Monday, December 31, 2012
As the political transition in Nepal progresses, the country’s political institutions have become a hub of sorts for intermingled ideas. These ideas are neither being shaped nor developed constructively to end the political impasse that has plagued Nepal’s journey to democracy. Consequently, key challenges such as drafting the Constitution, delineating the nature of Nepali federalism and more recently, accepting a national unity Government before general election next summer, still remain. It is against this backdrop that President Ram Baran Yadav’s recently concluded trip to India must be viewed. In fact, many were a bit surprised that Mr Yadav made this visit when his country was at such a critical juncture. After all, the President is the sole stable authority in Nepal today.
Mr Yadav’s official visit to India took him to Banaras Hindu University, where he was conferred an honorary DPhil, but his time in New Delhi was also quite hectic as he met with leaders of the ruling and Opposition parties, besides inviting his Indian counterpart to Kathmandu. At a time of receding trust in India’s role in Nepal, President Yadav’s India visit holds strategic value that can lead to greater cooperation between these formidable allies. The beginning of this new dialogue will hopefully infuse dynamism in the India-Nepal diplomatic engagement and economic partnership.
Hailing from the Madhesh region of Janakpur in Nepal, Kolkata-educated President Yadav is well-connected in India. His understanding of India-Nepal relations is better than that of the average Nepali politician. Even though President Yadav doesn’t have the charisma of someone like Girija Prasad Koirala, as a long-practicising doctor, he knows how to treat maladies well. It is an ability that is sadly lacking in many leaders who have been entrusted with handling India-Nepal affairs.
For instance, even Indian representatives and officials who are otherwise sensitive and responsive towards Nepal, try to run down their counterparts in Kathmandu during diplomatic visits. This makes India, a less dear ally. Also, Nepal has never really received the kind of attention it deserves from India’s Tier-I leadership, even though it is one of New Delhi’s important neighbours. This is an unwavering trend that has continued since the period of Jawaharlal Nehru.
It is time that India brings to its relationship with Nepal more in action, rather than friendly mannerisms alone. This is the need of the hour, especially if New Delhi wishes to keep at bay Nepal’s India-baiters. The first generation of Nepali leaders had also fought for India’s independence and they shared with their Indian counterparts a desire for democracy. Leaders like BP Koirala, MP Koirala, Manmohan Adhikari, Ganesh Man Singh and others had also dealt with the politics of two countries, and this was possible only because they had leveraged the power of people-to-people relations between India and Nepal.
In New Delhi, President Yadav’s presence at the Mahendra Malangia Natya Mahotasav (organised by the Maithili Lok Rang), which saw the participation of a number of reputed artists from India and Nepal including leading Maithili thespian Ramesh Ranjan Jha and his Mithila Natyakala Parishad, was a reminder of the golden moments that India and Nepal once shared in the cultural-political field. In fact, it is events such as these that really have the potential to boost bilateral ties.
Listening to the voices of aggrieved Nepali youth (mostly because of their ignorant biases) at a New Delhi conference, organised by the Nepal-Bharat Sahyog Manch a few weeks back, however, offered an altogether different experience. A blunt question put to one of India’s seniormost diplomats at that conference by a young Nepali continues to haunt the mind for it also represents the mindset of a reactionary section in Nepal. The youth had asked why Nepal should give priority to India, and not favour China instead.
Such wild ideas are causing the current mess in Nepal. In this case, for example, it is amply clear that China will not think twice before disrupting Nepal’s close relationship with India, but still there are talks about China taking over India’s place in Nepal.
There is, of course, no doubt that Nepal will overcome its political hurdles in its own time, especially if its leaders and its people were to exude more confidence in democratic values. Since the massacre of 2001, the royal family of Nepal first became a nefarious and later a ghostly object. Now, it is no longer in a position to offer itself as a system of alternative governance. Still, while the physical end of the monarchy was painful, the collapse of the idea of the monarchy is a healthy development for Nepal’s democratic aspiration. Still, unless the duplicity of political leaders is brought under control, change as desired will not happen.
Ideologically, the radical Maoist movement in Nepal is impure and reflects the personal cynicism of its leadership. Next to the ideological line, these leaders have been nurturing their political ambitions by pumping up a ‘sovereignty phobia’ which naturally leads to anti-India sentiment in Nepal. The Maoists are a divided entity now, and those who sit outside the power circle are trying to carve a niche for themselves. They hope that the anti-India demonstration will give them the leverage to do so.
Over the last one and a half decades, China has made various efforts to proliferate a certain version of communism inside Nepal. Sect and sub-sects of Maoist ideology have marred Nepal’s development on all fronts. Nepal has a lot to deliver with its untapped natural and human resources; here, the political leadership of Nepal has a pivotal role to play. It must decide on how it will move collectively on the bigger issues of foreign policy and trade negotiation and how it will rid Nepal of the ‘underdog’ tag that has prevented the country from embarking on a regular course of development. President Yadav too must remind the political elite in Nepal of all its unkept promises to him and the country.
Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer, 31 December2012)
The general perception about the agricultural scenario in Bihar is that it can be the food bastion for India but the current state of affairs is not very encouraging on that front. The agriculture linked industries are not really working out and conventional farming is not generating profitable returns, which is delinking the productive cycle from traditional set of systems.
In the initial decades after Independence, agricultural productivity in Bihar was better compared to other states, but now it is trailing below the national average. Statistically, some achievements have been established on the scale of production with the state government stepping in but the lurking dangers from 'unnaturally high farming wage rates' and the 'dwindling size of land holding' are being ignored. The most worrying reality is the average size of a farm, which is 0.37 hectare or less; one of the lowest in India (according to The Planning Commission of India’s estimation, 2009). At this rate collective farming would remain the only option if farm land-fragmentation isn’t checked using a more effective, alternate mechanism, soon.
The bifurcation of Bihar in the year 2000 has made the role of the primary sector even more critical, as Jharkhand now houses most of the industries and the mineral resources. So, Bihar’s economic prospects strongly rely on agriculture. It is the most vital component of the state's socio-economic structure, as the sector provides 90 per cent of the rural population their livelihood. It also contributes to about one-third of the gross domestic product of the state, which is a staggering figure.
Over the last few decades, Bihar has witnessed remarkable agricultural development with the adoption of scientific methods, but shockingly such growth has been inequitable and imbalanced. The basic reason is the highly problematic land ownership pattern which, with some geographic variations, still persists in most parts of the Bihar. For example, with radical movements for land reform, north Bihar has a progressive system of land ownership as compared to south and central Bihar, where feudalism has not been uprooted. In other parts of Bihar, land reforms could not take off as the situation on the ground remains at status quo.
According to the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO-2003), marginal and small farmers, who constituted 96.5 per cent of the total landowning community, owned 66 per cent of land. The medium and large farmers, who constituted only 3.5 per cent of the landowning community, owned 34 per cent of the land. Of the latter, the large owners (constituting only 0.1 per cent of total) owned 4.63 of total land. In absolute terms, this 0.1 per cent of large owners owned a little over eight lakh hectares or 19.76 lakh acres of land-a big size of land in a land starved state. The wrong landholding pattern hampers the healthy prospects of agricultural progress in the state and creates a skewed picture of economic growth altogether.
With a high density of population, the absolute level of poverty continues to be high in Bihar, making it one of India's poorest states. Both rural poverty at 42.1 per cent and urban poverty at 34.6 per cent were significantly higher than the national average (28.3 per cent for the rural areas and 25.7 per cent for the urban areas) during 2004-05 (Government of Bihar 2008-09). As a result, marginal land holders, individual labourers and casual non-farm labour are poor. The politics of state governance could be attributed as the force behind such pathetic arrangements, where 'non-issues' have been given prominence over basic livelihood issues: the irresponsible phase — from 1990-2004 — was the height of such follies.
Social security systems such as government educational institutions, public healthcare facilities and public distribution system have improved in recent years and when combined with the phenomenon of migration, as powerful means of social mobility, engenders mixed outcomes for rural Bihar. Migration was once a suitable option in Bihar's agrarian society, empowering the poor against exploitation as well as helping them escape the ironies of economic distress and caste exploitation in their home state. Things have changed a little in the last eight years and no longer are the temporary migrants from Bihar — who hitherto worked as farmhands for meagre wages —a cheap source of labour.
This would have counted as constructive change but greater social mobility is not enhancing entrepreneurial zeal in the state. The new agrarian atmosphere is in fact killing the conventional productive mechanism due to the unaffordable cost of services and goods, which has surfaced in recent years. Besides the effects of public spending, the state's rapidly growing housing upsurge poses a severe challenge to farming and related activities. We all know, the days of ‘kachha’ housing are over but the way unplanned construction is being given the name of 'progress' blurs the real state of affairs. The truth of matter is that the growth of other sectors comes at the cost of farming and allied occupations.
