Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Missing the Chinks in the Chinese Wall

I’m beginning to wonder if the entire Indian foreign affairs commentariat shouldn’t be hauled off to a Chinese re-education camp.

Not a single pundit got it right in parsing the joint statement issued by Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao at the end of the American leader’s visit to China on 18 November.

All of them were hot and bothered by a paragraph in the statement that said the US and China “welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia,” supported “the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan,” and were “ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.”

Why did they find that disturbing?

Swapan Dasgupta, The Times of India’s dependably obtuse analyst, explained it all in a column titled “China Tames India With Help From Obama.”

According to him Obama had “repuidiated the Bush doctrine of nurturing India to offset China’s dominance in Asia” and was “a giant step forward” for Beijing, which had “secured United States endorsement for taking an active interest in South Asia, including India.” The two presidents, had “agreed that India for all its potential as a rising economic Power, doesn’t yet qualify for a place on a high table; it remains bound in a hyphenated relationship with an imploding Pakistan.”

I wonder if he actually read the statements, joint and individual, made by Obama and Hujintao.

If he did, how could he miss the numerous and clear indications that the two presidents were not sitting comfortably at a “high table” dispensing the order of Asia?

China is still nervous about Taiwan, American criticism of its human rights record, and about being pressured to depart from to its own “development model” (as if enslaving its population to foreign corporations is a viable “path” of its own choosing).

Obama rubbed Hujintao’s face in the human rights and sovereignty issues by telling him to begin a dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama.

Can you imagine such fundamental differences in any Indo-American statement? The basic reality of the US-China relationship is that it is adversarial. America has embraced China in order to push it towards democracy, a prospect the ruling "Communist" clique can hardly view with enthusiasm.

The reference to South Asia should be seen as Washington telling Beijing in the most diplomatic way possible to stop supporting Pakistan against India.

We should give it a round of rousing applause.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Feelbad Journalism

In a piece titled "Superpoor India" DNA columnist Venkatesan Vembu writes pompously about the "triumphalist chest-thumping" in Indian newspapers about the country’s ranking in the recently published "Prosperity Index."

He thinks that is “solely” because “India came in at 45th place, whereas China -- our civilizational "twin brother" who (we fear) has made good and moved out of our league in the past 30 years -- came in at a distant 75th place.”

He dismisses that as an editorial attempt “to lace your morning cup of filter coffee with a healthy dose of feel-good decoction” and an adolescent "mine's bigger than yours" response to an ideologically biased analysis. The Prosperity Index, he informs us, “has been devised in such a manner as to balance a country's economic prosperity with "political and individual liberty". And that, in his eyes, reduces the measure to irrelevance.

“India's aspirations of becoming a superpower will never be realized unless we can look ourselves in the unflattering mirror of reality” Vembu writes, quoting a book by an American to assert that the Chinese don’t think of themselves as a Super Power.

“Similarly with India, only if we begin with an honest appraisal of ourselves and work earnestly to remedy our failings that make us seem 'superpoor' can we over time become a genuine superpower -- one that doesn't have to claim it is one, and, or seek validation and solace in pseudo-scientific indices of prosperity.”

Vembu is typical of the Feelbad school of Indian journalism, which specializes in compounding insecurity with ignorance and passing it off as fair and balanced.

The article makes it clear that he doesn't have a clue about how India can make an "honest appraisal" of itself. The tip-off on that comes in his reference to China as "our civilizational twin brother."

China is not India's civilizational twin. Except for a variety of technological innovations China as a civilization has been creatively sterile. It has nothing to compare to the Ramayana and Mahabharatha, no cosmology comparable to India’s, no mathematical tradition such as ours. Compared to India's monumentally influential international role in matters ranging from the conceptualization of God to Non Alignment, it has been a an insular, inward-looking, oppressive society throughout history.

