26 Dec 2008

Power swings 2008

Politics, economics and Cricket

As the year 2008 comes to a close, it is interesting to look back at some of the developments that challenged the existing order and made one ponder if these are indications to an eventful 2009.
The U.S.-Russia tussle saw two major geographical manipulations in the Russian vicinity. The first was triggered by U.S. support for declaration of independence by the Serbian province of Kosovo in February, the latest thread in the Balkanisation process. However, the month of August gave Russians a chance to return the favor, thanks to Georgian belligerence in its northern province of South Ossetia. Russians routed the Georgian army and recognized South Ossetia's right to secede along with another Georgian province of Abkhazia. U.S. might have triggered this event too but the Russians had the last laugh while U.S. was left fuming at the sight of its beleaguered ally.
There was more to come at the strategic level. U.S. in its move to bring the NATO forces and artillery closer to the Russian borders; supported the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine in the cross-Atlantic body, and made known its intentions of installing air defense systems in Poland and Czech Republic, under the garb of Iranian threat. As the year came to an end, Russian fleet too set its sails towards the American seas to hold joint war games with Venezuela. Moreover, Russia too plans to strengthen its defenses (and offenses) in Kaliningrad Oblast bordering U.S. allies, Poland and Lithuania.
On the energy front too, Russia has successfully brought together the Gas exporting countries under an OPEC-like institutional framework which has further added to its clout, much to the dismay of U.S. It will be interesting to see what course this age-old rivalry takes in the coming year.
While the above developments hurt U.S.A.'s international standing badly, its homegrown sub prime and mortgage crisis triggered such events that now threaten its economic hegemony too. World saw the Gulf sovereign funds coming to the rescue of American banks, an unprecedented development indeed. Though the decoupling theory proved wrong, but still India and China seemed better prepared for the crisis than ever before. A couple of weeks back, China, Japan and South Korea summit saw new economic partnerships being forged to work out a coordinated strategy against the global financial meltdown, an indication of countries looking beyond U.S.
Earlier in July this year, Doha rounds, the free-trade negotiations of W.T.O. collapsed in Geneva, as the developing countries led by India and China refused to yield to U.S. terms and conditions. Moreover, the recent revelation of Maddoff Ponzi scheme brought further disrepute to the Wall Street and the U.S. nation as a whole.
Away from all this politics and economics, another superpower is being threatened and the year 2008 has been very tough for it. Australian Cricket can never be the same again. They started the year defeating India in the controversial Sydney Test thanks to the magical over bowled by Michael Clark. However that was the end for them and a beginning for the bruised Indian team. India won the next test and though lost the test series, came back with vengeance in the One-dayers. In the three final matches tri-series, India under Dhoni never needed the third final.
There was more to come in October-November when Australians came to India for the next edition of Border-Gavaskar Trophy. They did come with the trophy but could not take it back, being defeated 2-nil by the resurgent Indians. In between India tied a test series with South Africa at home and lost to Sri Lanka at their home but returned the favour in the one-dayers.
Indians brought the year to an end with an inspiring test victory at home against England. In the first test, the Sehwag blitzkrieg left the Englishmen clueless and the cricket lovers bedazzled. However the year ending has proved dismal for the Aussies. Proteas' heroics in the first test at Perth saw South Africa scaling a target of 414 with great agility and confidence. With the Boxing Day Test, the final and the most crucial test match of the year having started just half an hour back (and Hayden continuing with his poor form, already back to the pavilion), one wonders how the Kangaroos will fair this time. Australia might have amassed a lot of points on the test ranking table, thanks to the likes of McGrath, Warne and company but with these stalwarts retiring from the international scene, the going is getting tougher for the Ponting men or rather boys. India and even more strongly, South Africa have started fancying their chances to bring an end to the Australian hegemony in cricket.
In the corporate sphere of cricket, BCCI continues to extend its hegemony. With the successful conduct of PCL, Lalit Modi has become one of the most powerful sports executive in the world. Hence, the year 2009 holds a lot of promises for India in the cricketing arena. One hopes the good performances of 2008, seen in the other sports like shooting and boxing continue the next year too, to give a better platform for the Indian contingent at Commonwealth Games to be held in the National Capital in 2010.
Coming back to politics, U.S. saw a major domestic power swing as Democrats under Obama came back to power. Republicans had their eight years under Bush and they ended up doing all that should not have been done. Bush revealing earlier this month that his biggest regret was the U.S. intelligence failure on Iraq sums it up.
However, back home, power politics kept swinging all through the year. NDA's Karnataka victory earlier this year, saw them gaining a lot of mileage for the coming general elections but the results of recent assembly elections in Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi humbled the saffron brigade to some extent and filled a new zeal and confidence in the Grand Old Party of India, which was fearing for worse.
"We have taken a risk", is what Chief Election Commissioner had to say on announcing the schedule for elections to the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly, back in October. Earlier in the year, the way events had unfolded around the Amarnath shrine board issue, it seemed the separatists will have a field day if and when elections are conducted. Air in the Valley seemed rife with secessionist emotions and no one predicted that democracy could have the last laugh.
However, with all the seven phases of election over in the state, one is amazed at the voter turnout figures, much above than the previous occasions. Hence, the year ending saw the power swinging back in the favour of the democratic process in the northern-most state of India. In another couple of days, we will come to know, who will wear the crown and hopefully, strengthen this process further in 2009.
On the corporate front, Indian companies continued their foreign acquisitions, though at a lesser pace than in 2007, led by Tata's takeover of Land Rover and Jaguar brands from Ford. However, the Japanese firm's takeover of Indian pharmaceutical giant Ranbaxy spoilt the party to some extent.
India's successful moon mission, Chandrayaan was another step in the Indian as well as Asian elevation in space technology. With Indian-built European satellite W2M being launched last Sunday from French Guiana, it adds further to ISRO's clout and coffers.
Further on technology and more importantly strategic front, India signed the Nuclear Cooperation Deal with U.S.A. , Russia and France after getting unprecedented go-ahead from NSG and IAEA. By successfully carving out a special place for itself in nuclear arena, India has successfully de-hyphenated itself from Pakistan.
Recent developments post-Mumbai terror attacks are seeing Pakistan being further marginalized. Even its strong ally China has not come out with open support as on previous occasions. Year 2009 is going to be very crucial for India-Pakistan relations and may see major power swings in South Asia with U.S. committed to escalate its war against terror in Afghanistan under Obama.

