Ask a Question


In 2009, The South Asian Idea begins to offer a new service – Ask a Question. You ask a question; we provide the answer.

The South Asian Idea covers a lot of subject areas – Development, Governance, Religion, and Modernity are among the major themes. Still, our posts cannot anticipate every question you might have; and when you need an answer in a hurry you might not know which post to access.

Therefore, we are experimenting with this new and direct rapid response service – Ask a Question.

If you have a question that you would like answered, send it to us and we will provide the best answer we can in the shortest time possible. Our team includes highly trained professionals and academics who have many years of work experience in South Asia and abroad. The range of experience covers the liberal arts, the social sciences, the natural sciences, engineering and medicine.

Your questions can pertain to any subject not necessarily limited to the major themes of The South Asian Idea. The questions can be of general interest or about some specific homework assignment. You might want guidance on writing an essay or on preparing for a debate—we will give it a try.

As an example, our post Is Corruption Good or Bad? was a direct response to a request from a student participating in a debate with the proposition ‘Corruption greases the wheels of development; it benefits the rich and poor alike.’

You have two ways of sending your question. You can post it in the comment box below; that would enable other readers to provide their inputs as well. Or you could email it to us at and we would provide the answer only to you.

We are excited to be pioneering this service. Let us run it as an experiment for three months to see if it meets a demand amongst school and college students.

We are ready for your questions.

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446 Responses to “Ask a Question”

  1. Anil Kala Says:

    Why are some persons tolerant others not. Does it come from smugness?

  2. SouthAsian Says:

    Anil, Suppose we answer Yes. The immediate follow-up question would be: And where does smugness come from? So, we wouldn’t go down that way.

    There could well be some part that is genetic (we don’t know enough to say how much) but we think that most of the variation could be explained by variations in early childhood education.

    Take religious education as an example. A child could either be taught Islamiyat in the madrassah with the message that his is the only true faith, everyone else is wrong, an infidel, and needing to be shown the right path. Or he could be taught religion in a way that explains that all religions are different ways of seeking the same truth, have a common core, and differ in practices that are largely due to differences of time and place. It is reasonable to assume that these two children will grow up with very unlike tolerances to differences of belief.

    More generally, an education that includes a good component of the liberal arts and the social sciences achieves the same effect because in these fields a question generally has more than one plausible answer and the mind gets trained to think about legitimate reasons for the differences.

    On the other hand, in the natural sciences there is mostly only one correct answer. This is the reason that today (when liberal arts and social sciences are increasingly neglected as a waste of time or are taught poorly) even very highly trained professionals like physicians and engineers are often more intolerant than others who have much less education.

    So, just education is not the explanation. It is the content, the nature, and the timing of the education that makes a difference.

    We would recommend a book by Mark Lilla (The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West) that explains how tolerance to differences within Christianity has increased so markedly in the West. It is mostly due to what one is taught on the mother’s knee when the mind is an empty vessel.

  3. Anil Kala Says:

    Why would any religion encourage…..

    “he could be taught religion in a way that explains that all religions are different ways of seeking the same truth, have a common core, and differ in practices that are largely due to differences of time and place.”

    After all the entire edifice of a religion is based on exclusivity.

  4. SouthAsian Says:

    When societies realize that the exclusivity has costs greater than the benefits, there is an incentive to soften the edges. This is what happened to Christianity after Europe was exhausted by doctrinal conflicts. This is the subject of Mark Lilla’s book.

    Of course, all religions are not based on exclusivity to begin with. Hinduism is a much more tolerant religion to start with and it is ironical that it has begun to shift in the other direction towards a greater exclusivity. This is the subject of the novel on this blog – A Gash in the World:

    Here is a paragraph from the first chapter:

    “Meghnad recalled his recent article, “What is a Hindu?” published in Time. It had created an outburst in India and America, seeking to answer the question Veer Sawarkar had originally posed in 1923 in an anti-colonial nationalist context. Meghnad had approached it using the idea of fuzzy communities. He challenged the notion of a sharp boundary between any two religious communities. Time was deluged with letters, since the article also appeared in the wake of the riots in India.”

    Also, see how knowledge of other religions and cultures is imparted in this school in the US:

    Click to access VisionsofOneness070208.pdf

    There can be a great deal of variation in how these subjects are taught and that shows up in the differences in tolerances. If there were no difference between how Islam is taught in a madrassa and in a regular school, there would be no reason for the special focus on madrassas. Even the madrassas protest that only a few of them teach hate.

    So, even within the domain of exclusivity, there can be moderates and extremists depending upon what one grows up with.

  5. Zubeida Says:

    What you say is correct. There are a variety of complex factors at work. What also makes a difference is how they interact with one another. An orthodox early childhood upbringing and a liberal education at the university would produce an impact that would vary in different people depending on one’s temperament (genes as you say) and also real life experience that varies from person to person.

  6. Anil Kala Says:

    “When societies realize that the exclusivity has costs greater than the benefits, there is an incentive to soften the edges. This is what happened to Christianity after Europe was exhausted by doctrinal conflicts.”

    Is religion the same as society? I don’t think so. Could it be possible that softening and detoxification of Christianity probably was a reaction to rise of science and atheism in society.

  7. SouthAsian Says:

    You are right, religion is not the same as society. Religion is an integral part of society and can have positive or negative impacts on it. Corruption in the Catholic Church gave rise to the Protestant Reform movement. Doctrinal conflicts led to a move to think of social arrangements not dependent on the divine revelations that were proving excessively divisive. Atheism was part of this disenchantment with religion. Hobbes used the emerging framework of scientific enquiry to change the subject of the discourse – that was his revolutionary contribution: The traditional subject of theology – God and his nature – was successfully changed to that of man and his religious nature.

    The second part of Hobbes’ contribution was to make religion a subject of scientific enquiry by focusing on the university curriculum. As a result of that it is normal in Western universities today to have the academic disciplines of religious psychology, sociology of religion, religious anthropology and the like.

    Of course, the socioeconomic context of the time had a great deal to do with this revolution – one could say that the times demanded a Hobbes. The best exposition of these contextual circumstances is here:

    I think when Machiavelli stumbled upon the intellectual insight that religion was a political phenomenon subject to either good or bad use, it triggered a major change in the attitude of thinking people towards religion. In some sense, this was to religion what Newton and the apple were to physics.

  8. SouthAsian Says:

    Zubeida, You are absolutely correct. The individual level variations are quite fascinating but very hard to generalize about. You know, it makes a difference if you add the tea to the milk, the milk to the tea, or you boil them together. And then of course, the variety of the tea leaves, the time when they were picked, the type of roasting, how long they stayed in storage, the quality of the water, how well it was boiled, the material of the cup, whether it was pre-warmed – all of these end up going into the taste of the final product.

    And this is just your everyday cup of tea; human beings are so much more complex because they react to what is done to them. The one thing one might say with some confidence is that if you screw up in the beginning it becomes mighty hard to salvage a good outcome.

    This message should be very easy to communicate to people because it is already a part of common wisdom. How many times do we hear the following: “is ka kya ho sakta hai ji, is ka tau ‘brought-up’ hii kharaab hai.” So we should think of framing this issue in terms of what makes for a good ‘brought-up’ in the world today.

  9. Anil Kala Says:

    How ego evolved in evolution context. What is its role in survival scheme of things?

  10. SouthAsian Says:

    Anil, That is a tough one. Id, ego and superego are Freudian concepts; evolution and survival are Darwinian concepts. I am not sure how they relate to each other. I know that the selfish gene helps in survival but does being selfish have anything to do with being egotistical? Did the ego evolve because it is useful for survival? Then why did pride evolve because it leads to a fall? Is it necessary that only those things evolved that are useful for survival?

    Let me refer this to a subject expert and I will get back to you.

    I have not yet been able to find a good enough answer but an article in the Dec 18, 2008 issue of The Economist (Why we are, as we are) on the 150th anniversary of the publication of ‘The Origin of Species’ is useful to read:

  11. Anil Kala Says:

    While on the subject, consider ‘Nostalgia’ as well and its role in abetting fundamentalism.

  12. SouthAsian Says:

    Anil, I love these questions that can have more than one answer; your opinion is as good as mine on this. Here is how I look upon the association.

    I would distinguish two variants of nostalgia. There is the nostalgia of my grandmother who wistfully remembers how wonderful things were in her time. She has no particular end in mind in recalling bygone days except to amuse me with a story.

    Then there is the nostalgia of those who wish to shape the future in some image of the past that they have not directly experienced. They have learnt of this second hand. I am wary of this type of nostalgia because it is a means to some political end and therefore open to manipulation.

    Think of the nostalgia of the fundamentalist Talibans who wish to impose a Caliphate that would reproduce the perfection of the time of the four rightful caliphs. A little bit of reflection would make you wonder about that perfection – three of the four caliphs were murdered; the Prophet’s wife was in combat against the son-in-law; and the Prophet’s grandsons were martyred by someone who reintroduced dynastic rule. It doesn’t seem very different from what is happening today, does it?

    Locke said that “most men are simply too lazy or ill trained to apply themselves to the dull work of sifting through evidence and reasoning properly. They prefer pseudo-certainties, even if those are inherited from tradition and untested by experience; and once they are committed to dogmas, they enjoy imposing them on others. That is how religious superstitions are born and perpetuated.”

    Mark Lilla writes that by the nineteenth century continental Europe was “awash in nostalgia for its religious past and in dreams of a new, improved religious future…. Ignorance and fear had obviously bred superstition and fanaticism among Christians as well as pointless wars among Christian sects and nations.”

    So, the ‘nostalgia’ of those who have had no direct experience of the past for which they are nostalgic employed for the purpose of reshaping the future – that is a dangerous mix especially if there are a lot of intellectually lazy folks around. That could very easily feed the fires of fundamentalism.

    [Quotes are from Mark Lilla, The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West.]

  13. Anil Kala Says:

    Even grandmother’s nostalgia and our own first hand experience nostalgia is misleading. Nostalgia always presents romanticized past, a sanitized version with sharp edges blunted; an endearing fuzzy, sepia motion picture of past. Past in hisory was rarely better than present yet nostalgia produces irresistible desire to swim back in time. If I think hard, I was quite miserable as a little kid but that’s not what I reminisce. I see images of a little kid running around clinging to thread of a kite, of playing ‘jhaaR bandar’ (a kind of game) and stuff like that not the deprivation, the difficult teachers and difficult parents and difficult environment in general.

    It is this ability of our mind to ignore the bad experience that fascinates me.

  14. SouthAsian Says:

    Anil, I agree but I wouldn’t want to be authoritarian and banish nostalgia altogether. I wouldn’t want to take away the freedom for people to remember and to romanticize their pasts. What would grandmothers do if we went that far?

    On the other hand, I would be very wary of the nostalgia of those whose memory is manufactured in the use of political objectives. I would combat it in the way Locke recommended – by giving human beings enough leisure and training to let their natural faculties develop. Locke was a lot more hopeful on this count than Hobbes was.

    Even if Locke was too optimistic, promoting the faculty of critical thinking should be of benefit.

    At the same time, those who are unable to move beyond their bad experiences can be pretty tedious to live with. So, there is a happy medium somewhere – Aristotle’s golden mean? People were so much wiser in the olden days!!!

  15. Anil Kala Says:

    It seems nostalgia is a device in our mind to purge unpleasantness from our memory, a kind of safety mechanism. But like everything else it too spins out of control to produce delusions of grandeur. And when this happens archaic practices appear glorious therefore worth emulating.

  16. Anil Kala Says:

    Why do religions need after life? Is there no incentive to live morally if there is no after life?

  17. SouthAsian Says:

    Anil, These days atheists are running a campaign in London with messages posted on buses. One of them says: There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” In Washington, the message is: Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.”

    Actually there are two different dimensions of this question: Why do people think of an afterlife? And, why do religions need an afterlife?

    People have always been very familiar with death. So, it must have been natural to speculate on what happened to them after death. In different places and at different times, people would have imagined this differently. Some would have assumed that the end was really the end; others would have imagined that there was something like a soul that left a dead body. This soul could wander around, go down into the nether world, go up into a heaven, or be reborn in another body. This is all quite natural.

    Why religions need an afterlife is probably more political. Almost all societies were based on oppression and exploitation with the aid of priests. In order to make the subjects reconcile themselves to their fate they could have been promised divine reward or punishment in the afterlife depending on their behavior. At some point individuals could have internalized this because, subjectively speaking, belief in an afterlife could well make it easier to bear suffering in this one.

    I feel the need for an afterlife has more to do with putting up with suffering than with an incentive to behave morally. When I look at the behavior of those who believe very strongly in an afterlife I don’t find it any more moral than that of those who don’t. When asked if God existed, Bertrand Russell is reported to have said: “I don’t know if God exists or not and I don’t care either.” Ghalib’s disdain for behavior motivated by concerns of reward is also well known – he wished to consign the concept of heaven into hell.

    It is interesting to compare the positions of Hobbes and Locke on this subject. Hobbes was convinced that people who believed in an afterlife would always be susceptible to the manipulation of priests hungry for political power. Therefore, in his system he emphasized that the Kingdom of God was on earth, not in heaven.

    Locke, however, believed that as a tolerant liberal order made life on earth more appealing, thoughts about the afterlife would be relegated to Sunday services.

    Was Locke right given that fervent belief in the afterlife is stronger in poorer countries than in richer ones?

    (Material on Hobbes and Locke is from Mark Lilla, The Stillborn God.)

  18. Anil Kala Says:

    Why can’t we ignore things that don’t concern us?

    When Stefan Hawking was writing “A Brief History of Time”, he was allowed only one equation in the entire book, the celebrated E = MC2. Any other equation, readership will go down exponentially he was told by the publishers. Why? People could simply ignore those equations.

    When you write Hobbes and Locke, these words are absolute nothing to me and it irritates me that I don’t know anything about them. Am I supposed to know about them, No! I can easily rationalize that you probably do not know how black holes lose mass when even light cannot escape past event horizon. The irritation lingers for a while, why?

    Our inability to ignore is essentially the cause of a lot of intolerance. People who don’t have any sense of aesthetics appreciation can’t see the grave but peaceful aura in Saraswati’s countenance of M F Hussain, all they see is a nude woman and go berserk. In some newsgroups I have seen members quibbling over posts for being merely there because they don’t concern them at all.


  19. SouthAsian Says:


    Live and let live is still quite a popular maxim.

    Could you be generalizing too broadly? People have different reactions to things that are not familiar: they can ignore them, or get irritated at not knowing, or feel the urge to find out what they don’t know.

    What makes different people react differently is a more difficult question. Perhaps this new way of looking at human behavior might provide some material for discussion:

  20. Anil Kala Says:

    How concept of soul came into being?

    Indestructible and transcending death but isn’t it logical that parameters of existence beyond death should be qualitatively different from this life else death as an interface is meaningless.

  21. SouthAsian Says:

    Anil, I am missing something in your question.

    I would seem to me that precisely because people must have thought of death as a very profound transition (a meaningful interface) that they must have speculated about what happens after death.

    And because most people really do not want to die, it would have been natural to think of some part of the individual (call it the soul or the spirit) that would live on after the body disintegrated into dust (which they would have no doubt observed).

    I am not an expert of this subject but this seems a fairly plausible explanation from common sense. Of course, human beings always complicate matters so there were some (the Epicureans, I think) who came along to argue that while the soul existed, it was not immortal. As you well know these kinds of theological divisions were endless and could go on for ever because there was no scientific way to resolve them. These were all unobservable phenomena and they remain so to this day.

  22. Anil Kala Says:

    It seemed to me that when we think we hear our thoughts therefore get the impression of some thing abstract quite not us yet residing within us probably gave reason for concept of soul. Now all defining events dramatically alter states therefore it is logical that past death if we visualize life then it must be dramatically different from this flesh and blood life.

    All the writings and thoughts we have is continuation of the same life with some window dressing.

  23. SouthAsian Says:

    Anil, Conscience is a similar phenomenon. People often hear an ‘inner voice’ telling them not to do what the body desires or some authority requires them to do. Because its workings are mysterious people are inclined to attribute such a voice to a benevolent God.

    When an appeal is made to conscience to defy the laws of the state complex issues can arise. Think of the ‘conscientious objectors’ who opposed the compulsory military service in the US during the Vietnam War. Many had to escape to Canada and those who didn’t were arrested like Mohammad Ali Clay, the boxer, who lost some of his prime years in prison.

  24. Anil Kala Says:

    Can Artificial Intelligence ever match human mind in every aspect? Can a computer be ‘aware’ like we are?

  25. SouthAsian Says:

    Anil, I received an answer to your question from a subject expert. It was so comprehensive and useful that I decided to make it a free-standing post so that it may be available easily to other readers. It can be accessed at:

  26. Anil Kala Says:

    What feature of death we fear most? Is it the cessation of this life or the commencing of journey into unknown or the fear of pain accompanying death?

    If the biological purpose of life is reproduction and fear of death keeps us alive then shouldn’t that fear disappear when we are no more useful for reproduction?

    Are we naturally programmed to die of old age? After all the weak and feeble become first meal of predators!

  27. SouthAsian Says:

    Anil, This is an empirical question and impossible to answer without a survey. One can say that at bottom death is associated with uncertainty and uncertainty of any kind makes many individuals fearful. It is interesting that the composer Rachmaninov was terrified that there might be survival after death and it was Socrates who said “To be a philosopher is to learn how to die”.

    The uncertainty associated with death does not disappear with the event of reproduction. I doubt that the person who chooses not to reproduce thinks of life after death very differently. You might argue that one who has reproduced dies happier or more contented (although that depends on the quality of the offspring) but that is not necessarily correlated with lack of fear.

    All available evidence (disregarding stories about long-lived people like Noah or Khizr) suggests that human beings are programmed to die. Dying of old age is a relatively recent phenomenon. Life expectancy used to be very short.

  28. Anil Kala Says:

    “All available evidence (disregarding stories about long-lived people like Noah or Khizr) suggests that human beings are programmed to die. Dying of old age is a relatively recent phenomenon. Life expectancy used to be very short”

    This suggests that we are not programmed to die but we are programmed to live, else Life expectancy could not have been increased. Seems we are programmed to live upto reproductive age beyond that program removes all controls and we are on free steering……

  29. SouthAsian Says:

    Anil, Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that human beings are programmed. This is an open issue but let us ignore it for the moment.

    If human beings are programmed to live and they all die it would reflect very poorly on the programmer. If they are programmed to die and they extend their life spans, it would reflect well on the ingenuity of human beings. We can choose between these interpretations depending upon our beliefs and perspectives.

    To think that there is some multi-stage programming seems implausible. As it is, the infant and child mortality rates are so high (especially in South Asia) that it is hard to believe we are programmed to live up to reproductive age.

  30. Anil Kala Says:

    You have not taken into consideration biological purpose of life which is perpetuation and evolution of species therefore it is logical that program runs to meet that purpose beyond that it does not care. In addition DNA is about code therefore life is some kind of program. We cannot fault with the program if external factors influence it. High child mortality in south Asia is due inaccessibility of better health care.

    Also the argument in other article by Aakar Patel, I disagree that Indians are voracious eaters and also doing dishes and making dinner is hardly any exercise to make any impact. Americans eat a lot more than Indians and red meat at that but yes they do a lot more hard work and indulge in physical exercise. But essentially Indians proneness to heart ailment is mostly genetic.

  31. SouthAsian Says:

    Anil, We may be thinking of slightly different aspects. The perpetuation of the human species may be guaranteed but that would not mean that any human being is programmed to live. There is no contradiction between human beings being programmed to die and the human species to continue.

    How well has Eliot put it in Sweeney Agonistes:

    “Birth, and copulation, and death.
    That’s all the facts when you come to brass tacks;
    Birth, copulation and death.”

  32. Vikram Says:

    I finished reading the first chapter of Khilnani’s ‘Idea of India’ last night and had a few thoughts relating to what he says about state and society in India and what I think that means for inter-community relations in India.

    Khilnani argues that since the Republic was constituted it has steadily taken power away from society. And indeed one does see evidence of this in India today. The level of mobilization that political parties achieve is almost unprecedented. And while Khilnani gives the impression that this is a good development as it leads to the erosion of the caste system and other social problems, I think it creates other problems particularly between communities.

    Multicultural societies are stressful and even more so in the presence of pervasive depravity. The society in India seemed to have mechanisms to deal with its inherently pluralistic nature, sufi shrines, shared traditions and fixed economic dependence of various groups on each other.

    I think the entry of the state distorts this picture significantly. Often, the state seems to be unable to construct or even create conditions for the construction of an equivalent secular space in modern urban India. I think this is one reason for the communal mindedness of many in India’s middle class. Communities are segregated, do not interact and do not visibly depend on each other. Shared cultural spaces seem to be almost non-existent. In fact, the actions of the state have lead to even further erosion of the secular space than one would have expected.

    Like you pointed out, it will take very careful management of inter-community relations for India to be stable in the coming decades. You gave the example of inter-race relations in America, however I think there are a few differences. Blacks in America have had to eventually accept an identity that is much heavier on Anglo-Saxon traditions than their African ones. Even the newer migrant communities, which are encouraged to retain their ‘culture’ are heavily Anglo-Saxonized by the second generation.

    What I am trying to say is that simply managing inter-community relations will not be enough in India, a new secular space has to be constructed and I am not sure what role the state will be able to play in this construction. If you have time, I would like to know your thoughts on this issue.


    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram, I read the first chapter on democracy again. We will need to go back and forth a number of times before we can be sure of the message. The text is so rich, covering both the history of ideas and a chronology of governance in India, that is easy to stray and lose the main thread.

      In relation to the points you have raised, my understanding of the text is as follows:

      In the India before the British, there was virtually no politics as we understand it today. Power was diffused and localized. There was no central agency “with powers to change society, to alter its economic relations, to control its beliefs, or rewrite its laws (p. 20).” The stability of such a diverse society was based on the acceptance of a social code. This was an oppressive code (p. 19) but its strength was that it allowed for a lot of variation at the margins; hence the existence of the syncretic communities and the shared cultural spaces that you have mentioned.

      The British brought “modern” politics to India and a central state became the repository of power. This was an activist state that wished to control the entire territory of India, to initiate social reforms, and to reorganize society along modern lines (p. 21). In fact, it articulated its disapproval of the very social code by which Indian society had been ordered before the emergence of the state.

      I did not read in the text the author giving the impression that this was a good development as it led to the erosion of the caste system and other social problems. Let me know the sections that made you think so.

      The point that you have not mentioned, and which is critical to the author’s argument, is the institutional mechanism that determines who controls the state with all this power. In brief, this mechanism was elections based on universal suffrage. Here the author makes the key point that European democracy rested on individual rights but the British decided that the interests of Indians could not be individual (p. 24). In India, the British put in place a system based not on the rights of individuals but of communities. From this emerged the notions of majorities and minorities and communal electorates whose interests had to be protected from each other (pp. 24, 25).

      Khilnani terms this the ‘inconsistent bundle of ideas and protocols of the British imperium (p. 25).” From there we can move quickly to understanding how conflicts arose “among social groups whose identities could be activated for political ends: religious, urban or rural, caste, language, class, or ethnic origin (p. 50).” This explains the rise of identity politics and the shrinking of the shared cultural spaces that you have mentioned.

      The first manifestation of this inconsistent bundle, and of the degree of its inconsistency, was the rise of Muslim politics and the incredible human tragedy that was its consequence. After the partition, the two countries started from scratch again without doing anything to remove the inconsistency. The tensions overwhelmed Pakistan once more in 1971. India has been luckier, ironically because its deep divisions prevent any one group from dominating all the others. But the shared spaces have been shrinking and the level of violence and intolerance continues to rise.

      The author summarizes it well: “The conflicts in India today are the conflicts of modern politics; they concern the state, access to it, and to whom it ultimately belongs (p. 60).” Given the nature of the state and the basis on which its control is contested, it is hard for me to imagine how the same state can manage inter-community relations and create a new secular space. Perhaps there needs to be a new principle of authority in Indian society. This would go back to the debates that took place at the very beginning with Gandhi arguing for an independent India that would dispense with the state altogether, Patel wanting one that would express and reflect the existing patterns of society, and Nehru believing in one that would actively reconstitute India’s society and reform it in the image of the West (p. 33).

      Who had the better vision? Who appreciated best the consequences of adapting a Western model to the India of that time given that there were none of the Enlightenment debates that preceded the rise of representative governance in Europe? The sharp observations of the author are to be noted: “Constitutional democracy based on universal suffrage did not emerge from popular pressures for it within Indian society, it was not wrested by the people from the state; it was given to them by the political choice of an intellectual elite…. Most people in India had no idea of what exactly they had been given. Like the British empire it supplanted, India’s constitutional democracy was established in a fit of absentmindedness (p. 34).”

      Let us keep talking and refining our understanding of these issues. Hopefully we will get others to join in as well.

      • Vikram Says:

        I apologise for not being able to reply, but I have been asked to do a lot of work in the last week by many different people. I will reread the first chapter and get back by the end of next week.

        Apologies, Vikram.

      • Vikram Says:

        I have reread the first chapter. I definitely get the impression that the author feels that the Indian state set out to restructure Indian society and that this was a good development,

        “the true historical success of Nehru’s rule lay not in a dissemination of democratic idealism but in its establishment of the state at the core of Indian society”

        You said,
        “Given the nature of the state and the basis on which its control is contested, it is hard for me to imagine how the same state can manage inter-community relations and create a new secular space.”

        Indeed if the basis for the control of the state is based on majoritarian ideas of democracy, the state cannot play this role. But perhaps other entities can.

  33. Hasan Abdullah Says:

    I have not read the book under discussion, nor have any intentions of reading the same. Hence, I do not qualify to be a participant in the discussions based on the book. However, having read the last response of The South Asian, first I quote from it and then offer my observations on the same.

    “The conflicts in India today are the conflicts of modern politics; they concern the state, access to it, and to whom it ultimately belongs (p. 60).”

    Like the British empire it supplanted, India’s constitutional democracy was established in a fit of absentmindedness (p. 34)

    ‘Perhaps there needs to be a new principle of authority in Indian society.’

    Over a long span of time, the societal phenomena are the outcomes of the interaction of societal forces. and cannot be the result of ‘fit of absentmindedness’. In fact, even the ‘chance is an expression of necessity’

    I am of the view that in a society, ‘politics’, in the ultimate, is a part of the superstructure, and not the base or the foundation. And, invariably, the conflicts – whether overtly or covertly – represent a struggle for control over resources. And, that is why the economic criterion has to be accorded its due place, notwithstanding several other important criteria. However, not for a moment, I am advocating vulgar ‘economic determinism’.

    Mostly, the conflicts are camouflaged, and disguised in various ways, so as to hide their real economic nature, because in a bourgeois democracy, and even otherwise given the level of development, adoption of the policies with the explicit objective of ‘rich becoming richer and poor becoming poorer’ cannot be placed on a high moral pedestal.

    ‘The principle of authority’ are ultimately decided by the dominant interests of the society – local as well as non-local.

  34. SouthAsian Says:

    Hasan, Your position that even the chance event is an expression of necessity can lead to the conclusion that whatever happened had to happen – there could have been no other trajectory.

    Many people will call this an extreme position. In the book under discussion, the author claims that in 1950, there were two diametrically opposed visions for India in contention, Nehru’s and Patel’s. “But at the end of 1950 Patel suddenly died, and with this chance event the command of the party passed into Nehru’s hands.”

    It seems reasonable to characterize this as a chance event with important consequences. I don’t see how it can be considered an outcome of the interaction of societal forces.

  35. SouthAsian Says:

    Vikram, I continue to feel ambiguous about the thrust of the first chapter. You have quoted a key sentence: “the true historical success of Nehru’s rule lay… in its establishment of the state at the core of India’s society.”

    History will undoubtedly see it as the major achievement of Nehru’s leadership. The author describes and notes this achievement but I am not sure if he commits himself to saying whether the development itself was good or bad for Indian society.

    The subtext of the chapter exudes a different message. The nationalist leaders were Macaulay’s children “Indian in colour and blood but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.” They saw history and the future through a European lens. The notion of a state was alien to India and was championed by a handful of individuals with no comprehension on the part of the people. It politicized social communities and led to growing violence and criminality in politics. It reduced democratic governance to a caricature centered only on control of state resources via elections.

    After reading this it is hard to think of the establishment of the state as a success. But it is equally hard to imagine what the alternative modalities of governing India could have been. The British had already started India down this path and perhaps there could have been no turning back. It is difficult to imagine what the Indian trajectory would have been like if the British had never colonized the territory.

    Perhaps Nehru’s achievement could be considered as extracting the best outcome from the hand that was dealt by history.

    Re your last point, can you elaborate on what other entities might be able to play a role in creating a secular space.

    Added later: Discussion of possible alternatives to democratic governance and the importance of content rather than form – Life, Liberty and Benign Monarchy?

    • Vikram Says:

      I wrote one post on how individuals can contribute to inter-group reconciliation,

      Obviously, my ideas in that post can be (and were) challenged, and even if I am right that is a drop in the ocean.

      But I think in general, cinema in India has tried to create a secular space, although there are exceptions and it could do a better job.

      That is one entity I can think of. But I guess the state has to get its act together here, in many ways it seems to be the only thing that matters.

      The temptation is there in some circles to introduce hyper-nationalism (like that of China) but that will do much more harm than good.

    • Vikram Says:

      And initiatives like this help too,,8599,1668481,00.html

      Do read it, it is quite important in the context of many conversations we have had.

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Vikram: Thanks for the link. It is an interesting insight. I agree cinema and schools are institutions that can do what you had suggested. However, the impact would be much greater if the state takes a proactive stance. This would be equivalent to the US Congress enacting the Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s and the Supreme Court putting its weight behind the desegregation of schools.

        On The Idea of India, I suggest we skip to Chapter 4 (Who is an Indian?). it picks up the discussion from the chapter on democracy. Here the author does commit himself and supports your interpretation of the earlier chapter: “The minimal precondition for any kind of Indian identity after 1947 was a state…” (p. 172). In Chapter 4 one also gets a sense of what an alternative to a state-centric model might have been. It was a Gandhian vision (pp. 164-165) very much in harmony with the Indian ethos. But as Khilnani writes “The influence of the Gandhian vision receded with surprising speed during the 1940s…”

  36. Vinod Says:

    SA, your ambivalence reminds of the feeling I get when I think about globalization and Haussmanisation – different phenomena from the establishment of a state – which lhave left a lot of damage in their wake but also do a lot of good. It becomes very difficult to give one single moral comment to such phenomena that have widespread social impact. One can only highlight the good and the bad and speculate on how the good effects can be achieved in future attempts without the ‘bad’ effects or mitigate the bad effects already wrought on the society. A single comment will only reflect the author’s bias.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vinod: You are right, of course. I guess that is the reason why Sunil Khilnani has described what happened but not offered a value judgement. The question that keeps turning over in my mind is whether there were other paths available, other ways of governing India that might have been more in harmony with indigenous traditions. We accepted an alien graft and paid a very high human cost, first at the time of Partition and then with the separation of Bangladesh. Add to that the perpetual divisions of Punjab and Bengal, the crises on India’s flanks, the wars, the turmoil in Sri Lanka. Put that all on one side and on the other the fact that we have been able to do very, very little for the bottom third of the population. I don’t see the costs and benefits balancing out. I am left with the feeling that we should have been able to do better. When I look at Malaysia, I know that even within the framework of the nation-state it was possible to do better.

  37. SouthAsian Says:


    The Americans and the Pakistanis are at war with Baitullah Mehsud. Assume that Baitullah Mehsud is guilty of war crimes. Does that justify the killing of Baitullah Mehsud’s wife as the Americans have done with a missile strike?

    Answer YES or NO and justify your answer.

    For contextual relevance substitute for Baitullah Mehsud any individual whom the government of your country has declared an enemy of the nation and assume that you agree with this assessment.

    The advanced student may read John Gray’s review of The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen.

