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The Filter Coffee | GEOPolitics

Fri, 04/25/2014 - 12:34

The attack on Hamid Mir and its aftermath.

Propagandists in Pakistan move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform.  Those who once exercised creative license to ascribe any and all acts of terror in Pakistan to India’s external intelligence agency R&AW are now being labeled agents of that same agency.  Hamid Mir, senior journalist with the GEO Group, was attacked this past Saturday by unidentified persons while on his way to a special broadcast on GEO TV in Karachi.  Mr. Mir was shot six times in the abdomen and legs, but miraculously survived the attack.

In the ensuing outrage, Amir Mir, brother to Hamid and a journalist of repute himself, accused the ISI of orchestrating the attack on his brother.  GEO TV, as part of its coverage of the attack, broadcast a photograph of DG ISI Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam, while Ansar Abbasi, investigative editor of the Jang Group’s English-language newspaper The News, demanded his resignation.

Big mistake.  One does not simply accuse the DG ISI on national television and get away with it.  The ISI dismissed the allegations as “baseless” (as all allegations usually are in Pakistan). Pakistan’s Defense Ministry, in its complaint against GEO TV, accuses it of bringing the ISI into disrepute and demands that Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) cancel GEO TV’s license to broadcast.

With the PEMRA verdict still pending, GEO TV took to Twitter yesterday, indicating that its channel had been blocked by a few cable operators.  This may of course be true, but some of us may be forgiven if we suspect this to be a reenactment of the last time GEO TV claimed to have been taken off air only to have a GEO official privately confirm that they had “taken themselves off the air in order to blame [a] political party, and garner support for the station.”

GEO TV and Mr. Mir are now under attack from many quarters.  Rival media houses are in an all-out war.  Many of them are unable to appreciate the fact that the price one now pays for defying the Deep State is no longer censorship, it is death.  And it wouldn’t matter if it were GEO, Express or Dawn.  The rules of the game have changed.

Of course, propaganda theories of Indian involvement are never very far when hell breaks loose in Pakistan, which is always.  The Awami Muslim League’s Sheikh Rasheed, who was “detained” in the U.S. in 2012 for his links with Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hafiz Saeed, opined that the attack on Hamid Mir benefited India, which was looking to malign the Pakistani Army and ISI. Hafiz Saeed himself took to Twitter to level vague and uncreative accusations at India and the U.S. 

Mr. Mir himself had been particularly distressed in the recent past at being labelled an “Indian agent.” But how things change.  It wasn’t too long ago that Mr. Mir did the bidding of higher powers in Rawalpindi and Islamabad before he managed to find his liberal conscience (though possibly not his “liberal fascist” conscience).

Indeed, he was for the ISI before he was against it.  After all, not every journalist in Pakistan gets to interview Osama bin Laden.  And that too not once, but on three occasions. But the nature of that relationship changed in 2010 when a tape surfaced of Mr. Mir allegedly conversing with the TTP’s Usman Punjabi, in which he relayed false information that may have contributed to the death of ISI official Khalid Khawaja.  The recorded conversation, still available online, also has Mr. Mir talking disparagingly about Pakistan’s persecuted Ahmedis. Quite the liberal indeed.

So where does this all end? It is hard to see how PEMRA could fly in the face of the ISI’s demands and recommend anything other than revoking GEO’s license. But in time, the brouhaha will be forgotten.  Ansar Abbasi and the GEO crew will probably show up somewhere, somehow on some national TV show in which they will proceed to eulogize the Pakistani army, thereby underscoring their hubb ul-watan (patriotic) credentials. Couple this with private undertakings to comply with the red lines now drawn and order will be restored. Licenses will be reinstated, and talk show hosts and their guests will be yelling at each other, competing for the soundbite of the day on GEO TV soon enough.

RQ | The long-term effects of government failure

Fri, 04/25/2014 - 09:38

In a good blog post on FirstPost, R Vaidyanathan writes that one of the possible reforms for the new government to take up would be to invest massively in electricity and water supply infrastructure and ensure 24 x 7 supply of these two commodities throughout the county. In his post, he explains that a move such as this will help Indian households (especially “middle class” households) and industry save a sum total of Rs. 1 lakh crore per year. While his numbers are not particularly convincing, his point is well taken – that irregular supply of basic infrastructure leads to additional private investment in such infrastructure which is an unnecessary cost. Electricity and water supply have “natural monopolies” and it helps to have a single supplier (in a local area at least) supply these goods rather than people making their own private supply arrangements.

Setting aside the problem of creating capacity for 24 x 7 universal power and water supply (priced at marginal cost, I assume), the problem reform such as this is likely to face is that there will be entrenched players who have a vested interest in such reform not taking place. And the  reason such vested interests exist is because of past government failure.

In the absence of reliable public supply of infrastructure, private companies have come up to fill in the gaps. You have, for example, companies that manufacture invertors (to store and supply electricity in times of power failure), those that manufacture diesel generators, companies that supply water in tankers when there is none in the pipes (or worse, pipes don’t exist) and so  forth. None of these companies will like the reform that Vaidya has proposed – for reliable supply of water/power will put them out of business! Hence they can be expected to lobby against such reform! Notice that the primary reason such companies exist is because of past government failures. Had past governments intervened and invested at the right time to provide reliable power and water supply, there would have been no gap in the market for such companies to fill.

Power and water supply are only two of several examples. Take for example the basic public good of law and order (strictly speaking power and water supply are not public goods). The lack of effective law and order enforcement by the state governments has led to a mushrooming of private security agencies. Every apartment building, every office building, malls and hotels are all now patrolled by a heavy posse of private security guards. In the presence of effective policing, these agencies have no business being in business (except perhaps in very limited cases)!

The point I’m getting at is that government failure at a particular point in time can lead to continued government failure. When we encounter policy paralysis, it is not just a temporary slowdown in decision-making and policy-making we face – it can lead to significant long-term consequences.

Here is an old related blog-post on my personal blog on private supply of what should be provisioned by the government.

 

Terra Nullius | Márquez and me

Sat, 04/19/2014 - 18:00
“I would have liked for my books to have been recognised posthumously, at least in capitalist countries, where you turn into a kind of merchandise.” Gabriel García Márquez,The Art of Fiction. No. 69, 1981.

Maybe it was the understated nature of his writing that the 18 year old me was unable to comprehend. Maybe it was the fact that he created strong characters and intense stories immersed in the backdrop of Latin American society and politics that I knew little of. But I never fell in love with Márquez writings. I never understood his contradictory characters; Their quiet seething emotions, inadequately articulated; The subtle metaphors and images used to depict politics and reality of an alien culture; The elements of magic realism that drove the narrative of some of his best literary works.

The first Márquez novella that I read was called Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores about a 90-year-old journalist and an underage prostitute. While I could appreciate the prose and the way it unravels, (where for the first time in his life, an old man discovers real love) it spurned my newly adult morality. I then read on a friend’s recommendation, Love in the Time of Cholera. This novel, the ultimate story to many, is a tale of unrequited love and delves into the progression of life, longing and ageing in ways that few books do. It looks into the passions and idealism of youth, the infidelity of choices made and remade, the idea of a happily ever after tailored within the larger backdrop of a society and the expectations of living respectably within it. It is about the relationship people have with themselves and with the other, (whoever the ‘other’ may be) and how these play into our own understanding of ourselves.

While I could appreciate Márquez’ prose and enjoy the book, I was unable to connect to it and taste it. At that age, I revered the self-depreciating humour of Vikram Seth’s existential poetry and the grandness of the plots in his novels. I indulged myself in Orhan Pamuk’s profound musings on identity and nationality, and descriptions of the desolate streets of Istanbul. I developed taste for self-indulgent prose that was ambitious and larger than the writer. I was unable to fully understand the subtlety of Márquez writing, the restrain and quietness in his characters, and the silence encapsulated within each comma in a sentence.