Image Courtesy
http://www.mcs.alma.edu (original)

20 Dec 2008

Obama Coming

A month left for the inauguration

November 4, 2008 was a historic day. A lot has been said, written and discussed about it by commentators around the globe. As it became clear that Barack Hussein Obama will emerge as the 44th American President, people from lands far far away rejoiced and marveled the American Dream. Even I was one among those who saluted the audacity of hope shown by Americans in electing their first black President.
Slavery might have been abolished in mid-19th century by Lincoln but half a century back the blacks were still fighting for basic civil rights and unconditional enfranchisement. Who could have imagined back then, that the very first decade of 21st century will see such an epoch setting development in the United States of America.
Indian media and political establishment have been analysing pros and cons of Obama's accession, to India. While his views on Kashmir issue and his commitment against unabated outsourcing and nuclear testing have put the Indian polity in a tizzy, his anti-Pakistan stand has given them a sigh of relief.
I'll refrain from any such analysis and let time reveal the facts. This post is only dedicated to the man who campaigned for change and those who imbibed his mantra and proved 'yes, we can!'
Obama's coming to power has ignited a hope that he will herald the world into a new era. A month from now, when he takes his seat in the Oval Office, he will become the most powerful person in the world. However, with power and authority comes responsibility. His predecessor shirked this very responsibility when he adopted a belligerent foreign policy. His domestic policies too, sent the country and along with it the whole world into a deep economic mess. So before Obama can 'do' anything, he has to 'undo' a lot of things.
Obama's life story until now holds a lot of promises. Obama was born to a Kenyan father of Muslim lineage and an American White Christian mother, in Hawaii. He spent his early life in Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian step father and returned to his maternal grandparents in Hawaii at the age of 10. So this man truly has an international upbringing and it is expected of him to be more sensitive while dealing with other nations. Obama went on to take up a teaching job in Chicago and was also a very active community organizer before that. Moreover, having a colored lineage, it is expected of him to be sensitive to the inequities in the American society and work for bridging the gaps. So, Obama enters the White House with such a baggage of expectations. However, he can not complain as he is the one who told his people 'yes, we can!'
However, for those who expect just too much out of Obama, the following words of Samir Amin, a noted Egyptian economist explain my point of view precisely. In a recent interview to Frontline, he says,"For sure, Barack Obama is better than a John McCain. Also, from the point of view of the evolution of U.S. society, it is something positive for an African American to be elected President. But from the point of view of policies and politics of the U.S. vis-a-vis the rest of the world, little will change. Perhaps the tonality, the language will change but the targets will be the same."
Obama might have made history but the true protagonists in this scheme of events are those who enabled him to do so. They are the Americans - white, black, Hispanic, college-goers, senior citizens, blue-collared, executives or paupers. All came together to throw away their biases and show the world that democracy is based on the principle of merit more than anything else and even a common man has the requisite intelligence to judge this merit.
Obama's victory is the America's victory. The Americans have earned back the respect they lost thanks to Bush's myopic world view. Time will tell if Obama actually delivers but there is no doubt that Americans have delivered and shown the world the meaning and the power of democracy. They have justified the government by the people(masses) component of the Lincoln's claim. Now it's up to Obama to justify the remaining part, i.e., government of the people (not just elite) and government for the people.
Can we Indians also be proud of our democracy which has allowed a dalit woman to dream of becoming the Prime Minister in the coming elections. I don't believe it's right to draw such a similarity. Isn't such a dream based more on the numbers and loyalty of one's community members rather than merit. U.S. elections also hold lessons for the Indian politicians to stop designing their campaigns, catering to a particular section of society but to generate such an enthusiasm among the people from all the sections that their election campaign itself becomes a mass movement.
India is a young democracy and here the politics has mostly prospered on the basis of divisions in the society. Its time that we, the Indian masses too, take a cue from the U.S. elections and see beyond our caste, religion, region or ethnicity to choose our representatives. That's my audacity of hope.

Image Courtesy
Self-Sketched and Photographed (edited)

9 Dec 2008

In the World of Words

A flashback and the review of my humble book-collection

Reading has been my passion, if I might not be exaggerating, since I learnt how to read. Moreover before I learnt to read, I remember insisting my sister to read stories for me from ‘Chandan’ , 'Chandamama' or fairy tales kind of stuff, to much of her disappointment for she never liked reading anything outside her course books. My parents saw this zeal in me and introduced me to ‘Tinkle’. Growing up with Supandi, Shikari Shambhu, Tantri the Mantri, et al was great fun. Uncle Pai was a true hero for me. Alongside this weekly, my father also used to get S.Chand’s European Classics abridged versions for me from the Second Hand bookstalls. So I can proudly claim to have read Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and others extensively though in petite abridged form of course. This was definitely a great learning experience. Lives of 'Tom Sawyer' and 'David Copperfield' fascinated me, I sympathised with 'Huckleberry Finn' and 'Oliver Twist', and got saddened when 'Don Quixote' and 'Hamlet' died. Sometimes, I ventured out on the ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and at other times I had to be content with going ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’. Well, I also hunted down the treasures of ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ and the ‘Treasure Island’ with quite an ease and a lot of fun.