Nowhere are our national differences more apparent than in the different response of the two countries to European domination. India reached into its spiritual core and produced Gandhi. China produced Mao, who made his grisly way to power only because another great tyrant, Stalin, provided him with the means to do so.

The poor Chinese people were made to give up the only source of spiritual comfort they ever had, Buddhism imported from India. (Confucianism is little more than an elaboration of good manners.) In return they were forced to pretend that the insane theory of a distant German intellectual, Marx, was a credible guide to their future.

Mao killed some 40 to 50 million people in the effort to make Marxism work, while we built up a democratic system that has slowly but steadily attacked the massive iniquities of our society and empowered the least among us.

China has staggered from Marxism into an obscene "capitalism" dominated by foreign corporations that works only because its people have been enslaved to the global market. But that is effective only if the global market is functioning well, which it is not. Unless the world economy picks up very soon, China will face a major internal crisis.

That will not be pretty to watch, especially from our front-row seats; but while waiting for the coming troubles, let's at least get our strategic thinking right.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Danny Boyle "Tired" of Slum Kids

Danny Boyle, the Director of Slumdog Millionaire the Oscar winning dump on India, is reported to be "tired" of dealing with the financial "demands" of the families of the two slum kids whose acting made his movie a hit.

Boyle paid the kids a pittance for their heavyweight roles purely because they lived in a slum. He was shamed by pre-Oscar publicity into announcing that he intended to set up a Trust for their education.

Action on the Trust was slow and it took months of complaints by the kids (who continued to live in the Mumbai slum in which the casting people found them), to get any action. Finally about a year after the movie raked in its multi-millions they were moved to cheap apartments appropriate for the poor.

The kids were also admitted to school, and "over 70 per cent attendance" was made a condition for them to continue receiving the $110 monthly stipend the Trust agreed to pay each. Evidently that condition has not been met, and now there is a publicized threat to stop making the payments.

The kids have also been promised a lump sum when they complete school, but no one knows how much. The amount in the Trust is also a secret. Why exactly no one has bothered to explain.

Meanwhile, the boy has lost his father to tuberculosis, and the girl has been embarrassed by a British reporter's stupid sting operation: he rang up her father posing as a rich Arab Sheikh who wanted to adopt her. The father was reported to have agreed to "sell" her to the Sheikh. It later turned out the reporter had spoken to someone other than the father.

If anyone has a right to be "tired" of the way things have gone it's the kids.

How to flip the Taliban

Foreign Affairs, the magazine of the influential Council on Foreign Relations in New York, has just circulated an article titled "Know thine enemy: why the Taliban cannot be flipped."

It is by Barbara Elias, who directs the Afghanistan, Pakistan and Taliban Project at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. She argues that the "main Taliban leaders will never abandon al-Qaeda " because they are too invested in their Islamic identity and that more moderate leaders have no chance of replacing the hard core Islamists because "Pakistani intelligence services will not support governments in the tribal areas or in Afghanistan that do not help it in its campaign against India."

It sounds credible enough until one stops to consider that in the entire article she never once mentions the drug trade out of Afghanistan.

The Taliban and Al Qaeda cannot be taken seriously as Islamic, for they are both up to their necks in the entirely un-Islamic drug trade, Also, they have done more damage to Muslims globally than America could ever do. It is quite clear that the drug trade is what they are about, and profit their only motive; it is the only thing that holds them together.

The real reaaon the Taliban cannot be “flipped” is that the United States cannot hope to bribe them more than what they get from exporting opium and heroin.

The only chance of winning the war against the Taliban-Al Qaeda combination is to cut off their income from drugs – and that means action against the money launderers in developed countries, especially Britain, which provides the nexus of institutional intelligence, money and elite criminality that makes illicit trafficking possible

Shobaa De - What a "Gal!"

