All posts for the month March, 2012

India a superpower? Unlikely, says London School of Economics study – The Economic Times

Published March 7, 2012 by vishalvkale

India a superpower? Unlikely, says London School of Economics study – The Economic Times:

‘via Blog this’

As per the London School Of Economics, the 7 reasons identified that we cannot become a superpower are:

  1. The Challenge Of The Naxalites
  2. Hindutvawadis
  3. Degradation Of The Center
  4. Increasing Rich-Poor Gap
  5. Trivialisation Of The Media
  6. Unsustainable Resource Consumption
  7. Instability And Policy Incoherence Of A Coalition Government
The first point regarding Naxalites can and should be extended to include terrorist threats that sap the energy from the atmosphere and prove to be a real impediment to development. Why state only Naxalites? India is facing a range of internal threats to peace that go far beyond the Naxalite problem. What is more, the threats are not showing signs of waning. We are nowhere in sight of a solution – and without a solution, this problem will continue to be a dead-weight around our legs as we strive for progress. The second point is, in my opinion, simple ignorance on the part of the LSE. Yes, increasing fundamentalism is indeed a cause of grave concern – but it is not just the Hindutva factor at play. What is more to the point is the fractured nature of our societies – our divisions along Language and Religion – and especially the mutual distrust that this engenders. As an excellent example: Marathi upsurge led by the Thackereys. Such incidents drive a wedge into society – if repeated often enough, they can prove to be extremely divisive!
As for the rest, I have to say that I find it hard to dispute the claims of the London School Of Economics. The Rich-Poor gap is very evident; as is the instability and policy incoherence of a coalition government. Being a superpower means a more equitable distribution of wealth.  for only then the full potential of the demographic dividend – so eloquently extolled by Nandan Nilekani –  can be fully exploited; and conversely, it will prove unsustainable if everyone were not able to share in the development. Such a lop-sided growth can never be sustained for any length of time. Similarly, a coalition government can never have the freedom of polcy making that a clear majority government can have. We do have a long way to go!
It is in the rest of the 3 factors that the punch lies: namely, Degradation of the center / Media / Resource Consumption. In fact, I would term it as a near collapse of most of our institutions due to rampant and endemic corruption. It is impossible to do anything without paying something in the form of a bribe – that is indeed the hard truth. It has become an endemic problem – and this is exacerbated by public apathy as evidenced by our civic behaviour, our penchant for paying bribes to cops, ticket-checkers, government officials as well as in our day-to-day behaviour. As for the Media- as I have previously argued, they seem more concerned with profit and reporting what sells. The Media can- if it wants to- play a stellar role in leading change; it can be both the bulwark as well as the Rallying Point of positive change. Paradoxically, The Media is perhaps the only point in the seven which offers a ray of hope: at least there is credible evidence of change in the Media.
The most critical point is Resource Consumption: and we need only look at our core sector for confirmation of the same. All in all, a superbly argued article… we need to act on corruption, internal threats, resources, spreading the wealth. So far, it seems doable. But what do we do about the problems of coalition politics? Do we have a solution? We citizens can bring about change through means such as India Against Corruption in the sphere of corruption: but there is little we can do about the political setup as it exists today. There are vast differences in culture, regional development status, languages, aspirations, problems from state to state. In such a scenario, perhaps the coalition system is the best as it ensures local participation – and this acts as a safety valve!

Book Review: The Day Of The Jackal

Published March 1, 2012 by vishalvkale

The Day of the Jackal was penned around 1971, and was set in the French Republic of the early 1960’s. The story is based partly on fact, and partly on fiction, and revolves around a plot to assassinate the then French President Charles De Gaulle. The fact part is an attempt on the presidents’ life by a French army officer {Bastien-Thiry}. The rest of the book is fiction. 
The beauty of this book is in the way it offers 3 windows into the same story: offering the reader a look from 3 view–points, which makes for fascinating reading. The 3 view points are the 3 parts of the book: The Motive of the perpetrators & the planning of the Jackal {The Anatomy of a plot}, The French investigation: How the plot is discovered and stopped, {The Anatomy of a Manhunt} and the final climatic moments,  {The Anatomy of a Kill}. This approach actually enhances your understanding, takes you deep into the plot, and gives you a 360-degree view of the the story. 
But what takes the cake is the narrative: by that I mean the way the story moves forward at a rapid pace, not stagnating anywhere even for a page- throughout the book. And this is despite the triple-change in perspective. That is the real beauty of this book. This stye has enabled a complete understanding of the entire plot in the mind of the reader, with every angle being well explained and covered appropriately. The changes have been deftly handled, with not an iota of momentum being lost along the way 

The Characters
The Jackal: The quintessential enigma; Brilliant in conceptualisation & execution; Unfortunately task-oriented
Lebel: Methodical, Sincere, Intelligent, Brllliant
General De Gaulle: Making his presence felt by his absence!!!!

