Shashi Tharoor

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Retribution – Reparation… And Colonialism

Published July 25, 2015 by vishalvkale

Call it reparation, or call it payback – or call it retribution; call it what you will. The latest speech by Dr Shashi Tharoor has, once again, brought the colonial memory to the fore of the public consciousness; sad part is that it failed to ignite a debate on the issue of the colonial damage, and the payback and apologies by Britain, or their absence. It lead to a series of plaudits – well deserved, no doubts – on Dr Tharoor; but, by and large, completely failed to tackle the larger issue of an apology and return of the loot by The United Kingdom.

Why should the UK do either when the raped party is itself silent and acquiescing in the matter? There is no pressure on them to do so; that they will never apologise and compensate by themselves is a given. We aren’t in the Satyug; and the Great West is far from being the model of fairness and justice that it claims to be. That leaves us to wallow in our own self-pity, and / or our own ambitions and desires…

THE PERSONAL ASPECT

You have a “want” and then you have a “should”

First, the “Want”



Do I want the money? You bet I do! Every Single Penny the British took from us :  Each.and.every.single.penny. We know the amount; we have the proof; we have the period evidence; we can calculate NPV. I want it back, make no mistake. It is ours, and we can prove it beyond a shade of doubt with solid, irrefutable period evidence – yearwise, datewise and monthwise.

The contention that how far back do we go is not tenable, because the pillage was based on the destruction of the industrial base of India {Yes, we did have industries- large numbers of them}, the agricultural base of India. Add to that the planned destruction of our arts, culture, self-respect etc. The current problems of India are directly traceable to the Raj. Prior to the Raj, the economic status is also well-documented and pretty much beyond debate, establishing the cause of our penury beyond a shade of doubt.

Interested people can refer my previous articles  for details of books and references containing documented proofs}

Apologies : now what good is that? It means a lot to us : but how can we be sure that they mean it? That it isnt insincere? That is why, I dont hold much store by an apology. Dont want it. If you are truly apologetic – show it. Give us back what is ours : you can start with the Kohinoor. The rest is open to negotiation! That is also why in the strategic analysis below, I have not even touched on an apology. They can keep their crocodile tears. 



THE STRATEGIC ASPECT


Now, The “Should”


Should we ask for it? Make it an issue? Answer : No. The international situation effectively means that any such move would be counter-productive, and self-inflicted damage. That is manifestly unfair, given the damages given to other countries as others have stated, and the apologies; but the world isnt a fair place. Further, for us, survival comes first; economic and diplomatic realities preclude such a possibility as of now. It would be stupid; and we arent stupid, that I am sure all readers would agree to quite wholeheartedly.

Further, using under-handed tactics a-la USA, Pakistan etc also is out; such practices come back to hit the perpetrator. We do anything like that – and our loss is pretty much  a guarantee. Third, and most important. do the majority of Indians want a repayment or some kind of a reparation? There, we are in the land of conjecture. We have no way of knowing; and this {majority opinion} is a vital matter – we are a democracy.

But. if the majority wants it – some kind of a payback {maybe not the entire amount, of course} – then, the situation changes dramatically. It would empower the Government to act, and put some serious pressure on them. The pressure would not be needed, of course; if the majority want it, it will reflect automatically in the policy stance; it then becomes only a question of time.

And, in an even slightly altered international context- it is conceivable that we can put the screws on the West real h.a.r.d, and make them cough up. As of now, that is far fetched… but in 1857, who would have thought that we would kick the Britishers out from our holy land in a short span of 90 years? Just because the present does not warrant such an action on our part does not mean we forget. The reason is that we as a nation are still paying the price of the colonial rape – in everything from security issues to the problems of poverty that are plaguing us.

The question then arises, how can we do it? In a world economy with a powerhouse India and its economy, with a comparable military might, it would be mighty hard for The Great West to fend us off. That is beyond argument. That is why – if we want our money back – just about the only way is to develop our economy, make it far more relevant to world trade – and then…. hit back. HARD. Tell ’em ; cough up, or F-Off. End Game; Game-Set-Match India. The pay-off can be in various terms and forms: better trade terms, preferential trade terms, hard cash, market access, strategic benefits, technology free of charge, etc etc. That is open to negotiation; as I look at in the second and concluding part of this mini-series

Sounds Far Fetched? Yup, as on date it probably is. But History is stranger than fiction, and stranger things have happened.

