Sunday, July 20, 2008

Is Indian Democracy Overrated?

"Normally they (Six members of India's Parliament) are in jail, serving time for crimes ranging from extortion and kidnapping to murder. The Indian constitution allows them out on bail to attend important parliamentary votes. But the sight of convicted murderers entering the parliamentary chamber won't be the most edifying of spectacles." So says a BBC report this morning.

In the wake of the Communist Party's pull-out from the Indian coalition in New Delhi, there is a vote of confidence scheduled for this week. The Indian government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is pulling out all stops to win this vote to salvage the US-India nuclear deal.

While many of the complex details of the deal appear shrouded in mystery, the deal essentially gives India access to US nuclear technology and nuclear fuel in exchange for putting some (not all) of its nuclear installations under IAEA's international safeguards on nuclear technology. It does not prevent India from continuing to develop and refine its nuclear weapons arsenal. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the supporters of the deal see it as the international community giving its nuclear program legitimacy, assuring its energy security and, they hope, set India on the road to superpower status. However, the opponents, led by the Communist Party of India, see the deal as a trap that will bind India into a strategic alliance with the United States with long term negative consequences. The opponents believe the nuclear deal, as it is being voted, is subject to the provisions of the Hyde Act, which could constrain India's nuclear program.

Members of parliament are being offered all kinds of incentives to vote a certain way. Both the government and the opposition are trying desperately to entice them with promises of largess, influence and plum jobs in return for their vote.

Here's more from the BBC: .".. wavering members of parliament have been busy speculating in public about what kind of job might persuade them to vote one way or another. The Ministry of Coal, perhaps, or the office of Chief Minister of the state of Jharkhand. That's politics, you might think. But a more serious allegation came from a communist leader, AB Bardhan, who suggested this week that the Congress party was trying to buy parliamentary votes for about three million pounds (six million dollars) each."

In an earlier post Pakistani Myths About India's Resurgence, I wrote as follows: "For those who sing the praises of India’s democracy, I would suggest viewing Bollywood hit “Sarkar Raj” that portrays the Godfather-like corrupt, criminal and murderous behavior of India’s powerful politicians. Again, I am certain India is blessed with many honest leaders and this must be a caricature of the reality of Indian democracy, but it does bring out the fact of criminals' presence in Indian politics. According to political science Professor Pradeep Chibber of UC Berkeley, as many as 30% of India's legislators have criminal records. However, the good professor contends that democracy is a messy process that must be allowed to work its bugs out. It should not be interrupted or abandoned because the alternatives are far worse. India has a functioning democracy with an independent judiciary and other institutions that are respected."

The key questions are: Is Indian democracy overrated? Has this democracy served its people well? It is well known that India continues to be the home of the largest number of poor people in the world. It has the highest population of malnourished children. Its farmers are committing suicides at an alarming rate. It has the dubious distinction of being the murder capital of the world, with the largest number of homicides in the world recorded last year.

In a recent interview of Ted Koppel by Charlie Rose regarding Koppel's latest China documentary, Koppel asked rhetorically what rights are more important than the right not to be hungry, the right to be literate, the right to basic clothes and shelter and the right to make a living. He argued that the Chinese government has been largely successful in providing these basic rights to the Chinese people. This is in sharp contrast to the situation in India where there is still widespread hunger, poverty and illiteracy, particularly in rural India where the vast majority of Indians live.

Recent foreign visitors to Pakistan, which has at best been a pseudo-democracy during the last several years, find that the average Pakistani enjoys a higher standard of living than his or her Indian counterpart.

In spite of heavy visa restrictions and quotas imposed by many nations around the world, about a million Indians manage to leave India in search of a better life.

Democracy is not Nirvana. It is not going to efficiently fix a lot of the basic issues of food, clothing, shelter and literacy that the less developed nations have to deal with it on a daily basis. The best thing that can be said in defense of Indian democracy is that the alternative forms of government would likely be worse for India.


Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with you. Indian democracy is highly overrated. And the Indian Government has to thank its media, for projecting such a positive image of the country. Which brings us to our media and the self proclaimed experts who host various shows on various channels. The problem now is the media, whose anchors, have done absolutely nothing in life except crib and bitch about this country. They have not managed to pick anything positive in this land of ours which includes, not only the fertile plains of Punjab, the coal reserves, the fact that we are one of the top milk producing countries in the world, we produce the worlds best fruits, the fact that we assemble almost 200,000 vehicles, the fact that we are modernizing cities like Islamabad and Karachi, the fact that our banking sector is one of the most sophisticated, the fact that we have the fastest growing telecom sector in the world. They need to project housing projects like that of Bahria town, they need to project the network of Sattar Edhi, they need to project the fact that in the myraid of problems, there are instituitions like LUMS and IBA and NUST. It is so sad to see these anchors bitch and crib and the only thing they are interested in is overthrowing the government. This is only agenda they have.

Anonymous said...

As an Indian, I would definitely like the Chinese speed of development but definitely not their system. Indians value their freedom and if hypothetically a chinese model is thrust on India, there will be a thousand balkanised countries out of it.The upstream percolation of people's sentiments especially tribals without votebank power and education, is really slow but not stagnant. The Indian system accurately represent the nature of the chaotic people that we are.Right not to be hungry is sort of rhetorical statement. How could u answer something like that. A good system can only offer meritocracy.i.e. equal opportunity to succeed and fertile conditions in way of education, empowerment and infrastructure. In democracy terms, I think we are definitely better democracy than US and almost as good a democracy as Israel.It would be great if we can emulate UK.I think current UK model is the best way forward for India except its plural-mono culturalism.

Anonymous said...

comment on asim ali,
If u want a PR type media, you can go for Saudi's media which tells only lies and propaganda for tightening the grip of Saud family and its religious thugs. Pakistan surprising has a strong civil society which stood the test of times. Its Human Rights organization are courageous ones too. As I said, it basically comes down to nature of the people, dictatorship is not workable in Pak, at the same time, there is no patience among its people to let the slow process of democracy.I think its in a catch 22 situation.

Riaz Haq said...

From my own experience with people of South Asian origin, I find that Indians are generally more nationalistic and probably more patriotic than Pakistanis. Indians generally do not criticize their own country, particularly in the company of foreigners. While there are exceptions, Pakistanis are usually lot more self-critical i public. In the US, I have seen recently in the rallies and protest marches against Musharraf and in support of Pakistani lawyers movement where people have said some very embarrassing things about Pakistan. Recent statements by AQ Khan are also case in point. Pakistanis often wash their dirty linen in public.

The high level politicians in India have generally been competent and very honest. People such as Nehru, Shastri, Indira, Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have all served their country well in an honest manner. There are issues at the cabinet level and lower as well as in the permit raj run by the bureaucracy. The Indian military has also stayed clear of engaging in politics.

Another thing I have noted is that there is more accountability for politicians in India, as borne out by the number of criminal convictions and jailing of a number of politicians including MPs. In Pakistan, politicians such as Zardari and others either don't get caught or get pardons based on deals brokered by friends and foreigners. These are some of the issues that encourage corruption and bad behavior by politicians in Pakistan and feed Pakistani people's lack of trust in democratic process that helps the corrupt win elections based on their feudal wealth and power or connections or lineage.

