Monday, 4 March 2019

The Pulwama-Balakot Affair: An Unqualified Disaster for India

The Pulwama-Balakot Affair: An Unqualified Disaster for India

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 04 March 2019


The Balakot airstrikes have been an unqualified disaster for India on every front. They have shown that we cannot defeat cross-border terror by military means; that we cannot intimidate Pakistan with our conventional military; that Pakistan will retaliate with attacks on our military facilities if we attack terror camps in Pakistan; that our military equipment is outdated; and that the Indian people do not have the stomach for a war. Further, they have given Pakistan a chance to take the high road and act magnanimous with the release of our Air Force pilot, thereby making this a PR victory for Pakistan and its President, Imran Khan.

Imran Khan’s Speech in the Pakistani Parliament

Some friends of mine are sharing a video of Pakistan PM Imran Khan's speech in the Pakistani Parliament on Facebook, citing it as an example of the statesmanship missing in our country.

I am not going to share it or provide a link to it.

The reason is that while it is a cleverly-written and well-delivered speech, it rests on a base of what I believe are lies.

What the speech illustrates beyond doubt is that the whole Balakot misadventure by India has led to one consequence: it has immeasurably raised Imran Khan's stature, both domestically and internationally.

What are the lies? Imran says that his government had nothing to do with Pulwama. That's a brazen lie. Hafez Saeed and Masood Azhar are both free in Pakistan to organize terrorist activities against India in Kashmir. Despite repeated complaints and dossiers, Pakistan has done nothing to stop them for decades. They keep lying that there is no evidence to convict them. Even when the links of the suicide bomber in Pulwama to the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) are clear, Pakistan has done nothing. They have no intention of doing anything.

Imran claims in the speech that they had taken a decision a while ago not to support any terror activities on their soil, whatever previous governments may have done. There is no evidence of this. To put it indelicately: Imran is lying.

Now that the dust has settled (or is settling) over the whole Pulwama-Balakot episode, we can take stock of what happened.

To put it mildly: the entire episode was a disaster for India.

Imran Khan's speech, in which he masquerades as the messiah of peace, the one rational voice in the subcontinent who wants to prevent nuclear annihilation, in the face of an irrational and warmongering India, is only the latest confirmation of why this is a disaster. Of course this projection of Pakistan is not true; Pakistan continues to support terrorist groups on its soil and claim that it is the victim. It is clear that Imran will do nothing to change this. He is continuing the tactic of demanding proofs when we have given mountains of evidence to Pakistan, which was perfected under Asif Ali Zardari during the 26/11 attacks. But anyone watching that speech of Imran will not guess any of this. It was a masterpiece of obfuscation and grandstanding.

Why Balakot Was a Disaster

What was achieved with the strikes? Let us look at the sequence of events.

  1. A JeM suicide bomber killed 49 CRPF jawans in Pulwama.
  2. We sent aircraft to bomb Balakot. At first there were reports that no damage had been caused and no lives lost; newer (unconfirmed) reports suggest that maybe some 35 militants died in the strike, which Pakistan covered up.
  3. But then Pakistan retaliated by attacking us at the LOC, and even downed one of our aircraft and took one of our airmen prisoner.
  4. Then Pakistan acted very magnanimous in releasing him.
  5. Now the hostilities are over. (There is the routine cross-border shelling that is a constant, of course.)

So, what was achieved?

Clearly, we have not destroyed the terror infrastructure. All we did at most was kill 35 JeM militants.

Some people say that we showed that we wouldn't take a terrorist attack lying down - that we could give it back. Yes, we did give it back but then so did they. So are we even or are they one up? I see it as Pulwama: Pak 1, India 0; Balakot: Pak 1, India 1; Pak retaliation: Pak 2, India 1. We lost. What Pakistan has told us (and Imran says it in his Parliament speech) is that if you strike us, we will strike you back. We have lost the advantage.

When they gave it back, one of our airmen was caught, and it became clear that we no longer had the stomach for war. Did that not expose a weakness in India? Now the Pakistanis know that one PoW and the game is over for India.

Our goal was to wipe out the JeM and to send such a strong message to Pakistan that they would stop cross-border terrorism, if government sources are to be believed. Was this realistic? What have we gained?

All we have now to show for our efforts is that the US, the UK, and France have sponsored a resolution in the UN calling for a ban on JeM.

But we have seen what happens in these cases. Even if the resolution is passed and the ban goes into effect, Masood Azhar will go underground and continue to control his organization, which will change its name. They will say JeM no longer exists. It will just come back to life under a different name and a different nominal leader. Nothing will have been achieved. There are some unsubstantiated rumours about Azhar having been killed, but these have only been circulated by supporters of Mr. Modi so that they have something to show for this disastrous misadventure. Even if that were true, these organizations will not collapse after the death of a single person. The terror will go on. And now, knowing that we targeted them, they will be looking for an opportunity to prove that they can still strike at us. We should be ready and on high alert for a huge terror strike by the JeM in the near future somewhere on Indian soil as they seek revenge on us.

So, the bottomline is that the whole Pulwama-Balakot episode is a disaster. It has achieved nothing for India, and allowed Pakistan to take the high ground as the responsible party which tried hard to de-escalate the situation. From every angle - militarily, politically, the attempt to end terrorism, and public relations - the whole episode has been a debacle for India.

The Unwritten Maxim of War

There is an unwritten maxim of war that has been in force in the US ever since Vietnam, but which still continues to be violated by foolish US Presidents. That maxim is: one must only initiate war when one is sure of a comprehensive victory.

President George HW Bush followed this policy in Desert Storm. The objective of that war was not to unseat Saddam Hussein, but to remove him from Kuwait. The US had overwhelming military superiority on land, at sea, and in the air, and reduced Saddam’s vaunted Republican Guard to a pulp.

His son, President George W Bush, did not follow this maxim, and the results have been inconclusive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan is actually a comprehensive defeat for the US, and Iraq too is going to be a defeat. In Afghanistan, the contours of the post-war settlement are being made without even consulting the present government that has been supported by the US, telling us how bad the American situation in that country is. That has happened because America went into Afghanistan without a clear idea of what they were doing. They could never finish off the Taliban and the al-Qaeda. To be sure, they killed a lot of important Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, but these organizations are not crippled if one or two leaders are killed. That should have been a lesson to India, but who is listening?

What went wrong in Afghanistan? Sure, the US had overwhelming superiority in conventional weapons, but they could not possibly examine every mountain cave. In fact, this is something known to India from our knowledge of Maratha history. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb had superiority in conventional forces, but the Marathas defeated him through guerilla warfare and by hiding in the hills.

All this knowledge should have informed India that it was impossible to defeat terrorism or even reduce it with a single “surgical strike” in the mountainous areas of Pakistan. You need a prolonged war, and you need the assistance of the Pakistanis, to defeat the terrorists. And that is not likely to happen anytime soon, considering that it is the Pakistani military and the ISI themselves who enable the terrorists in the first place.

So Why Balakot?

Were the Indian defence forces unaware of all this? Highly unlikely. So why were the Balakot attacks carried out?

One word: Optics. The Indian government wanted to send a message that it could retaliate, to satisfy the anger of the people who were outraged about the Pulwama attack. Unfortunately for us, the Pakistanis retaliated, and now it is clear that this course of action cannot be repeated in the future. This is like the story of the warrior Karna in the Mahabharata, who could use his irresistible Indra Shakti only once. Our Indra Shakti was military retaliation using air strikes. We have used our Indra Shakti, and it is now impotent. We now know that a military attack on Pakistan or on terror camps will not solve the terror problem in Kashmir.

Balakot has failed to achieve any useful strategic or tactical objective. It has been a failure in military terms. It has only exposed our weaknesses, which is a good thing. It has shown us that our military equipment is outdated and that the common people do not have the stomach for a war. And that last fact may be the most useful lesson from this charade, because it will discourage any future administration from embarking on a similar course of action, knowing that the capture of a single PoW can drastically diminish the apettite of the populace for war.

