Saturday, June 5, 2021

WHY INDOCRACY? Vol-3; INDIA MUST CHART OUT A NEW COURSE OF DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE

 

ERODING CREDIBILITY OF DEMOCRACY

 By the 1st quarter of 21st century, the democratic political systems, in their current shape, have appeared increasingly incapable of effectively pursuing some of their own promises. These include universal access to security, opportunity, dignity and justice. Challenges in this direction may be quite profound in the developing world, but developed nations too are not entirely immune to some institutionally inbuilt discriminations or inequities. Howsoever, subtle or even discreet these may be but their own people have been quite vocal about these.

 One cannot deny the fact that life for average humans is far more safe, secure, just and fair today, in most parts of the world, than at any other point of time in the past. Yet, an overwhelming majority of people, continue to face wretched, miserable, unjust and grossly unfair conditions. These deny them not only a secure and dignified existence but also impede collective progress of societies and states. 

Democracy has helped improve plight of people across most divides but its benefits have not percolated to all strata of society and universally. Marginalised sections even in some of the rich and powerful democracies continue to be deprived of the fruits of wealth and prosperity that their societies boast of.  

 These only suggest that the idea of democracy has to cover a long distance to realise some of the goals and objectives that the world leaders had set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the perceived cornerstone of the modern representative humane democracy, in the aftermath of 2nd world war (1948). In this context, sustained governance under-performance of major democracies, especially in face of resurgence of an authoritarian China, and steady erosion in norms of probity in most open societies, can derail the larger human advancement towards a fairer and just world. 

 Democracy’s advances, since the end of the second World-war, have been accompanied with persistence of many of the existing, and emergence of several newer forms of, conflicts. These are negatively impacting governance output of open societies across a wider divide. The larger consequences of this anomaly is going to impact even elite in these societies, unless remedial measures are initiated. The real test of democratic leadership- whether in the realm of ideas or actions- would lay in their ability of to find newer and innovative ways and means to address or negotiate these conflicts or challenges.  

 A little deeper analysis of issues, and awareness of the contexts, awakens us to possibilities of viable and sustainable institutional innovations to foster greater cooperation, collaboration and even competition among people. These can be potentially harnessed to enhance the quality of governance in open societies, with larger focus in the developing world. The idea of Indocracy is only an effort in this direction. It envisions refinement - and not dilution - of the core ideas, institutions and promises of democracy.

 

DEMOCRACY’S PROMISES

 Modern representative democracy promises a social order that is universally just, fair and secure. It pre-supposes a high degree of communication, trust and collaboration among people. This is possible only if social behaviours and institutional processes are driven by higher levels of integrity and empathy.

     The biggest hindrance in this direction comes from continuation of some of the basic survival or combative human instincts. These include insecurity, anxiety, aggression, greed or dishonesty, or even sheer absence of self-restraint or self-belief, in large sections of citizenry. In the post-colonial states, these challenges have been further compounded by continuation of some of the oppressive and repressive practices of the state institutions, which were devised during colonial era by external occupiers. Sadly, in most contexts, even the new local ruler have found these immensely convenient to secure themselves and oppress their political opponents. 

The governance output of most democracies in the developing world remains way short of their potentials and capacities. This has been pushing the popularity of surveillance and coercion driven Chinese model, especially in fragile democracies where rulers are keen to quickly showcase some of their accomplishments to obtain popular approval. They find many of the instruments and processes of representative government, devised and perfected in the West, incapable of meeting their requirements. 

Many of the existing democratic instruments and processes, despite their universal orientation, do carry several cultural, social and behavioural connotations. Their efficacy to pursue some of the fundamental promises of democracy in social, cultural and economic contexts other than West, appears a little suspect. Governance challenges and priorities of the post-colonial developing societies differs not only with their counterparts in the developed world but even amongst themselves. Hence, the need for innovation in democratic institutions may be quite serious and substantive with appropriate variations in different regional-cultural contexts.

Over the past few centuries, the idea of democracy, as well as many of its institutional practices and procedures, have substantially evolved  from their medieval moorings even in the west. From a power-sharing arrangement among an exclusive club of property-owning adult males, democracy has assumed a more universalistic character as symbolised by universal adult franchise. Nevertheless, these appear inadequate to transform societies and states in the developing world or create optimally secure social spaces that are conducive for collective betterment of people.

A careful evaluation of the past suggests that sustained and comprehensive progress of communities and states have been driven more by persuasion, trust and collaboration. Coercion, fear and intimidation may have been critical, and even unavoidable under certain conditions, for building vibrant societies and robust states but these had their limitations. The ideas of justice, fairness, equity and human dignity, as per norms in the each context,  always played a bigger role in such persuasive collaboration among people.  While no society could have adhered to these values and principles of trust and justice driven collaboration in their absolute form but a higher degree of observance of such would have provided a stronger bedrock for cohesive and robust societies.

However, it is quite possible that the idea of justice, fairness, equity, and human dignity may have carried different connotations in different contexts. Simultaneously, these have also been evolving over time. But there is no confusion that the contemporary scientific and humanist democracy, as developed in the West, promises and practices, these values and ideals to a relatively higher degree than all other forms of political systems known to the mankind over the last one millennium or even more. 

But these institutions are not perfect in themselves. They remain vulnerable to subversion by survival, combative and opportunistic human instincts. While economic and physical security, as well as social and behavioural training, may have helped curb some of these instincts but people nowhere are entirely immune to such or similar human frailties. A sturdy mechanism of rule of law has come to act as a serious deterrent against deviant social behaviour, but, in absence of a favourable ecosystem, rule of law is difficult to uphold to an optimum degree. 

