28 July 2013

Downhill from Kargil

Issue Vol 24.3 Jul-Sep 2009 | Date : 25 Jul , 2013

It is only ten years since the Kargil War, and it has already faded from public memory. ‘Tiger Hill’, ‘Tololing”, “Pt 5140”, Mushkoh Valley, and Muntho Dhalo are remembered only in Indian Military institutions still trying to figure out the exact causes and sequence of events that led to India’s last conflict with its western neighbor. To reach the rugged terrain where all the action took place one has to negotiate the mountain ranges of Shivalik, Pir Panjal, Himalayas, Zanskar, Ladakh and Karkoram. It is difficult to envisage now, that a swathe 150 km across this harsh and hostile region resounded with artillery and cannon fire with aircraft and helicopters dropping bombs, firing rocket and guiding PGMs on enemy targets. An exemplary demonstration of initiative and courage by the young officers and soldiers of the Indian Army, assisted by the Indian Air Force uprooted and expelled Pakistani intruders from Indian territory. This war that began during May 1999, ended on July 26, 1999 when India called off all offensive operations.

The enfeebled state of our internal security, and something that directly endangers national security, can be gauged from the fact that a wanted criminal ensconced in Pakistan, continues to run and direct the largest underground network in India.

In the wake of this action at Kargil, the Government of India constituted a high level Kargil Review Committee (KRC) to ascertain the facts leading to the occupation of critically advantageous heights in the sector by Pakistani forces and other related matters. The KRC Report was tabled in the Parliament on 23 February 2000. Some parts of the Report were very candid. To quote:
  • “The nuclear posture adopted by successive Prime Ministers thus put the Indian Army at a disadvantage vis-a-vis its Pakistani counterpart. While the former was in the dark about India’s nuclear capability, the latter as the custodian of Pakistani nuclear weaponry was fully aware of its own capability. Three former Indian Chiefs of Army Staff expressed unhappiness about this asymmetric situation.Successive Indian Prime Ministers failed to take their own colleagues, the major political parties, the Chiefs of Staff and the Foreign Secretaries into confidence on the nature of Pakistan’s nuclear threat and the China–Pakistan nuclear axis. The Prime Ministers, even while supporting the weapons programme, kept the intelligence and nuclear weapons establishments in two watertight compartments.
  • Foreign policy was being conducted without Foreign Ministers and Indian diplomats being apprised of the nature of the threat to the country or of India’s own nuclear capability. It is quite likely that this secretiveness on the part of the Indian Prime Ministers and the country’s inability to exercise its conventional superiority could have confirmed Pakistan in its belief that its nuclear deterrent had indeed been effective in Kashmir since 1990 and it could therefore pursue the proxy war and the Kargil adventure with impunity on the basis of its own prescribed rules of the game.”
The KRC findings were highly critical regarding intelligence gathering and dissemination and border management. The need for better communications, improved ‘jointness’ among the three wings of the armed forces, and restructuring of the higher defence organizations were also stressed upon. Based on its findings the KRC made recommendations, some of which were:

The very process that throws up many a politician today is riddled with corruption…it is no secret that many with criminal records enter the Parliament and State Assemblies. These are the people we expect will clean up or change the very system.

“The findings bring out many grave deficiencies in India’s security management system. The framework Lord Ismay formulated and Lord Mountbatten recommended was accepted by a national leadership unfamiliar with the intricacies of national security management. There has been very little change over the past 52 years despite the 1962 debacle, the 1965 stalemate and the 1971 victory, the growing nuclear threat, end of the Cold War, continuance of proxy war in Kashmir for over a decade and the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA).

The political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments appear to have developed a vested interest in the status quo. National security management recedes into the background in time of peace and is considered too delicate to be tampered with in time of war and proxy war. The Committee strongly feels that the Kargil experience, the continuing proxy war and the prevailing nuclearized security environment justify a thorough review of the national security system in its entirety.

Such a review cannot be undertaken by an over-burdened bureaucracy. An independent body of credible experts, whether a national commission or one or more task forces or otherwise as expedient, is required to conduct such studies which must be undertaken expeditiously. The specific issues that required to be looked into are set out below.”

Following the KRC Report, the Prime Minister set up a ‘Group of Ministers’ (GoM) on 17 April 2000 to “review the national security system in its entirety and in particular to consider the recommendations of the KRC and formulate specific proposals for implementation.” The GoM comprised the Ministers of Home, Defence, External Affairs and Finance. The National Security Advisor was included as a ‘special invitee’. The GoM saw in its mandate ‘a historic opportunity to review all aspects of national security, impinging not only on external threats, but also on internal threats.’ As the scope was very large, the GoM in turn set up four Task Forces to deal with Intelligence Apparatus, Internal Security, Border Management and Management of Defence, each of these headed by eminent and experienced experts. The Task Force Reports came in by 30 September 2000 and the GoM submitted its report in February 2001.

There is no doubt that indigenous weapon systems must get priority over imported ones but these should increase the military’s firepower and not be causes for concern due to poor reliability.

It was rational and logical, for a nation that had undergone the trauma of Kargil, to expect that the government in power, irrespective of their political hue, would get down to business and implement the far-reaching and exhaustive recommendations arrived at after much sweat and deliberations by the GoM. It was rational and logical to expect that in a reasonable period of time, our borders would become less poros, our intelligence agencies would look-out for enemies of the state and not for each other, that our citizens would feel safer in the country as they went about their daily lives and that the armed forces would work jointly in the defence of the nation. But events which followed demonstrated that none of this was likely to happen nor were any serious attempts being made to make our country a safer place to live in.

There are many factors involved in this disease of utter inaction that afflicted the powers that be when it came to implementing tough but vitally essential measures. The very process that throws up many a politician today is riddled with corruption. While the election process has been cleaned up to a large extent, it is no secret that many with criminal records enter the Parliament and State Assemblies. These are the people we expect will clean up or change the very system that has nurtured them. In many cases individual and party interests drive national interests out of reckoning. The situation is exacerbated by the compulsions of coalition politics. The situation has been no different after Kargil.

Visibly, very little or no action was initiated in respect of the interrelated subjects of intelligence agencies, border management or internal security after the GoM report. Whatever was done, only had cosmetic value. If any substantive efforts had been taken to close known loopholes and weaknesses, as also highlighted by the GoM, then an event as catastrophic as the Mumbai terror attacks of 26 November, 2008 could not have taken place. Since the Kargil war and the exhaustive analysis of it, India has had to suffer a large number of terror attacks. These attacks have been across the country and random in nature.

