Kashmir and Hong Kong: two vanishing cloudberries

The deadening, mainly a mental one, that accompanies homogenising always takes me back to my school days: trying to fit all kinds of minds into a package tour of an education, and which doesn’t finally cater to anyone except the cowardly. It also takes me back to many Dickens’ novels and especially the workhouse of Oliver Twist and Hard Times. But then, you would say, those are miserable conditions. In that case, you are welcome to read the snobbish, equally dull world in Bleak House or Little Dorrit. For homogeneity, whether of the poor or rich kind, deadens the mind (which eventually will awaken in a phosphorescent rebellion). It is also the antithesis, quite paradoxically, of equilibrium: the basis of nature (and the goal of Eastern societies, in order to reduce chaos and suffering while in the current universe). Equilibrium is when each is in its own place, comfortably, a closed-loop cycle. Introduce a higher than usual pressure somewhere, try to make everything the same rather than balanced, and then things go awry: pressure builds, and builds, and deformities start taking shape, till one day it will burst, trying to reverse the direction, and so on (and then onto what Yu Hua recounts: a swing going in one direction, then trying to compensate in the other direction, and so on). Better way to say it, it goes against nature, for it shall always seek a harmony, a balance: without an external impetus, the swing will eventually balance after going through the oscillating extremes. Unfortunately, in today’s world, people are weak in their observation (and feeling) of nature, hence intuition, hence ethics, hence science, hence politics. In the name of peace or a nation-state, we can now easily finish a local ecosystem and raze it to sameness. You can’t cultivate the cloudberry yourself, so why not just get it done with, and instead grow that chosen, ‘superior’ variety of strawberry yourself?

Kashmir: In India, we lost Urdu first, and with it the subtlety of thought, the beauty of eroticism, the tehzeeb of Confucianism. That today we have raucous news anchors or triumphantly trampling politicians does not come from some chance coincidence or bad luck; they are not even a malaise. They are the symptoms of the malaise that exists and that we brought to ourselves. Imagine asking Europe to govern itself under a nation-state model? What would happen? The European Union is struggling to become a supra-state because there is no ‘nation’ narrative to it: the people can’t relate. Now imagine if there were a ‘nation’ narrative: would it succeed then? Do you think the Poles would be able to work with the French and the Greek, and the Portuguese with the Germans and the Hungarians, and the Finnish with the Maghreb-origin French? They wouldn’t. But in the case of India, with a much richer diversity, we didn’t even read and write and learn to think deeply, we didn’t even understand the meaning of freedom and independence, we didn’t even understand the nuances of laws and their implications, we didn’t even bother to know our own selves, but we rushed headlong into running our own democratic state: and thereby we tied ourselves to an ever-milkable, readily passionate populace with grievances of caste and religion, to those greedy beings who will exploit it to the hilt till one fine day the cow will go dry. The malaise, thus, started with our inferiority complex: when we were unable to rescue deaths of villages upon villages from an epidemic of cholera or smallpox, but the white man came and did it. Gunpowder, cures, ability to control our kings: we were impressed, the subjugation was complete, and then it was only a matter of time before our own came up to imitate them, our own Bhartendu Harishchandras and Savarkars, those who fawned and sucked up to the British and their visions. (Not their values, though: unfortunately.) Or even Ambedkar and Gandhi, though the latter, rather than dull imitation, arrived at a brilliant synthesis of the values of India with the progressive values of the West, but arrived … and didn’t really implement. For the same Gandhi who revoked the civil disobedience movement because of the Chauri Chaura incident could not stop the juggernaut of freedom movement rolling: did he lack foresight, or was it a lack of courage for switching from a more popular option, or was it the fear of other rivals (especially Bose) gaining sway, or was it the popularity that got to him? Chauri Chaura never changed, in fact worsened: so then, why the call for independence instead of a call for greater autonomy? And thus we were delivered, eventually, to a gang of Chauri Chaura hoodlums, with the tehzeeb and ahinsa forgotten; WWII sounded the death knell for the British Empire, and so it did for millions living in the lands of that imperfect but quite effectively run empire. Forgetting our centuries-old quest for enlightenment, we discovered a newfound patriotism, even nationalism, and had new external gods to run after. Our enlightenment became passing through the gates of modern temples of education and money. (Interestingly, those gates continue to be abhorred theoretically, so we do not feel so, for otherwise how would we reduce our inferior complex?) Our inferior complex-steeped identity’s crisis seems slaked. So whatever happens in Kashmir, it is certain that the Kashmir where my mother went when she was young and where I have never been able to go is lost: drowned in hate or lost to ‘Indian’ integration, both mean that the local ecosystem is finished for ever. Innocence, once robbed, can never come back, or we would invent that constantly rotating cat with the butter on its back. And so will be the story of India: this unchecked homogenisation accelerated with control of the Indian state over temples, with demonetisation, with the judgements of Sabarimala and triple talaq, and now with Kashmir. One can only expect more casualties on the way: a primary target, a difficult one, will be Tamil Nadu, a bastion yet to fall.

