Thursday 6 May 2021

The West Bengal Assembly Election, 2021: Lessons for Opposition Unity

The West Bengal Assembly Election, 2021: Lessons for Opposition Unity

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 06 May, 2021


An analysis of the results of the recently held assembly elections in West Bengal reveals that if secular parties had joined hands, the BJP would never have gotten as many seats as it did in the elections. This has significant implications for opposition unity in the rest of the country.


In the recently held assembly elections in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) impressively won a third term, winning 213 seats out of 292. But the other big story of the election was the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), from 3 seats in the assembly in 2016 to 77 seats in 2021. The Indian National Congress (INC) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM), traditionally the two strong parties in West Bengal, both drew a blank. Essentially, the BJP supplanted both the INC and the CPM as the principal opposition party.


But if the Congress and Left had not opposed the TMC, the BJP may not have even won as many seats as they did. The “Left” in West Bengal also includes, in addition to the CPM, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and the All-India Forward Bloc (AIFB). From a philosophical/ideological standpoint, all five parties – the TMC, the INC, the CPM, the RSP, and the AIFB – are opposed to the BJP. But because they did not cooperate with each other and reach a pre-poll seat agreement, the BJP was able to rise as spectacularly in the assembly as they did, at the cost of the INC and the CPM.

What the Left parties and the Congress achieved in the recent elections in West Bengal was to be “vote katuas” (i.e., spoilers) for the TMC and thereby helped the BJP. They even succeeded in ensuring the loss of Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the TMC, in the Nandigram constituency. The table below shows how this happened in West Bengal. In 42 of the 77 seats that the BJP won, the margin between the winning BJP and the losing TMC was less than the number of votes polled by the third place party, be it the CPM, the INC, the RSP, or the AIFB.


The implication is that the BJP can be defeated soundly anywhere in the country if the opposition parties come together. That this is the case was also made clear by Prashant Kishor, the election strategist of the Trinamool Congress, who said in an interview to NDTV following the TMC’s win that in his view, there is a limit to religious polarization. He said that in his analysis of elections in India over the last 70 years, what he has observed is that the most you can gain by religious polarization is 50%-55% of the votes of the community you are targeting, whatever community that may be – Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, or any other. He said that this is what has happened in West Bengal as well. Bengal has around 70% Hindus, and the BJP won a vote share of 38%, which is 54% of the Hindu population. This is a very significant observation. It tells us that if the 45%-50% of the population who do not believe in religious polarization unite, they can always defeat the BJP.

The BJP won 77 seats in West Bengal when the secular parties of West Bengal were not united. But in 42 of the seats in which they won, the margin of victory was less than the number of third-place votes. What this tells us is that if the TMC and the other parties had united before the polls, the BJP would only have won 35 seats out of 292, making them quite a minority. This would have been beneficial to all involved. The TMC would have been happier without a dominant opposition party, and the Left parties and the INC would all have representation in West Bengal politics and a share of power, in sharp contrast to their current plight, in which they have been made completely irrelevant.

This observation has significant implications for opposition unity in the rest of the country. The BJP can be beaten, but opposition parties need to unite to ensure their own political relevance.

If they do not unite to defeat the BJP, they will be annihilated.


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.

Tuesday 16 March 2021

The New AICTE Rules: Modi’s Newest "Masterstroke"

The New AICTE Rules: Modi’s Newest “Masterstroke”

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 15 March, 2021


The new AICTE (All-India Council for Technical Education) rules that have made good scores in physics and mathematics unnecessary for admission to engineering programs will likely lower the quality of the graduates from India’s second tier and third tier engineering colleges.

However, looking at the big picture, one can see that this development is a blessing in disguise for the Indian economy and therefore represents a “masterstroke” by India’s beloved PM, Shri Narendra Modi. This article explains how this is so. It is rare that any nation has a leader with as much foresight, vision, and wisdom as Mr. Modi. Indians are truly blessed to have someone like Mr. Modi leading us.

The New Recommendations of the AICTE

A lot of people are upset about the AICTE’s new recommendation that proficiency in maths and physics no longer need be a qualification for engineering college admission. The new guidelines have made it optional for any college to consider XIIth standard scores in physics and mathematics for admission to engineering colleges. The AICTE has said that these recommendations are not binding on institutions, but that the new guidelines are “futuristic and in keeping with the vision of the National Education Policy – 2020.

