India: After AAP’s victory in Delhi state elections

India is the land where diversity finds its truest expression: and its various poles pulling in all kinds of directions are held together by a dominant centrism. That centrism is not an accident or an ideology: rather, it is generated inevitably by a strong belief in fate present in the Indian attitude, regardless of the religion an Indian belongs to, even if the belief in fate were to stem originally from South and East Asian faiths. As India Westernizes, it is this belief, in fact, which comes in collision head-on with the Western determinism, with the belief that one can shape and fashion one’s life as one wills, with neither constraints nor consequences. The belief in a cycled of things, and hence a permanence, versus the belief of making most out of one life. The Western liberal democracy that India adopted since independence from the British rule is in fact but a manifestation of the Western deterministic mind-set, and hence no wonder that the collision was inevitable once the land came under the yoke of a liberal democracy. Industralisation (the path chosen by Nehru) and free market (as preferred by Singh and Vajpayee) have only hastened the arrival of the new mind-set, and thus now the collision of those who prefer harmony, those who remain grounded no matter what—and those who are ambitious to reshape everything as they see fit, with no patience to understand the rta, the order. The former category is the dominant centrism of India (the same centre as alluded to in the name Zhongguo, China, of that another great civilisation with the traditional belief of cycles and harmony); the latter category is the new ideologies of the Left and the Right. Of course, India’s great centrism, by which I do not simply mean the political Centre in Western discourses, also subsumes these Left and Right, but at the same time the current crisis before India is the survival of this broad centre, given that the power is being occupied by the fringe elements. If the centre gives way, which it is difficult to do so at the moment but no one can vouchsafe the future, India’s conversion to the always-panting race run by the West would be complete.

I started with this long paragraph about India’s centrism simply because of the recent state elections in Delhi, where the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which runs on several socialist ideas and would have been called Social Democrats if they were in Europe and would occupy the Left of Centre in the Western political spectrum, won handsomely against a bruising, polarising company of the nationally ruling Right fringe, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP’s current appeal to the Indian voter lies in its stoking of ambitions in the layperson: the chucking of everything that held the Indian “back” and the reshaping of their destinies, being masters of their destinies in their heady arrogance. The BJP’s politics, in short, is born from an ignorance and an inferior complex and, thus inevitably, leads to a certain brash arrogance. The BJP represents fully the Western mind-set: there is hardly anything Indian in its ideology. The Delhi election results have enthused many in India, but in reality nothing much has changed: the AAP espouses and executes the welfare state model, quite close to the Scandinavian model in fact, modified to suit India’s conditions. The welfare state model, however, can be said to be inimical to human ethos itself: instead of facilitating the empowerment of a person, it instead creates unintelligent, unskilled human beings by eliminating competitiveness and makes them permanent bonded labourers of that system. Norway is a prime example of the welfare state model: where skill levels of professionals are shockingly low, and intelligence is rare to find. Of course, given that no party in India is doing the needful with or without a welfare system (and, in fact, almost all parties, small and big, depend on welfare doles in exchange for votes), what the AAP is doing, notably in the field of education, even the narrative of focusing on education (and health), does benefit Delhi in the short to medium run, given that Delhi has very numbers of the poor and the lower-middle class. What the AAP narrative has done, though, is to give a little hope to the narrowing centrism, even if AAP itself might not represent it itself all that well: by clevely introducing the wording of “true nationalism” (even though the word “patriotism” is already there to mean what they mean), they have not only thrown the ball back in the court of the BJP but also banished the fringe elements from the space for now. The problem is, if “true nationalism” means more facilities, more money, a better standard of living, then it only creates more and more of those aspirational Indians, who will then necessarily move on to those who provide them stronger narratives of self-transformation, like the BJP does. A better standard of living is not a problem: but it should be accompanied by a moral standing and a moral code drenched in the Indian ethos. That moral atmosphere is not difficult to create: in order to create truly thinking beings, throw and take on challenges without fear—maybe the time before the election was not ripe, but now organise and encourage debates in all sections of the society, including young students, on religion, philosophy, laws, morals. Without a spiritual heritage but with aspirations of a better “standard of living”, you only create impatient, hard-to-please constituencies who are bound to wallow in moral crises and either elect morally reprehensible leaders at the national level or fall to the meaninglessness of hedonism (or both). If the AAP has to evolve, it has to look at growing in an agricultural region: for it is the tending to land that is the wholesome soul of India and from that maybe the AAP could itself learn.

