Thursday, March 31, 2005

Tariq Ramadan Calls For Hudood Freeze

A few weeks ago, we were enraged by Saudi Arabia's barbaric beheading of an Indian citizen.

Today, via Naeem Mohaiemen, we read that Tariq Ramadan, a controversial Islamic scholar, has called for a worldwide freeze on applying Hudood (prescribed Islamic penalties).

If true, this is a welcome development.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Why Cambodia Matters to Nepal

Phillip Short was on Charlie Rose a couple days ago discussing his new book on Pol Pot.

Here, he revisits the Cambodian revolution -- not from the perspective of the victims of the killing fields, but of the perpetrators.

Mr. Short says that Pol Pot modeled his mission on the French Revolution. He thought an alliance of intellectuals and peasants would create paradise in Cambodia.

From the French Revolution he learned one other thing -- that a revolution is without merit if it's not fully played out. To Pol Pot's (dis)credit, he played out his revolution fully -- all the way to holocaust.

This is a very important point. Some years ago, Bernard-Henri Lévy was asked about Cambodia. He said Cambodia mattered because here, finally, the world had seen a complete revolution. Before Cambodia, the left had an excuse for its failure to deliver social justice -- it argued that this failure resulted from the corruption of the ideals of revolution, that petty men atop the power totem pole had subverted revolution, and that these failures did not diminish the success potential of revolution, if only fully completed.

Well, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge delivered a completed revolution to the Cambodian people. Society, Economy, Faith, Government, Knowledge, Technology, Time were all ruthlessly up-ended. At the end of this red rainbow, however, there was no pot of paradise; there were only skulls and more skulls and the end of the revolution myth.

If evil is such suffering that has no good outcome, Mr. Lévy asserted, then we must surely conclude that a completed revolution (of which the only example we have is Cambodia) is pure evil.

When we look at the growing revolution in Nepal (and even in many parts of the Indian hinterland), we know there is evil in our midst. If left unchecked, one day, it will kill us all.

If so, some will argue, India should stand with Gyanendra to crush this growing darkness. We have argued against this for a simple reason. Dictatorship -- which itself is darkness -- can hardly be the answer to revolutionary Dogma. No matter who wins of the two, the outcome is midnight -- a Cambodian midnight, a Stalinist midnight, a Maoist midnight, a Nazi midnight, a Rwandan midnight, a Mugabe midnight, or a Darfurian midnight.

The moral course is obvious. We need to shun both the regime and the revolution. This is why all realist critiques of India's Nepal position are misguided. India is correct for standing with Nepal's people on this. We hope that India will stand firm as the scenario plays out fully. In the end, neither the king nor the killers can take Kathmandu -- in the end, Kathmandu must fall only to the brave people of Nepal.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Desi Dating

Even cowgirls get the blues!!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

All Disquiet on China's Western Front

The Economist reports on the political revolution brewing in Kirgizstan. Toppling dicatators seems to be the welcome new-new thing in our world (except of course in Pakistan).

Sol Sanders alerts us to the fact that this Kirgiz revolution is taking shape on China's western frontier -- adjacent to its restive Uighurs in Sinkiang. He sums up as follows:

For the Chinese, erosion or overthrow of what had appeared to be a friendly authoritarian government in full control, is a reminder of a classic nightmare scenario tracing back to the 1989 overthrow of their Romanian ally and acolyte, Nicolai Ceaucescu. On the eve of the collapse, China’s superspy, Qiao Shi, had attended the national congress of the Romanian Communist Party, reporting before he left Romania it was in fairly good [Communist] condition. As it turned out, the regime imploded and Ceausescu was executed shortly after Qiao Shi returned home.

No one is predicting overthrow of the Chinese colonial regime in Singkiang, nor in China proper. But growing public demonstrations against corrupt and arbitrary rule in China allied with the wave of popular uprisings across Asia must be giving pause to some in the Forbidden City.

Goodbye, IITs

Yogesh Upadhyaya describes the various changes being currently contemplated to the IIT system in the linked Rediff essay .

The key "advance" apparently is to confer the IIT brand on several additional institutions (beyond the 5 original IITs plus one each in Roorkee and Guwahati). The idea is to increase aspirant access to IITs, both geographically and numerically. Given IIT's strong brand identity, it's hardly surprising that politicians wish to use it as a populist carrot -- even if this destroys the IITs as we have long known them.

We strongly dissent from this deliberate and misguided dilution of the IIT brand. As the linked 2004 Indian Express op-ed notes:

(This) approach is like selecting -- in the name of fairness -- 1,000 players for the Indian cricket team instead of the best 11 and insisting that any 11 of the 1,000 can compete with Australia. This will hurt the 11 who should be selected, won't help the rest that are selected, and will make India lose the game.

