Friday, March 31, 2006

The Israeli Elections

This blog was of the view that Ariel Sharon's vision for the territorial redemarcation of Israel represented the best chance for that country's security in a turbulent region. The redrawing of the borders would ensure the demographic sustainability of the Jewish majority state. While Sharon subsequently fell into coma, this weeks election results conclusively establishes that Sharon's vision is destined to reshape Israel and by extension the Middle East.

Sharon and Olmert had formed the centrist Kadima party in November, 2005. Kadima won 28 seats of the 120 seat knesset in this week's elections under the system of proportional representation. While significantly lower than the initial forecast of the opinion polls, Kadima is nonetheless poised to form the next government in coalition with the Labor party that won 20 seats on its center-left welfare platform

The hard-line Likud came a humiliating fifth place with just 11 seats. Netanyahu's Likud had hoped to cash in on Jewish fears in the aftermath of the Hamas victory at the Palestinian polls in January. It had vociferously opposed any withdrawal from the West Bank and campaigned on a neo-Thatcherite welfare-cutting agenda.The Ultra-Orthodox Shas Party with 13 seats and the Ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu with 12 seats are likely to back Olmert.

Israel will have a coalition government as it has had since 1949. While Kadima is likely to drive the peace agenda, Labor is likely to define the social and economic policy of the new Government on a leftist platform.

Olmert intends to redefine Israel's borders by 2010 with or without Palestinian concurrence. The plan would uproot 70,000 Jewish settlers from the West Bank and retain territory west of the 450 mile security barrier that cuts deep into the West Bank. This would include 250,000 Israeli settlers within Israeli jurisdiction, retain control of East Jerusalem and annex agricultural land. The proposal would still allow for a contiguous, sizeable and heavily populated Palestinian state. The Israeli military would remain in the evacuated areas until a comprehensive peace deal is signed with the Palestinians. The Sharon agenda therefore remains salient.

The Palestinian authority under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas has now called for the resumption of the negotiation process. Meanwhile, Ismail Haniya, the incoming Hamas Prime Minister has insisted that Israel can not fix the borders unilaterally. Kadima's plans to remove Jewish settlements is likely to be welcomed by the international quartet of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. Tony Blair had commended Olmert's victory as one that "changes the shape of Israeli politics". Israel is in for eventful times.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Apologies for no posts over the past week.

Have been traveling in the Middle East and engaging local executives at the highest level in very revealing business discussions.

Will write about overall impressions shortly.

The Flu

Let me join Primary Red in expressing regret at our collective absence. The flu hit me bad in hot and humid Colombo.

I just went through Robert Eric Frykenberg's "Religion, Nationalism and Hindu Fundamentalism: The Challenge to Indian Unity." in Ethnic Studies Report, Vol. XI, No.2 - Colombo, Sri Lanka. Frykenberg attacks Mohandas K. Gandhi as a "latent Hindu fundamentalist" and as "No friend of democracy, representative government, social or political equality, nor even of constitutionalism...". He dismisses Gandhi as "a caricature invented by Louis Fisher, dramatized by Richard Attenborough, and proudly subsidized by Indira Gandhi's government...", who in addition "so completely alienated" the Muslims". He adds that Gandhi had a "closed Hindu perspective....". Frykenberg's rhetoric can be refuted in depth but given the massive nature of such a project, I will address select points.

M.K Gandhi did not alienate the Muslim population in pre-partition India. He helped integrate them. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, to mention a few, supported Gandhi's endeavors to retain a united India. Gandhi had conceived of the Khilafat movement as far back as 1919 to mobilize Muslims and Hindus on a shared platform against the Raj. The intent was to reverse the eviction of the Ottoman Caliph although the agitation unfortunately deteriorated into an anti-Hindu pogrom in the Malabar.

Mohandas envisioned India as a commonwealth of village republics. To depict him as anti-democratic is devious. He worked against social and political injustice. He organized a campaign in 1924-25 to combat caste discrimination against untouchables in Vaikom, Travancore. Gandhi resisted the insidious British proposal to introduce separate electorates on the basis of caste. He correctly viewed this as a prelude to even further political fragmentation. He recommended that seats be reserved for untouchable caste candidates running for legislative elections in otherwise joint electorates.

The Mahatma attempted a process of inter-religious dialogue. He supported the Sikh struggle in 1921-22 to re-take the management of their shrines from the Hinduized Mahants. While Gandhi focussed less on Black Africans during his South African sojourn, subsequent statements in support of African and African-American rights suggest a person who evolved and learnt with time. Martin Luther King based his thought and political strategy upon Gandhi's example. Nelson Mandel followed suit albeit in a lesser manner. To dismiss Gandhi as caricature ignores the real estimation others had for him. These include George Bernard Shaw, Reverend C.F Andrews and Rabindranath Tagore.

Albert Einstein commended Gandhi in the aftermath of Europe's "world war" and holocaust as, "a man who had confronted the brutality of Europe with the dignity of the simple human being, and thus at all times risen superior. Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."