It was later when I studied a novella by Márquez (Chronicles of a Death Foretold) under a brilliant teacher that I realised (to a slight extent) what Márquez’ writings were about. Chronicles of a Death Foretold, one of Márquez’ slimmest and most convoluted novella is a journalistic account of the murder of Santiago Nissar by a pair of brothers, to revenge the virtue of their newly wedded sister. It details a town’s tacit participation in the murder of the man accused of robbing Angela Vicario of her virginity. The unknown narrator of the book recreates the events, decades later, leading up to the murder and details how the town collectively failed to prevent a killing, it had prior knowledge of.

This book delves into the ramifications of a death, the silence and the fury of decisions, the threaded community life of an unknown town, the archaic perceptions of gender and patriarchy, the contrast of politics and society against a single person and the staccato episodes of life that eventually resemble “bad literature”. Without being superfluous, it recreates the daily reality of a forgotten Latin American town where multiple stabbings happen, superstitions and religion play hide and seek with logic and rationality, bullets fly, and killing a man, who presumably violated the chastity (and honour) of your sister, is a necessity.

Deep readers often find themselves falling headily into what I call literary love. This emotion is a unique concoction of awe and reverence towards the prose, respect towards its creator, mixed with the readers hedonism and irrelevance towards the real world and its experiences while reading a book. The temperament of the reader must hence match the temperament of writer’s prose. The words must say things that the readers has always felt at the deepest and most abstruse part of his or her being but has never been able to articulate.

To understand Márquez, it is important to understand his politics– his devotion to the Leftist ideology, the Latin American experiences and the intertwining of politics, religion with the society. In his Nobel Speech, The Solitude of Latin America, Márquez spoke of solitude and compared it to the alienation and estrangement of Latin America from the world. He broadly meant the reluctance on the part of nations, especially the Western European countries, to accept Latin American countries for what they really are. Beneath all of Márquez’ writings, this solitude is visibly omnipresent. (One of his best known works is called One Hundred Years of Solitude). The solitude of displacement and dislocation underlines each word that he writes. He or the reader cannot adequately articulate it. But each only understands it and hears its echoes within the controlled, simmering prose. Whatever the subject of Márquez writing, he does not strip down the action or the characters to the bare, rather he peels a layer and leaves the rest for the reader to strip down. He layers his novels with experiences that have to be felt before they are fully understood on prose.

Maybe this is why, I never felt awe and reverence for Márquez writings at 18. Even now, despite having read some of his other works, I am unable to fully sink into his writings and forget about my own reality. Because Márquez’ prose– whether about complex characters, murders and wars, or layered with magical realism, or a panoramic view of life in a Latin American town– is really about a quiet desolation and solitude that can never be articulated, and vaguely understood, even if only in adaptation, as one grows with age and experiences.

RQ | Analyzing IIMA Admissions

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 14:33

In response to an RTI query, IIM Ahmedabad has disclosed the cutoff percentiles across various categories for getting a seat in IIMA. Before we analyze further, there are two points to be noted. Firstly, what has been disclosed is the “minimum cutoff percentile”, which means that at least one student with that percentile score was admitted to IIMA in that year. It gives us no information on the “average percentile score” for admitted students belonging to that particular category. Secondly, CAT percentile is only one of the criteria used for admission into IIMs. A response by IIM Bangalore a few years back to an RTI query showed that the CAT percentile has only a 15% weight in the entire admission process (the rest going to 10th and 12th standard board exam scores, college CGPA, performance in interviews and the like). Given these two conditions, we should look at the following analysis with a bit of salt.

First up, here is a graph showing the minimum percentile among admitted students of various categories over the years:

 

There are a few things that stand out from this graph:

1. The cutoff percentage for general category students has been consistently high. Despite a comprehensive set of factors being used for admissions, if you belong to the general category, a high CAT percentile is a necessary condition to join IIMA

2. Reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) happened in a phased manner. In the first year (2008) only about 5% of the seats were reserved for students from these classes. This has been gradually ramped up to the statutory 27.5%. In the initial years, after reservation for OBCs was imposed, commentators mentioned that their cutoff was not much lower than that for general category students and so there would be no dilution in quality. However, the data above shows that it was a function of the extent of reservation that the cutoffs were similar. If CAT percentile is to be taken as a general statement of an MBA student’s quality, reservation for OBCs has definitely led to dilution.

3. There is massive volatility in cutoffs for SC/STs. It must be noted here that the percentile scores are national – percentiles for students from different categories are not disclosed separately. It seems like the quality of applicants belonging to SC/ST categories has been varying significantly over the years. One year (2008/09) SC/ST students need to be in top 10% of all applicants to gain admission into IIMA. In another (2013) students belonging to ST category need to beat only 40% of all applicants to get in! This is bizarre, and it brings us to..

4. Students from ST category getting admission with 40 percentile in CAT in 2013 is plain absurd. What makes it more absurd is that more than half the students who attempted CAT in 2013 got ZERO or less (remember that CAT has negative marking). Maybe there was a real dearth of applicants from the ST category last year but what this tells us is that someone who got an overall negative score in CAT got admission into IIMA last year. Actually this is beyond bizarre.

5. Time for a personal anecdote. Close to 20 out of the 180 odd people who started at IIM Bangalore with me (2004-06) did not make it to the second year, based on their performance in the first year. About half of those were put on a “slow track programme” and finished their MBA in three years. The other ten did so badly they were asked to repeat the first year in full, without concessions. From what I remember all of them eventually dropped out. A large proportion of these twenty who did not make it past the first year belonged to SC/ST categories. I must also mention here that there was a significant number of students from these categories that did rather well and finished close to the top of the batch.

While it might be seen as an act of nobility to give admission in a premier college to someone with a low score but from a historically underprivileged background, the impact on their careers must also be taken into account. All said and done, the flagship course in IIMs is a rather tough course, and it is not difficult to fall behind. What is the use of giving someone admission only for him to fail and eventually drop out? Would he not have been better off continuing in his pre-MBA job rather than having his career disrupted by admission to a premier institute and subsequent failure?

All this said, it would make sense for someone in an IIM (a professor involved in admissions, perhaps) to do an analysis of correlation of CAT scores with performance at IIMs (I understand that one of the reasons the weight of CAT score was  reduced was that one such study revealed CAT score was less of a predictor of IIM performance than high school and undergraduate scores). An analysis such as that might reveal that there is an absolute lower cutoff in terms of performance in CAT such that students scoring lower are extremely unlikely to do well. It might give a case for reassessment of the affirmative action policies.

Varnam | Indian History Carnival–75: Tipu Sultan, Archimandrite Andronicus, Shahjahanabad

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 14:05

Louis XVI Receives the Ambassadors of Tipu Sultan (1788)

    1. Calicut Heritage writes about Tipu’s antics in Calicut from the diaries of Francois Fidele Ripaud de Montaudevert who was part of Tipu’s army that went into Kerala. A lot of historians have explained that most of the anti-Tipu narratives come from his enemies, the British, and cannot be trusted. So it is interesting to read what one of his allies had to write.

      Another entry of Ripaud relating to Calicut, reads: “To show his ardent devotion and steadfast faith in the Mohammedan religion, Tipu Sultan found Kozhikode to be the most suitable place. Kozhikode was then a centre of Brahmins and had over 7,000 Brahmin families living there. Over 2,000 Brahmin families perished as a result of Tipu Sultan’s Islamic cruelties. He did not spare even women and children.”

    2. Maddy too writes about Francois Ripuad and how he bought about the downfall of Tipu

      On one side this led to the British conjuring up an international Jacobin plot, touching the distant tip of South India while on the other side Tipu was now determined to obtain the required support from France through the isle of France and prepares a new Secret embassy of two or three persons to sail to Mauritius with Ripaud. This is of course downplayed by various writers taking the ‘Tipu is a martyr’ line – Some leave out this entire Ripuad chapter from their accounts of the glorious Tipu, in fact one even goes on to say that Tipu actually sent his emissary to obtain artisans from Mauritius! Well that was a tall tale, in my opinion, taller than that narrated by Ripaud when he landed in Mangalore!

