Monday, October 31, 2005


Amit writes that The best thing about blogging is the friendships it creates. Amen.

A Hindi poet once lamented that even after numerous Diwalis, a dark and evil shroud remains sprawled all around us. We saw this in Delhi Saturday. How else are we to survive this mire if not through expression and friendship?

So, on this blood-dimmed Diwali, here's to blogging and to friends, as well as to our absent innocents who'll never light the lamps again.

Indonesia: The Aceh Peace Accord

Aceh occupies the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It adjoins the strategic straits of Malacca and was devastated by the tsunami in December last year. The region was in the throes of revolt since 1975 until the Finns mediated a cease-fire agreement this year. The Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement signed a far reaching peace accord on August 15, 2005. While Indonesia will not be a de-jure federal state, Aceh will have de-facto autonomy under the terms of the agreement.

The autonomy provisions for Aceh are remarkable. Everything, except for defence, foreign affairs, finance and religion, would be delegated to a regional authority under the proposed new statute for Aceh to be enacted by March 31, 2006. Under the terms of the envisioned law, Indonesia would consult the Acehnese regional legislature before it signs any international agreement or passes any national legislation that could impact on Aceh. Indonesia will hold elections for the regional Acehnese administration by April, 2006 and the regional Acehnese legislature by 2009. Aceh would then have the authority to enact a region-specific legal code. It would have its own flag, anthem and human rights court. The regional administration would administer Aceh's marine resources, 70% of its hydrocarbon reserves, its seaports and airports. The administration would have the authority to leverage international capital bypassing Jakarta. It would be entitled to levy its own taxes and set its own interest rates.

The demilitarization of Aceh, the decommissioning of rebel groups and the jurisdiction of the civil judiciary in Aceh over the Indonesian military are remarkable achievements. Indonesia would have completed the withdrawal of its troops by December 31, 2005 except for a residual presence of 14,700 troops that will remain. Acehnese rebels would have demobilized their 3,000 armed personnel by then as well. Indonesia has released all political prisoners and has granted a general amnesty to pro-independence activists. The European Union and ASEAN will provide personnel for the Aceh Monitoring Mission to rule on any violations of the peace accord. The clauses for dispute resolution vis-a-vis the cease-fire agreement and the innovative built-in appeals process are unparalleled.

The subject of religion is not delegated to the province. It remains under the purview of the center. Indonesia's constitution keeps state and religion strictly separate, and accords no special status to any religion. The Acehnese are devout Muslims and I interpret this clause as an effort to ensure that the separation of state and religion remains intact at the local level throughout the Indonesian archipelago. Indonesia is keen to avoid a denominationalization of the regional administration given the fear of a precedent. The unique experiment in Aceh is likely to influence rebels in Mindanao, North East Sri Lanka and Pattani in southern Thailand. The vibrant political process is poised to replace a prolonged insurrection.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

War And Peace

After yesterday, Indians need to wake up and know we are at war.

This blog has long lamented the constant softening of India. Our people are living a delusion from newly-found riches that "peace" with our mortal enemies is the ticket to power and prosperity. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

There is no such thing as peace. All we can hope for, in the best case, is an absence of active hostility, that too at gunpoint. This too we do not have.

Having said this, whatever Indian hawks (like us) have been saying and doing is not effective either. Our military remains a sheathed weapon, our intelligence agencies are seemingly just as ineffective as the CIA, our police merits little respect, our politicians want to forgive and forget cold-blooded murder of our innocent people, our best minds are constantly glorifying the absurd idea of "peace" with predators -- and we, the hawks, have failed to demand a change from this cowardly and mind-numbing status-quo whose daily drumbeat of murder seems to fall on deaf ears of a soft people splurging and giggling at the mall.

We are at war, people. India has to wage this war wherever our enemies hide. This requires enormous investment of economic and political capital. The criminally wasted Government resources by our bureaucracy and the crippling opportunity losses from non-existent economic reforms inflicted by our political Left are resources we could have used to build better walls at the frontier, and better fire to scorch our enemies beyond it.

Those who defend such waste and oppose reform are thus impeding national security. It's time they pick up their guns and join this war or move out of the way. Nothing else matters more now -- for prosperity, for power, for social harmony -- than winning this war.

Indira Gandhi

The 21st anniversary of the assassination of Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi falls tomorrow. I will be selective given the difficulty in evaluating a contradictory legacy such as hers in a mere 300 words. Her shortcomings have been rectified while her far-sighted vision will continue to inspire decision-makers.

Mrs. Gandhi introduced a highly personalized approach to politics that undermined India's institutions. She valued loyalty above competency and brooked no dissent. The emphasis was on personal charisma, not institutional continuity. Institutions provide resilience to a polity while individuals, their charisma notwithstanding, are transitional. Indira undermined the formidable elected grass-roots base of the Congress Party. There were no party elections from 1971 to 1991. She undermined the federal character of the Indian polity by imposing President's rule in opposition-ruled states and sidelining regional contenders within the party. State-level units of the Congress Party no longer elected the Chief Ministers, she designated them.

Then there was the Emergency. Mrs. Gandhi introduced amendments to the constitution that weakened the judiciary. The 38th Amendment, the 39th Amendment and the proposed 40th Amendment stipulated that the courts could no longer rule on the Emergency, adjudicate on election disputes related to the President, Prime Minister and Speaker, and prosecute the executive for criminal offenses. Indira briefly imposed press censorship and imprisoned opponents. Her emasculation of India's institutional capital left a void. However, successive Governments have rectified these shortcomings and India's institutions remain resilient - be it the courts, the elections commission, the legislature, the state assembly and the media. Her handling of the Punjab insurrection is now thankfully history.

It is her foreign policy, her defence policy, the emphasis on science and the Green Revolution that continue to inspire, like no other post-independence Indian leader. The Green Revolution had resolved the age-old Indian problem of famine once and for all. Indira had a genuine commitment to the marginalized and dispossessed, be it women, Dalits and Muslims. I will only focus on realpolitik.

The Bangladesh independence movement in 1971 led to 10 million East Bengali refugees and the death of 2 million Bengalis in what could only be described as Pakistani war crimes. Never to miss an opportunity, she swiftly signed the Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Cooperation with the Soviet Union and lobbied international attention to events in East Bengal. India trained the East Bengali resistance. The alleged Pakistani air raids on Indian soil provided the pretext for Indian forces to enter East Pakistan. The Indian military, that had been stymied by inept political leadership in 1948 in Kashmir, in 1962 in Arunachal Pradesh and in 1965, now performed brilliantly. It "liberated" East Bengal in less than three weeks and captured 93,000 Pakistani soldiers. The army captured Kargil and Siachen in the disputed territory of Kashmir and was ready to proceed further but the entry of the US 7th fleet in the Bay of Bengal was a warning to stop.

That experience convinced Indira Gandhi of the need for a nuclear option. India detonated a nuclear device and launched its first space satellite, Aryabhatta, in 1974. Indira leveraged the Nepalese majority in Sikkim to merge with India that year to pre-empt Chinese influence. India invested in missile and space technology. It emphasized deep sea mining, participated in deliberations related to the Law of the Sea, and launched its first foray into the Antarctic establishing a base there in 1982. India built a Blue Water Navy. Indira used the Tamil insurrection in Sri Lanka to undo that country's emerging strategic equation with the United States. Her policy emphasized the importance of the Andaman and Laccadive islands. In Henry Kissinger's "White House Years" published by Little, Brown and Company in 1979 , Mrs. Gandhi is described as "a cold-blooded practioner of power politics" and "a strong personality relentlessly pursuing India's national interest with single-mindedness and finesse".

Indira Gandhi found it hard to work within institutional constraints. This explained her shortcomings in domestic policy. Institutions were not key when it came to foreign policy and she did well there. India reached out to multiple frontiers under her. While successive Governments have now gone much further, it was Indira who got the ball rolling. India thought big and reached for the stars. This was her foremost legacy, one that made her independent India's most high profile leader.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bird Flu

First, a brief note fully endorsing Jaffna's post about why democratic Israel will survive even absurd threats from Iran's puny leader.

Next, via BBC, here's a nifty little tool to see how bird flu has spread and where. How come we haven't heard of any cases in India? Does everyone know how they'll get Tamiflu in the event of a crisis?

Tenacity and Grit

I read the Iranian President's call to wipe Israel out from the map and I was reminded of the book by Elliot Cohen, "Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime", London: Simon and Schuster: 2003. Cohen outlines David Ben Gurion's role in transforming the Israeli Defence Forces in the 1940s. It reminded me that Israel was here to stay regardless of shrill rhetoric to the contrary. The information I refer to is extracted from his book.

In the early 1880s, there were only 25,000 Jews in Palestine. This had increased to 400,000 in 1936. The British published a "White Paper" in May 1939 that provided for an Arab state in Palestine in 1949 and limited continued Jewish immigration. World War II was then raging in Europe and Palestinian Jews watched the extermination of European Jewry with horror. Their attitude to Britain's war efforts in light of that Government's new policy provided an interesting contrast to the Indian National Congress. Ben Gurion declared "we will fight the war as if there were no white paper and the white paper as if there were no war". Tens of thousands of Palestinian Jews served in the British army. Ben Gurion meanwhile focused on strengthening Jewish institutions including the military and spear-headed continued Jewish immigration, illicit or otherwise. In 1945, the Jewish community had increased to 500,000 vis-a-vis the 750,000 Palestinian Arabs. The Jewish community rose to 600,000 one year later.