Gandhi re-introduced the term "harijan" to designate the untouchable castes. This was not an attempt to coopt the untouchable castes into the Hindu framework and make the religion a "permanent majority" as Frykenberg wrongly supposes, given the pre-Gandhian origins of the word "harijana". Ramanuja, the 11th century Vaishnavite philosopher, suggested the Tamil term Tirukulattar (God's people) to dignify the impoverished and oppressed untouchable castes of the Tamil lands. Narasimha Mehta, the Gujarati saint of the 15th century, coined the term "harijana" to refer to the untouchable castes as God's people, in his attempt to reverse the ritual stigma imposed upon them in the name of religion. Gandhi merely continued such endeavors at removing the social humiliation imposed upon the untouchables. Dr. Ambedkar considered this patronizing. But Gandhi had positive intentions. His life was a constant and committed fight against untouchability.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Billion Reasons to Care

Here's a feel-good streaming video clip on India hosted by Diane Sawyer. Tom Friedman's sound-byte captures the essence: "you're seeing 50 years of pent-up aspirations ... if you want to know what India feels like shake a champagne bottle for an hour - remove the cork ... you don't want to be in the way of that cork ... ". Or Freidman again: "to me India is a miracle".The host on education in India - "education is like a form of worship. Parents will skip meals for the kids to go to private school".

Tryst With Destiny

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

Amit links to yet another Peggy Noonan masterpiece -- having written for Ronald Reagan, her fluency with words and ideas puts pretenders like Arundhati Roy to shame.

Ms. Noonan has been reading "Freedom at Midnight" -- from which she draws the lesson that political leadership, by construction, isolates even the most well-meaning of leaders from the people they seek to lead. Consequently, they are blinded by an urgent sense of personal and historical mission -- ground realities of the little people figure little in these cosmic calculations.

This is why, she concludes, India bled upon partition -- for its leaders (except Gandhi) had no idea of what was about to follow. They were rushing towards their respective trysts with destiny with little regard for the grass they were trampling upon.

If, conversely, Mountbatten wasn't in such a hurry to achieve Indian independence, Jinnah might have fallen to TB, the partition might never have happened, and Gandhi -- the singularly towering Indian over two millennia -- might have died peacefully of old age, instead of gunshot wounds.

There are parallels here for Iraq. Ms. Noonan is passive-aggressively attacking the (elitist) neoconservative zeal for democratizing Iraq -- and the greater Middle East. Perhaps, she seems to be suggesting, slowing down is a better notion.

We don't disagree with a lot of what she has to say. While we are firm believers in neoconservatism and the (Leninist!) idea of "vanguard elites" leading ideological revolutions, we readily concede the structural risk of elitist isolation from the masses -- causing bad decision-making.

On India's partition though, we disagree. It wasn't an old man's hidden disease or a dashing Viceroy's bullheadedness, or a democratic idealist's personal ambition that savagely tore India apart -- India split because it could no longer sustain its internal social contradictions that had simmered for hundreds of years ever since Mahmoud swooped down from the mountains near Ghazni.

Similar contradictions are now playing out their tandava the world-over.

Regardless of Jinnah, Mountbatten, or Nehru, India was therefore likely destined for a tryst with communal bloodletting.

Perhaps they could have slowed down this horror -- but it's hard for us to imagine a powerful change of power as we faced in India not leading to this kind of unfortunate rite of passage. What do our readers think?

The good news is that, at least in India, this sacrifice became the foundation for our political modernity and, increasingly, our economic prosperity. Also, in secularism -- no matter how flawed our version is -- we began shaping, for the first time, a socio-political construct for seriously reconciling our internal contradictions.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has little to show for the horrors it summoned into being. This is why it is likely to suffer the fate of the erstwhile USSR.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

What Rough Beast ...

Via Asia Times, Syed Saleem Shahzad warns about a brewing Revolution in the Pakistani mountains

The Taliban, having taken Waziristan, are now slouching towards Islamabad.

While war rolls down the mountains, naive Indian students march to Pakistan with letters of peace

Monday, March 20, 2006


Via New York Times, Rumor, Fear and Fatigue Hinder Final Push to End Polio

BAREILLY, India — The cry went up the moment the polio vaccination team was spotted — "Hide your children!"

Some families slammed doors on the two volunteers going house to house with polio drops in this teeming city's decrepit maze of lanes, saying that they feared the vaccine would sicken or sterilize their children, or simply that they were fed up with the long drive to eradicate polio.

"We have a lot of other problems, and you don't care about those," shouted one woman from behind a locked door. "All you have is drops. My children get other diseases, and we don't get help."

This is a real important, and tragic, public health story -- whose epicenter is India's Hindi heartland. A must-read.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

China's No-Go Thought Zones

Via The Times of London, Now Chinese parents must use set menu to pick baby's name

We think that denial of even such basic social freedoms as naming one's own children is an act of profound intellectual violence.

In free nations like India and US, no Government would even dare think of such profanity.

The Chinese State clearly feels it can apply partial tourniquets to its people's thought without amputating national imagination -- imagination being crucial for China's (and everyone else's) prosperity quest.

We think this is so arrogantly stupid as to defy description. When a people start walling off portions of their minds -- creating thought zones they may not visit -- they start killing off the only real resource human beings have: their ability to freely imagine their own futures, then visualizing their path to get there.

No amount of physical resource-squatting (as the Chinese State is currently engaged in) can possibly overcome the loss of free spaces in the Chinese mind.

We have deep, deep sympathy for the plight of China's people, and pray for their eventual liberation from this horrendous tyranny they must now endure.

(Hat tip: Huffington Post)


Via The Globalist, Professor Prabhu Guptara describes Why the Next Decade Will Be Neither Chinese Nor Indian

My choice may be particularly surprising, given that Japan's economy has been dragging for the last 25 or more years, in spite of everything that the Japanese government has tried.

So why am I now putting my money on Japan? Sadly, it is not because I believe that Japan is on the verge of rejecting the cultural limitations imposed by its past.

