Quotulatiousness

February 1, 2015

India’s experiment in improving how welfare services are delivered

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, India — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tim Worstall looks at a recent book on an Indian experiment that investigated how to improve poverty relief programs:

In terms of the Indian experience one of the reasons that these trials worked well was because they were trials. Effort was put into making certain that those who were supposed to be receiving the cash were in fact receiving it. Such care and attention to people getting what they’re supposed to get is not an outstanding feature of the various welfare systems currently in use in India, as the book makes clear. So, just making sure that people were getting those modest amounts that they were supposed to get is going to be an advance. And it wouldn’t be possible to simply roll out such a scheme across the country, however beneficial, without a lot of preparatory work to make sure that the right people really would be getting the money.

It’s also true that the current systems fail badly in other ways. Purchasing grain to ship it around to special shops where it will be sold hugely under the market price is always going to be a leaky system. Some number of the middlemen will be sorely tempted to divert produce to sell onto the market and there’s considerable evidence that some succumb to that temptation. If people simply have money to buy on the standard market in the normal manner then it’s a lot easier to keep a control on that sort of thing.

However, the most important thing for the design of the American welfare system is the points they make about how the poor value being given goods as against being given money. $100 (far in excess of the amounts being discussed here) is worth more than $100 of food for example. Or $100 worth of medical care. There’s two reasons for this. One is simply that everyone values agency. The ability to decide things for oneself. And money does that. It’s possible to decide whether you want to purchase food, or to save a bit and buy a goat next week, or more fertiliser for the fields and so on. What the peasant on the ground would like to do with any increase in resources is most unlikely to accord with what some far away bureaucrat thinks said peasant ought to be doing. So, the choice itself increases value.

[…]

So, we could actually make poor people richer by abolishing food stamps. Assuming, of course, that we just gave them the same amount of money instead. The same would be true of Medicaid and housing vouchers of course. Yes, I’m aware that there are arguments against doing this. But it is still true: converting goods and services in kind into cash would make the poor richer at the same cost to the rest of us. So it is at least something we should consider, no?

And the main reason switching to cash from the current system is … paternalism. Governments really do think that they are better equipped than the recipients of aid in how to spend that money. And it’s quite true that some welfare recipients would blow the payments on booze or drugs or what-have-you, but the majority of peoples’ lives would improve if they got cash rather than food stamps or other in-kind assistance.

January 31, 2015

India and the INSAS rifle

Filed under: India, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Earlier this month, I linked to an article about the low reputation enjoyed by India’s first domestically designed and manufactured assault rifle. According to Strategy Page, there’s a potential change of heart by the Indian military on the INSAS rifle:

In response to the growing combat losses because of flaws in the locally made INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) 5.56mm assault rifle, the Indian government seems likely to capitulate and allow the military to get a rifle that works. Unfortunately for nationalist politicians, this will probably be a foreign rifle, and the leading candidate is Israeli.

This all began in the 1980s when there was growing clamor for India to design and build its own weapons. This included something as basic as the standard infantry rifle. At that time soldiers and paramilitary-police units were equipped with a mixture of old British Lee-Enfield bolt action (but still quite effective) rifles and newer Belgian FALs (sort of a semi-automatic Lee-Enfield) plus a growing number of Russian AK-47s. The rugged and reliable Russian assault rifle was most popular with its users.

In the late 1980s India began developing a family of 5.56mm infantry weapons (rifle, light machine-gun and carbine). Called the INSAS, the state owned factories were unable to produce the quantities required (and agreed to). Worse, the rifles proved fragile and unreliable. The design was poorly thought out and it is believed corruption played a part because the INSAS had more parts than it needed and cost over twice as much to produce as the AK-47.

