Tuesday, August 28, 2007

US-India bridge of friendship

A bridge of friendship

From The Statesman

The civilian nuclear deal is a bridge to the world of sophisticated technology not only in the United States but also in Japan, Europe and Russia. Access to high-end technology depends upon trust.
The world can trust India.
Indian diplomats had to overcome strong opposition in the US, which cut across party lines as well as scholarly and journalistic communities. By letting India bypass the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and benefit from “full civilian nuclear energy cooperation,” President George W Bush made a most courageous act of statesmanship and took a firm step in establishing long-term strategic and economic relations with India. The Bush administration has accepted India as a “responsible state with advanced nuclear technology,” recognising it as an exception to the rule, and that India should “acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states.” India is at par with China and other nuclear powers. Why does the Indian Left want it otherwise?
The pragmatic partnership to let India grow and play its rightful constructive role in global affairs is not about containing any other rising power; it is about having faith in India to develop as an alternative model of economic growth without compromising fundamental freedoms. That’s how Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s metaphor “Arc of freedom and prosperity” should be understood.
Rapid economic growth of the Indian economy, 9-10 per cent a year for the next few decades, primarily through the efforts of its rising entrepreneurial class, will lift millions of Indians out of poverty. An economically dynamic India on a perpetual growth curve will make the containment of any rising Asian power unnecessary. More the number of equal players in the Asian theatre, less will be the possibility of a single hegemonic power rising and dwarfing others.
The deal will remove hurdles in India’s search for alternative energy sources to fuel its growing economy. Moreover, as Ratan Tata told Karan Thapar of CNN-IBN: “Over time this will give India tremendously powerful position in the knowledge industry, in research and development, in high technology.”
From a poor agricultural power to a great knowledge power is every man’s dream in India. India must go beyond information technology outsourcing and capture the corporate global, as it has begun to do.
After successful negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), India will be able to buy nuclear fuel for its existing nuclear power plants and shop for building scores of new ones.
In the course of time as trust in partnership increases and diplomatic relations improve further, a whole new world of sophisticated global technology, European, Japanese and American, will be opened to India, enabling it to leapfrog decades of past sluggish economic growth. In return India has agreed to do what other nuclear powers have been doing under the nonproliferation treaty, that’s, open some of its civilian nuclear power plants to inspection and continue to observe abstinence on nuclear testing. Its nuclear deterrent will remain off limit.
Critics in India who fear that the deal would create co-dependency relations with the US need to consider how China has benefited from strong economic partnership with the US without compromising its sovereignty.
Of course there is no such thing as absolute sovereignty in an interdependent world.
There is more power in the American shopping cart than in all the Chinese manufacturing plants, as the recent crisis of confidence in the safety of its products shows.
China had greater sovereignty in the days of Mao Zedong than today when it has more than a trillion dollar in foreign exchange reserves.
A country’s currency is a symbol of its sovereignty but China has tied up its currency, Renminbi, to Uncle Sam’s dollar. Whither sovereignty?
The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline will not be enough to meet India’s gargantuan need for energy. Clean coal technology, nuclear energy and solar power are practical alternatives for which the US has opened its doors to India.
France gets 80 per cent of its energy from civilian nuclear plants. In the next 15 years China plans to build 30 new nuclear power plants at a cost of more than $50 billion.
Why should India be left behind? India needs hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign direct investment in building power plants and world-class infrastructure to increase its manufacturing base in order to create employment opportunities for its youthful millions. Nuclear energy would reduce excessive dependency upon oil from the Middle-East, a most unstable region.
Prime Minster Manmohan Singh was very perceptive when he said that Indo-US partnership is based “both on principle as well as pragmatism.”
Democracy, multiethnic diversity, and human rights are some of the values that bring the two countries together, but equally important is the fact that India, Europe and the US need one another for fighting global terrorism.
As the recent bomb blasts in Hyderabad show, terrorism is alive in India. India cannot fight terrorism alone.
Whether it is the Congress or BJP that rules India, for decades to come India will have no choice but to put a single-minded focus on one primary goal: speedy economic growth, which the partnership with Europe, the US, Japan and Australia will hasten.
The Indian Left might force a hasty general election, but that will not be the end of the civilian nuclear deal. The next political party in power will pick up the threads and consummate the deal, perhaps the greatest achievement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whom historians will rank with Jawaharlal Nehru.
(ND Batra is professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University and is the author of Digital Freedom)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The paradox of freedom

