A global overview – early Jan. 2019

The year 2018 was full of sparks, but it only laid the groundwork. I have not yet discussed the tariff war between primarily China and the U.S., which hogged the headlines the world over. Let’s have a short overview of what one needs to be on the lookout for and what to expect:

MAINLAND EUROPE: The European Union is in a collapsing mode, the writing is on the wall, but that won’t reveal itself just now. It will take a few years. That has nothing to do with Brexit, rather with the changing power dynamics of the world. Europe is important, but not so much these days; it is an also-ran now. Within Europe itself, the power landscape is changing somehow. Eastern Europe, as it carves out Europe from Eurasia, or rather the first entry into Europe after the Central Asian steppes and mountains, is coming out from under Germany/EU’s shadow. There are, however, many stumbling stones: immature leaders being the main ones. But economies in Eastern Europe are doing well, people are becoming prosperous, and for the first time in a century or more, there is some kind of stability in the region. Bad wolf Russia awaits, but Russia’s interests are in its buffer zones, not necessarily right now over anything beyond: it is too diminished in power to effect anything. On the Western side, it’s all crumbling. France’s “gilets jaunes” is symptomatic of people’s disenchantment here: the root cause is an inability of many to keep prospering in post-2008 world, while keeping having the Social Security benefits. Germany, being a heavily lopsided economy (on the side of exports and manufacturing), faces a tough time: as trade relations get redefined globally, and new players emerge (e.g., in automobiles, a key German area), traditionally held fiefdoms stand challenged. Also, countries like Germany, France and the UK need a lot of investment, much of it urgent, in their infrastructure: many of their rails, bridges, etc., were built in the 1960s to 1980s period, and now they are creaking. The Italian bridge collapse some time back was a sign of things to come if some of the investment is not done urgently. Germany’s DeutscheBahn is becoming worse and worse in punctuality. The problem is that the economies aren’t doing so well now, China is the giant to take on, social security seems difficult to withdraw from people nourished on a diet of values of dependence, and no leader having intelligence, charisma and empathy exists. It’s difficult, given all this, to put money into infrastructure such as rails (I don’t mean trains), where foreign investment usually is not welcome. Then, there are also tensions created by Brexit. Countries such as Portugal have close relations with the UK but are part of the EU. Also, if any companies, notably banks, thought they could relocate their operations to Paris from London, the “gilets jaunes” must have spooked them: France is simply not the UK.

UK/NORDICS: It is hard to say anything about the UK, as the British themselves are confused what to do. The best would probably be a “no-deal” exit, that is, under the WTO rules, but that is also hard to say. It would be interesting to see if that has any effect on Britain’s trading partners such as Norway. The geopolitical role of the UK has by now become quite obsolete. Under May, the UK has not proceeded with great pace, not being able to be ready, it seems, to stitch up good deals with major economies outside the EU. One country that is doing very well, aided by a smart, experimental leadership and companies, is Finland. Its smaller, poorer cousin Estonia also is doing well. For them, the main threat remains Russia, and Finland has been preparing well for any future attacks of any kind. It is also training its people in artificial intelligence and experimenting with education models. Scandinavia itself is doing neither great, nor badly. Sweden is facing trouble with integration, while Norway has no clue over what to do with all the money it has.

INDIA: Let’s move on to another obsolete player on the geopolitical stage, India. The country is big, its market is what everyone is eyeing, yet India has never played a very significant role on the geopolitical stage. That is not necessarily a bad thing: being non-aligned always, even now, has helped India to weather the Cold War, the 2008 financial crisis and now the U.S.-China trade war. The problem with India is though its legacy: corruption sustained by red-tape bureaucracy, a spirit of divisiveness, and an inability to look to the present and the future. Much of this legacy was born in the British times, but an inability to modernise seems to have characterised many kings and emperors post Akbar. India is blessed though with a quite good geography: vast ocean extending to its south, and the Himalayas, where warfare is difficult to sustain, on its north and northeast. Its weak point remains the Indo-Pak border: if India had not got divided, Baluchistani territory would have afforded some buffer. The Modi government meanwhile proved itself to be one of the worst-performing in Indian republic’s short history when it came to issues touching foreign relations: it has made the Kashmiris more antagonistic, has bullied Nepal so much without projecting the necessary power to sustain the bullying that Nepal is in China’s camp, has made the blunder of letting go of a strategic port in Sri Lanka, almost lost the Maldives, and has lukewarm relations with Bhutan and Myanmar. The only success has been continuing good relations with Bangladesh, though much of it is down to the Sheikh Hasina government in B’desh. This much for the region; internationally, India hasn’t been an important actor at all, and the Modi government’s inability to sway the Trump administration in the U.S. as regards visas means that many engineers from the U.S. start returning to India. Relations with Japan are on an upswing, but that has more to do with Japan’s hedging of bets given the Koreas’ relative rapprochement and the constant China threat. With already a dearth of jobs in the country, a booming population, increasing automation, and rising living costs, India seems to be sitting on an atomic stockpile of ‘too many to feed, too few able to work’. But many Indians are enjoying a newfound prosperity and have not realised the danger, so they are still busy with the divisive cards played by their politicians: caste, language, religion.

CHINA: The biggest geopolitical player of today’s world is not the U.S., but it’s China. The country continues to develop impressively, especially in new technologies, whether it be artificial intelligence, aircraft manufacturing or space tech. It is already the leader in fintech, one can say, given that most Chinese youngsters now don’t carry cash or card to buy even a mocha tea. The issue before China is though its head of the state: is Xi Jinping ruining what would have been good times for the country by being personally too ambitious? It would have been ideal for China to buy some more companies in strategic domains in Europe and the U.S. and to continue lifting its huge population out of poverty: but because of Xi’s BRI (or OBOR) hubris, not only are countries like Germany and the U.S. warned, but also Chinese researchers are not anymore welcome so often in Western universities. China could of course focus even more on Africa and the rest of Asia, including big markets such as India, but it will need high technology to match the West. The game is now who will win the technological battle: China or the U.S.? (Or a third player?) The trade war will not hurt China that much; what is going to be more important for China is its ongoing domestic issues: the housing price inflation, increasing crackdown on religions, reportedly on even the Huis and Christians, and air pollution. China has to ensure that no domestic rebellion catches the people’s fancy: an equivalent of “gilets jaunes” in China, hard though it is to imagine right now, will throw everything in the spanner. In such a case, the millions unwisefully dumped in the BRI just to get political influence over other countries will return to bite the country. What is also important for China is how well it is able to protect its important companies, such as Huawei.

RUSSIA: Oil prices are again low, and with that the geopolitical importance of the country. It continues to have its sphere of influence in the various -stans, but China is making a dent into it. It continues to worry Eastern Europe, but the U.S. will also continue to sit tightly there. The U.S. role is to keep Russia and Germany on edge for each other. If anything happens to Putin, the power struggle will be intense, and chaos may ensue.

SAUDI ARABIA: The kingdom’s influence has certainly went down after the outcry over what seemed a directly ordered assassination by the Crown Prince (MbS) in the country’s consulate in a third country. However, as long as it has oil as well as stakes in various companies, the country will continue to be immune to criticism or sanctions. What is more of interest is how MbS will go now in his own country: will he slow down the secularisation and modernisation of the country? He shouldn’t, for his own good: any quarter given to the Islamist mullahs will bring his own downfall. Meanwhile, the burgeoning friendship between the country, the UAE and Israel so as to isolate Iran eventually promises only great instability in the region.