    3. Fëanor writes about Archimandrite Andronicus, who spent 18 years in India, trying to setup a Russian Mission

      Andronicus died in 1958. His book Eighteen Years in India was published in the Russian language in Argentina the next year. A review appeared in the Bulletin of the Russian Student Christian Movement, praising his selflessness, elevating him as an outstanding evangelist, talked about the lonely heroism of his mission, and celebrated his memoir a special example in the literature of exile. Others familiar with his work in India pointed out that his mission was essentially a failure, as he had been unable to convert the heathens to the faith, and did not establish his own church community either. The reason, of course, was that the Orthodox church of South India, while not in communion with the Russian Orthodox, was close enough to the latter in faith and spirit. And so after much deliberation, Andronicus concluded he should help the Syrian Orthodox church and not establish a separate congregation.

    4. Madhulika writes about the areas of Shahjahanabad that were relevant for the development of Urdu poetry

      Mirza Ghalib, though he was born in Agra, lived most of his life in Delhi—invariably in rented accommodation around the area of Ballimaran. The house where he spent his last days is in Gali Qasim Jaan (named after an 18th century nobleman, originally from Central Asia; Ghalib’s wife was a descendant of Qasim Jaan’s). Today, after having been neglected for many years, a portion of Ghalib’s haveli has been converted into a Ghalib museum, with information about his life, excerpts from his poetry, and artefacts recreating Ghalib’s days.

That’s it for April. The next carnival will be up on May 15th. If you have any links for the next carnival, please e-mail me (varnam dot blog at gmail)

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  2. Tipu Sultan- The Tyrant of Mysore by Sandeep Balakrishna In A Survey of Kerala History, Sreedhara Menon summarizes the impact of Tipu Sultan’s brutal raids on Kerala and concludes that it introduced modern and progressive ideas to Kerala. These...
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RQ | Compounding and Foreign Policy

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 13:58

In today’s Business Standard, Nitin Pai writes about something he’s mentioned a few times before – that India’s best China/Pakistan/US policy is “8% growth”. Unfortunately a lot of space in his piece talks about appointments in ministries and cabinet formation, and he doesn’t directly touch upon why 8% growth is a viable foreign policy (it is possible he had mentioned this but got edited away).

There are two primary reasons why strong economic growth makes for good foreign policy. Firstly, a fast growing economy means that others will want to get their share in it. If you are growing at a rate much higher than the other big economies, other countries will want to piggyback on your growth. They will want to trade with India, invest in India and  get India to invest in their respective countries. And for any of this to happen, the foreign country will need to have an overall good relationship with India – if they piss off India, they can get left out of partaking in India’s economic growth. And that will ensure good foreign relations.

The second reason has to do with compounding. Assuming that India can afford to spend only a fixed percent of its tax revenues on defence (being a democracy, the government will always have commitments towards welfare and infrastructure spending which cannot be touched), and assuming that taxes as a proportion of GDP are constant, this means that India’s defence spending is likely to be proportional to the GDP.

With 8% growth, India’s real GDP expected to double in about 9 years’ time. Or, our defence budget can double in 9 years’ time. With only about 5% growth (as we have now), in 9 years our GDP, and consequently our defence budget, will only increase by 50%! That is the power of compounding, and that shows you how increased economic growth can lead to greater defence spending, by keeping proportion of defence spending constant!

RQ | Market Share Of Indian Air Operators

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 18:18

Not so long ago, we had a CAG report that discouraged giving sixth freedom rights to Gulf-based airlines, the argument being that it was reducing the market share of Indian airline companies, and was reducing the chances of Delhi airport ever becoming a hub. In that report, the CAG had also claimed that the granting of these sixth freedom rights was hurting the financial performance of Air India.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation, via the government data portal, has put out data on the market share (in terms of number of passengers and amount of cargo) of Indian and Foreign airlines for flights to and from India. While the data strangely refuses to mention the units for some of the variables, that doesn’t prevent us from calculating the market share of Indian carriers in the passenger and freight markets. The graph below summarizes this:

 

What is interesting is that the market share of Indian carriers in terms of both passengers and freight grew significantly between 2006 and 2011, slowing down a bit towards 2012 (wonder if Kingfisher’s demise adequately explains that). While this was the time when many of those sixth freedom rights (that the CAG was so opposed to) were granted, this was also the time period when privately owned Indian airlines started expanding globally and adding international routes.

This suggests that the reason for Air India’s losses lie less in the grant of the sixth freedom rights – which only grew the market, and more to do with the quality of service provided by the airline vis-a-vis both foreign carriers and privately owned Indian carriers.

What can also be seen from the above graph is that there is perhaps significant scope for expansion of Indian carriers when it comes to Air Cargo where their market share is minuscule compared to their passenger market share.

Varnam | Noah (2014)

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 17:44

In 2010, a group of Turkish and Chinese evangelicals found Noah’s Ark on top of Mount Ararat in Turkey. The liberal NPR once aired a program titled Walking the Bible based on Bruce Feiler’s book. In the program Feiler climbs the same Mt. Ararat in Turkey in search of Noah’s Ark since Bible literalists believe that an actual Ark came to rest on top of this mountain. What these literalists fail to acknowledge is that the Ark story is basically an adaptation of an earlier tradition present in the region. The Hebrew Bible did not exist in a vacuum; it was influenced by the culture and traditions of the Ancient Near East. The flood story of the Hebrew Bible in Genesis 6-9 is simply an Israelite version of the Mesopotamian Epic of Atrahasis and the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh
However, it isn’t just the similarity between the biblical materials and the Ancient Near Eastern sources that is important to us. In fact, in some ways it’s the dissimilarity that is remarkably important to us, the biblical transformation of a common Near Eastern heritage in light of its radically new conceptions of God and the world and humankind. We’ll be dealing with this in some depth, but I’ll give you one quick example. We have a Sumerian story about the third millennium BCE, going back 3000 — third millennium, 3000 BCE. It’s the story of Ziusudra, and it’s very similar to the Genesis flood story of Noah. In both of these stories, the Sumerian and the Israelite story, you have a flood that is the result of a deliberate divine decision; one individual is chosen to be rescued; that individual is given very specific instructions on building a boat; he is given instructions about who to bring on board; the flood comes and exterminates all living things; the boat comes to rest on a mountaintop; the hero sends out birds to reconnoiter the land; when he comes out of the ark he offers a sacrifice to the god — the same narrative elements are in these two stories. It’s just wonderful when you read them side by side. So what is of great significance though is not simply that the biblical writer is retelling a story that clearly went around everywhere in ancient Mesopotamia; they were transforming the story so that it became a vehicle for the expression of their own values and their own views.[Lecture 1 - The Parts of the Whole]

Thus even though the stories look similar, the rationale for the flood in the Hebrew Bible was written to spread a different theology. In the new movie, Noah gets dreams of the flood and after consuming some hallucinogens at his grandfather Methuselah’s place, finds the answer: build an ark. He builds the ark and along with his family — wife  Naameh, sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, Shem’s wife  Ila — and his nemesis Tubal-cain, take off as the floods hit the earth. Oh, before that there are some scenes involving rocks which also shape shift like Optimus Prime who protect Noah and help him escape.

While the animals lie sedated, there is lot of drama on board the ark. There is Tubal-cain tempting Ham to murder his father because Noah did not get a woman for Ham. Then there is Ila, who springs a surprise on Noah, when he thought that she was barren. Finally there is the psychopathic Noah, who eagerly waits the birth of his grandchildren so that he can murder them. Finally, all ends well. Tubal-cain is murdered by Ham. Ila delivers twin girls and as Noah goes to murder them, he has a change of heart and unlike Abraham who was willing to kill his son, he spares his grandchildren. The flood stops as well and the human race is saved.

