Monday 30 July 2012

If only the Taiwanese spoke English (Sunday Guardian)

Ma attends the Taiwan Air Force’s commissioning ceremony at Songshan airport in Taipei earlier this month. REUTERS
emocracy may be defined as a state where the government is afraid of the people and where the people are certainly not in awe of or afraid of their government. Judging by this yardstick, Taiwan has become a full democracy. Unlike in South Korea, where the state can still send people to jail for saying that North Korea's Newly Beloved Leader Kim Jong Il has a pleasant smile, the one blot on Taiwan's democratic credentials is the apparent witch-hunt carried out against former President Chen Shui-bian. He was jailed soon after his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost to the Opposition Kuomintang (KMT) in 2008, and has been slapped with charges that could keep him in jail for a further 13 years. Amazingly, Swiss banking secrecy laws were breached in the Chen case to hand the prosecution details of external accounts. What is still unclear is if these were personal, or secret service funds intended to continue the numerous China-targeting programmes that Chen backed. During the eight years of DPP rule (2000 to 2008), Taiwan became a place where foes of Beijing were welcomed, including Falun Gong practitioners and Tibetan independence activists. While proving a link between his arrest and his anti-China views would be difficult, certainly several influential individuals in Beijing would have received the news of his incarceration with satisfaction. The individual credited with adopting a "throw the book at him" line towards the former President was then National Security Advisor Su Chi, who in that role helped President Ma Ying-jeou to vastly expand links with China.
Should the peace hold across the Taiwan straits, the world would be a better place. President Ma himself is known to favour a "permanent peace" across the Taiwan straits, although as yet he has not made a visit to the PRC, unlike his predecessor as the KMT's standard bearer, Lien Chan. Officials within the Presidential Office are clearly worried about whether the Chinese would humiliate their chief by denying him the protocol privileges his VVIP status entitles him to. The view of this columnist is that such a fear may be misplaced. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has not remained in office nor developed the economy so vastly by accident. They would be aware that an insult to President Ma would make millions of Taiwanese now friendly to China hostile to them, thereby ensuring the victory of the "Pan Greens" (hardline independence faction of the DPP) during the 2014 mayoral polls across Taiwan. However, President Ma has as much faith in the wisdom of unelected officials as does Manmohan Singh, and he has thus far followed a very cautious approach towards the option of a visit to the PRC, which if it were done would be the first since Chiang Kai-shek led his defeated army to Taiwan in 1949.
Four years of KMT rule have dispelled several of the war clouds that once hovered over Taiwan. However, there are those who point out that the island is much more than a Sinic entity. Taiwan has a global presence, thanks to its economic prowess, and hence needs not simply a "cross-strait", i.e. China policy, but a global strategy that leverages its strengths in all the continents. But to do that, the people of the island will need to become vastly more proficient in the English language. For a people that have had close contact with the US for six decades, it is dismaying that so little English is actually spoken in Taiwan. Hong Kong, not to mention Singapore, has far better English-language skills than Taiwan. Given the superb human quality of the population of Taiwan, it would take less than a decade for English to become universally known across the island. Should this happen, the ability of the Taiwanese to access information and deploy their skills would be vastly enhanced. This writer believes Churchill to be wrong in adopting an NSDAP-style racist approach towards the Anglosphere. With its three hundred million English speakers, India is as much a part of the 21st century Anglosphere as is the US. Should the Taiwanese take to English the way they have to the production of computer hardware, the island would join Singapore in becoming a part of the modern Anglosphere.