The original plan was to equip all troops with INSAS weapons by 1998. Never happened, although troops began to receive the rifle in 1998. By 2000 half the required weapons ordered were still not manufactured. Moreover in 1999 the INSAS weapons got their first real combat workout in the Kargil campaign against Pakistan. While not a complete failure, the nasty weather that characterized that battle zone high in the frigid mountains saw many failures as metal parts sometimes cracked from the extreme cold. Troops complained that they were at a disadvantage because their Pakistani foes could fire on full automatic with their AK-47s while the INSAS rifles had only three bullet burst mode (which, fortunately, sometimes failed and fired more than three bullets for each trigger pull.) What was most irksome about this was that the INSAS rifles were the same weight, size and shape as the AK-47 but cost about $300 each, while AK-47s could be had for less than half that. The INSAS looked like the AK-47 because its design was based on that weapon.

Update: Added the link to Strategy Page.

January 18, 2015

“The INSAS is a very bad rifle”

Filed under: India, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Indian troops suffer a particularly bad experiment in local sourcing of equipment:

INSAS rifle (via Wikipedia)

INSAS rifle (via Wikipedia)

In 1999, the Indian Army fought a three-month-long undeclared war with Pakistan. It was also the combat debut of India’s new INSAS battle rifle.

The INSAS is a very bad rifle.

During the conflict — waged over the disputed and mountainous Kargil district in the province of Kashmir — the Indian troops’ rifles jammed up, and their cheap, 20-round plastic magazines cracked in the cold weather.

Designed to shoot in semi-automatic and three-round burst modes, some soldiers would pull the trigger, and the gun would unexpectedly spray rounds like a fully automatic.

Soldiers also preferred the heavier 7.62-millimeter rounds in the FAL rifle, which the INSAS and its 5.56-millimeter rounds replaced.

Then in 2005, Maoist rebels attacked a Nepalese army base. The Nepalese troops had INSAS rifles bought from India. During the 10-hour-long battle, the rifles overheated and stopped working. The Maoists overran the base and killed 43 soldiers.

“Maybe the weapons we were using were not designed for a long fight,” Nepalese army Brig. Gen. Deepak Gurung said after the battle. “They malfunctioned.”

November 24, 2014

India’s slavery problem

Filed under: India — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

In The Diplomat, Ankit Panda talks about the prevalence of modern slavery in India:

The 2014 Global Slavery Report, conducted by the Walk Free Foundation, estimates that India has the highest number of individuals living in slavery out of any country worldwide. The report finds that out of an estimated 35.8 million men, women and children around the world living under conditions of modern slavery, 14 million are in India (followed by 3 million in China and 2 million in Pakistan). India ranked first in terms of absolute numbers of people in modern slavery, and fifth overall in terms of percentage of its total population (1.14 percent) living in modern slavery (Mauritania, Uzbekistan, Haiti, and Qatar ranked above India, in that order). The total number of slaves in India is 20 percent higher than the 2013 report because of a change in methodology.

Modern slaves are defined as individuals subject to forced labor, debt bondage, human trafficking, forced sexual exploitation, and forced marriage. This is a considerably broader understanding of slavery that addresses issues of human and labor rights beyond the conventional understanding of the term as human property. This is in part why the 2014 report estimates 35.8 million modern slaves worldwide while the International Labor Organization (ILO) counts 21 million worldwide — the ILO estimate focuses on forced labor primarily. According to the Walk Free Foundation, evidence of modern slavery in one form or another was found in all 167 countries surveyed for the 2014 report.

[…]

Given the continued de facto importance of caste in Indian society, social factors play a role in poor labor and human security outcomes for certain sections of Indian society. The report in particular highlights the vulnerable position of India’s Dalit caste, noting that they have the “least social protections and are highly vulnerable to severe forms of exploitation and modern slavery.” It also notes the relatively poor state of women’s rights in the country, leading to “significant discrimination and high rates of sexual violence” against women and girls in India.