Rather, it is because of robots! My view of Japan's place in the world through the next couple of decades started changing in mid-summer 2005, when I was one of the over 22 million people who visited the World Expo in Aichi.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


New York City's terrific Poetry In Motion program places poem-placards in the spaces usually reserved for advertisements in subway cars and buses. Perhaps this is a worthy idea for India's unruly public transport system!

Do check out ten years worth of great poetry in motion.

Anyway, last night, this blogger was rushing from work to catch a movie -- subways are the fastest way around town in Gotham -- and caught Robert Hayden's classic Those Winter Sundays on the subway wall.

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

Reminded us of this magnificent effort linked on India Uncut.

Great stuff, indeed.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Nuclear Double Standards - So What?

Pakistan's foreign minister demands "equality of treatment" from the US on the nuclear deal. George McGovern, 1972 Democratic Presidential candidate, writes that US is "maintaining flagrant double standards regarding nuclear proliferation".

We agree that this is clearly a case of double standards i.e. different standards for India than for the others (Pakistan, Iran, North Korea).

So what? In business, or in the business of geopolitics, not everyone is equal. The powerful have different standards. The 5 nuclear powers in NPT have different standards than the others. The same 5, on the security council, have different standards than others. America, with its pre-emptive strike policy, among other things, holds itself to a different standard than others. Large businesses get preferential treatment over small businesses all the time. One may not like it, but it is the inevitable consequence of power.

India is an emerging power, no matter how you look at it. Pakistan needs to realize it never was, nor will be, equal to India by any measure. Liberal critics' arguments about geo-political equality are as naively unrealistic as communism was with its misplaced sense of individual equality.

These folks need to shed their dreamy, abstract notions of equality and wake up to the real world of double standards.


The Counterterrorism Blog carries the following post:

Sebastian Junger Revisits Afghanistan and Points Finger at Pakistan

... he fingers elements in the Pakistan army and intelligence service ("ISI") as critical sponsors in the resurging Taliban activity. He notes that while Pakistan has captured and turned over key Al Qaeda operatives, it hasn't turned over a single mid- or high-ranking Taliban official to the U.S. since the attacks. Junger talked with a former Taliban government official with current knowledge of that assistance. He writes that some Pakistani military are training Taliban recruits. The Taliban official gave him the name and phone number of an ISI agent who brings recruits from a region in Afghanistan, inserts them into training camps in western Pakistan, and then sends them back to fight. Junger also writes that the ex-Taliban told him that the Paks are receiving as much money from Osama Bin Laden to not capture him as they are taking from the United States to catch him. If true, this claim indicates both a level of duplicity that must start near the top of the Pakistani government, and a level of resources available to Bin Laden that is extremely high.

How did a society so similar to our own go so horribly wrong? It is inconceivable to us that this tragic country can survive its own catastrophic choices for much longer.


Via Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, China Curbing "American Idol" Copycat Shows That "Undermine Socialist Values"

If the comrades in Beijing are worried about TV shows, their grip on power is surely less secure than the world imagines.

Also, if shows like American Idol, and Indian Idol, undermine socialist values, then shouldn't we have all channels broadcasting this stuff all the time!!

Clearly our contempt for these shows that celebrate bourgeois kitsch was greatly mistaken!!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

US National Security Strategy

This morning, US has issued an updated version of its national security strategy

Among other interesting themes, here is what it says on India's neghbourhood:

We have made great strides in transforming America’s relationship with India, a major power that shares our commitment to freedom, democracy, and rule of law. In July 2005, we signed a bold agreement – a roadmap to realize the meaningful cooperation that had eluded our two nations for decades. India now is poised to shoulder global obligations in cooperation with the United States in a way befitting a major power.

Progress with India has been achieved even as the United States has improved its strategic relationship with Pakistan. For decades, outsiders acted as if good relations with India and Pakistan were mutually exclusive. This Administration has shown that improved relations with each are possible and can help India and Pakistan make strides toward a lasting peace between themselves. America’s relationship with Pakistan will not be a mirror image of our relationship with India. Together, our relations with the nations of South Asia can serve as a foundation for deeper engagement throughout Central Asia. Increasingly, Afghanistan will assume its historical role as a land-bridge between South and Central Asia, connecting these two vital regions.

On China, it says:

The United States encourages China to continue down the road of reform and openness, because in this way China’s leaders can meet the legitimate needs and aspirations of the Chinese people for liberty, stability, and prosperity. As economic growth continues, China will face a growing demand from its own people to follow the path of East Asia’s many modern democracies, adding political freedom to economic freedom. Continuing along this path will contribute to regional and international security.

China’s leaders must realize, however, that they cannot stay on this peaceful path while holding on to old ways of thinking and acting that exacerbate concerns throughout the region and the world. These old ways include:

Continuing China’s military expansion in a non-transparent way;

Expanding trade, but acting as if they can somehow “lock up” energy supplies around the world or seek to direct markets rather than opening them up – as if they can follow a mercantilism borrowed from a discredited era; and

Supporting resource-rich countries without regard to the misrule at home or misbehavior abroad of those regimes.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Noam Chomsky

In 9/11's aftermath, Dr. Noam Chomsky has been cited frequently by the opponents of the war on terror to lend their -- frankly embarrassing -- complaints some intellectual weight.

Dr. Chomsky has been articulate and vicious in his critiques of America. In many ways, he is a more learned and American version of Arundhati Roy.

It is instructive, therefore, for some of Dr. Chomsky's -- particularly Muslim -- supporters to learn of the nature of ideas he has endorsed in relation to the recently deceased Slobodan Milosevic's genocide of Muslims in the Balkans.

