sharif and the Islamabad elite, including the most hawkish of Islamabad’s hawks, and Pervez Musharraf’s 2006 proposal on J&K, endorsed warmly by the US State Department,  may have grown from that paragraph. The Editors of the book, as economists themselves, decried the waste of resources involved in the Pakistan-India confrontation, saying it had

“greatly impoverished the general budgets of both Pakistan and India. If it has benefited important sections of the political and military elites of  both countries, it has done so only at the expense of the general welfare of the masses.”

Such words were impossibly bold in the  late 1980s-early 1990s.  However,  as stated in  a special editorial article “What to tell Musharraf”     in The Statesman of December 16 2006, they seemed  in recent years incomplete and rather naïve even to their author, who was myself, the only Indian in that project and the one who had conceived it. Most significantly, the position in international law in the context of historical facts had been wholly neglected. So had been the manifest nature of the Pakistani state (as it had become prior to the splendid 2008 elections).

The Hawaii project had involved top Pakistani economists, political scientists and other commentators but had deliberately chosen to keep the military and the religious clergy out of its chapters.  And it was the military and religious clergy who in fact came to dominate Pakistan’s agenda in the 1990s, at least until the 9/11 attacks in America indirectly  altered the political direction of the country.

The peaceful and mundane economic agenda outlined for Pakistan in the Hawaii project  has come into its own  by way of  relevance ever since.  A few weeks ago, the first trucks filled with fruit, woolens and many other goods traversed across the “Line of Control” in J&K for the first time in sixty years.   The Pakistan project that James and I led at the University of Hawaii in the late 1980s may be now declared a success.   Among other things, our book explained to Indians that there does exist a Pakistani point of view and perhaps explained to Pakistanis that there does exist an Indian point of view.  That  is something that had not existed before our book.

pak

Postscript 18 Nov 2015:  I have made clear at Twitter that I find the K.M. Kasuri book promoted and publicized in India by MS Aiyar, S Kulkarni, B Dutt and others in Delhi and Mumbai is mendacious where it is not merely self-serving.  Its clear intent is to get India to accept the (false) ISI/Hurriyat narratives about 1947, Kashmir, Bangladesh, terrorism etc.  Its purported ideas of demilitarisation and a borderless Kashmir are essentially lifted from my earlier 1980s work in America cited above — which I myself have rejected as naive since the Pakistani aggression in Kargil in 1999.  More anon.

Become a US Supreme Court Justice! (Explorations in the Rule of Law in America)

 

For almost two decades, Since the summer of 1988 when *Philosophy of Economics* got accepted for publication, I have found myself in a saga exploring the Rule of Law, the nature of justice and freedom, and the nature of racial animosity and xenophobia in the United States. Judge it here for yourself. Files 1 and 2 marked SCOTUS are the front-matter and Petition for Writ of Mandamus as received by Circuit Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the Supreme Court of the United States in February 1996. Files 3 to 10 constitute the Appendix of Record giving the rulings of the US District Court for the District of Hawaii and the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, including especially in File 8 the “after-discovered” evidence of how my attorney had been covertly purchased by my opponent. An example of perjured trial testimony is contained in File 2. In September 2007, I asked my opponent — the Government of one of the 50 States — to voluntarily admit its wrongdoings to the present Chief Judge of the US District Court as is required by law. Government lawyers should, after all, try to act lawfully.

file1scotuswritofmandamuspetitionfronmatter

file2scotuspetitionforwritofmandamus

file3recordcoverandcontents

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file5ninthcircuitbriefingscheduleb8tob9

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Become a US Supreme Court Justice! (Explorations in the Rule of Law in America) Preface

For almost two decades, I have found myself in a saga exploring the Rule of Law, the nature of justice and freedom, and the nature of racial animosity and xenophobia in the United States. Judge it here for yourself. There are 10 pdf files in a password protected post of the same name. Please send me an email identifying yourself and offering any reason, including curiosity, that you may have to want to examine the matter.

Files 1 and 2 marked SCOTUS are the front-matter and Petition for Writ of Mandamus as received by Circuit Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the Supreme Court of the United States in February 1996. Files 3 to 10 constitute the Appendix of Record giving the rulings of the US District Court for the District of Hawaii and the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, including especially in File 8 the “after-discovered” evidence of how my attorney had been covertly purchased by my opponent. An example of perjured trial testimony is contained in File 2. In September 2007, I asked my opponent — the Government of one of the 50 States — to voluntarily admit its wrongdoings to the present Chief Judge of the US District Court as is required by law. Government lawyers should, after all, try to act lawfully.

For the files with the evidence please see https://independentindian.com/2008/11/09/become-a-us-supreme-court-justice-explorations-in-the-rule-of-law-in-america/

 

 

 

One tiny prediction about the Obama Administration

I predict Ms Caroline Kennedy will be the US Ambassador to the Court of St James’s (i.e. to Britain).

