Remembering Peterloo and Jallianwala

I recently participated in an interaction on policy, democracy and reform movements in the light of a major event in British history – the Peterloo Massacre, 1819, in the Palace of Westminster, London, in the evening of 17th July 2019. The Massacre took place at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, on 16 August 1819, when cavalry mainly comprising of the 15th The King’s Hussars (who had been pivotal in the Napoleonic Wars, particularly the Battle of Waterloo) charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation. They were led by the fiery radical reformer Henry Hunt. After the stunning barbarism on the part of the administration, 18 were reported died while hundreds were injured.


Following the Peterloo Massacre, the government of the United Kingdom acted to prevent any future disturbances by the introduction of new legislation, the so-called Six Acts aimed at suppressing any meetings for the purpose of radical reform. Even though the regressive Pittite Acts were struck down over two centuries (with the most recent repeal being as recently as 2008), what fascinates me is how the Rowlatt Act that led to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Punjab, India, a century later has resonances with the Six Acts.

Read more on this here:


A Struggle for True Liberation

India attained its independence from the British Raj on 15 August 1947. Curiously, within less than a decade, it was back in shackles. The white sahab was replaced by the brown babu. The Viceregal Palace was renamed Rashtrapati Bhavan. Names of a few cities were desi-fied. Bombay became Mumbai, Calcutta became Kolkata and strangely Madras became Chennai! But certain structures of oppression and hierarchy in society still remained. Certain ideas of what it meant to be Indian remained. Ideas that created conceptual constructs that created philosophies and even politics. India was birthed in a chaotic backdrop, with Partition and its after-effects. Even as a fledgling country trying to make sense of itself, India never quite had a problem with the diversity of its constituents. Unity in diversity became a catchphrase and a cornerstone of what it meant to be Indian. Tolerance and pluralism came to India as easily as breathing was to man. Spontaneous. Simple. Founded on centuries, nay millennia, of assimilation and churning of cultures, philosophies, ideas and people.

And then the undercurrents of differences burst forth, breaking the dams of reason, tearing asunder the fabric of Indian society.

Read more about a Dharmic take on identity politics here: #Solidarity


Trump Finds Hafiz Saeed..

Pakistan has (once again, for the nth time) arrested Hafiz Saeed . This time the charge is “terror financing”. It should be clear to anyone who bothers to read a few newspapers that he was not hiding anywhere and did not need to be “found”. He has always lived and worked openly in Pakistan and this is not the first time he has been arrested (and may not be the first time he is let go after the dust settles and the IMF funds arrive). It is also worth noting that the charges have nothing to do with the Mumbai attacks and that the current military regime in Pakistan will not even admit that those attacks came from Pakistan. In fact their vast PR apparatus has successfully convinced many educated Pakistanis that the whole thing was an Indian (or Israeli) false flag operation and the attackers did not even come from Pakistan. While this is not the official stance of the government of Pakistan (which actually investigated the attackers to some extent under international pressure, and produced detailed evidence linking the attackers to Pakistan, including details such as where the boat was purchased and such like, and several people have been in jail at some point for their involvement in this attack), the domestic propaganda and management of witnesses etc  has been so effective that I regularly get whatsapp messages from friends “accusing” some Pakistani journalist or TV station of being Indian agents because they have said at some point that the sole surviving terrorist (Ajmal Kasab) was a Pakistani. As an aside, it would be interesting if someone can ask a senior member of the current military regime to publicly state on record that Ajmal Kasab was Pakistani. I doubt that anyone (except maybe Trump) can actually do this (i.e. I doubt that any senior official can come on TV and admit this.. it would be too far at variance with the domestic propaganda that ISPR has put out).

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab.jpg
Ajmal Kasab shooting civilians in Shivaji Train station

In 2014 Hafiz Saeed actually held a conference of his (renamed) Jihadi organization at the “minar e Pakistan” (Pakistan memorial) in Lahore and rode around on a horse to feel close to the spirit of the original Arab conquerors he idealizes.

Image result for hafiz saeed horse
Hafiz Saeed riding a horse at the JUD’s convention in Lahore in 2014

So anyway, everyone knew where Hafiz Saeed was, and even this latest arrest does not mention the Mumbai attacks, so either Trump is remarkably ignorant (possible) or he is just playing to his base, who love the whole “Western” movie ethos of wanted posters, dead or alive, manhunt, etc and finally, Sheriff Trump riding to capture the “bad guys”.  I find it hard to believe that even Trump can be ignorant enough to not know all this, so I vote for “bullshitting his base” as the most likely explanation for this tweet.