Here is David Aaronovitch in the Times of London:

Recently, after a published interview with the antiwar intellectual Noam Chomsky, The Guardian erased the article from its website and apologized to Professor Chomsky for the interviewer's suggestion that either he, or Diana Johnstone, an author whose work he praised, had denied that the Srebrenica massacre had taken place.

This correction was entirely wrong. In the sense that the world understood there to have been an act amounting to genocide at Srebrenica -- ie, an act that we would have been justified in attempting to prevent by force -- Johnstone certainly, and Chomsky implicitly, had most certainly denied the massacre. In Johnstone's book, Fools' Crusade, and elsewhere she had argued that the numbers of deaths had been exaggerated, that many supposed victims were in fact still alive somewhere, that Srebrenica had actually been an armed camp, that the Bosnians had deliberately let it be overrun hoping for a anti-Serb propaganda coup, that there had been some regrettable "revenge" killings, as can happen in wartime. Anything and everything, indeed, except the truth -- which was that 7,000-8,000 Muslim men were killed by the Bosnian Serb forces precisely because they were Muslim men. Johnstone argued this, and Chomsky commended Johnstone. But why?

Most charitably we may understand this by thinking that Chomsky sees the road from Srebrenica to Iraq just as I do. If Bosnia was the betrayal through inaction and appeasement, Srebrenica the consequence and Kosovo the determination not to let it happen again, then the line runs clear.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

Dr. Wafa Sultan

New York Times profiles Dr. Wafa Sultan who three weeks ago was a largely unknown Syrian-American psychiatrist living outside Los Angeles, nursing a deep anger and despair about her fellow Muslims.

Today, thanks to an unusually blunt and provocative interview on Al Jazeera television on Feb. 21, she is an international sensation, hailed as a fresh voice of reason by some, and by others as a heretic and infidel who deserves to die.

In the interview, which has been viewed on the Internet more than a million times and has reached the e-mail of hundreds of thousands around the world, Dr. Sultan bitterly criticized the Muslim clerics, holy warriors and political leaders who she believes have distorted the teachings of Muhammad and the Koran for 14 centuries.

She said the world's Muslims, whom she compares unfavorably with the Jews, have descended into a vortex of self-pity and violence.

Dr. Sultan said the world was not witnessing a clash of religions or cultures, but a battle between modernity and barbarism, a battle that the forces of violent, reactionary Islam are destined to lose.

Perhaps her most provocative words on Al Jazeera were those comparing how the Jews and Muslims have reacted to adversity. Speaking of the Holocaust, she said, "The Jews have come from the tragedy and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror; with their work, not with their crying and yelling."

She went on, "We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people."

She concluded, "Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them."

Tough talk, certainly hard to take, but largely true. She has our deepest admiration.

Typical Of Hoodlums

Via BBC, Tamil rebels 'coercing diaspora'

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Via National Review, Maneeza Hossain writes about A Muslim Democracy in Peril

Bangladesh has all the elements necessary to succeed as a secular Muslim democracy; but it also has enough poverty, frustration, and disillusionment to make a state-failure a real possibility. The West would do well to help ensure that elections in Bangladesh are fair and open. The alternative is dire, both for Bangladesh and for the world.

While we agree with the sentiments expressed here, we must note that "The West" is both very far away and rather preoccupied. Bangladesh should, instead, look to its immediate west -- to India -- for guidance on building a robust and sustainable democracy.

Baghdad Bloodbath

Via BBC, Dozens of bodies found in Baghdad

Byron wrote:

Let there be light, said God, and there was light
Let there be blood, says man, and there's a sea.

If this isn't civil war, its not clear what is?

Holi In Varanasi

Terrorism cannot bring down the infectious joy of these Holi revelers in Varanasi!! Happy Holi all.

(Photo courtesy: BBC)

Judiciary Watch

We've repeatedly complained about India's over-active judiciary -- it frequently involves itself (via so-called public interest litigations) in matters that correctly belong in the legislative and executive branches.

Dr. Manmohan Singh seems to agree. We hope this is the beginning of a corrective dialogue on this subject.

The PM asked if the PILs 'become a tool for obstruction, delay and sometimes even harassment and added that 'judicial activism too must be used in a restrained manner to fill up any institutional vacuum or failure and to clarify legal positions, retaining its character as a powerful but sparingly used instrument for correction.'

(Link courtesy: Outlook magazine)

The Changing Face of America

I refer to Samuel Huntington, "Who Are We: America's Great Debate", London: Simon and Schuster, 2005. I am half way into his book and have not reached the point where he discusses the fast growing Hispanic population.

Huntington highlights the Anglo-Saxon Protestant foundation of the United States. He asserts that America is the most religious country in the industrialized world and is the only Protestant civilization premised upon individual responsibility, the work ethic, the right to dissent and individual interpretation of scripture. The early Americans favored the separation of church and state to safeguard religion from political intrusiveness. The intent was to establish a minimalist state that ensured complete freedom for society to practice its religion. And that society was a Protestant one with an impressive network of independent church institutions.

To quote him "In Europe, existing societies accepted or rejected the Protestant reformation. In America, the reformation created a new society. Unique amongst countries, America is the child of that reformation..... America was created as a Protestant society.....".

And yet, one can not deny the changing face of the United States. Roman Catholics comprised 1% of America's population in 1789. They account for 23% today. 63% of the United States is Protestant. The Census Bureau in Washington released data in June, 2005 which revealed that non-Hispanic whites had declined to 67% of the American population. They were 197.8 million out of a total of 294 million. The fast increasing Hispanics constituted 14% of the population i.e. 41 million while African-Americans were 13% or 39 million. The Bureau projected that whites and non-whites would equal each other in the year 2050.