Riaz Haq said...

The Congress party government has won the vote of confidence amidst continuing and serious allegations of vote buying. "Shame. PM wins, Parliament plumbs new depths," said the Hindustan Times newspaper headline. "Whatever be the veracity of the accusations made by three BJP MPs (alleged that they were offered bribes) what is needed if the nation even hopes to come to terms with this body blow of India's parliamentary democracy is an inquiry into the allegation."

"Democracy is what we make of it and it seems very clear that at some basic level, we have made a hash of it." said the Hindustan Times.

According to BBC, the Times Of India said that the 19-vote victory came "after the managers of the Manmohan Singh government had outmaneuvered and outgunned the opposition in what has been one of the murkiest contests in parliamentary history - a contest in which charges of bribery and misuse of CBI [the federal detective agency] drowned all other substantive issues on debate".

While the voting is now done and the nuke deal will proceed, I think there will be tremendous pressure to have a thorough investigation into how it was accomplished. In democracy, the process is even more important than the results. I also think that Indian democracy will not only survive, but emerge stronger from it, just like it did after Indira's emergency.

Mavin said...

I came across both your blogs and it was interesting to read the contents. I am associated with the Indian Capital Markets and your blogs certainly add another perspective to how we see the sub-continent.

As an Indian it was natural that my attention was drawn to this blog.

A lot of what you mention is true as also what fellow blogger Asim Ali has to say.

The Indian media, both print and TV, are so single mindedly focussed on the negative and seamy side. Somebody without acquaintance of ground realities would easily believe the worst.

Millions of success stories that have contributed to inherent strengths never get noticed leave alone communicated.

We are our worst critics and it appears that this malaise affects brethren across our western borders too.

I am new to bloging and in my first blog (2 months back)mentioned

"This is that ancient land which claims to have the answers to the deepest riddles that have foxed mankind eons on end and yet it struggles to find answers to various issues that seem to keep it chained to the dark ages.

India has been an unending mystery where the ancient co-exists with the modern, where a fledgling democracy wages a valiant battle with feudalistic mores, where modern values attempt to heal deep societal divisions."

Reading your blogs and comments makes me ponder on whether the same holds true for Pakistan too.

We need courage to recognise the ills plaguing our society, confidence that they can be overcome and patience to see this transformation through.

I am confident about our future and feel fortunate that I have a chance to make a difference where it matters.

Riaz Haq said...

While I agree with your sentiments, I think critical and independent media are part of the democratic tradition. Indians have had much more extensive experience of it than Pakistanis. But I think the legacy media with its diversity and the recent addition of blogosphere creates opportunities for those who seek the truth and can sort out facts from fiction. It requires a reasonably smart electorate which South Asia is moving toward, even though it's a messy and slow process. I am optimistic.

Riaz Haq said...

In a recent op ed piece in the Guardian newspaper, author Pankaj Sharma argues:

"Apparently, no inconvenient truths are allowed to mar what Foreign Affairs, the foreign policy journal of America's elite, has declared a "roaring capitalist success story". Add Bollywood's singing and dancing stars, beauty queens and Booker prize-winning writers to the Tatas, the Mittals and the IT tycoons, and the picture of Indian confidence, vigour and felicity is complete.

The passive consumer of this image, already puzzled by recurring reports of explosions in Indian cities, may be startled to learn from the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC) in Washington that the death toll from terrorist attacks in India between January 2004 and March 2007 was 3,674, second only to that in Iraq. (In the same period, 1,000 died as a result of such attacks in Pakistan, the "most dangerous place on earth" according to the Economist, Newsweek and other vendors of geopolitical insight.)

To put it in plain language - which the NCTC is unlikely to use - India is host to some of the fiercest conflicts in the world. Since 1989 more than 80,000 have died in insurgencies in Kashmir and the northeastern states."

Rohit Dabrai said...

I don't think anybody in the world can rate a Democracy...It's just a system of electing a Government for the people,of the people and by the people.Indian Democracy is extremely efficient in the way elections are handled and transition of government takes place.The Election Commission of India does a wonderful and effecient job.The voting process and the vote counting is in fact more advanced than that in the United States as we use EVMs.India,beyond doubt is the world's largest democracy.China will become the largest democracy when ever they adopt this system because their electorate will be bigger than ours.
If you are talking about the performance of our various governments,they are a mixed bag both at the Centre and the States.Some states have rates of growth that even beat China,the fastest growing country in the world but at the same time this development has not been uniform across the states and the country.So you have a fast developing state like Maharashtra having to grapple with farmer suicides in Vidarbha.
India is not perfect,never was..never will be.We are striving to give a better life to all our people.Inshallah,we will succeed one day.We want to have a strong and prosperous South Asia.A region that is on par with the rest of the world and not a laggard as it is today.
Look at South East Asia and they have done very well.Look at West Asia and their economies are booming too.

Riaz Haq said...

BBC News on Hindu extremists targeting Christian orphans in Orissa today:

Police in the Indian state of Orissa say suspected Hindu extremists have set fire to an orphanage run by Christian missionaries, burning a woman to death.

The mob reportedly ordered people out of building before setting it alight.

But the woman - a cook at the orphanage - was thrown into the burning building when she tried to stop them from attacking the children.

Local Hindus went on the rampage after the killing on Saturday of one of their leaders.

His supporters suspect Christians were responsible, but the police believe he was killed by Maoist rebels.

The religious leader, Swami Laxamanananda Saraswati, was at the centre of controversy late last year.

Hindus accused Christians of attacking him and police were called in to restore order in the ensuing violence.

Hindu extremists have targeted Christians in Orissa before. Nine years ago an Australian missionary and his two sons were burnt alive by a mob that set their car on fire.

Anonymous said...

Democracy will not necessary bring prosperity, and contrary to the misconception, democracy does not equal freedom. This is true both in India and in the Western World.

Democracy simply means that the government is controlled by individuals elected by public. If the public is knowledgable about the issues, and there is a high level of public participation, democracy can work very well.

However if the public is uneducated or just indifferent, democracy will yield corruption and poor governance.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that Mr haq just goes on and on in his anti india tirade and some indians are actually agreeing with him !
We are ok as we are and dont aspire for chinese growth rates. And we definitely dont need advise from pakistanis, so pls mind your own business !!

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a November 2009 AFP report on how the Kiwis' charity brought mobs of beggars in Chennai and sparked a full-scale riot:

Two New Zealand cricketers have admitted to inadvertently sparking what has been described as a full-scale riot in the Indian city of Chennai after handing out money to street people.

The incident happened following an unauthorised drinking session during the New Zealand A tour of India in August.

Neil Broom and Aaron Redmond owned up after the Herald on Sunday newspaper reported that a riot broke out when two players began handing out money in Chennai.

"The intended charity quickly became more popular than the pair had counted on. The crowd grew larger and more unruly and, according to sources, a full-scale riot broke out," the newspaper said.

Although the players were not named in the article, Broom and Redmond later issued a statement admitting liability to remove the spotlight from the rest of the squad.

"Unfortunately when we decided to leave the night spot we were picked up by police following another poor decision to hand out money to people living on the street, whereupon a crowd developed," Redmond, a seven-Test batsman, said.