Today, the ground realities of rural Bihar are hardly being noticed by institutions or experts working on policy matters: their placid demeanour is largely shaped through the 'bandwagon' of applause for changing Bihar, even where it is changing in an unhealthy manner. It is true that now manual labourers from Bihar can negotiate better for their services but it is disappointing that 'money from outside' at cost of local productive engagements is being preferred. This damages the natural/social fabric, and distances the state from the control of economic policies. It further attracts the wrath of cynical regional biases towards these 'unsolicited migrants' from Assam to Maharashtra.
Worse than the national average, Bihar has received attention from self proclaimed 'policy think tanks' and genuine research organisations, supported by the government. In the absence of proper statistical data and insights, the local government officials have less to say 'on record' in response of any queries made about the pathetic agricultural conditions in state. Bihar government's initiatives look progressive, but there is a huge discrepancy between what was promised and what has been delivered. So far, against the claims of near about 200MOUs related to industrial set-ups in Bihar (including agro-processed industries), few are actually working.
Bihar could have retrieved in well shape, a losing co-operative system through channelizing investments in the cash generating agri-businesses like, fisheries, sugar production, fruits farming, dairy etc, alas, the tall claims were mostly forgotten and north Bihar remained without major industries.. The two prominent and erstwhile industrialised districts, Darbhanga and Madhubani have more than a dozen dysfunctional industrial infrastructures, where once paper, spinning products and sugar were produced on a large scale. These industries were based on local agricultural inputs and hence were supported local farming and enterprise. At that time farmers were not in a wretched condition although their reliance on external money was negligible.
Despite these impediments, rural Bihar is likely to be less gloomy than other distressed terrains of the country, as the people of the state are witnessing change in a positive direction. In absolute terms, Bihar has a long road to walk to generate balanced growth and attain its lost edge in agriculture, besides acquiring a continuing flow of public spending and attracting private investments.
The National Council of Applied Economic Research’s agricultural outlook and analysis report states: "The global scenario for the food commodities has also been affected by the adverse weather conditions. The estimates by FAO, USDA and other international agencies indicate decline in the world production of grains in 2012-13 as compared to the previous year." So, time is ripe now for Nitish Kumar’s government to focus on core areas to save the state’s agriculture from a vicious tailspin.
Atul Kumar Thakur
(The author works on policy issues. He can be reached at email@example.com
The views expressed here are personal)
(Published in Businessworld,19December2012)
Between India after Gandhi and voluminous biography of Gandhi (the next in line of publication); Ramchandra Guha has produced two excellent anthologies-first came Makers of Modern India, and now Patriots& Partitions, which is maintaining the rigours of earlier books .Guha’s Patriots& Partisans is a collection of essays, some of which were published previously but they are extensively revised and rewritten for this anthology. The book is divided into two sections (titled “Debating Democracy” and “The Word and the World”)-both sections are engaging, as Guha is naturally fit to analyse India’s modern social history and dynamic changes at large.
In this wide-ranging collection of essays, Guha defends the liberal centre against the dogmas of left and right. Though he also forwards a case where the receding credibility of Congress and BJP is giving strong chances of left’s revival. Time will test, how effectively India’s democratic left parties would approach in a favourable time, but under the complex electoral fight. The book gives an overview of the major threats to the Indian Republic; also it reveals the dangers of fundamental political ideologies, the radical left, and the dynasty-obsessed Congress party. This way, he looks after on the current political scenario, which is perplexed and full with confusing ingredients.
In essays focusing on writers, scholars and institutions, Guha presents (from close personal angle) sensitive portraits of a magazine editor (Krishna Raj, EPW), a bookshop owner (Shambhag, Bangalore), a publishing house (Oxford University Press) and a famous historical archive (Nehru Memorial Museum and Library). Being a pre-eminent chronicler of India’s democracy and the modern changes, he unveils many subtle facts and perception, which normally surpassed by the most of scholars working under a confined mandate. His way of history writing is though comprehensive, but not so easy as it doesn’t have a strong backing from sources that is considered sacrosanct by myopic scholars.
Markedly distinct from the academic historiography, Guha’s writing heavily relies on social realities than on the stodgy loads of escapable facts. At the one end, where his works add the significance of social history, on the other, it maintains equal distance from over-simplifying the truths of history. This way, we get the comprehensive pictures of our immediate past, which is more important to understand, rather knowing the undated artifacts for getting in proper terms with the current challenges that India’s democratic political system offers. Lately, the time is up to make the historical narratives more akin to holistic approaches, as further maintaining stringent status quo would harm the purpose.
With working on broader realm and purposes, Guha’s gives fresh hope to the inter-disciplinary interface, which reestablishes the forgotten chapters from the recent history among a generation being drifted away from collective purposes. As a public intellectual and writer of utmost sensibility, Ramchandra Guha has much to offer for his readers and he is consistently trying to make his views (With his ideas shaped through long painful research) open in public. Also, living in India could be a real bliss for an intellectual. As in no other part of the earth, such warm responses one can get for his or her works. Guha reminds this and probably similar spirits give him energy to find the difficult details of history.
Guha’s writing converges for a noble goal and that is to keep faith in India’s constitution and the struggle of freedom struggle and in later period that made this nation a living reality. His positive take on Gandhi, Nehru and other leaders makes complete sense, as falling from their legacy will lead the collective psyche to an imagined territory. For stopping such causality, it’s better to appreciate our accomplishments and accepting the shortcomings. Either in collective or personal scheme, one can have disagreement with the State’s way of functioning or atrocities of nefarious private capital but alone that should not restrain any Indian citizen to have respect for the principal and edifices of its democratic system.
Like his all previous works, Patriots& Partitions also makes effort to revive people’s concentration on the beauty of India’s democracy but without ignoring the lot of challenges it faced on many fronts. Most of the essays from this collection are though published but have presented here with greater revision than one can expect, so reading them becomes essential for those, even who have read some of these essays earlier. This book is to know all about the strides Indian democracy has made in more than six decades and the path ahead for it.
Despite his best efforts, Guha supplies less than his readers demand from him-the new book is rattling good read, so it could be delight for book lovers. Also point to remind that, Guha writes only with major aims and research, so no work from him can be taken as “sandwich” between his own historic projects. Patriots& Partitions has maintained Guha’s track-record as a perfectionist with vast range of knowledge, spread in different areas and in capacity.
Atul K Thakur
(Published The Kashmir Monitor,30December2012)
Imperialism never gives of its own accord. The all-season historian, William Dalrymple, echoes this message in the thickness of his latest scripture-sized book, 'Return of a King'. In comparison to his research on India, which is always submerged in complex historiography, this new book is a rattling good read.
Afghanistan has one of the most difficult geographies on earth. Its morphing into a strife-torn country has much to do with its history of conquest and warfare. Many warriors have crossed this land over the ages, laying it to waste over and over again. Western "engagements" in Afghanistan have long been determined by strategic impulses to control and colonize the land. (The secondary reasons, such as rescuing Afghanistan's beautiful human and natural resources, were no less nefarious.)
Dalrymple's book focuses on the 19th century and analyzes the ill-fated reign of King Shah Shuja of the Sadozai Dynasty. The fluctuations in his reign, caused by the loosening of power and marked by humiliating defeats, forced exile and planks of homecoming, gives ample material to Dalrymple for his mammoth book. The book begins with an inquisition of Shah Shuja's overtures to the British East India Company. The "game" was to initially counter Russian advances in Afghanistan. But soon enough the Afghans turned against British occupation. (The Afghan natives are shown by the author to be a genuinely losing side.)
Anyone with a sense of history knows that the insurgency in present-day Afghanistan has striking parallels with its predecessor in 1842. The Game is repeating itself, concludes Dalrymple at the end of this book: President Hamid Karzai, in his dummy position, resembles Shah Shuja; and the Taliban are a re-enactment of the virulent Dost Mohammad. Dalrymple supplies lots of juicy details, including the sexual temptations of men at different levels of the hierarchy, not all of them suited to serious historiography.
Afghanistan has long been used as a battleground for wars by mighty and territorially ambitious external powers. This is because of its strategic geographic position between the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. Moreover, the fragmented and polarized nature of Afghan society, which is made up of many different ethnic groups, has led to endless internal struggles, in which neighbors and external powers can participate by deploying proxies. Afghanistan in the mid-19th century was therefore a story of imperial struggle and local resistance to external aggression.
Today, despite neo-imperial intervention, Afghanistan is a better place than it was 15 years ago. But the US is repeating follies similar to the ones committed by imperial Britain in the 19th century. Dalrymple doesn't suggest that this besieged nation will attain complete peace in the foreseeable future, though his guess - that first the US, and later China, will be the defeated imperial powers here - is probably a little far from the probable outcome.