Narendra Modi moves towards ‘Indutva’ (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 29th Jul
Narendra Modi
ujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has surprised his friends and dismayed his enemies by agreeing to an interview with a well-regarded Urdu publication. For years, Modi has focused simply on economic growth and better administration, hoping that the two would suffice to take the sting out of the many political attacks on him by those who understand that Modi represents the opposite of India's post-1947 ideology, Nehruvism, a philosophy followed even by A.B. Vajpayee, albeit in a diluted form. Modi sees secularism as the removal of special privileges to selected faiths, and places the onus of progress on the private sector. Unsurprisingly, he has been the target of unceasing attack, especially by a Congress aware that he represents a threat to the continued charisma of the Nehru dynasty.
Although there has been significant (and by informed accounts grossly under-reported) carnage in Assam, neither the US nor the EU have seen fit to deny a visa to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who incidentally was in the former destination recently. Neither has there been the wave of anger from Nehruvian secularists (i.e. those who regard secularism as a one-way street, applicable only to the majority community) that still crests ten years after the post-Godhra riots. Narendra Modi has not been as fortunate as Rajiv Gandhi (or Arun Nehru), who escaped practically unscathed after the targeted murders of innocent Sikhs following the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi. And what about ministers, and more than a few officials, with direct responsibility for the inability or unwillingness of segments of the state administration to snuff out the post-Godhra rioters before hundreds of lives were lost? Many of them have changed sides and are now with the Congress, in their assigned role of "approvers" or even "witnesses" against Narendra Modi, the single BJP politician who sends Congress strategists scurrying for their worry beads. Not surprisingly, Gordhan Zadaphia and others place the entire blame for the post-Godhra carnage on Modi, although they have not gone as far as Lalu Yadav and his chosen acolytes, who have implicitly blamed Modi even for the burning of the train that caused such fury within elements of the majority community in Gujarat.
The Chief Ministership of Gujarat was Narendra Modi's first real job. Till then, he had been a party worker and before that, an RSS activist, far removed from administration. Five months after his taking over as CM in the final quarter of 2001 came the Godhra train burning and its aftermath. That his subordinates, both political and official, mishandled the situation is clear. A close associate says that "the CM believed in his team and accepted their word that they could handle the situation", adding that "once it became clear that they had failed, he acted swiftly". Nothing can bring back the dead of 2002 Gujarat, just as no action on earth can resurrect those who lost their lives in 1984 Delhi or 2012 Assam. Within India, Gujarat has always been a communally sensitive state, with localities such as Kalupur in Amdavad suffering from low-grade communal fever for decades. However, since the unhappy first quarter of 2002, not a single Muslim has lost his or her life in Gujarat in a communal incident, a record not matched in many states. However, Modi has resisted calls to give the special treatment to minorities that is a commonplace in much of India, including states run by the Congress or its ally, the Samajwadi Party. There is a danger in separating the minorities from the majority, and this is that the two will grow more apart, thereby finally endangering the unity of the state. Interestingly, Narendra Modi is the hate object of not simply Muslim but Hindu fundamentalists as well. The pulling down of roadside shrines and his focus on economic development have angered those who seek a return to what they believe was a perfect past. In that sense, the VHP mirrors the mindset of the Wahhabis, who too believe that society needs to be forced back to the mores and methods of a bygone period, and who too abhor "modern" forms of cultural expression, such as celebrating Valentine's Day or having a late-night drink at a pub with a member of the opposite sex. Modi is a moderniser, embracing international business as well as ensuring the spread of the internet and its dominant language, English. However, even Modi has not been able to save Gujarat from followers of Morarji Desai, who are willing to spawn illicit liquor mafias rather than give up their obsession with making alcohol as illegal in Gujarat as it is in Iran or Saudi Arabia.
Over the past year, Modi has moved, in his usual silent and understated way, to signal that in his Gujarat, all citizens will be treated equally and fairly. Even a visiting Pakistani delegation was surprised with a longish encounter with the Gujarat CM while on a visit to his state. Modi is known to admire businesspersons such as Azim Premji of WIPRO and CIPLA founder K.A. Hamid, and was an early backer of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for both his first and a possible second presidential term. While majority community fundamentalists harp on "Hindutva", which they define as the adherence of all "genuine Indians" to a code of behaviour that they claim was universal in the past (and which presumably resulted in the subsequent conquest by Mughals and the British). The reality is that it is "Indutva" (the fusion of Vedic, Mughal and Western culture streams) that has become the chemistry of the people of a country hungry for an honoured space in the 21st century. By openly reaching out to minorities, especially Muslims, Narendra Modi has shown that he recognises that the mindset of the people of India is both modern and universal, and that the country's traditions are a welcome mix of many streams, local and foreign. Should the Muslims of Gujarat accept Modi at his word, and put aside the pain of 2002 as Sikhs have the torment of 1984, Modi would emerge as the BJP's front-runner for the PM's post within an energised NDA.

Infrastructure key to faster growth (Sunday Guardian)