That is why it is vital that Indians be reminded of our past, and the price we have paid. Repeatedly reminded. Not just for this reason : it tells a lesson that we cannot trust The West. Note what happened since independence for proof, and look to the continuing blind support to Pakistan for more proof, or a cursory glance at the trade and economic realities of the modern post-colonial world.

The West may believe the story of colonialism is over; I suspect it hasnt even started yet. Quite apart from the fact that colonialism never really died – it just changed form into a shape that fools us into believing all is right again; the reality is that the Ghosts Of The Past haven’t been laid to rest yet. What happened was just the prologue; picture abhi baaki hai. Till inequality exists, the threat given above will remain. And for inequality to be lessened requires The West to start sacrificing in the here and the now. And you can rest assured, that wont happen; not for a very long time – if at all.

And with increasing inequality in an atmosphere where every colonised nation dreams of the same level of development of The Great West, the pre-existing fissures will be ruthlessly opened and renewed, past wrongs brought to the fore. That is what scares me. These deepening fissures in an atmosphere of desire and naked ambition for growth are already visible; you cannot deny the downtrodden nations their desire for growth. But that will come at a cost; what that cost is to be is for us to determine as a people, and as a human race…



Why should we ask for compensation? How should we go about it? What form should this compensation take? What are the strategic repercussions or alternatives, and what are our internal pressures and realities? How is colonialism not yet dead? These are all  questions I take up in the concluding part of this 2-part mini-series. Let me close this article with a thought-provoking piece by Pankaj Mishra :


The sense of humiliation that burdened… Asians has greatly diminished; The rise of Asia and the assertiveness of the Asian Peoples consummates their revolt against the West that began more than a century ago; it is in many ways the revenge of the East. Yet this success contains an immense intellectual failure, one that has profound ramifications for the world today and the near future. It is simply this: no convincingly universalist response exists today to Western ideas of politics and economy…

The war on terror has already blighted the first decade. In retrospect, however, it may seem a prelude to greater and bloodier conflicts over precious resources and commodities that modernising as well as already modern economies need. The hope that fuels the endless economic growth – that billions of consumers in India and China will one day enjoy the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans – is as absurd and dangerous a fantasy as anything dreamt up by Al-Qaeda. It condemns the global environment to early destruction and looks set to create reservoirs of nihilistic rage and disappointment among hundreds of millions of have-nots – the bitter outcome of the universal triumph of Western modernity, which turns the revenge of the East into something darkly ambiguous, and all its victories truly pyrrhic… : Pankaj Mishra, From The Ruins Of Empire – The Revolt Against The West And The Rise Of Asia


In closing. I can only say with infinite sadness that The Great West should pay heed to their own literature, and study their own history. Sad part is, they will never do so. And that terrifies me. Picture abhi baaki hai, mere dost; abhi toh interval bhi nahi hua hai! The story is just unfolding; it isnt even half-way over yet – of that, I am certain. 


Though the mills of God grind slowly; 
Yet they grind exceeding small; 
Though with patience He stands waiting, 
With exactness grinds He all.

“Retribution” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Foreign Policy Under Narendra Modi Part – 2 : Rapport and NRIs…

Published June 1, 2015 by vishalvkale

It is said by many that one of the highpoints is the excellent personal rapport NaMo has with other leaders, and how it will benefit  FP. Maybe, maybe not; again, time will tell. As on date, the result is zero. Precisely zero, and hoopla, based on myth and an incomplete understanding and media hype. I do not deny benefits of a personal rapport; but let us not overstate it. Personal Rapport and Cultural Ties are only door openers, and are completely useless when the door is already open, In Foreign Policy, the $ and the Bullet {meaning brute power} reigns supreme.

