India’s retail inflation measured by the consumer price index (CPI) soared to 7.79%, for April 2022. In March 2022, the figure for Consumer price-based inflation was 6.95% and 4.21% in April 2021. The recent spike in CPI is mainly on account of costlier food items. Despite perception to the contrary, the fact of the matter is that the Modi government has reined in inflation pretty well in the last eight years and even the surge in the last few months is largely due to a confluence of global factors, including the Russia-Ukraine War, that is a Black Swan event, that no economist or geopolitical strategist, predicted or bargained for. Also, after two years of a debilitating global pandemic, there has been a sudden demand resurrection, while the supply chain constraints have failed to keep pace with the rise in demand globally. So for armchair economists to single out India and allege that the rise in inflation is only India specific, is a lot of hogwash. Supply bottlenecks take time to get resolved.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a slew of measures on Saturday that are supposed to provide a safety net for India’s poor, who are struggling to keep up with growing prices. ANI
For instance, if an industry was working at 40% or 50% capacity during Covid in 2020 and 2021, for it to work at 70% or 80% capacity in 2022, will take time. Scaling up takes time. Any industrial unit will not automatically switch from 40% to 80% in a jiffy. Alternative suppliers come with pricier freight, longer transits or differing quality, further accelerating food inflation. World supplies were already reeling from droughts in Canada and Brazil and transportation blockages in parts of the world, from rail logjams in the US to trucker strikes across Spain.
The added shock from the Ukraine-Russia war earlier this year sent most prices of most commodities to new record highs with corn and wheat futures in Chicago up more than 30% since the beginning of 2022, after having already risen by over 40-50% in 2021! The United Nations has that warned food prices already at an all-time high could rise as much as 22% more. A severe drop in Black Sea exports could leave as many as 13.1 million additional people undernourished, it said, deepening the rise in global hunger in a world still recovering from the effects of the pandemic. Collectively, Russia and Ukraine are responsible for more than 25% of global Wheat exports and for around 80% of the world’s supply of Sunflower Oil. Russia along with its ally, Belarus is also a huge source of fertilisers, accounting for around 15% globally. The war in Ukraine will undoubtedly have a major impact on its agricultural production and exports, putting even more pressure on a system already in crisis. Ukraine does indeed control Europe’s second-largest known reserves of natural gas, almost 80% of which are located east of the Dnipro river. While Russia is the world’s third-largest oil producer accounting for 10% of the global Oil production, Ukraine has total gas reserves of 5.4 trillion cubic metres (TCM), with proven reserves of 1.1 trillion cubic metres.
Hence, to cut to the chase, the moot point is, the Russia-Ukraine War has affected the prices of Oil and natural gas, with some estimates saying gasoline prices in the US could skyrocket to as high as US$ 6.2 per gallon by the end of this year. Today’s inflationary surge is global in nature and is being felt by most advanced economies (AEs), emerging markets, and developing economies (EMDEs). During the last two years, most Central banks followed easy money policies, with most governments announcing massive stimulus packages to repair the ravages unleashed by a debilitating pandemic, in the form of Covid-19. In 15 of the 34 countries classified as AEs by the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook, 12-month inflation through December 2021 was running above 5%. 2022 has only seen the inflationary tide rising further globally. While other countries have been reeling from pandemic-induced inflation, India has been keeping inflation largely under control. To put things in perspective, one must note that Wheat prices hit a high of US$ 13 per bushel from US$ 5 a bushel in the last two years, a massive 160% jump. Corn prices globally rose by a steep 45% year-on-year (YoY) in 2021 and have risen by another 37% in the first four months of 2022. Soybean prices rose from US$ 9 to over US$ 17 per unit in the last 18 months, a whopping 89% jump.
Inflation in the US continued to surge to a massive 8.5% and 8.3% in March and April 2022, after an equally steep rise of 7.9% and 7.5% in February and January 2022 respectively. That is the biggest year-on-year leap since 1981. The US’s fuel inflation rose by a whopping 32% YoY in March 2022 while food inflation went up by 8.8% YoY in March. The price of beef rose by 16%, flour by 14.2%, citrus fruits by 19.5%, and milk by 13.3% in March 2022 in the US. The annual inflation rate in the Euro Area rose to a record high of 7.5% in April 2022, up from 5.8% in February 2022 and 5.1% in January. The United Kingdom’s annual inflation rate rose in April 2022 to a steep 7%, up from 5.4% in January 2022, the highest level since March 1992, while Germany saw inflation at 7.4% in April 2022, the highest ever, in almost three decades. The Netherlands with inflation of 9.7% Spain with inflation at 9.8%, Turkey at 70% and Sri Lanka at 30%, have seen the highest inflation print in over 45 years. In Canada, property prices have hit their highest in decades, rising by over 50% in the last two years, due to which the Canadian government has banned outsiders from purchasing properties. Inflation as measured by the producer price index (PPI)increased 8.3% year-on-year in March 2022 after an equally steep rise of 8.8% in February 2022 in China.