Compared to established model democracies, developing countries appear to have been trapped in a vicious cycle. An unfavourable internal and external and internal ecosystem has been hindering progress towards rule of law. Simultaneously, poor state of rule of law has also been vitiating social and economic space to an extent that these societies are losing most benefits of democracy and representative governance. Nevertheless, there have been a few exceptions, where leadership driven initiatives have ushered in serious transformation of institutions towards effective governance within a democratic political framework. But is mostly relatively smaller states like Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan that appear to have benefitted more than larger states.  

In the context of India, the challenges of its huge size, humongous diversities and fragility of institutions have been compounded internal fissures by an unfavourable external ecosystem. While, India has managed internal fault-lines quite creditably but these have impacted both internal cohesion and consensus on building high quality governance institutions. Simultaneously, identity driven threats from both Pakistan and China have been far too deep, intractable and even emotive in their own respective ways. West’s inability to think and act strategically, as manifest in its sustained ambivalence - or even support to Pakistan and Islamic extremism - until recently, have further complicated challenges for both India and the overall plight of democracy. Currently, the combined Pak-China all-pervasive threat makes India probably the most vulnerable or threatened nation in the world. These have been generating  their own pressure on the governance institutions. 

 

WHY MUST INDIA CHART OUT A NEW COURSE OF DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE

Sustenance of democracy in India, amidst extreme adversity, has often been attributed to persistence of some of its original humanist civilisational values. This is notwithstanding their severe distortion, as well as disruption of normal progress, following larger decay of Indian state and society leading to their external occupation. Sustained social and intellectual movements, as well political and military resistance campaigns,  followed by leadership initiatives of the freedom fighters and first-generation statesmen of independent India, may have successfully rekindled and improvised some of these values, norms and practices.  These appear to have been harnessed to lay sturdy foundations for a  representative government as well as simultaneous social and economic transformation.

 India has enriched the idea of democracy with its unique civilizational roots of social trust, humanism and pacifism, notwithstanding all exceptions, aberrations and shortfalls. Compared to all other civilizations, India had practiced the highest possible degree of amiability and goodwill not only among human beings but also with the forces of nature. Curb on arbitrary power of rulers, rules of war, absence of large-scale collateral damage of civilian population during armed conflicts, absence of slavery and use of slave labour in building imposing monuments, absence of large-scale crime, emphasis on spiritual development, art, science and music etc during pre- medieval India may have had an important role in shaping an outlook, national psyche and behavioural norm that differentiates India from the rest. Some of these ingredients of civilizational values may have had profound contributions in sustenance of  an open and accountable political system. 

Simultaneously, worshipping nature, earth, rivers, trees, mountains and certain animals may appear a hollow ritual. But probably these were instruments of psychological conditioning for masses. These inculcated values like humility, pacifism, non-violence and respect for nature. While there are always significant exceptions, but average Indian is more likely to be less violent than people from identities. This is not to deny the impact of combined pressure of globalisation and a culture of capitalistic acquisitiveness, alongside abuse of democratic freedom, on wider behavioural norms of the people. 

 India has to explore possibilities of refining its institutions by incorporating advanced scientific knowledge in areas of governance and leadership. It needs far more effective and rational tools to foster internal cohesion and deter external threats to optimise its comprehensive strengths. A democratic and resurgent India can lend an strong momentum to the larger human advancement towards democratisation. 

Setbacks and disruptions have been part of the larger progress and evolution of the idea of democracy. Probably, this is a continuous journey without a final destination. The idea of Indocracy can constitute a serious advancement of the idea of democracy provided India is able to fuse its original civilizational values with contemporary scientific principles and practices to transform the quality of democratic governance in India.  This can be a model worth emulation by other developing nations, besides offering a few significant lessons to even the developed world. 

 Plurality and heterogeneity of India, with its myriad complexities and challenges, calls for investment of far more powerful ideas to optimise its potentials and strengths. An initiative in this direction has to be extremely well thought. A reckless misadventure is more likely to backfire, inviting even a bigger disaster than status -quo. But status-quo is probably untenable in the prevailing context. 

 Some of the greatest states and societies,  including India, have faced major setbacks in the past by their inability to appreciate the need for change at the right time and invest appropriate efforts in this direction. The contemporary democratic India has been facing a crying need for serious overhaul of its institutions for quite some time. Economic liberalisation of 1991 should have been followed with reforms in civil service, political parties, private sector, judiciary, policing, municipal governance, media, and even health and education sector among others. Nevertheless, it is still not too late for the world’s largest democracy to chart out a newer course of democratic governance for itself.

[ The next write up shall spell out a specific structure of change in the legislative institutions  and processes of the country]

 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

WHY INDOCRACY? Vol 2

Pandemic Exposes Deficient Institutions 

 When life is returning to near normal in the developed world, India is battling an aggressive  second wave of Corona pandemic. Suddenly, from the position of major relief provider to the world, by virtue of its vaccine and pharmaceutical prowess, India has become a recipient of relief materials and an object of world-wide sympathy. 

Mass agony over unprecedented but many avoidable deaths due to shortage of  medicines, ventilators, oxygen cylinders and hospital beds, as well as apathy of a section of hospitals, have found graphic depiction in the local media. Government's challenges have been further compounded by black-marketing of medical essentials and flooding of even spurious drugs. Popular confidence in institutions has also faced a setback following derailment of the vaccination programme. 