From Chattisinghpura in J&K, through Parliament in New Delhi, American Culture Centre in Kokota, Kalu Chak near Jammu, Akshardham temple in Gujarat, the makeshift Ram temple in Ayodhya, car bombings in South Mumbai, triple blasts in Delhi markets, Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, the Varanasi explosions, massacre at Doda, the horrific Mumbai train blasts, the Samjhauta Express bombing, Lumbini Park attack in Hyderabad, simultaneous blasts in Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad, the Jaipur serial blasts, blasts in Malegaon and Delhi and the unprecedented and audacious strike which crippled Mumbai for more than three days and left an indelible mark in our collective psyche, the terrorists have had a free run across the heart and soul of India. And this after completion of a historic ‘review pertaining to all aspects of national security, impinging not only on external threats but also internal threats’.


The New World Disorder

Tariq Ali, in this exclusive interview, seamlessly switches from contemporary historian to scholar-at-large to polemicist to raconteur, as he tackles many of the impinging issues of our times. 

He was in southern India after nearly 30 years. He had come to Kerala to deliver the Chinta Ravindran Memorial Lecture at Thrissur. My friend, the well-known writer Paul Zacharia and I were showing him the sights and we had just been to the site of the archaeological dig at Pattanam near Kodungalloor where he saw the unearthed pottery and artefacts that were reconstructing the fascinating story of an early society in these parts, already in maritime contact with West Asian ports and ancient Rome. From there we proceeded to the nearby Cheraman juma masjid, considered the first mosque in India, and perhaps the second in the world, dating back to A.D. 629. There was only a little evidence of that ancient patrimony left; the quaint old native structure had been all but pulled down some 50 years back and a more commodious, more standardised edifice built around it. All that was left were some pillars, a section of a doorway, another of a beamed ceiling and a crumbling staircase leading up to the attic, all in wood. But a photograph of the structure, as it was in 1905, hung on the wall.

When the president of the mosque’s governing body, Dr Mohammed Sayeed, who had come to receive his celebrated guest, introduced himself, the guest accosted the host with no preliminaries. What you have done is terrible, he said, you have destroyed history. If one felt a quick tensing of the atmosphere with this opening remark, it was short-lived because the president, a genial, enlightened person and a general surgeon by profession, couldn’t agree with him more. Yes, he readily admitted, he and the other office bearers continued to bear the burden of that guilt. It was done, perhaps a bit unimaginatively, he conceded, to accommodate more people at the Friday prayers. They had already decided to right that wrong and reconstruct the original structure; and they could because they had the architectural drawings to scale intact with them.

That was an interesting take on heritage over religiosity from one who, by nature and upbringing, was an unbeliever. “I never really believed in God” are the opening words of the first chapter of Tariq Ali’s The Clash of Fundamentalisms. “Not even for a week, not even between the ages of six and ten, when I was an agnostic. This unbelief was instinctive. I was sure there was nothing else out there except space. It could have been my lack of imagination. During the sweet, jasmine-scented summer nights, long before mosques were allowed to use loudspeakers, it was enough to savour the silence, look upwards at the exquisitely lit sky, count the shooting stars and fall asleep. The early morning call of the muezzin was like a pleasant sounding alarm clock.”

Although his family came from a feudal background —his maternal grandfather being the Prime Minister of the Punjab before the Partition—both his parents were active communists and atheists. His father, Mazhar Ali Khan, was a renowned journalist in Pakistan. What is less known is that he was a national backstroke aquatic champion and Tariq Ali himself is an avid and accomplished swimmer. (His one request before he came on this visit was that his schedule provide for a daily swim, preferably in the sea in Kerala. That, of course, was not possible because the monsoon Arabian Sea is hardly swim-friendly, and he had to make do with a swimming pool in Chennai where his skill and stamina in the water were truly impressive for one who turns 71 this October.) His mother, Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, has been an activist, championing women’s and workers’ rights.

Tariq Ali was born in pre-Partition Lahore and even in his teens was participating in the agitation against the military dictatorship of General Ayub Khan. Tipped off by an uncle who worked in the military intelligence that he may not be safe in Pakistan, his parents moved him out to England and Exeter College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics from 1963 to 1966 and was elected president of the Oxford Union in 1965. It was during this period that he met Malcolm X. He plunged into the anti-Vietnam War struggle and became a recognised face across the world. He was said to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger’s (of Rolling Stones) “Street Fighting Man” and John Lennon’s (of the Beatles) “Power to the People”. The title of his autobiographical work, Street Fighting Years, was perhaps a doffing of the cap, in response, to Mick Jagger.

He was a passionate admirer of Che Guevara and almost courted trouble with the Bolivian authorities himself when he went to attend the trial of Regis Debray at Camiri in 1967. That, he told us on the ride back from the Cheraman mosque, was perhaps his closest brush with danger. He had, in fact, been entrusted with taking photographs of the army officers present at the trial and was at it when one of them walked up to him, snatched the film roll from his camera, exposed it and warned him that he would be shot if he pointed his camera in their direction again. More was to follow. For some reason, the Bolivian militia suspected that he was one of Che’s former bodyguards and detained him for questioning. They remained unconvinced despite his producing his passport to prove his identity. When you are in such dire straits, he mused recalling the incident, you get some rash flash of courage, which led him to tell his interrogators that if they tortured him the whole night and he could speak Spanish by the morning, he would be grateful to them for the rest of his life.

A diplomat’s diary

K. Natwar Singh 

The Hindu Photo Archive After winning the Delhi University Inter-Collegiate tennis championship for St. Stephen's College.
Special Arrangement With Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth.
The Hindu Photo Archive After winning the Delhi University Inter-Collegiate tennis championship for St. Stephen's College.
Special Arrangement With Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Fidel Castro in 1987.
Special Arrangement Natwar Singh is seated on the extreme left of the front row. 

From “teaching” the Prime Minister Chanakya Neeti to watching Arab princes make payments in gold bars, K. Natwar Singh recalls his early days in the Indian Foreign Service, which he joined 60 years ago.

In 1952, I took the IAS and IFS examination, which finished on October 15. I flew to England the next day. It was the pre-jet age. It took me 24 hours to reach London. From Victoria Station, I took the train to Cambridge. The term had begun on October 6. I asked the cab driver to drop me at Corpus Christi College. He said, “Are you not a little late, sir?” I said I was, but I had informed the college about my late arrival. I had gone up to Cambridge to read history. I soon acquired a gown and a second-hand bicycle that cost 12 shillings. The college was celebrating its 600th anniversary. I arrived just in time for the gala dinner held in the college dining hall to celebrate the historic occasion. A goblet, shaped like a horn, filled with some kind of a punch was passed around. I sipped it with some hesitation. From time to time, the goblet was replenished.