November 16, 2014

In Civilization games, Gandhi is the most likely leader to use nukes

Filed under: Gaming, India — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In Kotaku, Luke Plunkett explains why of all the AI leaders in the game, none are more likely to espouse the philosophy “nuke ‘em ’till they glow, then shoot ‘em in the dark” than India’s Gandhi:

Civilization V - Gandhi

In the original Civilization, it was because of a bug. Each leader in the game had an “aggression” rating, and Gandhi – to best reflect his real-world persona – was given the lowest score possible, a 1, so low that he’d rarely if ever go out of his way to declare war on someone.

Only, there was a problem. When a player adopted democracy in Civilization, their aggression would be automatically reduced by 2. Code being code, if Gandhi went democratic his aggression wouldn’t go to -1, it looped back around to the ludicrously high figure of 255, making him as aggressive as a civilization could possibly be.

In later games this bug was obviously not an issue, but as a tribute/easter egg of sorts, parts of his white-hot rage have been kept around. In Civilization V, for example, while Gandhi’s regular diplomatic approach is more peaceful than other leaders, he’s also the most likely to go dropping a-bombs when pushed, with a nuke “rating” of 12 putting him well ahead of the competition (the next three most likely to go nuclear have a rating of 8, with most leaders around the 4-6 region).

Update, 16 November: Fixed the broken link.

October 31, 2014

Digitizing the British Raj

Filed under: Britain, History, India, Middle East — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

BBC News provides some information on a massive project currently underway at the British Museum:

Muscat in 1811

A transgender singer hits stardom in Baghdad. Officials scramble to impose order after a Kuwaiti restaurant is found to be selling cat meat. Gulf royals on an official visit to London are left marooned in a drab south London suburb because of a shortage of hotel rooms in the West End.

These are some of the quirky stories hiding in nine miles of shelving at the British Library (BL) that hold the India Office Records — millions of documents recording Britain’s 350-year presence in the sub-continent.

The India Office did not only administer India, it also exercised colonial rule over an area stretching west as far as Aden. That’s why the files cover Persia and Arabia. And the reason the stories are coming to light is that the Qatar Foundation has paid £8.7m for nearly half a million documents relating to the Gulf to be digitised.

Work started in 2012, and many of those documents have now gone online at the Qatar National Library’s digital library portal.

Never formally part of the British Empire, the Gulf nonetheless came under colonial administration after being targeted for trade in the 17th Century by the East India Company. Two centuries later, the government established direct control through the India Office.

[…]

But principles of free academic inquiry, which guide the BL’s work, contrast with Freedom House’s assessment of Qatar as “not free”. Amnesty International called Qatar’s new cybercrimes law, passed last month, “a major setback for freedom of expression”, and Qatari writer Mohammed Al-Ajami remains in jail, serving a 15-year sentence for a poem deemed insulting to the monarch.

The BL and Qatar National Library (QNL) both hold copies of the digitised archive but Gibby’s expectation is that the portal – currently hosted by Amazon – will eventually be transferred for hosting in Qatar. That could theoretically expose material to manipulation by Qatari censors.

“That was discussed very clearly right from the beginning,” says Gibby. “Both sides made very clear to each other that there is no suggestion this will be censored. To date that has been borne out. We, the British Library, are trusting [the Qatar Foundation] and our faith is in them.”

H/T to Mark Collins for the link.

September 28, 2014

This is why you rarely see “Made in India” on manufactured goods

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, India — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:13

At The Diplomat, Mohamed Zeeshan talks about India’s self-imposed disadvantages in manufacturing both for domestic and export consumption:

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden Independence Day speech was laced with inspiring rhetoric. But of the many things he said, the one slogan that inevitably caught public attention was this: “Come, make in India!” With those words, Modi was trying to make the case for turning India into the world’s next great manufacturing hub. Understandably, the Indian populace was thrilled.

India is one of the world’s ten largest economies (and is third largest on a purchasing power parity basis), with a total annual output of nearly $2 trillion. As much as 57 percent of this output is produced by a service sector that employs just 28 percent of the population, largely concentrated in urban parts of the country. That is no surprise, because most Indians lack the skills and education to join the more knowledge-intensive service sector. What they need is what successful developing nations all over the world have had ever since the Industrial Revolution: a robust and productive manufacturing sector.

