India 2014

Right now the polls say that BJP/NDA will get 200+ seats. As I have noted this (if it actually happens) will be a game-changer because enough opportunists can be purchased to reach 272. However I consider this to be unlikely, mainly because of the impact of rural-based caste coalitions as well as that of the urban-based Aam Aadmi Party (incidentally why not Aam Aurat Party?). The Congress is optimistic about a Delhi like scenario where the BJP was stopped from getting an absolute majority. Indeed the same polls predict that AAP will win an overwhelming majority if elections are held afresh in Delhi.

Again the way I read the polls, Congress will do very poorly in North and West (Bihar and UP will be critical for the BJP), however it may get a few seats in the North-East. The bulk of the Congress seats will come from the south- Kerala, Karnataka and Telangana. This will make the transition of Congress from a pan-India party to a South Indian party complete.

That said it is instructive (and amusing) to see Big Brother monitoring the 2014 elections (in their usual soft-footed, light-touch manner). The piece below says a lot (even when it says little), for what it is worth polls were quite accurate in the most recent round of state elections. In my opinion, BB is unsure about the rise of the BJP, on the one hand they cant be happy about an assertive Hindu majority (kind of like the Muslim Brotherhood part II), on the other hand they are probably interested in new business opportunities. Again my feeling on this is if NaMo does come to the throne, he will push for China over America and this will be a nightmare all the way around (but may be good for regional stability). I conclude that a lot many people are deeply interested in what happens in India following the 2014 polls.

The sudden thaw in the relationship comes as India heads into the 2014 Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) elections to be held this April and May. Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has
named him as its candidate for prime minster should the BJP gain an
electoral victory.
By meeting with Modi, American officials are
signaling that they view a BJP victory in the coming elections as a real
possibility, and are hoping that they can improve the damaged
relationship with Modi as much as possible prior to the election.

Unsurprisingly, U.S. officials and India watchers around the world
are closely monitoring the torrent of election polls and public opinion
surveys streaming out of the Indian media to see where the BJP stacks up
against its rivals as the elections draw near.


Don’t cry for me, Parsi

An old article on how the Vulture Program has been started by the Parsis.
Like the vultures on which they once relied, Parsis are disappearing. Their religion, Zoroastrianism, once dominated Iran but was largely displaced by Islam. In the 10th century, a large group of Zoroastrians fled persecution in Iran and settled in India. Fewer than 70,000 remain, most of them concentrated in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, where they collectively own prime real estate that was purchased centuries ago.
Among the most valuable of these holdings are 54 acres of trees and winding pathways onMalabar Hill, one of Mumbai’s most exclusive neighborhoods. Tucked into these acres are three Towers of Silence where Parsis have for centuries disposed of their dead.
This contrasts quite well with a more recent article, Your Ancestors Your Fate:
Inequality of income and wealth has risen in America since the 1970s, yet a large-scale research study recently found that social mobility hadn’t changed much during that time. How can that be?
The study, by researchers at Harvard and Berkeley, tells only part of the story. It may be true that mobility hasn’t slowed — but, more to the point, mobility has always been slow.
When you look across centuries, and at social status broadly measured — not just income and wealth, but also occupation, education and longevity — social mobility is much slower than many of us believe, or want to believe. This is true in Sweden, a social welfare state; England, where industrial capitalism was born; the United States, one of the most heterogeneous societies in history; and India, a fairly new democracy hobbled by the legacy of caste. Capitalism has not led to pervasive, rapid mobility. Nor have democratization, mass public education, the decline of nepotism, redistributive taxation, the emancipation of women, or even, as in China, socialist revolution.
Elite cultures are difficult to dispose of and sometimes can masquerade as small minorities (especially trading ones like Jews, Parsis, Jains and Phanariotes). 

The bounds of decency

It is clear that the Tamil political leadership believes (driven by electoral compulsions) that the LTTE gangsters responsible for the death of Rajiv Gandhi are innocent and should be set free. It is also clear that given the nature of coalition politics (now and in the future) gangsters can always bank on regional identity to protect them- be it a Sikh or a Tamil or whatever. Kashmiris like Afzal Guru have not been so lucky.

