The Indo-Pakistan problem — To be or Not to be

Wagah Border

THIS ESSAY WAS WRITTEN IN 2016 in the immediate aftermath of the URI ATTACKS with the aim of bringing some nuance in the increasingly binary discussions of Pakistan. Looking back at it in 2020 there are a few points in the essay I mildly disagree with but on the whole, I stand by my arguments. 

For anyone willing to read a shorter -TL-DR version find the link HERE:

Note: This is not a scholarly analysis of Indo-Pak question but an essay ((*mildly subjective)) on the question with references being presented for most of the essay. 

Every well-read Indian who has thought enough about the India-Pakistan issue will have faced Hamlet’s dilemma — “To be or not to be”. It’s fair to assume that national patience, with everything related to Pakistan, is waning very fast nowadays aided by the explosion of social media. Simply put — most Indians have had enough of this shit for 69 + years (the Idea of Pakistan being older than Pakistan). The leftist solution to the Pakistan problem has always been the Aman ki Asha narrative. The reactionary position of some of the Right-wing is to totally boycott anything related to Pakistan every-time a terrorist attack takes place in India. This position though backed by popular opinion at times like this seems to be no closer to a permanent solution to the problem. To come up with potential solutions for this problem, we need to discuss both these approaches and we also need to dig deep into the Nation-state of Pakistan.


Continue reading “The Indo-Pakistan problem — To be or Not to be”


Belief and Reclamation

For eons, ascetics and wanderers would journey to the sacred snow-clad Himalayas to test the fires of their belief. Where the skies met the earth and the heavens met the material world, humans met enlightenment; and their discoveries would cascade down the subcontinent. These beliefs would be ossified by ritual and rite, and a culture would engulf the land between the great Himalayas and an endless ocean – India, that is Bhārata.

And it is this legendary journey from the foothills of the Himalayas to the tip of the subcontinent that a civilizational epic takes place – the Rāmāyana. On August 5th, 2020, the ancient song of Valmiki will echo in the villages, in the cities, in the deserts, the fields, the jungles, the mountains, the waters, and especially in the minds of those who believe. A civilization will enact its long-awaited reclamation.

Continue reading “Belief and Reclamation”


Browncast Episode 112: Tarun Sridharan from Odd Compass – Rajas and Sultans

Another BP Podcast is up. 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!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

I would though appreciate more positive reviews! Alton Brown’s “Browncast” has 30 reviews on Stitcher alone! Help make us the biggest browncast! At least at some point.

This episode features Razib and Akshar talking history with Tarun Sridharan, the man behind a very interesting Youtube Channel – Odd Compass. We discuss the Malacca Sultanate, Vijaynagara’s downfall, Maratha success, and various other topics in history. Make sure to check out his Instagram and especially youtube channel which has beautiful and well-researched videos on history (especially Indian!).

Check out his latest video on the history of war elephants:


Hindu atheist vs. Secular Jihadists

Just listened to a long podcast between Jarin Jove and the guys who host the Secular Jihadist podcast. Going in I had an open mind, as I myself differ on a lot of priors from the two co-hosts (unlike Ali I am not a Left-liberal, and unlike Armin, I don’t think people should adhere to hyper-rationalism in all cases).

Though I think Jove made some good points (i.e., I think “Hindu nationalism” is now such a big category that it is hard to generalize and extrapolate from simply the views of Sarvakar, for example), on the whole, I found many of his points sophistic and reminded me of the sort of style of argumentation I encounter from American “social justice warriors.” In particular, his objections to international comparisons through some assertion of incommensurability is the exact same tack that I’ve been frustrated with for the past 20 years. There are objective facts. There is a real world. We can disagree about the details, but asserting objective facts is not ipso facto evidence of bias or bigotry. Many beg to differ, and this is a deep chasm of values that I don’t think can ever be bridged.

The intersection between postcolonialism and critical theory and Hindu nationalism that I see in some of Jove’s assertions (e.g., he asserts that rape is a greater problem in the United States than India) is perplexing to me, but it seems surprisingly common. This is not to say that Jove would agree that his views were postcolonial or critical theorist, but the alignment is objectively true.

I would caution all people in non-Western societies to be wary of the temptation to use the critical theorist cudgel to win a particular argument because it is useful at the moment. Critical theory is a cultural acid, and any true civilization will have difficulty putting the genie back in the bottle as it eats into everything you think is precious and valuable.



Myth from history

There were many responses to my post on the Maratha Mindset: How to Control Your History and Emotions to Grasp the Future on Your Terms. I didn’t have the time to respond in detail, but a few conversations suggest I could be a bit more clear.