What this tells us is that the hardline policy of the present government on Kashmir is a failure. Kashmir cannot have a military solution: it needs a political solution. Whether that political solution can happen will depend on the willingness of both India and Pakistan to make concessions. Until that day comes, peace in Kashmir is a distant dream.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

We Need An Adult In The Room

We Need An Adult In The Room

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 28 February, 2019


What started off as a suicide bombing in India is now threatening to balloon into a full-fledged war between India and Pakistan, with terrible consequences for the entire region and the world. A benign end to the conflict that seems to be rapidly escalating is highly unlikely, unless the great powers of the world step in and recognize the dangers of this rapidly snowballing conflict.


India and Pakistan appear headed for a full-scale war. The cause of the war is the attack on India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) forces in Pulwama in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir on February 14, 2019, by a suicide bomber with links to the Pakistan-based terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). The attack killed 49 personnel of India’s CRPF, and inflamed passions in India, with many Indians screaming for revenge.

The Indian government promised retaliation, and it finally came in the form of air strikes at a town deep inside Pakistan, called Balakot, inside the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in the early morning hours of February 26, 2019. The Indian side claimed that they had specifically targeted JeM terrorist training camps operating in that town. It was reported that three locations were planned, but the location that was accurately hit was the camp in Balakot.

In response, Pakistan sent its attack aircraft across the line of control on the morning of February 27th, aiming to attack Indian military establishments. The Pakistani aircraft were met by Indian fighters, and a dogfight ensued, resulting in one Indian aircraft being downed and one Pakistani aircraft being downed. The pilot of the Indian aircraft ejected and was captured by the Pakistanis.

Following the Pakistani response, Pakistan PM Imran Khan issued an appeal to India on the 27th to resolve this issue through talks. Many on both sides of the border had hoped, in the interests of peace, that the Modi government in India would accept his offer.

Escalation of the Conflict and Its Causes

However, India rejected Imran's latest overture. Not only did the Indian government angrily reject the offer on the evening of the 27th, saying that the Pakistanis had escalated the conflict by attacking India, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also compared the Indian attack on Balakot to what the Americans had done by taking out Osama bin Laden. This gloating was accompanied by India saying that there would be serious consequences to the Pakistani response. Most likely, there will be another attack from the Indian side, this time on a Pakistani military establishment, which will provoke another response from the Pakistani side, and so on. This suggests a continuous ratcheting of the pressure and an escalation of hostilities until a catastrophic end.

Why did Imran issue an appeal for peace on the 27th? And why did India reject his offer? There are multiple potential reasons, but let us look at a few.

  1. The major reason for both Imran's peace offer and for India's rejection is to do with counting.

    For the Indian side, Pulwama was Pakistan's attack no. 1; Balakot was India's response no. 1. Pakistan's attack on the morning of the 27th was attack no. 2, and therefore India must respond for parity to be achieved. It should be noted that after the Balakot attack, the Indian government said that it was satisfied with its attack and was not looking for further escalation or attacks.

    For the Pakistani side, Pulwama was an internal matter, which, according to it, cannot be blamed on Pakistan, and Balakot was India's attack no. 1; and its response on the 27th was response no. 1, and so, according to Pakistan, the two sides are even and so, can talk peace.

    In addition, India is making a distinction between its attack on Balakot on the 26th and Pakistan’s response on the 27th. India characterizes its attack as a “non-military strike,” by which it implies that since its target was a terrorist camp, not a Pakistani military establishment, it does not count as a military strike. Pakistan’s attack on the 27th was targeted at Indian military establishments, which India views as an escalation. Whether this distinction will be accepted in international law is to be seen.

    Of course, neither side is completely correct. Pakistan's response that it had nothing to do with the Pulwama attack is disingenuous considering that the JeM is free to operate with no restrictions inside Pakistan in spite of repeated protests by India; and once Indian fighters crossed the international border and attacked a target within Pakistan, it is an act of war, even if the target was a terrorist camp. India has violated Pakistani sovereignty. For instance, there is an Indian-origin economic offender by the name of Mehul Choksi, who has taken refuge in the country of Antigua and taken Antiguan citizenship, because that country does not have an extradition treaty with India. If India were to launch a clandestine commando operation to kidnap Choksi in Antigua and bring him to India, the Antiguan government could view it as an act of war, even though no military action was involved, because Antiguan sovereignty was violated. Since the justifications and counts of the two sides (India and Pakistan in this case) will never agree, this is going to be an escalating spiral of violence.

  2. Sending attack aircraft 80 km behind enemy lines, successfully executing an attack on Pakistani soil, and safely returning without any casualties would have given India a lot of confidence. India probably feels that, given their success on the 26th, they can do a lot more damage to the terrorist infrastructure within Pakistan with another raid. Whether this is true or not will soon be verified. But another attack on Pakistan is very likely soon, within a time frame of hours to days, given the Indian official response that “there will be consequences.” It is fair to say that a war is well underway. Retired air marshals are urging a continuation of hostilities on talk shows on Indian TV, saying that quitting while having the upper hand is not the right thing to do.

    This could be the reason for Imran's peace initiative too - that he realizes they are getting hit, and wants to reduce further damage.

  3. The relative failure of Pakistan's counter-attack on 27th morning has clearly emboldened India. Unlike India, which was able to evade Pakistan's aircraft defenses and go 80 km deep into Pakistan and return, Pakistan's aircraft could not cross the Line of Control (LOC) without encountering Indian Air Force (IAF) planes. While Pakistan managed to down an IAF plane in a dogfight, the damage India did at Balakot was likely a lot more. The IAF’s experience in the Pakistani raid on the 27th must have confirmed to the Indian military that India has the capability to prevent a Pakistani air attack on its territory.

    Again, Imran's peace overture may have to do with understanding the realities and the intrinsic weakness of Pakistan's conventional military capabilities.

  4. Both Pakistan and India cannot sustain a long war due to lack of supplies, ammunition, and spare parts. This is well known. But Pakistan is in worse shape than even India is. India probably feels that if it continues the military pressure for a couple weeks longer, it can bring Pakistan to its knees. This will certainly hold if China does not come to Pakistan's aid.

    Again, this calculation could not have escaped Imran's attention and that of the Pakistani military, and it certainly could be a reason for his peace initiative.

A Fatal Miscalculation

All this is certainly true, and this accounts for the triumphal reactions of the retired Air Marshals and Generals on the talk shows. There is a lot of enthusiasm in India to continue the attacks. Military analysts are saying that India should not stop the offensive until Pakistan agrees to stop support for terrorists, until all the terrorists have been flushed out, until Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed are in Indian prisons, etc.

But there is a serious miscalculation in all of this.

Let us grant, for argument, that the Indian military is superior to the Pakistani military, both in training and equipment.

Let's grant that the Indian military can outlast the Pakistani military in a conventional war.

But what's the endgame here? Are the Indians being realistic?

Do Indian military chiefs really think Pakistan will agree to all the camps of the LeT and JeM in Pakistan being destroyed by the IAF at will? Do they really think Pakistan will submit to such humiliating terms as are being discussed on Indian TV channels, often by retired Air Marshals and Generals, such as Pakistan handing over top terrorists and destroying terrorist camps that they have themselves built and sustained for decades?

Do the Indian planners really think that they can keep inflicting defeat after defeat on Pakistan and nothing will happen in return?

Does the Pakistani political and military leadership not need to face their people? Can they afford the optics of continuously being beaten by the Indians? Will they not need to show a victory on their side to save face?

What happens if they cannot produce victories? If they lose face, then it is curtains for both the political and military leaders of Pakistan. Can they afford that?

NO. They cannot. That’s when the nuclear option becomes a reality.

Pakistan's Nuclear Option

If it is a question of their political survival, and if their backs are to the wall, they may not hesitate to use the only trump card they possess - the nukes. A small military setback may be acceptable to them. A comprehensive and crushing military defeat at India's hands would end the careers of Pakistan’s top politicians and generals. Nobody in power in Pakistan wants that.

They may not be able to deliver the nukes using their planes, as India’s air defense is very strong, and their planes will certainly be intercepted before they can reach any significant targets.