But while all this may be just show to get Pakistan off the FATF hook and to get some much needed cash (and maybe even weapons) from Trump, it is still hard to say who is conning who here. At one level Pakistan has “successfully” conned the US for 17 years and received billions in aid while supporting the Taliban and hosting multiple other Jihadi organizations. But it is hard to see this as a “win” for Pakistan. While Pakistan’s military regime (and this issue has ALWAYS been handled by the army, no civilian was allowed to butt in.. Mian Nawaz Sharif lost power for trying to minimally rein in this policy) has played these games and thinks it is winning, it has actually presided over Pakistan falling steadily behind India and even Bangladesh in every economic and social indicator. It would have been much better to swallow the bitter pill in 2001 and actually switch sides and give up on Jihad. By now Pakistan would be outperforming rickety India and even “rising star” Bangladesh in many areas. Instead, we have wasted a generation trying to play these games and may not have anything to show for it if this round of show arrests does not even get us off the FATF grey list (or worse, gets us on the blacklist).
Indians are (unsurprisingly) not delighted with this latest show of successful Pakistani conmanship (or even genuine change of heart), but in the proverbial long run, who gets the last laugh? India, a rising economic power in the world, or Pakistan, playing strategic games with multiple sponsors and just staying half a shaky step ahead of its multiple creditors?


Prime Minister Imran Khan on Pakistan National Day, in March.


Episode 57: Indian Politics Podcast

Another BP Podcast is up.

It was our crew of usual suspect; Vidhi, Kushal, MJ, Jahanara and myself. We spoke about Ms. Mahua Moitra; who is, to my mind, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reimagined as Lady Durga.

I frankly find the anti-elitist elements expressed in the podcast to be rather disconcerting. Even though V and I don’t necessarily agree; we are probably united in our interest in aesthetes.

I find Ms. Moitra to be enchanting and alluring in a way I don’t find Smirti, Sonia or Sushma. It helps that Mahua speaks with a Convent school-liberal arts-Investment Banker mannerism; makes her even more compelling.

You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. Razib is toying with the idea of doing a patron Youtube Livestream chat, if people are interested, in the next few weeks.

Would appreciate more positive reviews!


Browncast Episode 56: Urbane Cowboys in the conservative wars

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. I am toying with the idea of doing a patron Youtube Livestream chat, if people are interested, in the next few weeks.

Would appreciate more positive reviews!

On this episode, I talk to Josiah Neeley and Doug McCoullough. Hosts of the center-Right Urbane Cowboys podcast, they have had Reihan Salam, Avik Roy, Ramesh Ponnuru, and myself, as guests. They do the “brown representation” well, in other words.

Most we talk about the French-Amhari wars. All of us stake somewhat different positions on this conflict within modern conservatism and try to hash out a path to the future.f


Brown power now!

The brain and the brawn!

A comment below set me off because it’s so dumb. In the 1980s brown Americans were so marginal that my parents were excited when they saw a little Indian boy in a cereal commercial.

What can brown do for you?

Today the man behind the skirt is <<<Saikat Chakrabarti>>>, a Communistic fellow of bhadralok, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley pedigree who is driving the Democratic party to the Left through one set of bicep curls at a time. Bernie Sanders’ campaign is run by one Faiz Shakir, a Pakistan American. One of the four co-chairs is Ro Khanna. Meanwhile, a woman whose mother is an Iyer is now second in the polls in New Hampshire. A woman named Neer Tanden is President of Center for American Progress, the node of establishment liberal political activism. Another woman named Pramila Jayapal is co-chair of the House Progressive Caucasus.

Who is kidding who here? Browns are now elite paratroopers on the Left. The special forces wielding language in the open and money behind the scenes. They’re using the master’s tools to tear down the master’s house. I hope they fail, but their power is what it is. Don’t be a dumbass. There’s a brown fist coming at us. We best be ready.


The ubiquity of the rentier state

Angus Maddison’s Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History is one of my favorite books (though if you are looking for economic history, Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium is underrated/underread).