78 out of 109 EMDEs are today confronting annual inflation rates well above 5%. In India, in contrast, the Modi government has fared much better and has indeed done a very commendable job in containing inflation. While retail inflation was 5.66%, 6.01%, 6.07%, and 6.95% in December 2021, January 2022, February 2022 and March 2022 respectively, one should not forget that for the better part of 2021, inflation was below 5%. For example, in September, October, and November 2021, retail inflation in India as measured by the consumer price index (CPI) was reined in at 4.35%,4.48%, and 4.91%. More importantly, food inflation in these months was minuscule at 0.68%,0.85%, and 1.87%. One must not forget that food inflation as measured by the FAO food price index (FFPI), hit its highest level globally in 2021, the highest ever since 1970. But India has reined in food inflation, pretty well, relatively speaking.
Under the inept Congress -led UPA, the highest food production achieved was about 257 million tonnes in FY13. The estimated foodgrains production for the agricultural year 2021-22 (July-June) is expected to be 316.06 million tonnes, which is an all-time record and higher than the 310.74 million tonnes recorded in 2020-21, which itself was a record. Wheat production is also expected to reach the highest ever level of 111.32 million tonnes during 2021-22, higher than the 109.59 million tonnes recorded last year. The total production of Rice (Kharif and Rabi both) is also expected to reach a record high of 127.93 million tonnes, higher than the last year’s Rice output of 124.37 million tonnes, which again was a pathbreaking record.
Why has global food inflation hit multi-decade highs? Droughts, floods, and inclement weather in large parts of the world’s food bowls and in Central America, Latin America, and some major oilseed-producing countries, are the reason for soaring food prices. For example, Ukraine, Argentina, China and Russia, the largest sunflower oil-producing nations, faced inclement weather in the last two years. Ditto was the case with Kazakhstan, Mexico, and Canada, among the big Safflower Oil-producing nations. As for Palm Oil, over 84% is produced by Indonesia and Malaysia combined and besides bad weather which hampered production, both these countries imposed many export restrictions during Covid, further distorting the demand-supply dynamics for Palm Oil importing countries like India. Things in Indonesia are so bad that police have been deployed for 24-hour surveillance of cooking oil production and distribution as rising food prices become a key political issue in the country. The Indonesian police task force, intelligence agents, and government employees are making sure companies are producing bulk cooking Oil as targeted and selling it for below the 14000 rupiahs (98 cents) a litre price cap. The less said about Sri Lanka’s traumatising economic crisis, the better. Fuel stations have run dry and even posh neighbourhoods have no electricity for almost 18 hours a day, with rural hinterland suffering from 24-hour power cuts. There is no diesel to run diesel generator sets either.
A few months back, the United Kingdom faced a situation where its gas stations ran almost dry. Whichever way one looks at it, India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has managed the economy very well, sidestepping geopolitical upheavals and violent price gyrations in the fuel and food economy that many other countries have been grappling with, unsuccessfully.
In fact, India is even being the good Samaritan and has agreed to extend a one billion dollar credit line to Sri Lanka, so that it can procure essential items, food, and medicines. In February this year, India provided US$ 500mn via a loan facility to Sri Lanka for procuring Petroleum products and tackling its energy crisis. Sri Lanka has forex reserves of barely US$ 2 billion whereas India with almost US$ 600bn, has the 4th largest forex reserves globally, after China, Japan and Switzerland. Hence for ignoramuses to compare India with Sri Lanka, is plain hogwash. Be it Nepal, Afghanistan Myanmar or Sri Lanka, it is India under the Modi government that has come to the rescue of its neighbours by exporting food grains and other essentials to these countries.
Coming back to inflation, it is pertinent to ask, which two places in India have had the highest fuel price? Well, it is Parbhani in Maharashtra, where in early April 2022, petrol cost Rs 121.38 per litre and diesel, Rs 103.97 per litre. In Sriganganagar in Rajasthan, petrol shot up to Rs 120.73 and Diesel Rs 103.30 per litre, in April. In both the aforesaid states, Congress is in power, either directly or via an alliance.
In the Congress-ruled States, the average Petrol price is higher by Rs 18-21 per litre, compared to many BJP governed States. The reason for this difference is nothing but pure greed on the part of Congress regimes, whereby they refuse to cut VAT on Petrol and Diesel. So while Rahul Gandhi and his sundry bunch of protesters are crying wolf over rising fuel prices in India, the harsh truth is that Congress-ruled States are milking their taxpayers dry by refusing to cut VAT in any meaningful measure. So much for Rahul Gandhi’s hypocrisy!