Enid Blyton and her children stories, which I read in original form, were too mesmerizing. She had the ability to take you into that world of joy and adventure from where you never want to return. Her ‘Children of Cherry Tree Farm’ trilogy is definitely one of the best collections of children books.

Meanwhile as I was moving close to secondary school, I got another source for quenching my thirst in the form of my School library. Here, eventually my interest grew in the suspense and thrill genre when I lay my hands on Hardy Boys. I identified myself with Chet Morton, the closest buddy of the brothers and hence was always part of their adventure in the world of my imaginations. I remember returning home with the newly issued ‘Hardy boys’ novel having already read a chapter or two in my bus ride back home, gulping up the lunch and getting back into the reading mode till my mother pushed me out of the house, to play in the evening. Till, I got through my Matriculation, I had devoured dozens of Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Famous Five (Enid Blyton), Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Three Investigators’ et al.

My years in Senior Secondary never gave me a chance to develop my reading skills further, for in those two years, I was stuck in fat and ugly books of Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. Moreover, during the first year in the engineering college, I was so busy enjoying the new found freedom that I lost touch with that joy I used to have with Frank and Joe Hardys and others.

It was only when I brought home Hitler’s 'Mein Kampf' one day; out of curiosity of knowing the tyrant better, I finally had a reunion with my old passion. And with this I also had a major shift in taste from Fiction to Non-fiction. The book consists of two volumes (I have read only the first) written by Adolf Hitler in captivity during early 1920’s. It gives you a first hand experience of what was going through the mind of fuehrer which made him the man he was. There are parts where you are amazed at his intelligence and analysis through which he can convince you on things which are abhorable. No doubt, the book served as his propagandist tool in brainwashing thousands of Germans and arming them with guns pointing at their compatriots. However, if it were not for this autobiography, it would have been difficult to know him that well. I don’t think that a biography could draw such a picture, for it would have been totally subjective depending upon the author’s inclination.

So a question arises that what source should one refer to, in order to know a person better, a biography or an autobiography. As far as the former is concerned, I have read those of Indira Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan. Both, ‘Indira Gandhi’ and ‘Unfinished Revolution’ have been written by their close associates Pupul Jayakar and Ajit Bhattacharjea respectively. Moreover, I purchased both of them together. I got interested in knowing about these two antagonists of history on watching ‘Biography of Nehru family’ on ‘History Channel’ some years backs. In it there was reference to the Emergency period which made me yearn to know more. For me the rule of Indira Gandhi was quite foggy for all the developments like Emergency and Operation Blue Star tended to converge as I could not distinguish between them. After having read the two books, I was saner and I saw how, even a democracy can turn into autocracy thanks to the strong will of a person and her son, and the poor will of her sycophants. It was a disturbing but informative account. Pupul Jayakar though a close friend of Indira Gandhi is very objective in her narrative. On the other hand Ajit Bhattacharjea sticks to a positive narrative of his lead protagonist. Hence, it seems there are no dark shaded in JP’s life. That thing apart, life of JP is indeed inspiring. It is quite revealing that this true Gandhian had also taken to violent means to attain independence, earlier in his life. Though today, very few youngsters may know about him, but his legacy remains in the vast breed of politicians who nurtured under him. It has been aptly commented about him that he was the best Prime Minister that India could not have.

Coming back to the question raised earlier, I believe it depends upon the reader what he/she wants to know about the person. If you want to know all the facts about his/her life and are content with accepting his/her personality as drawn by the author, you may go for the biography. However, if you have the zeal to draw that picture yourself, only an autobiography with suffice. The difference may seem simple: In order to draw someone’s portrait, will you like to depend upon a portrait drawn by someone else or will you like to draw it with that person posing in front of you. However, it is not that simple. When you have to draw the portrait of someone’s personality and character, you don’t just depend upon the visible features. There is a lot that’s buried inside that person. Hence, a biographer close to him/her may throw light upon those parts of his/her personality which he/she may decide to conceal while writing an autobiography. So the answer is still unanswered and I better keep it like that.

Moving onto the other autobiographies, my prized possession is ‘My Life’ by Bill Clinton. It is an encyclopedia for a person interested in knowing about the political, economic and social aspects of contemporary American history. It was after reading it that I developed an interest in American political process and fondly followed this year’s Presidential election. This baby-boomer takes us on a journey through his life from 1946 to 2005, always keeping a balance between his personal life and the developments taking around him in both domestic and international arena. He has talked of all the American Presidents from Truman to George W. Bush and the wars fought by them, major legislations brought by them and the role they played in shaping post-World War II America. Bill talks extensively about his life in administration, be it as an Attorney General, Governor or the President. He doesn’t hesitate to introduce Monica Lewinsky too though I understand this account cannot be cent percent true.

Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ is another gem of a book which spans the story of whole 20th century South Africa. However, it keeps to the main theme without discussing much about other developments like freedom struggles of other nations in Africa or Asia. Mandela draws a fine picture of his life from his early childhood to being elected as South Africa’s first black President. We see the dark realities of apartheid and the various means employed by those fighting for the freedom from this life of indignity.

Moving back home, Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘An Autobiography’, which is still to be completed by me, is a testimony to his command on English language. It was also written in captivity in early 1930’s. The best part of the book is the critique of Mahatma Gandhi done by him. Though highly fond of Mahatma, he did not hesitate from questioning his intentions at times, and putting forward his counter view. The book also gives a vivid account of the life of Motilal Nehru, so much so that, it can be regarded as his biography too.