Ben Gurion realized that the multiple Jewish guerrilla forces such as the Haganah, the Palmach, the Herut and Irgun were ill-equipped and inexperienced to fight the inevitable conventional war with neighboring Arab states. He quietly transformed disparate uncoordinated guerrilla groups into a unified professional army. He reorganized the Jewish Defence Force, clarified the chain of command, ensured civilian leadership and initiated extensive military procurement. The Jewish Defence Forces only had 1,900 machines guns in April 1947. This increased to 31,000 in March 1949. Equipment was imported from Czechoslovakia. He reached out to Jewish World War II veterans and ensured training to transform the inexperienced guerrilla into a professional soldier.

This paid off. Israel's declaration of independence on May 14, 1948 led to the invasion by Egyption, Iraqi, Lebanese, Syrian and Transjordanian troops. The local Arab population rose in revolt. Isolated and widely scattered Jewish settlements were under threat. The Israeli Defence Forces proceeded to defend the coastal stretch between Tel Aviv and Haifa, used that as a platform to evict the Egyptions from the Negev desert in the south, Syrian and Lebanese forces from the Galilee in the north, and Iraqi and Jordanian troops from the Judean Hills in the East. Israel simultaneously leveraged the politics of graft. Later reports suggest that King Abdullah of Transjordan had been given Jewish Agency Funds. Here was an illustration of resolve and forward planning as opposed to empty rhetoric. While this was indeed a joint effort indebted to the contribution of many dedicated Jews in different continents, Ben Gurion's role can not be denied.

Israel had secured its political existence on Palestinian soil after a gap of 2,000 years. Ben Gurion had become Israel's first Prime Minister at the age of 62. He had transformed an underground military establishment into one of the most formidable armies in the world. Founder of the Labor Party and the Histadrut trade union, Ben Gurion had only immigrated to Palestine at the age of 20. He started his life there as a farmer. He inspired a public education system to mold Jews arriving in Palestine from different countries into a unified nation.

A spartan and frugal man, he had a vast collection of books in his Kibbutz apartment. His interests included Eastern Philosophy, European History and Military Science. A later Israeli leader, Shimon Peres, shared his interest in Eastern Philosophy. Ben Gurion had four pictures in his apartment, one of Michelangelo's Moses, one of Abraham Lincoln with the insert of the Emancipation Proclamation, one of veteran Jewish trade unionist Katznelson, Ben Gurion's closest friend, and one of Gandhi, the pacifist who forced the British empire to yield. In many ways, he reminds me of Sardar Vallabhai Patel given the frugality, financial probity, foresight, tenacity and robust common sense. To quote Ben Gurion: "what matters is not what the gentiles will say, but what the Jews will do".

Israel has its challenges ahead of it. The future of a restive Arab population on the West Bank, the volatility in the extended region, the increasing appeal of Islamic fundamentalism committed to Israel's destruction, and the demographic challenge of a Palestinian population cooped up in territory 1/4th the size of Israel will need to be addressed. Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in the early 1990s and from Gaza last month which illustrated the limits to its power. But the winning factor still stands in its favor i.e. indomitable grit and persistence in the face of the insurmountable. Ariel Sharon continues to demonstrate that. Israel, a democratic nation governed by the rule of law, will never be wiped out.

American Malaise

Via Opinion Journal, conservative (not given to self-flagellation) writer Peggy Noonan paints a dark picture of America.

I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now. In fact I think it's a subtext to our society. I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks. That in some deep and fundamental way things have broken down and can't be fixed, or won't be fixed any time soon. That our pollsters are preoccupied with "right track" and "wrong track" but missing the number of people who think the answer to "How are things going in America?" is "Off the tracks and hurtling forward, toward an unknown destination."

A few weeks ago I was chatting with friends about the sheer number of things parents now buy for teenage girls--bags and earrings and shoes. When I was young we didn't wear earrings, but if we had, everyone would have had a pair or two. I know a 12-year-old with dozens of pairs. They're thrown all over her desk and bureau. She's not rich, and they're inexpensive, but her parents buy her more when she wants them. Someone said, "It's affluence," and someone else nodded, but I said, "Yeah, but it's also the fear parents have that we're at the end of something, and they want their kids to have good memories. They're buying them good memories, in this case the joy a kid feels right down to her stomach when the earrings are taken out of the case."

This, as you can imagine, stopped the flow of conversation for a moment. Then it resumed, as delightful and free flowing as ever. Human beings are resilient. Or at least my friends are, and have to be.

Contrast this mood to the giddiness prevalent all over India. If America, the long pole that holds up pro-India globalization, is in mourning, shouldn't we be taking notice?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Stalin and Mao

Sandeep had a write-up on Stalin dated October 24, 2005. An earlier posting of his highlights Nehru's high regard for the Soviet leader, notwithstanding Stalin's sordid human rights record. To illustrate, I rely on conservative estimates derived from Soviet census figures and the unexplained excess deaths in a ten year period relative to other periods.

The April 13, 1998 edition of Time Magazine mentions that Stalin killed between 15 to 20 million Soviet citizens. Zbigniew Brzezinski, one time National Security Adviser and Professor at Columbia University, estimates that between 20 and 25 million persons died due to Stalinist labor camps, executions and the forced collectivization of agriculture. The Encyclopedia Britannica cites Roy Medvedev to reckon that 20 million died under Stalin due to labor camps, executions and famine. Robert Conquest in his "The Great Terror: A Re-assessment" claimed that 20 million individuals perished under Joseph Stalin. These are conservative figures and other estimates of Stalinist deaths are considerably higher.

Now to Mao Ze Dong. Varnam had a valuable read on him on October 25. Agence France Presse in its report dated September 25, 1999 cites Stephane Courtois to estimate that at least 44.5 million individuals were killed under Mao. The July 17, 1994 edition of the Washington Post cited the University of Shanghai Journal to estimate 40 million deaths under Mao. Zbigniew Brzezinski reckoned that 29 million deaths could be attributed to Mao. Once again, these are estimates at the lower end of the spectrum. What is undeniable is that Marxism killed millions and represented the worst episode in 20th century history.

Idiocy Watch

Via BBC, Buried guru's gesture for peace

A Japanese Hindu devotee has buried herself in an Indian pit for three days without food and water to try to bring peace to a strife-torn world.

Keiko Aikawa, 60, who practises Samadhi - a strict form of Hindu meditation - emerged from the three-metre square pit saying her body and soul felt cleaner.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bhimrao Ambedkar

Bhimrao Ambedkar achieved a lot despite the disadvantage of birth. He rose through grit, academic achievement and politics. A complex personality, he remained the perennial outsider. The "untouchable" Mahar caste to which be belonged was a martial community that served under the Mahratta empire and the British. Maharashtra demonstrated the spirit of intellectual defiance and social activism from the days of the Hindu saints Namdev, Eknath and Tukaram in medieval times to the reformer Jyotibha Phule in the 1800s. Ambedkar inherited that mantle to rebel even further.

A renaissance man, he had a superb grasp of economics, law and politics. He was perhaps the first "untouchable caste" graduate from the University of Bombay in 1912 where he read Political Science. He obtained a Ph.D. in Economics from Columbia University in New York and a second Ph.D. in Economics from the University of London. He briefly studied at the London School of Economics and the University of Bonn. He qualified as a Barrister in England. He joined the civil service in Baroda. Ambedkar headed the Government Law College in Bombay. As a state legislator, he pushed for the abolition of agricultural serfdom, defended the right of workers to strike and advocated birth control. He founded schools and a newspaper. He agitated for social reform. Ambedkar chaired the panel of eminent jurists that collectively drafted India's constitution. He attacked Nehru as lacking resolve and foresight with regards to Tibet and Kashmir. While I dispute his legacy in certain respects, Ambedkar's commitment to the welfare of his people can never be disputed. He serves as a remarkable role model for millions of Dalits to this day.

Ambedkar had his shortcomings. He joined the Defence Advisory Committee of the colonial administration in 1941 and undermined his nationalist credentials. He was an active member of the Viceroy's Executive Council from 1942 to 1946. These were the years of the Quit India Movement. Blatantly pro-British, he dismissed the Indian freedom movement as a "dishonest agitation" and a "sham struggle". He failed to enter the Lok Sabha in 1952 and in 1953. He had to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha instead. His theories on history and religion were far fetched and unsupported by evidence. He was a bitter man.

Ambedkar's demand for caste-based electorates neatly fitted in with the colonial divide and rule policy. The British approved separate electorates for the "depressed castes" under the "communal award scheme" of 1932. Mohandas K. Gandhi's fast unto death campaign forced the colonial authorities to revoke the policy. The proposal would have further institutionalized caste divisions in the political arena had it been implemented. The objective is to jettison caste, not reinforce it.

A desperate Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in dramatic fashion just seven weeks before he died. Malcolm X in the United States rejected Christianity for similar reasons and adopted Islam to give dignity to the African-American. Ambedkar was harsh in his assessment of Hinduism and Islam. Many traditional Buddhists do not consider his radical interpretation of their religion to be in keeping with the teachings of the Buddha.

I would contrast Ambedkar and Malcolm X with the Rev. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. The actions of Ambedkar and Malcolm X did not lead to reconciliation and healing. Their's was an angry rhetoric. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, on the other hand, reached out to the oppressor. In so doing, they reaffirmed a profound humanism that healed the injustices of the past. Mandela had been jailed for 27 years in contrast to Ambedkar who was never imprisoned. In fact, the British made Ambedkar a cabinet minister. Both King and Mandela attributed their political inspiration to Mohandas K. Gandhi.

