Browncast: Abhinav Prakash and Karol Karpinski

Two BP Podcasts, one after another. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

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First, I talk to Karol Karpinski. Karol lived in Dhaka for two years in the mid-2010s. Most of our conversation was around economics since he is an economist, but he also mentions his brush with the tragic events of the Dhaka Isis attack.

Second, to Abhinav Prakash on the farmer protests. Mukunda joins in. Abhinav’s view is that this is basically a rentier class strike.

47 thoughts on “Browncast: Abhinav Prakash and Karol Karpinski”

  1. Prakash is one of the best recurring guests you have. I was interested in the Karpinski interview, but his horrific stutter and endless delays in saying anything made the episode unlistenable. It was the first BP episide that I cut off before even reaching 30 mins. It’s a shame, because he comes across as a nice person. But delivery still matters. English is his 3rd language or something, so I guess it is understandable, but he’s been in D.C. for a number of years now. He should do better. Podcasts put a premium on a guest’s delivery in a way that the written form just doesn’t. I wish Razib was a bit more discerning with his guests before recording and seeing how they actually talked.

      1. That’s because they are pro ethnonationalism and anti logic. Some of the most colorist and racist Indians I have ever met have come from groups purpoted to belong to the more egalitarian Sikh faith. How one practices the faith is more important than what is written. People see through this protest. It is a Jatt Sikh ethnonationalist attempt to keep their fingers on disproportionate state welfare. Trying to hold the state hostage in order to do so is despicable. Pak ISI funded Khalistanis is even worse. Allying with Congress, the group that actually harmed them in India most directly and recently, well that’s just priceless.

        1. “That’s because they are pro ethnonationalism and anti logic.”

          You say as if that’s a bad thing. No doubt Jat Sikhs have a high degree of self-regard. Other groups should learn from them. You only get what you assert your right over.

          Fair distribution based on rules only works in high productivity societies where time wasted protesting is not worth it. Even there not all the time. In India, your community’s worth is based on your ability to create nuisance.

          If Biharis had some level of parochialism they would not have been rolled over by ever single government since independence and treated like shit everywhere else.

          1. I disagree communalism as a whole has been anything good. It has been bad in general

            All it has done is encourage more of it, especially when it has successfully bullied the state into idiotic and blatantly unfair wealth restribution processes.

            We needed a Lee K Yew and an Ataturk. Instead we got marxists and professional appeasers backed by a corrupt sycophant class.

          2. “If Biharis had some level of parochialism they would not have been rolled over by ever single government since independence and treated like shit everywhere else.”

            In India parochialism is function of periphery regions. Those who imbibe the state, dont have it. Win some, lose some.

            Bit like how Pak punjabis are less punjabis , because they are the state. More parochialism in Sindhi, Pathans etc.

          3. That’s because “Bihari” is not an identity in the same way being a Sikh is. Sikh is an ethnicity, bihari isn’t.

        2. “Some of the most colorist and racist Indians I have ever met have come from groups purported to belong to the more egalitarian Sikh faith.”

          Warlock, isn’t your partner from the community? You appear to have very strong views regarding them, normally an individual would have rosier views of the ethnicity one’s significant other belongs to. Did you have past experiences/situations that made you sharpen your opinions?

  2. It would be good to hear the view from the other side as well. Someone like Jungi Nihang or Sialmirza away from the bluster of protests and Twitter.

    1. “Someone like Jungi Nihang or Sialmirza away from the bluster of protests and Twitter.”

      Both these guys have been full of bluster on the issue of the Farm Acts. Bluster and nothing else.

      Nowhere on their timelines can you get a sense of why exactly these farm acts are so horrible for Punjab. The truth is these farm bills aren’t horrible at all. By continuing the APMCs and MSP while allowing private players to enter, they provide a transition from the current system to a more productive one. Clearly, continuing the current system is an enormous drain on Indian govt. resources which could better be spent on other more deserving causes. Another thing is, why should govt. of India continue to acquire almost all of Punjab’s produce while acquiring minuscule percentages in UP and Bihar.

      The actual trouble is Sikhs have gotten so used to preferential treatment with the govt. of India disproportionately buying their produce at high rates that they do not want to compete in the open market.

