Tuesday, December 05, 2017
He became part of the Ivory Merchant team, doing 'Shakespearewallah', 'The Guru'. There were also the 1967 'A Matter of Innocence' also known as 'Pretty Polly' based on a Noel Coward play, and his heroine in the movie was Hayley Mills, where there were interesting 'kissing scenes' which aroused much curiosity because they involved an Indian actor. Four years later, Shashi Kapoor and Simmi Garewal enacted the kissing scenes in Conrad Rooks' 'Siddhartha'. There was nothing more to that pedestrian movie.
He tried to make what he believed to be good cinema. This resulted in 'Kalyug' and 'Junoon', both directed by Shyam Benegal, and 'Utsav', based on Shudraka's Sanskrit play 'Mrichchakataka' (The Little Clay Cart), directed by Girish Karnad. He acted in all three of them. Then he produced Aparna Sen-directed '36 Chowringhee Lane', where his wife Jennifer Kendall gave a heart-warming performance of an Anglo-Indian teacher. But he realised that good cinema does not pay. And he opted out dignifiedly and without bitterness.
Saturday, November 25, 2017
It is a coincidence that can be interpreted as the expression of the zeitgeist or the spirit of the time that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe form a political constellation, and their agendas are rightist refractions of nationalist temper, but which is guardedly expressed in terms of achieving domestic well-being. Modi has his New India by 2022 vision, Xi speaks of a moderately prosperous China by 2050 and Abe is looking to revive the Japanese right to arm itself which is prohibited under the United States-imposed 1947 constitution. India ($2.2 trillion), China ($11.2 trillion) and Japan ($4.9 trillion) are the fifth, second and third largest economies in the world after the US in 2016. How does the much talked about Asian century look as we race towards the 2020s?
India is one of the strong economies by its sheer size though there are too many structural weaknesses which cannot be wished away. It is a stuttering economic engine, which is yet to get into the top gear of double-digit growth for a decade and more. China’s heated economic growth of three decades is slowing down though it is far from a state of entropy. The great challenge, political as well as economic, that China is facing is corruption, which should ring a bell for Modi. It is the Japanese economy which appears to be in a state of entropy after clocking amazing growth through the 1950s to 1980s. It has been experiencing a stagnation trap from the early 1990s onwards, despite interest rates hovering at zero and a little above it, but without much success.
The paradox is this. Asia’s biggest economies are at the top of the league in many ways though the US and the European Union are still throwing their weight around. Among the three economic giants, it is China that can flex its political muscle on the global stage. Xi has however assured that China is not interested in hegemonic games while Beijing throws tantrums in South China Sea, and the relatively well-to-do ASEAN economies feel a little helpless in the face of China, and look to the US to counter Beijing’s overwhelming presence the region.
The US, which is yet to recover from the economic battering of the 2007 financial meltdown, is looking to India, Japan and Australia to do the job of keeping China at bay. Japan would not want to repeat its blunder of aggression which it had committed in the 1930s. It is quite keen to mend it fences with China despite the periodic eruption of frayed tempers on both sides, more so on the part of China. Indian nationalists may want to cross swords with China, but the political leadership is aware of the difficulties and limitations. In the Doklam tussle, it is New Delhi that held its peace and let China rant before the fracas died down.
It looks like that India, China and Japan are eyeing each other warily, and this is especially so in the cases of India and China, and Japan and China. At the same time, the Sino-Japanese economic ties continue to prosper (Japanese exports to China stand at $113 billion, next only to exports to the US at $130 billion; China’s exports to Japan: $129 billion compared to China’s exports to the US: $385 billion; to Hong Kong: $287 billion) as do India-China trade flows (China’s exports to India: $58.33 billion; Indian exports to China: $11.76 billion). The India-Japan trade relations are tepid compared to that between India and China. India’s exports to Japan amount to $ 4.66 billion, while imports from Japan stand at $ 9.85 billion. (All the figures are for 2016.)