The never-ending battle of ideas

From The Statesman

On his recent visit to the United States, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “We must undercut the terrorists’ so-called ‘single narrative’ and defeat their ideas. At home and abroad we must back mainstream and moderate voices and reformers, emphasizing the shared values that exist across faiths and communities.”

No one can ever say that the battle of ideas has been finally won. When the Soviet Union, for example, collapsed in 1989 and the Cold War was over, it was not the end of the battle of ideas but the beginning of a new one.

Many people see history as a linear progression, something rising from the bottom and going to the top. But one can also imagine history as an uninterrupted landscape, where past, present and future co-exist in a dynamic tension, where the battle of ideas continues. Even if militant Islamic jihadism is beaten, some new dangerous ideology will arise that threatening peace and our most cherished ideals of freedom.

China is presenting its own model of development - development without democracy - and its explosive energy born of nationalistic mercantilism is becoming an attractive ideology.

China has a powerful narrative: Harmony and peaceful rise, without the noise and chaos of democracy. The whole world is watching with fascination.

Some people, especially those trained in advertising and public relations, believe that all that the United States needs is a new image and therefore it must re-brand itself, just as corporations do. That shows poverty of thinking.

To a great extent a corporate nations like China can control its message and its image because it is the sole source of information about itself. But you cannot control the image of an open society because there are so many independent actors, institutions and corporations; for example, Hollywood, US military, corporate America; Guantanamo Bay, Wal-Mart, Microsoft; all contributing to the US image abroad. And now add to all this hotchpotch of impressions the daily carnage from Iraq, the horrific images of people being blown up daily. The US image abroad is an “emergence” and its quality depends upon how much of the United States is present in a country. A country that is exposed to only Hollywood violent movies and video games is likely to have a distorted image of the United States. But add to it a GE, university campus, cultural centre, and apparel factory; you see the image of the United States in that country begins to change.

Keeping the emergent nature of the image, it should not be difficult to understand why the public image of the United States differs from one country to another. The image depends upon the quality and the extent of its presence and its usefulness to the country. Even the smartest public diplomacy campaign won’t change perceptions overnight, especially when the United States is deeply engaged in multifarious actions abroad. Events might occur beyond its control, which could further blur the image in some countries. No quick-fix crisis communication would help.

China’s presence in the United States is huge but the recent recall of millions of China-made toys following the scandals of tainted pet foods and defective tyres has tattered its image of a reliable manufacturer. No amount of corporate public diplomacy will help China unless it realises that good products are manufactured by countries where free Press rules, where there is political and corporate transparency.

The always-on 24-hour global communication, blogs, instant messaging, chatrooms, and news cycles make it impossible for practitioners of public diplomacy to devise a central strategy to impose a message discipline, as it can be done in advertising campaigns for a product or a political candidate. Nor is public diplomacy like a political campaign, where negative campaigning could kill an opponent with a devastating effect. In an environment of uncontrolled communications, you might still control the message, but you cannot control the meaning when instant alternative interpretations, Al-Jazeera, for example, are available. Each nation is different, so what works in Turkey may not work in Indonesia or Uzbekistan. The challenge is to find the right vehicle to embody the message for a specific local audience.

Al-Qaida has used local clerics to champion and spread its Jihadist message. Public diplomacy practitioners must use local leaders to champion and advance their cause and they should do in such a manner that it makes the local people feel good about themselves, while at the same time generating goodwill toward the country that is using information culture to foster goodwill. There was a time when Hollywood was the best cultural export, but now many people believe that the US popular culture, due to proliferation of senseless violence and explicit sex, creates negative impressions in foreign audiences, in spite of the fact the world has been spending billions of dollars importing American entertainment, filmed and taped programmes, as well as box-office hits.