But they do have ballistic missiles. And we cannot stop an ICBM fitted with a nuclear warhead, especially if they launch multiple nukes at once. At present, Pakistan is estimated to have about 120 nuclear weapons.

To be sure, if they launch nuclear weapons at Indian cities like Amritsar, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, or Delhi, India too can lob their nuclear ICBMs at Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Sialkot, etc.

But is this the endgame that India wants? A nuclear holocaust that will destroy both countries?

This is not an exaggeration. If the Pakistanis do not have a face saver and a way out with honour, the world might be staring at Armageddon.

And it is clear from the past few days that if the Pakistanis do have some victories - if they do manage to evade India’s air defences and bomb some defence establishments in India - then the chorus to escalate and retaliate will only rise in India. Just one pilot being captured and one plane being downed has the Indian government promising to escalate the situation further. Imagine if the Pakistanis had a major success.

So, whether India succeeds in dominating militarily over Pakistan or not, unless India compromises, the end of the current hostilities can only end in a terrible tragedy.

Unless the mood in India changes, and unless Indians put pressure on the government to ease off, the world could be staring at an apocalyptic future.

The China Factor

So far, China has stayed out of this conflict. But if the conflict continues over several days, and if Pakistan is continuously losing (to take the best Indian scenario), then would China sit idly by? A dominant India is not in China's interest - that is why it has opposed India's attempts to corner Pakistan in international fora such as the UN; why it has opposed India's entry to the NSG unless Pakistan is also admitted; and why it has objected to Hafiz Saeed being labelled as a global terrorist. It is unlikely that China would just sit idly and watch its client state Pakistan go down in flames. This is especially true given how much it has invested in Pakistan as part of its Belt Road Initiative (BRI). Condoning a single attack from India on a JeM camp is one thing. Doing nothing over multiple days as its ally is getting pulverized is quite another. If China enters the war, even indirectly, Indian casualties could rise, and this could provoke more demand for retaliation. This could either force India to stop the hostilities without a clear achievement of its goals, or it could lead to the nuclear holocaust discussed before. Either way, it does not look good for India, Pakistan, or the world.

India should look at history for a clue. In the Korean War, Douglas MacArthur took his troops right up to the Yalu river in his counterattack starting with the Inchon raid, and he was convinced (like many Indian planners today) that China would not intervene.

But China, after being quiet for a long time, did intervene, and their intervention almost completely annihilated the American force in Korea. At that time, MacArthur issued calls to use nuclear weapons on China, for which he was relieved of duty. His successor Matthew Ridgway stabilized the situation.

Closer to home, we all know what happened in 1962 when Nehru and Krishna Menon implemented their “forward policy” — Menon ignored intelligence reports that the Chinese were unlikely to take this provocation lying down, and the rest is history. We suffered our worst defeat in history.

So China has a history of watching carefully and intervening at the right time for them. If Pakistan is pushed too far into a corner, India may have a nasty surprise awaiting them.

We Need An Adult In The Room

Both India and Pakistan are locked into this game of one-upmanship. India will only talk of de-escalation when it has the upper hand, and so will Pakistan. This can only escalate to dangerous levels.

The only thing that can prevent this from becoming a nuclear holocaust is intervention by countries like America, Russia, and China, possibly with the aid of the UN. Only such an intervention can stop the childish behavior of both countries which are both currently saying “He did it first.” To be sure, both have compelling reasons domestically. Modi is facing general elections in May (this may be postponed if the war continues) and cannot afford to look weak. In the current hyper-nationalistic atmosphere in India, he has very little wiggle room, and any concession may be viewed as weakness. Modi has backed himself into such a corner with his rhetoric that now he needs to show a comprehensive victory to save face. Even a proposal like that floated by the French, the British, and the Americans in the UN to brand Masood Azhar a global terrorist, if China does not veto it, may not go far enough for India in the current atmosphere. In the same way, Pakistan’s PM and military cannot afford to look weak in front of their population. Both leaders have almost no room for compromise, and so the only benign outcome from this confrontation is if the big powers intervene and negotiate a settlement.

And they should because it is very much in everyone’s interest in the world to stop a nuclear holocaust. If a dozen nuclear bombs are exploded in the Kashmir border, in Pakistan, and in Delhi and other Indian cities, the consequences will be faced by far more than just India and Pakistan. The radiation clouds will spread to China (Xinjiang and Tibet), to central Asia, to Iran, Turkey, the central Asian republics, the Ukraine, and southern Russia. The rivers originating in the Himalayas, including the Ganga and the Yangtze, will become poisoned by radioactive elements such as cesium. Northern India and Pakistan will both become wastelands, incapable of habitation for at least 50 years. There will be mass starvation on an unprecedented scale in India as the bread basket of India will be destroyed (all of Pakistan will likely be destroyed as well.) The world will not recover from this shock for decades.

And unless the rest of the world steps in, this is exactly what will happen in a few weeks’ or months’ time.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Why War With Pakistan Is Not The Answer to Pulwama

Why War With Pakistan Is Not The Answer to Pulwama

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 16 February, 2019


In the wake of the terrible attack on CRPF personnel by a suicide car bomber affiliated to the Pakistan-based terrorist organization, Jaish-e-Muhammad, in Pulwama in Kashmir on 14 February, 2019, many people are raising the spectre of war against Pakistan as the correct response. However, this is motivated more by politics and emotions than hard realities. I discuss the reasons why war at any scale, whether a full-scale war or a “surgical strike,” is simply not a viable option.

This is the time for all Indians to be extremely vigilant. Think carefully about whatever you read or see.


What you, I, and most of the country feel about the Pulwama attack:

It is a terrible, tragic day that has resulted in 41 of our servicemen losing their lives.

What Modi and the BJP think about the Pulwama attack:

It is a golden opportunity that has fallen into their lap, considering how Modi has his back to the wall because of his failures in every aspect of governance — the economy, jobs, foreign affairs, corruption — nothing is going well for Modi, and people are losing their faith in him. So they will not hesitate to milk this tragedy for every drop of political advantage by pressing people’s buttons and appealing to their patriotic outrage. And your life and mine are the last things on their mind as they relentlessly exploit this. This is not unique to the Modi government — every government, anywhere in the world, has used this tactic when their backs are against the wall (think of Clinton’s attack on Bosnia and the Hollywood movie “Wag the Dog”.)

This incident offers them a great way to divert the people’s attention from the failures of Modi’s government. The display of the coffins on TV yesterday was very disturbing and will further inflame passions, which is probably what this government wants. So too talk by the PM about how “people’s blood is boiling.” Notice that no one is now talking about Rafale or demonetization. Instead, the Hindus of Jammu went into a violent frenzy yesterday and attacked Kashmiris who were living in Jammu. This can easily become a Hindu-Muslim fireball that will consume the country — unless we are extremely vigilant.

Understand that a war — even a limited one — even “surgical strikes” — are extremely destructive. They result in the death of innocents; they destroy our economy and set back economic growth. You or I will not lose our lives — our brave soldiers will die, and their families will grieve. We have no business asking them to die for us when we are not ready to die for the country ourselves. For the government, especially the PM, it offers a chance to posture as a “strong leader,” but the consequences for the country from any war can only be negative.

Let there be no illusions. We cannot win a war with Pakistan as long as China, the superpower in our area, is firmly backing them. Painful as it is, we cannot defeat them, and we cannot do anything to retaliate at a military level. And Pakistan has strong financial backing from the wealthy kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Realize also that we do not have the advantage of surprise now. The Pakistani armed forces will be on high alert, and they will be expecting an attack from us. No war can be won without the element of surprise.

We even have very limited leverage over them in a commercial sense because we do not trade very much with them. Our removal of MFN status of Pakistan, which Mr. Jaitley announced yesterday, will have negligible impact. We can stop their musicians and actors from working in India, and we can stop cricket matches. None of this will matter much. China is there to provide everything the Pakistanis need.