This said, Ambedkar was an outstanding lawyer, politician, economist and educationalist. He reminds us of our shared guilt i.e. the injustice of "untouchability". The Dalit agenda of dignity, respect and equal opportunity needs to be addressed once and for all to heal the scars on our collective psyche.

I would recommend two books for the interested. They are (i) Koenraad Elst, "Indigenous Indians: Agastya to Ambedkar," New Delhi: Voice of India, 1993 and (ii) Arun Shourie, "Worshipping False Gods: Ambedkar, and the facts which have been erased", New Delhi: Harper Collins, 1998. I tend to disagree with Shourie's harsh assessment on Ambedkar though he provides extremely useful information glossed over by the national media. Elst presents Ambedkar is positive light while he dismisses the contemporary Dalit hard-liner.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A Pot Calling the Kettle Black

The United States Congress will debate the human rights of the Scheduled Castes in India next month. Does the United States have the credentials to discuss the subject given its own record?

The United States Congressional Commission on China had released its annual report on human rights in China. The China State Council, in turn, released a report on March 3, 2005 titled "The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2004". Sandhya Jain, in her Op-Ed in the Organizer dated October 23, 2005, extracts key points in the Chinese publication.

The United States has not ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It fares poorly on race relations. Let's leave aside the recent fiasco in New Orleans. The Chinese refer to a study of the National Urban League dated March 24, 2004 to highlight the fact that there are five African-American murder victims to every white American murder victim. The incidence of HIV/AIDS amongst African-Americans is ten times that of white Americans. The poverty rate amongst African-Americans is thrice that of the whites. The Chinese cite an article from the Washington Post dated May 17, 2004 to emphasize that many schools in the United States remain racially segregated to this day.

The Chinese document quotes FBI Crime Statistics to point out that there were 93,233 rape cases of women in the United States in 2003. One million abused women are treated at First Aid Centers in the United States every year. 1,500 American women are murdered by their husbands or lovers each year. 78% of American women are subject to physical assault at least once in their life time. The Chinese publication mentions the rape of female military personnel by male colleagues in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would add that the incidence of domestic abuse in the United States is comparable to India where one in five women are battered by their spouses.

China cites the February 27, 2004 issue of USA Today to indicate that poverty compels 400,000 children in the United States into street prostitution each year. In the decade 1994-2004, the United States spent US$ 7 billion to build new jails. America's prisons are its second largest employer after General Motors with 530,000 personnel on their payroll. The goods and services manufactured by prison inmates in the United States surged from US$ 400 million in 1980 to US$ 1.1 billion in 1994. This needs to be viewed in light of American charges of forced labor camps in China. The October 12, 2004 edition of the New York Times reports that 13% of prison inmates in the United States are raped in custody.

The United States has the largest number of gun owners in the world. The Chinese report alludes to a publication of the United States Department of Justice dated November 29, 2004 to reveal that 31,000 Americans are killed by firearms each year. This translates into 80 people shot dead every day. Police violence is a serious problem.

The July 6, 2004 edition of the Baltimore Sun revealed that the average income of the bottom 90% of the United States had not changed from 1970 to 2000. The average income of the top 10% rose by 90%. This information is adjusted for inflation. Should the United States Congress pontificate on human rights in India given the facts in America?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Nonsense Watch

Via Hindustan Times, Delhi is not an 'unsafe city': Police chief

Sure. If you believe this, we have a bridge to sell you real cheap!

The chief says:

"The rate of conviction in rape cases is around 20 per cent which is higher than cities like Dublin, Berlin and Vienna. The law is suitably made and the guilty are being punished by the criminal justice system."

A 20% conviction rate is hardly something to brag about, is it?

Kashmir in 1947: A Viewpoint

I have simplified the sequence of events and omitted details to keep the narrative brief. This might prompt some to accuse me of being partisan. But a discussion on Kashmir is in order.

British India was partitioned into the Indian Union and Pakistan in August, 1947. Pre-partition Kashmir was 75% Muslim, a fact that underpinned Pakistani claims on Kashmir. It lobbied the Maharajah of Kashmir to join Pakistan. India's claims on Kashmir were predicated on the fact that Buddhist Ladakh and Hindu Jammu were unlikely to opt for Pakistan and that a Muslim majority did not pre-empt union with secular India. Furthermore, there was a strong Shi'ite presence in Gilgit and Skardu. Pre-partition Kashmir was diverse in terms of religion and language.

The Hindu Maharajah had hoped to retain his independence. He reluctantly approached New Delhi to accede to the Indian Union upon realization of the looming threat of invasion from Pakistan. Nehru placed a condition that the Maharajah first consult Sheikh Abdullah, the leader of the National Conference, before any accession could be worked out. Nehru felt that Sheikh Abdullah represented the Muslim majority of the valley and that his support was essential if Kashmir's integration with India was to be successful.

The Maharajah refused to negotiate with the Sheikh given their history of bad blood. Both Nehru and the Maharajah prevaricated when they ought to have acted decisively. Nehru should have first signed the accession papers with the Maharajah and ordered immediate elections to ensure democratic ratification. Nehru argued instead that the Sheikh had to be part of the initial deal.

Meanwhile, Pakistani "irregulars" invaded Kashmir in October, 1947 as anticipated. The Maharajah hurriedly agreed to Nehru's conditions and signed the accession papers. Pakistani irregulars had already annexed Gilgit, Skardu, Hunza, Jammu, Poonch and the valley. Indian troops recaptured Jammu, Poonch and much of the valley in early 1948. Some accounts suggest that they were poised to recapture the remainder of the 86,000 square mile state when Pakistan sued for a cease-fire. Nehru agreed to the cease-fire, referred the matter to the UN and offered a plebiscite. Indian sources point out that the offer was contingent upon the withdrawal of Pakistani irregulars. The rest is history.

The future is uncertain. The only way forward is to continue "delivering the goods" in Indian-held Kashmir and hope that the foreign-financed insurrection implodes over time. Persistence on the part of New Delhi would be key

Saturday, October 22, 2005

East Turkestan

East Turkestan, renamed Xin-jiang or New Dominion by the Chinese, is of immense strategic value. October, 2005 marks the 50th anniversary of its political integration into the People's Republic of China. The province has an area of 635,800 square miles and a population of 19 million. While the ethnic Chinese have risen from 6% of the population in 1949 to more than 40% today, the indigenous Uighurs remain restive. They speak a Turkic language written in the Arabic script and are Muslims by religion.

The flow of information is limited due to censorship but occasional reports suggest localized riots, isolated clashes with police and bus bombs in recent years. Amnesty International reports that there were "tens of thousands" of political prisoners in East Turkestan with "thousands" executed for political reasons. There has been a resurgence of Muslim religious identity and the Chinese are currently preparing anti-terrorism legislation to deal with the region. The United States administration had warned China in 2001 not to cite the war on terror as "an excuse to persecute minorities".

East Turkestan did enjoy two periods of independence in the 20th century i.e. the First East Turkestan Republic in 1933 and the Second East Turkestan Republic in 1944. China is unlikely to lose control over this petroleum-rich province. But the region needs to be closely watched given the less than innocuous rumblings beneath the surface. The developments there directly impact on India's defence. China had annexed the Indian territory of Aksai Chin in 1957 to link East Turkestan and Tibet. The Karakoram highway links East Turkestan with Pakistan-held Kashmir.

Et Tu, RSS?

Via Times of India, RSS urges war against 'evil' of casteism

Oh, so casteism does exist and is 'evil', is it now?

Having been lectured by misguided advocates of Hindu heritage that caste system's significance is a "British" construct and that things on this social front are not as bad as the "secularist" media tends to report, we now await -- with some derision -- the response from these advocates to RSS' latest offering on the subject.

Friday, October 21, 2005


The investigation led by Detlev Mehlis of the United Nations linked senior Syrian officials to the February 14 assassination of Rafik Hariri, former Prime Minister of Lebanon. The UN Security Council might consider international sanctions on the Ba'ath regime in Damascus. Long term American goals are intended to facilitate an "Arab glasnost", and greater levels of pluralism, democracy and receptivity to western geo-strategic interests. This said, a veto on UN sanctions by Russia or China can not be ruled out.

The United States had often condemned Syria for its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, and the insurgents in Iraq. Iran and Syria have had close ties. The 30 year Syrian military presence in Lebanon united the Americans and French in a rare moment of solidarity to press for a Syrian disengagement. 14,000 Syrian troops were forced to withdraw from Lebanon in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination. Syria is no longer central to the decisions that affect the Middle East. It is surrounded by pro-western states i.e. Turkey to its north, Iraq to its east, Jordan and Israel to its south, and Lebanon to its west.

However, an increasingly isolated Syria might not be good. Economic stagnation, the return of 250,000 Syrian workers deported from Lebanon and increased unemployment can destabilize the country. The ruling Ba'ath party elite and much of the military top command belong to the Alawite minority, a "heretic" offshoot of the Shi'ite sect, that constitute 15% of the Syrian population. The Alawites dominate one province i.e. Latakia. Sections of the 70% Sunni Arab majority are attracted to the Islamic fundamentalism represented by the Muslim Brotherhood. The latter attempted to assassinate Hafez al-Assad in 1980 and then rose in revolt in 1982. The Ba'ath administration crushed the insurrection with unsurpassed brutality in Hamah leading to the death of 10,000 persons. Large parts of the city were bull dozed to terrify future opponents. But, the Muslim Brotherhood remains influential and demanded free elections in April, 2005. The 5% Kurd minority could press for increased autonomy in the region they dominate. A senior Kurdish leader was killed in May, 2005 after calling for "regime change".