Nevertheless, this book persuasively shows how powers become blinded in the race for strategic domination. The US has to pay, and is still paying, a heavy price in economic terms to maintain its occupation in Afghanistan, and there are fewer and fewer chances that it will recoup the money thus squandered on a land where prospects are dim for peace on the ground, much less for the extraction of mineral wealth under its soil. The US has definitely overreached in its strategies and has only made the world more violent and full with regional confrontation.
Though the author has some sense of China's imperial ambitions and likely role in the region's future, he overestimates it by placing the country on the side of the US as the next superpower to suffer a fall. China has no territorial loads like Afghanistan or Iraq. Why would it be in deep trouble like the US in the future? The author fails to supply persuasive reasons for why China will supplant the US from its superpower status, and in the terms familiar to us today.
Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Friday Times(January4-10,2013)-a different and short version of this review was also published in The Financial World, on December26,2012)
Saba Naqvi’s In Good Faith basically deals with those fogged issues, mostly taken for identity politics and hatred than as tools for revisiting the deepness of identity itself. Unlike the academic researches, Saba’s journey as a political journalist is indeed to search for “an unknown India”, which is a living reality even in adverse shades. The book is splitted in chapters and each part deals with the peculiarities of common religious practices of a community - there is no repetition in exchanges of contents but still the chapters altogether establish the mandate that is broad and remarkable.
Through her beautiful journalistic account, Saba aptly breaks the preoccupied version of religious blockings and advances the case of “common god”, which people and communities have given accord before religion turned into a profitable segment. Her quest is for those forgotten realities, whose effects would have countered the easy flow of fundamentalism in popular politics and social life. In its end result, pluralism missed to go further, as the downside of cynical politics has maintained its virulent character intact, even when Nehru’s ‘tryst with destiny’ speech have crossed its sixty-fifth anniversary this year.
Every Indian has the right to learn about its shrines and monuments, sadly few of us apply our temptation for this. For reckoning the pulse of history (only few historians find it essential, so the disciplinary formalities are of little value) and religion in action, the social and individual interpretation of life and its monuments would be more worthwhile than spending hours reading the dictum of follow-up texts on the scriptures. What even the ‘social history’ project would be unable to attain on spiral of identities could be easily conquered by the journey of simple and sensible travelers.
This book comprises rich detail, “From the Muslim goddess of Bengal to an unknown facet of the Shivaji legend in Maharashtra; from the disputed origins of the Shirdi Sai Baba to shrines across the land that are both temple and dargah”. Here the author sees a tolerant India is still surviving though only on the margins. This book is important as it has so much to offer on the ‘identity debate’. It unravels many myths and follies. In fair probability, religion should not have meant for tussle, but it is in vogue, hence a book like this has much relevance.
Atul K Thakur
(Published in Kashmir Reader on December26,2012)
pp; Rs799 (Hardback)Mark Antony says well in Julius Caesar-“The evil that men do lives a er them; the good is o interred with their bones.” Shakespeare’s aphorism has become more important to remember in today’s time, as lives getting increasingly involved in a never-ending present.In categorical explanation, writers live with their own prejudices and a balancing amount of fairness to judge the conditions, shaped mostly through the imaginative processes.
Popular trend allows a writer to have ‘one or two’ writer in mind… but unlike Pico Iyer (he adopts Graham Greene as an alternative paternal figure), Rushdie seems using Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov more for punch mark than for personal affection. Joseph Anton, an extraordinary fictitious name chosen by Rushdie for a compelled autobiography narrates in essence, how the Islamic world has returned to the fever of violence, and how a section is turning violent on surpassable issues.
In introspection, he seems right till he follows the right quest, but lately Rushdie fails to set the limit of tone, with a faith or community should be targeted. Though beyond the book, he appears in a position to give us some actual reflections on the unusual condition of the Islamic world, but his memoir doesn’t meet the level seriousness, generally expected to deal with a concerned sensitive theme like this.On personal level, rather he has much to offer in opening his life and that feeds well the Rushdiophile.
The book is packed with details and Rushdie seems to have hyperactive memory for petty incidents. Sadly, as the book progresses, it leads for only a shocking purposelessness. Even a fter more than two decades a Muslim cleric condemned his to death for interpreting Islam on his own terms (read recklessly), The Satanic Verses remains the central drama of the book, as the no other books of Rushdie wri%en a er that could fetch either renewal of fatwa or extraordinary attention.
Following his own trend, thickness is very much alive in this memoir, even though the memoir is brutally long, and heaves no sigh of relief in recounting the dramatic pain and luxury came with the fatwa, and lateral complexities of living in its shadow. Those odd circumstances were totally idle, as one could think only before reading this over informing memoir, which generously talks on dinners, glimmering launch parties and boring accounts of various deals hatched by agents and publishers. He also recall quite o en than not, the pain of finding and
losing his girlfriends in graying years and under fatwa.
Against the current trend, one could not simply overlook the ever dominant role, religious politics plays in all sorts of systems that command the government and lastly mould the geo-strategic scenario and bigger picture of world order. Solely relying on the western wisdom (as Rushdie does invariable), for pondering over the myths and realities of East adamantly places towards inaccurate finding. Religions including of Islam are in living state and faces the ugly absorption of malicious elements more frequently than Rushdie anticipates. He appears acerbic in criticism, so only he secures the ‘hype’, constructive critics lack regularly.
It surprises, when Rushdie tells the tale with a generic choice of the third person and in ambiguity. The narratives, he has used in the book is not of standard he used to known for creating the Midnight Childrenʹs phenomenon, neither the facts are as astute and well informed, as it should have for his autobiography. Still one could strive to read this book carefully in search of covert brilliancy, struck down somewhere in midway.
Joseph Anton is a book that comes with a writer’s endemic isolation, an inner state about reader would be not able to understand even when the all accounts would be thrown out without any second thought. It’s not a book that has to be read because it was written by someone with seven big bestsellers to his credit, but for knowing a different writer.
The writers of a historic generation are entwining with varied choices, so are true with the readers of present time. Still assimilation of thought and responses are essential, this way Joseph Anton deserves reading, not matter if not on mass scale!
Atul Kumar Thakur
(Published in Kashmir Dispatch on December19,2012)
Sudeep Chakravarty heavily relies on the collective memories and political developments that made the highway less normal and more an odd stretch of Northeast. The merit of his argument comes through taking into account of the Centre’s lackluster approach towards the Northeastern States. Though he fails to elaborate, why technicalities of term- ‘Northeast’ is the too easy definition of wider truths that begins with India’s independence and the merging of the States of this region in a confused stream called, ‘mainstream’.
The plights of these seven states are mostly generated by the unresolved issues of ‘integration’, whose processes intensified post1947. Though the level of disagreement is not uniform in all these States, as a State like Arunachal Pradesh presents much calmer picture than the fantasies of gross evaluation, abundantly available lighter research offers. This book strongly presents a narrative in this regard through going in deep behind the actual reasons, which makes State, a less competent authority than otherwise it should have in actual.
Highway39 is a sort passage for these States to converge with rest of the India. This convergence with the outside world brings, both sense of the achievement and humiliation for the people of this region-but lately now, the convergence is taking place for good as it providing the chances of assimilation in the developmental process and also empowerment to migrants with better economic benefits. Earlier, this region was never given the kind of planning that could have made it ease with the broader national framework.
The chapter on Manipur brings in to attention the State’s natural insensitivity towards the peacefully protesting activist, Irom Sharmila and others. Irom has spent more than a decade without the real taste of life opposing the AFSPA in State-if the situation would be normal with sidelining such ambiguous powers from the hand of State authority, then a thought for change must be given by the center over this issue.
After all, more than the provisions of administrative rules, a fair delivery of justice would make rather a fair sense. As a nation, India has made significant advancement in last six decades, now the time is more suitable for a looking back to approach fresh on some of the contentious issues, which requires straight dealing. Overcoming the internal hurdles in Northeast will allow India to play a formidable role in the East Asian region. This thought should essentially leverage India for making balanced strides.
The book forwards the plight of the Northeast to the readers in clear tones and also keeping itself shy away from the popular way of seeing things with pre-occupation. So, it establishes with examples and opinions, how the correction in policies and end of regional marginalization can do real well in this region of high potential. Sudeep makes vital points by showing belief in the positive changes, which have came in the course of time. Probably, Highway39 would be known for better reasons, if atleast for once, given a normal status to function!
Atul Kumar Thakur
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s Between Clay and Dust does not receive the attention that it deserves, not least because his novel departs from the west influenced literary trend in Pakistan that has been in vogue in recent years. The book sets on the early post Partition years, in the old part of a town somewhere in the northern side of the subcontinent. The exact location of geography is blurred under the prominence of main plank which tries to recall the passing of the composite,
Urdu-speaking urban culture that Partition tolled as relative loss.