Incidentally this is the same claim of normalization/vindication for Narendra Modi (who in my book is much more obnoxious for having used the powers of the state to terrorize people). The electoral victories that the people of Gujarat have bestowed on him carry more authority that any number of court verdicts.

Hear is Harithra, daughter of Nalini and Murugan who is making the case for the release of all the gangsters

In yet another emotive appeal to AICC president Sonia Gandhi and her children, Rahul and Priyanka, Harithra, the 22-year-old daughter of Nalini and Murugan, convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination
case, has sought the release of her father. If they helped to get back
her father, they would be hailed as saviours, she said..
…The recent letters were written in the wake of the
Supreme Court order commuting the death sentence of the three convicts,
Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, the subsequent decision of Tamil Nadu
chief minister J Jayalalithaa to release them, and the apex court’s move
to stay their release. Harithra said her parents have been behind the
bars ever since she knew about them. “When I was mature enough to
understand the world around me, I’ve heard people talking about the
heinous assassination of Mr Rajiv Gandhi. Now I truly understand that
the incident is one of the most tragic and devastating moments of Indian
she said.                                                                                                                                                                          
It seems no one cares for the bombing victims who were also Tamils.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    


“Where is the justice for the bereaved families after
all these years,” asked S. Abbas, who lost his mother Shanthini Begum in
the Sriperumbudur blasts.
Of the 15 other victims of the blast, five
were Congress workers while and 10 were policemen, including nine from
the State force…..“We are not advocating death penalty
but we want those convicted by the highest court of carrying out a
heinous act to undergo the punishment meted out by the court. They
cannot be allowed to walk scot free,” said ‘League’ M. Mohan, whose
Congressman father ‘League’ P. Munusamy was one of the victims.

                                                                                                                                                                    I am anti- death penalty and applaud the Supreme Court decision for rescinding the same but I worry about what broader message that this campaign is sending. In the future the only form of retributive justice that will be available will be mob justice (while the petty politicians will plead ignorance and innocence).                                                                                                                                                                   regards

Why Islam Haunts India

I’ve been able to get the chapter on India (Iran is the following one). I’ll post it when I get it. It is simply the must-read on geopolitics and the Subcontinent; Robert Kaplan is a genius. The photos aren’t exactly clear (I forgot my smart phone in SE Asia) but it’s still readable.

This chapter almost made me miss my flight even when I was next to my Gate, it’s that informative.

On my facebook I have created an album called Why Islam haunts India where I have captioned each picture with the salient sentence.

By the way I went to a lot of trouble to get all this lolz.

Is Pakistan the reason why India is not yet a Great Power?

I was rifling through Bangkok Airport (which is just amazing) on the long transits back to Africa and I saw George Friedman’s book, the Next 100 Years, which simply seemed fantastical (in one scenario Turkey, Japan & Germany wage war on the US, Poland & UK in 2050 after the collapse of Russia).

Anyway as I crossed over to the next bookshop close to my departure gate I saw The Revenge of Geography of Robert Kaplan.

Now Robert Kaplan (along with Huntington, Asimov and maybe Bernard Lewis) are huge intellectual influences on how I perceive the world. I became far more of a geographical determinist my Eureka moment happened what a decade ago when I chanced on this article by Robert Kaplan, Roman Africa.

To get to my main point when I was in South East Asia (and ironically Razib had a very good post up on Cambodian genetics at around the time I was in Cambodia) I realised that Hinduism and Buddhism have usually been having a fairly fratricidal relationship over the millennia. However the Hindu Right pays almost no attention to Buddhism but instead subsumes it into a brotherly Dharmic ethos even though Bhutan, Sri Lanka (which are admittedly more ethnic than religious conflicts) and even Pakistan in the deep past (apparently Bangladesh and Pakistan had strong Buddhist history before re-Hinduisation; correct me if I’m wrong).