TURKEY/IRAN: While Iran seems hemmed in by sanctions, it would be foolish to understimate Iran. The country derives its strength from exceptionalism: the people know they are almost the only Shias in the world. In this respect, though many Iranians hate the Islamist regime itself, there is a kind of solidity within. Of more interest is Turkey: where several ethnicities live and don’t get along well with everyone, but also where many young are liberals or not that much interested in radical versions of Islam, going along more with the vision of Kemal Ataturk, but this modernity is not shared by all. The society is fractured, and while Turkey is safe from outsiders for now, it carries deep fissures within, including an ambition to once again become a power in the region. The sooner that ambition dies, the better it would be for the Turkish themselves.

SOUTH AMERICA: Except for some countries such as Colombia or Argentina to some extent, the year 2018 was worse than what went before, and it seems that there is not going to be any respite. Venezuela is a key issue, but also the Chinese control over several assets in many countries, especially oil and gas fields. It will be interesting to see how legalisation of certain narcotics in North American countries affects the region as a whole, especially countries such as Colombia: will it make the criminal drug cartels grow or reduce? The verdict is difficult to pronounce in foresight.

AFRICA: At issue again is Chinese control over various assets, especially in countries such as oil-rich Angola. Nigeria also hasn’t done anything to modernise its oilfield infrastructure, and seems ready to fall to foreign powers and internal instability. The Saudis may want to invest here, but MbS will be wary of going more into oil and of a rampant Islamism here. What Nigeria does need is a good new crude refinery. In Northern Africa, “gilets jaunes” kind of movements may surface.

Advertisements

Disenchantment with Macron could be fatal for Europe

The Gilets jaunes (“Yellow Vests”) movement, or rather mayhem, now seems to have become a recurring weekly feature of France. The movement, spontaneously arising and leaderless, is less of a movement, more of a revolution. If it gains further strength, it will of course gain some leaders too, which happens inevitably in the course of a revolution. So far, it has rejected Mélenchon and the Le Pens, figureheads of the so-called extreme left and extreme right, respectively, though in what way and to what degree Mélenchon differs from Marine le Pen is hard to figure out. In these rejections lies the potential strength of the movement: its apoliticalness, or, in other words, its seemingly non-partisan bias, though slightly on the left for the nature of its demands. In this rejection lies also the danger for France, and consequently for Europe: for the rejection is now for all the voices they know, except their own.

Macron, the outsider, came to power on the backs of a youth able to connect to the euphoria of something untested. France is not going back now to career politicians of the ilk of Sarkozy or Fillon, Mélenchon or the dynasty of le Pens. That time was over with Macron’s stunning win. There is in France a deep-rooted antipathy to elites, who are busy pocketing state monies while pilfering from the middle and poorer classes in the form of all kinds of taxes and charges. The antipathy is part of the French history: there’s nothing new about it. At the same time, this antipathy has often stemmed from jealousy: and thus many have actually desired to become the elites, if not in landed property and the like, then at least in family name (i.e., once your family had lands and serfs). For land is dear in France: if you haven’t grasped it so far, check out the film Jean de Florette. Thus, there is at the core of the antipathy a sympathy, a wanting to be in the shoes. And from time to time, this tension between antipathy and sympathy bursts out into the open, most famously in 1789, when it actually succeeded for a very short time to give rise to Robespierre’s guillotine-aided terror state. The French though, and much of the Western world, regard the French Revolution, as the 1789 jacquerie (a finer word for mayhem) is better known, as something noble: and why not, for it was one of the bulwarks for the political system in Europe to subsequently colonise the world and loot and plunder it, and yet to keep up a noble appearance, using fine words, while doing the most ignoble acts. That idea of a noble deed done has permeated through successive generations of French: and thus the French, very smugly, conveniently and delusionally, call the Champs-Élysées as the finest street in the world (or, avenue, as that sounds more elegant); the French food as the finest; and the French language as the language of amour (more lust than love in the French definition) and the language of intellectuals. They also call their land as the land of liberty, equality and fraternity: even if you spend a month in France not as a tourist, you would be stripped of each of those three illusions. In the minds and hearts of many French, this France has now been under attack for some time: not from any particular invaders, but the migrants whom France invited first to build their infrastructure and then could not dis-invite. If someone thinks that the French Revolution stood for justice and thus the idea of not embracing migrants from other lands, especially non-white migrants, should not find wide currency in France, then that person has bought the usual currency of nobility tagged with the events of 1789. The French Revolution never stood for that: neither in its immediate aftermath nor in the cruelly savage colonialism that strengthened itself in the name of civilisation. And nor in its motives: it was merely a protest against high taxes and penury, to begin with. It portended that the idea of Divine was about to fall in Europe: the French Revolution was the first hefty blow to strike down the Empire of the Spirit. The French Revolution became a tool to exploit others, and the modern nation-states that it engendered yielded further means to divide and rule people, quash the Spirit and make people fall prey to the argumentative and narrow language of enfranchisement and rights belonging to newly created identity constructs. It was all good till Europe exploded within itself with the two World Wars. Then followed the phase of rebuilding, a forced end of colonisation and finally the reluctant invitation to migrants: from lands which had been cruelly subjugated and stripped of their own thoughts and values and languages. Can it be then coherent that today those who believe in the French Revolution can live with those who were crushed because of it, and be both on the same page? The values of many French are those of liberty, equality and fraternity: that is, in their preaching. These values are implemented, of course, though a automaton-like Social Security Office and other state services. No one really bothers to be libre, equal or fraternal: it is delegated to the State with the tax they pay. What they do care about is their purchasing power: let it be good, and let France be the colonial power it once was. Let them live like their forefathers. Or even like their fathers, as they did before the 2008 crisis. The values of some French, on the contrary, are aspirational: they don’t care about the humbug, but they want to get on in life, and they don’t even pay lip service. Like Macron. These could be rich, these could be poor. These could be artists. These could be master builders. These are the ambitious, for they know getting on in life oneself often is also the best for the society, and anyway they are merely concerned with making their best effort. These are often the creators, with often a big ego but sometimes without one. They also are often not obsessed with the past of France, rather more with the future. But ignoring the French past, thought to be glorious, is inglorious in France. And the thought of personal ambition is abhorrent in many European countries (notably the Nordic countries), and also in France: where the big word is neither liberty nor equality nor fraternity, but Solidarity. I type it with a capital “S”, for indeed it has been the Divinity of France in the past few decades. And a very typical Divinity, in that many do pay homage but very few do anything to further it. Unless in participating in burning things down in solidarity.