The paradox is that in spite of negative feelings about American popular culture that it depicts profanity, nudity, mayhem and crime, piracy of popular cultural programmes, even in the Arab and Muslim world, remains unabated. In any case, practitioners of public diplomacy, who want to win over the hearts and minds of the people in the Arab world, should not count upon Hollywood’s popular culture as the nation’s goodwill ambassador. US corporations, educational institutions, and non-profit organisations represent most precious American values such as individual initiative, innovativeness, entrepreneurship, freedom of speech, and competition. Wal-Mart, Microsoft and Warren Buffet embody as much of what America stands for, as does Hollywood. America is what Americans do at the workplace, its ultimate source of strength.

Will China with its model of nationalistic mercantilism without freedom and democracy ever match the soft power of the United States, Europe and India?

(ND Batra, professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University, is the author of Digital Freedom, published by Rowman & Littlefield)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

India is the place to be

Young, vigorous and creative at 60

From The Statesman

Last week, the Wall Street Journal carried a front-page story about how Kishore Biyani adapted India’s culture of order-in-disorder to transform his company Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd. into the largest retailer in the country.

Biyani’s shopping malls are crowded and Indians love them. Unlike Americans, Indians prefer crowded places where they can hear and smell each other. India has reached the tipping point, a state of collective will when the forces of economic growth have begun to dominate society. The call of the marketplace is trumping everything else, including religious and ethnic communalism.

The way to prosperity is not through OBC but through entrepreneurship. For quite some time, India has been exciting the world’s imagination and many investors have begun to have a fresh look at the country and explore its potentials.

Many global investors in fact are excited that there is another avenue of growth and diversification where they can put their resources to productive uses instead of putting all their hopes in the Far East.

International investors want growth with protection for their shareholders and India seems attractive because its legal system, including property and contract law, is well developed. Tata Consultancy Service, Infosys Technolgies and Wipro are not the only companies for which India has become a world leader.

There is the growing field of biotechnology, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals, where, for example, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd., Ranbaxy, Reliance Industries Ltd. and others have become international brand names. These companies are creating a global buzz, an image of India that it is full of talented young people, who can perform competitively. India’s self-esteem is rising and so is the motivation to excel.

Today a young Indian with a PhD from an American university may want to work for Chevron but soon he will find that Reliance Petro is much better. He will return to India as thousands of others are doing.

The sentiment that India is the place to be is spreading. India has entered a new threshold of knowledge economy and is gradually emerging as a global hub for specialised knowledge processing for global corporations.

Knowledge economy depends upon extracting and creating new knowledge from data bases and is in a sense value-added outsourcing. Although India is far from becoming a full-fledged knowledge economy, this is an emerging trend, apart from other growing fields such as auto, genetic engineering, and high-tech healthcare that will hasten the transformation of India in the next decade.

Probably the most exciting field of growth is healthcare, which, according to a Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) study, will add 7-8 per cent to GDP and create nine million jobs by 2012. But much more needs to be done to sustain India’s 9 per cent plus growth than giving the industry fiscal incentives by setting up special economic zones.

One of the biggest hurdles for rapid economic growth in India, according to several observers, is the red tape; it takes myriad forms, such as expectations of illegal gratification, fear of the loss of bureaucratic power due to privatisation and apprehensions about foreign direct investment, as the recent protests against the entry of Wal-Mart shows.

The primary goal of rapid economic growth and its ultimate measure is poverty reduction by generating opportunities for employment, especially for the rural population who mostly depend upon agriculture. For millennia rural India has been held hostage to nature’s vagaries, but it need not be so. Technology can break nature’s stranglehold and break its curse on the poor.

Don’t be surprised if the little chirping thing, cell phone, might bring about a rural revolution in India.

Most of the rural workers should be absorbed into agro-industries, manufacturing and service industries, and that again will necessitate massive investment in building new infrastructure and modernising the existing one.

That is why the coming of global retailers like Wal-Mart into India is so important.
Let Pantaloon and Wal-Mart compete for the Indian shopping cart.