The increasing isolation of the Ba'ath regime in Damascus could lead to one of two scenarios. The Alawite establishment in the military and the Ba'ath party could jettison the leadership of Bashar al-Assad to regain control. The other prospect would be one of a resurgent Muslim Brotherhood which would destabilize Syria. A stalemate in Syria would not be in the international community's interest. Syria, with a land area of 71,500 square miles and a population of 18 million, should not be allowed to implode.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Taxation in Hindu Law

I refer to A.L. Basham, "The Wonder That Was India", London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1954. The fiscal norms alluded to below are extracted from Sanskrit legal texts and the Arthashastra. These principles were the ideal, not necessarily the reality of public finance in early India. Moreover, the literature is too vast to do justice to the subject in just 200 words. This note is not intended to be comprehensive. The idea is to merely provide a flavor of the concept.

The Smritis reiterate that taxes should never act as a check on trade, industry and individual initiative. They should be fixed in such a manner as to allow a profit to the tax payer. Articles of commerce can not be taxed twice. There can be no increase in taxation without adequate notice. Moreover, a state is only entitled to tax the populace if it affords protection to the citizenry. The ideal tax is likened to "a bee that extracts honey without damaging the flower"! The literature adds, however, that all norms can be jettisoned in times of financial exigency and crisis.

The legal texts uphold a tax that is 1/6th of ones income while the Arthashastra stipulates a 1/4th tax on fertile lands. The land that has just been brought under the plough is not to be taxed immediately. The agricultural tax is to be remitted in times of bad harvest. A tax holiday was the norm for villages investing in irrigation and public works. A defaulter was to be evicted from his land, but only after one year's notice. The tax was to be assessed on total income minus expenditure incurred i.e. on the net profit rather than on asset value. Women, children, students and men of religion were tax exempt. Temples were subject to a reduced tax. The state levied a water tax for irrigation services provided. Essential goods, such as grain, sugar and salt, were to be taxed at 1/12th their value.

There was a tax on livestock, commercial establishments and houses, the revenue of which was allocated for the expenditure of the village council. The state levied a toll tax on roads in exchange for insurance cover for the traveling merchant. The toll tax was 1/5th the value of the commodity. It, otherwise, exacted a 10% tax on merchandise. Merchants importing foreign goods could claim a remission of the trade tax. The intent was to encourage foreign trade.

Nilakantha, a medieval jurist, asserts that land is the private property of the owner and that a ruler's prerogative is confined to the tax on land. I interpret this to mean property rights. However, the literary evidence is mixed. Sukra, another medieval commentator, advices a king to set aside 1/6th of tax revenue for the treasury, expend 1/12th for charity, 1/12th for public works, 1/12th for the civil service and 1/12th for his personal consumption. The rest is to go for defence.

These principles were the ideal, not necessarily the reality of life in early India. Moreover, not everyone had the wealth to be taxed. Should you be more interested in the subject, I recommend U.N. Ghoshal's classic "Contributions to the History of the Hindu Revenue System" published in Calcutta in 1929 and J.J Angharia's "The Nature and Grounds of Political Obligation in the Hindu State" published in London in 1935.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


India often lacks a pro-active and far sighted foreign policy. The Antarctic continent is just one example. While India is a signatory of the Antarctic Treaty and a member of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, it does not leverage its scientific presence in that continent to broaden its role in the southern oceans. India's annual Antarctic budget is a mere US$ 4 million. Other countries such as China have entered the region in a big way. There is no consensus in the Ministry of External Affairs as to India's international role 50 years down the road. Had there been one, India would have heavily invested in Antarctic research. While it has organized 24 expeditions to the southern continent since 1982 and has had two permanent bases there i.e. Dakshin Gangotri (which has since been submerged) and Maitri, India's long term goals in the area have not been clearly defined. India does not vigorously participate in the annual meetings of the Antarctic Treaty countries.

There are four reasons why the Antarctic is important to India. The continent is rich in minerals, fossil fuels and marine resources. Research there would afford useful data on solar-terrestrial processes, remote sensing, geological mapping, and magnetic and gravity studies, not irrelevant to defence applications. It would generate information on the atmospheric sciences that would help better understand the monsoons and the currents in the Indian Ocean. And lastly, scientific exploration would include the technical feasibility for the exploitation of the southern seas. India's plans for a third base on the continent are laudable in this light, but much more needs to be done.

Argentina, Australia, Britain, Chile, France, New Zealand and Norway have territorial claims in the Antarctic. The Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959 does not invalidate such claims. The treaty needs to be reviewed to ensure a level playing field. India should more aggressively assert its presence in the region as a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty. It should venture deep into the continent rather than remain at the periphery. India could begin by strengthening the mandate of the National Center for Antarctic and Ocean Research in Goa.

West Asia: The Times They Are A-Changin!

Via Washington Post, High Noon for Syria

Via AP, Saddam Hussein trial opens in Baghdad

Via CNN, Early vote count points to Iraq constitution win

These are all consequences of the entirely valid war in Iraq. However botched the after-war may have been, the forcible removal of Saddam Hussein will likely mark the turning point in the blighted recent history of this region. For this, the people of Arabia and Levant should be enormously grateful to the brave soldiers of the coalition of the willing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tibet and China

Tibet is a strategic piece of real estate with an area of 470,000 square miles and a population of 2.6 million in 2000. Its average height is 16,000 feet and the region is the source of several major rivers that include the Brahmaputra, the Ganges, the Hwang Ho, the Indus, the Mekong and the Yangtze. Tibetan culture helped define the identity of Bhutan, Ladakh, Mongolia and Sikkim. Chinese troops over ran Tibet in 1950 and Nehru failed to act. My definition of Tibet excludes those districts that China had detached from Tibet proper and annexed to neighboring Chinese provinces.

China justifies its control over Tibet on several grounds. I shall enumerate its arguments. The Mongol dynasty of Chengiz Khan had annexed Tibet in the 13th century AD. The Mongol empire was eventually transformed into a Chinese dynasty under Kublai Khan. Tibet belonged to this Chinese empire. Much later, a treaty between Britain, China and Russia recognized Chinese sovereignty over Tibet in 1907. In 1914, the Simla convention between Britain, China and Tibet acknowledged that Tibet belonged to China. While Tibet enjoyed de-facto independence between 1912 and 1950, no country recognized its independence. Tibetan delegates participated in the drafting of the Chinese constitution in 1947. Both China and Taiwan reiterate that Tibet is a part of China. Last, but not the least, Tibet has been fully integrated into the People's Republic of China since 1959.

These arguments do not constitute a valid case for annexation. Korea, Mongolia and Vietnam were a part of successive Chinese empires. That historical fact does not translate into automatic Chinese suzerainty over the three independent states. Bangladesh and Pakistan would be part and parcel of the Indian Union if history were the sole criteria of nationhood. Moreover, Tibet remained independent between the 7th and the 10th centuries AD. Tibet was also independent between 1368 AD and 1720 AD. The Nepalese briefly invaded Tibet in 1855. The British seized Lhasa in 1904. Beijing had no relevance in either instance. An Anglo-Chinese treaty in 1906 conceded that Tibet was a British protectorate. Mongolia and Tibet signed a treaty in 1913 recognizing each other's independence. Tibet enjoyed independence between 1912 and 1950. The Tibetans have a different history, language, script and religion. They are not heirs to the Confucian inheritance of East Asia unlike Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

China's annexation of Tibet in 1950 can be disputed under international law. 400,000 Tibetans had been killed since 1956. Tibetan culture was suppressed during the cultural revolution. Nehru blundered in accepting Chinese control over Tibet without extracting a similar Chinese recognition that Kashmir was an integral part of India. He failed to secure a quid pro quo. He unilaterally withdrew the Indian military garrison in Lhasa and closed down the Indian post and telegraph office there while Chinese forces were busy fighting the Korean war. Furthermore, China continues to view Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as disputed territory. It proceeded to annex 15,000 square miles in Aksai Chin in 1957 and briefly occupied 32,000 square miles in Arunachal Pradesh in 1962. Arunachal Pradesh, Bhutan, Ladakh, parts of Nepal, Sikkim and Spiti had traditionally come under the Tibetan sphere of influence. Communist China has claimed each of these territories at different times. India's long term interests necessitate that the Tibetan case be re-opened by the international community.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Capital Punishment

Via Indian Express, Death Row mercy pleas: Kalam for pardon to most

This is terrific news. India should not be in the business of killing prisoners. Hopefully, the President's action will place the issue of capital punishment's legitimacy on our political agenda.

Maryam Namazie

Via The Guardian, we read of Iranian-activist Maryam Namazie whose ideas merit significant spotlight:

It was the decision of broad-minded politicians in Ottawa to allow Sharia courts in Canada which did it for her. They said if they were not established, the Muslim minority would be marginalised and to say otherwise was racism pure and simple.

After years of hearing this postmodern twaddle, Namazie flipped. Why was it, she asked, that supposed liberals always give 'precedence to cultural and religious norms, however reactionary, over the human being and her rights'? Why was it that they always pretended that other cultures were sealed boxes without conflicts of their own and took 'the most reactionary segment of that community' as representative of the belief and culture of the whole.

In a ringing passage, which should be pinned to the noticeboards of every cultural studies faculty and Whitehall ministry, she declared that the problem with cultural relativism was that it endorsed the racism of low expectations.