Weather-related reasons apart, the pandemic-induced sharp bust-and-recovery patterns produced unpredictable and prolonged supply-side disruptions, leading to supply-side deficits, which, in turn, led to cost-push inflation. True, as the pandemic receded, demand saw a resurgence but more than “demand pull”, it was “cost push” inflation that wreaked havoc globally. That Central bankers kept buying bonds indiscriminately and governments kept pumping money into their economies to “pump prime” and resurrect them, only led to more speculative money finding its way into just about everything—gold, oil, bonds, commodities, wheat futures, corn futures, so on and so forth. Inflationary pressures globally, among other things, have been driven also by overheating in the aftermath of significant policy stimulus. Here again, the Modi government’s cautiously calibrated approach to infusing stimulus at the height of the Covid wave has been very effective.
In sharp contrast, some of the (AEs), the US included, unleashed gigantic fiscal stimulus packages, which were not focused and eventually ended up creating asset bubbles and soaring inflation, with very little attendant benefits.
The writer is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP, and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’. Views expressed are the writer’s personal. Parts II & III will be published later.
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CONG HOPES RAHUL’S YATRA WILL CATAPULT PARTY TO POWER IN KARNATAKA
The Mekedatu padayatra was just a prelude as the scale at which DK is orchestrating this Bharat Jodo is unimaginable, sources in the Congress said.
With the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra all set to enter Karnataka via Kerala’s Wayanad on 30 September, the Pradesh Congress has made elaborate arrangements to amplify the yatra on a grand scale, hoping to revitalize the party ahead of the crucial 2023 Assembly elections. The yatra which started from Kanyakumari will begin its Karnataka leg from Chamarajnagar district and cut through the state for over 500 km from Old Mysore region, which is the Cauvery Delta Region all the way to Bengaluru, and then move towards North Karnataka.
The yatra in the Cauvery delta is touted as a game-changer as D.K. Shivakumar, the KPCC president, is leaving no stone unturned to amplify the rally on foot. He intended to achieve two things—showcase his organizational prowess and also score brownie points from the Gandhis. The Old Mysore region is dominated by Vokkaligas and thus the significance. In the last six months, there were several instances where D.K. Shivakumar and former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy have crossed swords over donning the Vokkaliga leader mantle.
The Mekedatu padayatra was just a prelude as the scale at which DK is orchestrating this Bharat Jodo is unimaginable, sources in the Congress said. The optics here are also relevant from the point of view of who is the mass leader from the Old Mysore Region. Siddaramaiah faced an embarrassing defeat last time and is now made Badami of North Karnataka his political home. History has it that whoever is voted for in huge popularity in this region has become the chief minister of Karnataka and in that D.K. believes that his time has come. Even H.D. Kumaraswamy at a recent event had said on stage that “if a situation presents itself where DKS needs my support to become CM, I will’’
The yatra will then move towards Bengaluru and then towards north Karnataka which is very critical for the Congress. It is here that during the 2013 elections, Congress reaped over 45 seats, thanks to the fallout B.S. Yediyurappa had with the BJP then. The big question is will Congress successfully convert the anger in the Linagayat community over BSY to its kitty? From Shyamanur Shivsankrappa to M.B. Patil, the grand old party has prominent Lingayat leaders, but will they occupy the space vacated by Yediyurappa remains to be seen.
The yatra will have a galaxy of national and state leaders who will join Rahul Gandhi–former chief minister Siddaramaiah, ex-Deputy CM Dr G. Parameshwar, M.B. Patil, Ramalinga Reddy, B.K. Hariprasad, Krishna Byre Gowda, Dinesh Gundu Rao, K.H. Muniyappa, Veerappa Moily and Mallikarjun Kharge along with others will walk during different stages of yatra. During the yatra, the Congress is expected to rake up several issues and revive its campaign coined around “40pc commission govt” and “Nimma hathira iddiya Uttara”, a charge sheet compiled to highlight the failure of the BJP government for not implementing promises made in its last manifesto.
Russia, West at odds over NATO expansion
The Ukraine crisis is caused primarily by NATO’s aggression and expansion. Achieving lasting peace means checking that aggression and expansion; however, the US is leveraging the war as an elaborate advertisement for NATO
Everything old is new again. Through the lens of Ukrainian history, the world has been reminded of the Russian colonial imperialism imposed upon its neighbours. This is important to understand within the context of today’s crisis because Putin fundamentally believes that Ukraine is not a nation state and perceives other neighbouring countries similarly.