      This “group-think” shows extreme narrow-mindedness in Sikhs. Absolutely no Sikh anywhere are supporting what is essentially a pro-market reform long overdue. This kind of “Jatt-buddhi” (fat-headedness) will ensure Indian Punjab will never attract private investment of the kind most other Indian states are getting now. Even UP has 3 expressways and 5 subway systems in different cities. How many does Punjab have? None.

      Not even Indian Muslims, who are pretty poor and mostly uneducated show this kind of group-think.

      1. I asked Sial about why farm holding were abysmal among Punjabi Dalits. Not a peep from the guy.

        30% of Punjab is Dalit and they own ~4% of land.

        Heck, even UP Dalits are better off (relatively) than Punjabi Dalits.

        Government reserves 30% of panchayat land to be cultivated by Dalits. The Jats hold proxy bidding (i.e. give some Dalit some money to do the bidding for them). So, they get the land reserved for Dalits and make Dalits work for them.

        This year, there were announcements from Gurudwaras (kinda like friday ‘bayans’) that the Dalits should be boycotted because they wouldn’t work on Jat farms for the declared rate.

        Biharis charge 3000-3500 for an acre of paddy. During this lockdown, since the Bihari labour was not available, they asked the Dalits to grow paddy for them. Dalits asked for 4500-5000 per acre, Jaats agreed the price to ~3200-3500. When the Dalits refused, they announced boycott. If something like this happens from a Hindu temple, the priest (or whoever does it) will be sent to prison under SC/ST atrocity prevention act. But since they were Sikhs+Jats, everything was swept under the carpet. So much for egalitarianism.

      2. “Both these guys have been full of bluster on the issue of the Farm Acts. Bluster and nothing else.”

        I have noticed that. But I want to hear what they have to say about the specific arguments in favour or Farm Acts.

        TBH the more this shitshow is going the more I am in favour of repealing the acts. Punjab can have its rural economy.

        Bihar doesn’t have APMC anyway. More investment will flow there. Less inter-state competition. Already startups like DeHaat AgriTech are doing heavy work there. Lots of FDI flowing into the sector.

        AgriTech is sort of the new EdTech.

        1. “TBH the more this shitshow is going the more I am in favour of repealing the acts. Punjab can have its rural economy.”

          Me too. The central govt. should cap its contribution to the MSP disbursement to Punjab (after making it fairer to other states) and let them keep this stupid system they love so much. Let them keep growing chemical-laced wheat and rice which nobody wants and which rots in govt. warehouses.

          The rest of India badly needs private investment in agriculture. With road and rail connectivity becoming much better than before UP and Bihar stand poised to take advantage in agri-tech.

          1. I just want the centre to repeal the laws for the lulz, so that we can go back to let-me-jack-off-to-Manmohan-the-economist and I-voted-Modi-got-no-reforms-SAD articles.

      3. Wow! You nailed it man, perfect. I completely agree with the last line, “Not even Indian Muslims, who are pretty poor and mostly uneducated show this kind of group-think.”

        I am from North East India, didn’t know much about Sikh politics. So, I was actually shocked by this level of tribalism among Sikhs. Just brain dead, illogical, herd mentality even from the educated and sensible ones. It’s actually frightening that even the educated, level headed(non-leftist) ones can’t see anything beyond their community. Not even Muslims are so brain dead!

  3. The government needs to start doing press conferences. It should form an official record, as counter to opinion pieces in media, regardless of which side they support.

    I think they will concede some demands – but not repeal laws. Likely settle on massive subsidy on new tech or other agri investments. Still, a bad precedent, unless they are very careful.

  4. Some of the most colorist and racist Indians I have ever met

    just deleted some unmoderated racist comments from jatts. again, 90% of the racist comments are from ppl who claim to be jatts…

    most jatts are not racist. but it does seem most racists on BP are jatt… (some paks are close behind, but not too many here)

    1. Yeah. That’s who has also generally used the most ad hominem against me online too. The online culture is full of a lot of nutty ethnocentric and racialist trolls.

  5. One more thing, there hasn’t been a single big Dalit leader from Punjab (except for Kanshiram, but he didn’t hold any power).

    All the chief ministers from Punjab have been upper caste Sikhs (mostly Jaats (all??)) since 1966 (when the erstwhile Indian Punjab was partitioned into Himachal, Haryana and Punjab) despite. Compare this with “the backward states” like UP and Bihar. From Mayawati to Jitan Ram Manjhi, Dalits and other castes have gotten their share at power in the state. How much ever we can fault UP/Bihar and their leaders for economic development, they have done much better in social indicators.