Around the time I was pondering this though that why do India focus so much on Pakistan and Islam when frankly South East Asia and the Indian ocean is the grand prize. Furthermore India is almost an uncontested power (after all the historic name was Indo-China for the Asean region) but still seems bedevilled by playing power politics in Central Asia, Kashmir, Afghanistan & Pakistan.

Robert Kaplan almost perfectly answered my question as to the overwhelming strategic role Pakistan plays in India’s security. I had unfortunately forgotten my iphone so I would have scanned the whole chapter (it’s that good) so instead I’m going to excerpt from a few other pieces of Kaplan’s:

But the spirit of India has undergone an uneasy shift in this new era of rampant capitalism and of deadly ethnic and religious tensions, which arise partly as violent reactions against exactly the social homogenization that globalization engenders. Gujarat finds itself once again at the heart of what is roiling India, and what singularly menaces the country’s rise to “Great Global Power” status. India is home to 154 million Muslims, the third-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. India has arguably more to lose from extremist Islam than any other country in the world. Yet, as Dwijendra Tripathi, a historian based in Gujarat, lamented to me, “The Hindu-Muslim divide here is worse than at any time since the partition.” Not coincidentally, this rift is deepening even as Gujarat booms economically, with brand-new malls, multi plexes, highways, and private ports transforming it into a pulsing region-state athwart Indian Ocean trade routes.

The greater Indian Ocean region encompasses the entire arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Although the Arabs and the Persians are known to Westerners primarily as desert peoples, they have also been great seafarers. In the Middle Ages, they sailed from Arabia to China; proselytizing along the way, they spread their faith through sea-based commerce. Today, the western reaches of the Indian Ocean include the tinderboxes of Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan — constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug smuggling. Hundreds of millions of Muslims — the legacy of those medieval conversions — live along the Indian Ocean’s eastern edges, in India and Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia.

As the competition between India and China suggests, the Indian Ocean is where global struggles will play out in the twenty-first century. The old borders of the Cold War map are crumbling fast, and Asia is becoming a more integrated unit, from the Middle East to the Pacific. South Asia has been an indivisible part of the greater Islamic Middle East since the Middle Ages: it was the Muslim Ghaznavids of eastern Afghanistan who launched raids on India’s northwestern coast in the early eleventh century; Indian civilization itself is a fusion of the indigenous Hindu culture and the cultural imprint left by these invasions. Although it took the seaborne terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November for most Westerners to locate India inside the greater Middle East, the Indian Ocean’s entire coast has always constituted one vast interconnected expanse.
What is different now is the extent of these connections. On a maritime-centric map of southern Eurasia, artificial land divisions disappear; even landlocked Central Asia is related to the Indian Ocean. Natural gas from Turkmenistan may one day flow through Afghanistan, for example, en route to Pakistani and Indian cities and ports, one of several possible energy links between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Both the Chinese port in Gwadar, Pakistan, and the Indian port in Chah Bahar, Iran, may eventually be connected to oil- and natural-gas-rich Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and other former Soviet republics. S. Frederick Starr, a Central Asia expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said at a conference in Washington last year that access to the Indian Ocean “will help define Central Asian politics in the future.” Others have called ports in India and Pakistan “evacuation points” for Caspian Sea oil. The destinies of countries even 1,200 miles from the Indian Ocean are connected with it.

Welcome to the newborn (#29)

A new state is officially born as the Telengana bill passes both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The agitation for the separate state was initiated right after independence. In its own way, this development honours the memory of Gandhi. Everyone has a different opinion on what aspects of the Gandhian path are bene(male)-volent, in my own opinion the most significant is his stress on local rule. For people-power to be truly realized, power has to be taken out of hands of a few elites sitting (and stealing) in Delhi.


Adieu to Asia

I’m about to leave Cambodia to head back to Uganda. I’m hoping to share my thoughts as I’ve become a bit of an old hand when it comes to South & South East Asia.