The little hope that I mentioned is though not probably for the AAP itself to tap into, but for other present and future leaders and parties. They do not have to adopt the welfare state model of the AAP, tempting though it may seem to get votes, but rather show more, and better, ways to skin the cat: it is the will to change used-to stagnation that is necessary, with bright, creative ideas, not the welfare model. The danger of the Delhi election is that many parties will seek to adopt the AAP’s welfare state model; the hope is that many will not see the BJP as invincible and take heart from the AAP’s spectacular victory, noting that it is not the welfare state model which necessarily won, but what won was a focused, undistracted message delivered by a leader who is not unreliable in the public eye. It is that what was the formula for victory.

Novel coronavirus: a political event, too

A disease itself is an unforeseeable and a biological phenomenon in itself: however, its spread is not exclusively biological, but also political. How a society and its leaders react to it, what system is there to react to it is also all about politics. And of course the impact of the incident has wide and far-reaching political-economic considerations. While it is too early to judge the scale of the so-called nCov or novel coronavirus (informally the Wuhan coronavirus, with the city of Wuhan being the centre of the epidemic so far), it is apparent that China – both local and central authorities – did not take it seriously enough at first and then panicked (and still is in panic) and was not ready even after SARS for another epidemic. The issues here reach down to the very ways that the authoritarian system of China is designed, with “stability preservation” a key tenet of how to run China. For the Communist Party, its need to preserve itself and its conflation of the Party and China, these are realities that need to be protected against all threats, including China’s very own people: and with lockdowns of gargantuan cities to villages, decided at all levels of the government, it is apparent that the Chinese leadership has decided to pay a staggering human cost for this stability preservation. It would be ironic, though, if this same human cost sparks a revival of sorts of a dissatisfaction with the Party and the current political system in the medium run of a couple of decades or so. There are lessons to learn from this mostly manmade tragedy not only for the Chinese, but also for all those who develop a craving for authoritarian systems and leaders (such as the current voting public of India).

While the central Chinese leadership is finding it convenient to cast as much blame as possible on the local leaderships, and even though some local leaderships, notably in the province of Hubei, are apparently not deserving to be called leaderships, the real blame lies in the hyper-centralisation of power in the Party top leadership and the President of the country. The problem with too much of centralisation of power is always that things move slowly: the lower-level hierarchy is either not empowered or is afraid (or both, as in China) to take the decision by itself, and is waiting for explicit instructions from the top. In such systems, the State acts as a paternalistic power, and in China, where the “emperor is far away”, it is to some extent required to wield power in that way, or else buffer regions such as the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, the Gansu-Xinjiang region or the Inner Mongolian area would be difficult to control and maintain power over. (China’s geography and development inequality between regions demand a paternalistic power set-up to maintain Han dominance and prosperity. If there had not been a very affluent trading partner such as the U.S. to its south, Canadian geography might also have demanded a similar route.) For the Han core of China, those regions are important buffers, and since these regions are relatively much under-developed, a heavy-handed rule also becomes a tool of choice for the central government. At the same time, the same approach is employed by the Party even for the Han provinces, for overpopulation (including of those not skilled enough) as well as the social upheaval and the impoverishment that China experienced for most of the 20th century have left a deep sense of insecurity among the Hans, many of whom thus themselves demand a strongly paternal state. Many recognise the evil features of such a system, yet acknowledge the necessity of it so that they can survive as a nation and prosper individually as well as at the societal level: liberty is a luxury they can ill afford at this juncture. Where the State has missed the trick is not understanding the implications of the fact that sections of the Chinese society, in particular the Han society, are now much more educated and prosperous than in the past, as well as exposed to Western ways. The State does know its demographics though, hence even more of the centralising of power, the crushing of any potential local centres of power of the future, including religious ones, the control of Internet access, and the censuring of content on social media under Xi Jinping. But when you centralise power in yourself, as Xi has done, you basically are arrogating a lot of responsibility to yourself: and when things are going fine, you can pretend that you merit that and fly under the radar, but what when things are not going fine? In addition, there’s a great danger that those things that are not fine may become worse one day as you yourself crushed any local centres of power, which means there are no smart decision-makers at local levels, just a lot of scared dummies trying to manipulate things so that news never reaches “the emperor”. (It is not that the emperor would care about those things in themselves, but rather the emperor does not want to be tainted by the responsibility of all the power he has arrogated to himself and hence doesn’t want that reality ascribed to him, so he would like as little news reaching him as possible. In fact, those bureaucrats who do take the issues seriously and might even forward warnings are likely to face punishments, for they are not acting for stability preservation.) The system thus is necessarily opaque: it is simply not possible to have a transparent system when so much centralisation of power is involved, which in turn is necessitated by the almost-primary goal of stability preservation. As long as the Party’s overriding concern is its own stability preservation, no transparency can be expected.