To understand the current realities of Russia and Ukraine, and the part NATO has played in defining the current hostilities between the two nations, it is important to rewind history and trace the developments that have happened since the 1990s. Most of the conflicts in the world have an extended history of various complexities and overlapping difficulties, the Ukraine-Russian crisis is no exception.
The crisis in Ukraine is caused primarily by NATO’s aggression and expansion. Achieving lasting peace means checking that aggression and expansion; however, the US is leveraging the war as an elaborate advertisement for NATO, promoting a bloc-based version of collective security premised on opposing Russia. Sweden and Finland have long thrived under a policy of military non-alignment, but they are now coming under pressure to discard neutrality in favour of NATO membership. Such a policy will foment collective insecurity and push the European continent further into chaos.
Nobody can seriously argue that NATO is fundamentally defensive in character. It is an aggressive, nuclear alliance designed to enforce US hegemony. In the decades following the Soviet collapse, NATO has expanded from 16 countries to 30 – reneging on repeated promises made to the Soviet and Russian leadership in the early 1990s that NATO’s borders would move “not one inch” East of Germany. In fact NATO’s borders have moved right up to Russia’s doorsteps.
Putin aims to rollback much of the security architecture that has been put into place in Europe since the end of the Cold War, particularly with regard to Central and Eastern Europe. This means not only closing the door to potential NATO membership for Ukraine but curtailing any form of Western military assistance available. The Kremlin also seeks to undermine many of the measures that have been put in place by the NATO alliance dating back to the 1997 Founding Act – a framework designed to determine how their relationship should move forward in view of NATO enlargement – in effect, neutralizing the alliance in Central and Eastern Europe. The challenge for NATO, as an alliance of democratic countries, is that it cannot let Russia dictate the terms of membership.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 marked a dramatic escalation of the eight-year-old conflict and a historic turning point for European security. With expanding Western aid, Ukraine has managed to frustrate many aspects of Russia’s attack, but many of its cities have been pulverized and one-quarter of its citizens are now refugees or have been displaced. It remains unclear if and how a diplomatic resolution could emerge. Ukraine’s place in the world, including its future alignment with institutions such as the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, hangs in the balance.
Ukraine was a cornerstone of the Soviet Union, the archrival of the United States during the Cold War. Behind only Russia, it was the second-most-populous and -powerful of the fifteen Soviet republics, home to much of the union’s agricultural production, defense industries, and military, including the Black Sea Fleet and some of the nuclear arsenal. Ukraine was so vital to the union that its decision to sever ties in 1991 proved to be a coup de grâce for the ailing superpower.
In its three decades of independence, Ukraine has sought to forge its own path as a sovereign state while looking to align more closely with Western institutions, including the EU and NATO. However, Kyiv struggled to balance its foreign relations and to bridge deep internal divisions. A more nationalist, Ukrainian-speaking population in western parts of the country generally supported greater integration with Europe, while a mostly Russian-speaking community in the east favored closer ties with Russia.
Ukraine became a battleground in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and began arming and abetting separatists in the Donbas region in the country’s southeast. Russia’s seizure of Crimea was the first time since World War II that a European state annexed the territory of another. For many analysts, the hostilities marked a clear shift in the global security environment from a unipolar period of U.S. dominance to one defined by renewed competition between great powers.
Some Western analysts see Russia’s 2022 invasion as the culmination of the Kremlin’s growing resentment toward NATO’s post–Cold War expansion into the former Soviet sphere of influence. Russian leaders, including Putin, have alleged that the United States and NATO repeatedly violated pledges they made in the early 1990s to not expand the alliance into the former Soviet bloc. They view NATO’s enlargement during this tumultuous period for Russia as a humiliating imposition about which they could do little but watch.
Despite remaining a non-member, Ukraine grew its ties with NATO in the years leading up to the 2022 invasion. Ukraine held annual military exercises with the alliance and, in 2020, became one of just six enhanced opportunity partners, a special status for the bloc’s closest nonmember allies. Moreover, Kyiv affirmed its goal to eventually gain full NATO membership.
In the weeks leading up to its invasion, Russia made several major security demands of the United States and NATO, including that they cease expanding the alliance, seek Russian consent for certain NATO deployments, and remove U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe. Alliance leaders responded that they were open to new diplomacy but were unwilling to discuss shutting NATO’s doors to new members.
Putin ordered a full-scale invasion, crossing a force of some two hundred thousand troops into Ukrainian territory from the south (Crimea), east (Russia), and north (Belarus), in an attempt to seize major cities, including the capital Kyiv, and depose the government. By March, 2022, some Western observers said that, given unexpected setbacks it incurred on the battlefield, Moscow could curtail its aims and try to carve out portions of southern Ukraine, such as the Kherson region, like it did in the Donbas in 2014. Russia could try to use these newly occupied territories as bargaining chips in peace negotiations with Ukraine, which might include stipulations about Kyiv’s prospects for membership in the EU and NATO. Others warned that continued attacks on Kyiv belied any of Moscow’s claims of a shift in military operations away from the capital.