"The police initially took us back to the station and then arranged for a taxi to take us back to the hotel."

Broom said they accepted it was a serious breach of team protocols.

"We deeply regret the incident and wish to apologise to New Zealand Cricket," he said.

They were charged by New Zealand Cricket with serious misconduct for breaching team protocol but no details of any punishment were released.

"It was a confidential process, and New Zealand Cricket considers the matter closed," New Zealand Cricket chief executive Justin Vaughan said.

New Zealand Cricket Players Association executive manager Heath Mills noted the players had not committed a crime and no charges were laid in India.

"The players fully accept that they should not have left the hotel, and also showed poor judgment in heading to a night spot and drinking, given preparations required for upcoming fixtures and the security position the team was in," he said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are "Reflections on India" published by an American traveler-blogger:

First, pollution. In my opinion the filth, squalor and all around pollution indicates a marked lack of respect for India by Indians. I don't know how cultural the filth is, but it's really beyond anything I have ever encountered. At times the smells, trash, refuse and excrement are like a garbage dump. Right next door to the Taj Mahal was a pile of trash that smelled so bad, was so foul as to almost ruin the entire Taj experience. Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai to a lesser degree were so very polluted as to make me physically ill. Sinus infections, ear infection, bowels churning was an all to common experience in India. Dung, be it goat, cow or human fecal matter was common on the streets. In major tourist areas filth was everywhere, littering the sidewalks, the roadways, you name it. Toilets in the middle of the road, men urinating and defecating anywhere, in broad daylight. Whole villages are plastic bag wastelands. Roadsides are choked by it. Air quality that can hardly be called quality. Far too much coal and far to few unleaded vehicles on the road. The measure should be how dangerous the air is for one's health, not how good it is. People casually throw trash in the streets, on the roads. The only two cities that could be considered sanitary in my journey were Trivandrum--the capital of Kerala--and Calicut. I don't know why this is. But I can assure you that at some point this pollution will cut into India's productivity, if it already hasn't. The pollution will hobble India's growth path, if that indeed is what the country wants. (Which I personally doubt, as India is far too conservative a country, in the small 'c' sense.)

The second issue, infrastructure, can be divided into four subcategories: roads, rails and ports and the electrical grid. The electrical grid is a joke. Load shedding is all too common, everywhere in India. Wide swaths of the country spend much of the day without the electricity they actually pay for. With out regular electricity, productivity, again, falls. The ports are a joke. Antiquated, out of date, hardly even appropriate for the mechanized world of container ports, more in line with the days of longshoremen and the like. Roads are an equal disaster. I only saw one elevated highway that would be considered decent in Thailand, much less Western Europe or America. And I covered fully two thirds of the country during my visit. There are so few dual carriage way roads as to be laughable. There are no traffic laws to speak of, and if there are, they are rarely obeyed, much less enforced. A drive that should take an hour takes three. A drive that should take three takes nine. The buses are at least thirty years old, if not older. Everyone in India, or who travels in India raves about the railway system. Rubbish. It's awful. Now, when I was there in 2003 and then late 2004 it was decent. But in the last five years the traffic on the rails has grown so quickly that once again, it is threatening productivity. Waiting in line just to ask a question now takes thirty minutes. Routes are routinely sold out three and four days in advance now, leaving travelers stranded with little option except to take the decrepit and dangerous buses. At least fifty million people use the trains a day in India. 50 million people! Not surprising that waitlists of 500 or more people are common now. The rails are affordable and comprehensive but they are overcrowded and what with budget airlines popping up in India like Sadhus in an ashram the middle and lowers classes are left to deal with the overutilized rails and quality suffers. No one seems to give a shit. Seriously, I just never have the impression that the Indian government really cares. Too interested in buying weapons from Russia, Israel and the US I guess.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a Times of India report about Transparency International Survey:

Around seven lakh BPL households in India paid bribe in the last one year to avail services related to school education of their children - the total amount paid as bribe being estimated to be around Rs 12 crore. Another nine lakh BPL households used contacts to get their child admitted or promoted in school. However, another five lakh BPL households weren't that lucky - their children couldn't avail such services because they were either too poor to pay bribe or had absolutely no contact or influence to use as an advantage.

The survey - that covered 22,728 randomly selected BPL households across 31 states and union territories - said a majority of those who paid bribe did so for getting their children admitted in the school or for getting promotion of their children from one class to another. Issuing school-leaving certificate was another lucrative business for corrupt schools authorities. However, the amount bribed was highest when it came for allotment of hostel. In comparison, a higher proportion of urban BPL households (40%) paid bribe for new admission and issuance of certificate as against rural areas (33%).

On the other hand, a higher proportion of rural BPL households (32%) paid bribe for promotion of their children from one class to another as against urban households (28%). The same is the case in applying for scholarship where 12% rural BPL families paid bribe compared to 3% urban BPL households. Of those who paid bribe, 86% paid it directly to officials of the school while 12% paid it through middlemen.

According to the report, on an average, a BPL household had to pay Rs 171 as bribe in the last one year related to school education of their children. While looking at states with moderate or high corruption in the school education sector, the level of corruption in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Meghalaya and Goa was found to be “alarming”.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts from a Washington Post report about China-Pakistan nuclear deal:

"President Obama has strongly advocated for restrictions on the spread of nuclear technology. But his administration has said little publicly about the China-Pakistan deal. Meanwhile, the administration announced Tuesday that China, despite its misgivings, had signed on to a draft U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran."

"A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk more freely, said the United States is waiting for China to detail how it plans to proceed with this transaction. "We don't have much clarity, and so the issue has not ripened in the government," he said. He said any claim that the reactors are grandfathered "would be a hard case to make," but China could seek a formal exemption from the guidelines -- which are voluntary in any case.

Indeed, complicating matters is that the United States, after hard lobbying, in 2008 won a specific exemption at the NSG for trade with India, Pakistan's nuclear-armed rival. Pakistan has long wanted its own exemption -- and the United States has refused -- but the administration may not want to roil relations with Islamabad at a time when their partnership on counterterrorism is seen as crucial."

"Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the China-Pakistan deal "is some of the fallout of the India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement" -- which included the special exemption for nuclear trade. The deal was a Bush administration initiative -- but was avidly supported by then-Sens. Barack Obama, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Hillary Rodham Clinton."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Newsweek calling for overhaul of India's judicial system after the ludicrous Bhopal verdict:

More than 25 years after a pesticide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal spewed a toxic cloud that killed as many as 25,000 people, an Indian court last week finally sentenced seven former executives involved in the disaster. They’ll receive two years in prison (pending appeal) and pay fines equivalent to $2,100—the maximum punishment allowed under current law, but one considered so lenient that many in India are demanding far tougher corporate liability laws.