Hong Kong: Also a casualty, irrespective of what happens. The unique ecosystem produced by the British legacy, business environment and Chinese populace is now falling and is again a case of irretrievable innocence (once lost). Hong Kong people fighting against the extradition bill should have taken the path of non-violent civil disobedience: strike work, keep being insistent, peaceful gatherings. When two sides are heavily mismatched, that is the best option, and that is why Gandhi took that as a strategy. Choosing violence will not let them win against the might (both military and propagandist) of China, only raise the eventual costs for China, unless the U.S. or Europe jump in, which is unlikely to happen, except them making the right sort of noises. Choosing violence also means a splinter in HK civil society: a firm wedge, even that of hatred, between its own people, for example, between the police and protestors, between the elderly and the young, between those who cannot imagine fighting against China and those who can differentiate between China and Chinese government. This is not like the Umbrella movement: this time, the damage to HK society will be permanent (and that, even if China blinks, which is unlikely to happen now). Eventually, one more region will fall to the Han Chinese drive of homogeneity, leaving Taiwan the odd one out and more scared. Some think that the Han drive for homogeneity comes from the stability-loving Confucianism: no! It springs, rather, from the inferiority complex induced by the West when China could not defend Shanghai, when the ‘centre of the world’ became just a ‘Third World’. The communists now imitate the West (and after all, communism is a Western ideology), flying in the face of China’s own bedrock of Daoism and Confucianism: by being more advanced economically than India for the time being, they are also a greater prey to hubris and thus even trying to colonise completely foreign lands, forgetting the zhong of Zhongguo. But hubris, eventually, inevitably, and unfailingly, bites back.

The only places in the world that now remain outside of the Western mind-set domination remain Iran, to a large extent, and Turkey, to a small extent. Both, not suprisingly, are also former world powers and occupy strategic areas, Turkey in particular. Just like the day Tamil Nadu falls, India falls, similarly the day Iran falls (by which I do not mean Iran’s Islamist regime), the world’s capitulation to the Eurocentric values will be almost complete. I do not say ‘fully’ complete, for by then the swing will have started its opposite journey, if it had not already started doing so.

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A cornered China, a downhill India

Let’s begin with China, where things are moving fast, and then move on to India, where at some point of time the economy may unravel fast.