The ostensible idea behind this is to “break down silos” between streams, so that students are not stopped from entering disciplines for which they do not have the background. But it does create concern as to whether students who do not have the aptitude for a discipline are admitted as students to this discipline. The rationale for the previous system was that students were screened at the high school level to see who among them has an aptitude for physics and mathematics, since these two subjects are the foundations for most engineering subjects, and only those who had a certain level of achievement in these subjects were admitted to engineering courses. The idea was to ensure that the student is able to succeed in the chosen discipline and does not drop out because he is unable to handle the rigour of the discipline. The new policy allows any student with any level of attainment in mathematics or physics to enter an engineering program. So someone who would previously only be eligible for an Arts program can now enrol in an engineering program.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this idea, but it can have some undesirable consequences, which I will get into in some detail below.

Since the new recommendations are not binding, this means that institutions with higher standards, such as the IITs and NITs, for example, can still insist on good scores in physics and mathematics in the XIIth standard for prospective students. Chances are that they will.

The real problem is colleges at the bottom of the pyramid. There is already a huge problem of declining standards among private engineering colleges. The new rules make it very likely that the quality of graduates from these institutions will fall even lower. That means that graduates from these institutions, who are already largely unemployable, will be even more so.

Low Academic Standards in Private Engineering Colleges

Having taught at a private engineering college in Bangalore (which shall remain unnamed in this post – and in any case the specific college is not important, as this is a systemic problem, and applies to most private colleges), I know for a fact how abysmal the current standards of education are in engineering in India today. Most of the students at these institutions get through 4 years by just memorizing theory the day before an exam and promptly forgetting it the day after. They are rarely asked to solve any quantitative problems in exams, as I have seen in the exam papers of VTU (Visveswaraya Technological University), the apex institution to which more than 200 engineering colleges in Karnataka are affiliated. As an example, fluid mechanics, a core subject for chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and aerospace engineering, is a highly quantitative subject. In VTU, 25% of the student’s total marks comes from internal exams and assignments within the college that is affiliated to VTU and, hence comes from the faculty of that college. 75% of the total marks comes from the final exam which is is held by VTU. If you take a look at the final exam paper for undergraduate fluid mechanics in Chemical Engineering in VTU, you will find that a student can easily pass the exam without any quantitative knowledge at all. A student can get close to 100% marks in the final exam for fluid mechanics without knowing even how to calculate the pressure drop in a pipe in which fluid is flowing – the very basic qualification that a student of fluid mechanics needs. It is worth pointing out that the final exam question paper is set by faculty selected from the colleges affiliated to VTU, so this is not a paper set by an independent authority. Yet the question paper is trivially easy. This happens every year, no matter which college the paper-setters are from. This is because all the paper-setters are from colleges affiliated to VTU, and know the calibre of their students. They know that setting anything but the most trivial questions in the final exam would mean that most of the students from their own college will flunk the final exam.

Example Questions from VTU Final Exam in Fluid Mechanics. Notice the Absence of Quantitative Questions.

Why is this the case? Because most of these colleges are driven not by the pursuit of education, but the pursuit of money. In most of these private engineering colleges, there is not a single person who cares about education. The students and the parents of the students who study there are only interested in obtaining a degree. And they are willing to pay for that, and handsomely, too. One semester fees can cost up to Rs. 2 lakhs (Rs. 2,00,000), which means that the cost of a 4-year degree is about Rs. 16 lakhs. All this is under what is known as the “management quota” – a euphemism for those students who could not get into the college purely on their merit. So a student who gets in on merit may pay Rs. 90,000 a semester, and a student who gets in the management quota may pay Rs. 2 lakhs a semester. The management only cares about getting the exorbitant fees from the students.

And when students pay so much for an “education,” they are not students, they are “customers.” And would you take money from customers and not give them their “products” (their degrees)? Hell, no. So teachers are told to set very easy questions in internal exams in colleges, and to ensure that everyone gets the minimum marks necessary to be able to write the final exam. And when students do not attend enough classes to be able to attend the final exam (VTU demands a 75% attendance), teachers are asked to teach extra classes just for those students who have been truant all year long so they can say the student attended a minimum number of classes. After all, the customer is always right.