But what India really needs is an overhaul of its judicial system. The Bhopal case is hardly unique in its length: the country’s trial courts have a backlog of close to 30 million cases, and Delhi alone has more than 600 pending civil cases and 17 criminal ones dating back 20 years or more. The Delhi court’s chief judge estimates that it would take 466 years to work through the backlog. A major reason for the pileup is that there are simply too few people on the bench: India has only 11 judges per million citizens (America has 110 per million). India likes to call itself a nation of laws. But as the Bhopal verdicts prove, having laws is one thing—delivering justice is quite another.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a piece by Eric Margolis on US-India ties titled "Welcome to India, Obama Sahib":

While the western media fulminates against Taliban’s or Iran’s treatment of women, a leading British medical journal reports an estimated 40,000 Indian women are burned alive each year by their in-laws to grab their dowries. Infanticide of female children is endemic. But few in the west seem to care.
India is a giant with feet of clay. A senior western diplomat in unhealthy Delhi told me that at any given time, half his staff is ill with serious maladies. India is plagued by grave health and environmental problems.
India is really two nations: modern, dynamic, high-tech urban India of about 100 million, and antique, timeless rural Mother India of 1.1 billion souls.
To China’s annoyance, President Obama proclaimed in Delhi that India should have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. India is becoming a great power and deserves a seat among the world’s big boys. But so do Germany, Japan, Turkey and Brazil.

India and its people, long disparaged by British racist jokes, are delighted to be called equals by the great powers. In fact, nuclear-armed India sees itself very much as regional hegemon of the entire Indian Ocean extending from East Africa to Australia.

The Bush administration’s deal with Delhi to sanctify and facilitate India’s nuclear weapons programs was thought at the time a clever move. But it dismayed the rest of the world, made a mockery of non-proliferation, and outraged the entire Muslim world, which has been blasting the US for hypocrisy by threatening war against Iran, which is under UN nuclear inspection, while playing nuclear footsie with India, which rejected all UN inspection.

India’s leaders are no fools and will not be easily pushed or bribed into a stronger anti-China and anti-Iran stance by Washington – Delhi maintains cool but correct relations with Beijing, but behind the wintry, trans-Himalayan smiles lies growing rivalry over Chinese-occupied Tibet, Indian-ruled Ladakh and Kashmir, their long, poorly demarcated Himalayan border (another gift of the British Empire), strategic Burma, and their intensifying nuclear and naval rivalry.

India claims China is trying to surround it, using Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Burma. The two Asian superpowers have been locked in a strategic and conventional arms race for a decade. In 1999, this writer postulated that the two giants would one day clash over their contested borders.

India will follow its own strategic and diplomatic interests – which are not synonymous with those of the United States.

Delhi has a long record of clever diplomacy that has isolated Pakistan and kept the world and UN out of the burning Kashmir problem, where 40,000–80,000 Kashmiris have died in a long independence struggle against Indian rule.

But the United States is now slowly being drawn into the dangerous Kashmir dispute – which triggered the 2008 terror bombing in Mumbai. Just look for example at the embarrassing revelations that one of the men involved in the 2008 Mumbai massacre was working for the US Drug Enforcement Agency.

The more Washington backs and arms India, the more its relations with China will deteriorate. Japan is also quietly building up India against China, to Beijing’s mounting anger.

The US could even be drawn into an India-China regional conflict. So caution is advised to US diplomats as they charge into the murky, tangled, poorly understood geopolitics of South and East Asia.

We also wonder if President Obama was briefed on India’s growing strategic arsenal.Delhi already has enough medium-ranged Agni-series missiles to cover potential foe China. Why then is Delhi spending billions to develop a reported 12,000 km ICBM whose only targets could be North America, Europe or Australia? ..

Riaz Haq said...

China is proceeding with the sale of 2 more civil nuclear plants at Chashma, amidst reports that US will not object.

ISLAMABAD: The US will not object to any civil nuclear deal between Pakistan and China if it abides by international rules of such agreements, and chances of the US making such a deal with Pakistan too cannot be ruled out, the American envoy here has said.

US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter said Friday that the US had recently made a civil nuclear deal with India and the chances of such a deal with Pakistan also cannot be ruled out, the Express Tribune reported.

Munter made the remarks while talking to media here.

Answering a question on the Pakistan's efforts to fight terrorism, he said the US wants Pakistan to launch a military operation in North Waziristan soon.

Munter said he would leave it to the Pakistan Army to decide when to launch such an operation.

The army has assured the US that they will take action in North Waziristan at the right time.

Pakistan has long been under pressure from the US to launch a military offensive in North Waziristan.

The foreign office, however, has denied being under US pressure to launch an offensive in the northwestern region which the US calls a "hub of militant activity", saying that the operation will be launched only if it is in Pakistan's "interest", the report said.

Last month, the daily reported that the government had authorised army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to take a final decision on when and how to launch a military operation in the North Waziristan tribal region.

Riaz Haq said...

“Democracy in India is only top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.”

—B.R. Ambedkar, the framer of the Indian constitution, in 1949, in "Thus Spoke Ambedkar, Vol. 1: A Stake in the Nation"


Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC report on South Asia's reaction to nuclear crisis at Fukushima, Japan:

The nuclear disaster in Japan has prompted several countries to slow down and even suspend some of their nuclear programmes.

But South Asia - a region that hosts two rival states with nuclear weapons - has made no such move.

No nuclear plants in the region have been shut down nor are any expected to be suspended in the wake of the Fukushima crisis.

Instead, the Bangladeshi government announced on Tuesday that it would go ahead with its earlier plan to build a nuclear power plant with the help of Russia.

The Pakistani government has chosen to remain quiet although all three of its nuclear plants are said to face risks from earthquakes or tsunamis.

Major regional player India has announced a review of safety systems in its nuclear power plants but many believe there are no indications for a shift in its pro-nuclear policy.

"India's Department of Atomic Energy and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India will try to reassure the people of India that they are far more superior than everybody else in the world and this kind of accident would never happen in Indian facilities," read a statement by the National Alliance of Anti-Nuclear Movements, a civil campaign in India.

It also accused the authorities of admitting that one of the reactors in south India was built without factoring in the risks from tsunamis.
'No alarm'

Another activist group, the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace said: "The (Fukushima) incident calls for a thorough review and transparent audit of the safety performance of all nuclear reactors in India, as well as of evacuation and other emergency procedures, which are known to be flawed."

In Pakistan also, few civil societies have raised the alarm.

"The aged Karachi nuclear plant on the coast is as much susceptible with as much serious consequence [as nuclear plants in] Japan because of the proximity of a dense population," said the Pakistan Peace Coalition in its statement.

"The two reactors in Chashma are known to be sitting on a number of criss-crossing tectonic plates."

Pakistan's leading newspaper, The Dawn, wrote in its editorial: "The government needs to reassure the people that natural disaster contingencies are in place at the nuclear units."

Riaz Haq said...

Talking about democracy, here are some excerpts from a Vanity Fair article by Nobel Laureate Economist Joe Stiglitz about growing concentration of wealth and power in America. It's titled "Of the 1%, For the 1%, By the 1%":

Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequal ities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from a recent speech by veteran journalist Bill Moyers given in memory of historian Howard Zinn:

In polite circles, among our political and financial classes, this is known as "the free market at work." No, it's "wage repression," and it's been happening in our country since around 1980. I must invoke some statistics here, knowing that statistics can glaze the eyes; but if indeed it's the mark of a truly educated person to be deeply moved by statistics, as I once read, surely this truly educated audience will be moved by the recent analysis of tax data by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. They found that from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent. Because the nation's economy was growing handsomely, the average income for 9 out of 10 Americans was growing, too - from $17,719 to $30,941. That's a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefited. The line flattens for the bottom 90% of Americans. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.