The Master of the college was Sir George Thompson, who had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. My resident tutor was Michael Mc Crum who had served in the Navy during the war and spent some time in Bombay.

The term lasted eight weeks. For the Christmas holidays, I got a job in the post office for nine pounds a week. However, I did not join the post office, but went for a holiday to Holland, Belgium and France. On my return, on January 2, a telegram was waiting for me from the UPSC, asking me to present myself at Dholpar House, New Delhi on January 9 for an interview. The telegram also said that the UPSC would pay my inter-class train fare. I left Cambridge two days later, arriving in New Delhi on January 6. On the flight, Krishna Menon was my fellow passenger.

The interviews began at 10.00 a.m. The Selection Board was presided over by R.N. Banerji, ICS who was the Home Secretary. There were six others including B.H.F.B. Tyabji, Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs and P.L. Mehta, IPS. I do not recollect the names of the others. I cannot say that I was not nervous. My fate was to be decided in the next 45 minutes. But I was not panicky. The Chairman said to me, “In your application to the UPSC, you have only mentioned the IAS and the IFS. Are you so sure that you will make it to either?” I answered, “Sir, I am not sure, but I am reasonably confident”. My nervousness was being eroded by the minute. Then Tyabji said, “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains, who said it?” “Rousseau,” I said. My nervousness had almost disappeared.

I had been warned that a trick question would be put to me to trap me. The Chairman asked if I had read a book by … (I forget the name). I said I had not. The Chairman thundered, “What kind of history student are you, not to have read this important book by a well-known author?” My response was that if I had not read the book, I could not possibly say that I had. The final question was, “What are the three events in the last 12 months which caught your imagination?” “Could I, sir, take a minute or two before I answer?” Later I was told that this had made a deep impression on the selection board. I gave the three events and the interview ended.

It’s not about economics, Prof Sen, it’s about politics

Sunday, 28 July 2013 

By voicing his political preference, Amartya Sen is now one among many partisans. And, as a political partisan, he must not expect preferential treatment from those who don’t subscribe to his politics

Unlike many other commentators and analysts who claim profound knowledge of all things big and small, ranging from nuclear fission to social friction and waste management to development economics, I prefer to stick to what I know best: Politics and politicking, preferably of the old school variety. Hence, I won’t rush to comment on the raging debate on Amartya Sen’s prescription for recasting the Indian economy into something resembling that which proved ruinous for the Soviet state (that’s what his detractors say; my words merely reflect their collective opinion) and which has been enthusiastically embraced by the National Advisory Council, led by Sonia Gandhi, to be forced on Manmohan Singh who would rather be meek and play along than be asked to pack up and vacate the boxy CPWD bungalow at 7 Race Course Road. There’s something addictive about houses with bay windows that open into rolling lawns.

Scholars who are intellectually much more endowed than me are doing a fine job of matching Sen word for word. Jagdish Bhagwati has been pitilessly tearing into what is now being described by Sen’s detractors as ‘voodoo economics’. There are others too who have been harsh in their assessment of Sen’s economic prescription and his endorsement of the food security programme. Last week I spoke to Surjit S Bhalla who was, to put it mildly, scathing about Sen while ridiculing the food security programme. Although I have read the text of the Food Security Bill I can’t say I can comment on it with equal felicity of language; what I do understand is that the proposed cure for India’s poverty is worse than the disease. I also realise that we are regressing into a past we thought we had left behind — the decades of 1960s-1980s when lesser mortals had to cope with a shortage economy, limit their aspiration to a life of forced frugality and con themselves into believing that denial and deprivation were lofty virtues that were preached to us by our pink champagne-sipping ‘socialist’ leaders.

All this and more, however, does not qualify me to comment on Sen’s economics. But after hearing and reading the acerbic reactions of those who are qualified to do so I am reminded of an Aesop’s fable — the one about the grasshopper and the ant. Years ago I had received an e-mail from a friend which contained two versions of the fable. I will try and recollect, to the best of my memory, the contents of that mail, with suitable amendments to make it relevant for our times:Old version

The ant works hard in the heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for winter. The grasshopper thinks the ant’s a fool and dances the summer away. Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed. The grasshopper has neither shelter nor food, so he dies out in the cold.New version

The ant works hard in the heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks the ant’s a fool and dances the summer away. Come winter, Amartya Sen lands in Delhi where he goes television studio-hopping, sorrowfully wondering why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well-fed while the grasshopper is cold and starving.

That would be before the food security programme was pushed through, of course, assuring all grasshoppers of home, hearth and food, thanks to the bountiful magnanimity of Sonia Gandhi, acting on the advice of Sen and his favourite student Jean Drèze. Hard work and enterprise were, and continue to be, synonymous with crime; indolence and dependence on dole by a maai-baap state were, and continue to be, virtues to be nourished at the expense of taxpayers. This is called infusing economics with conscience. That’s a lesson that I have learned in recent days. What I have also learned is that it is perfectly fine to pose as a democrat, declare your faith in democracy, accuse others of violating the basic principles of a democracy, and then do something that is fundamentally undemocratic.

I am referring to Amartya Sen’s considered advice to Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh not to wait for Parliament’s approval of the National Food Security Bill, 2013, but implement it by issuing an ordinance. Sen would argue that too many lives were at stake to bother about parliamentary niceties, democracy be damned, in seeking approval for the food security Bill. True. What’s `3,00,000 crore down the drain so long as nobody gets to call me out? Sen would never reply, but it’s worth the effort to ask him: How many lives were saved by taking recourse to un-parliamentary means made fashionable in another era by another Mrs Gandhi? But it ill suits me to raise such questions. After all, I am no economist nor am I a philosopher; indeed, I have not even seen the inside of a lecture hall at Cambridge or Oxford.

The Hindu rate of backwardness

Meghnad Desai : Sun Jul 28 2013

In the 1959 film Anari, there is a scene where the simpleton-hero played by Raj Kapoor is working in a restaurant kitchen. He finds a cockroach in the large pot of daal and he tries to throw it away. But his employer fires him and says, 'If there is a cockroach in the daal, you don't throw the daal away, only the cockroach'!

Indian children up and down the country have been fed mid-day meals with entire zoos of worms, insects, lizards, cockroaches sprinkled with insecticides. Chhapra was just an extreme case which drew our attention to this widespread practice just as the Delhi gangrape case had highlighted the struggles in the daily lives of women. The sarkar mai-baap can be as negligent as a stranger passing by. After all, the purpose of all such state-funded programmes is not primarily to deliver the good or service, but to allow middlemen and women to enrich themselves.