Further, it is noteworthy that the same Prime Minister of India, before he became a Prime Minister, was targeted and branded {almost} by Western Nations as something less than nice. And now, the moment he becomes Prime Minister, the same nations’ leaders’, who previously branded Mr Narendra Modi without any proof whatsoever, flouting all international norms – which tantamounts to intervention in Indian affairs – are avowing personal connects. That tells the whole story; it is a mere strategic ploy given India’s status and purported / imagined role in their eyes; and Mr Narendra Modi’s mature and leader-like approach in moving on from the ugly past.

This mature and respect-worthy approach only shows NaMo as a true leader, a patriot, a thinking individual who understands what the nation needs, and ensures no baggage due to past issues. Nothing more and nothing less. He is the leader of the most ancient nation on the planet, one of the rising nations, strategically located, with good prospects and an internal business environment conducive to and aligned with western norms, practices, language, systems and processes : a nation that has justifiable claim to being a World Leader. Thus it is no surprise that the Western Nations would avow personal connects and want to forget the past – they too have nations to run, and wont want to harm their own self-interests. That is all there is to this personal connect stuff.  

Regarding cultural affinity and our penchant for idolizing non-Indians; we now have an American Ambassador whose ancestors hail from India {cannot say Indian-American : you cant have two mothers}; despite that, the American Policy is as hardline as ever, An unprecedented number of American Hindus are now in Government; no definable benefit has accrued to India in strategic terms, and that is a fact. High time we Indians realised that these cultural ties are useless in strategic terms. If these people loved India, or cared about India, they would not have surrendered their citizenship, which to me is like changing your mother, and adopting new parents. They are aliens, not Indians. No benefit can accrue from them – apart from cashing the cultural similarity and a shared past to get them to invest, which is what the NaMo strategy is all about.

Only an Indian Citizen is an Indian, Period. Further, Dr Manmohan Singh enjoyed an excellent rapport with President Obama; look where that lead us. Rapport doesn’t count where the decisions are taken on hardcore strategic parameters, sorry to say so! Neither does cultural affinity win over hardcore business and strategic decisions, be it in business or be it in Foreign Policy. These decisions are taken from a pure play strategic and ROI perspective, period.
Long term positive gains imply a major shift in policy for both the USA and China. Would anyone care to state how that shift will come about in both power dynamics and Trade? Please dont state people-to-people contacts; P2P contacts are the least important paradigm for consideration in appraising a Foreign Policy. If Modi has made a connect with American, Australians of Indian Ancestry, no benefit accrues to India which it would not get otherwise in trade; and none in Power. This community lacks the connections and the power levers in their nations to make even a tiny dent in their policies – as contemporary history proves. This makes P2P useless from a strategic perspective. On trade, interest rate differential and higher growth will ensure Money flows into India Modi or no Modi. Makes no difference whatsoever.

Modi’s FP successes will come; but not from USA or China; they are immaterial. They will come from Russia, Japan, Israel – and Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Burma, if he continues the good work started there. Please understand : I did not claim that the FP is a failure. I clearly state that it is too early to comment. That is one. Two, the sad part is that NaMo is being praised for steps that are ceremonial in nature, a facade as it were; while his real categorical moves lie ignored, which is a sad comment on our people and their analytical abilities, as well as the blind following habit which is now endemic to our nation.
He has re-crafted the entire relationship with Israel; is that good, or is that bad? I am yet to read a fully devoted article on this point anywhere, at least highlighted anywhere. This stands as a long overdue step, one which marks the policy as coming out of the diffident mode it was in earlier with regard to Israel, and a major rebalancing vis-a-vis the Middle East. We have no idea as yet what the repercussions or the benefits will be.

He has moved the relationship with Pakistan up several notches in terms of aggression; No more the diffident and hands-off approach. The new approach is blunt, in your face – and clear. We are for peace; just don’t push us. We know how to push back, and hard. Pakistan stands relegated, with complete disinterest in peace talks unless Pakistan stops talking with the Bullet, a hardline security paradigm in response to Pakistan, and a renewed world-view.

