Group Blog: The Indian National Interest
The discovery of the similarity of Sanskrit with European languages by Sir William Jones led to the theory of that there was originally a Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) from which all the related languages evolved. The Proto-Indo-European linguistic problem then became the Proto-Indo-European biological problem and it morphed into the Aryan Invasion Theory with Aryans invading and displacing Dravidian speakers from the Punjab region. For linguists, one important question is in finding the time frame of this hypothetical language. There must have been a time when PIE originated, stayed alive and then ceased to exist. It is believed by some linguists PIE originated between 4000 – 3500 BCE and died by the start of the Mature Harappan Period (2600 BCE).
Now a new paper suggests that there was an older common ancestor which existed around 15,000 years back. Some of the words used from the ice age have been retained in related forms since that period. The paper uses a genetic study which claims that Dravidians expanded from Central Asia to South Asia much before the migration of the Indo-Europeans and uses that to set a much older date for Proto-Dravidian. The map below show the migration of Dravidians and the arrow seems to point to
This seems like a Dravidian nationalist dream come true. But all is not well with this theory. If you notice the map, you will find that the Dravidian speakers ending up in the Brahui region of Balochistan. While it was believed that they were the remnants of the Dravidian speakers who did not migrate to the South following the arrival of the Indo-European speakers, it is now believed that they migrated from Central India in 1000 CE.
There are other serious issues as well.
There are many variables in the reconstructions, and many the forms themselves often bear little resemblance to mainstream Indo-Europeanists’ reconstructions. The semantic looseness is often extreme. For instance, the database glosses a reconstructed form *(a)den@gh- (where @ = schwa) as `to reach, to seize, to have time’. Among the proposed descendants of this form are a Tocharian B form meaning `rise, raise oneself up’, an “Old Indian” (Sanskrit?!) form meaning `reach, strike’, an “Old Greek” (Ancient Greek?!) form meaning `with the teeth, biting together’, and an Old Irish form meaning `repress, oppress, suppress, crush, put down’. This is typical of the semantic latitude. Formally, too, there are problems. The proposed “Old Indian” descendant of this proto-word is given as daghnoti, possibly on the assumption that the nasal of the reconstructed root metathesized with the gh; but the nasal of the Sanskrit form is a present tense suffix, not part of the root at all. So Sanskrit (by whatever name) doesn’t match the database’s proto-word phonetically.
If the reconstructions used by Pagel et al. for their statistical analyses are not reliable in either form or meaning, then the statistical results of comparing these reconstructions cannot provide any evidence for distant relationships among the seven groups they compare. If the selection procedure for choosing among several candidate proto-words to use for the statistical analysis is flawed, then there may be problems with the statistics as well. But even if there are no statistical flaws, the Pagel et al. paper is yet another sad example of major scientific publications accepting and publishing articles on historical linguistics without bothering to ask any competent historical linguists to review the papers in advance.[Ultraconserved words? Really??]
Here is another criticism of the paper
Pagel and Atkinson’s search for family relationships among languages is set off course at the onset by looking in the wrong place. It has been understood at least since Antoine Meillet’s work a hundred years ago that grammatical properties are more reliable than words as indicators of familial relationships. As Meillet (1908: 126) noted “Les coincidences de vocabulaire n’ont en general qu’une très petite valeur probante” (“Coincidences of vocabulary are in general of very little probative value”). In recent years, the searchlight has been focused—by bone fide linguists, not evolutionary biologists—on abstract syntactic properties, establishing formal grammar as a population science; see, for example, the work of Giuseppe Longobardi and Cristina Guardiano (e.g. Longobardi & Guardiano 2009). Just as the biological classification of species, originally based on externally accessible characteristics, underwent a revolution on the grounds of progress in theoretical biology, namely the rise of molecular genetics, so too progress in the phylogenetic classification of languages must be based on progress in theoretical linguistics. In order to push the research frontier, we linguists need to identify the basic building blocks of language, its “atoms”, in Mark Baker’s memorable metaphor, and examine carefully how they play out in linguistic evolution. Looking for “words that survived since the last Ice Age”, in contrast, is a seductive but ultimately a futile enterprise. [Do “Ultraconserved Words” Reveal Linguistic Macro-Families?]
In short, “Ultraconserved words point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia” is premised on the notion that cutting-edge research in historical linguistics requires little knowledge of linguistic geography, linguistic history, or even linguistics itself. It is hardly surprising that such a research program would yield inadequate results. [Do “Ultraconserved Words” Reveal Linguistic Macro-Families?]
- Anthony, David W. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Reprint. Princeton University Press, 2010.
- Bryant, Edwin. The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate. Oxford University Press, USA, 2004.
- Pagel, Mark, Quentin D. Atkinson, Andreea S. Calude, and Andrew Meade. “Ultraconserved Words Point to Deep Language Ancestry Across Eurasia.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (May 6, 2013). doi:10.1073/pnas.1218726110.
- Did Harappans write in proto-Brahmi? One of the biggest mysteries of ancient India is regarding the language spoken by the Harappans. This is a hard problem compared to the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics and cuneiform...
- A debate over the PIE homeland In 1668, Andreas Jager of Wittenberg proposed that there was an ancient language spoken in the Caucasus mountains which then spread throughout Europe and Asia through waves of migration. Mr....
- Smithsonian on Indus Script Ever since Rao et al. published that the Indus script showed the structure of a formal language, a new debate on the topic was initiated. There were some hostile reactions...
- Incorrect Interpretation of Dr. Parpola's Speech Recently an article appeared in the Deccan Herald which suggests that the Finnish Indologist Asko Parpola has demolished the Aryan-Dravidian divide as a myth. Dr. Parpola, for those you don’t...
- The Aryan-Dravidian divide myth A new paper published in Nature reveals that Indians are descendents of two genetically divergent ancient populations. One of the groups, Ancient North Indians (ANI), is closer to Middle Easterners,...
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.
My colleague Nitin Pai extracted some data from the latest issue of EPW that shows the growth in total route length of Indian railways in the last 20 years. To get a better understanding of how the rail length has grown, I draw a simple graph. This is what I found:
From this graph, it looks like the growth in Indian Railways route length has been pretty impressive. You will also notice that the graph is not monotonically increasing – there are years where the route length is lower than that of the previous years. I would suspect that is due to conversion of metre gauge to broad gauge tracks.