Meanwhile, Head of the key vaccine manufacturing company has sneaked out to London, betraying his promises to the people and the country to ensure universal access to vaccination. His actions have also raised a serious question mark over the state policy of depending upon profit-drive private ventures for supply of critical essentials during national emergencies. 

Resentment against large sections of political class has also been brewing over what appears a callous approach on their part and somewhat insensitivity towards human lives. On the other hand, there have been exemplary instances of brilliant and selfless contributions by fairly large sections of people from civil society as well as significant number of state functionaries. But sections of politicians, across party divides, have appeared more anxious to make a political capital, including individual publicity, out of human sufferings, rather than managing the situation.  

Indian state’s inability to avert or deftly manage a crisis of this magnitude has caused a lot of concern among its own citizenry as well as its well wishers internationally. This is especially in the wake of a few media reports hinting at the possibility of China exporting the second wave of pandemic through suspected weaponization of the virus.  Hence, challenges for India at this juncture appear quite formidable, especially given large size of the country and its burgeoning population. These are going to generate massive pressure on its not so developed infrastructure. 

While, there have been tactical failures on part of the existing dispensations but the present state of affairs can be attributed to failure of successive dispensations to explore innovative ways to effectively address some of the existential issues threatening the country. As a great civilisation, India has been deriving lot of prides in its glorious past and it also nurtures extra ordinary ambitions about its future. However, there is an urgent need to build necessary psychological wherewithal to find newer ways to pursue its aspirations. If a similarly sized China can make extra ordinary advances towards to economic, technological and military advances, there is no justification for a democratic India with a longer civilisational roots faltering in this direction. 

Better and Not Perfect Institutions    

Few years back in my inaugural write up on Indocracy at my blog, I had written that ‘the world has never been a perfectly fair place. And it is unlikely to be so even in future. But it can always be fairer and better than what it is. This is the sentiment that must have driven all great civilisations, societies and states. None may have ever been perfect.’ 

Our failure and pain at this juncture has been beseeching us to chart out a new course of action to bolster our national self-belief and national self-esteem. Instead of obfuscating the issue with emotional outbursts, the real test of leadership would lay in its ability to harness the spirit of national cohesion and sense of collective pain towards building robust governance institutions. We must aim to build stronger capacity to prevent and deter such calamities - when man made or inflicted by nature- in future. 

No society has ever achieved a perfect and permanent solution to all its challenges.  But resilience and vigour of a nation or its people is reflected in its ability to generate, respect and conscientiously pursue powerful ideas, imaginations, initiatives for their comprehensive and sustained advancement. This is what has differentiated great societies from the rest. The idea of Indocracy envisions concrete and scientific principles and practices that can build a robust political -governance framework which can push individual and institutional excellence, with a sustainable synergy between the two. This is critical for larger security, stability and accelerated all round progress of India, as per its own unique goals, challenges and priorities. Details of these specific innovations shall be spelled out in due course but this piece only intends to throw up a rationale for such an innovation.  

Deplorable Plight of South Asia

South Asia or Akhand Bharat or the civilizational state of India has been at war with itself for far too long. It is irrelevant, who is to blame and who is responsible for such a plight for one-fourth of the mankind. This region has thrown up great leaders at regular intervals but probably it needed a large galaxy of high quality leaders, thinkers and doers who could reverse the course of downhill momentum that the Indian civilization has been facing for far too long.  Brilliance of large variety of them who have come up in recent centuries, has probably been insufficient given our size and intensity of challenges.



[Source: Web; Pre-Islamic India, or Mauryan India or pre-Mauryan India, consisting of  whole of modern day South Asia depicted in the map or probably more, exercised profound influence, as a civilization, over South West Asia to East Asia, including Eastern Turkistan and modern day Tibet, going all the way to entire South East Asia. Buddhist influence in China as well as Japan and modern day Koreas too has been profound]

India's glorious past way back in the distant history, as well as initiatives to rejuvenate and resurrect it as a civilization, have also been accompanies by a series of sustained failures and lapses. Very often we appear to have refused, as a society and  state, to learn lessons from these. The modern-day South Asia or undivided civilizational state of India accounts for just 3.5 percent of the total surface area of this planet with nearly one-fourth of the total population of the mankind. 

Such an anomaly is simply not viable unless, the region was extremely prosperous in the past with people migrating to its from every other part of the world, in search of a better existence. But the Indian subcontinent  has been collectively on decline for far too long, notwithstanding multiple efforts and stellar contributions by visionary leaders and reformers. Our current state of affairs, as depicted by the following table, sums it up quite aptly:


Parameter

West Asia

Central Asia

South Asia

South East Asia

East Asia

Major Countries

Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Oman, Syria, UAE, Jordan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Oman, Qatar, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain +

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan

India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives

Indonesia, Malaysia,

Singapore, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Brunei, E Timor

China, Japan, Mongolia,

South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan

Total Area

5.994 mn sq km

4.003 mn sq km

 5.2 mn Sq KM

4.546 million Sq Km

11.84 mn Sq Km

Total Population

313.428  million

72.96 million

1.84 billion

655.298 million

1.6 billion

GDP (PPP/Nominal)

US$ 9.063/3.383 Tn

US$ 1026/300 bn

US $ 12.752/$3.598 Tn

US$ 9.727/3.317 Tn

US$ 37/25.6 trillion

Human Develoment

Index

0.699

0.779

0.642

0.723

Japan:0.919; S Korea:0.916;

China: 0.761; Mongolia:0.737

GDP Per capita in US $

From Qatar US $139 K, UAE 70k, Kuwait 68k,  Saudi US $57K , Oman 48k to Yemen 2.3k

US $ 21,701

US $ 1956.6

US $ 5017 (Exch rate)

US$ 16,000 (Nominal)

     [Source: Compiled from various credible sources, including UN annual reports]

  Even if we hold Pakistan responsible for inducing strife in the region, or waging covert war, to destroy aspiration of people of South Asia, as major civilization with an exceptional pool of human resources, we cannot escape the blame. This is especially after comprehensive military victory handed over to the country by its armed forces in 1971, following a substantial one in 1965. 