As a security partner, Ukraine is not afforded any security guarantees under Article V–the US and its allies in the NATO organization do not have a commitment to defend Ukraine and so it becomes difficult to deter an attack on Ukraine through conventional means. However, the gray zone is useful for both sides in the management of escalation risks. Putin wants to be perceived as a strong military leader, but the costs (e.g., political, economic, reputational, etc.) of escalating to kinetic warfare may force him to recalculate. These costs may be the most effective deterrent there is – the West needs to make sure these are communicated clearly.
There is still room for diplomacy but the longer this plays out, the more costly it becomes to keep these troops on Russia’s border with Ukraine. There is room for agreement on issues like nuclear arms control, but this is unlikely to be what Putin is hoping to achieve with this massive military buildup and his outrageous demands. Rather, Putin appears to be seeking a pretext to justify some level of military action.
One wonders – as did the American diplomat George F. Kennan, the father of the Cold War containment doctrine who warned against NATO expansion in 1998–whether the advancement of NATO eastward has increased the security of European states or made them more vulnerable.
If NATO’s extension continues and reinforced its presence in Ukraine, as may propose by offensive realists, Ukraine Crisis will be escalated even more, and country’s eastern part will be turned to another ‘frozen conflict’ in post-Soviet space. In contrast, halting the enlargement policy in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine can encourage Russia even more to use military force in its ‘near abroad’. For these reasons neither approaches are compatible to cope with the ongoing crisis. However, using both views partly help to come up with a solution for the puzzle. Currently, ensuring the territorial integrity of Ukraine should be prioritized, and for this purpose, NATO enlargement policy should not be used to deter Russia (which indeed escalates the war in Eastern Ukraine) instead NATO membership option for Ukraine should be used as a leverage in peace process to ensure territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The writer is an Associate Professor in Seedling School of Law and Governance, Jaipur National University, Jaipur. He had worked as an Assistant Professor in Apex Professional University, Pasighat, Arunachal Pradesh, and as a journalist in esteemed newspapers, portals and magazines.
THE TALIBAN NEVER EVER ‘WON’ AFGHANISTAN
It speaks of the resilience of the shards of the philosophy of Untermensch and Übermensch even within “liberal” minds that explains why it was the liberal W.J. Clinton in 1996 and in 2021 the liberal J.R. Biden Jr who gifted Afghanistan to the Taliban. The latter is these days shrugging off blame for the consequences of his disastrous “Everybody Out” policy on Afghanistan by blaming it on the Trump Surrender Document that was signed in Doha in 2020. If patriotism has been the excuse for many sins committed in the past, there has been within the US since the 1960s a tendency to use the CIA as the whipping boy for several of the policy blunders committed by US Presidents. The boilerplate excuse proffered is that wrong information fed by the CIA was the reason for egregious errors in policy. In the case of Afghanistan, the excuse of apologists for the apparently clueless if usually personable Joe Biden is that the CIA came up with the finding that there was now a Taliban 2.0, that was almost Social Democratic in a newly acquired commitment to reform. That the era when children, women, Hazara, Tajik and other non-Pashtuns were subjected to evident discrimination that was a feature of Taliban rule during 1996-2001 was over and that the “new” Taliban, although comprising of many elements of the old Taliban, was qualitatively different and could be relied upon to rule in an equitable manner. Such was indeed the mantra of the so-called “experts on Afghanistan” that had backed Clinton and subsequently Biden in their consigning to Taliban overlordship the Afghan people, individuals such as Zalmay Khalilzad or Barnett Rubin. If the CIA agrees with such an assessment, that organisation needs to get disbanded immediately, and its analysts need to work behind the counter of junk food stalls. The truth is that it is unlikely that such were the findings, although it is plausible that a liberal dash of rosewater was added to the findings of analysts and agents by those higher up the chain of command in the CIA, those of whom spend much of their time in the essential task of buttering up the politicians who are in charge of US agencies. Who can forget George Tenet, the CIA Director who served both Clinton and Bush, and who assured President Bush that his obsession with neutralising Saddam Hussein was not founded on prejudice rather than reason but was based on “Slam Dunk” evidence that Saddam had WMD? If DCIA Tenet knew where such stockpiles were, after the US-UK occupation of Iraq he declined to reveal them to the weapons inspectors, who came up with nothing in the way of WMD after months of enquiry.