Maddison’s work is cited in this piece,
No, Mughals didn’t loot India. They made us rich: They remained as Indians, not colonists
. Overall, I found it to be specious and sophistic in the details.

The specious part is the attempt to assert that India was rich during the Mughal period. The sophistic part was the interleaving of anecdata and observation to buttress the quantitative point, made with an appeal Maddison’s data set.

The reality is that it is likely that Maddison was wrong, and more importantly, the Mughal state was highly extractive:

There is more here. It is not my place to judge economic history, it’s not my specialty (though on the whole, I don’t dissent from the judgment of “Pseudoerasmus” on most things in his wheelhouse). And I still value Maddison’s magisterial work. And so should you.

The reason is simple: contrary to what Rana Safvi would have you believe, the vast majority of pre-modern people and societies were poor, with very marginal differences in per capita wealth in a modern sense. I am convinced by various arguments that large polities, such as the Roman Empire, can obtain some gains in efficiency through economies of scale, as well as reducing costs of production through imposing peace. But these differences were marginal compared to anything we moderns might believe to be worth notice.

To see what I mean, I’ve plotted some of Maddison’s data below:

According to Maddison, there was a decline in per capita wealth from the Mughal period to the early British period: from 550 to 533 dollars. First, this is hardly much at all. Second, it is clear that Maddison’s estimate here is very coarse, and we shouldn’t put that much stock in it.

But the bigger picture that I’m alluding too is clear when you look at all of Maddison’s data. 2,000 years ago Italy was the richest region of the world on a per capita basis (though since Madison is comparing a province of the Roman Empire to all of China, I think this is somewhat misleading). But Italy seems to have been only about twice as rich on a per capita basis as the poorest areas of the world. By 1500 the British Isles was already wealthier than India on a per capita basis, but it was only 1.3 times as wealthy.

When pre-modern observers, as quoted in the piece above, mention the wealth and riches of a polity, what they truly mean are the goods of the people of power. In 1500 France and the British Isles were at the same per capita wealth level. But the monarchy of France was much wealthier and more powerful than the monarchy of England. There were two reasons:

  • The French monarch had a larger population from which they could extract taxes.
  • The French monarchy engaged in a higher base rate of extraction from its subjects than the English monarchy.

According to economic historians, one way that the British closed the gap in later centuries was much better management of and recourse to public debt. The British “punched above their weight” in terms of mobilization of resources for this reason (eventually Britain surpassed France in population and per capita wealth).

But that’s neither here nor there. Observations of the wealth of the Mughals by European observers is mostly a function of the reality that the domains under Mughal control were extensive, and the Mughal  Empire had a much larger population than any European state. Its wealth was not due to intensive production of economic vitality, as much as extensive exploitation of productivity. Similarly, the domains of the Chinese Emperors of the contemporary period allowed for lavish wealth, but that was due to the massive population increase in their territories in the centuries of peace.(part of this was due to the introduction of maize into lands where it was more suitable than rice or wheat).

Of course, there are differences between various political arrangements. Even before seeing the data on extraction levels above, I suspected that the Mughals were not necessarily encouraging economic flourishing in an atypical manner. The reason here is historical and ideological. Though the average per capita wealth of China across history did not vary a great deal, there were ideological variations which resulted in different levels of poverty and uncertainty. The orthodox Confucian Chinese view was rather libertarian and physiocratic. It emphasized low taxes on the farmers so as to encourage freeholding and rural prosperity. Though this was not always executed, it was the ideal. The pre-modern Chinese state as actually relatively “light.”

One can think of a major exception here: the Yuan dynasty. That of the Mongols. Unlike the Manchus, the Mongols did not assimilate to Chinese norms. They engaged in massive extraction, pure rent-seeking, and brought in “middle-men minorities” (Central Asian Muslims often) to do much of the dirty work.

On the whole, I believe that the Mongol influence on economic growth was predominantly negative in Eurasia during their period of dominance, because the steppe nomad ethos was extractive and predatory toward the ancient agrarian civilizations of Eurasia. The Pax Mongolica likely introduced some efficiencies through trade and the spread of ideas, but the local impact of Mongol rule in China, Persia, and Russia seems to have been one of predation and consumption, rather than fostering production.