'It promotes tolerance and respect for so-called minority opinions and beliefs, rather than respect for human beings. Human beings are worthy of the highest respect, but not all opinions and beliefs are worthy of respect and tolerance. There are some who believe in fascism, white supremacy, the inferiority of women. Must they be respected?'

The Allahabad High Court and Aligarh Muslim University

Independent India's founding fathers had intended affirmative action for India's scheduled castes and scheduled tribes to integrate them into the national mainstream. However, they had not envisioned that this would be continued indefinitely. Nor had they anticipated that "reservations" would eventually include minority religious groups. The Congress-led administration in Andhra Pradesh recently reserved 5% of all public sector jobs for the Muslim community. Religion-based reservations are sensitive given the constitutional separation of state and religion in India, not to mention the sequence of events that led to partition.

This said, India needs to ensure equal opportunity for all segments of its population. Muslims constitute 13.4% of India's population but remain under-represented in the public sector and universities. Indian politicians are compelled to respond to these issues given the imperatives of the electorate. The Government introduced religion-based reservation despite the constitutional implications. The courts appear to have intervened to stop the politicization of reservations.

The Supreme Court ruled in the Azeez Basha vs. Union of India case in 1968 that Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was not entitled to the benefits accorded to "minority institutions". It explained that AMU was established by central legislation in 1920 making it a public institution. The Muslim community had not established it as a private body. While this interpretation is indeed correct on technical grounds, the AMU had its origins in the late 1800s with Syed Ahmed Khan establishing the Anglo-Muhammedan Oriental College in Aligarh. This institution influenced pre-partition Muslim politics in the Indian subcontinent and provided the intellectual space for the creation of Pakistan. AMU retains an emotive resonance for Urdu-speaking Muslims in North India. Unfortunately, it is also dependent on public funds for its continued existence.

The Congress administration in 1981 passed the Aligarh Muslim University (Amendment) Act of 1981 to over-turn the Supreme Court judgement of 1968. This was in light of demands from the Muslim community and the need of the Congress party to reinforce its political constituency in that community. The new statute reiterated the minority character of AMU. This enabled reservations on religious grounds vis-à-vis university admissions. The Act described the University as "the educational institution established by the Muslims of India" intended to "promote the educational and cultural advancement of the Muslims of India." The Government had since provided land, public funds and other concessions to AMU. The Union Human Resources Development Ministry went one step further to issue a notification on February 25, 2005 explicitly reserving seats for Muslims in AMU's post-graduate medical courses. The University subsequently reserved 50% of seats in post-graduate medical courses for Muslim students. This was unnecessary in that Muslims already constituted 65% of the overall AMU student body though less in the post-graduate medical stream.

Mr. Malay Shukla filed a writ petition in the Allahabad High Court challenging this decision. Justice Arun Tandon of the Allahabad High Court ruled on October 4, 2005 that the Aligarh Muslim University (Amendment) Act of 1981 was unconstitutional. He added that parliament had no right to overturn the 1968 Supreme Court verdict although it had the authority to remove defects in the law pointed out by the apex court in its judgement. He over-ruled religion-based reservation in AMU's post-graduate medical courses. The AMU is likely to contest this judgement in the Supreme Court.

This verdict is relevant for several reasons. The Indian constitution upholds the separation of state and religion. Can public funds be explicitly used to subsidize student reservation for Muslims? This said, one is also confronted with the relative educational backwardness of Muslims. Can economic criteria be used rather than religious ones to ensure equity in tertiary education and the public sector? Can such criteria be operationalized?

There is a deeper question as well. If the Indian constitution is neutral on the issue of religion, denominational educational institutions should remain outside the purview of the state. Such institutions should not receive public funds though subject to broader regulation of education standards. I would further argue that private Hindu educational institutions be entitled to the same exemptions that private minority educational institutions enjoy.

In the interim, AMU might have two options ahead i.e. to (i) transform itself into a fee-levying private institution with flexibility on student recruitment; or (ii) play by the rules of a Government-financed institution i.e. no use of public funds to favor the admission of students belonging to one religion. It is a difficult call but one that needs to be made in a depoliticized environment.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Revisioning Indian history

I refer to G. Feuerstein, S. Kak, and D. Frawley, "In Search of the Cradle of Civilization", Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Publications, 2001. This book attempts a paradigm shift in the study of Indian history. The conventional departments of history in India, dominated by Marxist academics such as Romila Thapar, K.N. Panikkar, Sarvapalli Gopal and Gyanendra Pandey, would therefore be uncomfortable with its approach. The book makes for an interesting read although I am skeptical at the level of speculation not always grounded on rigorous historical research. For this posting, I rely on those sections based on solid archeological evidence alone.

Historians have traditionally dated the inception of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa to 2,700 BC. However, the earliest layers of both cities are inaccessible to archeologists due to the water table impeding further excavation. It is therefore presumed that the bottom layers of the urbanized Indus Valley civilization date to 3,000 BC or before.

However, excavation by American archeologists in Mehrgarh in Baluchistan in the 1990s, reveal that the beginnings of Indic civilization had its origins considerably earlier i.e. in 6,500 BC. Like Jericho in Palestine that has been continuously inhabited since 9,000 BC and the village of Catal Huyuk in Turkey that dates back to the 7th millennium BC, Mehrgarh represents one of the oldest settlements in history. It marks the beginnings of the agricultural revolution in the Indian subcontinent and is a direct precursor to the Indus valley civilization.

Mehrgarh epitomized the beginnings of urban life in ancient India. It had an area of two square kilometers and an estimated population of 20,000 people in 6,000 BC. Archeologists have discovered several burial grounds within Mehrgarh, rectangular houses consisting of between four to six rooms made out of mud bricks and painted red ware pottery with complex animal decorations. The town had many buildings with work rooms.

Excavations reveal that Mehrgarh traded with the early world. It imported jade and turquoise from central Asia, lapis lazuli from what is now northern Afghanistan, and other items from South India. Skeletal remains indicate that the population was multi-racial. The Mehrgarh farmers cultivated cotton as early as the fifth millennium BC. The stylized female figurines appear to be the prototype of the later Indus valley sculptures. The use of brass in conjunction with crude stone implements (i.e. the chalcolithic era) in Mehrgarh has been dated to 5,000 BC. One can surmise that cattle were first domesticated in Mehrgarh. Going by the animal motifs painted on the rough ceramic ware excavated there, it appears that cattle played a significant economic role much as in rural India today.

The Mehrgarh culture evolved into the successor Indus valley civilization. Mohenjo Daro, Harappa, Kalibangan, Amri and affiliate cities represented an urban and maritime civilization in 2500 BC that traded extensively with the Near East. The associated Indus valley port cities of Lothal in India and Sutkagen Dor in Pakistan reveal brisk mercantile activity with lands across the sea that included Bahrain, Mesopotamia and South India. Indian archeologists had discovered a now submerged port city off the shore of Gujarat in the 1990s that also belonged to the Indus valley civilization. Much of the iconography of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa reminds one of contemporary Hindu motifs. The changes in weather patterns and the growing desertification of the previously lush Indus region in 1900 BC undermined the conditions for a rich agricultural surplus. The drying up of river systems, as evidenced by satellite imagery, forced civilization to shift to the eastern Punjab/Haryana and later to the Gangetic valley.

It is evident that the commencement of Indian history preceded Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. The earlier settlement in Mehrgarh marks the start of Indic civilization. This era in the historical time-line of India needs to be explored further in a rigorous manner. While the Indian Council of Historical Research may not be equal to the task, independent historians such as Meenakshi Jain and B.B. Lal need to take up the challenge. Failure to do so would mean that American universities remain the only meaningful centers of Indian history studies!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Sinic Space

China's launch of its second manned space craft this week demonstrated a sense of national purpose and pride in recent years. "Shen-zhou VI" represents the long dream of Chinese planners to equal the West in space technology. China launched its first space satellite in 1970. India did so in 1974 when it launched "Aryabhatta". China and India were the first countries in the developing world to have a space program where both successfully launched a series of unmanned satellites. And yet, China has outpaced India in recent years. China is the third country after Russia and the United States to catapult a man into outer space.

China launched its first manned space flight in 2003 when Yang Li Wei, a former fighter pilot, became the world's first "Yu Hang Yuan" - i.e. Chinese astronaut. The United States faced the Columbia shuttle disaster that year. China launched its second manned space flight this month and hopes to launch an unmanned mission to the Moon in 2007. This is timed to precede the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The China National Space Administration hopes to build a space station thereafter. National pride and international prestige are motivating factors. China intends to showcase that it has come of age and will be a space super power. The tacit objective is to challenge American supremacy in space, leverage its space program for defence purposes and to perhaps invest in anti-satellite lasers and satellite-based navigational systems.

Let us not be entirely carried away. Shen-zhou VI is only a modified version of Russia's Soyuz space craft. There is less innovation and scientific research in the Chinese space program. But it is still impressive. Indians might argue that India has other priorities such as health care for the poor, education for the masses and basic infrastructure. Funds are finite and choices need to be made. I would disagree. Grass roots development and a space program are not zero sum choices. China only spends 0.03% of its GDP on its space program. India has no alternative but to remain in the space race. The premise of poverty alleviation in fact necessitates that.