Yet India’s manufacturing sector contributes just 16 percent to the total GDP pie (China’s, by contrast, accounts for almost half of its total economic output). Victor Mallet, writing in the McKinsey book Reimagining India, recently offered an anecdote that was illuminating. “One of India’s largest carmakers recently boasted that it was selling more vehicles than ever and that it was hiring an extra eight hundred workers for its factory,” he wrote, “But the plant employing those workers belongs to the Jaguar Land Rover subsidiary of Tata Motors and is in the English Midlands, not in job-hungry India.”

Mallet goes on to make a point that has been made frequently by Indian economists: The world doesn’t want to “make in India,” because it is simply too painful. There’s bureaucratic red tape, a difficult land acquisition act, troublesome environmental legislation, a shortage of electricity, and a lack of water resources. The only thing India doesn’t seem to lack is labor, but that merely adds to the problem. As Mallet points out in the same essay, aptly titled “Demographic dividend – or disaster?”, “India’s population grew by 181 million in the decade to 2011 – and (despite falling fertility rates) a rise of nearly 50% in the total number of inhabitants is unavoidable.” But the number of jobs being added to feed that population is inadequate.

However, the labor dividend is still important. India doesn’t need to reduce the number of hands on deck. It needs to weed out the challenges that stop them from being productive.

May 20, 2014

India Pale Ale – the first “global” beer

Filed under: Britain, History, India — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:05

The Economist looks back at the history of India Pale Ale, the first truly global beer:

INDIA pale ale (IPA) had a good claim to be the first global beer, before lager took a grip on the world’s tipplers. Now IPA, an amber, hop-laden brew, high in alcohol, is regaining its global footprint. Arguments rage about the origins and history of IPA. Britain’s territories on the Indian subcontinent were generally too hot for brewing. So a couple of hundred years ago, to keep army officers and officials of the East India Company away from the fearsome local firewater, beer was exported from Britain to take its place. Whether a beer already existed that had the characteristics of IPA or whether it was developed for the purpose is a matter of heated debate among beer historians. What is clear is that hops, which act as a preservative as well as a flavouring, combined with a hefty dose of alcohol for added robustness, ensured that the beer survived the long sea journey to India. Indeed, the months jiggling in a barrel onboard seemed only to improve the flavour. The style caught on at home, as the brew seeped onto the domestic market.

IPA’s popularity waned as the brewing industry changed. After the second world war, big brewers in Britain and America bought smaller competitors and flooded the market with bland, mass-market beers as old styles were abandoned in favour of a pint that would not offend anyone. In the 1980s brewing began to change again.

A minor quibble: in the snobby world of the British Raj, it wasn’t company concern for army officers and officials — it was those men being concerned that the troops in company army service or the lower-ranking clerks and functionaries not get too fuddled on local firewater. The officers and officials had their regimental officers’ messes and clubs which catered nearly as well as fancy gentlemens’ clubs in London. No beer for those chaps! Wine, whisky, and gin certainly (and in great supply) but beer was for the sweaty lads in the lower orders.

The beer that craft brewers like making the most is IPA. Artisan beermakers in America adopted old recipes from Britain for their IPAs but gradually began to adapt the brews to their own tastes. The heavy use of hops allows them to show off their skills in blending different flavours. Some parts of America, like Britain, have an excellent climate for growing top-quality hops. The bold flavours and high alcohol content create a beer that has a distinct style and bold taste, yet can come in many shades. The passion for hops in American craft beers has taken on the characteristics of an arms race, as brewers try to outdo each other in hoppiness.

The hop-addiction among craft brewers is well known. In fact, the demand for high quality aromatic hops is threatening to create shortages of the “good stuff” in the immediate future, as more craft brewers enter the market and try to out-hop the Joneses.

