Group Blog: The Indian National Interest
by Revendra T
Left Wing Extremism in Andhra Pradesh
All the districts in Andhra Pradesh are Maoist affected . There is ample evidence that proves that Naxalites penetrated into the Telangana movement. Maoist sympathisers are already part of the political system in Telangana enjoying sympathy and public support. KCR, the supremo of TRS promised to implement Maoist Agenda after the formation of Telangana state.
The Planning Commission’s report has mentioned that in Andhra Pradesh, Maoists (Peoples War Group) spread across 15 districts with a history of targeting public representatives, police officers and police posts. They generate substantial funds through contractors, landlords and business houses and block the state’s development programs.
With 7 of 12, highly Left Wing Extremism affected districts in Seemandhra, the Maoists have tremendous opportunity to destabilise the newly formed state. Raging angst in Seemandhra against the State bifurcation and the ruling party provides Maoists an opportunity to garner public support in the region.
Inter-state border vulnerabilities
Maoists prevalence is more in Dandakaranya region, which spreads over the border districts of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Police at Andhra-Chattisgarh border are struggling to counter the tactics used by the Maoists. Khammam, Nalgonda, Mahabubnagar– the highly affected Maoist districts in Telangana share a border with East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Prakasham and Kurnool districts of Seemandhra. Additionally, three Telangana districts (Adilabad, Karimnagar, Khammam) and five Northern Andhra districts (West Godavari, East Godavari, Vishakapatnam, Vizianagaram, Srikakulam) fall under Dandakaranya sharing borders with Maharshtra, Chattisgarh and Odisha.
The border regions are conducive for Maoists to employ Guerrilla Warfare, which further complicates the challenge to the states. Dr Ajai Sahni, an expert on counter terrorism states that the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh would be the last hope that the Maoists might be nursing for their revival in the state. He goes on to say that it was unlikely that it would benefit the Naxalites, despite lending their support to the Telangana movement.
However, the situation on the ground is different. Both the states are vulnerable during the process of bifurcation and will be operating under different political climates. This sets a platform for Naxals to expand and exploit every opportunity to destabilise the establishment. Given their fluency in the regional language and their established network, Maoists have an edge to penetrate and strengthen their presence. Oncethey cement their position, their traditional attacks on development activities by the government are likely continue.
Keeping aside the speculation on the activities that could be carried out by Maoists in Telangana and residual Andhra, there are three questions that arise-
One, does a Naxal sympathetic government in Telangana share a common objective to eliminate or minimize the threats posed by the Naxals?
Two, does such a government share intelligence and cooperate with the government in Seemandhra to tackle the security threats posed by the Naxals?
Three, does it share the facilities and infrastructure in the Hyderabad Police Academy, with a police department on Seemandhra?
The cabinet note on creating a new state of Telangana by bifurcating Andhra Pradesh has no mention of measures to address the internal security challenges during the process of bifurcation. Potential Maoists threats loom over the newly formed Telangana and residual Andhra Pradesh states. It is expected from the Union and the state governments, that steps are taken to design and reconfigure the internal security architecture; train and equip both the state polices to tackle the maoist threat; and establish cooperation between police departments of both the regions.
The Maoist threat in these regions is here to stay and its longevity depends on the cooperation between the authorities of Telangana and Seemandhra. The newly formed states should be self sufficient with security infrastructure and preparation to tackle the Maoists rather than to seek the Union government’s help every time.
Revendra T is a Bangalore based student of public policy.
Common wisdom is that disinvestment in India was on a high back in the days when Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister, when there was a dedicated Ministry of Disinvestment under Arun Shourie. The UPA, upon coming to power in 2004, disbanded this ministry and common wisdom is that disinvestment stopped as a result of that.
Here, we take a look at disinvestment in India over the years. Here is the total disinvestment amount by year:
You can see that there was a spike in disinvestment in 2003-04, which was Vajpayee’s last year as Prime Minister. You can also see that disinvestment ground to a halt in the first term of the UPA government – possibly as a result of the presence of the Left Front as part of the government. However, you may not have realized that in its second avatar the UPA government has taken up disinvestment with a vengeance, with the receipts in the last four years far exceeding the receipts during Vajpayee’s tenure as Prime Minister.
However, the picture becomes clear if we look at the method of disinvestment. Most disinvestment receipts in the 1990s and in the last five years have come through a sale of minority stakes in PSUs. The disinvestment receipts in the Vajpayee years, however, came mostly through majority stake sales and strategic sales. In other words, there has been no big bang disinvestment in the last ten years – the money the government has made is through quiet sales of minority stakes in PSUs. So one can say that big bang disinvestment has ground to a halt after Vajpayee’s tenure.
On the Telangana statehood.
In his book Size and Democracy, Robert Dahl comprehensively analysed the impact of size (of the territory) in a democracy and argued that both democracy and governance are size-neutral. However, as Dahl notes in his book, there is no convergence of opinion among political scientists on this issue. Aristotle felt that the size of population should be so small that citizens can assemble at one place and hear the speaker. Plato went one step ahead and estimated the optimal size of a governable citizen body to be 5040. Montesquieu took a complex stand when he said “if a republic is small, it is destroyed by an outside force; if it is large it is destroyed by an internal vice”.
There is a clamour for smaller states in India and there are parties, for instance like the BJP, which support the idea of smaller states with the argument that they states can be governed better. Though we do not have enough data to support or reject this claim in Indian context, this blogger feels that governance is dependant more on the quality of administrative machinery than on the size of the state.
The recent agitation for the formation of Telangana and the subsequent counter-agitation for the united state of Andhra Pradesh should be handled very delicately. The issue is not about formation of one more state, the real issues are:
- What are the principles on which new states can be formed?
- Are these decisions which can have profound consequences shaped by narrow political thoughts compromising national interest?
- Is the government exercising all the options to address political dissent or is it incentivizing further dissent from similar groups?
- If we continue to have a union list as big as ours then is it practically possible to forge a consensus among so many states on crucial national issues?
- Fairness in separation.
The initial argument pushed by the advocates of separate state was that the Telangana region was neglected economically and that their culture was ridiculed by the rest of the state. While the economic neglect theory did not stand the scrutiny of Sri Krishna Commission, the issue of culture is a side show. All the three regions of the state have their own culture, traditions and dialect and it is difficult to argue that boundaries, even if internal, should be redrawn based on these issues. Similarly, there were arguments that Telangana movement has decades of history. The truth is that there were brief time intervals when this movement surfaced and subsided. But it is a complete exaggeration to attribute decades of continuity to the Telangana movement. In fact, in 1972 there was a Jai Andhra movement for the creation of separate Andhra state which was resolved after prolonged negotiation and unrest following which the then chief minister P V Narsimha Rao had to resign (and President’s Rule was imposed).
While the current sentiment at the ground level in both the regions cannot be denied, if we consider the 2009 elections, Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS) which spearheaded the agitation for a separate state won only 10 seats. If we have the time to listen and space to accommodate, then every agitation can be traced to some historical roots. This issue is no different. What is deplorable is the way all the political parties except BJP (which has always had a consistent stand on this issue) played with the emotions of the people, and changed their stands according to intensity of agitations in the respective regions.
A democracy has to deal with the issues of political dissent, regional representation and demands for self-governance. The state can use force, compromise and concessions as tools of negotiation. If forming a separate state is the only political alternative, then so be it, but there has to be fairness in separation. The United Andhra (Samaikyandhra movement) where schools and offices are shutdown in many places of Andhra and Rayalaseema regions of the state for over 63 days is, in effect, opposition to the unfair proposals of separation. Lots of public resources went into building a capital city like Hyderabad to transform it to a hub of revenue and employment generation. Can any one part of the region now claim ownership over these assets and demand separation? What if a new capital city is built in Vijayawada or Kurnool, and after a few decades the respective region wants to separate and use all the resources of the new capital for themselves?