While the director claims that he has stayed true to the Bible, the Christian conservatives have found numerous issues with the film based on the Hebrew Bible. According to a creationist, “Noah is an insult to Bible-believing Christians, an insult to the character of Noah and, most of all, an insult to the God of the Bible.” One of the issues is that Noah has a problem with carnivores. It is Tubal-cain, who argues to the contrary that God had given dominion over the entire planet to humans.  The suggestion that the movie is pro-environment, pro-vegetarian had many in knots. But then in Genesis 1, God had commanded humans to eat plants and it was only after the flood that they were permitted to eat meat. As Prof. James Tabor suggests, if only people read the Bible.

For example, the film never mentions God and referrers to him as the Creator.

I have heard this objection repeatedly this weekend, particularly on FOX news and Talk Radio outlets, and it is blatantly false and ridiculous. The very word translated “God” in Genesis is not a name but a generic reference that might be translated as “The Powers” (Elohim). One can only imagine the uproar had Aronofsky chosen to call the Creator “The Powers”–which would have been quite biblical. In the Noah film this nameless One is constantly referred to as “the Creator,” but used in a very personal way by all the characters in the film–good and bad. According to Exodus 6:3 God did not make Himself known by His personal name Yahweh (YHVH) or “the LORD” until the time of Moses. The references to God as “the LORD” in Genesis 6-9 in the Flood story are accordingly anachronistic—so it turns out, ironically, that Aronofsky’s designation of God as “the Creator,” is more biblical than his critics have imagined.[Bashers of the Noah Film Should Re-Read Their Bibles]

What is not depicted in the film is that some of the animals who hitched a ride on the ark did not have a good life. After he got on land, “then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.”

For the Turkish, Chinese and American evangelists, this movie may have been offensive, but for people interested in the history of how the Hebrew Bible was written, this is good time to watch or read the transcript of this lecture which talks about the contradictions within the Bible as well as within the flood story. Did the Creator ask Noah to bring two pairs of each living being or seven pairs of pure animals and one pair of impure animals and seven pairs of birds? In some  places the flood was for 40 days and few lines later, it was for 150 days. All of this, for a historian, leads to the documentary hypothesis, with multiple authors and revisions.

Related posts:

  1. Noah's Raft Few years back there was a PBS documentary titled Walking the Bible, which was based on Bruce Feiler’s book. In the documentary Feiler climbs Mt. Ararat in Turkey in search of...
  2. Finding Noah's Ark bq. American and Turkish explorers are hoping to discover traces of Noah’s Ark on the slopes of Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey. A joint expedition of 10 explorers from both...
  3. Faking Noah's Ark A major breaking news few days back was the “discovery” of “Noah’s Ark.” Yes, that Noah’s Ark. It was discovered by Turkish and Chinese Evangelicals on top of Mount Ararat...
  4. Story of the Babylonian Seal A 2500 year old stone seal discovered outside the Old City walls has caused excitement in Jerusalem since it connects archaeology and the Hebrew Bible. The seal depicts worshippers offering...
  5. Bible's Buried Secrets (2/2) (Abraham by József Molnár) Read Part 1 3. Monotheism did not happen instantly. (contd.) Still the Israelites practiced polytheism,worshiping not just Yahweh, but also the fertility goddess Asherah and the...

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Retributions | Moving on

Sat, 04/05/2014 - 02:08

Time to Leave Takshashila

It almost seems silly to write this post as I am a lapsed blogger—only occasionally can I subdue my laziness enough to write—but it is perhaps a wise decision to leave an official note. I have been involved with the Indian National interest project for nearly a decade and while my role in Takshashila has always been peripheral, it has been a joy to see it evolve to its current form. However, all good things in life eventually come to an end. And I have decided to move on from INI and Takshashila. The reason is simply this: I mainly write about politics and it is hard to avoid the impression that my views don’t reflect the opinion of Takshashila. Operating my own platform allows me to write more candidly about topics and the issues I care about including politics. And as Takshashila is much more focused on policy issues, it is able to retain its core competency without getting caught in needless partisan sniping.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my association with Takshahila and I remain its well-wisher! Thanks to Nitin for this wonderful platform and best wishes for the future!

Thank you all who read this blog; I will be moving to a new platform soon.

Wait for the announcement!

RQ | The WhatsApp Effect

Wed, 04/02/2014 - 18:25

On the national data site (data.gov.in) the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has put out some data on GSM telephony in the last five years. This has aggregate all-India data, and one of the data points available is “Outgoing SMS per subscriber per month”. The following graph plots this data over time:

 

Notice how the number of SMSs per user which rose sharply till mid 2011 then started suddenly dropping off! There seems to be a minor revival between March and June 2012, but apart from that it seems to be a secular decline. I can’t think of any reason apart from the profusion of smartphones and messaging apps on such phones such as WhatsApp, WeChat, etc. for this decline.

The total number of GSM subscribers also shows an interesting pattern,  going by the TRAI data. There is massive increase in the number of subscribers till 2012, and then the graph flatlines!

 

The only reason  I can think of for this is that there might have been some sort of a subscriber clean up in 2012. If you remember, when telcos introduced “unlimited subscription” plans for prepaid mobiles back in 2006, these so-called “unlimited plans” expired sometime in 2012. This was on account of re-auction of telecom spectrum that year. It is possible that users who were “active” only because of possession of unlimited plans were weeded out after 2012, and hence the flatline. Otherwise, the above trajectory is hard to believe.

Finally, what about the telecom tariffs? The supplied data set has information on the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) per month, and the number of outgoing minutes of usage per subscriber. Assuming SMSs don’t cost anything (wrong assumption – since they do), we can calculate the telecom tariffs (in Rs. per minute). The following graph shows that:

 

Back in 2009, tariffs were close to a rupee a minute. However, between 2009 and 2010, tariffs dropped sharply, to the range of about 60 paisa per minute, which comes down to a paisa a second! Interestingly, tariffs have remained constant ever since.

The Broad Mind | Jihad: the real climate change challenge

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 19:27

Analysts and researchers have long worked on why Jihadi activity has increased in the last many years. Popular fiction links it with the Afghan war and how US decided to back a mujahideen army to win the cold war against USSR. This was coupled with the aftermath of the siege of Mecca in 1979 which led Saudi Arabia to support extremism outside its territory, in return for domestic stability. However, we all know for a fact that Pakistan started supporting Afghan Jihadis in the early 1970s, which busts this convenient narrative.

In fact there has been a gradual increase in Jihadi activity since the 18th century, which has now accelerated to become a major destabilising force in recent years. New research finds that this is strongly correlated with climate change. An important driver of this, Wahabi philosophy, was established at the dawn of Industrial Revolution. It is foolish to ignore this as a coincidence.

Intrigued by the phenomena of violent hurricanes and Jihadi attacks occurring and increasing at the same time, researchers from the Takshashila Institution are on the brink of solving the puzzle. Rising temperatures often cause hot-headedness, which has been the primary reason behind this activity. Hot-headedness as anthropological behaviour has been studied for centuries but a climate signal has been found behind it for the first time now. We asked Takshashila’s director, Nitin Pai, about this finding:

SC: How significant is this finding?

NP: This is path breaking. For the first time, we have a sound scientific basis for policy action rather than all the analytical nonsense the think tank kinds keep propagating.

SC: What kind of hypothesis testing and research did you have do to reach this conclusion?

NP: The beauty of this theory was that no testing was required. It was so obvious, that as soon as it was revealed to us we just knew it had to be right. Really, it is so obvious. Some things manifest as self-evident truths.

Social norms like turbans and dark beards have been propagated to further increase the effects of high temperatures on individuals. Clean shaven men are less prone to Jihadist tendencies.But the conspiracy goes further.

Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern states promote an oil-intensive world with the purpose of increasing carbon emissions to unsustainable levels such that climate change is accelerated. This is the real thrust of how they promote Jihad in the world, with the more explicit funding of Wahabism just being cover. With sea level rise threatening to drown the state of Israel, jihad only has two great Satans left to deal with.