A handful of analysts such as Bill Roggio in the FDD in Washington, not to mention the present writer, challenged the perception that there was now a Taliban 2.0. Instead, the only change in that collection of warlords was that the “new” Taliban had many more within their non-operational wings that spoke English. They knew exactly what buttons to press in their interactions with Atlanticist media and policymakers to make many believe the fiction peddled by the Rubins and the Khalilzads. Executions of those who assisted NATO in Afghanistan were instituted soon after “Taliban 2.0” took over Afghanistan as a consequence of Biden’s folly. This has been blamed by the 46th President on the 45th President, as though Biden was elected President merely to follow the agenda of Trump but without the orange hair.
Such killings continue, such that the number of such former auxiliaries of mainly US forces is shrinking almost by the day, and who are in much greater risk of death than the Ukrainians who are being welcomed across both sides of the Atlantic in a manner that is being used to suggest by rivals of the Atlantic Alliance that the reason is that they are European. There must be other reasons for such throbbing love, but in Asia, Africa and South America, if not yet in the African-American community in the US, the belief that such favouritism is based on ethnic considerations is widespread. The Afghan people deserved better, even if not all of them look the way Ukrainians do.
Adieu, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last CPSU General Secretary
That Russia would never be accepted as part of the ‘common European family’ by France, Britain and Germany was never comprehended by Gorbachev
His repeated forgiving of the efforts of Mahmud Ghori to bring down his kingdom and take away his life ensured that Prithviraj Chauhan was the tragic idealist who initiated the process of destroying the India that had endured for many millennia. He failed to recognise that in Ghori, he faced an opponent who sought nothing less than the destruction of an entire system of governance and its concomitant way of life. Each time Prithviraj spared his life, Ghori went back determined to succeed against the merciful ruler the next time around. Finally, Ghori’s day came with a pre-dawn attack that caught Prithviraj’s army unawares, most being deep in sleep. The Rajput princes of the time fought wars in a manner reminiscent of cricket, with set rules designed to make the contest a battle between chivalric foes. Their error was that as a collective as well as individually, the princes of the day failed to comprehend the systemic, the civilizational nature, of the battle that their foe to the north west was intent on waging. That easy, indeed facilitated and assisted plunder, created in their implacable foe an appetite to control the land and its people. In such a conflict, only a single side wins, and eventually that was not the side of Prithviraj.
In his final moments, as he was facing death at the hands of a foe who had from the start been implacable, the luckless Samrat may have understood the fatal error he had made in sparing the life of a foe with the ambition to transform the land and the people in his own image. Even after more than seven centuries of domination by the Mughals, that did not happen. In villages across India, in minds and in the homes of tens of millions, their belief systems remained intact in a manner that had not been the case in any other country taken over by those who had linked their confidence in victory to their belief and fealty to what they believed to be the message of the Almighty. Later, the Rubicon of cruelty was crossed by Aurangzeb, who as a consequence found himself not the protector of Mughal rule but its destroyer. The Marathas in particular, led by the charismatic military tactician Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, proved to impossible to subdue.
Wars within India opened the doors to conquest by the European powers, with the British establishing dominance over the subcontinent through the use of any means that they judged to be effective for the purpose. The age of chivalric combat had perished with the defeat and execution of Prithviraj, and from then onwards, wars were fought not by another version of the Marquis of Queensbury rules but freestyle. Anything was permitted to subdue the rival. It took the blow to the loyalty towards the British Raj of the Indian armed forces effectuated by Subhas Chandra Bose through the Indian National Army to make Whitehall realise that their time was up in India. Had it been Subhas Bose who had headed the freedom struggle rather than the hand-picked lawyer chosen by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, there may not have been a partition of India in 1947, nor perhaps the peeling away of Sri Lanka, Myanmar and other territories that had earlier been an intrinsic part of the subcontinent. Until Partition, Nehru had been adamant that he would not accept any status for the Muslim community different from that which existed for Hindus, aware of the harm that had been done by the separate electorates and partitions that had earlier been agreed to by the Bose-less Congress leadership.
Only after Partition did Nehru transition to a policy that in many ways sought the separation from the majority of the minorities in India. He instituted a difference in treatment that many regard as a repudiation of secularism while others claim that such an across-the-board separation of the Hindu majority and the rest of the population was on the contrary the essence of secularism. Thus was born Nehruvian secularism, in which rather than accept their common cultural DNA, Muslims and Hindus in particular were subjected to messaging that they were different from each other, an obviously erroneous notion that had been the foundation of M.A. Jinnah’s call to the British to divide the country before exiting it. This past quarter, the rate of growth of the economy has been 13.5%. This is the natural growth rate of the economy, given the abundant qualities of the people of India, although under its initial rulers, the growth rate hovered around 2% annually, breaking free of this only when P.V. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister. Incidentally, Rao was disliked, indeed despised, by the matriarch since the tragic death of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, Sonia Gandhi. Any individual who had the effrontery to argue that she should work to help Rao in his reforms rather than weaken him became an instant object of irritation and worse in her. Ultimately, the fissures in the Congress Party that resulted in the weakening of Narasimha Rao ensured the rise of the BJP. Understandably, A.B. Vajpayee had a soft corner for Sonia Gandhi throughout his six years in the PMH, the Prime Minister’s House.