Very few students care about education in these classes. I had only one rule while teaching: students should not make noise and disturb other students. There might be one student in a class of 40 who is interested in what I am teaching, let him or her learn. Some would try to read comics, and I would let them, as long as they read the comics silently. Some would watch football clips on their mobile phones. I had no problem with that as long as they watched it on mute. The reason for my lenience is that you cannot force someone to learn, much as you can take a horse to a river but you cannot force him to drink. My philosophy was: “Your parents are paying for this, not me. I do not lose anything if you don’t want to pay attention. You do.” I have even told them this clearly in class. The only reason these kids even attended class was because 75% attendance was a compulsory requirement to write the final exam.

So the management does not care about education, the students do not care about education, their parents do not, so whom does that leave? The teachers. The teachers try very hard to teach, but because of the diktat of setting very easy exams, the whole point is defeated. No one will prepare hard for an exam if they know it is going to be easy. Eventually, even the most idealistic teacher gives in and becomes cynical. The teachers are the one segment of the whole establishment that I do not find fault with. Most of the teachers I interacted with were quite sincere. But they were hampered by the corrupt system. And they are treated most horribly by the colleges and their management, because there is an excess supply of teaching staff, and the management can afford to treat teachers badly. In the institution I taught, there was a revolving door — every semester, some teachers from each department would leave because they got sick of the treatment they received in the college, and new, hapless ones would come in.

Consequences of the New Rules

What the new rules do is open the door to further deterioration of the already awful standards of graduating engineers in Tier 2 and Tier 3 engineering colleges, both government and private. The miserable standards of the students who exit these institutions is due to the fact that the students were hopeless and not interested in an education even when they entered the institution. Most of them joined the college only because their parents wanted them to get an engineering degree. Admit a student without sufficient mathematics and physics knowledge into an engineering course, and of course they will not be able to follow much of what the teachers in the engineering college teach. The parents will be very happy, because now there are more avenues for their worthless children to purchase engineering degrees. Their children will be even more indifferent than the students today are, and consequently will learn even less in four years than the current students do.

But the pressures in the for-profit private engineering colleges will not go away, because these colleges continue to be about buying degrees: teachers will be pressurized to give a student full marks even if, when asked about the process to make ethylene, a student talks about the glories of gaumutra (cow urine). After all, can you afford to offend or antagonize someone who is paying Rs. 16 lakhs for a degree?

It is clear that industry cannot afford to hire students who know so little. What do they do?

It is important to first reflect what these students were doing all these years. In spite of the pathetic quality of the students who are graduating from these colleges, what is amazing is that most of them were getting placed somewhere or the other. The reason for that (at least before 2017 – things have changed dramatically since then) was that India was a growing economy, and such an economy always has jobs. Most industry jobs in India do not require thinking. They have standard operating procedures (SOPs) that any XIIth class graduate can follow. In most companies with automation, one does not need to do much because the process control systems take care of much of the work. So if you knew the basic terminology of the processes, could follow a clear set of instructions in the plant (an SOP), and could use Microsoft Word and Excel, you were pretty much set as long as you could add daily production figures to give monthly and yearly totals. Most of India’s traditional engineering (hard engineering) job market is not high-tech. Other companies, including IT majors, have lengthy onboarding processes for fresh hires, where they would themselves teach the graduates how to do their jobs to compensate for the fact that the students come into industry mostly unprepared.

Of course, a degree in chemical or mechanical engineering anyway does not equip you to work in IT. So what do you do? You take a 6-month “bridge course” to learn SQL, Java, C++, or python, so that you can get a job. That is what most kids do anyway at present. Once in this class, you study harder than you did in four years of engineering, because you know you cannot get a job without this skill. And then, hopefully, you land a job as a software coolie.

Seen from this prism, the new AICTE rules should not have such a huge effect on the quality of our workforce. Most of their education happens after they have graduated. After coasting through 4 years of college partying, students are finally forced to confront the real world, and now they start adapting and working. They take special courses to learn specific skills so they are finally marketable.

The “Masterstroke”

With all this background, one can now understand the majestic vision of Modiji.

Think for a minute from his point of view. India has suffered terribly because of the pandemic. Our quarterly growth rate in the April-June 2020 period slipped to -23.9%, the lowest in the world. People have no money, they are starving. Something has to be done.The PM also faces a huge challenge of generating employment. Lots of people have lost jobs. And with the economy shrinking, the number of jobs available has also shrunk.