Instead of finding excuses, India's leaders should have found ways and means of addressing the challenges posed by either Pakistan or China as nothing is in the realm of impossibility. This is especially for the high quality human minds, driven by integrity, that India boasts of.  As natural leader of the region and inheritor of the legacy of the greatest and scientifically the most advanced humanist civilization on this planet, India needed to build institutions and values that could have handled both external threats and internal discords better and yet optimised collective potentials and strengths of its people.   


Institutions Must Optimise Collective Strengths and Potentials of People:

A closer look at the greatest societies of past, and even present, suggests that they owe their success to their better ability to harness the strengths of their people towards their common objectives and goals. They could empower a much larger, but not necessarily the entire, component of their citizenry and created far bigger space for individual excellence and innovation, and yet married these to their collective goals and objectives. They did it more effectively than others in their context. They built such behavioural norms as well as formal institutions, either consciously or unconsciously, that fostered greater collaboration and fairer competition. 

 Empowering people should not be about doles or charities to help them survive without contributing in real terms. It is more about building such physical, cognitive, technical and social skills and capacities that enables citizenry to contribute effectively to collective national productivity and prosperity. Some degree of coercion may have been necessary and even unavoidable for such goals but no society can consistently progress on the basis of coercion alone.

 In absence of appropriate social values, behavioural norms and institutional practices, that adhere to wider norms of fairness and justice in each context, formal rules or laws cannot sustain real cohesion or collaboration among people. Hence, the quality of progress of societies and civilizations have been dependent upon their ability to build a higher quality of mutually empowering equilibrium between individuals and societies or communities. 

 Progress or evolution in this direction has never been unilinear or consistent. Some have done better than others. But this has not necessarily been due to factors within their control. Very often, external variables or elements of nature or adversarial or supportive faces have played an important role. But erosion in institutional capacities has often resulted in prosperous, stable and culturally advanced societies capitulating to less civilized marauders, and the latter's deployment of instruments of deception and guerrilla or similar strategies of war. 

But can a great civilization or society accept perpetual under-performance blaming external forces? If Pakistan has been a spoiler or external forces have been hostile, what has prevented popular and charismatic leaders from creating conditions that can bolster our national capacity to address these elements?

 It is a fact that robbing herds of nomadic groups plundered and pulverised a much prosperous and advanced civilization on this subcontinent. They neither had any experience or exposure or any orientation to provide high quality governance that a larger and stable society needed. Hence, most of India and Indo-Asia region, has faced severe setbacks, distortions and degenerations, notwithstanding few exemplary initiatives to resurrect and rejuvenate governance institutions. These have not been sufficient for undoing the setbacks to our collective progress inflicted over centuries .It was again bad governance that pushed the entire region into colonial subjugation. It is again not fare to bracket entire Muslim community in this category of external marauders.  Very large sections of Muslims on the subcontinent has been indigenous inhabitants and they were probably driven more by egalitarian and humanist ethos of the faith rather than criminality, murder and loot that continue to be practiced in the name of Islam.  

Indocracy: A Futuristic Perspective on Governance: 

 Instead of  attempting to find follies and virtues in the past, and condemn or deride people of any identity, India needs a sincere intellectual inquisition to explore a more reliable route to an optimally secure and yet consistently progressive social, political, economic and governance order. If viewed from the prism of contemporary sensibilities, none of the societies of the past would appear perfectly harmonious, humane and yet progressive. Nevertheless, ancient India was way ahead of the rest both in terms of material prosperity and social amiability, as well as scientific temper and intellectual ambience, at least in its own context. 

What caused the eventual decline of India can never be conclusively established. But it is clear that some of the institutions, failed to safeguard the region from external invasions or threats as well as internal decay and degeneration. The blame cannot be placed entirely at the door of the so-called invaders or their perceived descendants. A great society and state must be resilient enough to anticipate such threats and prevent or deter these or quickly come out of such setbacks. It has not happened in case of India. Even if majority of the so-called invaders displayed complete lack of ethic of governance or commitment to  collective interests of the people,  the current discourse on governance must avoid this issue. 

In the prevailing context, we need serious and scientific exploration for better governance order. In the process, we must examine the efficacy of some of the existing instruments and processes of governance towards fostering higher degree of social amiability, trust and cohesion. Anything that breeds conflict and fractures societies or pushes them into under-performance, needs to be remedied. The hallmark of great institution is their capacity to protect people from not only their needs and wants but also from forces of nature and hostile adversaries.

 Indocracy is not an attempt to go back to the past. It is probably far more about learning from the failures and lapses of the past in the context of India as a civilization. It is a scientific attempt to explore ways and means to build more vibrant and robust societal and governance institutions that foster excellence and harmony both. One can never be perfect in this direction. But entire progress of societies and states has resulted from conscious investment of ideas and efforts in this direction.

