Sanjaya Baru en Sat Oct 31 22:36:13 IST 2020 burnishing-the-padmas <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A silver lining to the large and looming dark cloud of concern about institutional decay and falling standards is the revival in the status of the Padma awards. Instituted in the early 1950s, to recognise individual contribution to national development, social welfare and to the fields of culture, education, the sciences, business and economic development, the Padma awards have had a chequered career. While many distinguished awardees have helped elevate the status of the awards, some black sheep have brought disrepute to the award and the process by which nominees were chosen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some years ago, a major controversy erupted around the UPA government’s decision to bestow upon a New York-based businessman, against whom various cases had been pending in law courts in the US and India, a Padma Bhushan. Less questionable but equally controversial have been awards to all manner of politicians, bureaucrats, journalists and economists by the governments of both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even Bharat Ratna, the highest national award, has not been bereft of controversy. Many had questioned the posthumous award of Bharat Ratna to Tamil Nadu’s M.G. Ramachandran in 1987, when no such award had been given to a B.R. Ambedkar or a Sardar Patel. It was prime minister V.P. Singh who named Ambedkar to a Bharat Ratna in 1990 and prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao who named Patel. Curiously, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave Pranab Mukherjee a Bharat Ratna, but has so far denied it to Narasimha Rao despite demands from all around.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given the controversial past of Bharat Ratna and Padma awards, Modi may be credited with at least trying to elevate the status of these awards by encouraging the government-appointed nominations committee to increasingly pick individuals who have done worthy service to society. In the run-up to this year’s Republic Day, and before the list of this year’s awardees is made public, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla has invited some of the awardees from the last few years to share their work with members of Parliament. Twenty Padma awardees are expected to make online presentations on best practices from various fields of social work. This is a welcome initiative. It should help curb the cynicism associated with the awards process and allow the lotus to bloom again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not to deny that some undeserving or controversial individuals still do manage to get their names listed. I must confess I became increasingly cynical about Padma awards after observing the kind of lobbying that used to go on. I cannot believe it has ceased completely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the end one must ask what national purpose such national awards serve. Apart from merely recognising good work, or gratifying friends and influencing people, the selectors must choose such individuals for these awards who may be regarded as national icons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When an engineer like Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya or a scientist like C.V. Raman was named a Bharat Ratna in the 1950s, they were also regarded as iconic heroes who have since inspired millions to excel in their fields. When Narasimha Rao named J.R.D. Tata to Bharat Ratna, and he is the only industrialist so far so named, he was holding JRD up as a national icon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government’s decision to honour individuals from the fields of social work and social development should be welcomed. However, India also needs icons in fields like science, engineering, medicine, architecture, teaching, municipal administration, farming, horticulture and rural development and so on, who can inspire others by becoming objects of national pride, regard and celebration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Baru is an economist and a writer. He was adviser to former prime minister Manmohan Singh.</b></p> Thu Jan 21 15:09:17 IST 2021 politics-of-personality <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Actor Rajinikanth’s decision to opt out of Tamil Nadu’s political sweepstakes will bring to an end a long era of personality-based politics in the state. While the Dravidian leader C.N. Annadurai’s challenge of the Indian National Congress in the 1960s had a distinct ideological edge to it, the subsequent evolution of Dravidian politics focused increasingly on personalities. Thus, Tamil politics revolved for close to half a century around the film personalities of M. Karunanidhi, M.G. Ramachandran and J. Jayalalithaa.</p> <p>While film actor Kamal Haasan has decided to remain in the state’s political arena, his is not the kind of personality that can spawn a cult in the manner in which MGR and Jayalalithaa managed to, and Rajinikanth had the potential to. Rajinikanth’s entry into electoral politics would have given the politics of personality cult a fresh lease of life in Tamil Nadu. With the thespian opting out, Tamil Nadu’s politics may return to the national norm of a mix of ideology, money power and wheeling-dealing. Neither the DMK’s Stalin nor any of the other leaders of the clutch of Dravidian parties, nor indeed the local leaders of national parties, have anyone with any charismatic appeal for the voter. Even national leaders like Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi have not been able to stir the Tamil voter to any significant degree.</p> <p>All this would make the political race in Tamil Nadu very interesting. In West Bengal, politics revolves around the personality of Mamata Banerjee. Neither the BJP nor the Left-Congress alliance has been able to offer a leader of equal standing.