At any rate it’s back to Africa and even though developing countries are broadly similar; I have to admit that Phnom Penh and Kampala are totally different in their levels of organisation.

Oh and Bombay airport is simply spectacular.

Good news

…one more step towards secular law for all, in an atmosphere where the anti-secular forces are on the rise everywhere.

…a separate question however for the truly informed. Why are Indian muslims forbidden to adopt ( I presume there is no such injunction in “pure” muslim countries)?

In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court has given Muslims the right to adopt a child despite their personal law prohibiting it.

The apex court said on Wednesday that the laws of land has to get primacy over personal law till the country achieves Uniform Civil Code as provided in Article 44 of the Constitution.

The SC judgment comes on an 8 years old petition by Shabnam Hashmi who
had approached the apex court after being refused permission to adopt.

Though the SC said all individuals have a statutory right to adopt a
child, it said the time is not ripe to declare the right to adopt a
fundamental right.


Under the Magic Tube-Light: A Fantasia

I am a big fan of Musharraf
Ali Farooqi’s “Magic Lantern” fables
, but magic lanterns are for civilized
places like Abbasid Baghdad or Fatimid Cairo. In Pakistan, we look for magic in
more mundane lighting equipment – except when there is load-shedding, of course
The other day, having just watched the last episode of
Sherlock, I dozed off on the couch and found myself transported to the land of
fantasy where most of Pakistan’s elite dwells. There, under a flickering
fluorescent light outside a pub somewhere between Badshahi Masjid and
Mazar-e-Quaid (hey, this is fantasy,
y’all), I heard a voice within the tavern cry out something that Sherlock
Holmes once told Dr. Watson: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” This revelation re-awakened that
ancient part of my brain that had been pickled for many years in Pakistan
Studies, and the natural urge to explain the absurd behavior of Pakistani
political leadership through serial conspiracy theories became irresistible.
After all, conspiracy theories are cheaper in Pakistan than anywhere else in
the world, except when Shireen Mazari dines alone at a bistro in Manhattan
during her periodic fundraising visits to the Land of Yahood-o-Nasaara. So why
not indulge a bit in the national pastime?
Well, first some background.
After the May 2013 elections, all political parties, bullied
by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Imran Khan’s Pakistan
Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), agreed to “give peace a chance” and negotiate with the
Taliban extremists who had been terrorizing many parts of the country for
several years. This decision, taken at an All-Parties Conference (APC) in September
2013, was followed by a period of inexplicable stasis, with no visible effort
or progress towards negotiations from any quarter. Meanwhile, the Taliban went
about their business as usual – a prison break
, an
attack on a church
there, random assassinations of
, suicide
bombing of Hazaras
, and so on – you know, the normal humdrum work of
terrorists addicted to human carnage. Slowly, inexorably, sentiment built up in
the country for a military operation against these inconvenient killers,
reaching a high point after an extraordinarily courageous 15 year old student, Aitzaz Hassan, set an
example. And as this mood developed, so – magically – did momentum for
negotiations. A committee of, pardon me, nobodies-in-particular was assembled
on behalf of the Government. The Taliban reciprocated by choosing a few gems
from the rich showcase of options available to them from among their
sympathizers – bearded and beardless. Among this chosen elite was Imran Khan,
called upon by his “upset friends” to help them get less upset and kill with
greater kindness. But the Sage of Bani Gala (formerly of Zaman Park and Sussex)
declined the opportunity, choosing instead to retire into the mists of his
fevered fulminations. Nawaz Sharif – in brief moments of visibility – was
visibly mum, while his surrogates put forth statements with a remarkably low
signal-to-noise ratio. The military too went all quiet, leaving the fray to
bloviating mythologists like Hamid Gul, Orya Maqbool Jan and Ansar Abbasi. According
to some reports, even the Americans temporarily curtailed their drone strikes
so the Taliban could cower less and talk more. Of course, the Taliban