That's wage repression.

Another story in the Times caught my eye a few weeks after the one about Connie Brasel and Natalie Ford. The headline read: "Industries Find Surging Profits in Deeper Cuts." Nelson Schwartz reported that despite falling motorcycle sales, Harley-Davidson profits are soaring - with a second quarter profit of $71 million, more than triple what it earned the previous year. Yet Harley-Davidson has announced plans to cut fourteen hundred to sixteen hundred more jobs by the end of next year; this on top of the 2000 jobs cut last year.

The story note: "This seeming contradiction - falling sales and rising profits - is one reason the mood on Wall Street is so much more buoyant than in households, where pessimism runs deep and unemployment shows few signs of easing." There you see the two Americas. A buoyant Wall Street; a doleful Main Street. The Connie Brasels and Natalie Fords - left to sink or swim on their own. There were no bailouts for them.

Meanwhile, Matt Krantz reports in USA TODAY that "Cash is gushing into company's coffers as they report what's shaping up to be a third-consecutive quarter of sharp earning increases. But instead of spending on the typical things, such as expanding and hiring people, companies are mostly pocketing the money or stuffing it under their mattresses." And what are their plans for this money? Again, the Washington Post:

... Sitting on these unprecedented levels of cash, U.S. companies are buying back their own stock in droves. So far this year, firms have announced they will purchase $273 billion of their own shares, more than five times as much compared with this time last year... But the rise in buybacks signals that many companies are still hesitant to spend their cash on the job-generating activities that could produce economic growth.

That's how financial capitalism works today: Conserving cash rather than bolstering hiring and production; investing in their own shares to prop up their share prices and make their stock more attractive to Wall Street. To hell with everyone else.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC story on damning testimony against Narendra Modi by an Indian intelligence official:

A senior police officer's sworn statement to India's Supreme Court alleges that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi deliberately allowed anti-Muslim riots in the state.

More than 1,000 people were killed in the violence in 2002.

Sanjiv Bhatt says he attended a meeting at which Mr Modi is alleged to have said that the Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger.

Mr Modi has always denied any wrongdoing.
'Vent their anger'

The riots began after 60 Hindu pilgrims died when a train carrying them was set on fire.

Sanjiv Bhatt was a senior police officer in the Gujarat intelligence bureau during the 2002 riots.

In a sworn statement to the Supreme Court, he said that his position allowed him to come across large amounts of information and intelligence both before and during the violence, including the actions of senior administrative officials.

He also alleges that, in a meeting in the night before the riots, Mr Modi told officials that the Muslim community needed to be taught a lesson following an attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims.

The Gujarat government has responded to the allegations by saying they have already testified before a special panel investigating the riots and will wait for the court's verdict.

Riaz Haq said...

India's democracy is facing serious challenges, argues Soutik Biswas of the BBC:

Nearly a third of MPs - 158 of 524, to be precise - in the parliament face criminal charges. Seventy-four of them face serious charges such as murder and abduction. There are more than 500 criminal cases against these lawmakers.

These MPs hail from across the political spectrum.

Twelve of the 205 MPs or 5% of the lawmakers in the ruling Congress Party face criminal charges. The main opposition BJP fares worse with 19 of 116 - or more than 16% - of its MPs facing charges. More than 60% of the MPs belonging to two key regional parties, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party - who profess to serve the poor and the untouchables - face criminal charges.

Many of these MPs say that false charges have been filed against them.

Then there are allegations of rampant vote-buying by parties, especially in southern India.

The Election Commission seized more than six million rupees ($13.3m; £8.3m) in cash in Tamil Nadu in the run-up to the state elections in April. It believes that the money was kept to buy votes.

In an US embassy cable leaked by WikiLeaks in March, an American official was quoted as saying that one Tamil Nadu party inserted cash and a voting slip instructing which party to vote for in the morning newspapers - more innovative than handing out money directly to voters. The party concerned denies the charge.

Independent election watchdogs believe that candidates routinely under-report or hide campaign expenses. During the 2009 general elections, nearly all of the 6753 candidates officially declared that they had spent between 45 to 55% of their expenses limit.
India's most respected election watchdog Association For Democratic Reforms (ADR) has rolled out a pointed wish-list to clean up India's politics and target corruption. I am sharing some of them:

* Any person against whom charges have been framed by a court of law or offences punishable for two years or more should not be allowed to contest elections. Candidates charged with serious crimes like murder, rape, kidnapping and extortion should be banned from contesting elections. India's politicians have resisted this saying that opponents regularly file false cases against them

* To stop candidates and parties seeking votes on the basis of caste, religion and to stop divisive campaigns, a candidate should be declared a winner only if he or she gets more than 50% plus one vote. When no candidate gets the required number of votes, there should be a run-off between the top two candidates

* Voters should have the option of voting "none of the above"

* A law against use of excessive money in elections by candidates

* Despite the clamour for the state funding of elections, it is still not clear how much elections cost in India. Political parties do not come clean on their revenues and expenses, and until there is a clearer picture of how much they spend, it will be difficult to fix an amount. So political parties should give out verifiable accounts, which should be also available for public scrutiny.

The desire for electoral reform is not new.

Since 1990, there have been at least seven hefty comprehensive government-commissioned reports for such reforms.

The Election Commission of India has been saying since 1998 that candidates with pending criminal cases against them should not be allowed to contest.

If there is an overwhelming consensus about these reforms, why have governments sat on it for more than two decades? Ask the politicians.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a review of "River of Smoke" by Soutik Biswas of the BBC:

It is 1838, and Amitav Ghosh's new novel, River Of Smoke, sails into Canton, a rambunctious, crowded city, and home to seafarers, itinerant merchants, opium traders and many such floating folks. "In China, everything new comes from Canton," says a character, in what is the second book in a planned trilogy.
Canton's suburbs are bustling, floating cities on the Pearl River, a veritable "waterborne hive" where up to a million people live in boats moored along the water's edge. At the centre of this maelstrom of commerce, a prosperous Indian Parsi opium merchant, Bahram Modi, negotiates a knotty question of the morality of his trade even as Chinese authorities launch a concerted crackdown.

But beyond the fog of opium and the cacophony of the foreigner's town, River of Smoke is really a scathing parable of globalisation.
Last week, on a cloudy Delhi morning, I asked Ghosh, a trained anthropologist from Oxford, whether free trade and globalisation had failed a lot of people. "Of course," he said. "Look around you, look at Greece, look at England. And yes, we keep making and selling things which are of no real use!"

There's an amazing amount of economics in his novel - pushed against the wall, opium merchants talk about setting up an off-share trading base to ship in opium and about the "hand of freedom, of the market", echoing Adam Smith. (Ghosh tells me that a number of traders were Scottish, and would have been influenced by Smith's tracts.) Clearly, globalisation repeats itself again and again - often with unsavoury results - and nothing really changes.

And then there are the ruminations on democracy. "Democracy is a wonderful thing," says Bahram. "It is a marvellous tamasha (spectacle) that keeps common people busy that men like ourselves can take care of all matters of importance. I hope one day India will also be able to enjoy these advantages." I ask Ghosh about the health of democracy in India. He doesn't appear to be very upbeat about it. "Democracy for democracy's sake doesn't make much sense", he says, "unless we strengthen institutions and follow processes." Otherwise, as Bahram says, it can just become a spectacle, involving the institutions, the media and the people.