The recent outbreak of novel coronavirus in Wuhan and how not only action to tackle it was deliberately delayed but even mass gatherings of people were organised by local leaderships to score the usual political brownie points are a prime example of the dangers of opacity, lack of liberty, and over-centralisation of power. The decision to seal off complete cities, even cities as huge as Wuhan, at the same time coupled with complete mismanagement of the logistics that comes into play, demonstrates a complete disregard of the human cost, another prime example of how the Party sees its own self, its vision, its stability as more important than anything else: even more important than the Han people whose leader it professes to be. Even more interestingly, the behaviour of many Chinese people itself towards other Chinese, treating them as almost lepers if they were from Hubei, reeks of the moral crisis that China fell into long time back: a state of ennui where the individual lacks any sense of responsibility because accountability went awol long time back, and thus the gap between professed norms and what seems normal has become a gulf. Where the State has missed a trick is to not do a gradual opening up of China, a kind of partial democracy, where at least professionals and bureacrats can have much more liberty and little need of ambiguity and opacity, with a greater freedom of speech. This is something that Deng Xiaoping himself could have done after the 1986 demonstrations instead of what culminated in the June Fourth Incident, setting China back once again. Where the State has missed another trick, and that is something that Xi Jinping could have spent his political will on rather than the anti-corruption drive which only increased the opacity further, is strengthening the justice system of China and making it independent, and doing so in all respects: from human rights to intellectual property rights. The moment to do so vanished long time back, but the viral outbreak has given another opportunity to Xi to do so now with the excuse of a reaction: just as Deng Xiaoping had the opportunity presented to him again in the months following the resignation of Hu Yaobang. Political leaders do not like to be seen as backtracking, for it makes them look “weak” (and people like their leaders to look “strong”, which, strangely, means inflexible or reckless in most people’s judgements), but times of crises give leaders a golden opportunity to change tack without appearing “weak”. Deng Xiaoping had such an opportunity, but he missed it, and China’s moral crisis has only exacerbated further; Xi Jinping now has another such opportunity. Would he use it?

After demonetisation, dehumanisation in India: Citizenship Amendment Bill

With the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), the BJP sets out on an experiment that, if permitted to carry out, would be far, far more disastrous in scale and impact than the same government’s demonetisation exercise that continues to cripple India’s economy: an experiment of making millions stateless, an experiment of dehumanisation (for in the modern world of nation-states, a human without a state is existence-less). However, since many do not care about the human impact and only think of a strong state, whatever be the costs, let us also think of the actual consequences to the society itself. But before that, let’s discuss the RSS’ vision which few seem to understand, for without understanding that, it is difficult to understand what ails Indians today that they support and celebrate inhuman acts on a daily basis.