May 16, 2014

Narendra Modi wins in a landslide

Filed under: India, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:08

The Economist reports on the first election in India to produce a single-party majority since 1984:

“INDIA has won” tweeted Narendra Modi, on May 16th, his first public comment after official counting from India’s general election made it clear that he, and his Bharatiya Janata Party, had delivered a landslide victory beyond the expectations of almost everyone. The scale of the BJP win was remarkable. It swept entire states, including Rajasthan, Delhi, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand. More importantly it made enormous strides in two crucial, and massive, northern states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. There not only did Congress do disastrously, regional parties were also badly walloped. As of lunch time, it appeared that the BJP and its closest allies (known as the NDA) would have 324 seats of the 543 parliament, with the BJP alone getting 275. BJP spokesmen called that, rightly, a “tectonic shift in the polity of India”. It is the first time since 1984 that a single party has enough seats to rule alone.

Much is made is the importance of Mr Modi as a leader, who inspired great enthusiasm among the voters, especially youngsters. Clearly, too, there is demand for a stronger economy and more development. So strong is his victory, it might be no other party has enough seats to serve automatically as the opposition, since to lead it in parliament you need at least 10% of the seats, and Congress’s total haul might include even fewer than that. The array of ministers and prominent figures in Congress who have lost their seats is impressive. Mr Modi will give speeches and enjoy victory parades, first in Gujarat (where he has already visited his mother to get her blessings), then on May 17th in Varanasi. He may be sworn in as prime minister on May 21st, though obviously he hardly need wait to start forming a government and picking his ministers.

So lopsided is the outcome that enormous expectations will now rest on the BJP and Mr Modi to start delivering changes quickly. The vote share claimed by the BJP, some 35% nationally, is enormous by Indian standards. Combined with an historically high turnout, at 64%, it gives Mr Modi a huge mandate for his rule. Nor does it seem that any other party can offer any serious opposition to him. Congress is in tatters and its leaders must think seriously about its future role in politics. Rahul Gandhi, despite early signs that he was behind in his own constituency, at least appeared able to hold on there. But his margin of victory appeared to be hugely reduced. The Aam Aadmi Party, born of an anti-corruption movement, has at least claimed one MP (and perhaps several) in Punjab.

Update: Dave Weigel reminds us about Rahul Gandhi’s “total implosion in the worst interview ever”.

The debut of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, an exciting moment for the Slate demo, spent a good while shaming American media for ignoring India’s election. This was just, and right, and true — lots of things are more interesting than Hillary Clinton’s set speeches at charity events, not least the fate of the world’s largest democracy. And Oliver got the gist of the election, which was that the charismatic Narendra Modi would lead a right-wing coalition into power over the ruling Congress Party. That happened.

My only quibble with Oliver was how he described Rahul Gandhi, the man who led Congress to defeat. To be fair, the party was doomed by corruption and slowing economic growth, and Gandhi was given… I was about to write “a poisoned chalice,” but that seems like a gauche analogy for a man whose father and grandmother were assassinated in office. But Oliver quickly described Rahul as an “Indian Han Solo” and a man with the “total political package.”

This was not the whole story. Gandhi was sort of a disaster, a groomed yet unprepared candidate who never recovered from a nightmare interview with TV host Arnab Goswami. The whole gruesome thing is online, and the transcript is here. Both offer their own flavors of cringe comedy, from the start, when Gandhi struggles to explain why he’s doing his first-ever TV interview after 10 years in office.

April 10, 2014

Chiles, peppers, and world trade before globalization

Filed under: Americas, Economics, History, India — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:53

ESR linked to an interesting discussion of the spread of chile peppers and other exotic spices from the Roman empire onwards:

Can you imagine a world without salsa? Or Tabasco sauce, harissa, sriracha, paprika or chili powder?