If the demand from the people of Telangana is just for self governance, then it should not really matter whether Hyderabad is a joint capital or a Union Territory. But the fierce opposition to any such proposals from the political parties of Telangana region shows the real motive.
The final solution to the problem should be an outcome of negotiation between people of the two regions. However, the manner in which central government is taking decisions sitting in Delhi and the way in which the entire issue has become a mere variable for optimising 2014 electoral equations is highly regrettable.
Italy’s Government Coalition Crisis
Prime Minister Enrico Letta gave an ultimatum after the cabinet failed to agree on measures to bring the budget deficit in line with EU limits. The centre-right pre-empted Letta’s resignation citing the tax hike as the reason, which did not go down well with the coalition partners. All ministers from former PM Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right party (People of Freedom Party) resigned from the coalition government and forced a confidence motion for Letta’s government. Enrico Letta went on to win the senate confidence vote with a sweeping majority and Berlusconi had to abandon his bid to topple the government. Letta said it was time to call a halt to the threats and ultimatums which had dominated the coalition since Berlusconi faced imminent expulsion from the Senate with his definitive criminal conviction in August. Italy’s pressing socio-economic problems included a record youth unemployment rate and a large public debt having repercussions to the Eurozone.
Bangladesh’s Nuclear Power Plant
Bangladesh laid the foundation stone for its maiden nuclear power plant at northwestern Rooppur of Pabna district, 200 kilometres north of Dhaka. The Rooppur plant would be built in line with directives of the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) which gave its green signal for the project in 2007. On November 3, 2011, Bangladesh and Russia had signed an agreement for installation of the 2,000-megawatt (mw) nuclear power plant; Bangladesh planned to produce from one part of the plant 1000mw of power by June, 2020.
Venezuela – U.S Flare-Up
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro expelled three US diplomats and accused them of interventionism and backing plots to sabotage the Venezuelan economy. Washington in turn expelled Venezuela’s highest-ranking diplomat in the United States and two others from its embassy in retaliation for Venezuela’s booting out three American diplomats. The flare-up derailed tentative moves to improve relations between Caracas and Washington since President Nicolas Maduro took over from the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez. Venezuela, an OPEC nation, suffered from soaring inflation, electricity shortage, violence, and severe policy paralysis. Critics of Maduro pointed out that Maduro continued a Chavez-era tactic of inventing crises to divert focus from economic and social ills affecting its 29 million people. Despite frayed political relations between Venezuela and the United Sates, the latter remained Venezuela’s main oil export market.
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The sacred obligation we owe to the Mahatma.
“We shall never achieve solidarity unless new facts are made to suit the principle instead of performing the impossible feat of changing the principle to suit existing facts” said Mahatma Gandhi in connection with the Malabar riots. We seem to have taken this statement literally. Every political party today invents its own facts to align its party’s ideology to the Gandhian principles. Ironically, it includes parties and individuals of ideologies whom Gandhi always stood against.
Gandhiji was always aware of the fact that forging a national unity in a deeply divided and polarised country like India was a risky venture. He thus wanted our political life to be guided strictly by moral principles. He wanted national integration to be based on unity in diversity instead of homogeneity championed by the nationalist parties. Gandhi was frighteningly consistent in his principles of truth and non-violence. He used religion in politics as a source of moral principles but always cautioned against mixing religion and politics. In 1942, he said that “Religion is a personal matter which should have no place in politics.” And again in 1947: “Religion is the personal affair of each individual. It must not be mixed up with politics or national affairs.
There were “nationalistic” forces then which alleged that Gandhi was biased towards Muslims. That in today’s political lingo would be called “appeasement”. Even a person of Gandhi’s stature had to painfully explain that the religious accommodation, even by giving concessions to certain groups, is something we should be proud of:
You may say I am partial to the Musalmans. So be it, though the Musalmans do not admit it. But my religion will not suffer by even an iota, by reason of my partiality. I shall have to answer my God and my Maker if I give anyone less than his due, But I am sure that He will bless me if He knows that I gave some one more than his due. I ask you to understand me.
If my hand or heart has done anything more than was any one’s due, you should be proud of it, rather than deplore it. It should be a matter of pride to you as Hindus to think that there was amongst you at least one man Gandhi who was not only just to the Musalmans, but even went out of his way in giving them more than their due. Hinduism is replete with instances of tolerance, sacrifice and forgiveness. Think of the sacrifice of the Pandavas, think of the forgiveness of Yudhishthira. Should it be a matter of sorrow for you that there is at least one man who has tried to carry out the precept of Hinduism to the letter?
I would not sell my soul to buy India’s freedom. And if I want Muslim friendship, it is not for personal gratification but for India’s sake.
The nationalist movement, under Gandhi’s leadership, was a carefully executed experiment executed to not just make India free from British. It was also simultaneously used as an opportunity to build a strong foundation on which a stable and sustainable republic could be built. As Bipan Chandra notes :
The national movement thus bequeathed to independent India the political tration of compromise, accommodation and reconciliation of different interests and points of view. Nehru worked within this tradition in evolving national policies after independence. This approach is, however, now running rather thin. It was, of course never easy to transfer this tradition of mass movement to a party of governance or to parties of opposition for that matter. But it was an invaluable experience and legacy for all those who wanted to build a strong and prosperous India and a just and egalitarian society.
As Prof Yogendra Yadav and Ramchandra Guha have pointed out in their books and lectures, there were few political scientists and commentators in 1947 who gave India a chance to survive as a union after independence. Gandhi, with the support of other national leaders, executed an experiment which could not even be imagined at that time.
It is, however, important to realise that no achievement in statecraft is permanent, much less in deeply diverse societies. The enemies which threaten the union are not always from outside our borders, they were—and are—always within. At the risk of being provocative, let me say that there were some important similarities between Godse and Gandhi. Both were nationalistic, patriotic, loved India and wanted it to be united. But Gandhi believed that India can only be united if Indians practiced tolerance and accommodation. Godse though felt that because of tolerance and appeasement of Gandhi, India was compromising more than it should. It is for this suspicion, backed by irrational nationalistic fervour, we lost the father of our nation. However, the ideological progeny of those who spread those suspicions and fears are still at large. They may wear different masks and use different slogans but they pose the same danger. We must contest them ideologically, socially, culturally and politically. It is a sacred obligation we owe to the Mahatma.
So, having been the source of a well-directed plant that led to commotion and friction between India and Pakistan in New York, Hamid Mir in a column in today’s Jang entitled “Alvida, Manmohan Singh” argues that the end is nigh where Manmohan Singh’s tenure as PM is concerned and that Pakistan is better off waiting for India’s general elections to conclude before pursuing dialog on bilateral issues. Excerpts follow:
Nawaz Sharif’s attempts at bringing to attention the Kashmir issue in New York angered Manmohan Singh who then used his meeting with U.S. president Barack Obama to spread propaganda against Pakistan and level accusations against us during his UNGA address.
But Manmohan Singh forgets that the attack on the Samjhauta Express occurred during his own tenure and that there has yet to be any sentencing, despite the fact that a retired colonel of the Indian army was identified as being involved in the incident. Indeed, during Dr. Singh’s tenure, a covert unit under the command of Gen. VK Singh was planning to spread terror in Pakistan.
There is no doubt that non-state actors from Pakistan have targeted India; however, these non-state actors have been targeting Pakistan far more than they have India over the last few years. Such non-state actors are also present in India. But India ignores its internal actors and blames Pakistan instead.
Nawaz Sharif was clear in his conversations with Manmohan Singh that Pakistan desires peace, but let India not mistake this desire as a sign of weakness. Nawaz Sharif’s inclusion of Kashmir in his address to the UNGA angered Manmohan Singh enough to complain to Barack Obama. Perhaps Manmohan Singh was under the illusion that Barack Obama had a remote through which he could control Nawaz Sharif’s speech and compel him to not bring up the Kashmir issue at the UNGA.