This is not to discount the quiet successes of the Indian Space Research Organization. In October, 2001, India launched the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and entered the exclusive commercial satellite launch market. China has had less successes in this regard. In September, 2002, India launched its first weather satellite to more accurately forecast cyclones. In September, 2004, it launched a space satellite for expanding the country's educational network. In May, 2005, India launched two satellites to expand bandwidth to help amateur radio operators and ensure precise mapping of disaster affected areas. It now hopes to land an unmanned satellite on the moon in 2008 at a cost of US$ 74 million. India's space program, while less conspicuous, has had a scientific and developmentalist mandate. The emphasis is on communications, remote sensing, meteorology, agricultural crop production and cadastral surveying. The United States, Russia, China, the European Union, India and Japan constitute the world's space elite. The race to outer space is on. Let's hope that India is no second to China when it comes to the Akash Ganga!

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Chechen Quagmire

The war shattered Chechen republic lies at the intersection of the Russian oil infrastructure in the Caucasus and has large petroleum reserves itself. Chechnya has an area of 5,984 square miles and a largely Muslim population of 800,000. Resistance to Russian rule goes back to 1785 AD with there being eight recorded instances of armed revolt before the latest round of fighting that commenced in 1991. Stalin deported the entire Chechen population to Siberia and Kazakhstan in 1944. They were permitted to return after his death in 1953. The Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991 and Chechnya was one of several regions that declared its independence. The administration of the break away republic was unable to stem the anarchy and breakdown of governance. 300,000 non-Chechens fled amidst spiralling ethnic violence and attacks on minorities. No country recognized its "independence", except for the Taleban regime.

Boris Yeltsin sent in Russian troops to crush the secessionist movement in 1994. The Chechen capital of Grozny was devastated and a scorched earth policy was pursued. However, Russian troops withdrew in 1996 in the face of a relentless Chechen insurrection while elections were held in the break away Chechen republic in 1997. Chechen sponsorship of Islamist militancy in the neighboring Russian-held area of Dagestan and the terrorist attacks on apartment blocks in Russia triggered the resumption of hostilities. Russia re-invaded the region in 1999 under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. While the Russian military swiftly consolidated control over the region, dramatic acts of Chechen terrorism ensued outside the state.

This included the attack on an opera theater in Moscow that led to the death of 129 civilians, the bombing of the Moscow subway, the destruction of two civilian airliners mid-air by women suicide bombers, the attack on the school at Beslan that led to the death of 330 civilians, earlier attacks on two hospitals that killed 207 persons and yesterday's incidents at Nalchik where 90 people were killed. It is relevant to note that all terrorist attacks occurred outside Chechnya. The Chechen separatists, led by the 40 year old Shamil Besayev, are thought to be linked to Al Qaeda. Some hope to establish a trans-caucasus Islamic state. The war since 1991 has resulted in the death of up to 250,000 persons. This was an unprecedented savagery. Meanwhile, the theft and illegal refining of oil continues on a huge scale while unemployment stands at 76%.

Russia will need to combine an anti-terrorist campaign with a meaningful democratization of Chechnya. Far reaching autonomy and the resumption of the political process are imperative. Traditional counter-insurgency operations are not likely to succeed in this instance. Meanwhile, western criticism of the human rights record of Russia rings hollow in light of its own terrorist campaign elsewhere. Secession is hardly an option for the international community given the complex socio-political dynamics of the extended region. It would merely open a Pandora's box of competing ethnicities in the volatile Caucasus and reward Islamist militancy to devastating effect. The stability of the remainder of the oil rich Caucasus would be at risk.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Manipuri Meltdown

The Indian state of Manipur has an area of 8,620 square miles and a population of 2.2 million. It is a deeply fractured land with multiple insurgencies, a breakdown of governance, pervasive drug addiction and perhaps the highest per capita incidence of HIV/AIDS in India. New Delhi has mishandled the administration of parts of the remote North East and there can be no excuse for such ineptness.

Manipur adopted Hinduism and the Bengali script, calendar and literary traditions in the 17th century. The game of Polo and the classical Ras Lila dance, popularized by Tagore, originated there. Manipur and Burma took turns in raiding each other. The martial kingdom came under British tutelage in 1891, enacted its own constitution in 1947 and acceded to the Indian union in 1949. New Delhi recognized Manipur as a federal state only in 1972 and belatedly awarded the Meitei language constitutional status in 1992 due to continued agitation.

The traditionally Hindu Meitei once formed a 2/3rd majority of the ex-princely state. A complete census was not held in 2001 but the available numbers indicate a decline in the Hindu percentage to 46%. Christians are 34% while Muslims are 9%. The 30 tribes that constitute the Manipuri population present a bewildering political equation. While the Meitei account for 50% of the state's population, they occupy just 10% of the state's area. This is the Imphal valley. The Nagas who dominate the surrounding hills want their districts to be carved out of Manipur and merged with neighboring Nagaland. The Kuki tribals, who also live in the hills, oppose any such merger urging instead that a separate state be created within the Indian Union for the Kuki tribe. The Nagas and Kukis had traditionally fought over the lucrative trade in narcotics and contraband with neighboring Burma. The Meitei, who demand outright independence, fail to understand that their political future as a proud collective group is within the Indian Union. Any separation would lead to the loss of most of Manipur to a greater Nagaland.

The People's Liberation Army, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, the Kuki National Front, the Hmar People's Convention and the Islamic National Front are five of the 40 odd rebel groups present in Manipur. China, Pakistan and Bangladesh nurtured these groups at different times. The state presents a picture of complete chaos. The writ of the central government did not run outside Imphal in the late 1990s. Manorama Devi, a member of the People's Liberation Army, died in police custody in July, 2004. Forensic evidence indicated that she had been raped and tortured by the Assam Rifles. The incident sparked state wide agitation and a serious deterioration in the security situation. For instance, 174 people were killed in Manipur between January 1 and October 9, 2005 alone. Deaths in police custody, staged encounter killings and acts of terrorism are not uncommon.

It is clear that the solution forward would be to defeat the multiple insurgencies, restore good governance and reinforce a multi-ethnic Manipur devoid of the senseless tribalism that has bedeviled it since independence. Once described as the Switzerland of India, Manipur has tremendous potential for tourism. When linked to the proposed ports of Burma, it would be at the cross roads of commerce. The scenic Manipur river in fact is a mere tributary of the Burmese Irrawaddy. New Delhi needs to seize the opportunity and correct the situation at the earliest.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Suicide In Syria

Last week, we wrote about the fast developing end-game in Syria.

Today, via BBC, Syrian minister 'commits suicide'

Syria's Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan has committed suicide, the official news agency in Damascus says.

He was reportedly questioned by a UN investigator last month over the murder of ex-Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri.

For many years Kanaan was Syria's powerful intelligence chief in Lebanon, which was dominated by Syria until its military withdrawal earlier this year.

Hours before his death, he said he had served Lebanon with honesty, adding that this interview may be his last.

How many more pawns will have to be sacrificed for protecting the increasingly desperate dictatorship in Damascus?


In The Wall Street Journal, Russell Seitz puts the Kashmir earthquake in perspective:

Mountains like the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush will go on rising whether borders or empires stand or fall, and the erosive force of the Indus River will sweep away whatever the angry earth throws down as the tectonic plates continue their collision. Saturday's quake was as powerful as the one that leveled San Francisco, but one of these centuries the rafting together of the Asian and Indus plates will rock the subcontinent with quakes a hundred times stronger, as it has before. It may take a harder shock than Saturday's to persuade the subcontinent's capitals to recognize that, partition notwithstanding, they are in the same tectonic boat. The region's conflicts may seem intractable, but the Earth is ever patient in its diplomacy. The civilizations of South Asia have a half-billion years' grace in which to resolve their age-old differences before the slow tectonic violence that has put fossil seashells atop Everest crumples Ceylon--unserendipitously--into the mountainous seashore of Tibet.

And here we thought (listening to establishment voices in India's neighborhood) that Pakistan was really one with Arabia -- and Sri Lanka with South-East Asia!!!

Civil Liberties: A Rethink

The "Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2004" released by the U.S. Department of State in February, 2005 makes interesting reading. While the State Department is hardly the international referee for human rights, its observations on India can not be entirely dismissed either. Here's food for thought on Vijayadasami!

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 is in effect in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura. This statute authorizes the Indian government to declare any area a "disturbed area", if needed. The military is permitted to fire on anyone to maintain "law and order", and to arrest anyone against whom "reasonable suspicion exists". Those detained need not be informed of the grounds for their arrest. Security forces are granted immunity from prosecution for acts committed under this legislation. The Disturbed Areas Act, similarly, gives police extraordinary powers of arrest and detention in the interests of public safety. The National Security Act permits the police to detain persons considered security risks without charge or trial for as long as one year. While the legislation lacks definition of what constitutes a "security risk", the relevant state government and a board of three high court judges are required to confirm the detention order within seven weeks of the arrest.

The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act of 1990 gives military personnel the authority to shoot suspected terrorists and to destroy suspected insurgent structures in Kashmir, if warranted. Under the terms of this act, no "prosecution, suit, or other legal proceeding shall be instituted against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers of the act" without the prior approval of the central Government. The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act of 1978 permits the detention of persons without charge and judicial review for up to 2 years. Detainees do not have automatic access to family or legal counsel during such period.

The Information Technology Act provides for censoring information on the internet and limits access to the internet under exceptional circumstances. It requires internet cafes to monitor internet use to this effect and has provision to search premises without a warrant, if needed. While the legislation is not enforced, New Delhi has still not defined the rules for the implementation of this act. The colonial Indian Telegraph Act gives police the power to tap telephones and intercept mail in instances of public emergency. Under the Official Secrets Act, the Government may restrict publication of sensitive stories in the national media on grounds of public security. The Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act lapsed in 1995 while the Prevention of Terrorism Act was repealed in 2004.