Between Clay and Dust notes the changes in a confined plot, which too affected in the wake of bloody partition. Basically it investigates the change that made mostly disastrous impact on the precious possessions and beliefs of the people. Change antagonizes the value and existence of long living tradition, with escaping the truths that these things conventions hold prominence in personal and collective life. Between Clay and Dust establishes the rational in broadly defining, how to cope the changes to save the valuable tributes of tradition. But the change is not infact bad, only some of the endgames it leads appear like adversity.
The current literary genre of Pakistan is receiving high accolades in India and western countries, though most of the writings from that block lack the broader purpose in defining the trends and currents of change. The two prime characters of this novel appear like the successor of culturally rich civilisation, now on the wane under the wave of continental hate politics. Both are ageing and theirs nostalgia are for the patronage for creative works, which was actively prevailing before the partition in Indian subcontinent. Now the ‘patronage’ was a past practice and that was being substituted by the sense of high insecurity for ones art and life!
One among the characters is a champion wrestler, who runs an akhara with having high sense for ritual and tradition; the other is an accomplished courtesan performs riyaaz to the rising sun every day. Both the artists struggle with the passage of time and the extinction of their art; however the approaches are different-where one accepts it quite decently, and the other agitate against it. The most forceful revelation, these two characters feeds that the tradition dies not by itself or the changes but by the bearers of tradition, who forgets to act how it keep floating.
Between Clay and Dust resembles a fall-from-grace story, although that decline is more related with the characters than the overall phase of late fifties, on which the book is centered. The central argument of Farooqi states beyond the obvious and goes deeper to the unpredictable zone of human behaviour. Primarily, the author says that one’s weakness is part of being the controller of own action, in external sphere, the same person appears much dynamic and confident. Albeit here, the inner debate hardly defunct the existing social norms, neither it allows even a tint of room for pontification.
Between Clay and Dust is written in Farooqi’s favourite ‘restrained way’. Here he has followed the natural style of his earlier works-especially the translation of Lucknowi epic Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, and Sholay, based on iconic Punjabi film Maula Jatt. Farooqi goes the simple but elegant way with his prose, which addresses the concern related with the themes and the standard style of narration. Besides that, Farooqi’s keen eye for detail meticulously brings lively colours to the two main protagonists and their respective artistic and worldly existence.
Farooqi’s book is different from many others that have emerged not only from Pakistan but of south Asia, because of his natural urge to be in writing devoid the odds in his unusual career that began as dropout of an engineering college to turning later as petty restaurant worker to a sensible reader and translator of the rich Urdu literature. That sort of life is not so easy to lead; as Farooqi has did it before gaining credit of elite writer. His fiction is not solely imaginative, instead it’s culmination of long experiences that finally came out through this book, few writers going this way these days.
May be or not, this book will win the big prizes or popularity, but Farooqi has succeeded enough as a writer of sensible choice, hence even in conservative estimation, he will secure some fan among avid readers. Also, he should be happy being the first writer of Aleph, a literary enterprise run by the genius publishing brains. On the scale of design and editing as well, aesthetic presentation is superseding the optimum functionality. This work of fiction is worth of reading by the serious tribe of literary world, who may lately also think to add much needed constructive evaluation on such hard labored creative project. Most often, it lacks, so is this gentle reminder for greater common good!
Atul Kumar Thakur
Monday, November 26, 2012
As per The Wall Street Journal, “Obama's victory in the bruising campaign marks a landmark in modern election history. No sitting president since Franklin D Roosevelt in 1940 has won re-election with a higher unemployment rate, which stands at 7.9 per cent.”
Also, this election will be remembered for the excessive reliance on economic policies as its rallying point. With India-US total merchandise trade touching $57.80billion in 2011, the US is now India's third largest trade partner and hence shares many concerns jointly.
Despite WTO's reservations on such sound bilateral trade relations between these two countries, it's unlikely that any significant change will take place in their cooperation in the days to come. India's current diplomatic engagement with the US is primarily being driven by the hope that Mr Obama's return to the White House will make his economic sense more ‘improved'. But, stepping away from his anti-outsourcing stand would not be easy for the US President, leaving Indian corporates not much to cheer about at this stage.
During the presidential debates, India attracted only fleeting interest of the candidates. Though much like the rest of the world, India too breathed a sigh of relief at Mr Obama's re-election. By choosing to look askance at Mr Obama's first term, where US economic policies were shaped mostly against Indian interests, India has shown a progressive and pragmatic approach towards strengthening ties and dealing with the US Government's ‘new protectionist policies’.
Mr Obama's presidency started off on a less friendly standing with India when he initiated a short-lived, albeit deep, engagement with China. But the past four years have shown that his views have turned significantly in India's favour. His distrust of military-dominated Pakistan in Afghanistan clearly marks India's expanding future role in the South Asian region. So, it's hardly surprising if Mr Obama is now building Bush-era like close ties with New Delhi.
In his new term, an older and wiser Mr Obama is likely to rearrange policy on South Asia and adopt a stricter line on Islamic terrorism emanating out of Afghanistan-Pakistan region. So, in strategic terms too, the US President is looking to India for decisive cooperation in Afghanistan and West Asia.
Washington knows that a decade-old operation in Afghanistan can be ended only through a more proactive role by India. India, on the other hand must not forget that the “Americans are adept at producing or reproducing well packaged formulas”, and should follow the course with proper guard for maintaining its own foreign policy fundamentals.
In the post-Cold War scenario, the US is pre-eminent but nowhere has it held supreme position. The current global strategic scenario is heavily influenced by the US, but it will be too simplified if it is called anything close to ‘unipolar dominance'. USSR's breakup had strengthened the chances of a homogenised world. India must resist such developments as an idealistic leader of global politics. In the last six decades, India has been maintaining its independent stand on foreign policy unmindful of the brickbats and bouquets that came its way. Since 1947, the country has moved up and now it has a legacy to offer.
So, it was not by chance that Mr Obama named Gandhi as his inspiration just after winning the presidential election. With amazing diversity and capacity to act as a bridge between industrialised and developing world, India is now a prominent soft power state. It's a fair development that US now realises India's security concern more responsibly and accepts ‘terrorism' as the immediate target to fight with. The world's two great democracies, India and the US, face many common challenges and also share similar conditions to act on them.
Mr Obama's sharper and well-woven South Asia policy will be crucial for the all stakeholders. India and the US will be benefit in the new arrangements, which might be a conservative estimation though would be closer to the reality. The responses and counter-responses in the main areas of cooperation between the two countries will decide the future course. The present is promising enough with Mr Obama's return.
Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer,dated on November21,2012)
Ironically, unrelenting mysterious smiley’s from the RBI’s head is troubling for this dreaming nation alike, as finance ministry responds every such move with the irritated doses of ‘we will march alone’ and other principles, which are practically unconquerable. A close look on the financial policy making suggests the inherent contradiction within it. The ambiguity on two goals, respectively, lower inflation and high growth is the basic reason behind the unusual mock and verbal tussle between north block and mint street. This unworthy raw is a fruitless exercise without having any clear end in its sight.
The RBI’s stubbornness on keeping interest rates in anti-growth mode has deteriorated the chances of bouncing back for Indian economy, which is grappling with a very odd combination of high inflation and lower growth. In all, the rational part of governance is completely lacking even now, for pushing up the momentum in right course. Earlier, the meltdown sentiment had favoured RBI and its conservative role with ‘no touch and playing safe’ approaches were hailed like ‘concert of chimes’.
Those difficulties have given a new sort of complex time for the Indian financial market, where the issues of working or not on the stated agenda are heavily depends upon the rapport, finance ministry and RBI maintains. It utterly disappoints, the way RBI is losing ‘ease’ with the government and attention from the core issues. Here, it will be also worthwhile to recall that somewhere government too is overstepping in the shoes of central bankers-the abrupt announcement of more private sector banks in the budget speech of Pranab Mukherjee and later lax handling by the RBI on this shows the prevailing s state of affairs.
After twenty-one years of liberalisation programme, Indian economy has grown up in the size and maximization of the wealth is also no longer a ‘non-reality’ for the different income groups. But in these years, the income gap has also spiraled up like never before and the ‘income security’, which both the good socialistic and capitalistic system necessitates, as the programme to execute has been cornered over the years. The system, which walks with the two foremost powers- regulation and capital, is not keeping concern for an equitable system under immense pressure from the cronies and political classes, with large though hidden business interests.
However, not to miss the case of allowing fair and advanced banking in the country, the RBI must ensure the action requires without stopping the strict regulatory watch over the players in the fray of financial sector. As at some point of time, the buzz of innovation too needs careful handling. On this count, the RBI has so far responded well with treating the exotic financial products quite stringently. But its proactive part remained in hibernation, when chances arose to lift the Indian financial market out of working below potential.