Two decades after India embraced globalisation and economic reforms, the results are mixed: a rising tide has lifted all boats - to borrow an allegory from Ghosh's sea novels - but many boats are barely afloat. There is valid criticism about a lot of growth being jobless, and inadequate state attention to education and health of the poor. In an intensely media-driven environment, where everybody appears to be playing to the gallery, democracy, many say, is being trivialised.

But, of course, River Of Smoke is more than all this. This masterwork of historical fiction is brimming with characters and colour. Behind its finely etched detail about people, cities, voyages, flowers and food, it is a seriously engaging political novel - perhaps one of the finest ever by an Indian writer. Don't miss it.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from a piece by Paul Leventhal, Nuclear Control Institute, about US's secret help that led to India's 1974 nuclear test, with the US being a proliferator:

At that time (1974), I was working on legislation to reorganize the AEC into separate regulatory and promotional agencies. I had begun investigating the weapons potential of nuclear materials being used in the U.S. Atoms for Peace program, both at home and abroad. The official wanted me to know there was no need to consider remedial legislation on nuclear exports because the plutonium used in India's test came not from the safeguarded nuclear power plant at Tarapur, supplied by the United States, but from the unsafeguarded Cirus research reactor near Bombay, supplied by Canada. "This is a Canadian problem, not ours," he said.

It took me two years to discover that the information provided me that day was false. The United States, in fact, had supplied the essential heavy-water component that made the Cirus reactor operable, but decided to cover up the American supplier role and let Canada "take the fall" for the Indian test. Canada promptly cut off nuclear exports to India, but the United States did not.

In 1976, when the Senate committee uncovered the U.S. heavy-water export to India and confronted the State Department on it, the government's response was another falsehood: the heavy water supplied by the U.S., it said, had leaked from the reactor at a rate of 10% a year, and had totally depleted over 10 years by the time India produced the plutonium for its test.

But the committee learned from Canada that the actual heavy-water loss rate at Cirus was less than 1% a year, and we learned from junior-high-school arithmetic that even a 10%- a-year loss rate doesn't equal 100% after 10 years. Actually, more than 90% of the original U.S. heavy water was still in the Cirus reactor after 10 years, even if it took India a decade to produce the test plutonium---itself a highly fanciful notion.

We also learned that the reprocessing plant where India had extracted the plutonium from Cirus spent fuel, described as "indigenous" in official U.S. and Indian documents, in fact had been supplied by an elaborate and secret consortium of U.S. and European companies.

Faced with this blatant example of the Executive Branch taking Congress for the fool, the Senate committee drafted and Congress eventually enacted the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts of BBC's Soutik Biswas's review of Pulitzer-winning New Yorker reporter Katherine Boo's "Beautiful Forevers":

"We try so many things," a girl in Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai tells Katherine Boo, "but the world doesn't move in our favour".

Annawadi is a "sumpy plug of slum" in the biggest city - "a place of festering grievance and ambient envy" - of a country which holds a third of the world's poor. It is where the Pulitzer prize winning New Yorker journalist Boo's first book Behind the Beautiful Forevers is located.

Annawadi is where more than 3,000 people have squatted on land belonging to the local airport and live "packed into, or on top of" 335 huts. It is a place "magnificently positioned for a trafficker in rich's people's garbage", where the New India collides with the Old.

Nobody in Annawadi is considered poor by India's official benchmarks. The residents are among the 100 million Indians freed from poverty since 1991, when India embarked on liberalising its economy.
She used more than 3,000 public records, many obtained using India's right to information law, to validate her narrative, written in assured reported speech. The account of the hours leading to the self-immolation of Fatima Sheikh derives from repeated interviews of 168 people as well as police, hospital, morgue and court records. Mindful of the risk of over interpretation, the books wears its enormous research lightly.
The local councillor runs fake schools, doctors at free government hospitals and policemen extort the poor with faint promise of life and justice, and self-help groups operate as loan sharks for the poorest. The young in Annawadi drop dead like flies - run over by traffic, knifed by rival gangs, laid low by disease; while the elders - not much older - die anyway. Girls prefer a certain brand of rat poison to end their lives.
Boo has an interesting take on corruption, rife in societies like India's. Corruption is seen as blocking India's global ambitions. But, she writes, for the "poor of a country where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained".

On the other hand, Boo believes, corruption stymies our moral universe more than economic possibility. Suffering, she writes, "can sabotage innate capacities for moral action". In a capricious world of corrupt governments and ruthless markets the idea of a mutually supportive community is a myth: it is "blisteringly hard", she writes, to be good in such conditions. "If the house is crooked and crumbling", Boo writes, "and the land on which it sits uneven, is it possible to make anything lie straight?

Riaz Haq said...

Criminals flourish in Indian Elections, reports Washington Post:

DIBAI, India — In India’s democracy, crime really can pay.

In the past month, voters in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people, have been lining up in huge numbers to cast votes in state elections.

But of the 2,000 candidates from the main parties contesting here, more than a third are facing criminal charges, including murder, rape, kidnapping and extortion, according to figures compiled by the advocacy group Association for Democratic Reforms.

And many of them will win.

“They are popular with voters,” lamented Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi. “I call it the Robin Hood syndrome. They take care to use their corrupt money, money that they get through illegal means, to give to the poor.”

Despite a nationwide campaign against corruption last year, the percentage of candidates facing criminal charges has risen from 28 percent to 35 percent since state elections were last held in 2007. At least 30 candidates are incarcerated.

It is a similar picture nationally: 162 of the 545 members of India’s lower house of Parliament are facing criminal charges, compared with 128 in the previous Parliament.
Criminals and wealthy politicians regularly dole out cash in return for votes. Quraishi said his agents seized more than $12 million in cash during elections last year in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, including one haul of $1 million in cash hidden in sacks on the roof of a bus....

Riaz Haq said...

Is India losing its mojo because of bad politics? asks BBC's Soutik Biswas. Here's an excerpt:

It's an obvious question to ask at a time when powerful - and populist - regional parties are again flexing their muscles at a fickle federal government, key economic reforms are seemingly stuck in the bog of messy coalition politics, and the government is struggling under an avalanche of corruption charges. Economic growth and investment have cooled and inflation remains high.

So is it surprising that The Economist magazine, in its latest issue, says the politics is "preventing India from fulfilling its vast economic potential"?

Or when Fareed Zakaria, editor-at-large with Time magazine, tells an audience in Delhi this week that India's politicians are "out of touch… they try to portray India as a victim, not the victor".

With uncharacteristic exaggeration, The Economist even invokes a return to the stifling days of the controlled economy.

"Lately, like a Bollywood villain who just refuses to die, the old India has made a terrifying reappearance," says the magazine. It blames a "nastily divisive political climate" for the crisis and believes that India requires "energetic, active leaders, plus politicians who are ready to compromise".
'Corrupt and corroded'

Both the magazine and the pundit are right and wrong.
“Start Quote

Reformers need to be patient; there are no shortcuts in India”

The quality of India's politicians, many argue, has declined drastically, as in many parts of the world. Most of them seem to be out of sync with modern day realities - expectations have fallen so ridiculously low that an iPad carrying politician is described by the media as a modern one!