Saurabh Chandra is a Strategic Futures Analyst with the Takshashila Institution. This is a preview of his upcoming research on ‘A scientific approach to addressing Jihad’.

Readers are requested to peruse the date of publication of this article.

RQ | Internet subscribers in India

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 19:17

The government data portal has released data on the number of internet subscribers in India over the last 5 years.

Internet Subscriber Base & Market Share Of Top 10 Internet Service Providers http://t.co/0ZvDkUnAFW #OpenData #India

— data.gov.in (@DataPortalIndia) April 1, 2014

Going by this data, the number of internet subscribers increased steadily until 2012, but then decreased a bit between 2012 and 2013.

 

The market  grew 19% from 2009 to 10, 22% from 10 to 11, before slowing down to a growth of only 13% between 2011 and 2012, and actually decreasing by 5% to 2013.

The question is whether the market share growth varied by provider. The next two graphs show the total number of subscribers per provider and the market share of major providers, respectively. All data here is from data.gov.in

 

It is interesting that while BSNL continues to grow, the number of subscribers of MTNL has gone down. This graph also helps put perspective on how small Airtel is!


What would add to this analysis is data on how much data actually passes through the pipes of various providers – once that is taken into account, I think we should see that market share of providers such as Airtel and RCom (which supply to businesses) would b e much higher.

Varnam | Disputing the Jefferson Davis Theory

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 17:42

Jefferson Davis, painted by Daniel Huntington in 1874

In his memoirs, published in 1881, ex-Confederate President Jefferson Davis cast secession as a wholly constitutional move designed to restore government to what the founding fathers had intended. The goal of secession, the late President wrote, was to protect the rights of “sovereign states” from “tremendous and sweeping usurpation” by the federal government. “The truth remains intact and incontrovertible, that the existence of African servitude was in no wise the cause of the conflict, but only an incident.” The problem is that Davis’s  interpretation was not consistent with case for secession made by southern politicians in the 1850s.

On June 10, 1850, the people of Georgia passed the Georgia Platform and it contained five grievances of the state. One of the main points of contention between Georgia and the Federal Government was related to slavery and its future. For the Georgians, the “ the establishment of a boundary between the latter and the State of Texas, the suppression of the slave trade in the District of Columbia, and the extradition of fugitive slaves, the rejection of propositions to exclude slavery from the Mexican territories and to abolish it in the District of Columbia (“Georgia Platform”) ” were all controversial. The fourth clause in the Platform made it clear that when it came to the subject of slavery, there would be no compromise. It clearly stated that it would oppose any action, “upon the subject of slavery in the District of Columbia, or in any places subject to the jurisdiction of Congress incompatible with the safety, domestic tranquility, the rights and honor of the slaveholding States, or any refusal to admit as a State any territory hereafter, applying, because of the existence of slavery therein, or any act prohibiting the introduction of slaves into the territories of New Mexico and Utah, or any act repealing or materially modifying the laws now in force for the recovery of fugitive slaves. ” Thus, they were clear about what they were fighting for.

Mississippi too was clear about why were seceding from the Union in A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union. “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth,” they stated. Mississippi too was incensed by the dangers to the institution, the refusal of admission of new slaves states to the Union, the nullification of the Fugitive State Law and the proposal for slave equality. They felt that, it was worth seceding from the Union rather than face the loss of four billions dollars of money

The inspection and sale of a slave, 1854

.The same spirit about slavery was echoed in the Cotton is King speech of James Henry Hammond in 1858. According to Mr. Hammond, though people claimed that slavery had been abolished, it was in name only and “all the powers of the earth cannot abolish that. God only can do it when he repeals the fiat.” Unlike the Northerners who had kept White men as wage earners, the Southerners, he felt, had “a race inferior to her own, but eminently qualified in temper, in vigor, in docility, in capacity to stand the climate, to answer all her purposes.” Every society, he argued required a class of people, “do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life” with a “ low order of intellect” and with such people, they were able to produce massive amount of wealth. The new developments, he thought were threatening the business and if required, the South was ready to go to war for it.

The Southerners knew that the admission of a large number of free states would change the balance of power in the Congress. As they struggled to the secure the future of slavery, the edifice on which their wealth was created, they realized that the slavery could soon be abolished. The admission of new states into the Union always resulted in a debate over slavery and they often resulted in a compromise. For the Southerners it was evident that the tide was not going their way and secession was the only option available to preserve their wealth.

The important point to note is that the statement from Jefferson Davis was written in 1881, much after the South lost the war and thus a post-justification for the war they lost. As you read the statements from Mississippi, Georgia and from James Henry Hammond, it is clear that slavery and not the state rights were the cause of secession.

(This was one of the writing assignments for the course History of the Slave South at Coursera)

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Retributions | Modi the Moderate

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 13:06

Yes and No

Writing in the Indian Express, Ashutosh Varshney opines,

Has Modi undergone an ideological transformation from his 2002 days? We don’t have enough evidence to make that claim yet. The choice of Varanasi as a seat continues to throw hints of Hindu nationalism. But such symbolism has not been central to the campaign. We have a clearly recognisable strategic pattern emerging right from the fateful Reuters interview in July 2013, a pattern only briefly interrupted by Muzaffarnagar, whose association with Modi simply cannot be established. Modi appears to have concluded that ideological purity cannot bring him to power. Vajpayee-like ideological moderation and political pragmatism are necessary, at least for now. [link]

The critical question Professor Varshney  raises is this: Has Modi undergone an ‘ideological transformation’ or  is this merely a tactical manoeuvre as he seeks to navigate the treacherous waters of Indian politics. Three points.

First, it is myopic to view Modi’s journey only from the prism of his prime ministerial ambitions. Modi has relentlessly pursued the halo of a development oriented leader right from aftermath of the Gujarat riots of 2002. He has been clear in his mind that only this metamorphosis could help him escape the ignominy of 2002. Yes, there has been the usual segues in the ‘Miyan Musharraf’ kind of rhetoric but it has never been the major plank of  Modi’s electoral pitch. Never to shy away from a fight, Modi has responded to the jab of his ‘secular’ opponents, but his overt political argument has always been a mixture of development with an appeal to Gujarati regional pride. The critics may dismiss this as the magic of public relations or attribute it to solely to the devilish APCO but a politician can hardly be blamed for embellishing his own role in his state’s march towards prosperity. In that sense, Modi’s campaign has been a continuation of his Gujarat politics over the last two election cycles: The primary appeal has been development backed by personal braggadocio. Those who expected his campaign to focus solely on Ayodhya or the usual Hindutva arguments severely underestimate the craftiness and intelligence of Modi the politician. His arguments may not be couched in the flowery  language which pleases the permanent inhabitants of the Indian International Center but Modi is clearly one of the most talented politicians of his generation.

Second, Modi enjoys one tremendous advantage over the likes of Advani or his other rivals within the BJP.   Among his core supporters, there are no apprehensions about his true ideological beliefs. Modi has little to gain from employing overtly divisive rhetoric because those who would vote for him because he is perceived as the Hindutva icon are already firmly in his camp. And yet, he has been careful not to cross the red lines which may signify a tectonic ideological shift—for instance, he has expressly refused to apologize for the Gujarat riots or admitted the slightest sense of guilt. It is a careful balancing act but the rest test awaits Prime Minister Modi: Managing his more fervid supporters would perhaps be his greatest challenge.

Third, India has changed dramatically since the heydays of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The issue of Ram Temple may animate BJP’s core voter but has little appeal for the larger audience. It is hardly surprising that Modi has almost completely ignored this issue. This is not to suggest that the old fault lines of religion have disappeared or have no longer any electoral salience but they have acquired a new connotation. The ‘secular’ politics of the last decade–specifically in the Hindi heartland—with its relentlessness pursuit of the Muslim vote and its vapid symbolism has made Modi’s task much simpler. It may be hard for liberal purists to understand this but the average Hindu in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar feels cornered and implicitly believes that his interests are being ignored by pro-Muslim governments. This is not the natural audience of the Hindutva movement and Modi’s pitch to them reflects that: That he will restore the balance in governance by practicing true secularism. Each citizen would be treated the same—what could be wrong with that argument? The appeal of this pitch in a state run by Akhilesh Yadav should not be underestimated.