Ultimately, Nawaz Sharif did meet with Manmohan Singh, but this was a meeting to bid farewell. Manmohan Singh’s tenure as PM will end in a few months. He will retire and perhaps write a memoir recollecting his inconclusive negotiations with Gen. Musharraf. Pakistan and Nawaz Sharif, however, should pursue plans for rapprochement with a new leadership after the elections in India. [روزنامہ جنگ]
What does this all mean for India? As a result of the meeting between Dr. Singh and Nawaz Sharif, the DGMOs of India and Pakistan are set to meet to discuss plans to restore the sanctity of the LoC. However, Pakistan apparently doesn’t see any incentive to restore the ceasefire until it is able to negotiate with an Indian leadership post the general elections in May 2014.
Translation for India: expect a hot border for the next several months. The LoC ceasefire is not likely to be restored any time soon.
Thailand- Myanmar Bilateral Cooperation
Thura Shwe Mann, Myanmar’s Parliamentary speaker was on a five-day trip to Thailand to hold talks with Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Both leaders discussed the possibility of amending laws and regulations on border trade to facilitate their cross-border cargo transport after the ASEAN Community (AC) was formed by 2015. The two governments agreed to accelerate work on the Dawei Special Economic Zone in southern Myanmar’s Tenasserim Division which would also meet Thailand’s target on increasing the value of border trade with Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Malaysia. The leaders also discussed security issues. Tensions had mounted after troops were deployed to Hsinphyu Theingone and Meikonkit islands on the Moei River which bordered Kayin State, Eastern Myanmar and Tak Province, Thailand. Myanmar and Thailand had agreed to withdraw military forces from the disputed islands on the Moei River.
Myanmar to Sign a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement
At the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York, Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin stated that the ethnic and religious violence that exploited the country’s newfound openness would not be allowed as it struggled along the path to democracy. The comments came after the latest outbreak of sectarian tension where armed police dispersed a Buddhist mob that torched houses and surrounded a mosque; where terrified Muslims hid in their homes in the Northwest. The minister pointed out that there would soon be signed a nationwide ceasefire agreement which would ensure lasting peace.
Turkey- China Missile Deal
Turkey might co-produce a long-range air and missile defense system with a Chinese firm under U.S. sanctions. There would be multi-dimensional issues that would rise; if the final decision was made. On one hand, there were technical and economic dimensions and on the other hand, there was an alliance dimension. Turkey, a member of the NATO military alliance, indicated that it would buy a long-range missile-defense system from China- CPMIEC (China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp) over rival systems from Russian, U.S. and European firms. The CPMIEC was under U.S. sanctions for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act. About half of Turkey’s network-based air defense radars have been paid for by NATO, and are part of the NATO Air Defense Ground Environment. Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül stated that the purchase was not definite and that China was at the top of the shortlist.
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We will continue to stick with the state-wise data on agriculture. In this edition, we will look at the largest crop by state, by year. We define this as the crop with the biggest acreage in the state.
No fancy visualizations here. Just data presented in a table. Two tables, actually, one for kharif and one for rabi. For each year these two tables show the biggest crop per state.
Offered without comment.
(click on images for larger size)
UN Inspectors Prepared to Dismantle Syrian Chemical Weapons
After weeks of discussion and negotiations between Russian and American diplomats, the UN adopted an internationally binding resolution that compelled Syria to destroy all of its chemical weapons. The resolution did not contain any mechanism that would allow sanctions according to chapter seven of the UN Charter – ranging from economic sanctions to military action. A team of engineers, chemists and paramedics left the Netherlands for Syria to embark on a landmark mission in the history of disarmament; to dismantle one of the world’s biggest chemical weapons arsenals, in their efforts to abide by a UN security council resolution to destroy about 1,000 tonnes of nerve agents such as sarin and other poisonous gases. It remained unclear how the numerous conflict parties in Syria and their regional sponsors would react to this resolution. Agreeing to a UN resolution to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons was an important step forward for UN diplomacy. However, it also reflected an overall lack of assertiveness on the West’s behalf.
Singh- Sharif Meet
Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. India stated that the situation along the Line of Control (LoC) needed to be improved as a precondition to further peace talks. The two leaders discussed terrorism issues, Kashmir, as well as trade and commerce. While not much might have come out the talks, rarely has there been a need for improved ties between India and Pakistan given the recent escalation of violence along the Kashmir border. Rohan Joshi stated that the thaw in Indo-Pakistan ties that some hoped for in New York was degenerating rapidly into a farce. Pakistani and Indian leaders had frequently found their efforts at diplomacy undone by the spoiling tactics of hard-liners. The meeting gave little real hope for a fresh start in relations.
Karzai’s Visit to China
Hamid Karzai paid a four-day state visit to China at Xi’s invitation. He also attended the 2013 Euro-Asia Economic Forum held in Xi’an. Their talks covered political, military, economic and cultural relations, as well as the regional situation. An agreement on prisoners’ exchange, a deal between Kabul and Xiang universities and a renewal of mining contracts would be signed between the two countries. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that China would work with the international community to promote balanced development of Afghanistan’s security, stability and contentment of the people, and would promote the regional peace, stability and development. The Afghan government had been striving to attract foreign businesses and those from China in particular to participate in the country’s peaceful reconstruction.
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The Wolf’s Head is a retelling of the Robin Hood legend. The first book in the series is the story of how Robin Hood, a normal man, becomes an outlaw to save himself and in the process gets entangled in national politics. The book was self-published and is a bestseller in UK. Here is my interview with Steven A. McKay.
JK: The legend of Robin Hood has been around for centuries. Countless books have been written and numerous movies have been made. In fact I found that there was a movie made as recent as 2013. So what made you decide that this is a subject you want to tackle?
I’m a big fan of Bernard Cornwell’s King Arthur books, and I wanted to do something similar, with a similar kind of hero. I’m from Great Britain, so I wanted to base my book here. I had these ideas but couldn’t think of a good character to base my series around. I was in my car thinking about it, and I drove into a street and saw a house that had the name “Sherwood” which is where most Robin Hood stories are set. It was really like a message from God, I instantly thought of Robin and realised he would be the perfect guy to write about.
JK: Before reading your book, the only knowledge I had about Robin Hood was that he stole from the rich and gave it to the poor and your book stays truthful to that. But it goes to his backstory and explains how he became an outlaw. Is there a different perspective that you are bringing to the folklore?
Well, there are lots of different variations of the legend, but the majority of them, including the 2013 film, suggest Robin was a nobleman – an Earl or a returning Templar knight or something like that. But when I looked back at the very first stories ever told about Robin, he was just a regular guy. He wasn’t rich, or a Lord, or anything like that, he was just like the rest of us. So I decided to go with that and make my version of the character a normal man who gets on the wrong side of the law, which was very corrupt anyway.
The idea that he stole from the rich and gave to the poor makes sense, which is why I mostly stuck to that – the rich were the only people it was WORTH stealing from – why steal a few coins from a poor man when you could steal a lot of coins from a rich man? And, since the outlaws would need a lot of help from the local villagers, they would have had to have kept them on their side. Giving the local people food and money would have made them much more likely to help Robin and his friends.
JK: Your book is a retelling of the Robin Hood legend set in 1321 in Yorkshire, rather than the usual 12 century in Nottingham. Why is this important?
It’s important in terms of how I approached the story. England in 1321 was going through a lot of political upheaval and strife, so I thought it would make an interesting backdrop for the outlaws’ adventures. It’s also important because, as you say, there are a lot of movies, books, TV shows etc about Robin Hood already, and they’re all set in the 12th century so I felt I had to offer something fresh to the legend. Ultimately, it all goes back to those very first stories: to me, the “real” Robin, the guy that all these tales were told about, would have actually lived in the 14th century, not the 12th, and the stories also placed him and his men in Barnsdale, in Yorkshire. I wanted to make the novel as historically accurate as I could, so it was a simple choice to write about Yorkshire in 1321.
