Category Archives: India

India promises to prop up Karzai

Karzai seeks India as a bulwark against Pakistani and Talibani pressure in Afghanistan.  He an Manmohan recently signed an agreement whereby India would provide “support” to the Afghan security forces.

They are also attempting to resuscitate dialogue with Iran.  They aim to create a trade route between the two countries over Iranian soil, given that a much shorter route over Pakistani territory will never see the light of day.

The Pakistanis are incensed at the notion of an Indian military presence in Afghanistan, which they view as their backyard.  The Karzai trip will probably end another tentative rapprochement between India and Pakistan.  India can expect Pakistan to respond asymmetrically, through more terror strikes.

The US, too, will be unhappy, because these actions will work against the diplomatic and economic isolation of Iran, which is a critical part of US (and Israeli) foreign policy.

China will be watching with interest.

M. K. Bhadrakumar’s full analysis is here.


On Change in India

It was depressing, and even a little frightening, to cross the highway on my way back to Vijay’s house … The act of walking changed the way I experienced everything around Kothur. My uneasiness while crossing the highway and the diminution I felt as I walked for what seemed like hours across that flat landscape brought me a little closer to the experience of the workers. Walking shrunk me down to the level of an insect, for even as I made my way slowly towards the steel factory along the dirt track that ran under the highway, I could see the cars and trucks speeding past. It made me feel lost, unfit somehow for the new world I could see up there.

On how modernization is leaving the vast majority of Indians behind.  An excerpt from “The Beautiful and the Damned:  A Portrait of the New India” by Siddhartha Deb.  Excerpted in Guernica.  Here.

Arundhati Roy makes sense (for once)

For all her bleeding heart liberalism and idealism, one cannot doubt her intelligence.  She’s written a cogent and damning critique of Anna Hazare and his Lokpal movement.

First, the Lokpal sturm und drang is analogous to the Maoist insurgency, in that both seek the overthrow or severe curtailment of the Indian state. But,

One [is] working from the bottom up, by means of an armed struggle, waged by a largely adivasi army, made up of the poorest of the poor. The other [is working] from the top down, by means of a bloodless Gandhian coup, led by a freshly minted saint, and an army of largely urban, and certainly better off people.

Second, althought he professes himself to be Gandhian, there is nothing Gandhian about his demands.

Contrary to Gandhiji’s ideas about the decentralisation of power, the Jan Lokpal Bill is a draconian, anti-corruption law, in which a panel of carefully chosen people will administer a giant bureaucracy … with the power to police everybody from the Prime Minister … down to the lowest government official.

Third, he does not really seem to be concerned about the travails and tribulations of the dispossessed masses he claims to champion.

Oddly enough we’ve heard him say nothing about … the farmer’s suicides in his neighbourhood, or about Operation Green Hunt further away. Nothing about Singur, Nandigram, Lalgarh, nothing about Posco, about farmer’s agitations or the blight of SEZs.

Fourth, we seem to have forgotten about his connection with and admiration for the Hindu right wing.

He does however support Raj Thackeray’s Marathi Manoos xenophobia and has praised the ‘development model’ of Gujarat’s Chief Minister who oversaw the 2002 pogrom against Muslims.

And finally, and perhaps most damning of all, where is all the money for his movement coming from?  It seems that Indian and foreign corporates have been very generous.

The campaign is being handled by people who run a clutch of generously funded NGOs whose donors include Coca-Cola and the Lehman Brothers. … Among contributors … there are Indian companies and foundations that own aluminum plants, build ports and SEZs, and run Real Estate businesses and are closely connected to politicians who run financial empires that run into thousands of crores of rupees.

But why?  To find out, you can read the original piece in The Hindu.  To give you an inkling, it has to do with the corporate takeover of the Indian state.

The decline of Asian marriage

From The Economist:

… marriage is changing fast in East, South-East and South Asia, even though each region has different traditions. The changes are different from those that took place in the West in the second half of the 20th century. Divorce, though rising in some countries, remains comparatively rare. What’s happening in Asia is a flight from marriage.

This seems to be anecdotally true among my circle of acquaintances in India.  The signif other and I know a fair number of successful and single / divorced Indian women in their early- to mid-30s.  This phenomenon seems more observable in Mumbai than in Delhi.  There are a number of reasons for this.  First, it’s simply easier to live comfortably as a single woman in Mumbai.  Fewer men are going to harass you on the road.  There will be fewer nosy numbers wondering why you are not married and imagining the most titillating reasons for your not doing so.  It is easier and safer to travel late at night.  There are many support groups for single women.  And so on …

We also know a fair number of single guys of the same age.  There are two more traditional factors at work here.  First, most of these guys feel that they have not established themselves professionally.  Second, they are not in long-term relationships, where the signif other might push towards a formal connubial connection.

So far, the trend has not affected Asia’s two giants, China and India [except, as I argue, in Bombay]. But it is likely to, as the economic factors that have driven it elsewhere in Asia sweep through those two countries as well; and its consequences will be exacerbated by the sex-selective abortion practised for a generation there. By 2050, there will be 60m more men of marriageable age than women in China and India.

This signifies huge social problems in the future.  A cohort of semi-educated, perhaps semi-employed single men can only cause problems.  (It’s likely that male singlehood will concentrate at the lower rungs of society because it’s these guys who will be less competitive in the marriage market.)  Those energies will be easily channeled by populist political forces.  We can expect a surge in right-wing discourse, and perhaps outward aggression.

The former will manifest in the creation of an internal ‘other.’  Extrapolating from current trends, we may expect increasing religious friction nationwide, increasing regional parochialism where locals fight to protect “local” jobs from outsiders, and an increase in class conflict, as the elites struggle to keep these centrifugal forces from causing societal fissures that weaken their grip on power and its economic levers.