Colonialism: the root cause of many problems that ail the world today, from the Middle East to Japan and China, and including India. I wouldn’t include sub-Saharan Africa in this, as many problems of Africa pre-date colonialism, though of course exacerbated by the latter. Colonialism was a shock to the Eastern world, which was self-contentedly wallowing in its philosophies of ancient wisdom, forgetting how to fight the barbarous. Tribalism, and a consequent nationalism, was an instant reaction in those societies where the elites was a particular tribe and the nation as a whole was identified with those tribes: for example, China and Japan. In much of the Middle East, also very diverse but unified by Islam into one ummah, thus a tribe, the result was their brand of tribalism, which was of course Islamism, not some particular nationalism. (Islamism of course does not afflict the Middle East alone.) India’s extraordinary diversity and the absence of any political elites however meant that India remained insulated from vitriolic feelings of hate and bitterness by and large: no tribalism rose instantly as a reaction to colonialism, except very locally. However, the European efficiency of doing many things (including eradicating choleras and poxes) plus the much-admired white colour of the skin slowly instilled an inferiority complex in India’s peoples. (The inferiority complex was a universal phenomenon in most colonised societies, except some of the Middle Eastern lands, where stagnation had not yet reached its peak and the colour of the skin was not less white.) This became especially true in the later phases of colonisation, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and beyond, as Indians started getting educated and, after eating of the apple of knowledge, started to get more keenly afflicted by an inferiority complex: and wondering why did they not get there. It was a time of nationalism in colonised societies: Japan, China, India, Turkey. The question ‘how did we end up here’ is a key question, and different societies took their different approaches and framed different solutions. Japan, with its traditional ethos of hard work and emphasis on putting blame on one’s own self rather than the others, nationalised strongly, feeling much in the West to be superior, and started on its war path of imitating the West, which eventually led to the disaster of World War II but also to its today’s technological excellence and material prosperity, at the same time keeping much of its culture intact. China was humiliated not only by the concessions given to the Western powers, but even by Japan, which had always had an inferior place in Chinese people’s imaginations: the humiliation would go on to result in the acceptance of a cruel, repressive government of Mao that would destroy China’s very own culture, even the Han culture, for the sake of creating a ‘strong state’. (Contrary to Japan’s imitation of the West, Mao would rather install laypeople as the ones in power, despising and mistrusting anyone educated: the Chinese civilisation has given rise to the most profound thoughts, but those were in the hands of a few, not all, and by silencing those few could tribal devotions from the others be guaranteed, or coerced.) Only in India, while the same forces were born in the shape of RSS and others, did Gandhi prevent the immediate victory of the forces of darkness and imitation. But once the spiritual strength of Gandhi to keep himself above the forces of bitterness had been maimed, it became only a matter of time before the same vision reasserted itself, and hence here we stand today, waiting for the inevitability that already swallowed Japan and China and now waits for us. (The original mistake is Gandhi’s: his overwhelming mandate after Chauri Chaura should have been converted to self-awakening in the Indian society, something what Vidyasagar and Roy did but this time on a pan-Indian scale, rather than freedom for a country of ill-educated, easily pliable people.) For us, a populous, low-skilled, poor country with no international backing and a penchant for boasting rather than hard work (unlike both Japan and China), politics based on bitterness and imitation would sound the death knell of the very Indian civilisation. But once again, let’s focus on the RSS first of all: one should not treat disease as evil, but understand why it happens, for there is nothing good or evil in disease per se. Its consequences might very well be evil, though.