JK: The folks who appear in the story, Matilda, Will Scarlet, Little John…is there any historical basis to these characters?
It’s very hard – impossible! – to say with any certainty whether any of these people really lived in the form the legends speak about. Certainly, a man called Robert Hood lived around the time and was married to a girl called Matilda (Maid Marion is a much later addition to the original legend). There is also some evidence that a man that could well have been Little John came from the village of Hathersage and the sheriff, Henry de Faucumberg lived, and was the sheriff of both Nottingham and Yorkshire. In my opinion, those old stories must have been based around real people – people who fought against the corrupt lawmen and were loved by the peasants because of it. Over time, of course, their deeds were exaggerated, names subtly changed and so on, but that’s what makes the Robin Hood legend so interesting – everyone can have their own interpretation of it, because no one knows for sure what the truth is.
JK: Who are some of the writers who have influenced you? What are some of your favorite historical fiction books which you have read in the past few years?
Bernard Cornwell is my biggest hero in historical fiction, but I also love to read about the Romans. Douglas Jackson is great, I love his books, and he’s a Scotsman like me! Glyn Iliffe writes fantastic books about Odysseus, and he was a big influence, since he also took a well-loved legend and tried (very successfully in my opinion) to make it fresh and new. Outwith the historical stuff, I love the way David Gemmell wrote his heroes, that guy really knew how to describe a fight scene!
JK: Writing historical fiction is hard because you have to get not just the plot and characterization right, but the period detail as well. What was your preparation like? Did you spend a lot of time reading about that period to get the food, clothing and weapons right or did you focus on the plot and fill the details later?
Yes, when I first decided to write about the 14th century I read as much about the period as I could, and about the Robin Hood legend, before I even started to think about writing my novel. Graham Phillips and Professor JC Holt’s books were essential reading for the whole background. For specific things though, like maybe a character’s favourite meal, I would leave it until I’d finished the first draft then do some more in-depth research on what kind of thing they would have eaten back then. You really have to be careful, because people pick up on little things and it can ruin their enjoyment of the story. For example, in my first draft of the book, I had one of the men making a stew with potatoes – potatoes hadn’t been introduced in England at that time, and I knew that, but I’d let that slip in and only noticed as I proof-read it. It’s a minor point, but like you say, these period details are very important in creating a powerful, believable setting.
JK: At the end of the book you mention that you had collapsed various Sheriffs into one. How accurate should historical fiction be? Can the writer deliberately omit information or enhance it?
In my opinion, the most important thing is telling a great story. As you say, I decided to have just one sheriff, who will feature throughout the series, rather than having a variety of different men that readers would have to get to know. Since no one knows for sure who the REAL Sheriff in the Robin Hood legend was, I didn’t see a problem with that. I did try to have real names for the characters where I could – I spent a lot of time on that and, to be honest, probably only a tiny fraction of readers would even notice. How many readers know, or care, who the Archbishop was in 1321? Ultimately, I do think the history should be as accurate as possible, but if it makes the story better and it’s something minor then I have no problem with things being omitted or enhanced. No potatoes in stews though!
JK: Adding too much historical detail can make the book look like a history book. Adding less will not transport the reader to the right period. How do you come up with the right mix of spices? Do you have any guidelines?
As I say, I steeped myself in medieval history books for a while so I got into the right frame of mind to write about the period, but in general I just write scenes as they come out then I might go back and add in something like the correct design for a coat-of-arms or a description of a medieval manor house. I’m not the type to put in too much history, because I’m not a historian. In fact, I probably know a lot more about the Romans and the Greeks than I do about medieval Britain since my Bachelor of Arts degree was built mostly on those eras. I think each writer, and indeed reader, has their own idea of how much history should be in a novel. I don’t have any guidelines other than “less is more”!
JK: Sue Grafton said this about self-published writers, “Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. “ As a successful self-published author, what do you think about it?
I don’t know who Sue Grafton is, but she’s a lucky lady if she managed to find a publisher. The problem is, publishers aren’t willing to take a chance on a new writer very often these days – as everyone points out, Stephen King and JK Rowling were rejected countless times. Publishers want someone who is going to sell tens of thousands of books for them without them having to put in much effort in marketing or promotion. What does Sue Grafton suggest new writers do if they can’t find an agent or a publisher? Give up? Why should we? I don’t know, I haven’t read the interview where she said that, so I don’t know the context, but it’s the same with music. Bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica couldn’t get record deals at first, so they put their music out themselves – self-publishing basically – and now millions of people all over the world, including me, enjoy their music.
I don’t really care what Sue Grafton thinks to be honest, I’ve never heard of her until now. Does she listen to Iron Maiden?
JK: Based on your experience, what are some of the tips that you would give to someone who would like to write historical fiction other than the obvious ones like “read a lot” and “write daily”
Well I don’t suggest people write daily anyway – I only write when I feel like it! I don’t see much point in forcing myself to write every day, when much of it will end up being scrapped, so I would say you should only write when you are in the mood and have a good idea of what you’re going to be doing with the characters in that particular session. Writing is an art, not a science, so everyone can approach it however they like – just do what works and what feels right. The most important thing is that YOU enjoy what you’re writing – that’s why I don’t need to force myself to write every day. I know I’ll get it done eventually because it’s FUN! It’s a hobby, like playing Xbox, or playing guitar or playing football you know?
And don’t give up. Yes, everyone dreams of finding a publisher and becoming the next Tolkien, Dickens or Sue Grafton, but it’s so easy these days to self-publish that you CAN take your stories to people all around the world. I’ve done it, and plenty of other people have too, so take heart and get writing (when you feel like it)!
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Census towns are formed by villages that show an increasingly urban character in terms of density, size and economy. They are considered towns only by the Census and not by state governments and are hence called ‘Census towns’ as opposed to ‘statutory towns’. Census towns are governed locally by village panchayats.
Why are census towns relevant from a sanitation perspective? Rural sanitation in India is still stuck at a level where a majority of people continue to defecate in the open, and less than 1 in 3 households have a toilet. Understanding what drives people to build and use toilets is necessary to change this. Urban India fares much better in toilet ownership – but fails quite spectacularly in other aspects of sanitation like waste collection and disposal.
Census towns are of interest here because they are places which have *just* urbanised, and are still at the margin. Census towns get called so when they have crossed all three of the following thresholds: a population density of 500 people per square kilometre, village size of 5,000 residents and 75 percent of the working age male population employed in non-agricultural sectors.
So how do census towns fare in toilet ownership compared to their rural surroundings? I compare census towns with the rural taluk (sub-district) in terms of toilet ownership for the state of Karnataka. The taluks are ordered in an ascending order of toilet ownership.
Census towns in Karnataka appear to have much higher toilet ownership than their rural surroundings. And when the rural base goes higher than 20 percent, most of the census towns cross the 80 percent mark in toilet ownership.
Several things change between census towns and other villages. The services sector would have taken off in census towns, likely also resulting in higher incomes. But the most important change is that of population density. This increase in density results in a reduction in open spaces where people can defecate conveniently. If people have to go more than say 200 yards every time they need to relieve themselves, then the case for a toilet becomes a lot stronger. The ‘call of nature’ becomes more difficult as nature is beating a retreat out of the census town.
Urbanisation seems solve the toilet ownership problem. But toilets are far from sufficient in a city to achieve the public good that is sanitation. Waste collection and treatment become vital – be it through a sewerage network, local treatment plants, septage management or some other means.
One of the most massive data sets on data.gov.in is district-wise data on the total area under cultivation and production of various crops for each season for each year from 1998 to 2010. In this post we will look at which states utilize the most amount of land growing each crop.