</p> <p>Wherever personalities have come to dominate politics—including at the national level with Modi creating a ‘personality cult’ around himself—the formula is quite simple and predictable. Political outcomes increasingly depend on the image of the leader rather than the leader’s performance.</p> <p>This phenomenon is observed at the global level, too. From the world’s oldest democracy, the US, where Donald Trump pursued the politics of personality, to China, where Xi Jinping does the same, we see the projection and assertion of individual personality in tandem with the pursuit of ideological politics. Those who find the media projection of Modi amusing—posing as he does with peacocks and foundation stones in fancy headgear and dress—should pay attention to the Chinese media’s projection of Xi. Chinese television projects Xi’s public appearances much like Indian television does of Modi’s.</p> <p>Twentieth century’s democratic leaders learnt their lessons in the politics of the personality cult from the populism of despots. Edgar Snow, the American chronicler of Mao Zedong’s thoughts and achievements, has captured it well in his account of the chairman’s dominance in China. Snow suggests that a key to comprehending Mao’s leadership is the central role played by the ‘cult of personality’.</p> <p>In one of his many conversations with Mao, Snow quizzed him on the issue. “In the Soviet Union, China has been criticised for fostering a cult of personality. Is there a basis for that?” Snow asked Mao. “There perhaps was,” replied Mao, without any hesitation. Mao then told Snow that while Stalin had been the centre of a cult of personality, Khrushchev never bothered to promote one around himself. “Mr Khrushchev fell,” Mao told Snow, “because he had no cult of personality at all.” Clearly, Mao’s message has been internalised not only by Xi, but also by many of his contemporaries in democracies around the world.</p> Thu Jan 07 16:11:08 IST 2021 bengals-long-march <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was in May 1943 that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose gave his clarion call: “Comrades! Soldiers! Let your battle-cry be—‘To Delhi! To Delhi!’ Our task will not end until our surviving heroes hold the victory parade.... on Lal Qila, the Red Fort of ancient Delhi.” Eight decades later, the seat of power in Delhi continues to elude Bengal’s leaders. If Gujarat has nursed the grouse that Mahatma Gandhi chose Jawaharlal Nehru over Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Bengal too has had the grievance that Gandhiji was half-hearted in his support for Bose. Netaji managed to convincingly defeat Pattabhi Sitaramayya in the party elections of 1939, but it was a pyrrhic victory. Unable to win over Gandhiji, Bose was left with little option but to resign and eventually walk his own path.</p> <p>Bose and Patel had a reasonable chance of becoming free India’s first prime minister. Gandhiji’s decision to adopt Nehru queered the pitch. While Patel dutifully accepted Gandhiji’s decision, Bose revolted. A Gujarati managed to succeed Nehru’s daughter, when Morarji Desai became PM, and another one succeeded in ousting the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Bengal, on the other hand, has continued to miss the opportunity of hoisting Netaji’s flag on Lal Qila.</p> <p>The ‘historic blunder’ of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) robbed Jyoti Basu of the chances of becoming the first Bengali PM. Rajiv Gandhi’s acolytes and the coterie around Sonia Gandhi managed to stymie the chances of yet another Bengali, Pranab Mukherjee. Interestingly, both Basu and Mukherjee nursed a grievance on this score till the very end.</p> <p>The north has had its PMs (Nehru, Shastri, Indira, Rajiv, V.P. Singh, Charan Singh, Chandra Shekhar, I.K. Gujral, Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh) and so have the south (Narasimha Rao and Deve Gowda) and the west (Morarji and Narendra Modi). The east never managed to get its own on Delhi’s throne.</p> <p>The coming assembly elections in West Bengal could once again offer Bengal the opportunity to throw up a national leader if Mamata Banerjee secures a third term. The verdict will decide not only who rules from Kolkata, but also who can potentially rule from Delhi if a credible coalition can be formed under Banerjee’s leadership. Little wonder then that the Bharatiya Janata Party is determined to ensure her defeat.</p> <p>Bengal has every right to feel aggrieved. After all, it was not only the first capital of British India but also India’s intellectual capital. It was not for nothing that Gopalakrishna Gokhale said ‘what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow’. Political analysts have often suggested that if in 1996 the CPI(M) politburo had allowed Basu to head the United Front government it may have lasted its term. After all, the wily and well-heeled communist had established a record of sorts remaining chief minister for twenty-three long years.</p> <p>More recently, it has been reported, Mukherjee has claimed in his yet-to-be published fourth volume of his autobiography that if he had been PM the Congress would not have suffered the ignominious defeat it did in 2014. Both Basu and Mukherjee were consummate politicians and had the ability to take friends and detractors along. Banerjee, on the other hand, has not yet demonstrated the capacity to be inclusive in her leadership. But then, neither has Modi. Perhaps the country wants tough-minded leaders.</p> <p>The 2021 electoral contest in West Bengal would then be between a tough-minded Banerjee and an equally tough-minded Modi. It remains to be seen whether Banerjee will be able to summon the ghosts of Netaji, Basu and Mukherjee in her support and once again give a spirited call to fellow Bengalis, “Delhi Chalo!”