Madhav nalapAT  New Delhi | 29th Jul
A rickshaw puller makes his way through a flooded street in Kolkata earlier this month. REUTERS
mong the top 10 global economic powers, India has the worst infrastructure. Even where additions have taken place, they appear to have been designed for yesterday rather than tomorrow. Bangalore's airport is an example. From the start, it was clear that the terminal building was too small, with the consequence that it often resembles a mofussil bus stand on a busy day. Local industry was neglected in favour of (far more expensive) foreign imports, even for the procurement of washroom fittings. The older airport was closed to any other than charter and VIP traffic, even though economic commonsense mandated its continued use, possibly for short-haul flights or for those living far away from the new airport. In other countries, commuters usually have a choice of airport when landing in a city. In the case of Washington DC, commuters can land into Reagan National or Dulles, or even airports further away. In India, the very word "choice" is anathema to planners, all of whom seek to follow the Henry Ford dictum: "Customers can have any colour for their car, so long as it's black." Hence, Bangalore residents living in areas far away from the new airport are denied the option of using the old one, as all commercial flights have been banned from using it.
The ignoring of the needs of the public in the design of infrastructure projects in India can be seen at the Gurgaon-Delhi toll plaza. Those seeking to cross the road risk their lives, and all because overhead walkways or underpasses have not been provided at regular intervals on this stretch of the highway. The consequence is that pedestrians, often women and children, weave and dodge approaching vehicles in a desperate bid to cross the road. And as for other conveniences, these are entirely absent. Planners clearly believe in the Hafez Assad principle that bladder control ought to be resorted to for several hours at a time. The contempt shown to elementary public needs has made India a hell for those unable to afford the five-star lifestyles of the political, administrative and business elite.
While travel has become less burdensome in other major economies, it remains a nightmare in India. Getting from Dubai to Abu Dhabi takes about an hour, because of roads where high speeds are the (safe) norm. In China, the distance of 180-plus kilometres between Beijing and Tianjin is covered in a half-hour, because of a high speed rail network that links the two cities so effectively that it is possible now to live in one city and work in the other. Indeed, a citizen of India visiting China will be close to despair at the immense difference between the quality of infrastructure in his own country and that in a country that at its inception in 1949 was much poorer than even India. These days, Indians travel across the globe, where they can see for themselves that even the most backward regions of the world boast better infrastructure than India. And not only in roads. Power is another issue. In Gurgaon, where people put up crores of rupees to purchase dwellings, power cuts have become the norm, especially during the afternoons and the nights. As for water, that has become a luxury to many, despite the fact that even if 30% of rainwater were captured for human use, the country's water shortage would give way to abundance.
A water tanker is seen next to a residential apartment complex in Gurgaon in June this year. Gurgaon, in spite of its gleaming malls and five-star hotels, suffers from crippling power and water shortages. REUTERS
Given the fact that global warming has become a reality, as has extreme unpredictability in climate, it is essential that (1) major works be kept far away from sites that are in danger of extreme events, and (2) there ought to be the use of designs and materials that counteract the effect of climate. Water flow needs to be ensured so that roads do not get waterlogged or rail tracks made unusable because of flooding. Ensuring such design changes is not only well within the range of options available to engineers and builders, but has been for some time. The problem is that old habits persist long after the stage when they ought to be jettisoned, the result being stagnation in the methods of design and execution. Hopefully, all this will change.
Hopefully. For unless India's infrastructure matches more closely with that of other advanced economies, the country's economic future will continue to be cloudy. Each day, intending investors fly back from India, having changed their minds about investing in the country after seeing its miserably low standard of infrastructure. By denying power for hours at a stretch, planners are simply boosting the consumption of fossil fuel in diesel generators across India. This pushes up the country's import bill, besides adding to pollution. By substandard public transport modes, people are forced to use automobiles to get around. Had a paisa been spent yesterday on better infrastructure, the country would save a rupee today. Better infrastructure means a better lifestyle, better productivity and higher overall income. Infrastructure is at the core of economic progress, which is why it is important to highlight this sector and point out both deficiencies as well as solutions. If China can do it, so can India.

Friday 27 July 2012

Russia & China should expand SCO (PO)

By M D Nalapat
Why is it that NATO has so much greater geopolitical resonance than the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) ? Part of the reason is that the full members of the SCO have till now adopted a bureaucratic approach towards their functioning, avoiding major initiatives and refusing to even accomplish what is desirable and inevitable, which is expanding the SCO to include India, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Until such an expansion takes place, the SCO will continue to be a peripheral player on the international stage. However, Russia and China seem hesitant to bring in the other large country, India, perhaps out of fear that its inclusion would dilute their own control over the decisions of the SCO. Because of this reluctance to share power, Moscow and Beijing are losing the opportunity to vastly increase the clout of the SCO, as well as its ability to make a difference in the region.

Rather than continue with its policy of blocking expansion, it would be better for China and Russia to immediately approve the expansion of the organisation by the inclusion within the list of members of Tehran, Kabul, Delhi and Islamabad. The USSR collapsed because of the bureaucratisation of the higher command structure of the government. While the bureaucracy is a necessary component of any state, this machine has to be led by those with a vision bigger than that of getting two promotions in the next ten years. The objective of a bureaucrat is to become Joint Secretary from Deputy Secretary and from that to Secretary. Were such a career progression linked to tangible achievements, there would be no problem.