Educational institutions have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Most of them have had to close down because they were based on a face-to-face teaching paradigm. It has taken them time to move to an online education delivery system. But that mechanism is not perfect. In fact, it is decidedly inferior to a face-to-face system of teaching, because of the lack of feedback: you have to mute the microphones of all the students when you are teaching, otherwise the feedback would drown out what you are saying. Plus, you cannot conduct laboratories virtually. This has caused huge losses for academic institutions.

So Modi needed to do something that both provides jobs and revives educational institutions. The new AICTE rules do exactly that.

With the new rules in place, engineering colleges can take students with very poor entry qualifications and promise them degrees. Of course, since their qualifications are so bad, the colleges get to hike the fees for them. That is, if the students who come on merit used to pay Rs. 8 lakhs over 4 years, and the current “management quota” students who come in based on poorer but acceptable mathematics and physics scores used to pay Rs. 16 lakhs over 4 years, you can easily charge Rs. 25 lakhs or Rs. 30 lakhs for someone who knows nothing about mathematics and physics but wants an engineering degree! This should immediately make educational institutions profitable again, given the great demand for engineering degrees in the country.

But of course, a student with little affinity towards mathematics and physics is unlikely to absorb much in 4 years in engineering. So, if the current “management quota” graduates of engineering colleges have a tough time getting a job, these “super-management quota” students are probably only fit to do a “paanwalla” (betel-leaf seller) job after they graduate.

That’s where the second part of Modi’s masterstroke comes in. Since these students do not really know any engineering, they will need special coaching if they want to get jobs in engineering. So there will be a huge demand for post-engineering degree coaching classes in engineering subjects. In every branch of engineering, if the students wish to continue with their specialization, they can take classes specific to the skill that they will need in a job in industry. If they decide to move towards IT, they can take classes in python, image processing, embedded coding, computer vision, web development, data science, machine learning, blockchain, or any similar domain. To be sure, courses of the latter kind already exist, but the generation of huge numbers of incompetent engineering graduates will give a huge fillip to such coaching classes.

This will unleash a huge demand for good coaches all over the country. Competent engineers can teach engineering graduates the subjects they were supposed to have learned in 4 years but did not. Experienced professionals in IT and other lucrative domains, who are out of a job, can teach professional subjects like R, python, data science, web development, and the like.

It is quite a different question whether learning any of these subjects will actually help people get a real job. The current employment statistics in India are fairly dismal and unlikely to improve even in the medium term. But hope lives eternal in the human breast, as Alexander Pope said, and so people will sign up for any training that can improve their competitive edge. In fact, if the economic situation worsens, there will be even more demand for up-skilling, and so the coaching profession in India will be virtually recession-proof. When there are very few jobs, there is really no option for young people except to improve their skills to beat the competition.

One might ask what people who have all these skills can do in a job market that is pretty bleak. What do they do after gaining these skills, given that there are no jobs to apply these skills in? The answer: coaching! Given that the demand for coaching has to rise in a bad economy, those who have mastered skills can teach others. This will also lead to the grand success of one of PM Modi’s flagship initiatives, “Skill India.” We will slowly but surely have a nation full of skilled people who are constantly improving others’ skill levels! In short order, probably within a decade, all of India will be completely up-skilled!! What then, you might ask? Well, not everyone will be equally skilled in everything. So someone who is skilled in chemical engineering can teach chemical engineering to someone who is skilled in data science, and vice versa, until all 1.3 billion Indians will be skilled in everything. Most likely, this will lead to a mention in the Guiness Book of World Records as well a certificate from the UN certifying India to be the most skilled country in the world! There may be no jobs for them, but at least we will be more skilled than any nation at any time in history since the Indians of Vedic times, who were (and will always be) the most skilled people in all of history, anywhere in the world. And we all know that bragging rights are more important to Indians than jobs or livelihood.

No, I Am Not Kidding!

I know that there is a market for teaching in India because I signed up in 2019 on a website that connects teachers and students. I have not had the opportunity to connect with students yet, because shortly after I signed on the website, I got a real job and so obviously did not have time to teach anyone. In addition, I was struck down with Covid in August 2020, and only recovered recently. But in the intervening period (since July 2020, in fact), I have received 23 requests for coaching, which I have had to decline because I was too busy recovering from the illness (see chart below). The requests have increased in recent months, which might indicate a seasonal effect (students might start preparing for competitive exams next March or April now). I had advertised myself as being available to teach physics, mathematics, and chemistry for the IIT-JEE exam, as well as chemical engineering subjects which I am quite familiar with.

