Friday, May 14, 2004

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Regarding India

Josh Chafetz has assigned me the homework task of explaining the ramifications of the surprising Indian elections for India's economic development and relations with Pakistan.

Actually, I think the links Chafetz provides in his post do a fair job of capturing some of the dynamics. As this Washington Post editorial points out, it wasn't an increase in poverty that caused the BJP to fall:

Mr. Vajpayee is said to have been punished for the pro-market reforms that fostered India's high-tech boom; voters in the villages felt left out and took their revenge at the ballot box. This suggests that even the world's most successful economic reformers run big political risks. India conducted poverty surveys in 1993 and '94 and again in 1999 and 2000; over that period, the rural poverty rate fell from 37 percent to 30 percent, so the idea that the villagers have not benefited from India's growth is spurious. Given India's continued boom since 2000, poverty in the villages has almost certainly fallen further. Mr. Vajpayee apparently got no thanks for this.

Salman Rushdie suggests that it wasn't rural poverty so much as growing inequality that triggered this outcome:

The Indian battle for centrality in the debate about the country's future has always been, to some degree, a battle between the city and the village. It is between, on the one hand, the urbanized, industrialized India favored by both the socialist-inclined Jawaharlal Nehru and the free-market architects of "India Shining," the new India in which a highly successful capitalist class has transformed the heights of the economy; and, on the other hand, the agricultural, homespun India beloved of Mahatma Gandhi, the immense countryside India where three-quarters of the population still lives and which has not benefited in the slightest from the recent economic boom.

It's no accident that the ruling alliance lost heavily in Andhra Pradesh and in Tamil Nadu, precisely the states that wooed information technology giants such as Microsoft to set up shop, turning sleepy "second cities" such as Madras, Bangalore and Hyderabad into new-tech boom towns. That's because while the rich got richer, the fortunes of the poor, such as the farmers of Andhra, declined year by year. The gulf between India's rich and poor has never looked wider than it does today, and the government has fallen into that chasm.

Rushdie also points out the numerous sins of the government in power -- particularly it's hidden-hand role in the 2002 pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat. The Economist provides an excellent summary account as well.

My quick answers to Josh's questions -- the election returns aren't going to affect all that much of India's policy, except that there will be a ratcheting up of anti-American rhetoric. Congress has repeatedly said that its committed to the liberalization program -- and 8% GDP growth buys a lot more rural development aid than the 4% growth that would come if liberalization stalled. Relations with Pakistan might worsen a bit, in the sense that the BJP, as Hindu nationalists, had the credibility to compromise. Congress might not have that margin of error.

UPDATE: Looks like India's financial markets are less sanguine than I about the election results.

posted by Dan on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM


I claim no particular expertise regarding India. Still, I strongly suspect that economic liberalism will continue mostly unabated. This genie will not go back into the bottle willingly. It seems to me that the consensus opinion of its citizens is scornful of socialism. By the way, speaking of why some people might hate the United States---we did enormous damage during the Kennedy administration by sending John Kenneth Galbraith to serve as our ambassador to India.

posted by: David Thomson on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

I think the points made by Rushdie are valid, in that the growing gap among the rural and the urban sectors, and the widening economic gap led a lot of people to vote for the congress Party. However, I dont think it was galbraith that turned Indian and the Congress Party into pro-Soviet, anti-American camp. The Congress Party led by Nehru was quite influenced by the Soviet experiment, and most of the Indian leaders of the period were Uk educated fabian Socialists, or were influenced by Socialists, so they started off with an inherent disdain of capitalism, and thus by association, America. The Congress party of today, is made up of people who will try to play a balancing game, but, given their history, it is likely they will join the European and other countries in the anti-American camp. On the question of a deal with Pakistan, i wonder if any progress will be made, because in the past the Congress Party has used the Pakistan-as-boogeyman card to cover up their own failed policies, andthe ever present corruption in all levels of government.

posted by: ronin on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

I think the one thing that may hold Congress back economically is their strong support from the Communist parties. Of course, that all depends on whether they want Bengal-communism or Kerala-communism, but we'll have to wait and see.

posted by: Adrianne Truett on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

“I dont think it was galbraith that turned Indian and the Congress Party into pro-Soviet, anti-American camp.”

John Kenneth Galbraith most certainly did not discourage India’s elites from opting for socialist solutions. Moreover, this mediocre thinker thought that Communism was essentially as productive as American Capitalism. It is amazing how difficult it is for some folks to candidly admit that the Kennedy administration may have inadvertently caused more harm than good in the Third World.

posted by: David Thomson on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

In a curious kind of way, India is a lot like the US. Globalization, outsourcing, and free trade are a big net plus. The problem is it isn't obvious. In India you have poor farmers with a few acres of land who have been doing the same thing for generations suddenly seeing people a few miles away driving cars, getting phones, and living the good life. It brings up two emotions, fear and envy. They want it to, but they think the state should give it to them. They don't understand that you can't keep doing what you've always done and make any progress.

It's the same in the US. It's easy for a politician to come around and claim that I'll give you what you 'deserve'. Ignoring the whole religious angle, I think that's what happened, the BJP fell victims to their own success. These things take time, and voters are not patient.

posted by: niucons on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

India is enjoying too much prosperity from their association with America. After all, we sent all our good tech jobs there. India is one of the few places left in the world where it is actually a benefit to have studied and worked in the United States.

For a comprehensive group of links to news and opinion around the world, check out my web site, ALL Things Political.

posted by: David Broadus on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

I am not quite sure what you mean by saying that BJP had the credibility to compromise and Congress may not have that margin of error.

As for the rest of the worries, well, liberalisation was started by Dr. Manmohan Singh, and thus, the Congress.

posted by: Ritu on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Singh may have started the liberalization ball rolling but after his departure from power Congress seemed move against liberalizing the economy - whether this was just the natural tendency of opposition parties to play to those not benefiting from the changes I'm not sure.