And now Macron does not seem to care about it, the Solidarity. He may or he may not, but perception is everything in politics. The man does not have a gentle side to him anyway, which could or even would have helped him at such a juncture. A brilliant politician that he is, this is one thing that Macron lacks: the touch of humility, even if an affected one (though a real one is the best). The danger to France is when Macron’s mandate expires (unless Macron government finishes midway, which seems extremely unlikely for a country like France): so in 2022, the danger faces us right in face. It is inconceivable that people can go back to career politicians. A brand new charmer has to fill the vacuum. Remember that Macron anyway was a reluctant choice for many and not at all a choice of several others: the voting percentage was low. Macron was new, but not able to play up to the older voters, who were still entrenched in partisan loyalties. While voting percentages might continue to be low, as happened in the case of Macron’s win, a charmer (say, the French equivalent of Trump) has every chance to win the next election. And that charmer, in order to charm, will play the tune of the voting public: we may call him in fact a bagpiper, out to seduce the rodents to the seas. Macron will have already done the spadework of eroding party preferences. With Merkel not seeking re-election and Germany anyway in trouble as China rises, and with a charmer holding sway over France, Europe’s well-being for the next few decades seems in grave danger. I am not meaning European Union, for that is bound to collapse sooner or later, but I mean Europe. Particularly Western, Southern and Central Europe. Of course, things, rather than wait for 2022, can go much more precipitately, if the flames of fire were to spread to other countries: the Gilets jaunes could accelerate across the French borders in Germany, Italy and Spain. It is Germany that is the most crucial: any uprising of spontaneous, leaderless violence there will cause disaster among a people who live a complex inner life for their and their fathers’ role in World War II. Add to that German economy’s growing troubles because of an unsustainable export dependence business model, and Germany seems ready to erupt. In fact, much more than France ever will. For France has a custom of jacqueries: they come, they change the course of politics every now and then, but France goes on as usual, with its landed folks, wine and cheese. But Germany-Austria, once the region erupts, is off the tangent: a flat terrain (in the German part) and lots of heavily populated and dense urban areas, with a large population on social media, do not hold promise in case of the conflagration of mob violence. Also, if any help were needed, there are many who will want to plot and aid current Europe’s downfall, such as Rasputin-wannabe Bannon, to take an example. The path for Western Europe in particular is slippery, and it seems that all it can hope to control now is how fast it wants to hurtle downwards.

China & India: diverging paths ahead?

China: China is a communist country with a heavy and effective central control, but increasingly so now with a competitive feeling between its provinces: hence, a kind of federalism is emerging, but with the benefit of provincial visions unable to check central vision for the country. Possible the biggest change that is happening in China currently is the development of its so-called 2nd-tier cities. Cities such as Nanchang, Changsha, Hangzhou, Xi’an, and Chengdu, to name a few, are investing heavily to attract youngsters and other talent to come, live and work in these cities, instead of migrating to traditional pastures of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou. China’s top 4, plus Tianjin and Chongqing, are heavily populated, leading to a worse, and worsening, quality of life. The hukou system makes it further worse for many. But as people get hukous easily in cities like Xi’an or Hangzhou, China’s service sector will boom: new construction and development, new amenites, new cinemas and libraries and parks. People with freer time and more uncluttered lives will also lead to more creativity, more intelligent businesses, rather than China’s mass-production system on which it built its economy in the past thirty years. The challenge for these cities, of course, is now to attract enough investment there, which could employ these lured people: while cities like Nanjing, Hangzhou, and Chengdu are already developing very well, much remains to be done in the case of cities like Nanjing and Xi’an. China’s services PMI looks good in recent times, and I project it to reach at 55+ in the next 2 years. That is important for China, for which it has now become critical to move away from export dependency. An expanding services sector will also mean the ability to absorb jobs in a rapidly automating world, leading to fewer potential issues of unemployment. Unless a hard landing comes, which could yet happen because of foolish investment in some BRI countries, China’s future in the next 20 years looks very promising.

India: The opposite is true for India, a dynamic but quite dysfunctional democracy. (Or, are most democracies dysfunctional?) Take the case of its newest city yet to be built: Amaravati, the forthcoming capital of Andhra Pradesh. The wrangling between central and state governments and their institutions, coupled with the political games of who is with whom, means that the city’s development, if it ever happens, might take a long time: and that, only if Naidu gets re-elected. Imagine what would happen if Naidu does not get re-elected? Too much in India depends on whims which change with the next pre-poll or post-poll alliance. The country is already set for bure din, not achchhe din, in 2019: on the one hand, a Modi victory will give further beef to those who destroy the country’s spirit and businesses; on the other hand, a victory to a hodge-podge alliance of opportunists opposed to Modi will make the country utterly rudderless and might bring it back to the scam-ridden India which one is so well used to. In both cases, in the absence of any dynamic political leader who can give the country a new path forward, India’s political future seems doomed. Add to that the extraordinary unemployment problem that India could face, as automation increases in the industrial sector, but training and skills levels remain poor in the country and population keeps rising. More unemployment will bring in more disaffection: which will mean more strikes, movements, riots, and identity-based cacaphony, whether from a particular caste, sect or religion, farmers, youth, or region. If the BJP continues on its RSS-preached mission of homogenising India, it will only lead to India’s balkanisation. If the BJP is voted out of power and a hodge-podge leads India, ignoring India’s Hindu identity will only lead to further strengthening of Hindutva in people’s minds and hearts. The future of India in the next 20 years does not look promising.

Whither China? (May 2018)

In the past few months, several things of note have appeared in the media. Let’s discuss some of the notable ones, and let’s make some of our own inferences:

  • Xi Jinping has made it possible for himself to remain China’s president for as long as he does have the game in his own hands in the CCP. This gives stability to China at a time when seethingly high pace of technology (with VR headsets now available for as low as USD 200) is making many traditional ways of doing politics as irrelevant, and resultingly bringing in instability. At the same time, given China’s penchant for surveillance, it also increases the danger of a post-2020 surveillance state, where technology enables very effective control on people.
  • China’s fight against pollution has become serious. Many factories are shutting down, while some are relocating, away from river banks, for example. This not only necessitates huge investments (dismantling a factory, then establishing it anew, and often then equipment also is upgraded) but also dents into China’s exporting capability.
  • In terms of goods, China still is in surplus rather than deficit, but with the trade tensions surfacing between the U.S. and China, rising labour costs, and shutting down factories, it remains to be seen for how long mainland China remains an export powerhouse. China needs a strong market, like India or the U.S. Even if it colonises Pakistan, Maldives or some African countries, while they may serve as geopolitically very strategic points, and may provide cheaper access to raw materials, they are still economic duds. Those markets do not have enough purchasing power. China could of course produce there itself, thus at a low cost, but what about the huge Chinese population, many of whom are very poor or unskilled? Colonialism would be hard to repeat for China: technology is in the hands of Africans too, so it’s not firearms or fighter planes, plus colonialism works only when a smaller population tries to rule a larger one.
  • As Chinese travel and spend, often to prove that they have arrived, services deficit for China increases: in other words, that could lead to an undesirable inflation. In a country where the political system is to silence voices, a high inflation could be undesirable, especially given that rising automation and rising labour costs are certain to take away jobs in countries such as China and India. The problem here is Chinese fixation for foreign brands, and the absence of many Chinese brands perceived (by the Chinese themselves) to be reliable or cool, especially in the world of fashion. Another problem is the high production of counterfeit goods in China: though rising labour costs and stricter environmental regulations also mean that such type of production would diminish. China needs to strengthen its service sector, which in areas such as logistics is already astounding, but with not much English-speaking population, that remains difficult to achieve outside of logistics.
  • As the Chinese now are permitted to have two children, as hugely delayed siblings are born, it is just not the dairy and diapers sector which profit. Here lies a golden opportunity for China to expand and strengthen its services sector: schools, kindergartens, baby care, maternal care, hospitals. The golden opportunity of course comes with the attendant problem of more mouths to feed at a time of possible inflation, but if the services sector is able to expand at a good enough pace, that problem should not become unmanageable.
  • On the neighbourhood front, the Koreas are patching things up, and Japan’s Abe finds himself again weakened by corruption hints. If the Koreas do come up with even a temporary upsurge in friendliness, Abe could fall soon. Abe’s fall would be comforting to China, and if North Korea is not considered a rogue any more, as long as the South does not absorb it, which is hard to happen, China would be happier. At an uncertain trading time, the last thing China wants is war: unless Xi Jinping starts losing power within CCP, which does not seem likely at least till 2020. Meanwhile, India and China are coming closer, and it even seems that both are dumping their traditional allies, Tibet and Pakistan, respectively, to some extent, but it would be foolish from either side to really give any such impression: these are the only hedging bets for both giants. If China does get a military base in the Maldives (or Sri Lanka), then India would be encircled and would be forced to open up its market to China. Even if the Maldives remain safe from China, India’s own unreasonable optimism, based on the hubris of a 56-inch prime minister, could lead it rashly to open its market to China. At a time when China is desperate for some market, with looming U.S. trade war, that would be gifting to China its wildest of hopeful dreams.
  • On the international front, China is moving swiftly and surely. It is dominating most regions in the world now which are not already developed. Not just politically, with Taiwan bearing the cost, but also economically: projects springing up everywhere. At the same time, many are getting a bit testy with OBOR: grand words, but is the construction really happening? Not always: China is becoming a bit like India, all words, not much action, though China’s reasons are different. If relations with the U.S. remain normal and no neighbourhood war breaks out, China does not need so much heft currently: too much of it is difficult to digest. But if something does happen, then it needs a backup. What would be interesting is the relationship between China and the UK, as well as the EU, if the Brexit happens. However, Russia also is eyeing the European zone, so China can never expect too much there. Britain, though, could be up for grabs once Brexit happens.
  • Nationalism is on the rise in China: films such as Wolf Warrior 2 and Operation Red Sea, as well as the 2018 Chinese New Year’s show, not only show the racism so deeply embedded in Chinese mindset that many don’t even see anything there, but also the inferiority complex, where the Chinese have accepted the Western notion of power: colonialism and intervention. There are many, though, who will criticise Xi or even the CCP, but they do see the Chinese culture and civilisation as something innately superior, especially as compared to the non-whites. The post-Xi China, if in a healthy enough economic state, would probably be very aggressive towards other states or regions. Around 2030 should be the start of a critical time in human history.
  • China is making rapid strides in technology: not just hardware, but also artificial intelligence and, more surprisingly given that it has been a weakness in the past, pharmaceuticals (especially biologics). This can make China indeed very strong as a state: good science and research lead to good technology and applications, which lead to good business, prosperity, and stronger state-making from a nation. In China’s case, with its surveillance and Han identity exclusiveness, the latter would be stronger nation-making from a state. If China becomes a stronger state and a strong nation, after 2030-2035 could come some form of aggression: if it wins it, expect China to dominate for some time. If it does not, expect internal dissensions to surface and fragment the country.
  • China is also investing a lot, and obliging others to invest, in electric vehicles. That’s a big gamble: if hydrogen cell works out, for which Japan especially is trying, then that would be a big loss to digest, could take down the most of the current automotive sector. (German, and hence Europe, could also be badly affected.) It remains to be seen how that will play out: in my mind, it is not certain that electric vehicles are the future. Autonomous, yes; electric, maybe.