    UP/Bihar politicians personified – जिसकी जितनी संख्या भारी, उतनी उसकी हिस्सेदारी।

    I am grateful to the likes of Mulayam/Mayawati/Lalu/Nitish and their predecessors and successors. They might be corrupt, but they were/are leader of their people.

  6. Something that I observed – the only overtly “Non-Sikh” leader from Punjab was Harkishan Singh Surjit. And even though he was a Communist, he wore a ‘pag’!! Compare this to Hindu Communist leaders who loathe their religion.

  7. @brownpundits and @razib, invite Sial/JungNihang/AmaanBali or other sikh twitterati/journalist on Brownpundits, we want to get their opinion too.

  8. a row has broken out between kumaraswamy( immediate past cm) and a ryta sangha leader over, kumarswamy’s support to the current state bjp govt over land bills. here state is allowing others to buy agricultural land.
    both the parties are calling each other fake farmers. kumaraswamy can hold on his own as he comes from vokkaliga community.

    a letter by former cm siddaramaiah in support of sale outside apmc for vegetables was read out in the assembly, much to his discomfort.
    at some point bjp should start calling the sikh bluff, but it is not possible as they are identified as the only community who got even with muslims during partition.

  9. The point of power is, you should be able to checkmate others whenyou are right and other side is on the wrong side. After 6 yrs in power if you cannot build enough opinion capital to deal with this, something has gone wrong.

    And it should be possible to take on ethnic and racial supremacists , these are things on needs to tackle eventually, sooner the better.

    1. “After 6 yrs in power if you cannot build enough opinion capital to deal with this, something has gone wrong.”

      Well if u look at the election map, its quite clear that the the Govt is formed majorly by the same states which voted for it in 2014. So we had a divided political viewpoints anyways

      “And it should be possible to take on ethnic and racial supremacists , these are things on needs to tackle eventually, sooner the better.”

      I mean it has been 70 odd years but we haven’t tackled them, what makes u think 6 years would make any difference.

  10. But we did tackle a lot of uc supremacism in India over 70 yrs. Fact is the supremacism within minority groups is where this has not been done.

    Time to solicit sc/sts in punjab by bjp in a big way.

  11. Further in the series of India’s economists AKA Spineless wonders

    “Over time, this will lead to more families moving out of agriculture and agriculture becoming more capital and technology-intensive. One important fallout of this change is that the sector will lose its ability to provide a social safety net to the poor and vulnerable, in times of a crisis.

    This possibility, however, does not justify turning our backs to market-led reforms in agriculture. We just need to recognise that commercialised agricultural development will become a risky social project unless it is accompanied with the development of formal State-sponsored social safety net mechanisms on a comparable scale.

    This is an enormous administrative exercise that will need to identify the vulnerable and implement mechanisms to reach them in time. “

  12. Sorry for the dumb questions:

    1) What percent of Punjab’s population are Jats? What percent of all Sikhs in India are Jats?
    2) What percent of Punjab’s population are in the OBC categorization? [Are a lot of successful Jatis in the OBC categorization in Punjab that really should be designated *forward castes*?]
    3) How do Punjabi SCs prefer to be called? In some places people prefer to be called Dalit. In others places Harijan. In other places Scheduled Castes or SCs. In some places by their specific Jati (SC has over 300 Jatis). And in yet other places by their chosen Sampradaaya. I generally use the phrase SC since it rarely causes offense.
    4) What percent of Indian Sikhs are “forward castes”? What percent of Indian Sikhs are OBCs or SCs?
    5) What percent of Punjabi Sikhs and other Dharmics are crypto Christians?
    6) I find the tiny Punjabi muslim population compared to the rest of India puzzling. [Yeah Punjab’s experience with partition was very different from any other part of India. But that was a long time ago.] What percent of Punjabi Sikhs are Sufis? Suspect there are few Shias? [Nearby Rajasthan, Kashmir and Delhi have many Sufis.]

    1. > 3) How do Punjabi SCs prefer to be called?

      Dalit is the PC term to use in academic circles and elsewhere (like media). However, you can see that SC Sikhs in Punjab don’t have much of a problem with the term ‘Chamar’ either.

      I haven’t heard anyone use Harijan in a LONG time.