The Mughals were in part descended from Mongols. And as Timurids they were patrons of culture but also adhered to the steppe ethos of extraction and predation. Rana Safvi emphasizes that the Mughals became more Indian genealogically over time. This is true. And the Mughals also relied on Rajputs to administer their domain. But anyone who has read about the Mughal state apparatus knows that like the Mongols in Yuan China they relied extensively on West and Central Asian first-generation immigrants (the preference for non-natives even within these ethnicities is a clear tell that it was important they not be too attached to India, and mirrors “Mameluke” regimes further west). While Turks and Afghans were the military elite, the civilian class was saturated with Persians.

The ethno-religious distance between the ruled and rulers to me would set a prior expectation that there would be an emphasis on extraction and extensive rent-seeking. Muslims, like Ibn Battuta, had long seen India as a land of riches and a place where young adventurers could make a fortune. In the pre-modern world, unfortunately, this often involved some sort of rent-seeking activity, rather than productive entrepreneurship.

And yet were the Mughals qualitatively different from what came before an what has come after? To be honest, I don’t think so. One of the major problems with South Asia is that it is a world of “communities,” and communities look after their own. Han Chinese bureaucrats culturally identified with the peasants that they ruled. Even the connotation of “peasant” in Chinese is far less pejorative than in Europe, which had a blood nobility. In South Asia, the ruling elite has often by logical necessity been different from those the ruled because no one group identity has been a majority. This is often true even locally, while Hindu zamindars ruling in eastern Bengal over Muslim peasants, or Muslim potentates in the Deccan over Hindu peasants.

Note: Chill on the bullshit comments. I’ll be deleting them if you manifest stupidity or ignorance.


Why I like to ask about caste

Last week I was at a conference where a British academic asked an American academic “how much money do you make?” It was really strange to me because in American society you don’t ask this question. It’s not polite. And I immediately explained to the British academic that you just don’t ask this question.

But, it illustrates what really matters in America. “How much money do you make?” gets to the heart of the American ethos. We don’t talk about it in public, but on some level, it’s the ultimate thing that matters. Americans really really care about money.

What you can’t talk about, is what really matters. So when Zach invited a bunch of people to the Whatsapp group (which I don’t check that frequently), I decided to just ask someone’s caste. Of course, that is “not done.” But that’s because of the fact that most people on some level care. A lot. That’s how you could have a group where most people are on the same page about the problems and deficits of caste privilege, but everyone turns out to be not lower caste.

On Aziz Ansari’s new special there’s a thing about how white people are “woke” on Instagram. Similarly, you see the Chatterjee’s, Iyers, and Tripathis outdoing each other on how awful caste privilege is on Twitter.


The Brown Pundits on whatsapp

There has been some fairly intense conversation on the WhatsApp group, which has grown substantially over the weekend. I mention this as I’m also looking at the qualitative mix of people who engage with BP.

It tends to be cerebral, caste Hindu males with Diasporic connections & English fluency. We have a broader readership than that but these are the most consistent commentators and evangelists of the site.

My perspective is that if BP is going to somehow breaking the mainstream it now needs to feed into the Social Media Universe and also transform its demographic.

The blogosphere was eviscerated by Facebook and Twitter; it’s time we now find ways to cooperate with it just as many bloggers cooperated with each other to survive.

Also the “post and comment format” doesn’t account for how people usually spend their time on mobile. For some reason my WordPress app has stopped working so I can only really use BP on a desktop.


Podcast Updates

I have taken the morning off after a particularly intense week at work so I thought I would catch up at BP.

I’ll be doing three monthly podcasts (that’s the idea).

One is a monthly Indian Linguistics podcast, the other is on Indian Politics and finally the last on Indian History.

I simply use India as a shorthand for anything between the Hindu Kush, Himalayas and the Indian Ocean.

As an aside what is the eastern mountain range that defines Akhand Bharat, I’m trying to figure out if the Himalaya (or some subsidiary range) slopes south into the Burmese-Bangladeshi border. Something like the Chittagong Hill Tracts and Cox’s Bazaar, which delineate some sort of civilization border.

Our next podcast is going to be on “Were the Mughals good for India.”

One thing that I’m proud of in my podcasts, I can check my biases as a moderator. I have the ability (if I say so myself) of jumping all over the spectrum and I suspect that has to do with the fact that, like most Baha’is, temporal questions don’t vex me much. Even my linguistic jingoism is more concerned about the status that Persian, Arabic & Urdu would have in a New World Order.

So please do recommend anyone/everyone for a fair panel.