But then if you take a closer look at the graph, you might notice that the y axis doesn’t start at zero. So you might want to see what the growth looks like if you were to start the y axis at zero. Here is what you get:
Now that the axis has been plotted starting from zero, you notice that the growth in rail length by the Indian railways is not all that impressive.
Moral of the story: If you are a user of a visualization, make sure you check things like axes, scales, etc. before jumping to conclusions. You never know what tricks the person who made the visualization might have been up to. If you are making a visualization, however, keep in mind that a lot of your consumers are not going to look at the visualization too carefully, so make use of axes, scales, etc. in a way that embellishes your story.
Chinese Media Watch
- The Chinese media has reacted to Premier Li Keqiang’s official visit to India positively, with China Daily describing it as “very fruitful”. Ahead of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the US in the first week of June, an editorial in the Chinese Global Times, says that the meeting between Xi and Obama comes at a right time, cautioning that “mutual suspicion between the two countries is deepening after frictions on Internet security, the Diaoyu Islands and the South China Sea. If both sides still attach importance to mutual trust, then a strong positive signal is urgently needed to reduce suspicions”, the editorial says. Meanwhile, a Chinese scholar of US relations, Shen Dingli, has called for Chinese officials to “learn from how Li Keqiang won over the Indian public and media during his just-concluded visit by adopting a more “credible and affable” approach and conversing or giving speeches in English”.
Around the World
- Till earlier this month, Israel had insisted that it would not get involved in the conflict in neighboring Syria, but at the same time, has warned that it would stop sophisticated weapons from being transfered into Hezbollah’s hands. Earlier this month, Israel stuck a weapons shipment and on Tuesday, a Syrian army position. Now, “Israelis are asking what their options are, as if they feel it has become impossible to avoid deeper involvement”,according to the New York Times. It quotes Israel’s former chief negotiator with Syria as saying that a “policy that functions successfully for more than two years for Israel, that policy is not working because Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia have all upped the ante”.
- The activities of a extremist movement in China’s Xinjiang province, known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), have spread to neighboring Pakistan’s volatile North Waziristan are,a according to The Diplomat. The group advocates for liberating Xinjiang from China and establishing an Islamic caliphate in its place. A video showing what appears to be ETIM’s training camp in Pakistan, is “the first evidence of long-time Chinese claims that such training camps are active in the tribal areas of Pakistan”.
- A BBC article says that former Iranian President Rafsanjani’s disqualification from next month’s presidential elections shows that “the centrist faction led by the 78-year-old has been pushed out of the political establishment”, exposing a “weaker and agitated political establishment prepared to rip out its own roots”.
- As Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits India, a report in the The National quotes Nitin Pai, who argues that “Karzai’s trip to India is to get India to use its political and diplomatic capital to shape a modern, liberal, democratic dispensation in Afghanistan and possibly to employ military power as well”. His engagement with India will be watched closely by Pakistan, whose new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has spoken of improved economic and diplomatic relations with India. Earlier this month, Pakistani and Afghan soldiers clashed at the disputed Durand Line, in a climate of increased tensions between the two countries.
- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sent Choe Ryong-Hae, a top military official, as a special envoy to China, according to state media. The visit comes in the backdrop of strained relations, with North Korea refusing to acknowledge China’s warnings over its nuclear tests. He is said to be the highest ranking North Korea official to visit China since late leader Kim Jong-Il’s visit in August 2011.
- Iran’s Guardian Council has barred former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s presidential candidacy for the elections slated for the second week of June. According to The Guardian, Rafsanjani was a close confidant of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, till they fell out in after he lost to the current president Ahmedinejad in the 2005 presidential elections.
- Following last month’s industrial accident at a Bangladeshi garment factory, the US administration announced that it might strip Bangladesh of import tariff breaks. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal argues that cutting off exports from Bangladesh would only add to the country’s misery. The newspaper argues that, “if Washington gave Bangladesh the duty-free and quota-free status enjoyed by more than 30 other “least developed countries,” the U.S. would at a stroke contribute more to economic security and women’s empowerment than it has with years of aid shipments.”
How India’s Afghanistan policy might shape up
Suryatapa Bhattarcharya sought my views on Hamid Karzai’s visit to India for his report that appears in today’s edition of The National.
Here is the full version of the Q&A.
What is it that Karzai is seeking from India when we talk about military aid?
What Karzai wants is for other powers to fill the power vacuum that will be created after US troops withdraw. Part of this will be filled by internal realignments—as anti-Taliban forces are likely to coalesce as they did in the 1990—and part of this will have to be filled by external powers.
Karzai’s trip to India is towards both these ends: to get India to use its political and diplomatic capital to shape a modern, liberal, democratic dispensation in Afghanistan; and possibly to employ military power as well.
(Related post: Let the Buzkashi begin—the implications of Obama’s policy shift on Afghanistan)
You have mentioned that it would be better to send Indian troops to Afghanistan (correct me if I wrong) but what sort of implications can that have?
The primary risk to India is a replay of the early 1990s, when militant alumni from the Afghan war were directed towards Jammu & Kashmir by the Pakistani military establishment. Today we still face that question: where do these fighters go? Tens of thousands of Taliban militants and hundreds of thousands of Pakistani militants pose a risk to their home countries as well as to the external world.
If there is a possibility of a 1990s-like situation recurring, India should not hesitate to deploy the necessary military assets to counter the threat. It also makes sense to use a judicious combination of intelligence and security operations to prevent such a threat from materialising.
Karzai is seeking military support as NATO troops pull out. Are they seeking more support for their military institutions in Afghanistan or looking for more support vis a vis the deal signed between India and Afghanistan in 2011?
The situation is still in a state of flux, regardless of what Karzai is asking for at this time. There is no doubt that Afghan army, intelligence and security forces need technical assistance and training. The entire Afghan state apparatus needs capacity-building.
We must see India’s role in Afghanistan as a comprehensive support for the Afghan state. This is consistent with India’s policy over the last decade — alone among international actors, India has chosen to work through the Afghan government.
The question is, of course, whether all this will survive without hard military support. Let’s not underestimate the Afghans—with a supportive external environment they can protect their country.
How does this affect India’s relationship with Pakistan, given the recent troubles Afghanistan has had with Pakistan over border issues?
