Thursday, August 17, 2017

Narendar Modi's Independence Day Address to the Nation

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

On August 15th Narendar Modi addressed the Nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi, a ritual that was begun by Jawarlal Nehru. The speech itself, just over fifty five minutes long, was significant for what it said and more significant for want it left out. Cleverly crafted, the speech hit all the right notes: it addressed the pluralistic ethos of India and also underscored the need to reach out to the people of Kashmir. Na Gali se na Goli se, magar gala lagane se: Not with hars rhetoric or bullets but with love can the problem of Kashmir be solved, This is a throwback to the call for Insaniyat made several years back by Atal Behari Vajpayee,

First; let me state what was left out. There was no word on the Agrarian Crisis that is sweeping the country. Everyday more than a dozen farmers are committing suicide all over the country. Modi chose not to address this vital problem. Job creation has not really been addressed. During the run up to the 2014 General Election, Narendar Modi spoke about jobs and development. In thios Speech, three years after coming to power, he remains silent on this vital question. Jobs have all but disappeared and the jobs that have been created are just low skill, low paying jobs in the service sector. With much fan fare Skill India Digital India was launched and the Make in India programme launched a few years back. Today these initiatives reamin just pious hopes, nothing has changed on the ground. Quite wisely, Narendar Modi when he spoke of making a New India wisely kept these initiative out of his discourse. He knows that the ground reality is much different.

On the issue of demonitization, Modi was on firm ground. There is no doubt that the move has led to a vast increase in the tax base and revenue of the Government. The discovery of 300,000 lakh crores of hidden wealth will go a long way in putting an end the the menance of Balck Money. There is no doubt that demoniotization has been a success and the promise of a cash less digital economy has not been realized.

The Government of India under narendar Modi is neglecting the whole Higher Education Sector. I agree that the previous Governm,ents have destroyed the fabric of Indian higher education. However, the present Government has not taken any concrete steps to improve the quality and content of education. It rankels Indian mind that China has atleat 20 Universities in the world's top Universities and India has none. However, the polcies enunciated so far are not conducive to any great change in this arena. The neglected sector of Higher Education is being killed by begeign neglect.

Modi did not mention the tension at the border. This may be a deliberate decision in order to play down the differences with China.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Twenty Fifth Convocation of Pondicherry University

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

This morning Pondicherry University held its 25th Convocation and as usual, it was a grand event. The Lt Governor of Pondicherry and the Chief Minister of the  Union Territory Shri V Narayanaswamy were both present for the occasion. The Vice Chancellor, Professor Anisa Basheer Khan read out the Convocation Report in which the great strides taken by the University were highlighted. Furthermore, the anxious moments of the last few months were momentarily set aside and the dignitaries graced the event with elan. Justice R Mahadevan, High Court of Madras, gave the Convocation Address in
which he stressed the importance of keep an open mind towards learning.

Dr Kiran Bedi had a special message for the teachers and stated very categorically that teachers should be learners first.

Dr Kiran Bedi, Lt Governor of Pondicherry at the 25th Convocation

Dr Kiran Bedi distributing the degree certificates.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Big Data Algorithms, Inequality and World History: Two Books, Two Visions

Writing the History of the Global

WEapons of Mass Destruction
A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The two books reviewed in this blog make interesting reading. the Weapons of Math Destruction by Dr Cathy O'Neil, a Ph D in Mathematics from Harvard University is a spell binding account of the misuse of Statistical Big Data in the world today and the consequent rise in income inequality which in turn widens the gulf between the super rich and those struggling to get along in the world. She points out that the growing trend towards using sophisticated algorithms by corporations such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and the like enable advertisers to target their potential clients with a fair amount of precision. There is a fascinating description of the US Educational Ranking system and the calculated manner in which educational ranking is used to extract Federal Educational Loans on the promise that a College Education will increase the chances of getting a secure well paying job. The author also analyses in great detail the smart, highly educated army of Data Analysts sporting fancy degrees from Ivy League Universities who by letting the Algorithms predict the flow of funds and Capital in the highly volatile realm of high finance contributed to the sub prime crisis that engulfed USA in 2008. Even Barack Obama intervention helped only the big companies escape the consequences of their financial profligacy and his bail out package only shifted the burden onto the shoulders of an already weakening Middle Class. This book is an eye opener and for those who believe that technology is a panacea that is creating a safer and a more democratic world. this is a must read text.