I suspect that it was the newly prosperous middle classes, entrepreneurs, etc. who pushed the BJP towards peace with Pakistan. Nuclear crises are not good for attracting foreign investment and clients. If the new government also tries to base its legitimacy on economic growth spurred by foreign trade and investment it too will have an incentive to pursue good relations with Pakistan to reduce tensions. The same holds true for relations with the US - bashing the US in every international forum will make it harder for their American partners to hold the line against anti-"outsourcing" legislation in the US.

However if it follows a statist economic policy trying to redistribute benefits through the bureaucrats to the rural poor it will not get the support of these new urban classes anyway and may well resort to jingoism to mask its economic failures. Whether this will be aimed at the US or Pakistan is unclear - only a really foolish party would try to take on both at once.

However even if Congress tries to pursue good relations with Pakistan it may have trouble. I get the impression that good relations between Vajpayee and Musharef required the two men to work well together to deal with the inevitable bumps in the road; not to mention the Nixon going to China syndrome that the BJP could employ - how would Gandhi handle a terrorist attack on the parliament? Further just the impression that the less nationalistic Congress (and maybe Gandhi as a foreigner and a woman) might be less resolute on defense might embolden hardliners in Pakistan to think that they could win a showdown with her.

Will Congress try to steal those BJP policies that have worked or will they reflexive oppose whatever the BJP stood for? I think the most likely course is a period of indecision as a Congress, which really did not expect to be the next government, wrestles with these issues.

posted by: Kevin on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

As an Indian and student of South Asian politics, who's followed the elections quite closely, I have this to say:

First, you don't mention the 'India Shining' campaign at all. I was home for 6 weeks over Christmas, and even at that stage, months away from the elections, we were bombarded with images and ads telling us how India was 'shining'. Now, despite my left wing views (and let's get that sorted at the start), I will admit that life has gotten better for the middle class in India. However, I cannot claim to speak for the vast masses of the country. It's been argued by political commentators like Mahesh Rangarajan, that many among these poor found the 'India Shining' campaign incredibly offensive. You will also notice that most of the Indian media ignores the agricultural sector as P. Sainath points out in a recent article.

Also, when you say that poverty declined from 37-30%, perhaps you need to take population increase in that period into account as well. So we might find (I'm not a statistician, so I can't do this...), that the total number below the poverty line remains the same. Secondly, I'm sure you are aware of the huge debates over how the poverty line in India is defined. Various government agencies and economists have suggested various ways, depending on which side of the political spectrum they are. So it might be worthwhile to see if this decline is according to the same parameter. I don't think this is an 'anti-reform' vote. I think the Indian electorate is a mature one (something that the Western media doesn't always recognize) and this is a mature mandate, not just an 'anti reform' backlash.

The elections were called because many believed that a good monsoon would help the BJP to get into power. What the BJP forgot was that last year saw one of the worst droughts in north Indian history in about a decade. And the BJP's inability to deal with that was certainly a factor.

Next, I think you also need to take into account the Andhra loss. Because the BJP by itself hasn't done all that badly, perhaps except in UP and Maharashtra- it has been badly let down by its allies, notably the TDP. Again, the Andhra performance is linked to poor agricultural reforms. It's all right for Naidu to turn Hyderabad into a cyber city- but he's also given to strange measures like removing history from the syllabus and replacing it with fashion technology because that's more 'useful' than history! Anyway, that bit apart, Andhra has seen many suicides by farmers unable to cope with increasing debt and Naidu's policies did nothing to alleviate that. Many of his populist policies failed to deliver the goods- and the Andhra economy, on the whole, barring IT, is in quite a mess.

Next, I do agree with some of the above comments that say that yes, economic liberalization will continue under the Congress because this is now in some ways an inexorable process. Also, I wouldn't see the Communists as too much of a threat- look at my home state of Bengal. The communist government there has been wooing foreign investors with a vengeance. I would pay greater attention to what the communists do rather than what they say- there's often a wide gap between that.

For those of us who despaired about Gujarat, and increasing communalization, I think there is some hope now. (This despite the fact that the Congress was to blame for the '84 Sikh riots, and the failure of the 'secular' state under both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi gave space for Hindu communalism to flourish). But I suspect that the Congress will be a lot more careful in what it does, because it gained a substantial chunk of the Muslim vote in UP. However, that hope is tempered by the realisation that the BJP might react to this loss by reverting to its more hardline Hindutva agenda.

As a historian, I am incredibly glad the BJP is gone. They've 're-written' our textbooks, distorted history for their own ends, they've tried to break the autonomy of some of our most successful academic institutions (the Indian Institutes of Management) and carried out the worst pogrom against the minorities since Independence. Their inability to tackle dissent (look at the Tehelka case) and their frequent use of censorship has appalled and worried many. Sanitary napkin ads, and ads for condoms were banned from TV, because they would 'corrupt' our moral fibre. This in a nation with a serious AIDS problem. The sanitary napkin ads were banned because the Informationa and Broadcasting Minister was asked by her 14 year old daughter what they were, and apparently she (this is a woman called Sushma Swaraj) had no answer for her daughter! This is a government that has heckled journalists who dared to criticise the PM, and banned films that dared to speak out against its policies.

What about foreign policy? The Pakistan peace initiative was one of the few highlights of the Vajpayee government. Note that this came in the months leading up to the elections, which makes me a trifle cynical about its timing. But that apart, I don't think the Congress is going to launch an anti-Pakistan tirade on assuming office. The real reason why the peace initiatives were a success was public pressure to see peace being restored to the subcontinent and in Kashmir (and some would say perhaps US pressure too?). Be that as it may, as long as this continues, the Congress will find it hard to go back on this policy. I'm not sure why you think anti-Americanism will increase: the Congress has surely moved a long way away from its pro-USSR stand of the Nehru period. What I am worried about is that we might start playing Big Brother again in the subcontinent as we did during the Rajiv era, with disastrous consequences.