And it is here the rubber hits the road: What about Modi and Muslims? Because that is the true test of Modi’s moderation—at least by conventional political logic.  If some of his liberal opponents are to be believed, Third Reich is on the anvil with constant invocation of Hitler imagery. It may be too outlandish to suggest that Modi may actively gas Muslims but little else is left to the imagination. In essence, a relentless series of riots in which Muslims would be massacred by a Hitler-like Modi.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the last thing Modi would want under his watch is a massive Hindu-Muslim riot. As the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy—and as someone who carries the baggage of 2002–the eyes of the world would be on him and it would be utterly suicidal on his part to tolerate a major religious conflagration. Modi is too smart a politician to not understand its larger geo-strategic implications.

The argument is far more subtle. The core Modi supporters believe that Muslims are a pampered lot who run amok in the name of secularism and disproportionately influence the political discourse to the detriment of the more numerical but hopelessly divided Hindus.  The principal idea here is to make the Muslims realize their place in the society. And once they are cognizant of their diminished influence, there would neither be any need for violence or any display of overt religiosity. In other words: the silence of the graveyard.

Modi would perhaps be the first Prime Minister elected in the express and rabid opposition of Muslims. They are likely to greet his rise with sullen indifference further accentuating the religious cleavages in the Indian society. The sense of being let down by the mainstream ‘secular’ parties would only encourage the rise of Muslim fundamentalism leading to their further isolation from the mainstream of the Indian society. It has dangerous portends for India’s long-term stability but perhaps is an inevitable course correction to the excesses of her ‘secularism.’

It is the greatest indictment of Indian secularism that it has always rested on the bedrock of Hindu caste divisions. Modi with his outreach to hitherto ignored groups within the larger Hindutva project is challenging that. Muslims have thrived politically only because the Hindus have preferred caste divisions to religious appeals except in the most exceptional circumstances. It remains to be seen whether Modi can permanently bridge the caste divisions within the Hindu society but even if he is partially successful, he would fundamentally rewrite the rules of Indian politics. Viewed in that perspective, Modi’s appeal to Ezhavas in Kerala may not have any immediate political traction but has a much more significant meaning. With due respect to Professor Varshney, he fundamentally misdiagnoses the import of his appeal.

So have the exigencies of Indian politics moderated Modi: Yes and no. Viewed superficially, Modi has certainly toned down his rhetoric somewhat as he understands the need to appeal to a larger audience. However, in the broader perspective, Modi has displayed a remarkable consistency of both ideology and political rhetoric and therein lies perhaps the secret of the support he attracts.

It needs to be reiterated: Modi is winning on his terms and conditions. And that is the bottom line.

 

 

 

RQ | Biometrics for Aadhaar reflects a lack of social trust and law enforcement

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 20:34

As far as I’m concerned, the primary purpose of Aadhaar is for targeting subsidies. Right now we have a regime where subsidies are targeted on a household basis, which is incorrect and inefficient. What we need is a methodology to target subsidies to individuals, and for this purpose, we need a way to uniquely identify individuals.

Hence, we need a unique identification mechanism. The problem with existing IDs, such as the passport, driving licence and permanent account number (PAN) is that there is no guarantee of de-duplication. There is nothing that prevents one individual to hold multiple of these – though it might be illegal to do so. There is no formal mechanism of de-duplication in any of these – and the rather unstructured form of Indian names and addresses means that it is going to be extremely difficult to weed out duplicates of these at scale.

This is only my conjecture, but this might be the reason why the government decided to create a completely new ID, which one could obtain only if one were to give their biometric details. The argument here is that biometrics uniquely identify a person, though there are counterarguments to this which argue that it is possible in extremely rare cases (which is not rare enough, given India’s size) for two people to have biometrics that are considered identical by the de-duplication system.

India is not the only country to have aspired to issue a unique identity card for its residents. What sets India apart is the size and the fact that sharing of biometrics with the issuing agency is a necessary condition for issuing the ID card. That we have to resort to a system based on biometrics is a reflection of both the lack of social trust and the lack of law enforcement in India. That we have lack of social trust is indicated by the fact that people aspire to hold more than one “unique identity proof” – such as a PAN or a driving license or a passport. That we have weak law enforcement is indicated by the fact that existing punishments for holding duplicate IDs is not deterrent enough for people who aspire to hold multiple cards.

It can be argued that using biometrics to ensure that each resident has only one ID is an engineer’s solution to a policy problem. It is an admission of the fact that our legal enforcement is too weak to enforce unique IDs without a technological basis. It is sad that we had to go down this route without exploring policy solutions first (or maybe we did, and they didn’t go anywhere).

Catalyst | Education and bilateral relations

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 05:18

A significant number of Indian students in the United States add great value to both countries, while flying under the radar of bilateral policymaking.

Migration is the foundation stone of India-US relations, if not the bedrock itself. Indian immigration into the United States of America has come a long way since Bhagat Singh Thind fought for citizenship in US courts about 90 years ago.

While the China-US economic relationship leans heavily on trade via the movement of goods, the India-US economic relationship is based more on the movement of people and services. Apart from a sizeable population of Indian origin in the US of about 2-3 million, Indian citizens also form the highest number of H-1B and L-1 visas, both dominated by technology and software professionals.

At Takshashila, we recently had an excellent talk on US immigration policy by Edward Alden, Senior Fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations. This blog post is limited to a few observations on immigrant Indians studying in the US on student visas.

A little over 23,000 Indians availed a US student visa in FY2012, less than 5 percent of the overall student visas issued in the country. This is down from FY2007 as the chart below shows, when Indian students availed more than 10 percent of all student visas issued. In contrast, Chinese students are being issued with visas at a rapidly increasing rate since 2007, and now hover close to 200,000 student visas a year.

This rapid increase in Chinese students studying in the US has received some policy response from the Americans, with the US government expressing a desire to bridge the gap between the number of Chinese studying in the US and the number of Americans studying in China. While there appears to be state support promoting Chinese students to study in the US, some reports have questioned whether they are getting sufficient returns on a US education. The increase in numbers likely stems from two factors: one, from rising incomes in China and two, from state support for foreign study. These numbers started going up before the global financial crisis and stayed high through out it.

Indian students in the US, while much smaller in number, arguably add greater value to the US economy per person. For one, Indians in the US are more likely to be studying at the masters or PhD level instead of an undergraduate education. This implies a higher threshold for selection, more number of years spent in the country, and a higher productivity and skill of the labour that comes after education.

Two, the number of F-1 student visas to Indians dipped slightly in FY2009, along with the overall number of F-1 visas issued. This was around the time of the financial crisis, a period when scholarships and university funding of masters and doctoral programmes started reducing in number, as well as the availability of jobs in the US started becoming uncertain. This implies a sensitivity of Indian students in the US to the American job market. This is in contrast to the increasing Chinese students who are likely to head back home immediately after education, at their rapid rate of increase.

Three, it is also likely that a higher proportion of Indian students are funded by US universities for their study, with the rupee-dollar exchange rate being unaffordable for most Indians. This could explain much of the drop in student visas between FY2008 and now.

The last decade in the US has seen a sharp rise in the number of Chinese students, a plateauing of South Korean and Indian students and a fall in the number Japanese students. The reasons for these changes can be multiple. Certain student cohorts are seen as revenue sources for US universities, certain others as high-skilled labour in research, tech and other sectors. The Indian student cohort, though small, punches above its weight. Binning luddite notions of ‘brain drains’, both US and India need to think about how they can enable the student cohort to do even better.

Immigration does not feature high on the agenda for strategic dialogue between India and the US, and student immigration even less so. It’s about time that people in Washington DC and New Delhi paid a little more attention to this as a policy issue much as it remains a social and cultural one.