First, a note on the data. The data is district-wise and season-wise. The irritating thing is that the seasons are not mutually exclusive. The seasons in the data set are “Summer”, “Kharif”, ”Autumn”, “Winter”, “Rabi” and “Whole Year”. First of all, I don’t know what “Autumn” means in India – as far as I know India doesn’t have one such season. Granting some liberties, it is irritating that seasons overlap.
Here is how I’ve consolidated the data. For either crop, for each year, I took the total area under cultivation for each state for each season. Next, I looked at the maximum area under cultivation in a particular state at a particular point in time (any time in the 12 years of data I have). So the data I present in this post is the maximum area in a particular state that was under a particular crop at some point of time in the 1998-2010 time period.
So, who grows wheat in India? The graph here shows the states with the maximum area under wheat:
Notice that Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have had much more area under wheat than Punjab or Haryana. Also notice that only eight states in India have ever had more than 5000 square kilometers of land growing wheat. To put this in perspective let us look at rice:
Here I have put the cutoff (for entry to the graph) at 10000 square kilometer, and yet fourteen states make the cut. In terms of area under cultivation at least, we can say that we are a predominantly rice growing country. Again, in rice, notice that Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have more area under cultivation of rice than more “traditional” rice growing areas like Orissa or West Bengal.
Which state has the biggest proportion of its land area under wheat? And rice? The next two graphs show the proportion of land under wheat and under rice in each state (note again that these are maximum values over a decade).
There is much more information in this particular data set. We will revisit it in subsequent posts.
Will the real Hamid Mir please stand up?
The great thaw in Indo-Pakistan ties that some hoped for in New York is degenerating rapidly into a farce. When the new civilian administration came to power in Pakistan, it appeared eager to improve relations with India. Mian Nawaz Sharif said his agenda for peace with India in his previous tenure was derailed by Gen. Musharraf.
Then in August, five Indian soldiers were killed by Pakistani troops, who ventured across the LoC into J&K to carry out the attack. Mr. Sharif offered to meet Prime Minister Singh at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Initially cool to the offer given an increasing number of LoC violations, the PM eventually agreed to a meeting.
In his speech at the UNGA, Mr. Sharif said he hoped for a “new beginning” with India. He then ushered in this new beginning by raking up the Kashmir issue, warning that the “suffering of people cannot be brushed under the carpet, because of power politics.” With the atmosphere vitiated, Dr. Singh responded in his own speech by asserting that Jammu & Kashmir was an integral part of India and that “there can never, ever, be a compromise with the unity and territorial integrity of India.”
While Pakistan and India were busy reverting to predictable and boring positions in the Big Apple, drama was unfolding in Pakistan. Hamid Mir, journalist and CEO of Geo Television, appeared via phone on a Pakistani show called “Aapas ki Baat” to update viewers on his meeting with Nawaz Sharif this morning.
Mr. Mir put it across that Mr. Sharif was unhappy with the Indian PM’s speech and discussions about Pakistan with U.S. president Barack Obama. Nawaz Sharif, Mr. Mir said, told NDTV Group Editor Barkha Dutt that Dr. Singh was behaving not like a prime minister but like a “dehati aurat.” On Twitter today, Ms. Dutt refuted and provided context to Mr. Mir’s distorted version of events.
Mr. Mir hosts a show called “Aman ki Asha” on Geo TV, which aims to, among other things, improve relations between India and Pakistan. But as a columnist in the Pakistani Urdu newspaper, Jang, Mr. Mir is far more open to towing the line of the Pakistani establishment on India, including issues pertaining to Kashmir and popular, but imagined conspiracy theories on India’s involvement in everything that happens in Pakistan.
Just this past week, Mr. Mir authored a piece in the Jang about claims and counterclaims between the UPA and Gen. VK Singh with regard to Pakistan. The column titled “Yeh koi nayi baat nahi” (This is nothing new) is replete with fantastic conspiracy theories that suggest Indian involvement in the 1996 bombing of Imran Khan’s Shaukat Khanum cancer hospital. Excerpts follow:
The prime minister (Benazir Bhutto) called for a meeting with the chief minister of Punjab and the IG and directed them to find those responsible for the Shaukat Khanum Hospital blast as quickly as possible. Within a few days, the police arrested a young man named Ishaq Mirasi from a village along the border. Ishaq Mirasi was also wanted in connection with the bombing of Lahore Airport’s old terminal.
The arrest notwithstanding, I was skeptical as to the connection between this poor villager and the Shaukat Khanum Hospital….I ended up conducting a detailed interview of Ishaq Mirasi in prison. Ishaq told me that he was involved in petty smuggling. On one such occasion while crossing the border into India, he was arrested by Indian army personnel.
An Indian army officer asked him whether he would prefer a long prison sentence in India or was instead willing to work (for the Indian army). When Ishaq chose the latter, he was given training in bomb making and sent back to Pakistan. After completing his mission, he would cross the border into India and provide Pakistani English-language newspapers covering the blasts as evidence to receive his payment…
…Interior Minister Nasirullah Babar told me India was trying to recruit the poor and unemployed in Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar and was financing sectarian organizations to promote discord between the Sunnis and Shias.
[On Gen VK Singh's comments]… This is nothing new. It is possible that the military intelligence unit targeting Pakistan has been disbanded But R&AW’s covert intelligence units continue their operations against Pakistan.
Instead of putting on an act of friendship, Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh (if they meet in New York) ought to discuss how India and Pakistan can put an end to conspiring against each other [روزنامہ جنگ]
Civilian leaders in Pakistan have met Dr. Singh in the past without there being extra-circular activities from the Pakistani military establishment. Former Pakistan prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, whose Pakistan Peoples Party enjoyed anything but cordial relations with the army, met Dr. Singh in Sharm el-Sheikh and later on in Mohali during the India-Pakistan cricket World Cup semi-final.
But Mr. Sharif’s attempts at outreach seem to coincide with violations along the LoC, an attack this week on a police station and army camp in Jammu & Kashmir, and now apparently targeted information operations with a view to scuttle talks between Dr. Singh and Mr. Sharif in New York. The question that needs to be asked then is what was Mr. Sharif willing to offer or discuss with the Indian PM that has so ruffled the feathers of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex.
As for Hamid Mir, it would be sadly ironical for the host of a show called “Aman ki Asha” to be responsible for putting paid to Mr. Sharif’s attempts at improving ties with India. It behooves Mr. Mir to respond.
In July this year, at a resort near Bangalore (yes, we at Takshashila do sometimes play resort politics) I got the fifth batch of the GCPP to work on the problem of building an index which measures the development of various Indian states in the last 10 years. I used this case as a reference while doing my module on Analytical Methods in Public Policy. This was as part of one of the weekend workshops which are part of the GCPP. As part of this exercise I taught them how to pick variables, how to measure them, procure data, look for interactions between variables and then combine them to form an index.
It is interesting that a couple of months after that session, the report of the Raghuram Rajan Committee on Composite Development Index of States has been published. I will use this blog post to give my comments on that report as I go through it. Since I’m going to be effectively “live-blogging” my reading of the report, the rest of this post is in bullet points.
Also, in keeping up with my title of “resident quant” I will try as much as possible to restrict my comment to the data and methodology, and not comment on economic issues. However, it is likely that I might go on economic rants here or there.
- The first paragraph of the executive summary states that the reason we adopted a command and control model after independence was so that we don’t increase the inequalities across regions and states. This is the first time I’m hearing this story
- The index is based entirely on publicly available data. I think this is a good thing.
- Each state gets 0.3% of the total available pool, irrespective of its size. Of the remaining 91.6% (28 states => 8.4% fixed payment), 3/4th will be distributed based on “need” and 1/4 on “performance”. Nearly seventy years since independence, I’m of the opinion that this ratio should be less skewed towards “need”
- Arbitrary cutoffs have been drawn at scores of 0.6 and 0.4 to classify states as “least developed” and “less developed”. While these are round numbers, I’m not yet sure they make sense.