      1. Thanks for posting the youtube video! I had no idea about the extent of Dalit population in Punjab!

        1. Highest in India with no political representation!!

          Not one Dalit leader from Punjab since Kanshiram.

  13. Enjoyed hearing Karol Karpinski’s thoughts.

    Would have loved to hear his thoughts on greater economic integration between Bangladesh and India. West Bengal and Assam in particular. Linking rails, roads, telecom, electric grids, education systems, nonprofits, NGOs, religious organizations. Freer movement of labor, business, cross border product development, goods and services. Tax treaties.

    This facilitates some parts of Bangladesh partly getting around the Dhaka infrastructure challenges.

    Would also love to hear Karol compare West Bengal to Bangladesh.

    Would like to hear Karol’s thoughts on how to reform the Bangladeshi education system.

    Karol is correct that Bangladeshi Islamism has been considerably suppressed since 2016, and Bangladeshi freedom signficantly restored. I would like more clarity on how and why he feals Bangladesh has less freedom in 2020 than in 2010.

    His observation that a lot of Islamist extremism comes to Bangladesh from the UK is perceptive.

    1. Those are good questions and it’s a shame I didn’t cover most of them on the podcast! In my defence, it’s been the first podcast I’ve ever been on, so I didn’t realise how important it is to be economical with words.

      The one under-appreciated trend is that after 1971 Bangladesh started gravitating more towards SE Asia, which is only natural if you look at the map. Pre-covid, you’d have a single daily flight to Kolkata, but at least a dozen to KL/Bangkok. In the same fashion, integration with ASEAN (FTA negotiations started the other day) seems to generate more excitement than WB.

      That said, there have been some initiatives: there are cross-border trains between Kolkata and Dhaka, and Kolkata and Khulna, as well as a bus service between Kolkata and Agartala (crossing Bangladesh). The take-up hasn’t been great, though. Some problems in the cross-border cooperation I can think of would include:

      – some big-ticket political items, like the Teesta River waters dispute
      – Bangladesh’s highly centralised system of government, which means that e.g. the three western divisions cannot really get involved in cross-border projects of their own
      – there are some cultural factors at play. To simplify things somewhat, some Bangladeshis feel that some Indians behave in a condescending way and take Bangladesh for granted, or think that India is still the only game in town without noticing that the neighbourhood has really changed over the past 50 years. On the other other hand, there is also a fair amount of petty, defensive nationalism on the BD part—for example, some time ago a few high school girls faced a torrent of online abuse for giving a BBC Hindi Service reporter an interview in that language (as opposed to Bangla or English). All of that hurts the trust you need to build things across the borders.
      – for organisations providing international development assistance, the country is still the primary unit of analysis, so real cross-border projects take the back seat. Since international aid still matters quite a lot for Bangladesh, it gets reflected in the priorities on the ground. It’s slowly changing (DFAT in Australia was probably the first one to emphasise cross-border projects; the World Bank has been following with the “One South Asia” brand), but for now it’s still mostly reflected in the changed narrative—real tangible cross-border projects are scarce.

      I generally sense that multilateral arrangements like BBIN or SAARC are somewhat easier to sell in BD than purely bilateral cooperation. Although, I guess, at the end of the day WB’s own economic performance might be the most important variable: if Kolkata were India’s Shenzhen, none of the problems I wrote about above would prove to be insurmountable.

      I don’t know if I can say much about differences between WB and BD. I travelled quite extensively around BD, but have only been to Kolkata; I also don’t really know many people in WB. With those caveats, here’s some things I remember:

