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December 25, 2011
By now I have read enough about the gloominess of the year that is about to end. Economic crisis, American wars, violent protests and the Indian corruption is not new to 2011. What is new is the increase in number of sob stories. I have the undesirable need of following news for three distinct regions of the world – Indian Sub-Continent, US and Asia-Pacific. I belong to the first, I work for the second, and I live in the third. It has always been gloomy to read about current affairs, but many times this year, the negativity actually unnerved me.
Besides the fact that I still have my job, I am not educated enough to comment on the economic crisis. My views are too polarized on the wars, the terrorism and India’s Maoism to be put out for a wide audience. Of the three regions I track, India is what I am most opinionated and passionate about. My prolixity below is in a response to the thickening pal of gloom that has supposedly engulfed my beloved country this year.
While I am not the ever optimistic kid who’d go digging through a pile of horseshit thinking there’s a pony inside, I sure do not think everything in the year that is about to end was gloomy. There was at least one thing I experienced myself that made me happy and triggered a smile of satisfaction. However before I mention this delightful experience, I would like to comment on a rather well known Indian trait.
Idol worship is not just a thing of religious rituals, it epitomizes our entire outlook towards life and way of living. Of all cultures in the world, it is most engrained in the Indian. We are a prayer frenzied society with a fetish for superstition. Besides worshipping inanimate objects of various kinds, we also carry an almost genetic desire to have someone to look up to. It is one thing to admire somebody for a quality and it is totally another to worship. Almost every day there is some instance of a protest (many a times violent) over someone saying something about someone who is revered in some community. Such examples are dime a dozen in Indian news. Indians revere not just the gazillion gods and their pets, but also cricketers, movie stars, singers, leaders and what have you. Every community, village, city, state, institution etc. has its own protagonists that they completely submit to. It is as if we must have a messiah to save us from ourselves. In fact it is only thanks to the British (and to the congress party of the past) that we were left with too big of a single country to not end up as several different dictatorial/authoritarian regimes. Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, North Korea, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Iran etc. belong to the endless list of states whose existence hinge (or hinged) on the reverence for an individual.
In India more than anywhere else we have a tendency to want a messiah to appear as a solution for all our troubles. Ram, Krishna, Gandhi and whoever you have in between, came and saved us from our miseries – We prayed and they came. I read a lot about people complaining that India is not progressing because there isn’t a credible leader to look up to. More often than not such writing comes from supposedly outward thinking, educated, liberated, or whatever-have-you thinkers and writers. It makes me realize the extent to which idol worship is engrained in the Indian psyche.
I have a hard time understanding why we need this messiah? Why is it that we needed a Gandhi then and why is it that we need it now? Why can’t we all, as individuals, go about our daily affairs to the best of our ability and satisfaction? Why can’t we not strive to meet our own expectations? Why do we elect crooks to run our country? The problem with our culture is we want solutions elsewhere and do not want to take the responsibility ourselves. We want some out-of-the-world personality to come and tell us what is the right thing to do, when we already know what it is. It is like getting convinced by listening to hypnotic chants in a temple that tells us love is good and hate is bad, when everyone already knows that to begin with. Why do we need to behave in a specific way because some ancient text or some revered individual says so? Why can’t we derive from our own thinking the right thing to do?
As I mentioned in the beginning, all the gloomy stuff that glooms us today did not get gloomy this year. It is just that we have come to realize the existence of this gloom only now – thanks to the increasingly competitive media sphere. Now that makes two things to feel good about. First is our newfound knowledge of the existence of these grave problems. Second is that our media industry is doing really well. To top it all, none of these are what I wanted to point out as the thing that made me smile to begin with. So then that, instead of the cake that I intended to, now becomes the icing on it!