  38. kabir Says:

    From a moral standpoint, I would argue that the killing of Baitullah’s wife is unjustified. Even if we grant that he is a terrorist, that does not necessarily make her one. She has not been accused of any crimes, unless being married to a terrorist and being the daughter of a terrorist are crimes.

    Of course in war situations, combatants often go after those who are close to their enemies, though this doesn’t make it right. Baitullah’s wife was not strictly a solider or “enemy combatant.” One could argue that she was an innocent woman who happened to be married to the wrong man. Similarly, Baithullah’s children are not necessarily terrorists. The sins of the father should not be blamed upon the child.

  39. Anil Kala Says:

    This question has bothered me for a long time. Does circumstance or what the Americans are fond of calling collateral damage justified at anytime? In law too it is said that let a thousand convicts be free but not one innocent go to jail. What about the right to life of innocent people who will most certainly be killed by these freed criminals?

    I suppose dying is finality of life. Fore knowledge of dying in a short finite time is the most horrifying experience of life. Abrupt death of Baitullah’s wife is similar to death of an innocent person waylaid by a freed criminal. In that sense and also the knowledge that Baitullah must be stopped before he kills or becomes instrument of killing many more innocents is awful reason to kill him along with his wife but at least the pair died without the fore knowledge of dying.

    • Vinod Says:

      Anil, in your questions lie the essence of the conflict between utilitarian morality and the Kantian-rationalists.

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Vinod: Quite some time back we had raised a question about the justification of killing uninvolved people during conflict. At that time the case was that of Baitullah Mehsud’s wife who was killed by a US Drone strike. The issue gains relevance again by the killing of Qaddafi’s three grandchildren by a NATO air strike. Clearly Qaddafi is responsible for the death of many but can that responsibility be devolved onto three children.

        During the discussion you had raised the issue of a conflict between utilitarian morality and Kantian rationalism. We had not followed up at that time. Could you pick it up now. This issue continues to bother me.

      • Vinod Says:

        When thinking about justice human beings are working with limited knowledge. Most of the knowledge of the ultimate consequences of our decisions are either probabilities or unknowns. There is very little that is actually known. In the absence of full knowledge we have no choice but to work with assumptions which take the form of values. You know quite well what the values of utilitarian morality and Kantian rationalism are. The advocates of each position will try to justify each value system by arguing that they are from human nature. But human nature has never been one-dimensional. In reality, we are pulled in different directions by the operation of these values in us and we can only keep hoping that the decisions we make do not lead to intolerably adverse effects and if they do, we hope that we can foresee them before they happen and avert them.

      • Vinod Says:

        In my view utilitarians ignore the potential of human beings and limit themselves to what people are in the current circumstances and fail to see how the human spirit, when inspired, can rise above the apparent limitations of its circumstances. On the other hand, Kantian rationalists leave a little too much to trascendental ideals and the human spirit and fail to some extent to note the basic animal instincts at work in people. They can get blind to the obvious incremental improvements that can be made in the current circumstances while chasing the big grand goals of justice.

        Another difficulty that is at the heart of questions of justice, regardless of the philosophical school one may take, is that it is impossible for anyone to put a price on human life. One human life seems too much at times and at other times one human life seems compromisable over a potential of 10 human lives.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vinod: Just on the last point re the value of one life over ten, the following offers lot of material for thought. Perhaps, we can discuss it in a subsequent round:

          I am not quite sure of the extensions you are suggesting in the utilitarian and Kantian positions. At the simplest level, utilitarians focus on what is good while Kantians focus on what is right. It can be argued that there is more objectivity in Kantian positions because they rest on principles that proponents are willing to apply to themselves. The view of what is good is a lot more subjective and can become self-serving when national interests are at stake. Good for whom? is always a relevant question and there seems no way to achieve a universal consensus on that.

        • Vinod Says:

          SA, utilitarians when focussing on good can be very broadminded to include entire humanity. But while doing that and accounting for what is good they do not take into account the fact that human beings can return evil with good; they can forgive murderers; they can give up their lives to save another; they can give in charity while starving themselves. Utilitarians assume that human beings do not even look up to these goals, which is a rather grim view of humanity.
          I think you can invert the above and understand what Kantian rationalists do that I take exception to.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vinod: This formulation is not clear to me. The model of the human being in common use is that of Homo Economicus, the relevant attribute of which is self-interestedness. So, an individual doesn’t concern himself or herself with the interest of any other human being. However, according to Adam Smith, such interest is not needed – under certain conditions, a free market leads to the general interest to be maximized by an invisible hand. In public decision-making, when policymakers make policy they are only concerned with the the sum total of welfare. It is acceptable that some people be worse off as long as the gains to those who are better off outweigh the losses of the losers. Coming back to the real world, we live in the era of the nation-state and each nation cares only for its own interests. I have yet to come across utilitarians who focus on the good of the entire humanity. Maybe, if you mention some examples of what you have in mind, the point you are making might become clearer.

  40. Vikram Says:

    If we accept that the mark of an educated person (and by extension an educated society) is the ability to self-criticize, and that most countries in the West are ‘educated’, and most in the Islamic world are not, then doesn’t this make dialog between the two pretty much irrelevant ?

    For example, if the Israeli society does allow room for debate and dissent on the Palestine issue but the neighboring Islamic countries refuse to even recognize the existence of Israel, then how can dialog lead to a solution ? It seems to me that in the absence of any kind of effective critical thinking in the Islamic countries, obliteration of Israel would be very much on the cards, if it was not able to defend itself, and did not have the kind of belligerent posture it does right now. Recall the reactionary, undesirable elements of the Partition.

    I think similar parallels can be drawn between Pakistan and India. If India did not hold on to Kashmir and take on terrorists there, would an ‘uneducated’ country Pakistan really stop at that ? I doubt it, especially, given that most in Pakistan refused to even use the word terrorist until that country itself began to feel its sting.

    Note that on many internal issues, India itself is not educated, especially on the Hindu-Muslim issue, something that might have terrible consequences.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: I feel you have answered your question in the last sentence. Countries are not educated or uneducated, people are. And the same people can be more educated on some issues than on others. So the purpose of the dialogue on any issue is to enlarge the circle of educated people relevant to that issue. What is the alternative?

      • Vikram Says:

        I was referring more to education as self-criticism, I don’t see much of this in the Islamic world, mostly due to state control of media. To have a meaningful dialog, we need to have equally educated societies on both sides, dont we ? Otherwise the moment the more educated one drops its guard, the reactionary elements of the other side can cause great damage.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vikram: The real issue here is what is the appropriate actor or agent in this argument – society or individual? I feel that using society as the agent is not helpful because then one is unable to explain any dynamics within a society. The real danger may be less from the reactionary elements outside society and more from those within.

          One can test your hypothesis against the evidence and see how well it explains historical events. Most modern-day aggressions have been launched by the ‘educated’ countries against the ‘uneducated’ countries (to use your terms). Aggression has its origins in factors other than the ability for self-criticism. Once a war is launched the ‘reactionary’ elements in the originating society support it regardless of its merits while those who possess the capacity for self-criticism question its legitimacy if they feel its is unjust. The Vietnam War is a major example.

          As the debate takes root and events intervene the balance of opinion in society (on a particular issue) can shift with people revising their positions. Even McNamara who was one of the key architects of the Vietnam War at the end believed that it was unjust. Societal opinion on any issue is a cumulation of individual opinion on that issue and individual opinion is always open to change which is why debate and dialogue are needed. Note also that individuals are not in the same camp on every issue.

      • Vinod Says:

        Vikram, in my opinion the orthodox scholars and institutions have a death grip on the muslim community. If there is any reformation that has to happen it has to come from within orthodoxy. I cannot imagine a layman breaking the stranglehold of the orthodox scholars on the laity.

        Having said that, I do find orthodoxy evolving. The rulings on apostasy laww have changed within some quarters in orthodoxy; and so have the views on homosexuality. These are healthy signs. The orthodoxy of Sunnipath is something that seem amenable to dialogue with modernity.

  41. Vikram Says:

    Are you aware of any books on the history of Bihar or UP after 1950 ? Guha’s India after Gandhi has some info but it is too broad for those particular states.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: Nothing has caught my attention. I haven’t really seen much with substance in South Asia at the sub-national level. The British at least had the District Gazetteers that were and still are invaluable for research. I wonder if the practice was kept up anywhere?

  42. different opinion Says:

    hi kabir, i am an 18 yr old studying at india’s AIIMS med school for my mbbs. I stumbled upon ur blog from pth and really like it.
    My question: When will india have a tryst with her destiny again?

    • kabir Says:

      Hi different opinion,

      Thanks for liking the blog. It’s not mine though, I’m just a fan like you:) Please keep visiting

      • different opinion Says:

        Kabir , in any case , from your debates at pth, i have come to the following conclusion:
        1. you are one cool human being
        2. you are a rational pakistani
        3. you give a tough fight to mr hamdani

        May god bless you

      • kabir Says:

        Thanks different opinion:) lets chat off the blog? I’d love to make friends in Delhi:) What’s the best way to reach you?

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Kabir/Different Opinion: If you wish to take your conversation off-blog, send your email addresses to TSAI ( and we will exchange them in a secure transaction. Thanks to both of you for visiting the blog and making friends on it.

  43. different opinion Says:

    BUT, southasian ji, you haven’t still answered my question.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      DO: I thought the question was for Kabir (with a great sense of relief). That’s a tough question – it’s less a question and more an invitation to reflect. I wonder if there are people in India mulling that over?

      • SouthAsian Says:

        DO, I thought about your question:

        When will India have a tryst with her destiny again?

        Your emphasis is on the timing, not on the nature of the tryst. The implication of the question is that India does not have a tryst with her destiny at this time.

        I went back and read again Pandit Nehru’s great speech and came away with the conclusion that a tryst (in the sense of a pact) with destiny does exist and is well-defined:

        The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.

        The tryst (in the sense of a meeting) with destiny will occur “when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.”

  44. Anil Kala Says:

    What is this tribal urge to celebrate an unethical act? I refer to the shoe episode.

  45. Vinod Says:

    Why didn’t Islam win all Hindus over? Islam was able to win over the over whelming populations of the pre-Islamic people in the former Persian empire and North African countries. They not only changed their religion they even changed their language, all over a period of centuries ofcourse. In South East Asia too, particularly in the Malayan peninsula, Islam managed to win over 60% of the people there.

    But in the Indian subcontinent, where Islam has been around since its beginnings (8th century AD) Islam has barely managed to win 35% of the population. What can explain this relative lack of success in conversion?

    • kabir Says:

      Vinod, I’m not really qualified to answer this question, but I’d like to venture a guess.

      I think that the reason why Islam barely managed to win 35% of the populaton of the Indian subcontinent is because Sanatana Dharma is very flexible as a religion and allows for a lot of variation in local practices. Most people didn’t feel the need to convert. Those who did convert were usually the shudras, who clearly were being disempowered by the caste system, and were perhaps attracted to the egalitarian nature of Islam (of course, only in theory).

      Also, as we know, despite the BJP myths that Islam arrived in Bharat by the sword, most conversions were done by Sufi saints, who taught by example. Other saints like Bhagat Kabir evolved a philosophy that was neither purely Islamic or Hindu, but focused on belief in a personal god, and not on the manner in which one worships.

    • Anil Kala Says:

      I read some where (lost reference) description of an English officer of the company about how a preacher standing bang in the middle of a busy crossroad in Varanasi abusing and rediculing Hindu Gods while people standing around him laughed. He was making this comment with reference to why the missionaries were not able to convert Hindus.

    • Vinod Says:

      SN Balaganghadhara gives a lot of details about why Christian missionaries failed with Brahmins. It had to do with the philosophical outlook of Brahmins. SNB presents the bewilderment of the missionaries at the arguments of the Brahmins. They simply do not get the paradigm in which the Brahmins think.

      But my question is about Islam. I wonder whether that same outlook was the reason for Islam’s modest yield in India.


    • Vikram Says:

      I think one could formulate a better answer to this question by looking individually at the various people’s of South Asia. Here’s my guess at why things are as they are:

      1) Punjabi People : Mostly converted to Islam, probably due to geographic location.
      2) Sindhi People : Almost fully converted to Islam, again due to geography.
      3) Hindi Peoples (Rajasthani, UP, Himachal etc) : Mostly stayed Hindu. A bit surprising considering the geography and length of time under Islamic empires.
      4) Bengali People : Mostly converted to Islam.
      5) Gujarati People : Mostly stayed Hindu.
      6) Marathi People : Stayed Hindu. History of resistance against Northern Empires.
      7) Kannada, Malayali, Telugu and Tamil People : Mostly stayed Hindu, due to geography and historical animosity towards the North.
      8) Oriya : Stayed Hindu.
      9) Assamese : Stayed Hindu, geography and resistance of the Ahom Kings.
      10) Manipuri : Stayed Hindu.

      So 3 out of 10 South Asian peoples converted heavily to Islam, rest stayed Hindu. Bengal is the real puzzle here.

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Vikram: This is the right way of looking at the situation but it needs to be qualified. Punjab and Sindh appear to be fully converted to Islam if you look at the post-partition scenario but there was heavy movement of non-Muslims out of these regions. About Bengal you are definitely mistaken. The best evidence of this would come from the last census before partition which would give the population breakdowns in the undivided provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Bengal.

        I have found the following breakdown of population by religion (percentages) for Punjab in the paper Demography of the Punjab by Gopal Krishan (page 83):

        Census Year 1881: Hindu (44) Muslim (48) Sikh (8) Christian (-) Other (-)
        Census Year 1941: Hindu (29) Muslim (53) Sikh (15) Christian (2) Other (1)

        The following explanation is given for the change: “A big erosion in the percentage share of Hindus was caused by the conversion of many of them to Islam, Sikhism and Christianity. Such a change of religion was much more typical of lower castes among the Hindus, such as chuhras, chamars, jhiwars, and malis. Conversion was negligible from the higher castes, such as Brahmins, Aroras, Khatris, and Aggarwals.”

        The important point to keep in mind is that this heavy conversion was well into the period of the British Raj and after the end of the Mughal dynasty in 1857. Even after this heavy conversion, the Muslim population was about half the population of the Punjab.

        For Bengal, you can find the information here for 1905 when the province was divided for the first time. Out of the total population of 81 million, there were 54 million Hindus (67%) and 27 million Muslims (33%).

      • Anil Kala Says:

        Could it be eating habits? Hindi belt is largely vegetarian while Bengalis love their fish?

      • Vinod Says:

        Could it be the differences in caste dynamics among these linguistic communities?

        Vikram, that’s a very good approach suggested. I didn’t quite understand what you meant by grographical location. Could you pls explain?

      • Vikram Says:

        @ SA: The Bengal province of 1905 included present day Bihar and Jharkhand, that are mainly Hindu and tribal. So those numbers don’t reflect the actual situation among Bengalis.

        @ Vinod: I mean the proximity of Punjab to fully Islamic areas like Afghanistan and Iran.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vikram: I take your point. Still, the Bengali people cannot be described as “mostly converted to Islam.” Information about Bengal is proving hard to find which is why I gave the 1905 data which was more readily available in connection with the first partition of Bengal. If you look at page 8 of this paper, it gives the population of Bengal just before the second partition of 1947 as: 3% Tribal, 55% Muslim, and 42% Hindu. This must be from the 1941 census. Once again, like Punjab, the population at the time of partition was about half Muslim. But keep in mind, that a significant percentage of the conversions in the Punjab took place in the British period. The same might well be the case in Bengal. This requires tracing the census data from 1881 onwards. I am sure someone must have done this analysis and we have to locate the reference.

      • Vikram Says:

        Perhaps SA is already aware of this work of Dr. Richard Eaton regarding the spread of Islam in Bengal, (I personally found it very clear and powerful) : Everything from geography to trade to frontier spirit is involved.

        This work might have discussed earlier on this blog, and I might have missed it, advance apologies if that is the case.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Vikram: Many thanks for this link. It is a coincidence that the day your comment was posted was also the day that Dr. Harbans Mukhia participated in a seminar (along with Dr. Rajmohan Gandhi) at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He raised the issue of conversions and referred to Eaton’s book as the best articulation of what might have happened. He specifically mentioned that what we need to explain is why the assimilation was greater on the peripheries of Muslim rule rather than in the heartland. And also that ‘conversion’ was not the right term to use to describe the bulk of the Indian experience.

          I must admit that after listening to Dr. Mukhia’s comments and then browsing through the Eaton text you have linked, I have changed my opinion on the nature of the process. The position many (including me) have taken of the lowest castes converting to escape discrimination appears to be incorrect because it cannot answer the question of uneven assimilation across India.

          Complementing Eaton’s book, you might find useful the article on Satya Pir in the book Beyond Turk and Hindu edited by David Gilmartin.

          The question of ‘conversions’ has indeed been discussed on this blog before. The one puzzle that was explored was the following:

          “I have found the following breakdown of population by religion (percentages) for Punjab in the paper Demography of the Punjab by Gopal Krishan (page 83):

          Census Year 1881: Hindu (44) Muslim (48) Sikh (8) Christian (-) Other (-)
          Census Year 1941: Hindu (29) Muslim (53) Sikh (15) Christian (2) Other (1)

          The following explanation is given for the change: “A big erosion in the percentage share of Hindus was caused by the conversion of many of them to Islam, Sikhism and Christianity. Such a change of religion was much more typical of lower castes among the Hindus, such as chuhras, chamars, jhiwars, and malis. Conversion was negligible from the higher castes, such as Brahmins, Aroras, Khatris, and Aggarwals.”

          The important point to keep in mind is that this heavy conversion was well into the period of the British Raj and after the end of the Mughal dynasty in 1857. Even after this heavy conversion, the Muslim population was about half the population of the Punjab.”

          This drew a response from Aakar Patel who offered an explanation – I am not sure how correct it is:

          “Anjum, This is splendid information. Will pursue it and look to you for guidance. My guess is that the big numbers actually came from the conversion of an unmentioned “middle” caste, the Jat peasantry. I have somewhere a study on the Punjab army of that time, by Tan Tai Yong. Should I find it, will take up this thread again. I suspect the conversions have something to do with recruitment. That ask-a-question link on conversions is most fascinating. Will spend some time on that too. My own view is that conversions in South Asia were secular and not religious in motivation.”

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vinod: I am looking at your question along the following lines:

      The process of religious conversion differs greatly depending on the size of the host population and its political structure. Small populations in centralized states are very different from large populations in decentralized states. In the former, if the head of the state converts the bulk of the population is likely to follow suit along with adoption of new language, etc. This is not possible in the latter.

      India today is one-sixth of the world’s population; it would have been even more when the subcontinent was not divided. Its political structure was comprised of hundreds of small principalities. Even its religious structure was extremely localized – there was no such thing as one Hindu religion at that time. Conversion must have been a family by family process as one can sense by the remnants of syncretic communities in India.

      There was no overt attempt to convert non-Muslims. In fact, the Mughal emperor with the most geographically extensive rule, Akbar, explicitly stated his opposition to religious conversions and his belief that no one religion was superior to another. In such an environment, only those families would have converted who had an economic or social reason to convert. It was for this reason that conversions continued well after the end of Muslim rule and into the British period.

      • Vinod Says:

        That is a very likely explanation, SA. I know of stories of conversions in Iran and South East Asia where the chief or king converted and he commanded that the subjects convert too otherwise he would stop the water supply to them and they all complied. The relationship between chiefs/kings and the subjects had a big role to play in conversions. If you got the king, you got the people under him. But I don’t find or haven’t heard of such stories of conversion in the indian subcontinent.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        When emperor Ashok converted to Buddhism everyone converted to Buddhism. Not a small kingdom.

        • Aakar Patel Says:

          Is there evidence for this?
          My own understanding is that the state was Buddhist, but the population remained Sanatani.
          There are Ashokan edicts that mildly instruct the population on diet etc, but so far as I know there isn’t anything to suggest that the state converted its people out of their Vedic (this is before the Puranic faith) tradition.

          • Anil Kala Says:

            Aakar: I didn’t mean state converted people to Buddhism, it must have been voluntary in the sense of following the leader. There is no direct evidence but it would seem odd for Ashok to send his son and daughter (Mahendra and Sanghmitra) to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism if the religion was not already accepted at home. The Mauryan rule didn’t last more than fifty years after Ashok’s death, but when Pushyamitra Sung came to power at the demise of Mauryan rule, dominant religion was Buddhism.

      • Vinod Says:

        Anil, that’s an interesting tidbit.

        Emperor Ashok was known to be a govt-in-everything kinda guy, an absolutist. Govt controlled everything. With this background, one can expect the people in the empire to convert given the govt control + Ashoka’s rather noble development zeal. As his title suggests, he was an emperor and ruled over a rather big chunk of land as compared to the little kingdoms that existed in India (characterised as principalities by SA) just before the arrival of Islam.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vinod: I tend to agree with your argument. There have been very few occasions when India has had a centralized state and Ashoka’s reign was one of those times. Also, the population in the third century BC must have been quite small.

  46. Anil Kala Says:

    There is one aspect of Hinduism that is irreversible on conversion therefore major deterrent to conversion. In the unique pyramid style caste system, everyone except the SCs find more persons below his status therefore wouldn’t want that distinction gone. This irreversibility acts as a major deterrent against conversion. The SCs on the other hand are too terrified to alter status quo.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: There is life in this argument. Still I think there is something more to the story. Indonesia was a Hindu/Buddhist territory which became 90 percent Muslim. The same did not happen in India. The reason may be that the caste system did not have the same rigidity in Indonesia – this remains to be determined.

      The other interesting dimension to the Indonesian story is that there were no invasions similar to those in India – the contacts were all trade related. And the conversions took the more conventional route with individual Sultans converting first carrying their subjects with them.

  47. Vinod Says:

    Is there a connection between the level of civic sense displayed by a population and the socio-ecnomic-political conditions they experience? Is a culture of good civic sense found in a society with responsive and responsible governance? Is the latter the cause of the former? Is the converse true i.e. a corrupt, unresponsive and inefficient government leads to a degradation in the civic sense of the population by forcing a harsh and crude behaviour pattern as a necessity for survival?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vinod: It would be going too far to think in terms of a one-to-one correspondence simply because the time constants of the two are very different. Civic sense evolves much more slowly while political conditions can vary quite rapidly. A society with a strong civic sense could just as well resist and throw out an unresponsive and inefficient government. Even a very prolonged Franco dictatorship in Spain could not undermine the civic sense of the Spaniards. However, severe shocks and dislocations can undermine civic sense even in the presence of reasonable governments. To some extent this is what partition did to Pakistan replacing its civic equilibrium with a predatory get-rich-quick culture.

  48. Vinod Says:

    SA, pls do something about the commenting feature of this blog. It behaves quite atrociously.

  49. Vinod Says:

    Why are fertility rates highest among the most underdeveloped countries where basic infrastructure is in shambles, diseases that can easily be prevented strike in shock waves, unemployment is rampant? Conversely, why do fertility rates fall when there is adequate employment, economic development, infrastructure and healthcare? It sounds counter intuitive.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vinod: It will not seem counter-intuitive if you think of children in terms of insurance. The poor in developing countries have no assets and no old-age security. Children are like lottery tickets in this hopeless situation – the more the better, limited only by nature and affordability. Some will survive the ravages of disease, one or two might turn out to be exceptional, one may land a job in the public service, one may be around for comfort in old age – you can always hope for one winning ticket. When systems develop to the point that child mortality is limited, everyone is educated, most people can get jobs, health, life and unemployment insurance schemes exist, and there is institutionalized old-age security, the need for such a primitive form of insurance disappears and fertility rates drop. Such social progress is accompanied by urbanization which increases the cost of raising children – so both effects work in the same direction. The need decreases and the cost increases. In most European countries (as also in Singapore) couples have to be given incentives to have children.

      The exact analogy to this are the actual lottery schemes that exist in most countries including the US and England. Only the poor buy tickets every week; the rich don’t need to.

  50. Vinod Says:

    Why is cancer not considered an epidemic but AIDS is?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vinod: This is useful question to consider because the usage of terms has changed in recent years. In popular perception the term ‘epidemic’ was used to refer to infectious diseases that were transmitted from an infected individual or group to a previously uninfected individual or group (e.g., cholera, small pox, etc.). According to this definition the distinction between AIDS and cancer was quite clear since the first is an infectious disease and the second is not.

      However, the current usage is different and to understand it one needs to define two basic terms in epidemiology (the study of factors affecting the health and illness of populations):

      Incidence refers to the number of new cases of an illness in a population in a certain period of time, normally one year. Incidence is a ‘flow’ concept.

      Prevalence refers to the current number of people suffering from an illness in a population in a given year. Prevalence is a ‘stock’ concept.

      In current usage an epidemic refers to the situation when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceeds what is “expected,” based on recent experience (the ‘incidence’ rate).

      Since there was a sudden and unexpected outbreak of cases of AIDS, it was classified as an epidemic. On the other hand, although the incidence of cancer is increasing (i.e., the number of new cases every year is rising), this increase is in line with expectations. Therefore cancer is not classified as an epidemic.

      Note that according to this definition prevalence is not important to the classification although it remains very important to public health costs and planning. There can be an epidemic of a disease with low prevalence while something with high prevalence like the common cold is not considered an epidemic.

  51. Vikram Says:

    I thought I would share this with you, it is quite brilliant,

  52. Vikram Says:

    This gives me hope and motivation,

    I wonder what other South Asian kids would doodle, and also what lower caste Indian kids would doodle, I would anticipate Ambedkar being part of their imagery more than Gandhi.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: Thanks for linking this. Some of the entries were very creative – the one with the Gandhi profile particularly so although I recall Google had used something similar earlier on Gandhiji’s birthday. I would not consider this free-form doodling – it was more embroidering a given text. I wonder what children would come up with in an unconstrained situation.

  53. Vikram Says:

    I saw this at a Dalit forum, where they were asked what their education qualifications are, one of them replied,

    “I am a B.E & MBA………..But these are just degrees which may help to get jobs and earn bread and butter. The real social education for dalits comes when they understand the society and its issues. Babasaheb’s /Buddha’s teaching are the real education”

    I have seen some work (and discussed it on my blog) about the neo-Dalit culture in India. I dont know if the BSP has such people in its cadre, if it does it should be able to reach out to other castes. In any case, I feel this is probably the most important social phenomenon in the coming years.

  54. Anil Kala Says:

    Global Warming (GW) alarm may be as big a hoax as Y2K bug was?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: That’s a possibility but there is a difference. There was no way to know if Y2K was real or a hoax till the event occured. In that sense the prediction that the world would end in 2012 is like Y2K – we can only know when the time comes. With GW there is a lot of satellite evidence of the melting of glaciers. It is not a question of whether something will happen or not but one of understanding the dynamic. It is still an open question whether this GW is a deviation from normal very long-term climate cycles. And, if so, whether human beings have anything to do with the deviation.

    • Vinod Says:

      It is still an open question whether this GW is a deviation from normal very long-term climate cycles. And, if so, whether human beings have anything to do with the deviation.

      I don’t think these are open questions in the scientific community. They are open only in the journalists masquerading as well read scientist. They are open only in “popular science”

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Vinod: There are also climate skeptics amongst scientists. Here is a list of some who question various aspects of the consensus. Also, read this story about Freeman Dyson.

        Added Later: A very intriguing news item about the melting of the Himalayan glaciers.

      • Vinod Says:

        SA, I stand corrected.

      • Vinod Says:

        SA, when the danger of CFCs to the ozone layer was first discovered in 1975 there were sceptics of it even among scientists all the way till 1992.
        Given that science too is a human enterprise, there are bound to be sceptics even among scientists to global warming. I believe that the extent of consensus that already exists is good enough to merit taking preventive measures against global warming. One cannot wait till all scepticism are allayed.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vinod: I agree with you. It would be prudent to take precautionary steps because it might be too late by the time all the evidence is in. That is the only pragmatic course of action.

  55. Anil Kala Says:

    What are we more likely to believe, alarmist stories than windfall stories?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: Behavioral psychologists say that people tend to overestimate the likelihood of events that have low probabilities and are affected by those with high value outcomes. Both disasters and windfalls are members of this category. This bias becomes exaggerated because of an illusion that occurs when people begin to disproportionately associate one factor with their welfare – e.g., winning a lottery would change their lives. In general, human beings are not good at estimating probabilities – they are overly conservative when faced with prospects of large losses and overly optimistic when faced with prospects of large gains.

      To add an item of detail for those who might be interested: It is believed that the individual response to gains and losses is not symmetrical. From any given point, losses have bigger psychological impact than a gain of equivalent amount. You can test this on yourself. Suppose your total savings at the beginning of a day are Rs. 10,000. At the end of the day you find either that you have lost Rs. 5,000 or chanced upon an extra Rs. 5,000 (it could also be the result of a coin toss bet you place for Rs. 10 – you win Rs. 5,000 if it comes up head and lose Rs. 5,000 if it comes up tails). The theory says that you will feel the loss much more in psychological term – gains count for less than losses. For details see Prospect Theory.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        I think it is the stories that bring in unhappiness will be believed readily. The reason is our mind’s tendency to settle down at neutral state. Euphoria is like a perfume, once the sense receptors are filled up it disappears even though the smell may be around. Euphoria accompanying events that bring in happiness fizzles out in a steep gradient while pain/suffering decays gradually. Assuming events that bring in happiness or sorrow are equal, time spent in pain will be several multiples of happiness. It is for this reason we perceive reality through pain and suffering and for this reason also we are skeptical of good fortune stories.

        • Vinod Says:

          Anil, there is a presupposition in what you wrote above that the ‘neutral’ state of the mind is closer to that of pain and suffering.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: The concept of a neutral state of the mind was somewhat unclear but you have explained it by relabelling it as a state of equilibrium, i.e., an individual’s normal state of mind. This can be different for individuals as you indicate.

          Your first question had referred to belief in stories that are alarmist or about windfalls and these categories do no overlap completely with stories that are unhappy and happy. However, the latter can be thought of better in terms of losses and gains. In that case, what you are arguing is completely compatible with Prospect Theory. There is reference point (normal state of mind) from which there can be losses and gains ( unhappy and happy outcomes). Human beings discount gains (take happiness for granted) and overweight losses (why did this have to happen to me?).

          I am not yet convinced from this whether we can conclude that unhappy stories would be believed more readily. One can think of the characteristics of fairy tales for children or of Bollywood movies for popular consumption and carry this discussion forward. Only the Art Cinema specializes in unhappy stories and it has a limited audience.

    • Vinod Says:

      Given 2 stories, one alarmist and one windfall, and assuming the truth of either are the same as far as they are determinable to the common man, we are more likely to believe that which reassures us of our survival – which is the windfall story.

      • Anl Kala Says:

        I am not so sure, Vinod. Mayan priests were able to con the people about eclipse being harbinger of catastrophe. enough to accept human sacrifice to counter it. On the other hand not many takers for Shangri La

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Vinod: This would depend on how we define survival. The following example comes to my mind. Suppose my business earns Rs. 10,000 per month and the minimum earning needs to be Rs. 7,500 for it to remain solvent. Now, imagine two policy changes – one could increase revenues to Rs. 15,000 per month, the other could decrease them to Rs. 5,000 per month. The windfall would be great if it happens but the alarmist outcome would make me fall below my survival level. In this scenario, it is always the downside that threatens survival.

        Of course, if I am already below survival level (say my income is below the poverty line), I would be much more keen on the windfall (which might assure my survival) since the downside cannot hurt me much more when I am already below survival needs.