Writing the History of the Global by Maxine Berg is an imaginative look at the cross currents of debate in the field of Global History/World History. The fact that Historiography in the modern sense of the term was the out growth of the advent of the Nation State meant that writing the histories of the Nation State was taken to be the real and vital task of the professional Historian. The Nation State dictated its own narrative and Historians had to find justification for their task within the limits set of the Nation State. The contrived debates in India between the Secularists and their opponents is essentially a debate between the political conceits of the Nation State and the Civilizational Ethos of an Old but Wounded Civilization. The disillusionment with the contrived and false pretensions of the Nationalist view of History and the Leftist paradigms led to the rise of the so called Subaltern School. With its marriage of convenience with the post colonial/linguistic approaches to the past, the subalterns lost all credibility leaving behind a wreckage of unreadable prose. The Global History perspective elaborated in this book is an excellent alternative to the procrustean bed of Nation State Histories. Trade, Conquest, Migration have always linked the world and such trend and developments do not adhere to the limits of the present day Nation State.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tamil A Biography by David Shulman

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books
Tamil A Biography

The book under review is an account of the Tamil language situated in its historical and linguistic context. It is one of the unfortunate intellectual legacies of the colonial era that many of the discredited theories pertaining to racial origin, evolution of language, scriptal literacy, religion are all wrapped up in the dense fog of ideology that it is today impossible to deal with some of these issues dispassionately. It takes a peace activist from Israel, the well known Indologist and historian, David Shulman to write about these and other issues with integrity and deep commitment to scholarship.

I have not come across a book that captures the complexity of Tamil literary and political history as eloquently and with scholastic depth as the present book. It is quite obvious that the present breed of Tamil "intellectuals" will rail against the account given by Shulman as he completely destroys the self serving myth, perpetuated over two centuries that Tamil has an origin independent of Sanskrit. Until Cauldwell made "Dravidian" into both a linguistic and racial characteristic, the term Dravida was used in Tamil literary works only as a geographical expression.

The nineteenth century which saw the crystallization of racially charged theories, bequeathed to India a toxic legacy in the form of the Aryan/Dravidian Dichotomy, the Aryan Invasion Myth, the conflict between the oldest Tamil language and the upstart Sanskrit language. All these theories, though discredited have traction due to the purchase of identity politics in India. Hence, it is essential to read Shulman very carefully as he has argued effectively that throughout the medieval period, the Age of the Cholas, Sanskrit enjoyed a privileged status in the royal court and that status was neither resented nor did it lead to the sort of shadow boxing we find in the last century when the "Pure Tamil " movement sought to expurgate Sanskrit from the Tamil language altogether.

David Shulman, unlike Asko Parpola and others is a recognized authority on Sanskrit Language and Literature and knows nearly 24 languages including Telugu, Kanada and a host of European and Asian Languages. His own early foray into Tamil history when he wrote Tamil Temple Myths marked him as one who uses literary texts in new and novel ways. The tallapuramam of medieval Tamil region were studies against the general background of history and iconography in this work which was followed by King and Clown in South Indian Myth and Poetry a path breaking work on the textual construction of South Indian kingship. More recently, Whitney Cox has added to the thin corpus of historical investigation in his Politics, Kingship and Poetry in Medieval South India (Cambridge University Press, 2016). This line of investigation, a new historicist perspective that melds the fluid poetry of medieval Tamil compositions to the firm foundation of historiography.

Tamil A Biography demolishes three fundamental myths of the dominant political ideology prevalent in Tamil Nadu today and pervades the entire gamut of academic studies on early Tamil Language and Literature. As he says, "In modern South India Tamil has become a major criterion for collective identity, often seen now as forged in opposition to Sanskrit and an invasive north Indian culture and ideology". Shulman goes on to show that the Chola royal court was bilingual with Sanskrit enjoying the same status as Tamil and there is no sign of any conflict, real or imagined during the four centuries of Chola rule. The advent of the anti brahmin movent meant that the South Indian brahmins were represented as agents of the alien culture and that was used as a justification for excluding them form public and cultural life altogether. The scholarship of David Shulman goes a long way in correcting the distortions of the past. His discussion of the enduring presence of the Agasthya Myth, a north Indian therefore a putative Aryan as the founder of Tamil Grammar is both convincing and sound.