Despite denials, India, China and Japan are potential rivals in Asia. India has the moral and political advantage in south-east Asia because ASEAN countries do not like Japan because of the bitter memories of Japanese militarism in the region. China by its sheer size intimidates the smaller countries. India has a friendly reputation, but it is not in a position either to extend a military umbrella like the US, nor can India provide the market for ASEAN though it is what is expected from New Delhi. India and China have been vying for influence in Africa, with China having an upper hand for the moment.
India because of its geographical proximity has a role to play in west Asia, an area which is overlooked in all discussions about 21st century being an Asian century for the simple reason that Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the big economies in the region, do not have the clout either in terms of their size or their ability to invest in the rest of the world. They are important in the strategic sense, but they do not have much to contribute by way of trade flows in terms of industrial and technological exports. So, the big picture of Asia will always tilt in favour of India, China and Japan because of the economic muscle of these three countries.
Modi, Xi and Abe are busy dealing with their home constituencies and the domestic challenges they pose. And they appear to be unchallenged leaders in their own countries. The nationalist rhetoric that these three leaders are compelled to use does not point to Asian domination in the rest of the world. The three can still hope to reach out with their goods and services, but they cannot command the political and military power to provide ballast to their economies the way European powers did in the first half of the 20th century, and the US in the second half. It would be a multi-polar world for much of the rest of the century, with India, China and Japan struggling to assert themselves on the world stage.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Thursday, November 09, 2017
After a long time, there is no attempt to extrapolate contemporary concerns on to the past
POLITICAL VIOLENCE IN ANCIENT INDIA
By Upinder Singh
Harvard University Press; Pages: 598; Published: 2017; Price: Rs 999
It would be very sad if this lovely book which takes you through two millennia of Sanskrit, Pali, Buddhist, Hindu, literary creations, political treatises, and inscriptions from all over India and across south-East Asia is confined to its title. Historian Upinder Singh starts off with the thesis that Nehru and Gandhi, no, not Nehru-Gandhis, have created the myth of non-violence during the Freedom Movement as something inherent in the ancient history of India, and how this was not really the case. Singh has been bold enough to put forward the thesis in the inflammatory ideological situation in the country, where right-wing Hindutva proponents flex their useless muscles – they do not know the seriousness and subtleness of the debate on violence in ancient India which is the central theme of the book – and the liberal-secularists are taken aback by the proposition and in all their ignorance and naivete ask, “Is that so?” So, everybody wants to read through the book to find more about political violence in India – assassinations, coup d’ etat, wars, abductions, destruction. And more importantly, each side wants to confirm its own preconceptions and prejudices. The right-wing, with Savarkar’s Hindutva thesis at the back of their mind, are keen that non-violence is not the creed of Hindu India. They will be disappointed. First, because there is a Jain-Buddhist India, and there is post-Vedic Brahminical India – in terms of literary sources – and each was influenced by the other in many ways. The Mahabharata, Arthashastra and Manu Smriti are post-Buddhist texts and they are grappling with Jain-Buddhist ideas. So, ancient India is not really Hindu(tva) India. It was a complicated India thousands of years ago as it is now. The liberals will have a tough time squaring their secular circle because there is tradition and religion inextricably intertwined along with politics and aesthetics and ethics.
There is plenty of political violence in ancient Indian history and Singh had covered that ground in her admirable textbook of ancient Indian and early medieval history which was published in 2007. Here she is doing something that is different and fascinating. She rummages through the literary sources and foregrounds the debate about violence in its widest political sense. What she is really referring to is political power, which is based on violence. The evidence that she presents is breath-taking and delightful. She looks at the real challenges that the ancient Indians considered in relation to political power, which at that time rested in the idea of kingship. The Buddha’s sermons speak of the righteous king who follows the dhamma, and when a king chooses to follow his own dictates, however right, there would be disorder. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana offer their own versions of the righteous king. But the Buddhist view does not close the door on doubt. She quotes from the Samyutta Nikaya, where the Buddha is shown to be wondering: “Is it possible to exercise rulership righteously: without killing and without instigating others to kill, without confiscating and without instigating others to confiscate, without sorrowing and without causing others to sorrow?”