Growing prosperity in India and rising expectations abroad “that India can do” are creating compelling conditions for the government to put its act together. India must get out of the political inertia, upgrade its clogged roads and overcrowded airports, eliminate frequent power outages and scuttle the red tape.

India is becoming an integral part of globalised economy and is clearly thriving on the synergy between multinational corporations and its indigenous strengths, which come from a high quality of education from its top universities, democratic institutions that create transparency, and the ingenuity of its people for innovative solutions to complex problems. Ingenuity means transcending a system’s limitations by finding an alternative route to reach the same goal. A creative and ingenious mind becomes restless when he hits a wall and asserts, there has to be another way; and he improvises by transferring intelligence from one application to another. But individual entrepreneurial ingenuity has its limitations.

Bangalore could transcend the limitations of its poor infrastructure, power and transportation by building captive power plants and satellite communications to reach its outsourcing clients in the United States and elsewhere. Now the challenge is whether India’s ingenuity can be applied to undertake collective action to build reliable highways, ports, railroads, power plants and airports. Corruption is a serious problem in every society.

The source of corruption is unaccounted exercise of power, of course. Elected officials can be removed, though one might say cynically, only to be replaced by another bunch of corrupt people. But democracies do have methods of dealing with corrupt people in high places. There is a two-fold solution to the problem. Public accountability through media exposure, especially the Internet and television, as the American experience shows, is a strong corrective. Secondly, privatisation could act as an antidote to corruption because it takes power away from bureaucrats and gives it to entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. But they too, as the American experience shows, abuse power.

Nevertheless, if laws were enforced rigorously, the corrupt would find their rightful place in jails as many American CEOs have discovered. Fighting corruption is a never-ending process, as is the case with poverty. The responsibility of the Indian government is to create conditions that encourage risk taking and reward entrepreneurship.

It is only through free spirited entrepreneurship that India can meet the challenge of becoming India that the whole world can look up to.

(ND Batra is professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University. He is the author of Digital Freedom)

Tagore:Thou Hast Made Me Endless

Thou Hast Made Me Endless – Part V

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941 AD) the Nobel Laureate of 1913 was introduced to the West primarily through the collection of English translation of some of his poems/songs captioned as ‘Gitanjali’ (=Offering of Songs).
More translations of his works followed by the poet himself and others after he had won the Nobel, including poems/songs, dramas, short stories etc. However, such efforts were sporadic and sluggish, mostly on individual initiative, which still remain so.
As a result, a vast volume of the poet’s works remains un-translated while, it appears, it is an impossible proposition to translate even a substantial part of the poet’s total works to permit those, not privileged by the knowledge of Bengali language, a reasonably broad view of his myriad creations where unfathomable perceptional depth of top grade aesthetics runs through, literally true to his song “Thou hast made me endless / Such is Thy pleasure”.
Notwithstanding this, an upsurge of Tagore translation took place in the last decade of the twentieth century by virtue of a good number of eminent poets/translators e.g.William Radice, Joe Winter, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, to name a few, all of whom left their valuable contribution to this oeuvre and my book THE ECLIPSED SUN is a modest addition to this. I have put stress on a few aspects of the poet’s works, particularly those in his twilight years, which seemed to me quite inadequately covered so far. The followings are presented mostly based on this book.

RAJAT DAS GUPTA: Calcutta: e-mail: rajarch@cal3.vsnl.net.in
Poem: Garthikani (Anonym) of the book Prahasini (Satirist) written in 1938, 3 years before the Poet’s death.

[Translator’s note: The poem is a reply from the Poet, while he was in Kalimpong, to the letter from a girl who had written to him in poetry (It appears, the girl has a long face as she heard that the Poet at the hill station was being attended by too many ladies around and, for that reason, she prefers to be aloof not to add to the Poet’s disturbances, enough of which he was having already, and the Poet in his letter was trying to mollify her). Maitrayee Devi’s book Mangpute Rabindranath (i.e. Rabindranath at Mangpu, a hill station near Darjeeling which was her husband’s workplace, translated by Maitrayee Devi herself into English with the title “Tagore by Fireside”) gives translation of a few lines of this poem while she depicts the Poet’s vivacity even at his old age, when he was her guest at Mangpu, as follows - ]

“I despise that hapless wretch who grows decrepit
Just because of age.
So even if I am at my last breath
I tell you not about my falling strength.