The op-ed, originally written to protest then HRD minister Dr. M. M. Joshi's bullying of IITs and IIMs, lays out alternative, market-driven, approaches that make a great deal more sense.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

American Think Tank Frets Over Fiber Optic Network Sale To VSNL

Frank Gaffney, President of The Center for Security Policy -- a generally reasonable American Think Tank -- has written an op-ed in today's Washington Times where he describes India in a rather ominous way:

Strategically minded national security types hope India will prove in the future a reliable, democratic friend of the United States. But, it could turn out otherwise. While the Indians have as much, if not more, to fear from China's increasing power-projection capabilities and expansionist ambitions, growing trade and warming political relations between the two emerging giants may obscure that danger. There are also worrying Indian energy partnerships being formed with Iran, even as India has retained close Kremlin ties forged during the Cold War.

Mr. Gaffney is lobbying the US Government to block the sale of Tyco's fiber optic network to VSNL. This, he suggests, is a fire-sale of sensitive American-owned assets over which sensitive US communications will flow to a company 26 percent owned by the Indian government and a major supplier to India's military and intelligence services. Therefore, he argues, the Pentagon could not be sure its "mail" will not be read by potentially unfriendly eyes.

While we respect Mr. Gaffney's patriotic impulses (and we tend to agree with his hawkish views most of the time), the cynic in us would sure like to know on whose behest has he launched this anti-India campaign?

Monday, March 21, 2005

Severed Kites and Jewel Beetles

BBC's report on the fire-seeking instinct of the jewel beetle reminded us of this memorable Kishore Kumar song from the Rajesh Khanna classic Kati Patang!!

Ah, how one misses the glory days before Bombay became Bollywood!!

Donkeys to Bangladesh

BBC reports that India is exporting 20 donkeys and mules to Bangladesh for the latter's transportation needs. Apparantly, Bangladesh has almost no donkeys of its own and they will be useful in the hilly region.

A government official said the terrain meant road construction was "very expensive compared to other regions".

Hopefully, India's grand gesture of exporting donkeys and mules will (at least partly) make up for New Delhi's cancellation of the Dhaka SAARC summit which greatly offended fellow bloggers like The 3rd World View!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Secular Shouldn't Have To Mean Stupid

The Narendra Modi kerfuffle and the widespread and robust Indian condemnation of US' denial of his visa represent a very significant moment in our politics. A few points are worth making here.

One, US is learning first-hand that, in India, even seemingly low-hanging political fruits are frequently hand-grenades. On paper, publicly snubbing Mr. Modi should've earned the US goodwill from his vocal Indian-American opponents, the UPA Government in India, Pakistan (where Ms. Rice visited after Delhi), and secular Indians at large. In practice, US has succeeded in alienating a great many Indians of all stripes, including the UPA Government, and has turned Modi into a martyr. (Pakistani love surely can't fix this mess. Was our strong support of Ms. Rice's appointment to Secretary misplaced? We sure hope not.)

Two, Modi's visa denial has a lot to do with aggressive campaigns by his secular Indian-American detractors. They are rightly upset with him over post-Godhara riots, and with his rabidly communal politics. We ourselves have frequently articulated our contempt for Mr. Modi on this blog. BUT, for these people to cause public embarrassment to India in an effort to silence Mr. Modi, is completely unacceptable.

These Indian-Americans don't live in India, thought fit to abandon their Indian citizenship, and are (correctly) more Americans than Indians. This means they really are not part of the great Indian political dialogue. That these disconnected people are driving US agenda towards India is terrifying. That US listens to them as representatives of Indian thinking is even worse.

This takes us to our final point. There is an orthodoxy among secular Indians (and our Indian-American cousins) that is driven by a tunnel-visioned sense of the world that is, well, frequently stupid. If one doesn't abide by the rules of this leftist orthodoxy, one's loyalties are questioned.

So, if one claims to be secular, one is forced to stand behind even such ideas that one finds abhorrent. Conversely, one is asked to shut up when challenging this orthodoxy. If, for example, one condemns the US' Narendra Modi decision, Palestinian terrorism, Kashmiri separatism, Bangladeshi migrant invasion, Indo-Pakistan "peace" process, Saudi Arabia's barbaric punishments, United Nations, or the knee-jerk leftist opposition to the Iraq war, one's secular credentials are questioned.

It's finally time for sane secularists to open our eyes and to overthrow this tyranny of stupid ideas that have come to define Indian secularism. We need to base our secular belief not on secular orthodoxy's hatred of Indian nationalism (which it blames for all our ills) , but on the simple idea that there can be no Indian nationalism absent every Indian's participation in it.

This means that we will not allow minorities to be hurt by bigots among us, but this does not mean we need to pander to, or agree with, every stupid political position that minority politicians and self-styled secular activists might wish to promote. Absent this, we risk damaging our credibility among India's instinctively right-leaning people -- a harsh lesson our natural allies in Washingon are learning even as we speak.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi has now been denied a U.S. visa for his alleged involvement in suppressing religious freedom.

We are no friends of Mr. Modi and have condemned the Indian-American groups that had invited him in the first place. Nevertheless, we are concerned about this development.

Mr. Modi -- regardless of our contempt for him -- is a duly elected Chief Minister of a key Indian state. As best as we can tell, he has also not been convicted of any criminal activity. We cannot support U.S.' decision to deny an entry visa to a democratically elected Indian official.