      • Vinod Says:

        Ok. So which gets chosen depends on how the story impacts the survival instinct and that in turn depends on how secure the survival instinct is. if it is very secure then it would tend to believe the alarmist story because that threatens the security of the survival. If it is already insecure then it would tend to believe the wndfall story, because that gives hope of times of security of survival.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vinod: You can put it that way if you agree with my conceptualization. I would not bring in the issue of instinct yet – almost everyone and everything has a survival instinct. We can get quite far just with factual considerations. The most important element is defining (1) the point of reference from which you assess changes in your situation and (2) the requirements for survival. If an outcome or prospect (1) threatens survival or (2) promises survival, you will take it more seriously than other prospects. Remember that there can be two scenarios: the reference point can be (1) above or (2) below the point representing survival. You can apply this to a hypothetical business situation and test if it makes sense. Also apply it to this question: Why do poor people often take more risk than rich people?

  56. Anil Kala Says:

    Suddenly I remembered that fidgety undertaker unwilling to accept deferred obligation to Godfather though quite willing to pay for the service he sought from Godfather. I could easily empathies with him for approaching Godfather for something he himself felt inadequate. I can’t shake the imagery of that insolent young man leering at him when the judge let him off with suspended sentence for raping his daughter. I read the novel a long time back, the provocation for triggering of memory came from a news story.

    When I first heard the poignant story of Ruchika Sharma driven to suicide by an uncaring establishment siding at every step with the well entrenched and a sensitive judge taking up the news-story as PIL suo moto, my heart felt crushed oozing out blood drip by drip. Today when the ex DGP Rathore, the person responsible for Ruchika’s suicide, driving her brother crazy and ruining entire family, walks out on bail within ten minutes of a mockery of justice (six months jail after 19 years trial). The smirk on his face, leer at the public in general made me think was the undertaker wrong?

    There are times when we need corrective punishment and there are times when punishment must be exemplary for deterrence!

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: I have forgotten the sequence from Godfather but the point you make remains valid. However, I am not sure that it is right to punish someone more severely than merited by the offence simply to deter others. The essential requirement is that justice must be done. Unfortunately we live in a world where this requirement is often circumvented and we have to strive to correct that. This is the kind of thing that people should find unacceptable as we discussed in our post on the topic.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        “I am not sure that it is right to punish someone more severely than merited by the offence simply to deter others.”

        I disagree.

        The world isn’t fair; there are children born in slum of Mumbai, sodomized and maimed before anyone knows and there are cases of dogs and parrots inheriting millions in America. Evolved societies strive to mitigate these anomalies through an elaborate system of laws and punishments to reach a state of unnatural equilibrium. Natural equilibrium is in animal kingdom where he strongest keeps the harem.

        If arguments can settle this matter then there will not be so much variation in quantum and quality of punishments we see such as primitive lashing in Singapore/ Saudi Arabia and in contrast luxury of hotels to convicts in some countries of Europe. I have my own device to check a principle’s legitimacy. I apply it on my own self to judge it. I have come to conclusion that if a punishment works for the greater good of society, I am willing to accept it even if I don’t deserve it. I am willing to go to jail for no crime if it means scores of innocents are saved torture at the hands of brutes like ex DGP Rathore.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: This is a debatable point. Any one individual should not have to bear the burden of the greater good of society. There have to be better ways to achieve the desired end. To me this seems to be like the ritual sacrifice of earlier times – e.g., sacrificing a virgin would bring a good rain that would guarantee a bountiful harvest for the tribe. The application of the principle you have articulated is also debatable. The fact that you are willing to undergo a sacrifice does not mean that there is justification to extend the sacrifice to the rest of society. There are always people who act over and above what is expected of them. That does not make a compelling case for imposing the same on others. The simplest way forward in the situation you have mentioned is to make sure that Rathore is dealt in accordance with the law.

    • Vinod Says:

      I think we need references from criminology studies to show whether deterrent punishment has actually brought down crimes.

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Vinod: From whatever I have read (which has not been systematic on this subject) my impression is that deterrence has not worked as an instrument to reduce crime. There is an interesting article in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books (Can Our Shameful Prisons Be Reformed?) that might add to our discussion.

        • Anil Kala Says:

          Why is crime rate so low in Saudi Arabia and Singapore?

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Anil: The article that I linked from the NYRB shows that the homicide rate in the US is twice that in Western Europe. Crime rates vary across societies – they are generally low in East Asia; they are low in Japan even without the harsh penalties of Singapore. Cross-country comparisons are not a good test of the efficacy of deterrence – there are too many other confounding variables. A better test would be in a given society – i.e., if the introduction of deterrent measures lowers crime rates in that society. I haven’t seen convincing evidence of that. The US is the most studied case and whenever crime has fallen other causes have been identified. What can be a greater deterrent that long imprisonments and capital punishment?

            As for Saudi Arabia, I would like to see data on crime per capita rates but I doubt they release any kind of accurate statistics. Nor is it the kind of paradise where too many people want to spend their lives – what is the point of deterrence of that sort? In Pakistan, Zia ul Haq introduced Saudi-style harsh Islamic penalties with no impact – in facts crimes have been increasing by all accounts.

  57. Aakar Patel Says:

    When I was sessions court reporter, India’s conviction rate was under 5%.
    It’s not the quantum of punishment that is the problem in India; it’s the inability to punish people at all.
    I have been thinking about this also as Anil has. There is a larger problem than the police officer. And it is this: What made him so confident that he could harm a girl, book dozens of false cases against her brother after her case against him was filed, and get away with it?
    Not just get away, he prospered, being promoted to head of police of Haryana. This is AFTER a series of pieces in the Indian Express, as also I am certain other papers, and a full page opinion piece by Shekhar Gupta (repeated for some reason in yesterday’s paper).
    The problem is clearly not Mr Rathod or people like him (more of whom are around and more will come later) or the quantum of punishment in India. It is something quite different.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Aakar: One explanation that suggests itself is that unlike Europe, South Asia has not had a social revolution. Our society is very much divided between the aristocrats and the serfs – although we do have constitutions and laws and rights on paper it is the underlying structure of society that determines what happens. The aristocracy protects itself and its enforcers – the rest are on their own; if they can find patrons they might find a refuge otherwise they are fair game for all. This is the reason the aristocrats and their enforcers can literally get away with murder. We keep being deceived by the trappings of constitutional democracy but that is still not much more than a facade. This route to equal rights for all is a very slow one.

  58. Aakar Patel Says:

    South Asian, I’m not sure I agree with that entirely. There are many instances where this precise formulation of public and brazen violence has been visited, this time by one member of what we might consider the aristocracy upon another.

    In 1999, a minister’s son denied a drink in a Delhi pub by a female attendant, shot her through the head with perhaps 50 witnesses of whom 2 testified. He was acquitted by a magistrate. The high court overturned this many years later with this observation: “Obviously, this reflects total lack of application of mind and suggests a hasty approach towards securing a particular end, namely the acquittal.”

    The man who was with the shooter that night, a couple of years later tortured and killed a man who was seeing his sister. The dead man was the son of a very senior bureaucrat. The perpetrator was convicted after much media pressure, but freed on parole, the only murderer in India to have been given that.

    To return to what I began saying: Not sure that it’s ‘them versus us’ in India. It is vertical, sure, but also horizontal. It’s quite a scary society really.

    • Vinod Says:

      Brutal is the word that aptly describes Indian socieity.

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Vinod: All those who have not read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance should do so as an essential part of their education. Even for South Asians who are inured to social brutality, it is an eye-opener – a harrowing depiction of the nature of South Asian society and a measure of how far we have to go before we can even begin to call ourselves civilized. It is one of the great books of our times.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Aakar: My intention was not to say that it was all a vertical ‘them versus us’ issue. Horizontal conflicts are the norm – they are always with us, even at the level of the family or the neighborhood. In aristocratic Europe feuds amongst noblemen were common and the War of the Roses is well known in England. While horizontal divisions remain perennial, the nature of vertical divisions has changed in some places much more than in others. In hierarchical societies, the upper classes are above the law while the lower classes have no legal protection. That is the comparison I was pointing towards – what happens when a crime is committed by a member of the upper class against a member of the lower class. Let’s say a minister slaps a waiter in a restaurant – the outcome would most likely be quite different in England and in India. This variance points to the real structural difference between the two societies – much more so than the deceptive similarities like democracy, parliaments, constitutions, laws, etc. Of course, the rich are privileged everywhere – but what they can get away with indicates the progress of legal equality of all citizens.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        I think you are putting the cart before the horse. Fear is not exclusive to Asians. If there is threat of reprisals then even in England response to the event you mention will be same as in India. Incidents where people believe there is no case for reprisals are violently opposed in India for instance bad Train service, Bus services etc. or even Police Station being torched by crowds. Clearly the case is for speedy trials and convictions.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: The point is that the threat of reprisal is much less in England than in South Asia for the kind of crime under discussion. This reflects the greater advance of legal equality in the former. Speedy trials and convictions are hard to enforce in an unequal society where a set of people are above the law. So, the advance of equal rights has to come first. As for the incidents you have mentioned (poor public services) – that is a different discussion because they do not fall in the category of crime.

          • Anil Kala Says:

            The point I am making is that attitude changes dramatically overnight if proper stimulus/conditions provided. Consider Indian Election Commission. Until V Seshan came it was an ineffective commission. After him all Election commissioners are effective why?

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Anil: This is more an issue of administrative efficiency. It is generally accepted that this is very low in South Asia (see the paper by Lant Pritchett on India as a Flailing State that is archived in the Best From Elsewhere section of the blog). And efficiency rises and falls with effective leadership – this has been witnessed across organizations like the railways, airlines, etc. But the distribution of power in society does not change through better management. For example, a slave society can be managed well or poorly but it will still remain a slave society. Slavery was not abolished in the US through management nor were voting rights achieved in that manner.

    • Vinod Says:

      Aaker Patel – you may find this of interest to you – Qisas in Pakistan

  59. Vinod Says:

    Is there a proven connection between the adoption of family planning practices in a nation and the beliefs of the people regarding family planning? While I can easily see the connection intuitively at an individual level, I am not sure that the connection actually plays out on a social scale. Are there studies about this that you would know of?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vinod: Sorry for a late response. I will look for studies on the topic. My initial sense is that the evolution of family planning practices must have followed the felt need for smaller families. This must have been tied very closely to the phenomenon of urbanization – the proof being that urban family size is almost always lower than rural family size in all countries. The desire to reduce family size in urban areas is related to the higher expense of rearing children – living space, food, and education are all more expensive and extended family support is lacking for women who are forced to work to supplement household income. This is quite obvious where there are no religious inhibitions against family planning. The evolution is slowed when religious biases have to be overcome but even in Catholic and Muslim countries urban family size is lower than rural family size.

      The other perspective that can be employed is related to the diffusion of innovations. The early adopters are always the social elites and the practices are then emulated by the rest of society. In the conflict between adopting elite practices and staying loyal to entrenched beliefs, it is the beliefs that are usually weakened and changed over time. In this perspective one can think of the factors that affect the speed of diffusion of family planning practices and these vary from one society to another.

  60. Anil Kala Says:

    I am not into economics but this puzzle always fascinates me. It is like this; India’s GDP is approximately $ 1150 billions and GDP is growing at roughly 8%. Average inflation let us assume at 5% so in absolute terms India will have 13 % more goods and services a year later i.e. $ 150 billions. My question is

    a) In order to keep economic balance government will have to put addition currency in circulation to service this additional goods and services. How much is this additional money supply?
    b) Is this free income for the government?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: I can provide a simple answer but I hope a macroeconomist can elaborate with more precision. You have identified three of the variables that are involved in a simple theory of monetary balance – price level, output and money supply. If the value of output (price x quantity) increases by $150 billion, the money supply does not have to increase by the same amount to keep the balance. This is because there is a fourth variable in the equation – the velocity with which money circulates in the economy. If $1 is used (turned over or circulated) 1000 times during the year it can support $1000 worth of transactions in that year. Therefore the increase in money supply that is needed depends on the velocity with which money circulates – velocity is a key element in the simple equation of balance MV = PQ.

      There are many caveats to this theory (Quantity Theory of Money) and its assumptions have been challenged but the concept of velocity remains useful to understand economic dynamics. For example, during the current financial crisis in the US the banks stopped lending and consumers cut back on purchases slowing down the velocity of money circulation (think of the description ‘the wheels of commerce are grinding to a halt’). The government has tried to compensate by increasing the money supply in order to keep prices from collapsing as they did in the Great Depression. In the simple balance equation only Q has stayed relatively constant as there has been no real growth of output.

      I am not clear what you have in mind when you consider an increase in money supply as free income for the government. In what sense is it income?

      • Anil Kala Says:

        I didn’t have the velocity variable in mind. I assumed velocity remained same so if the amount of money in circulation is x then 13% of x can be safely put in circulation to service increased goods and services. Printing of .13x currency I assumed to be free income for government.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: If the nominal value of goods and services (PQ) increases by $150 billion, as in your example, the other side of the equation (MV) must also increase by the same amount to maintain the balance. If V remains unchanged (say 10) then M would need to increase by 150/10 = $15 billion.

          I can’t follow why you are thinking of this addition to the money supply as free income for the government. Money supply is a liability – it is a claim on the government. In the days of the gold standard, the government was supposed to be able to reimburse paper notes with gold if asked to do so.

          • Anil Kala Says:

            SA, I can’t follow why this isn’t income. How do you put money in system? By either buying goods/services or lending it. If there is good possibility that you don’t have to withdraw this money form the system then it is your income. It will be liability if you have to withdraw it at some future date, even then till that time this money will earn some money.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Anil: We can look at this from another angle. If increasing the money supply is income, countries that print a lot of money should become very rich. On the contrary, printing a lot of money causes countries to collapse via hyperinflation as happened in Germany between the two wars and later in Latin America. Increased production generates income which needs to be paid for with money. If there was no production and only an increase in money, nobody would be any richer because the prices of goods would increase leaving net purchasing power unchanged.

  61. Vikram Says:

    I remember we had a discussion about Bihar some time ago and couldnt find any good reports on what was actually going on. This Tehelka report helps somewhat,

    One set of lines struck me in particular,

    “Lalu was a man of the people, a PR man’s dream. He could connect. He ruled by instinct. He knew the value of gesture. Nitish is a bureaucrat’s dream. He can perform. He rules by reason. He knows the value of delivery.”

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: The report is useful because it enables the discussion to be centered around something concrete.

      I don’t find it surprizing that the situation has improved. There was obviously a lot of margin and one is familiar from experience with firms how better management can result in quick gains. States are obviously more complex than firms but the analogy holds. What we should really be looking for are clues to the nature of democracy in India – how can a government that provides such poor servicve stay in power for 15 years? The underlying rationale of the vote, at least in theory, is that it enables the electorate to reject poor performers. This means that for the electorate in Bihar performance was/is not the principal dimension on which a party or its leadership is being evaluated. We have to follow up this line of analysis to get at the bottom of identity politics and the uniqueness of Indian democracy.

      [Added later: There is an article on Bihar in the current (January 30, 2010) issue of The Economist. It has the following observation: “Mr Yadav did not offer development. At best, he promised izzat, or self-respect, to downtrodden castes, who once voted as their landlords demanded, and later enjoyed picking someone their “superiors” could not abide.” These are social peculiarities that are unique to India and need to inform our analysis of democracy in the country.]

      The remark that you have quoted is interesting. A people’s man doesn’t deliver and, most of the time, those who deliver are impatient with people. An individual with both abilities would be ideal but is hard to find. In this context I found the story of the transformation of Indian Railways (Bankruptcy to Billions) fascinating. This happened under Lalu’s tenure as Railway Minister – he appointed a very competent team to the task but did not allow it to lose touch with the concerns of ordinary citizens. This is one way in which the two esential dimensions of development can be brought together.

      We can apply this to a situation in which we are interested – the fate of cities. In most cases popular mayors make a mess of management and bureacratic city commissioners lose touch with the needs of citizens. If one could have a popular mayor (eleceted) combined with a competent city manager (hired), the outcome might be a lot better.

  62. Anil Kala Says:

    Are instigators/provocateurs getting away lightly?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: I am not sure of the context in which you are asking this question but at a very general level the answer has to be in the positive. Think of the many instigators/provocateurs of communal violence in India who have never been charged or, if charged, never convicted. Think of the leaders of violent religious groups in Pakistan who are not being restrained. This happens because there are pockets of support and sympathy for instigators/provocateurs both within the states and the populations. Those who disapprove of such actions are not sufficiently motivated or organized to demand an end to the selective patronage of criminality.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        It seems necessary to do the balancing in India-Pakistan context. Can’t we make a negative comment on India without balancing it with similar negative comment on Pakistan? Somehow robs seriousness of the comment.

        The context was, legally provocateurs were getting away lightly. Consider this; a cricket match is being played, someone from fielding side makes a comment about batsman’s mother just enough laud that he can hear it. Batsman runs after him with his bat to thrash him. The incident would not have occurred if the comment wasn’t made but who gets penalized, the batsman.

        And this one is rather complicated depending on how adultery is viewed in a society and also impinges on a person’s right to freedom to choose. A guy has affair with someone’s wife and it comes to the knowledge of husband. The fellow takes out his gun and runs after the offender. Again the incident would not have happened if the affair hadn’t taken place but who is punished? Quite obviously the man has right to have an affair with anyone but he knows of the consequence of such an affair.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: The mention of both India and Pakistan is not for balancing – it is to show the universality of the point under consideration which qualifies it for a general discussion.

          Provocateurs do get away lightly but the two examples you have presented are peculiar. In the first, I would hold the batsman responsible. Otherwise, every whisper, understood or misunderstood, would incite a riot. It would also violate freedom of speech. The onus is on the recipient to ignore such remarks and thus render them harmless.

          In the second example, I cannot decide who is the provocateur – the guy, the woman, or the husband. Would it depend on what you take to be the starting point?

  63. SouthAsian Says:

    Anil: I have found some very relevant material that addresses your questions on output and money supply. This is the link to the first of three 10 minute videos that provide a very good explanation with regard to the stimulus bill in the US. Let me know if you find them useful.

  64. Luca Says:

    Dear all, my question is: Do you know any writers/visual artists/film-makers from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh that work on the nature of the political borders separating the three countries, aiming at rewriting/rediscussing them in order to propose a different cultural or imaginary geography? To put it another way: do you know any authors that, like Amitav Ghosh in novels such as “The Shadow Lines” or “The Hungry Tide”, invest on a reflection on the nature of the political borders, seeing them anew (he defines them as “looking-glass borders”, so vivid and real and yet so frail and liquid when experienced by the people living in the frontier lands)? In short, are there authors/artists working on the perception of the national space and, therefore, also in the nature of its borderlines? Thank you, I hope I’ve been sufficiently clear!

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Luca: While we search for answers (I hope readers would contribute) you could look at Mukul Kesavan’s appropriately titled Looking Through Glass. One of my favorite border stories is Manto’s Toba Tek Singh (in Urdu) whose English translation is archived in our Best From Elsewhere section (#10).

  65. Vikram Says:

    This is in continuation of the thought about groups in your comment on Vijay’s article. Can we identify the following sets of groups in Republican India ?

    Groups that have benefited from the Indian state’s efforts to restructure society and industrialization:

    Upper caste Hindu women and upper class minority women (through education, reservation, propoganda, laws etc.)
    A large section of middle caste Hindu men and women and a smaller section of the previously marginalized low caste groups (through education, reservations, laws)
    Tribal population certain states like Meghalaya, Mizoram and Sikkim (to pacify border areas, smart politics by elites)

    Groups that have struggled but have realized that they have the potential to do better:

    Low caste groups like Dalits (mass political mobilization)
    Marginal groups like Assamese, Arunachalis, perhaps Kashmiris now ?

    Groups that have suffered even more in the last 60 years:

    Tribal groups in central India due to the desires of the elites to exploit their resources
    Confrontational tribal groups like the Nagas
    Recently farmers and peasants whose land is eyed by the state and capitalists for their purposes

    If we agree, then can we ask what allowed certain groups to do well ? Was democracy a pre-requisite to them doing well ? Was it a hindrance to the other groups ? Can the groups who have not succeeded learn anything other from the ‘successful’ groups ?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: From your earlier comments I am aware that you have read Pratap Mehta’s The Burden of Democracy which provides a good entry for this discussion. Mehta makes the point that there was no social revolution (i.e., overthrowing of the social hierarchy) in India and the old elites transitioned intact into the new post-Independence India. What this means is that the previously dominant groups continued to do well. However, the rules of the game changed – with an electoral system social status was no longer the sole determinant of political power; numbers began to be important as well. The new dynamic began to be felt first at the overlap between the bottom rungs of the previously dominant groups and the top rungs of the previously marginalized ones. Although real change is slow in materializing, the direction seems fairly clear – thus the anxiety of the previously dominant groups and the increased sentiments for authoritarian approaches to slow the inevitable.

      In terms of specifics, it would be easier to think in terms of particular types of groups, i.e., religious, caste, occupational, geographical, gender, etc. Let me just touch on the religious in this comment to illustrate one point about the peculiarity of the electoral system. It could be argued that Sikhs have fared better than Muslims although the latter are many more in number. The reason could be that while numbers are important in an electoral system, the distribution of the numbers is critical as well. Sikhs are geographically concentrated while Muslims are not – this works to the disadvantage of the latter under the existing rules for electing representatives, i.e., first-past-the-post.

      The bottom line is that groups that have found it possible to mobilize the strength inherent in their numbers have managed to begin to shift the distribution of power in their favor. Not all groups have been able to do so because, as mentioned earlier, numbers are only one of the critical variables. The appropriateness of the rules of electoral representation has a significant bearing on electoral outcomes. This is an aspect that has not received adequate attention in South Asia. For example, the fact that the British do not practice proportional representation does not mean that such representation might not be a better alternative for a society with as much diversity as India. Some aspects of this issue were discussed in an earlier post on the blog: Democracy in Japan – Electoral Rules Matter.

  66. kalihawa Says:

    aalam kisu hakeem ka baaNdhaa tilism hai
    kuch ho to aitbaar ho is kaainaat kaa

    – Meer Taqi Meer

    isn’t there a paradox? No kaainaat, no hakeem!

  67. Anil Kala Says:

    All infinite incremental sequences end in infinity. There is a grand natural sequence called evolution throwing up newer and better species all the time therefore can we say:

    There is no God but there will be one eventually!

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: In thinking about this it occurred to me that a worldview based on circularity rather than linearity might avoid such dead-ends.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        Are you suggesting that evolution will end in amoeba (mono-cellular being) from where it began?

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: One can only have an opinion about such things. I tend to lean towards the opinion that what began with nothingness will end in nothingness.

  68. Vivek Says:


    I came across this blog last week and found it fantastic. Now I am regularly visiting it and reading different articles. Especially I have a great interest in partition-related events and find your articles very informative.

    I have a question.

    Did social reforms occur in South Asian Islam? If yes, when and what was their nature? If no, what were its effects (of not occurring)?

    Awaiting reply.


    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vivek: Thanks for the vote of approval. Let me provide a short answer and elaborate later if you wish to pursue it further.

      Local variants of Islam differ considerably from each other. Thus one can tell the difference between Irani and Indonesian Islam. One presumes that these differences occurred because of absorption of local influences. If this hypothesis is correct, it would be very odd if Islam in South Asia did not change in significant ways from its origin in Arabia. An amusing demonstration of this is provided in an article by William Dalrymple that has been summarized on the blog.

      At the level of ordinary people, South Asian Islam was heavily influenced by Sufi thought and was thus quite syncretic. Most people are unaware of this dimension and the fact that there were communities that could only be characterized as Hindu-Muslim. This has been documented well by Kamaljit Bhasin-Malik in her book In the Making: The Creation of Identity in South Asia. You can also get a feel from this post on the blog.

      One can also get a sense of how the ethos of a religion can change from the attempt by the Pakistani state to realign South Asian Islam with Saudi Arabian Islam. The effects of this are quite manifest in the rise of fundamentalism, militancy, and intolerance for others. Some aspects of this latter choice are discussed in the post Which Islam?

      • Vivek Says:


        Thanks for the reply. It provided me a fresh paradigm.

        I will go through the references you provided and will get back in a few days.

        – Vivek

  69. Vikram Says:

    “Look, don’t blame him. There is nothing wrong if he did it with good intentions against an infidel country like India,” said Amjad Ali, a 60-year-old farmer with white hair.

    Does SA have any idea what proportion of Pakistanis think India is an infidel country?

    Suddenly, the right wingers in India seem to have a point.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: No, I don’t have an idea but would like to find out. However, your comment does trigger a few thoughts:

      1. If ‘infidel’ merely signifies ‘non-Muslim’, I would presume that all Pakistanis would think of India as an infidel country. But that would not mean anything – all non-Muslim countries would be infidel countries which, at least theoretically, should not rule out good relations with them.

      2. The real question (to which I do not have an answer) is how many Pakistanis think of India as an enemy country? It could be high given that the Pakistani state has invested sixty years in aggressively propagating this perspective.

      3. At the same time, my gut sense is that this feeling is superficial which is why the Pakistani state remains paranoid and unable to relax. Indoctrination without foundation has a way of being swept away just as easily.

      4. Human psychology is complex: People can carry very negative images of the ‘other’ in the abstract and yet interact very differently in one-on-one encounters. Almost everyone I know who has actually visited the ‘other’ country has come back surprised at the hospitality and good feeling of the ordinary people (not the bureaucrats at the airport, police station, etc.) on the other side. This reaffirms my belief that self-serving state-sponsored antagonism is reversible. It needs a proactive civil society to provide a counter-narrative.

      5. I agree, the right-wingers do have something to exploit. The question is: Do we wish to exacerbate a problem or to solve it? If the latter, how do we wish to solve it? Let us discuss what the right-wingers propose as a solution and explore its merits.

  70. Vikram Says:


    1. I doubt infidel here is said in the neutral ‘non-Muslim’ sense, given the context in which the question was asked. And this person is probably not even literate, he is a farmer deep in rural Pakistan. This suggests that antagonism towards non-Muslims has in fact grown beyond just state propoganda, and perhaps embedded itself in popular consciousness ?

    2,3. I am struggling to understand this myself, but it troubles me greatly. It could be said that the hospitality displayed is ‘just being nice’. This hospitality could be just as superficial as the indoctrination of the state.

    4. I agree that antagonisms can be reversed. I just dont understand how that can be achieved on a large enough scale. I thought an answer could be found by using Benedict Anderson’s ideas of imagined communities. If Indians and Pakistanis could be made to understand that they are very often part of the same community, we could get an answer. But I really dont see that happening. This blog is a rare example of Indians and Pakistanis working on mutual issues together and benefiting. But its a drop in the ocean of youtube comments and ‘defence’ forums.

    5. Right wingers, like left wingers are reactionaries. Their objective seems to be to heighten tensions to the point of no return and ‘settle’ the matter with force. I am not particularly interested in their ‘solutions’, I just wanted to point out that the ground they try to stand on can seem very convincing sometimes.

    • Vinod Says:

      The reference to non-muslims as ‘kuffar’ (infidel) is what centuries of muslim orthodoxy has bequeathed to the muslim masses.

    • SouthAsian Says:


      1. I agree with you. I was just being literal.
      2,3. Human beings are extremely sensitive in this regard. It takes about half a minute to tell whether the hospitality is genuine or for the sake of appearance. One has to have experienced this personally to realize the nature of the sentiments involved. It is always a huge shock the first time when the reality clashes with the stereotype.
      4. I am more optimistic about the prospects of reversal. Whatever is imposed from the top and rests of falsehoods has very shallow roots – the visa control is not to keep out terrorists; it is to preserve the stereotypes. There are many examples in history where sentiments at the mass level have undergone complete change. The interim effort should be to work for easing travel restrictions. In the meantime, all other means of communication should be used even though they are second-best alternatives. There will be an India-Pakistan Peace Caravan this year – details are available from Sandeep Pandey at
      5. Right-wingers do have a point. They need to put forth a strategy that would isolate the problem and promote harmony in the region. I don’t think they are up to the challenge.

  71. Vikram Says:

    Does SA or any of the other readers know how Bollywood sustains itself when 95 % of the movies flop ? This question was asked on another site and this was the reply,

    “Obviously if the industry lost that much it would be hard to survive. Its not the industry which lost 200 crore but possibly the distribution sector if we assume they got no refunds. A Rakesh Roshan makes 30-35 crore on Kites but distributors lose 50 crore but the Rakesh Roshan profits are not counted while distributor losses are. The production sector is making good money by preferring to sell films before release and the exhibition sector is also making money, its just the distribution sector losing as they are paying too heavily on some films. The reasons big film producers make a killing is that there are very few really big films and there is competition between distributors leading to big prices. The industry is not loosing heavily just money shifting to different sectors within the industry.”

    I do not understand this. Money is being invested in making these movies and they are not running well enough to recover the costs, so I would have expected the industry to sink. Also, can ppl who are familiar with non-Hindi cinema comment on whether a similar situation exists there ?

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Vikram: Aakar has provided an answer based on his knowledge of the industry. I have no such knowledge so I will try and add something based on very simple economic logic. Hopefully, this will reduce some of the confusion caused by the reply you quoted.

      First, there is no evidence that the movie-going audience is shrinking; in fact new modes of dissemination are being discovered all the time. Therefore, total industry revenues cannot be declining – and therefore there is no reason for the industry to sink.

      If total revenues are not declining it is only a question of their distribution. I see a movie as an investment made in the expectation of profit. But making a movie involves a lot of fee-based activities – people or firms who get paid fixed amounts regardless of whether a movie succeeds or fails. All this distribution is not affected unless the number of movies made declines – and there is no evidence of that.

      This leaves only the investor for consideration. There is no doubt that many investors would be losing money or just breaking even. But as long as there is a sufficient supply of new investors willing to try their luck, the industry volume would not be affected. This clearly seems to be the case in Bollywood. So this is a type of industry in which many individual investors can fail but the industry as a whole thrives.

      In this model, the movie industry is no different from any other industry based on the gambling motive. Take horse-racing for example. Most bettors lose money but the supply of bettors willing to gamble is large enough to keep the industry buoyant.

      The model I have presented is very simple and there are extensions but they do not affect the basic conclusions. For example, some service providers can choose a mixed mode of compensation – lower fixed fee plus share of revenues. Aakar mentioned this is often the case for music directors. This is purely a gambling strategy based on one’s judgment about the probability of success.

      One should keep in mind that a lot of black money is laundered through Bollywood which must be adding peculiarities to the industry that a straightforward analysis would not uncover.

      Just for interest, in Pakistan both the movie-going audience and the number of films made per year declined and the industry shrank considerably.

      Hope this helps.

  72. Aakar Says:

    Here’s how A-star Bollywood movies are made.
    – Producer puts up the initial (about half of which is for the star). As film approaches completion of shoot, a buyer is sought and rights transferred.
    – This buyer (companies like Reliance BIG pictures), sells rights for viewing in India and abroad. The distributor, that is the trader of films into ‘territories’, actually never loses money.
    – The cinema hall owner picks up the film, displays it, but doesn’t fully account for tickets (50 percent of price is entertainment tax) and more or less recovers his money as well. The share of the ticket money that goes to the film’s owner is about a third of post-tax revenue.
    – About a third of modern cinema hall revenue comes from other sources: food and drink.
    – The rights holder makes money also through display abroad, where roughly a fourth of display revenue comes from, and from television rights, which might be about a tenth of cost, but is only given for short periods and so repeated telecast across channels takes this up to about a third of cost.
    – The mobile phone rights are often used to set off payment to composers. Shankar Ehsaan Loy take no money to do A-star movies, but keep the rights which get them money through ringtones.
    – Often A Stars hedge by accepting a combination of cash and territory bringing down the initial cost.
    My guess is that about 75 percent of A Star movies like Kites break even or come into profit even if they ‘flop’.
    The model for B movies is different.

  73. Vikram Says:

    2 books on the Indian Middle class have been brought to my attention, Pavan K Varma’s ‘Being Indian’ and ‘The Great Indian Middle Class’. Are you familiar with any one of them ?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: I am not familiar with either of these books. I checked with Professor Dipankar Gupta whose op-ed on the subject was reproduced on this blog some time back. He mentioned that Pavan Varma’s books were written for the popular audience – they are conversational in style and raise some interesting questions. At the scholarly level, there are books by academics that try and answer the questions. Professor Gupta suggested a chapter of his most recent book, The Caged Phoenix, published by Stanford University Press and one by Professor Leela Fernandez of Rutgers University – India’s New Middle Class: Democratic Politics in an Era of Economic Reform.