Gujarat 2017 elections: worrying politics

First, what might happen in the short term: I expect the BJP to win the elections, though the election is close to call. The BJP’s urban, middle-class base is too strong: comfortable people love to indulge in hating others. Gujarat is not that heavily urbanised though, but it’s not all that bad. It is also not so prosperous as made out to be by some. I am however not completely sure of the election results: it might be a tight election, and these last few days might sway voters here or there. Congress is likely to take rural, tribal, and poor vote (the latter would be very different from the UP assembly elections): it is the urban middle class which Congress has to convince. In spite of being heavily hit by demo and especially GST, the trading class might still not vote for Congress, largely also because the government at the Centre is BJP’s, and a businessman wants a nice relationship between region and centre. Congress, though, is playing the game reasonably well, and only someone who knows Gujarati can know that the #VikasGaanduThayoChe is resonating a lot. Super line! A rough translation in English would be a meek “Development has gone nuts”, but “gaandu” ગાંડુ is a word loaded with connotations and bordering between normal and profane: it starts being used from childhood itself, referring to someone as “idiot”. Part of the appeal of the word lies in its mirthful phonetics. To which the BJP dug out a #HoonVikasChoon (“I am Development”), with the “I” standing for Gujarat and tying in with the BJP’s old asmita thread, but finally a quite unspectacular effort: in fact, if you tie it with Congress’s reasoning, that would mean “Hoon Gaandu Choon” (“I have gone bonkers”). I expect a lot of Patel vote to go to the Congress, instigated by Hardik Patel, and that itself is huge for Congress: in fact, even a respectable loss is a good result for the Congress. No wonder they have chosen to elevate Rahul Gandhi as their party head at this time, so credit can go to him. However, if any more gaffes like Aiyar’s mindless, arrogant Aurangzeb remarks happen, Congress will lose any votes it might be getting, and too fast. Gujarat is a border state with a Hindu majority: once, it bordered Sindh, and has had a history of Muslim invaders and conquests. It is also a state where people are not warriors, but traders: the ones who, harbouring resentments, bankroll warriors, rather than openly confronting the perceived enemy. Hence, and for other reasons, like its relative prosperity since centuries, Gujarat is a hotbed for religious cults. In addition, arrogance is not something that today’s Indian cares for (many young Indians are themselves a bit arrogant: gone are the days of slavishness, and of course gone are the days of true humility), so people like Aiyar, I don’t know what they are even doing in politics.

Next, what might happen in the long term: This is my worry. A BJP defeat would be good for the country, as it keeps power bearers in check, their arrogance in check, and yet, if the result is good for Congress, that means casteist, divisive politics has won big time. Not only that in itself would make a lot of mess in Gujarat itself, but that will also create a template for future elections: somehow, during the past decade and half, India has been to some extent free of caste factors, especially more and more so in the national Lok Sabha elections. To go back to the caste formula is an extremely dangerous step: not only does it create animosity between people and check any meaningful progress, not only it creates an atmosphere of hate, both online and offline, but it also would only be a short-term solution to prevent the rise of RSS’s Hindutva politics, for more wounds to society would mean more of a feeling of wrong, of injustice, and, consequently, more ease of apportioning blame on some particular community or some episode of history.

The Gujarat elections, whichever party wins, will determine the future course of history of India in the short term. They are the most significant India elections held since 2014, and may give a glimpse of post-2019 India. One only feels that the BJP, and strategic reactions to it, is going to bring a massive mess of balkanisation: as overcentralising is wont to do.

UPDATE, Dec. 7, 2017: Aiyar continues, this time with a shocking remark of calling a rival politician, and that too one above his station (though not maybe from the point of view of the Brahmin Aiyar), both a “wretch” and “low caste born”, and that just a couple of days before the elections’ 1st phase. Congress, never on a strong wicket, might be in for quite a damage now. Not many dislike Modi in Gujarat, even those who won’t want to vote for him: especially, hardly anyone sees him as a wretch (neech). Neither do I. Modi is a crafty and able politician, with a clean image and with a dedication to the Indian nation; he may have an ideology that not everyone is ready to stomach, and that might harm India in reality in the long term, but his personal credentials are never in question. No one expects Modi to harm India deliberately, and most expect Aiyar’s Congress to harm India deliberately. To call Modi as neech is absurd, misleading, and a political self-goal, especially at this stage of the campaign.