I have lived in Delhi most of my adult life and I love this city. Delhi like everywhere else in the world, is at its best in the morning. My best time of the day was an early morning run in the Talkatora Garden or the Bangla Sahib area. When I grew up enough to be given the privilege of owning a scooter, I did not leave a single colony in the city unexplored. I know the streets of Delhi like I know the lines on my palm. This time the one thing that made me smile was the Delhi Metro. While it has been in operation for quite some time, it is only this year that people have started using it as part of the regular mundane commute and is no longer the “special thing”. Delhi like all big cities gets its workers from neighboring states. These folks do petty jobs for measly wages as office peons, delivery boys, helpers etc. Commuting in a big city with bad infrastructure hurts these people the most. This time I witnessed these minions rubbing shoulders with the white collars of Gurgaon and the hip crowd of Delhi University in the comfort of the AC cars of Delhi Metro. It was not very hard to imagine how the life of this “real majority” has changed. I used to travel from Rajender Nagar to Gurgaon in my own car and it was horrible. Dhaula Kuan was the worst place to get stuck in. Travelling in Metro, it was so much of a breeze that I had to invent chores to do in Gurgaon so that I can get another reason for a ride. In one of my rides, I saw a meager looking guy, wearing a chappal and holding a shabby bag of something sitting in the Metro. He personified the typical image of the “Bihari” as we have come to know in Delhi. Sitting next to him was this girl who looked as chic as chic could ever be. Trendy janpath jewelry, jazzy top, tight jeans, earphones, iPad and what not. She personified the image of the typical JMC girl which I happened to get acquainted with during my leering days of Delhi University. She was absorbed in her book, the Bihari was staring in space and I was staring at the Bihari. Now that I think about it, probably he was staring at me wondering why in the world am I not staring at the pretty lady next to him. Seeing these two contrasts sitting next to each other, going about their daily routine, unaffected by their radically different lifestyles, first amused me and then eventually brought a smile – I think of pride. It was progress I was staring at. I witnessed this mingling of contrasts numerous times in various different rides; and boy I rode the metro this time like I used to ride my scooter back then!
I do not live in India anymore nor do I live in a developed country of the west (or the few in east). Yet I live in a city that is considerably ahead of mine in infrastructure and public habits. Reasons for this are many but importantly incomparable, and hence I need not go into these. However, the fact is that I do get to see what “better” is. The city that I live in is statistically speaking more densely populated and the city administration is less richer than Delhi’s. Yet quality of infrastructure, value for money and comfort of living is much better. To add to the paradox, The Corruptions Perception Index reports that my current country of residence ranks 129th whereas India ranks 95th in the list of most corrupt countries in the world.
I also travel a bit to other countries. I have seen how infrastructure is created and what progress looks like elsewhere. So mind you, I have no illusions about the India Shinning story since the time of the BJP government. Based on what I have observed in other countries, the India Shinning story can be very crudely summarized as India walking one step ahead while the rest of the world does two (leave aside the war-trodden African states please if you will). This effectively makes us walking one step back in this inter-dependent world.
I visit Delhi once every year for a couple of weeks. This makes me notice change better than those living in it. There is absolutely no doubt that traffic has reduced during non-peak hours, pollution has drastically reduced over the years due to anti-pollution initiatives, and commuting has become better. However, at the same time there is and has never been any doubt in my mind that our comparable progress is one-step-backward. The only reason there is any infrastructure development in Delhi is because life will come to a standstill without it. Our infrastructure is developed not in anticipation of a need but as a reaction to an existing situation. That is gloomy no doubt.
So now you might wonder I am contradicting what I set out to prove. But no, I am not. All I am saying is that we were miserable since the beginning and it hasn’t got much worse in 2011. What has happened is that this year large number of people in my country seem to have visibly realized the existence of its problems; and that my friend is not gloomy at all. Now all we need to do is get rid of this we-want-a-capable-leader mentality and instead take Responsibility.
Prayer makes us ask whereas a wish makes us want. I believe anything can be achieved if it is wanted bad enough not if it is prayed hard enough. My wish for the next year is a step forward for my beloved India.
October 26, 2011
Here’s a reproduction of a vintage article from the most vintage (and my favorite) Sardar Jee of our times that sort of fits the occasion and my wishes on this Diwali.
There are almost half-a-dozen versions of the origin of Diwali and almost as many gods and goddesses associated with it. It is the day Shri Rama returned to Ayodhya, the day Vikramaditya was crowned King-Emperor, the day Lord Krishna killed Narakasura, the day Shiva, having lost everything in a gamble to Parvati, had his domain won back for him by his son, Ganapati. But for some obscure reason, the deity most favoured for worship on this auspicious day is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. That proves, if any proof were ever needed, that whatever be our pretensions to spirituality, when it comes to the crunch, it is material prosperity and our account books (bahee-khatas) that we worship. I am all for material gains and give a fig for Spirituality. l wish my readers more money and better health on this Diwali: happiness follows good health and a healthy bank balance as surely as day follows night.
While living in Maharashtra, l came across yet another version of Diwali. There, they commemorate it as the day when Lord Vishnu deprived Raja Bali of his Kingdom. Maharashtrian women make effigies of Bali and pray, ‘May all evil disappear.‘
Since there is little likelihood of Bhagwan Vishnu being able or willing to banish all evil for all times to come, I will make my prayer less demanding: ‘Please Lord, silence all guns for just one week. If you can’t do that all over the world, at least do so in Punjab and Sri Lanka.’ *
Khushwant Singh in The Hindustan Times, 24 October 1987
PS: Since guns are silent in Punjab and Sri Lanka already, let’s hope it so happens in Kashmir and Afghanistan too.