China: The country is moving closer and closer to a tipping point, but which may still be a few years away. Of course, a tipping point is hard to predict, but disquiet in China’s population will only increase as the prosperity increases and newer generations do not have the experiences of Cultural Revolution to think themselves as very well off in relative terms. Instead, as the Chinese become addicted to global trends, and soon to a kind of thought homogenisation that being a global citizen often involves, a boredom and a consequent disaffection with a single-party system are bound to arise. What is happening right now in Hong Kong is a case in point: the ingredients are usual and familiar. A widening inequality between the (lower) middle classes and the rich class, a stagnating economy, the perception of resources (jobs, real estate, breathing space) being stolen away by outsiders (mainland Chinese, both settlers and tourists), a deaf government: this is the stuff that has been behind the recent re-emergence of the right wing in Europe. With one exception: while Europe’s intellectuals often belong to the elites, China’s intellectuals often are not part of the elite. (When I say elite, I mean the ones who hold power in their hands directly or indirectly, who move in the upper social circles, who have a greater measure of influence over policies and policymakers.) This appears at first glance to be ironic, given that being well educated makes a Chinese person refined, gives him or her the status that mere wealth doesn’t: education (by which it doesn’t simply imply a degree on paper) is everything in China, and without it, you are merely a lout, even if you were a billionaire. Thus there is a gulf, primarily of perception rather than opportunity, between a well-educated person and one who is not. At the same time, if you look deeper into it, you will understand why China’s intellectuals often do not have to come from or belong to an elite class. Because education in China has remained so important for around two thousand years of its history, and because a system of education, including tough civil service exams, has been there on the ground in China for these two millennia and accessible for everyone (rather than the limiting, elite-serving public schools of England or ashrams of India, both of which have also had limited time periods of existence historically), any person in China, by dint of hard work, has been able to gain the respect of everyone, and has thus become a fine civil servant or a poet or a warrior, and yet remained within the class of people, beloved by the people around him, rather than becoming as something of a far-removed elite. There has been thus always, much before the American dream or even American state itself existed, a Chinese dream: though noting at the same time that the Chinese have traditionally strove for harmony, for balance, whereas the American has been aiming at one-uppance. But it is important to know this, because for the first time probably in Chinese history, the woof of the striving for harmony is getting warped by envy, by dreams of one-uppance. Inequality in China today is at its peak: it is no more enough to work hard, be a brilliant scholar or civil servant or warrior, be good at what you do. In fact, while the traditional respect for education continues intact, one also needs to be rich now: for otherwise, it would be difficult to send your children to a good school (which costs free, but living anywhere near it is costly), to not work like a slave, to stand out among the hundreds of millions who are going through the same routines. Once education becomes an assembly operation at the scale of millions, it starts producing a spirit of contestation, a disharmony, a perception of injustice, neglect and even despair. That is something that has been happening in Europe for quite some time, is going to happen soon in India and has just started to happen in China. (It is difficult to happen at a significant scale in the U.S., for it is a land which receives well-qualified immigrants, it values money over everything else, and also where many are educated, but not well educated, when it comes to homegrown population. The U.S. will continue to be a unique case, as long as it remains the destination of choice for talent from the world over.) Things in China are exacerbated because the government prefers its young (and old) citizens to remain dumb about politics and world affairs: a good way to do this is to orient the people towards a world of pop stars, fashion and luxury. While pop stars can be consumed from near and far (e.g., on a CCTV gala show shown on your television set) by you and me, fashion and especially luxury may be accessible to you, but only a dream for me, lacking enough resources. And thus the discontent starts boiling over: how many times can you paint the cage in newer colours to manage to keep the imprisoned bird happy? This is where the trade war hurts China: it increases costs for Chinese businesses, and eventually for the man on the street. Costs rise, and as always it’s those on the bottom who face the danger of being pushed into oblivion once costs rise above a threshold, inequality worsens, the pop stars continue to be ooh-aahed over, the graduates keep getting churned out, the perception of injustice intensifies. The Hong Kong situation, while of course compounded by its colonial history, is but an early precursor to what may happen in China in a generation’s time.