      – Dhaka feels more Bengali than CCU—at least downtown, I couldn’t be sure that a random passerby would speak Bangla, while that would be unimaginable in Dhaka—since 1971, even the Biharis or Adivasis pretty much speak Bangla as their first language (perhaps except some in CHT). Overall, I feel that the BD govt is more serious about preserving and promoting the living Bengali culture, but that’s just my vague impression.
      – WB is IMO cheaper if you make a like-for-like comparison for a middle class lifestyle. The necessities—food and clothing—are IIRC cheaper in BD, but anything more: schooling, medical care, gadgets, cars—are more expensive. Healthcare is actually the one thing where the gap between BD and WB is still massive: Dhaka’s top hospitals (United/Apollo) are at the level of a rural district general (+the latter is to a large extent Indian-staffed anyway). The ICDDR,B is a top research institute, but beyond that people just rely on medical tourism to India and Thailand.
      – It’s speculative, but I think that international migration is not such a big thing, culturally, in WB. In BD, on the other hand, you can pick a random village and you’ll run into somebody with family in the Gulf/SE Asia/Korea/Japan/HK/England/Europe/US. Remittances are a really big thing for the economy as a whole.
      – I don’t think WB has got any equivalent of BRAC. Like, of course, there are NGOs, but BRAC in Bangladesh is a completely different thing, like a crossover between a government agency and a massive corporation. It’s just incredible—again, you land in a random village and there’s a BRAC school, a BRAC branch office or a BRAC cooperative. And if you’re an urbanite, you often end up banking with BRAC Bank, getting your MBA from BRAC U, drinking BRAC milk for your breakfast and eating BRAC chicken for your lunch, and taking your s.o. to shop at Aarong, the BRAC department store. I haven’t seen anything like that anywhere else in the world. That also means that there is an independent service delivery channel with great ground game that can be used for things like vaccination campaigns.
      – Alcohol is easy to get in WB, but that means the West Bongs miss on the speakeasy culture, which may be the most interesting thing about Dhaka!

      As for less freedom in 2020 v 2010: I’d say that ten years ago atheism or gay rights were still—however unwelcome—parts of the public square, now we’re in the “don’t ask don’t tell” territory. The murderer’s veto worked. If you look at places like Mukto-Mona, most names will be pseudonymous or based abroad.

      I’ll be out of my depth talking about education—it’s not really my area of expertise (though my Dhaka flatmate was an education specialist). Hiring good teachers and paying them well would be a good start, but that can be said anywhere in the world. IMO vocational education + apprenticeships need more attention. I would probably tinker with exploring how those and migration policy could work better together (and I know some smart people are thinking about that too).

      1. Thanks, Karol
        Great podcast and great insights above. I always found BD fascinating as an Indian and its quite sad how it is/was (maybe not anymore since the economic gap has considerably narrowed) seen an even poorer place and a source of endless streams of illegal migrants. Amit Shah’s recent comparison of BD migrants to termites was unbecoming and shameful.

        A few questions which I hope you don’t mind answering –
        – how true is it that there are a large number of Indian migrants working in BD ? I’ve read reports saying this could even be comparable to the number of BD migrants in India
        – what safeguards does BD have in place against climate change and rising sea levels?
        – what motivated BD to take in 100’s of thousands of Rohingya refugees? An already crowded country opening its doors to even poorer refugees is a story that I don’t see touted much. On the other hand one could say that obviously BD doesn’t have the infra to turn all those people away, are they adding any economic value or are they a net drain on the economy?
        – and finally, what explains the remarkable network of BD migrants to Europe? I’ve seen whole districts in Barcelona, Lisbon and Rome where BD folk are probably in a plurality

  14. Re- Abhinav Praksh’s podcast

    I found it interesting the contradictory observations in his talk.
    At one point he lambasts India’s villages to be stagnant cesspools. Somewhere else, he said that India was always a strong society but always a weak state. Rulers may come, rulers may go but society remained forever.
    It may have been that this stagnant village that kept society strong and dharmik traditions alive. The jati-biradari enforced social rules through ostracization. They also maintained the equation between different jatis within the village. When the migrant laborer moves to the city, that social check no longer remains in place. I don’t have official statistics but every time I open the newspaper, it seems that a migrant seems involved in a crime against women. Slums in cities are no safe haven for women residents. Any thoughts on this?

    China seems to be changing its model and is now focusing on having people remain in villages or even city migrants go back. I think I read this somewhere on this forum.

    Re- Farm reforms, I wonder if Shah and team ever thought of weakening the prior system slowly instead of out-right fatwa like announcements. Maybe Congress figured this out.

  15. China seems to be changing its model and is now focusing on having people remain in villages or even city migrants go back. I think I read this somewhere on this forum.

    I think there is some misunderstanding somewhere.

    Most Chinese citizens don’t have a high level of freedom of movement within the country. They need a residence permit and a “hukou” to access 1st class citizenship rights in the city (buy property, access public schools for kids, healthcare etc).

    Getting a Hukou in a 1st tier city like Beijing / Shanghai is like immigrating to new country.

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