After surveying the Ashokan edicts under the playful rubric, “Ashoka and His Piety Propaganda”, she sums up the Mauryan emperor’s achievement: “Ashoka’s dhamma was a new idiosyncratic synthesis that was rooted in the king’s personal faith in Buddhism but bore the strong stamp of his own reflections on the fundamental goals of life and power. Metaphysics, ethics and politics were combined in a unique way, and the resulting synthesis was propagated through a single-minded, zealous, and elaborately organised propaganda campaign. Ashoka’s was a radical and audacious aim – the moral transformation of all mankind.”
The problem of political power is stated in a complex way in the Mahabharata. Bhishma tells Yudhishtira: “Should there be no king in the world, no one to wield the royal rod of force upon the earth, then the stronger would roast the weaker on spits, like fish. We have learned that peoples without kings have vanished in the past, devouring each other, the way fishes in water eat the smaller one.” The modern reader would be reminded of the Hobbesian state of nature. What Singh has done is to remind the reader that these issues have been debated earlier with much seriousness in India in those far off times.
The more interesting aspect of the issue is the reluctance of the good man to take up political reins. Bhishma narrates the story of how Manu, the mythological First Man, refused to be the ruler when asked by Brahma, the Creator: “I am afraid of cruel [kroora] acts. For kingship is an extremely difficult task, especially among men, who are always prone to wrongful behaviour.”
The book is structured in an interesting fashion, starting with Foundations, going on to Transition, and to Maturity, and then taking a turn to War, to The Wilderness. Singh gets back to the same main texts and other inscriptional sources which she has chosen under the different rubrics. The most interesting and innovative of them is The Wilderness, and here she shows major writers and protagonists longing for the forest and the nature to escape the burden of political leadership. Both Yudhishtira and Rama long to get away to the quiet of the forest and live in the forest and its peaceful nature, and they are persuaded by their brothers and wives that it is not right to run away from duty, and that one can retire to forest only after fulfilling the duty due from a prince. She describes the burning of the Khandava forest in the Mahabharata and the cruel manner of the killing of the animals. She does not rationalise, and she does not offer an apology. She reveals the context as it was stated in the epic. In the footnotes, she takes note of the fact, Mahabharata is referred to as “Itihasa” or history, and Valmiki’s Ramayana is known as “kavya” or literary composition.
It is in the chapter on The Wilderness, that she refers to discussions in the Sanskrit texts about the merits and demerits of hunting, which should surprise and bewilder the modern sceptics who have the tendency to believe that it is only during the modern era that all the sensible questions came up for consideration. She quotes Kamandaka, the author of Nitisara, saying, “These are said to be the benefits of hunting [but] that is not acceptable. Due to its inherent evils of taking life [dosah pranaharith] it is a great vice [vyasanam mahat].”
Then she cites from Kalidasa’s Abhijnanasakuntala. One of the inmates of the Kanva ashram tells king Dushyanta who enters the ashram with his bow drawn to kill a black antelope, “Therefore, replace your well-armed arrow. / Your weapon is designed for the protection of those in distress. Not for the killing of the innocent.” In the same play, after quoting the lament of the vidushaka or the clown, Singh quotes the senapati or army commander singing the virtues of hunting: “The body becomes light and agile for activity, the waist attenuated due to the reduction of fat;/ The heart of animals as they experience fear and anger, is observed; / It is the highest glory for archers when their arrows hit a moving target; / Falsely is hunting is said to be a vice [vyasana]; where is there a comparable amusement.”
Singh practises the scholar’s scrupulosity of respecting the integrity of the texts and contexts she is citing. She does not extrapolate modern perspectives when quoting and discussing the older sources. It gives the reader a glimpse of the sense of the times that are under discussion. This is a strong enough reason to read the book because she makes it possible to connect with the intent and context of the texts that she is citing. While talking about the Manusmriti, Singh says, “Like the Arthashastra, the Manusmriti also enjoys a certain notoriety. It is often seen as upholder of the oppression of lower classes and women, but it is actually a complex text that defies simplistic characterization. It contains a variety of ideas as well as many contradictory statements that have to be understood in the specific context in which they are made.”