 

[To be continued……]

 

Monday, May 17, 2021

WHY INDOCRACY? VOL-I

INDIA’S DYSFUNCTIONAL INSTITUTIONS AMIDST A HEADY COCKTAIL OF EXTREME SOCIAL GOOD AND BAD

[Indian democracy needs serious strategic innovations to restructure its institutions with a clearer and appealing national vision to protects its people and society. Indocracy envisions a series of smaller but interdependent ideas in this direction.] 

I remember as a young person, hearing a cliché from one of the wise elders of the community. He used to often quip, especially when he struggled to persuade people, that ‘four Indians walk in the same direction only when they carry the fifth one on their shoulders.’ 

Average educated middle class Indians have built a reputation of being highly disagreeable, and at times even discordant, lot of people. Yet they are not violent. This is especially compared to people of most other nationalities. Given the extent and magnitude of mass poverty, illiteracy and poor state of criminal justice system, India still appears a less violent society.

 This point was driven home quite convincingly by a famous international comedian during one of his live shows, whose video had gone viral a few years back. Mocking the docility of an average Indian, he had mimicked how an East European and West Asian terrorist could send shivers down the spine through sheer menace and intimidation in his voice. But none would take such a terrorist seriously if he happened to be an Indian. To the bursts of laughter of his audience, he had mimicked an imaginary Indian terrorist who started his demand for ransom with respectful and polite greetings to all in a soft voice, addressing elders as “uncle” and “aunty”. It sounded more like a disgruntled complaint, if not a request. When his captives expressed their inability to pay the ransom, he offered to settle down with whatever they could afford. The giggling response of the audience suggested that they might have dismissed the very idea or possibility of an Indian being a serious terrorist. 

 A relatively much smaller percentage of Indians being charged with violent crimes, anywhere in the world, corroborates such perception. Members of Indian diaspora have universally been acknowledged as industrious, enterprising and hard-working.  It is no surprise that family values, upbringing and social norms of educated middle class India has helped produce some of the top global CEOs. From Africa to Europe and even West Asia and Orient, Indians are usually known as clever but docile traders, professionals or academics. But it remains a mystery why such bright Indians, who must be in plenty in India, can’t bring about serious change at home? 

 Nevertheless, a stereotyping of all Indians is avoidable, given the size of the country and it’s heterogeneity. There could be some serious, and a times even substantial, exceptions. There are large number of Indians who are not entirely immune to violent human instincts, especially if they face a weaker and helpless prey. But there can be no denial that, on an average,  Indians are less prone to extreme violence. This can largely be attributed to wider pacifist-humanist traditions of India, which have endured ravages of its long but tumultuous civilizational journey.

 It shall be no exaggeration to suggest that it is predominance of such values that may have enabled India sustain democracy amidst humongous diversities and contradictions. And yet it has made significant strides towards economic advancements and technological innovations. But these appear suboptimal compared to its vast potentials as a nation. Democratic India continues to battle dysfunctional institutions, which have crippled advancements of its people, society and state.

 India’s progress on parameters of governance and national security has remained inconsistent and erratic. Most accomplishments have been driven more by individual brilliance and leadership initiatives rather than institutional resilience. Fragile regulatory capacity has undermined the integrity and quality of both political and economic competition, impacting the wider culture in these sectors. Challenges have been further compounded by dynamics of globalisation, where societal fissures, weak institutions and adverse geopolitical equilibrium have enhanced the vulnerability of the world’s largest democracy. 

 Involvement of Indians in corruption scandals almost anywhere and everywhere reflects a darker shade of its social reality. Transparency International rated India as the most corrupt nation in Asia in 2020. The same year, media reports disclosed that India also accounted for very high component of bad corporate debts, amounting to Indian Rupees 20 trillion or US $300 billion or so. This is by far the highest quantum among the top ten economies. Many also believe that the figure may not reflect the actual rot as a large component of such corporate debts may have been restructured or written off or not reflected properly. 

Several corporate leaders have maintained during private discussions that there may not be a single major procurement by some of the bigger corporate organisations, where substantial sums of money may not have found its way into some offshore personal accounts or payoffs in kind. Beneficiaries of such kickbacks may not necessarily be politicians or bureaucrats. In many cases, these could be top functionaries of these very private sector entities. Banks and people are there in any case to absorb losses emanating from such underhand payments or siphoning of funds. 

Accomplishments of certain sections of Indians in the realm of corruption scandals has been genuinely spectacular. Going way beyond Indian shores, some have earned distinction from Far East to Dubai to Africa, Europe and even parts of North America. What is frightening that such trait is taking over as the wider character of sections of Indian elite. They cannot entirely be blamed.  Very often, financial corruption appears the sole or even an unavoidable route for not only upwards economic and social mobility but sheer survival.

In the context of average Indian’s obsession with cricket, one of the retired senior police officers, whom I knew, often used to observe that it did not matter who was playing the game. ‘The key bookie or “match -fixer” was more likely to be an Indian than anyone else.’ It arouses a question: has underhand deal-making become personality trait of  sections of the successful Indians? 

 Some degree of malignancy or rot in corporate world  has been a global phenomenon. It has not spared even some of the most stablished and transparent democracies. It is widely believed that the challenges in India have been multiplied by the clout wielded by syndicates of organised crime like money launderers, drug-cartels, bribing networks, betting and extortion rackets, and fake currency dealers and others, some of whom have been pretending as dignified businessmen.  Informal estimates suggest the total volume of dirty money annually generated in India could be running into at least a few hundred billion dollars. Flow of this money gets protected and some of these gets channeled into bona fide businesses. The entire exercise is not possible without serious subversion of governance institutions. 