The truth of these lines was known to all, who knew him personally. At the age of eighty, the Poet remained an image of youth- no physical weakness or disability or illness could touch his mind. During these days, when he was filling our home with such gay laughter and entertaining repartee, and was reading out to us hour after hour in the evenings, he was not keeping well physically. An illness was slowly spreading its roots inside him. He sometimes had fever, but didn’t care; and if others expressed concern, he would resent it. He suffered but concealed his pain by an ever springing flow of poetry, a fountain of songs and merry laughter. That human existence can glow with such unbounded happiness and warmth, we would have never known, had we not seen him. The few days that we had the good fortune to be near him, we lived as life should be lived. Our youth would never have been so affluent, if we had not been near him. “Even if at my last breath, I tell you not of my failing strength!” – the truth of this we experienced every day.”]

High pitched and aimless your chatter
In this solitude my peace does shatter.
My onus, the Grandpa designate
On what plea do I negate?
You daring, in rhymes have written your letter,
Be paid in your own coin, that is better.
You knew well in your mind astute,
Prose would never my pride dilute.
The pen was a horse of mighty breed,
Though now aged, it limps a bit indeed.
There to you is my loss of face,
May I hide it and pass with grace.
Your pen trots lightly hence
Mine will pace in the same cadence-
Though breathless, yet I’ll not daunt
To keep it up lest my age you taunt.
Yet, in my heart is the apprehension
Of pride shattering Lord Madhusudan. (=Lord Krishna)
One who feels old just for age
On that unfortunate is my rage.
So, even though my soul seeks exit,
Betrayal of fatigue I do not permit.
But what confuses me,
You take a poet always as silly!
They do disturb me, people various
In ways very diverse;
That I endure them you’ve seen clearly
For that reason you keep wary,
You said so tenderly
Which I do note, not lightly.
Yet, I know, you know this,
Disturbances come in varieties.
With the poets the God has been kind,
So, the sweets the sisters bring I don’t mind.
Some compose sweet words flattering,
While some fetch milky sweets endearing.
In cuckoo voice some pitch an acrimony,
Some enchant just in musical harmony.
So, I think, if God out of sympathy,
Just to protect my tranquility
Would all these hassles free,
This parched life would a bigger torture be.
Let me explain with a simile –
The mountain there- the poles of electricity
Struck on its chest, emit light
More to prick human sight.
If the moon will so mortify,
To emit its bright fight shy,
Would it be a good plight,
Does mere heat always bring light?
That is my letter all about,
No, not as my vigor has run out;
Only I am wiser – it’s no fake –
Now realize, shelling words without brake-
Those may be widened with chatter,
May be flattened either.
Too much is with too little at par,
Rather than shout, better to whisper.
Unaware of this, the Bengalis miss
Both their price and lungs’ ease.
As outcome of their shouting mania
Bengal environs always with hysteria.
The unsaid itself is the art,
Mere chatter is that is overt.
Look here, your name latent,
Excels the price of fame’s patent.
But what a farce by Bharati - (=Goddess of Learning/Art)
Chattering is not arty –
To explain it, I’ve already yielded an epic,
Will the Goddess of Art excuse this act heroic?
The truth needs confession,
The row that senility has caught Rabi (*) on – (* Rabindranath)
In protest thereof is this challenge thrown,
All the chatter from my mouth blown.
So I talk on, not a moment to spare,
This is like dying my hair –
The grey inside hidden
By the outward green (implying freshness)
In feeble voice so I battle,
Why juveniles alone tittle-tattle?
To a brat I’ll surrender not
That ego I still have a lot.

Listen to Rabindra Sangeet

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

India: Free and Fearless

India at 60 is home sweet home

From The Statesman

Freedom from fear is the freedom
I claim for you my motherland!
~ Tagore

For what avail the plough or sail, Or land or life, if freedom fail?
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is so much common between India and the United States that I can’t love one without loving the other.