The primary issue that I’m alluding to is that a nation-state does not come out of thin air. They come out of history, historical memory, and organic cohesive identity. Victor Lieberman’s Strange Parallels argues that the mainland Southeast Asian nations developed nation-states rather easily (e.g., Vietnam, Thailand, etc.) because of a particular geopolitical background that they share with Western Europe. The contrast here might be with recently independent African nations, which often were literally constructed out of colonial-era compromises between European nation-states. Not so with Vietnam or Thailand, which had 1,000-year evolutions as political entities.

This moves me to the idea of India as a nation-state. It is clear that the Indian subcontinent has a broad civilizational affinity and unity. This was recognized by ancient Indians themselves, and it was recognized by outsiders. But civilization does not mean a nation-state. Western Europe is “the West,” the set of societies united by the Western Christian Church (later to become Protestants and Catholics). Aside from very short periods (e.g., the Napoleonic Empire) Western Europe, like mainland Southeast Asia, has been divided between different sub-civilizational units which developed a cultural and national coherency.

China is an exception to this. It has been a civilizational empire for 2,000 years, and today is the archetypical civilizational nation-state. It is, in some ways, what the Republic of India should aspire to become. The Chinese government has been pushing for Standard Mandarin to be known by the whole population within a few decades, without much controversy. The Han Chinese have long had a unitary political identity, no matter their internal linguistic diversity (which is dampened by the common written language).

Going back to India, it is clear that the construction of a nation-state and national institutions is a process. It is work. It does not naturally emerge out of thin air through fiat. In the previous post, I contrasted the Gangetic plain, in particular Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, with Maharashtra. What was I pointing to there?

The Gangetic plain has a strong civilizational identity. In this way, it is similar to many Arab Muslims, who have a strong identity as Arab Muslims. Arab Muslims also have weak national identities and strong local identities. This is a problem for nation-states because they need intermediate identities into which the local identities can flow. It’s a matter of organization that leads to structural cohesion.

The peoples of the Gangetic plain have strong communal identities, but weak regional identities. The communal identities were so robust that the vast majority did not convert to Islam. But with the weakening of the exogenous pressure, they need intermediate identities around which they can coalesce around to scale-out the social structure.

But how? One way you can do this is to focus on a national origin myth. But this presents a problem. The dominant indigenous polities of the Gangetic plain since 1200 A.D. have been Islamic and usually Turkic. Many Hindus on the Gangetic plain would argue that these were not even indigenous polities. Setting that aside, it does seem that the Mughals are ill-suited to being the binding historical precedent due to popular alienation (Ranjit Singh is too sectarian). There were obviously non-Muslim polities in the Gangetic plain before 1200 A.D., but myth-building at such a distance is not optimal. The Shah of Iran in the 20th-century attempted to reconfigure Iranian identity around that of the ancient Persians, but this was too tenuous a connection for most of the populace, which was more rooted in the Shia identity that came down from the Safavids.

In South India, even the Vijayanagara Empire may not be recent enough to serve as a concrete basis for myth-making.

The Marathas of the 18th-century are different. They are recent enough that many people have personal family connections to this period and the people of this period. There is a concreteness. Though the Marathas are people of the Deccan, they are not totally alien to the Gangetic plain, sharing a broad civilizational identification. Additionally, despite Maharashtra being a caste-based state like all Hindu-majority states, there is a strong sub-national identity. Despite the prominence of Brahmin Peshwas, the Maratha Empire was driven at all levels by the manpower of the militarized rural peasantry.

The Maratha identity emerged out of decades of conflict and warfare. In classic cultural evolutionary terms, intergroup competition drove within-group cohesion. This is a well-known dynamic. War tends to solidify identity, contingent on the scale of the war. Even if the Marathas originally did not see themselves leading a pan-Indian cultural revolution with arms, that does seem to be what ended up occurring at the height of the Maratha Empire.

Their military aspect is also critical. The Bengal Renaissance led to a strong sub-national identity among Hindu Bengalis in particular, especially the elites. But civilian brilliance does not seem to have the power to ground a myth. That must be done with the sword (or musket).

Ultimately, national identity must be more than a negation. This is most clear in the nature of Pakistan vs. Bangladesh. Pakistan’s identity is much more rooted in its negation of Hindu India (along with its claim to be the heir of the Mughals). The people of the Gangetic plain resisted Islamicization, but much of their broader identity beyond community seem to be fixated on the negation and rejection of the Islamic period.

The Maratha example is one which is not founded on negation, but creation. That creation occurred out of the maelstrom of decades of warfare and conflict. But it did occur. War led to the creation of the skeleton of an Empire based on Indian cultural motifs, without West or Central Asia ties.

The Maratha Empire was ultimately incomplete. The British stopped what was likely an inevitable deposition of the Mughals and a decentering of Islam as the obligate religious-identity at the apex of political power in the subcontinent. But it is a realized enough history that can serve easily as the seed for a future identity.