It is quite logical for these forces to exploit the loopholes or deficiencies of the criminal justice system and other enforcement arms of the state or sabotage and even manipulate these, wherever possible. These forces with their clandestine but formidable clout are, quite logically, believed to be the biggest impediments to institution of transparent, sturdy and efficient regulatory capacity of state, including a robust criminal justice system. 

But sadly, significant sections of compromised Indian elite, across all divides, with serious skeletons in their cupboard, have willy-nilly been their collaborators in a common cause. Many keen observers of India’s private sector have also argued that corruption being a way of life, it has been nearly impossible for leaders with integrity to come up in most domestic segments. These include  not only industry and commerce but even politics,  media or bureaucracy. Hence, large segments of social and leadership space of India has been polluted beyond points of redemption. 

 Inherent strength of some of the civilizational values of India have thrown up innumerable  instances of exemplary leadership, excellence and innovation. But the existing institutions of state and governance have failed to institutionalise these into a wider culture of empathy and integrity- driven social order that is capable of throwing up high quality visionary leadership in all sectors. Institutional fragility, especially in absence of a clear national vision and extreme diversity, seem to have been breeding conflict, discouraging excellence and innovation and retarding wider national cohesion. These have been gradually eating up some of the strengths of India that have endured centuries of foreign occupation and exploitation.

 India’s failure to effectively contain or manage the fall out of ongoing Covid pandemic has rudely exposed the deficiencies of its state institutions. Exemplary tales of individual sacrifice, integrity and unconditional altruism -  as manifest in liberal donations for relief funds, free distribution of medicines, oxygen and essentials by all sections of society have been accompanied by apathy of large number of  hospitals and malignant sections of officialdom. Rogue entities and criminal individuals have not hesitated to make a profit out of mass misery. Black-marketing of essential medical supplies, sell of spurious medicines, extortion from patients, including demand for speed money for funerals, duping people in the name of paid home medical services etc have been far too rampant. 

Assault on hapless citizens by sections of arrogant police personnel has been a common sight during the lockdown even though sections within them went way beyond call of duty to help the distressed and needy almost everywhere. All these are manifestations of extreme good and extreme bad coexisting alongside, with state institutions appearing either a mute spectator or encouraging the latter through their omissions and inabilities. 

 Covid may be an extra-ordinary situation, where failures have appeared far too glaring. But over the past several decades Indian state has been failing its people by its inability to provide a consistent and equitable access to security, dignity and opportunities. Failures in this direction have not been marginal, or tactical. And at worst, these seem to building a spiral of their own. A mere change in regime, or tweaking of some rules, appear unlikely to stem the expanding rot in society and growing malignancy in the state.

 Indian democracy, at this juncture, needs serious strategic innovations to restructure its institutions, with clearer, newer and unique national vision. There is need for an inbuilt synergy between the state and the society for both to mutually empower and flourish. Indocracy has been an attempt to advocate a series of smaller but interdependent and integrated ideas in this direction. A few of these are available on this blog and elsewhere, but more are likely to come up. 

 

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Thursday, May 13, 2021

INDOCRACY SERIES OF DIALOGUE- Episode 1

 A digital platform named PGurus has started a series of weekly interactions with me on Indocracy. I have always maintained that as the largest democracy, we cannot harp on our ancient glories. Instead of talking about past, we must appreciate our contemporary challenges and plan for future. 

Indocracy is not about past or present of India. It is more about what India ought to be. Of course, no one can have a perfect prescription. It has to be an intellectual journey where many brilliant minds with integrity need to come together. 

Contents of this interaction are self-explanatory. I urge viewers of this blog to post their views. 


Monday, April 19, 2021

US Withdrawal From Afghanistan: Impact on Global Terror & Implications for India

 [This write-up is a prelude to a comprehensive research paper that I have recently written on a similar subject for a reputed journal in India. Some of the facts may be overlapping but the two pieces are entirely different. This write-up seeks to offer a broad over-view of wider implications and impact of the American move.]  


US President Biden’s April 14 announcement of complete withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan, the perennial graveyard of great empires, leaving the so-called war on terror inconclusive, continues to dominate the global discourse on security and geopolitics. Amidst apprehensions of rising clout of terror groups in South Asia and beyond, many believe that such a move fulfils the Pakistani aspiration of beating America with the help of America itself in a covert war.

A write up in New York Times has referred to remarks by former DG Pak ISI, Hamid Gul- often described as the ‘Godfather of Jehad’ in Af-Pak region- way back in 2014 during a chat show named ‘Mazaq Raat’ at Dunya News of Pakistan. Gul had asserted that ‘when history would be written, ISI would be credited with vanquishing the Soviets in Afghanistan with the help of America, to eventually decimate the Americans themselves with their own help.’ Gul, known for undermining civilian governments to perpetuate de-facto military control of Pakistan and building an elaborate global infrastructure for radicalism, terror and organised-crime, had emerged as the most credible public face of Pakistani deep state.

He had stressed during this show that ISI was not a stick or watch in the hands of Pakistani rulers and had urged to people to respect it as an army of the “Qom”  (Islamic race). There is another media clip of Gul hailing Osama Bin Laden as friend of Pakistan and boasting success of Pak Army in hiding the most wanted fugitive for nearly a decade, before the latter could be detected by the  US intelligence. 

In the larger context of events, it only suggests that Pakistani deep state had been confident from the beginning that they had succeeded in entrapping United States in Afghanistan. And there was no way for the most powerful nation on the earth to extricate itself without facing a severe blow in its face.