The continued increase in the number of Hispanics is due to the youthful age profile, the higher birth rate and sustained immigration. According to a report released by the Pew Hispanic center last week, the number of "illegal" immigrants in the United States stands at 12 million. 4,250,000 had arrived since 2000. The report suggests that Latin Americans account for 78% of illegal immigrants. Until recently, many immigrants moved back and forth across the Rio Grande comprising a floating population.

The House of Representatives passed the Border Security Bill last year to crackdown on illicit immigration. This had an unintended consequence. What had previously been a seasonal influx has now become permanent. Those already in the United States are nervous of traveling to Mexico for fear of not being able to return. The increased fertility of young immigrants is one that will sustain the aging American work force and finance the retirement benefits of senior citizens. But it will also change the United States. 850,000 illegal immigrants had arrived in the United States in 2005 alone.

Huntington's vision of a unique Anglo Saxon Protestant polity might not hold for much longer as Latin America slowly integrates its northern neighbor into the Iberian universe. As Auguste Compte alluded, "demography is destiny".

UAE, America, and India

This blogger just concluded a weekend business trip to the UAE.

Even as the Emirates have boomtown written all over them, they feel very much like the last time we were there in the 80s. Modern, cosmopolitan, even progressive by regional standards. Extremely impressive stuff.

There was a puzzling inconsistency, however. Of all our favorite blogs, The Acorn strangely was blocked in the country for "content inconsistent with UAE values". Not clear what has provoked this.

Finally, last week saw the US Congress snub President Bush on the latter's support for a port deal with a UAE company. This is a reflection of the very weak domestic position of the President. The implications for the Indo-US deal are worrisome.

There will be much pressure on India to negotiate the deal all over again with the Congress. India ought to resist this. The strategic value of India is not a function of how strong or weak the US President is domestically. It is not for India to cede more ground on an already tough deal -- rather for the US Congress to raise its vision beyond petty political concerns in an election year.

If the US Congress insists on imposing unacceptable new conditions on the deal, India should walk. The loss is India's for sure, but much more so for the US. If America's Opportunity With India is as we and the Bush administration sees it, US will have to come back to the table -- sooner or later.

If, instead, India opened up the negotiations again, there is no end to the kind of concessions that will be asked of us. Let's hope for sanity in the US Congress -- if not, let's prepare to walk away.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Indo-American Partnership

The Sino-American rapprochement of the 1970s represented a paradigmatic shift in the foreign policy of the United States. Kissinger, who had conceived that alliance, now writes on the emerging Indo-American partnership. Here are selective quotes.

"In the north, India faces the Chinese giant across the intractable barrier of the Himalayas and the Tibetan massif. Here India has pursued the traditional remedy of a great power confronted by a comparable rival - a security belt against military pressure. Neither China nor India has so far engaged in a diplomatic or security contest over pre-eminence in the heartland of Asia. For the foreseeable future, both countries, while protecting their interests, have too much to lose from a general confrontation".

"In the region between Calcutta and Singapore, India seeks a role commensurate with its economic, political and strategic significance.

India is well aware that the future of Southeast Asia will be determined by economic and political relationships in which China, America, Japan and India will be the principal actors. A developing Association of Southeast Asian Nations is, or should be, in their common interest. Attempts at hegemony are likely to lead to countervailing pressures. Here American and Indian interests are - or could be made to be - quite congruent".

"In the region between Bombay and Yemen, Indian and American interests in defeating radical Islam are nearly parallel. Until 9/11, governance in the Islamic world was largely in the hands of autocrats. Indian leaders used nonalignment to placate their Muslim minority by cooperating with the Muslim autocrats.

That condition no longer prevails. Indian leaders know that fundamentalist jihad seeks to radicalize Muslim minorities by undermining secular societies through acts of terrorism.

Contemporary Indian leaders have understood that if this demonstration of global restlessness spreads India will sooner or later suffer comparable attacks. In that sense, even if India had preferred some other battlefields, the outcome of the American struggle against terrorism involves Indian long-term security fundamentally.

America is fighting some of India's battles, and the two countries have parallel objectives even where their tactics differ".

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Surprisingly Slow Reaction

On February 27, this blog cited public sources about pirates commandeering an Indian ship off Somalia. We thought this was a matter for the Indian Navy to resolve immediately.

Today, March 9th, Hindustan Times reports of a plan to finally free the captive Indians.

Negotiations having failed so far, the Indian Navy is ready with a contingency plan to rescue the 21 Indian and 11 other sailors held hostage on a cargo ship by Somalian sea pirates since late last month. Only sketchy details are known about the February 26 hijack. The fate of the Indians is also unclear.

The navy was informed about the incident earlier this week. "We've been told that negotiations are currently on among the ship's Dubai-based agent, the Indian High Commissioner in Kenya and the hijackers," said a naval officer. "If we're asked to act, we will."

What in God's name are we doing here? Negotiating with pirates while the Navy twiddles its thumbs? How is it that the Navy learned of this only earlier this week, when this blog -- hardly plugged into high intelligence (!) -- was writing about this in February?

Bigotry Watch

Via BBC, Muslim girl dances social divide

The family of a young Muslim girl in India's southern state of Kerala say they are being shunned by the local mosque committee (mahallu) because she is practising Indian classical dance.

VP Rubiya, 16, came first in Bharatnatyam, Kerala natanam and folk dance competitions at the recent Kerala School Festival.
Now she has an offer from the celebrated Indian dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai's dance academy, Darpana, her father Syed Alavikutty says.