However, in most bureaucracies, personal preferences and favouritism play a bigger role in promotions than merit. Indeed, in the case of India, tangible achievements are not necessary. The system has made promotion so easy that no fewer than 80% of civil servants get their work graded as “excellent”. Judging by the abysmally low level of quality of almost all government work in India, those making such an evaluation must be indulging their sense of humour Unless a political class with vision emerges that directs the bureaucracy and challenges it to do better, a country is in trouble. If the politicians themselves function as bureaucrats, trying to avoid bold decisions and adopting a policy of going by the lowest common denominator of activity, the machinery of government will slow down and in many cases, become negative for growth, as is very much the case in India. In 2004,Sonia Gandhipassed over politicians to appoint a retired bureaucrat - Manmohan Singh - as PM, aware that his decades in state service have honed in him the instinct of obedience to higher authority.

Other countries need to learn from what is happening in India, a country where a bureaucratised regime obsessed with expanding its already formidable list of powers has converted an economic success story into what may soon become a basket case. The cautious way in which Moscow and Beijing are steering the SCO indicates that a super-cautious, bureaucratic mindset is not the monopoly of Delhi, but is shared by Moscow and Beijing as well.

All three capitals need their leaders to have a vision for the future, as well as the skill and tenacity to ensure its actualisation. An expanded SCO would be able to turn its attention to critical problems, such as ensuring that Afghanistan get prevented from once again becoming a terrorist haven. It could plan and implement a new system of road and rail links that would bring together member-states in ways that enhance rather than reduce security. Above all, it would show that the two big powers do not seek to retain the monopoly of their privileges into the indefinite future, the way the majority of permanent members of the UN Security Council seek.

The SCO ought to be different, in that no member ought to seek to play a Big Brother role within it. India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan are strategically important, each in their own way, and making them permanent members would significantly enhance the stature of the SCO. Bringing them into the organisation would also help promote better relations between them, especially between India and Pakistan.

It is time for Russia and China to think big, to take the long view “from atop the high mountain”, and expand the SCO. Not doing so indicates to the four aspiring members a lack of respect for their status and potential that is far from the thinking of Moscow and Beijing, two capitals who jointly ought to show NATO how to treat other countries with equality and respect.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

India looks to fresh Asian partners in quest for growth (Global Times)

M D Nalapat

The Nehru political dynasty in India, including former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi, and grandson Rajiv Gandhi, talked East but looked West. They were each powerfully influenced by their many connections to Europe, and hence looked to that continent for ideas and validation.

European and Russian inspired "Nehruvian socialism" was a failure in economic terms. In 1951, the year Nehru took full control over economic policy, the per capita income of India was higher than that of South Korea or China. By 2011, China's was over three times that of India.

During Indira Gandhi's periods in office as prime minister (1966-77 and 1980-84), ASEAN took shape, and offered India a privileged partnership. Because of the Nehru family's "Look West (but talk East)" policy, this offer was spurned. Only when a non-Nehru became prime minister in 1991 was a "Look East" policy introduced.

Since then prime minister Narasimha Rao was from South India, he naturally focused on Singapore as the lead partner in the eastern strategy, because the city state is a country where immigrants from South India play a key role. Efforts were also made to improve ties with Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, although Vietnam was not given much attention.

However, when the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 1998, once again India began to "look West," this time beyond Europe to the US.

Since 1998, the focus of India's foreign policy has been Washington. Over the past 13 years, India's foreign policy has moved much closer to the US, and so have military ties, with the two countries conducting several dozen exercises each year, and India buying billions of dollars worth of US hardware for the first time.

However, the 2008 financial crisis in the eurozone are combining with economic growth in Asia to convince foreign policy scholars that the Nehruvian obsession with the West needs to be replaced with a new version of the "Look East" policy.

Instead of spending 71 percent of its overseas diplomatic budget on Western countries, New Delhi needs to divert resources toward emerging markets worldwide, principally Asia.

However, in such a matrix, a partner that is larger than Singapore is needed, although relations between New Delhi and the city state will continue to be close and cordial, in large part because of the wisdom of founding father Lee Kuan Yew, who early on saw the potential of India as a geopolitical partner.

Although the US would like India to focus on its historical ally the Philippines or its new ally Vietnam, both of which Washington is recruiting in its efforts at containing the rise of China, the reality is that the country best suited to be the closest partner of India within ASEAN is Indonesia.

Like India, Indonesia is a big country that is multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Both are democracies. Further, both India and Indonesia have many common cultural elements. Indeed, just as several elements of traditional Chinese culture are better preserved in Taiwan than on the mainland, many Indian traditions are followed with greater care in Indonesia than in India, such as the Ramayana saga or the display of the elephant-headed god Ganesh as the destroyer of obstacles.