Another Autobiography-cum-Biography in my collection is ‘The Kalam Effect- My years with the President’, which happens to be the latest entrant. As the name suggests it’s an account of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s Presidentship as given by his Secretary, P.M. Nair. The book is petite and presents some unique aspects of Kalam’s personality. There is reference to some historical moments and their real stories behind the scene. Nair sticks to his job even while writing this book as he maintains an element of anonymity and neutrality, the true virtues of a civil servant. He doesn’t refrain from criticizing Kalam for his unpunctuality too.

Moving away from these personality based books to other non-fiction, two books by Indian diplomats of high reputation adorn my collection too. ‘India’s Foreign Policy’ by late J.N.Dixit is a must read for an aspiring civil servant. While the initial chapters take us through the phases of India’s foreign policy from 1947 to 2003 in a chronological manner, the later part consist of issue-specific chapters. Of these the one on Kashmir problem deserves a special mention. The way the author has described the Kargil War from the perspective of both the Indian and the Pakistan establishment is commendable. So is the picture drawn of General Pervez Musharraf and his miscalculations in the war. There are a lot of repetitions throughout the book, which is acknowledged by the author in the introduction itself. This prevents the readers to turn pages to get the facts right, hence saving time and cementing them too. Analyses are brilliant and done point wise as expected by a diplomat of his caliber.

Shashi Tharoor’s ‘India: From Midnight to Millennium’ is an essay-type account of the evolving India from 1947 to 1997 which also gives glimpses of the author’s life. As most of his articles in the columns of ‘The Sunday Times’, the central theme of the book is also taken from Swami Vivekanand’s famous speech in Chicago which talked about the India’s vast diversity but tolerance to all such diversities. Reading his columns after reading this book seemed quite repetitive. However, leaving this fact aside, the book is a testimony to the diplomat's love for his nation and firm belief in its principles.

While these two books talk of India after 1947, one of the best sources to know the India of British times is ‘India’s struggle for independence’ by the eminent historian Bipin Chandra and his team of associates from J.N.U. This book not only presents the facts regarding India’s freedom struggle from 1857 till 1947 but also analysis the major trends during this period. For example, three chapters dedicated to rise of communalism in India are worth reading. The book is quite exhaustive; a great source to know the personalities and the events that shaped the freedom struggle, and also breaks many myths of the time. For example, two chapters dedicated to the formation of Indian National Congress, breaking the myth behind ‘safety valve theory’ are intriguing and highly commendable.

I’ve talked of Indira Gandhi and her reign earlier. A very important part relates to the Operation Blue Star. Visiting Amritsar last year, I noticed the portrait of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale adoring the museum inside the Golden Temple complex and his posters, portraying him as a martyr, outside the Complex. Until now, I had only heard about him in negative, and all this portrayal of positivity around him made me anxious to know more. This made me pick ‘My Bleeding Punjab’ by one of India’s most prolific writer Khushwant Singh, at a book shop outside the Temple. It is an objective account of developments which took place in Punjab since the British rule in 20th century, through independence and green revolution till the growth of tensions, the Operation Blue Star and the beginning of terrorism later in the century. If at any time subjectivity creeps in, it only enriches the account and by no means makes it unpalatable. If grievances of some sections of the Sikh community with regards to the Delhi pogrom post-Indira Gandhi assassination are totally justified, their making a martyr out of Bhindranwale is totally preposterous. I am confident that my enumerable Sikh friends will agree with me. As for Indira Gandhi, she reaped what she sowed. I hope that the culprits behind the Delhi crime are brought to justice before a generation of descendants of those who got killed in 1984 perishes. Sadly that is how, our politics works and that is how our judicial system crawls.

Despite developing this taste for non-fiction, two authors pulled me back to Fiction during this time. These are Dan Brown and Chetan Bhagat. Chetan is lucky for I’ve taken his name in the same league as Brown for while the latter is a true example of consistency, the former has lost his momentum. Though, the first novel that I read of Dan Brown, as many others was ‘Da Vinci Code’, the one I like the most is ‘Angels and Demons’. While Deception Point is at par with the former, his first novel ‘The Digital Fortress’ could not impress me. In total contradiction, Chetan Bhagat’s first novel, ‘Five Point Someone’ was his masterpiece. The way he plays with the words in the novel is laudable. However, his next two novels failed to make a mark. I read ‘One night @ the call centre’ in one night only but got so disinterested while reading the latest ‘The three mistakes of my life’ that it took many days to complete it. Indeed the novel is also a big mistake of Chetan’s life and if he doesn’t mend his ways and skills, he’ll perish in oblivion. Coming back to Dan Brown, he has the way to merge suspense and thrill with a lot of important and interesting information. World may have realized the existence of CERN for the first time during ‘Large Hadron Collider Experiment’ in 2008 but the readers of ‘Angels and Demons’ know about it since many years. That’s just one example among enumerable. This mix of fiction with non-fiction makes his novels very enriching. All the Brown fans have been waiting impatiently for his next novel. Let’s hope it comes out soon.

I may have preserved my small non-fiction collection very fondly as evident in the picture, but get clumsy when it comes to non-fiction. While most of the earlier collection has been distributed among younger cousins or got misplaced somehow, even the Dan Browns and Chetan Bhagats are adorning someone else’s shelves. I believe my copy of ‘Da Vinci Code’ alone has been read by half a dozen people. That’s definitely a noble cause to work for, spreading the message and the material for reading good and healthy to keep your grey cells active.