"God is one. When I pay ritualistic obeisance through mudras [hand signs], I am imploring not just the Hindu gods but the supreme creator, which we call by different names," she says.

The local mosque committee at Valluvambram, however, is not impressed by Rubiya's feats, says her father, a clerk with a travel agency.

It is the Hindu worship content in the classical dances that her family says has driven a chasm between her and conservative elements in the community.

Responding To Provocation

Pakistan lost its long twilight struggle with India last week.

Having enabled Nixon's landmark visit to China, it watched from humiliating cheap seats Bush's likely more significant visit to India.

For half a century, Pakistan courted the US and sacrificed even its (self-perceived) national interest at Washington's call. All this while, India made numerous policy mistakes.

It was perhaps reasonable, then, for Pakistani Generals to assume greatness in US shadows even as India fell apart from its mismanaged internal chaos.

History, however, has a way of clarifying wheat from chaff. If anything, Pakistan is the one that's falling apart while India ascends to its natural greatness.

This is as comprehensive a defeat as possible. If history is any guide, massive centrifugal forces are likely to follow as Pakistan's rationale for being is questioned by its smart, cost-benefit calculating, regional leaders.

No wonder General Musharraf is throwing a hissy fit!!

Given India's public relations imperative to maintain stability (both domestically and at LOC) to ensure the passage of the nuclear deal in the US Congress, Pakistan has a free pass to provoke -- which it will, trying to get Indians to act rashly in response.

We fear Varanasi is only just the beginning. More and worse is likely to follow. While India needs to take all possible steps to hunt down the terrorists and to secure our people, we must understand the likely nature of these provocations and not create an excuse for Pakistan's many friends in Washington to snub President Bush's deal with India.

It is India's measured response to even the most extreme Pakistani provocation that will, ironically, emerge as the fitting epitaph for the idea of Pakistan.

Zaheera Shaikh

Having previously written about the seriousness of Zaheera Shaikh's perjury in the Best Bakery case, we welcome the latest judicial developments in this case.

Best Bakery judgment: 8 acquitted, 9 convicted

Best Bakery Case: Zaheera Shaikh Gets One Year Jail for Perjury

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

NY Times' Asian Ego Trip

(Partially plagiarized from this NY Times Editorial. Please read both carefully.)

There is a lot of good an editor can do in writing an editorial: provide insights that enhance understanding, shore up a shaky viewpoint, simplify issues in complex parts of the debate. Unfortunately, the New York Times editor didn't do any of those good things in his just-completed editorial on Pakistan and India and may have done some real harm.

The spectacularly misconceived editorial may have inflicted serious damage to constructive debate in two vital areas, namely, mobilizing international opinion against the spread of nuclear weapons and encouraging President Bush to take more effective action against Pakistan and Al Qaeda fighters operating from its territory.

The editorial that the editor concluded with arrogant ignorance threatens to blast an ink-blot-size hole through common sense. It would have been bad enough on its own, and disastrously ill timed, because it undercuts some of the most powerful arguments New York Times can make to try to galvanize international opposition to Pakistan's terrorist adventurism.

But the most immediate damage was done on the editor's next topic, India. Washington is trying to persuade the world to defy outdated objections and move more aggressively to bring India into the non-proliferation mainstream. This is no small issue because India is an emerging global power with a nuclear program that operated from its own soil.

Its just baffling why the editor traveled halfway across the page to consume one of his most important assets - and embarass himself. India and Pakistan have different histories. Pakistan put the "life" into proliferation, while India refused to do the same. When Pakistani generals decided to play nuclear mischief worldwide, AQ Khan felt obliged to follow suit.

So when the editor decided to carve out an exception to customary common sense for himself, it should have been obvious that his intelligent readers would refuse the same privilege, and that the editor would be embarassed by the readers explicit refusal to do it.

The editor was right to say no to Pakistan. It would be an unthinkably bad idea to grant a loophole to a country whose top nuclear scientist helped transfer nuclear technology to leading rogue states. But equating India to Pakistan in an ill-informed argument that lets readers accelerate their disappoinment makes no sense either.

The editor should have just spared the ink.

The Annals Of Education

Via Ananova, Pupils write with both hands simultaneously

A school in India is reportedly teaching its students to use both their hands to write on different subjects simultaneously.

All 72 pupils of the Veena Vadini School at Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh use both their hands “with equal ease”, reports Asian News International.

The school set up in 1999, for children aged between four and eight, holds its classes outdoors.
Principal Virangat Sharma said: "All the children here can write on different subjects and in different languages.

"Not just that, these children can use both their hands to write in two different languages on two different subjects at the same time."

What in God's good name is going on in Indian schools?!!

(hat tip: The Corner)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Culture Watch

The (lonely?) high-note at this year's Oscars was brazen hip hop in high def -- It's hard out here for a pimp -- taking home the best song award!!

We thought the song was preposterously pretty -- well deserving of its honor.

Washington Post's Philip Kennicott agrees:

A pimp complaining that "It's hard out here" has, in a single outrageous leap, passed by the issue of whether he has any right to grievance, and is demanding -- so shamelessly that it's funny -- all the perks and merits of someone who legitimately feels wronged.

Melody and femininity are intricately allied, and the union of melody to another element, words in a song, or rhythm and harmony in a symphony, has suggested sexual union throughout music history. For an attractive woman to sing "It's hard out here for a pimp" suggests that the pimp has found sympathy, against the odds, in the form of a woman who will articulate his complaints for him.