We'd have much preferred him having the visa -- coupled with an Indian-American boycott. The shameful reality is that many in this community are willing to honor this man. Denying him a visa does not erase this embarrassing reality -- it only brushes it under the carpet. This hardly constitutes a victory.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Boycott the Musharraf Match

It's now settled. General Musharraf will soon watch one-day cricket in India.

No doubt, the Indian blogosphere will protest -- a righteous protest that'll be sadly ignored by the powers that be.

If we had the ability, we'd ask every patriotic Indian to make a small sacrifice and switch off their television on the M-day -- we'd ask them to not watch the Musharraf-sullied Match. If television audience went down measurably because of Musharraf's presence, advertisers will make sure such "diplomacy" is never repeated -- also, we'd have made a political point with great resonance.

We may not be able to get millions to observe a television black-out, but if we can persuade even a few people to forget cricket for just one day, we's have done something. We hope our fellow bloggers will join us in asking their friends and family as well to boycott this match.

Shame: Taslima Nasreen Revisited

The Government of West Bengal is opposing Taslima Nasreen's plea for permanent Indian residency. The reason per a senior official of the West Bengal Home Department, who wished to remain unnamed: most of the state's Muslim citizens found Ms Nasreen "unacceptable".

This is an outrage -- it's surely not for the Muslim population of Bengal to veto a genuine political refugee's plea for asylum. Besides, we cannot imagine that the majority of this population is so closed-minded -- in reality, the West Bengal Government is pandering to the most narrow-minded elements of the community.

This is a matter of great shame for secular India.

Mr. Wolfowitz Goes To World Bank

We are thrilled at Mr. Wolfowitz's nomination to head the World Bank.

Superficially, this may look like a replay of Lyndon Johnson's appointment of the then Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara. In reality, this is quite different.

Mr. McNamara went to the Bank having lost the Vietnam war. Mr. Wofowitz goes there with his neo-conservative ideas in full ascendence.

Our hope is that he will now force the bank to emerge an instrument for revolutionary reform in third world kleptocracies -- rather than the currently prevailing "lets accept the ugly status quo and work with it" approach.

The only sustainable path to development is the hard work and initiative of a free people in a free economy. To them the bank must find ways to offer a hand up, replacing the hand outs it currently offers to their corrupt governments. Mr. Wolfowitz uniquely can make the bank do this.

The liberal "multilateral" establishment is now protesting -- well, this only publicly unmasks the sad truth long whispered about -- that multilateral agencies are peopled by liberals (which is fine) who are pushing their liberal agenda with US taxpayer Dollars (which is not fine).

There are alternate voices and other ideas than the failed development orthodoxies of the past. How will we hear them if the status-quoist continue their knee-jerk intolerance of ideas and people that don't fit their fatally narrow tunnel vision?

Its good that, with Mr. Wolfowitz's appointment, we'll finally have this debate. When the dust clears, either the bank will shape up, or it will wither away. Either way, the world will come out ahead.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Gandhi Would Have Been Gandhi ...

Uber-cool blog-diva Wonkette links to a book, On Bulls**t, by Princeton University Professor Harry Frankfurt. Given as we ourselves see our present culture (of which bulls**t is a key aspect) darkly, we were intrigued. Before we excerpt a choice soundbite from Mr. Frankfurt, we offer this (supposedly) Einstein quote on the Mahatma (from the homepage of Princeton University Press -- the publisher of Mr. Frankfurt's tome):

Gandhi's development resulted from extraordinary intellectual and moral forces in combination with political ingenuity and a unique situation. I think Gandhi would have been Gandhi even without Thoreau and Tolstoy.

Mr. Thoreau (hat tip: AnarCapLib ) is likely not amused!!

Now Mr. Frankfurt (described by PUP as one our most influential moral philosophers). We especially like the following:

... although bulls**t can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, bulls**t is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are ...


Monday, March 14, 2005

Citibank & Bollywood

Clearly the good folks at Citibank do not share our views on Bollywood or they wouldn't have mailed us a brand new (we imagine expensive) dvd of Swades, the new film by Ashutosh Gowarikar! Now we know why we get such tiny interest on our deposits!!

And to think they meant well by their gesture!!!

Endgame with Pakistan

Fifteen years ago, we attended a Pakistani-American friend's wedding in the tony suburbs of Washington. Early next morning, as we fumbled around for breakfast and an airport ride, a (mohajir) neighbour -- learning of our Indian identity -- invited us over (in a magnanimous gesture we will never forget) to join her family for breakfast. Her husband would then drop us off, so we could catch our flight.

She was very curious about India -- specifically about Lucknow, where our roots are. She talked about her own family's India connection, the stories her parents told her about India, and her regrets over our nations' mutual animosity. Because we were from Lucknow (a Urdu speaking Hindu at that!), she even made us an elaborate vegetarian breakfast -- needless to say, we were blown away!!

