Sitting in London the Maoist insurgency in India seems very removed. There are no protests outside India House and I don’t have to come up with debating points against my Pakistani friends. But then even when I was in Delhi the insurgency seemed really far away. I have never really travelled in these areas and no one really seemed to know who are these tribals. But as is often the case, the knowledge gaps are made up with fantasy. For most middle class Delhites their first introduction to these ‘tribals’ are as house maids and servants. They come to the city to work and are willing to put up with appalling working conditions in order to save money and send some money back home. In typical party chatter, these are people ‘without morals’ in the sense they will sleep with anyone (outside of marriage), they are illiterate, unclean and have no sense of the world.

Everytime my American friends asked why do sensible educated people employ them under such appalling conditions and at low salaries, my argument used to be that this is better than them starving at home and this way they are also able to send some money back home. In the sense, there is a worse scenario that you can not imagine. Well actually, I couldn’t imagine it either. I often thought that the Indian state was quite lucky that these people with such miserable lives were quiet about it and allowed the state (and the rest of us) to get away with it. I thought maybe it was in our religion (fatalism, previous life karma etc), culture (chalta hai attitude) or they were too busy thinking about their next meal to even think about getting back at the Indian state.

Something has obviously snapped and they are getting back at the state. Why now I wonder ? what made them say enough is enough ? how does the state solve this problem politically ?Do these tribals really want to come into the political mainstream ? does the ‘developed india’ have nothing to offer them? what then can the state offer to them ? This probably be the first major insurgency which India can not blame on a foreign hand. Will it then become a class war , with the middle class indians clinging onto their way of life against the Maoists ?

This is among the top challenges facing India and I know no nothing about it. It is like I am from a different India altogether. I am disappointed, frustrated and sad !


The title of the post sounds like a Tintin comic. Of a big eyed kid making his way into the exotic far east and winging his way successfully through adversity and solving the mystery. As cute that sounds, China is still this exotic east to Indian policy makers. Since the war in the 1960s they’ve almost forgotten about it and preferred to focus their energies on Pakistan (East and West) , Soviet Union and the US.  The only constant issue with China since the 60s has been Dalai Lama (or the Dalai Lama clique as the Chinese like to say).

This was the case until the early 21st century when China somehow tore through the screen and burst upon the India stage. Then corporate India discovered Shanghai and wanted Mumbai to be the next Shanghai and the ability of China to ‘get things done’ was greatly admired. It was a common dinner party conversation, especially during the political insecurity before Vajpayee government came to power, to talk about how India needs a dictatorship to get things moving. Side by side was the whispering of how China fudges its numbers, there is no democracy, it arms Pakistan and then some columnist wanting to show off his knowledge of China would write about a Shen Tzu strategy and explain that the Chinese are really coming this time. In between all this they were few well researched voices on China. One was C Raja Mohan’s Chinese takeaway in the Indian express which still continues. Then there were the people from JNUs centre for east asian studies who always had something interesting to add when they were interviewed on TV and I always wondered why I don’t see them more.

So this time when Krishna went to China he was accompanied by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao. She was the ambassador to China in her last posting and is the resident expert on China. As ambassador to China she was famously awakened in the middle of the night to take a Chinese protest on disrupting the Olympic torch at India Gate. Probably the most significant thing that came out of the talks was the hotline between the two heads of state, which sounds like nothing (it had been pre agreed by the two heads of state). But I think I now know China a little better than a few years ago and the success of the trip is not to be measured in the press conference after the meeting , but in the months and even years after the meeting. The Chinese press conferences anyway have enough ‘harmonies’ and ‘peaceful’ words to start their own version of bullshit bingo !

My point is that I hope that the Indian policy makers have now realised that India’s relationship with China in the coming years will be as significant, if not more, than its relationship with the US. I say this because India and the US have a lot in common and the relationship has seen some work in the past 20 years. India also has a lot of common with China (for eg: both have a hierarchical society, a lot of work gets done in informal gatherings etc) but these commonalities have to be built upon. Both are growing economies (albeit China is about 10 years ahead of India) and both face similar needs (of natural resources), similar challenges (population) although they have different ways of dealing with them. India should be in a position to take advantage of China’s development just as India should be open for the Chinese to take part in her development.

On India’s side, this will need a complex mature relationship built on fulfilling on India’s interests without compromising on her security. I don’t think India has this relationship with any of her neighbours and maybe a beginning can be made with China. So maybe Krishna needs to go to China more often.