The way Russia has been handled is tremendous; he has pulled back Russia into the fold, signing major deals with Putin while jabbing pointless nonsense with the Americans who prefer more of “showmanship” than any real business or relationship with India. Indicate West, But turn East at its best. Well done, Sir! He has also upgraded India in the relationship with Russia as well as Asia. Our Neighbours are feeling for the first time an India that cares, and that is NaMo’s biggest FP achievement.

The Russians have withdrawn quite substantially from selling Arms to Pakistan in response to our negotiations with them – this the Americans haven’t done despite innumerable proofs of the misuse of their weapons against India by both the Indian Govt. as well as Americans themselves; can they {Russians} be blamed? We take arms from the Americans; have been for years! That is diplomacy and strategy. Rightly stated : reducing dependency.
The tragedy is we are actually celebrating his connect with a people who left India, and made another culture and nation their home; that is nothing to celebrate about. Had these people cared, they would have come back to India eventually, or at least kept their citizenship,  or have stayed in India; this they didn’t do : as I noted earlier : If these people loved India, or cared about India, they would not have surrendered their citizenship. The greatest tragedy is our continuing love affair with Non-Residents and PIOs : witness our news which carries long articles on spelling bee winners, pageant winners in detail, but cannot find the space for 2 lines on any number of truly Indian successes, by people living in India. {Kailash – ring a bell, anyone? When did we notice him? High time we stopped idolizing NRIs and PIOs, and looked for and supported Indian Success stories instead – any number of them to choose from, should we so desire}

These people, may I remind people here – are those that found other nations better than India as places to live. That is nothing praiseworthy, in my humble opinion. Our relationship with them is purely business : being from the same culture, they can find it far easier to do business here. Period. Nothing to celebrate. We have loads of Indian Examples to Celebrate; high time we learnt to have some pride in us as a nation.

In conclusion, let us all sit back and relax just a little, and rise above the hype and the hoopla. Let us not try and paint this Government as a messiah and a knight in shining armour stuff hyperbole which is unrealistic. Foreign Policy requires time, secrecy, commitment and action; not words. It is the follow-up to the visits that are far more important , and the preamble to the visits; the visits are merely media hype and showmanship. The work has all been done prior to the visits, by and large! Let us also not commit the cardinal sin of branding all actions by this Government as bad; most are good actions, well though-out. That does not mean they haven’t made mistakes; but give credit where credit is due!

Foreign Policy Under Narendra Modi – Part 1

Published May 31, 2015 by vishalvkale

A lot of euphoria and hero-worshipping is doing the rounds regarding our Foreign Policy under the new dispensation; in this article, I make an attempt to place things in the proper perspective, and highlight the problem areas as well as the successes in a relatively contained and short article. All is not hunky-dory; a lot remains to be revealed, and lot of it is pure hype which has no basis or substance whatsoever. We need to be able to differentiate the wheat from the chaff; this is what I have attempted.

               
A lot is being made about the improved image; In FP, image means almost nothing; it is relatively immaterial. FP is a matter of hardcore strategy, deliverance on words, hard power, and economic give and take. How a nation is perceived is of no relevance; what matters is its economic performance and security paradigms and direction. Thus, a better global image makes us feels better as Indians, but counts for precisely nothing in Diplomacy, and that is an absolute. If you sift away the hyperbole and focus on the hard facts, there are no achievements – precisely zero as on date in FP by this Government. FP changes take time to reveal themselves; let us wait and see.

To be frank, there is a decided lack of direction in the current foreign policy; this may be due to the churning that inevitably takes place when course is altered; that is true – but, as on date, from a strategic perspective it is all mixed up. India’s established course over the past 67 years has been fundamentally altered; some needed steps – long overdue – taken; but a lot of confusion prevails – and that is the way it should be in FP for a new Government with high expectations. What matters is the absence of gaffes, and presence of definable good steps. Only time will tell regarding FP, it is way too early.