These warm memories returned as we read When Veer Met Zaara in this week's Outlook. No doubt, there's great human-level goodwill among Indians and Pakistanis. And why not? As we noted last week, we share centuries of geographic co-habitation and political union -- not to mention anthropological identity and cultural similarity. This can hardly be willed away, nor should it be.

BUT, this warm human connection is just that. There's a cold reality in play as well -- this too cannot be willed away. As we reminisced about the warmth in Washington, memories of a cold Jammu night brought us back to reality.

Our family has long visited the Vaishno Devi shrine in J&K. At night, one can see lights of distant towns from pilgrim trails up the mountain. What is that town? Katra. And that larger one? Jammu. What about those very dim set of lights over there? That’s Sialkot. Sialkot? Yes, it’s a border town in Pakistan.

We remember thinking even as a child: aha, there glimmers the enemy -- a dim set of lights. We'd just lived through blackouts during the '71 war.

Years later we learnt that Sialkot was the birthplace of Iqbal, who had summoned the creation of Pakistan. In a 1937 letter written to Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Iqbal wrote“ it is obvious that the only way to a peaceful India is a redistribution of the country on the lines of racial, religious and linguistic affinities.” He died less than a year later. In a decade, the partition occurred. The peaceful India he imagined seethed from betrayal. The peaceful Pakistan he dreamed of embraced jihad.

Sialkot was also the birthplace of Faiz Ahmed Faiz who wrote the following haunting words on India’s partition (translation ours): this pockmarked daylight, this darkness dimmed dawn, this is surely not the sunrise we were waiting for. One million people were killed in just a few months of violence. Thirteen million people were made refugees in their own land. At least three generations thereafter were brought up in the shadow of war and mutual suspicion.

We can also never forget the martyrs of Kargil and Sansad Bhavan and countless innocents mercilessly mowed down at places like Kaluchak and Nadimarg.

There are many influentials in India who choose to forget all this -- who think that human-level connections between Indians and Pakistanis will wash away our congealing blood, dissolve Pakistani betrayals, and bring about peace in this -- our shared Continent of Circe.

This sounds great except when one begins to unravel its meaning. What does peace with Pakistan really mean?

We suspect most Indians have only a woolly concept of Indo-Pak peace. Some even hold out hope for a reunion of sorts -- even though this would destroy India's delicate political balance.

We're afraid such idealist dreaming is deep folly. There is no such thing as peace with Pakistan -- the best we can hope for now is an absence of war.

And in the long run? Whats the end-game in the long-run? In our eyes, the endgame is simple. It'll happen when the triumphant Indian idea of secular democracy replaces Pakistan's idea of communal tyrrany -- in "the land of the pure"; it'll also require a real accounting for every Indian innocent killed at Pakistani hands. It is only when we reach this summit of victory, can India really emerge a great power on the world stage. Settling for anything less is unacceptable.

This is why the new-found Indo-Pak bonhomie (including Musharraf watching Cricket, perhaps in Kochi) is merely a mirage. Behind this lies a vast desert of devilish ideas about "peace" -- including the particularly tempting notion that human contact can settle our deep-seated mutual rage -- these ideas are really distractions from our national purpose. India better keep its head down and its eyes glued coldly on the endgame.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Secretary Rice's "Indian Sphere" Agenda

The Heritage Foundation has prepared a good summary of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's agenda for her up-coming Asian tour. This blog had previously welcomed her appointment as Secretary. Now, India will have the opportunity to welcome her in person.

Heritage's perspectives on her visit agenda for the Indian Sphere (our replacement for the discredited expression "South Asia") are excerpted below -- key sentences have been bolded for reader convenience.

India: The economic, political, and security ties between the United States and India have advanced by leaps and bounds over the last decade, but President Bush has not yet visited the world’s largest democracy. A presidential visit to India would bind the budding friendship, demonstrate the President’s sincerity in supporting democracy in a region plagued by repressive governments and provide political capital to Indian politicians that want greater U.S.-India ties. Secretary Rice should lay the groundwork for a presidential visit later this year.

Rice’s trip to India also presents an opportunity to make a joint U.S.-India statement on Nepal. Since King Gyanendra abolished the government and established his monarchy as absolute, the human rights situation in the country has substantially dropped from its already low levels. Capitalizing on Nepal’s sudden political isolation, China is supporting the king’s dictatorial impulses and appears to be constructing another outpost of tyranny on its frontier, similar to Beijing’s behavior with North Korea and Burma. A strong statement by India and the United States should warn the Chinese about interfering with Nepal’s independence and encourage King Gyanendra to restore democracy this year.

Pakistan: President Pervez Musharraf is a tested ally in the war on terrorism, but he is also a military dictator and many intelligence analysts still believe Osama bin Laden is hiding out somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Rice must continue to press for democracy and for the suppression of terrorism in Pakistan while recognizing Islamabad’s contributions to the war on terrorism.