  74. Anil Kala Says:

    In the context of selecting partner for mating, the natural selection process looks for a partner who will help give birth to a fitter progeny. In this context human’s over emphasis on his mate meeting his criteria of beauty is baffling. How has concept of beauty evolved and does it have any relation to reflecting health and fitness of species?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: I will initiate this with a tentative response and hope that someone with more knowledge of the subject would add to the discussion.

      My first thought is that beauty and health are correlated – at least at a very broad level because it is unlikely that an unhealthy person would be able to retain his/her beauty. So marrying a beautiful person is not genetically adverse. It is also interesting that the criteria for beauty are not universal – each society has its own and these are probably correlated with local adaptations for successful evolution. The only exception I can think of is the US where the stereotype of the ‘dumb blonde’ exists. Here, as the behavior of American politicians reveals, the adaptation to evolution has taken an interesting turn. People have children with intelligent mates while having affairs with ‘beautiful’ partners.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        Could it be that concept of beauty emerged when human’s realized material wealth mattered a lot! Beautiful people had better chance of acquiring material wealth because they are liked by a lot more people.

        The problem with your assertion is that beauty is very personal perception where is health and fitness not so, therefore general correlation between beauty and health/fitness appears dicey.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: I was trying to make the point that beauty is not a very personal perception. Different societies consider different types beautiful or attractive – the African and the Indian types are very different. It is only within these broad types that individuals make personal choices. The delineation of the broad types are the probable outcomes of local evolutionary needs while the individual selection within types is not critical to the survival of the species. Evolution does not require every single individual to mate perfectly – whatever ‘perfectly’ might mean in this context.

          Regarding your first point, beautiful people could also be resented by a lot more people. It might be safer to look for a less threatened mate. Could that be the reason that the peahen is so ordinary looking? As it is, I don’t seem to find the wealthiest people being the most beautiful, at least not in India. Do you?

          • Anil Kala Says:

            SA, One thing about beauty is that rich people look good/beautiful. A person who is considered beautiful may not be regarded so if he were poor.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Anil: That is very true. A related phenomenon was documented by Ester Boserup in her celebrated book Woman’s Role in Economic Development – whatever profession is adopted by women tends to lose in social prestige. Both beauty and prestige are socially constructed attributes and derive from political and/or economic power.

      • Vinod Says:

        I recall reading (in Richard Dawkin’s Selfish Gene, I think) that when men are attracted by women with voluptuous breasts there is, in that evolutionarily conditioned disposition, a survival advantage . Such women are unlikely to have problems producing milk for their offspring. Similarly in noticing the curves (the hourglass shape) of a woman there is a genetic advantage in that such women with broad pelvises are unlikely to have problems bearing children. There was then the remark that perhaps the idealized models of today with mild pelvic curves aren’t suited for survival. So, if I may put it coarsely – the pursuit of ‘butts and tits’ in women serves the purpose of survivial in men and in women.

        But then, what about notions of beauty such in feaures such as eye colour, hair styles, eye lashes and skin colour. Here I have little to add to what SA has already said.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vinod: I guess this may come across as an ‘attractive’ hypothesis for some. I remain skeptical and would need more evidence to be convinced. The Chinese do not have the physique you mention; yet China has the largest population on earth. Most people generalize from what they know and the description you have attributed to Dawkins seems a very American-centric one to me.

  75. Vikram Says:

    It is interesting to note the recent political developments in Turkey. There seems to be a substantial and prolonged drift to the right.

    One would be tempted to see this as the victory of ‘Islamists’ as Friedman puts it but from what I know of Turkey’s history there is definitely the angle of ‘secular’ elite’s suppressing the more conservative but poorer countryside. The Turkish military in particular has intervened many times in the country’s politics just like Pakistan’s.

    This is somewhat similar to the rise of the BJP in India (although there is not much of a minority in Turkey so that angle is not present), I wonder what this says about the future of politics in India.

    • Vijay Says:

      I think a parallel can certainly be drawn between Ataturk’s modernising project and the Nehruvian project in India. Both sought to suppress the characters of their societies in order to transfigure them into some progressive version of the West.

      From what I see, Ataurk’s project has been a lot more successful (and for a lot longer) than Nehru’s. Whilst we see cracks appearing in Ataturk’s facade, I think its Indian counterpart has been completely undermined. You could even make the argument that the history of independent India’s politics is the history of the gradual unravelling of the Nehruvian project, both its secular and its democratic characteristics.

      I don’t think we’ll ever come to a state of affairs where the Nehruvian project is formally abolished, let’s say by altering the Constitution. India will always maintain a constitutional/lip-service commitment to classical secularism and democracy but the operation of politics in India undermines this myth every day.

  76. Anil Kala Says:

    We have a heightened sense of fear in dark. My question is ….

    A person blind from birth would also have the same sense of fear in dark?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: There was a great Audrey Hepburn movie (Wait Until Dark) about this theme. It may be available on YouTube. Off hand, I can’t say much but I will try and find someone who does. Any help from others would be appreciated.

  77. Gohar Azhar Says:

    Fear of dark is fear of the unknown and fear of potential injury. People blind from birth should not fear the dark, unless they have retained light perception. When you even block light perception, you are changing the environment and that could be disturbing.
    But to answer more accurately, a controlled trial will have to be done.

    • Anil Kala Says:


      There are other attributes of darkness e.g loneliness, quietness, stillness etc. I am curious if these other attributes enhance our sense of fear. For example if there is total darkness but filled with noise of busy traffic we may not have fear at all.

  78. SouthAsian Says:

    Anil: A reply similar to Gohar’s has been received from Dr. Supratik Sanatani, an opthalmologist at Athena Eye Care in Kolkata:

    “Someone who is blind from birth due to optic nerve or brain damage leading to absence of light perception will not feel any difference because for them there is no difference between light and dark. For persons with blindness due to gross defect in form perception, light perception is retained. For them the fear of the dark would be same as normal persons.”

  79. Sohail Khan Says:

    Hi, I look ocassionally at this blog with interest. The topics gets dicussed are diverse . I was wondering if there is any sense to explore ” death” in details. The to me is the most certain event to happen but somehow this is not talked about .

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Sohail: On this blog Anil Kala has the most interest in the subject of death and he has posed a number of related questions on the Ask a Question thread. You will locate them if you scroll up (see one of them here). I hope he will engage you in a conversation. Anil has also contributed a post on the topic. We have also referred to a recent book (Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes) which is an extended discourse on the subject and one you might enjoy.

  80. Vinod Says:

    I’m often asked a distasteful question by many Indians – why are muslim ghettoes in India unclean and dirty? The funny thing is having been around religious muslim I know the emphasis they place on hygience and cleanliness. But why do their localities look so distinctively filthy? I mean it is so distinct that I know I’m driving through a muslim locality in India just by keeping my eyes on the kerb and the dirt around it. I know the answer already – intentional negligence of local govts to muslim areas – but don’t have supporting facts. I could use some help in constructing an answer to this oft-encountered question.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vinod: An answer might involve two separate arguments. First, some South Asian cultures are weak in resorting to social cooperation to provide public goods (we had speculated earlier on possible reasons for this in the series on cooperation and competition). The provision of public goods and services is supposed to be the responsibility of the state. This is a condition that can be reversed but much patient effort has to go into changing behavioral habits – the Orangi Project in Karachi has become known throughout the world for community-owned and managed sanitation services. I am sure there are other examples as well.

      Second, we know that the provision of state services is very closely related to income levels of communities. Therefore, it would not be surprising if low-income communities get poor service and very-low income communities get virtually no service at all. This should be a very easy study for a MA thesis – just correlate some indicator of service with the average income of communities. In the US, public school education is funded through property taxes. There are many studies that show how the quality of education declines steeply with the decline in affluence of communities – inner city minority schools hardly provide any education.

      In a country where public services are poor to start with (Arundhati Roy made a similar observation about the place where the poor had gathered in Delhi and the NYRB article – Excremental India – was also about Delhi in general, not Muslims in particular), the situation in very poor communities could well become intolerable. Whether there is intentional negligence to add to this predicament can only be verified by a field study.

  81. Vinod Says:

    Can social behaviour be reduced to the psychological study of individual human beings?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vinod: The general consensus is that group psychology cannot be reduced to the summation of individual psychologies – it has an independent dimension. It is well observed that people in groups do things that they would never do as individuals. One could argue that these are repressed individual tendencies that can be let loose in the anonymity provided by groups. We can explore this further.

  82. Anil Kala Says:

    If a poor country turns around and finds its finances comfortable but it has huge past borrowings. What happens if it repudiates its loans? What will be the political and economic consequences?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: Most likely outcomes: Economic – credit freeze and trade sanctions; Political – severed relations and expulsion from international organizations. If the country is of strategic importance at the time (like Pakistan at present) a regime change would be attempted to restore the status quo ante.

      However, it is not obvious why a country with comfortable finances would want to repudiate debts. The better example might be countries wanting to assert more control over their natural resources. There are quite a few examples from the past – Iran in 1953, Chile in 1973, Central American countries – where regime change was the preferred solution.

      You can also imagine the fate of a South Asian peasant with some savings who reneges on the debts inherited from his father.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        Thanks SA, I realized how self contradictory the question was.

        What I have noticed is that lending institutions are always willing to find ways to help distressed countries with rescheduling, moratorium etc. of debts. We are unnecessarily making a monster out of lending institutions. It seems fashionable to run them down.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: The running down of lending institutions has to be taken with a big lump of salt. Many rulers revel in it to mislead their domestic constituencies by passing on the responsibility of problems to external agents. These same rulers have no hesitation in contracting new loans at the same time. Many leftists go along with this generalized characterization without taking the time to think through the various types of lending involved.

          Amartya Sen has a very nice example about the limits of what is called ‘revealed preference’ in Economics, i.e., whether one can infer everything about a phenomenon from observed behavior. Suppose you learn that a man is fasting. Can you say with confidence whether it is a rich person on a diet, a middle-class person observing a religious commitment, or a poor person starving for lack of income to buy food? In general, the answer would be in the negative – more information is needed to determine the real reason for fasting.

          It is the same with lending. Commercial lenders have their profit as the highest priority but they can’t profit without their borrowers doing well. So when some borrowers get into trouble, the lenders are always keen to restructure and reschedule the debt. Development lenders are non-profits whose highest priority is the development of the borrower; their charges are pegged at a level where they can cover the cost of staying in business. No development lender wishes its borrower to go under; so again, restructuring, rescheduling, and moratoria are common. Usurious lending, as in bonded labor in South Asia, is in a different category – it is taking advantage of the extreme poverty and dependence of a category of people who should not be in that state in the first place.

          Of course, there is mismanagement, malpractice, and political intervention in both commercial and development lending (including discrimination in lending which is more common) but it cannot be assumed as an inherent characteristic of the lending practice. Every incident has to be established with evidence and proof.

          A useful rule of thumb is to determine if the loan is contracted voluntarily, with due diligence and full information, and with equal expertise on both sides. If so, ex-post complaints of exploitation do not carry much weight. This is where Sen’s example comes in handy. Lending to peasants below the poverty line clearly fails this test.

          For a lesson from literature, one might re-read The Merchant of Venice.

  83. Anil Kala Says:

    Do high profile activists consider their views ‘work of art’ for people to know and appreciate? Aren’t they interested in seeing their views implemented? Why then they do exact opposite of this objective by antagonizing the very same people who could be instrumental in implementing their views? Or is their real interest lies in seeing their name in top headlines?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: I don’t think so, which is not to say that there are not some who might have such an objective. In general, activists raise issues they feel passionate about which are being ignored. Some people get antagonized and some get educated. If it were not for Arundhati, many of us would have been resting content in our ignorance. Of course, raising such issues runs afoul of many powerful vested interests that try and fan the antagonism by misrepresenting what the activists are saying and by questioning their integrity and patriotism.

    • Vinod Says:

      I would check for the real intention of an activist by looking at the length of time and the depth of involvement of the activist to the cause. If the involvement goes to the extent of living with those whose cause has been taken up to experience their lives upclose at a grave risk to one’s own life, with no benefits coming one’s way after returning home and this is done repeatedly then that is enough to convince me that the real intentions are sincere.

      An activist may get top headlines. But if that is only inviting danger to one’s person and property and despite that the provocation in the media continues then the real intention is not to simply gain top headlines.

  84. Vijay Says:

    This blog has previously written about Dipesh Chakrabarty’s book, “Provincialising Europe: Post-colonial Thought and Historical Difference”. I would be grateful if you could point me towards those chapters which deal specifically with the importing of Western political forms to India. I ask because I am writing my dissertation on this topic. I would also welcome it if I was pointed towards any other literature that deals with the importation of Western political forms to India and on critical treatments of Indian Democracy. Is Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s book any good?

    Many thanks.


    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vijay: I am travelling and don’t have access to Chakrabarty’s book at the moment. As soon as I do, I will let you know the chapters that might be relevant. I read Mehta’s book a while back and found it stimulating. The other book you should look at is Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India. It has more of what you are looking for. Also skim Bernard Crick’s A Very Short Introduction to Democracy. All these are non-academic works but they can trigger new thoughts and the bibliographies can point to the relevant academic literature.

  85. Hasan Says:

    Dear Vijay,

    I’ll try to answer your question as best I can, since I have the book in front of me. I think the chapters most directly linked to what you’re talking about, besides the Intro, are Chapters 1, 3 and 8. Chapter 1 deals with the idea of nation-states, subjects and citizens and how those meant different things in India (mostly Bengal). Chapter 3 is focused on capital and labor, but is also interesting because it talks about the different aspects of those in Bengal as opposed to Europe. Chapter 8 focuses on the impact on the “private sphere” in Bengal of the Europeanizing of the public sphere.

    I think these are the most directly related, but some other chapters might also be interesting; Chapter 7 is sort of the reverse of what you’re looking at, in that it talks about an indigenous Bengali activity that could or could not be political. Chapter 5 is related to Chapter 1: it looks at the idea of citizenship through the lens of women and particularly widows. Chapter 6 deals more largely with modernism, but takes an interesting turn into literature and poetry, which might be something worth looking at too.

    I hope this helps a little bit.


  86. Vijay Says:

    That is excellent Hasan. Thank You.

    Although I must be honest, I returned the book to the library today. I couldn’t find any of the critiques I was looking for in his book.

    I will continue to draw on postcolonial and left-wing theory because that is the only tradition that questions Indian Modernity with any degree of coherence. The challenge lies in allying that tradition with the anti-democratic argument I’m trying to develop.

    Thanks again.


  87. Vikram Says:

    I feel the Bihar elections need some discussion here. There has been a bit of hyperbolic response from India’s English media regarding the arrival of ‘development politics’, but the margin of victory has been truly overwhelming. In fact, the last time an election was won in this manner was probably when Nehru won the first Parliamentary elections. And he did manage to get significant legislation like the Hindu Marriage Act passed.

    It remains to see how this victory can be best analyzed and also what kind of legislation Kumar can get passed with the mandate he has received. Also, how will this affect neighbouring UP ?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: I agree. This can be a very useful discussion. It would be good if we can get a sense of how the non-English media is interpreting the result. In what I have been arguing in earlier posts, we need to keep in mind the specific rules that govern the electoral exercise. In South Asia, the most crucial is the first-past-the-post system that can often produce odd results from which one should generalize with care. Here I am posting the comparison of the share of votes and seats of the various parties to provide a baseline for discussion (this data is attributed to the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi):

      Total Seats: 243
      Total Electorate: 5,50,46,093
      Total Votes: 2,90,17,537
      Turnout: 52.71%

      Party Contested Won Votes Vote %
      INC 243 4 24,30,623 8.38
      BJP 102 91 47,75,501 16.46
      JD(U) 141 115 65,61,903 22.61
      CPI 56 1 4,90,815 1.69
      CPI(M)30 0 2,06,601 0.71
      LJP 75 3 19,57,232 6.75
      RJD 168 22 54,66,693 18.84

      Note that BJP has 16% of the vote and 91 seats while RJD has 19% of the vote and 22 seats.

      • Vinod Says:

        SA, the key seems to be the last line you mentioned. Each seat is not represented by the same number of people. So if a party has strong support in the most populous regions it can win the most votes and still win only a handful of seats. Strange results, indeed.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vinod: The first-past-the-post system has many limitations and this could be one of them. I would expect that an attempt would be made to delimit constituencies in a way that they represent roughly the same number of citizens. However, this needs to be verified.

          The JD(U) + BJP coalition got 39% of the vote in 2010 which was only 3% more than what it got in 2005. Yet, the result in terms of the number of seats was hugely different. JD(U) + BJP has 206 seats for 39% of the votes while RJD+LJP has 25 seats for 26% of the vote (RJD+LJP+INC has 29 seats for 34% of the vote).

          Here is the comparison of the seat-wise party positions in the 2005 and 2010 elections (the percentage of the votes obtained are in parentheses):

          Party 2005 2010

          JDU 88 (20%) 115 (23%)
          BJP 55 (16%) 91 (16%)
          RJD 54 (23%) 22 (19%)
          LJP 10 (NA) 3 (7%)
          CONG 9 (6%) 4 (8%)
          OTHERS 27 (NA) 8 (NA)

      • Anil Kala Says:

        1. The vote % is not adding up (about 25% short)
        2. The comparison BJP 16%, RJD 19% is faulty. (BJP did not fight in large number of constituency) Better comparison would be BJP+JDU (16.46+22.61= 39%) -> 206, RJD+LJP (18.84+6.75 = 25.5%) -> 25.

        What it means is that a solid section of voters are sleep walkers. The real game changers are about 10-20 % of electorate who owe allegiance to none or are amenable to changing mind.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: Thanks for the close scrutiny. Here are some possible explanations:

          1. The total number of candidates contesting the elections was 3,523 of which 1,342 were independents. The table showed the results for the political parties only. A reasonable conclusion is that the missing 25% of the votes went to the independents or to candidates of fringe parties not included in the table.
          2. The comparison is certainly incomplete and needs further elaboration by those who know the local politics better. A number of scenarios are possible. At one extreme, it can be surmised that the BJP did not put up candidates in constituencies where it had no or very little support. In such a scenario the comparison would be roughly accurate. Or, it is more likely that coalition partners had a seat allocation agreement whereby they avoided vote splitting. In that case, a comparison of votes of likely coalitions (as you have done but perhaps adding INC to the RJD+LJP vote yielding a 39% to 34% split) would be a more accurate indicator. Note that contesting a greater number of seats does not necessarily increase the number of votes. INC contested 100% of the seats and got 8% of the votes.

          You are right that it is the relatively small swing vote that can make a disproportionate difference to the results. It would be useful to identify the demographics of this swing constituency. An important question would be whether this swing vote has shifted for good or is it likely to change sides again if a charismatic leader emerges on the other side.

        • Anil Kala Says:

          I think in any analysis, the inert chunk of votes should be set aside. If you do that then the swing % rises significantly and accurately reflects seat share.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Anil: Sometime back Vinod had sent a link to a proposal for an innovative electoral system that would generate an incentive for voters to value their votes more highly. It suggests a way to set aside the inert votes and make the remaining more selective. It is of relevance to the the on-going discussion:

      • Vikram Says:

        Even considering the flaws of the first past the post system, the current government has seemed to buck the anti incumbency trend seen throughout India’s electoral history.

        There are many impressive aspects of Nitish Kumar’s work, but one interesting thing I would like to point out is his co-option of Bihari asmita as one based on its Buddhist heritage. His Nalanda International University initiative is one example.

        This is very different from the Gujarati asmita of Narendra Modi or the Marathi asmita of the MNS/Shiv Sena. By co-opting this heritage and projecting it as the basis of Bihar’s greatness, Nitish seems to have fulfilled both the need for a people to have a collective memory of some sort and reduced the space for the extreme right wing in Bihar.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vikram: There are many possible explanations for the election results. The fact that the vote share between 2005 and 2010 has remained fairly steady suggests there is no broad-based shift of sentiment or orientation. There is something at the margin which is translating into a disproportionate swing in the number of seats won. It could be a swing vote impressed with the performance of the incumbents or the developmental focus of governance. It could be a smarter coalition arrangement. Or it could be a more effective caste alliance. The next election would reveal which one of the explanations has more power. If more meticulous analysis is done at the constituency level one might have some tentative evidence to support on or the other explanations.

          The last national election were also one in which the incumbents retained their mandate.

          • Vikram Says:

            But its not just getting that swing vote. Bucking the general anti incumbency trend would mean that the JDU/BJP have also managed to hold on to almost all of their voters from last time.

            I think a better indicator would be obtained if we could get data on what proportion of voters switched their votes. Looking at what proportion of seats were retained by each party would help.

  88. Vikram Says:

    Can this page be better organized ? Split up in some fashion perhaps. It is really difficult to navigate right now, and it is very difficult to locate and refer to things.

  89. Anil Kala Says:

    Something very disturbing is happening in Pakistan. More serious than Ayatullah issuing ‘fatwa’ to kill Salman Rashdie. Some 500 odd scholars belonging to both Barelvi and Deobandi school are openly endorsing killing of Salman Taseer. Ayatullah was one man and de facto head of state, these men are free agents without any accountability.

    It is time for the world to intervene else we may regret a repeat of Rwanda. These blokes have the power to set in motion a monolithic mass of frenzied humans off to killing orgy.

    Whether this happens or not, why take chance. The world should put some order in Pakistan for everyone’s benefit.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: Pakistanis sowed the wind and now they are reaping the whirlwind. Over thirty years of religious indoctrination in schools and encouragement of fanaticism in society is coming of age. The obvious response ought to be to charge the scholars with violating the law because they are clearly inciting or condoning murder. But this response is unlikely to be forthcoming from the Pakistan government nor is there going to be any pressure from outside. Pakistani civil society remains too weak to mount a challenge. This appears to be a lost battle.

      One possible approach, if there are any takers, has been discussed earlier on this blog:

      • Anil Kala Says:


        It is not of question of Pakistan sowing wind……… ….but evolution of humans. The progress we show is utterly skewed. There is no mechanism to correct obvious warps and distortions in our world causing enormous human suffering. While there is robust movement to highlight environmental degradation, tenacious defense of individual freedom of expression etc, but years of brutalization of humanity in Sudan, North Korea, scores of other nations get mere platitudes. What appears logical and obvious to individuals becomes a tug of war for political maneuvering of nations therefore nothing is done to correct human suffering. Is it too much to for nations to collectively come together and put some order in troubled spots?

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: Putting this in the framework of evolution makes it fuzzy for me. I can’t quite grasp the process. There are too many contending interests for other nations to come together and restore order in troubled spots. It is a world in which narrow self-interest takes precedence. The responsibility for what is happening in Pakistan rests on Pakistanis. If this represents an evolutionary mechanism that is unresponsive to good or bad policy choices, shouldn’t many more countries be in similar states?

          • Anil Kala Says:

            “If this represents an evolutionary mechanism that is unresponsive to good or bad policy choices, shouldn’t many more countries be in similar states?”

            That is precisely what I am saying. Humanity as a whole should see human misery its first priority. When the limits are crossed (it is often most obvious), time for at least minimal intervention to restore some order. It is easy for you to say that the choice is made by Pakistani people, therefore let them sort it out.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Anil: We are back to the question of whether there is altruism in the evolutionary process. What should happen is not what happens. When there is chaos in a place, outsiders focus on what they can get out of it – even the world of finance has a saying for it: There is money to be made when there is blood in the streets. And on the other side there is this: God helps those who help themselves.

          • Anil Kala Says:

            Empathy too is result of evolutionary process. There is cannibalism in some species and some species naturally provide care to anybody’s child (lions/elephants). However I am not talking about natural evolution of humans but evolution of human society. Even in Mahabharata there were laws directly in conflict of nature’s law’s such as there will be no fighting after sundown or unarmed will not be attacked. Is it too much to ask to intervene at some places and put an end to extreme suffering? If political interest hinders this then a nominated non-political body of eminent people can be empowered to decide where to intervene and how much to intervene. After all if we can somehow choose Secretary General of UNO then such a body can also be constituted with everyone’s blessing.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Anil: I am in sympathy with your objective and in theory support your proposition. I am less hopeful by virtue of seeing how the US uses the veto to smother any such attempts when they are considered incompatible with its narrow interests.

  90. Anil Kala Says:

    In Big Boss (Brother) show often the nastiest participants are kept voted in while the accommodating type get booted out at the earliest. Seemingly the flaw appears in the manner of voting. It seems ridiculous that when voting is called for booting out someone, why are people voting to keep them in? If the voting choice is for booting, then we may get different result.

    India’s parliament is half filled with people facing charges of murders, rapes, land grabbing etc. Baba Ramdev having enormous clout with the public is out on a mission to get back black money from Swiss accounts. I think more urgent problem is to cleanse the parliament and it cannot be solved by law. I think time for direct voting out MPs has come.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: There is a lot of evidence that choice is influenced by how a question is posed – this is known in the literature on choice as the ‘framing’ effect. Some time back there was an interesting link about this posted on the blog:

      There was celebrated experimental demonstration in 1981 by the pioneers in this field, one of whom was later awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics. There have been many such experimental verifications since:

      Tversky and Kahneman (1981) demonstrated systematic reversals of preference when the same problem is presented in different ways, for example in the Asian disease problem. Participants were asked to “imagine that the U.S. is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed. Assume the exact scientific estimate of the consequences of the programs are as follows.”
      The first group of participants were presented with a choice between programs: In a group of 600 people,
      Program A: “200 people will be saved”
      Program B: “there is a one-third probability that 600 people will be saved, and a two-thirds probability that no people will be saved”
      72 percent of participants preferred program A (the remainder, 28 percent, opting for program B).
      The second group of participants were presented with the choice between: In a group of 600 people,
      Program C: “400 people will die”
      Program D: “there is a one-third probability that nobody will die, and a two-third probability that 600 people will die”
      In this decision frame, 78 percent preferred program D, with the remaining 22 percent opting for program C.
      Programs A and C are identical, as are programs B and D. The change in the decision frame between the two groups of participants produced a preference reversal: when the programs were presented in terms of lives saved, the participants preferred the secure program, A (= C). When the programs were presented in terms of expected deaths, participants chose the gamble D (= B).

      In quite a few countries, there is a constitutional provision for the recall of public representatives by direct vote. Details can be found here:

  91. Anil Kala Says:

    In the context Anna Hazare agitation….

    The government can break this logjam if it shows real sincerity. We have a potentially explosive situation in India where politician have zero credibility with people and a bullheaded Anna trying ram through a bill in parliament which itself is creation of a handful of people. What we need is some sanity. The bill presented by Anna gang can cause serious harm and bill presented by the government appears toothless. There is an ocean of gullible nation willing to throw their lot with Anna because the other side has completely lost faith of the people therefore we need another set of people who are beyond reproach, have proven wisdom and confidence of people to judge. Government should institute a panel of such people such as Amartya Sen, Narayan Murthy, some eminent judges, some top educationist and some eminent lawyers and let them go through the two versions of bills and make a compromise.

    They can also utilize this great opportunity to find means to cleanse the parliament of criminals.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: On the face of it your suggestion of a neutral panel of eminent persons is a logical solution. The Indian government has a history of recourse to neutral committees and commissions. However, in all prior situations, the direct interest of the government was not at issue. In this situation, it is a foregone conclusion that any neutral panel would curtail some of the prerogatives of the executive and the legislature. This is a case of determining who shall guard the guardians and there is an obvious conflict of interest involved. This is as pure a power conflict as one can imagine and I do not see a way it can be resolved within the democratic framework. One side in this democratic system is unduly and arbitrarily privileged and it is not going to cede those powers voluntarily or without a fight. If a neutral panel is ultimately constituted it would have to be forced upon the government by extra-constitutional pressure.

  92. Vikram Says:

    I am looking forward to some discussion on the recent happenings in India on this blog, but just a quick question? Are you surprised at the mass outpouring of support for Anna Hazare? Or is this mainly a media creation?

    • Anil Kala Says:

      Vikram: I don’t think media can create a sustainable movement though they have the capacity to create a bubble. When public have pent up emotions looking for an opening to manifest, any person who articulates that sentiment and is seen as sincere, is backed with full force. We have seen this with Bal Thakre, Lalu Yadav, MGR, NTR and JP and many others. It is the aftermath of initial euphoria that brings them down to earth including the chosen one. The chosen one nearly always falters simply because expectations are enormous and result expected immediately. When reality strikes these leaders with all its complexities and weight of enormous public expectation, these leaders nearly always falter. So they choose path of least resistance, indulge in rhetorical sloganeering and settle down to steady drift. The result is that they acquire a considerably reduced constituency of loyal but irrational followers and glow like a busted star.

      • Vikram Says:

        Anil, the comparison to Thackeray, MGR seems mostly reasonable. The key difference seems to be that those ultimately became political movements that captured state power. This movement is totally non-political, so I wonder what form it will eventually take.

        But I am more hopeful about the intangible results this movement might have. Quoting from a couple of reports:
        “The real impact of this will be seen in 3-5 years. There may be a short-term paralysis in government now, but it will change the norm. No public servant ever thought earlier that anybody would ever get to see or scrutinise a file.” – Pratap Bhanu Mehta,

        “Today, when we were coming, a traffic cop stopped our vehicle and suggested that we shell out some money,” said Ajab Singh Gujar, the owner of the trucking business. “I shouted, ‘Victory to Anna Hazare!’ “The cop immediately allowed us to pass through without any bribe.” –

      • Anil Kala Says:

        Vikram, the problem is of over reaching. Already I see signs of arrogance and invincibility in their language. Baba Ramdev had the government groveling at his feet but he never realized where to stop. These people begin to suffer from invincibility complex.

    • Vinod Says:

      I’m with Anil on this. I don’t think Anna Hazare is anywhere near a Gandhi. Gandhi was not just a social activist. He was also an intellectual. He knew exactly the failings of the Indian masses even as they rallied in unison against the British. Gandhi was able to keep the people to the ground and not let them get carried away in the crowd hysteria.

    • sree Says:

      He is a media creation. Unfortunately, the Government foolishly arrested him and this has prolonged the drama. Otherwise this protest, with its few middle class supporters in the major cities, would have fizzled out by now. Even then, without any support from BJP, Hazare cannot keep up the momentum of this protest for long.

      • Vikram Says:

        Few middle class supporters?

        • sree Says:

          The media has over-hyped this campaign into something that is being touted as a solution to most problems facing India. Then they have built up Hazare into a saint or a modern Gandhi. Also a lot of bollywood personalities are a part of the bandwagon. So there is a lot of curiosity regarding the whole thing and it seems to be the latest fad. If I was there in Delhi I might also have gone there.

          There are a lot of curious people checking out the drama and some one day activists joining in. But the supporters who want this jan lokpal bill passed are from the middle class.

          If the government maintains an indifference to the protest and goes along with its bill through the normal process, the media will move to other stories and the people will lose interest.

  93. SouthAsian Says:

    Vinod: It is not clear to me that the person who articulates a demand should be like Gandhi? What are the chances that there will ever be another person like Gandhi?

    The central fact is that corruption is finally being recognized as a major issue in India. There is a sizable constituency that wants to do something about it. And a person has emerged to give voice to that demand.

    The person is not vying for political office that we should worry whether he has the stature of Gandhi or not. It is up to the government to find a way to respond meaningfully to the demand that is being articulated.

    If people feel that the demand is not real but has been manufactured by vested interests or the media, then, of course, we have a problem that needs to be discussed.