I know this is frustrating for us all, but the only thing we can do is prevent another incident like this by being alert — by focusing on our true enemies outside India than froth at the mouth about some imaginary “tukde tukde gang.” After 4.5 years, at least now the Modi Sarkar can focus on real national security than go after actors, writers, and intellectuals, and brand them as anti-nationals — people whose only crime was to criticize the government and the PM. Today we know who the real anti-nationals are — they sit outside our borders and plot our downfall. If we are alert to intelligence inputs; if we take the local population into confidence and try to build a positive relationship with them instead of constantly threatening them, then we will get useful ground-level intelligence that will prevent a recurrence of Pulwama.

War is never the answer.

Do not fall into the attempts of those who try to suck us into a vortex of hatred and a dangerous conflagration for political gains.

Be also aware of the propaganda being spread that in this hour of crisis, we should not disagree with or criticize the government. This is, of course, what the government would like. But should we agree to any decision? I have just explained why war of any kind would be catastrophic. We would lose lives; property worth tens of thousands of crores will be destroyed in cross-border bombing raids (and never discount the possibility that the other side might use a nuke when they are facing defeat); and the economic damage due to disruption of the economy will be huge.

So no, I do not agree with “whatever the government decides” - which some of my friends have said, and which Mr. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress President, has also said. In particular, I would disagree if the government’s decision is war of any kind. And that is what any patriot should do. It is not patriotic to root for a destructive war that will set us back in our growth.

We are a growing country with great ambitions for the future. We want to be a superpower someday. A war sets us back in this trajectory.

Pakistan is a failed state with no real ambitions. A war would make little difference to their terminal decline. They have nothing to lose in a war — in fact, their leaders would welcome it as a relief from having to answer their citizens on why their country is a failed state.

Some people are comparing our situation to that of America when it took out Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad, or of Israel as it deals with Palestinian or Hezbollah terrorists with strong-arm tactics. But we do not have the same situation. America does not share a border with Pakistan, and Pakistan is dependent on American cash. Israel has overwhelming military superiority over the Palestinians. Our situation with Pakistan is very different. We are essentially at parity in every respect — in conventional as well as nuclear weapons. A war will only mean bloodshed and economic loss.

Let us not fall into this trap. Let us not agree to everything.

It is not patriotic to agree with bad decisions. It is patriotic to support what is right for the country.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Is A “Modi-Mukt Bharat” in the Offing?

Is A “Modi-Mukt Bharat” in the Offing?

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 13 December, 2018


The disastrous results of the assembly elections for the BJP in Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh have several lessons for us:

  1. Rahul Gandhi has arrived.
  2. The Modi wave is dead in the water.
  3. There is an alternative to Modi and the BJP: Rahul Gandhi and the Congress.
  4. It is time for the Congress to stand on its own — again.
  5. Demonetization — and GST — ruined rural and poor India — and the BJP is finally starting to pay the price for those blunders.
  6. EVM fraud is not a factor unless the elections are very close, and we should stop worrying about it.
  7. The people of India do not mind bigotry, but they do mind if you pinch their pockets.
  8. Religious polarization cannot win you elections if you have messed up the economy.
  9. The servile media in India has hurt rather than helped Modi.
  10. The BJP will either lose in 2019 or be forced to be part of a coalition due to major losses in seats in the general elections.
  11. Such a major defeat will probably cause the ouster of Modi from power to make the BJP acceptable to its coalition allies.

A late Diwali, or perhaps an early Christmas for the Congress

Five states went to the polls last month: three heavyweights from the Hindi belt, the core constituency of the BJP: Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, and Rajasthan; along with Telangana and Mizoram.

On December 11, 2018, the results were announced. The Congress lost Mizoram, the last of its North-east states where it once was unbeatable. The TRS won Telangana handily, but this was more or less expected.

But the real story of these elections is the massive drubbing that the BJP received at the hands of the people in all three Hindi belt states. The scale of the drubbing was most evident in Chhatisgarh, where the BJP could only eke out 15 seats to the Congress’ 68. But the defeats in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan were equally massive, when you consider how many seats they had in those assemblies before this election.

Let us look at Rajasthan first, because the disaster there is more obvious. The BJP got only 73 seats to the Congress’ 99, which is one short of an absolute majority. But the bigger headline is how much the shift is. The BJP lost 89 seats; the Congress gained 78 seats. That’s a seismic shift.

Madhya Pradesh had everyone on tenterhooks because the race was so close. The final tally was 114-109, and while that sounds really close, it is the swings that tell the story here. The BJP dropped 56 seats from its earlier tally of 165, and the Congress gained the same number of seats. That’s a huge loss for the BJP (about a third of its previous seats), and the Congress more than doubled its seat tally. So no, this is not a minor victory. It is a huge victory for the Congress and a drubbing for the BJP.

So essentially, the Congress won big in all three states, and the BJP lost big in all three states. There are really no two ways about it. Mizoram, of course, was a significant loss for the Congress, but they will take a trade of victory in the Hindi heartland over victory in Mizoram any day. As any political pundit will tell you, the road to Delhi runs through the Hindi heartland.

Rahul Gandhi Has Arrived

This election was Rahul Gandhi’s victory. After failing to achieve a single significant victory for 14 years on his own, this was his second big test (after Karnataka), and Rahul delivered big. Congress spokespersons have argued that for most of the time since 2004, when Rahul entered politics, he was not in complete charge of the party. He had to work within the rules created by others, so he cannot be completely blamed for those failures. But this is a disingenuous explanation, because as the son of the Congress President, Rahul could have demanded any change he wanted and probably gotten it — within reason. A more realistic explanation is that it has taken all this time for Rahul Gandhi to become a good politician. In all his interactions in the last year with the media, Rahul has appeared extremely comfortable in his own skin as a politician — a far cry from the time when he tore up that ordinance of his own party in what appeared to be a contrived display. One might reasonably ask the reason for the delay in his development as a politician, given that he is from a prominent political family — other political heirs master the art of politics at much younger ages — for example, Akhilesh Yadav or Milind Deora. That said, people don’t care so much about your past as what you are today — and that is what we should be concerned about, too. It would appear that Rahul reached this maturity just at the time that he took over the Presidency of the Congress Party — which probably suggests that he understands himself very well — one sees a new maturity in Rahul Gandhi from the time he took over as Congress President — and so it might be pertinent to only look at this new phase of his political career rather than rehash the times when he was an immature politician.

Rahul’s first big test as Congress President was the Karnataka election, and while he did not win that election, his post-election management was very mature and praiseworthy. Rahul managed to stitch together an alliance with the JD (S), a party with whom the Congress had forever been at odds. He was even magnanimous enough to give away the Chief Ministership to Mr. Kumaraswamy of the JD (S) in the interest of opposition unity and to keep the BJP away, even though the Congress was the numerically stronger party in the alliance. In spite of many doomsday predictions prophesying the end of the Karnataka alliance, it has held — in large measure due to timely interventions by Rahul Gandhi himself.

In the just-concluded assembly elections in Rajasthan, MP, Chhatisgarh, and Telangana, Rahul was clearly the face of the party. He campaigned everywhere and worked extremely hard. One day he was campaigning with Chandrababu Naidu in Hyderabad; another day he was savaging Modi in Madhya Pradesh; and a third day he was tearing Modi apart in Rajasthan.

Some commentators have been rather uncharitable to Rahul Gandhi, saying that the BJP’s losses and the Congress’ victories were not his doing — that people were angry with the BJP, and that this was only an anti-BJP vote, not a pro-Congress vote, and so the credit did not belong to Rahul Gandhi.

One could say the same thing about Modi’s victory in 2014 – that it was not a Modi victory but a Congress defeat because the Congress stood accused of widespread corruption. That would not be fair, and not giving credit to Rahul today would be equally unfair. Yes, there were serious allegations of corruption against the Congress in 2014. But it was Modi who kept raising the issues, in rally after rally, and offered himself as a more honest alternative. Similarly, today, Rahul kept raising the failures of the Modi government in rally after rally, and reaped the fruits of those labours. Yes, the people were disenchanted with Modi, but it was Rahul who did the hard work of keeping that disaffectation alive.