February 12, 2011
These are historical times. The most significant and autocratic leader of the Arab world has been brought down in a span of two weeks without any specific trigger that impacted the people directly. The life in Egypt before the protests began was no different from what it was on any day for the past several years. The way one country’s revolution has impacted the people of another and now of several more in the region is a telling sign of how almost every Muslim is on the brink of revolt against their leaders’ inability to bring about prosperity, justice and dignity.
Egyptians were able to succeed with sheer will against a government which until two weeks ago had complete and unequivocal support of the most powerful country in the world. The success of this revolution is a convincing argument against those in Indian polity who conveniently escape responsibility by blaming the various separatist problems on support from other countries or a handy work of gangs of criminals (Maoists). A region’s affairs are run by the people who inhabit it. There always are opportunists and influencers, but eventually it is the locals who decide there own fate. If the Indian government really intends to govern with control and efficiency it must focus on bringing about prosperity to the people who belong to the region. The government, authoritarian or democratic must “earn” the support of its populace and not worry about fighting with the outside world. If Saddam and Mubarak ruled their countries for decades without any major issues, it has to do with the fact that they really had the support of its people. The people may have supported the governments reluctantly for lack of a better alternative but it definitely does not have anything to do with the autocratic rule of fist. Never mind the western minded concept of stability as a result of democracy; earning support and trust of its people is how even the kings in ancient times have ruled there kingdoms. Opportunists exist with opportunity, and there is a lot of opportunity in the Indian system. Unfortunately there isn’t much choice and that is why we are still struggling with our issues and lagging far behind the developed world in prosperity and development.
The way almost suddenly everyone in Egypt just got influenced by the success of Tunisia’s revolution looks as if some mind-altering virus has spread in the region and is now making its way to other Arab countries. This is the stuff Hollywood Sci-Fi movies are made of. This is also the stuff that my daydreams are made of. Unfortunately for me these are for my own country and not for some far away land that I remember exists only when I see “The Mummy” for the Nth time on Star Movies. However, I have also never felt this happy for any event outside of my own country before. I feel strange feeling happy about the revolution almost as if it happened in India. Maybe because I know this is the best I can get.
With all the anti-Muslim propaganda, the scenes of hardliners protesting in Pakistan, the footage of Taliban executing people; never did I imagine ever in my life that masses of people chanting Allah O Akbar would sound pleasant. But then as I said in the beginning of this now garrulous blog, these are historical times. These are times of change.
For the Americans, Ironically the “Domino Theory” coined by them during the Vietnam war more than four decades ago comes back to haunt them this time from the most unlikely of places. Americans could have predicted the fall of almost any government in the Arab world but not Egypt. From the perspective of long term future, if this domino effect succeeds unlike the one before which Americans were able to stop even though they lost the war, it will be the beginning of the creation of a third front for them. China is already quite ahead in solidifying itself as a second front.
From a historical perspective, the Arabs and Europeans controlled much of the world before the Industrial revolution left the former far behind. Many believe this change would sink the Arabs deeper into fundamentalism, but I believe it might and more likely do the opposite and yet for the worse for the rest of the world. Beliefs which are close to ones heart maybe controlled by authoritarian regimes but it is a free and jubilant environment that enables a willing change. This change will make the Arabs only stronger. However, the way this environment has been won, it is also likely to bring about extreme nationalism, and we all know what that could lead to. A friend of mine once pointed out to me that the world map has changed quite drastically almost every 100 years, it might very well be the beginning of the next change. The last change can be referred to 1991 with the collapse of USSR. I am definitely not going to be around by 2090s, so I guess I got nothing to worry about if I do make the prophecy that we are due for a major change by then and that this event in Egypt is a stepping stone. However, leaving the political map aside, the geographical one might change sooner on account of the global climate changes.
Sometimes I wonder why did Hindus not succeed as much as the Arabs or the Christians/Europeans in spite of having a richer, far ahead of time and more complex system of governance. The Indus Valley Civilization could not do what others could even though it had the edge in terms of modernity during its time. To put it simply it could be due to the over complexity of the caste system which divided the people and did not provide a single thread to bind a huge population. Hindus lost it because they tried to solve for everything. Too many freaking gods man. Muslims and Christians with their relatively simplistic belief system ended up being better. In the end the over intelligence, the analysis-paralysis killed us. We are taught in school that the British divided us and then ruled us. Well I think we were already divided. they just came and made the most out of it.