I asked myself that question after I found a 700-year-old recipe for one of my favorite foods, merguez — North Africa’s beloved lamb sausage that is positively crimson with chiles. The medieval version was softly seasoned with such warm spices as black pepper, coriander and cinnamon instead of the brash heat of capsicum chile peppers — the signature flavor of the dish today.

The cuisines of China, Indonesia, India, Bhutan, Korea, Hungary and much of Africa and the Middle East would be radically different from what they are today if chiles hadn’t returned across the ocean with Columbus. Barely 50 years after the discovery of the New World, chiles were warming much of the Old World. How did they spread so far, so fast? The answers may surprise you — they did me!

I learned that Mamluk and Ottoman Muslims were nearly as responsible for the discovery of New World peppers as Columbus — but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The global pepper saga begins in the first millennium bce with the combustible career of another pepper — black pepper (Piper nigrum) and its cousins, Indian long pepper and Javanese cubeb. Although Piper nigrum was first grown on the Malabar Coast in India, the taste for it enflamed the ancient world: No matter what the cost — and it was very high — people were mad for pepper. The Romans, for example, first tasted it in Egypt, and the demand for it drove them to sail to India to buy it. In the first century, Pliny complained about the cost: “There is no year in which India does not drain the Roman Empire of fifty million sesterces.”

In one sense, the whole global system of trade — the sea and land routes throughout the known world that spread culture and cuisine through commerce — was engaged with the appetite for pepper, in its growth, distribution and consumption.

Dried chiles shipped well worldwide. From top-left: New World Capsicum annuum varieties include guajillo, ancho and New Mexico; a smaller Capsicum frutescens variety called “birdseye” chiles spread wild in Africa after birds spread their seeds from early gardens, and they are now common also in Southeast Asia; “Indian” chiles are among the most common varieties in India, which today grows and exports more chiles than any other nation. Bottom-left: Three popular capsicum peppers that took root in the Middle East—Maraş, Urfa and Aleppo, shown below in their flaked form—are used in dishes throughout the region. Bottom-right: Fresh serrano, poblano and ripe jalapeño peppers.

Dried chiles shipped well worldwide. From top-left: New World Capsicum annuum varieties include guajillo, ancho and New Mexico; a smaller Capsicum frutescens variety called “birdseye” chiles spread wild in Africa after birds spread their seeds from early gardens, and they are now common also in Southeast Asia; “Indian” chiles are among the most common varieties in India, which today grows and exports more chiles than any other nation. Bottom-left: Three popular capsicum peppers that took root in the Middle East — Maraş, Urfa and Aleppo, shown below in their flaked form — are used in dishes throughout the region. Bottom-right: Fresh serrano, poblano and ripe jalapeño peppers.

ESR said in his brief G+ posting:

More about the early and very rapid spread of capsicum peppers in the Old World than I’ve ever seen in one place before.

I also didn’t know they were such a nutritional boon. It appears one reason they became so entrenched is they’re a good source of Vitamin C in peasant cuisines centered around a starch like rice. My thought is that moderns may tend to miss this point because we have so much better access to citrus fruits and other very high-quality C sources.

The bit about paprika having been introduced to Hungary by the Ottomans was also particularly interesting to me. This was less than 30 years after they had reached the Old World.

February 12, 2014

India’s unhappy relationship with the free press

Filed under: India, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:55

A recent report from Reporters Without Borders has India at the 140th rank (of 180 countries surveyed) for freedom of the press:

The world’s largest democracy remains one of the most restrictive places for the press.

In a report published Wednesday, Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based nonprofit, ranked India 140th out of 180 countries surveyed for the free speech it affords the media. This was a one-point jump from the country’s 2013 ranking, when it recorded its steepest fall on the annual-list since 2002.

On Monday, acting on an agreement chalked out by a Delhi court, one of India’s largest publishing houses withdrew a 2009 book that reinterprets Hinduism, the latest instance of a book being removed from circulation in the country.