Most are also seen as greedy, corrupt and disinterested in serious reform. The increasing number of politicians with criminal records and the brazen use of money to buy party tickets and bribe voters erodes India's ailing democratic process.

It is not a happy picture. "Today the Centre is corrupt and corroded," historian Ramachandra Guha wrote recently. "There are allegedly 'democratic' politicians who abuse their oath of office and work only to enrich themselves; as well as self-described 'revolutionaries' who seek to settle arguments by the point of the gun." Only serious electoral reform can ensure a better breed of politician.
Public consensus is harder to come by in an awfully unequal society where the middle class and the rich root for further opening up of the economy, while the poor want the state to invest in health and education and check corruption. The elitist biases in public policy is made easier by a poorly-informed and often unlettered electorate with low expectations.

Many would argue that India never got any magic going, so there is no question of losing it.

Consensus is painfully slow in such a society, and sometimes only a crisis can provoke the government - and the people - to bite the bullet. Reformers need to be patient; there are no shortcuts in India.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's David Brooks' New York Times' column on inadequacy of democracy in solving problems:

The people who pioneered democracy in Europe and the United States had a low but pretty accurate view of human nature. They knew that if we get the chance, most of us will try to get something for nothing. They knew that people generally prize short-term goodies over long-term prosperity. So, in centuries past, the democratic pioneers built a series of checks to make sure their nations wouldn’t be ruined by their own frailties.

The American founders did this by decentralizing power. They built checks and balances to frustrate and detain the popular will. They also dispersed power to encourage active citizenship, hoping that as people became more involved in local government, they would develop a sense of restraint and responsibility.

In Europe, by contrast, authority was centralized. Power was held by small coteries of administrators and statesmen, many of whom had attended the same elite academies where they were supposed to learn the art and responsibilities of stewardship. Under the parliamentary system, voters didn’t even get to elect their leaders directly. They voted for parties, and party elders selected the ones who would actually form the government, often through secret means.

Though the forms were different, the democracies in Europe and the United States were based on a similar carefully balanced view of human nature: People are naturally selfish and need watching. But democratic self-government is possible because we’re smart enough to design structures to police that selfishness.

James Madison put it well: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind, which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.”

But, over the years, this balanced wisdom was lost. Leaders today do not believe their job is to restrain popular will. Their job is to flatter and satisfy it. A gigantic polling apparatus has developed to help leaders anticipate and respond to popular whims. Democratic politicians adopt the mind-set of marketing executives. Give the customer what he wants. The customer is always right.--------
Western democratic systems were based on a balance between self-doubt and self-confidence. They worked because there were structures that protected the voters from themselves and the rulers from themselves. Once people lost a sense of their own weakness, the self-doubt went away and the chastening structures were overwhelmed. It became madness to restrain your own desires because surely your rivals over yonder would not be restraining theirs.

This is one of the reasons why Europe and the United States are facing debt crises and political dysfunction at the same time. People used to believe that human depravity was self-evident and democratic self-government was fragile. Now they think depravity is nonexistent and they take self-government for granted.

Neither the United States nor the European model will work again until we rediscover and acknowledge our own natural weaknesses and learn to police rather than lionize our impulses.

Riaz Haq said...

A 2010 UMich study found that misinformed people exposed to corrected facts rarely changed their minds:

It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?

Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

These findings open a long-running argument about the political ignorance of American citizens to broader questions about the interplay between the nature of human intelligence and our democratic ideals. Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.

Anonymous said...

DALTENGANJ, India — When he decided to run for a parliamentary seat from this impoverished, and mainly low-caste constituency in northeast India, Kameshwar Baitha made no effort to sugarcoat his criminal record.

Obediently, he cataloged the serious charges pending against him, all of which he says are false. There were 17 for murder, 22 for attempted murder, 6 for assault with a dangerous weapon, 5 for theft, 2 for extortion, and so on, a legacy from Mr. Baitha’s previous career as a leader of the local Maoist insurgency. On top of that was the fact that he was in jail.

But this did not hurt him with voters here, noted his son, Babban Kumar, who hopes to follow his father into politics. With people in this area, who look to elected leaders as Robin Hood figures, it may have helped.

“You have to fight against something, how else can you get into politics?” Mr. Kumar said. “Without going to jail, you cannot be a big politician.”

New impulses are rippling through Indian politics this year, as a growing, urbanized middle class demands that hundreds of tainted politicians be driven from the system.

In Delhi, crowds driven by Internet campaigns have rallied around an anticorruption platform, holding brooms to symbolize the coming cleansing. The Supreme Court, sensing the public mood, ruled in July that it was illegal for politicians who had been convicted of crimes to continue holding office by simply filing an appeal against their convictions. The ruling would disqualify politicians sentenced to more than two years in prison by a lower court. This change, which could uproot formidable political forces, was endorsed this month by the governing coalition’s crown prince, Rahul Gandhi.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr haq

I am literally glued to your blog from India because it gives a different perspective - whether good or bad. It is a very important to hear contrary views because only then one's view gets polished. You are doing a great service to India from a remote corner of whichever the part of the world you are sitting in.

Talking now about the post, it requires a great deal of patience for the democracy to truly flourish and give its best. Democracy is after all a system of governance and it can never be perfect till the society which chooses its leaders becomes perfect. Since a perfect society is an utopia so is the perfect democracy.

The downside of democracy is that it can never beat a good monarch / dictator. So its no surprise that Pakistan's economy did well under Musharaf. Upside is democracy is an antidot for a bad dictator. Just imagine Saddam Hussain instead of Musharaf.

As you know, India was much poorer and uneducated when it took birth in 1947. If not for democracy, India would have balkanised long ego given its diversity in all respects. Its the democracy and the idea of India which has held the people together. We are fortunate to have left wings to counter extreme right, significant minority population to suppresses extreme Hindus. Of course there fault lines and the democracy is still developing because the society is still developing. More the society develops, poverty alleviates, illiteracy vanishes, more the democracy flourishes.

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "More the society develops, poverty alleviates, illiteracy vanishes, more the democracy flourishes"

It's very very very slow process as done in developing countries like India.

Asian Tigers became Asian Tigers under dictators before they became democratic. There is not a single example of a developing country that became a developed country under democratic rule since WW II. Development gap between China, a one-party state, and India, a multi-party democracy, is huge and growing. Developed countries in Europe and North America took centuries to develop under democratic systems. Asian Tigers did it much faster under dictators. China is doing so now. Asia's experience has shown that democratic processes act as speed breakers to slow pace of development and stymie efforts to reduce poverty, ignorance and disease to deliver higher living standards.

Please read more of thoughts here:

Riaz Haq said...