The RSS diagnosed (and continues to diagnose), correctly, that Indians, both before there was an India and since then, lack a sense of feeling of a tribe, a nation, a fellowship. Of course, India has a lot of tribes: its various castes and subcastes themselves makes thousands of tribes. But there is no dominant tribe or tribes, unlike most lands, though some of course may be more marginalised than others. In India, Person A doesn’t care for Person B at all, there’s no feeling in Person A’s mind that Person B is my fellow tribesman; with the chipping away of values such as tameez, this has further accentuated. The lack of respect for a fellow human being is in fact a hallmark of Indian life, especially more so in the modern times. Now this phenomenon itself is nothing surprising in a land which is a mosiac of cultures and traditions, with no tribe being dominant with respect to the other: even its varied rulers, whether they were born here or came from somewhere, did not disturb this mosiac and let things be as pleases people. (This also gives a greater liberty felt in the mind, another hallmark of an Indian life.) The chief reason for the failure of the 1857 attempt to drive out the British was that each person, each leader acted out of their own selfish interests, sometimes even greed: the Maratha and the Bundelkhandi did not, and could not, feel that they are the spokes of one wheel. Of course, there was no India back then, so they were not fighting for any country, but there could have been better coordination between them if not for their utter selfishness and egos. The Hindu thought itself does not usually admit of any supreme religious authority, which could otherwise have united the diversities into a tribe-like feeling, as happened with the various Arab tribes; there was no religion to speak of, in the Western sense of the word. While Gandhi united Indians of all hues and walks of life for a short time with his charisma and personal example (Indians have always united behind spiritual leaders), what after him? The RSS inferred that so long as there is no feeling of citizenship, so long as there is no feeling of tribalism, the fate of India’s colonisation, of feeling oneself as inferior might keep replaying. Also, the RSS’ goal was political, not remotely spiritual, so the solution had to be a political one. Stung by the sense of inferiority, like the Japanese, the RSS too looked with envy at the Western models and resolved to learn from them and practise them, which they continue to do so, Israel being their latest role model. The chief question before the RSS was: how to inculcate a feeling of tribalism in India? The best method was to turn what was the bedrock of Indian civilisation into its dog whistle: the word “Hindu”. Because sanatana dharma itself had no overarching structure and meant different things to different people, the word “Hindu” can be stripped of its sense, made into the much-needed dog whistle and then loaded with new meanings. The human mind has a great propensity for words, for labels, for at one point of time in their life, they have associated a lot of things with the word in their minds, a lot of things that had an impact on them not just intellectually, but also sensorially. Once the mind, often falling into laziness, forgets to interrogate the core behind the shell every time, the words are doubly loaded with the emotions once felt, rather than the meaning they are supposed to be carrying. Thus, many, or most, words become carriers of people’s emotions and impressions, rather than the meaning they possess. The meaning becomes not just irrelevant, but even meaningless. The word, eventually, becomes either a Trojan horse or an embellishment. The word “Hindu”, is it the beautiful Krishna statue in Guruvayoor, or is it the sacrifice of a living being for Kali, or is it the undifferentiated matter that Shiva represents, or is it the Shiva who is angry at Ganesha, or is it the sound of the bell ringing in a temple, the dhoop burning in a sandalwood and camphor-scented garbhagriha, is it the quest to seek truth always, is it destructible, or is it indestructible? Is it maybe erecting the tallest statue of some god somewhere, we being enamoured of “est” in our inferiority? It means infinitely different things, and stripped of its sense, it can be made a vehicle to reach most minds, most hearts, before the slow poison of new contents of bitterness and inferiority complex are injected into it. When someone raises the dog whistle of the word “Hindu” now, I wonder, oh, is someone going to take away my identity, my beautiful Ram, my whole world, and I am ready to resist, protect, attack, kill. And similarly the other to protect the wisdom he has been taught exists in Vedas and the Upanishads, for it fulfills his need of feeling proud in his identity, otherwise ravaged by IELTS classes and a poor, non-functional country where a government elected by him cannot even guarantee him clean water to drink. For the RSS, the dog whistle binds the Indians into a tribe, if not today, then tomorrow, and the word “Hindu” looked the most likely to be effective for that. And yet, aided by World War II and its aftermath, it was Gandhi who won, for the time being, though Pakistan’s secession was in itself an indication of the things to come. A poor electoral system (first past the post) ensured majoritarianism and minority appeasement budding and blooming at the same time, and a corrupt government (the consequence of that lack of tribalism, that lack of mutual respect, as who cares if someone is, or even a few hundred are, killed here and there?) ensured that the inferiority complexes remained alive. Nehru’s and later Indira’s pro-Soviet stance didn’t help either, for it meant that geopolitically Pakistan was the favoured one by the West in order to hedge bets, thus increasing difficulties and inferior feelings for Indians. Then came the end of the Cold War and Narasimha Rao’s great opening of the Indian economy, incomes started to increase, many started to go abroad to study and eventually became the so-called NRIs, were envied by many, the Shah Rukh Khan-Kajol films became mass earners, reflecting people’s changing aspirations, and yet no one had bothered to upskill the Indians or better the education system (even if the number of colleges increased manifold), so the inferiority complex continued, and continues. This inferiority complex is the greatest, interestingly, among the NRIs (the Indian diaspora), for not being able to make foreign traditions as their own and cut off from their own, many of them being merely economic migrants and often not interested in other cultures, they feel and are made to feel a kind of shame (by both the country they live in and their own countrymen and women) and cling on even more desperately to the running pack of hounds, to prove their belonging as much to themselves as to anybody else. Anyway, back to RSS’ dog whistle: could there have been other means, and what now?