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Sumpolites | Your Honour or Your Votes

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 01:39

The silence of the PM candidates on social issues like honor killings, women trafficking and gender issues is deplorable, even more disgraceful is their pandering to parties and people who still live by these archaic, and sexist jungle laws.

Honour based Violence an NGO, puts the number of honour killings in India at 1000, United Nations reports 1 in 5 honour killings around the world happen in India, there are campaigners who allege more than 10,000 happen every year. The harsh truth is no one really knows how high the numbers go. From the Khap lands of the North, villages in Tamilnadu to urban Andhra Pradesh the stories of  brutal murder, ghastly lynch mobs, unexplained suicides, public humiliation, and ostracisation, all because of inter caste marriage, and because of women stepping out of line have continued unabated in the last couple of years.

Khap Panchayats especially have become a law unto themselves, followed by regional political parties like the PMK who often resort to fomenting violence against couples and their families for stepping outside caste lines for love and marriage. No one can come up with an accurate number for various reasons. Criminals are often families themselves, police complicity is often bought through money, threat or power, those who do speak up are buried under the law and political pressure. No one can come up with a number because for the most part political parties themselves are guilty of covering up for these murders, legitimizing the institutions that carry out these killings and pandering to these defenders of modesty and upholders of value no matter how false, for support and votes.

Political coalitions are built with an eye on the end goal. But in the clamour and clang of election issues, slighted statesmen, and dynasty politics, the fact the many of the people contesting for the seats have fallen in step with these abhorrent social systems has not garnered the outrage it should have. Even as the instigator of the pub attack in Bangalore was forced out from one party due to his ‘anti women and violent activities”, the Haryana CM Bupinder Hooda was at the other end referring to the Khap Panchayat as an NGO

It’s like if you go to Gurgaon there is a welfare association. Similarly Khap is also an NGO. They are a part of our culture.

Also gaining points was the AAP party leader who came out in their support saying they had a cultural purpose. Very little has been said by any of the major parties against these kangaroo courts and the jungle laws that they follow. Very little of worth has been mentioned about the dismal sex ratios in UP, Punjab, Gujarat and MP, ratios that have resulted in greater trafficking of women into these states. Very little of value has been mentioned about the murders, decapitations and sodomizations often ordered by these panchyats. Absolutely no word on the violence against women and the blatant discrimination which prohibits women from being an equal part of the society in which live and into which they are sold.

The PMK in Tamil Nadu brings with it a history of bigoted, sexist, violent and dangerous movements against caste marriage and empowerment of women. Their constant push has ensured that the narrative of dominance by one caste against another remains strong and any attempts to breach the barrier are forbidden. Their methods of forcing women into marriage and otherwise unacceptable social situations, blaming modernity for love and advancement in technologies for bridging caste barriers have not been affected by talks of empowerment or by political coalitions. Superfluous solutions that are bandied about by political campaigns will make very little difference and are not really intended to make any difference. Bridging the yawning gaps between what we see as constitutionally valid, legal courses and what we know as kangaroo courts that govern most of these people will continue to exist and widen unless someone does something about it.

The problem is, it is often the women who get caught in the chasm that exists between the law of the land and the culturally correct law. The more the women get caught in a trap that is deemed to be right for them, the less likely they will be allowed to step up and talk about it and do something about it. One of the harshest indicators of this is the falling voter turnout among women. While there has been no known formal study that links the drop in voter registration among women to issues that matter to them, a greater emphasis on gender and sexual empowerment during one of the chai meets or informal meets wouldn’t hurt.

The Hindu in analysis of the voters registered for the election has found out that only

41% of the 18-19 year-olds registered to vote for the first time are women, 96 lakh of them as against 1.4 crore new male voters. Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Chandigarh and Gujarat have the most skewed electoral sex ratios.

The article mentions skewed sex ratios as one reason for the difference. The data comes at a time when the projected future also seems bleak. Data released over the weekend shows that many of the states listed above have reported a greater drop in sex ratio.

The difference in registered voters is for the age group of 18-19, a group waiting to enter the workforce, these are the women who will be forced and subjected into marriage, and having to still face antiquated, abolished systems such as dowry, having no say in their relationships, their lives or their health. These are the people who in the last couple of years took part in protests against sexual harassment, against the criminalization of same sex relationships and bore the brunt of being harassed for their gender, ethnicity and their sexuality.

It is a strange election in that the youth vote so intensely being campaigned for does not contain any of the social issues that matter to this growing population. Very few have spoken about the laws against sexual harassment, very few have made a case for legalizing varied sexual preferences, very few have talked about racism in urban areas, very few have spoken strongly against the antiquated notion of caste and religion still determining who a person can fall in love with and who they can get married to. The ones who have managed to speak out have pushed people like Muthalik out, the ones who cannot and could not speak will remain behind the scenes of a participatory democracy

Silence from the people running for the office of the prime minister is dangerous. We had a silent sentinel for the past 8 years and that has pushed this country backward, its women into glass houses and criminalized freedom of expression. Voting for another might just be the final push into oblivion for gender relations in this country.

Terra Nullius | A stranger in your own land

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 23:33

Come April 2014, each and every internally displaced person in India should have the choice and the  privilege of casting his or her vote.

The Muzaffarnagar riots and the displacement of its victims portrayed all that is rotten and abysmal in our country. The riots, which displaced almost 55,000 Indians and killed more than 60, garnered ample attention. Yet their significance meandered in and out of our national consciousness, as and when when it was highlighted by the media. With the elections looming, the situation of this population group was sensitively handled by all in the political classes– with either apathy and denial or with each blaming the other and participating in grand rhetorical exchanges and not to mention, bigotry. However, even months after the incident, not much was done by any, to improve the conditions of the victims.

There is little that is worse than being made a refugee in your own backyard. The victims of Muzaffarnagar not only lost their homes but they also lost their identities—documents and paperwork validating their existence. Keeping this in mind, the Election Commission launched a special drive earlier this month, across 22 villages where the victims had been rehabilitated, to register them as voters. The outcome of this was that over 33,000 riot victims applied to enroll in the voters list.

Recently, an MLA and a Lok Sabha candidate for the BJP, Mr Hukum Singh, charged for instigating hate speeches before the riots, said that the displaced victims of the Muzaffarnagar riots should not be allowed to vote in the upcoming elections because they were ‘trespassers’, living ‘illegally’ on government lands in another constituency and hence had no legal right to vote. He went on to say that he would complain to the Election Commission if they were allowed to vote.

Instead of attempting to rehabilitate the victims, encouraging them to return to their economic livelihoods, win back their confidence in the government or an alternative, and rebuild the social trust ahead of the elections, an individual aspiring to emerge as a national leader, effortlessly reduced Indian citizens to trespassers and illegal immigrants within their own country. Not only were his opinions dogmatic and crass, they were also flawed. According to a Delhi High Court Ruling of 1999, all internally displaced individuals in India, have the right to vote and the Election Commission upheld this in Mizoram last year. Additionally, the ADM of Muzaffarnagar responded strongly to Singh’s statements by saying “There are three norms for the right to vote and the riot victims fulfill all of these.”

The primary fact should not be forgotten that riots do not happen on their own. People are the protagonists in them. Investigation, implication and punishment need to be transparent and simultaneously systematic and speedy. The focus should not only be limited to the promises of compensation; it should be on the efforts for the re-establishment of social and communal trust and the faith in law and order– the ideals that govern the country. It should be to rehabilitate the citizens and bring their lives back to normal. These individuals should be encouraged to return to their old homes without any fear or have the free choice, as guaranteed to every citizen by the Constitution, to live in any part of the India without being called a ‘trespasser’ or an ‘illegal’ inhabitant by anybody, least of all, a politician.

In the coming month, India will celebrate its democracy, with 814.5 million eligible voters choosing their next government. Despite all its dysfunctions, the Indian Republic has had its election systems in place. It is at such times that the institutions and systems of this country need to stand up for its citizens. In the face of individual or partisan bigotry, they need to uphold the democratic principles and the liberal and pluralistic credentials of India.