Teaching Requests Received by Seshadri Kumar, July 2020 - March 2021

Of these 23 requests, 11 were for Physics, 3 for Mathematics, 3 for Chemistry, and, most interestingly, 6 were for Chemical Engineering subjects, including one from a PhD scholar in Chemical Engineering from IIT Kharagpur who had come from a petrochemical background in a local college in Assam and so needed help in Chemical Engineering basics which she had not encountered in her undergraduate studies in that local college. Other chemical engineering-related enquiries were from students who needed routine course help in mechanical operations, chemical process technology, and fluid mechanics; help with online exams in thermodynamics, mass transfer, and heat transfer; help with answering an assignment in chemical reaction engineering which was due in 2 weeks; and help in process design for a final year design project. So the demand for coaching is definitely there.

What I am essentially saying is: make lemonade if life gives you lemons. Right now, in India, we are reaping a bountiful harvest of lemons. Making a profit from the failure of the state to provide essential needs is a time-honoured hallmark of being business-savvy in India. For instance, the state cannot provide us with clean drinking water, so there is a big market for water purifiers. The state cannot provide us with reliable electricity, so there is a big market for diesel generators and inverters. The state cannot provide us with good public transport, so there is a big market for two-wheelers and cars.

And, therefore, since the state cannot provide us with enough jobs, let us all become teachers. Now, not everyone can be good teachers – many may lack the necessary communication skills or the necessary subject matter skills. No problem! Such people can take online classes in improving their communication and in the subjects they hope to teach – and this way, they can do their bit in improving the economy and giving jobs to others. When they have learned enough, they can earn back the money they spent in up-skilling themselves by teaching others. In fact, inspired by Modiji's world-famous acronyms, and keeping in mind the enormous transformational potential of my idea, I have decided to give my plan this name: it is the CHAI-OMLeTe scheme, which stands for Community Help to Advance India - Obtaining Money from Learning and Teaching. Given that Modiji himself once was a “chai-wallah” (tea-seller), I am sure this plan will have his complete support. It goes without saying that the CHAI-OMLeTe scheme epitomizes Modiji's slogan of “Atmanirbharta” or self-reliance.

You may wonder why I am “giving my secrets away.” After all, I could be making so much money learning and teaching without competition from all of you readers. The reason is that this is not a zero-sum game. The demand for good teachers is so high in India that anyone who wants to teach and is good at it will get students.

And, as I said, it is only going to get better as the economy gets worse in the next 10 years. So things are looking up for all us freelance teachers!!

So, in conclusion, let’s thank our dear, visionary PM for giving us this great opportunity for employment and up-skilling. I urge you to repeat after me:

Modi! Modi! Modi!

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 11 March 2021

Is the Freedom House Report on Freedoms in India Accurate?

Is the Freedom House Foundation Report on Freedoms in India Accurate?

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 11 March, 2021


The report on the status of freedom in different countries in the world by the Freedom House Foundation (FH) caused an uproar in India because it downgraded India’s status from “free” to “partly free.” While the government of India dismissed the report without giving any good reason, the report has caused many to question whether the report gives an accurate picture of freedom in India. The report causes consternation to many Indians who are worried about eroding freedoms in India.

To decide whether the report is based on fact, I have investigated every claim of FH and found that almost every one of them is based on fact. Further, I have also noticed that the FH has missed out many important events in India which, if taken into account, would give India an even lower rating than FH has given it. In such cases, I have given my own rating that takes such events into account.

In what follows, I have investigated every claim of FH and checked if there is a news article that justifies their concern. I have added the hyperlink to that article. I have also given hyperlinks to events which FH has missed and which I think have an impact on freedom in India.

Based on FH's points and my additional points, I believe FH has been very generous with their rating of 67. My own rating comes to only 50.


On March 6, a report released by the Freedom House Foundation (FH) caused an uproar in India. The report said that, based on a number of metrics, India had slipped from a status of “free” to “partly free” over the last year. India's rating, based on a total score of 100, fell from 71 the previous year to 67 this year.

When asked about the report, India’s Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, dismissed it by saying that since the Freedom House report did not depict India’s maps accurately, she saw no reason to respond to the report.