Excerpt of a piece by Ashly Tellis on what India must do to become a leading power:

For starters, the Indian state does not penetrate its own society sufficiently: there are still vast swaths—territorial and functional—where state power is conspicuous by its absence. In fact, the Indian state is overly present in those areas where it ought not to be, producing private goods for example, but seriously deficient in other spaces where it has no substitute, such as in administering law, order, and justice; providing various public and merit goods; and managing national security. Furthermore, the Indian state performs abysmally with respect to resource extraction: whether measured by direct, indirect, or property taxes, India’s tax-to-GDP ratios are among the lowest of its G20 or BRIICSAM (Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, India, China, South Africa, and Mexico) peers, and the incidence of tax evasion is also high. These realities underscore how pervasive underdevelopment, regressive economic policies, and poor enforcement capabilities combine to produce unproductive state-society interactions that ultimately subvert both India’s developmental aims and its acquisition of great power capabilities.
Finally, except where national security issues are concerned, the Indian state does not enjoy sufficient autonomy from its own society and seems unable to regulate social relations in ways that would permit it to pursue important national interests without being constrained by veto-wielders domestically. This problem is more intense in democracies, but the difficulties that successive Indian governments have faced in regard to subsidy reduction, trade liberalization, and labor law reform, for example—all widely agreed in India to be vital for future success—bode ill for expectations of any speedy expansion of state autonomy. It is unfortunate that the nature of electoral competition in India has actually sharpened its social cleavages, with democracy thus making the state even more susceptible to societal pressures. Therein lies a tragic irony: the very crosscutting cleavages that prevent any internal threats from becoming existential dangers to the country also end up weakening the state, thereby raising the question of how a state that cannot shape its own society can expect to shape the outside world—the ultimate hallmark of a great power.

Read more at:

Riaz Haq said...

#India’s court system offers little hope of #justice. #democracy #ruleOfLaw … via @FT

On a hot June afternoon in 1997, a fire broke out at New Delhi’s Uphaar cinema, which was full for the opening day of a Bollywood blockbuster. Smoke engulfed the hall, and 59 people, including children, died of asphyxiation. Most were trapped in the balcony, where one of the exits was blocked by the addition of extra seats, while the other doors were bolted shut from the outside.

Twenty years on, one of the two powerful property developers who owned the cinema hall — and pushed the controversial building modifications that turned it into a fire trap — has been imprisoned.

Gopal Ansal, and his elder brother Sushil, were convicted of criminal negligence leading to the fatalities back in 2007, and sentenced to two years in prison. They appealed, launching another decade of legal battles when judges repeatedly upheld the Ansals’ culpability but differed on the appropriate punishment.

Last month, a Supreme Court panel upheld the Ansal brothers’ conviction, and affirmed that Gopal, now 68, would be sentenced to a year’s imprisonment, due to start this week. His brother Sushil Ansal, now 76, was spared incarceration, with the judges citing his advanced years.

It was a galling outcome for parents such as Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who lost two children in the Uphaar fire and went on to become campaigners for justice. Worse may yet come. Gopal Ansal has filed a last-ditch appeal that he is also too old and ill to be imprisoned.

New Delhi often touts the rule of law as a factor that distinguishes India from its richer neighbour China, and ostensibly makes it an attractive investment destination. But the Uphaar cinema case is a powerful reminder of how the rule of law is collapsing in India under a backlog of 33m criminal and civil cases, which one judge estimated would take 320 years to clear.

Underpinning this breakdown is an acute shortage of judges, a severe problem in a society where litigiousness seems on par with the US. India has just 18 judges for every 1m people. Many fast-growing economies have between 35 to 40 judges per million people; in the US, it is more than 100.

India’s judge shortage is exacerbated by many unfilled vacancies, the lack of modern technology in courthouses, lawyers’ deliberate delaying tactics to stall cases, and an abundance of relatively frivolous litigation.


Among New Delhi’s demands is a new requirement that investors in India must exhaust all domestic legal remedies to resolve disputes before moving to international arbitration. What that could mean for foreign companies ensnared in disputes with local partners or Indian government entities can be seen in another recent Supreme Court verdict on a high-profile case from the same era as the Uphaar fire.

In 1996 I wrote my first stories about the arrest for alleged corruption of the powerful Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, a film star turned politician who owned thousands of saris, hundreds of shoes, and a trove of precious jewellery. It drew comparisons with the Philippines’ Imelda Marcos.

In 2014, 18 years after her arrest, Jayalalithaa was convicted of possessing assets exceeding her known sources of income. She spent 22 days in jail before being freed on bail pending her appeal. The Supreme Court effectively upheld her conviction last month, sentencing her long-time companion and co-accused, VK Sasikala, to four years in prison. The wheels of justice turned so slowly, however, that Jayalalithaa managed to elude them. She died last December.

Riaz Haq said...

Edward Luce
"...India, which is jailing its opposition leader on a trumped up defamation charge; Netanyahu, who wants to quash Israel's independent courts; & Mexico, where Obrador aims to end free & fair elections. With pals like these, democracy needs no foes." Me.

President Joe Biden’s second summit for democracy, which is taking place this week, is both virtual and surreal. Among the participants are India, which is in the process of jailing opposition leader Rahul Gandhi on a trumped up defamation ruling; Israel, whose leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, wants to shut down judicial independence; and Mexico, whose leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is trying to end free and fair elections. With friends such as these, democracy hardly needs enemies.

Biden’s aims are noble, and it is noteworthy that neither Hungary nor Turkey, regarded in Washington and western Europe as illiberal democracies, was invited. But the president’s means are open to doubt. According to V-Dem, a Swedish research institute, almost three quarters of the world’s population now live in autocracies against less than half a decade ago. That vertiginous shift justifies the term “democratic recession”.

It is difficult to believe a liberal democratic Russia would have invaded Ukraine. It is equally hard to imagine the people of an autocratic Ukraine fighting as fiercely for their freedom as they are doing now. It is thus reasonable for the US to think that spreading democracy is in its national interest. The problem is that America is not very good at it.

Nowhere has the US expended more guns and butter than in the Middle East. The democratic returns have been almost uniformly negative. The Arab world’s only recent convert, Tunisia, was recently lost to a coup d’état. Israel’s democracy, meanwhile, hangs in the balance. That is without mentioning the fact that the Jewish nation state is not exactly democratic with the Arab territories it occupies.

Sarah Margon, whom Biden named to lead his administration’s efforts on democracy and human rights, withdrew her name in January after senators objected to her criticisms of Israel. Having a record of arguing for democracy seems like an odd rap against the person whose job that will be.


As India’s foreign minister, S Jaishankar, put it last year: “Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems.” What Jaishankar really meant, of course, was the west as a whole. But he was careful to exclude the US, just as Biden is careful not to mention India’s democratic backsliding. Each needs the other to counter China.

Here it gets even muddier. India’s treatment of its Muslim minorities is arguably as bad as China’s policies in Xinjiang. The US State Department has labelled the latter “genocide” — the gravest charge possible. Yet barely a peep is heard from Washington about what is going on in Kashmir.

When the west can be bothered to listen, the global south’s consistent refrain is for more dollars to help their shift to clean energy, better infrastructure and modern healthcare. Which of the two great powers, China or the US, helps the most is likeliest to shape their political future and foreign policy alignment. One of the by-products of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is that it has brought this pressing question to the fore.

Biden’s White House is trying to come up with a coherent US approach to the global south, but officials admit it is a work in progress. China has pumped more money into the developing world than all the west combined — with both good and bad effects. Whether the Malis, Cambodias and Bolivias of this world become democracies lies in their hands. The best way of nudging them down that path is to lecture less and listen more.