It’s a balancing act. It’s one that New Delhi is capable of managing.Tweet
Burmese President Visits the United States
- Burmese President Thein Sein has begun a historic official visit to the United States, becoming the first leader of his country to do so in almost 50 years. until just 2 years ago, Burma was an international pariah, with Sein on a US blacklist that would have prevented his entry to the United States. Despite presiding over the start of a democratic transformation of his country, the Burmese President reiterated that the army, which has ruled the country since 1962, “will always have a special place” in government. In a symbolic step, US President Obama referred to the country as Myanmar rather than Burma in his joint press conference with Sein. The US has long resisted using this name, as it has faced pressure from human rights and opposition groups who have held that it is the name used by the military junta and is not inclusive of all the country’s ethnic groups.
- Meanwhile, US businesses gave the Burmese President a warm welcome at a gala dinner hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce sponsored by top American corporations such as GE, Ford, Chevron, ExxonMobil and others, according to Foreign Policy. At the dinner, Sein said, “We want to lay the foundation for a robust middle class”, and invited US businesses to invest in Myanmar.
- As the Syrian army, backed by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, reclaimed the key rebel held city of Qusayr near the Lebanese border on Sunday, US President Barack Obama faces increased pressure to find a way to alter the course of events in this long drawn-out civil war. The army’s takeover the city, according to analysts, has the potential to transform Syria’s conflict, as this victory gives the regime “a corridor of territory connecting Damascus to Syria’s pro-Assad coastline and to Lebanese territory controlled by Iran-backed Hezbollah”.
Tackling a Mahatma Grade Problem
In a discussion at Takshashila’s Bangalore centre several months ago on what might be India’s biggest problems, I nominated “lack of social trust” as one of the fundamental ones. In today’s new column in Business Standard—the old monthly column on geopolitics continues as usual—I argue that lack of trust is undermining India’s economic growth.
“Widespread distrust in a society,” according to Francis Fukuyama, “imposes a kind of tax on all forms of economic activity, a tax that high-trust societies do not have to pay.” In a 2001 study of 41 countries, economists Paul J Zak and Stephen Knack conclude that “growth rises by nearly a percentage point on average for each 15 percentage point increase in trust.”
According to the World Values Survey, social trust plunged almost 18 percentage points in the first half of the last decade. This suggests India might have lost an entire percentage point of economic growth due to the loss of social trust. So while economists and “policymakers have been sensitive to slowing growth, growing inflation and widening fiscal and current account deficits, few account for the impact of the fall in social trust.” Read the column for what role public policy might have in addressing this problem.
How did other countries fare? Scandinavian countries score very high. Brazil, surprisingly, scores very low. Here’s a chart that compares India, China, Japan and the United States.
Even if social trust in China appears to be declining gradually, the Chinese enjoy much higher levels of trust than the others being compared. The United States seems to be recovering gradually from a plunge in the 1990s. For a country that is relatively homogenous, Japanese trust levels are lower than Chinese, and are comparable to the much more diverse United States. Note, also, that other than the Chinese, a majority in the other countries does not trust other people.
Restoring trust is a Mahatma Grade Problem (MGP) — we can be reasonably sure that public policy alone cannot solve it: the solution has to emerge from society itself. As I write in today’s piece, “even if we somehow found a way to make us trust each other, only one out five is likely to trust the persons advocating the solution. A democracy with high levels of distrust will, thus, find policies hard to implement, especially if they are non-intuitive.”
Addendum: What causes some countries to have greater social trust?
Jan Delhey and Kenneth Newton analysed social trust levels in 60 countries and arrive at the following conclusion:
The highest levels of generalised social trust across the globe are closely associated with a tight syndrome of religious/cultural, social, economic, and political characteristics.
Protestantism, but no other religion, is strongly associated with trust, probably because the Protestant ethic has left an historical imprint on cultures of equality and the importance of consistently trustworthy behaviour.
An absence of ethnic cleavages is also important, presumably because people of the same ethnic background find it easier to trust one another.
Wealthy and egalitarian societies are trusting societies, although wealth seems to matter more than equality.
Last, good government is an essential structural basis of trust. Corruption free and democratic government seems to create an institutional structure in which individuals are able to act in a trustworthy manner and can reasonably expect that others will generally do the same. [Delhey & Newton, Predicting Cross-National Levels of Social Trust: Global Pattern or Nordic Exceptionalism?]Tweet
Chinese Premier Visits India
- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who began his official visit to India yesterday, has penned an op-ed in The Hindu where he makes the case for the ‘common development’ and market convergence between China and India. Referring to the long-standing border dispute that flared up recently, Li writes that both countries’ “rich historical experience and broad vision” has allowed them to gradually “find a way to maintain peace and tranquillity in the disputed border areas, and have learned to deal with the situation in a reasonable and mature manner”.
- An editorial in the Chinese newspaper, the Global Times, cautions both countries from getting carried away by media hype and grumbling about it, and advises both countries to counter the negativity by creating “good news” that would guide public opinion in developing Sino-India strategic ties.
- According to the People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, “the China-India relationship is more about the future than about the past”, and “the choice of India as the first leg of Li Keqiang’s maiden overseas trip as Chinese premier sent out a clear signal that Beijing’s new leadership prioritizes enhancing ties with New Delhi despite border spats and other disputes”.
India Poll 2013
- The results of a new survey of Indian public opinion on foreign policy, India Poll 2013: Facing the Future, have been released today. The poll has revealed that Indians share a deep warmth towards the United States with 83% of Indians describing their country’s relationship with the US as strong, and 75% wanting them to become even stronger. Interestingly, “the percentage of Indians who believe India should cooperate with China at the global level equals those who support plans to contain China”.
- Among the list of 22 countries towards which attitudes were surveyed, Pakistan ranked lowest in terms of ‘warmth of feeling’, China ranked around the middle, and the United States ranked highest. The poll was commissioned by the Australia-India Institute and the Lowy Institute.
[click here for the full text and a short video summary of the findings of the poll]
As Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru spent the last 13 years of his life as the Chairman of the Planning Commission, an area he was passionate about. He had great dreams for India: increase the living standards of people, provide them with new opportunities, drive rapid industrialization, expand employment opportunities, reduce income and wealth inequalities, distribute economic power, and achieve self-sufficiency in food grains. These were noble goals with which no one could disagree and if these goals were achieved in the planned time frame, India would have been a different place. What happened was something else and the reasons for the failure of the planning makes for depressing reading.