Fortunately, most provisions have not been applied. The issue of terrorism and national security bedevils several countries, many of which have introduced drastic legislation potentially curtailing civil liberties. This includes the United States and Britain. India is not the only democracy that is faced with this dilemma. Moreover, India's human rights legislation is one of the best in Asia. This said, it might not be inappropriate to review these statutes to more effectively address concerns of public safety without unduly compromising citizen rights.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

How 'Bout Those Chickens!

IIPM's chickens may not have hatched but they sure are coming home to roost!!

This is a breakout moment for the Indian blogosphere. One hopes Gaurav Sabnis and Rashmi Bansal will some day get referenced in top-tier business school case studies. Sweet vindication that would be, won't it?

Kudos also to Desipundit for their efforts on this issue.

Update: Now Varna too is at the receiving end of IIPM's inexplicable and ridiculous ire.

Indian Eye on Koizumi

This is a sequel to the earlier posting on Japan dated October 2. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's landslide election victory in September, 2005 resulted in his administration securing a two thirds majority in the lower house. This will reinforce ongoing Japanese efforts to enhance its international profile. I will not cover Koizumi's domestic reform agenda except to mention that his government successfully pushed through legislation today to privatize Japan Post. Japan Post, which also serves as a Savings Bank, is possibly the largest financial institution in the world with US$ 3.2 trillion in assets.

The Koizumi administration is lobbying for a permanent Japanese seat at the United Nations Security Council. Tokyo highlights the fact that Japan is the second largest contributor to the United Nations and has been involved in several peace keeping operations in recent years, Iraq being a noteworthy example. While Article 9 of the Japanese constitution forbids the use of force in international disputes, the United States has urged a greater Japanese role in the fight against terror. It has hinted that increased levels of Japanese participation in collective security efforts will win it American support for a permanent seat at the Security Council. With this end in mind, the Koizumi administration is likely to initiate a debate on the constitution to allow increased Japanese participation in international military efforts.

Junichiro Koizumi is keen to leave a legacy of a strengthened Japanese presence on the international stage, a move viewed with concern by China. India and Japan share a strategic convergence with regards to (i) energy issues; (ii) security of sea lanes in the Indian Ocean; (iii) nuclear non-proliferation; and (iv) permanent membership in the security council. This is witnessed in Indo-Japanese cooperation in the gas fields of Sakhalin in Russia's Far East, a coordinated response in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami in Aceh, convergence on the issue of Iran and North Korea, and UN reform. Like the 16th century Shogun Nobunaga, Koizumi views himself as Japan's unifier in a fluid international environment. It is in India's interest that he succeed in his efforts.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Malicious Reporting By Associated Press

Via MSNBC, here is an AP report: Kashmiri rebels reach victims first

Shaukat Khan hiked across a valley to collect food and supplies he thought were being handed out by authorities.

Instead, he found what thousands others discovered after the massive earthquake that shattered their villages: a lot of help was coming from Kashmiri separatists on the Indian side of the disputed territory.

Think about it. AP claims that separatists and terrorists are ahead of Government of India in helping the victims of the Kashmir earthquake.

Given the vastness of the destruction, and the limited assets of these so-called "rebels", it is simply inconceivable that this story is the whole truth. Its possible that these guys helped out some folks before the Indian army got there -- great, we need as much help as is possible; but is it AP's case that these guys have reached more people with more stuff than the army which has enormous logistical resources?

The only way this is possible is if the army didn't care about Kashmiri victims. This is a very grave accusation and AP needs to be very careful about whether this is the road it wishes to take.

We have argued repeatedly that India needs to pick up its pace of help, but even we are left astounded by this AP story which reveals a malicious anti-India agenda. AP should be ashamed.

A Profile In Courage

Consequent to the increasingly bizzare actions by IIPM defenders, Gaurav Sabnis makes a principled stand and quits his job.

The vile comments on Rashmi Bansal's blog tell all there's to be known about these IIPM defenders.

Please read Amit's take for a background on the matter.

IIPM has the right to take anyone to court, if it feels maligned. It has a right to debate people who it disagrees with. What it is doing, instead, is trying to smother brave voices in the blogosphere who've called IIPM out on its questionable claims.

This is a profound disgrace and, hopefully, will backfire big time.

Terrorism In Kashmir

Pakistan-backed terrorists continue their murderous ways even in face of the calamitous earthquake in Kashmir.

Via Times of India, Terrorists gun down 12 in J-K

We hope that the Indian military will not let up either in smashing these vipers' nests wherever they find them. Their "cynical peace overtures" -- that The Acorn correctly calls making virtue of necessity -- ought to be ignored.

Nuclear Tae Kwon Do

North Korea, a country with an area of 47,000 square miles and a population of 23 million, merits attention given its nuclear program. It pursued an active weapons program until 1994 when it undertook to freeze all nuclear-related activities under the "Agreed Framework" negotiated with the Clinton administration. In 2002, the Bush administration accused North Korea of violating its earlier international commitments. Pyongyang retaliated in dramatic fashion by restarting its nuclear reactor, expelling UN monitors and pulling out of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in December, 2002.

North Korea appears to have a dual track of producing weapons grade plutonium and enriching uranium. The United States has threatened to refer Pyongyang's nuclear program to the UN Security Council. While China is likely to veto such a move, it remains concerned that a Korean nuclear program could lead to the renewed militarization of Japan. India expressed concern that Pakistan had provided uranium enrichment technology to North Korea in exchange for the liquid fuelled Ghauri/Nodong ballistic missiles. This impacts on the security of India.

Many view North Korea's threat to restart it nuclear program as a ploy to leverage greater levels of American economic aid and energy assistance. This explains the demands for light water nuclear reactors. A cash-stripped economy plagued with recurrent famine due to the failure of socialist agriculture, Pyongyang could easily trade nuclear technology with Middle Eastern fundamentalist outfits in exchange for hard cash. Some estimate that at least 2 million people had died in that country since 1996 due to acute food shortages. An article by Harsh Pant provides additional analysis.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Doesn't Musharraf Get Lives Are At Stake?

We saw a distraught Pakistani mother wailing on BBC that her child was trapped in a collapsed building, but that there were no cranes to move the concrete. There is nothing more heart-rending than such horrendous suffering.

There are people dying and Musharraf has, in effect, turned down Indian offers of help. A Pakistani spokeswoman just told CNN they are waiting for US to send helicopters. Why not let Indian helicopters, that are close by, get on with the job?

On CNN, Mushrraf said his reluctance was due to "sensitivity". Sensitivity? Are Pakistani lives not more important than any sensitivity of the Pakistani army?

Doesn't Delhi Know What's At Stake?

India's response to the Kashmiri earthquake is a really big deal.

Therefore, we are stunned to read this AP report: India Quake Survivors Complain of Slow Aid

Let's aggressively pick up our game, shall we?

The Lebanese Phoenix?

Primary Red's posting yesterday inspired me. Lebanon is at the cross roads of Europe and the Arab world. A Mediterranean state of 4, 015 square miles and a population of 3.8 million, it is the only Arab country that upholds a separation of religion and the state. This is a nation of minorities, whose delicate confessional balance facilitated a cosmopolitan ethos, press freedoms, a vibrant social space and the highest rate of literacy in the Middle East. It also resulted in a 15 year civil war from 1975 to 1990.

With the Arab conquests of the Levant in the 7th century, many dissident minority groups withdrew into the less accessible mountain fastness of Lebanon. The Maronites and later the Druze come to mind. Others such as the Greek Orthodox and the Sunni remained in flourishing urban areas to continue a life of cosmopolitan commerce while the hitherto largely rural Shi'ite remain impoverished in the southern districts. The patchwork nation had a 54% Christian population in 1932 although a religious census has not been held since then. The Christian population, itself not homogenous, declined in recent decades due to immigration triggered by the civil war and lower birthrates. This demographic change had political implications. The 1990 Sa'udi sponsored Ta'if accord, which ended the 15 year civil war, witnessed the transfer of much of the executive power from the Christian presidency to the Sunni Prime Ministership.

Lebanon's fractured yet vibrant sectarian dynamic was its strength and weakness. The Syrians, the Palestinians, the Israelis and the Iranians interfered in Lebanese politics undermining that country's political stability. Lebanon was a part of Syria until 1920 when the French colonial authorities carved it out to ensure political space for the region's unique Christian community and more importantly a continued French toehold in the Middle East. Syria never recognized this "partition". Syrian troops intervened at the commencement of the Lebanese civil war in 1975. Likewise, a tacit Syrian Iranian alliance led to the strengthening of Hizbollah amongst the disenfranchised Shi'ite population in Lebanon's south in the 1990s. The assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February, 2005 set in trail international condemnation and domestic opposition that forced the Syrian withdrawal after a gap of 30 years.

Armed Palestinian militant groups, exiled from Jordan in 1971 after Black September, moved to Lebanon and used it as a base to attack Israel. The earlier influx of Palestinian refugees in the late 1940s had upset the delicate religious balance in Lebanon. The radicalization of this refugee population due to the Palestinian Liberation Organization consolidating its presence in Lebanon precipitated the civil war in 1975. The Maronite Phalangist militia attacked Palestinian civilians while the Israelis invaded southern Lebanon in 1978. The Israelis withdrew only to re-invade in 1982 as part of Operation Peace for Galilee. The Israeli intervention led to the eviction of the PLO from Lebanon although the decommissioning of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine linked to Syria remains unfinished. Israel unilaterally pulled out in May, 2000 after a periof of 18 years in the face of unremitting and determined Hizbollah resistance. The parallels with Gaza and Hamas are unmistakable. The Syrian, Palestinian and Israeli dynamic has to that extent been reduced.