The authors of Wednesday’s report singled out the insurgency in the disputed territory of Kashmir, where channels of communications, including telephone lines, satellite televisions and the Internet, are routinely suspended in response to unrest, as well as the killings of eight journalists in 2013, for India’s lowly press freedom ranking. The killings included those of Jitendra Singh, a freelancer in the eastern state of Jharkhand, who documented Maoist activists in the state, and that of Rakesh Sharma, a Hindi newspaper reporter who was shot dead in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, in August.

December 24, 2013

Indian gold bugs go home

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, India, Middle East — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:19

The Indian government has been attempting to restrict the domestic gold market, but there’s a big loophole in the rules that many travellers are taking advantage of while they can:

Faced with curbs on gold imports and crash in international prices leaving it cheaper in other countries, gold houses and smugglers are turning to NRIs to bring in the yellow metal legally after paying duty. Any NRI, who has stayed abroad for more than six months, is allowed to bring in 1kg gold.

It was evident last week when almost every passenger on a flight from Dubai to Calicut was found carrying 1kg of gold, totalling up to 80kg (worth about Rs 24 crore). At Chennai airport, 13 passengers brought the legally permitted quantity of gold in the past one week.

“It’s not illegal. But the 80kg gold that landed in Calicut surprised us. We soon got information that two smugglers in Dubai and their links in Calicut were behind this operation, offering free tickets to several passengers,” said an official. The passengers were mostly Indian labourers in Dubai, used as carriers by people who were otherwise looking at illegal means, he said. “We have started tracing the origin and route of gold after intelligence pointed to the role of smugglers,” he said.

Reports from Kerala said passengers from Dubai have brought more than 1,000kg of gold in the last three weeks. People who pay a duty of Rs 2.7 lakh per kg in Dubai still stand to gain at least Rs 75,000 per kg, owing to the price difference in the two countries. Gold dealers in Kerala say most of this gold goes to jewellery makers in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

December 8, 2013

Mandela’s struggle was not the same as Gandhi’s

Filed under: Africa, History, India, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:09

Salil Tripathi met Nelson Mandela and finds the frequent comparisons between Gandhi and Mandela to do less than justice to both men:

The South African freedom struggle was different from India’s, and the paths Mandela and Gandhi took were also different. That did not prevent many from comparing him with Gandhi. But the two were different; both made political choices appropriate to their time and the context in which they lived.

Gandhi’s life and struggle were political, but securing political freedom was the means to another end, spiritual salvation and moral advancement of India. Mandela was guided by a strong ethical core, and he was deeply committed to political change. At India’s independence, Gandhi wanted the Congress Party to be dissolved, and its members to dedicate themselves to serve the poor. But the Congress had other ideas. Mandela would not have wanted to dissolve his organization; he wanted to bring about the transformation South Africa needed, but he also wanted to heal his beloved country.

This is not to suggest that Gandhi wasn’t political. He was shrewd and he devised strategies to seek the moral high ground against his opponents — and among the British he found a colonial power susceptible to such pressures, because Britain had a domestic constituency which found colonialism repugnant, contrary to its values.

Mandela’s point was that he didn’t have the luxury of fighting the British — he was dealing with the National Party, with its Afrikaans base, which believed in a fight to finish, seeking inspiration from the teachings of the Dutch Reformed Church which established a hierarchy of different races, which led to the establishment of apartheid. “One kaffir one bullet,” said the Boer (the Afrikaans word for farmer, which many Afrikaans-speaking South Africans were); “One settler one bullet,” replied Umkhonto weSizwe, the militant arm of the ANC.

And yet Mandela’s lasting gift was his power of forgiveness and lack of bitterness. He showed exceptional humanity and magnanimity when he left his bitterness behind, on the hard, white limestone rocks of Robben Island that he was forced to break for years, the harsh reflected glare of those rocks causing permanent damage to his eyes. And yet, he came out, his fist raised, smiling, and he wrote in his memoir, Long Walk To Freedom, that unless he left his bitterness and hatred behind, “I would still be in prison.”