Finally, what about having a foreigner as PM? I have no issues with Sonia's foreign origins, but I am worried by her complete lack of experience. I am incredibly annoyed and frustrated that the Congress has to rely on one dynasty to bring it votes, and I am incredibly proud of the idiosyncratic liberalness of my country that will soon have a white, Roman Catholic woman as its next Prime Minister repudiating the BJP's xenophobic campaign against her.

posted by: Antara Datta on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Its interesting that debate regarding the Indian elections is carried out using information from the Washington Post and the New York Times. It is an elementary truism that India has a very vibrant domestic discourse and a political spectrum that far transcends the narrow bounds in countries like the US. Moreover, while the Indian media has numerous defects, we dont see the kind of alignment with state-power that is obvious in the American media: hence, it would make sense to discuss Indian elections using the Hindu or the Dainik Bhaskar or the Outlook ... sadly this debate seems to be set in the mould of Western Orientalist discourse.

One obvious consequence of this is the howler that rural poverty rates have declined and that villages have seen an improved standard of living. It requires remarkable disconnect from reality(and from domestic Indian discourse) to make such a statement.

Poverty rates declined because the Indian government switched over to World Bank prescriptions to measuring poverty. In particular, this involved questioning people about their 'weekly consumption' rather than their 'monthly consumption'. Since the sampling method changed, poverty rates declined! It requires little knowledge of statistics to see that this is spurious.

Now, if Mr. Drezner had been mildly perceptive, he would have noticed that virtually every other indicator of human development showed a drop in the standards of living. Unfortunately, he is not.

Moreover, it is interesting that Drezner uses the term 'anti-American' rhetoric showing further disconnect with reality. To anybody who has spoken to ordinary Indians, it should be obvious that anti-imperialist feeling is very strong. And taxi-drivers in India are capable of sizing up at a glance the aims of America's brutal and atrocious foreign policy ... a feat that the American middle-class and American intellectuals seem incapable of performing.

Recent polls show that a majority of American are *still* unaware of the fact that they were grotesquely misled over the war. I have *never* in any American media outlet seen a detailed discussion of the human consequences of the war in Iraq on the Iraqi people. [If we estimate using figures from IBC, Medact and journalists like Robert Fisk/Dahr Jamail the most conservative figure Iraqi civlians and troops is 50,000 dead(I can add more details here if people like)]. And what is one to make of the lunatic perception that the US desires 'democracy' in Iraq and how is one to reconcile that with US support for dictators all over the world starting with Islam Karimov[Uzbekistan] and going on to King Gyanendra[Nepal]?

Ordinary Indians and people all over the world are capable of determining that American foreign policy is driven by a small ruling elite in the US and is highly insensitive to its effects on human beings. Any ruling coalition would have to take this popular feeling into account and it would require a government with strong fascist tendencies[like the BJP was] to align Indian foreign policy with the US.

Hardly a rise in 'anti-American' rhetoric'.

posted by: Suvrat Raju on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Wow !!! We have a Chomskyite, leftist Mr Raju, who , true to form, sees no anti_american rhetoric. Well, well, well, If Raju-Sahib thinks that the congress and the previous Congress(I)'s foreign policies, which were virulently anti-American and anti-Israeli were based upon sound analysis, I have a bridge to sell him. We can all look forward to cronyism, corruption at all levels of govt and public life. BTW, Rajo-Sahib, just so you know, I lived in Assam through the 80's and early 90's, when the Congress and its cronies carried out an anti-Assamese campaign - it was like living in Gen galtieri's Argentina

posted by: ronin on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Go Ronin!

None of the commenters here has mentioned (some are no doubt unaware of) the cast of characters Sonia is now to "lead" into the promised land. Mamata in Bengal, Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu, Laloo in Bihar--these folks could give loony regional demagoguery a bad name.

There is no way Congress will be able (though I admit, they will most likely try) to maintain the momentum of reform with these "allies" in tow. The economy will falter, and India will slip further behind the rest of Asia. The leadership in Beijing is having a toast this evening to events in India.

Sad, really. India was sooo close.

posted by: Kelli on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Raju-Sahib - except for teh academic elite, folks connected to the ruling elite, and a few communist and socialist types, there is no great anti-imperialist sentiment!!! Most Indians, given the monety or the opportunity, would gladly move to the USA, and the average Indian is smarter that you give him or her credit for.
The Congress Party won, not because of some great qualities or great policies, but, because Indians dont have a choice. it is indeed sad to see a wonderful country going to hell in a ahndbasket, thanks to the losers Indians have for politicians. That is prpbably one of the reasons why a lot of Indians like me chose to leave Indian for good, and make the "imperialist" USa my home.

posted by: ronin on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Well one thing it shows is that official statistics, rosy growth profiles, hi pr value "star" hiprofile projects, and a lot of rhetoric from academic and elites may win the media war but leave untouched the sentiments of the "man on the street". I would suggest that people who think globalism as a meme has won widespread acceptance by the lack of outspoken current outrage have yet to win the real battle. The sentiments of the average person are up for grabs, and they won't settle for less than results.

That is the real lesson here.

posted by: Oldman on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Some far-out lefty wrote:

"One obvious consequence of this is the howler that rural poverty rates have declined and that villages have seen an improved standard of living. It requires remarkable disconnect from reality(and from domestic Indian discourse) to make such a statement."

The only reality Drezner is connected to is the reality of being Media whore.

posted by: Homer Pile on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

David Thomson writes:

"I claim no particular expertise regarding India. Still, I strongly suspect that economic liberalism will continue mostly unabated."


India, Indiana - who cares? Free Trade Uber Alles! Free Drug Trade and Legalize voluntary slavery!

posted by: Morons rule! on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Did some brainiac leftist just mockingly write "Legalize voluntary slavery."