Image Courtesy
Self-Photographed (original)

5 Dec 2008

India's foreign policy

From Non-alignment to Multi-alignment

It was India under Nehru, which along with erstwhile Yugoslavia, Indonesia, Egypt and Ghana gifted the world a bold doctrine to thaw the Cold War which was compartmentalizing the world into two parts freezing the mutual interaction between them. Did India actually follow this doctrine religiously or eventually wavered towards the left is an issue for genuine debate. However, what I am talking about here is the shunning of this doctrine by the Indian State half a century hence and the adoption of a more pragmatic outlook towards ongoing international developments in the form of what I am calling here multi-alignment.
Visits of the U.S. Secretary of State and the Russian President with just a day between the two are in itself a sign of this major policy change. While the U.S. diplomat was here on an emergency meeting to show solidarity and promise cooperation to India which suffered an unprecedented terrorist attack, the Russian President has landed on a pre-planned visit which will see the signing of the nuclear cooperation pact between the two nations today.
Day before yesterday, seeing the way Condoleezza Rice asserted India's right to act in any way to safeguard its sovereignty, my father was surprised at this unprecedented support of the U.S. which until now had been warning India against flirting with an idea of war in the subcontinent. He asked me if all this bonhomie between the two nations will affect India's relation with Russia, the age old partner of India. A valid question indeed. But the answer is a simple 'no'.
The way things are turning out; I believe India will have a major role to play in preventing any tensions from developing between the two powers. During the days of Cold War, India took the step of non-alignment. At that time such a step might have been important for a young democracy but in present scenario India can not close its eyes from the international developments which are seeing another spell of Cold War emerging.
If India wants to assert its place in the comity of nations that drive the economy and politics of the world, be it through U.N. Security Council or G8 or other forums, it has to come forward and take the initiative and sides as well. Taking sides mean, not allowing any other nation to dictate us our foreign policy and the relations with other nations, and siding with those who are playing the right game. There should not be an India, preaching the doctrine of Non-alignment to the world and at the same time signing a 'Friendship Pact' with the leader of one of the blocs as in 1971. Similarly, there should not be an India which is cooperating in the nuclear field with the only superpower but stalling the progress of a highly beneficial gas pipeline with the superpower's adversary, as has been happening since the last couple of years. Everyone has to make compromises in the light of realpolitik but as far as possible India should play a fair game. It's because of this fairness on the part of India that today, world had to acknowledge our special place in nuclear arena while our adversary across the border could just cry fowl.
Non-alignment, no doubt was a balancing doctrine but so is Multi-alignment. The bonus is, the latter is also pragmatic as mentioned already. As far as the new Cold War is concerned, the resurgent Russia under Putin has been asserting its clout of late. If U.S. is trying to contain this large nation by supporting the 'colored revolution' governments around its western borders, Russia has also perched out to join hands with those to the south of U.S. In such a situation where the world is again polarizing, the bigger players are staying away. So we have E.U.(specifically its major members like France and Germany) and China not committing themselves to any one of them but at the same time cooperating with both. This is the stand which India has also taken. In this era of globalization, cooperation between the nations is a must. Through Non-alignment, such cooperation becomes difficult. Political and economic realities force even these competing blocs to cooperate with the same set of nations. Hence the polarization is averted. With the new found friendship with U.S. and the existing friendly ties with Russia, India has a great role to play in the international arena. Let's hope our domestic troubles don't hinder us from taking this initiative.

Images Courtesy
http://im.rediff.com and http://www.japanfocus.org (edited)