India: As a drought rages on, with floods in some parts, India’s inept political class continues to make the country flounder, and the situation is only going to be worse in the decade to come. India’s economy was (and continues to be) spectacularly mismanaged by the BJP government, which has been voted back to power for its machismo: a colonised people with a deep-set inferiority complex were always going to give the batons back to bravado, without caring for the substance. India has always been on the wrong path since becoming ‘India’: Nehru, an atheist, and after having seen the mass upheavals of a partition instigated by narrow meanings of faith, wanted to wean India off from its religious roots, and keeping India an agrarian-based economy would never have allowed that. Thus, India’s industrial future was born: which never really got off the ground, except to some extent in the automobile sector, since the country, in short, was not ready for the very change to its nature: from a balance-striving spiritual, peaceful land to an efficiency-seeking material, restless world. This, and not the China war, was Nehru’s biggest mistake; this was also Gandhi’s mistake in not looking beyond Nehru and Patel, both. (We live in interesting times that everything is blamed on Nehru, but no one thinks of this.) Look at France, Canada, Australia: they are all well developed economically, and they are all agrarian-based societies. Yes, they have good industrial sectors, but those countries, their economies, are powered by their agriculture. But India chose to fritter away its strength and tie its population to a rote-learning, neighbour-envying, vapid culture of aspirant engineers, doctors and MBAs. Even after the green and white revolutions of the 1960s, India, a land blessed with fertile soil and good climatic conditions, did not choose to play to its strength: what was needed, and is still sorely needed, was hundreds of silos, local processing units and cold chain warehouses, and transportation networks to sustain the above, which would not only have made India into a global powerhouse but also managed to retain its traditional lifestyles, culture and diversity of crops. Even today, it won’t be too late to attempt it. Instead, in India, we have been imitating the West (rather, what we think as Western) in everything, most notably the import of nationalism, and amid the feeling of inferiority that has justifiably taken root in us, we clutch straws of some ancient, imagined glorious Vedic heritage to tide over our dysfunctional present. The very first duty of a state to its people is that they tide over the matter of survival: if a human being remains tied to it, then he or she can often not progress further. Poverty, collapsing bridges, a corrupt policeman, some lustful politician, terror from within and outside, a greedy doctor: if people live in abject fear, the state has failed miserably. By now, we should have come to the stage where we have surpassed the fate of other animals of the wild, we are quite certain about survival and we can think of creative options to our life. (That doesn’t always happen: witness the grand arrival of complacency in Scandinavia when survival became a near certainty. Think also of why Vamana kicked Mahabali into patala.) But Nehru chose the industrial path, ill suited to India, and from there on, we have only progressed to bullet trains and smart cities and whatever else looks, or at least sounds, spectacular: and as we are ill suited to all of this, of course this will happen, but shoddily, unspectacularly, with interminable delays, with more promises of the spectacular. In the mean time, the spirit of contestation rises, as the assembly system produces more and more graduates (who, on top of it, are often not as well qualified as, for example, in China), the falling back accelerates and with that a self-perpetuating, intertwined cycle of inferiority complex, envy and violence becomes more and more rapid. At some stage, the party in power may need to bring in surveillance tactics and tools, as in China, so as to completely de-humanise a human being, to surveil ‘it’ better: that should preclude the possibility of losing power to anyone else. But India, of course, is still hard to summarise, it’s still complex, though homogenising now under the influence of nationalism, IPL and a raucous media, and the very nature of India, the same that makes it ill suited to become an industrial mecca, sustains hope that in a remote future the spiral will turn to better days, better ideas. What India is in the dire need of, it is the salve of meekness. It will take time to come, if it does at all, for currently they are led by a man of all hubris and hardly any humility or intelligence. A society’s leader after all only is a mirror of the majority that composes that society and their values, and this even more so in a democracy.

India’s 2019 elections – the key battlegrounds

India goes to polls for its lower house (Lok Sabha) in April and May 2019 to elect its new government: the choice is not easy. Well, the choice is in fact scary. Between a party that is bent on damaging India’s social fabric and its Hindu basis in the name, ironically, of Hinduism – the Bharatiya Janata Party (‘BJP’); a party that is typified by ineptness and corruption and, to top it all, has been exploiting India’s community differences to rule the country – the Indian National Congress (‘INC’); and a hodge-podge of parties, the grand majority of which simply exists to take advantage of both greed- and fearmongering by way of exploiting finegrained community divisions (‘Others’). (For coarser-grained community divisions, the BJP and the INC already do a good job.) It is very probable that no party, or no pre-poll alliance of these parties, will win a majority in the Parliament: they will be forced to post-poll coalitions, which will lead to shaky governments and weak economic promise at a time when the world is moving fast. Our own analysis suggests the following in the 543-seat parliament:

BJP + pre-poll allies (often called as NDA): 155-263
INC + pre-poll allies (often called as UPA): 138-227
Others: 123-189

(Most of these Others could end up with the BJP or the Congress in order to share power at the centre. Or with each other, with the BJP or Congress in a supporting role, to make a government of their own. They are mere opportunists. As are also the BJP and Congress, though.)