Once the RBI was a well shaped moderator but under the changing pattern of financial businesses, it’s falling in the league of its peers, where the desperation is virtue in dealing with the stagnant economies. Much to dismay of the optimists, finance can no longer be handled with the extreme of liberal or stringent set of rules; instead believing in the capacity of spontaneous action by the leadership would make tone much better. In all weather and season, the RBI’s governor should know the pulses of economy down from the rural terrains to the up-market areas of metro cities.
The balancing exercise would be critical here to the further course of action for India’s financial market. The combination of populist politics and over mechanized economic bureaucracy would do no well to the India’s economy, which is in perplexed state on its own future. Knowing where to act effectively in the policy making would solve the petty issues in the high circle that causes endless troubles to the believers of sound financial administration. Access to the institutional finance plays vital role in ensuring the fair chances of employment for the youths.
The entrepreneurial zeal is not weak in India albeit more practical banking approaches are the need of this hour. Still, it would be wrong for the RBI or finance ministry to compare India with the western economies, which have shaped through the different historical developments and ofcourse with the support of colonial projects. India can’t go artificially in the history for overlooking on odd economic issues.
Unlike, India as a new nation and old civilisational land, needs to keep growing and under the aegis of its commendable democratic system. Neither the totalitarian China nor the lightly floating USA would make India, what its majority of people dreams relentlessly. The loggerheads must stop and RBI should think for the common men and business communities too, as nothing would go untoward hereafter!
Atul K Thakur
November2nd, 2012, Friday
(Published in Governance now,dated on November10, 2012)
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s diaries, on a very important phase of twentieth century, came into the light in 2004 and now have been compiled as a book in the English. These memoirs were written during the prison days of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, when he was a state prisoner in the epochmaking years: 1967-1969. His autobiography begins with him recalling his days as a student activist during the movement, aimed for the creation of Pakistan in the early 1940’s. Further, the book covers his experiences of the Bengali language movement, besides offering new insights on the initial struggle of the Bangladeshi independence movement and self-rule. The major events and political planks up to the time of struggle for democratic rights in 1955 are given prominence in Mujib’s memoirs.
His notebooks have some remarkable details and it is hardly surprising since he was catalyst behind the birth of Bangladesh. His autobiography, though doesn’t enable a reader to judge the status of his convictions but at a different level, gives enough space to introspect those early conditions that came into existence after the creation of Pakistan and not very lately, with the birth of another nation-Bangladesh. Troubled and impatient, yet that was a very interesting timeframe in the Indian subcontinent. Mujib’s autobiography, remotely distant from any soft ends, leads to the unusually abnormal past that affected the geography and psyche of south Asia.
Though compelled by bitter circumstances, patriots of highest order were not less accountable for carrying out the procession of partition. Indeed, Pakistan was born as the outcome of those unfortunate tussles, but the creation of Bangladesh, was more the result of Muslim League’s failure to live up to Jinnah’s dream of ‘working democracy’, than any other factors. This book establishes some vital facts, such as, why more than India’s role, the idea of Bangladesh materialised under the unrelenting failures of Muslim League’s leadership which maintained ‘disconnect’ with the people of East Bengal for long time.
The top Muslim League leaders were appearing more as the representatives of the party than people. Institutionally, democracy was functional in Pakistan, since it became a nation state but its liberal attributes were missing and that caused impractical maneuverings on socio-political fronts. Later on things went the wrong way and progresses were not as normal as desired. Shockingly, a leading Muslim League leader, Liaquat Ali Khan, was too not ready in any case to accept the existence of other parties, apart from Muslim League-his speech underlines it more clearly…
“I have always said, rather it has always been my firm belief, that the existence of the League, not only the existence of the League, but its strength is equal to the existence and strength of Pakistan. So far as I am concerned, I had decided at the very beginning, and reaffirm it today, that I have always considered myself the Prime Minister of the League. I never regarded myself as the Prime Minister chosen by the members of the Constituent Assembly.” (Page-144)
And from the opposite side, Suharawardy and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was not less vocal towards the chasm, the new nation was running with. This statement of Mujibur Rahman highlights the geographical/cultural divide Pakistan affronted those days…
“I am from East Bengal, a land where one can go through an entire winter with only a light blanket. Here you have to wear layer upon layer of warm clothes and wrap yourself in blanket after blanket. And yet it is so cold that sleep evades you despite the layers of clothes and the blankets!” (Page-149)
In its part, the Muslim League leaders failed to understand the repercussion posed in downsizing the leadership from East Bengal, on which, the discomfort was being felt by culturally distinct and much reserve natured Bengali speaking population. Most surprisingly, Jinnah too was unaware of the truth, holding that Pakistan’s way ahead was not rosy and as easy, thought out by few in high degree of complacency. More than an assumption, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman got the political height in ‘isolation’ that the Islamabad’s bureaucratic machinery allowed him in unmindful.
Post 1947, the whole political processes were being controlled by the distorted aspirations of political elites. Then in Pakistan-two nations were making strides. Marginalization of real issues for the deviant political policies harmed in general and caused for the condition that led to the brutal partition and immense shock to the people at both sides of the border. Later, similar fear haunted in 1971, when hawkish situation again made people the easiest target of irrational power play.The birth of Bangladesh happened under the ‘guise of cultural isolation’ of East Bengal’s population, but the real reasons were more political.
This was clear to few, as the euphoria was at sky high and Mujib had so far established himself an unchallengeable authority in Bangladesh. But his edge couldn’t sustain for long. Though initially, Mujib received an unprecedented response on his call to move for the economic freedom by uniting the entire nation. The economy picked up rapidly. Production increased substantially. The prices of essential came down sharply. With greater hope, the new conditions for inclusive growth were near the reality but all ended shortly!
On 25January 1975, the country switched to the Presidential system of government and as expected, Mujib took over the charge as first President of Bangladesh. But not very late, in August 1975, he was assassinated in Dhaka along with his family (barring two daughters)-that immediately caused for Martial law in the country. The basic democratic rights were withheld. Thereafter, the politics of killing, camps and conspiracy were revitalized. Nine years later, almost similar scene was replicated in India too after the assassination of Indira Gandhi-in both the countries, innocents’ people were seen at margin in those ugly days, on the wake of violent reprisals from authority!
With straight talking and revelations, an autobiography makes its place prominently established. This book broadly qualifies in that category with its less ‘conformist’ stand-it allows readers to engage on the pages without any epistemological load. In simple words, Mujib’s biography tells the history of making of a nation, not of farce.
In the wish lists of serious readers on modern south Asian history, any miraculous turn out of Nehru and Jinnah’s hidden autobiographies would make the picture of regional politics much comprehensive than it has been over the decades with feeble documentary sources. More than the technicalities of wardrobe, theirs descendant can produce anything ‘exclusive’ on the passed fate of subcontinental history!
Atul Kumar Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Monitor, dated on November11th, 2012)
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Shashi Tharoor’s Pax Indica is formally written with the three different angels of a career diplomat, an articulate writer and finally a politician, who entered the political fray through the Lok Sabha, despite serving in alien foreign lands for over three decades. Rich in details and with Tharoor’s natural mastership on international affairs, this book inquisite India’s position in the new world order, where it gives the balanced picture of established and newly found strengths and weaknesses that finally shapes the design of India’s foreign policy. The richness of this book lies in the insights and information it exudes for the readers about the nature of Indian diplomacy and its institutional establishments.
Pax Indica, as the name suggests confirms India as a super soft power, which only has to work more meticulously with ‘grand strategy’ to make its presence felt on the world stage. The rational execution of ‘grand strategy’ will be needed a thorough synergizing exercise in the Indian foreign policy; international relationships that have been remain a cornstone needs to be reviewed now. At some front, India must think to amend its outdated policies-certainly the ‘non-alignment’ is one of those core issues, where India should act in favour of its interest, instead only responding for moralistic baggage.
In present global strategic scenario, ‘multi-alignment’ would be in favour of India, both as an individual nation and leader of the developing nations, where its leadership has all acceptance and prominence. Aptly quoted in the beginning of the book from Nehru’s ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech that ‘Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world’ justifies India’s broad stake in the global policy making. The fundamental facts support India to rise up to the high rank, it deserves-since the first Asian Relations Conference in Delhi, India presented its ethical aspirations to the world as a young patient nation but with a strong civilisational history.
Tharoor’s idea behind the Pax Indica is progressively constituted and doesn’t support the ‘idea of global or regional domination along the lines of a Pax Romana or a Pax Britannica but a ‘Pax’ for the twenty-first century, a peace system which will help promote and maintain a period of cooperative coexistence in its region and across the world’. Atleast notionally, India has been maintaining its independent standing in international relations and there is no reason, why it should not continue its conventional stand with spontaneous adaptability to the changes.