The only problem with India’s map in the report on India was that it showed the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) separately. India traditionally likes to show the whole of pre-Independence Jammu and Kashmir, which includes what is currently PoK, as well as Chinese-occupied Kashmir (Aksai Chin), as part of India. Unfortunately for India, India’s stance is not accepted globally.

Freedom House's Map of India, Which Gave Separate Ratings to Kashmir and to the Rest of India

If India were to object to everyone who showed maps that do not reflect the Indian government’s official position, then India would be unable to work with even the US State Department, which also uses a similar map.

The CIA Map of India

A lot of people in India are wondering if the FH report is accurate in terms of characterizing freedom in India or if the report exaggerates the reduction in freedom in India in the last several years.

I have examined the FH report on Freedom in India and looked at the various criteria on which the rating had been given, in order to understand for myself whether or not the ratings of the agency on India are reasonable. I have checked to see if their claims are evidence-based and have searched the news for articles that would corroborate their claims. When I do find corroboration, I have included hyperlinks to those events.

Further, as a resident and citizen of India, I read about events in the news every day. I noticed that some important events that happen in India have been missed by FH. I have added links to those as well.

Below, I give the various questions posed by Freedom House, verbatim, and give FH’s ratings for each question. They have 25 questions, each of which has a 0-4 score, for a total of 100 points. When they have given 4/4, I have agreed with them, and do not give their reasons. (Some may question why I am willing to accept that the country is perfect in the areas that Freedom House thinks it is, but I wish to be charitable.)

But when their rating is less than 4/4, I mention their reasons and investigate their reasons for the same. If I know of other instances which should lead to an even lower rating, I include those as well. Nothing here is my own construction. I have only mentioned what is available in the public media.

I should also point out that my rating is based on the current situation. FH gave its rating based on what it observed in 2020. I am including what I am seeing in 2021. Below is the full list of 25 categories of ratings, for a maximum possible of 100 points.

Political Rights

  1. Electoral Process
    1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? (4/4)
    2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? (4/4)
    3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? (4/4)
  2. Political Pluralism and Participation
    1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? (4/4)
    2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? (4/4)
    3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? (3/4)
    4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? (2/4)
  3. Functioning of Government
    1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? (4/4)
    2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? (2/4)
    3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? (3/4)

Civil Liberties

  1. Freedom of Expression and Belief
    1. Are there free and independent media? (2/4)
    2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? (2/4)
    3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? (2/4)
    4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? (3/4)
  2. Association and Organizational Rights
    1. Is there freedom of assembly? (2/4)
    2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? (2/4)
    3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? (3/4)
  3. Rule of Law
    1. Is there an independent judiciary? (2/4)
    2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? (2/4)
    3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? (2/4)
    4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? (2/4)
  4. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights
    1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? (2/4)
    2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? (3/4)
    3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? (2/4)
    4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? (2/4)

Summary and Conclusions

When one looks at the 62 different points of criticism mentioned by FH, one can see that there are only two points where Freedom House has got its conclusions wrong:

It is still remarkable and exceptional that FH got 60 out of 62 criticisms of the absence of freedom in India correct – I was able to find reliable news links or links to research articles for the remaining 60 points, often finding multiple links to justify each point. In addition, as stated in the beginning, I had my own observations about the erosion of freedoms in India which FH had failed to register.

When I accounted for the erosions of freedom not accounted for in FH's list, my overall rating is a score of 50, as opposed to FH’s 67. My political rights score for India comes out to be 29/40 (FH: 34) and my civil liberties score for India comes out to be 21/60 (FH: 33), for a total of 50/100, which is still a partly-free country, but far less free than what Freedom House had estimated. Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that FH had missed some key changes in India, and part of the reason is that they would have used data only for 2020, whereas the situation in India has continued to deteriorate in 2021.

It is important for the government to realize that these ratings are not to be scoffed at. The Indian government may dismiss these ratings, but foreign agencies and companies that are evaluating India as an investment decision take these ratings very seriously. It is also important for Indians not to get defensive. These are real problems with our country, as the data show, and we cannot solve problems which we are unwilling to acknowledge. People should also stop looking at this through a political prism. Many of the problems mentioned (for example, dowry or bonded labor) are legacy problems that India has been trying to address for decades. It is in everyone's interest that these problems are solved.