As on date, there are demonstrably no achievements that would not have taken place otherwise {without NaMo}, apart from the hoopla among the Non-Resident population and the PIO population, who are immaterial insofaras strategy is concerned.  The direction is unclear as on date; remains to be seen what the net result is. NaMo has changed many a paradigm of our FP, and the effects in FP can only be observed over a long period of time. Personally, I am extremely uncomfortable with the FP as on date; at least insofaras USA, Israel and China are concerned.

There is no record of even one nation {non-European / Developing} that has benefited from a close association with the USA; quite the opposite. Add to that the recent revelations on arms aids, and the billions of dollars worth of Arms being given to Pakistan, which decidedly harms Indian interests,  and the differences on intelligence sharing- the net result seems negative. To top it all are the manifest differences on Economic and Trade issues where we are lined on diametrically opposite sides of the debate, added to the pressure tactics of the USA. It is still supplying arms to Pakistan – in fact, it has actually increased them, I think; the pressure game in various economic fields remains as it is- AMS, IPR et al. Sensitive technologies still not being given. No change – whatever happened would have happened anyway, had anyone else been in charge, and that is a fact. India and the USA are not going to be friends anytime soon!

USA is playing upto India not due to NaMo, but due to China, and that is also a fact; history repeats itself – read the period 1954-1960 and the Tibet imbroglio. The preceding silence to these elections was due to the elections themselves; everyone was hedging their bets. The global economy is in a major downswing, making India an attractive bet in terms of markets. China’s rise is making Unka Sammie mighty hot under the collar, and the Japanese look askance, In this scenario, regardless of who was in charge, insofaras USA, China are concerned, there has been no positive or negative impact – except hype and hyperbole, driven by an NRI/PIO population, and an indigenous population which for some strange reason idolizes these Non-Indians and Non-Residents Indians.

Recall the previous time India and China tried to come close. On China, I am afraid he may be wrong. I cannot forget the last time we went into Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai. The situation is the same; the precise same as in the Mid-50s, with USA gunning for China, wanting India on board. The Armed Forces in need of Weapons, and a general euphoria of Bhai-Bhai. The only saving grace is NaMo is far more pragmatic than other Indian leaders. Let us see; I have high hopes that he will handle it in an adroit fashion; judging from his China visit. But he as a leader can afford to play two roles- Security, and trade whereas we, as people, need to avoid euphoria in the case of China, and not hope for dramatic changes; they wont happen.

And ME-Israel? That is a sea-change : requires deep analysis for a thorough perspective. Let us all keep silent here; this is complicated and will require time to manifest. It seems a natural, an Israel with whom we have a deep scientific {Agriculture, Defence} and security commonality,  and one which has been courting India quietly all these years, as well as openly supporting it. But we have to factor in The Middle East, and that is what makes this matter complex. Silence is best on this; time will tell. My personal view is that the shift towards Israel was long overdue.

Nothing has changed fundamentally. Russia is still our only friend; and will remain our only friend in the near future. The USA, for all its pointless words, has not changed even one small sub-sub-paragraph of either its security policy or its economic policy, a few unimportant trinkets here and there apart. On a basic level, if you remove all trappings, as I observed above a lot remains unexplained. Only time will tell. The rest is all hoopla, and has no substance whatsoever. Rather than celebrate and jump for joy, let us not create a hype and hoopla, and give this Government time, as at long last, there is an aggressive government in FP, one which is taking long-overdue decisions, one of which I alluded to above.

As regards money and investments- given the Global Scenario, you cant expect anything else. Will it actually happen? Extremely doubtful. Project implementation has to pick up, and that requires police, political and administrative reform. Land Bill etc wont change one single iota of the on-ground reality. What matters is how we develop our own internal capabilities; if that is in line, the money and the investments will come.