Voluntary slavery? That oxymoron demonstrates perfectly just how extravagantly bogus the shibboleths of the Left have become.


posted by: Kerf on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

The FT dialed it in a couple weeks ago:

"Very simply, about 1m Indians work in air-conditioned software campuses and call centres; but more than 600m live in villages, over half of them without access to clean water, electricity or even a road. In Andhra, for instance, there have been hundreds of suicides among farmers, in despair because of drought and hunger, and food procurement prices skewed towards rich farmers that have filled state granaries with rotting rice and wheat.

"India's tiny industrial base - even with vigorous (part monsoon-fuelled) growth - cannot create the millions of jobs needed to provide such people with a living, and will not be able to unless the country opens up much more to foreign manufacturers.
"Part of the message from voters, therefore, seems to be a demand for attention to rural India - via investment in infrastructure such as roads, wells and irrigation, and above all via land reform.
"Those who would rule India could usefully steal a leaf from West Bengal, the only state to have carried out a thorough land reform - resulting in the re-election of the Communists six times in 27 years. The obvious limitations of their rule have shown why this is insufficient. But their electoral success has shown why it is so necessary - as India's raucous voters seem to be signalling to all their rulers."
...and IBM, btw, is setting up shop in West Bengal...

Also, Manmohan Singh looks to become Finance Minister, which should put to rest fears that economic reforms will not continue. Afterall, he began them more than a decade ago. As for Galbraith :D

"When John Kenneth Galbraith joined the staff of Fortune magazine, his first project was to prepare a blueprint for America's transition to a postwar economy. The article was based on projections from the GNP accounts. 'One good reason for expecting prosperity after the war is the fact that we can lay down its specifications,' the article said. 'For this we can thank a little-observed but spectacular improvement in the statistical measures of the current output of the U.S. plant.'"

"...These developments set the course for economic policy and reportage for the next fifty years. The ironies have been many. If it is odd that liberal Democrats would turn the principles of a war economy into the permanent template for government, it is no less so that Republicans would latch fervently onto a measure of well-being that was basically a tool of central government planning."
posted by: drk on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

The Bush Kiss of Death

First it was Aznar, next Vajpayee - is Tony Blair next?

It appears that electorates across the world are punishing those who went out of their way to support the Bush administration's ideas and initiatives. Foreign policy may not be the most important issue that affects grassroots politics that in turn determines electoral verdicts but the Bush administration's consistent failure to return any political bang to its keenest democratic supporters may cause it to lose more than public opinion of its allies.

The Bush administration has taken democracies for granted, while taking special care to provide goodies to shore up its autocratic allies: Musharraf was able to get his pound of flesh from the United States at a tremendous cost to the Vajpayee government in India.

[See Jim Hoagland's op-ed in the WaPo]

posted by: Nitin on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Is the endgame approaching for Blair? It's too early to say. But the Prime Minister, who backed President George W. Bush fully on the Iraq war, is feeling incessant heat over his decision -- and watching his position slide in the polls. A May 11 survey by London research consultancy Populus Ltd. for The Times of London showed support for Labour trailing the Conservatives by four percentage points, a 17-year low.
Labour is bracing itself for a thrashing in local and European Parliament elections set for June 10. That vote is seen as a dry run for the next general election, expected next spring. "Blair is in a lot of trouble," says Wyn Grant, politics professor at the University of Warwick. Indeed, he adds, Labour's campaign for the June vote, in which 6,000 local and 78 European parliamentary seats are up for grabs, shows the party "is running scared."
posted by: Tintin on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

It is interesting to see the NDA's defeat variously attributed to an anti-liberalization backlash, an anti-poor policy, "hindu nationalism" and such assorted things. The fact is that this election seems to have been governed by local factors. Both the major national parties-the BJP and the Congress party have lost voting shares at the expense of other regional formations. While this election is a defeat for the NDA, it is by no means an endorsement of either the left parties or the Congress party. The NDA lost power because two of its coalition partners lost heavily in two southern states, and the BJP lost seats in Uttar Pradesh to the SP and the BSP. The seats lost in South India amounted to about 60 parliamentary seats-enough to make a difference between the treasury benches and the opposition seats in Parliament. The 30 seats in Tamil Nadu which the AIADMK lost were due to a well established pattern of the electorate in that state always voting against the state govt party in Parliamentary elections. The BJP had the choice to side with the winning party (the DMK), but made a bad electoral alliance with the state's ruling party instead. The loss in Andhra Pradesh has been due to a simple anti-incumbency factor against another coalition partner-the Telegu Desam, which has been in power in the state for about 9 years. Also, Andhra Pradesh's economic performance has been less than stellar inspite of Mr Naidu's much vaunted interest in economic development. The congress has also made steady inroads into his support base since the last state elections.

Regarding foreign policy and defence, I don't think that there are likely to be any major shifts, especially in relations with the U.S. There is a great deal of continuity in external affairs regardless of the party in power, because these policies are most often the result of a general political consensus. The existing geopolitical realities are more likely to dictate this policy rather than any differences in party ideology. There might of course be a difference in the rhetoric associated with foreign policy.

Even with economic policies, the governments immediately preceding the recently voted out NDA govt were backed by left wing parties, and economic policy still continued on the free market track. I think this is likely to be the case now as well. Even if the left opposes disinvestment and other economic policy, the Congress is likely to push these through with support from the opposition. There is a precedent for this from the early 1990's when there was a minority congress govt in power, and it began the liberalization process with support from the BJP and others, who were in the opposition, as they are now. It is likely though that this government would be somewhat unstable and not last longer than a couple of years. Much depends on Mrs Gandhi's political skills.

posted by: anon on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

“It appears that electorates across the world are punishing those who went out of their way to support the Bush administration's ideas and initiatives.”