The first step towards bringing all internally displaced persons out of this so-called refugee status would be to ensure that their national identity—their right to vote—is reinstalled. The Election Commission should ensure that its efforts are not limited to the voter registration drives. Even if it takes additional labour, it needs to ensure that all displaced Indian victims who registered, have their names on the voters list and their voter IDs dispatched to them. It needs to ensure that come April 2014, each and every one of the Muzaffarnagar riot victims, along with other internally displaced persons has the choice and the  privilege of casting his or her vote.

Terra Nullius | The significance of a bilateral relationship

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 15:25

A relationship between people is based on multiple factors that define its nature and character. Whether between two individuals, or between groups of people, the nature of the relationship emerges based on certain parameters that portray the strength of the relationship and conclude whether it is positive or  negative. For people, the parameters can include communication, the activities that they participate in together, the benefits and deficiencies of the alliance, the trust between the two parties and the networks that they create together, among others. To survive and strengthen, relationships need adequate investment from both the sides.

When it comes to countries, a relationship is based on similar grounds. What change are the parameters that go into defining it and the intricacies involved within each of these parameters. A relationship between two countries is called a bilateral relationship and the relationship between multiple countries or groups/blocs of countries is a multilateral relationship. Bilateralism or a bilateral relationship usually involves economic, political, social and cultural exchanges between the two nations. The definers within these are trade and investment between the two countries, the number of treaties signed, the visits by heads of states and ministers, migration of citizens, tourism, remittances, cultural exchanges, research and educational collaborations among others. Each of these defines the strength and the direction of the relationship and allows one to gauge its impact in the larger geo-political context. With multiple interests at play, through diplomacy, countries usually try to establish robust bilateral ties with one another that ideally conclude in mutually beneficial outputs and results.

For example, a visit by the Foreign Minister of India to Turkey in October 2013, the first time in 10 years, indicated a genuine warming of relationships between the two nations. The visit was an effort on the part of India to “raise the profile” of India-Turkey relationships. India wanted to secure Turkish support for its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the best way to accomplish this was to have a direct dialogue between the two foreign ministers of the country. According to a piece in the World Politics Review that reported on this meeting, “India is now Turkey’s second-largest Asian trading partner, and Turkey is seeking more bilateral high-level exchanges as a precursor to expanded people-to-people contacts.” As a result, Turkey extended support for India’s full membership in NSG. This exchange between India and Turkey is based on an old and established style of bilateral relations– ones that are formed because of state initiatives. Increasingly though, this may not be true for all bilateral ties.

In the next few weeks, my research work with respect to this topic will take a two-pronged approach. First, I will be defining and delving into the indicators that go into a bilateral relationship between two countries and explore their significance in the relationship. I will be identifying each indicator under the broader category of Government, Business and People and looking at whether these have a long-term impact, whether they strengthen a relationship, or weaken it. I will also look into the risks that can lead to the disintegration of a robust relationship between two countries or that act as a threat to it.

The second part of my research project will be to quantify the data available with regards to India’s bilateral relationship with countries and create an Index ranking the countries and India’s relationship with each. It would also portray the areas where some countries rank higher and the others lower with respect to the indicators given. The purpose of this research will be to depict the relative strengths of bilateral ties- for example, whether the India-US relationship is stronger than the India-UK relationship- and the significance of this relationship in the larger geo-political space.

(This blog is a part of my research work with the Takshashila Institution under its Scholars Programme, on India’s bilateral relationships.)

The Broad Mind | Innovation – A competitive advantage

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 14:10

By Sardul Singh Minhas

India needs to make a significant additional commitment to R&D in the public sector as a strategic move to boost the country’s innovative capabilities.

We remember the legendary Steve Jobs as a master innovator. Apple was near bankruptcy when he re-joined it in 1997; he propelled it to become the world’s most valuable publically-traded company by the time of his death in 2011.

Despite owning only around 10 percent of the global mobile handset market in 2011, Apple collected 50 percent or more of the industry’s available profits. For instance, the 16GB model of iPhone 4s retailed for $649 in 2012, which included a hefty profit of $368 per phone to Apple. Public took a fancy to Apple’s truly superior products, and has been willing to pay a premium price for them. Furthermore, the benefits flow not to the distant off-shore manufacturers (Foxconn in China), but straight into Apple’s coffers in Cupertino, CA.

An innovator is a lot more than an inventor. Innovation is something original, new, and important that obtains a foothold in a market or society and, to quote Jobs, “makes a dent in the universe”. While an invention refers to the creation of an idea or method, innovation is at the heart of the process that brings together various novel ideas in a way that they have an impact on society. In the annals of innovation, new ideas are only part of the equation. Execution is the key.

Today’s personal computers, smart phones and tablet devices have at their heart two revolutionary developments, graphical user interface and bit mapping. Both were invented at the Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center. Xerox had tried to commercialise these technologies in the form of Xerox Star, a clunky and costly machine, which flopped. It was Job’s genius to recognise the enormous potential of these technologies, vastly improve them and, showing perspicacious judgment in what consumers would prefer, launched the train of dazzling new products such as the iMac, iPhone and iPad. While Sony was the inventor of Walkman, it was Jobs who created the iPod because he intuitively understood the joy of having a thousand songs that would fit in your pocket.

How does innovation benefit societies? Innovation is the key driver of competitiveness, wage and job growth, and long?term economic growth. It can also help address major global challenges such as energy and climate change.

Why are some societies innovative and others less so? Some societies are fluid where hierarchy is not rigid and employees believe that it is appropriate to challenge the status quo and direction from above, and creativity is higher. There is more trust between different hierarchical levels.

As a young nation, America has a big advantage over other large democracies such as European countries, Japan and India. These countries have deeply ingrained hierarchical patterns and sclerotic systems that developed over centuries. America’s advantage is magnified several fold over authoritarian societies, such as China and Russia, where communism left in place societies which do not encourage open inquiry and vigorous debate, with far less incentive to innovate. In a society like America’s, individuals have more reasons to expect compensation and recognition for inventive and useful ideas. The innovative trait is boosted by its education system, which encourages vigorous class room discussion. Such willingness to question and even challenge teachers is an utterly unfamiliar concept in Chinese and Indian schools.

A closely related factor is a society’s willingness to deal with uncertainty, or avoid it. In societies with high levels of tolerance of uncertainty, organisational rules can be violated for pragmatic reasons, conflicts are considered a natural part of life, and ambiguous situations are regarded as natural and interesting. In more rigid societies, working relations rules play an important role and are punctiliously followed. Uncertainty-averse attitudes mean that there is less incentive to come out with a novel idea, which will be possibly rejected.

Can we measure innovation? The global innovation index looks at both the business outcomes of innovation and government’s ability to encourage and support innovation through public policy. The latest global index was published in July 2013. The study measured both innovation inputs (such as, governmental fiscal and education policies) and outputs (such as, patents, technology transfer), as well as business performance (such as,  labour productivity and total shareholder returns) and business migration and economic growth. Switzerland, Sweden, the UK, Netherlands and the United States ranked 1 through 5, respectively. China ranked 35, and India ranked a distant 66.

Traditionally, the innovation capacity of a nation has been measured by the investment in research and development (R&D) as percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). Going by the data published by the World Bank in 2011, the top six countries came in as follows: Israel (4.2 percent), Japan and South Korea (3.7 percent each), Sweden (3.3 percent), Finland (3.1 percent) and the U.S. (2.8 percent). China’s R&D investment was 1.8 percent of its GDP.

The World Bank did not report India’s R&D expenditure as a per cent of its GDP. It is safe to say that India needs to make a significant additional commitment to R&D in the public sector as a strategic move to boost the country’s innovative capabilities. India also needs to introduce the discussion format in the education system to foment creative thought.

Dr Minhas resides in Southern California. He is a business consultant and a writer. He holds a Ph.D. in engineering.