The question arises why is the Indian State so bad at performing the tasks it sets for itself? In their recent book, Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen point out the importance of education and health, but they pin their hope on the State to deliver. They know that the Indian State has failed to deliver these items not just for the past 20 years of neo-liberalism, but even during the halcyon days of Nehru-Gandhi socialism. The first 40 years of development had high ambition for steel mills and dams and machines to build machines, and not primary education or health. It created IITs and IIMs for the elite jobs it was creating.

The Indian State can deliver a nuclear bomb and launch satellites but not universal primary education or decent public health. This is not an accident. It is a choice made by the elite who have been in power for 60 years and reflects their values. Indian progressives love to talk about socialism but what they mean by it is very different from what it means in the West. Western socialism used the State to help poor masses. Indian socialists used the State to project elite power. The reason is that Indian society lacks a very basic element, which is present in most societies. This is the equality of respect, the basic idea that all human beings have equal status.

Hindu society is a caste society and caste denies the simple idea of status equality. In class societies, there is inequality of income and wealth but once feudalism disappeared, there was no status inequality. In the US, race was central to the denial of status equality, but that was fixed by the struggle for civil rights. India has adopted the political equality of 'one adult one vote'. But in social terms, caste inequalities add to class inequalities. The Indian State has been mainly manned by upper caste elites and they do not consider the lower orders deserving of education and health.

How do we know that? Dreze and Sen show how Japan achieved 100 per cent literacy within 40 years of the Meiji Revolution. This was because all Japanese were considered equal. In India, you can see the contrast in these matters between the South and the North. Even mid-day meals are better in Tamil Nadu, which has been offering them long before the North Indian states began. The reason for this is the vibrant anti-Brahmin movement that exploded across the South. The radical views of Ramasamy Naicker are at the root of the egalitarian welfare provision of Tamil Nadu. Periyar was anti-caste and anti-Congress, which he considered a Brahminical party. Indeed, Tamil Nadu's welfare programmes date since the time Congress lost power and the DMK gained control.

'Using subsidised power, cooking gas and diesel, and then saying we can't afford food Bill... Why target only subsidies for the poor?'

Sun Jul 28 2013

In this Idea Exchange, economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen speaks about the controversy triggered by his remarks on Narendra Modi and why it is wrong to brand him anti-growth or pro-government. The session was moderated by Editor, Mumbai, P Vaidyanathan Iyer

P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: The launch of your book coincided with the new poverty numbers, which show that the poverty level sharply dropped in the seven years till 2010-11. Do you think increased spending on education, employment schemes and healthcare contributed to this?

My answer is yes. While I think we have largely neglected these sectors, some of the bump for poverty reduction reflects that at long last school education has been expanding, and we are getting some results because that makes it participatory. Here, I believe, even the much-maligned MNREGA makes a contribution. But the second point is it is not only a cash fault with education, there is also the problem of organisation. The term quality control has become a bad word in India now and people are increasingly asking for promotions without exam. While there may be a case for promotion, there is absolutely no case for not having monitoring mechanisms.

The issue of irresponsibility of teachers is (also) a very big problem. The need for private tuitions indicates that there is something not happening in schools... and private tuition is not affordable for poor people. Schools have to understand that many people coming into the educational ladder have no other educated family member to teach them...

We have to be very conscious of quality and I think that the latest moves are very negative. We are going in the exact opposite direction from what we need in quality control of school education.

The credit for poverty reduction as per the all-India figure goes to a great extent to the successful states and you have to see what they have been doing in education and healthcare etc, and you know quite a lot of the bump is connected with that and you know they are not just the very successful ones, Kerala, Tamil Nadu etc, but in a smaller way there are many other states that have done well too.

So while my short answer is yes, the long answer does not negate the yes. But there is no need for smugness at this time.

P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: Another discourse in India is one on growth versus inflation. Inflation is seen as a tax on the common man, but RBI's efforts to rein in inflation have really hurt growth.

I'm not an expert on this. But I think it is a serious worry, definitely. I think India has become a subsidy-driven economy. The food security Bill furnishes the subsidy issue and fiscal responsibility invariably (comes up) when the benefits go to the poor.

Sitting in a room consuming subsidised power, eating food made with subsidised cooking gas and travelling in car with subsidised diesel, and then saying we cannot afford food Bill because it does so much to our fiscal deficit, it is not an easy argument. While we do need to cut subsidies, the idea that it is only for the poor that the subsidies need to be cut is not something that I support.

Instead of making investments in the power sector, we give it away to the rich, who have airconditioners, and the two-thirds of Indians who have power connections. Yet one third of the population still doesn't have power. We have to do more investments in power production, transmission, and connections for everyone, but we are still subsidising and so we sell it at lower than the production cost and continue to make losses.

SUNIL JAIN: You have been saying you are pro-growth and you are not anti-market, but then you talked about the quality of teachers being a big problem. So basically, what you are saying is that the system of public provision of goods is full of holes. Now the problem with the food subsidy Bill is that the poor will not get more than about 20-25 per cent of what the government promises. So why aren't you in favour of cash transfers? My next point is that even government data says that MNREGA provides just 1 per cent of all jobs in India. So why are we wasting our time with something like that?

First of all, if the subsidy Bill as it is conceived of and proposed is full of mistakes, then it is full of mistakes. Undernourishment is not just about calories, it also requires much greater attention to the nutritional balance of food. However, if I am asked on the whole if doing it is a better job than not doing it, then my view is do it because the extent of undernourishment in India is so abysmal. Could there be a much better devised way of dealing with undernourishment? There very well could be and we should discuss that.

National Interest: Running debate

Shekhar Gupta : Sat Jul 27 2013

Milkha might be India's most romanticised athlete. But is he the greatest ever?

There is no argument that Milkha Singh is India's most fascinating athlete ever. His is a most film-worthy story, even if you took out the scriptwriter's fiction from Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, like the flashback of a childhood trauma making him turn at a crucial moment in the final race at the Rome Olympics, where he led the pack (in reality, he had just looked back, curious to see where Otis Davis, his most likely challenger, was and lost that vital microsecond). But is he India's greatest athlete ever?

Probably, because no other Indian has ever broken an athletics Olympic record — the first four at Rome, including Milkha, did so. Also, nobody has won as many international races as Milkha did. But Indian athletics is not a solitary-star story. In each decade, India has produced some class athletes. And while Milkha's personality, his happy demeanour, his utterly, disarmingly unselfconscious ability to communicate — his fumbles with the English language are so essential to his endearing legend — made him our most adorably durable star, many fans and followers of Indian athletics will list other favourites for that greatest athlete ever title.