Remarkably, some key historical developments since1947, which are important for knowing the basics of India’s foreign policy have generously covered by the author in course of finding the new vision for future. A famous quote of Tharoor, used in the jacket of this book as well perfectly sums up the diplomatic process of India as: ‘Indian diplomacy is like the love-making of an elephant: it is conducted at a very high level, accompanied by much bellowing, and the results are not known for two years’. This way, India will never fulfill the global responsibilities, which its domestic transformations happened over the decades easily allow.
The point of view, even which is being formed in the collective imaginations that the many ‘non-issues’ like, better line and staff management inside the establishment is the need of hour and at any cost, those concern should not be surpassed now. India needs specialists and generalists to run its diplomatic corpses, not alone the tailor-made bureaucratic crowd will really usher it to the prominently crucial position in global policy making. What India also urgently need is the new way of looking on ‘near abroad’ or ‘distant abroad’-revisiting of policies, not maintaining the ‘status quo’ will be the true progressivism here.
Initiatives and reciprocations are very essential qualities that a growing power like India should always follow. In recent past, India has ceased to demonstrate both these qualities on crucial occasions-Nepal could be a case in sight, where the radicals have major reservations against India’s asymmetric diplomatic engagement with their country. It really surprises, why Indian mission in Kathmandu not push for more engaged diplomatic collaboration with New Delhi, when this inertia is causing grave strain in relations between hitherto two most friendly nations. In the same way, India should work with new strategy of engagements with the Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri lanka for promoting the peace and co-operation in south Asia.
Working on the obvious and going beyond the obvious-both should be the prime action in foreign policy agenda. Since 1991, world has changed with the end of cold war and collapse of alternative power block, USSR-in the meantime, India has chosen the market reform that finally has given to a mammoth impression in its side, so now is time to working with fresh approaches. Mr. Tharoor has focussed on some of the path-breaking issues, which normally ignored in mega-observations of self styled foreign policy experts. Writing from a political position and with so many new observations are not lesser than a brave job, which Shashi Tharoor has done it again, following his own track records with more than a dozen of books and numerous articles.
Not necessarily, change should be always taken as ‘unconventional’; especially a rising soft power like, India must be more receptive with the dynamicism of new global political order, which is working covertly though needs proactive response and on the real time basis. This book has written on time and its specific suggestions should appeal the ruling UPA government, as the reality checks pointed by Mr. Tharoor are easy to reckon. The idea of Pax Indica is not timid, despite it’s written by a full time politician, probably a ‘writer’s virtue’ has succeeded here!
Atul Kumar Thakur
October 20, 2012, Saturday
(Published in The Kashmir Monitor,dated on October21,2012)
The CPN (Maoist)’s most recent decision to ban Indian vehicles and Bollywood cinema within the country marks the height of bankruptcy in Nepal’s ultra-Left movement. First, it violates the fundamental rights enshrined in the Interim Constitution of Nepal, 2007, in Article 12(2). Second, it negates Nepal’s long history of co-operation with India.
The psychological complex that has produced such action is, however, strikingly different from the Orwellian notion of a big brother figure watching over the country. Or else, the people propagating the anti-India message would have similar apprehensions about China as well. But they don’t, possibly because Red China is offering the seed capital with which to destroy the tightly knit fabric of India-Nepal relations.
China is already outpacing India as a major investor in the Himalayan state, besides controlling the nerves of that country’s ultra-radical political forces. India should never have taken China’s hidden game in Nepal so lightly. Also, India’s diplomatic mission in Kathmandu has miserably failed in recent years to nourish the goodwill of the Nepalese people.
People-to-people contact between India and Nepal is New Delhi’s sole edge over Beijing. Probably, this is the reason why the average Nepalese stands against the ban on Indian vehicles and movies, having dismissed the dictates of the CPN-Maoist. But this is not surprising.
Since 1996, when civil war broke out in Nepal, the Maoists have consistently defied the common man’s aspiration. Even those with the most radical of imagination will agree that the Maoists don’t qualify as the leader of proletarian movement. Indeed, it is the average Nepalese, the civil society in that country and the Press that have been the biggest victims of the Maoist’s hypocritical people’s movement.
Ideologically, the Maoists’ movement in Nepal is impure and reflects the personal cynicism of its leadership. Next to the ideological line, these leaders have been nurturing their political ambitions by pumping up a ‘sovereignty phobia’ or ‘Indophobia’ in Nepal. Maoists are divided entities now, and those who sit outside the power circle, try to carve a niche for them. They hope that the anti-India demonstration will give them the mileage to do so.
A recent report by the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees, charting 10 years of human rights violations during the Nepal conflict, presents the trove of horrific data regarding the number of dead, the number of abducted people etc. As expected, the ruling Maoists have rubbished the report. In fact in a bid to corner the international watchdog, the Maoist Government has begun distancing itself from the UN in multilateral arenas. This marks a complete departure from its earlier reliance on international agencies such as the UN. Clearly, transition from a power-seeking role to a position of power-mongering has altered the basic principles of the Maoists.
Political theory suggests that a state’s sovereignty rests with its people. Nepal has always successfully maintained its sovereignty and independence. Since the end of the Malla confederacy and the political unification done by the founder of the ruling house of Gorkha, Prithvi Narayan Shah, in the 18th century, Nepal has in fact never faced any sovereignty crisis.
Even the present time of political transition has hardly allowed for any systemic vulnerabilities in Nepal that might result in the country falling to the domination of a foreign power. So, this new-found ‘insecurity’ regarding sovereignty, especially among the radical politicians, is really the result of the kind of petty politicking that is rampant in Nepal.
Let there be no doubt that political strategies based on anti-India, hate campaigns will not last long enough. This is because neither Nepal’s economic nor sentimental impulses will ever allow India to be any less participative in its soil. Besides, India still has a positive footprint inside Nepal. Any apprehension towards India’s role in that country is misplaced and principally irrational, and the fighting political parties of Nepal must acknowledge this. They must also understand that there is no merit in engaging in a tease game with an immediate and friendly neighbour, who also strategically ranks high in global power-politics. The Nepalese people deserve better than vile rhetoric.
Atul K Thakur
October10th, 2012, Wednesday
(Published in The Pioneer,dated on October23,2012)
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Stepping in the contested history is possible without stucking with gauche mannerism, which Pankaj Mishra has proved long back with his thought provoking account on European influence in “Temptation of the West” and now with much awaited work on the colonial history, “From the Ruins of Empire”. ‘Ostentation of knowledge’ is an established plank of western historiography that primarily aims at defying the civilisational distinction in favour of much compressed and narrowly oriented idea of knowledge that obviously is West favoured.
Mishra tries to answer those biased antics, with his own high polemical standard and by recalling some of the refreshingly independent thinkers from Asia, who stood against the Western narratives of knowledge or authority at the height of imperialism. This whole process stemmed through the project-colonialism, though its death happened decades back but shadow remains strong enough (as of now, even in the follies of its believers) to suppress the efforts of damage control through historical interpretation.
This book doesn’t nibble the ideas; rather it hammers the odd convictions and concretizes the assertions from Asia against the western colonialism. Never to forget, this is to denounce the horrifying shambling of anecdotes and for shining a new light. In core, the book has more focus on the personalities from Asia, who stood with their own independent thinking against the colonial will. The significant details on the works of Al-Afghani, Liang Qichao and Rabindranath Tagore give reasons for relooking on the history of intellectual resistance.
Here, Pankaj Mishra questions on the tailor made assertions of West towards Asian wisdom-the book accounts; Tagore was at some point more vocal critic to the West than it is commonly known. Also, he was highly detached with the Western materialism, and never taken his family’s connection with the Westerners in ‘pride’. His following action as a poet/artist and the institution makers was clearly a shift from the popular fashion, nourished by shrewd Western ideas. Not surprising, if Tagore was never easy with his grandfather/ Dwarkanath Tagore’s over entrepreneurial drive and liasoning with the Britishers.
Subsequently, in beat and pieces, movements spread with these new beliefs have covered well by the author. Astonishing scholarism in narration is an indelible quality of Pankaj Mishra, he exuded it with his fiction “Romantics”, less fictional travelogue “Chicken Butter in Ludhiana” and other works, this time too, he touches his own benchmarks while dealing with a wide range of geography and its complex history. He makes vociferous criticism on the Western notion of cultural supremacy and strongly points out on the instances that made the Victorian period, a time of breathless progress in the west but how maximization of its gain proved menacing for the Asians.