The India-Pakistan ceasefire over Kashmir has now held for more than a year, but the talks to move from a ceasefire to a peace agreement seem little closer to resolution than when they began. The obstacle is that neither side has the political will to compromise on Kashmir. Pakistan will not permit the resolution of non–Kashmir-related disputes, such as cross-border trade and communications, until the Kashmir issue is resolved. India refuses to permit outside or third-party negotiators to help the two countries find common ground. Nevertheless, life along the line of control that divides the two countries seems to be improving. Cross-border terrorist attacks from Pakistan into India have been reduced significantly from pre-ceasefire levels, there have been fewer cross-border artillery duels, and perhaps soon there will be a return of cross-border bus service. Although resolution seems disappointingly distant, Rice must resist the temptation to meddle. To establish useful American intervention both India and Pakistan must want American involvement and that is not the case now. Unwelcome stirring of the pot, while the peace is holding, may upset the positive gains made by the current negotiation process.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Friday Musings

A couple weeks ago, we cheered the Prime Minister for his daring -- dare we say, neo-conservative even -- political vision: Liberal democracy is the natural order of social and political organization in today's world. All alternate systems, authoritarian and majoritarian in varying degrees, are an aberration. Democratic methods yield the most enduring solutions to even the most intractable problems.

Now, the Prime Minister has seemingly done a 180 degree pivot -- he has not only invited the murderer of Pakistani democracy to watch cricket in India, he has added the following odd remark:

Cricket and films will bring India and Pakistan closer.

Hello? What centuries of geographic co-habitation and political union -- not to mention anthropological identity and cultural similarity -- have failed to achieve, Dr. Singh avers can be had via an imported sport and C-grade cinema! Perhaps peace will flow if the Pakistani dictator could only watch a cricket match in India!! Wow -- what a genius thought?!!

We have previously articulated our contempt for the mediocrity of Bollywood and of contemporary Indian culture in general. Surely some blame for this should be placed on cricket, which crowds-out practically all else from the Indian cultural space. And even there, where our heroes wield their willows, their achievements are hardly staggering (the BCCI team is 9th of 11 in global one-day rankings ahead only of Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Bangladesh; it is technically 3rd in test-match rankings, but really part of a 5-team middling group behind Australia).

Don't get us wrong. We too were brought up on the (vegetarian!) diet of cricket and chitrahaar -- for a while, we were just as enamored of these as the next Indian. But, these emperors really have no clothes; they are -- God please forgive us, for we must quote Marx here -- opiates for our masses, dripped into our coarsened cultural veins through television and multiplexes.

On these opiates Dr. Singh now hangs his hope for Indo-Pak peace? That'll be the day. What we need for peace is not the silliness of cricket and cinema, rather a dread-inspiring military capability including, as The Acorn points out, a strong missile defense.

On a separate note, we condemn the impending US visit by Narendra Modi. His hosts, the Asian-American Hotel Owners Association and the Association of Indian-Americans of North America, should be ashamed for honoring this man whose inaction during the pogrom in Gujarat disgraced India.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches Towards Srinagar to be born? (what Yeats might have written were he Indian)

India appears to be opening its doors to Musharraf -- the tyrant responsible for a blood-dimmed tide of terrorism loosed on our people.

This is a day of singular Indian infamy.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Cinema Ticket Prices

Per a new index from Screen Digest, Indians pay the least for cinema tickets in the world -- our wages for 16 minutes of work buy us a movie ticket (compared to the world average of 57 minutes of work).

This surely proves the adage that we only get what we pay for!!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Give Me Liberty AND Give Me Dollars

In a Wall Street Journal column last week, a defensive Finance Minister P. Chidambaram suggested that India's democracy necessitated an up-front investment -- a "fixed cost" as he put it -- whose dividends are only now becoming obvious.

The Acorn links today to a discussion about the linkage between economic and political freedoms. Here, Nobel-laureate Gary Becker (who we otherwise admire greatly) makes the case that political freedom flows easier from economic freedom than conversely.

These discussions are in the context of China's economic outperformance of India. Some analysts are even suggesting that China will continue to over-grow India for the forseeable future. Again, the culprit seems to be India's democracy.

Since it now appears fashionable -- neo-conventional wisdom even -- to bash democracy for its seeming inability to deliver abundant Dollars swiftly, we will do the unfashionable thing and stand up for democracy. Besides, we aren't as staggered by the Chinese economic mirage as many others seem to be.

Lets pose a basic question. If political liberty (democracy being its proxy) is the natural state of man, how come a society needs a "fixed cost" to achieve this? It would seem more natural to think, in contrast, that there is substantial "fixed cost" in holding a people in political chains, against their very nature. (Does it cost more to dam a river, or to simply let it flow?)

We did not study any economics until graduate school -- focusing instead on physics and engineering. Forgive us then if we draw our analogy from physics. The natural tendency of all things is to settle in the lowest possible potential energy configuration (that is to say a coiled spring would rather be uncoiled if it can) -- to move there requires no external impulse; in fact, external energy is required only to move a body from a low potential energy state to a high potential energy state, against its very nature.