Years ago, while visiting the office of presidential advisor Dewi Fortuna Anwar in Jakarta, I was pleasantly surprised to see a huge statue of Ganesh at the entrance, a sight that Nehru banished from offices in India, preferring to continue British traditions and systems rather than change to those more steeped in local tradition.

However, as China is rediscovering its heritage, youth in India too are going away from the colonial model favored by Nehru.

Local culture, rather than copycat Western models, is becoming respectable once again, and in such a process, it is inevitable that India turns to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and to Cambodia, four countries which share a great cultural tradition with India.

The Philippines "looks West," while Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia "look East." And in the future, India will once again "look East."

The author is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Christians big losers in the Syrian uprising (Sunday Guardian)


Women and children look at colourful chicks after attending Easter Sunday mass in a Christian neighbourhood in Damascus in April this year. REUTERS
wo months ago, this columnist, while on a visit to Damascus, was asked by the Patriarch of Antioch why the Christian world had "forgotten their co-religionists in Syria". The Patriarchate of Antioch is the oldest church in Christendom, antedating the Church of Rome by more than two centuries. The Patriarch's worry was that the "freedom fighters" who were being vociferously backed by NATO and the GCC were increasingly targeting Christians. Why was nobody in the US or in Europe raising their voices against the growing persecution of Christians in Syria? Members of Christian families, who had lost their loved ones to "freedom fighter" excesses, spoke of gangs of fanatics who spoke of driving out of Syria any individual who committed such crimes as drinking wine or consuming pork, as also the wearing of dresses by women that revealed a tad more of the body than they covered. Such habits are being excoriated by the "freedom fighters" as the "work of the devil", which the "freedom fighters" hope to soon undo. These men are pinning their faith in Hillary Clinton, David Cameron and Francois Hollande enforcing a "no fly zone" over Syria, that would not only cripple the airpower of the Assad regime, but indicate to members of the armed forces that the end was near, thereby spurring them to defect in such numbers that the insurgents would take over, the way their counterparts did in Libya.
Although such an outcome would be welcomed in London, Paris and Washington, it is seen with dread by Syria's Alawites and Christians (11% and 10% of the population), besides moderate Sunnis and other ethnic groups such as Kurds and Druze, a community that believes in re-incarnation, despite being Muslim. Indeed, it is this diversity of theological opinion in Syria that has motivated those with a far more rigid interpretation of a great faith towards acts of violence designed to unseat not simply Bashar Assad but secularism. In so doing, they are forming part of a trend in the "modern" world for extreme and exclusivist solutions. The creation of ethnicity-based barriers to human migration by the European Union in the 1990s appears to have set off a chain reaction across the globe, of groups demanding that others follow their highway, or step onto the highway, hopefully directly in the path of a speeding vehicle. There is no daylight between the way women are regarded by Pramod Mutalik's Sri Ram Sene and those who follow Wahhabi preachers. For both, the rights of minorities are inexistent. The country recently saw a fusion of reactionary worldviews in Baghpat, where a "khap panchayat" comprising members of India's two most populous communities came together to place restrictions on women that resemble conditions in the Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly, those who have a vested interest in backwardness, out of fear that a more enlightened populace would vote them out of office, refuse to intervene when a section of women are sought to be denied rights that have been assured to them by the Constitution of India.
Coming back to Syria, while it is a fact that Alawites (the group to which the Assads belong) have a privileged position in some branches of the government, such as the security services, yet Syria is very far from certain other states in the region that deny rights to citizens of a creed different from that followed by the ruling family. Sunnis are present in strength throughout the administration as are Christians, including the just-assassinated Defence Minister. To run Syria as though minorities did not exist would be wrong. And yet, that seems to be the direction where the "freedom fighters" given backing by NATO wish to take the country. Although there are a tiny sprinkling of minority elements within the anti-Assad brigades (which these days have access to far more cash and resources than the official Syrian military), yet these are overwhelmingly comprised of the country's majority community, and are increasingly being led by Salafist elements within this segment. As a consequence, attacks on Christians and their marginalisation in locations where anti-Assad "freedom fighters" have wrested control are on the rise. Logically, such persecution of Christians ought to have roused a measure of protest from the US and its European partners. However, all that the Christians of Syria witness in their travail is silence. Clearly, a decision has been taken that they are acceptable as collateral damage in the ongoing crusade against Iran, whose only (independent) ally in the region is Syria. Getting rid of Assad will be the semi-final. The final will be played out in Tehran.