The date of the so called Cankam literary works and the presence of the enigmatic Kalabrahs are two vexed issues in early Tamil literary history. Following Tieken, Shulman also argues for a late date for the Cankam works, There is little evidence to show that the puram and akam varieties of poems were contemporaneous with the Roman presence in South India and the graffiti marks found on pot shrds from sites like Arikamedu, Porunthal, Kodumanal and other places do not help in tading the Cankam literary works. There seems to be a close association between Bhakti literature and the redacted bardic poetry of early Tamil region. His disdussion of the Sangam tradition based on the Velvikkudi Copper plate Inscription is interesting.

The work under review is a classic and will remain a reliable introduction to Tamil language and literary history.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Donald Trump Attacks Syria: War on False Pretext

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Donald Trump was elected President on the promise that he would Put America First, Make America Great Again was the rallying cry which unitied a vast swathe of supporters from white factory workers, to Latinos, to marginalized groups in US society. Almost all sections which sdaw their incomes fall their aspiration erode voted for Trump. The white privileged professional groups in the Academia, Media, Financial Institutions and in the Intelligence Organizations were solodly behind Hialry Clinton. Right from the start there was an attempt to delegitimize the election of Trump by suggesting overtly in the beginning and then it became an avalance of allegations that Russia under Putin had hijacked the Elections. Specifically the allegation was that Russia had hacked into the servers of the Democratic Party and acessed emails which embarassed and compromised the candidature of Clinton. The assumption behind the campaign was that had the misdeed of the leadership of the DNC colluding illegally with Hil;ary Clinton not been exposed, Trump would have been defeated. It is shocking that a sizeble section of the US media maintains this self serving  lie.

After his election there was a sustained campaign of weaning away a good number of pledged delegates from the Electoral College and transfer their votes to Clinton. In the final count, it was Hilary delegates who drifted into the Trump camp. Be taht as it may, Trump in his flamboyantly eloquent Inaugural Speech promised a end to the "American Carnage". And in resposne to a white correspondent who asked about the "killer" Putin, Trump honestly replied that "we are not exactly innocent". The honesty and forthrightness that had marked Trump's initial foray into the rarefied realm of diplomacy was met with utter derision by the White Liberal Media. Calls for his impeachment over the so called links with Russia were getting strident. Some like Fareed Zakharia of the CNN were openly sceptical about the stability of the Trump regime and the defeta of the repeal of Obamacare seem to imply the imminent demise of the Trump Presidency. To top it all, the Intelligency community was openly hostile and there was some speculation of the CIA doing a Kennedy on Trump. The President stood up to all these challenges well and earned the respect of all who felt that Trump no longer stood for American exectionalism and leadership over a unipolar world.

The hard earned respect that Trump had earned was dissipated when he ordered his crusie missiles to strike Syria as retaliation for an alledged "gas attack". The US medcia was quick to balme the Assad Government. It must be said that similar allegations were made in 2013 by John Kerry and the UN had certified that Syria did not possess chemical weapons. By making an issue of the chemical weapons and by stating publically that the use of chemical weapons would draw a quick retaliation from the uS, American policy seemed to encourage its loyal rebels to create a pretext for intervention. It is now apparent that the Free Syrian Army is being trained and fiananced by USA and a faction of the Free Syrian Army which is linked to ISIS is known to have stckpiles of chemical weapons. Strangely the US fights ISISI in Rraq and is supporting ISIS in Syria. The contradiction in this policy is clear to the whole world except to the Deep State that runs the US. It is clear that an influential section of the Media and the Intelligence Community is pushing USA in the direction of war.

It must be said to the credit of Donald Trump that he valiantly resisted yeilding to the pressures from the Deep State and now it is clear as daylight that he has bought peace without honour by launching a savage attack just to appear "Presidential".