Waking up to a rainy London morning sometimes makes me feel oddly content. Looking out into the grey sky with a big mug of tea I feel at peace and totally incapable of any verbal communication. If I have to talk now I feel I will have to summon all my energy to string words together into a coherent sentence. I also feel glad that I am not in the Indian foreign service and so I don’t have to be ready to talk to Pakistan any time even though I don’t really want to.

I have been following Indo-Pak relations more closely since the past 15 years and I am tired of this snakes and ladders game. Both sides can climb many ladders and all it needs is one snake to bring everyone down to the beginning. It is a game which never ends and it keeps a lot of people in India – Pak and around the world in jobs. It provides Bollywood producers with ready made scripts, newspaper editors with ready made editorials, useless peaceniks get a lot of attention that they wouldn’t get otherwise, petty criminals turned jihadis and right wingers in India get another reason to exist, arms manufacturers a ready made market and armchair bloggers like me their first lesson in realpolitik.

So when I heard of the Feb 25 announcement my first reaction was that it is a good thing. It is one step forward and if either sides would have a reason to withdraw then atleast they can stop talking. If the sides are not talking then withdrawing further usually means diplomatic action or even war. So from a basic survival, nuclear war prevention, perspective this is good. But that is like the social development equivalent of the poverty line and that is not enough. How do India and Pakistan break this consciously built up hate and distrust of 60 years. How do you unpick the deliberately picked fights and confrontations of these years. How does India learn to trust Pakistan and how does Pakistan trust that India is not interested in another division of Pakistan. Have no illusions that these divisions are really strong and well entrenched. How else do you keep away two groups of people who have a shared history, culture, language and family links so apart for all this time? We constantly talk of a world of open communication, of collaboration, of networking and yet nothing seems to impact this division. Pakistan still unites India like nothing else  and vice-versa.

The difference this time is that the characters are different on both sides and they both seem keen to come some sort of a resolution. In Manmohan Singh and his foreign secretary (Nirupama Rao) I see a good tag team. I ignore SM Krishna because I don’t take people who wear wigs seriously ! Manmohan is an out of the box politician who because of the fact that he doesn’t have a political constituency is capable of pretty much anything. In Pakistan, Yusuf Gilani seems to be the empowered Prime Minister and the army chief is much more pragmatic than Musharraf. There seems to be realisation on both sides that this can’t go on forever. The only thing which is missing is a neutral referee but I dont think India will ever agree to it and you could argue that there is no such thing as a neutral referee in international politics.

And so we talk again.

Many nights ago I was jetlagged and I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t seem to go back to sleep. As is the case my mind started to run and the conversations, events and people over the last few days started to run through my mind. This went for some time before I started to berate myself. What is the point of all this I told myself. Why can’t I rise up above this. I told myself where is my book going to come from, where is my first big idea, where is my philosophy to change the world. Like all other thoughts this too got lost in the chain.

My mind then turned to Delhi. I have had a strange relationship with Delhi. I love this city dearly and yet I dont know why I love it so much. This relationship is becoming more strange now that I dont live in Delhi. Everytime I come to Delhi, I dont feel like coming again and the more that I stay away from Delhi I want to go back to it. It is like i am straddling two boats and the boats are drifting apart. Unless I don’t resolve this quickly I am bound to fall in the middle and lose both the boats. My mind then moved onto why is it that I like Delhi so much.

For me Delhi has this energy that I dont feel anywhere else and I think I come back to feel this energy. This is the energy which comes from a city going about its business inspite of all the odds. There are power cuts, water shortages,high levels of pollution, extreme summer and a cold winter, lack of safety for women and children and yet the city shows up to work day after day. After work the city shows up in its now many malls, cinemas, late night marriages, night clubs in the middle of the week.They work hard because there is this immense desire to escape the tyranny of daily infrastructure management of fixing the inverter for backup power or ensuring that the water pump is switched on everyday or they will be no water.  To escape from this they pay astronomical sums for apartments in the middle of nowhere so they can get electricity and water at all times and so their children can be secure inside the ‘compound’. So while the administration falters in providing the basic services and regulating the private builders it overcompensated by allocating land to builders faster than you can say infrastructure.

Inspite of all this the city thrives.  It is probably the fastest going metro in the country and it will soon become the largest city in India if it is not one already. It is the laboratory of urban transport experiments like – more cars than anywhere else, more flyovers than any other city, biggest metro service and a bus corridor. The bus corridor is quite a sight. I used to see it everyday as it was on the main road near to my house. It is a sight I never thought I will see in Delhi. While the cars are stuck behind each other, the bus corridor offer a smooth ride to bus passengers who seem to alight and disembark almost lazily while the car owners look on. It is like as if the caste system has been reversed and even though you have spent more money you don’t get the right of way.

What to write ?