    • Vinod Says:

      The demand is real. But I have serious doubts on the moral fabric of the Indian crowd that is demanding this. Their emphasis on systemic changes as a panacea for corruption, as if they as individuals have not had a role in bringing about this state of affairs, is disturbing. The attitude seems to be as if the bad guy is the government and not the individual citizen. It’s the blame ‘the other ‘and ‘punish the other’ attitude that worries me. I don’t think Anna sees all this or wants to do anything about this. I also dont think any real solutions are coming out of this movement. The demand of passing the Lok Pal Bill is highly inadequate and may even be misplaced. I think people are expecting some kind of miracle faceturn to Indian administration. Nothing of the sort is going to happen. Corruption, to me, is a moral problem, not just a systemic problem. If the individual moral failure is first not acknowledged this movement is pure temporary mayhem. Period.

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Vinod: This line of argument leaves me in doubt. First, will we only support movements that are led my morally pure people who have the perfect solution? Has there ever been a movement like that in the real world? Second, if you go down the Transparency International ranking of corruption, are citizens of countries at the top more moral than of those at the bottom? Can better systems reduce the problem to some extent? Third, what mechanism would you recommend to make the government begin to address the issue with the seriousness that it deserves?

  94. Anil Kala Says:

    VInod: I too have serious disagreement with your line of thinking about moral fabric of Indian crowd and also that corruption is a moral problem. People are same every where. You create a situation in US where petty officials become unaccountable, delay issuing required permits, licenses or other necessary documents and people have nowhere to complain, they too will be resigned to shell out speed money. Every individuals weighs consequences in accordance with his analysis of cost/ benefit/moral dilemma etc. I also disagree that the movement is entirely media creation if so it would imply people are dumb, they are not. It is highly doubtful a media created movement can be sustained beyond a couple of days. You need to see the verbally combative crowd and yet not resorting to rampage. A media created icon will not have such influence over common folks. There has to be something deeply disturbing to make people come out with such aggression. Media has acted as a force multiplier nothing more than that.

    I also disagree that bill will not make any impact. In fact even government tabled bill will make an impact. Mere knowledge that someone is watching makes a huge difference.

    The content of their bill of course is contestable. Also questionable is their attitude to compromise.

  95. Vinod Says:

    First, will we only support movements that are led my morally pure people who have the perfect solution?
    No, but we do need people better than what is currently there. Subtler arrogance would be an improvement over the evident arrogance of now.

    Has there ever been a movement like that in the real world?

    There have been better ones than the Anna movement.

    Second, if you go down the Transparency International ranking of corruption, are citizens of countries at the top more moral than of those at the bottom? Can better systems reduce the problem to some extent?

    Better systems only slow down the decay. They cannot stop it. Systems are only as strong as the moral fibre of the citizens within it.

    Third, what mechanism would you recommend to make the government begin to address the issue with the seriousness that it deserves?

    I don’t have an answer to this now.

    You create a situation in US where petty officials become unaccountable, delay issuing required permits, licenses or other necessary documents and people have nowhere to complain, they too will be resigned to shell out speed money. Every individuals weighs consequences in accordance with his analysis of cost/ benefit/moral dilemma etc

    People can and need to do better.

    • Anil Kala Says:

      “….speed money. Every individuals weighs consequences in accordance with his analysis of cost/ benefit/moral dilemma etc

      People can and need to do better.”

      Why should only Indians be burdened with reaching a certain moral standard to attain some semblance of dignity in social dealings. Besides I believe core morality as an average is more or less constant universally. Some twenty five years ago in my Garhwal hills, when religious tourism was not such a fad, poverty was rampant; you could leave your suitcase on the side of any road, walk over to the nearby Tea shop have your breakfast. When you come back you will find your suitcase lying there untouched. Not anymore! Has the moral standard gone down of the same people or the pressure of society to severely censure those who eyed other people’s possession, relaxed?

  96. SouthAsian Says:

    Vinod: The difficulty I am having with this argument is that I cannot think of an adequate indicator of the moral fibre of a person or of a cutoff point above which his/her moral quality would be considered acceptable by everyone. Nor can I think of how the moral fibre of a movement would be aggregated from the moral fibre of its individual participants.

    The primitive phase of capitalism is always accompanied by huge scams simply because rules are not in place. One can think of the infamous period of Robber Barons in the US. As a result of growing public displeasure rules begin to be devised to curb blatant abuses. In my view this is what happened in the US, not that Americans became more moral.

    This is what seems to be taking place in India in terms of public opinion. Of course, it is quite possible that the proposed rules might not be the right ones. That is where the give and take of the political process is supposed to play its role.

  97. Vinod Says:

    There’s no need to wait for an acceptable moral quality. If a movement starts with good motives that is sufficient reason to get involved notwithstanding the moral weaknesses of its approach. I would get involved and try to work on the moral weaknesses in parallel to working towards the movement’s purposes.

    If care is taken with respect to morality there wouldn’t be the need to go through these crashes and burns to reach the right point. The jury is still out on whether capitalism has reached its right balance, even in the US.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vinod: It is not clear whether you feel this movement against corruption has started with good motives or not. What would be a way of being sure of motives?

      I wonder how many people would agree that business cycles are related to morality. The Indian economy was close to a melt down in 1989 and then took off after policy reforms. I don’t believe there was a significant, if any, change in national morality. Would you disagree?

    • Vinod Says:

      I would largely take their words for delineating the motives and check for reasonable compatibility with actions.

      I think Indian morality has degraded after the economic upturn. I left India just when it had all been initiated and the effects were coming in- 1997. I believe Indians were more moral then compared to the Indians I see now. My perspective is limited to middle class Indians. Affluence has degraded Indian morals.

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Vinod: This argument continues to leave me in doubt. During the early phase of capitalist accumulation corruption inevitably increases. The flip side is that morality appears to degrade. Then checks are put in place and morality appears to recover. There are many countries much more affluent than India but they are not less moral. Morality has only appeared to wax and wane.

        I don’t think there is any unilateral measure of morality. It is always revealed relative to opportunity. If there is nothing to steal there would be little theft. A poor society would appear moral but this could be a deceptive signal.

      • Vinod Says:

        There need not necessarily be a direct correlation between affluence and morality. I am not inclined to get into the details of the relationship between morality and affluence. Suffice to say that the connection between the two is contingent. My assertion that affluence has degraded Indian morals should therefore be viewed with caution. Your point on poor societies and the deception of morality is illustratively poignant.

        I don’t think one needs to work out any standard of morality in the abstract to identify what can be improved in the morality of individuals/groups in a situation in such a way that it concords with the subjectivity of people from various backgrounds. Again I’m disinclined to elaborate on this.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vinod: The relationship between morality and affluence is indeed contingent but contingent on what?

        • Vinod Says:

          On the nature of the cultivation of the inner moral field of the individual since birth.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vinod: A counter-example comes to mind. Let us divide the population into ten groups by affluence. Now let a child from each group receive the same moral guidance since birth. Then each would be equally moral. Therefore there will be no relationship between morality and affluence. Is there a problem with this argument?

          • Vinod Says:

            The moral guidance has to be tailored according to the affluence of each group. Moral guidance is universal and relativistic at the same time. It is universal in its purpose and relative to each individual’s circumstance.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vinod: You will have to clarify what you mean by tailoring moral guidance according to affluence. Can you give an example.

          • Vinod Says:

            I would spend more time focussing on the state of the poor and that of the virtues of charity and humility to those at the higher end of the spectrum. To those on the lower end of the spectrum I would focus on nurturing contentment.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vinod: There can be an objection to this perspective that it individualizes phenomena that might have their basis in institutional arrangements. Suppose we were living in the era of slavery. Would we focus on nurturing contentment at the lower end of the spectrum? After centuries of not being able to eliminate poverty, oppression and injustice by focusing on charity and humility at the higher end, some within the Roman Catholic Church advocated Liberation Theology. The Vatican marginalized the movement:

          • Vinod Says:

            Southasian, that is a useful perspective for me to bear in mind. I’m afraid I cannot say anything for it or against it. It lays a systemic view over something that I only said by way of illustration to a problem raised in the hypothetical. I prefer not commenting on it. But it is definitely worth bearing in mind as I go about doing what I think is the best way.

            I prefer not talking about slavery in the abstract. I think I already spoke too much when talking about morality in the context of affluence and that too I did in theory.

  98. Vikram Says:

    The comparison is interesting. Any comments that can shed further light ?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: The two phenomena are different. In the Pakistani case, it was purely in the realm of politics; it was an attempt to reverse an arbitrary decision by a dictator. In the Indian case, issues of democracy and constitutionalism are involved; the debate is about the ways in which the system of representational governance can be made more responsive to the desires of citizens. The latter is a more complex issue and suggests that India is further ahead in the evolutionary process. The suggested equivalence in the article based on the involvement of the middle-class is misleading in my opinion. Pakistani politics is still in the street; Indian politics is grappling with systemic issues.

  99. Anil Kala Says:

    When two mirrors are place opposite each other they produce countless images. But viewing these images is not possible your body obstructs the viewing. The remedy for this is easy, turn one of the mirrors a wee bit and you will see the series of images turning away in an arc. But the point is not of viewing the image that you can do with just one mirror. It is the quality of mirrors to produce a mountain of images. We were witness to this characteristic of mirror in our social milieu today with some cracking effect.

    When some reporter informed Anna Hazare that someone slapped Sharad Pawar in full public view he immediately responded with, ‘bas aik hi…?’ If you have high stature in society, a tight leash on tongue is desirable else…………. the mirror knows what to do!

  100. Anil Kala Says:

    Mayawati has sent proposal to divide UP into four smaller states. Is there a study to tell if small states really work better? Maharashtra is a large state doing fairly well but the main development is on the Bombay-Pune corridor rest of the state is in the same state as adjoining MP.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: I doubt if there is a study that says small states work better. Look at the variation in size across states in the US. No one has ever argued that the smaller ones are better governed. The argument that is often made is that accountability is increased when decision making is closer to the citizen. That is a function of devolution and decentralization, not necessarily of smaller states. In short, the real issue is good local governance.

      However, UP should be considered an outlier because of its massive size. The division might help if it is responsive to genuine desires for self governance. If it is being promoted for political reasons, it could well fuel conflict.

  101. sree Says:

    I think if there are regional disparities within the state, it would be better to split a big state as otherwise the powerful region will garner most of the resources to the detriment of the other region(s).

    Andhra Pradesh would be an example for a big state with regional disparity, while Tamil Nadu seems to be an example for a big state with less regional disparities. I don’t know about Uttar Pradesh, but I have read that the western part is better off than the eastern parts.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      sree: This is a notion that should force us to think more. How much regional disparity would justify splitting up a state? What are the features of the parts of the state that differ in the levels of development? In the US, for example, the added dimensions of ethnic and linguistic diversity do not exist. In India, that kind of diversity is the norm. If regional disparities are accompanied by differences in ethnicity and language the case for splitting becomes stronger. Otherwise, it might be better to aim for integration of the lagging regions with the leading ones. It is impossible to find a state where spatial development is entirely uniform and uniformity might also not be a sensible goal or a cost-effective strategy. Opportunities for citizens of lagging regions to participate in the prosperity of the leading ones should be created by linking them via infrastructure.

      An example can help motivate this line of thinking. Rural areas everywhere are lagging compared to urban areas. This does not imply that the former should be split off from the latter. That would lead to an infinite regress since the split off rural areas would give rise to their own leading urban areas. Rather, the integration of rural and urban areas is the answer – the Chinese have adopted this goal under the rubric of the Harmonious Society. Rural urban migration is part of this process of integration. It should be facilitated via good roads, transport, investments in the human capital of rural residents, and facilitation of their integration into the urban economy. The Chinese model of Town and Village Enterprises as an interim step to urbanization was a very successful initiative that accomplished many of these goals.

  102. Vikram Says:

    Does anybody know why petrol is so much cheaper in Pakistan and Bangladesh than India ? Is it mainly due to lower taxes ?

    • Anil Kala Says:

      What the article says is common knowledge. Petroleum products are politically priced and not according to dynamics of market. There is Kerosene, LPG and Diesel deliberately priced low while ATF and Petrol are loaded for the lower price of these. The question is when are we going to realize artificially keeping low price of Kerosene, LPG and Diesel doesn’t make sense. A lot of corruption comes from this distortion. It appears from the price of petrol in Pakistan and Bangladesh that both these countries do not subsidies Kerosene, LPG and Diesel by loading ATF and Petrol price. If these countries can live with high Kerosene/LPG and Diesel price why can’t India?

  103. Vikram Says:

    Is it reasonable to claim (roughly) the following social changes in India since independence ?

    Bania and other non-martial castes -> Sanskritization -> Brahaman

    Yadav, Kurmi, Maratha and other martial (shudra) castes -> Kshyatrization -> Rajput

    Chamar, Mochi, Chura and other Dalit castes -> Ambedkarization (?) -> ???

    • Aakar Patel Says:

      Sanskritisation refers to those middle and lower castes that want social acceptability once they come into relative prosperity. The Patels of Gujarat are a good example.
      Vaish/Baniyas are already twice-born and don’t need this legitimacy.
      The second formulation is quite right I think for states like Maharashtra where the peasant has taken on a new, martial, identity – Maratha. Doesn’t apply to states like Gujarat where the dominant culture is mercantile. There the peasant seeks to become a trader.
      I would say urban Ambedkarization seeks to achieve Anglicisation: It seeks to achieve modernity and progress without brushing with Indian high culture.

  104. Anil Kala Says:

    Why do we get pleasure out of unraveling a mystery or solving a riddle? Why this irresistible desire to solve a puzzle when we see one?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil, Can one generalize so broadly? It seems to me that there are many puzzles one comes across that one disregards. Crossword puzzles in newspapers are an example at one end; why we are in this world is an example at the other end. We do get involved in some puzzles that have a particular interest at a particular time.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        Could it be extension of a child’s attribute of tasting everything to build up knowledge only our mind never realized when the necessity wore off.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: I may be mistaken but that too seems a generalization to me. Many children are quite passive and incurious and not into tasting everything. I don’t believe we can have a one-theory-fits-all here.

  105. Anil Kala Says:

    I was playing online bridge at BBO site, my opponents were two ladies. Usually when a players walks off in the middle of a deal and a new player arrives at the table he/she calls for redeal. The contract was with the ladies when the dummy called for a redeal. I suppose everyone okayed so a new deal was laid on the table. The lady playing the contract suddenly asked,

    She: what happened to the deal I was playing?
    Me : Some one called for redeal, you agreed!
    She: Not me!
    Me : A redeal is not possible without everyone’s consent!
    She: Not true.

    Quite obviously she was wrong, she must have clicked on OK button and not paid attention but she was unwilling to concede an argument. In some situations there may not be clear right or wrong position but in many cases arguments keep coming and the focus area spreads. I want to know, is there a way to know when one must concede an argument.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: I can think of two ways of approaching this question. First is the ethical position: If you believe you are wrong or are convinced you were wrong after discussion, you ought to concede. This could be said to be the pattern of Plato’s dialogues in The Republic. The second, is the determination based on a calculus of costs and benefits: If you believe the gains (not necessarily pecuniary) of conceding an argument outweigh the losses, you should concede.

      The typical case in life is that the real or presumed gains (again not necessarily pecuniary; face is an important dimension here) of not conceding outweigh its costs. One then begins to rationalize why one’s action was actually right and often ends up convincing oneself of this rightness. This is a lose-lose situation. It is then up to the other side to decide whether to persist in argumentation or to concede. However, such an expectation opens up the possibility of gaming. An unscrupulous person would take a hard line if she expects the opponent to not want to get into an argument – she could persist even if she knows she is in the wrong.

    • Anil Kala Says:

      What you say we already are doing i.e these things are reflex reactions. I mean the process of pros and cons goes on in our mind all the time. It is just that ego/loss of esteem is considered very high in our mental assessment. Conceding an argument which we countered with vehemence hits at this core attribute therefore we persist in carrying forward the argument to absurd limits.

      I was hoping for more substantive indicators. It will be difficult for us to get over ego problem even if we realize it is ego thing then it will be too late. May be there are some physical indicators like ears going red, a bit of sweating etc.

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Anil: This is not the view in favor now. A good explanation of how the brain works is provided by the Nobel Laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. In the situation described by you, the fast thinking would lead to the intuitive, egotistical response; the slow thinking would lead to the conscious, calculating one. Of course, that is not to say that the calculations would prevent one, knowingly or unknowingly, from sticking to a erroneous point of view. That decision would be a function of the calculus. Ethics (doing the right thing) doesn’t have much to do with intuition or rationality. This is a separate dimension of life whose wellsprings are not well understood.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        Thanks SA, interesting link. I guess thinking slow is the answer.

  106. Vikram Says:

    Is anybody in this forum familiar with Kanchan Chandra’s book, “Why ethnic parties succeed : patronage and ethnic headcounts in India”. There is a link to the first chapter of the book here,

    • Vikram Says:

      SouthAsian, have you encountered this book ?

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Vikram: Here is some more evidence on the issue. Note the comment about Rahul trying to open up the access:

        • Vikram Says:

          Thanks for sharing the link SA. Of course, it is worrying to see the results of French’s analysis. However, I think there is one factor he has not taken into account.

          One typically does not become an MP when he/she is under 30. This only happens when one is either exceptionally politically competent or is inheriting a seat. This is true even when one is between 30-40 to an extent. So French is making the mistake of (inadvertently) fitting data to his hypothesis. Here is the full data he gathered,

          Note that in the age group 41-50 only 37 % of the MPs had a family background in politics. Perhaps knowing what proportion of first time MPs were hereditary might shed more light on the issue.

          This is of course not to deny that there exist significant barriers to entry in politics in India, hence the movement of the middle class away from it.

          However, dynasty seems a general trend throughout Asia, even in Japan 40 % of the ruling party (2009) MPs are hereditary,

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vikram: French’s interpretation is different. His point is that the system is converging almost completely to a dynastic structure. If you start at the beginning with the first national or state parliaments, there could have no dynastic members simply because there was no parliament prior to that date. In every new generation, the proportion of dynastic members is increasing. When you get to the latest generation, those below 30, the dynastic proportion has become 100 percent.

            On your other point, wherever representative systems have not emerged out of organic growth, the dynastic proportion remains high because these were monarchies abruptly switched to representative systems (by the British in South Asia and Africa, by the Americans in Japan). The world view of the citizens remains monarchic which is why seats are often allocated willingly to relatives of incumbents when the latter die or retire.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: I have not read the book but did read the first chapter from the link you sent. The basic thesis is quite well accepted. We have been consistently making the point in this blog that South Asia is characterized by patron-client relationships with a controlling state sector which have an immediate bearing on the functioning of electoral politics. The author has given this a nice label by calling it patronage democracy. It is also recognized that marginalized groups don’t just vote for material gains; self-assertion of identity is also an important determinant as shown in votes for leaders like Laloo Prasad and Mayawati which the middle-class dismisses as either incompetent or megalomaniacal. If I recall right, this point was made in Lant Pritchett’s paper (Is India a Flailing State?) that was archived on this blog: One obvious fallout is that voters don’t care much about candidates switching parties, i.e, ideas and agendas play a very small part in influencing voting behavior.

      The author’s real contribution is to validate these hypotheses with empirical data and field research. This is not an easy task and only someone writing a PhD thesis can do it. I look forward to reading the book when I have a chance.

      • Vikram Says:

        Thanks SA. I agree that these ideas have been well accepted and the SA idea has had quite a lot of discussion on them. I wanted to discuss some materials from the book. The first thing is Chandra’s central thesis,
        “An ethnic party is likely to succeed in a patronage-democracy when it has competitive rules for intraparty advancement and when the size of the ethnic group(s) it seeks to mobilize exceeds the threshold of winning or leverage imposed by the electoral system.”

        Most parties in India tend to be ethnic parties, and dynastic parties. I am wondering what the implication of the first requirement is for dynastic parties. How will dynastic parties ensure competitive rules for intraparty advancement ?

        We have seen this quite often in India, with ethnic parties splitting when the founding monarch starts fading, and the next generation is sought to be imposed on the party. The Shiv Sena in MH, the DMK in Tamil Nadu come to mind.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vikram: Most parties in South Asia are dynastic except perhaps the Communist Parties. But the dynasty can fill just one or two of the top slots. So, parties can differ in how much room exists for new elite entrants to advance up the hierarchy to the rest of the positions at the top.

          • Vikram Says:

            SA, it is not clear why upwardly mobile political elites in a political party will continue to be loyal to the descendants of the founding patriarch (or matriarch). I think we see this in the AIADMK, DMK, TMC and the Congress. I wonder where this will lead the political system to.

            About the book, I think one important contribution from it seems to be her research on what factors enable ethnic patronage based parties to succeed. She also talks about constructivist ethnicity formation, where the ‘ethnic group’ is formed by the manipulations of the political players. I wonder if the middle class in South Asia will start behaving like an ethnic group.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vikram: Upwardly mobile political elites will remain loyal till such time as they do not see better prospects elsewhere. That is the norm in politics where voters do not punish their representatives for switching loyalties. And voters do not do so because they care more about the sources of patronage controlled by the representative than about his political ideas. This is the thesis of the patronage-democracy system developed in the book under discussion.

  107. Anil Kala Says:

    Whenever I read stuff on Hindus in Urdu literature coming out of Pakistan or their movies there is standard stereo type. They are heartless Baniyaas. But Baniyaa community constitutes a very small segment of Hindu Society so how has this stereo type come about?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: It has come about through a relentless propagation by the state (in reality the power behind the state) and through a ready acceptance by an influential section of the population whose world view is supported by that stereotype. I am sure there are many voices that go unrepresented that do not subscribe to this stereotype. The best proof is the interaction of ordinary citizens with visitors from across the border. One must keep in mind that the control of the media is with a very small segment of the population. And, as it has been observed for many countries, the educated segments are more prejudiced in their opinions than the uneducated. The latter are not heard from much.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        SA: That was not the point. I was curious why some other negative trait was not lumped on Hindus? I mean they could have been labeled renegades, squealers, schemers, effeminate or simply dirty people (btw I know a lot of Hindus who think Muslims are generally dirty people who are children producing factories)

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: I can only guess. One guess might be that the entire episode of the partition was personalized around the antagonism between Jinnah and Gandhi. In the simplistic version, all the blame was on the one or the other. And because Gandhi was from the Bania caste, it was easy to vilify the ‘bloody Banias.’ Perhaps, this was considered the ultimate abuse. Because there were hardly any Hindus left in what is now Pakistan, there were no personal interactions to change such stereotypes. To some extent, one can see this phenomenon in the US where all Muslims are seen with reference to Osama bin Laden and dubbed as ‘bloody terrorists.’ Some friends have mentioned that at least till the 1960s, it was common in Delhi to hear all South Indians being labelled ‘bloody Madrasis.’ Because of increased interaction over time, this last stereotype has dissolved.

  108. Anil Kala Says:

    In India, Parliament and Judges have the power to punish those they deem insulting the institution. My question is if this power in modern age is justified. Shouldn’t these institutions earn respect by exemplary behavior and not by flaunting the leash. Zamindars in pre-independent India used to have a lot of respect earned with the help of goons in their employ.

    In any case do these fellows have the guts to really punish someone important, for instances suppose Sachin Tendulkars or Lata Mangeshkar or even Anna Hazare musters enough courage and publicly says the Parliamentarians are crooks, will they have the gall to punish them?

    In this age when in liberal west even God is lampooned this law kind of appears an anachronism.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: The way we have looked at this question on the blog is to ask if the present age in South Asia is “modern”. If so, in what sense? And is there a South Asian “liberal”? The opinion on this blog is that it is modern in the temporal sense but not in terms of attitudes, values and practices. Not is there a South Asian liberal. The fact that what you point to persists confirms that opinion.

      See the following:


      • Anil Kala Says:

        SA: People concerned in this context know what is modern and what is liberal and can easily be modern and liberal if they want.

        I think liberal attitude of is a bye product of prosperity in a free society. Only when a sense of security pervades, people tend to be magnanimous.You see how West over reacted to jobs moving to India and Philippines. India used to be modern and liberal in the period of Gupta dynasty and Akbar’s reign.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: I am not convinced by this argument – liberal and magnanimous are not synonyms. If a liberal attitude is a by-product of prosperity and security how would one explain the emergence of liberalism in the turmoil of Europe? I don’t also know what it means to say that “India used to be modern and liberal in the period of Gupta dynasty and Akbar’s reign.” Who in India was modern and liberal in those periods?

        • Anil Kala Says:

          “liberal and magnanimous are not synonyms”

          May be but they are close. I don’t think Europeans are liberal in all aspects. Since they are generally atheists therefore being liberal in matters of religion and morality, in particular relating to sexual attitude is of not much consequence to them. I have heard of prevalent of xenophobia in Germany and France relating Turks and Algerians.

          What do you mean by who in India was modern and liberal during the period of Akbar’s reign and Gupta dynasty? People generally I would say including the rulers.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Anil: I would like to submit a number of comments for consideration:

            1. It would be very difficult to argue that a conservative cannot be magnanimous. Therefore, if both liberals and conservatives could be magnanimous, liberal and magnanimous cannot be synonyms.
            2. Magnanimity is one trait while the descriptor ‘liberal’ refers to a set of values that an individual adheres to. Magnanimity has not been identified as a core element of this set of values.
            3. The set of values is in the nature of principles to which an individual adheres with consistency. A person cannot suddenly become liberal if he or she wants to. A person who shifts back and forth is neither liberal or conservative (or radical or fundamentalist, for that matter) but an opportunist.
            4. The typical set of liberal values with which we are familiar defines Western, post-Enlightenment liberalism. We have yet to make the effort to delineate the set of values that would best characterize the South Asian liberal (as opposed to the outwardly westernized South Asian individual).
            5. The description (liberal) should not be used at the level of countries, e.g, it is not very useful to say India was liberal or Europeans are not liberal in all aspects. No one will argue that Europeans are liberal in all aspects. Had that been the case, the Conservative Party would not have existed in England or have such a political dominance in the recent past.
            6. The description should also not be used at the level of ‘people.’ All societies are made up of individuals along the ideological spectrum – there are fundamentalists, conservatives, liberals, and radicals at all times (leaving aside various other categories like pietists, moderates, nihilists, anarchists, etc.). We need more specificity when we say people were ‘liberal’ at a particular time – i.e., what was their stand on various issues, e.g., equality of human beings, rights of women, rights on minorities, class, race, color, the role of the state, etc. We need to specify what position a South Asian liberal would have on such issues before we characterize a particular period as predominantly liberal or otherwise.

  109. Anil Kala Says:

    SA: You are being excessively technical about liberal vs conservative thing. A crowd’s character is the character of Its’ majority. India is a secular country but it is practically a Hindu country in character. But another urgent matter has come up which I wish to know..

    My daughter has started dating a Muslim boy and practically I don’t know anything about Islam. Can someone throw light on post death scheme of Islam. I mean what happens to a fellow after his/her death?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: There is a lot of confusion about the use of these labels in South Asia. Therefore, it is important to clarify as much as possible. It is necessary to specify exactly what one is trying to convey when one says someone is a liberal or conservative in South Asia. India has had a Hindu majority for very long. That tells us nothing about the ‘character’ of that majority.

      On your question, as far as I know, post-death in Islam is burial in the earth. What happens after that, only God knows. I understand there is an all-knowing God in Islam.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        You mean there is heaven and hell and the story ends there?

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: That’s pretty much it but my knowledge is limited. But do check out the views of Ghalib on this:

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: Yesterday, I received an invitation to visit the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, DC, with the following text. I thought it might be of interest to you since Islam is a monotheistic religion like Christianity and from the same part of the (Byzantine?) world:

          “The Mexican Cultural Institute has unveiled its traditional Day of the Dead Altar, a quintessentially Mexican tradition and one of our most colorful displays of the year. The Day of the Dead is the result of the fusion of indigenous and Spanish cultures and is one of the most important traditional holidays, underscoring the deeply held belief in Mexico that death is strongly tied to life as the fundamental duality of human existence. For many, the offering is the most significant attribute of the commemoration, and is based on the belief that the dead return to enjoy the essence and aroma of gifts of food and drink provided to them by their family members. In this way, the celebration revolves around welcoming and bidding farewell to souls.

          “In 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized the Day of the Dead as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, due to the fact that the celebration is one of the most relevant representations of living heritage in Mexico and the world, as well as one of the oldest and most widely practiced cultural expressions.”

        • Anil Kala Says:

          SA: What amazes me is that most of the world is cynical about fairy tail ending ‘lived happily ever after’ and yet sold to the same package wrapped in religious color.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Anil: Yes, it is incredible how little people think about their beliefs. There was another paragraph I read today I really liked (see highlighted sentences):

            3:AM: What made you become a philosopher? Was it something you always felt affinities with, or was it something you came to from elsewhere?

            Herman Cappelen: I’ve always felt an affinity with philosophy. Put a bit pretentiously, philosophers think deeper and wider than anyone else and that’s intellectually liberating, satisfying, and of course endlessly frustrating at the same time. When thinking philosophically comes natural to you, then what’s puzzling and slightly bizarre is to not do philosophy. Whatever topic you’re thinking about, you’re never more than two to three ‘Why?’s away from a philosophical question. I’m always puzzled when someone lacks the curiosity to ask those two to three why-questions. Anyone who’s intellectually curious will care about the foundations of what they’re doing and those foundations are invariably, in part, philosophical. So I’m one of those who don’t think philosophising requires much of an explanation, excuse, or justification – lack of philosophical curiosity always strikes me as a pretty reliable sign of intellectual shallowness.


            The real question here, of course, is why people do not ask the why-questions? I guess, because it makes life difficult and complicated. It is easy and comfortable to continue doing what you are doing and believe it is good and right and moral and superior to what anyone else may be doing.

  110. Vikram Says:

    This article introduces some interesting features of the Indian Constitution, and has some good references for further exploration.

  111. Vijay Vikram Says:

    “I could not help wondering if these children might be better off learning in their mother-tongues and studying English as a second language.”

    Zareer Masani on the Macaulite project in India:

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Vijay: I am not sure what you have in mind but that makes sense to me. It is not a question of just some children; evidence suggests that all children are better of starting to learn in their mother tongues before moving on to other languages. I have argued this position in the following article:

      • Vijay Says:

        Anjum: You have and that is why I wanted to share this piece. I also found it interesting that Masani, who has produced a new hagiography of Macaulay and is a champion of English-language learning would be moved to recognise that English-language education is not as unalloyed a good as it is often made out to be.

  112. Vikram Says:

    Readers might be interested in a new dissertation on Persian Ramayanas and Dara Shikoh,

  113. Vijay Vikram Says:

    “I feel that we have a kind of cultural colonization of our minds, where we pretend that only western linear-rational way of thinking exists, and world needs to be understood exclusively according to this logic. The non-linear and apparently contradictory thinking pervades our cultures, but we pretend that it does not merit acknowledgement or understanding.”

  114. Anil Kala Says:

    Joy Shooting in Newton and Gang Rape in Delhi

    The repetition of history has gone much beyond farcical; it is now a combination of directionless anger and dumb bewilderment. The multitude is venting their frustration coming out in numbers and protesting at a formless monster. This time there is no convenient dartboard in sight for them to shoot their darts; not the government, not the police and not the leaders. They are dumbstruck, deep down they know they are themselves responsible for this tragic state. For too long this has gone on desensitized; it happens to people in TV, or fellows in newspapers; remote and faraway. Now it appears that the horror is staring them a much too closer for comfort. The spurt in sales of pepper guns, case in point.

    Once I was engaged in a spirited debate over cooperative living. My contention was, “we are hardwired to be ethical without it cooperative living would not be possible. The cases of lapse are the aberrations’. An expert on evolution intervened and suggested, ‘We are likely to be opportunistic if there is little chance of getting caught and the reward substantial’

    I can’t say about the play of psychology in the case of ‘joy shooter’ but the rape is significantly a case of easy chance that they will not get caught and if they did even then they will get away scot free. The perpetrator acted in complete disregard of fear of law. The staggering sense confidence committing crime in a moving bus in a city crawling with policemen all over tells a nasty story. This is what incenses the common folks, the state of complete anarchy. The essential sentiment is; it is time harsh punishment is meted out to individual and made example of to bring some semblance of sanity in public life. It will be unfortunate for these fellows to made example of but who said world is fair, they took their chance and got caught in a whirlpool of emotions running very high so they have to pay the price for their felony, albeit a high price.