Since the Prime Minister himself was the head of the Commission it served as an alternate power center. People who could not get a cabinet position, people who lost elections, or those who were in transition found their way into the Commission. Some of them never quit. Also for the Prime Minister, this provided yet another opportunity to reward people since not much expertise was required to be a member. Their actions were not scrutinized nor their qualifications questioned. The organization eventually turned out to be a monster, with a budget of a 1 crore in 1964 with almost all the cabinet functions duplicated.
Among the sweeping goals that had been set, no one knew which ones had priority. Even those which they set out to do were done without checking (1) if the project was needed and (2) if a proper technical study was done before green lighting. If such commonsense checks were done, the country would have saved money. For example, after 11 crore was spent on a petrochemical plant, it was discovered that basic raw materials were not available. Another plant was started to make optical glass and later it was found that the country wanted ophthalmic glass; an additional crore was spent to install new machinery.
Even on projects which passed the checks, no attention was spent on running the plan efficiently. Since it was public wealth, money was spent as if there was no tomorrow. The Rourkela Steel Mill took three years more to complete and the initial cost estimate doubled. The story was the same with fertilizer plants and hence fertilizers had to be imported. This in turn affected food grain production and so food grains too had to be imported. Systemic failures were occurring all over the country, but no one wanted to analyze the failures. Instead they ignored them and buried their heads wishing that the problems would — poof — disappear.
Of Agriculture and Fertilizers
The concept of planning was imported from Soviet Union, but during the import process, the details were left out. In countries where proper planning is done, every basic unit that is involved — factory, workshop — keeps track of the progress and coordinates with other cells to remove bottlenecks. The Soviets also kept track of time and their work charts measured progress. In the pyramidal system of Indian planning, progress was measured by the amount of money spent. Sometimes political influence derailed the planning and even the Parliament did not know about such things. One of the optical plants was switched from Naini to West Bengal simply based on a telephone call from the Chief Minister of Bengal regarding a bye-election.
For an organization which was set up to plan things properly, it functioned in exactly the opposite way. Nehru, for instance, did not pay much attention to agriculture and somehow the available food grain was distributed around. When it came to the Second Plan, it was decided that food production had to be boosted and a target had to be set. Nehru said that since the the Chinese had proposed to increase production at 7.9 per cent per annum, India would be able to increase it by 40 per cent. No studies were done by the Food and Agriculture ministry. No notes were distributed in the commission. The decision came from the top of the pyramid and the minions knew what they had to do.
Due to mismanagement even 19 years after the end of World War, India was rationing food. While Nehru promised self-sufficiency year after year, the per capita consumption of food grains fell short of the prescribed level and it was the poor who suffered more. Meanwhile, the population was increasing and Nehru did not see much cause for alarm. The Americans were willing to help, but they required India to buy agricultural commodities and pay the freight in USD. The sad part was only the public sector could manufacture fertilizers and they could not deliver. Rather than open the sector to private enterprises, the government decided to import it from abroad.
What was shocking was the ignorance of these esteemed members of Indian history or polity. People in Jhusi had been cultivating rice since the 6th millennium BCE without imported fertilizers and suddenly why was there a need for something without which we had done so well. But that did not matter to Nehru and his planners who were obsessed with foreign technology. The people who were part of the swadeshi movement, once they got power, started importing goods like raw cotton, yarn, and pulp. Steel replaced wood and bamboo, naphtha replaced coal for fertilizer manufacture and petrol replaced coal for power generation. Gandhi wanted an India which would rely on its strengths than on foreign goods, but with each passing year India became indebted to other countries. Finally Nehru realized his mistake and opened up fertilizers to the private sector.
It was not all downhill; there was growth in national income, in agricultural production, and industrial production. While Nehru gave speeches arguing that the less privileged should get the benefits, nothing of that sort happened. Instead the focus was more on stuff which they could never get their hands on. The planning did nothing to realize Nehru’s dream of income disparity. As Ram Manohar Lohia said, while crores of people lived on 3 annas a day, Nehru’s dog lived on 3 rupees a day.
Another plan the administration came up to remove income disparity was direct taxation through wealth tax, gift tax and expenditure tax, but there was no efficient way of collecting taxes. Tax evasion was quite high; even ministers like Jagjivan Ram did not file income tax for years. Nehru had promised to hang black marketers and anti-socials, but that too did not happen. He complained about ministers and officials living in big houses while he himself lived in a mansion.
As the plans failed to deliver as expected and the foreign dependencies started increasing, Nehru was clear about one thing: India would not ask for foreign aid because the loan sharks would definitely set their terms which would not be in India’s interest. But as the size of the five years plans increased, the foreign reserves started dwindling and austerity measures had to be implemented. Anything that involved foreign exchange had to be stopped, both in the public and private sector. Delegations which went abroad were controlled and student travel abroad was restricted.
Even such rules could not be effectively implemented. The Second Plan was cut down and the Reserve Bank Act had to be amended to raise the notional value of its gold reserve by 300 percent. Finally, Nehru changed his attitude towards foreign aid and decided to borrow extensively. With each plan, the foreign aid component increased and by the time he died the country was 2000 crore in debt.
Nehru, as always, put the blame on others. It did not matter if he chose the wrong people, followed wrong policies and had the wrong priorities. According to him the planning was fine, it was the implementation that was lacking. He complained as if the man who ran the government was someone else.
- Adapted from Rao, Amiya Rao, B. G. Six Thousand Days : Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister. Sterling Publishers, 1974.
- Nepal Monarchy and Chacha Nehru Even though Nepal as a state was established by King Prithvi Narayan Shah, later the monarchs became prisoners of their Prime Ministers and even had to get the Prime Minister’s...
- Nehru: The Vacillating Socialist When Jawaharlal Nehru became the Prime Minister of India, it was expected that India would have a socialist government. This was not a false expectation because over the past two...
- Nehru and Uniform Civil Code Six Thousand Days: Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister by Amiya Rao and B.G.Rao has a section on the first Prime Minister’s politics regarding the introduction of Uniform Civil Code in India....
- Subhash Bose: Nehru's Role Till recently aam junta like us believed that Subhash Bose died in plane crash in Taiwan. But investigations by the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry has revealed that it was...
- Nehru: We don't need a defence plan! After India got Independence, the state of Jammu and Kashmir decided to remain independent. Once the British left, a revolt started in Poonch and was supported by tribesmen from North...
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.
Earlier today the Lowy Institute put out the results of a survey it conducted on “India’s views of the world ahead”. While the report contains some excellent insights (including Indians’ perception of various countries), the problem is that it doesn’t establish what people’s priorities are.