The only currency of politics is winnability. Rahul had a negative bank balance until now, but now his bank is flush with a healthy balance. Winning elections brings respectability with it. In the past few years, regional parties have been extremely disrespectful to the Congress — the Samajwadi Party (SP) under Akhilesh Yadav and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) under Mayawati have both been seen to treat Rahul Gandhi with a cavalier attitude and treat the Congress as a junior partner. This is definitely going to change, and leaders of all parties will look at Rahul Gandhi with a newfound respect.

And anyone who still refers to Rahul Gandhi as “Pappu” clearly has no sense of objectivity. There may have been a time when such a moniker might have been warranted, but today’s Rahul Gandhi is no “pappu.” Those who still choose to call him that only reveal their own ignorance, prejudice, and lack of objectivity.

The Modi Wave is Dead in the Water

This election provided proof, in case anyone still needed it, that the Modi charisma has run its course. The Modi wave of 2014 has finally come to a crashing halt, much as the German tanks came to a crashing stop outside Stalingrad in 1942. Much as Stalingrad marked the end of nonstop German victory in WWII, these elections will be remembered by historians as the elections that finally stopped the Modi wave and denuded Modi of his charm.

The Modi wave and Modi’s charisma in 2013-14 were weapons against which there was no defense. Without that “kavacha” (armour) of his charisma (as with Karna’s kavacha in the Mahabharata), Modi is a mere mortal politician who has to win an election on the basis of achievements, not hype. And, unfortunately for him, and largely due to his own foolishness, Modi has few achievements to sell to the people. This therefore bodes really poorly for Modi’s prospects in 2019.

Defenders of the BJP claim that the election was decided by local issues, but for most of the people of the country, and even the states (very few people go to attend political rallies; most only watch TV, read the newspaper, or check WhatsApp and Facebook), the only leader of the BJP they ever saw was Modi. Not Raman Singh. Not Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Not Vasundhara Raje. Only Modi, as he went around calling Sonia Gandhi a “Congress ki Vidhwa” and other such unsavoury things to mask his lack of any genuine achievements. Or his almost-daily invocation of Jawaharlal Nehru, a politician who had died 54 years ago, instead of focusing on his own government’s achievements. People, even poor and uneducated people, are not stupid, and could easily see through Modi’s game. They could see he was playing a game of cover-up and distraction.

These elections have achieved two things: making Modi look very vulnerable, and making Rahul Gandhi look like a very credible and competent leader.

Which means one thing for 2019: There is no TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor any longer. Modi certainly looks dispensable, and Rahul looks quite plausible as a PM candidate.

But the consequences go further than just this. The defeats of December 11 have dented the “Superman” image of Mr. Modi, and have irretrievably damaged the “master strategist” image of Mr. Amit Shah. The fact that, despite 10 highly-televised and widely reported appearances each in MP and Rajasthan, Mr. Modi’s personal charisma could not save the BJP in those states, that too just months away from the general election, will definitely ring alarm bells in the minds of many BJP party members and supporters. Indian politicians and businessmen are nothing if not opportunists, and it would be very reasonable to expect an exodus of people and money from the BJP due to the changing political winds in the country. The recent departure of economist Surjit Bhalla from the PMEAC, of Upendra Khushwaha of the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party in Bihar from his alliance with the BJP, and of Aijaz Ilmi from the BJP are merely the tip of the iceberg. Many more will follow, just as so many Congress party members left their party when the party’s fortunes were sinking in 2014.

Enough Worrying About Mayawati

There were many analysts who said that the Congress was doomed in Chhatisgarh because of Ajit Jogi’s defection and because the Congress could not stitch together an alliance with Mayawati. The Congress’ own response to this criticism before the election was that the BSP was demanding too many seats. The results have justified the Congress’ stand. They won a convincing majority in Chhatisgarh – 68 seats out of 84, to the BJP’s 15. Ajit Jogi’s party did win 5 seats, but that was hardly enough to even bother the Congress. And Mayawati won a measly 2 seats. So in Chhatisgarh, the state most analysts were worried about, Rahul Gandhi’s decision not to ally with Mayawati was absolutely the right one.

Many analysts have looked at the vote share of the election in Madhya Pradesh and said that had the Congress’ and the BSP’s vote shares combined, the alliance would have probably won 140 of the total seats. While this is undoubtedly true, there are huge benefits of perception to the Congress and to Rahul Gandhi of having won an election on their own. And that is exactly what the party and Rahul Gandhi have achieved. The victory in MP was narrow, but coupled with the victories in Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh, it has shown Rahul Gandhi as a leader who can win elections on his own.

When Akhilesh or Mayawati refer to Rahul Gandhi in the future as “Rahulji,” they will, unlike in the past where they were only paying lip service, actually mean the “ji.” And they will make more reasonable demands in negotiations for seats in alliances, with greater respect for their prospective partner. This will benefit all anti-BJP parties in the 2019 election.

The Ghost of Demonetization (and GST)

These elections have finally settled a long-standing debate I have been having with a friend on the other side of the fence — did demonetization hurt rural India? While every indicator pointed to the fact that it did — I myself wrote an article in Frontline about how rural India was totally unprepared for the withdrawal of cash; and of course eminent economists from all over the world have slammed the move as a disastrous move that would wreck the economy. But my friend always had one comeback to all this analysis: if all that you are saying and all these eminent people are saying is true, why has Modi not paid a political price for this “economic disaster” at the hustings?

My response was that it takes time, that Modi came to power with an aura around him, and it takes time for that aura to fade. So people made excuses for Modi, said that he was at least trying to root out corruption, etc., and that sometimes even well-intentioned moves fail. So I said it was a matter of time before the aura fades and people realize they have been had. And so it has happened.

Probably the turning point in the public perception of Modi was when the RBI reported that over 99% of the cash in circulation had come back, which meant that the original premise of demonetization was completely wrong. There were no stashes of black money hidden under mattresses that had been recovered by the government. Essentially, what the revelation told people was that all the suffering and even deaths (more than 100) they had experienced had been for naught. This revelation came only recently, and must have led to massive anger in rural India against Modi. This, along with other disclosures that showed that terrorism was not the slightest hit by demonetization and proof that counterfeit notes of the new 2000 rupee notes had already appeared within weeks of their introduction told people that the entire demonetization exercise, with its constantly-changing justifications, was a pack of lies. It also led credence to the theory that demonetization had been introduced for the express purpose of winning the UP elections by making the election war chest of the opposition worthless, while giving advance notice to the state BJP unit. Whether that allegation had truth in it or not may never be known, but the absolute lack of any benefit from the demonetization exercise certainly made people wonder.

Demonetization hit the poor and the rural people the hardest, because the urban middle class, who often voice their support of Modi, are the ones who can use net banking, credit card, and PayTM transactions instead of cash transactions. The rural folks do not have ATMs, they do not have netbanking, and even if they did, the merchants they transact with do not have these facilities. The urban upper middle class who voice support for Modi are the least likely to vote in any election (usually they take the day off to go on vacation to a nearby place), whereas the rural and urban poor always vote.

If demonetization was a disaster for the rural folk and the urban poor, GST hit the business class hard. This is the class that has traditionally been the strongest supporter of the BJP. GST caused huge losses for the business community because of delays in repayment of tax already paid through the chain. GST also hit the poor in what became a double whammy after demonetization. The reason was that many poor craftsmen often made products that were bought by merchants up the value chain. Because of GST, the merchants higher up in the value chain get an input credit for products bought from someone else only if the person below them in the chain is registered under GST. But poor artisans and craftsmen do not have GST numbers. As a result, merchants stopped buying products from them, driving them to penury.

Stop Worrying About EVM Fraud

One of the oft-cited concerns by friends in the last couple of years has been the fear that, with most of the country under the control of the BJP, the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) can easily be tampered with, and the BJP could win elections by fraud. These elections have shown that such a fear is unjustified. The BJP is currently in power in the centre and was in power in all three Hindi heartland states, and still could not engineer victories in these three states using EVM fraud.