The perceptions in vogue, still has lesser emphasis on the intellectual side of tussle that begun with the advent of colonialism in Asia. Mostly it’s the economic reasons that sighted as the cause of inter-continental trade hunt, and later its continuation in varied amoral forms. “From the Ruins of Empire” is basically a remarkable book, as it rises above those stunted confirmations that discourage the practical look out on the most important phases of history.
Earlier, Asians overtly suffered those ugly treatments of western colonialism, but now the cultural discrimination is routing alternatively albeit creating not less frustration and anger among those sufferers. Against these backdrops, India and China have emerged as two strong powers, with impressive international acceptance of their might in different capacity. In the 21st century, this presents an interesting scenario, as no longer west has ability to sustain its conventional affluence over the world and new powers are unlikely to undermine its newly found edge for leading the history to a new end.
So, this is a balancing phase-book tells this but not before ruling out the misnomer that Asians (particularly India and China) could match the western lifestyle, in their flawed imagination. For knowing the history of divide better, Mishra enables the reader to travel to the events of two centuries. As the book progresses, reader can also get sufficient interface in ideas, which become possible through seeing the events from the eyes of others, such as the well travelled journalists, poet, and political radicals.
Among the many quotes used in the book, Akbar Illahabadi’s quote (page-14), which is more an apprehensive statement seems closer to the heart of this book. ..
They hold the throne in their hand. The whole realm is in their hand.
The country, the apportioning of men’s livelihood is in their hand…
The springs of hope and of fear are in their hand…In their hand is the power
To decide who shall be humbled and who exalted…Our people is in their hand,
Education is their hand…If the West continues to be what it is, and the East what
It is, we shall see the day when the whole world is in their hand.
Undoubtedly, here the poet is less reluctant in subscribing what went wrong in the inner construct of East that made it the subject of West’s selfish ideas.
Pankaj Mishra has reignited a very broad debate this time with “From the Ruins of Empire”, he has extended those orientation started with Edward Said’s “The Orientalism” in 1978 in controversial post-colonial studies. Again, the time has begins now to contempt the Western concept of “Orientalism” or the difference between East and West. This book makes the ‘artificial boundary’ made by the West into two parts, between East-west or the Occident-Orient or the civilised-non-civilised less acceptable.
This is a welcome development in the sense, world will have better chances of peaceful co-existence in the absence of any lurk for highest order confrontation in different arenas. Pankaj Mishra normally supplies less than his readers want from him, but he has to change now under the consistent demand he will face to write more on the post-colonial themes. Meanwhile, time is to wait and see how the Western world reorders itself!
Atul Kumar Thakur
September 29, 2012, Saturday
In a recent quantum leap, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the constituents of United Democratic Madhesi Front and other Madhesi and Janjati parties came together to form a Federal Democratic Republican Alliance, with the professed aim of moving towards ‘a Constitution with federalism, and federalism with identity’. Unfortunately, this hardly presents any positive signal to end the political uncertainty in that country.
The FDRA’s aim is to put pressure on the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) to accept an identity-based restructuring of the state before the polls and then go in for an electoral partnership. Altogether, this alliance has done little more than angering the Opposition and preventing any potential thaw in relations.
The present state of Nepal’s politics allows for such an unusual condominium of parties that make little sense when it comes to resolving the greater political mess in the country. The overblown ambitions of the political class nullify the earlier efforts of democratic experiments. The current state of instability in Nepal seems to be more the result of the behavioural recklessness of politicians rather than the consequence of a celebrated political transition.
Undoubtedly, such pacts and agreements among politicians who are under pressure to survive have pushed governance issues to an all-time low. When the roads were not all rubble and 12-hour-long power cuts were not the norm, things were different. The people of Nepal had hope in the new generation of politicians and their brand of democratic politics.
For instance, the Maoists, until recently, were viewed differently as they focused on inland development and did not wish for Nepal to continue as a dumping ground of imported goods. However, their economic vision has been lost mid-way. Today, the work done by the present Maoist led-Government, headed by the once ideologically pure Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, is no less disappointing than any of his predecessors.
The wider connect among the people of India and Nepal has remained the cornerstone of ties between these two countries; the bond here is simply unmatchable. Still, the current level of engagement between these two countries is less satisfactory than it used to be in earlier times. From the Indian side, there is need to limit reliance on the diplomatic mission in Kathmandu for all negotiations, most of which should actually be carried out by Ministerial level delegations.
Also, the inadequate response from India in diplomatic engagement has kept Nepal on the margins; in this regard, there is need for course-correction. Greater people-to-people exchanges will help minimise anti-India feelings among a large section of the Nepali population. In the recent past, India has played the role of a cautious yet concerned neighbour, with respect to Nepal’s fluctuating political scenario. But to stop the vendetta of misguided radicals, India should deal with the situation in a proactive manner and without any biases.
Since 1996, Nepal has witnessed a series of troubling developments. Primary among them was the outbreak of the highly violent Maoist insurgency and later the royal massacre of 2001 which pushed the nation into an age of uncertainty. King Birendra had acceptability among the masses and political parties as well; and his willingness to lead Nepal to democracy was well known. It is true that had he still been alive, the credibility of the throne would not have been lost so early and without the emergence of any better substitute. Before 2001, Nepal was a nation in political transition. Now, it is a land ruled by leaders, who have no other plans except to walk with their erroneous ideas.
It’s alarming to see that Nepal really has no economic roadmap in place. Industries are either being shut down or they are stagnating. Janakpur, a remarkable city in the Terai region, has no other industry apart from a state commanded cigarette factory. As a result, the city is far worse today than it was twenty years ago.
This problem is contagious. The condition of Nepal’s other big cities is not very different. Nepali leaders visiting New Delhi have no will to execute the Memorandums of Understanding signed with the Indian Government or the Indian private sector in the areas of thermal power, telecommunications, tourism etc.
Until the political class reacts to economic impulses, things in Nepal will be hard to change. Nepal deserves a better deal than shrinking under the false promises of undeserving politicians. Democracy is indeed desirable but only if Nepal has chances of getting a real one, not something clownish in its place.
Atul Kumar Thakur
September 29, 2012, Saturday
(Published in The Pioneer, dated on September 20, 2012/ http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/52487-nepal-needs-genuine-democracy.html )
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Thursday, August 30, 2012
It’s clear that, the finance ministry is the most important place in India after the Prime Minister’s Office --this sounds awkward but becomes evident when seen against the recent reshuffling in ministries, when the serving home minister was called to hold the command of economy. This marks the moral bankruptcy, as the new finance minister will be hardly reckoning the plight of the economy which originated through the clash of interest between real and rave components -- moreover, he lacks the critical tributes like acceptance and expertise for handling a diverse economy like India’s.
This mischance will boost many inside the RBI, who earlier relied on static and soft monetary policies that at least in last one-and-half-years have cut India from both of its central economic ideologies based on ‘half-willing socialism’ and ‘half-sighted dreams of reform’. Among the list of blunders, the RBI’s extraneous policy regarding the licensing of new banks under the private sector refers the unique misunderstanding of the whole issue. It’s obvious that, the RBI is not keen on banking licenses for corporates, not to work with any neo-egalitarian model of banking based on ‘maximum happiness’ of clients of different types and figures but for securing the power to superseded the boards of existing banks and leaving the case of banking expansion in its backyard.
The insistence of the central bank on amendments to the Banking Regulation Act by the Parliament as a prerequisite for any potential flex on banking licensing is flawed and objectionable. It may be true that none of India’s NBFCs are fit enough for the award of baking business, though the many interested public sector entities could be taken for a ride under the joint venture in private partnership. Also, there would have been nothing wrong by downing the obstination on allowing corporate world at large to enter the fray of banking based on competency, not by the channel of cronyism.
By the impression of numbers, India’s corporate sector is performing but by the spirits, in no manner it’s worth of calling ‘robust’. By an example, almost all heads of India’s private sector banks have downplayed the chances for few more private banks, citing the already high competition and its aftereffects on their businesses. These were all untoward statements with no technical precision or understanding of a height of possible stagnation with which India’s banks will be reckoning sooner than the later. Banking should be means for the profit but not for the oligopoly; unfortunately, the reverse is the case in India today -- not surprising in present scenario, if the SBI has lost its tag of being the most valued bank in market terms from one of its shrewd peers.
Notwithstanding its actual role, the RBI is maintaining silence over the future growth of India’s financial sector, which has been safe more for its undersized ambition than the claimed ‘prudence’. This is totally ironic watching the curtain down on the future of India’s more than 55 percent unbanked citizens and overall the growth of financial sector at large. The path India’s banking has travelled so far hardly allows one to part the views between progressivism and ultra-materialism, here the things have to be seen in the right context. Public sector banking was more a hedging intervention, so it would be unfair considering the nationalisation of banks as the complete socialistic manifestation. PSBs/RRBs played their role immensely well and would do more good under the perfect competition around the every nook and corner.