For example, there is a question that asks people how important it is that “India has the largest navy in the Indian Ocean”. Some 94% of respondents think it is important, but neither the question nor the answer acknowledges the cost of being the largest navy in the Indian Ocean. Of course, having the largest navy in the Indian Ocean is a great thing to have, but what about the cost?
This is the problem with “uni-directional surveys” – where questions are independent of each other and no relation between factors is established. For example, everyone wants low taxes, high level of government-sponsored welfare, full employment, good wages and a strong military. The reason differences between political parties occur is because it is impossible to have all of it at the same time, and different parties have different positions on the trade-offs.
Table 24 of the Lowy survey illustrates this. The question is about domestic policy goals, and respondents are asked about the importance of each. Is it of any surprise that over 90% of respondents think each and every one of these goals is important?
In order to capture trade-offs, I propose a different kind of survey. One where the respondent is told “The government suddenly gets an extra Rs. 100 which it has to spend on either strengthening our military or providing food security. What do you choose?”. The survey I propose will have a series of such “binary” questions, where respondents have to allocate the government budget between various programs. That way, the true preferences of the respondents can be captured.
One last point on the presentation of the above table. The survey uses a “4 point Likert scale” (“not at all important”, “not very important”, “fairly important”,”very important”) to record responses. First off, marketing research theory recommends that such scales have an odd number of choices (3 and 5 are the recommended numbers). Secondly, the report has chosen to group the first two choices under “total not important” and the latter two under “Total important”. As you can see from the table, these “total” columns are presented in boldface, thus drawing attention. Consequently, given the amount of information in each table, no one really looks at the columns not in bold face. In other words, the Likert scale could have had only two points (important – not important)!
By Sarah Farooqui
A complete policy framework for any vulnerable population group should encompass three things- welfare, protection and rights. India’s policy mechanism for children has over the years evolved (tangentially maybe) to include each of these three aspects and provide a robust system for children, atleast on paper.
Despite this, 75 million children have neither featured in numbers on child labour nor do they attend school. Almost 5.19 lakh children are labourers and Delhi alone has approximately 51,000 vulnerable street children.
The 2013-14 budget allocated 4.64 percent of the entire union budget, for children, which is a climbdown from last year’s 4.78 percent. Breaking it down further, Child Health received 0.16 percent of the total allocation, Child development received 1.10 percent, Education received 3.34 percent and Child protection 0.04 percent.
In 2011, the crimes against children reported a 24 percent increase from the previous year. Strangely enough, the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS)- the most comprehensive policy on child protection in India – faced a reduction in its allocations by 100 crores this year – one-fourths of its budget.
When child protection mechanisms fail its main stake holders, the children, everyone is appalled and the state promises immediate reforms. The recent protests against the rape of a five year old demonstrated this. The government promises reforms, citizens revolt and expect miracles and policy makers flaunt the pages of existing robust policies. The reality though is that unlike other vulnerable population groups, policies for children are poorly funded and implemented. They come under the most neglected area of public policy and there are four reasons for this.
One, often regarded as the domain for women, bleeding hearts or those who could not find better work in the administrative services, child welfare, protection and rights come under ‘soft’ public policy. Outside of emotions, policies for children are usually unappealing.
Two, a general public apathy towards children in India (unless there is a dramatic, media hyped case of rape, abuse, torture, kidnap or death) ensures that there is a lack of constant and necessary dialogue regarding the deficits in implementation and need to consistently beef up allocation and spending.
Three, direct spending on this population group does not help much with vote bank politics or in easily appeasing the adult voter masses.
Four, the need to survive till the next elections and beyond, ensures a lack of foresight (and ignorance towards this population) on the part of those who govern the country. (According to the 2011 census report, 33 percent of Indians are children. Spending on this segment of population should be viewed as an investment in the country’s future).
There is a dire need to bring child polices into the spotlight. Unless aggressive work is done on improving the child policy mechanisms outside the definitions on paper — in realistic budget allocation and spending along with efficient implementation — there will be no improvement. We will continue to have strong laws and policies, but meagre spending and most unfortunately, thousands of vulnerable children.
After the Pakistan Elections
- Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N has begun the process of cabinet formation after the recently concluded general elections in Pakistan. In a significant move that could escalate tensions between the new government and the powerful military establishment, Sharif wants to retain the defense portfolio with himself, according to the Express Tribune. Another article in Dawn, citing sources, claims that Sharif has finalized the name of veteral politician Sartaj Aziz to succeed Asif Zardari as President, whose term ends in September. Meanwhile, the Pakistani Foreign Office said on Thursday that it expected the peace process with India to “pick up momentum in all areas”. Finally, the new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang begins a 2-day state visit to Pakistan on May 22.
Around the World
- ‘Why are so many diplomatic crises sparked by fisherman?’, asks Foreign Policy‘s Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer, in the backdrop of the latest diplomatic standoff between Taiwan and the Philippines over the death of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine Coast Guard. She points to multiple factors, such as Asian waters running out of fish – forcing fishermen to venture further out into foreign waters, to growing nationalism in these countries that escalate the stakes in such episodes, to even countries like China using fishermen as proxies in their disputes with other countries.
- Following the recent deadly textile factory accident in Bangladesh that killed over 1000 people, the US administration has indicated that it might strip Bangladesh of import tariff breaks, in an apparent move to put pressure on the country to improve labour conditions. The existing tariff breaks allow Bangladesh to export a wide variety of goods to the US tax-free, and these exports amounted to $35 million last year.
- A new article in the New York Times’ India Ink blog delves into the factors behind the narrative of Narendra Modi as India’s middle class hero. The author compares Modi with Bo Xilai, the now-disgraced former regional satrap of Chongqing, China, in that both shared attributes of being ambitious regional leaders with strong middle-class and business community support to vie for their country’s top job.
Pavan Srinath yesterday wrote about the water subsidy in Bangalore, arguing in favour of “crisis pricing” of water in order to tide over the current water shortage. To support that he has produced the chart produced below which shows the total subsidy a household gets as a function of consumption.
The interesting thing to note is that there is “indefinite subsidy”. Ideally you would expect to get subsidy only up to a certain level of consumption. However, the data here shows that irrespective of how much you consume, you still get a significant subsidy for the marginal liter of water that you consume.