Thank God that we have President Bush during this dangerous era. Many of our “allies” wish to wimp out on the war on terrorism. We must remain firm if civilization is to be saved. Nitin almost certainly supports John Kerry. In other words, a vote for Kerry is minimally an inadvertent vote for evil.

posted by: David Thomson on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

The reason many evil racist orientalists such as myself see anti-American sentiment in Congress is from reading Indian sources, Mr. Raju. The Hindu, rather pro-Congress, regularly runs editorials critical of America; Sangh websites, on the other hand, often adore American foreign policy (seeing it as anti-Muslim, more often than not, but not anti-Pakistan enough).

I will agree with you on the poverty rate question, however -- that is, that it has changed due to a change in methods, not in reality. For a laugh, though: you'd be surprised how many non-orientalist westerners hear about poverty levels and think that means that 70 percent of Indians make $14,000 a year living alone, $17,000 with one dependent, etc. (or whatever the numbers are for the US poverty line).

posted by: Adrianne Truett on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

It is curious though perhaps predictable that people did not realise why I objected to the phrase 'anti-American' rhetoric.

The phrase suggests an irrational dislike of 'America'. Leaving aside the question of what 'America' means, this is ridiculous. People all over the world dislike the policies of the American government because these policies affect them adversely.

Indeed, in West Asia and North Africa itself, we find that the US has launched coups against elected governments(Mossadeq -- Iran), supported despots(Hosni Mubarak, Anwar Sadat), facilitated Israel's murderous treatment of the Palestinians, bombed Iraq in 1990(killing 200,000 people and destroying civil infrastructure), imposed sanctions leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and then invaded Iraq again.

We may just as well leave out other aspects of US foreign policy -- kidnapping presidents in Haiti, sponsoring terrorists in Nicaragua & Afgahnistan, supporting genocide in East Timor, conducting genocide in Vietnam(the US army slaughtered 5 million people) -- the list goes on an on...

Next, we may wish to problematize the word 'American'. It is evident that ordinary people in America do not benefit from these policies, indeed standards of living for the bottom 90% of the population have gone down in real terms since 1970.

Hence we join children all over the world in the radical-revolutionary conclusion-- requiring great perception to grasp -- that US government policy is atrocious: murderous outside the borders of North America and exploitative within.

posted by: Suvrat Raju on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

A question for Suvrat: which American post-grad program are you currently enrolled at? I'm guessing Columbia, but I'd love to hear.

posted by: Kelli on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

About Anti-American rhetoric: America is in an uncomfortable 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' position - too big not to impact every corner of the globe, she seems to irk some group or the other whatever she does, or doesn't. The same people who flay the US for rushing into Iraq also criticised it for not gettying sooner into Bosnia. The same ones who question the pre-emption doctrine in iraq label inaction in North korean- Pakistani nuke proliferation scandal disturbing.
To those ascribing 'imperialistic' and 'hegemonistic' tendencies to the US, what would you rather have - a France? Russia? China? or worse Saudi? weilding such enormous power? I'm definitive that hadany of these countries been the predominant world power, the rest of the world would then have known what 'arrogance' and 'hegemony' really mean. I'd say if there was to be a superpower at all, let it best be America.
On a smaller, regional scale, India is viewed similarly in (non-pak) South Asia. People in Nepal, Bangladesh, SriLanka etc are 'unhappy' with India and resentful of her perceived big-brotherliness. I've seen anti-India rallies in Kathmandu and Bangladesh for reasons I didn't quite get then. Simply put, India is simply too big not to matter in South Asia, if we do something, we attract criticism; if we don't, we get criticised for doing nothing! Well, my question is let these small countries be happy that it was India that turned out to be the dominant force in South Asia - a pak or a china in this position would've cowed them into silence if not swallowed them raw!

posted by: Voleti on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

David - I find it most surprising that you equate my comments with a vote for Kerry, or even for India to 'wimp' out of the war on terror.

The fact is, the Bush administration is the one wimping out on the war on terror. By coddling 'our stand up man' Musharraf, the US has not been able to stamp out the Taliban, Al-Qaeda or assorted Jehadis so many years after 9/11. Why is Afghanistan still such a scary place for anyone to go to? Why is there jehadi violence in Kashmir? Why are Shia muslims still being targeted in Pakistan? Terror is still around, but the Bush people are stuck in Iraq.

I have consistently argued (both before and after the insurgency got bad) for India to send forces to Iraq. But as the India electorate pointed out by voting out Vajpayee, there was nothing by way of reciprocal support coming from the Bush administration.

Its easy for the real issues to be lost in a Bush v Kerry debate, but let me spell it out: if the US continues to treat its democratic allies badly, it s going to find itself all alone.

posted by: Nitin on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Adrianne Truett writes:

"For a laugh, though: you'd be surprised how many non-orientalist westerners hear about poverty levels and think that means that 70 percent of Indians make $14,000 a year living alone"

I have never understood why current or former residents of the third world sewer holes expect westerners to know anything about their countries. Especially when most important facts (arranged marriages, dowry, 30% illiteracy, 70% without indoor plumbing) are studiously avoided by multi-culti media.

posted by: Homer Pile on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Nitin writes:

"I have consistently argued (both before and after the insurgency got bad) for India to send forces to Iraq. But as the India electorate pointed out by voting out Vajpayee, there was nothing by way of reciprocal support coming from the Bush administration."

So generous of you to "consistently argue". So Bushies failed to "reciprocally support" Vajpay, "reciprocal support" they owe him because of your "consistent argument"? What India has done for us besides voting against USA as often as Iran?

What are you smoking?

posted by: Homer Pile on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Kelli, mouse over his name: Suvrat's at Harvard. (But it does take a participant in a post-grad program to argue that coups against elected governments is bad, support for "despots" is bad, but opposition to Israel is good, doesn't it?)

posted by: David Nieporent on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

"and journalists like Robert Fisk"

Isn't calling Robbie a "journalist" an underhanded insult to most practitioners of that trade?