So going back to the Egypt revolution, where is my country in all this? Nowhere. India is just just too big and diverse for its own good. But today is not the day to be gloomy. Today is the day to celebrate the success of a side which has been the underdogs for far too long. For me by not being on any particular side, it is more fun to follow this event. It is like watching a wild card win a grand slam – thrilling. And thrilled I am indeed!
To finally end this feast of weekend prolixity here is a funny yet a curt reminder of what just happened – www.ismubarakstillpresident.com
February 7, 2011
There is no righteousness in the decision to support or not support Mubarak just like there wasn’t and isn’t any in the policy towards Communism, Taliban, Korea, China, the Muslim world or whatever have you. It is all a matter of what is good for the interests of the Americans. I do not see anything wrong with that from an American perspective. It has always been about money. Right from the time immortal the desire to be prosperous (and not get screwed over in the process) has driven the matters of the world. Whether we are talking about the birth of religions, period before or after the industrial revolution, beginning and end of colonization, the world wars, communism or the conflicts with the Muslim world, each period’s events have economy as the driving factor – one way or another. Justifying these though with complete facts and analysis would be a book-length article
Americans are not hypocrites; they are simply self-centered. The rest of the world needs to be just the same and it is. No one supports or opposes America because of morality. While Americans try their best to manipulate the world, the world too acts in its own interests. Countries do take a stand against America wherever it is beneficial and can be got away with without screwing oneself. America has more or less a firm grip on the world and most of the time countries need to tow its line. They do and justify it with whatever BS they can come up with to make their governments survive. More often than not towing the line is beneficial for economic interests and so be it – forget the righteousness, it can be justified. After all there isn’t really any right or wrong. It is just a matter of which side of the line you are on.
In fact from a perspective of “the right thing to do”, if people in Iraq or Afghanistan have not toppled their respective governments that too would have been just and as per the will of the people. That is democracy. But then we all know, Americans didn’t wait that long. There was no righteousness here, just a self-centered relentless approach to pursue one’s own national interest. Had they got away by simply nuking the place(s), they’d very well have done that. Injustices are everywhere in abundance. Almost all nations of the African continent, Indian Sub-Continent, China and many countries in South East Asia – conditions large populations are living in are probably worse in these countries than what existed in Iraq under Saddam. Americans could have chosen any or all; but curing the problems of another was not the objective to begin with. Honestly, I really can’t fathom to the best of my ability what Americans actually gained by any of their conflicts post Vietnam but considering they continue to be the most powerful nation, I am sure whatever they are doing (or did) is right for their own good. Too bad for those on the receiving end. This is the nature of the game – Survival of the fittest.
After exhausting its own markets, the world trade is no more about selling the resources of one country in your own for a profit. It is more complicated and more interdependent. Trade still has to be aggressive for maximum profit but more tactful than ever before. The place one buys from also has your customers. Thanks to the large population of the developing world it is more lucrative too. In fact the prosperity of the developing world is better for the trade unlike before where one could manipulate a less prosperous and hence weaker producer. Now that producer is also the customer. The more prosperous Asia gets the better it is for the west. Caveat though is maintaining the upper hand; and this is where the real game is. Keep developing the developing world but maintain control and tilt of power.
What Hitler did was stupid and rash. Was it really an evil thing to do? He could have gone about the same objective in a different manner and killed exactly the same number of people albeit with a completely different historical opinion. Had he taken this same approach a few hundred years before his time, he’d have been called Alexander the Great.
Power to colonize any country of the world still exists with the very same countries but it just isn’t profitable anymore. The world is still very much ruled by the companies but the customers are no longer just in the developed world, they are everywhere and so the strategy is different but objectives just the same. Fighting a war no long gives supremacy and profit; and so No Nuking Nobody No More!
I really had to copy-paste the whole article below – written right to the point. This is the first time for me to read this point of view from a western writer for a western newspaper. Not surprisingly it is from a Non-American for a Non-American newspaper.
The West’s itch to meddle is no help. Leave Egypt along
We are hypocrites. We cheer on the brave Tunisians and Egyptians as they assert the revolutionary power of the street. Hands off, we cry. Let them do it their way. It has taken a long time, but let the people get the credit and be strengthened thereby.
We gave no such licence to the Iraqis or Afghans. We presumed it was our job to dictate how they should be governed. We accused their leaders of crimes and decided to punish them all, massacring thousands. We declared a "freedom agenda", and bombed them to bits.
Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is another Saddam Hussein, a secular dictator ruling a Muslim country with a rod of iron through a kleptocracy of cronies. Less wealthy than Saddam, he had to rely on American support, but he was only a little more subtle in his ruthlessness.