- The report alludes to the “resource curse”, which is a good thing.
- Quote: “The Normal Central Assistance (NCA) grant, which is distributed to states as per Gadgil-Mukherjee formula based on categorization of “Special Category” and “General Category” states, constituted only about 3.8 per cent of total resources transferred to States and 8.2 per cent of plan transfers.” (emphasis mine)
- The underdevelopment index has ten components. I won’t comment on the wisdom of the number of quality of the components chosen.
- It is a good thing that Mean Per Capita Consumption Expenditure is used as a measure of richness rather than per capita Net State Domestic Product. As the report argues, the latter can include economic activity that doesn’t really reach the people, and is hence not as good a measure as consumption expenditure.
- Table 1 (on page 17 of the report) gives the correlations between the metrics chosen. I think it is a fantastic thing that they have chosen to present the correlations in the first place (something ripe to be pushed under the carpet). As expected, a number of chosen variables are highly correlated.
- Correlation between Consumption Expenditure and Urbanisation is 75%!! Similarly, correlation between expenditure and female literacy is 58%.
- Then comes the damp squib – the excitement induced by presenting the correlation table is doused by the statement that each of the ten parameters are going to be accorded equal weight. This is disappointing on several counts: firstly, the sheer arbitrariness (remember that ‘equal allocation’ is as arbitrary as any other distribution). Next, that the correlations are thrown out of the window and certain factors are likely to get more weight. Then, the fact that this makes it easily manipulable by adding or deleting factors of choice. I’m so disappointed by this one decision that I’m putting this entire point in boldface. Apologies.
- The report acknowledges that broadly categorizing states into “developed” and “under developed” creates issues of moral hazard. However, rather than fully doing away with the division, the committee (again, disappointingly) takes a “middle path” by splitting two categories into three. I suspect some mathematical brain is involved here, in that the next committee will increase number of categories to four, and the one after to five, until a time when each state (finally!!) becomes its own category
- To convert per capita allocation to state-wide allocation, the formula uses a combination of population and area. I agree that it is tougher to provide infrastructure to thinly populated areas, so this combination is fair. It reminds me of my days in airline cargo pricing when we would similarly adjust between the weight and volume of a piece of cargo.
- Performance index is computed based on changes in the development index over time. This is a good thing. Shows the committee is “eating its own dog-food”
- This is the first time “performance” is being used as a criterion for fund distribution. So the 25% weight is a good start. I retract my earlier abuse of this ratio.
- The committee recommends that this analysis be carried out every five years, since a good amount of data used in calculating indices are published at that frequency. Also considering that’s the frequency of finance commissions, it is a good thing.
- The report tries to bolster its credibility by showing that the index is highly correlated with the UN Human Development Index. I like it that a scatter plot and regression line have been presented
- The allocation based on performance is again skewed in favour of less developed states. So you are likely to get more if 1. You are underdeveloped and 2. You have shown an improvement. I think this is fair.
- One good thing is that the formula is plug and play. It is “timeless” in a sense. At any given future point in time, you can simply look up the data points that are required and just construct the index. There is no human intelligence required for that effort
- There is heavy reliance on NSSO data, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing since it is “survey data”. I think it might have been better to have used data from census.
- The committee actually examined the option of weighting factors based on squared factor loadings from a Principal Component Analysis (*applause*) and found that the index thus constituted was 99% correlated with the one using simple arithmetic averages, and thus decided to go with the simpler formula. I’ll still continue to keep the earlier point in bold, though
- Each “sub-component” was normalized between 0 and 1 using a simple linear formula (higher number indicating greater under-development). I like it that they used this rather than a rank ordering metric.
- The report includes a sensitivity analysis to show that the ranking and index values are robust. Again, applause
- A dissent note from Committee member Shaibal Gupta indicates that there are problems in using a simple weighted average rather than data from the PCA
Finally, despite all the talk of transparency and ease of calculation, the report itself does not contain either the index number or the component values for various states. I hope the data has been released (and if it has, please help me by giving me the link). If not, we should campaign for the data to be given out to the public in a CSV (or equivalent) format through the government data portal http://data.gov.in
India’s Electricity Exports to Bangladesh
Despite its own chronic power shortages, electricity exports from India to Bangladesh were set to begin from October in a power transmission project that could improve relations soured by a water supply dispute. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who would face elections next January, would be able to use the project to justify pro-India policies and India would receive much-needed export earnings and be able to offset some of the criticism leveled at it for diverting water from the Teesta River. The twenty five year government-to-government deal between Indian NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam and Bangladesh Power Development Board, involved providing 250 megawatts of coal-fired electricity to Bangladesh. According to Yongping Zhai, director of South Asian energy division at the Asian Development Bank, which is partially financing the project, the deal could be the precursor to a South Asia electricity grid that would link India, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan by 2020.
Bangladesh Garment Industry Protests
Protests started last week when Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) said they could raise the monthly minimum wage to as high as Taka 3,600 or 20 per cent from the current structure against the workers demand to make it Taka 8,114 or $100. Now, most garments factories in Gazipur, Narayanganj and Savar started production amid heightened security as authorities deployed paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) troops at the industrial district and an assurance of a pay hike by November. Bangladesh consisted some of the lowest labor costs in the world, partly because many in the country of 155 million people were unskilled and could escape rural poverty only by taking jobs in clothing factories. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest garment exporter after China; that accounted for nearly 80 per cent of the country’s $27-billion annual exports; paying a worker the minimum wage of $38 a month. The International Labour Organization (ILO) in partnership with the governments of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Canada had launched a new programme to provide essential support to garment workers of Bangladesh. The garment industry made headlines earlier this year when Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed killing many.
Central Sudan Unrest
Sudan, the Arab-African country had suffered armed insurgencies in poor peripheral regions such as Darfur for decades, but the more prosperous central areas along the Nile including Khartoum had generally been relatively immune to unrest. But rioting over gas price hikes broke out in Khartoum, Central Sudan as President Omar al-Bashir’s government lifted subsidies, doubling prices on fuel products. The Sudanese army was deployed in sensitive locations. Bashir had remained in power for almost twenty five years despite armed rebellion; US trade sanctions, an economic crisis, an attempted coup last year and the warrant for his arrest issued by the International Criminal Court.
Daily updates are brought to you by Divya Gangadar at the Takshashila Institution.
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Dr. Singh and Mr. Obama must move forward on nuclear trade when they meet this week.
Some newspapers and political parties would have us believe that the PM is in New York with the express intention of selling India’s soul to America.
They contend that India’s Nuclear Liability Act (NLA), which allows for costs to be imposed on the supplier in the event of a nuclear disaster in India, is about to be sold down the river by the PM in order to remove impediments to the participation of U.S. firms in civil nuclear trade with India. There was furor when it emerged that the Attorney General had issued an opinion indicating that the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPCIL) had the right to waive the liability provision, if provided for in a contract.
Outraged opposition parties and left-leaning media outlets argued that India was bypassing its own law to please the U.S. A few observations on the subject:
The language in the NLA appears to be fairly clear on the applicability of supplier liability. Clause 17 reads:
The operator of the nuclear installation, after paying the compensation for nuclear
damage in accordance with section 6, shall have a right of recourse where-
(a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing;
(b) the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his
employee, which includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects
or sub-standard services;
(c) the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of
an individual done with the intent to cause nuclear damage. [THE CIVIL LIABILITY FOR NUCLEAR DAMAGE ACT, 2010]
We’ll leave matters relating to the legal interpretation of the language in the Act to the experts on the subject, but if our admittedly untrained legal interpretation is correct, clause 17(a) does allow for supplier-side liability if “expressly provided for” in a contract between the operator (in most cases, GoI) and the supplier.