    We can’t discuss capital punishment in isolation, the moral pressure of society, state of safety apparatus and how primed a society is; all contribute to behavior of the criminal. The enormity of capital punishment in an evolved society and a society seeped in medieval morality is not the same. If the right to redeem one belongs to criminal then an honest citizen also has right to life and dignity. Is India primed for this? Why is a rape considered such a heinous crime, largely due to moral repercussion heaped upon the victim by the society! Yes incarcerate them for life but it is not enough, something more graphic and macabre to jolt the psyche of criminal minded is needed, chop their hands too; bad luck if they happen to be the ones to be made example of. A permanent reminder for those who throw acid on hapless victim is necessary.

  115. Vijay Vikram Says:

    Aakar Patel makes some excellent points here

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vijay: I couldn’t stand more than half a minute of the hyper-ventilating anchor person who was clearly intent only on pushing some hot buttons. Being familiar with Aakar’s writings, I can guess what he would have said and that it would have been sensible. But even participating in such shows is a losing proposition. EPW has a good editorial in a recent issue ( which makes the point that policy, both domestic and foreign, is increasingly driven by a shrill media.

      More seriously, I see the tragedy of the subcontinent in this pattern of the mainstream being unable to manage the extreme elements on the fringe. This was brought home to me most clearly by reading an excellent PhD dissertation later turned into a book ( The real value of the book is that its account and conclusions are not contaminated by hindsight from 1947. It stops in 1934 and chronicles events as they happened and were reported in contemporaneous publications. It is more than obvious how the main parties repeatedly succumbed to the demands of their respective fringes. The pattern continues to this day. Is it because the main parties suspect that the fringes can arouse emotions that would be impossible to control or contain? If so, is Justice Markandey Katju right? Is this a comment on the emotional psyche of the subcontinental majority or at least its middle class?

  116. Anil Kala Says:

    Can a Judge decide if a movie is to be banned? Tamil Nadu judge said he will see the movie then decide if it is to be banned or not. How can a judge sit on judgement over a decision made be specialists in the censor board hand picked to over see all aspects of a movie?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: This has been common practice in the case of books. If there are appeals pertaining to the law (e.g., about obscenity or hate speech, etc.), the court is the only institution that can rule on such matters. There have been many celebrated cases in South Asia and abroad. In our part of the world there were court rulings over writings by Manto and Ismat Chughtai. Abroad, the Bhagawad-Gita was recently taken to court in Russia on the charge that it was extremist literature. Earlier, there were the cases about Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Ulysses. New editions of Ulysses include the full judgement of the US District Court on December 6, 1933 by Judge John Woolsey lifting the ban on the book. The judge considered the legal procedure “highly appropriate in libels for the confiscation of books such as this.” It is a judgement worth reading.

      As for the censor board, decisions of specialists in many fields are often appealed against and taken to the courts if issues of law are invoked. A judge is expected to have more expertise in the law than specialists in other domains.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        SA: You forget that in case of books there no such thing as a censor board. Even when appeals against specialists are decided in court, courts seek opinions of more specialists. The judge himself does not become specialist and takes a call.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Anil: When the issue is one of law, the judge is the specialist. At the trial, other specialists in the field, i.e., lawyers for both sides provide the argumentation on which the judge decides the case. And the lawyers can call specialists from other fields as witnesses to make non-legal, e.g., literary points.

          Judge Woolsey wrote the following about his decision regarding Ulysses: “I havde read “Ulysses” once in its entirety and I have read those passages of which the Government particularly complains several times. In fact, for many weeks, my spare time has been devoted to the consideration of the decision which my duty would require me to make in this matter.”

        • Anil Kala Says:

          I think the proper thing is to send the case back to censor board for review. Lawyers are no specialists when a complex medium like movie is concerned. The judge said he will watch the movie and then take a call.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Anil: You are recommending that the decision of the censor board should be final and unappealable. I doubt this would be the practice in any country and for good reason. Boards like this are appointed; they are not democratically representative nor accountable. Suppose a government packs the board with people subscribing to its ideology. The only factor that would constrain the board giving free rein to its prejudices would be the knowledge that its decison could be challenged in another forum. The same argument holds for legislatures although one could argue that these are sovereign bodies answerable to the electorate. In order to limit the dangers of majoritarianism, decisions of the legislature can be challenged in the court.

            Of course, courts can also be packed but the processes involving appointments to the apex court (to which there is no appaeal) are much more involved. One can see from the US where even a two-term President can at best nominate one or two judges to the Supreme Court during his/her term and even these are subject to gruelling approval procedures. If I recall right, Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court during the New Deal and failed.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Anil: It seems that the Supreme Court has already ruled that the Censor Board is the final authority:

            “Girish Johar of Balaji Telefilms, which is releasing the Hindi version of Vishwaroopam, says the ban is uncalled for. “In the case of Arakashan, the Supreme Court has made clear that once a film is cleared by the CBFC, the government has no business to stall its release and it is bound to provide security.””


          • Anil Kala Says:

            Makes sense to me.

  117. Anil Kala Says:

    Lot of noise on Ashish Nandi comment but I want to know if he was factually correct when he said West Bengal was least corrupt state.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: There is an excellent response on Nandy along the lines you mention: “Lets talk about what Nandy really said.”

      “For some inexplicable reason, Nandy then claimed that Singapore is the only corruption-free country in the world (even though Denmark, Sweden, Finland and New Zealand all rank above it in the 2011 and 2012 corruption perception index released by Transparency International).” …

      “But at the very outset, let me say three things. One, that the statements made by Nandy were meant to be absolutely un-casteist, and actually meant as arguments in favour of the oppressed classes (though in some warped, elitist kind of way). Second, if we are to even pretend to be a civilized society, then it would be monumentally stupid to debate whether he should be prosecuted for offending a section that he has spent his life defending. And finally, the truly interesting aspect of this whole fiasco is not what Nandy has a right to say (because that debate is quite one-sided), but it is what he actually said.” …

      “The essence of Nandy and Tejpal’s argument is very simple: The status quo suits us (the upper classes), and although we recognize that it is a form of corruption, we will not change it. So you (the lower classes) should stop complaining about corruption, and learn how to work the system.”

    • Anil Kala Says:

      I also had similar views. When it comes to Backwards or Dalits or even Muslims, we generalize the malaise as kind of genetic to them the same problem in upper castes is individual’s fallibility.

  118. Andy Says:

    Firstly I’d like to compliment you for this extremely informative blog. I came across this only recently and you people have left me in awe. The depth and level of understanding of you is truly remarkable. I personally am interested in independent India’s Foreign Policy and my question pertains to the same.

    Ques: The sole objective of any nation’s Foreign Policy is to serve its own national interests. I remember Shashi Tharoor once candidly remarked that Nehru’s foreign policy vision was replete with doing what’s morally right than doing what’s diplomatically correct. This thought indeed galvanized me into questioning Nehru’s stand as regards to India’s Foreign Policy. My contention is that could we not have been better off had we sided with the US block? With the luxury of hindsight, the justifications can be many. It’d have been a victory for democracy with both countries getting together, would have resulted in abolition of License Raj much earlier, a free market liberal economy for India, aversion of BOP crisis, and may be we could have even had an inspiring growth story such as that of South Koreas and Japans… The list could go on and on.

    You might contend by pointing at a failing Pakistan who had sided with US. But in all possibility, I reckon, a large country like India with a working democracy could not have drifted the Pakistan way.

    How can one justify Nehru’s stand given that his own daughter jettisoned the moral principle of Non-Alignment by siding with USSR. What is your view on this? Eagerly awaiting your reply.

    • Vijay Vikram Says:

      Indeed. This is an excellent website. The received judgement on Nehru’s foreign policy is that he had inherited his disdain for America from the English aristocracy. As Europe was the locus of elite Indian consciousness and Russia the home of emancipatory rebellion – America did not figure much into the consciousness of the Indian nationalist elite. Perhaps the shift in raw power across the Atlantic was also not clear to many at the time. Nehru was much impressed with what happened in Russia in 1917 as indeed were many of the world’s intellectuals.

      Perhaps the real question to ask was whether any independent policy, foreign or otherwise was possible for India after the formal decolonisation of 1947? The British might have relinquished physical control over the Subcontinent but European political thought, with all its visions of fantastic revolution continued to fascinate the Indians. Thus, I do not think it is meanigful to think of indepedent India’s history as a set of clear, demarkated choices where choice A would have led to excellence but choice B to gomorrah. In fact, it is most meaningful to think of independent India’s history as part of the developing trajectories of decolonisation. The more distance we put between ourselves and 1947, the more likely we are to act in the national interest, to even begin to conceive of such a thing as the national interest. India is a nation-state that is still being created. Much water has to flow under the bridge before we can speak of pursuing the national interest in a straightforward manner.

      Since you are interested in Nehru and independent India’s foreign policy, I direct you towards Srinath Raghavan’s “War and Peace in Modern India” which looks at precsely this period:

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Andy: Vijay has replied to your question. I would like to explore a different dimension using your premise (“The sole objective of any nation’s Foreign Policy is to serve its own national interests”) as the point of departure. Why should this be the case? And what can be considered acceptable in the pursuit of national interests?

      Recall that the American state was engaged in the most undemocratic acts outside its borders, often by lying to its own citizens, in the pursuit of national interests defined by a narrow elite. As a result it was a despised imperial power across the developing world – Yankee Go Home was a common slogan in those times. This type of mendacious foreign policy has not ended as the war on Iraq under false pretences illustrates. Given this, how would India aligning with the US have been a victory for democracy in both countries? Nehru was a romantic as Vijay has stated and India’s moral stature of that era rested on his pointing out the hypocrisies of US foreign policy.

      Also, there is no reason to believe that free market economy at that stage of India’s development would have yielded better results. The example of rapidly opening up economies in Eastern Europe provides a cautionary counter-example. The foundations of industry and education (the IITs and IIMs being one example) laid during the early years have stood India in good stead when it finally did open up its economy. In fact, one can argue that the investment in public infrastructure was nowhere enough which is what handicaps India with respect to China today.

      In the comparison with Korea and Japan, one must keep in mind the huge investments in public education and health on which their service economies developed. India made nowhere the same investments and has to pay the price now. It is simplistic to think that just a free market would have provided these public goods and put India in the same league.

      We ought to strive for a world in which the sole objective of foreign policy is not simply to advance national interests at any cost. Citizens should hold their representatives to some standard of universal morality and ethics.

  119. Andy Says:

    SA, you are right. Perhaps I was too simplistic in my exposition. I share your opinion that public infrastructure is of paramount importance for any developing nation to achieve inclusive growth. You’ve made an interesting point saying how the Japanese and Koreans were far more dextrous and visionary than we were. But don’t you think India has been making humongous investments in primary education, health and poverty alleviation programmes ever since our independence? At the back of a painful partition, with the economy almost in ruins, Nehru had visualised a centralised planning body for the country which could effectively direct investment onto critical sectors which ultimately led to the birth of Planning Commission in 1950. Today India’s expenditure on all social sector schemes, when clubbed, is second only to our expenditure on defence. 60 odd years of careful centralised planning and yet many miles behind Japan and Korea. What, in your opinion, is the single biggest reason for this?

    In my view, over centralisation has led to high blood pressure at the Centre and anemia at the field level. Our failure to empower the institutions at the grass root level (read Panchayati Raj Institutions) might be a plausible explanation. Do you agree? Kindly add other important reasons that I might be missing here.

  120. Andy Says:

    Thank you SA. The citations you’ve mentioned are excellent, especially the one by Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen. The counter points are very convincing I must say.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Andy: You had mentioned earlier that India had spent heavily on services, especially for the poor. This comment by Professor Sen will put that in perspective:

      The same is true for education especially when it is adjusted for quality. India has not invested in its human capital (nor have Pakistan and Bangladesh) and that is a huge burden to carry. One can’t compete with East Asian countries on motivation alone.

      Leave aside other issues that we just like to ignore in our aspirations for greatness. There is a forthcoming talk at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC on March 4, 2013. Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, will be speaking on The Other Side of India: A Rights Record Overlooked. The synopsis of the talk is as follows:

      “To talk of India is to invoke generalizations: The world’s “largest democracy,” an emerging world power, a destination for outsourcing, a nation of both extraordinary economic growth and enduring poverty. Less often discussed is India’s basic human rights record — one that Human Rights Watch has described as very poor, featuring extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances in conflict areas, torture in police custody, attacks on human rights defenders, failures to protect and promote women’s and children’s rights, curbs on Internet freedom and freedom of expression and association, and a general lack of protection for marginalized groups, particularly Dalits, tribal groups, religious minorities, women, and children. Meenakshi Ganguly will discuss her organization’s work to document these abuses and efforts to raise awareness of India’s rights record.”

      Can a country climb to greatness on a record (including both what is not done and what is done) like this?

  121. Andy Says:

    “At a very elementary level, governance is a function of bureaucratic autonomy and management capacity and while the former is good in theory, it is not independent of the latter.”

    SA, could you please elaborate on this assertion?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Andy: You would gain from reading the Fukuyama paper where this is explained in detail. In the context of our discussion, a very brief summary would be that the quality of governance depends both on the degree of decentralization and the capacity to manage. If the capacity to manage at the local level is weak, a high degree of decentraization would lead to poor governance. If the capacity is high, more decentralization would lead to better governance. Based on this reasoning,it is not sufficent to say that more decentralization is always better than less. The outcome also depends on the capacity to manage. One conclusion is that developed countries can have a greater degree of decentralization than less developed countries. The latter should focus on building management capacity at the local levels and then decentralize gradually as that capacity builds up. South Asian countries have not invested neither in building up that capacity nor in making the local level an attractive place to live for good managers. Anyone who acquires skills finds it more attractive to move to the metropolis or out of the country itself.

  122. Andy Says:

    Why have the resource rich South Asian and African countries remained poor for decades?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Andy: One simple answer is that most of these countries have not had social revolutions that have transferred power to a broad middle class. Power has remained in the control of a narrow elite that has plundered some of the resources and not developed others. The financial payoffs from these resources have not been invested in the welfare of the majority (think of the health and education systems, for example). A lot of it has leaked out of the domestic economy and parked abroad; quite a bit has been devoted to conspicuous consumption. The people have not yet generated the momentum to force a politicfal change that would shift the allocation of resources to their benefit. Latin America has been ahead of South Asian and Africa in this regard – think of Brazil under Lula or Venezuela under Chavez, for example.

      • Vikram Says:

        SA, I find the examples of Brazil and Venezuela unsatisfactory. Both are extremely oil rich countries and also have some of the highest levels of economic inequality in the world, not to mention urban crime rates. South Asian countries arent really resource rich from an industrial perspective. Industrialization needs abundant, cheap energy, of which SA nations have low levels, especially in per capita terms.

        I have a follow up question, how come a resource poor and a relatively young nation like Bangladesh has done better in improving basic indicators than both Pakistan and India.

  123. SouthAsian Says:

    Vikram: The question was why have resource-rich countries remained poor. There was a great deal of poverty in Brazil and Venezuela. No change in resource endowment took place. Yet poverty declined significantly because pro-poor governments were voted to power. The question did not ask about inequality or urban crime.

    Japan has even less natural resources than South Asian countries and no source of cheap energy. Yet it is not a poor country. That should indirectly answer your question about Bangladesh.

    • Vikram Says:

      The hypothesis is that the ‘pro-poor’ governments in Brazil and Venezuela could be pro-poor when they wanted to because of the resource endowment. Consider Saudi Arabia, it has a monarchy that most wont characterize as pro-poor, but has excellent life expectancies and infant mortality rates. The points about crime and inequality were raised to point out that perhaps these governments are not as pro-poor as one thinks. Crime in those countries is extraordinarily high and it affects the poor disproportionately more.

      Consider Venezuela for example, “Class tension has long been a part of life in the South American country, where armed robberies, carjackings and kidnappings are frequent. In 2009, the homicide rate was approximately 57 per 100,000, one of the world’s highest, having tripled in the previous decade.[1] The capital Caracas has the sixth greatest homicide rate of any large city in the world, with 98.7 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2011.[2]” (Wikipedia, with references)

      Japan has even less natural resources, but it had a head start and was industrializing when importing energy was quite cheap. I am also not quite sure what you meant by your reply, do you mean that there has been some kind of social revolution in Bangladesh ?

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Vikram: The general question was why have resource-rich countries remained poor? The answer was because of the policies they followed. They had the resources to reduce poverty and when they adopted pro-poor policies, they were able to. There has always been a high level of crime in some countries. This is not relevant to this argument unless you are saying that pro-poor policies increase crime and therefore should not be adopted.

        Japan is an example of a resource-poor country that also reduced poverty which strengthens the argument that policies matter a great deal. How and why did it get a head start and decide to use whatever resources it had to reduce poverty? If you are arguing that Japan started off when energy was quite cheap, why didn’t Venezuela also benefit from that period of cheap energy even more so because it did not even have to import any? And, just by the way, if you look at the real price of energy, the average has not varied all that much till the beginning of this century:

        The same has been the story in a number of East Asian countries – South Korea and Taiwan have done much better in reducing poverty than Indonesia although the latter has far greater natural resources.

        The point is that if you want to explain better indicators in Bangladesh, you don’t have to look at its resource endowment, you have to look at its policies. For whatever reason, Bangladesh is spending more of its income on programs (health, education) that benefit the poor. This was pointed out by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze:

        • Andy Says:

          I broadly agree with the argument put forth by SA here. I have referred to the latest Human Development Report of UNDP 2013 and here is the startling fact – even the tiny island Sri Lanka fares far better on almost every front when it comes to human development indices, though it’s percapita income is much less than India. This runs contrary to the common perceived notion that percapita income or natural resources for that matter is a sine qua non for development. What I have come to realize, after giving it a considerable thought is that , as per the evolutionary growth model given by Rostow, a country that invests in the social sector by harnessing human capital would gradually move from an agrarian Primary industry dominated economy to a Service sector dominated economy driven by human intellect thus obviating the need for natural resources to prosper(Japan, Korea are the quintessential examples.)

        • Vikram Says:

          SA, the picture in my mind is as follows,

          Development Outcomes = Policies*Governance + Resources – Diversity

          If you have good governance and good policies, you will achieve good development outcomes, even if resources are low. This appears to the case in East Asian countries, where diversity is also low.

          If you have a lot of resources and low diversity, you still have good outcomes even without great policies, this appears to be the case in Saudi Arabia.

          Good policies, weak governance, but good resources also seems to lead to good outcomes. This would seem to be the case for Brazil and Venezuela.

          In Bangladesh’s case we seem to have good policies, low resources but less diversity. Whereas India has decent policies, moderate (?) resources, but more diversity, leading to worse outcomes than Bangladesh. In Nigeria, resources are plentiful, but diversity is very high and governance weak, leading to low development. This can be contrasted with Botswana where diversity is low and resources are plentiful, decent governance and very good development outcomes.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vikram: It is not clear why you treat diversity as an unambiguous negative. It can be a positive or a negative and the outcome itself is a function of policies. There is a whole literature on how the most creative cities are the ones that encourage the most diversity. The US has amongst the most diverse mix of populations without it having a negative impact. In fact, the entire program to give work visas to Indians is based on the argument that it would be positive for the economy.

            Another way to look at this is to reflect on the case of China. Since 1978, there has been a 40-fold increase in national income and poverty has been reduced significantly. There has been no change in resource endowments or diversity. The only variable that has changed is policies. This should affirm the point that policies are the most critical element in the equation.

  124. Vikram Says:

    Andy and SA, I think N.C Saxena’s (member of the National Advisory Council in India) comment on the article by Sen and Dreze is useful. The problem in India seems to be governance and diversity, not policies. I will repost that comment here to aid the discussion,

    “India’s dismal performance on social indicators is despite central share for programmes in the social sector, including agriculture, often going up by almost 10 times in the last decade. So, one can’t say there has been a “neglect of elementary education, healthcare, social security and related matters in Indian planning”. But what does one do when these funds are siphoned off by corrupt politicians and bureaucracy at the state level? We certainly need more government teachers and doctors but what if almost half of them are absent, and busy in private practice? It is deplorable that neither the GoI nor the states monitor and measure absenteeism regularly. The article talks about errors of inclusion and exclusion in identifying the poor, but when did we last measure this? Six years back, in 2004-05. When was pds last evaluated? Nine years back, in 2002-03. Surely, more frequent assessments by GoI could have put pressure on the states to improve delivery.

    A recent evaluation of ICDS in Gorakhpur by the NHRC showed that despite Supreme Court orders to provide hot cooked meals, all centres supplied only packaged ready-to-eat food, which had only 100 calories, as against a norm of 300 calories, and 63 per cent of food and funds were misappropriated. The food being unpalatable, half of it ends up as cattle feed. However, such reports, though few, are never discussed in state assemblies, as they meet now for less than 30 days a year. We need a new law making it compulsory for Parliament and assemblies to meet for at least 150 days a year.

    Moreover, state governments actively encourage reporting of inflated figures from the districts, which renders monitoring ineffective and accountability meaningless. Jean and Amartya’s paper shows 43.5 per cent children are underweight, of which 17 per cent are severely malnourished. However, the state governments report 13 per cent children as underweight, and only 0.4 per cent as severely malnourished (India Human Development Report, 2011). One district collector, when confronted with this kind of bogus figures, told me that reporting correct data is “a high-risk and low-reward activity”!

    Therefore, the main issue Jean and Amartya should have discussed is how to push governance reforms in the rogue states that believe in the looting of national wealth for their own benefit and are, by definition, uninterested in professionalism and accountability. A pliable and unskilled civil service is actually desirable from their point of view—IAS officers dependent on the regime’s discretionary largesse are tempted to become corrupt, cannot quit their jobs, and ultimately become the regime’s accomplices. Providing financial assistance from GoI to such states without linking it with performance and reforms appears to me a waste of resources. Maybe Jairam Ramesh should consider direct cash transfer in such states rather than allow the loot of NREGA funds.

    Incidentally, the authors are gung-ho on the Kerala model, forgetting that two-thirds of primary and secondary education there is provided by private-aided schools, and almost half the people have shifted from government to private health service in view of the deteriorating performance of the former.”

  125. Andy Says:

    Vikram, SA : The question you have raised is central to this development- resource debate. Recently I came across this book “Why Nations Fail” by a renowned economist James A. Robinson in which he explores the reasons as to why some nations have remained poor since time immemorial. He says prosperity of a nation is inextricably linked with the credibility and effectiveness of its political institutions (read policies and governance.)

    As for diversity being a retarding factor, I don’t find myself on the same page with you on this. Diversity can be a bane albeit if harnessed properly, as is the case with US.

    Coming to India’s context, N C Saxena has got a very convincing argument I must say. I hope SA remembers the point I had raised in my previous comments that India has been and still is spending in significant proportions on social sector. The critical problem has been with the efficacy of its implementation. Each year the government proudly announces how the outlays have been increased significantly on social infrastructure such as health, education, sanitation etc. The fallacy in this is that outlays are seen as an end in itself rather than reviewing the outcomes that were intended in the first place. 2nd Administrative Commission’s report clearly brings out this issue to the fore. In a democracy, unless people at the grass root levels are not made part of governance process, accountability shall not come by and policies suffer miserably at the field level no matter how noble policy maker’s intention might be. 20 yrs have passed since the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments yet the 3rd tier local self governance institutions remain weak without much authority. Solutions to India’s development conundrum lies in the effective implementation rather than in need funds or natural resources.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Andy: One would have to identify the countries that have remained poor since time immemorial. This graphic from the great work of Angus Maddison is useful: The real question is to explain how effective political institutions emerge and decay.

      Also, there is need to be more precise in discussing public expenditures on social sectores across countries. If you check per-capita expenditures in normalized dollars, you will see that spending in India is not very high. It is lower than in Sri Lanka, for example. The World Bank’s World Development Report or the UNDP’s Human Development Report should have comapartive statistics across countries.

  126. Vikram Says:

    SA, Andy, it appears that we have identified implementation and governance rather than policy as the key failure in the Indian development equation. Now the question is why is governance in India such an immense failure ? Three possible hypothesis come to mind:

    1) Due to the absence of a social revolution, the governing classes of India are simply apathetic to the plight of the masses and hence do not perform their jobs in a professional and dedicated manner.

    2) Due to its inheritance of an inorganic, top-down colonial government structure, the very system of government is incompatible with ground level realities, and even the most dedicated officers can do very little in such an ill-designed system.

    3) The peculiar democratic politics of South Asia, with its divisions of caste and creed being the major planks of political action, result in a political environment where leaders are rewarded more for favouring and posturing, rather than their performance in governance.

    There are many, many questions here. Why does Sri Lanka, which shares the top 2 characteristics with other SA countries have development outcomes that are so much better ? Why is there such a large variation is governance outcomes across India ? What is Bangladesh doing better ? The SA idea had an excellent Democracy in India series, perhaps a Governance in India series would also be useful.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: Implementation is the final step and it stands to reason that everything else can be right but would not matter if implementation is weak. Quite a few years ago, Lant Pritchett’s article (Is India a Flailing State?) was archived in the Best from Elsewhere section of this website: Pritchett’s summary was the following: “the Indian state is “flailing” — its very capable head is not longer reliably connected to the arms and legs of implementation.” Pritchett gives reasons for the poor implementation with which I have some differences but they provide a good starting point for a discussion.

      As for Sri Lanka, every country has a unique history that has to be factored into the explanation. At independence, Tamils had 60% of government jobs with 20% of the population – this was a legacy of colonial policy. The vote transferred power to the marginalized majority which launched an affirmative action program. No such political imperative existed in India or Pakistan.

      • Vikram Says:

        “The vote transferred power to the marginalized majority which launched an affirmative action program. No such political imperative existed in India or Pakistan.”

        SA, I am sure you are aware of the extensive affirmative action programs in India. In fact, research has shown that state legislatures with a higher proportion of Scheduled Caste legislators did a better job of providing basic necessities and land reform.

        I have pointed out the journal paper by Victoria Hnatkovska and others that shows that the wage gaps between Dalits and other Indians have been consistently decreasing and are now lower than those between whites and marginalized minorities in the US. Here it is again,
        The presence of SC’s in all levels of the bureaucracy has also increased a great deal,
        We have also had the recent phenomenon of the largest state in India electing a Dalit CM.

        Are you saying that these changes occured much earlier in Sri Lanka, and thats why the difference ? I am also curious about affirmative action policies in Pakistan, and how they compare with the rest of South Asia. The current state of my understanding is that the absence of explicit castes in Islam prevented caste based reservations and hampered economic and political mobility in Pakistan. As democracy becomes more established in Pakistan, I wont be surprised if caste based parties emerge there as well.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vikram: The point was not about affirmative action in general but about the specific difference between Sri Lanka and other countries in South Asia at the time of independence. A stylized illustration would be as follows. Suppose there are two distinct groups A and B in society; A comprises 80% of the population and B 20%. Suppose in period 1 (before the introduction of electoral politics) political control is in the hands of group B (think of South Africa with A being Blacks and B Whites). Now in period 2 (after the introduction of electoral politics) if political control transfers to Group A, it will initiate affirmative action for its own members who were previously marginalized. If political control remains with Group B, it too will initiate some affirmative action for members of Group A because of the imperatives of the vote. However, the effectiveness of actions that the group in control initiates for itself could be expected to exceed that which it initiates for the ‘other’. The argument I was making was that in Sri Lanka (as also in Malaysia where there were three groups), political control transferred from Group B to Group A while in India it stayed (for various reasons which can be discussed separately) with Group B. That explains the difference in the outcomes.

          Affirmative action programs for the marginalized in Pakistan while not being caste-based mirror those in India with minor variations. If there are no explicit castes in Islam, it is difficult to see how caste-based parties will emerge with the maturation of democracy. There is a significant extent of clan (biraderi) based politics but no clan-based parties. There do exist religious parties aligned to various sects but they are not the dominant parties in the country. There are an increasing number of groups outside politics that are organized along narrow sectarian ideologies and are engaged in violence to impose their views on others or to disrupt the democratic process.

          • Vikram Says:

            SA, there are very few chief ministers in India today from the upper castes. Most belong to the OBCs (Modi, Karunanidhi, late YSR, Akhilesh Yadav) and we have also had CM’s from the SC’s (Mayawati) and ST’s (Marandi). I dont think it can be said that political control in India rests with the upper castes. I am not sure the situation in India is as simple as the binary Group A and Group B situation in Sri Lanka.

            Can you point me to a source that has information about the affirmative action programs in Pakistan, especially its history ? I always thought apart from the role of religion in state, this was a principal political difference between India and Pakistan. The Constitutional legitimacy of the reservation mechanisms politicized the weaker sections of Indian society, whose consequences we see in the form of caste based parties. These parties have played a major role in ensuring electoral democracy continues in India.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vikram: You are right and this is a complex situation. Political and economic power are in very different hands in India. In these times, unlike a century or so back, we are living in the age of money capital so economic power trumps political power – one can see the same phenomenon beginning to affect democratic governance in the US, for example. So, the analysis has to be more nuanced. It would be great to have Aakar Patel’s input on this issue.

            You are quite right that caste has been central to ensuring electoral democracy in India. You should read Perry Anderson’s explanation in the London Review of Books: “Caste is what preserved Hindu democracy from disintegration… India would have a caste-iron democracy.” However, for the same reason, democracy has yielded material gains to the marginalized so slowly: “Why then has the sheer pressure of the famished masses, who apparently hold an electoral whip-hand, not exploded in demands for social reparation incompatible with the capitalist framework of this – as of every other – liberal democracy? Certainly not because Congress ever made much effort to meet even quite modest requirements of social equality or justice… The answer lies, and has always lain, in what also sets India apart from any other country in the world, the historic peculiarities of its system of social stratification.”

            And, yes, this could be considered one of the key differences from Pakistan where there has been no such factor providing electoral stability because of fragmentation of the famished majority.

            Affirmative action programs in Pakistan have been income/class-based not caste-based as in India. For a couple of examples see the Benazir Income Support Program – – and the older Zakaat program –

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vikram: An article in the April 13, 2013 issue of the EPW explains this disconnect between the political and economic dimensions of caste quite well. At least it provides a good point of departure for an informed debate on the question of who retains control in a given socioeconomic formation:

            “The story of the political encashment of caste is often told – indeed it has dominated public discourse over the past two decades… The other story – that of the “extra-electoral” coup effected by the upper castes through the transformation of their caste capital into modern capital – is not so well known.”


    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram/Andy: The linked paper on institutional economics is dense but it does provide a narrative on why implementation is weak in India (and in South Asian in general). The explanation is the one that has been offered many times on this blog: “This is partly because some of the tenets of the free-market mechanism are implemented without the necessary underlying institutional conditions for an efficient and fair functioning of the market mechanism.” The article describes in detail what the institutional conditions should be.

  127. Andy Says:

    Vikram, SA: You have touched upon the vital aspect of policy implementation, i.e., why is policy implementation so poor in the first place? In addition to what you have mentioned I’d like to explore a slightly different, though broadly similar, dimension to this analysis. In my view, weak policy implementation is just a result of basic fundamental malaise that is crippling India today.