It isn't easy to open that discussion in a country that follows almost no sport other than cricket, with hockey, tennis and lately badminton, trailing way behind. Athletics — track and field — is the Cinderella of our sport. Yet, track and field is the mother of all sports, and the fount of all talent and ability in physical sport. It is rare to see a country not feature high in athletics and yet have great sporting standards, except probably in a much less physical game like cricket. That's why we do not remember the athletics greats we have produced, build no memorials or museums for them, or mob them. This film has served to make a national star, at the age of 78, out of an athlete who so charmed our parents half a century ago. But it also reminds us of some others, and to see if someone measures up to Milkha's stature.

THE first would be Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, more or less a contemporary of Milkha's. Many Indian track-watchers would insist he has been our finest athlete ever. If Milkha finished fourth at Rome (1960), Randhawa ran 110 metre hurdles in 14 seconds at Tokyo (1964) to finish fifth. In that period, he won eight of the nine championships he ran in Western Europe. He was India's first truly versatile, in fact complete, athlete, and nobody has ever rivalled him. He set four national records at the National Games in Delhi (1960): He won the high jump, his favourite 110m hurdles, javelin and then the decathlon, the ultimate test of athletic endurance and talent. Two years later, at the Jakarta Asian Games, he won the decathlon gold again. He emerged as the athlete of the Games. Nobody has ever reached anywhere near his achievement. But in terms of sheer star quality, he was overshadowed by Milkha. Many old coaches in Punjab would still tell you they have never seen an athlete of his talent and strength. But sadly, he is now forgotten. Of course, the other great talent of more or less the same vintage was steeplechaser Paan Singh Tomar, whose subsequent career as a dacoit dominated his folklore much more than his running talent.

Somewhat less forgotten are the two phenomenal talents we produced in the '70s. Sriram Singh and Shivnath Singh came from the army's formidable running stable, then following in the footsteps of Milkha, his persistent challenger Makhan Singh, and Paan Singh. Somewhat unfairly to both, they ran two of the greatest races run by Indian athletes at Montreal (1976), but did not get on the podium. Sriram finished seventh in the 800m, in a race he led till two-thirds of the way. The eventual winner and world record breaker, Alberto Juantorena of Cuba, later attributed his brilliant timing to Sriram's early burst. But Sriram's time of 1:45.77 lasted as the Asian record till 1994 — and is still unbroken in India, 37 years later. My old friend, colleague and one of the great lovers of Indian athletics, journalist Norris Pritam, tells me how he recently ran into Juantorena, and the first thing he asked him was, where is my friend Sriram Singh, he ran a great race. As a society, we do not acknowledge those who do not win medals. But Norris has a point when he says that athletics is a measurable sport, so an athlete's timing or distance must also be acknowledged. That is why Shivnath Singh, who may have only finished 11th, running barefoot in the marathon at Montreal, has to be considered one of our greatest athletes ever. The marathon has had African dominance since the 1960s. And Shivnath's 2 hrs, 12 min national record is still unchallenged in almost four decades.

At Montreal, in fact, India fielded perhaps its best men's track team ever. Remember long jumper T.C. Yohannan? He set the new Asian record at Tehran (1974), with a jump of 8.07m. It survived three decades as our national record. Then there were a few years of drought. Until the era of the golden girls on Indian track.

BESIDES Randhawa, the only Indian athlete to come close to challenging Milkha is P.T. Usha, the scrawny powerhouse that hit Indian track in 1980. In terms of sheer medal victories, she puts Milkha in the shade — she won four golds and a silver at the Seoul Asiad (1986) and continued her reign for almost a decade. If Milkha came in fourth at Rome in a photo finish, so did Usha at Los Angeles (1984). She was only the fifth Indian and the first woman to qualify for an Olympic track final. A quick poll at this newspaper's formidable sports department had her beating Milkha for the greatest athlete ever title. Why? Because, as Nihal Koshie, senior assistant editor, argues, she had influence in Indian and even Asian women's athletics that no one has had before or after. She signalled the rise of women on Indian track, and led that pack with such panache.

J&K: Dangerous Disruption

Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management

At least four persons were killed when Security Forces (SFs) opened fire on a violent group of protesters who attacked the Border Security Force (BSF) Dharam Camp in the Gool area of Ramban District on July 18, 2013. The deceased included a teacher at the Government Higher Secondary School, Manzoor Ahmed Shan, who was also the brother of a local National Conference leader, Dr. Shamshad Shan. The others killed were Javed Iqbal Manhas, Abdul Lateef and Farooq Ahmad Baig. The firing by the SFs and stone pelting by the ‘protesters’ during the clashes resulted in injuries to at least another 43 persons, including a BSF trooper and 14 Police constables. An unnamed senior BSF official said the protesters pelted at least 15,000 stones on their post.

Narrating the chain of events at Ramban, a BSF press release stated,

Tensions started some time after 9 pm on July 17 after a patrol party at the Dharam check post asked one Mohammad Lateef, who is the imam of the local mosque, for a proof of identity. Lateef allegedly reacted aggressively and 15-20 people assembled. The troopers, sensing trouble, then returned to their post. However, it is learnt that Lateef made a baseless and false allegation that the patrol party had desecrated the Quran and announced same thing (sic) on the loudspeaker from the mosque. Following this, around 400-500 persons gathered outside the BSF camp and started pelting stones. But the BSF restrained itself, and the Police succeeded in dispersing the mob around 3am... Around 6.45am, mob started to build up again in big numbers and tried forcefully to enter the Dharam campus... Due to deteriorating law and order situation, the Police tried to disperse the mob and fired three-four rounds. Constable Ramhari of the BSF got bullet injury in his stomach. It was learnt that two civilians also got bullet injuries. However again at 9.30 am, around 700-800 men started stone-pelting vigorously on the BSF Post. Police and BSF men had to fire in self-defence which resulted into death of four civilians…

BSF Inspector General, Jammu Frontier, Rajiv Krishna added, “They (mob) tried to break open the gates of the camp. The mob tried to storm their storehouse where a large cache of explosives and automatic weapons was stored.”

There are some suggestions that the incident may, in fact, have been mishandled to a certain extent. While the overwhelming numbers of protesters, relative to the small BSF unit, may have made use of lethal force necessary, Superintendent of Police (SP), Ramban, Bashaarat Masood, claimed on July 19, “Police were standing between the BSF camp and the protesters. We had been controlling the mob for an hour. There was no need to open fire. The BSF men opened fire suddenly. I myself had a miraculous escape. I too would have been killed had my colleague not dragged me away."