Thats it. This book is about these  3 people, and no one else. There are supporting characters in plenty, but mentioning them would take away from the frontispiece of the story: Jackal Vs Lebel. De Gaulle makes his presence felt in the book more by inference than by actual presence, an approach that is far more effective than showing his presence as head of  state. 

Another hallmark is the refrain the author has shown in the book in dealing with the central character of the Jackal, and his growing enmity with Lebel. The way his identity has been built with a minimum of sensationalism is a thing to behold. That is the central point of the book: the Jackal, his identity, the style of operation and his mystery – all of which have been built not by excessive description but rather by limiting references to his past, and by his style of working, which was a master-stroke! Secondly, the other masters-stroke was in not having an equally well-developed character as his opponent. Indeed, while his opponent – Lebel – comes out as a professional equal to or better than the Jackal, the frontispiece of the book remains the Jackal 
And last but not the least: this book is about 3 characters only: Lebel, De Gaulle, and above all The Jackal. Nothing else. The book starts with that and ends with that, concentrating on that theme, with not even a single sub-plot of note. No pages have been wasted in developing sub-plots, which has made the narrative taut and rapid. Of note is also the way the persona and charisma of Charles De Gaulle looms over the book, even though his appearances are limited and far-between. 
The Story
The first part – the Anatomy of a plot – explains the motives as well as the planning in detail: Who wants to kill De Gaulle and Why, How is the Assassin hired, How the Assassin gains knowledge of his intended target, The exact steps of the planning including passports/multiple identities/Gun/Target/Site. These are covered in exhaustive detail – such that you can visualise the scene in front of your eyes. The second part – The Anatomy of a manhunt, deals with how the French discover the plot, and the hunt for the assassin across France and Britain, the manhunt in both countries leading to the ultimate foiling of the plot. The story picks up from the first suspicions of a plot, and methodically covers police routine, highlighting their failures and frustrations, the pulls and pressures in brilliant detail, going on to successes and the ever-increasing speed of the investigation.  The book continues its relentless pace in the third part: The anatomy of a kill, which is hectic and describes the way the police realize the exact date of the attempt {by gaining an understanding of the president – something the Jackal has already done!}, and how they save the day in the nick of time… 
The parts are written in three styles of writing {from the intense descriptive style in Part 1, to the urgent and hectic style in Part 2 and ending with the rapid pace  in the 3rd Part, with the beauty being in the way the tension, the pace and the narrative builds through successive pages, never slackening in between right through to the fitting finale makes this book one of a kind. Such is the attention to detail in the book that it is beyond my capabilities to even begin to write about the story beyond the broad parameters outlined above. This is a book that concentrates on detail – and has done so without slackening the pace, without compromising on the story and keeping reader interest alive throughout. 
 The Conclusion
This book is about the Jackal – and, despite your realisation that the Jackal is a criminal, a killer, you are caught in 2 minds in more than one point in the story. You feel a tinge of some undefinable regret at the defeat of the Jackal – for the story is about the Jackal. The Anti-Hero of the book, man without any scruples, ends up as the centerpiece. The rapid pace of the narrative – despite its concentration on detail – gives you no time for value judgements. Lebel has intentionally been left underdeveloped, so that the Jackal can be emphasised – which takes this book beyond the ordinary killer-chase, and elevates this into the stuff of legend that it has become!

Personally, I cant think of a single book of the Spy / Thriller Genre that quite matches it. Most other books have interludes where the pace relaxes for a bit, with romantic by-plays or scenario description- not in this one! No romantic by-plays, dilly- dallying of any kind anywhere, which makes for frantic page-turning, as the tension builds up relentlessly page after page, making it a book which you will not be able to put down till the last page.. 

This review is an edited and expanded version, which first appeared in my previous blog site