Pakistani deep state has increasingly adopted typical traditional ‘Mamluk’ strategy of war to successfully camouflage self-seeking agenda of a few in the name of religion. This is at the cost of security of the rest of the mankind, including its own people. Hence, treachery, deception, double-speak, and collateral damage have been justifiable instruments of an all out holy war.  Identity driven holy war has always justified exploitation and loot of "others" (or “infidels”) and plundering their resources, including human beings, for luxury and the comfort of "few", or "believers". Audacity or ability to peddle brazen lies has always been an integral part of propaganda or psychological dimension of such a war. Hence, they have continued to peddle lies like discrimination against Muslims in India or Hindus and Sikhs being treacherous races or India being  involved in cross-border terrorism in Pakistan.  

They believe it was this strategy that helped relatively smaller groups of Mamluk-Mongol marauders vandalise the mighty, but fractured,  original civilization of the Indian subcontinent. People who had continued to practice ideals of “Dharma-Yuddha” (rule-based war in defence of justice) could be defeated only through a combination of physical and psychological assault with lavish use of deception and tact. After humiliating debacle in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, Pakistani deep state has built a world wide infra-structure of organised crime, and tapped some of existing ones, to build and retain a global capacity for covert war against anyone and every one. From Far East, to South Asia, West Asia, parts of Africa and many parts of Europe - especially Portugal, Spain, Italy and UK- and going all the way to Columbia and Mexico, Pakistani nationals or elements of Pakistani deep state have been found involved in organised crime networks to varying  extents. Similarly, in various drug and gun running networks in Indian ocean and Arabian Sea, Pakistani nationals have been routinely intercepted. The actual number of such incidents that have surfaced in media could simply be a small tip of a large iceberg. With organised crime assessed to be accounting for 15 percent of the global GDP, with the figure being excess of 30 to 33% in many regions, Pakistani deep state's clandestine clout can only be visualized.       

  US media has been awash with reports of the way Pak military, despite being formally allied with United States, had continued to covertly support Taliban in a war, where US and the allied European nations have lost over 3500 soldiers, with another 25, 000+ receiving serious injuries. Financial costs of the war has been estimated at US$ 2 trillion by a Brown University's 'Costs of the War project'. It is believed that US war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq derailed the economic and technological advancement of the most powerful democracy.  The same project estimated that during 2001-2020, Afghanistan had suffered 43,000 civilian casualties, with corresponding figures for soldiers and policemen, who bore the brunt of Taliban attack, being estimated in excess of 70,000.

United States has also invested nearly US $ 700 billion in infrastructure for good governance, democracy, defence of human rights, education and employment. Significant focus remained on women empowerment. India too has contributed nearly hundred billions dollars in such initiatives and public infrastructure. But developments in this direction have failed to prevent well-oiled Taliban and allied radical machinery from intimidating large sections of local population, especially in rural areas, into submission. Consequently, Pakistani deep state has succeeded in protecting and preserving the most formidable sanctuary for terror, radicalism and narcotic cultivation that it has assiduously cultivated over four decades, exploiting emotions of religious identity.

As per UNODC report, Taliban has been annually generating US $ 1.5 billion through heroin and poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. These cannot be processed and trafficked without support of multiple global networks managed and coordinated by Pak ISI. As per informed sources, this revenue is peanuts compared overall volume of money generated by larger world-wide operations of organised crime directly coordinated by Pak ISI. 

But Afghanistan also provides a large pool of radicalised cadres both for guerrilla and terror operations as well as lower-end roles in the global organised crime networks. Simultaneously, incumbents of Pakistani deep state may also be eying proceeds from potential exploitation of vast metal and mineral resources in Afghanistan, estimated to be in excess of US$ 3 trillion,  which China has been seeking to explore. The latter has signed a few deals without substantial progress so far. 

Pakistani deep state has consistently demonstrated it utility for major powers. Its nexus with major terror groups and organised crime networks has been found extremely useful for a variety of purposes. Many established democracies have thanked Pakistan for tactical assistance in neutralising  minor terror modules. Pakistanis have not hesitated in sacrificing some of their own smaller pawns or utilising their interface with larger crime networks to assist European or other nations on minor counter-terror issues, where its own larger interests were not involved. In many instances, its terror or organised crime linked human assets have been treated as sacrificial lambs for larger strategic or financial gains. 

A closer analysis and observation suggests that the world of money-laundering, drug-trafficking, printing and circulation of fake currencies, betting, extortion, arms-trafficking, street crime, high-end cyber-crime, passports and visas forgery etc all are interlinked at one or the other level. Hence, many state actors, while resenting presence of such Pak linked networks on their own territory, have been tempted, or even compelled, to use Pakistani clout with entities in this realm for a variety of purposes. 

Pakistani deep state is also believed to have exploited its expertise in a variety of sophisticated organised crime, to build symbiotic linkages with sections of political, bureaucratic, media and civil society groups. This is not only in relatively fragile states but also in some of the stable democracies. Nevertheless, such entities and groups have their own dynamics that breed differences and disputes. Hence, Pakistan has also faced, to a limited extent, a boomerang impact for supporting terror and crime, which it quietly and brazenly attributes to India, without realising that in absence of an elaborate infrastructure, it is impossible to peddle organised terror. 