The Union Government, the State Government as well as the BSF have already announced a probe into the case. The BSF team of 30 personnel, which was deployed at Dharam to look after the security of the newly opened Qazigund-Banhihal rail link vacated the camp in the night of July 18 itself, and the State Police has taken over the premises.

Earlier, on June 30, 2013, a civilian identified as Irfan Ahmad Ganaie was killed in Army firing in the Sumbal area of Bandipora District when the Army launched an operation in the region after being tipped off about the presence of militants there. On the same day, another youth, Irshad Ahmad Dar, was killed in the same area, after soldiers allegedly opened fire at protesters demonstrating against Ganaie's killing. On July 3, 2013, Police arrested an Army ‘informer’, Manzoor Ahmad Sheikh, who had misinformed Army about the presence of militants to take revenge against Irfan, with whom he had had a fight.

These were not isolated incidents. According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, the SFs have opened fire on violent protesters on at least nine occasions since 2011, resulting in six fatalities. Another two protesters drowned after being allegedly chased by the SFs. It is pertinent to recall here that at least 112 protesters were killed in SF action against violent demonstrators during the turmoil in 2010. Kashmir has sporadically witnessed such incidents, though at varying scales, since 2006. According to a July 2013 Police report, there have been 2,317 incidents of stone pelting in the State, resulting in injuries to 5,643 State Police personnel and 1,356 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, since 2008.

Need to harden China policy

Posted on July 26, 2013

It is possible the Chinese may have bitten off more than they can chew. Beijing has rubbed three main countries of the Indo-Pacific region — Japan, the United States and India — the wrong way. This new triple entente constitutes a formidable coalition in the Indo-Pacific region to keep Chinese aggressiveness in check and will be difficult for Beijing to fend off.

China’s historic bogeyman, Japan, has sent Beijing a clear signal. The Japanese people have just given, perhaps, their most nationalistic post-War prime minister, Shinzo Abe, a majority in the upper house to go with the two-thirds majority his Liberal Democratic Party enjoys in the lower house, mainly because of his strong stance against a bullying China. To add to recent provocations in the Senkaku Islands area, Beijing ordered most of its flotilla, which had taken part in a massive joint exercise (“Joint Sea 2013”) with the Russian Pacific Fleet involving 19 warships, to return from the north by deliberately cutting west through the Soya Strait separating the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido and the Russian Sakhalin Peninsula, steaming round the Japanese archipelago and crossing the Tsushima Strait between the southern Kyushu Island and the Korean peninsula.

China exploited Japan’s limiting its sea territory (from the 12km) in the Soya narrows to 5.6km to facilitate the passage of nuclear-armed ships of the Yokosuka-based US Seventh Fleet. In the context of growing tensions, Tokyo’s Defence White Paper pointed to China’s attempts to “change the status quo by force based on its own assertion [of territorial claims]” — don’t we know it! It was followed up with Japan “nationalising” some 400 small, outlying islands and rock outcroppings that almost doubled its sea territory to 4.47 million sqkm and hinted at a deliberately proactive defence policy.

In the process of decamping from Afghanistan, the United States is seeking to implement its “rebalance” strategy involving a military build-up in the Far East. Indeed, with the extant Chinese maritime disputes with Japan and the countries of the Southeast Asian littoral, especially the Philippines in mind, the commander of the Seventh Fleet, vice admiral Scott Swift, recently warned China against succumbing to “the temptation to use coercion or force in an attempt to resolve differences between nations”.

Two of the three pillars of the Indo-Pacific security architecture that can stabilise the evolving “correlation of forces” are solid. The third is India — the confused laggard in all matters remotely strategic. As usual, New Delhi is thrashing around clueless, despite being repeatedly smacked around by China. The incident in April this year in Ladakh’s Depsang Valley was not a one-off thing. Mid-June the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) units again crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC), ransacked the Chumar observation post the Chinese at the time of the earlier event had wanted dismantled. Except, this facility is actually a strategically-located post at a height affording a panoramic view of the PLA disposition in the valley below, and which the Indian Army had rigged up for remote 24/7 photo-imagery. The PLA intruders destroyed this surveillance system. As if to prove that such armed intrusions are going to be a monthly occurrence, on July 15-17 and again last week, and then on July 21, PLA troops violated the LAC.

What was most worrisome about these developments were the Indian Army’s initial reactions. It supported the ministry of external affairs’ (MEA) contention of the Chumar post as a “tin shed”, dismissed the June incident as “minor”, and passed off the first July PLA intrusion as “banner drills” — an innocuous unfurling of banners. It is as if the Army Headquarters (AHQ) was trying hard to avoid a rumble with the PLA in the face of the Chinese military’s determined bids to rub India’s nose in the dirt. Elsewhere, at the same time, Beijing was detected funnelling fake Indian currency through the Pakistan ISI gateway to destabilise the Indian economy. And still the Indian government believes China plays by Queensberry Rules.

AHQ’s “shrinking lilly” stance may have been due to the MEA’s insistence that Chinese feathers were best left unruffled with the talks on July 23-24 to negotiate a “border defence co-operation agreement” (BDCA) on the anvil. However, responding with alacrity and in kind to aggressive Chinese patrolling of LAC would have signalled a more forceful Indian posture and provided Indian negotiators leverage more than MEA’s girly policy of complaining, and sobbing in our sleeves. New Delhi may not have agreed to China’s condition that as part of the deal for peace and tranquillity Tibetans trying to escape their PLA-occupied homeland and into India be rounded up and handed back to Chinese authorities — the sort of understanding Beijing extracted out of the Nepalese government. But where else has the MEA stood its ground? Adding more sites for “border personnel meetings” and “hot lines” between AHQ and PLA command, or between the theatre commanders, etc. will not stop the Chinese troops violating the LAC at will. The only counter to PLA incursions is aggressive and like provocative actions by Indian units up to the Indian claim line but with adequate force-surge capacity, which Army needs to build-up, pronto.

ATTENTION netas! This is how you let terrorists get away

July 26, 2013 
Vicky Nanjappa 

Interference from politicians in terror cases creates added confusion, giving operatives enough time to give investigators the slip, reports Vicky Nanjappa 

A Delhi court ruled on Thursday that the only man arrested in the controversial Batla House encounter in Delhi in 2008 is guilty of murdering Inspector MC Sharma, who was leading a police team that stormed an apartment to capture alleged Indian Mujahideen terrorists. Apart from Sharma, two men holed up in the flat were also killed. Before the verdict several politicians claimed that the encounter was fake; many have stuck to their stand even after the ruling. 

Does political interference help terror operatives? Does it hamper the probe? 

There have been a few cases where IM men affiliated with political parties have used this as a front to further their operations.