gratefully accepted this opportunity and escalated the pace of their
pronouncements – in their usual language of murder and mayhem. More explosions,
more targeted
, a
few dead journalists
, then an
attack of policemen in Karachi
, on Shia pilgrims in
, on
cinema-goers in Peshawar
and, ultimately, the
beheading of 23 captive Pakistani soldiers
. By this point, even the hound
of the Baskervilles would have howled, but nothing has come from either PML-N
or PTI except more prattle about negotiations. And the military has still
stayed quiet. These are the things that, as they say, need ‘splainin’.
First, PTI’s unshakeable faith in negotiations in the face
of mounting attacks from the other side (though, in fairness, all sides are
their “own” for PTI). Perhaps a hint can be found in Imran Khan’s impolitic
statement that the military only estimated a 40% chance of success in an attack
on FATA (Federally-Administered Tribal Areas), and Gen. Kiyani’s corrective
rejoinder clarifying that, in fact, the military had estimated that cleaning up
FATA would only result in a 40% reduction in terrorism nationally, and eradicating the remaining 60% would require action
throughout the rest of the country. The Taliban, after all, are now a national
brand, and combating them would lead to extensive chaos and bloodshed all over
Pakistan. That is something that the Government understandably wants to avoid. But,
unlike the Government, PTI has no actual responsibility for national security –
a position that their spokesmen proclaim proudly in every forum. Now, if PTI
knows that negotiations must fail and a military operation will be necessary, they
must realize also that things will get a lot worse before they get any better.
The Taliban, confronted on their home territory, will create mayhem in all
other parts of the country – even in Punjab where the elite seem more
interested in golf than in reality. And then people will ask, “Who is
responsible for this calamity?” And Imran Khan will say, “See, this is why I
wanted to keep negotiating rather than starting a war!” And the poor, innocent,
decent and deluded people of Pakistan will nod their heads and say, “Yes, that
is true, Great Leader. Can we please kiss your feet?” And Imran Khan will be
the savior of Pakistan – the man who looked beyond the last mountain and
maintained the serenity of wisdom when everyone else was succumbing to the siren
call of war. Thus, in my conspirofantasy, Imran Khan is being pro-peace so he can pick up the pieces after the coming
But what of Nawaz Sharif? There’s already a conspiracy
theory about his behavior, which says that he is negotiating with the Taliban
to spare Punjab and to give them free rein in all other areas. But really, who
thinks Shahbaz Sharif is that stupid? Enjoying golf in a landlocked Punjab while
the country burns all around? The moderately heavy mandate would go on a
terminal diet! So what explains the taciturn calm of the nihari caucus. Well,
perhaps they are calm because, in fact, the operation for which so many are clamoring
has already begun some time ago – but not where everyone expects it. The
Taliban are certainly signaling that something is stressing them in places like
Karachi and Peshawar. And sure enough, there in broad daylight, an operation is
underway – the so-called operation against targeted killings. There is very
little detail, but stories of “encounters” occasionally leak into the media.
The iceberg theory of clandestine operations suggests that much more is
happening, and that much of it is directed against the Taliban, though the
security forces take opportunistic swipes at the MQM and Baloch groups as well.
In the context of my first conspiracy theory explaining Imran Khan’s behavior,
this makes perfect sense: If the fear is that a Waziristan operation will
ignite chaos in the rest of the country, why not reduce the threat there before
turning to the home turf of the extremists? So my second conspiracy theory says
that the Government and the Army are already well into an operation to push the
Taliban from their peripheral positions back into the FATA box where they can
then be dealt with in a full operation . If so, PML-N would have neutralized
the “pick up the pieces” strategy that Imran Khan might be counting on.
So then, two interlocking conspiracy theories from the Land
of Only If! Alas, in the World of What Is, the actors on Pakistan’s stage are
too short-sighted to have hatched such conspiracies. As for the Taliban negotiating
peace, you’ve heard the story of the scorpion, the frog and the river crossing, right? Yeah, like
Brown Pundits