Yes, electoral fraud always occurs, and people have shown that EVMs can be tampered with. But these matter only in close elections. It is possible that some tampering did take place in MP; it is possible that is what prevented the Congress Party from crossing the halfway mark on its own. But the effects of such tampering is always marginal. If a party has lost the mandate of the people, no amount of tampering will help it win. It isn’t that the other parties are sleeping. They are constantly watchful and have teams of people monitoring the movement of every EVM box. So it isn’t that easy to commit fraud. Some people say that the EVMs could have embedded chips that rig the election for one party. If that had been the case, the BJP should have won all the elections just held hands down.

All parties need to be vigilant about election fraud. But I think that, at the end of the day, it is the issues that matter more than anything else. Fraud can only push one party over the finish line in a close contest. But when public anger is on the boil, nothing can save you.

The Outlook for 2019 Based On These Elections

The results of these elections do not bode well for Modi and the BJP in 2019. In 2014, most of the people of India did not know who Narendra Modi was. He ran a brilliant PR campaign, creating a myth of a nonexistent “Gujarat model” that conned a lot of people (yours truly included.) This is 2019, and now people know through direct experience what Modi can and cannot do.

The full realization of the devastation that demonetization brought in its wake has only hit the people of India now, and it will take some time for their anger to subside. Incidentally, this is a case in point where having a pliant and subservient media can actually hurt you rather than help you. Had the media been honest about the disastrous effects of demonetization in 2017, Modi would have faced a lot of flak then; he would have apologized, but the controversy would have died down by now, and he might even have been forgiven. But the full damage due to demonetization has been given to the Indian public only a couple months ago, and so the anger against Modi will still be fresh at the time of the general elections which are just a few months away.

Modi’s reign has been marked by two distinct characteristics: massive incompetence and unprecedented religious intolerance of minorities. What these elections have demonstrated is that the people of India are willing to tolerate bigots but not fools. In other words, “lynchistan” is acceptable to Indians, but incompetence is not. People were perfectly willing to look the other way when an Akhlaque or a Pehlu Khan or an Afrazul was brutally slaughtered – and still vote for the BJP. But they were not willing to look the other way when Modi’s ignorance, stupidity, and incompetence caused them economic losses. If you pinch people’s pockets, they will not forgive you.

As James Carville so memorably said during the Clinton campaign of 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Some have suggested that in the absence of any clear achievements on the economic front, the Modi sarkar might resort to religious polarization in order to win elections. But if anything, these elections have stood that logic on its head. There was as much religious polarization as the BJP could have wished for in Rajasthan. After all, it was in Alwar in Rajasthan that Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer, was brutally slaughtered in public, for no reason except that he was a Muslim. Similarly, it was in Rajgarh in Rajsamund district of Rajasthan where Shambhulal Regar brutally tortured and killed Afrazul, a Muslim, recorded the whole thing on video, narrated a voiceover justifying his actions, and posted the video on YouTube; and yet, when he was arrested, angry citizens marched in the streets of cities in Rajasthan protesting his arrest. A group calling itself the UP Navnirman Sena recently said it would offer a Lok Sabha ticket to the murderer who is currently in jail.

Yet all this religious polarization was not enough to overcome the public anger at the Modi sarkar’s and at Vasundhara Raje’s economic failures. So if that is the route Amit Shah intends to pursue, it does not seem destined for success.

Whether public anger against Modi will be enough to unseat the BJP from power, or whether it will only greatly reduce the BJP’s numbers in the Lok Sabha and force them into a multi-party coalition to retain power, is still an open question. But these elections clearly point to a huge dip in the BJP’s fortunes next May.

And if that does happen, even if the BJP is nominally in power, the country may become a “Modi-mukt Bharat.” (“Modi-free India.”) For, a loss of that magnitude will definitely have consequences. Those who get the bouquets after successes must also be ready for the brickbats after defeats. Any coalition the BJP is part of will likely demand Modi’s ouster as the price for their participation in a coalition government with the BJP.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Why The BJP Has Already Won The War

Why The BJP Has Already Won The War

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 03 December, 2018


The rise of Narendra Modi and the events of the last five years have fundamentally changed the nature of our body politic. We have irreversibly changed from a nation in which secularism was the norm and religious fundamentalism a fringe idea to a nation where religious fundamentalism is the norm and secularism and pluralism are fringe ideas.

The latest in the statue/temple one-upmanship contest currently underway in India is that Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee is going to build 100 sun temples in West Bengal for the Bihari votebank. This, of course, is after the 181 m Patel Statue, which has already been built; the 221 m Ram statue in Ayodhya, which has been announced; the 212 m statue of Shivaji Maharaj in Maharashtra, which is in the planning stages; a statue of Buddha in Bihar that has just been inaugurated; and a statue of Mother Cauvery that the Congress government in Karnataka recently announced.

Do you realize what has been happening?

No? Let me tell you.

Two things.

One, the entire sociocultural environment in India has been changed by Modi and the BJP. It is no longer acceptable for any mainstream political party to say they are not religious.

Every political party has seen the writing on the wall. As I have often said, politicians only reflect the will of the people in a democracy. The reason Modi stormed to power in 2014 is that Hindutva is now part and parcel of Hindu society today. 20 years ago, it was unacceptable, untouchable; fringe at best. Today it is indispensable, mainstream. It is social liberalism and secularism that have become fringe.

That's why you have a Rahul Gandhi pretending to be a Janeudhari Shivbhakt Brahmin. That's why Shashi Tharoor came up with a wishy-washy excuse of an argument to justify banishing menstruating women from Sabarimala.

The reality is that whether the BJP wins or loses in 2019, it has already won. Not the party, but its philosophy. That's because, as I will show below, the BJP's philosophy represents the views of the majority of the Hindus today.

Nobody understands the mood of the people better than professional politicians. So it behooves us to pay close attention to what they are saying and doing.

Simply put, all political parties in India have realized that secularism will not sell. They have realized that they must move to the social right, to openly embrace Hindutva.

Now that the process has started, a red line has been crossed. The entire country is inexorably moving towards the right. If the BJP wins in 2019, that process will be very fast; but even if they lose, they will be a formidable opposition and exert huge pressure on the government of the day to ensure that the government delivers on the Hindutva agenda.

That's because the BJP has fundamentally changed the debate because of its powerful showing at the polls in 2014 and in subsequent assembly elections (as well as in the assembly elections in 2013). The debate is no longer whether you belong to the Hindu right or whether you are “secular.”

No, the debate today is how far along on the Hindutva axis you are. And clearly, today a party does not feel the need to apologize for taking a stand favouring one particular religion. In effect, the BJP has achieved what Advani started saying, 30 years ago, in 1988: “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain.” (“Say proudly that we are Hindus.”) That's why Rahul Gandhi isn't the least bit abashed about going on a temple yatra. Wearing your religion on your sleeve is no longer something to be ashamed of; if you are a politician in India today, it is mandatory. The fact that someone like Rahul Gandhi is today saying with pride that he is a Hindu is an affirmation that the BJP has already won the war, irrespective of whether it wins or loses battles such as elections. The Sangh Parivar has won the war for the soul of India … whether India should be a secular country or a Hindu country. The actual legal position is now irrelevant. Even if India is not officially called a Hindu country, it clearly is and will be for the foreseeable future an upper-caste Hindu-dominated country in which other communities exist at the pleasure of the majority community. I doubt that even Savarkar could have foreseen the extent of the Hindu right's victory today.