4 Dec 2008

Look who's talking

One-upmanship in Indian Media and other issues

Manmohan Singh, our honorable Prime Minister had asked the Leader of opposition to accompany him to Mumbai to take the stock, post-terrorist attack. However, Advaniji could not wait for a couple of hours or so and decided to venture out himself, hence deliberately missing a chance to show a much needed united political front to the world and people at home at such an hour. Siege was not yet over but how could the opposition miss such a golden opportunity. So we had advertisements by the BJP in the newspapers in the run up to the Delhi Assembly elections asking the people to vote the 'soft on terror' Congress government out of power.
All these developments were keenly reported by our electronic media accusing the political parties of trying to reap the benefit even out of such a grave situation.
Well politics is politics. It was nothing new. However, I believe that the political parties showed a lot of restraint this time around as there was very little if any blame game. It might have happened because the whole political system, rather any particular political outfit was put under a big question mark this time by the media and the public. I'll come back to this later on.
Those accusing the political parties were not able to reflect upon themselves, the way they went about doing their duty. In their pursuit to one-upmanship, the different news agencies tried to gather information from only God-knows, what all sources and those which lacked such sources cooked up information, rather disinformation by themselves. We had these channels showing the same video footage, serving the same news reports but claiming their exclusive access to them. It was an amusing but disturbing scenario too. After seeing the initial reaction by the different channels, I was expecting them to set an example for our political classes by coming forward in a unison and maybe initiating a concerted campaign for accountability and reforms. But as the time passed, none of them took an initiative in this direction and even if someone did take, as far as we can see nothing materialized in that case. Moreover, Admiral Mehta also questioned their integrity while reporting minute to minute operation details. Through satellite phones, the masters of the terrorists could have, rather might have passed on these crucial information bytes to them. Its high time our media behave in a matured manner.
Listening to various public opinions on these channels, I was really amused(and again disturbed) by most of them. People believe war is the solution to everything. Haven't they seen what a war has done to people of Iraq and Afghanistan. The idea of our country going on a war to teach the lesson to other belligerent nations does fill me with a zeal too. I am proud of our victories in 1962, 1971 and 1999. However, can we forget those who perished in these wars and could never ring the victory bells. As I have said earlier, War is not a solution. Limited war and precision strikes can be of tactical significance, part of an overall strategy but an all-out war is a big no-no. Terrorism can not be contained by targeting nations. Non-state actors(LeT) might have received help from certain section(Intelligence Services, Military Establishment or the Democratic Government) of a State(Pakistan) as might have happened this time. However, its important to engage that state in negotiations and try and build international pressure on it so that it yields and cooperate. If nothing happens, some illegitimate means can be employed. For that purpose RAW has to be strengthened. Talking in crude terms, if we know where Dawood is, then why not just shoot him at his home. What good will it serve to extradite him to India and waste the time of our over-burdened courts in bringing him to justice. Let him face the 'natural' justice. However, to do this we must have the capabilities to match with CIA, MI-6 or Mossad. Even if we have to target terrorist camps within Pakistan or PoK territory, we have to comprehend a lot of variables as we can't afford it if such an action escalates the tensions beyond the saturation point. Do not forget, both the countries are nuclear-enabled.
For a common man to understand these intricacies is difficult, hence media should not fan such emotions. Barkha Dutt rightly objected to the comments of one of the yester-year actress and a TV show host, who was all praises for U.S. action post-9/11 and wanted an all-out war with Pakistan.
Moreover, as said in the earlier post, we have to work on our internal security. If we keep our boundaries porous and our home vulnerable, we are doing a disservice to ourselves. That should be the first priority. It was pathetic to see the way our men had to fight 59 hours to free the Taj of the 4 terrorists. We are spending money in developing Defense capabilities, then why not internal security. G.P.S. system, spy robots, etc could have been employed to track their exact positions but where were all these technologies and gadgets. Kapil Sibbal debating (not as a politician but a common man, as per his assertion) on a NDTV Profit show, himself admitted that our establishment never thought of developing such capabilities. Now that's abysmal. Even more shocking is to see our vulnerable policemen with lathis or outdated ammunition and with no protective bullet proof jackets fighting those desperadoes who carried AK-47's and grenades. Where are the police reforms. We have been hearing about them since time immemorial. Manmohan Singh has promised a Federal Agency but as rightly said by the BJP, it should also be given the teeth through proper legislation.
Another thing which disturbed me was people questioning our democracy. As far as political system is concerned there are many shortcomings in it which made me ask the question 'why should i vote' in an earlier post. However, i could ask such a question only because i have the right to vote. Seeing the bravery of our NSG, Army and Marine commandos, some people started flirting with the idea of having an Army rule. Just see in your neighbourhood on both east and west that what havoc such a system has brought to the liberties of their people.
So to sum it up, we all should have faith in our democracy and make the best use of it to pressurize the Government to take concrete steps to ensure our fundamental right to live without any fear. As much as our political parties, our media should refrain from one-upmanship and play their important roles in strengthening our democracy which will enable us to thwart any danger from without or within.

Image Courtesy
http://iamsumeet.com (original)

3 Dec 2008

A week since Mumbai Siege

What options does India have?

A week has passed since ten desperadoes, allegedly from across the border, took a billion Indians by surprise. For 59 hours they kept us on our toes leaving behind a trail of physical and emotional agony. Terror attacks had been occurring at an alarming frequency this year but this turned out to be the 'Father of All'. We saw the western media covering it extensively while the Indian media made the best of it, their TRP's indeed soaring high. People wanted the government to hold someone accountable within its fraternity who could not prevent this abhorable act from occurring. Top ministers had to loose their job and well, rightly so. Now with all this commotion over, its the time to bring the culprits to justice. Accusations are intensifying across the border and with India receiving substantial international support this time around, the hitherto 'soft' government of ours is finally 'hardening' its stand.
War is what many Indians want as evident from the media coverage. However, is War the solution to this problem or in itself harbinger of a much bigger problem. I believe its time this War rhetoric ends and the Indian media act responsibly(definitely a tall task for them) refraining from fuelling these sentiments of the people. People are angry, its true. But this anger should be diverted towards forcing the government to first set our house right. There are abundant lacunaes in our intelligence and internal security establishment which need to be filled. By engaging in war-mongering, we are deviating from our priorities and allowing the government to get off lightly. The government will engage in brinkmanship and then apply the reverse gear(they will be having no better option- we might just see another Operation Parakaram). The clouds of war will pass by and we'll eventually forget that there is a lot of work to be done at home too. Don't waste this opportunity.
To prevent another 26/11, we have to strengthen our country from within. We need a Federal Investigation Agency, laws to strengthen its capabilities, better internal security arrangements in form of more NSG battalions stationed in all metropolitans, securing our hotels, cinemas, market places and other public places and most importantly not allowing our land to crop up terrorism in name of religion. Mumbai attack may have diverted our attention from Delhi and Malegaon blasts which were orchestrated by Indian fundamentalists. Lets first uproot them from our soil and when all of us are integrated(in practical and not utopian sense), then march towards those who dare to raise their eyes on our motherland.

Image Courtesy
http://www.iconocast.com (original)

23 Nov 2008

Dilemma of a first time voter

Is the Right to Vote really empowering?