Returning to Gorbachev, from the start of his ascent to the General Secretaryship of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he refused to accept the existential nature of the USSR-US battle that was waged during Cold War 1.0. This was much the way President Biden and some of the other leaders of the Atlantic Alliance have failed to understand the existential nature of the challenge being thrown by the CCP to the US-led alliance, a challenge most visible in the era of the supremacy of Xi Jinping over the CCP. When faced with the economic crisis caused by the statist policies inherited from the Brezhnev era, Gorbachev turned for assistance to the very countries intent on the downfall of the Soviet system. While there was indeed Glasnost, greater freedom of expression, during his time, the only Perestroika (reform) introduced under Gorbachev was to preside over one unconditional, unilateral surrender of USSR interests to the Atlantic Alliance. That Russia would never be accepted as part of the “common European family” by France, Britain and Germany was never comprehended by Gorbachev, although it was by Vladimir Putin, after nearly six years of effort seeking to enter on honourable terms “our common European home” (Putin’s view at the time) proved fruitless. The USSR was eventually destroyed by its lack of substantive Perestroika, but that demise was speeded up by the folly of Gorbachev in handing over the keys to the survival of the USSR to the hands of its most implacable foes. Small wonder that the Gorbymania unleashed by the demise of the last CPSU General Secretary is not shared within his own country.
The silly season is back, rather, it is always silly season when it comes to western media’s coverage of India. But this time there is a sudden increase in the number of anti-India articles in the western legacy media to mark 75 years of India’s Independence. Headlines such as “At 75, India’s democracy is under pressure like never before” and “Modi’s India is where global democracy dies” ring the death knell of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reading these articles the following thoughts come to mind: it is as if the Prime Minister of the country was not elected with a landslide in a completely free, fair and hard-fought election; as if regular elections do not take place in the country; as if Opposition parties do not win elections at the state level; as if the government was not forced to backtrack even on its landmark reforms in a sector as critical as agriculture because of opposition from a handful of interest groups from a tiny state; it is as if there is state mandated discrimination of minority groups; as if the media is not robust; as if the judiciary and other institutions are not independent and powerful. One can go on and on. The problem is, some people have decided that since a particular government is not to their liking, hence it signifies the end of democracy in India. The hatred for Narendra Modi as a person and leader increases the aggravation as well as the fact that these people do not see any light at the end of their tunnel because of the inability of the Opposition parties, particularly the Congress, to come to power at the Centre. So, whatever be the positive indices about India, whatever be the ground reality, they have already written the headline that democracy has died in Modi’s India. And now they just need to write the story—the fiction.
75 years after Independence, India’s fault lines are a product of its history and in keeping with its character. To blame them on the last eight years of the current government is to be economical with the truth. If there is division in society, it has been always there—Partition is proof of that. Papering over that reality led to appeasement and gave the majority a minority complex. Indian society is as good or as bad as it has always been. Things have not worsened in the last eight years. At the most, the majority community has become more vocal, and cast aside a few old shibboleths such as secularism, which in practice, is anything but. India is still as complex and colourful as any democracy of its size is expected to be. If anything has changed, it is for the better—India has become a more aspirational society, which is bound to happen with economic prosperity. India is also more open now, apart from more confident. None of this would have been possible if there was a despotic government in power.
Just because Rahul Gandhi says that democracy is dead in India, does not make that a fact. His party’s, rather his family’s inability to win elections, is their own doing. To say that he is not being allowed to win elections is to cast aspersions on India’s institutions. If democracy has died anywhere, it is in his own party—in fact, it has died a thousand deaths ever since the oldest political party of India has been converted into a family enterprise. So, to take Rahul Gandhi’s words as indicator of the state of democracy in India amounts to spreading deliberate disinformation.
It is this same western legacy media that will uphold Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s imposition of emergency and the use of force to counter anti vaccine protesters as legitimate, but will call the Indian government fascist even if it erects a barrier to stop protesters from entering the national capital and spreading mayhem.