Psephologists would like me to be more narrowly precise in the seat range, but predicting anything finer would be foolhardy, given that the polling itself is yet to begin. So what are the major regions that can flip (and are hard to predict) and what are the major factors that can change yet?

Uttar Pradesh (UP): The Gangetic plains of UP, the seat of India’s Hindu bedrock, the civilisational impetus of the Indian subcontinent, is populous and influential and often creates the national narrative. Here have come together two regional parties, SP and BSP, both strong in the region, in the ambition to play a king-maker later on, or even aspire to India’s leadership, even though almost non-existent in the other regions of India. That the Congress, typically ineptly, was unable to convince them to let it join their alliance makes the UP a three-cornered fight, which plays to the advantage of the BJP, especially once Congress made the mistake of putting Priyanka Gandhi in canvassing fray. Bringing Priyanka Gandhi in the picture may drive up Congress membership numbers but in the end result will hurt Congress badly: not only will she be able to drive up votes marginally for the Congress, thus taking away votes from the SP-BSP combine and thereby strengthening BJP’s prospects in a first-past-the-post electoral system, but she also confuses the voter and again reminds them of the ineptness, whether perceived or real, of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. If Rahul was able, why did he need his sister (herself inept) to bail him out? BJP plus allies will definitely lose 25-30 seats from their 2014 win of 73 seats (out of 80 in total) because of the SP-BSP arithmetic, but SP-BSP would hope that BJP lose at least 50 seats. If the BJP does lose 50 in UP, chances of it doing well elsewhere will already have been poorer: if the war-fed nationalism drive doesn’t work in UP, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand, then where else can it work? (I expect, however, that the BJP will do well in Rajasthan and even Uttarakhand in spite of some party defections.) A BJP government at the centre, even with post-poll allies, can be ruled out if the BJP manages to lose 50 in UP. I expect that even in the worst-case scenario, BJP plus allies will lose 45 in UP (which already will make a BJP government at the centre difficult). If BJP manages to lose not more than 35, the game is on, and any loss less than 25 makes BJP a very strong probability to lead the next Indian government.

Maharashtra: The state, another one full of seats and a region brimming over with not only nationalism but also exaggerated regional pride, looks a stronghold this time of the BJP and its ally Shiv Sena. Helping them is the eating away of votes by a small party, BVA, which holds sway among farmers in some sub-regions and whose voters are shared with the Congress. The Congress and its partner NCP look disheartened and in disarray. Why I talk about Maharashtra is that the BJP and allies expect around 40 seats from the state (out of 48). Anything less than 35 will hurt them to some extent, given that the BJP certainly stands to lose some in UP. But things look rosy for the BJP and allies here. What could then hurt the BJP? For one, climate. Summer has already begun in most of India before its time, and any drought-like conditions will exacerbate anger among farmers. Maharashtra suffers traditionally from water scarcity. Many Indian voters decide at the last moment whom to vote for (especially as many are often bribed or terrorised by all major parties at the last moment), but any lingering anger will be enough to flip the vote. Another interesting factor in the state could be Aramco’s refinery project in the Konkan region: yet another thoughtless project of the BJP, which has been ruining India’s precious biodiversity (and diversity!) at full speed. Shiv Sena had opposed the Aramco project but at that time it was projecting itself against the BJP; now that it is with the BJP, will the farmers, many quite rich, reject both? Congress could have hoped, but BVA could play spoilsport.