As May, 2009 approaches, the suspense with regards to “who’ll be the next?” must be killing those who are fighting it out. But there is another suspense which is intriguing me these days. I am about to exercise my franchise for the first time in my life. The question is not ‘who should I choose’ but rather ‘why should I choose anyone’! Is this Right to Vote really empowering for me or my compatriots. My heart wants to reply in affirmative but my mind stops me from doing it.
The ‘Right to Vote’ will become an empowering notion-cum-action for us, the masses, when we can see that by exercising it, we are not making or breaking the fortune of any political elite but rather we are making or breaking the fortune of our society at large and within it, ofcourse our own.
Political parties may lie on the left, right or at the center of the political spectrum but when they come to power; all those divergences tend to converge into a similar course of action as was being followed by their predecessors. There might be some modifications in the means employed, for in words of Pareto some tend to be ‘lions’ using coercion while others tend to be ‘foxes’ using their wiliness; but they all tend to move towards a common end, hence offering us more or less the same.
So when by exercising our franchise- the coveted privilege for the attainment of which thousands had to sacrifice- we bring a certain lot to power, we are actually just handing over to them the golden key to their personal fortunes. Those who loose, wait for the next time, doing nothing constructive but just hatching one plot after the other, of how to reduce their wait. Meanwhile, those in power carry on those same developmental and ‘non-developmental’ works, albeit changing the names of all the projects to honor their respective leaders, dead or alive. Everything else is the same, just the new packaging!
The ‘Right to Vote’ can become empowering only when we have a genuine pluralistic polity, plural, not in terms of quantity, as everyday with intrigues and splits occurring within the political set-up many new parties are coming up. Some may call this plurality as the sign of maturing of our democracy but of what use is it to an ordinary man. Plurality is needed in terms of quality. Only when there exist qualitative differences within the polity, which we can measure objectively, we will also start taking qualitative interest in choosing one over the other, for we will know that by making the wrong choice, we ourselves will end up on the loosing side.
It may seem to some that with such qualitative differences, political bickering will tend to increase. To the contrary, I believe an opposite phenomena will occur. When the parties are similar, they fight more to prove to their vote banks that they are different. With no such point to prove, they will find it easier to carry out bipartisan actions- denoting joint action of all the parties across the line, grouped broadly under conservative and liberal ideology, hence bipartisan and not 'multipartisan'- for the welfare of the masses.
Only when our polity evolves to such a state and is able to ‘brittle’ the ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy’ of Robert Michels, the ‘Right to Vote’ will become empowering and all my apprehensions will vanish away.

Image Courtesy
http://lh3.ggpht.com (original)

2 Aug 2008

"It was due to want of intelligence, somehow we moved in different ideological grooves"

Reflections of EL in the Mahatma and his protege

Here I discuss the glimpses of EL to be found in two personalities who, between themselves, steered Indian consciousness for nearly half a century(1915-1963). Their ideologies condition many minds till date, not just in India but world over. I am undoubtedely talking about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
I take the liberty of quoting Gandhi once again, "Before we dare think of freedom we must be brave enough to love one another, to tolerate one another's religion, even prejudices and superstitions."
Here Gandhi has directly associated freedom or for that matter liberty with ones tolerance for the norms, values and cultures of others, be they superstitious and irrelevant in our eyes. The essence of liberty cannot be felt till we adopt an outlook of acceptance and tolerance. However, this never prevented Gandhi from starting the Harijan Movement, hence attacking the prejudices of upper caste Hindus. Here the prejudices of the so-called upper castes were negatively effecting the socio-economic condition of the lower castes, they being relegated to the periphery of the Hindu society and economy. One should be neutral to only those prejudices which are themselves neutral in nature. One can not accept a prejudice which has non-acceptance as its own foundation. Non-acceptance of the basic human rights of equality, equal opportunity and no discrimination on the basis of ones lineage, in the given case of Hindu society.
Nehru, a proponent of the socialist philosophy, writes in his autobiography, "It has been my privilege to be associated very closely with a large number of Congress leaders and workers, and I could not wish for a finer set of men and women. And yet I have differed from them on vital issues, and often I have felt a little weary at finding that they do not appreciate or understand something that seems to me quite obvious. It was due to want of intelligence, somehow we moved in different ideological grooves. I realized how difficult it is to cross these boundaries suddenly. They constitute different philosophies of life, and we grow into them gradually and unconsciously. It is futile to blame the other party. Socialism involves a certain psychological outlook on life and its problems. It is more than mere logic. So also are the other outlooks based on heredity, upbringing, the unseen influences of the past and our present environments. Only life itself with its bitter lessons forces us along new paths and ultimately, which is far harder, makes us think differently. Perhaps we may help a little in this process."
Nehru shows ones helplessness in choosing his/her ideology, outlook or value system. We may regard ourselves individualists but still our surroundings play a decisive role in conditioning our mindsets. There are few who are able to break the shackles of the norms and values, and hence think independently. However, even this independence is nothing but just fiction. As Nehru says, its not our intelligence but the lack of it that shapes our ideologies and make them different from others. It is the limitation on our part that we are not able to comprehend the ideologies of others. Hence the onus lies on an individual to remove the layers of indifference which gradually accumulate between us and open ones mind and intellect to polemics of others. Maybe through our receptivity, we can set an example for them too and the polemic gets moderated to a healthy discussion which goes on to fill that lacunae of our intelligence. Further moving on the steps of Nehru, I too acknowledge that it is not easy to bridge this gap. However, the try is worth it.

Image Courtesy
http://www.gymnyon.vd.ch (original)

18 Feb 2008

'Good for everyone'

Economic perspectives and the Indian ELians

In terms of the economic disputations, I see an ELian as a pacifier in the perennial 'Development vs Displacement' debate. The findings of a recent survey claimed that majority of the Indians are 'for' free trade in order to have higher growth rates. With respect to another question, it also claimed that majority feel government should take the responsibility for the upliftment of the economically backward classes and hence were 'for' inclusive growth. That is the essence of EL.
'The greatest good for the greatest number' as claimed by the utilitarianism is not what we want. We want 'Good for everyone' and for realizing this the 'haves' will have to make some sacrifices to take the 'have-nots' along the growth trajectory.
However, do these majority of Indians as elaborated in the survey see the two given questions together or as compartmentalized. The need is to see them together as only the holistic approach can provide the feasible solution.
With these economic disputations get intertwined many socio-political disputations too, giving rise to questions like affirmative action, SEZ's, disinvestment, etc. However, in order to find an answer to these, the primary question remains, 'to what extent do we accommodate?'