So whoever is in power, you can be sure that there will be a “grand Ram temple” at the Ram Janmabhoomi/ Babri Masjid site within the next 5 (BJP) or 10 (Congress) years at the most. Politicians will stop worrying about the hurt sentiments of Muslim voters - they cannot afford to care. The majority has spoken, and it has spoken with one voice; and no political party that is serious about its survival can afford to ignore its voice. The only difference is that the BJP will do it rapidly and in your face, whereas the Congress will do it gently. But, in effect, there will be no difference as far as the average Muslim is concerned. It might just be that, if the BJP were to be in power, a few Muslims will be killed once in a while to show the minority community who is boss, and this will be greeted with loud boasts by elected representatives of the BJP to that effect; if the Congress were to be in power, their leaders will not actively attack the Muslim community, but if someone were to attack and kill a Muslim, there will be little action to stop such things from happening or to put the perpetrators behind bars, even if a few sympathetic noises are made. The biggest losers will be religious minorities and the concept of pluralism. But they will not be the only losers. Even those belonging to the majority will lose, because now there will be no room for multiple interpretations of their own religion — there will be room for only one version of Hinduism — the version that the powers-that-be deem fit to allow. Every other interpretation will be deemed insulting and derogatory to Hinduism and hence outlawed. And by doing this, we will be sliding headlong down the same slippery slope that every religious fundamentalist state anywhere in the world has slid, whether it be Catholic, Sunni, Shia, or any other religious sect that is in the majority. (Our own neighbor to the west reminds us of the serious consequences of such a slide.)

That's because the Hindu public, by and large, have been sold on the Hindu grievance industry peddled since the time of Advani and Vajpayee in the 1980s — the idea that independent India since 1947 had been “bending backwards” to please the Muslims (even as surveys of the Muslim community such as the Sachar committee report tell a completely different story — that of a terribly impoverished and disenfranchised Indian Muslim community) — and as a result a large percentage of the Hindu population believe that a “correction” is overdue.

If the Congress does come to power instead of the BJP, it will have come to power only after half aping the BJP, as the Madhya Pradesh (MP) election campaign of the Congress showed. There is very little difference between the Congress and BJP positions in MP — both of them want to promote gomutra, cow shelters, and the like. As time goes on, the line separating the Congress and BJP positions will become more and more blurred.

The end result will be an India in which all religions are (nominally) equal, but Hinduism will be more equal than others. Criticism of Hinduism, Hindu icons and gods/goddesses will be met with fierce reprisals by fundamentalist vigilante groups, and the government of the day, whether Congress or BJP, will turn a blind eye to the violence. Any work of art that mocks or criticizes Hinduism or its scriptures, and even the discriminatory caste system of Hinduism, will be promptly banned by the government under the guise of not wishing to “inflame passions” — while criticisms of non-Hindu religions will be encouraged as “healthy scepticism.”

Be ready for that day. It is not far away.

The second point to note is that Hindutva, and more generally religious and cultural pride, is clearly more important for most people than their basic needs. Just think of what terrible economic shape a state like Uttar Pradesh is. Children die like flies in its public hospitals, young people have no jobs to look forward to, and corruption is rampant. One would think that the announcement of a statue that will cost thousands of crores of rupees in this context would evoke widespread anger from its people — but we have hardly heard a peep. Similarly, one would have expected a widespread outcry against a wasteful, Rs. 3600 crore Shivaji statue in Maharashtra, but apart from a few social activists and concerned citizens, people have generally accepted this wasteful monument. Similarly, relatively few people protested about the nearly Rs. 3000 crore Patel statue in Gujarat. It is almost as if people have given up on seeing any real improvement in their lives and are hanging on to pride as the only thing to look forward to.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Why Macaulay Deserves a Posthumous Bharat Ratna

Why Macaulay Deserves a Posthumous Bharat Ratna

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 25 October, 2018


Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay, has been a much-reviled man in India for his famous “Minute on Education” speech in the British Parliament, which induced the then-Governor General of India, Lord William Bentinck, to stop state funding of Sanskrit and Persian, which were the official languages of India, and replace them with English.

This article explains why Macaulay’s sweeping reform in 1835 has been a great blessing for India and the Indian people, especially in today’s age of globalization where English is king, and makes the case as to why Lord Macaulay’s seminal contributions to India might even deserve India’s highest honor, the Bharat Ratna, if that honor can be conferred on a person who died so long before Indian independence.

A Special Birthday

Today, October 25, is a very special day.

It is the birth anniversary of an extraordinary gentleman who was born 218 years ago this day, and whose policies as an administrator in India had a tremendous positive impact on India 160 years after he instituted them, and still have a profound salutary effect on the economy, employment, and prosperity of Indians today: THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY.

Who was Macaulay?

A few words about this remarkable man may be in order on a day like today. Macaulay was a child prodigy, and was awarded the Chancellor’s Gold Medal while a student at Cambridge. Apart from mastering most of the classics in Latin and Greek, Macaulay taught himself German, Dutch, Spanish, and French.

Macaulay was considered a great scholar, essayist, and poet. In 1842, he published his “Lays of Ancient Rome,” a set of poems about heroic episodes in Roman history. But probably his most famous literary work was his series of five tomes on the “History of England from the Accession of James the Second,” which is considered a literary masterpiece, and which he started in the 1840s, and the last volume of which was published after his death in 1859.

But Macaulay’s most important contributions came when he served on the Supreme Council of India between 1834 and 1838. In 1835, Macaulay presented to the English Parliament his famous “Minute on Education,” his proposals on the reform of the educational system in India.

Macaulay’s Minute on Education

Macaulay strongly argued for changing the medium of education in India from Sanskrit and Persian to English. He urged the then-Governor General of India, Lord William Bentinck (the man who had been responsible for abolishing the savage practice of Sati, or the burning of widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres, and for ending the thuggee menace), to reform Indian education so as to impart “useful learning” - by which he meant western education, with its emphasis on scientific thought and reason.

Macaulay correctly argued that Hindus who learn Sanskrit mostly learn absolutely worthless things such as rituals, chants, fantastic stories about Gods and demons, and the like, while learning little of practical value such as mathematics and science. In one of the most brutal (and somewhat unfair) assessments of Indian culture, Macaulay said,

I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed both here and at home with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the Oriental learning at the valuation of the Orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.

Macaulay went on to disparage the poetry and literature of India, both those derived from Sanskrit as well as those derived from Arabic and Persian, and then proceeded to opine that the historical knowledge in these languages could not hold a candle to western scholarship in history.

And finally, in what was to have the greatest impact on India, Macaulay proceeded to say:

I feel... that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, – a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.

Macaulay’s views were accepted by Lord Bentinck, and in response Bentinck passed the English Education Act of 1835.

Macaulay’s final achievement in India was the creation of the Indian Penal Code, which is still followed in India, and has been the basis of the penal code systems in several countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe.

Modern Reactions to Macaulay, and a Re-Appraisal

Many Hindus today feel very bad about Macaulay’s sharp criticism of their culture and for replacing Sanskrit with English as the medium of education. People who follow a westernised lifestyle are often derisively called “Macaulay’s children.”

However, a lot of what Macaulay said about India and its educational system in 1835 was substantially correct, even if he did put it in a rather blunt way.

An educated person in India knew nothing about the tremendous advances in science that had been made in the west and that were responsible for the industrial revolution that helped England become a global superpower and helped Europe in general reach much higher levels of prosperity than countries elsewhere in the world.

While Macaulay was obviously ignorant of the greatness of Indian literature and poetry (as a person who did not know Sanskrit he could never have known the beauty of Kalidasa’s poetry, for instance), his recommendation has been extremely valuable to India from a utilitarian perspective.

Today, a city like Bangalore is full of foreign companies with their design, R&D, and software backend offices. This trend has been copied across India with other cities like Pune, Hyderabad, Gurgaon, etc. All this has only been possible because educated Indians can speak reasonably good English.

Knowledge of English is recognized by all Indians as the ticket to a better life. Today, it isn’t just the educated Indian: the flower seller, the maid who does dishes in the home, and the sweeper also try to educate their children in English. Even politicians who publicly urge people to study in their Indian mother tongues, such as the Thackerays or Fadnavises of Maharashtra, or the Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh, make sure that their own children get nothing but the best English-medium education. Studying in Hindi or Marathi is a recommendation they will make for others to follow; not for their own family members to follow.

The Chinese Push Towards English

One look at our giant neighbor to the east, China, will tell us what a boon English has been to India. China is a superpower and a technological powerhouse. It is technologically so advanced that in a matter of a decade it might well surpass the USA in technical excellence. Yet, it is India that is an IT powerhouse. Why is that? Because India has oodles of English-speaking software engineers who can easily converse with their American and European clients and solve problems for them. This is the reason why US companies like establishing R&D centers in India – you get qualified talent with whom you can communicate easily. And all this is a consequence of that historic and momentous decision in 1835 to make English the medium of education in India.