Friday, March 31, 2017

G Parthasarathy and Kasturirangan at Pondicherry University

Mrs Janaki Srinivasan Lighting the lamp
A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The School of Social Sciences and International Studies of Pondicherry University invited two remarkable high achievers for talks at the UNiversity. Both of then, Ambassador G Parthasarathy and Professor Kasturi Rangan, former Chairman, Indian Space Research Organization spoke passionately about the areas of their expertise and inspired the University community.
G Parthasarathy addressing the students of Pondicherry University
G Parthasarathy is a seasoned diplomat and is not given to vacuous niceties that do not address the outstanding issues plaguing the two countries, India and Pakistan. He did not seem particularly concerned that the SAARC unity would be a casualty of the estranged relationship between India and Pakistan. Instead he argued that the BIMSTEC grouping could be used to the advantage of India. On Sri Lanka, the diplomat was forthright. He categorically maintained that Indian fishermen with deep sea fishing nets are entering the territorial waters of Sri Lanka and are depleting the marine resources. His address was printed and distributed to the audience. He is a firm advocate of a rethink on the No First Use Policy of India with regard to nuclear weapons. He seemed to suggest that China has helped Pakistan build Plutonium weapons which can be deployed as tactical battle field weapons. It was really amazing to hear G Parthasarathy, a civil engineer by training speak so authoritatively about Indian foreign and security policies. Unlike academics from Indian Universities who spout half digested inanities marinated in the  jargon of post colonial theories, Parthasarahy presented his arguments in a logical manner.
Vice Chancellor, Professor Anisa Khan with Dr Kasturi Rangan

Professor Kasturi Rangan was another visitor who was invited by the CSA Studies, School of Social Sciences and International Studies Pondicherry University to address the students. He spoke for nearly an hour and the J N Auditorium was packed to capacity. He began by tracing the history of Indian Space Programme from Tumba, the Equatorial Rocket Launching Station when India first began sending rockets to measure the atmosphere. The launch of 104 satellites in a single launch makes India a leader in Space technology. He spelt out the uses of such advanced technology by laying emphasis on the inherent real time data that such technologies transmit to the ground station. In hydrology, remote sensing, terrestrial mapping, resource planning are all areas in which satellites have their utility. I drew attention to the racist cartoon in New YorkTimes which questioned the utility of such technology to poorer societies.

It was a rich experience listening to these great men.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

BJP VIctory in Uttar Pradesh: Implications for 2019

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The BJP sweep in Uttar Pradesh did not come as a surprise to this blogger as he had predicted a tally of 300 seats. In reality, the BJP got well over this number and we have to ask some hard questions which have serious implications for the General Elections of 2019.

THe first question is: Did demonetization play a positive role in galvanizing the poorer sections of society in favour of the BJP. The conventional wisdom emanating from the wooly leftist commentators was that demonetization to prove a disaster and voters would register their protest in the polling booths. This did not happen primarily because the political messaging that accompanied the move was clear: the policy was aimed at unearthing black money and was meant to keep the pledge of rooting out corruption and hoards of hoarded wealth. The Congress and the BSP the most vocal critics of the MOdi initiative have had to bite the dust because they did not understand the baci purpose of the policy and its political implications. Even the small trader and daily wage worker soon adjusted to the new reality of a cashless or less cash economy and there was no major social unrest following the demonetization initiative. At the political level it shifted the focus of politics away from issues of identity to those of class, and employment along with livelihood.

The demonetization policy was effective in breaking the stranglehold of caste and power brokers over the electorate. Even in Muslim majority areas the Party has done extremely well. One obvious and a clear possibility is the Muslim women have voted in favor of the BJP given the stand taken by the party on the contentious triple talaq issue. But this alone does not explain the fact that even in predominantly Muslim areas like Deaband which has nearly 70% Muslim electorate, the bJP quite easily won the seat. Here I postulate a hypothesis that the younger Muslim voters are increasingly getting alienated from the sort of divisive politics that the traditional parties practice in the name of "secularism". Tokenism at best and condescension at worst is the main feature of Indian secularism. Modi's message, Sab Ke Saath, Sab ka Vikas is not a mere statement of intent. It is now emerging as a new contract between State and Civil Society.

In 2019, the BJP will be able to do well. However by that time, the state Government may have been in power for more than 2 years and hence the strong winds of anti incumbency will be felt. I suggest, though the BJP hot heads may disagree, that the present mandate is not for identity based issues like the Ram Mandir and BJP must resist playing identity politics on the issue except play the occasional tune to the die hard mandir addicts. The social coalition consisting of Brahmins, Rajputs, Trading castes and sections of the OBC and non Jatav SCs is a fragile and rather short sighted. It would be best not to put total faith in the sustainability of this coalition and continue to build up support.

An interesting feature in these Elections has been the substantial increase in the vote share of the BJP. Even in Goa where BJP got less seats than the COngress, the Party has more share of the votes polled and the same in Manipur. Uttarakhand and Punjab did not come as a surprise to anyone and I am sure that the BJP was expecting a poor show. Probably the showing of the AAP may have come as a surprise.

All in all, if this trend continues the BJP will cross 305 to 320 seats in the Lok Sabha Elections of 2019.