Pavan’s own comments on this chart can be found on his post at The Transition State
Continuing from yesterday’s post about introducing crisis pricing of water in Bangalore, here’s the real picture of how water gets subsidised for all residents of the city who receive municipal supply.
It turns out that a family of five using the national norm for urban water supply – 135 litres per person per day (LPCD) receives a whopping subsidy of Rs. 9,500 a year! A household using 200 litres per person per day in the city – quite common – receives an even higher subsidy Rs. 13,790 a year! Compare this to the LPG subsidy that the same households will receive: it clocks in at a much lower Rs. 2,800 a year (at Rs. 320 subsidy per cylinder of LPG and 9 cylinders per year). While LPG subsidies need to be reduced and its prices rationalised, I’ll leave it to the readers to see how much air time each issue has received thus far.
As the chart shows, even the maximum price of water levied is lower than the operational costs, so the more profligate a consumer, the higher the subsidy they receive. And this is a rather conservative estimate – one that does not include how the city’s sewerage is also subsidised, nor the heavy capital costs that go into building the infrastructure for the city’s water supply.
And we wonder why we have a crisis around water almost everywhere in the country.
Af-Pak and India
- As India was preoccupied with its recent border tensions with China,a blog-post on The Diplomat highlights the fact that India has given little attention to the other border row in its neighborhood, the one between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which has dramatically escalated in recent weeks. Recent clashes between Afghan and Pakistani forces have centered around the legitimacy of the Durand Line, a British-era border that serves as the de-facto border between the two countries to the west of India. According to the article, India’s stand on the row could be dictated by its recent tensions with China in Aksai-Chin, where its position exactly mirrors that of Pakistan on the Durand line. Both the Durand line and the McMahon line, which separates India and China, are vestiges of British colonial rule and are not recognized by Afghanistan and China respectively. Ironically, that puts India and Pakistan on a similar political position with respect to these separate border disputes.
Around the World
- The diplomatic row between Taiwan and the Philippines seems to have only gotten worse, with Taiwan imposing additional sanctions against the Philippines, despite an apology from the Philippine President for the killing of Taiwanese fishermen in disputed waters. In reaction, the United States has voiced concern over this escalation in tensions, with a US official saying that the country was worried by tensions “between two neighboring democracies and close [US] partners”. Meanwhile, according to the South China Morning Post, this diplomatic dispute ‘has put China in an awkward position, as it faces a dilemma over whether to take firm action against the Philippines and risk being dragged into the controversial “one China” question, or merely stick to verbal condemnation.
- The Arctic Council, the multi-governmental organization which coordinates Arctic policy, has agreed to admit both China and India as observers. This assumes significance, given China’s increasing interest in oil, gas, and minerals and the Arctic’s new emergence as the “critical frontier in the global quest for resources“. Already, China has strong mining interests in Greenland, a region said to have the world’s largest deposits of rare earths. This Wall Street Journal graphic shows each of the eight member states’ the sphere of influence in the Arctic region.
- Japan, the world’s third largest economy, is showing signs of a strong economic recovery, according to data released yesterday. GDP grew by 0.9% in the January-March quarter as compared to the previous quarter, indicating an annualized growth rate of 3.5%. This could be a good report card for Prime Minister Abe’s agressive economic stimulus measures designed to stimulate Japan’s stagnant economy. This growth rate would mean that Japan is outpacing both the US and the Eurozone, but some analysts advise caution, questioning whether the recovery could be sustained.
Bangalore appears to be heading an unprecedented water crisis with plummeting water levels in the KRS reservoir and weak river flows in the Hemavathi. Afshan Yasmeen from The Hindu tells us that the city may have only 20 days of water left, unless the rains relieve us:
Predicting that the city will plunge into unprecedented water crisis if it doesn’t rain in the next few days, the official said at least 2.6 tmcft water is needed to cope till the monsoon arrives. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has also been briefed, the official said.
“If more water from the Hemavathi is not released, we may have to draw water from the dead storage. This requires preparation and precautions as it will be the first time that the dead storage will be touched,” the official said.
Pointing out that Bangalore needs 1,250 mld, he appealed to people to use water judiciously. “We also want people to come up with suggestions on how to manage the situation,” he added. The Hindu, May 16, 2013
With all of Bangalore’s water woes, it must be mentioned that the city has a better history of water management than most other places in India. Managing water is not just about ensuring supply, but also includes the management of demand – of ensuring that people do not waste precious, scarce resources. For one, Bangalore remains one of very few cities in the country which has metered the water connections of most of its residents, ensuring that there is volumetric pricing for water – where people only pay as per the amount of water they use.
Unfortunately, this is far from sufficient. Though water has been priced, it isn’t sufficient to recover even the operational costs of supplying water – let alone manage demand effectively. Though the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has a slab-wise increasing tariff, even the most profligate of consumers pay only Rs. 36 per 1000 litres of water. In comparison, the BWSSB ends up spending about Rs. 48* for the same amount – essentially giving a subsidy of at least 12 rupees per kilo-litre to the richest of Bangaloreans.
Pricing water is always a contentious issue, with politicians and officials wary about increasing tariffs for fear of a popular backlash. However, Bangalore is facing a severe crisis here and every drop of water saved counts. If the state has to draw water from the dead storage at KRS, the costs will be tremendously higher. It is only fair that the users of this water bear their fair share of the costs, instead of off-loading them onto the taxpayer.
It is imperative that the government introduces crisis pricing of water and hike up the rates to ensure its judicious use. Every unit of water from BWSSB that gets wasted is another unit of water that needs to be bought from water tankers – at five to ten times the price. By increasing the municipal tariffs and preventing people from using water for frivolous things like daily car washing, the state can actually up reducing the total cost people spend on domestic water in Bangalore.
We pay more for fruits and vegetables when they are not in season, and we pay even more for them when they are in very short supply. Already there is increasing consensus for introducing electricity prices that are time-dependent: where consumption during peak load hours is more expensive than the rest. Why shouldn’t we pay more for water in the summer, and even more when the city is facing an unprecedented crisis? It is time to let the residents of the city pitch in during a time of trouble.
*The approximate costs for the operational cost of supplying water, after leakage and distribution losses. This does not include all the expenses on building the supply infrastructure, nor does it factor in the externality of pollution and loss to the ecology of the river basin that the supply of water causes.