If this is indeed true, then the question of “bypassing” Indian law simply doesn’t arise. The law itself does not make supplier-side liability mandatory. Further, it the begs question of what the opposition — which was out screaming blue murder this past month — was doing when the bill was being debated in 2010. Even assuming their very busy schedule of staging walkouts in Parliament got in the way of them expressing an opinion when the bill was being debated, what have they been doing the past two years since its enactment?
The NLA in its current state is simply incompatible with the IAEA Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC), which India undertook a commitment to accede to. Contingent on these incompatibilities, India has signed the CSC but not ratified it, as ratification would require a change in our liability laws. It is strange then that we appear so eager to be brought into the mainstream of the global framework for civil nuclear commerce and yet not want to be bound by its rules.
The issues pertaining to supplier-side liability are not U.S.-specific. The truth is that no one is willing to do business with India given the costs imposed by the NLA on suppliers. The Russians have refused to bring Kudankulam 3 and 4 under the ambit of the NLA. The French company Areva has also made it clear that it will not be able to move forward, given the language in the NLA. The Canadians have expressed reservations. Potential Indian suppliers themselves appear to be uneasy with supplier-side liability with FICCI warning that the NLA “threatens to completely undo the government’s efforts to accelerate nuclear power generation…”
The AG’s interpretation that the operator had the ability to contractually invoke or exclude supplier-side liability actually dates back to October 2012, when his legal opinion was provided during negotiations on Kudamkulam with the Russians. There was not so much as a whimper in the left-leaning media then, but apparently now this interpretation causes a “dilution” in our liability laws to allow the prime minister to carry as a “gift” to the U.S.
The Cold War ended two decades ago, folks. There is no benefit in India pretending to be more soviet than the Soviet Union in 2013.
Many in India are yet to appreciate the impact the NLA has had on the general mood towards India in DC. This was about more than just nuclear commerce. Presidents of the U.S. do not make phone calls to their Chinese counterparts asking them to drop their opposition to a third country’s bid for an NSG waiver merely at the prospect of being able to sell few nuclear reactors. India would have most likely remained a nuclear paraih were it not for the efforts of the Bush administration.
Since obtaining an NSG waiver, the UPA has bungled like only it can. Debates on nuclear liability were emotive rather than pragmatic, drawing wrong lessons from the Bhopal tragedy. While the NLA automatically precluded the possibility of the participation of U.S. companies in civil nuclear commerce with India, companies in Russia and France, which were initially underwritten by their governments, were able to enter into exploratory discussions with India. With Russia and France no longer willing to abide by the NLA, the prime minister arrives in the U.S. attempting to salvage a relationship and an economy.
Realistically, neither the U.S. nor India have each other on their list of top priorities at the moment. The Obama administration is faced with a precarious situation in Syria and is battling opposition on healthcare reform and budget disputes. Meanwhile, with India heading to polls in May 2014, the UPA is effectively in a holding pattern with very little political capital at its disposal for brave new ideas.
Under the circumstances, if a pre-early works agreement can indeed be concluded between NPCIL and Westinghouse, it might help arrest the doom and gloom and allow both sides to reevaluate positions sometime next year. This is about as much as we can hope for when Dr. Singh and Mr. Obama meet on Friday.
Angela Merkel’s Win at German National Elections
Angela Merkel, leader of Christian Democratic Union became the German Chancellor for the third time. Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their allies, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, together won 41.5 percent of the popular vote, which translated into 311 of the 630 seats in Parliament. She finished just short of an absolute majority and analysts stated she was likely to seek a grand coalition as she did in 2005-09 with Opposition leader Peer Steinbrueck who led Social Democrats (SPD). The Chancellor’s main coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP) failed to get the adequate vote thus denying them seats in the Bundestag. The election was one of the most important in years because of Germany’s dominant role in the euro zone. With the biggest population of any EU state, Germany’s GDP surpassed the economies of its partners and became crucial to tackling the euro zone’s debt crisis. The Angela Merkel government also pushed for fundamental reforms and greater austerity in struggling European economies. Challenges include Europe’s simmering currency crisis and further assistance for Greece and ultimately hold the European Union together.
Maldives’ Presidential Polls Delayed
The Supreme Court annulled elections’ first round as rival Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, of the Progressive party of Maldives, claimed that tens of thousands of votes cast for Nasheed in the first round were unlawful. Nasheed’s supporters took to the streets to protest against the Supreme Court’s decision. The political instability in the strategically situated Sunni Muslim nation, had a range of challenges, including a rise in religious conservatism, social problems and slowing economic growth; now faced a new challenge of whether presidential elections would be held at all. India insisted that the election process in Maldives go forward as originally envisaged.
Russia and EU Hanker Over Ukrainian Trade Deal
Russia contemplated it would be flooded by European goods if Ukraine removed import duties with the EU under political association and free trade agreements likely to be signed in November, but also feared Ukraine would make a pivotal shift away from Moscow. If Ukraine signed the landmark deal with the EU, it would form the first formal step on the road to EU membership. EU states agreed to immediately implement the landmark deal once signed. The Kremlin had warned Ukraine that a planned agreement on free trade with the EU would imply inevitable financial catastrophe and possibly the collapse of the state. Putin wanted Ukraine to join the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan instead. As a nation of 46 million, Ukraine would be a significant addition to Putin’s Eurasian Union. Ukraine bordered the Russian Federation to the east and northeast. Moscow’s efforts to persuade Ukraine not to move closer to the EU formed part of a broader drive by Russia to deter former Soviet allies from moving their economy and future trade towards Western Europe.
Daily updates are brought to you by Divya Gangadar at the Takshashila Institution.
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Bernard Cromwell has a new book, The Pagan Lord, which is set in 9th century Britain. The book is about the making of England and how Christianity spread in the region. The Historical Novel Society had an interview with Cromwell on this book and in this answer he explains why Christianity was easily embraced by the Pagan cultures.
TLL: There are strong themes of religious tug-o-war in your Saxon books. What are your personal thoughts on why Christianity was so easily embraced by Pagan cultures in Britain? Why did a people whose spirituality was so connected to the land and the elements give up that connection (and protection) for this ‘new’ God?
BC: I’m not sure the process was that easy, and pagan superstitions lingered on for centuries. In almost every case the conversion was top down; the missionaries converted the ruler and he forced it on his people. I suppose the crucial difference is that Christianity offered an afterlife. So, of course, did the religion of Odin and Thor, but that afterlife was really only for the warrior class while Christianity’s heaven was for everyone and that had a much greater appeal to women, and women are the real transmitters of culture (they raise the infants). The pagan religions tend to be very male oriented. Then there’s the exclusivity of Christianity; it doesn’t tolerate other religions. Most pagan religions were tolerant; they accepted that there were many gods and goddesses and didn’t persecute people for believing in those other deities, but Christianity wouldn’t abide competition and was savage in its intolerance. Religion, at heart, is simply an attempt to answer the unanswerable questions (why did the harvest fail, why did my child die, why why why?) and paganism tended to fatalism (it just happened, live with it), but Christianity offered the solace of recompense; your child might have died, but you’ll be reunited in the afterlife.[Bernard Cornwell on Pagan Lord, Uhtred’s latest blood-drenched outing]
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Chandrababu Naidu’s support for NDA may suggest a significant realignment of Indian polity.
If recent media reports are to be believed, former Andhra Pradesh (AP) Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu may return to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Launching a scathing attack on the Congress party, Naidu recently met BJP president Rajnath Singh. That Naidu has not explicitly ruled out an alliance with the BJP itself is good news for the party considering its pariah status. While Chandrababu Naidu’s popularity in AP is a matter of conjecture—especially with the division of the state and the rise of Jaganmohan Reddy— it may indicate a significant realignment of the political forces. For three reasons.
First, it may be hard to believe but only two decades back, the Left and the BJP had constructed a grand alliance under the leadership of V P Singh against the Rajiv Gandhi government. There was little ideological affinity between the two parties; they were motivated by only one factor: anti-Congressism. As the Congress was a colossus on the national stage, the opposition had little alternative but to come together despite its own ideological differences and disparate policies. The only concern was throwing out the Congress government—the rest was a matter of detail.