The determinants of prosperity in South Asia

Do state capacity and policy really matter when it comes to wealth among regions in South Asia ? Or is prosperity today determined largely by a mixture of geographical and historical factors ? South Asia as a unit is a reasonable region to study because the introduction to modernity in this entire region was mediated by the British Empire.

Seen in the two figures below are GDP per capita ($ PPP) figures for smaller (< 20 million population) and larger (> 20 million population) regions. The entities include the nations of Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, states and union territories of India, and provinces of Pakistan. Some notes about the two figures:

  1. Green bars denote plains regions, red mountain regions and blue coastal regions.
  2. Bold x-axis labels indicate entities with major metro areas.
  3. Bold borders around bars indicate non-Indian entities.

GDP per capita ($ PPP) of smaller political entities (< 20 million) in South Asia. Indian states, Pakistani regions and nation of Bhutan. Bold x-axis label denotes presence of metro area. Bold border of bar indicates non-Indian entity.

GDP per capita ($ PPP) of larger political entities (> 20 million) in South Asia. Indian states, Pakistani provinces and nations of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Bold x-axis label denotes presence of metro area. Bold border of bar indicates non-Indian entity.

There are roughly five bands of wealth we can identify:

  1. Rich smaller entities of India: Goa, Delhi, Sikkim and Chandigarh. These have GDPs of around $20-25000.
  2. Richer large entities consisting of Indian states and Sri Lanka. GDPs are around $10-12000, and these are predominantly coastal regions.
  3. Succesful agrarian states of India (Punjab and Andhra), mountainous states of India (HP, UT, MZ), Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, and country of Bhutan. GDPs between $8-10000.
  4. Interior Indian states and Odisha, along with all Pakistani provinces. This is the South Asian mean performance of around 4-6000$.
  5. Poor regions: Indian states of UP, Bihar, countries of Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan’s remote area of FATA and India’s remote state of Manipur.

Clearly being on the coast and having a major city help in a major way. In this context, there are three regions which are major disappointments, India’s West Bengal, Bangladesh and Pakistan’s Sindh. All three are on the coast, have major metropolitan areas and even have rich agricultural lands. But their economic performance is significantly below potential.

On the other hand, the economic star of the subcontinent is the Indian state of Haryana. It defies every convention, its not on the coast, lacks a huge metro region and lacks abundant rainfall. But it excels in every aspect of economic activity, its agricultural productivity is second only to Indian Punjab, its industries are varied and well developed and its service sector is a leader in India along with Karnataka. Gurugram hosts genuinely innovative startups, home to at least 7 of India’s 30 unicorns.

An interesting comparison is that between the state of Punjab and the Pakistani province of the same name. Indian Punjab is richer despite lacking a metro area. But there is a convergence in certain aspects. These are rich agricultural areas, with strong remittance networks but they both might lack industrial entrepreneurs.

Bihar, Nepal and Eastern UP together continue to be home to the largest concentration of poor people on planet Earth.  This is an isolated region, with no major cities, neglected by every Indian political entity for many centuries now. The Modi government’s national waterway one has already connected the region upto Varanasi to the ocean, upstream will be a technological challenge. Nepal, can look to Indian states like Uttarakand and Himachal for an effective growth strategy.

Although geography and history play a major role, the example of Haryana shows that those factors can be overcome. Market access, aggregation effects and the presence of mercantile communities are the key variables that determine economic performance.


Expanding CAA

Expanding CAA (working evolving draft)


Would like to propose expanding CAA to include the following groups of muslims to:

  • get everyone’s feedback on what can practically pass the Indian Lokh Sabha quickly
  • see if several major Indian leaders will publicly endorse this

The following text will be continually edited based on feedback.

Proposing to expand CAA to include the following “AND ONLY THE FOLLOWING” groups of muslims IF AND ONLY IF they can prove persecution inside Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan:

  •  13 classes AND ONLY 13 CLASSES of Muraqabah Sufi muslims:
    • 3 classes of Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
      • Sixer Ishmaeli Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
        • Dawoodi Bohra Sixer Ishmaeli Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
      • Twelver Jafari Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
    • 10 other classes of Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Chisti Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Qadiri Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Nund Rishi Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Shirdi Sai Nath Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Kabir Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Janardhan Swami Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Hazrat Babajan Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Syed Mohammed Baba Tajuddin Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Baba Budan Muraqabah Sufi muslims
  • Agnostic, Atheist and Ex muslims
  • LBGTQ plus muslims
  • Female femnist muslims


Any and all Muraqabah Sufi muslims admitted under CAA need to be certified and verified as Muraqabah Sufi muslims by a council of Muraqabah Sufi muslims chaired by Pir Diwan Sahib Syed Zainul Abedin. Pir Diwan Sahib Syed Zainul Abedin will appoint a committee of Muraqabah Sufi muslims at his own discretion to assist him in this task.