Therefore, the Indian government should take reports such as these very seriously and work on fixing the lacunae that these reports have identified. It would be ideal if a task force was set up to correct these lacunae and give recommendations to the government, which would then be promptly acted upon, leading to greater freedom for all Indians.

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 4 March 2021

Understanding Modi's U-Turn on China

Understanding Modi's U-Turn on China

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 04 March 2021


The Modi government’s sudden U-turn on China is a long overdue correction in India’s foreign policy. India has finally realized that it lives in a Pax Sinica, and that it has engaged in a foolish and destructive policy for the last nearly 7 years since Narendra Modi took over as PM, with his pro-US tilt. The skirmish in Ladakh in the summer of 2020 that resulted in the irreversible loss of Indian land to the Chinese, the death of 20 soldiers, and the aftermath of the incident seem to have finally made the Modi government realize the futility of a confrontational policy with China. Unfortunately, we have wasted more than six years of a possible peace that could have helped India develop faster, and lost valuable real estate and the lives of our soldiers in the process.

The U-Turn

Now this is what you call a U-Turn Sarkar (Government).

After whipping up hysteria for years against China, foolishly joining the US-led Quad, even having the Home Minister, Amit Shah, say arrogantly and pompously in Parliament that all of Aksai Chin (which is not even under Indian control today) belongs to India, provoking the Chinese to show India its place and taking whatever it wants (Chinese troops are still in possession of Indian territory even now, in Depsang and Gogra), now the Modi government has finally extricated its head out of the sand and realized that you cannot adopt a confrontational policy with the superpower next door. According to a news report,

Sanjeev Sanyal, principal economic adviser, told journalists last week that if someone wants to set up a button factory in India, it doesn’t matter if that somebody is an American, Indonesian or Chinese. “Except for strategically sensitive sectors,” he added, “we have sped up clearances from China and we plan to clear them quite fast.”

So India is planning to soon clear 45 investment proposals worth millions including from auto companies like Great Wall Motors and SAIC Motor Corp, which were put on hold when the large-scale Chinese intrusion across the Line of Actual Control came to light last May.

This also means that India has given in to the Chinese demand that the border troubles be segregated from the rest of the India-China relationship – notwithstanding demurrals by external affairs minister S. Jaishankar to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi last week that it cannot be business as usual.

The Pangong Withdrawal

The precursor to the normalization of trade between India and China, announced by the Indian Government, was a joint press statement released by India and China on 21st February that read,

On February 20, the 10th round of China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting was held on the Chinese side of the Moldo/Chushul border meeting point. The two sides positively appraised the smooth completion of disengagement of frontline troops in the Pangong Lake area, noting that it was a significant step forward that provided a good basis for resolution of other remaining issues along the LAC in Western Sector. They had candid and in-depth exchange of views on other issues along the LAC in the Western Sector. The two sides agreed to follow the important consensus of their state leaders, continue their communication and dialogue, stabilize and control the situation on the ground, push for a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues in a steady and orderly manner, so as to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas.

The Indian government has been trying to portray this disengagement on the Pangong Tso sector as proof that peace has been achieved on the border confrontation with China with honor. But this press release talks only about Pangong Tso. It does not talk about Depsang or Gogra Hot Springs, where the Chinese are very much present, and in an advantageous position. According to Col. Ajai Shukla, there is no incentive for the Chinese to back off in those regions, and the only way for India to achieve a peace in those sectors is for them to create a buffer, demilitarized zone within Indian territory. In other words, the Chinese will withdraw from Indian territory, and the Indians, too, will withdraw from Indian territory.

One could fairly argue that this is the first step of a multi-step withdrawal – that withdrawals in Depsang, Gogra, will follow in due course. But then, should relations with China have been normalized when the Chinese are still illegally in possession of Indian territory? Can one normalize relations with a country that has annexed parts of your country? The only conclusion seems to be that the Indian government has realized that they will never get those regions back and have agreed to a peace with the Chinese while quietly accepting Chinese conquest of parts of India.

Make no mistake, this is not peace with honor. It is a humiliating comedown for India.

Understanding Realpolitik

But India had no choice. The Chinese had made it clear in the summer of 2020 that they could invade and take Indian territory at will, and would do so if India did not behave itself and drop its confrontational tone against Beijing, instances of which were Amit Shah claiming that Aksai Chin belonged to India; BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi joining the inauguration of the Taiwanese president by weblink and posting about it; India joining the anti-China Quad; India making statements about Hong Kong; and India allowing the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh.