Demolish Diversity – the Modi mantra

Many, both supporters and critics of the demonetisation move, have been at pains to explain the rationale behind Modi’s demonetisation: many have stopped the ball rolling at the excuse of noble intent but poor implementation. Though implementation should be the yardstick to judge a governing leader, in India it is the intent that counts for more: hence, the traditional liberality to India’s bachelor or non-family leaders (for whom would he/she amass money for?). However, some have still questioned Modi government’s shifting goalposts: first, fight against counterfeit money which fuels terrorism; then and also, fight against black money; but then, trying to make the economy less reliant on cash. While these some have questioned these shifting stances of the government, no one seems to point out, as far as what I read in the media, the real reason behind Modi’s move. The reason is simple: the hatred of India’s famed diversity, which stands today in the way of RSS’s vision of a nationalist Indian state, with “nation” being supplied by the RSS brand of Hinduism. So, how does demonetisation help?

Demonetisation’s stated aim(s) may not be the primary one(s): rather, slowly and inexorably, in all directions (and Modi must be applauded for this coherence), the present government at the Centre is leading India to a specificity. Evidently, if India were to have one language, some typical lifestyles, one religion with the others assimilating into it, and a law that is overarching over all these religions even, then, in the short to medium term, it would be easy to further the material progress of India: it would be easy to attract more investment, to prosper with whomsoever were willing to dance, and control society’s law and order problems even. For anyone who does not choose to dance to the tune I play can be just banished, imprisoned, murdered, legally or illegally. They can in fact be brandished as traitors: and, in fact, since any nation’s values are arbitrary and not rooted in some truth, it is indeed easy to become traitors and be someone viewed as a “bad person”. India is currently a very weak state: its institutions are riddled by too much bureaucracy, corruption and ego of the office-bearers, and hence the Indian state functions very weakly, inefficiently, and in occasional bursts, if at all. It is, at the same time, also quite a weak nation: there is hardly anything that almost all Hindus do, except maybe cremation of their dead, and then there are others too. There is hardly anything that unites a Tamil with a Himachali, or even with the geographically neighbouring Kannadiga! In the days when only Doordarshan was there, one could claim at least some common entertainment: now, technology has dispersed that. How to govern effectively such a land? The possible answers:

  • (1) strengthen the state, and let the nation be weak and thus let people be free but let them (encourage them to) subscribe to the nation-state project because they benefit from state institutions.
  • (2) make the nation strong, at the cost of liberties entwined with the diversity of India, and thus effectively coerce the people into remaining aboard the nation-state project; the state would serve the purposes of this nation-making. (chosen by the RSS/BJP)
  • (3) make the nation strong-ish, by reconnecting India, as Shankaracharya and Gandhi did, by letting one part of the country know about the other; the state would again have to be strong so as to let this happen without corruption. (which is what I would advocate for)

A state is a contract: you enter into it at the cost of some individual liberty. If a dictator is ruling the state, you give up far too much, and the bargain looks bad. Yet, that is a bargain as well, and a fair one, for no bargain is unfair: fear, greed, future hopes and aspirations, past experiences, all always enter the dealmaking. Today’s India prefers option (2): tired of corrupt institutions and corrupt leaders, they do not want to give statemaking a chance. Corruption means inefficiency, going nowhere: it leads to immense frustration. It leads to murdering not only people (falling bridges, policemen letting go of criminals) but also murdering the whole society (for everything becomes tarnished, and faith is destroyed). Parties like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) got elected on anti-corruption drives, but forgot what they stand for, and started to undermine institutions themselves and at the same time not supplying any nationmaking narratives to fill the lacuna. That is where the AAP has faltered so far. The BJP did better: they took advantage of the AAP steam, and then inserted their nationalist agenda. Maybe we cannot make the institutions strong, but what if we can make those institutions cater to the national agenda? If led by an able and shrewd leader, a nation will not have the problems of caring for liberties of each and everyone: whatever is deemed by some to be good for the being called “nation”, that has to take place, and the others have to sacrifice something or be sacrificed. In Mao’s times, anyone could be called a reactionary, an enemy to the people; in today’s India, people, if they are not happy with a move, are called anti-national. (Interestingly, is being anti-national a bad thing, considering that the nation is such a bad project for India, and in fact finishes India off?) To do that, one has to tackle the primary obstacle to the nationalisation of India: its immense diversity. So, what’s this diversity, this present-day India?

Go on the road: look at the crowd going by, from sadhu and sanyasi to man ogling at girls from the paan shop, besides all the usual executives. Look at the barber under the tree, the itinerant vaid with a sack of herbs, the snake catcher. Look at the informal exchanges and transactions that take place in daily life: the begging in dignity, the feeding of the poor and the Brahmins, the giving of things and money to people around you, whether they be maids or a construction worker on some nearby site, the blessings from the accepting person to the giver. The diversity of India’s lands is at its greatest in the diverse lifestyles that Indians are able to live: as of today, you can go around with cash (and even without anything) and live, you can do something as a freelance without having to register yourself somewhere, you can be off the books (not necessarily for wanting to evade tax) and still maintain an independent, dignified living. The state has less control of you: the state’s institutions are anyways weak, so you also live without the crutches of the state, without social security, but you live, rather, without prostituting yourself. When you do not prostitute yourself, and no one is asking you to do so, you are free to think, believe, worship: there is neither fear nor obligation, nor brainwashing. In such conditions, to ask everyone on a mass scale to believe in only this or that, only in the RSS’s interpretation of Hinduism is … a bit too much! So, what to do, from the RSS’s perspective?

Let us start giving people the state’s crutches, by persuasion and coercion, or even downright incentives. Let us give them social security and subsidies: that would make them beholden to, and dependent on, the state. Let us remove some of the “this is how it is with us” of communities: so let women enter Sabarimala temple, and let the law banish triple talaq. Let a national language (Hindi) emerge slowly. Let us create symbols with which quite a few people easily identify: cow, Ram, Patel, sanskriti, Veda, glory, Hindu. Let those symbols be well visible, well mediatised, even if negatively: post-colonial people, in search of their identity and thugged by hypocritical intellectuals, will rally round them. The ones who will not, they will be persuaded, coerced, or banished. Most importantly at this stage, let us finish those who live off the books, who live lives of their own, which do not lend themselves easily to prostitution. Thus, let us finish alternative lifestyles, small-scale industries, the unorganised sector, the possibility of other voices finding some home somewhere. Let us finish that: let us outlaw the cash, maybe later on the cheque too.

Modi’s intention is to destroy the small-scale and unorganised industry: for the extent of unorganised players in India is remarkable, and it is here that the freedom of India is found, and has been always found. (Demolishing this freedom does not necessarily lead to finishing off corruption: modern China is a good example.) It is the merchant class of India that could sponsor Brahmins and universities such as Nalanda and Takshashila: once the merchant class is forced to transform into a corporate class, efficiency, and toeing the line, and not knowledge, becomes the most important. Some European countries, notably France, are already built on the principle of strong nation and weak state: even though drastically less diverse than India, France is already suffering today from the consequences. But in the case of India, its diversity demands Mao-like leaps: for, in China too, Han has started to be equated to Chinese, though more China in geographical extent is non-Han than Han. China, too, is sitting on a time bomb, as the nation is starting to become stronger in today’s China while state institutions remain weak. India’s problems will run deeper, for while China did have a long, recorded history and a constant cradle of their civilisation in one area, India does not have that luxury: modern India has Sindhu, Ganga and Vaigai/Kaveri as its 3 primary civilisational cradles, in 3 very different areas and derived cultures, and, on top of that, India does not have much of recorded history in the Western sense of the word. Such a place is a dreamland for those who peddle in people’s hurt egos to further their power: as the current Indian government is doing. If Modi wins in 2019, which I expect to happen unless something dramatic happens, expect things to intensify.

Remember always the goal of Modi and RSS: to finish off India, its freedom, its essence, by finishing off its diversity.