Book Review: Pax Indica by Shashi Tharoor

Published May 2, 2013 by vishalvkale

As usual, I start with  excerpts from the book that will make the Indian reader sit up… “India was much more open to the west than hindsight suggests… it was driven away by western condescension… and the western leanings towards Pakistan… The US congress once passed a resolution refusing to help India construct a steel plant since it was not the US business to help build socialism in India…  The west was noticeably sympathetic to Pakistan over Kashmir… The Soviet Union frequently vetoed anti-India resolutions”…    “And yet, if there is another Mumbai – another horror perpetrated on a scale comparable to 26/11 with similar proof of Pakistani complicity  – comparable restraint may be impossible, and all bets will be off” 
A book on foreign policy sounds a pretty boring affair – one does not keep high expectations from a book that deals with such an esoteric topic. And to compound matters further, if this book is written by someone like Shashi Tharoor – who is known for his rapier-like wit and penchant to introduce a quip or a witticism; or outright humour in the most unlikely of paragraphs in a book – this raises expectations of 2 types: one that this book might be boring; and for those who have read Tharoor, there will be the expectation of a witty exercise. The book is neither heavy, nor is it witty. 
This book has introduced a refreshingly different side of Tharoor; on reading this one can understand how this person rose to such mercurial heights in the United Nations. It is a mature and balanced look at the Indian Foreign Policy Scenario, and has taken a look at both sides of every coin. We also get to see one side of his writing that all of us are used to: bluntness and straightforward to-the-point statement of intent, or realities. The combination of these 2 factors elevate this book from a mundane one; it is a high-quality and power-packed book. In typical Tharoor fashion, he has not held his punches; the punches flow thick and fast – but are grounded in a superb factual, mature analysis. The western reader will be able to understand Indian approach to foreign policy much better – although some passages might be highly disconcerting;  for the Indian reader, the book offers a wholesome fact-based understanding of our policy imperatives and direction. 
Shashi Tharoor has placed the Indian defence to allegations it has faced over the years very lucidly, if in a somewhat blunt fashion. His analysis of why and how we drifted away from the West just after independence is enthralling; high time we Indians made a strong defence – and place the blame where it lies- USA and to some extent UK. His blunt defence of our Non-Alignment and our rabid independence; our unwillingness to heel to any “bloc” has been based not on rhetoric but on solid logic. 
The book examines our relations with each  neighbour in chapters – Pakistan, South East Asia (SAARC Region) China, USA, EU, Africa, Middle East. The best part of the analysis is not just strategic, but business realities, balance of trade, business imperatives, defence and strategic imperatives are all looked at – which give a complete and balanced view of each relationship. Furthermore, the author has not just paraded the Indian viewpoint and expectations from our partners; the other nations’ expectations from us have been given and analysed. Faults are bluntly put forward – be they Indian mistakes, or be they the other nations mistakes. No one has been spared; there is no diplomatic-speak anywhere (except in the chapter on China, where I could detect a reigned-in and controlled response). 
The book underscores India’s strategic independence – and our total unwillingness to march to any other piper, to any other tune. The foreign reader will be let in no doubt that India is one nation that will always march to its own tune – whatever be the consequences. Furthermore, it also underscores where India has been jilted, or harmed; where Indian security priorities lie  – but the emphasis is on building a relationship and trade; on a forward push in the right direction. It only talks tough on the USA – and is uncompromisingly tough on Pakistan. Even on these 2 – the beauty is the balanced and mature analysis – presenting internal realities of both these countries. The Indian reader will be able to better understand the steps taken by these 2 nations much better. The Indo-USA fractured relationship and its analysis is in a class of its own – giving US expectations as well as its underpinnings, while underscoring where it has gone wrong – and panning it for its penchant for transactional treatments, while keeping the substance for China and Pakistan. 
The book is worth a read for the section on Pakistan alone, and the lucid analysis of why we need to continue to talk peace with Pakistan; its internal realities, and the way forward. You are left in no doubt as to the merits of the peace approach with Pakistan – and the best part of this is, this has been done without any compromise. It also leaves a clear and straight warning to Pakistan that this is contingent on no teror attacks.. This section makes it a must read for every educated Indian. But far and above all this, the book identifies India’s biggest failure – its failure at building a positive relationship with its immediate neighourhood – including with the nation it helped to win independence – Bangladesh. It is these 2 chapters that form the biggest takeaways for the Indian reader… as I said, a must read for every educated Indian!