Identity is key: without it, the rudderless human invents one, affiliates him or herself to whatever appeals to his or her unsatiated emotions. The model of nation-states, whether they be democratic or dictatorships, has failed in most cases when it comes to demanding tribal fealty (one cannot count those instances when people are chanting the names of ‘India, India’ when watching a cricket match, for in that case a UK-based Indian should shout for the English team rather, and some of the Indian Muslims should not be shouting for Pakistan?), except in rare cases like the hyper-nationalistic Norway or Israel, where tribalism has welded successfully with nationalism. In Israel’s case, the religion of Judaism acts as a pre-existing tribal element, whereas in Norway’s case it is the economic incentive of participating in a welfare state, fuelled by oil and gas revenues, that keeps the tribe hunting in a pack. On the other hand, any Muslim nation-state is bound to fail, unless the overlap between that nation-state and the ummah is almost complete (as is the case with Israel and the Jews). Do you feel tribal for Pakistan or for the ummah? You end up in a schizophrenia. (So does the cricket match viewer.) Of course, there are powerful tribes, like the Sauds, but they do not have the supreme, moral religious authority even if they have tried for it, notably because of their own convenient friendship with the Americans, and a rival religious authority in Iran. In Europe, attempts have been made for people to feel a tribal affiliation to the EU, which have all failed: a Polish feels Polish, not EU’ite, which has no claims to any affections. And what does one from Alsace feel? Nationalist sentiments keep surfacing often dangerously in many European countries, for again, with a massive immigration into all European countries (especially from within Europe: for example, on the day of elections in the UK, what better example to give than the recent immigrations of many Poles in the UK?), people are confused about their tribal identities. The only successful example of a land that has retained a degree of tribalism and not gone overboard with it is the U.S. – though the whites there may be confused who they are. But, overall, the worship of achievements, of success means that people in the U.S. do not seek tribal identities: they, rather, seek achievements of their own. That is, after all, the American Dream. (The problem with that though is that it is the worldly success that is considered as achievement, and not what one him or herself feels it to be, but that’s a problem of another hue. The American Dream itself, though, seems to be changing now, with Elizabeth Warren’s relative popularity showing that leftism, the politics of jealousy, is finally making a headway there.) But uniting people behind not tribal identities, but rather dreams, achievements, hard work is in itself very hard work: some European countries, notably Germany, have been trying to do it, with not complete success though. One has to create well-functioning systems to which people can aspire to and be ready to do hard work for, rather than ask them to anchor themselves to readily available tribal identities. One has to create robust infrastructures and equal access to them, and then people will themselves excited to fulfill their dreams, complementing their identities in their thoughts and actions. But that’s hard work, not what the BJP-RSS feel themselves up to: one must remember that a coward, a bully finds an easy way out, not a tough way out (can one forget Savarkar here?). For it’s easier to govern and lead a host of beasts than a group of thinking, dreaming humans; it’s easier to destroy and pick the remains and possess them, than to create and let it evolve.

Coming finally to the CAB itself, the bill immediately trashes all Hindu thought, its immense diversity, into meaninglessness, for it converts the Hindu into a tribe: a Hindu ummah! Till now, Hindutva and Hindu were completely different things, with the freedom to choose, but now it forces the Hindutva face to sit on every single Hindu, whether it fits or not. It is seeking to replicate the Israeli experiment, by wanting to project India as the haven for the “Hindus” of the world, asking them to join the India project, like Israel asked the Jews. (Or Pakistan did the sharia-loving Muslims, if one can talk of a failed effort.) The result, undoubtedly, will not even be Israel, but it will be all-round chaos and devastation, and future secessionist movements: India is not Israel, it’s too big and diverse, it’s not backed by a U.S., and it does not even have basic amenities in place for its own existing Hindus (even if one discounts the “others”, as the BJP hopes to do so). But that devastation is not necessarily a problem for the BJP’s own political aspirations: it will only inject more poison into the system and help in loading the now-empty words with new meanings of bitterness. The mother organisation, the RSS, will itself argue that this is but the short-term necessary evil, and then a contract will be surely in place: you affiliate tribally to me, I will ensure you are well to do and safe. Of course, given that, like in Mao’s China, the wisdom is the preserve of a few, it would be necessary to eliminate those few, while elevating the laypeople, all in the name of something nice. This kind of contract is not uncommon: Mao made the same contract with the Chinese, and the results, though economically stunning today with Deng Xiaoping’s timely remedial action and partly also because of the hard-working abilities of the Chinese, are there to see: a people constantly in competition, bereft of any exposure to affection, a constant prey to surveillance and marketing and divorced from the richness of their own thought and traditions. The biggest impact is always on human wisdom: the Daoist thought, and now soon the Hindu thought, will have become obsolete, depriving many of an insight into life, for which only life is worth living. Such contracts also inevitably make their wielders into bullies: witness Israel and China. Economic well-being can never replace that most basic of human needs, even more basic than food, water or air: identity. But instead of a fake all-consuming identity such as unasking devotion to a tribe, man must seek and fight for their identity grounded in themselves.

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.

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.