 

Introducing the new Asian right

Today, India is recreating the European ideologies of right, and thus continuing the colonial subservience that got established in this land many centuries ago: in the claims for what is truly desi, or Bharatiye, India is becoming Europeanised. Hence, it is important once again to understand what is meant by “right”, and what it is predicated on, the “left”. Thereafter, I shall give a call for a new right to emerge, one that is born from Asian ethos, whether it be India, China or Southeast Asia, whether it be dharma or li.

First, let’s understand the “right”, and its progenitor of sorts, the “left”. For that to happen, one must glance briefly (for want of time) the European meaning, context and history of “religion”. Europe has for a long, long time believed in what is tangible: hence, it demands references. Hence, Christ, even if he rejected miracles, did perform many, including the Final Resurrection, in the official Church narrative, and so do the saints continue. Thus, Christianity moved away from spiritual content, from Christ himself: to orthodoxy and ritual-making, and further on to missionary activity and urges of superiority. Christianity became a power-play: to some extent, any religion, whenever institutionalised, is, but Christianity also got stripped of its spiritual core, which is the life of a religion. That is why, today, most people in those lands which practised it have turned away from it: rituals cannot hold sway over anyone. Islam, on the other hand, for a comparison, though also very much beholden to power-play from its origins itself and heavily relying again on moral laws and rituals, retains its spiritual core: and hence its sway. These are the two great religions (in terms of number of followers) that the world has seen, apart from Buddhism, which though retains many of its philosophical concepts quite alive to be purely classified as a religion. To classify the breadth of Hindu thought as a religion is a mistake, so I wouldn’t discuss it here, though sects of the Hindu tradition do fall under the definition, but still loosely. To go back to the history and context of religion as understood in the West, religion was the reason, or the excuse, for a lot of blood-shedding.  An excuse for the Crusades was religion: and even today, Europe is afraid of that happening yet again. (As usual, geography plays always the supreme role.) Since religion became a tool of power, and those holding religious office mere corrupt functionaries wielding or selling their influence, Europe lurched from one bloody pogrom or war to another. England and France kept on fighting, and so did England and Scotland, since Christianity got divided into several strands; the Spanish Inquisitions and the horrors of the Nazi regime were all in the name of religion, and in fact were aided by religion. Truth-seekers, such as mystics or scientists, were often patronised, but were also often persecuted: as happens today as well, but not in one name anymore. Thus rose something called “humanism” in Europe: ironically in a very cruel French Revolution and its aftermath. The first humanists were anything but humanists, and they seldom are even today. As science progressed, the form of tangibles in which Europe had always reposed faith also changed. Miracles could not be proved, were always hearsay for the one who hadn’t witnessed them, and, most importantly, were often not reproducible: instead, technological miracles, such as your microwave oven or portable phone, were reproducible, reliable and life-facilitating in many cases. Thus, science, and even more so technology, became bedrocks of this new humanism: and anything tainted with religion started to be viewed with “tolerance”, with suspicion in other words. As power always lags behind societal changes, apart from Robespierre, it still was in the hands of kings and priests and men: it was not in the hands of an ambitious man from the streets, of an educated professor or of a woman. Thus, a new movement, called the “left”, arose: predicated on hate, or suspicion at least, of religion, mysticism and je ne sais quoi. Instead, the left advocated progress that can be measured with better tangibles, with je sais: thus, money became the substitute for happiness, income equality replaced family warmth, and gender equality rhetoric suppressed many natural inclinations. Science was further funded by the left, which dominated academia: biological, philosophical, anthropological and psychological studies furthered all that the left argued for. While championing free thought, the left made sure that anything said out of sync is removed: so a CEO of a company, if he expresses his own opinion that gay is sickness, is removed as it’s deemed to be too outrageous, and similarly a Google employee is removed for expressing some more aspects of the gender equality argument. Thus, only a certain subset of tangibles came to be viewed in favour, not all. In the meanwhile, of course, all that was not in the space of the accepted tangibles was thrown in the court of the newly crowned “right”: who were not necessarily spiritual, but were just not deemed to be worthy enough of entering the left club. Thus, mass murderers or terrorists would be classified as “right”, considering that they were acting from religious impulses. Religion became “right”, antagonism to religion became “left” (thus the classification of Stalin or Mao as leftist type of mass murderers). But what if some religion did not preach hate of others, did not ask for converting others to something, did not deem others’ beliefs to be inferior? What if one did not have a religion?

Hence, we need a new right, our right, in Asia. India did not have a religion till it was told by its invaders and colonisers that it had one. It did not have national boundaries, either. China did not, and does not still have, a religion. In Hindi, one uses “dharma” today to translate the Western word of “religion”, though their meanings overlap only in a few men or women. Similarly, in China, one still asks, what your faith is, not what your religion is. As India and China influenced culturally most or even all of South and Southeast Asia, let’s keep our discussion to these two. To understand what our new right is, we must understand what the Europe’s right was predicated on: an opposition to antagonism of religion. And Europe’s right expresses that opposition by ramming down the throats some crystallised idea of some nation or religion, trying to stifle everything else. Since, in India (or China), we never had any such experience, why should we adopt their left and their right? The left in India is meaningless: it tries to remain alive with the caste discrimination, but castes are a very small component of thought (and, conceptually, it is quite debatable if castes are something wise or not). Since we did not suffer from crusades or pogroms or mass exterminations of some religion, the left is meaningless in India: if the left has no role, why and how could we support the right that opposes something that does not even exist? The Hindu thought has never left the Indian mind: so why should we so forcibly associate it with terror in the minds and hearts of our own selves and our brethren? Instead, we must adopt a new right, an Asian right: one that re-valorises ourselves, not through reaching some past ideal (whether it be “Ram Rajya” or the pre-1820s China), but rather through re-valorising our ideals as interpreted in our languages, not those of others. In India, our language has been of acceptance and of plurality: tolerance itself is not a value to us, for we do not “tolerate”, but we “embrace”. Our values should be to seek knowledge, not to assert what is the best, the highest, the foremost: such tangibles hold value for the West, not for us. For us, of value is the wind that blows through a peepul tree, the satisfaction that one gets on reciting a Hanuman Chalisa or hearing an azaan, the experience of cycle of time and seasons in our lives. Knowledge-seeking is again the value of China, something for which Xuan Zang travelled to India (and not for conquests, unlike the Western Alexander); both India and China have celebrated insularity, for contentment is of the highest value for the most elevated form of mind. The highest mind is silent: speak those who are still fulfilling their egos (like me). The new Asian right must come from this: its foremost manifesto point would be to celebrate diversity and plurality and embrace it, and reject narratives of exclusion, in the name of caste, religion, nation or race. However, the European left also seems to espouse the same, but one must not be fooled into believing that to be the case: the Europe’s left originated in, and persists in, antagonism to spirituality and intangibles, whereas we celebrate life’s manifold expressions through spirituality and intangibles. The European left is based in trauma and subsequent hate and disdain, and looking back; the new Asian right will be based in love and subsequent embrace and acceptance, and looking at all times.

India judgment: Right to privacy

Absolute power corrupts, so says an old maxim, and old though it may be, it is refreshed eternally over the course of human history. A lack of any effective political opposition at the national level in India has meant that the current BJP-led government has forgotten to always heed to its own citizens: it instead, quite patriarchally, decides what is the best for them and then implements it in a roughshod manner. Demonetisation was one such brutal tool: regardless of the merits or demerits of the move, it was however a move more reminiscent of Mao than an India where dictatorship is not wedded to the spirit. So, why not change the spirit then?