Any and all Agnostic, Atheist and Ex muslims, LBGTQ plus muslims and female femnist muslims admitted under CAA need to be certified and verified by a council of muslims chaired by Tarek Fatah . Tarek Fatah will appoint a committee of muslims at his own discretion to assist him in this task.


In addition to approval by above councils of muslims, any and all muslim CAA applicants are subject to extensive deep background security checks and can be vetoed by the Indian government for any reason.

NO OTHER MUSLIMS will be permitted to apply for CAA. No other aspect of CAA will be affected.

Please provide your suggestions about how to improve the above draft.


Browncast Episode 103: Abhijit Iyer-Mitra on Indian Defense, Economics, and History

Another BP Podcast is up. 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!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

I would though appreciate more positive reviews! Alton Brown’s “Browncast” has 30 reviews on Stitcher alone! Help make us the biggest browncast! At least at some point.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra (@Iyervval) | Twitter

This episode features Omar, Mukunda, and Akshar talking to Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a defense and policy analyst, about his evolution of political thought with highlights on his former communist affinity, evolving feelings on Modi, and passion for Indian nationalism. We also get into the continued inefficiencies of India and how it has been so detrimental to its development, plus possible reforms to remedy it. The wide-ranging conversation also includes insights into Abhijit’s time in jail, Kashmir, and “Frugal Indian” cooking tips!


Brahmins were made in India, not the steppe

The above are Y chromosomes from ancient samples in the steppe, Iran/Turan, and South Asia. The time periods are obvious. EMBA = “Early Middle Bronze Age”, MLBA = “Middle Late Bronze Age” and LBA = “Late Bronze Age.” IA = “Iron Age.” H = “Historical.” And the other periods are Neolithic or Copper Age. This is from Narasimhan et al. (click the image above for the supplements).

The Forest/Steppe samples are most from what Sintashta archaeological sites. One thing that is evident in early Indo-European pastoral people is that they seem to be highly patrilocal and patrilineal. One particular genetic lineage group of males seems to dominate different early groups. The data from Narasimhan et al.  show us that:

R1a is overwhelming in the Sintashta.

R2 & L is found in pre-Indo-European Iran.

Q & N is in Sintashta too.

H1 is mostly found in South Asian populations.

You can see the distribution in modern populations on Wikipedia, but data from a paper is illustrative:

Continue reading “Brahmins were made in India, not the steppe”


India and industrialization

The question: why does China produce and export so much more than India does ? At the coarsest granularity, the answer comes down to demographics, distance and war.

Demographics: India and China may have similar populations today, but the size of China’s labor force is still around twice that of India’s. This is because of the different ways in which the two countries transitioned to low fertility. China had a huge surge in population growth after WW2, but its fertility fell dramatically in the 1970s. This has given it a huge pool of workers, nearly a billion, but their number will fall off equally rapidly in the coming years.

In contrast, India will never as many workers as China does today, but will have the largest workforce of any country for a long time. India’s transition to low fertility has been steady and smooth. Basically India’s labour force time series will be flatter with a lower peak, as compared to China’s sharp curve with a higher peak.

Distance: Distance matters. A lot. Within India itself, villages within 5km distance from an urban area became 20% richer between 1993 and 2005, whereas those more than 10 km away became 2% poorer in the same period. Wealth clusters, rich countries tend to clump together in Western Europe and East Asia. The same is true for the rich states of the American North East.

China benefited enormously from being proximate to Japan, Korea and Taiwan (total population 220 million). They were already plugged into the American led rich world, and China entered this network via its contacts with them. For India, the rich countries nearby were the oil rich Gulf states, and we did benefit from them via remittances. But these desperately underpopulated countries cannot be compared to places like Japan that experienced massive industrialization in the early 20th century.

War: Among the top industrial powers in the world, China ranks first, but this is mainly due to low tech goods and high tech reexports. But after China, the countries are the US, Japan and Germany. In fact, they were the leading industrial powers since WW2. (India, by the way is sixth after Korea).

The American economy expanded by a factor of 3 in the decade of the WW2. Even though Germany and Japan were devastated, the hysteresis effects from the large scale industrialization that fighting modern, mechanized wars remained. They had the will and memory to industrialize again.

India has also seen military conflict, but this has remained confined to its margins. We have just never experienced ‘war time’ economy and discipline for long periods of time.

If Indians wanted large scale industrialization, they would demand it. But they dont. They demand everything from reservations to train routes to temples. Perhaps, the payoff from industrialization for workers is not as great as our chattering classes like to think. Foxconn factory workers in Sri City make half the salary of a maid in nearby Chennai. For many families, a second child is a better investment over the long term than the temporary boost in income from the woman working a factory job.

Trying to become the ‘next China’ is not desirable at all, we have to find ways of increasing our service exports, and improving our agro productivity.