UN Security Council Resolution 1559 calls for the disarming of all militant groups in Lebanon. The nature of the Lebanese local polity is unlikely to ensure the decommissioning of the Shi'ite Hizbollah. However, Lebanese pluralism stripped of international involvement will facilitate the need for cross sectarian accommodation that might encourage Hezbollah to rethink its Iranian links.

The as yet fragile and uncertain de-internationalization of Lebanese politics offers the political space for Lebanon to resume its role as the vibrant commercial hub at the cross roads of international cultures. While its per capita income is only US$ 5,000 owing to the long years of conflict, the prospects for the re-emergence of the Levantine phoenix are significant.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Paradise Rocked

Today's seismicity in Kashmir is likely a long-term earthquake for the destiny of the region.

Kashmiris will long remember how their nation acted in response.

The moment has finally come for India to make good on our perennial promises of investing big in Kashmir. India's unique scale, strength, and diverse resources must now be mobilized to tangibly demonstrate how much we care for our Kashmiri compatriots.

When this moment passes, as it surely will, their Indian identity ought to have made a real difference in Kashmiri lives. For obvious reasons, India cannot fail in this task.

It's also important to extend -- where possible -- India's support to Kashmiris trapped in PoK.

Tough Day On Terra Firma

Via Reuters, Thousands feared dead as big quake hits subcontinent

Via BBC, Quake kills '400' schoolchildren

Via Reuters, Some 1,400 dead in Guatemala mudslide

Iran & Syria

Via Drudge Report, Iran stock market in collapse, down 30%

Via Washington Institute for Near East Policy, The Countdown for Bashar al-Asad and Lebanon

Two nations worth watching in the days to come.


Via Washington Post, ex-Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid tells us about Indonesia's Songs Against Terrorism

Mr. Wahid is prominently featured in V. S. Naipaul's brilliant Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey

He writes:

One of the people watching this tragedy unfold was a brilliant young musician named Ahmad Dhani. Leader of the immensely popular rock band Dewa, Dhani began to use his musical platform to influence millions of fans in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia to resist the tide of religious extremism.

In response to Laskar Jihad's atrocities, and to discredit the appeal of fundamentalist ideology, Dhani composed the best-selling album "Laskar Cinta" ("Warriors of Love"). Released in November 2004, it quickly rose to the top of the charts as millions of young Indonesians embraced its message of love, peace and tolerance.

Dhani and the other members of Dewa have presented Indonesia's youth with a stark choice, and one easy for the vast majority to answer: Do they want to join the army of jihad, or the army of love? In response, numerous radical Muslim groups have accused Dhani -- who is a devout Sufi, or mystically inclined Muslim -- of being an infidel, an apostate (code words inciting violence) and a Zionist agent. They have hauled him into court on charges of defaming Islam and seek to ban his use of rock music to promote a spiritual and progressive interpretation of Islam that threatens the appeal of their own Wahhabi-inspired extremism.

Dhani and his group are on the front lines of a global conflict, defending Islam from its fanatical hijackers. In a world all too often marred by hatred and violence committed in the name of religion, they seek to rescue an entire generation from Wahhabi-financed extremists whose goal is to transform Muslim youth into holy warriors and suicide bombers. For every young Indonesian seduced by the ideology of hatred and fanaticism -- including those responsible for the recent, awful attacks in Bali -- countless others see through the extremists' web of lies and hatred, in no small part thanks to the visionary courage of people like Ahmad Dhani. For as they listen to Dewa's music, the hearts of millions of young Indonesians have been inspired to declare: "No to the warriors of jihad! Yes to the warriors of love

Maoist Alert in India

I argued on October 1, 2005 that the Maoist insurrection in Nepal posed a security threat to India. I highlighted the lack of judicial responsiveness to Dalit issues in another posting dated October 4. The inability of the state to address the persistent pockets of poverty in scheduled caste and scheduled tribe areas, and the continued marginalization of these segments of the population have fuelled an incipient Maoist insurrection in India. This can spiral out of control if unaddressed.

There is an urgent need for development programs targeted at the disenfranchised and impoverished. A concerted mopping-up operation is needed to restore law and order. Police excesses, quite rampant during the earlier state administration in Andhra Pradesh, need to be reined in.

The hi-tech focus of the previous administration of Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh had ignored the drought prone areas of Telengana. Telengana had been earlier subject to misadministration under the Nizams unlike Andhra proper that was part of the "Madras Presidency". Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Telengana suffer from geographical remoteness, lack of access to capital, inadequate integration into the broader economy and leakages in public welfare transfers. This is a problem confronted by other remote areas in the world such as Gansu in China and the Mezzogiorno in Italy. An initial solution would be targeted subsidies i.e. seed capital, public works, health care and more importantly an education to give the population the tools to move out.

The Maoists call for an independent communist republic that includes the predominantly tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Orissa. It is estimated that there are approximately 10,000 armed Maoist insurgents in India today. Some sources assert that the rebels raise between US$ 3 to US$10 million a year in extortion.

There are three strands to Indian Maoism i.e. the (i) People's War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh; (ii) Communist Party of India - Maoist (CPI-Maoist) in Bihar; and (iii) Maoist Communist Center (MCC) in Bihar. The PWG was formed in 1980. It merged with the CPI-Maoists in 1998 and coordinates efforts with the MCC. The Maoists staged a daring attack on the motorcade of the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh in October 2003. He narrowly escaped death. The current Congress-led administration in Andhra Pradesh made peace overtures to the Maoists in 2004. This failed to deliver results and might have even detracted from ongoing security operations.

The Maoists killed 250 persons in Andhra Pradesh this year. This included the death of 10 officials in a land mine blast in August, 2005. A state legislator lost his life in the attack. A land-mine blast attributed to the Maoists led to the death of 24 policemen in Chhattisgarh in September, 2005. 13 civilians were also killed in a remote village in Jharkhand that month. The Maoists killed 12 paramilitary soldiers in a mine blast in Jharkhand today. While these still represent sporadic incidents of violence, attention to the pressing development issues and threats to domestic security highlighted by the insurrection need to be addressed at the earliest.

Reflections on Bengal and Madras in the 1700s

I refer to Dharampal's land mark thesis titled "Indian Science and Technology in the 18th Century: Some Contemporary European Accounts" (New Delhi: Impex 1971) and to my independent reading.

Archival records of the English East India Company indicate that the Bengal Presidency in the early 18th century was an affluent region with vibrant urban centers, not to mention a prosperous rural hinterland. Murshidabad, Dhaka and Chittagong had thriving economies.

50% of Bengal's population was then urbanized. This population was engaged in manufacturing, artisanship and trade. Bengal was the entrepot for trade between China and East Africa. Hindu, Muslim and Armenian merchants traded overseas. Bengal exported textiles, silk, sugar, jute and opium. It imported gold bullion. There was an incipient banking system, a network of credit and a ship building industry in the 1700s.

In the late 1700s, a weakened Moghul empire leased out revenue collection in Bengal to the East India company. This led to a change in land use and land ownership patterns. The cultivation of indigo replaced paddy to meet the demand of the textile industry in Manchester. The import of cheaper factory produced fabric from England contributed to the decline of the local textile industry. This led to the eclipse of thriving urban centers and to the return of people to rural areas. The de-urbanization and de-monetization of Bengal in the late 1700s was sudden and extensive. The urban population fell to a mere 15% of the total population. The land could no longer support the increased rural population and the Great Bengal Famine in 1770 resulted in the death of 10 million people. This marked the beginning of the acute rural poverty in pre-partition Bengal.

The archival records in London reveal that the "Madras Presidency" enjoyed impressive levels of prosperity and literacy in the 1700s as well. The affluent village economy in South India supported a broad network of rudimentary schools centered on the village temple, where basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic were imparted. The contrast with levels of education in pre-industrial age England stands out. Dharampal mentions that the Madras Presidency did better than 18th century England on several fronts. These include: the (i) number of schools proportionate to the total population; (ii) number of students attending these institutions; (iii) duration of time spent in school by the students; (iv) educational background of the teachers; (v) range of subjects taught; (vi) percentage of the non-elite in the student population; and (vii) enrolment of girls. This is not to deny the presence of social inequity in pre-colonial India. While India remained a stratified society and upheld the institution of untouchability, it did offer some avenues of advancement for its non-elite.

The depredations of the Anglo-Mysore wars, the Anglo-French wars in the Carnatic and colonial agricultural policy took its toll. The subsequent decline of the agricultural economy, the irrigation network and urban manufacturing centers in Tamil Nadu led to repeated famine and the disappearance of the traditional village schools. Vast acres of land had become desolate and many immigrated overseas as indentured labor.

We are indebted to the archival records of the East India Company. We lack similar socio-economic data for other parts of India in the 18th century. But let us not forget that it was a wealthy Jain merchant from Gujarat who bailed out the East India Company in the mid 1700s when it had massive debts. It is entirely likely that rural and urban Gujarat shared the prosperity of Bengal and the South. The time has come for more research on this era of Indian history as the country reclaims its role in the broader world.


Blog Archive