Image Courtesy
http://thumbs.dreamstime.com (original)

17 Feb 2008

Defining EL

A traditionalist/modernist debate

Empathic Libertarianism(EL) is a philosophy of mutual respect for the perspectives of our fellow beings and upholding(and executing) our own perspectives only till the extent that they do not tend to hurt others. If consciously or unconsciously we trespass, we should not complain about the retaliation. However, this retaliation by the person whose perspectives have been challenged should be lawful in a given unprejudiced political setting.
EL is a very general philosophy applicable to all socio-political and economic disputations. However, as said it is applicable in an unprejudiced political setting which according to me is the one upholding basic democratic principles.
I see an Empathic Libertarian(ELian) as the one who is a modernist and objective in his/her approach but at the same time compassionate enough to accommodate the traditionalists and their subjectivity. Hence an ELian is very close to the modernists(or liberals or objective-thinkers) but intentionally lags behind them to allow the traditionalists(or conservatives or subjective-thinkers) to catch up. An ELian is forward looking who wants to take everyone along. A traditionalist who accommodates the modernists cannot be an ELian because he/she shall pull the momentum backwards rather than forward.
Some may feel that 'accommodating everyone' and 'taking them all along' is more of a tactfulness, i.e., diplomacy of some kind. I'll like to make things more clear for them. Most of the times engaged in disputations over trivial issues are the so called liberals and conservatives. Liberals consider themselves to be 'open minded' and their adversaries as 'closed'. On the other hand, the conservatives see themselves as the ones holding together the threads of the past and the present to give a value-rich future. For them, their adversaries and their ideologies are just aberrations which must be removed for the common good. The fact is that both of them, 'closed' in their self-created confinements, are unable to see the perspectives of the other. Here comes the importance of an ELian who refuses to get incarcerated in these biased perceptions and try to make the best out of the two worlds.
Here I'll question the so-called 'open-minded' liberals that how can they think they are 'open'? By closing your ears, eyes and the mind to the polemics of the conservatives, aren't you showing the same stubbornness what you excuse them to exhibit so often.
Again talking of 'taking everyone along' does not imply that an ELian should conciliate and accommodate every perception and prejudice of the liberals and the conservatives. Liberals(or modernists) need to be criticized when they keep on moving forward, not allowing the conservatives(or traditionalists) to catch up. Similarly the conservatives(or traditionalists) need to be criticized when they tend to move backwards towards 'barbarism'.
Now coming onto objectivity, lets see its importance and the extent to which it should be applied.
Objectivity is a prerequisite for an empirical value-free judgment of any given situation. However, being objective is our 'subjective' choice. Similarly, clinging to one's values and seeing things through this subjective mesh is the choice of others. We all use our education and the values it imbibes into us to shape our perceptions. While someone gets an objective outlook towards the life, others remain subjective. Wisdom cannot be imparted through education. There are many who depend on traditional wisdom and hence tend to be subjective. As ELian one should try to impart in them, the modern value systems in order to help them keep up with the pace at which the world is moving. However, in doing so we must not look at their wisdom as something obsolete and hence something to be abhorred. It means a lot to them and we should be accommodating enough to allow for their subjectivity and restrain from hurting them. This world is large enough to accommodate people of all colors, races and creeds. Similarly our 'combined intellect' is large enough to accommodate all kinds of perceptions.
Mahatma Gandhi has said, "Before we dare think of freedom we must be brave enough to love one another, to tolerate one another's religion, even prejudices and superstitions."
Talking of Gandhiji, I am reminded to mention the kind of retaliation an ELian expects by the person whose perspectives have been challenged. As said, it should be lawful. Nothing better than the 'satyagrah' gifted by the Father of our Nation. One should find peaceful means to vent the anger against the injustice. But again as ELian, I wont subscribe to any kind of 'extreme' Gandhian satyagrah. However, without any second thought, I completely denounce the use of unwanted violence.
So Live and Let Live!!!

Image Courtesy
http://www.piedmontchurch.org (original)

14 Feb 2008

I am Back

My revamped Blog and a new found ideology

I am blogging after a huge gap of 17 months. I deleted a couple of old posts but retained the one on Gandhigiri because it made me realise that my new found ideology is not something I developed instantly but has gradually evolved through the years gone by. Finally I have been able to consolidate it under the sobriquet of "Empathic Libertarianism".
It required a lot of introspection and testing for consistency. These days, spending time all by myself, there are ample opportunities for me to meet my inner self. So after deep contemplation, I realised that I share a libertarian philosophy. However something was missing. I found a lot of subjectivity crept in when I tried to think of different developments taking place around the world in socio-political sphere. So after pouring in more time and mental energy, I decided to add some empathy to my ideology.
Thence was born an Empathic Libertarian.
Libertarianism, as you might be knowing, is exercising one's free will. However the appendage 'empathic' imposes a restriction on the same. This imposition is by no means extrinsic, but intrinsic in nature.
As per libertarianism, there is already a restriction, which i found most of the people miss to mention while defining it. It is that one can enjoy liberty only till that extent that it does not interfere with someone else's liberty. 'Empathic' sensitizes this very aspect of libertarianism.

Image Courtesy
http://www.blackdog.net (edited)