Varnam | Indian History Carnival-65: India Studies, Harappa, Satavahanas, Radhabhai Saheb Peshwa, Kochi Jews
- Koenraad Elst has a review of S N Balagangadhara’s book Reconceptualizing India Studies
The most acute case of “Orientalism” in the Saidian sense in precisely Nehruvian secularism, the consensus viewpoint shared by most established academics and media. Thus, about caste, “Nehru used Orientalist descriptions of the Indian society of his day and made their facts his own.” (p.74) Citing as example a Western India-watcher, Balu notes that the latter “is not accounting for the Indian caste system by using the notion of fossilized coalitions in India; he is trying to establish the truth of Nehru’s observations (that is, the truth of the Orientalist descriptions of India)”, because the social sciences “where uncontested, (…) presuppose the truth of the Orientalist descriptions of non-Western cultures.” (p.74) That is the problem of the existing “South Asia Studies” in a nutshell. It underscores the need for more serious comparative studies, a field in which Balu has been a pioneer.
- Carnival contributor Fëanor has some Indus gossip
Well, it turns out that there may have been some amount of brutality in the Indus cities too. Skulls were caved in, noses were broken. One can’t be entirely surprised – a purely non-violent society on such a large scale sounds like a pipe-dream. According to , out of eighteen skulls studied from the later Harappan period (1900-1700 BC), nearly half had suffered heavy trauma. More interestingly, they report that the prevalence and patterning of cranial injuries, combined with striking differences in mortuary treatment and demography among the three burial areas indicate interpersonal violence in Harappan society was structured along lines of gender and community membership. To wit, the farther you lived from the city centre (or, possibly if your remains were found outside the city sewers), the likelier you were to have had a more violent death. Furthermore, the Harappan culture appears to have become more violent over time, with women being more affected in the later periods.
- At CRI, Dr Kiran Kumar Karlapu writes about the The Andhra Satavahanas
The emperors of the empire were known for their peculiar custom of matronymics. Gautamiputra and Vasisthiputra were among the rulers of this line who consciously decided to be identified for posterity through their matrilineal heritage than anything else. Romila Thapar in her book is deliberately vague as to the importance of this practice and its allusion towards a matrilineal and probably matriarchal practice among the Satavahanas. Even though inheritance to the throne was certainly patriarchal, this matronymic idea is unique to the Satavahanas. It should also remembered that the two major inscriptions of their period were on the orders of the royal queens (Nasik Inscription by Gautami Balasri and Nanaghat inscription of Naganika) and these are the major sources of information for us about the Satavahana Empire.
- Mohini has started a series on dynamic Maratha women. This time she writes about Radhabhai Saheb Peshwa
When Bajirao 1 and Chimaji Appa were out on their campaigns, it was Radhabai who looked after the affairs of the state in their absence. They had to send detailed reports to her about their campaigns. In 1721 Bajirao1 was to conduct a political meeting with the Nizam of Hyderabad. Radhabai had given him sound advice, whether to meet the Nizam, on what terms, where and when to meet him etc. In 1735 Radhabai decided to go on a pilgrimage to Kashi (Varanasi ). To leave Pune and Shaniwarwada and to embark on this long journey was fraught with danger. Her well wishers were sceptical about this as the Marathas had many enemies on the way. The atmosphere was not conducive for a pilgrimage. Radhabai was a determined person, very proud and self respecting. She had immense faith in her sons Bajirao and Chimaji Appa. Radhabai had proclaimed, ” My Baji is so revered in Hindustan that no one would dare to harm me.”
- Relics of Cranganore has some 19th century photos of the Jews of Cochin
The image was analysed from all the angles; their dress, facial features, background. Few had given a convincing answer but we have to go further more to get a clear idea about this picture. This image which could be considered as one of the most oldest photograph of cochin Jews, but they were not wearing a cochini style costume (which is seen any where in the existing images or photographs) and this image gives a feel of Baghdadi Jewish family (After seeing the Sassoon family photo, Pune/Bombay); if we head forward with that, the possibilities of the family being Bagdadi – it would be from Sassoon clan.
That’s all for this month. The next carnival will be up on June 16th. In the mean time if you have any posts for the next carnival, please send it to varnam dot blog @gmail.
- Indian History Carnival – 15 The Indian History Carnival, published on the 15th of every month, is a collection of posts related to Indian history and archaeology. On February 21 and 22, a conference on...
- Indian History Carnival – 48: Gibb, Taj Mahal, Air India, New Delhi, Coins This is the 4 year anniversary edition of the Indian History Carnival. So let me take this opportunity to thank my contributors who e-mail me various links. This has become...
- Indian History Carnival – 22 The Indian History Carnival, published on the 15th of every month, is a collection of posts related to Indian history and archaeology. In February 2009, a conference was held in...
- Indian History Carnival – 46: Master Painters of India, Dastangoi, Gaspar de Gama, Harikatha “ ‘Wonder of the Age’: Master Painters of India, 1100-1900” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art showcases 800 years of Indian art. NYTimes has a review of this exhibition and...
- Indian History Carnival – 49: Buddha, Danish Factory, Tiruvarur, Zamorin Jayarava investigates if there is any truth to the claim that Buddha’s family followed Dravidian marriage customs? Read the entire post to get the answer. A cross cousin marriage is one in...
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.
While discussing about the proposed Delhi University (DU) reforms, we should separate two things : (i) the need for reforms and (ii) the way in which these reforms are implemented. There are columns in news papers suggesting that the Vice Chancellor is working in an autocratic way and there are columns suggesting that he is working in a democratic way. It would be imprudent to comment on the consultation process without having a first-hand knowledge. One thing is quite clear, there are very minimal attempts made to reach out to the prospective students and stakeholders about the changes. All that we have till date are a few shoddily written pamphlets(Pamphlet A, Pamphlet B, Pamphlet C). There is no comprehensive documentation on the structure or content of the courses. Either the team is callous or it is incapable of executing a project of this kind.
As Ram Guha suggests, if there are any problems in implementation process, it would make sense to delay the implementation of these changes by a year. But to write-off these structural reforms (which are long overdue) as “unnecessary” would be a mistake. There are many astrologers writing columns on how these reforms would “dilute the curriculum” or it would “destroy the university”. It is preposterously naïve to assume that structural changes to curriculum can destroy a university. Curriculum is an important component, but as long as the quality and passion of the faculty and students remain, even if the reforms do not produce desired effect, the university will still remain where it is. As Prof. Chandrachur Singh said, It would be premature to conclude that a great institution like DU can be ruined by one or other such phase. The system’s resilience is in its structure, of which teachers and students form the core.