Major global powers have always been suspected of depending on indirect assistance from covert terror and crime infrastructure of Pakistan on certain issues. Powerful sections of the US establishment have often been charged with tacit encouragement to Pakistan’s early ventures towards building infrastructure for radicalism and organised crime. US ambivalence to Islamist terror during early years  of Cold War or its subsequent backing of jehadi terror against Soviet Russia in Afghanistan lend credence to such perceptions. Today, China appears to perceive Pakistan’s terror infrastructure and its goodwill with organised global crime networks as a source of strength, worthy of exploitation for strategic goals.

In recent years, Turkish President Erdogan’s flirtations with both Al Qaeda and ISIS have been well documented. Several media reports have cited remnants of IS and Al Qaeda frequenting Istanbul and maintaining direct interface with Turkish intelligence. Erdogan has made veiled threats against France to use even Islamist terror, without being explicit about it.  He probably derived confidence from his patronage to such groups or clout with them. His closer alliance with Pakistan, only enhances his covert influence manifold. Pakistan’s role as interlocutor between US and Taliban, and choice of Ankara as the venue for next round of talks between US and Taliban, only sum up the story in this direction.

Situation becomes particularly worrying with what appears a clear backing of China to emerging axis of Pakistan, Turkey and Iran. While, Xi Jin Ping regime would like major terror groups and their patrons to stay away from China’s own soft belly in Xinjiang, as well as Chinese projects in both Central Asia and Africa, an indirect engagement with such elements through Pakistan can help: a) safeguard these interests or establishments; and b) prevent emergence of any challenge or economic competition from actual or potential rivals. This can vitiate global ambience for commerce, free trade and enterprise. 

China’s interests and stakes in Africa, Central Asia, Far -East and West Asia are well known. An indirect interface with such groups, backed by confidence of its own advanced destructive technological power, virtually offers it a tool to coerce states in these region to plunder their resources or impose its own designs on them.  

Global Terror Index - 2020 observes increasing spread of terrorism in certain parts of the world, especially the sub-Saharan Africa. This is something which may not be of much concern to the most among the developed West. But it can potentially have a strong spill over impact well beyond this region in the post-Covid scenario.

There are several other indicators suggesting that Africa may emerge as new home for terror groups or an alternative sanctuary for controlled breeding of terror, alongside organised crime. Fragile states with a pool of volatile young population provide the most conducive infrastructure for terror. Besides Boko Haram and Al Shabab, several elements of Al Qaeda and IS have also managed to sneak into both Horn of Africa and Eastern Africa. Islamic State of Greater Sahara to a host of relatively smaller groups have made their presence felt in the region over the past few years.

Emotive appeal of identity driven propaganda is also manifest in a series of lone wolf terror attacks in Paris, London or even Washington DC. These have demonstrated that even a single motivated terrorist or a small groups of such terrorists, which being a family in a recent case in Indonesia, can wreak havoc on open societies. If such people are well trained, probably the damage can be far more serious. Hence, even in absence of large organised terror groups, open societies are likely to be troubled by stray incidents of radical terrorism. Oppressive societies can use their stronger surveillance capacities to impose a blanket curb, alongside stricter security counter measures, to deny space to even lone wolfs from inflicting damage to their elite or state institutions. Democracies may struggle in this direction. 

India needs to be particularly careful as its overall vulnerability to terror remains fairly high. Since 2001, India has remained in the Global Terror Index’s list of 5 most vulnerable nations for nearly a decade. Even now, India has been ranked 8th after Pakistan and highly impacted nations including Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Somalia and Yemen. Given congenital Pakistani hatred towards India, with its world-wide terror infrastructure intact, and Chinese backing to Pakistan, India has its task well cut out.

Challenges further magnify in the context of fragility of many of its own key institutions and malignancy in sections of its police establishments. What manifested during recent extortion cum crime network run by a policeman in Mumbai, in alleged collusion with a politician, could be smaller sample of a larger rot. Such phenomenon threatens to dent the advances made towards the development of formidable anti-terror and counter-terror capacities under dynamic leadership of few brilliant professional leaders. Given the overall adversities, amidst which India's counter-terror professionals operate, India's success in handling and thwarting Pak sponsored terror attacks, in recent years, has been commendable by all standards. 

Simultaneously, in an increasingly interlinked world, terror sanctuary almost anywhere shall have some impact on India’s security interests. This is especially given its democratic character, large size and mixed population. But a Pak nurtured Islamist terror hub and global crime-terror network poses a direct threat to the world's largest democracy. The choice is certainly not a spectacular and expensive war on terror that can drain our national energies. It should rather be a series of smaller and less spectacular measures that deny space and opportunities for terror and organised crime to eventually snuff them out.   

India needs to keep a particularly closer watch on subversive propaganda at home in the guise of democratic freedom. For larger credibility and efficacy of the approach, this must be done through a mechanism of rule of law instead of underhand coercion,  which is likely to generate more problems than solutions in long run. Even counterreactions to Islamic radicalism on social media, beyond a point, shall help feed Islamist propaganda for terror and subversion. This is especially in absence of an agile and swift mechanism of rule of law. Amidst all this, terror groups in the region and beyond have been continuously mutating and transitioning, along with their counterparts in the world of organised crime, compounding the pressure on counter-terror professionals. 

India needs an innovative approach, incorporating strategic and tactical, defensive and offensive as well as local and global dimensions, to build sustainable and effective capacities to deal with the threat, in all its dimensions, in its own unique context. American experience only demonstrates that a flawed approach, despite the best intent, can seriously impair long-term capacities and strengths of even the mightiest among states and civilizations.    

 

WHY INDOCRACY? Vol-3; INDIA MUST CHART OUT A NEW COURSE OF DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE

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