There have been quite many contemporary interpretations of ancient India and its thought systems. Singh allows the texts to stand on their own, and despite her preferences – she has a soft corner for Kalidasa, and one of the few contemporary historians who recognises the grandeur and gravitas of the poet’s Raghuvamsha – she allows the reader to connect with the authors and characters of the ancient texts. She cites Bhasa’s – an eminent pre-Kalidasa playwright -- play which give counter-arguments to the ideal hero and Vishakhadatta’s Mudrarakshasa, a realistic portrayal of political power dilemmas based in history and not in mythology. One of the remarkable achievements of this book is the weaving in inscriptions in south-east Asia pointing to the fact as to how Indian political ideas travelled abroad.
Fellow-historians are likely to cross swords with Singh with some of her emphases and her rejection of the idea that the whole of post-Buddhist Brahminical texts, especially the Dharma Sutras, are a response to the Buddhist doctrines, without denying that there was quite a large element of counter to the Buddhist ideal of renunciator and the positing of the counter-ideal of the king who does his duty by the polity. She recognises that Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsha deals with the issue of the king renouncing his duties in favour of a successor, and that political succession remains problematic. But it is the general reader who will derive maximum pleasure from reading this book because he or she will get acquainted with the literary treasures of ancient India as never before.
Wednesday, November 01, 2017
Catch22 of private investment : The vicious circle of PSB NPAs due to private sector borrowings dampening credit off-take
The nearly three-and-a-half-year-old Modi government is facing a key problem and a challenge. Despite increased public investment and spending, there has not been the expected and desired increase in private investment. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at the press conference on Tuesday (October 23) has finally explained the problem and the government’s solution. The problem is that private investment is tied to non-performing assets (NPAs) of public sector banks (PSBs). Apart from creating the mechanism to sort out the NPAs through the insolvency law, the government has announced recapitalisation of the PSBs to the extent of Rs 2.11 lakh crore. (In 2015, the government had reckoned Rs 1.8 lakh crore as the recapitalisation requirement of the PSBs till 2018-19. Recapitalisation of the PSBs is a recurrent measure with all the governments.) It is also a measure to meet Basel III norms of capital adequacy and to avoid the stressed assets dilemma.
Mr Jaitley explained that recapitalisation is expected to ease the pressure on the PSB balance-sheets arising out of the NPAs, and that credit off-take will increase, which indirectly would mean an increase in private investment. The loop is quite clear. Private investment takes off through institutional borrowing, and it is recognised that private investors will have to fall back on PSBs to be able to do so. The banking sector is not yet wide and diversified enough, and private sector banks have confined themselves to the relatively safer segment of personal loans. They have not ventured into financing large commercial ventures, including those in the infrastructural sector. There are other sources of borrowing for private investors, including external commercial borrowings (ECBs) and domestic market borrowings.
But there is a catch here. Mr Jaitley acknowledged that the NPAs arose because of indiscriminate lending by the PSBs during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) second term to the private investors. He has of course restrained himself from blaming the “crony capitalism” of the previous government as the root of NPAs crisis. He seems to understand that the problem is a little more complicated than that. There may have been instances of corporate houses with political connections accessing huge bank loans, but there are a lot many genuine cases where the borrowers were bogged down in matters like environmental clearances and economic slowdown which made their bank borrowings a liability. There is also the issue of private investments leading to excess capacities. This is one of the reasons for the sluggishness in the investment climate.
The government hopes that this time round, the PSBs would lend more prudently, and the finance ministry officials have made it clear that those PSBs which had been prudent would be preferred in the recapitalisation exercise.
Can the government get out of the Catch22 situation where credit off-take is linked to private investment, and where fluctuations in investment climate would either lead to NPAs or to slump in credit off-take? It seems that the policy-makers are not willing to look the problem in the eye. The government is rightly spending on infrastructure, but the private sector too is a big partner in this. For example, in the ambitious road building Bharat Mala Programme (BMP), Rs. 2.09 lakh crore is to be raised by the government as debt from the market, Rs. 1.06 lakh crore to be mopped up from private investors through the public-private partnership (PPP) route and Rs 2.19 lakh crore will come from the Central Road Fund (CRF) and Toll-Operate-Maintain-Transfer (ToT) model and toll collections of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI). The actual budgetary support will be only Rs.0.59 lakh crore.