Regards, Döbeln

-Stabil som fan!

posted by: Döbeln on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]


Thanks for the tip--it was a "wild" guess that turned out (whoda thunk it?) to be close to the mark. No doubt Suvrat enjoys the benefits of a generous grant derived, somewhere down the line, from a despotic, exploitative business tycoon hoping to wash clean his/her bloody hands in the pursuit of higher things.


If there is any rationality to markets, Indian investors bolting en masse for the door is not a promising omen for the new Gandhi raj. I stand by my earlier, pessimistic prediction. This will set back India's push toward economic growth and freedom significantly. We'll have to wait and see how Congress and its allies--whose power centers lay, for the most part, outside the major growth areas of the country--handle the golden goose of the high tech sector.

posted by: Kelli on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Dear Homer Pile,

You say:

I have never understood why current or former residents of the third world sewer holes expect westerners to know anything about their countries. Especially when most important facts (arranged marriages, dowry, 30% illiteracy, 70% without indoor plumbing) are studiously avoided by multi-culti media.

First,thanks for calling my country a sewer hole. Makes me glad that whatever my country has/hasn't done,it at least hasn't produced in me the blatant racism you seem to possess. In fact, I am rather proud of my country's eclectic diversity.

Ohhh,and talking of all that's gone wrong. Well the reason you westerners never hear about anything that's gone right, is because it doesn't make the news right? Dear Mr Resident of a Liberal Democracy, the constituency I belong to has just elected a woman Member of Parliament for the fifth time. And no,she rose from the grassroots, (do a google search on mamata banerjee) and is not a result of dynastic politics. dear mr homer pile, who is so glad not to reside in a sewer hole, was it ur country that created a ruckus about hilary clinton holding on to her maiden surname?
was it ur country that actually denied blacks civil rights till the 1960s?

and i study in a non Indian univ now, and i searched for the syllabi of 'south asian politics' courses in all US univs- all they talk about is poverty,discrimination and dowry deaths. Where did u get the impression that things like this are not covered?
in fact a classmate of mine, who thinks, i suspect like u,that i live in a sewer hole, asked me if i'd be hung from a tree and burned if i married my uppercaste boyfriend since i'm not upper caste. wake up dude...and get a reality check. we banned caste based discrimination in 1947...umm when did YOU guys ban racism?
ohhhh...and just in case u were checking....casteism still exists in India. yes. but of course, racism has all but disappeared from the western world hasn't it? thats why someone the other day, while i was in a mall, someone who like u, thinks i belong to a sewer hole, called me a 'nigger'. so mr homer pile, better a liberal sewer hole,with all its imperfections rather than a racist one? what say u?

when u have some spare time for us sewer holes,read the indian constitution. might grant u some enlightenment.

posted by: Antara on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

There's a lesson here for pro-corporate economists and politicians: When you widen and amplify the class gap, you end up with a lot more people pissed off at you for making them 50% poorer than you get happy with you for making them 30% richer.

So if you're going to bias your policy towards your existing wealth, and leave the middle and lower classes SOL, make sure you also have plans to emasculate any preexisting democratic systems.

posted by: Keith Tyler on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Antara writes:

"thanks for calling my country a sewer hole. Makes me glad that whatever my country has/hasn't done,it at least hasn't produced in me the blatant racism you seem to possess."

I didn't realize that sewer hole is a race. And if you like sewer holes, I have no problem with that. But wait, why you are not studing in Sewer Hole University?

posted by: Homer Pile on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]


You are right to defend the honor of your country. India is not a sewer hole (though large parts of every city smell like one because, for some inexplicable reason, public sanitation is at a, shall we say, basic level). India is a fascinating, in many ways charming country. And you're right, the US media tends to overlook positive developments there. India zoomed from Mother Theresa's basket case to gargantuan threat to US jobs in no time flat. How'd that happen?

But you're wrong to accuse academia of focusing exclusively on the ugly side of Indian culture and history. Far from it, there is a widespread tendency toward whitewashing in higher ed, just as there is your own posts. For, my dear, it is simply rubbish to suggest that the "outlawing" of caste in 1947 had much impact. I'd love to hear, for instance, that you are a sweeper, but if I had to lay odds on it, I'd guess that your last name is Bannerjee, Mukherjee or Chatterjee. Nine out of ten students in US graduate programs from India are Bengali Brahmins, lefty but incredibly priveleged, like your beloved Mamata. Go ahead, tell me I'm wrong.

This country has a long way to go in terms of racial inequality, but there has been tremendous progress here in the past 50 years. I wish the same could be said for India, but when you don't even admit the hypocrisy of your own position, I'd say you're not there yet, nor is your country.

posted by: Kelli on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Almost all of the Western (as well as Indian!) academia and media focus on the downsides of Hindu society, but they never mention the primary role of Islamic and British colonialism in making the society the way it is.

Here is a particularly odious article in Western media that even rationalizes Idi Amin in dissing on Hindus.

They never mention the progress made when Hindus took charge of their own future after close to a millennium. Why is it that Muslims had control over India for 700 years, but no fault is assigned to them for making Indian society the way it became? Why is it that the superpower British empire had control over India for 150+ years and did far less than a completely impoverished Indian polity did to better Indian society within 50 years?

Today's media fall over themselves in feting British colonialism for India's recent successes without crediting the real cause of success, which is Hindu society, its reverence for education and knowledge, and its pluralism.

If the British were responsible, then India wouldn't have deteriorated down from having 25% of world trade in the 1750s to less than 3% by Indian independence in 1947.