It is ironic that a Jeff Bezos-owned newspaper can express worries about the state of the Indian media when an Indian corporate giant buys stakes in Indian TV channel. What is even more appalling is that many of these legacy media outlets, particularly one published from Los Angeles, will regularly publish supplements on authoritarian China, singing paeans to Chinese governance, while berating India for the “lack of democracy”. There has to be a limit to hypocrisy, to double standards.
India at 75 is a miracle. That democracy has survived, nay thrived in this country, in spite of all the odds, is a miracle in itself. If the western media is blind to this fact, it is because they wear blinkers and are motivated by ideological or pecuniary reasons. No wonder, it is so difficult to take western legacy media seriously.
Digital literacy, innovation keys to transformation
Digital transformation is an unstoppable development with far-fetched ramifications across the several domains of technology, policies, economy, and society. India’s innate want to participate in it manifests in the Digital Dream, the intent of which is layered in the National Digital Communication Policy 2018. The dream is to “transform into a digitally connected society that enables seamless access to and use of information resources that help create a competitive, innovative and knowledge-based society”. Despite the veritable intent, there are challenges, the most crucial being defining a path to realize this dream by balancing the realities.
Beyond the requirements of the supporting ecosystem of power adequacy, interrupted internet with adequate speed, and device affordability, there exists the ability and willingness to use and adapt to the technology environment. Proceeding with digital transformation without ensuring the presence of these elements risks a digital divide and marginalization. It risks exclusion of group or groups of people from participating in the social, economic, political or cultural processes essential for social inclusion. This would be in direct contradiction to the spirit of the Indian Digital Dream shared above.
Despite overall improvements, issues about the inadequacy of the supporting ecosystem remain. According to the “Household Social Consumption: Education” survey by NSO (2017-18), only 4% of rural and 23% of urban households possessed computers. Just 24% of the households in the country had internet access, which drops to 15% for rural households. According to the 2019 TRAI report titled “Wireless Data Services in India,” less than 50% of the population has access to wireless data services. The current appreciation of digital literacy as shared under Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Shakshrata Mission appears limited to the operation of digital devices and the ability to browse the internet besides undertaking digital payments. However, under evolving realities, there is an urgent need to widen it to include awareness and inculcate an attitude to enhance the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats and from various sources. The requirement goes way beyond just the technical knowledge to operate devices properly. It highlights the need to elevate awareness and cognition that instill the ability and responsibility to interpret media and evaluate and apply new knowledge emanating from digital environments, necessitating the ability to communicate, participate and collaborate.
Limitations in digital literacy, especially in terms of the notion highlighted above, can result in several inconveniences, one of the most prominent ones being increased exposure to cybercrimes. According to the 2021 Internet Crime Report by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, India ranked fourth among top 20 international victim nations after US, UK and Canada, way ahead of the peer group nations like Brazil, China, and Argentina. Prevalence of such instances can inhibit technology adoption in the absence of clearly defined, easily understandable, implementable policies supported by the governance structure in the country.
Besides, policies must be vigilant in balancing the multifaceted relationship between technology and inequality. While it is true that technologies help accelerate economic growth, there is a need to ensure that the benefits get distributed equitably, which need not be an automatic outcome.
Technology adoption while sustaining competitiveness can significantly impact the composition and nature of jobs and relative wages and income. In reality, technology and automation are gradually replacing repetitive manual and routine tasks known as middle-skill jobs, i.e. occupations whose wages place them in the middle of the wage distribution like those for drivers, cashiers, secretaries etc. Simultaneously technology adoption can facilitate a rising share of high-skilled jobs as well. This can exacerbate wage, and income equality, wherein high-skilled workers, witness higher wages and income.
In contrast, the low-skilled workers languish, competing with the displaced middle-skilled workers. Different estimates of the share of such jobs at risk due to technology and automation are especially high in developing countries, as shared in UN World Social Report 2020. For India, estimates of shares of jobs at risk of being lost to automation due to technology usage are more than 50 per cent. Hence it is necessary to promote cooperation across and within countries to exploit technology dividends. Internationally, United Nations Technology Mechanism and United Nations technology banks for LDCs are a step in the right direction. Besides any other form of inducements for bilateral and multilateral cooperation mechanisms, must enjoy some policy priority. Within the country, an active framework for reskilling displaced workers and support for transition to new jobs could enhance technology adoption besides those designed toward taming economic rents.
However, the principal amongst them is to develop a policy mindset geared toward promoting inclusive technologies and innovations that can disseminate technology dividends across the broader range of economic agents in society. More so as we step towards being the most populous nation in the world in 2023, according to the UN report on World Population and Prospects 2022. It is strictly up to us how we want to reap demographic dividends by ushering in more inclusive technologies and innovations.
The author is Professor Economics, Environment & Policy Area, IMT Ghaziabad.
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