Should I talk about how I see myself becoming more and more cynical about things. This cynicism is sometimes like standing in a smokers room and it makes me yearn for something different, for some fresh air. When the fresh air arrives I miss the cigarette smoke to go along with it. A better analogy is of a rat. I often look out for rats on the London underground. I marvel at how close they are to me, to the expensive shoes, to the posters of the latest new musical in town. I sometimes make myself believe that the rats are looking at us. Then I think about their view of our world.I wonder if they get to see the dirt under the shoes, of trousers hems showing signs of age, do they get to see hairy armpits, hair inside the nostrils , sweat on hot summer days. Do they get to see everything that we try so hard to hide and pretend that it doesn’t exist.

My rat eye view tells me that there is a negative to everyone and everything. When I say negative , it is not what I perceive as negative, but what people perceive as negative in themselves. This is what people try to gloss over, put make up over and hope that no one notices it. To me that is the most fascinating part of that person and then that becomes the start of my journey into a person’s mind. So you have a good job, but are you really happy ? Is this really what you want to be doing? More importantly this also helps me to manage expectations (which means to keep them low) both with myself and with other people. It helps me understand why politics is the way it is and also why the business of AIDS has been a shot in the arm for faith-based organisations.

It helps me understand why Copenhagen is mostly about politics and environment is almost a side product. The leaders who get together could be talking about anything. It helps me see that the leaders for this summit are not even half as scared about this issue as they were about economic recession. They know that their governments are not going to fall, the majority of their electorate doesn;t really care much beyond their local recycling measures, the world is not coming to an end before the next election and more importantly this is the last photo-op for the year before everyone goes off for their ski holiday.

Some days when I need a laugh I wonder about how will the aspirations of a generation of Indians will be changed in a generation. They’ve just grown up being brainwashed to the aspirational western way of life – of unlimited food, water, electricity, where you are only limited by your imagination and not by natural resources. Just when they feel that utopia is within the reach, just when they feel that they’ve earned it through their long hours at work, broken relationships and the penthouse on the 20th floor where even the rats can’t reach, they are told that they were swinging in the wrong golf course. They are now to be told to use public transport again, to not overtly try to control the weather around them, to not take flights at the drop of a hat and not waste food. How can you change the definition of a good life ? even God doesn’t have the right to do that.

Then there is Tiger Woods. Or rather the rise and fall of Tiger woods. What is our fascination with perfect people. People who are committed to their families, jobs, charity and what have you. Not one step out of line, not one hair out of place, perfect families, kids, houses. And then it all comes tumbling out.  Why this fascination with perfection when it doesn’t exist ?

As I sit here watching the rain pour down in London, it feels like any other tropical storm except it is also cold. I constantly look up to the skies for any break in the clouds. I also hope to see a special aircraft flying from India on the way to Washington DC. The plane is carrying Manmohan Singh on his first state visit to the US. But my expectations of this trip are rock bottom. I had more expectations from the G20, or even   summit. This trip is going to be all about symbolism, about reiterating stuff that has been many times in the past, about just keeping in the status quo in so many ways. At the end of this week, it’s going to be like a Hollywood movie which I sometimes call as ‘good’ but not sure what it was really about. I am going to try and make sense of some of the issues that might be on the menu.

US and India have steadily upgrading their relationship in the past 18 years or so. US understands the language of money better than any other country in this world. For the US , India signifies money and it also signifies less effort (as compared to China) to get to that money. Less effort in the sense of political and policy shenanigans that need to happen on the side for that money to come out. I use the word shenanigans because I like it (reminds me of 80s sex romps) and also because Obama’s treatment of the Dalai Lama issue was nothing short of one ! So US absolutely have to be in India no matter what and it is in India even in areas it never though it could ever be (defence industry, nuclear energy etc). Yes there is scope to enter even more areas and make even more money but all in due time. So in the economic sense not sure what Obama has to tell to Manmohan that he doesn’t know already. Obama is committed to Asia , as is Manmohan committed to the ASEAN and so there is already a lot of common ground. I can’t see a major new agreement coming through.

On the issue of Kashmir which is now again quite dear to the US because their friends in Pakistan like to use it from everything ranging from their need for a N-bomb to the problems with Taliban. I wonder what will happen to Pakistan when the Kashmir issue does get resolved. So there will be the usual statement to get Kashmir resolved through bilateral means and India will probably update the US on what is happening with the latest on the back channel diplomacy.