Freedom deeply rooted in secularism makes every one a productive citizen in the United States. The reason is simple: When an individual cannot assert his superiority or make a special claim on the basis of his race or religion, he has no choice but to show his natural born abilities and talents to succeed, which has turned the United States into a merit-based society, more or less. It is gradually happening in India too, especially in Bangalore and Bollywood, where only the most creative and brilliant minds can shine.

The idea that success, in whatever terms it is defined, is possible for any one with talent, from Wall Street to ballparks, Silicon Valley to musical bands, is the essence of what is essentially the American Dream. It is a secular version of: “If you knock, it shall open until unto you.” The price of not knocking at the door is that you are left in the cold. There’s no choice but to try and try again and succeed.

Secular freedom has proved productive not only in economic terms but in every which way you can imagine. It breeds in you a sense of equality, dignity and self-worth, and your heart cries out, Go and take the risk. Every field of human endeavor in the United States teems with talented people drawn from various nationalities, cultures, races, and colors. Americans are so unafraid of the otherness of “others,” though it has not always been so if you recall the burning of witches to Japanese-Americans’ incarceration during World War II and the McCarthyism of the Cold War era.

The foundation of secular freedom was laid in the United States with the Declaration of Independence. It happened in India when Jawaharlal Nehru evoked India’s “Tryst with Destiny” at the mid-night hour on the 15th of August 1947. It has been a long struggle to keep up with the demands of secularism, freedom and equality in the USA, as it has been in India. It isn’t over yet. It will never be over.

But India is full of new hopes and new dreams. It has been a long struggle when you consider how much it has taken for African-Americans to reach their present status. A generation ago it would have been impossible to think of an African-American occupying one of the most powerful political positions in the United States. The rise of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of the United States demonstrates the truth that freedom has many possibilities, as does the rise of a woman, Pratibha Patil, to become the President of India.

A country that joyously accepts Sonia Gandhi and Mother Teresa as its own is a most blessed nation and a great hope for mankind.

In the United States, now it is time for Hillary Clinton to show women the way to the White House. But the elevation of a few from the dungeon of invisible oppression might also give a misleading impression that all American Blacks and Hispanics are upwardly mobile. Far from it.

The painful truth is that racial profiling is a common occurrence in the United States, which prompts the police to shoot first then ask a question.

In India the equivalent of racial profiling is caste-and-religious profiling. A Muslim might be under suspicion for no reason except that he bears a Muslim name. Sometimes I wonder if Bangladeshi Muslims living in India were to assume Hindu names, would they be still regarded foreigners and illegal infiltrators? Just a creative thought.

But consider this: that a large number of Indian restaurants, with Indian names, in the United Kingdom and the United States are actually owned by Bangladeshis and they are doing extremely well. This proves the point that prejudice is sometime very shallow. Like the United States, India has a long way to go to eliminate blind and irrational prejudice, though the most heartening aspect of it is that no one is giving up the fight. Look at the slow transformation of political parties including BJP in India.

Acceptance of diversity has become a necessary condition for political survival both in India and the United States, another fascinating parallel between two great democracies founded on diversity, multiculturalism and secularism. For me freedom has no meaning unless it breeds equality in the sense of equal opportunities for everyone, a level playing field where a person can prove his best and give his best and be rewarded for it.

Consider it from India’s national interest. You can’t have a strong market economy on a perpetual roll unless the best people are allowed to come forward and compete for economic opportunities.

India needs brains and the marketplace does not care whether the brainpower comes from a Sikh, Muslim, Christian, Parsi, Dalit or Brahmin.

Open marketplace, of goods and ideas, not one’s caste or religion, should determine the competition and reward the best. The government’s obligation is to build infrastructure, maintain law and order, and take care of the poor because the marketplace does not solve all problems.

The government should get out of the way of the people and let them create wealth for the nation.

That is the only way everyone from Kashmir to Kanyakumari will call India: “Sare jehan se achha yeh Hindustan hamara.”

(Dr ND Batra, the author of Digital Freedom, is working on a new book, This is the American Way).