    Authority and accountability are two sides of the same coin. Where unchecked authority exists with out commensurate accountability, there shall be a serious weakening of the system, especially in public affairs. Similarly, Democracy and Good Governance go hand in hand. Effective Democracy promotes Good Governance just the way flawed democracy vitiates it. The political class in India sees no real incentive in serving the public. Rather, the incentive is in dividing the citizenry on class, community and caste lines to further their vote bank politics. The emphasis is always on short term populist tactics by way of announcing freebies just before the elections and subsequently, the citizen who sees no real link between vote and public services, falls into this trap and in the process, fails to hold the political class accountable. Instead he rallies behind the candidate who is from a particular caste/community or behind the one who has most populist agenda. With the environment so hostile to an honest civil servant, bureaucracy too sees no real motive to implement the policies effectively and is more than happy in rent seeking. Add to this, an educated, informed yet apathetic middle class citizenry who don’t even bother to vote let alone take keen interest in public affairs, you have a perfect recipe that is the flawed democracy of today’s India.

    On an optimistic note though, I believe winds of change are blowing. Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar’s agenda on developmental plank is a case in point. Anna’s movement, the recent protests in Delhi, Right to Information etc., are making more and more people true stakeholders in governance. I see the Citizen’s Right to Service and Public Grievance Redressal Bill, which is currently in Parliament, as a potential game changer in the way policies are implemented and accountability is ensured in India.

    • Vikram Says:

      Andy, two things are not clear to me,

      1) Why does the political class see no real incentive in serving the public ?

      Is this just a contingency, a case of bad luck ? It is difficult to see why this bad luck would be so pervasive and continue for decades as it seems to have.

      2) Why does the voter rally behind the candidate who is from a particular caste/community ?

      Even if we accept the hypothesis of the ubiquitous ‘corrupt politician’, I dont see why rallying behind the candidate from the same caste/community would be the automatic choice. After all, voters have the choice of not participating in the elections at all.

      It is obvious that Indians, even those that are formally educated and imbibed with Indian nationalism in school still subscribe to caste. A major failure of the independence movement and the Indian Republic.

      • Andy Says:

        “Why does the political class see no real incentive in serving the public?”

        Let me dig deeper into this. Now, as per the prevailing scenario, how does a person rise among the party ranks to get himself a party ticket? Does political parties choose candidates as per democratic or meritocratic principles? An emphatic no. (There might be some exceptions to this but exceptions cannot make a rule.) The lack of internal party democracy inhibits honest, efficient people to get into the political system while incentivising unscrupulous elements who elbow their way with money and muscle power. As you are aware, vote-buying is one the major maladies that permeates election process in India. The statutory limit of 40 Lakh for Lok Sabha and 16 Lakh for a Legislative Assembly seat is a joke in itself. The actual average expenditure for a Lok Sabha seat, it is said, is anywhere between 5-10 Crores. Recently, in a by-election in my home state of Andhra Pradesh, it is alleged that the figure was well in excess of 50 Crore. Logically, don’t you expect that for a candidate who rose within the party by dubious means and who has spent such big bucks as poll expenditure, the incentive lies in maximizing personal gains rather than in honestly serving the public? Hence, it is by no way contingency or bad luck. It’s just pure logic and rationale. Comparing this with the developed world, let me quote this excellent example – No one knew Obama and David Cameron a decade ago. It was solely due to the merit and caliber that they rose to the top rather than greatness being thrust upon them as is the case with India’s dynastic polity today.

        Ultimatley, the Indian politician who hasn’t really done anything during his tenure, in order to woo the electorate before the elections, takes to fiscally imprudent and economically untenable populist agenda announcing freebies for the poor which, in a way, only perpetuates their penury.

        “Why does the voter rally behind the candidate of his own caste/community?”

        Post electoral analysis show that percentage of votes polled is almost always lower in Urban areas compared to towns and villages. In other words, the not so developed regions see elections as an opportunity that can change their lives for the better. You can’t really blame the average rural illiterate citizen for not understanding the folly of vote bank politics. (As you’ve pointed out, even the urban citizen is prejudiced on caste/community lines.) Thus, in a society with strong fault lines running through it based on caste and community, it is not really difficult to make a particular community buy the argument that their betterment lies in voting for a candidate ‘X ‘ from one’s own community and keeping ‘Y’ out of power rather than voting purely on merit basis. Here’s an example example to emphasize my point – Dr. JayaPrakash Narayan of Lok Satta Party is one of the finest intellects we have today. His party has been running a clean campaign and is at the forefront in the fight against corruption. Yet barring him, none of his party candidates could get elected in 2009 Assembly polls in AP while many of those who have been elected were purely on caste/community lines. The bottom line remains that, money, muscle power and vote-bank politics are at the root of this cancer.

        I hope I made myself clear.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Andy: The political class sees no real incentive in serving the public because it can get away without serving the public and can protect itself in the process. See this latest op-ed:

          The voter rallies behind the candidate of his/her own caste/community because the latter might do something for him/her whereas one without the connection is sure to do nothing. Even if the own candidate does nothing in material terms, he/she yields a psychic return in the recognition of the caste/community.

          The solution is not to change the people (as Brecht is reported to have quipped) but to change the electoral system to make it more accountable.

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Vikram: Here is an example of how and why reforms mandated by the highest authorities are not implemented on the ground:

        • Vikram Says:

          SA, this is the usual case in India. The political class seeks rents wherever the state has an important role (either due to a colonial legacy or deliberate decisions), and does not buckle and reform unless there is real pressure. The Indian state is reactive, not proactive. There are four scenarios in which I have seen the Indian state actually implement changes (not necessarily for the better always):

          1) Serious pressure from the people and the chance of losing the next election due to an issue.
          2) Pressure from external agencies such as the IMF, the World Bank or the US government.
          3) Contingencies that demand change, because the alternative is massive unrest.
          4) Negotiations with an armed/violent group when the Central government feels that it can get a settlement mostly on its terms and is keen to end conflict.

          I actually think think that 2,3 and 4 apply for any state, because maintaining stability is the number one priority for any government. Despite being democratic, in India, Number 1 rarely happens. Number 2 seems to happen too often. In the US or Canada, it is almost always number 1.

          Having said that I disagree with Lant Pritchett on one count. Once the ‘head’ of the Indian state makes up its mind, it does get things implemented. One example is mining safety, where after a series of major incidents, public outcry (and even movies being made on the subject), India was able to reduce its coal mining fatality rate (mining fatalities per Mt coal mined) to 4% of that of China by 2006,

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vikram: In that case, the question would be what determines whether the ‘head’ would make up its mind or not on any particular issue? Also, mining safety is a technical issue of modernization that can even be outsourced to a foreign company. Social issues are much more difficult to implement in the same way.

  128. Anil Kala Says:

    It appears that Pakistan has some kind of arrangement of care taker PM/CM to oversee polls. I read Najam Sethi of editor of Friday Times has been made caretaker CM of Punjab. This is really a good practice. Can we have some more information on this?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: This is explained by a very respected intellectual in Pakistan, Mr. IA Rehman. I feel his position is correct that the practice reflects a weakness, not a strength of the political culture in the country: “The insistence on having caretaker governments for holding elections is not in accord with the practice in established democracies; the idea is a concession to countries where the election machinery is too weak to prevent manipulation by the government or anybody else.”

  129. Vikram Says:

    SA, this is regarding the caste article in the EPW. I had come across it earlier, and it indeeds explains many phenomena very well, in particular the self-perceived ‘castelessness’ of the upper caste Hindus. Some general comments:

    1) Most upper caste Hindus I know are not posing to be casteless. They genuinely are non discriminatory or in many cases ignorant. From anecdotal obervations, inter caste marriages are far more common among the upper castes than the lower castes.

    2) If we consider higher education as a gateway to acquiring and controlling secular capital, then the dominance of the upper caste Hindus is not as strong as the author suggests, and it seems to be diminishing with time. Please download and see this table:

    3) It is quite understandable why Congress would not wish to break ‘Hindu’ unity. The alternatives seem to have been much worse. All evidence points to the fact that atleast some upper caste Congressmen cared more about SCs than any Muslim League men.

    The objectives of the Hindu and Muslim elites seem to be very different. Most UC Hindu elites like Gandhi and Nehru, and Dalit leaders like Ambedkar clearly articulated their goals to remake Indian society, and a strong, centralized state was key to this vision. Gandhi advocated inter caste marriage and Nehru’s own daughter married a Parsi. The objectives of the Muslim League leaders were completely opposite, drastically weaken the central state to preserve the autonomy of Muslim majority regions. I have not even come across many statements by League leaders advocating the abolition of caste barriers, Jinnah famously disowned his daughter for marrying a Parsi. The contrast with Nehru could not be more stark.

    Why cant an alternative reasoning be considered ? Post independence, the Indian economy grew at abysmally low rates for years, and the most depressed classes of Indian society remained trapped in their pre industrial economic relations. With no economic power, the question of cultural and political power did not arise, apart from the political gains possible due to reservations. The scarcity of opportunity hardened UC Hindu stances towards social justice measures, leading to the impasse we see today.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: Your point No. 3 is the most debatable. When you say “The alternatives seem to have been much worse,” from whose perspective is this determination being made? If that was indeed the case, why did Dr. Ambedkar consider his concession to Gandhi in 1932 to be the biggest mistake of his life? The EPW article on caste and castelessness has the following to say about the Poona Pact:

      “The Poona Pact agreed to significantly increase the guaranteed political representation for the Depressed Classes, but a very heavy price was paid for this “concession”, as Ambedkar realised only too clearly. Separate electorates could be seen as articulating a consociational demand for a full share in the nation, a demand that underlined the equal claims of the untouchables. Although this was not immediately obvious, the grant of reservations reduced the Depressed Classes to the status of supplicants for whom a special concession was being made by the majority that “owned” the nation. This effectively positioned the upper caste minority (which was in control of the majority) as the de facto owner of the nation, with the power to grant favours to this or that subgroup.”

      The real issue is not whether some upper caste Congressmen cared more for SCs than Muslim League men. The politically relevant point is that if there had been three politically equal groupings, none with an overwhelming majority, a coalitional politics would have emerged. With just two groups, one with a lopsided majority, the dynamics were very different.

      One can’t reduce politics to the marital preferences of individuals – after all while Nehru’s daughter married a Parsi, Jinnah himself married one. And if Nehru liked an Englishwoman, it did not mean he was in love with the British. The fact is that as the distance increases between the events of Independence, a consensus is emerging that is less favorable to Nehru and the Congress than it once was. See, for example, the view expressed in Namit Arora’s review of Perry Anderson’s new book on India (

      “Last year, for instance, Jaswant Singh, a leader of the Indian right-wing party BJP and former defense and foreign minister of India, caused a storm with his biography of Jinnah. In it Singh assigned greater blame for Partition to Nehru and even praised Jinnah for his sundry qualities. No BJP official attended the book launch, after which Singh was summarily expelled from the BJP and his book banned in Gujarat. So while emotions still run high on the topic, it’s also true that at least among scholars today, Singh’s interpretation has gained ground. Yet few historians have offered a sharper account of it than Perry Anderson, who humanises many icons of Indian nationalism, restoring to them their rightful share of human follies.”

      Namit then refers to Anderson’s verdict: “Anderson’s portrait of Nehru has omissions, but backed by telling examples from Nehru’s writings, speeches, and actions, it provides a much-needed counterpoint to the paroxysms of adoration more common among liberal Indian historians.”

      And he finally sums up the emerging consensus thus: “Similar accounts have been offered by Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal and Indian Jurists HM Seervai and AG Noorani. Jinnah was apparently nothing like the glowering scoundrel that bore his name in Attenborough’s Gandhi.”

      • Vikram Says:


        Suppose separate electorates were obtained by the Dalits. In all likelihood, this would have led to similar demands by other caste groups, the scramble for reservations would have become the scramble for electorates. Dalits were not the only persecuted group, they were at the bottom of a chain of oppression. 3 electoral groups looks balanced, 50 electoral group is chaos.

        Suppose the autonomy proposals of Jinnah were accepted at the Union level. Now the same principle would have to be applied at the provincial level as well. Consider the Muslim majority Sindh province. The principle of representation and governance accepted at the Union level, would now demand that the Hindu majority city of Karachi and all Hindu majority villages of Sindh have the same kind of relationship to the Sindh provincial government; which the Sindh provincial government would have to the Union government. How would the resultant extremely decentralized arrangement destroy the ancien regime of caste in the subcontinent ?

        There were majorities and minorities all across the world in the 1940s, there are even more such arrangements today. In many cases, prominent being the case of African Americans in the US, the majority was clearly oppressing the minority, in fact, this oppression was the law at the time. So would Blacks have been better off demanding autonomous principalities in the South ? Why didnt MLK make such demands ? Dr. Ambedkar had considered other examples in his notes on partition as well.

        Exactly why were the Hindus of India such a threat to their Muslim countrymen ? More than any political or technical point about the government structure/electoral system; it is this fact about the partition that causes the most emotional turmoil. The Muslims telling us that we dont trust you, we know you will be cruel to us, once the British are gone. Telling us that Hindu tolerance and even Indian constitutionalism is a lie. This, despite a thousand years of shared shrines and cultures.

        I dont think the statement “So while emotions still run high on the topic, it’s also true that at least among scholars today, Singh’s interpretation has gained ground.” provided without any kind of reference holds any credibility. Even if there is a reference, how do they measure such a thing ? Do we poll historians ? Which historians ? What about eminent historians who have passed away ? History is not physics.

        The examples from the personal lives of Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah are relevant, they indicate the difference between how they thought about themselves in relation to the communities they were claiming to represent. Jinnah not allowing his daughter to marry a Parsi shows his doubts about his own standing among the Muslims, he was really more their lawyer than their leader. Gandhi’s own decisions stand in contrast, he stood against the wishes of the Hindu mainstream on many occasions. For this, he got bomb attacks from upper caste reactionaries in the 30s ( and a bullet in the chest from Godse.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vikram: This is obviously a counter-factual but the point to consider is that if there had to be a scramble, then a scramble for electorates might have been better than a scramble for reservations. The coalition politics would have been quite interesting and it is more than likely that partition would never have occurred sparing a million lives. Also, as the EPW article mentioned, separate electorates would have meant political equality whereas reservations reduced the status to supplicants. That’s a huge difference with obvious implications for social dynamics.

          I am not sure what Jinnah’s autonomy proposals were at the Union level so cannot extrapolate them to the provincial level.

          MLK didn’t make the demands because they were not feasible. Nowhere in the American South were Blacks in sufficient numbers in any one state to have autonomous principalities. Rather, there was talk of creating a land for American Blacks in Liberia.

          For the issues and apprehensions regarding partition, the story is described in Perry Anderson’s essay:

          Re Namit Arora, he mentions that more recent works on the history of the period are revising the earlier positions. This is not a question of polling, just keeping track of new scholarship as archival material becomes available..

          We can differ on the correspondence of personal lives to politics. On what do you base the claim that Jinnah was really more the lawyer than the leader, rightly or wrongly, of the Muslims?

          • Vikram Says:

            SA, we have sanpatel90 telling us in the other comment that today OBCs see no difference between themselves and the UCs. I have presented statistical evidence regarding the convergent higher educational outcomes among various caste groups. Inter-caste marriages are common today among the UCs, and increasingly UCs and OBCs. In the next couple of generations, this is going to be true about SCs, STs and other groups as well. Reservations are an advantage given to overcome past deprivations, separate electorates are a formal statement of difference and low trust. No serious project of nation building can accept separate electorates. Certainly not one that seeks to destroy caste.

            And even if separate electorates were the most logical and brilliant thing to do, I dont see why the refusal to adopt them could be the predominant reason for the bloodshed of the partition. Muslims could have kept their separate electorates and worked with Dalits to obtain separate electorates for them. There was a whole spectrum of possibilities from the creation of Pakistan to a super centralized state, why were they not put on the table by the League ? For example, the lower house could be elected on one person one vote, and the upper house could have had equal representation from the various provinces, which would have effectively given Muslims more than one vote per person.

            I would appreciate if you could tell me why you think Hindus were such a major threat to the Muslims of India. If your opinion coincides precisely with Perry Anderson’s, I would appreciate a summary of his write up. I understand the fears about a Hindu rashtra, but this was not such a strong possibility at the time.

            MLK did not demand separate electorates and other divisive political arrangements because the starting point for his struggle was different from Jinnahs. He was starting with the premise that all men are created equal, and that the entire society has to accept this fact. The legal framework to ensure this comes after that. Jinnah was starting with the premise of the Hindu threat to the Muslims of India. This lead him to the position that the Muslims of India require specific political privileges. This is a valid argument as it stands. But in the context of modern Indian nationalism, his proposals could not be accepted. There are irreconcilable differences between virtually any two caste groups in India. Translating these into political arrangements would have condemned India to a pre-national existence for a long time, not to mention the risk of various civil wars.

            Jinnah constantly failed to build alliances, especially with low caste Hindu leaders. In fact, the Muslim-low caste alliance is what kept Hindutva in check through the last two decades and is still doing so to an extent. The preeminent leader like statement I have seen from Jinnah is his speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, but that speech is low on actionable points. It is ironic that he doesnt ask the Constituent Assembly for the same concessions for Pakistan’s minorities, which he demanded from the Congress for India’s Muslims. That was perhaps the best moment to do so, and Pakistan’s trajectory could have been very different had he made that demand.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vikram: I am not a fan of separate electorates. Giving political representation on the basis of religion suited British interests but was bad for India. However, once separate electorates were given to Muslims, giving the same to Dalits (on their demand) would have altered the political dynamic by turning a two-party contest into a three-party one. I don’t know how it would have turned out but it is hard to imagine anything worse than the outcome that did transpire. In any case, Dr. Ambedkar considered the Poona Pact the biggest mistake of his life so I guess it is his judgement against yours. I wonder what the Dalit viewpoint is on the merits of separate electorates versus reservations.

            Namit Arora’s comment was that new scholarship is calling into question the received wisdom on Partition. This itself is not all that new. For example, Sunil Khilnani who is a mainstream historian said the following in The Idea of India (p. 162): “Secular and Hindu nationalisms have invariably assigned primary resposibility for Partition to Muslim ‘communalism’ and separatism. Yet recent historical research has complicated the conventions of this picture.”

            I don’t want to summarize Anderson because you would be dealing with my interpretation. It would be much better if you read yourself – the three essays in the London Review of Books are short and very readable. If you don’t have time you can just read pages 161 to 163 in Khilnani’s book to get the revised view that is emerging. Your view of Jinnah’s starting premise is no longer considered credible by scholars many of whom have no partisan interest in South Asian politics.

            As for MLK and Jinnah, it is not enough to attribute everything to personalities. Personalities and perspectives are shaped by circumastances which is why historians study the contextual details. There is an excellent PhD dissertation (now available as a book) by an Australian (Ian Bryant Wells) who studied Jinnah’s early politics (1910-1934) and explained how and why it changed over the years from an ambassador of Indian nationalism to an advocate of partition. Some contextual discussion of MLK took place on this blog quite some time back in the commentary on the following post:

    • sanpatel90 Says:

      Hello Vikram,
      Thanks to you, I came across the wonderful article in epw ( caste and castelessness) and then from it to “Annihilation of caste” by Dr. Ambedkar. I am too much inspired from him after reading his article. I have certain questions of my own after reading this article:

      1. I feel that caste oppression have reduced to a much extent. The atrocities which were pointed by Dr. Ambedkar no longer exist. However still a long way to go. I have a research question in my mind. As after 1990 we are witnessing political , social, economic empowerment of OBC. I feel that this will accelerate further the rise of Dalits as they are more in contact with OBC than upper caste like Brahmins. Is there any article which have worked upon this idea ?
      Already now most of the OBC castes thinks themselves at par with other upper castes. I would say all castes except SC do not think that they are inferior to others. Thus socially I think that only two groups SC and non-SC exists. The discrimination is only with SC castes and no other castes.

      2. Ambedkar and many others suggest that intercaste marriage is way to go to break caste system. I have doubt about this. Recent newspaper articles suggest that whenever such event happen, it brings two castes in conflict. They how can this be a tool ? Also intercaste marriage means promotion of love marriages. If intercaste marriages are allowed then inter-religion marriages will also happen and again conflict will arise. Thus by this thing, society will loose its control on its member to dictate their life partner. Only allowable thing can be that parents seek partner for their childrens without a barrier of castes.

      3. I read that in Haryana, because of scarcity of girls,a lot of marriages are happening with other regions, caste girls ? Is there any research that it is breaking caste system there.

      4. I am seeing a fault with development and education also nowdays. European societies have developed so much that we are seeing a low population growth in their areas. They have to allow migrants because of this. Now migrants constitute a significant portion of their population. I think it may happen that migrants may become majority in the future. Is then development a desired thing? I think middle east countries are better in this respect as they do not give citizenship to migrants.

      • Vikram Says:

        Sanpatel90, your point number one is interesting. My own impression was that their is a lot of conflict between OBCs (or atleast sections of the OBCs) and the SCs, since they are the ones competing for scarce economic resources. I would tend to agree with your general point, but have no statistical evidence to back it up. Only evidence would be a paper with time-series data on intercaste marriage and I have not been able to find one so far.

        There seems to be no change in Haryana’s mindset due to the arrival women from Kerala and other more enlightened parts of the country:
        Remember that though rural Kerala women are better off than rural Haryana women, they are still not as empowered as their urban counterparts.

        Opinions on migration vary. But in India’s case, we are already so large and diverse that migration should matter little to us, in any case not many people migrate to countries whose per capita income is among the lowest in the world and where half the children are malnourished.

  130. Anil Kala Says:

    I think the most destructive law that plagues India’s governance malaise is excessive immunity provided to bureaucrats. In Indian system it appears that every body else is accountable besides the judges and the bureaucrats. The essential idea for providing immunity to bureaucrats was that they should fearlessly face corrupt and rogue politician. In this scheme however underlying assumption was that the bureaucrats were willing to face them naturally. The truth and reality is that after acquiring the immunity and therefore no accountability these bureaucrats have no incentive to oppose the rogue politicians.

    The result is utter bureaucratic lawlessness.

  131. Vikram Says:

    “In any case, Dr. Ambedkar considered the Poona Pact the biggest mistake of his life so I guess it is his judgement against yours.”

    It is his judgement against that of Gandhi.

    Regarding scholar’s views on the Partition, I would like to point out that I do not subscribe to the view that Jinnah was some kind of villain who split India. He did not succeed as a politician because he did not understand India the way Gandhi did.

    My opinion is that given the political climate in the 1940s, the demand for Pakistan was accepted so that the Indian nationalists of the Congress party could build the India they wanted to build. And I do think we should be upfront about that, rather than blaming Jinnah. But that doesnt put Jinnah above criticism.

  132. Vikram Says:

    A useful resource for the deliberations during the Cabinet Mission Plan meetings and the opinions of historians of various shades.

  133. Anil Kala Says:

    SA: You once said that there is no evidence that corruption stymies growth, indecisiveness does. Isn’t corruption and indecisiveness part of the same deal?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: Not in my opinion. One meets many indecisive people who are not corrupt. Hamlet (“to be or not to be”) and Prufrock (“do I dare to eat a peach?”) are good examples from literature. On the flip side, my gut feeling is that corrupt people would be unlikely to be indecisive.

      As far as growth as an outcome is concerned, corruption and indecisiveness need not have similar impacts. Also, one needs to keep in mind possible differences between short and long-term impacts. Imagine various scenarios for a private company owned, respectively, by a corrupt or indecisive person.

  134. Andy Says:

    SA : Can you kindly provide me with any research/scholar paper to help me deal with the following question?

    Question : “In India, economic reforms of 1991 seem to have a better record in terms of growth, but it may have failed on the front of social justice and human development.” Give your opinion on the above issue with possible suggestions as to how both growth and development can be reconciled.

  135. SouthAsian Says:

    Okay folks, You have to guess who is in this photograph. Then we will talk about its significance:

  136. Vikram Says:

    SA, I tried to read Perry Anderson’s essay. Unfortunately I found its tone so contemptuous, and the analysis so suffused by personality quirks, that I simply could not move beyond the first two paragraphs. I am sorry for my failure to maintain objectivity, but that read more like a Bal Thackeray editorial in the Saamna than an essay from a serious historian.

    If there is a more accessible summary of why Iqbal’s attitude changed from composing the Tarana-e-Hind to disowning it, and the great threat India’s Hindus posed to its Muslims, please do share it.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: I can’t readily think of another summary but perhaps you can go back to the relevant chapter in Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India which has been discussed on this blog earlier.

      Also, the following may trigger some rethinking as well – just appeared today:

      • Vikram Says:

        Thanks SA, the new NCERT textbooks are indeed a lot better than the old ones. I read the chapter and it seems to summarize things fairly well. I am not so sure how much I can trust the statement, “The not-so-curious gap is the actual Partition negotiations, about which Pakistani nationalists and Indian right-wingers agree that the Congress’s obstinacy is to be blamed for Partition.”

        It is very convenient for Indian right-wingers to blame the Congress, and their agreement on the same with Pakistani nationalists doesnt mean much to me personally.

        One question is why other eminently sensible options were not put on the table. For example, we could have had separate mechanisms to select members of the two houses of the Union govt. The lower house which would have the ultimate say over money bills and land matters would be based on one-person one-vote. The upper house which would have the final say over cultural matters would be based on the Senate system of the US and Pakistan. This way the Muslim majority states (Baluchistan, Khyber, Punjab, Kashmir, Sindh, Bengal) would have 12 members, and the Hindu majority states (UP, Bihar, MP, GJ, RJ, MH, OR, Assam, and the four Southern states) 24 members, automatically giving Muslims the one-third number of seats Jinnah seeked.

  137. Vikram Says:

    SA, I am puzzled by why well regarded authors keep repeating half-truths, which in the long term can have serious consequences like fiscally irresponsible legislations being passed.

    For example, in this review, Pankaj Mishra says that

    “for instance, in “rising” India, the number of malnourished children, nearly 50 percent, has barely altered while a handful of Indian billionaires increased their share of national income from less than 1 percent in 1996 to 22 percent in 2008.”

    Does Mr. Mishra not know that the incomes of these billionaires have collapsed in the last two years, and that of course had no impact on the malnourishment rates ?

    Another case in point is this article that you had once shared on this site regarding malnutrition in India ( The comments are filled with indignant rants about how Indian democracy is a sham and all Indian official’s are corrupt. The NYT editors themselves promote polemical comments about the ‘bourgeoise’, ‘population control’ and how ‘high caste’ Indians would not be interested in Dalits. One particularly patronizing comment recommended by the NYT editors says that “My husband said he felt like an obese giant there. Photos of him show him towering over everyone by at least a foot and often much more. He’s 5’10” and 150 lbs.”

    In all this din, the most thoughtful comment is left completely unnoticed.

    “It’s very sad that so many letter writers jump to exploit suffering to further their political and ideological agendas, whether birth control, feminism, Marxism, anti-Americanism, or simple party politics. They show almost no knowledge of or sensitivity to circumstances in India, which generally do not fit into their political categories or slogans.

    Unfortunately, the article itself is partly to blame, as it raises more questions than it answers. It gives tantalizing hints that poverty is NOT the only or the essential issue– Purnina Menon, in the audio slide show, says as much explicitly: many of the undernourished children are NOT poor. Also, it reports that much of the money already allocated for feeding programs remains unspent or misspent.

    Are there cultural issues involved here? Are there differences between provinces, religions, sexes, or castes (apart from economic differences)? How are India’s political and media worlds dealing with the issue–or are they ignoring it?

    The Times has done a great service in calling our attention to this shocking situation. I await followup articles that will try to estimate the genuine scope of the problem, and present some theories as to what is going on and what can be done to make things better.”

    Two critical points, a large proportion of the undernourished are not poor. They are not undernourished because some billionaire made more dollars. Second, a lot of the money allocated to the remedial programs simply remains unspent.

    In light of these facts, I find Amartya Sen’s positions on the malnutrition matter in India highly contestable. But alas, so much easier to blame the rich, or the ‘corrupt’ or someone else.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: We have mentioned a number of times that Pankaj Mishra is polemical and makes exagerrated assertions but to be fair your criticism here seems mistaken. Mishra is not asserting a causality – he is not saying the undernourishment is caused by the increase in wealth of the billionaires. And because he is not saying that the reverse causality you are implying does not hold either. The fact that the nominal value of their assets has collapsed should have no bearing on the extent of undernourishment.

      Mishra is just saying that income inequality has increased in India – which is not surprising; it has increased significantly in the US as well – read anything by Stiglitz.

      Mishra is also implying that if India had an effective system of taxation and program implementation a part of the increase in income could have been used to address undernoursihment. Whether the undernoursished are poor or not, there are just too many of them in India and that has to be faced and fixed. The fact that the needs are so obvious and yet a lot of the money remains unspent without causing a political firestorm seems a huge problem to me. It just seems to suggest that nobody cares what happens to the poor.

      Of course, it has always been true that people will use whatever they can to advance their own agendas. This acknowledgement will not wash away the fact that there is a serious problem in India regarding the welfare of its people. This is quite independent of the attribution of the problem to any particular group.

      Amartya Sen seems on the mark in his new book An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions

      • Vikram Says:

        SA, no one can disagree that there are serious human development issues in India. However, it is not clear to me how one can reach the conclusion that ‘nobody cares what happens to the poor’ in India.

        Could one conjecture that the root of India’s social problems are in the enforcement of the rule of law, a problem that developmental economists either cannot solve or are not interested in solving ? For example, it is not clear to me why India’s tax code is not progressive, the much bigger problem seems to be the actual collection of taxes.

        To quote Ajay Shah,”How do we get more research papers on the criminal justice system, and fewer research papers on development economics?” (

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vikram: This is not to be taken literally, its in a manner of speaking. The persistence of serious human development issues over such a long period coveys the sense that effectively speaking no one really cares about the poor. I am sure there are people who do but they have not been able to have meaningful impact.

          If a lot of people cared the enforcement of the law would get better and the tax code would get more progressive. These things are not ordained by some divine power that is immutable.

          As for research, how much more of it is needed to provide clean water, health and education? Caring, not research, is needed.

          • Vikram Says:

            SA, research is still what is needed. But it needs to focus on governance and the judicial system rather than welfare. To reiterate, the problem in India is not the tax code, it is the collection of taxes.

            I cant find any example in history of basic necessities being provided to the masses because of caring elites. In the absence of meaningful African American activism, minorities in America are still deprived of justice and good education. In China and Russia, the basic necessities were provided as exigencies of preserving one-party rule.

            I dont think its reasonable to assume that Indian elites care more or less about their masses than any other elites. The real question is what standard they are held to by the masses. And at this stage, the Indian masses are either unaware of their ability to bring about change or simply unwilling to bring about change because of other priorities like caste divisions.

            More than caring elites, politically active and savvy masses and a vigilant, well-informed civil society are whats needed.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vikram: I agree. This was the argument of a recent post on the blog:


            And, I also agree about research. This was the point made in two old posts:


    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: There is a useful empirical investigation on malnutrition in India that I am archiving here – The Calorie Consumption Puzzle in India: An Empirical Investigation:

      The essential argument runs as follows:

      1. Total household incomes and expenditures have risen in real terms in rural India.
      2. Yet, undernutrition levels in India remain higher than for most countries of sub-Saharan Africa, even though those countries are currently much poorer than India, have grown much more slowly, and have much higher levels of infant and child mortality.
      3. This is due to a food budget squeeze because rapidly rising expenses on non-food essentials like health care, education, transportation and other essential services absorb all the increases in total expenditures and keep real expenditures on food from rising.
      4. Expenditures on non-food essentials are rising because of a decline in the supply of social services by the State.

      • Vikram Says:

        Many thanks for pointing me to this paper SA. It clears up a lot of questions. It will be a good paper for me to cover on my blog.

  138. Anil Kala Says:

    The way English is becoming important for political and business reasons, it would seem gradually it will percolate into entire world. The question is if that happens then we will not have new conquerors of any other language to replace English language’s prominence; would that mean English will be permanently world language?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: In fifty years, it may well be Chinese! More seriously though, the need to know English would disappear. There will be machines that would translate as one speaks from one language to another. Local languages will flourish again. That would be great for education.