</p> Thu Dec 24 16:20:22 IST 2020 garden-city-fortunes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I lived my childhood in a locality of Hyderabad called Hardikar Bagh. My high school was situated near Kundan Bagh and my college in Bashir Bagh. Many localities in Hyderabad had the suffix ‘bagh’(garden) because that is how the founders of Baghnagar wanted the city to be. While Bengaluru has come to be known as India’s ‘garden city’, Baghnagar, now Hyderabad, was the original garden city. The sultans of the Qutb Shahi dynasty developed a city of gardens on the banks of the River Musi, across the plains from their rocky fort of Golkonda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The love affair of the Qutb Shahi sultan, Muhammed Quli Qutb Shah, with a Hindu dancer and singer, Bhagmati, has created some confusion about the city’s original name. Some historians insist the city was called Bhagnagar, after Bhagmati, and became Hyderabad when she converted to Islam and became Begum Hyder Mahal. This version fits well into the “love jihad” narrative of the Bharatiya Janata Party, though the BJP has now demanded that the city be named Bhagyanagar. Bhagya meaning fortune or destiny.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Through the 15th to the 17th century, this urban settlement was referred to as Baghnagar and Bhagnagar in English texts and maps. Historian Andrew Petersen records in his History of Islamic Architecture that Hyderabad was originally called Baghnagar—a city of gardens. Narendra Luther, a civil servant-turned-historian, quotes the Italian traveller Abbe Carre recording in 1672: “This large town... Bhagnagar is full of strangers and merchants. Foreigners and others carry on the trade without restrictions to their nationality.” Mahomed Kasim Ferishta in his History of the Rise of the Mohammedan Power in India (1829) and H.C. Briggs in The Nizam, His History and Relations with the British Government (1861) have recorded that at some point in the 18th century, Baghnagar/Bhagnagar was renamed Hyderabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the Congress Party that first gave currency to the name ‘Bhagyanagar’, creating the Bhagyanagar Urban Development Authority in the 1970s. Even if the romantic origin of ‘Bhagnagar’ is true, it was still not ‘Bhagyanagar’—the city of fortune/destiny—though that is what Hyderabad has become over the past two decades. Does it then all come down to the location of the letter H and the word’s pronunciation?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I place greater trust in ‘bagh’ than in ‘bhag’ simply because so many localities of the city are called ‘bagh’ and the city of my youth was indeed a ‘garden city’ before concrete took over. While the story of the city’s naming as Bhagnagar is one of love and romance, the name Baghnagar is an equally romantic story of grace and aesthetics, and the ruler’s love for the beauty of nature, if not a woman. However, by contrast, both the political demand for its renaming and the name suggested, Bhagyanagar, are loaded with notions to do with power and wealth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is a pity. Hyderabad for me will always be associated with romance, love, gardens, beautiful architecture, grace, hospitality and the confluence of many cultures. As the capital of a kingdom that covered a wide swath of the Deccan, Hyderabad was always truly cosmopolitan. Home to Telugus, Maharashtrians, Kannadigas, Tamils and the Kayasthas who came from the north to join the nizam’s government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Telangana Rashtra Samithi came to power demanding the ouster of “settlers” and “outsiders” from the metropolis, it soon realised that Hyderabad’s cosmopolitanism was its strength, its destiny and its true fortune. The city’s growth is a tribute to the creativity of the people who have come to make it—Telugus and non-Telugus, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Parsis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Baru is an economist and a writer. He was adviser to former prime minister Manmohan Singh.</b></p> Thu Dec 10 14:59:25 IST 2020 trade-tango-in-a-twist <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Having turned its back on a regional trading agreement covering the Asia-Pacific region, the BJP now says that it would seek a free trade agreement (FTA) with the trans-Atlantic economies of the US and the European Union. Gopal Krishna Agarwal, the BJP’s national spokesperson on economic affairs, was reported saying, “We are positive that FTAs with the EU and US will benefit India and talks will be resumed.” Apart from the fact that this statement runs contrary to the view on FTAs espoused by many BJP worthies including Nirmala Sitharaman and S. Jaishankar, as well as the views of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), it would also appear as if India is chasing two birds in a bush, having given up the bird in hand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There may be very good reasons why India opted out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement. The two most important were that its signatories were not willing to alter the rules of origin that India felt would unfairly benefit China and were unwilling to widen the scope of the agreement to include services trade that India sought. An agreement that was in fact initiated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ended up being perceived as China-led. While Japan made a friendly gesture by saying the doors are still open for India, the fact remains that Asia to India’s east has turned its back on her and signed up with China, at least on trade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While foreign policy analysts have called the Indian decision on RCEP a retreat from her ‘Look East/Act East’ policy and at odds with her Indo-Pacific strategy, trade economists have questioned the assertion that FTAs have contributed to India’s ‘de-industrialisation’. If Indian industrialisation has not proceeded at the required pace, the reasons are largely domestic—ranging from the ‘unease’ of doing business to the inadequacy of investment in infrastructure, in trained and productive human capital and, a much less discussed issue, the entrepreneurial and technological incompetence of the traditional business class.