But are we meant to take this complaint seriously? The line sounds so clean, so pure in relation to the thickets of hip-hop rhythms underneath it, that it has the stylized sense of being purely ornamental, almost baroque in its detachment from everything else around it. Like a swirl of sumptuous fabric draping from an unnecessary angel in a painting by Tiepolo, it's funny by virtue of its excessive prettiness.

Now, this is real cultural revolution. Chairman Mao, eat your heart out!!

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Miracle that is India

Ishtiaq Ahmed wonders at the new giant on the block. Here's a particularly uplifting quote:

For a nation constituting the most varied religious, cultural, ethnic and caste mosaic in the world to transcend its grinding poverty and other social and cultural problems and start moving towards unstoppable economic growth is truly a man-made miracle. The miracle is the result of a futuristic vision that is practical and realisable. Quite simply the Indians want to attain a leading position in the world.

These are heady days. The sunny optimism is perceptible everywhere. So what kind of catastrophe could derail us? Full-blown war with Pakistan? Terrible policy?

Indians On Pakistan

The Acorn writes about Indian media's getting the point, then missing it on Pakistan.

Most Indians are not "peace" obsessed -- rather, correctly, they seek victory on India's terms. And why not?

The sooner our media and polity understand this, the better it will be for all of us.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Exploding General

Via CNN, Pakistan president blasts Afghan leader

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf ripped the president of neighboring Afghanistan on Sunday, telling CNN that Hamid Karzai is "totally oblivious of what is happening in his own country."

The pressure must be really hard to handle, so he takes it out on poor Hamid Karzai. What a pathetic spectacle this guy is -- what an embarrassing burden for the people of Pakistan?

(Photo courtesy: San Francisco Chronicle)

An Impotent Mind

Pakistan's daily Dawn is a sober newspaper that carries meaningful opinions -- which we greatly respect notwithstanding their sometimes antipathy to India.

This is why we are puzzled by their sponsorship of Jawed Naqvi and his astonishingly offensive Dateline Delhi.

Writing there about the nuclear deal, he invokes horrible imagery -- in fact, rationalizing a profoundly racist, anti-Indian, song written by South African Mbongeni Ngema where he insinuates that Indians in that country are part of a new apartheid.

Mr. Naqvi chooses to see the nuclear deal in these bizzare terms. He then insults Dr. Manmohan Singh in terms so offensive that they take one's breath away. Here they are:

Jean Paul Sartre may have never heard of Manmohan Singh, but he had a fair idea of what he would be like. In the introduction to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, he describes the prototype thus: “The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of western culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed.

These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed. From Paris, from London, from Amsterdam we would utter the words (Parthenon! Brotherhood!) and somewhere in Africa or Asia lips would open (...thenon! ...therhood!) It was the golden age.”

This aggressively secular blog condemned in the strongest terms the offensive cartoons insulting the Prophet Mohammad. Mr. Naqvi's insult to India falls in the same category.

We demand that Dawn apologize for this outrageous calumny and remove this disgraceful columnist from their august pages. We hope other Indians will join us and demand the same by flooding the newspaper with protest letters written in the sternest possible language.

Mr. Naqvi has the right to free expression, but surely Dawn's readers deserve better than the flaccid thoughts of an impotent mind.

BJP Responds

BJP welcomes deal, seeks clarification on weapon fuel

Nuclear separation plan a "surrender" to US: BJP

As we've noted before:

If the deal goes through somehow, (Dr. Singh's) opponents in his party and the vast majority of the opposition will ... claim the deal was a sell-out.

BJP has now chimed in, as if on cue, with a predictable -- albeit somewhat confused -- response! Tch Tch!!

The Indic Republics

I largely rely on K. Antonova, G. Bongard-Levin, and G. Kotovsky, "A History of India: Book One", Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1979 for purposes of this post. I have simplified the material in the interest of brevity.

India had a rich republican tradition in the first millenium BCE, one that ended only in 500 CE. The Vedic texts, Panini, the Buddhist texts, the Arthashatra, the Greek texts and the Mahabharata outline the vibrant republican tradition in ancient India. India had sixteen janapadas in the 7th century BCE. The word Janapada translated means "the foothold of a people". The Indic republics were located either in the northern periphery of the Gangetic plain or in the Indus basin. The republics included confederate unions that linked several tribes such as the Vrijjis and the Yadavas, or individual republics such as the Koliyans, the Shakyas and the Mallas. The Licchavis were one tribe in the Vrijji confederacy that survived 1,000 years to merge with the Gupta empire through marriage.

The word "jana" in Vedic times either meant a people or a tribe. It often implied a non-monarchical state. One Indic text described a monarchy as a land ruled by an individual. It defined a republic as a state that was collectively administered.

A republic was identified by the absence of a hereditary ruler with absolute power. It had an elected head who could be replaced. Elections did not mean democracy. Only the landed few or the Kshatriya had the right to decide. Nonetheless, the system represented a significant achievement in political thought in that it broadened decision making in 500 BCE.

The Chivara-vastu, a Pali text dated to the 1st century BCE, describes the election of the Lichchavi ruler and adds (i) that a candidate had to demonstrate merit; (ii) the assembly retained the right to replace him if he did not enjoy its prior sanction for policy; and (iii) that a ruler had executive power to implement while the assembly retained the right to define policy. The system was one "where even the decision taken by ten men might be reviewed by twenty". This implied the concept of collective scrutiny of policy.

In short, a republic was administration through a partly representative assembly with the implied notion of a social contract. The Indic republics tended to be more independent minded and individualistic in orientation than the monarchies. The Kshatriya leadership of the republics helped define the Upanishads and Buddhism. A spirit of free inquiry prevailed.