  139. Vikram Says:

    One of the keys to a semblance of prosperity for any Indian state seems to be a major metropolitan area, therefore the wrangling over Hyderabad. Just to underscore my point, 55% of the Rs. 70,000 cr revenue of Andhra Pradesh comes from the city of Hyderabad.

    Such a major metropolitan area is lacking in the Indian heartland states (Hindi belt) of UP, Bihar, MP and Rajasthan. Delhi is its own ‘state’ and does not contribute any revenue to these states. Can any of the major cities in this area, Lucknow, Kanpur, Jaipur, Indore, Bhopal or Patna emerge as economic engines for this region ?

  140. Vikram Says:

    Apropos the earlier discussion on Jinnah, the Congress and the Partition, and also the policies of Muslim states in India, this survey of Hindu-Muslim relations in India over the past millennium should provide some good reference material,

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: I read the address. I am not sure what makes this a definitive survey of Hindu-Muslim relations in India over the past millennium. It is an opinion, one person’s perspective, and I am sure there will be other perspectives, perhaps in the same series, that would come to varying conclusions. To give an example, one would not consider Obama’s Nobel Prize speech as constituting a definitive survey of American foreign policy over the last 200 years.

      For me the greater interest in such speeches is to get a sense of the worldview of the author and where he/she is coming from. One can then put that alongside other opinions that should be considered equally credible. To take a recent example, Perry Anderson sees the more recent events in a very different perspective, so different that you were unable to even read it. How does one determine which perspective comes closer to the mark?

  141. Anil Kala Says:

    India has passed Food Security bill, I just want to know whether the PDS will be the delivery vehicle for this? Can someone give the lowdown on this bill?

  142. Vikram Says:

    SA, I remember that in a comment on an article some time back you had posed the following question:

    “There is one dimension that we are ignoring. The founts of knowledge in the Western tradition are all part of a living tradition – Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, etc. are all part of a good modern education. For Indians and Arabs, the original sources are nothing more than celebratory names, reminders of a past greatness. Even for South Asians the living sources are the Western ones. Should we discuss the reasons for this difference and its implications?”

    I have an initial hypothesis regarding this matter.

    The geography of Greece, with small stretches of flat land and rugged mountains everywhere else meant that although some kinds of organized states could develop, none of them could be very expansive. In addition, the ‘stinginess’ of the Greek soil, necessitated the large scale import of essential agricultural goods. The resultant trade dynamics ensured that the Greek city states had a much larger proportion of artisans, traders and workers, i.e. non farmers than contemporaneous societies elsewhere.

    Due to its unique demography, ancient Greece preempted the modern industrial countries of today. After all, how are modern England, France, and Germany (with 85+ % urbanization), anything but city states. Plato and Aristotle lived in societies similar to those in the evolving industrial world, and hence their thoughts had/have great relevance to our world today.

    The great thinkers in India at the time, for example Buddha and Mahavira lived in a society with a very different makeup. As it is today, Indian society was heavily agriculture and rural based. There were artisans and merchants, but their proportion in the population was very small. The abundant arable land and water made moving to the city unnecessary. Buddha and Mahavira did not confront the economic/political questions that face us as a society today. A big focus of Indian religions is on harmony of humans with nature, not between humans.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: This is a good starting point for a discussion but it will not hold up to examination. Cities in the Middle East, Egypt, South Asia, and China all preceded the Greek cities. The findings from the ruins all indicate trade and craftsmanship. There were great centres of learning like the Takashila university. Chanakya is considered to be the father of economics and political science and pre-dates Machiavelli by almost 2000 years although he is known as the Indian Machiavelli. Panini, the philosopher and grammarian dates from the 4th century BC. The modern number system originated in India. All this could not have happened in villages.

      The point remains why these individuals are not part of a living tradition in South Asia and why learning is dominated by Western thought? To me the better explanation is the break that came with the colonial domination by the British in which the Indian upper classes acquiesced in their characterization as ignorant people without intellectual traditions of intrinsic value. From then on, knowledge was to be gained through the study of Western classics.

      • Vikram Says:

        SA, even though there were cities in ancient India/China/Egypt, these cities were part of an overall polity that was overwhelmingly agro-based. Panini and Chankya are not identified as Taxilan or Pataliputran, whereas the primary consciousness of the Greeks was city based. In any case, my knowledge of ancient civilizations is spotty, so we can move on to the more important question.

        Why did the Indian upper classes acquiesced in this characterization ? And when you say upper classes, do you mean the early Bengali intellectuals, the political classes or the traders ? Why did independence not reverse this trend ?

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vikram: I can only take a guess at the second question. The British came to India after the Industrial Revolution so they were no doubt much further ahead in terms of scientific knowledge and its practical technological applications. This must have been even more impressive at that time than it is today. India did not have its own answer to this form of material and tangible modernization. Independence did reverse the trend. Today Indians do not consider themselves intellectually inferior to any one, just lagging behind in developmental terms for historical reasons.

  143. Anil Kala Says:

    I had expected significant ‘NOTA’ (Non of the above) preference in recently held state elections ( Not in Delhi though due to perceived credibility of AAP candidates). Seems there aren’t many takers for NOTA in elections. It appears to me that a voter would find it foolish to walk all the way to polling booth and then vote NOTA, he would rather stay at home if he had such a preference. After all NOTA’s count is of only academic significance.

  144. sanpatel90 Says:

    SouthAsian: I like to ask why people from India have double standard. They have different yardstick for different people.
    Why rational outlook in missing?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      sanpatel: I have seen no evidence that is the case. My observation is that those who use the same yardstick for all people are very rare and are not concentrated in any particular part of the world. And rationality is highly over-rated anyway – most people everywhere act on emotions and intuition and then find arguments to rationalize their decisions.

      Look at this conclusion from recent research:

      “In the 2000s, in my own area of research—moral judgment—it became clear that people make judgments of right and wrong almost instantly, and then make up supporting reasons later. The intuitive dog wags its rational tail, which explains why it is so difficult to change anyone’s mind on a moral issue by refuting every reason they offer. To sum it all up, David Hume was right in 1739 when he wrote that reason was “the slave of the passions,” rather than the divine master, or charioteer, as Plato had believed.”

      • Indian Says:

        SouthAsian: How can you take these questions seriously?

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Indian: On this blog we take all questions seriously unless we are absolutely convinced otherwise – and we give the questioner the benefit of the doubt before we reach that conclusion. Off-base questions are often useful in triggering new thoughts.

  145. Vikram Says:

    Among pace bowlers who have taken more than 100 wickets, Pakistanis have taken 2012 wickets at an aggregate bowling average of 26, Indians 1201 wickets at 36.

    Among spin bowlers who have taken more than 100 wickets, Pakistanis have taken 1355 wickets at an aggregate bowling average of 32, Indians 2680 wickets at 33.

    Between their ten highest run scorers, Pakistanis have scored 59432 runs at an aggregate batting average of 47, Indians 88215 runs at 47.

    So in batting and spin bowling both sides are even, but what explains Pakistan’s far superior pace bowling record ?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: This might be completely wrong but could provide a starting point for a lively discussion.

      Across the three categories, the required combination of artistry and strength varies, with fast bowling calling for the highest degree of physical strength. A fast bowler can’t survive just on guile, skill and reflexes the way spin bowlers and batsmen can. Therefore, one can suspect it is variation in physical strength that might be responsible for the differences you have identified. And, one can speculate that in some way strength might be related to diet. (I hope Aakar Patel joins this discussion – his article on diet is among the most read on the blog:

      As evidence, one might point out that Muslims are disproportionately represented amongst fast bowlers in the Indian test team – Zaheer Khan, Mohammad Shami, Irfan Pathan are recent names. Going back, I can recall Abid Ali, Salim Durrani, Mohammad Nisar.

      As I said, this could be completely wrong. And, of course, one would have to investigate the diet of the all-time great Kapil Dev. Perhaps, he could also provide us with a better answer.

      Update: Here is a contribution that debunks my naive speculation:

      • Vikram Says:

        The issue I have with the Telegraph article is that it incorrectly characterizes India’s test batting as better than Pakistan’s. The statistics dont back this up. The reason Indian batsmen have scored more runs is because they have played more games.

  146. Aakar Says:

    I would say three things:

    First, that there is a tradition of fast bowling, and that nurtures the talent even if it doesn’t spawn it. This makes sense if we look at fast bowling as a specific skill.
    Imran wrote that he learnt more about fast bowling in brief exchanges with John Snow than from any of his Pakistani coaches. So just as with Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan and perhaps Michael Ferreira and Geet Sethi, there is a tradition that produces the next generation.

    Second, Pataudi on answering this question once observed that the larger specimens of South Asians were to be found in the north and particularly the Punjab/Haryana area.
    Two thirds of that area is Pakistan. There are of course not-so-tall quick bowlers (Malcolm Marshall) but they are exceptional. Therefore, assuming Pataudi is right, the pool of availability is larger in Pakistan. To this I may add that physically talented Punjabis in India are diverted in large numbers to hockey. This may also be true of Pakistan, but the pool is smaller here. 

    Third, in my opinion the Pakistani system of promoting and selecting talent is more egalitarian. One observation that indicates this: Indian players tend to speak better English on the podium than Pakistanis, because they usually are from urban, middle-class families. 
    Consequently, there used to be a preponderance of urban, upper caste, particularly Brahmin players (Gavaskar/Manjrekar/Vengsarkar/Tendulkar) in our team. This happened at the cost of the peasant, who tends to be larger in size, for example Munaf Patel.
    There are exceptions, and Srinath and Ishant Sharma are large, Brahmin fast bowlers, but the norm has been someone like Chetan Sharma who hasn’t the physique. The peasant Kapil Dev shows what I mean.
    I think the selection process is becoming less closed over time, particularly after the IPL and we can expect to see more Indians who speak poorly at the podium but bowl faster on the pitch.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Aakar: Thanks. Looks like you have a column on some of your favorite themes!

    • Vikram Says:

      Yes, these seem like very plausible reasons.

      Indian Punjabis might opt for hockey because that comes with a stronger guarantee of a government job. Being an NGO, the BCCI can offer no such guarantees.

      Also, the egalitarian selection in Pakistani cricket might be a legacy of the British Raj’s extensive investments in the Punjab as a garrison state, and the consequent empowerment of the peasant castes there.

  147. Anil Kala Says:

    Is Mulayam Singh really wrong?

    I think he is guilty of utter stupidity and lack of tact in articulating a legitimate point of view. The manner in which he articulated his views makes a serious crime appear frivolous. Question is, is he off mark in suggesting death penalty disproportionately heavy punishment for the crime?

    I think he is right about death penalty being staggeringly disproportionate punishment for crime of rape (alone not compounded with murder) even for repeat offenders. My question is shouldn’t an acid thrower on a hapless woman similarly be awarded death penalty or a goon who chops another person’s arm? Why is rape more serious for a woman than disfigurement for life or loss of limb? The rape acquires totally another dimension not because of the act of crime but rampant tribalism of our society. The social stigma attached to victim of rape is not due to act of the criminal but sense of karmic finality of our society. We have excelled in punishing victims especially women be it a widow or a raped/abused woman.

    Question is if rape was such a staggering crime then its sense of gravity should be felt uniformly across the globe but we know in evolved society where such social stigma does not exist rape is treated as a serious crime against women, Period.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: There is no disagreement that rape is a serious crime. The question is what should be the punishment for it. The question assumes its real significance if we assume that capital punishment has been abolished. So, if the death penalty is ruled out, what would be the appropriate punishment for rape? I suppose this would vary with the context.

      At the same time, given the present state of South Asian society, I don’t feel rape can be treated as equivalent to chopping off an arm. Whether it ever could, I am not so sure.

      Also, the statement by Mulayam Singh might not be random. There could be an electoral calculus in a patriarchal society resentful of the gains being made by women.

  148. Andy Says:

    SA, what is your opinion on Narendra Modi? What path will India-Pakistan and Sino-Indian relations take if he becomes the Prime Minister of India?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Andy: These two questions are quite separate. Modi as an individual and what might happen if he becomes PM.

      Modi as PM depends very much on the number of seats the BJP secures. The difference between an unconstrained and a constrained Modi could be quite significant. My hunch is that an unconstrained Modi at the all-India level would unravel very quickly.

      In any case, we are jumping the gun. Indian elections can be full of surprises.

  149. Vikram Says:

    SA, Shekhar Gupta has painted an extremely bleak picture of Indian Punjab:

    It is quite paradoxical, since Punjab is known as one of the most prosperous states in India. But it seems that its agriculture led growth is plateauing, and industry remains far from well developed despite good infrastructure. Gupta seems to be blame this on the ‘Punjabi mentality’, but I feel the reasons might be different.

    Is there a similar situation developing in Pakistani Punjab ? What could be the reasons for this, and its long term consequences ?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: Shekhar Gupta’s piece is very impressionistic with no real evidence to support the many assertions. And blaming the situation on “mentality” is a sure clue that the author doesn’t have a coherent narrative to offer.

      Look at this op-ed by Arvind Subramanian for a a better explanation:

      It is correct that Punjab is among the most prosperous states based on agriculture-led growth. That growth may now be leveling off though I haven’t seen the numbers. But as far as industry is considered, the problem is not unique to Punjab – it is an all-India story of what the author calls premature deindustrialization. The longer term consequences are very grave because it means the inability to provide jobs to the millions who would be entering the labor force every year.

      Pakistani Punjab is very different – it is both the biggest and the most dynamic province of the country, at least some parts of it. But the slow pace of industrialization is no different.

      • Vikram Says:

        SA, thanks for sharing the Business Standard op-ed, I had been looking at the share of the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of the economies of Indian states a few days ago, and Gujarat was the only state in which the secondary sector had grown as a proportion of the total economic output. Indeed, this is one of the reasons corporate India is backing Modi, they think he will put policies in place that will speed up the allocation of labor from the less to more productive sectors of the economy.

        But I would like to focus on Indian Punjab to study a particular case of arrested industrialization. Let us first consider the conditions needed for rapid industrial growth. One needs a large pool of reasonably skilled workers, sufficient resources (land and water), easy access to markets, political stability and availability of surplus capital for investment in industries.

        I dont think Punjab lacks in the first condition. Its population is still growing, and a sufficient number are being educated up to twelfth grade (42 %) to provide skilled labor [].

        The second condition is tricky, the state doesnt lack land and water per se. But most of it is devoted to agriculture, and so is already tied up. This definitely increases costs, both from the point of view of acquiring land/water and rent-seeking by officials in the name of regulation.

        Regarding access to markets, the whole Northwest region of India has a population of more than a 100 million, and this cant be a major roadblock. Although, improved connections between the two Punjabs would be very useful in this regard.

        I really think it is the last two conditions that pose the biggest challenge. A lot of the surplus capital that could easily be invested in India comes from NRIs. And the Punjabi diaspora is not as prosperous as the Malayali or Tamil ones (for eg: the share of Punjab in remittances is a fraction of that of Kerala), and it is also distrustful of the current establishment due to the events of the 1980s-90s. The net result is that the state gets barely any investment, foreign or domestic.

        I would think the situation in Pakistani Punjabi is quite different, the large and wealthy diaspora in the Gulf would be able to invest heavily in the province. And having a metro city in the form of Lahore would generate its own impetus for industrialization.

  150. Vikram Says:

    SA, you must have come across this article in ‘The Dawn’ by Nadeem Paracha:

    I have been reading Pakistani newspapers more than Indian ones for more than a year now. One of the most interesting topics is the question of nationalism, which seems to be talked about almost daily in the Pakistani newspapers. I am wondering if the debate is being framed in the wrong terms, especially with the recent attempts by Pakistani liberals to contrast ‘Arab culture’ with ‘Indian/South Asian culture’. This is a problematic position for a liberal to take, and I am wondering if the debate is being framed in the wrong terms. What if Pakistan had a dictatorship that promoted ‘South Asian’ culture ? Would that be acceptable to Pak liberals ? What if the people, as Sunni Muslims, really do feel a strong pull towards Arabic culture ? I had left the following comment on Mr. Paracha’s article.

    “I think there is too much emphasis being given to the cultural aspect of coherent nation states here. In fact, the cultural homogenity of European nation states was very much a manufactured, post-facto imposition, on the borders of France and Italy, you will still find ‘French Italians’, who in a certain era identified much more with nearby Turin than more distant Paris.

    Nation states arose because of changes in technologies of communication and modes of economic production. The advent of the printing press, and with it ‘print capitalism’, the rail road, the manufacturing based economy were the fundamentals, and when the inevitable social upheavals occured, the European ‘nations’ were introduced and populations slowly ‘nationalized’.

    In South Asia, nationalism was an idea that was learnt through European contact. Therefore, linking nationalisms to pre-existing cultures and structures is bound to be problematic. More so, as those structures start unraveling with the spread of mass media and urbanization. Nationalism has to be connected to something ‘new’ for the people at the grassroots to grasp and grab it. In India, this ‘new’ was democracy, a right to choose the ruler, which even the most marginalized could intuitively grasp as something worth while. This writer is fretting too much about ‘Arabs’ and what not, havent South Asian Muslims looked to the Middle East for cultural inspiration for centuries ? The author’s own name is derived from the Arabic ‘nadima’. So what is wrong with it now ? And what about those populations in Pakistan, most prominently the Pashtuns and Balochis who were always in the Iranian, not Indian cultural matrix ?

    Just maintain and deepen democracy, and the people who want Pakistaniat will automatically define it for you.”

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: I went through NFPs article but didn’t get much out of it. Pakistani papers are way below standard – I do skim them but the only South Asian paper I look at every day is the Hindu. To me the relevant point seems to be that there shouldn’t be an imposition of culture from any side. People have their cultures and should be left alone – whether they wish to look East, West, North or South should be their choice. All South Asian countries are multi-national and to think of them in terms of the European model of nation-states is a recipe for disaster. Yes, there is an Indianness in India but it would not make sense to have Hindi declared the official language.

      We also need a better sense of how European nation-states came into being. A little bit of that is discussed in this review of Tony Judt’s Post-War: “He also observes that because war, genocide, and ethnic cleansing had separated the fractious, ethnically diverse regions of Eastern Europe into tidy, homogeneous nation-states, “the stability of postwar Europe rested upon the accomplishments of Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler.”” (

      We don’t want to go down that route to create nation-states in South Asia.

      • Vikram Says:

        SA, I dont find myself in agreement with Judt here. In the long run, there is no reason to believe that a lack of ethnic diversity will lead to stability. We have examples in East and SE Asia (Korea, Vietnam and even China). Even the conflicts in the Middle East are taking place between people with the same religion and language. There will always be a layer of ethnicity/geography etc (North-South, Shia-Sunni, East-West) to cover over the underlying political and social roots of the instability. As an example, not all the people in North Vietnam were Communists, and not all the people in South Vietnam were opposed to communism.

        It is incorrect to say that SA countries are multi-national states, unless by nations you mean castes. In India, even the so-called ‘regional’ parties like the SP, BSP, TDP, DMK, AIADMK, NCP are really parties of the locally dominant agricultural castes like the Reddys, Yadavs, Vannaiyars etc. They utilize federalist sentiments in their rhetoric, but they really are more the outcome of the lack of inner party democracy in the INC than underlying regional sentiments. Note that politics in India’s most politically mature states like Kerala, HP, UT, WB, Gujarat is dominated by national parties like the CPI, INC, BJP and AITC. See the example of the AGP in Assam, which has now been mostly discarded in favor of the INC or BJP. The only genuine exceptions are perhaps the Shiv Sena and the Akalis.

        I will say that people look for simultaneous local and global elements in their identities. And nationalism can appear either as a part of the local element, or the global element. In Europe, nationalism became intimately connected with specific languages and theories of race (in addition to republican government), and hence the preponderance of linguistic nationalism. In India, this was not the case. Nationalism in India has been tied (so far) to secular elements like the anti-colonial/imperial movements and democratic government.

        This is where I feel Pakistan misses someone with the instincts of Benazir Bhutto, she had a much sharper idea of how important democracy really was for Pakistan in terms of defining a national identity based on secular elements. Perhaps that was the reason why the ISI specifically targeted her. I dont think Nawaz Sharif has those instincts, neither does Imran Khan. Bilawal seems to be another Rahul Gandhi in the making, but perhaps one of the Bhutto daughters has inherited those instincts.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vikram: I feel you have missed Judt’s point. He was not arguing that that the reduction of diversity was sought for increased stability. It was sought for its own sake out of a notion of nationhood based on similarities of ethnicity and language. Hitler was not eliminating Jews to increase stability – it was because he hated Jews. And reduced diversity was obtained at great cost through ethnic cleansing and genocide.

          Pakistan is clearly a multinational state. Pathans, Baluch, Sindhis and Punjabis think of themselves as distinct nations. So do the Sinhala and Tamil in Sri Lanka. In Bangladesh there is the Bengali/Bihari divide. India might have moved beyond such thinking but clearly after 1857 the hardening of nationalistic feelings based on religion had begun.

          Benazir’s attitude to democracy was no different from that of her father – an instrument for access to power. It would be a complete negation of the essence of democracy if we now put our faith in the genes of Benazir’s daughters.

  151. Anil Kala Says:

    The only difference of any consequence between a computer an a human mind is that we are aware we are conscious … Otherwise some acts a computer does better and others our mind.

    The question is .. Is consciousness a natural consequence of self learning process if so the computers will eventually become conscious then it will become obvious that we are just organic computers.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Anil: This subject is beyond my competence but I feel you are pointing in the right direction. Recently I came across the following:

      “The sciences of neurology and neuropsychology are in their infancy. But they are advancing by astonishing leaps and bounds, even as we speak. And what they are finding — consistently, thoroughly, across the board — is that, whatever consciousness is, it is inextricably linked to the brain.

      Everything we think of as the soul — consciousness, identity, character, free will — all of that is powerfully affected by physical changes to the brain and body. Changes in the brain result in changes in consciousness… sometimes so drastically, they make a personality unrecognizable. Changes in consciousness can be seen, with magnetic resonance imagery, as changes in the brain. Illness, injury, drugs and medicines, sleep deprivation, etc…. all of these can make changes to the supposed “soul,” both subtle and dramatic. And death, of course, is a physical change that renders a person’s personality and character, not only unrecognizable, but non-existent.

      So the obvious conclusion is that consciousness and identity, character and free will, are products of the brain and the body. They’re biological processes, governed by laws of physical cause and effect. With any other phenomenon, if we can show that physical forces and actions produce observable effects, we think of that as a physical phenomenon. Why should the “soul” be any different?”

  152. Anil Kala Says:

    I was looking at remittance data of world bank (,,contentMDK:22759429~pagePK:64165401~piPK:64165026~theSitePK:476883,00.html 2014 . I find curious entries there..

    India receives 2.7 and 4.7 billion dollars in remittance from Nepal and Pakistan respectively. Can any one explain this?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      I wrote to the World Bank and received the following reply. This still doesn’t convince me and I will inquire further. I will forward the email to you as well as it includes a couple of attachments:

      “Below please find a short description of the methodology that we use to estimate the bilateral remittance flows. I would like to mention that we use UNPD and population censuses to collect data for the number of migrants (for instance Pakistani migrants in India) which is used as input for the estimation of bilateral remittances. The definition of migrant is usually based on the country of birth, and therefore, if someone was born in Pakistan to Indian parents and then moved to India would be considered as a Pakistani migrant in India. It is not clear why such “migrants” should send money to the country of birth, but that is the definition we use.

      We used total remittance inflows to the countries and employed the methodology described in “South-South Migration and Remittances” by Ratha and Shaw (2007) to estimate the bilateral remittances (Annex 2 in the attached pdf file => We use the third methodology in that section which is the most comprehensive model). You may also refer to the other attached file “Forecast Methodology.pdf” (one page from Migration and Development Brief 23) for a brief description of the methodology to estimate bilateral remittances and forecast future remittance flows. To estimate bilateral remittances, the methodology distributes total remittance inflows to a certain country into different corridors using weights based on the bilateral migration matrix and per capita income of migrants in destination countries.

      Please let us know if you have further questions.”

  153. Vikram Says:

    I came across some data pertaining to the learning of English as a second language in Maharashtra via 10th board exam passing statistics.

    There are two observations I wished to make:

    1) Most students learn Marathi, it is taken as a 1st/2nd or 3rd language by more than 90% of the students. But in second place is English, which is taken by around 85% of the students. It is open to debate and scrutiny what passing English as a second/third language in these exams really means, but the data clearly indicates a strong preference for English.

    2) There is not much difference in the passing percentage of Hindi, a forcibly imposed language and English, a desired language, despite Hindi being part of the same language family as Marathi. This indicates that motivation plays a big role in actual learning achievement.

    I am trying to get such data from other states as well (esp Gujarat), but unfortunately none of them has made it as accessible as Maharashtra has.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Vikram: Thanks for getting into this topic in more depth. I have looked at the data and I feel that at this macro level there are too many under-specified variables to reach a clear conclusion. For example, one cannot infer the competence in any of the languages which is what we are really after. Nor can we deduce the impact on learning achievement of studying the languages in any particular order. We do not know the differences in the other important characteristics of the students, e.g., parent’s income. We need some custom-designed rigorous studies to answer our questions. I believe the recommendations of the EU (which has a Learning Policy Unit in Strasbourg) for their ‘mother language plus two’ mandate are based on such studies – see the following for details:

      It is true that motivation plays a large part in learning but, as I mentioned before, motivation depends on incentives and incentives can be designed appropriately for different objectives. For example, a section in regional languages on college entrance exams would strengthen the motivation to learn regional languages. If, on the other hand, we attach no importance to them, no one would bother to study them.

      • Vikram Says:

        Note here that most students (78%) get instruction in their mother tongue. This is why Marathi is the largest first language subject.

        For competence, we can try and infer it from the overall grades obtained by the students:

        About a fifth of the students score 75% and above and since languages are three out of the six subjects, it is reasonable to assume that they did well in the languages.

        Mother language plus two has been India’s language policy since 1968 via the ‘Three Language Formula’. But the Hindian states and Gujarat have been disingenous about implementing it, choosing to teach Sanskrit instead of a modern Indian language.

        The major obstacles I can identify in mother tongue instruction are three:

        1) The substantial income premiums for speaking English, ‘fluent English’ speakers get paid 34% more than average, while ‘little English’ speakers get paid 13% more.
        So there is a major incentive to speak English at first language levels.

        2) General caste/religion dominated politics that avoids serious discussion and improvement of public schools as a major issue.

        3) ‘Hindi’ imposition in North Indian states, where languages like Braj Bhasha, Haryanvi, Bhojpuri, Awadhi are falsely called ‘Hindi’.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Vikram: I have the following thoughts on the three major obstacles to home language instruction that you have mentioned. To me the first is the the one most often encountered.

          There is definitely a premium awarded to competence in English but it is a pedagogical mistake (rigorously established through research) that making English the medium of instruction in the early years leads to greater competence in English. In fact, the contrary has been proven – early education in the home language leads to greater competence in acquisition of English. This is counter-intuitive and people just refuse to accept despite all the academic evidence. In my view, the analogy is a very simple one – you have to learn to crawl before you can walk. Try making a child walk from day one in the belief that it would advance his or her career and people will themselves realize their folly. It is because learning is a more abstract activity that people fail to see the damage they are doing to children in order to improve their earning potential. The true comparison of premiums would be with those who have had their early education in the home language and then acquired English in a pedagogically sound manner as a second or third language.

          • Vikram Says:

            I agree, and I think policy makers in most Indian states do emphasize the mother tongue education system.

            I think the real problems in most states is from a combination of points 1 and 2. Parents are desperate for their children to get proficiency in speaking English but the government schools which offer mother tongue instruction and English as a 2nd/3rd language suffer from image and governance problems.

            Hence the gravitation towards private schools where the medium of instruction is claimed to be English. Additionally, the almost total exit of the elite from mother tongue instruction schools to English medium government supported or even private schools is not helping matters. But how are we going to bring the Anglicized classes back to mother-tongue instruction schools ?

  154. Vikram Says:

    SA, is this kind of hostility to capitalism and statism the norm in Pakistan as well ? If so, what would be the reason for this phenomenon ? Is it the mainly peasant and/or warrior background of the population, with trade and commerce restricted to certain (looked down upon ?) hereditary castes ?

    “Moving a step closer towards fee regulation at the national level, the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) has accepted the report of the government-appointed committee, which had recommended a ceiling on the tuition fee charged by all private institutes for technical courses including engineering and MBA.”

    “It is recommended that all existing contracts for international Test & One-Day matches be revised and new ones ensure that only breaks taken by both teams for drinks, lunch and tea will permit the broadcast to be interrupted with advertisements, as is the practice internationally. Also, the entire space of the screen during the broadcast will be dedicated to the display of the game, save for a small sponsor logo or sign.”

    Can capitalism succeed in South Asia with attitudes like these ?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vikram: I don’t really see the problem. Capitalism does not equate to a completely free market. The myth of the self-regulating free market is quite recent and has rightly been discredited after the recent great financial crisis. Adam Smith who is considered to be the father of the capitalist economy actually made a very strong argument for its regulation in his less-read book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

      A relevant and important observation was made by Amartya Sen in a recent interview:

      “Secondly, while the market economy does well for industries and agriculture, by and large, with a few exceptions, it does not do well for education and healthcare. There you need the government to come in in a big way, a point that was made by Adam Smith in 1776. And that has been neglected and not much has happened on that. The UPA government was an under-performer and the Modi government is even more of a disaster.”

      Sen has highlighted education and healthcare but the same holds for sports – look at the abuses in the IPL. So, sensible regulation in these sectors is absolutely essential. This cannot be considered hostility to capitalism. In fact, it is necessary for capitalism to work.

      • Vikram Says:

        SA, for a fair free market, all players have to be subject to the same rules. In the example of engineering colleges, state run colleges like the IITs and IIMs will be exempt from the fee ceiling, implicitly through subsidies and perhaps explicitly as well.

        Take the example of the US, it has private universities, many of whom charge fees that can cost nearly a million dollars over four years. But Americans have among the highest proportion of graduates of any country.

        Similarly for cricket, the NFL in America has multiple commercial breaks and is widely popular and credible.

        Amartya Sen is right, and he has been saying this for a long time. But he has never explained why is it that the Indian state is so unwilling to invest in public education (while making atrocious rules for private higher education).

        One possible explanation is that the Indian political parties and legislature is dominated by large farming castes, who oppose universal education because it will end the dependence of laborer castes on them and erode their political/social control in villages.

        More such ‘regulation’ is likely in the future, as these castes try to use their political power to control the urban and industrial economy where they have little presence.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vikram: There is a great asymmetry of power and information between providers and consumers for which reason almost every aspect of the market needs to be regulated. However, you are right that the regulation must be transparent and should not arbitrarily favor one type of producer over another.

          I am reasonably sure that TV broadcast rights in the US are assigned based on some agreement on the allocation of time between content and advertisements. In Pakistan, it almost always seems that the the real purpose of TV is advertisements separated by slivers of content. I am in favor of this being subject to regulation.

          If the state is not investing in public education one can conclude it does not see that investment in its interest and the public is not in a position to reverse this preference. There is no real mystery here. Think back to laws against the education of slaves in the American South (discussed in more detail here:

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Vikram: This article is useful in the context of the discussion you have started. It challenges economic orthodoxy to claim that “The real tragedy precipitated by “rational” individualism is not the tragedy of the commons, but the tragedy of the market.”

  155. Vikram Says:

    This is unbelievable:

    BBC is still repeating colonial tropes. For example, the article says that the Manusmriti dates to a ‘1000 years before Christ’. However, this was the original colonial view that William Jones and Karl Wilhelm formulated in the 17-1800s.

    Modern scholarship suggests a date between 200 BCE and 200 CE.

  156. Vikram Says:

    I condemn all forms of extremism, and stand for everyone’s right to marry and be with whom they want. But incidents like this and the lack of coverage, reveal more about the ideology and priorities of India’s so called ‘liberals’.

    Lets see what Mr. Owaisi has to say about this.

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