Why is the same not true of political freedom? Why don't we talk about the enormous fixed cost that the brutal Chinese regime has to pay to crush its own people's natural thirst for freedom? Or, are we now at the moment when even intelligent Indians are conceding the folly of our having chosen democracy first and bending common sense to cow-tow before our great competitor? If so, count us out.

Next, this discussion about linkage between political and economic freedoms is enormously misguided. Why should we have to accept the notion that these freedoms come sequentially -- i.e., first the one, then the other? To us, these freedoms are not found lying on a one-dimensional road -- the x-axis as it were -- rather, these are our natural state from which we sometimes lapse via a muti-dimensional journey -- on the x-axis for political freedom, on the y-axis for economic freedom.

These axes are independent. Thus, one could easily have politically free systems lacking economic freedom (e.g., India before 1991) or economically free systems lacking basic political freedoms (e.g., Hong Kong after 1997). All manner of other combinations are also possible.

It isn't democracy that hurts economic freedom -- idiots in government, who can be found in all manner of polities, do. If India's economic growth is long stunted, it isn't because of our political freedoms, it's because we mobilize and deploy our national resources poorly -- this happens principally due to corrupt officials and corrupt politicians exchanging favors with corrupt business-people.

Are we to now suggest that corruption is a consequence of our freedom? Does chained China have no corruption (in fact, it appears eerily similar to free India's)? Can we not have a politically free system with relatively low corruption (e.g. U.S.)? Why is that not our model -- rather than, increasingly, the corrupt and tyrannical China?

In reality, we can be politically free and be sensible -- which means reducing the state's share of national resources and unleashing our people's entrepreneurial abilities -- or we could be politically free and stupid -- as we have long been. To blame our people's freedoms for our leaders' stupidity is asinine.

Also, China can be economically free and be sensible -- which means embracing the brilliantly diverse marketplace of political ideas and abandoning the reliance on a few wise (and inevitably falliable) men -- or it can be economically free and stupid -- as it has long been. To attribute the prosperity achieved through the hard work of the great Chinese people to a few old men in zhongnanhai is equally asinine.

Thus, in our way of thinking, Gary Becker and P. Chidambaram have it all wrong when they place political and economic freedoms on a sequential track -- then measure the trade-off of placing one kind of freedom before the other. In fact, there is no trade-off between liberty (political freedom) and prosperity (economic freedom). Both simultaneously are our natural state and either can be lost due to stupid dogmas of old men sitting in judgement on when to grant us OUR freedoms. Tilak was right: Freedom (both political and economic) is a people's birthright, a natural state of their being -- any abridgement of either freedom impoverishes us all.

So we don't say, give me liberty or give me Dollars, we say, liberty and prosperity are both my birthright, and I shall have them both, NOW!!!

Camille Paglia on Contemporary Culture

A few weeks back, we lamented the crushing depths of mediocrity that India's contemporary culture has descended into. Our architecture is rotten. Our music is noise. Our art is a whore. Our literature is alien. Our much-celebrated exports are fake accents in call centers and cold bit-streams from clattering keyboards.

We are, therefore, thrilled about Camille Paglia's new anthology of great poems where, per London Telegraph (via DRUDGE REPORT), she assaults contemporary Western culture whose critics can no longer read, poets can no longer write, and the unacknowledged legislators of our age are writing advertising jingles for peanuts.

Per Ms. Paglia: In our voracious 24-hour news cycles, we're rafting down the roaring river of media. It's exciting and exhilarating, but it's good to remember that SOME things last--and they're in art!

Therefore poets must remember their calling and take stage again.


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Indian Beheaded in Saudi Arabia

There is news today of an Indian's head being publicly chopped off by the Saudi state. The victim of this barbarism (link has a disturbing picture of similar killing) was "convicted" -- by a medieval Saudi "court" (link courtesy: Saudi Institute) -- of murdering another Indian.

Per the Rediff article, Saudis killed another Indian last month, allegedly for drug smuggling. The Indian embassy believes that man was innocent.

Quite apart from our strong opposition to capital punishment anywhere (why we still have it in India baffles us), we are appalled by the disgusting manner in which these Indians were killed by the Saudi state. We do not accept any finding of guilt by the ridiculous Saudi courts, and strongly condemn the state-sanctioned murder of Indians (and others) in that country.

We can hardly wait for the blessed day when this vicious Saudi regime -- the amputator of modernity and limbs -- is replaced, by the Saudi people, with a democratic and civilized system of governance.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Keep Musharraf Out

Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf now wants to come watch cricket in India -- but only if invited.

Oh, come on. We hope no one in Delhi is seriously thinking about granting this man -- the architect of Kargil -- his wish.

In the spirit of cricket being gentleman's game, however, we have a suggestion for the General. He is welcome to follow the cricket by reading Amit on the pages of the Guardian -- or on its website given the General's own new-found passion for on-line communication!

Politics By Fair Means Only, Please

We've never been shy expressing our contempt for the BJP through this blog. In fact, we are quite the fans of Dr. Manmohan Singh and even consider his Congress party a natural political home for secular-right Indians.