Today’s India is becoming increasingly intolerant: that is not merely a fabrication of a political party, though some of it is politicians’ making. That is the general tenor of a nation trying to find its self-respect in the aftermath of colonialism: with myths of past glory and lost treasure troves of knowledge, it is easier to feed the imaginary than to gloat over the miserable present. It is easier to find comfort in the idea of nation-state than to treat yourself as an individual and then see the merits of your own standing. Technology has arrived to aid mediocrity, lynching groups and narcissism: aggression, which was never so much the part of Indian fabric except in some of its regions, is weaving now its own stripe into it, when people cheer raucously for IPL matches and flaunt in the grandeur of Baahubali movies. Such an India, one would immediately see, is moving on inexorably only on one path: future instability and fragmentation. Human beings today, in general, are too much cognisant of their “rights”: the humility and love has been replaced with, no, not a love for justice, but a thirst, a quite bloodthirsty one at that, for justice. Of course, everyone’s justice differs, even everyone’s viewpoint and information differ: so the world does end up only as a gladiatorial match. This is the gift (or curse) of the Western concept of law, which has by and large replaced India’s dharma and China’s li in those countries: so, while standing up for rights can create and indeed does create better living conditions for many, an obsession to stand up for something or someone vitiates the atmosphere. One is reminded of the meaninglessness of the ’68 revolution of France: it was inevitable, as anything embedded in our historical trajectories is, yet meaningless. However, it is sometimes those very democratically set up institutions which also do the work of upholding law that do the work of upholding dharma as well: for when power corrupts, and it seems that the country is set for a long rot, (strong) institutions can come to the aid of a country. They often do not, but when they do, it is a heartening occasion: as was the case with today’s Supreme Court verdict in India, declaring the right to privacy of an individual as a “fundamental right”.

The decision is important not only for its multiple ramifications in the future, but also for what checks it could bring on a second Modi term. It is a foregone conclusion among many, including myself, that Modi will win a second term in 2019: in fact, if after 2018, he plays his cards right, the margin of victory (along with his allies) could be even bigger than what was the case in 2014 elections. Two key things one could expect from Modi in his 2019 term: on the economic front, land reforms, which would enable cutdown on land acquisition time and hassles for setting up projects; and on the social front, a march towards uniform civil code. Both would require a Maoist style of governance rather than a cooperative one. Already, with Sabarimala temple opening up for women and the instant talaq being struck down, the executive and judiciary are combining to make this happen, but it is a long way to go, and it will require several dictatorial moves to transform an all-absorbing India into a rigid, constitution-venerating nation-state, quite in the image of France (as much as India can). However, several of those things which a state could have controlled in the name of progress and governance would now easily fall in the category of “private”: it would be difficult for the government to not to be seen as violating of an individual’s privacy when it tries to interfere into someone’s habits and beliefs, even with the crutches of “reasonable restrictions”. Already, ramifications of today’s judgment may not be restricted to just India’s biometric card Aadhar, forced down on its citizens, and data protection policies followed by tech companies, but may also permeate questions such as cow slaughter and beef eating, sexual orientation and roaming in a park with a date. These are all private activities: the government may yet argue for keeping closed restaurants serving beef, for it can claim it hurts people’s sentiments and creates bad atmosphere, but would not be able to argue for not even allowing a person to eat beef at home. The question shall remain, though: who will sell it? (It will create a situation like something to be found in some countries at times: a man cannot solicit sex for money, yet the prostitute can have a licence to practise her trade.)

Of course, a flip side of additional checks on an autocratic-minded government would be more violence in society: from “all sides”, to echo Trump at Charlottesville. BJP fans and RSS and affiliated supporters would not hesitate to abuse, lynch and even kill: many would do so out of a true sense of doing something noble. At the same time, for many, fighting BJP and the ruling government would in itself become their point of existence, their end goal: so, even if the BJP does something good, they would be incensed and try to find some evil in it. Also, as long as the Congress Party continues to be a voice in the opposition, especially as long as it is not purged of all those elements associated closely with the Nehru family, any voice against BJP or Modi, even if reasonable, would be doubted, would seem tainted: and rightfully so, for India, consciously to a degree, is ready to embrace Modi only because they do not want to go back to the dark, old, murderous days of corruption and hate-mongering of the Congress Party. The BJP would not be so popular if the Nehru family and their sycophants had not been there. The Indian public is caught between a rock and a hard place, and new, inspirational leaders need to emerge in the country: till then, checks given by the country’s democratic institutions are the only hope for the country to adhere to its dharma.

The curse of nation-states

Cultures are like gardens: and not greenhouse hothouses. Nutrients, tangible and not so, flow into and out of them: they are porous and their loose boundaries are highly permeable. Over the course of our time on this earth, in response to several factors, a few of which can be pinpointed and a majority cannot be, different cultures have sprung up in different parts of the world: they are not to be dismissed merely as different “ways of life”, a heavily used and loaded term, especially by religionists (or their counterpart atheists). Different philosophy systems, some of which are embedded in each and every aspect of a culture, resulting in different thought processes, different techniques and tools, and different levels of optimism or love with oneself and/or the world: all of this, and more, is a consequence. It is better here to maybe now compare cultures with biomes, but as biome seems more exotic a term than a garden, let’s keep to the garden. A big garden in which many and many species live, out of which some flourish, some don’t do so well, and some come but go, some come and stay and even push out others: their pollinators are of course human agents (not just with actions, both biological and otherwise, but also ideas, imagination, and intuition), technology (books, Internet), and even other living beings. It is also better to keep to our garden analogy than a biome, because a biome is quite self-regulating: a garden is not, in that if one species overgrows, then just like many of us like our garden not to become a wild forest, we do some pruning, some weeding out, some landscaping: thus, we judge the noxious ones or the ones to be disciplined and control or eliminate them, or at least try to. However, we do not know everything (maybe the noxious-seeming one was also performing some useful function), we cannot see all the consequences of our action, and while we may very well establish ourselves as gods to the plants of a garden, whom most do not regard as peers, the act of doing so in a culture means also that we do the same disciplining with respect to our fellow human beings, who, at least theoretically, have often been recognised to be peers by many. However, being products ourselves of a culture, raised with prejudices, insights, and beliefs, we can still consider it to be a biome: after all, every powerful species tries to dominate other species, but the biome self-adjusts. Sometimes, this happens though in such a way that finally it is the powerful species that is hurt, which probably acted blindly (or maybe not: sometimes, circumstances just change more than one could have foreseen, and the greedy ones anyway foresee lesser). However, for adjustments to happen, especially if most species, including a dominant one, need to survive and flourish, it is equally important that the biome remains unified: rather than being fragmented into isolated patches by putting molten tar and erecting high fences in between different areas of the biome, often quite arbitrarily. Does one cut off the mango-tree-dominant area and the chikoo-tree-dominant area of the garden into Mangoland and Chikooland in such a way that they can hardly communicate with each other (no birds, for example, to cross)? Nation-states do that. They divide cultural wholes into new entities that pretend to be wholes and try to depict another as a separate whole, a separate ecosystem (often, an inferior ecosystem, for nationalistic reasons overtly and survival reasons essentially): so the Indian subcontinent gets divided into India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal; the Tibetan whole straddles across strangely from Gansu and Qinghai in China to Sikkim and Arunachal in India via Bhutan, and onwards to Yunnan in China again, which though connected seamlessly with Myanmar and Vietnam at its two ends. A confusion in the self arises: an Indian hates a Pakistani, and vice versa, for abstract entities of the nation-state, though they might share the same culture. But one might say that religions do foster significant differences in cultures, and Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim country with Islam as its state religion. But the Indian is still supposed to, and does often, like the Indian Muslim: so is the Pakistani Muslim different? This also leads of course to stronger identification with religions instead: thus, many Indian Muslims may make joy when Pakistan wins a match (even if it is against India), or many Hindus of India might be very concerned with the human rights of Hindus in Pakistan but not with the human rights of Christians in Pakistan or the Zoroastrians in Iran or the Muslims in India itself. Of course, without the nation-state itself, self-identifications exist(ed): especially when erstwhile kings also identified their kingdoms with religions. Thus, if you lay a jizya tax on non-Muslims, you automatically politicise not just Islam, but also every other religion that is being practised but is not Islam. However, kingdoms are bound in decrees, not constitutions, and decrees change more easily, are more pliable, and do not carry the impression of something noble and good. Decrees have a personal face; constitutions do not, or at least seem not to have.