America’s divided economists


America’s divided economists

by

Subroto Roy

First published in

Business Standard 26 October 2008

Future doctoral theses about the Great Tremor of 2008 will ask how it was that the Fed chief, who was an academic economist, came to back so wholeheartedly the proposals of the investment banker heading the US Treasury. If Herbert Hoover and FDR in the 1930s started something called fiscal policy for the first time, George W Bush’s lameduck year has marked the total subjugation of monetary policy.

In his 1945 classic, History of Banking Theory, the University of Chicago’s Lloyd Mints said: “No reorganisation of the Federal Reserve System, while preserving its independence from the Treasury, can offer a satisfactory agency for the implementation of monetary policy. The Reserve banks and their branches should be made agencies of the Treasury and all monetary powers delegated by Congress should be given to the Secretary of the Treasury…. It is not at all certain that Treasury control of the stock of money would always be reasonable… but Treasury influence cannot be excluded by the creation of a speciously independent monetary agency that cannot have adequate powers for the performance of its task…” Years later, Milton Friedman himself took a similar position suggesting legislation “to end the independence of the Fed by converting it into a bureau of the Treasury Department…”(see, for example, Essence of Friedman, p 416).

Ben Bernanke’s Fed has now ended any pretence of monetary policy’s independence from the whims and exigencies of executive power. Yet Dr Bernanke’s fellow academic economists have been unanimous in advising caution, patience and more information and reflection upon the facts. The famous letter of 122 economists to the US Congress was a rare statement of sense and practical wisdom. It agreed the situation was difficult and needed bold action. But it said the Paulson-Bernanke plan was an unfair “subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.”

Besides, the plan was unclear and too far-reaching. “Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards…. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America’s dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.”

The House’s initial bipartisan “backbench revolt” against “The Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act of 2008” (ESSA) followed this academic argument and rejected the Bernanke Fed’s advice. Is there an “emergency”, and if so what is its precise nature? Is this “economic stabilisation”, and if so, how is it going to work? The onus has been on Dr Bernanke and his staff to argue both, not merely to assert them. Even if the House “held its nose” and passed the measure for now, the American electorate is angry and it is anybody’s guess how a new President and Congress will alter all this in a few months.

Several academic economists have argued for specific price-stabilisation of the housing market being the keystone of any large, expensive and risky government intervention. (John McCain has also placed this in the political discussion now.) Roughly speaking, the housing supply-curve has shifted so far to the right that collapsed housing prices need to be dragged back upward by force. Columbia Business School economists Glenn Hubbard and Chris Mayer, both former Bush Administration officials, have proposed allowing “all residential mortgages on primary residences to be refinanced into 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at 5.25 per cent…. close to where mortgage rates would be today with normally functioning mortgage markets….Lower interest rates will mean higher overall house prices…” Yale’s Jonathan Koppell and William Goetzmann have argued very similarly the Treasury “could offer to refinance all mortgages issued in the past five years with a fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage at 6 per cent. No credit scores, no questions asked; just pay off the principal of the existing mortgage with a government check. If monthly payments are still too high, homeowners could reduce their indebtedness in exchange for a share of the future price appreciation of the house. That is, the government would take an ownership interest in the house just as it would take an ownership interest in the financial institutions that would be bailed out under the Treasury’s plan.”

Beyond the short run, the US may play the demographic card by inviting in a few million new immigrants (if nativist feelings hostile to the outsider or newcomer can be controlled, especially in employment). Bad mortgages and foreclosures would vanish as people from around the world who long to live in America buy up all those empty houses and apartments, even in the most desolate or dismal locations. If the US’s housing supply curve has moved so far to the right that the equilibrium price has gone to near zero, the surest way to raise the equilibrium price would be by causing a new wave of immigration leading to a new demand curve arising at a higher level.

Such proposals seek to address the problem at its source. They might have been expected from the Fed’s economists. Instead, ESSA speaks of massive government purchase and control of bad assets “downriver”, without any attempt to face the problem at its source. This makes it merely wishful to think such assets can be sold for a profit at a later date so taxpayers will eventually gain. It is as likely as not the bad assets remain bad assets.

Indeed the University of Chicago’s Casey Mulligan has argued there is a financial crisis involving the banking sector but not an economic one: “We’re not entering a second Great Depression.” The marginal product of capital remains high and increasing “far above the historical average. The third-quarter earnings reports from some companies already suggest that America’s non-financial companies are still making plenty of money…. So, if you are not employed by the financial industry (94 per cent of you are not), don’t worry. The current unemployment rate of 6.1 per cent is not alarming, and we should reconsider whether it is worth it to spend $700 billion to bring it down to 5.9 per cent.”

Dr Bernanke has been a close student of A Monetary History of the United States in which Milton Friedman and Anna J Schwartz argued that the Fed inadvertently worsened the Great Contraction of 1929-1933 by not responding to Congress. Let not future historians find that the Fed, at the behest of the Treasury Secretary, worsened the Great Tremor of 2008 by bamboozling Congress into hasty action.