Ideally, there should have been a division of labour, where public investment would take care of the funding requirements of infrastructure and the private sector would invest in those ventures which will make use of the infrastructure to create a value-added chain. If both public and private investment is focused on infrastructure, which has huge dividends for the private sector, then the other sectors of the economy are nearly starved of investments. The report, “Private Corporate Investment: Growth in 2016-17 and Prospects for 2017-18”, which is part of the Reserve Bank of India’s September 2017 monthly bulletin shows that 70 per cent of the funds sanctioned in 2016-17 were in infrastructure, of which 45 per cent was the share of the power sector. The share of investment in textiles is at 4 per cent, that of hospitals and health services is 1.1 per cent, and hotels and restaurants 0.8 per cent.
The report also shows that institutionally assisted projects between 2012-13 to 2016-17 are concentrated in Gujarat (13 per cent), Odisha (13 per cent), Maharashtra (12 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (7 per cent), Chhattisgarh (6 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (6 per cent), Karnataka (5 per cent).
It is apparent that there is a mismanagement of investment and that it is not spread out well enough to generate both jobs and consumption. If there are adequate roads and abundance of power, but if there are not enough people and enough projects who can make use of these infrastructural facilities, then the excessive private investment in infrastructure needs to be assessed. Right now, the GDP growth rates look respectable, according to the RBI, because of public and household expenditures. It may not be sustained for too long and it is likely to have inflationary effects.
The market should ideally influence intelligent investment decisions. But data shows that private investment decisions are not following the intelligent pathway. If the government eases the stressed assets of PSBs through recapitalisation, private investment through credit offtake could flow into the safer channels of infrastructure, while other segments of the economy with potential for growth, would be starved of much needed investment.
There is other basic question: Where do the funds come from if both government and private sector raid the same sources – the banks, the markets. Earlier, there was the concern that government raising funds would leave little for private sector. This issue has been relegated into the background because private investment is dovetailing into the public in the infrastructural sector. There is an uneven distribution of investment in the economy.
Monday, October 23, 2017
It is a plausible story with improbable twists which add nothing to the melodrama with its convincing emotional realism. As in "Dhobi Ghat", there is no place for Aamir Khan but he is there in this film as he was in that one. The film would have gained in credibility without Aamir Khan's presence. Perhaps, there are commercial reasons. Perhaps, director Advait Chandan wanted him in the movie because he (Chandan) has grown up in the film industry in the Aamir Khan unit.
The character of the father played with just a trace of menace by Raj Arjun could have made more credible by making it less unsympathetic. There is a hint of the possibility when Chintan tells Insia (Zaira Wasim) that his mother is divorced and that she told him that his father (Chintan's) was not to be entirely for it. But it was decided to run the story on a certain track and it required a villain in the shape of the father. But the more interesting part is the aspiration of a young girl from an ordinary lower middle class Muslim family from Baroda, without playing up the Muslimnesss of the family or the situation. Films about Muslims in the Hindi cinema are the stupid Muslim socials of the Mere Mehboob, Mere Huzoor, Bahu Begum type, or the so-called Mughal sagas like Mughal-e-Azam, Taj Mahal, Noorjahan. Hindi cinema has at last broken out of the Muslim stereotype. And this break could happen because the Muslim family of the story is located in Baroda and not in Lucknow or Hyderabad or Rampur.
There is an insightful line in the movie when the father of Insia tells his wife that she need not wear a burkha to a marriage because the family where the marriage was happening was quite modern and they would not like a burkha. It is a brilliant line that tells the complexity of Muslim family network with its conservative and not-so-conservative elements.
The guitar and the laptop, the YouTube and the television music shows are shown to be impinging on the dreams and aspirations of the younger generation in this Muslim family, and the opposition to it is not based on religious orthodoxy but on more pragmatic grounds. The prejudice against the girl-child and in favour of the son is shown to be social rather than religious.
Meher Vij as Najma, the mother of Insia, brings radiance to the role, and without a trace of victimhood. The credit for this should go to the story, screenplay -writer and director. She is oppressed and she is abused physically and emotionally, but she doe not lose her sense of dignity.