Outward aggression will serve the opposite purpose.  It will act as the valve atop a pressure cooker, as the resentments of the single male cohort will be channeled against external enemies.  Brinksmanship will be necessary to keep these energies directed outwards.  Given that both Indian and Chinese will face these problems, we may expect a rapid escalation of frictions between these two, as well as against their neighbors.  So here, we face a paradox, where to keep a country internally stable, it is necessary to increase external aggression.  But this may only be a short-term solution, as it is possible that the external aggression leads to war, which will lead to different internal stresses.

In the long term, these tendencies may be dissipated through a reversal of a generation-long policy of female infanticide.  This will require a change in national incentives, where the girl child is no longer looked upon as a liability, but rather as an asset.  There have been steps in this direction already, such as the illegalization of dowry and the entry of females into the workplace.  The latter, as already discussed, creates its own set of problems.  It reduces the set of women seeking marriage, and increases the set of involuntary male singles.

But this is hardly likely to help the lost generation of male singles.  The interim solution would require keeping this mass quiescent.  Biologically, we primed towards sexual access and propagation of our genetic line.  It is to facilitate this access that males seek status, power, money and other signifiers that a pair-seeking female might seek. Keeping the mass quiescent would require facilitating their attainment of these signifiers.  The attainment would increase their likelihood of regular sexual access, but perhaps more importantly, would increase their stake in the existing status quo, and thus make them less likely foment actions against the status quo.  Job creation would help, as well as other mechanisms that enmesh them in the societal web.  It is important to ensure that familial ties remain strong.  A man with filial responsibilities towards an elder parent is less likely to jeopardize his opportunities to support the elder.  Concurrently, quiescence would also be facilitated if the man would have some sort of sexual access.  The obvious solution is a legalization and destigmatization of prostitution.  The reason for this is that in the Indian context at least, regular sexual access is often predicated upon marriage.

Absurdities # 1

In another example of the cultural chauvinism that seems to be spreading around India (Bengaluru anyone?), Mamata Banerjee’s government has decided to change West Bengal’s official name to Paschimbanga, which literally means ‘West Bengal’ in Bengali.

The absurdity lies in Mamata’s rationale for the change:

Announcing the decision, CM Mamata Banerjee said the new name would enable a move up in the alphabetical order, and state representatives will be able to speak early during national-level seminars or conferences. “This will help us so far as administration is concerned,’’ she said.

This switch would only result in West Bengal moving a couple of places up the pecking order.  If ‘administration’ were really the issue, a much simpler mechanism would be to simply drop the ‘West’ from the state’s name.  Quite obviously, this is just more populism on Mamata’s part.  Cheap talk is much easier than actually governing a state and getting into the nitty gritties of policy.


Fluctuating pork and inflexible onions

From Rahul Jacobs at beyondbrics, an FT blog.  Where factors affecting food price inflation in India and China are compared.

Pork prices are a proxy for overall food prices in China because pork forms an integral part of the Chinese diet.  The same holds for onions in India.  Indeed, rising onion prices often have sharp political fallouts.  The Shekhawat government fell in 1998 in Rajasthan in part part due to an unprecedented rise in the onion price.

Jacobs argues that hog price inflation in China is cylical and exacerbated by government policy, which amplifies the amplitude of the price swings. The policy resulted in significant over-investment in the hog sector in 2008, which caused a glut and price collapse 18 months later.  As farmers exited the market in droves, supply shrank and the hog price yoyoed back up.  Now the government is gearing up for another round of over-investment, and the pattern will repeat itself.

In India, on the other hand, the problem is more structural.  Factors include the low level of farmer education, abysmal or non-existent agricultural marketing and storage facilities, poor transport links, systemic underinvestment in irrigation and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA).

The MGNREGA guarantees 100 days of employment every year, at minimum wage, to all adults in all rural households.  The employment is typically unskilled manual labor on gonverment-funded infrastructure projects.  The MNREGA increases food price inflation in two ways.  First, it increases the cost of agricultural labor by giving the rural poor an outside option.  Second, it increases food demand, as the purchasing power of the rural poor rises.

The scheme makes for great populism, and will go a long way towards strengthening the Congress’s position in upcoming electoral battles.  But we should be not be unaware of its true function: to serve as a transfer mechanism from the urban to the rural sector.  The mechanism is probably warranted, given the fact that rural India has lagged behind the cities in all growth indicators over the last two decades.  I worry, though, that the money will not be well spent.  We don’t want construction of infrastructural white elephants dotting the rural landscape, paid for by MGNREGA money.

Indian English: The family tree of a mongrel language

An entertaining piece on Indian English in The Economist.  They reference the Samosapedia, which is a repository of all all things Hinglish  or Bonglish (Bengali + English) or Pinglish (Punjabi + English) or … (you get the picture).I’ve spent a few pleasant hours there over the last few months and and it’s great fun to come across phrases encountered in previous eras in my life.  Some favorites include

  • Jaagte Rahooooooooooo: Literally means “stay awake” and is used by chaukidars in North India.  This particular phrase reminds my of my boarding school education in a little town at the foothills of the Himalayas.
  • Duffer:  “An idiot,” but with an added degree of condescension in the intonation.  Apocryphally from the Anglo-Indian and / or Mac communities.
  • Ladice:  “A group of ladies.”  Pretty much the same as “ladies,” but as always, the difference is in the intonation.  In its implication, the group often becomes a single unit.

I’m chuckling, but I have work to do, and so I shall end this post now.