Thus, nation-states damage religions quite much more badly, in particular those which have had a more spiritual bent rather than political tones: they politicise religions, significantly swaying their practising members towards a mind-set of fear (extinction of their beliefs), of aggression (defense of their beliefs, up to converting others to their beliefs: motivations could range from justification of their own beliefs to themselves, to assuring perpetuity of their beliefs, even if those very beliefs are now ironically diluted with this zeal of conversion and non-spirituality), and of exoticism (going back to some real or imaginary source, and fetishising it: it could be the Hadiths, the Old Testament, or a much-less-read Veda). When religions themselves are weak in a country, or when neighbouring nation-states have same or similar religions, self-identifications are more inclined to nationalism and/or patriotism: for example, a highly nationalistic France (for which nationalism existed even when Catholicism was strong, governed especially by France’s constant wars, in particular with England), a highly patriotic Norway, and a very strongly nationalistic China. When it comes to Europe, though, the European Union project makes things more complicated: often called a type of supra-state, I would rather call it an attempt to establish a continent-state. Except that a nation is bound by some predominant elements of culture, which though seem not so well bound in the case of the EU: it is hard to imagine that the EU experiment could ever succeed, as most people in this world cannot enthuse with someone they don’t know at all (unless their sentiments are milked in the name of a cause, or by some images, etc. – and even when they can self-identify in those images, etc., in some fashion). If at all it has to succeed, each nation-state which is part of the EU will have to make its “nation” weak while keeping (or fortifying) the “state” apparatus strong (and amenable to EU requirements): I don’t see that feasible with many countries in the EU, most notably France (which has a strong nation, strong state) or, worse, countries such as Poland (strong-ish nation, weak state). Germany (strong-ish nation, strong state) is EU’s champion, but it itself has to weaken its “nation” component further, which would bring the risk though of reviving lurking Nazi dreams. Now, if Scandinavia, or even the Nordic countries, were to try something similar, it would work much better, for there is a greater acknowledgement of being Scandinavian or Nordic among the countries, united  in a shared harsh climate, though not so united when it comes to a big disparity of economies. And that’s why, maybe even there it would not be wise to do anything of the sort.

While the EU experiment may never succeed, in 150 years of time, we may very well be an interplanetary community, existing very probably on at least 1 other celestial body and maybe even more: that would certainly automatically, and not artificially (as in the case of the EU continent-state), generate planet-states: there will be new haves and have-nots, on a galactic scale, and both sides should identify closely among themselves as a community, though of course, as always, there would be border-crossers (the pollinators). Nation-states may very well be expected to crumble under that weight, though, with the rapid advance of technology and with rapid movement of people (with children having multiple origins and sources of self-identification), that may happen much sooner than that. That is also why, project nation-state, especially if followed now with vigour, is an extremely short-term strategy. One could always say that one answer is to map the nation-state to a cultural whole (though who would agree even to that? and mapping per which parameters of a culture?), but cultures evolve much faster and painlessly than nation-states do: or else we would have solved the Kashmir question. Of course, any natural space self-adjusts to any change: that is the law of nature. But when you put molten tar between Mangoland and Chikooland, when you try to do selective breeding, you eliminate not only those whom you consider(ed) noxious, but also new offshoots and creativities that could have arisen, and thus stunt your own development. Each patch of the original garden will certainly self-adjust, but with a rankling growth of single species, to which, the day you decide it itself is noxious, you will have no answer.

Focus country: China (July 2017)

China is now concerning me more and more, and any fall of China, even in relative terms, will be a huge shock to the world economy in a short or even medium term. A hard fall could lead to major realignment of geopolitical interests.

My major concerns with China are three:

  • The One Belt, One Road policy (1): This is in other words colonising other lands; Pakistan is being colonised so completely that even East India Company didn’t do so well. What China seems to have forgotten that doing so will also invite an effort to adjust to Islamic values plus a struggle to deal with radical Islamist elements. Pakistan, even though a failed state, is vital for Saudi-led Islamists to keep their brand of Islam alive in South Asia: China’s colonisation not only puts them in direct conflict with Saudi-Emirati interests, but also makes them extremely vulnerable to getting trapped in sectarian and religious struggles, which could in turn easily spill over into China’s Xinjiang. Remember that China has imposed a Han identity on many: if one region is able to engineer any kind of long-lasting tensions or revolt, then many other regions, especially the Greater Tibet (from Gansu to Yunnan), may follow suit. In such a scenario, the epicentre of instability may yet shift from the Middle East to the Hindu Kush.
  • The One Belt, One Road policy (2): The same policy is also seeming to loosen the government’s purse strings quite imprudently; investing in failed and corrupt states such as Pakistan can only colonise Pakistan, but doesn’t give any good rate of return on the investment. China, in a way, is now drawn into the kind of race that the Cold War saw USSR get busy itself in: its government-controlled enterprises have become too gargantuan, and, having a penchant for the spectacular, they are lining up billions of dollars in investments in infrastructure projects. How much can the banks lend and still sustain themselves? In a country where things are not the most transparent, debt levels could be at a very unhealthy, hidden figure, and even a minor important shock may set off a chain reaction that could result in either economic or political, or both types of, instability. In addition, a continued obsession with infrastructure also means that China is diversifying less rapidly: the services sector, barring the logistics and payments industries, continues to languish.
  • A big brother attitude: China is bullying many other countries now since some time, but attempts to do so against a nationalistic India may mean trouble not just for the bullied one, but also for the one who is doing the bullying. Importantly, India is establishing itself more and more as a strategic partner of Japan, Israel, and the U.S., while at the same time, by virtue of a big market, not alienating the Muslim Middle Eastern countries. Such a combine, if it can strengthen itself, would indeed be formidable, and it would be foolish for China to not to readjust itself to a new reality: especially given that China has a crafty and huge Russia to its north. Chinese money muscle may win it the UK and some southern European countries, but that would purely be a union of convenience, and nothing with a personal connect. On the other hand, the current ruling party of India has always been an admirer of both Japan and Israel, while countless Indian CEOs and techies who sit on some of the world’s most powerful boards in the U.S. make the Indo-U.S. relationship less of an effort. The same should have been true of China and Japan’s relationship, given Japanese investments in China, but, again, the relationship remains monetary: not many Japanese are heading Chinese corporations, or vice versa, and historical mistrust and coldness remains intact.

In my view, China’s continued belligerence and policies like OBOR are a big blunder, which may bring about instability in China, both politically and economically, sooner than later. I would say that from 2019 onwards, things may become heated there.