Take the case of Syed Maqbool. An accused in the Pune blasts case, he claimed to have surveyed Dilsukhnagar in Hyderabad, which was targeted in February this year. He made an interesting statement before the Delhi police. During the interrogation he said, “After every attack there are political statements and this often ends up confusing the investigators who are under pressure from such leaders. It takes them a while to react and this added time that we get helps us get away.”

Maqbool went about his activities largely because of some political affiliations. He had told the Delhi police that he was part of a local outfit in the old city of Hyderabad. Investigations showed that he was close to an All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader and had assured him of building up the party in Nanded, where it had a decent base. However, all he did was use his political affiliation as a cover. In addition to this, he tried to revive a shadow outfit of the Indian Mujahideen called the Indian Muslim Mohammadin Mujahidin.

Senior officers told rediff.com that Maqbool had made a crucial remark during his interrogation. “We have nationalised agencies to handle terror, but unfortunately each state views this problem differently. In a couple of states, the administration is not cooperative and it becomes very difficult to conduct raids or investigations.”

West Bengal is one such state. IM’s key leader Yasin Bhatkal managed to slip out of Kolkata. The police did not take seriously the intel provided to them on Bhatkal. They managed to nab Bhatkal but mistook him for a fake currency operator. He was granted a bail after which he escaped. 

The second time Bhatkal got away was because of the politics between the Delhi and Maharashtra police. Following the 13/7 serial blats in Mumbai, he was holed up in Byculla. The Maharashtra police were given this information but owing to ego clashes with their counterparts they were busy chasing an Intelligence Bureau informer. This gave Bhatkal enough time to flee. 

Agencies say that handling cases in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is not easy. Both these states host crucial terror modules -- one in Azamgarh and the other Darbhanga.

In the case of Azamgarh, national agencies have found it difficult to carry out operations. Following the Batla House encounter, many operatives first headed towards this UP district. Then came a host of statements from politicians, which automatically led to confusion. As a result, the local police refused to act. This delay gave the likes of Dr Shahnawaz, a leading member of the Azamgarh cell of IM, and Asadullah Akhtar alias Tabrez from the same module, the time to slip into Nepal and then Pakistan.

The Begum, her voice, and ‘Akhtari ka deewana’

Ira Pande

Born Akhtari Bai Faizabadi, she was groomed in the famed tradition of the Awadhi courtesan who could charm parrots off trees. No one ever forgot a performance by her, whether she sang in a private gathering or to a packed auditorium.

THIS year marks the centenary of Begum Akhtar, the undisputed queen of what was once called ‘light classical music’ by AIR. As a sometime resident of Lucknow and an ardent admirer, I feel I must recall the power she held over the hearts of her fans for it was a quality that makes her musical legacy unique.

Quite apart from her special voice (of which more later) what I remember most is her million-watt smile. That and the diamond nose-ring that sparkled with every turn of her head as she sang. Born Akhtari Bai Faizabadi, she was groomed in the famed tradition of the Awadhi courtesan who could charm parrots off trees. No one ever forgot a performance by her, whether she sang in a private gathering or to a packed auditorium. This is because each time you attended a Begum Akhtar concert, you came away feeling she had sung to you alone. A few years ago, I chanced upon an old ‘mehfil’ of hers on DD Bharati, where she sang before a small studio audience. Among them was the poet Kaifi Azmi whose ghazals the Begum has immortalised. The rapt attention of her listeners, her easy and confident conversations as she sang, breaking off every now and then to repeat a particular line and her delighted acknowledgement of their spontaneous accolades were as unforgettable as her stunning performance. I could see why her past was littered with broken hearts.

The queen of light classical music.

In Lucknow, her haveli in Havelock Road was close to my mother’s flat in Gulistan Colony and they shared a mutual love and admiration for each other’s work. In fact, until she died my mother wore an opal ring the Begum had given her for good luck. Among the many moving articles she has written, my mother wrote one called ‘Koyaliya mat kar pukaar’, which was a wonderful portrait of the Begum for a local newspaper where she wrote a regular column. Since Begum Akhtar did not read Hindi, she had asked that my mother read it out before it was sent for publishing.

Now before I go further, I have to tell you about an old man who would come every Wednesday to our flat to sell green chillies, lemons and ginger, all carelessly slung from a sack on his shoulder. He would call out, ‘Yehne boo hai, adrak hai, hari mirchi hai…’ from the street outside, and my mother’s maid would say, ‘Bahuji, Akhtari ka deewana aaya hai.’ My mother would promptly ask him to come up and a glass of tea was brought as he sat at the landing mopping his brow. We would chat with him and he would roll up his sleeve to show us children a tattoo on his right forearm that said ‘Akhatri ka deewana’ while we teased him. He began his day by leaving a handful of his ginger-chillies-lemons at the Begum’s doorstep as his ‘bohni’ and start his daily trudge through the streets to earn his daily money. Before leaving our flat, he would empty out some of his wares and my mother would hand him some money. All this was done without any haggling or counting. It was a ritual that was important to them both.

When she wrote that article, my mother began by saying how popular Begum Akhtar was and that her fans ranged from nawabs and poets to humble vendors. She mentioned the Akhtari ka Deewana man and the Begum stopped her. ‘Don’t write about him,’ she told my mother. ‘The poor man comes from a respectable family and would be embarrassed if people started pointing him out. Let him be.’ Today, I can see that it was precisely this that made her such a unique person: she had the power to madden her listeners and although she was proud of it, somewhere she also knew the destructive power music can wield over human lives. Perhaps this was a reason that after she married her husband, an eminent gentleman-barrister known as Abbasi Sahib, she stopped singing at public places. However, robbed of her music, she became so depressed that he allowed her to resume her career but made her promise that she would never sing in public in Lucknow. It was a promise she never broke.

A tale of two economies

Author: Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Anthony P. D’Costa
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2012
Price: Rs.895

A collection of essays that provides a comparative analysis of how the economies of India and China coped with serious challenges following liberalisation. By SAGNIK DUTTA

IT has been about five years since the Lehman crisis and what is now known as “recession” in popular parlance descended upon much of the developed world. The shock waves of that recession are yet to subside; much of the developed world and a number of emerging economies are still struggling to get back on their feet; an atmosphere of economic uncertainty and gloom prevails in much of the world. The tsunami of recession and its attendant social and human costs have compelled the enthusiastic proponents of globalisation to take note of the unseemly aspects of the phenomenon.