China is well aware of this shortcoming and is working hard to bridge this gap. In 2006, the number of Chinese students learning English as a second language (ESL) was about 2.5 million. By 2013, that number had grown to 300 million. The value of ESL training in China was estimated to be $4.5 billion in 2016, and this was expected to grow at a rate of 12-15% in the coming years. A journal publication in English Today, in 2012, by Wei and Su, put the number of Chinese who had learned English at 390 million. One of the big disadvantages China faces relative to India is that it was never a western colony, and so there are not many opportunities for Chinese learners of English to use the English they learn in these training courses. Storefront signs and street signs are mostly in Chinese in China, unlike India where road names and store names are frequently printed in both English and the local state language.

Macaulay’s decision has led to greater prosperity for millions of Indians today. His reasons for his decision are not important today. We may not agree with his assessment of India and its culture; but his decision has helped millions of Indians live a better life.

Macaulay’s decision has also helped the percolation of science down to those with no knowledge of English. As he put in his “Minute,” “To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.” Terms of science from English have now penetrated every Indian language, and have, in turn, made those languages more scientific, relatively speaking, and more conscious of technology than they were prior to their contact with English.

Why English is Important for Science and Technology

It is important to understand why English is so important to the scientific and technological development of a country today. Modern technology, by and large, is a western accomplishment, and so most of the ideas of technology and progress are in western languages – German, French, Russian – but overwhelmingly, in English. One survey found that of the total number of scholarly journals, nearly half (45.24%) were in English, followed by German with 11.01%, Mandarin with 6.51%, Spanish with 5.66%, French with 4.94%, Japanese with 3.46%, Italian with 2.99%, Polish and Portuguese with 1.7%, Dutch with 1.48%, and Russian with 1.3%.

Another source (an article in Research Trends) says that 80% of the journals indexed in the indexing service, Scopus, are written in English. As the Research Trends article shows, even in a country with a storied tradition of science and scientific publishing in the local language like Germany, the current ratio of scientific articles published in English to articles published in German is something like 10:1. In the Netherlands, it exceeds 40:1, and in Italy the ratio of English to Italian in scientific articles is 30:1. Even when researchers publish a paper in French or German, the authors have to provide an abstract in English as well so that researchers around the world can understand it.

One can scream until one is blue in the face that somebody said Sanskrit might make a great computer language (see, for example, this link), but the fact is that nobody is writing code in Sanskrit today, and even people who do not speak English but speak other western languages such as French or German still have to program in English. You have “for loops” and “if statements” in programming, not “pour boucles” and “si déclarations” (French) or “für schleifen” and “falls behauptung” (German). (Apologies if my translations are off the mark - this is just to make a point.)

The Move Towards English in Other Countries: Rwanda and Korea

The Olympic movement has only two official languages: English and French. And the latter is simply a colonial hangover, from the time when France had a huge overseas empire. And while there are still many Francophone countries in the world, English has clearly overtaken French in extent of usage. And even in some traditional Francophone countries, such as Rwanda, English has replaced French as the language of choice. And the craze for English can go to extreme lengths, as this article in the Guardian reports:

The situation in east Asia is no less dramatic. China currently has more speakers of English as a second language than any other country. Some prominent English teachers have become celebrities, conducting mass lessons in stadiums seating thousands. In South Korea, meanwhile, according to the socio-linguist Joseph Sung-Yul Park, English is a “national religion.” Korean employers expect proficiency in English, even in positions where it offers no obvious advantage.

The quest to master English in Korea is often called the yeongeo yeolpung or “English frenzy.” Although mostly confined to a mania for instruction and immersion, occasionally this “frenzy” spills over into medical intervention. As Sung-Yul Park relates: “An increasing number of parents in South Korea have their children undergo a form of surgery that snips off a thin band of tissue under the tongue … Most parents pay for this surgery because they believe it will make their children speak English better; the surgery supposedly enables the child to pronounce the English retroflex consonant with ease, a sound that is considered to be particularly difficult for Koreans.”

There is no evidence to suggest that this surgery in any way improves English pronunciation. The willingness to engage in this useless surgical procedure strikes me, though, as a potent metaphor for English’s peculiar status in the modern world. It is no longer simply a tool suited to a particular task or set of tasks, as it was in the days of the Royal Navy or the International Commission for Air Navigation. It is now seen as the access code to the global elite. If you want your children to get ahead, then they better have English in their toolkit.

English as a Link Language, and the Demand for English Education in India

In India, English also performs the invaluable task of uniting the nation. Attempts have been made, and are still being made, to impose a north Indian language, Hindi, on the whole country, but they have been vigorously resisted by many, especially those in the state of Tamil Nadu, as an imposition of the language on those who have no desire to learn it. If you visited Tamil Nadu and knew only Hindi, you would have a rough time indeed, because the people there might speak English (albeit broken English), but many of them will not speak Hindi even if they know what you mean. Residents of other parts of India, such as West Bengal, also find Hindi imposition to be very offensive.

Although attitudes towards Hindi might vary across India, the general public all over India is very eager to learn English. Everyone in India views English as the ticket to a more prosperous life. You cannot get a job in a call centre helping overseas clients unless you know English. Ironically, in a country where politicians are trying to impose the language of the Hindi belt on the rest of the country, the common people of the Hindi belt are busy learning English.

A report by the British Council in 2012 mentioned from data sources that the size of the ELT (English Language Training) market in India was $2.76 billion in 2012, and was expected to grow to $4.7 billion in 2015. Notably, the report mentioned that English education among the K-12 segment (primary and secondary schooling) sector was growing at a CAGR of 31%.

The most backward communities in India, the Dalits (formerly called the untouchables or the backward or depressed castes), also view English as a ticket out of the oppression they have suffered for millenia. They view English as the tool that will empower them out of backwardness and ignorance, especially as their idol, the great Dalit intellectual who wrote the Indian Constitution, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, had mastered the language and studied for doctoral degrees in the USA and the UK.

Concluding Thoughts on Macaulay and English in India

182 years ago, Thomas Babington Macaulay took the decisive step of introducing English education to Indians and stop state funding of Sanskrit and Persian education to Indians. The consequences of that one sweeping move have been tremendous. While Indian languages might have suffered a loss of patronage and seen a decline in literary activity relative to what existed in the past, the introduction of English brought with it exposure to modern scientific ideas and became the bedrock of a modern nation-state when India finally became independent in 1947. In today's age of globalization, English has proved to be a powerful asset for a country like India, giving employment to millions of Indians. The IT sector alone today contributes 7.7% of India’s GDP, and it is fair to say that this would have been impossible without the widespread adoption of English in India.

English has not only been extremely useful for the economic upliftment of India; it has also proved to be an invaluable link language in India. Considering the prominent tensions about using any other Indian language (especially Hindi) as a link language, we need to expand what Macaulay regretfully stated in his vision for India in 1835: “I feel... that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern …” While that huge task (“educate the body of the people”) may have been impossible in 1835, it is certainly possible today, with the resources India currently possesses, to make English the national language. After all, if South Sudan, which hardly has any English speakers, but 50 different indigenous languages with Arabic dominating, could vote to make English their official language for reasons of national unity, there is no reason why India cannot. As this report explains,

“With English,” the news director of South Sudan Radio, Rehan Abdelnebi, told me haltingly, “we can become one nation. We can iron out our tribal differences and communicate with the rest of the world.”

One can only hope that one day, “With English,” Indians can iron out our differences of religion, caste, and language, and become one nation. And if that fortunate day ever dawns, our debt to Macaulay will be immeasurably greater than it already is.

Macaulay’s decisive step in 1835 has resulted in unimaginable positive benefits for India as a whole. And so, if at all it were possible to honour someone so far back in time, it might be a good idea to award the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, posthumously to Shri Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.