Given all this, we are acutely embarrassed by the recent developments in Jharkhand.

There is nothing we'd prefer more than to see the BJP out of power wherever possible, BUT only by fair means. Absent this, our secular polity shames itself -- and risks losing the moral upper-hand it has over it's saffron counterpart.

Our friends in the Congress might want to read up on Reinhold Messner. His motto -- "by fair means" -- meant he made it to the top of the Everest on human capacity alone -- not aided by artificial means such as supplemental oxygen.

Per Messner: Everest by fair means-that is the human dimension, and that is what interests me . . . In reaching for an oxygen cylinder, a climber degrades Everest. . . . A climber who doesn't rely on his own strength and skills, but on apparatus and drugs, deceives himself.

Dr. Singh, we are in urgent need to hear your denunciation of the tawdry tactics of some in your party. And please, please have your party resolve to never again rely on artificial means to scale political mountains. Please.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Indian Business Loves e-mail, Should It?

Economist reports on a fascinating Grant Thornton survey where they asked businesses if e-mail and internet increased employee productivity.

8o% of Indian businesses said yes even though their employees spent on average 2 hours on-line every day. In the US and Hong Kong, where employees spent a similar time on-line, only 48% of businesses thought this added to productivity.

Does this mean Indian e-mailers are more work-focused than American e-mailers, or does it mean that Indian businesses don't really know what they're talking about?

High Definition "Lust in the Heart" Televisions

Several in our circle have recently upgraded to high definition televisions -- these things absolutely blow away anything one might see on standard definition TVs that most of us grew up with. HD images make even regular dvd images looks ugh in comparison, so you can imagine how much better than standard TV these are!!

Besides, HD television sets are stunning to look at even when switched off. If you have a serious HD set, your living room will never be the same.

The bad news is that there's very little HD programming even in the US -- needless to say there is zero HD programming in India (although some terrific HD programming shot in India has been broadcast in the US). As Steve Mullen correctly surmises, the likely Indian path to HD is via HD-DVD. Even here, however, there is no globally accepted format yet -- and again, HD-DVD content is still very limited. This means there is no benefit, yet, to put down serious money for HD-ready sets in India.

But this will change. Sony is apparently already marketing a 57" 16:9 aspect ratio television (superior to the 4:3 aspect ratio standard televisions) in India. This is likely a plasma television, although terrific competing technologies like LCD and DLP are also worth considering. (Our own detailed research led us to an LCD set). New York Times has a good article today comparing these various technologies. NYT's assessment of plasma TVs really applies to all HDTVs: If ever a product evoked lust in the heart, it is a plasma television. Like radial tires in the 1970's, a big flat plasma set is today's must-have technology.

Bottom-line: this stuff is awsome and represents an even greater TV advance than the jump from b&w to color. However, this is expensive stuff (given the limited scale early adoption so far) and the uptake is slow because people simply don't know what they are missing. All we can do is share our enormous enthusiasm for these technologies and hope that more people will seek them out, then buy them, causing HDTV prices to drop, thus enabling a virtuous cycle of wide-scale adoption -- not just in the US, but in India as well.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Geo-Political Pivot Points

Stratfor (subscription highly recommended) considers this past week one for the history books. George Friedman, head of Stratfor, says the following:

There are rare occasions when two distinct geopolitical processes reach a pivot point at the same time, that precise place where the evolution of a process takes a critical turn. Last week saw three such points. In Iraq, the security network around the guerrilla leadership appeared to be breaking wide open. In Israel, Palestinian Islamic Jihad -- and the Islamist radicals -- made its decision and its move on the peace process. The Bush-Putin summit ended and was followed by a Russian announcement that Moscow would sell nuclear technology to Iran. The history of the U.S.-jihadist war, the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and Russia's relationship to the United States all depend on how the pivot of history swings.

Consider the set of outcomes that hangs in the balance. There are three pivots, each with two possible results. So there are six possible outcomes -- from peace in Iraq and Israel and stable relations with Russia, to continued insurgency in Iraq, intifada in Israel and a mini-Cold War with the Russians. It can be a combination as well. What is clear is that we are at a decisive point in the post-Sept. 11 world. When three issues converge like this, it usually means that old issues are going away and new ones are coming up fast.

Choking on Chulha

BBC carries this very sobering story on how rural women using the traditional chulha breathe in pollutants equivalent to 20 cigarettes a day. A half a million Indians (mainly women) die every year as a consequence.

The Arrack of Ostriches

A few weeks ago, we criticized Laloo Yadav's use of the suspiciously convenient Justice Banerjee report to divert attention from his family's gross mis-management of Bihar. We felt that Mr. Yadav should be judged for his family's governing record, and not that of Mr. Narendra Modi's in Gujarat.

We are now pleased to note that Bihar's voters have indeed voted away from Mr. Yadav.

Our anti-Laloo stance invited pointed criticism from some of our fellow secularists. To them, nothing Mr. Yadav has done matches the sheer evil of the Gujarat lynchings. To them, our dismissal of the Banerjee report and our criticism of Mr. Yadav were the same as supporting Hindutva?! They also found our hawkishness on Kashmir, our strong support for America's Iraq war, and our neo-conservative leanings highly disturbing. Therefore, they question our secular credentials.