Kelli, the students in graduate programs are not all Bengali brahmins. They can be South Indian brahmins like me too. :) They are doing well DESPITE affirmative action programs in India whose main goal is to sideline them. I would say they are doing well because their culture is particularly suited to the information age where educational achievement is paramount.

posted by: JM on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Dear Madam Kelli,
No, actually I am not a banerjee, chatterjee or a mukherjee. I am a Datta. So no, I am not a Brahmin.

yes, u seem to base ur entire argument on bengali brahmins. which is amusing because bengalis are not as casteist as some other states. and since i'm a bengali, not ALL mukherjees, chatterjees and banerjees are brahmin btw. ever encountered a ghosh or a biswas? come on, don't tell me u havent...ever wondered what caste they were.

ok, this is silly. but have u heard of affirmative action in india? do u know that we've had dalit chief ministers and a dalit president? and despite all the progress your country has made, u wouldn't even conceive of a black president would u?

there is absolutely no hypocrisy in what i say. if u were familiar with my academic writing u'd know that i am the first to criticise many aspects of my country- from casteism to communalism. but what ur post does, madam kelli is reinforce what blatant racists like homer pile have to say. and i am sorry, but when u do that, u inadvertently join their gang as well.

so the next time u speak of racism in india, do care to look at how far we've come in terms of caste in india. compare that with race records, compare that with all the debates about brown vs board going on in the US..and people saying that really desegregation hasn't really worked.

madam kelli, i was fortunate enough to have a 'liberal' largely upper class education. but i never found out what caste most of my classmates were, or where affirmative action had gotten them. and wherever it had taken them, i am glad for it. unfortunately, if u have black skin, u can't hide that can u?

anyway, if u want me to post u any links on casteism in india, i'd be glad to. but do take a look at the dalit panthers, the Samajwadi party, the Bahujan Samaj and Mayavati.

and don't accuse me of brushing casteism under the carpet. if u read my post carefully u'll see my flippant remarks about my 'upper caste' boyfriend. and that would have told you that i am NOT upper caste. but then, u were quick to jump to homer pile's defence weren't u? wonder why...............

ohhh, and did u read Homer Pile's comment. he thinks I thought sewer hole was a race. ha ha ha. doesn't see why calling third world countries sewer holes (umm....most of which are black/brown), when i assume he's white, is racist?

oh, and madam kelli, please note the randomness of his remarks. he's hitting out when he knows he has no logic and he's said something indefensible. (btw why do i assume he's a man...could be a woman as well, of course!). umm..and madam kelli, u are standing up for HIM????????

Have u noticed how silent everyone else on this list has become after Homer Pile's racist outburst, and my slightly emotional, but I think justified outburst in response. If u disagree with him, and this he's a racist- maybe u should speak up and say so?

posted by: Antara on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Kelli: "there has been tremendous progress here in the past 50 years". This makes me laugh. So, in 2002 according to a study by Justice Policy Institute, the average black male had a higher chance of going to prison than to college. And about 1/3 black males go to prison in their lifetime. And the race of the victim is the single most important indicator in determining whether the perpetuator gets the death penalty. I think I'll stick with the first part of your sentence:"This country has a long way to go ..."

Second, this competition between nation-states seems bizarre. Both India and the US are huge countries and it is worthless to make statements about individuals based on their nationality. For example, it is clear that Antara despite coming from a 'sewer hole' country is more intelligent than Homer Pile ... who seems somewhat dull.

Third, if we do wish to compare countries in the abstract[a moronic exercise], what method should we use? Well, a broad historical view would be the best way to approach this inane question. Let us then look at the US!

Whoa! Genocide? Europeans come here and are greeted with presents and affection by the Native Americans. So they dig them into the ground and have competitions kicking their heads off.

Slavery? Unable to enslave the Natives, the Europeans cross the seas and catch people from Africa in nets. This treatment is so brutal that African-Americans in America are a genetically distinguished group ... people who survived, for example, had a genetic predisposition to be able to last longer without water. [Holocaust survivors constitute another such group]

Not done yet, unfortunately. In 1804, the people of Haiti revolted. Mr. Jefferson true to the tradition of the slave-owning white males(called the founding fathers) blockaded the country. There we start a long story of imperialism. pre 20th century American foreign policy is called 'imperialist' even by academic apologists. However, these apologists[like Samantha Power] leave out 20th century genocides like the one in Vietnam where the US slaughtered 5 million people. Now, whatever we may say about modern Indian governments killing 5 million people, using babies for target practice, spraying chemical weapons all over a country has just not been done.

Wait! I hear an imperial apologist saying: "but if someone else had the power, they would have done it too". Excellent Christian doctrine: "We are all Evil". Unfortunately, this is backed by zero empirical evidence. It arises from a desperate desire to justify one's actions and from the postulate that "America" cant be bad.

We have little evidence that somebody else in Idi Amin's position would have done the same. And I'm sure the readers of this blog, frequented by conservatives, understand 'individual responsibility'.

So, if we do decide to compare nation states[a fatuous paradigm that people cant seem to get out of], the US founded on genocide and blood, enriched on slavey, imperialism, aggression, the use of atomic and chemical weapons doesnt come out smelling sweet.

posted by: Suvrat Raju on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]


There are not enough hours in the day to plow through your heady reasoning on world history so I'll just ask you a two-part question: how many American students are attending Indian universities, and how many American citizens are lining up for green cards to work in the subcontinent? Let's not go toe to toe in the "whose country has demonstrated more capacity for progress sweepstakes" shall we?


I have lived in Calcutta and witnessed up-close the egalitarian principles on which Bengali society rests. What I do admire about this region is the relative tolerance of its people: Muslims and Hindus get along much better than in other parts of the country. Good for them. On the other hand, Bengalis' addiction to all varieties of Marxist dogma (the schisms are as numerous and confusing as those of the medieval church) has consigned the region to the bottom of India's developmental pile, which, let's face it, until recently was itself singularly unimpressive. The motto of Bengal seems to be "let's all get poor TOGETHER." Hardly a ringing endorsement of decades of Marxist leadership.