We are told that there were sound strategic reasons for supporting Mubarak – as there once were for supporting the Ba’athists, Assad of Syria and Saddam himself. There were similar reasons for backing the Ben Ali dynasty in Tunisia and "Britain’s good friend", the outrageous Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. All offered a supposed bulwark against Muslim extremism, a monster of which Americans and Britons are told to show a pathological, all-consuming and costly terror. Now, apparently, that no longer applies to Egypt.
In reality there is no such thing as an ethical foreign policy. There is something philosophical called ethics and something pragmatic called foreign policy. The art of diplomacy lies in navigating between them. The Blair-Bush "crusade for democracy" failed to do so. It was motivated by the most dangerous thing in politics, religious fervour.
What is happening in Egypt is plainly exhilarating to any lover of civil liberty. So too was Georgia’s rose revolution, Ukraine’s orange revolution, Burma’s saffron revolution, Iran’s green revolution and Tunisia’s jasmine revolution. Few people scanning the pastel shades of designer Trotskyism will remember which were successful and which not, but they made great television.
In each of these cases people burst out in visceral opposition to dictatorship. Driven beyond endurance, they took the last option available to autonomous individuals and marched down the street. The outcome depended on the security and self-confidence of the regime and its command of the army. It rarely depended on the approval or assistance of outsiders. Indeed the most effective weapon deployed against an uprising in a moment of national crisis is to call it a tool of foreign interests. This was certainly the case in Iran.
To western eyes, watching revolutions is re-enacting our own democratic origins. They remind us, sometimes smugly, that much of the world has yet to find the path to free elections, free speech and freedom of assembly. But they are also the political equivalents of earthquake or flood. Surely these people need our advice, our aid, at least our running commentary. The itch to intervene becomes irresistible.
Britain, with a history of ineptitude in handling Egypt, offered its pennyworth at the weekend. The Foreign Office said: "We don’t want to see Egypt fall into the hands of extremists … We want an orderly transition to free and fair elections, and a greater freedom and democracy in Egypt."
Who cares what Britain "wants" in Egypt? Egypt is not Britain’s responsibility any more, insofar as it ever was.
The US is in an equally absurd position. Having intervened for three decades, backing Mubarak with $1.5bn a year for armed forces alone, Washington has slithered from declaring him a "force for stability in the region" to "demanding an orderly transition of power". The message to all allies is that an American friend in need is a friend who will vanish at the first sign of trouble.
America could intervene, as Bush and Donald Rumsfeld might have done, with Blair cooing along behind. They could have told Mubarak to reform his regime but hang in there. Since Washington regards the Middle East as a powder keg about to explode in its backyard, it should not allow the Muslim Brotherhood to run Egypt. Bush would have told Egypt to get the "bad guys" off the street. What are tanks for? Why are those F-16s buzzing round the sky? Drop bombs like American and British pilots did on Serbs, Iraqis and Afghans. Retain control or the mad mullahs will be at all our throats. Western security is too important to be left to the mob.
Alternatively Washington might intervene on the other side. It might argue that Mubarak has shot his bolt and "engineer regime change". Don’t rely on rioters, half of them probably extremists. America could remove Mubarak as it removed Mullah Omar and Saddam Hussein, by force. Give Cairo a dose of the shock and awe. This is the policy supported elsewhere by Democrats and Republicans, Labour and Conservatives, that the west had a right and a duty to ordain regime change in Muslim countries. What was good for Afghans and Iraqis must be good for Egyptians – and perhaps even Iranians and Pakistanis.
Such interventions would be mad. Had the west not intervened in Iraq and Afghanistan, I bet the Iraqi people would by now have found a way to be rid of Saddam. They or the army would have done what the Tunisians and the Egyptians are doing, and at far less cost in lives, upheaval and chaos. As for the Taliban, as clients of Islamabad they would have come to Pakistani heel. The Afghans would be a threat to nobody but themselves.
What history will call the Wars of 9/11 have killed immeasurably more people than did 9/11 itself. They have cost western taxpayers billions that would have gone far to relieving global disease and famine. American and British governments, for reasons embedded in some imperial paranoia, grotesquely exaggerated the threat posed to them by the Muslim world. They embarked on a campaign of intervention, regime change and nation building far from their shores. The campaign has been inept and counterproductive, as well as in breach of the United Nations charter on self-determination.
Egypt, Tunisia, Iran and Pakistan are all Muslim states wrestling with agonies of self-determination. The west’s sole contribution has been to plunge two of their neighbours, Iraq and Afghanistan, into a bloodbath of insecurity and chaos. This is not our continent, these are not our countries and none of this is our business. We should leave them alone.