West Bengal: The BJP is playing the good old Curzon game here without any mitigation. It does not help that the ruling party in this state, called TMC, a party which is neither a Congress or BJP ally and whose shrill leader harbours ambition to become India’s leader herself, has itself been playing this game. Hooliganism rules here: it’s rough going, and polarisation has been a feature here since the British times, if not earlier. What works to the BJP’s advantage is the high Muslim population in many constituencies: anything above 15% and especially 20% (the proportion of Muslim voters) works very well for the BJP, as the Hindus think that “everyone” is Muslim and vote out of fear. The sentiment is very well stoked by not just BJP but also the TMC’s Muslim appeasement policies. This is a state where the BJP has been almost non-existent: but polarisation seems to have been successful this time and might give the BJP even 15 or more seats (out of 42). The BJP has also played the clever game of spreading the state over 7 polling phases: it helps to tie down TMC top brass to the state, and, even more, it helps to keep more security personnel for fewer booths, keeping the elections a bit less violent. The TMC needs its hooligans to win big.

The above three states are key for me: any flip in these states will have huge ramifications. The Northeast is also key this time: the BJP has been expecting to win well there, but will the Citizenship Amendment Bill hamper the BJP’s winning chances finally? It may happen that the TMC wins comfortably after all in Bengal, that SP-BSP also win big in UP, and a few seats are lost by the BJP in Maharashtra. A dire prospect. But all of this may not happen, too. In a first-past-the-post system, even a single vote more than what the other has got gives you everything and the other nothing: contests like the three-cornered ones in UP are too difficult to call. Overall, western UP/Braj looks to go the BJP way by and large, but the Awadh and Purvanchal regions are difficult to call. The game for Congress is also not over. I expect Congress to win most seats in states like the tribal-dominated Chhattisgarh. I expect an almost clean sweep of Congress and allies in Tamil Nadu. I do not expect any flip in these states. Congress may put up a good show in certain tribal pockets, even in places such as the Panchmahals district of Gujarat, a state otherwise considered a citadel of the BJP. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh would probably be tight contests: I expect the BJP to edge the former and the Congress the later. Karnataka would be another tight contest: BJP may surprise here and win up to 19 seats (out of 28). In Punjab, Congress should win mostly. Regional parties should hold sway in Odisha and Telangana. Bihar and Jharkhand should go the way of Congress and allies. Delhi, it remains to be seen whether there is any alliance as yet between Congress and AAP; if not, the BJP may sweep here. If yes, the BJP might still win, but less handsomely. It also remains to be seen if the BJP has another Balakot-like trick up its sleeve. Or if Pakistan will oblige it. Pakistan would itself want the BJP to make a government at the centre, so it itself might want to rouse up nationalist sentiment in India at this time. The BJP accelerates the weakening of India and creates the danger of fragmentation of India: north–south, upper caste–Dalit, Kashmiri–non-Kashmiri, Hindu–Muslim. Pakistan must love the BJP!

Whoever wins, the immediate future of India looks dark. Modi-led BJP has damaged India irrevocably: in fact, the damage has been such within just 5 years that no one, even those invaders and colonisers who came to loot, had done damage at such a scale in centuries and millennia. The damage to an already-weak media has also been incredible. India’s institutions are in the process of becoming puppets, and the day is not far when we may have a ‘Prime Minister for life’. However, the options for BJP voters are not themselves appetising: lack of (any kind of) ideology, inept, corrupt people, greedy regional satraps, and continuing loss of sense of identity. In fact, the best that India can hope for at this stage is a win of the BJP, tempered by a lot of uncomfortable coalitions. For if a Congress-led government were to come in power in 2019, the misplaced resentment against India’s Muslims, against Gandhi and Nehru, against dharma would only intensify and would bring not just Modi but the virulent Yogi to India’s reins. That is a day which India will never want to see if it values survival of itself with its Hindu values.

We will soon write on what to expect if Modi does come in power, especially if it’s not with many strings attached. In his first term, we saw de-monetisation; in his second term, we may see de-humanisation.

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.

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.