But the one issue which might be interesting will be the Afghanistan issue. This is not because Obama has a burning desire to consult India, but more because Obama ia about to arrive at a decision and India has economic interests in Afghanistan and plays the soft power role. It also has reasonably good relations with Iran and there could be the scope of these two countries joining up forces against the Taliban with the quiet blessing of the US which needs all the help it can get in Afghanistan. Manmohan was interviewed by Newsweek just before his trip and there are two things that stand out for me. One that the majority of the interview is about Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran ( the 3 major worries of the US in Central and South Asia) and also about what has been left unsaid. I am still not sure exactly what was the Iranian foreign minister doing in India just before this trip. The second bit was about the economy and how little attention was paid by the interviewer to economic matters.

Which finally brings me to Pakistan. Whatever I read about Pakistan, it seems to point towards a change of power. Zardari and his clique seems to be on the way out and Nawaz is the only other popular politician around, assuming that the army doesn’t want to come back to power in these politically correct times. It has all the trappings of power anyways without the abuse. That could be another point of discussion of what does India think about Nawaz. Both him and Manmohan speak Punjabi but that is where the similarity ends. They both seem to come from completely gene pools. Manmohan is the economist turned reluctant politician who can write theories of trade in his sleep, Nawaz thinks he has a God-given right to govern and is a businessman although his style may not be too endearing to an economist. But better India deal with a Lahore based Punjabi than a Karachi based Sindhi. I am half and half of either so I know what I am talking about !

So the visit is going to be Obama talking about a special/really special/deeply special – you get the drift- with India, the state banquet in cold DC outdoors and the wives talking about how to bring up daughters. If I was a fly on the tandoori chicken I would be paying attention to the Pashminas.

It was independence day the other day and my head was full of all sorts of thoughts. It is hard for me to make sense of them but in my time honoured tradition, I feel like marking the occasion, making a speech or something. It’s a bit late to do a flag hoisting so this post will have to do.

It is a bit surreal for me to see Manmohan Singh to make the speech from Red Fort. The Red fort has seen so many rulers in its time. Yet I wonder if it knows what to make of this one. He doesn’t sound like a ruler, his demeanour is certainly not of one, he is not a rabble rouser, he doesn’t ‘carry’ the audience with him, he can’t win an election and even his Jai Hinds don’t sound as passionate. He is one of the back room boys who has been pushed into the front room. I vaguely remember his first speech and I remember feeling sorry for him. I felt sorry for him because he would never quite get the credit for being who he is simply because he was a plant and even as plants go he had no front room skills. I also felt sorry for our country which I thought doesn’t quite deserve him and certainly hadn’t voted for him to be the prime minister. When he first made his speech no one would have predicted that he would still be making a speech 5 years, one election and a heart surgery later. I certainly didn’t expect that.

For the first time in the history of India, a non-politician has been at the helm of affairs for so long. While you could argue that some of these years have been spent learning some political skills on the job, some of these have also been spent bringing back room discipline to politics. I see more and more of it in the new government. The new government has set off on a breathtaking pace, by Indian standards, and all the ministries are rushing out with their 3 months, 6 months and annual plans. This is almost like a company announcing its quarterly results (probably another backroom skill being brought to governance). More importantly, the PM is also asserting his newly learnt front room skills. He has got himself an external affairs minister who is not exactly a heavyweight in foreign affairs, the heavyweight (who is also effectively the deputy PM) has been moved to Finance and in finance there is no bigger heavyweight than the PM himself. That is a move that Indira Gandhi would have been proud of. There is also so much politically correct about this prime minister. He is a Sikh and there is no bigger patriot than him as he himself told the Left parties during the nuclear stand off last year.

This brings me nicely onto what I want to talk about next. As a child I have totally bought into India’s moral standing in the world. India since independence has had a lot to say to the world on the right path. Whatever the country did was given this cloak of the morally correct thing to do. That cloak has come off, and in some cases rightly so, since the 90s. India is increasingly part of the world that now fights for scare resources and it now does whatever needs to be done to feed its economic development. This is quite interesting as all the top economies have subtle or big differences in their political outlook but that doesn’t stand in the way of meeting their economic objectives which are quite similar.

I am not sure what is India looking to gain by holding out on climate change talks. Yes our per capita emissions are among the lowest in the world, yes there is an additional cost to be borne for low carbon development and yes the developed world is responsible for most of the environmental mess if not all of it. Yes to all of that. But then what about the moral cloak, what about doing the right thing, or atleast to be seen to be doing the right thing. It makes sense if India is holding out for a better deal from the developed nations, but then what was a good deal 2 years ago is probably now a non-existent deal in a credit crunched world. The Copenhagen summit is 5 months away and India refuses to budge.

Can we not tell the developed world, that even though you have messed up our planet, we will help you clean it? Because we are India and we always do the right thing. Jai Hind.