One of the raging debates of our times fuelled by the havoc wreaked by finance capital during and after the recession is on the role of the state in aiding inclusive development and controlling unbridled market fundamentalism. The relatively robust growth of China and India during this period of financial crisis has aroused the interest of commentators, analysts and economists alike. The ability of the two countries to weather the impact of the recession has been perceived as heralding a new economic order in the globalised world where the global South gradually asserted itself. However, this discourse of China and India as emerging economic “super-powers” is not without problems. It conveniently glosses over the narratives of very unequal and uneven societies where the fruits of economic prosperity are hoarded by a few.

Transformation and Development: The Political Economy of Transition in India and China, edited by Amiya Kumar Bagchi and Anthony P. D’Costa, a collection of 12 essays, makes a significant contribution in this regard. The essays, touching upon a variety of subjects such as agriculture, industry, global finance, science and technology, and research and development (R&D), provide a sound analytic framework for a comparative study of the political economies of the two countries.

The book as a whole attempts to study the present economic situation in India and China against the trajectory of the economic reforms unleashed in the two countries in 1991 and 1978 respectively. Vital questions about the extent of integration into and dependence of the two economies on the global economic order and the consequent problems can be completely understood only by analysing the socio-political impact of economic liberalisation in the two countries. The essays offer a close scrutiny of the post-reform transformation in India and China and bust several myths about the perceived benefits of liberalisation. The process of market reforms threw up a host of challenges for India and China, which included balancing growth with increasing inequality, creating a model for inclusive development, and redefining the role of the state in development. The essays highlight the changes in various dimensions of the economy in post-liberalisation India and China. They provide a comparative analysis of how the two economies coped with the vital challenges facing them.

Role of the state 

Ashwini Saith’s essay titled “Guaranteeing Rural Employment: Tales from Two Countries” highlights the significant role that the state can assume so as to level out structured economic and social inequities through social welfare programmes. The essay points to the increasing significance of the state even after the unleashing of the economic reforms.

The author offers a comparison between the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), to provide a minimum universal right to employment in India, and the phenomenon of labour accumulation in rural China before the reforms of 1978. The author faults the Indian programme for its lack of emphasis on the creation of productive assets and its resultant limited potential for large-scale social transformation.

On the other hand, the Chinese phenomenon of labour accumulation in the period of high collectivism had greater transformative potential as workers of the programme ended up becoming owners of the assets. The essay successfully highlights the creative and transformative role that the state assumed in two cases as an arbiter of social welfare; it also highlights the limitations of that role.

However, the author’s interpretation of the NREGA as a dole rolled out by politicians in the form of employment funds is problematic. The author touches upon the highly contested terrain of the interface between politics and economics. The need to balance political considerations with economic necessity has baffled analysts and politicians alike. The author’s assumption that “good” economic sense cannot necessarily be coupled with political capital is contestable. A piece of legislation that yields political capital can also be pro-people and make economic sense. The assumption that social welfare mechanisms, even if they are limited in terms of their transformative potential, are a burden on the state exchequer is commonplace in neoliberal economics. But this assumption needs serious scrutiny in examining welfare mechanisms in highly unequal societies where the state alone can act as a leveller.

A number of essays in the collection highlight the rising inequality in both India and China following economic reforms and the social implications of the same.

In the essay titled “Growth, Reforms, and Inequality: Comparing India and China”, the authors note that the economic prosperity of China following reforms has resulted in new social asymmetries over the past three decades. The fruits of liberalisation benefited the social elite but left out the small and marginal farmers, urban unskilled labourers and people employed in the informal sector.

The authors note that in India too the increasing prosperity as a result of market reforms has contributed to economic inequality and has even had a negative impact on the social equality achieved in States such as West Bengal and Kerala in previous decades. The book also highlights the possibilities of proactive state intervention to set right an unbalanced model of growth. In the essay titled “Harmony, Crisis and the Fading of the Lewis Model in China”, Carl Riskin discusses the initiatives of Wen Jiabao in restoring the focus on health, education and social welfare in post-reform China so as to undo the iniquitous effects of unbalanced growth.

China's Innovation Problem: Why The Wok Can't Compete In An iPhone World

Wok in progress - (Worldcrunch montage) 
By Betty Ng

Despite the rise of the China's economy in recent years, many people still doubt that Chinese enterprises will be able to develop innovative products or new manufacturing methods or business models.

The Financial Times recently published an article in which it referred to two Chinese corporations, Haier and Huawei, which have learned and rapidly adapted themselves to the Western management model, but nonetheless still fail to bring to the world any fresh sets of products or break new ground in how companies are run.

Many so-called innovations or inventions are in fact just popularizations.

When it comes to the arrival of automobiles, we often think of the American Henry Ford, who built his first car in 1896. But it was actually Germany's Karl Benz who was the inventor of the world's first petrol-powered automobile. When we talk about the light bulb, we are most likely to think of Thomas Edison who demonstrated his light bulb in 1879. However, the English physicist Joseph Swan showed a similar incandescent lamp a year earlier. Meanwhile, before him, the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta has also showed a set of glowing wires decades before.

Likewise, when it comes to computer operating systems we think of Bill Gates, but before him there were all those engineers who had written and designed other programming languages and operating systems.

The reason why we connect certain people's names to certain inventions isn't because they were the inventors but because they had successfully popularized the products or concept. Henry Ford was an industrialist rather than an inventor. His contribution was to have developed the assembly line production technique so that the efficient manufacturing of the car could make it a mass-market product.

Similarly, the success of Thomas Edison lies in his use of a carbon filament that considerably reduced the price of the light bulb, and with its lower electricity demand and longer life span it came to be widely used. Edison's creation and invention in essence came from irrigating seeds sown by others.

Bill Gates followed this American tradition of mass commercialization. The key to his success lies in his adaptation and development of an operating system to be applied to personal computers while at the same time retaining the product's copyright. 

Innovation is often simply a well-timed improvement...

All these examples show that sometimes it's difficult to differentiate innovation from improvements, upgrades or even switching. The truly revolutionary creation, invention, discovery and insight are rare indeed.

Function over form

China has brought to the world the compass, paper, printing, gunpowder and silk, just like the United States has brought to the people the telephone and camera. Compared with other nations, China is a vast land with a massive population. In its long history, there has been no lack of real innovation and invention.

However in modern times, China has shown a lack of inventions or innovative business ideas to spread around the world.

There are probably two reasons limiting the popularity of Chinese products: a) the country's massive domestic market; b) the emphasize of function over form, as well as the lack of brand-building and packaging capacities.

Traditionally, China attaches great importance to standardization, the mass-oriented and the functional. For instance, left-handed people have always been encouraged or forced to use their right hands to adapt themselves to the tools designed for the right-handed. It is a society that caters to the majority.