The need for a reform:
The three year undergraduate degree in India (in all universities) needs a complete restructuring. The job market is not recognizing these degrees as much as it is recognizing a four year (10+2+4) technical degree or (10+2+3+2) MBA/MCA degrees. If we look at the level wise enrolment, 86.11% are enrolled in bachelor degrees and 12.07% in post graduate degrees, which suggests that there are too many bachelor degree holders who are neither absorbed by the industry nor they are enrolled in a Masters program. Also, there has been a steady shift of enrolments from Arts and science groups to engineering and technology courses (as shown below). As Mr. Guha points out, DU has produced some of the finest minds in various sectors but revelling in the achievements of the past, we have ignored the alarm bells for a long time.
Dilution of Course:
The contention that adding multi disciplinary courses dilutes the focus of a degree is a shallow argument. It is true that students make career choices after 10+2 but the real identity of a Bachelors degree is that it teaches a student “how to learn”. Building the capacity to learn is more important at this stage than to create a narrow discipline framework. Any bachelors’ degree should have foundation courses, discipline courses and electives. For those interested in further specialization, there is always a 2 year (4 semesters) master degree, which can accommodate 15-20 specialization courses. Asking for a narrow discipline choice in Bachelors would be asking for a “frog in the well” syndrome.
Course Structure :
There are other universities in India where B.Sc is a group of subjects like M.P.C (Maths, Physics, Chemitry), M.E.S (Maths, Economics and Statistics), C.B.Z (Chemistry, Botony and Zoology). A B.Sc student from this university can later chose his specialization in Masters degree. It is difficult to comprehend from where DU got the idea that a Bachelors course can revolve around one subject. The current curriculum for B.Sc(Maths) is laughable to say the least. There are SIX courses in Operations Research and SIX Courses in statistics. In technical institutions these are taught as one single course in a semester!.. Spoon feeding cannot be called a slow and steady research oriented structure. The time has come for this travesty to stop.
If we look at the course structure at BITS-Pilani, The real difference between a B.E(Hons)(Computers) and B.E(Hons)(Civil) (or between any two disciplines) is just 7-8 courses. The first two years is common for all disciplines, there are seven discipline courses in the third year and the fourth year has common electives buffet for all disciplines and an Industry project. Many students go abroad to pursue their Masters without any difficulty. The university neither got destroyed nor diluted because of this common foundation. Infact, it makes the students learn different disciplines and gives them an option to choose their specialization at a much later stage.
On the other hand, the proposed reforms of DU has just 11 foundation courses, 20 major discipline courses and six minor discipline courses. It is by no means a destruction or a dilution.
As Prof. Chandrachur Singh said, making students learn different subjects at the foundation level is like nurturing a tree with a big trunk, an attempt at broadening the knowledge base, and making it encompass enough to benefit society as a whole. It is not a good sign if University system is producing economics graduates who cannot understand the social issues and students of social sciences who cannot understand economic costs.
The multiple exit options are also important. For someone who is keen on entering Job market after a Bachelors, a 4 year degree makes sense and for someone who is interested in pursuing Masters, it might be a good option to exit after three years.
Logistics and Infrastructure to accommodate an extra year of students :
We have four years to figure-out these.
In short, the need for restructuring the curriculum is very clear. If the Vice Chancellor and his team have to be blamed, it should be for the lack of transparency during implementation.
- In Foreign Policy magazine, John Hannah has written a terrific article that explains Turkish Prime Minister Recap Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to solve his country’s long-standing “Kurdish problem” – the ‘bloody conflict that has torn at the fabric of the Turkish state since its founding 90 years ago’. Calling Erdogan’s efforts ‘a colossal role of the political dice’, and ‘an act of statesmanship, ambition, and hubris largely without parallel on the current world stage’, Hannah argues that this move could have profound implications in Turkey’s immediate neighborhood, namely in Syria and Iraq, countries with significant Kurdish minority populations. Already, the process appears to have triggered the Turkey-backed main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, to adopt a more conciliatory attitude towards Kurdish issues. Also on Tuesday, the first group of fifteen Kurdish militants left Turkey and returned to Iraq, under a peace plan that was formulated after the March ceasefire between the the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish Government.
- Meanwhile, in what appears to be a related development, a Turkish state-run oil firm has entered into an agreement on Tuesday with Exxon Mobil and northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government to develop oil projects, a deal which, according to analyst,s is fraught with political risks. This deal puts Turkey in the middle of the tussle between Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government over rights to northern Iraq’s vast oil resources. The United States also finds itself caught between supporting the aspirations of its ally Turkey, without alienating Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has already termed the deal as illegal.
Around the World
- Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has revealed that it has caught a US CIA agent who was attempting to recruit a top Russian security services officer with promises of up to $1 million a year. According to the Christian Science Monitor, this is the first high-profile arrest of a US diplomat since the Cold War era. According to Russian experts, there might be a political subtext to this development, given that US-Russia relations are at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
- In a move that has surprised most observers, a close aide to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made an unannounced visit to North Korea, raising hopes of an easing of tensions in the region, which has seen an escalation of threats over the past few months. Japan broke off talks with North Korea last December, after Pyongyang announced plans to fire a long-range rocket in defiance of international sanctions. Since then, North Korea has warned of pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the United States and South Korea, though these threats have moderated since the start of May.
- John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, announced yesterday that he expected the proposed Syria peace conference, backed by both Washington and Moscow, to be held in early June. According to Kerry, the Syrian regime has already shared the names of its potential negotiators at the conference to Russian officials, a strong signal that the regime is planning to attend the conference as well. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood has for the first time opened direct contacts with Syrian opposition groups, by providing them with cash and an offer of political collaboration.
Mohit Satyanand replied to my earlier post on Food Security Bill with a couple of comments. He mentioned that only about 40% of the beneficiaries are going to get rice while the other 60% are going to get wheat. He also pointed me to the site of the Food Corporation of India where they give the official “all in” costs of rice and wheat (Rs. 27 and Rs. 19 respectively). I still believe that the wholesale market price is a better measure of the all-in price, but it would be useful to see what the subsidy number works out to given the official government numbers on prices.
Notice that the total subsidy has now come to about 6% of the budget, which is still massive. There are of course other problems with the bill – such as distortion of markets, but those are outside the scope of this blog so I’ll stop here.