The republican assembly had a narrow social base. It was confined to free citizens who in turn chose a council of nobility, entirely drawn from the Kshatriya caste. The Vedic concept of the sabha and samithi comes to mind. All heads of families met in the public assembly. The matter for discussion was placed before the assembly and debated. If a unanimous decision could not be reached, it was put to the vote. The Indic republics enjoyed an elaborate judicial procedure where the suspected criminal had to face in turn a hierarchy of seven officials. In certain instances, a republican constitution governed the affairs of state. All dignitaries in a republic, be it the army commander or judge, had to be kshatriya. This said, a broader segment of the population as opposed to one individual defined policy.

Kautilya praised the Indic republics as invincible in warfare due to their cohesion. The Mahabharata however highlighted the social contradictions within the republics that made them vulnerable. The records of a slave revolt in the Shakyan republic come to mind in this regard.

The monarchical system eventually replaced the republican in ancient India. The kingdoms of Magadha, Kosala and Kashi expanded while the Vrijjis, the Mallas and the Shakyas disappeared. However, the concept of collective administration through debate persisted down the centuries in the panchayat system as enunciated in the Dharma Shastras.

The Annals Of Education

Via Hindustan Times, Let us cheat, demand students


Nuclear Reflections

American efforts to enforce a global non-proliferation regime have not been entirely successful. No nuclear power has signed the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty. India and Pakistan have refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty either. Israel is reported to have a nuclear arsenal while Iran and North Korea continue to defy the international consensus on nuclear safeguards.

The United States has endeavored to strengthen global nuclear safeguards in light of these constraints. The objective is to beef up international security. The United States had signed a civilian nuclear deal with India to bring it into formal conformity with international non-proliferation norms outside the framework of the NPT. But there are added side benefits.

The United States had signed a civilian nuclear deal with China in the early 2000s. It now has a deal with India. The increased reliance on nuclear energy in two of the fastest growing economies would boost the export of American civilian nuclear technology. It would lead to lucrative trade deals in nuclear reactors. It would help lower the price of petroleum in the world market. This in turn would benefit the American consumer.

There is also a wider global ramification. Oil exporting countries have for the most part either been volatile themselves or have exported instability. One can refer to the Arab states, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria and Venezuela. The emphasis on nuclear power would reduce the strategic importance of the Middle East and reconfigure geopolitical dynamics in the Eurasian landmass.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Just Deserts

Gallup: Most Americans Rate India Favorably, Pakistan Unfavorably

Sensible people, these Americans!!

Hindi Cinema

Via Hindustan Times, Bulk of Hindi cinema is bad: MS Sathyu


Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Stuff Of Legacies

Via BBC, US and India seal nuclear accord

Congratulations to Dr. Singh and President Bush for shattering historical suspicions and altering geopolitical realities.

The world is a different and better place today.

Over to the US Congress now. India and Indian Americans are watching -- will you go down in history as those who applauded history's unalterable turn, or those who lost India whose ascent is irreversible?

Democrat Bill Clinton started this marathon. Republican George Bush has brought us to the stretch run. India and Indian-Americans now expect a bipartisan Congress to take us all past the victory tape. This is, afterall, the stuff of legacies.

Embarrassing The Angels

Reagan-speechwriter Peggy Noonan is embarrassed at how ladies are treated in contemporary US culture.

Do I think this way, in these terms, because I am exceptionally virtuous? Oh no. I'm below average in virtue, and even I know it's all gotten low and rough and disturbed.

"You are embarrassing the angels." This is what I intend to say for the next 40 days whenever I see someone who is hurting the culture, hurting human dignity, denying the stature of a human being. I mean to say it with belief, with an eye to instruction, but also pointedly, uncompromisingly. As a lady would. All invited to join in.

Got us thinking about how disgracefully many Indians behave with our womenfolk in the streets. Via Desipundit, we learn about a Street Harassment Blog-A-Thon planned for Tuesday. We think, such harassment, embarrasses the angels and we add our own uncompromising voice to the growing chorus in protest.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Fashion Forward?

New York Times' Guy Trebay describes a provocative new trend on Paris runways.

Woman Masked, Bagged and, Naturally, Feared

Wearing woven hair masks that obscured their faces, the models at the Viktor & Rolf show on Monday looked a little like Hannibal Lecter in drag. On the soundtrack a woman's voice droned a series of threats from a text by the artist Bruce Nauman. "You can't have me," the voice said. "You can't reach me. I can suck you dry."

Suddenly from somewhere in the front row an editor piped up. "And I can eat you with some fava beans and a very nice Chianti," she said. Everybody nearby laughed, and that ripple momentarily swept away a developing sense that something truly creepy was in the air.

When a single designer chooses to efface his models, it's easy to slough off the stunt as creative license. But when a bunch of designers with no connection to one another are moved to eliminate the faces of the beautiful creatures they hire for the catwalk, it's clear something ugly is going on.

Picasso took a similar approach when depicting certain former wives and lovers. If one cares to see a man avenging himself on womankind, a good place to start is the retrospective here of Picasso's portraits of Dora Maar. The bitterer their battles, the likelier that he would depict Maar's head cloven. The less she interested him sexually, the more she was atomized into sharp Cubist planes. Sex wars get played out in many ways, even in fashion, and there is clearly one taking place now that has the odor of misogyny.

Comparisons have already been made between the clothes shown on the runways (five days remain on the schedule) and the obscuring garments of an observant Muslim, the abaya or chador.


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