Not even remotely, the arrival of few more banks would harm their business; contrarily it would help the sagging market sentiments to get an upward touch. Instead fearing and sharing those misleading apprehensions, the RBI should create a true healthy work culture in PSBs/RRBs, which are remarkable by their business and reach.
RRBs especially deserves much better deal in terms of human resource policies. It’s shocking to see the RBI/finance ministry’s dualism in taking them as at par with the PSBs, where the service benefits like pension is now the part of system. This discrimination should be ended by introducing the service provisions including of pensions for the RRBs employees on the line of PSBs With more than 17,000 branches across the India’s rural heartlands and the small towns, RRBs can be seen as the engine of rural growth in India -- so they need an immediate broad unification at the national level with an effective professional board, which can lead the rural banking for more inclusive businesses.
India’s jobless growth or the slow industrial momentums are the outcome of chronic passivism from the RBI for the mass issues. It’s not more than an excuse in passing the fault on global financial uncertainty by the India’s policy regime for the present mess-up at domestic front. The last two decades of India’s growth story was based on the domestic consumption strength, rather than on any other fancied factors. This should be the time of reckoning by India’s central bank, moving clearly and with a goal must be the basic catch which it has been missing for long under its mix of placid shows off and painful affects. Until India’s central bankers will rise from their very long slumbering, any hope to see the financial sector on bloom would be near about the day dreaming in a rainfed season like the present!
Atul Kumar Thakur
(Published in Governance now on August27th 2012/ http://governancenow.com/views/columns/rbis-unsavoury-policy-dictates )
Due to strong political governance, Bihar had been one of the performing Indian states prior to 1990; it lost that edge in the next fifteen years. The process of recuperation began with the arrival of a thinking leader, Nitish Kumar, in 2005. He took charge of a state in ruins and made it thoroughly functional and even competent by boosting basic services such as infrastructure, law and order. This has had a radical impact and helped metamorphose the state's work culture positively.
Post independence, India's planned economy was single-mindedly shaped on an industrial policy targeted towards developing heavy industries near raw material supply centres along with creating an effective infrastructure network for mobilising the resources among different aimed destinations. An undivided Bihar, with its rich mineral base and close proximity to Kolkata for transport access, became an exciting hunting ground for large scale investments. The operations of Tata Iron and Steel Company (Tisco) in Jamshedpur and public sector units like SAIL in Bokaro testify to the positive prospects Bihar was offering. Despite the flaws of policies regarding traditional communities, new industrial cities such as Ranchi, Bokaro, Jamshedpur, Dhanbad and others came up under the changed policy atmosphere.
The pattern of industrial policy manoeuvrings in the initial five years plans significantly influenced the shaping of growth prospects in Bihar for the long run. Their impact was felt in three different ways. Firstly, the resource rich southern parts of Bihar, especially the regions of Chhota Nagpur emerged as the hub of industries. Secondly, over emphasis on heavy industries in South Bihar undermined any chances of developing agro-based industries in the naturally conducive Gangetic plane of northern region of the state. Consequently, the industries of southern Bihar failed to establish any significant interface with the minor industries located in North Bihar. In the absence of such strong linkages between south and North Bihar, the bifurcation of the state in the year 2000 (the creation of Jharkhand) came as a severe blow to the newly formed Bihar.
Moreover, the bifurcation resulted in some structural changes in the overall industrial pattern of Bihar. All big mineral based industrial houses were located in the new state of Jharkhand and very few large scale industries are left in post bifurcated Bihar. Thus,there have been no mineral based industries in the state and the industrial enterprises were bound to be restricted in lightweight segments such as agro-based, food processing, textiles, leather, wood and paper industries.
Despite this, macroeconomic overview on the economy of Bihar marked a significant increase in Gross State Domestic Product(GSDP) since the beginning of the last decade and during the second half of the decade. As per the Central Statistical Organization (CSO), the average annual growth of GSDP in Bihar has been robust at 8.5 per cent during the period 1999-00 to 2009-10 and more importantly in the second half of the decade. During the period from 2005-06 to 2009-10, the state income of Bihar grew at an impressive average annual growth of 10.9 per cent.
As a result, the economy of Bihar has undergone major structural changes during the last decade with the changes in composition of its GSDP between 2000-01 and 2009-10. The share of agriculture has declined from 38.8 per cent in 2000-01 to 20.8 per cent in 2009-10. On the other hand, the share of secondary sector increased from 10.7 per cent to 19.9 per cent and share of the service sector increased from 50.5 per cent to 59.4 per cent during the same time period. But the Per Capita Income (PCI), measured by the per capita net state domestic product at current prices, of Bihar remained abysmally low at Rs 13,663 compared to all India average of Rs 37,490 in 2008-09.
The fiscal front of the Bihar shows that the gross fiscal deficit ratio to GSDP is at 2.7 per cent in 2010-11 which is within the desirable Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) target level. The revenue receipt/GSDP ratio is also at a comfortable level in Bihar at 28.1 per cent for 2010-11 and the state enjoys a revenue surplus as per the budget estimate of 2010-11. Bihar is among the top states when it comes to central transfer (CT). The 2010-11 budget shows a CT- GSDO ratio at 21 per cent. Even Bihar's expenditure pattern is very impressive as the state spends mostly under the heads of developmental expenditure, social service expenditure and capital outlay. Therefore, Bihar gives strongest fundamentals, which are considered essential for sizable investments; undoubtedly it has an undeniable edge on this in eastern side.
Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have been playing major role in the economy of Bihar. 2000 onwards this trend has grown stronger. As on 2010-11, the state has about 183729 registered MSME units with a total investment of Rs 1,275 crores, which creates employment to about 6 lakh people. According to the fourth all India survey of micro, small and medium enterprises conducted in 2006-07 by Ministry of MSME, a total number of 71,435 enterprises were surveyed in Bihar. Out of these surveyed enterprises, 52,188 MSME units are operational. These operational units constitute more than 73 per cent of total number of enterprises surveyed in Bihar during 2006-07. The future growth of industry in Bihar will be continuing heavily propelled by MSMEs.
A FICCI- KAF (Konrad Adeneur Foundation) report has made wide-ranging recommendations for improving industrial growth in the state. The suggestions, based on industry's feedback on land allocation, power, labour, taxation, transport infrastructure, marketing, credit availability, technology upgradation and agri-led industrial development, were based on macroeconomic assessments.CII too has made recommendations for Bihar's industrial growth; interestingly a wide ranging policy convergence could be seen with the pragmatism of state government.
More than the availability of resources, Bihar's industrial saturation or deterioration was caused by the inaction of policy makers. With the upgradation of machinery and absence of subversive politics in Bihar the focus on growth is evident from the signing of more than 176 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for major business deals. Nevertheless, rate of execution is still short of a satisfactory primarily because of the Centre's apathy to provide coal linkage for the critical needs of thermal power in the state. Despite north Bihar being a rich resource of water, hydroelectricity capacity of the state remains abysmal.
There is huge potential in the flood affected districts of Madhubani, Saharsa, Supaul, Sitamarhi,Purnea, Araria, Kishanganj, Katihar to be used as the cluster of hydroelectric generation through effective water management for commercial uses. This can help make Darbhanga a major industrial city in the north Bihar; with historical preeminence and excellent geographical location, this place deserves to retrieve its lost glory. A new vision with comprehensive action plans is needed to include Bihar's northern regions (Mithilanchal) in the proper growth framework. This will not only help in boosting entrepreneurship in these regions alone but across the state. Also a renewed negotiation with Nepal is need of this hour; Patna must be allowed to play bigger role in the future bilateral dialogues of India and Nepal.
Today Bihar presents the ideal high ground for attracting investments and business activities from both within and outside. Among the eastern states, Bihar has a clear lead for placing its claim for a new potential based on its immaculate governance and a regime of clean politics. Hitherto, it was never so persistently resonant and especially after one and a half decades of intense gloom, the new found optimism in Bihar is a 'pleasant end to a tragedy'. Under the sea of changes, the concentration of debate has shifted from 'parochialism to progressivism'. This gives big hope to industry becasue unlike Gujrat, in Bihar, both the politics and enterprise are rational and sustainable, so there is no longer any reason of industry's inhibitions to operationalise its activities in the state. The culture of coalition politics mars the unbiased functioning of the state, this is quite clear with the Centre's consistent apathy to assist the Bihar through special aides in last seven years. However, Bihar's growth agenda will not be compressed too much and the present sense of optimism should be maintained.
Atul Kumar Thakur
(Published in Businessworld on August 13th2012/ http://businessworld.in:8080/en/storypage/-/bw/bihar%E2%80%99s-industrial-renaissance/473137.30752/page/0 )