A major shift in the Indian polity in the last two decades is the withering of anti-Congressism as the defining principle of alliance construction. There are many reasons for that. The Gujarat riots of 2002 and NDA’s loss in 2004 helped push the ‘secular parties’ away from the BJP. Paradoxically, the relative weakening of the Congress party compared to its overwhelming influence till the 1980s has allowed it to attract regional allies. It is no longer the behemoth which would crush all other parties and refused to compromise confident of its prima donna status. Under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress has also offered an alternative organizing principle: anti-communalism. By portraying BJP as ‘unacceptable’, Congress has made itself an attractive option even for Lohiate socialists like Mulyam Singh Yadav and Nitish Kumar. The replacement of anti-Congressism with anti-communalism explains much of the party’s success in the last decade and is a significant achievement of Mrs. Gandhi and her leadership. That BJP is considered more ‘unacceptable’ in 2013 compared to 1998 in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition and the subsequent religious polarization is indicative of how successful Mrs. Gandhi’s strategy has been.
Chandrababu Naidu overtures to the BJP marks the first major shift in that narrative in the last decade. Since its defeat in 2004, the BJP has been steadily bleeding allies to the extent that it is only left with Shiv Sena and Akali Dal as NDA partners. Chandrababu Naidu’s scathing attack on the Congress party and his labeling of it as the primary ‘enemy’ offers the BJP an opportunity to resurrect the concept of ‘anti-Congressism.’ If the BJP can make 2014 about the failings of the UPA government rather than the communal/secular debate, it would be in a much stronger position to not only win additional seats but attract allies. Indeed, it was interesting that Naidu never actually endorsed Modi—rather his argument was that the Congress party has derailed India’s growth story and hence needs to be removed. Replace economics with secularism and this is precisely the reasoning the likes of Maywati and Mulayam Singh Yadav have offered for their continued support of the UPA government.
Second, BJP is not a major force in Andhra Pradesh politics. It may have its pockets of influence and the unstinted support for Telangana may yield some minor benefits, but it is unlikely to win a seat on its own. On the other hand, it is clear that any party considering an alliance with BJP should expect a significant Muslim backlash. If Naidu is willing to ally with the BJP despite these handicaps, it suggests that at least in his mind Modi is likely to attract an incremental vote in AP. In short, Naidu is betting on Modi being a Vajpayee. One of the most interesting questions of 2014 general elections is this: Does Narendra Modi have the coattails to deliver additional support to the BJP in areas outside of its core influence? Naidu’s move towards the NDA suggests that at least in the case of AP, Modi may be a stronger factor compared to his party. Will it force other regional parties to consider BJP as a potential ally?
Third, if the BJP wins 200 seats in the 2014 general elections, Narendra Modi is likely to be the next prime minister of India. However, recent opinion polls and the party’s own geographical limitations suggest that 150-160 may be a more realistic figure. It is this battle for the additional 30-40 seats which is likelyto decide who forms the next government in Delhi. One significant disadvantage BJP has that the threshold at which it can stitch together a stable coalition is much higher than the Congress party. It is exactly here an endorsement from Naidu may be truly significant: by reducing BJP’s unacceptability, he lowers the threshold at which Modi can ensure an expanded NDA and fulfill his prime ministerial ambitions. It also helps address one of the strongest arguments against Narendra Modi: that not only would he scare off allies—Nitish Kumar is a prime example— but would make it exceedingly hard for the BJP to attract regional parties like the BJD or Trinamool Congress. If Chandrababu Naidu joins the NDA, it would be a significant feather in Modi’s cap. For instance, it is noticeable that despite his alleged wider acceptability, L. K Advani in 2009 failed to expand the NDA. In fact, he presided over the departure of one of its oldest allies which cost BJP the state of Orissa.
It is certainly not guaranteed that Chandrababu Naidu would ultimately join the NDA or enter into a pre-poll alliance. He would probably wait for the results of the assembly elections scheduled in November 2013 and gauge BJP’s popular support before he decides one way or the other. And even if Naidu joins the NDA, it is unlikely that Jayalalitha—perhaps BJP’s most natural ally–would endorse Narendra Modi. And would a TDP-BJP alliance actually deliver seats in AP?
However, by providing ‘secular’ cover to Modi’s BJP, Naidu may yet prove to be the most important partner for the BJP and increase its acceptability among other regional players. The logic of politics is simple: allies beget allies. As many commentators have discovered over the years, it is almost always a fraught exercise to speculate over the future direction of Indian politics. Nevertheless, the significance of this moment for the BJP and the broader national polity should be clearly understood.
Let us stop spreading baseless paranoia about Aadhaar.
The Supreme Court on Monday said that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory to access government services. I haven’t read the order yet but there are many who argue that necessary legislation should be put in place before Aadhaar is linked to public services. If there is no proper legislative backing then there should be a stay on the entire process (of data collection). But it is not clear as to how courts can get into making policy choices. Moreover, it is not as if the policy interventions by courts are consistent. A few months ago, the Bombay High Court, while responding to a PIL on bogus ration cards, said the following:
When Pai said that the government is short-staffed and has also been burdened by the new LPG scheme, the court stated that the government is also short of vision. “Link everything to the Aadhaar card and make one team to run it. No great changes need to be made, the state will have to only link the card to the other using a software,” the bench remarked.
While one court thinks Aadhaar should be used to eliminate bogus cards, the Supreme Court feels that it should not be made mandatory.
Identifying and targeting the correct beneficiaries is the core of any public distribution system. According to a study by IIM Ahmedabad, for every Rs 4 spent on PDS only Rs 1 reaches the poor and 57% of the PDS food grain does not reach the intended people. The leakage that can be attributed to bogus ration cards alone is 16.7%. The current PDS is dysfunctional and expecting it to deliver results is like flogging a dead horse.
Aadhaar is a mechanism designed to overcome the above described hurdles. It is merely an identification tool for delivery of public services and not recognition of citizenship. The advantage of biometrics in eliminating duplicate records is detailed by my colleague in Pragati . Even if a person registers at multiple centers, the de-duplication scheme can identity and flag these records based on biometrics. To build a system of this nature, it is essential to collect certain necessary attributes that can uniquely identify an individual. UIDAI hence collects fingerprints and iris-scan to generate a unique identification number for this combination. This number will be used for tracking the public services or linked to bank accounts for cash transfers.
Activism by creating distrust against the State by non-profit entities has become a fashionable mode of survival. There is an anti-privacy brigade against Aadhaar spreading paranoia that by collecting biometric information, the government is invading into our privacy. But the government more or less has the same information already with them. For instance, to lease a flat in Mumbai there is a registration process where finger prints, signature, photo identity and photo scan by their cameras has to done. A copy of the registration documents along with phone numbers and addresses of two individuals should be submitted at the police station. The government anyway has more information (and less efficiently stored) with them than that is being collected during the Aadhaar process. It is difficult to understand how one is a privacy violation and the other is not.
The Supreme Court’s decision to not make Aadhaar mandatory has been celebrated as a crippling blow to the government by the anti-privacy brigade. Nothing can be farther from the truth. There can be many ways by which a government can ensure that people get Aadhaar card. The opportunity/ transaction costs of not having Aadhaar can be made so high that people will eventually be forced to get one. For instance, our transaction activity is captured by cameras at all ATM machines and those who think it is a violation of privacy can always go to a bank and withdraw cash. But how many of those who shout about privacy from rooftops actually go to a bank to do simple transactions? Similar costs can be imposed for those without Aadhaar.
The Aadhaar is a much needed mechanism for identifying and targeting beneficiaries and it is here to stay. Instead of spreading needless paranoia we should strengthen this process, if required, through a proper legislative backing. Our energies should be in this direction.