I think the quintessential Bengali moment of my stay came when I was attending a lecture at a certain research institute, given by a distinguished, internationally lauded leftist historian. The subject was exploitation, naturally, by British colonial industrialists of poor Bengali workers in the jute factories (factories, I might add, that continue to operate much as they did a century ago, now under state management, apparently exploitation and profit-free). As the historian spoke (it was mid-morning, I believe, on a weekday) a 12 year old boy passed around chai, invisible to the Indians present, but much remarked upon by the westerners, who wondered why this child was working during the middle of the school day.

Finally, by all means post references to your scholarly papers that we may all read more deeply into your ideology and insight. By your spelling, I'm guessing that you have skipped past the formal writing of such articles in favor of text messaging them directly to the 5 people most likely to read them. U make me long for the lucid prose of a Gayatri Spivak.

posted by: Kelli on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Kelli, Since you do not contend any of the historical points, I suppose you agree with what I say or else are unable to rebut it.

In your second point, you disappoint me. Indian upper-middle class students coming to the US has to do with a phenomenon called 'concentration of capital'. This, in turn, has to do with superiority in applying organized violence.

In this silly game of which country is 'better', you may wish to set a measure. It seems to me that a transient measure such as current level of technological progress is quite inadequate. Not only does it leave aside all other indicators of society it neglects history.

My aim, in pointing out the history of the US, with which you seem grossly unfamiliar is that American residents hardly have anything to be proud of in their 'country'. Unfortunately, it is easy to find a steady stream of opportunists who will flock to the heart of the empire.

When Saddam was in power in Iraq, I am sure that there was a steady stream of sycophants lining up to meet him while the leading feminist dissidents of the day were marginalized. Extrapolating the standard you use to compare the US and other countries, I suppose you would conclude that we shouldnt go toe to toe in whether Saddam or the dissident had made more 'progress'?

posted by: Suvrat Raju on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

I love ur generalizations and conclusions, Kelli.

1. Who ever said I was an an apologist for the Marxists? Opposing the BJP and/or Homer Pile, does not make me a proponent of Left Front. Umm..I've lived in Kolkata for 18+ years, and intermittently for the next five. needn't tell me what they've done to the city.
2. This is 'comments' section of my blog. So if I use shorthand, you generalize about my ability to write. WOW! Why don't we debate Indian politics, rather than my ability to write, which as my tutors will tell you, is not bad at all. But then again, we won't generalize from that, shall we??

Actually, you might take a look at the blog (hover over my name)...might solve some of your confusions about my political views! (Also about my ability to write coherently perhaps??!! Despite having studied in the 'sewer hole'??!!)

Frankly, you amuse me. I'm glad to see however, you (u?) have stopped defending Homer Pile. At least that's an improvement!!

posted by: Antara on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Actually, I am not going to return to this, because this is a sheer waste of time. Also because I've had a brainwave. I've finally figured out the huge flaw with what Kelli has been saying all along!

Apart from supporting blatant racists, like dear Homer Pile, Kelli has tried to argue:
1. I am hypocrite (because I see 'some' good in my country, and oppose it being called a 'sewer hole'.
And so I have a blinkered perspective. In fact, amusingly most Indians would argue that people like me, academics, are way too critical of India and fail to see its merits. So according to Kelli, if I praise ANY aspect of my country's politics, or hold out hope for the future, I am hypocrite...hmmm...

2. Then, Kelli argues that 'look the US is better than India'. Therefore you guys have made no progress. Umm..logic? I mean, we BOTH could have made progress, but that's not something Kelli will admit.

It's all or nothing for Kelli. Worse, while I have been willing to stick my neck and say: yeah, not everything's great about my country, Kelli is yet to offer a SINGLE criticism about the US.

So that's what it comes down to. Kelli sees it all in black and white. US=good, India= sewer hole inhabited by lefty Bengali hypocrites, hence bad. If you belong to that category and dare say that anything, anything at all, is bad about the US, and good about ur country, ooooooh then it justifies every single stereotype about u.

And most brilliant of all, Kelli shies away from debate! Kelli won't read what I've written or what I have to say, because I suspect it might make Kelli (and people like Kelli) rather uncomfortable.

So apart from offering personal anecdotes, and generalizing not unlike Naipaul (whom I'm convinced by now, that Kelli idolises), Kelli doesn't need to have a nuanced view! Kelli can happily make generalizations..Kelli need not provide an alternative view to anything. Kelli need not even tell us that all is not well in the US...because all is, isn't it? Only hypocritical lefty Bengalis must always criticise their countries...otherwise the wrath of the Kelli shall fall upon them!

posted by: Antara on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]


Touchy, touchy. As for Naipaul, yeah, big poster of him in my bedroom, shrine, incense burning, whole nine yards. As for "shying away from debate," well, I could find a few people floating around this blog (though certainly not this thread) who would disagree with you there. An anecdote is not an attack (except perhaps in your clever hands--I'll have to take your word on your "tutors'" fine opinion of your intellect). And while I did not specifically condemn Homer Pile (everyone's got a right to his opinion) neither did I defend him.

I actually quite admire India and have had many Indian friends over the years, but like most foreigners, finally reached the point where I could not go on singing the praises of the subcontinent--could not go on bolstering your fragile inflated post-colonial egos anymore. Sad but true. Have a nice life:)

posted by: Kelli on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Hopefully, this will be my last post on this topic. Kelli, you do shy away from debate since you responded to none of my points about the US and its history of massacre and genocide.

Second, you say that you 'could not go on bolstering your fragile inflated post-colonial egos'. You suggest that you are averse to patriotism and self-absorption. Despite this, you live in the US!!! I pity you!

posted by: Suvrat Raju on 05.14.04 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

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