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite all these hurdles, the Indian economy did reasonably well compared with her peers during the quarter century 1990-2015; a period during which the share of trade in national income went up from less than 20 per cent to more than 50 per cent. During the same period India’s share of world exports increased from 0.5 per cent to 1.70 per cent. The anti-trade rhetoric of the BJP gets little support from data.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Faced with these anti-trade views of an SJM spokesperson in the 1990s, international trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati famously said, “If he is an economist, I am a bharatnatyam dancer!” BJP spokesperson Agarwal’s assurance that after rejecting RCEP, and FTAs in general, his party’s government would seek an FTA with the US and EU looks more like an impromptu twist and cha-cha-cha than methodical bharatnatyam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It also begs the question as to how India can get a more favourable FTA out of the US and EU than it was likely to get from its Asian neighbours. The record of multilateral and regional trade discussions over the past two decades, ever since the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization got grounded, suggests that both the US and the EU seek assurances that India is unwilling to give. The fact that they have become India’s geopolitical partners and share concerns about an aggressive, assertive and rising China does not mean they are willing to be accommodative on trade. That is precisely why even a ‘politically friendly’ Donald Trump administration was unwilling to be friendly on trade. Clearly, New India needs new thinking on trade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Baru is an economist and a writer. He was adviser to former prime minister Manmohan Singh.</b></p> Thu Nov 26 16:48:06 IST 2020 their-lotus-is-blue <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>President George W. Bush first ran into prime minister Manmohan Singh on the ramparts of the Kremlin two months before Singh’s July 2005 state visit to Washington, DC. They were in Moscow to witness the Victory Day Parade celebrating the golden jubilee of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. Pulling his wife Laura close, Bush reportedly introduced her to Singh saying, “This is the prime minister of India. He is Sikh. His country’s president is Muslim and his party president is Christian.” “Most Indians are Hindus,” Bush reminded his wife, adding “India is a great democracy.”</p> <p>The pluralism and liberalism that defined Indian society and democracy have long been its great strengths. That is why many in India and around the world have been worried about the growing assertion of Hindu majoritarianism. Indians celebrating the historic election of a person of Indian-African-American parentage, Kamala Devi Harris, as the first woman vice president of the United States, should sit back and ponder why there are so few representatives of minority communities in the Union council of ministers today. The parliamentary contingent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, whose party symbol is the name of the US vice president-elect, does not have a single Muslim or Sikh in the Lok Sabha. The representatives of these two communities in the Union cabinet come from the Rajya Sabha.</p> <p>The very moving victory speeches of both Joe Biden and Harris emphasised repeatedly that the most important message of the US election verdict is that a majority of American citizens had rejected the white majoritarianism of Donald Trump and his extremist faction of the Republican Party. Trump did not do poorly in the elections and has in fact increased his support base, fighting hard to win on a narrow platform of white supremacy. But a rainbow coalition of Americans united to ensure that the US remains true to its own constitutional values. It is not as if white Americans have lost power. Biden is a true blue white, so to speak. The US power elite is predominantly white. Yet, even a symbolic sharing of power with non-whites does enable the integration of a diverse nation.</p> <p>In India, too, the power elite have always been Hindu, from upper and middle castes, and will remain so for some time. Yet, the “umbrella” nature of the Indian National Congress facilitated national integration. Learning from the Congress experience, as well as that of the coalitions that followed, prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ran an inclusive government. He named a Christian as his defence minister and made a Muslim the nation’s head of state. In a plural democracy, such gestures cannot be dismissed as appeasement or tokenism. Vajpayee’s inclusiveness strengthened India, even though he believed in his party’s ideology of hindutva.</p> <p>The Hindu extremism of the present leadership has weakened, not strengthened, India. Much like Trump’s majoritarianism. The recent revival of a detestable and abhorrent concept of “Love Jihad”, with elected political leaders seeking to criminalise inter-community marriages, does no credit to India’s constitutional values of pluralism and individual human rights, not to speak of values such as humanism and secularism.</p> <p>The watchword of “unity in diversity” is no empty slogan. It is an idea that goes to the core of our national identity. It is the foundational principle of our Constitution. Indeed, it is captured by the ancient wisdom of&nbsp;<i>Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam</i>&nbsp;—the whole world is one family. The wisdom, greatness and the universal and continued appeal of Hinduism lie in its pluralism and liberalism. The sooner the present BJP leadership understands this, the better for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Nov 13 12:40:05 IST 2020