By refusing to seek revenge, by accepting the white South African as his brother, by agreeing to build a nation with people who wanted to see him dead, Mandela rose to a stature that is almost unparalleled.

[…]

Calling Mandela the Gandhi of our times does no favour to either. Gandhi probably anticipated the compromises he would have to make, which is why he shunned political office. Mandela estimated, correctly, that following the Gandhian path of non-violent resistance against the apartheid regime was going to be futile, since the apartheid regime did not play by any rules, except those it kept creating to deepen the divide between people.

H/T to Shikha Dalmia for the link.

November 3, 2013

The problem of fake gurus

Filed under: India, Religion — Tags: — Nicholas @ 10:39

Shikha Dalmia on Hinduism’s thus-far unresolvable problem with fake gurus:

Hinduism, unlike Christianity, is not an organized faith with settled dogmas, an established church and a priestly hierarchy handing down truths worked out top-down as in Catholicism. Nor does it prescribe a strict and elaborate code of law as Judaism’s torah and Islam’s sharia.

Rather, it is an open-ended faith that has a core goal — experiencing the God within and releasing oneself from the cycle of birth and rebirth — but no set prescription for achieving it. It simply calls upon believers to overcome their inner demons and find their own unique path to enlightenment. But a good guru, who has overcome the vices of ordinary mortals and reached a higher state of consciousness, can greatly accelerate the journey.

The effect of such radical openness, on the one had, is that Hinduism has produced an “absolutely staggering” body of “scientific, faith-based and experience-based knowledge,” notes Josh Schrei, a religion writer. Diametrically opposed paths for achieving inner bliss have been explored: asceticism and materialism; intoxication and sobriety; sensuality and celibacy; solitude and communion.

On the other hand, Hinduism’s spiritual laissez faire means that it lacks the inner resources of other religions for quality control. Unlike monotheistic faiths, Hinduism is not preoccupied with policing superstition, idolatry, and heresy. Literally anyone with a formula for enlightenment—and the charisma to sell it — can hang a shingle saying “guru inside” and wait for the flock to arrive. (This was perfectly captured by the recent documentary Kumare in which an Indian American born and raised in New York, moves to Arizona feigns a guru accent, invents some mumbo jumbo, and quickly acquires a devoted following.)

Statue envy

Filed under: China, India, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:15

Tunku Varadarajan on India’s big statue and what it means:

Narendra Modi is the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat, and he believes that his beloved India is a land of political pygmies. India’s current prime minister, whose job Modi covets to distraction, is an effete old technocrat who takes his orders from the bossy Italian widow of a former prime minister (who was himself the son of a prime minister, and the grandson of another). The old technocrat’s days in office are numbered, and his replacement as prime ministerial candidate for the ruling Congress party is Rahul Gandhi, the son of the Italian widow (she who must be obeyed), a clumsy “crown prince” of threadbare intellect who would inspire little confidence as the manager of a New Delhi pasta joint, let alone as prime minister of India.

India is a land of political midgets, damn it, and Narendra Modi is going to do something about it. To compensate for the meager stature of those with whom he must rub shoulders, he is going to give his country a giant statue — the tallest the world has ever seen. At 597 feet, this “Statue of Unity” will dwarf a 502-feet tall Buddha built in China in 2002, giving India — which suffers from a desperate form of penis-envy of China — something bigger at last than its massive northern neighbor. The statue, to be situated in Gujarat and made of bronze, iron and cement, will cost a scarcely trivial $340 million, much of which will come, in spite of Modi’s free-market protestations, directly from taxpayers who earn no more than $1,400 per annum. Do the moral math. (The official boast is that it will take only 42 months to build, although you’ve got to believe that the Chinese could complete the task in half the time.) When fully erect, it will be twice the height of the Statue of Liberty and four times that of Christ the Redeemer in Rio. “The world will be forced to look at India when this statue stands tall,” Modi has said. Indeed: But with what kind of gaze?

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