Just finished reading Superstar India (Penguin 2008) by Shobaa De. It was written to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Indian independence, but is an all round dump on the country. Consider this near gibberish:

“We want foreigners (read Westerners) to like us ... admire us. When we are disappointed with our present (oh please, forget all that rah-rah India Shining rubbish. It’s more like India Bullshitting), we fall back on the past.

“A very distant past.

“When all else fails we pull out Gandhi. The Mahatma has saved India’s ass in more ways than one. If he only knew how frequently and arbitrarily we use the Gandhi trick to impress outsiders He is our trump card in any argument. We invoke his name when no other name rings a bell.

“If even that fails to impress, we begin boasting about our amazing ‘culture’ (our civilization is 5000 years old we tell awestruck Americans). We play the Heritage card as well when it suits us. Especially in the presence of ignorant, semi-educated visitors who don’t know better.”

The “culture blanket” she writes, “covers up our ugliest flaws and wounds. Ignorance breeds insouciance as we glibly brag away, not stopping to examine the half-baked theories being trotted out in a sad attempt to ‘explain’ social blights like dowry, casteism, sati...”

After a few more lines of such nonsense she gets to Gandhi again: “If you can cleverly combine a ‘Gandhi’ (to rhyme with ‘randy’) story, that’s India in a nutshell. By the way, Paris has four Indian restaurants with names ranging from Gandhi to Gandhiji”

When a Yemeni taxi driver tells her she is lucky to live in a country that had Gandhi as leader her “heart did a somersault. How bizarre this conversation sounded ... everything was strange. The setting, the context, the man behind the wheel.”

Later in the book she notes that Gandhi has become newly popular and has this to say: “If Gandhi is being positioned as ‘Daddy Cool’ and being transformed into a ‘Youth Icon’ ... there must be a valid reason. In India we are seriously short of heroes. We try and create them artificially in order to fill the empty slot. Gandhi is perfect for that. Besides he is a caricaturist’s delight.”

Surely, I said to myself, she must know Gandhi is as genuine a hero as you can get, but evidently not! She advises Indians not to take umbrage at the commercial use of Gandhi’s image: “What’s the point of achieving an iconic position if it can’t be flogged?”

De dismisses “traditional Indian values” as “bogus;” “what exactly are these mysterious ‘values’?” she asks, and “how different are they from the world’s?”
Indians make too much of sacrifice she writes: “Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!” ... ‘I sacrifice therefore I am an Indian’ could well be our motto. And it impresses nobody.” Indian feelings of “superiority comes from some ancient notion about our great and good civilization.”

Her view of the country is grim indeed. “We believe we are essentially calm, spiritual, evolved, superior, patient and wise. But none of these is true.” She knows of no other country where people “rush to strip dead bodies of whatever there is – ornaments, cash, anything of even the smallest value, sometimes before the body is cold.”

She’s “heard of villagers scampering to mutilate bodies of air crash victims before the arrival of fire brigades, often tearing earrings and rings of a person who may still be alive, or chopping off hands to get to the gold bangles.” (That “often” really got to me; makes it sound as if air crashes are a matter of routine.)
To see “scenes of rioting in any corner of the country,” with people turning into “blood-thirsty animals” she declares that “all you have to do is switch on your television set at prime time any day, every day.”

We can see mobs burning “cars, shops and residences” as they are overcome by an “inexplicable madness” and “rush from locality to locality burning and killing strangers without qualm.”

Watching The Last King of Scotland the Hollywood film about Idi Amin’s murderous tryranny in Uganda, she “felt numb just connecting with the mirror images. It could’ve been a portrait of any politician in India.” At one point in the film “I forced myself to keep watching, telling myself, ‘it’s about Idi Amin and Uganda – don’t take it so personally.”

It is not till page 427 of the 456 page book that she thinks to mention India’s democratic system as a “triumph;” and that, without any effort to square it with her moaning about India being the mirror image of Amin’s Uganda!

What a “gal” as she would say.

It is one of the most preening, egotistical, ignorant books I’ve ever had the misfortune to read.