This is obviously absurd. We have been quite vocal in our contempt for the perpetrators, the enablers, and the subsequent rationalizers of the Gujarat pogrom. If after all our repeated secular articulation, we're still suspect in the eyes of secular extremists, we fear for secularism in India. While we don't need certificates of good conduct from these extremists, we offer the following thoughts as partial explanation for, and re-affirmation of, our right-of-center secular vision.

Truth is we are even more fearful of many of our co-travellers on the political right who still consider Hindutva a valid ideology -- for its apparent muscularity and for its grand narrative of India as a great power. They have also long pointed to the "moderate" face of Hindutva -- Mr. Vajpayee -- as a compelling reason to be comfortable with its political vehicle, the BJP.

Now, former President K R Narayanan has publicly challenged Mr. Vajpayee's "moderate" credentials. We don't agree with Mr. Narayanan on very much -- he is an unreformed socialist, afterall -- but on this we are compelled to stand with him. Mr. Vajpayee's was a moderate mukhauta masking his true RSS face; besides he led India terribly -- for all the supposed muscularity of his Government, when it mattered most India came off as weak-kneed.

Why do we say this? All we need to do is examine his tenure as Prime Minister.

In that time, China put man in space, the infant Euro flew high, America took Baghdad, and Russia re-joined the West. In contrast, India charred its own in Godhra and Ahmedabad. Some grand narrative this is.

Similar mass murder - saffron apologists remind critics - had ravaged India before, in 1984 then 1992. But we must ask them, has India made no civilizational advance since then?

In this time, India's rivals buried their ghosts - China Tiananmen, EU two World Wars, Russia USSR, America Vietnam - leaving India alone among great powers still shackled to its past. Overturning their burdens of history, our rivals secured their futures. Benchmarked against them, India's reach for destiny still exceeds its grasp. This is the legacy of our years of saffron nationalism -- really, poisonous bigotry in nationalism's clothing.

Great powers organize around awe-inspiring grand narratives. What tryst and with what destiny did the saffron nationalists give us? Their grand narrative - rooted in history and myth - only sowed confusion. Consequently, saffron Indians fear Islamic fifth columns at home while, for example, ignoring vast tracts of Indian misery where China-inspired Maoism has now taken root.

Maoism's violent shadow looms larger than any other domestic phantom. Having imbibed the arrack of ostriches, saffron India remains in deep denial -- continuing to blame India's Muslim citizens for most of India's ills.

Denial - psychologists say - is the first stage of a dying person coming to terms with terminal illness. Saffron India - if it wishes life - desperately needs an ideology transplant.

Their poet-leader once asked - in Parliament - who set this fire? His question - targeting Muslim arsonists of Godhra - ironically also indicted his own saffron nationalist posse whose tunnel vision - a mosque in rubble, a bakery on fire - humiliated our great power dreams.

It's not that India lacks attractive grand narratives. Had Mr. Vajpayee, for example, projected our 150 million Muslims as islands of moderation in a sea of global fanaticism - instead of demonizing them - a world at war, searching for liberal Islam, would have embraced them - and canonized India - as worthy exemplars of multicultural democracy.

The saffron nationalists deliberately - and inexcusably - squandered this magical grand narrative. Their quarrels - real and imagined - with secularism pale versus opportunities now forever lost.

Their one grand achievement was India exploding the bomb. But wasn't that proud moment 50 years in the making? It was Pt. Nehru who nurtured Dr. Bhabha's atomic dreams. It was Mrs. Gandhi who put Pokharan on the map.

Pokharan 2, while necessary, changed very little for practical war and peace. Its fallout - contrary to prevailing myth - rated sub-critical in obliterating saffron nationalist insecurities. India's exhilaration soon reverted to a tremble in our knees.

Kargil and Kaluchak followed un-avenged. Hijackers in Kandahar broke our nerve. Indians were killed in their own homes, in places of worship, in schools, and outside their Parliament. Kashmiri teenagers were beheaded for not wearing the veil. All this under the supposed muscular governance of the saffron nationalists.

How did they respond? Summoning forces on the frontier they glared then did absolutely nothing. India's awesome arsenal - reportedly costing over $15 billion annually - thundered like a cloud that dares not rain. Don't think China wasn't watching. Contrast this to 1971 when India - led by Mrs. Gandhi - stared down the Seventh Fleet and shattered Pakistan forever.

Even Bangladesh - in April 2001 - brazenly killed several Indian soldiers without consequence. Could dependant North Korea dare do likewise to China?

India's saffron nationalists were by all evidence chicken hawks growling at home but cowering abroad. If - after all their domestic bullying - when they had their chance, they delivered India neither real global standing nor security from rivals and terrorists, there is something hollow about their claims. It's finally time for Indians on the political right to wean themselves off this faux nationalist arrack of ostriches.


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