The territory we have lost in Arunachal and Ladakh is gone, it won't come back. But at least, having bowed down to China, we will not lose more. Modi finally understood that if he continued on the ill-advised path he was on, China would take over at least half of Arunachal Pradesh, including the very important Tawang, while we could only watch. They had already demonstrated intent by building a village in Arunachal Pradesh under our very noses.

It is not a mistake to bow down to China – that's realpolitik. We have no choice. What was a stupid mistake was to fire up nationalism and attack China for so long in the media and in international fora for years and cozy up to the US, when you have a superpower in your backyard, and that too, a country that is going to be the number one superpower in the world very soon. As this article says,

There are two reasons for this shift in strategy. The first is that China is bouncing back from the coronavirus pandemic like no other country and is expected to overtake the US to become the world’s biggest economic power by 2028.

Of course this is true, but any blinking idiot could have figured this out 6 years ago – that China was going to be the world's biggest economy in short order. Are Modi and his team so dense that it took them six years to figure this out? Maybe it took a limited war and the loss of territory for these dilettantes in foreign policy to understand reality. Until then, they were pumping the news and social media with stupid anti-China sentiment.

I am reminded of that mindless idiot in Gujarat who destroyed his Chinese-made big-screen LCD TV by throwing it from the balcony of his home because he didn't want to buy Chinese goods. How this helped his cause at all is not clear because he had already bought the TV and paid the money that went to the Chinese company. His actions hurt no one but himself.

The Indian government should have learned from its misadventure in Doklam. In 2017, the Indian government stood up to Chinese attempts to encroach on Bhutanese territory. That standoff ended with the Chinese backing down, but it quickly became clear that the stand-down was only temporary. More recent satellite pictures from 2018 and 2020 have shown that the Chinese are back inside Bhutan, building a village 2 km inside the border and building a road that stretches 9 km inside Bhutanese territory.

We cannot ignore China's wishes. We live in a Pax Sinica - a peace on Chinese terms. Play nice with them and you can progress. Fight them and you will be destroyed.

This has been the case whenever there has been a superpower in the world. In Roman times, there was a Pax Romana. When Britannia ruled the waves, countries had to make adjustments so that Great Britain was not offended. And from 1945 until 1991, the world was divided into those who toed the line with America or the USSR.

Despite the “non-aligned” tag that India gave itself, it aligned itself with the USSR. That's because you have to pick a side. Nehru and Indira understood (apart from their own socialist persuasions) that you have to have peace with the big Russian bear next door, not worry about the Yankee who is 10,000 miles away.

That's what mature leaders do in foreign policy, and that is what Nehru and Indira were. It is a philosophy known as realpolitik. But our present government and its narcissistic leader are so dense, it has taken them 6 years, the lives of 20 soldiers, and the significant loss of territory to realize this. And they have hoodwinked the Indian public for all this time and denied them the benefits of peace with China which could have led to much greater prosperity for India.

It is not about good or bad, right or wrong. Might is right. The Chinese are superior to India in every way: economically, militarily, and technologically. Our future lies in cooperation with the Chinese, even on their terms – and so I am happy that wisdom has finally dawned on Modi.

As I had written in my recent analysis, India's historic confrontational attitude towards China was a mistake. China has no fundamental quarrel with India, unlike Pakistan. Peace with China will help us have peace with Pakistan, because China has huge investments in PoK that it does not want to jeopardize, and so they can keep the Pakistanis under check – for their own benefit.

Peace is the first prerequisite of progress.

Of course, now all the slavish panjandrums of the government who were saying exactly the opposite thing until yesterday will come out in droves and praise this government for its U-turn, and call it a “master-stroke.” No one will talk about the six years of failed foreign policy.

That shouldn't surprise us. As the Hindi piece of doggerel goes,

Raja ne kaha raat hai
Rani ne kaha raat hai
Mantri ne kaha raat hai
Santri ne kaha raat hai
Ye subah subah ki baat hai.

Which can be translated as

The King said, ‘it is night.’
The Queen said, ‘it is night.’
The Minister said, ‘it is night.’
The Soldier said, ‘it is night.’
But, in fact, it was early morn.

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.