Zaira Wasim, who acted in Aamir Khan's previous production in the year, "Dangal" has once again proved her acting mettle. She is enviably at ease in the emotional vortex of mime.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
The question remains as to why did India the ostensibly cricket-crazy country wake up to the exploits of its women cricket team on the day it had lost the crown? The Indian fans have never been known to have ever forgiven losers. The first time the national team faced the fury of the crowds was when Ajit Wadekar’s team lost the England series in 1974 after their 1971 series win. The fans turned up in Bombay with garlands of shoes to welcome Wadekar’s team after they were given rousing reception after their return in 1971. The memory lasted well into the 21st century when Sachin Tendulkar had to appeal to the fans during the 2003 World Cup finals for calm and restraint on the part of the spectators. Yes. Cricket became a game of spectator frenzy in the fashion of the roaring multitudes watching gladiatorial battles in the Roman arena. But in stark contrast, the Indian cricket fans sighed and saluted and gave a grand ovation to the losing women’s team on July 23, 2017. The violent streak had disappeared and in its place there was quiet appreciation and genuine admiration for the effort to have reached the finals.
There is much to write about Mithali Raj and her team, and there is as much to write about the appreciative fans. It would be tempting to analyse the social psychology of the many thousands who quietly discovered the new constellation of the national women cricket team. (It has always seemed hyperbole and a lie of the television anchors when they screamed about cricket being the religion of billion plus India.) The thousands had always wanted the Indian team to win and it did not matter whether they played cricket or not. But the cricket fans’ response to the women’s team moved away from the frenzy of wanting merely to win.
The women cricketers have created a hush in the way they played the game. They played fiercely as can be seen in the batting of Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy, Smriti Mandhana, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, and the bowling of Jhulan Goswami. Somewhere, unknowingly, they have brought back the poise and gentleness to cricket, and the game’s followers unknowingly were impressed by it, even overwhelmed. There was not the usual adrenalin. In its place there was the game of wits, nerves and the slow motion physical grace. And in it all there was innocence, an unmistakable radiance. There was exultation in the minds of the fans without the ugly contortions that intoxication generates.
The women cricketers seemed to have restored to the game some of its Edenic state, where the game was played for the pleasures it afforded and it was liked for that very reason, the state of game which was reflected in Neville Cardus’ meditative and evocative prose. It is not just the Indian team, but also the other seven teams which exuded that prelapsarian state of being. But unlike with the other teams where victories are not easily turned into national obsessions and degenerate into neurotic commercial ambitions as in India, the Indian women’s team stands at the edge where the game could be transformed into the evil alchemic of winning advertising contracts.
Many of the cricket administrators in India and elsewhere are seriously pondering how the spark of Women’s World Cup of 2017 could be turned into a gold rush because the men’s game is getting jaded, where the money is slowly ebbing away and there is need for something new to sell and there is the compulsion of bringing in something new into the marketing of the game. The danger lurks closely to the surface, and Team Mithali Raj could be sucked into the glitzy vortex.
It would be naïve to expect that women’s cricket should remain unchanged or that it will retain its simplicity that it has today. But now is the time to savour the moment before the arc-lights sweep away the clear and unvarnished images of the players on and off the field. It took more than a decade after the 1983 World Cup triumph for the men cricketers to be selling soaps, toothpaste, energy drinks on billboards and on television. The change could happen faster in the case of women cricketers. And it is unfortunate that it will happen in India more than in any other cricketing country.
But even in the middle of the whirl and whorl of change in the game, it should be possible for the cricketers – men and women, boys and girls – and for cricket writers to pause and indulge in the Wordsworthian moment of “emotion recollected in tranquillity” to look at the 2017 Women’s World Cup and feel the joy of cricket being played in the spirit of the game, a mere game unconnected with nationalist vainglory and even the vulgar desire of creating soulless monumental records. Mithali Raj’s 6000 runs in One Day Internationals, and Harmanpreet Kaur’s 171 in 115 balls remain individual achievements as that of that of a Walter Hammond or a Vinoo Mankad, peaks of excellence that do not a cast a long shadow on generations of players to come.
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