Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Strongest Lokpal

Anna Hazare and Team have confused and confounded discussions about the proposed Lokpal by equating its strength with executive independence and authority.

They have talked of “wiping out corruption” by enabling the Lokpal to investigate all branches and levels of government, including the Prime Minister and the judiciary, and giving it the power to suspend officials on its own findings, before conviction in a court of law. To give clout to that unconstitutional combination of police and judicial functions, Team Anna wants to put the Central Bureau of Investigation under the Lokpal.

No other country has such an institution. In fact, there is only one parallel in all of history: the Grand Inquisitor of the Catholic Church who loosed murderous persecutions on the hapless people of medieval Europe.

Unlimited and fawning television coverage of Team Anna has prevented anyone from questioning its fundamental premise that a “strong” Lokpal requires a new overweening power centre within the constitutional structure of the Indian State.

Such a power centre would be prone to corruption, and if the Lokpal turned out to be an ambitious and unprincipled individual, it would open the door to an entirely new level of evil, subverting the democratic system.

The strongest Lokpal could be one with no executive, police or quasi-judicial functions, but one empowered to investigate, report and recommend action on any matter under the purview of the State.

Appropriately staffed, such a Lokpal would have enormous moral power. Every other organ of government, every official, would feel the pressure to be honest. Far more than an institution that joins in the scrum of power, such a Lokpal would be an effective check on corruption.

India's Post Colonial Overhang

Just as government spokesmen voice the suspicion that foreigners are behind the Koodankulam anti-nuclear protest, comes the news that the rules restricting foreign investment in Indian media organizations are to be relaxed.

Will the real Government of India please identify itself?

No one has explained why foreign investment in the mass media is being  "liberalized" now. If it is merely to show that there is no policy paralysis in Delhi, it is ill-advised. Having foreigners in control of our mass media will unnecessarily complicate a task that must be taken in hand sooner or later: getting rid of the country's massive post-colonial cultural and intellectual overhang. It has remained largely unexamined, except in travelogues by people like Dom Moraes and V.S Naipaul.

The failure to address the issue is obvious in the embarrassingly low quality of our English language newspapers. (For some examples see herehere, here. here, here and here) It is also evident in the imported sewage spread 24/7 by "entertainment" broadcasters.

A quick scan of the Western films and television series on offer will show that I am not engaging in verbal overkill. It's mostly vampires, werewolves, zombies and serial killers (under which category I would classify the James Bond, Rambo, and other cowboy fantasies). These genres reflect the Western socio-economic experience (especially the relationship with the rest of the world), and have no cultural meaning for Indian audiences.

What pases for Indian cultural content on television is pitiable. There are soaps with lavishly overdressed characters, and low-quality retelling of stories from the epics. There is a cluster of channels providing wall to wall religion. There is the Cartoon Network with adventures of "Chota Bhim" and the blue boy "Kris." (This should effectively kill any possibility that the Indian devotional tradition, the sheet-anchor of our civilization over the millennia, will continue in the young.)

With the honourable exception of Aamir Khan's movies, most of the output from "Bollywood" is no longer "Indian" unless the term is stretched to include outright trash subversive of our cultural mores. (I have too little acquaintance with films in other Indian languages to make any judgment.)

As for "news," all the major English language broadcasters are hooked up to foreign companies and reflect their biases. Only Doordarshan tries to analyze international news but makes a hash of it, mainly because producers seem to have little knowledge of the subjects. (A talk show about the India-China relationship had as panelists a Chinese journalist spouting the Beijing line and a JNU academic who agreed with everything he said.)

The fact that nothing in our media environment provides an Indian perspective on the world is an untenable situation for a democracy with a growing role in international affairs. If the opening up of our mass media to foreign investment is intended to signal to the now dominant Western elite that India will be a team player and will not seek to have an independent view of things, it is extremely shortsighted.

The acute political, economic and environmental problems now threatening world order indicate that industrial Western Civilization is in a state of terminal crisis. India's traditional civilization, as Mahatma Gandhi pointed out in Hind Swaraj, offers a path of escape; in fact, it is the only one.      

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dim Witted Strategy

Pragati: The Indian National Interest Review” is the publishing equivalent of the commercial in which grotesque kids pretend to be adults.

Although it describes itself as “a publication on strategic affairs, economic policy and governance,” the contents of the monthly tend to be a strange muddle of right-wing ideology and – how can I put it kindly – stupidity. Much of the writing is by NRI academics in Singapore, Canada and Britain, and the funding of the evidently well-endowed non-profit is a mystery.

The magazine’s website currently has a piece that declares, “Food Security Bill and the Bhagwad (sic) Gita: There is a connection between the two.”

What is the connection?

It lies in a quotation from one Pratap Bhanu Mehta who in a 2003 book, The Burden of Democracy “identified” the following “trait” of the Indian State:

“The Indian state almost never evaluated policy by consequences, almost always by its own intent; if the tribunal of its own intentions had been satisfied, nothing else mattered. If it thought rent control helped the poor get housing, or curbs on investment were producing more prosperity, this was so regardless of whether it, in fact, did; particular projects were a success simply because the state had made an allocation for them, not because they reached their intended targets and beneficiaries. The habit of state officials to respond to every query — say why child labour exists — is simply to say that a law exists to deal with the problem. This is not just a last-ditch defensive gesture, it is symptomatic of the way in which the state can become oblivious to the concrete efforts of its own action or inaction. The state has internalized the message of the Bhagwad (sic) Gita: only intentions and not consequences matter.”

An anonymous Pragati editor adds approvingly: “The NAC’s Food Security Bill is in total consonance with the message of the Bhagwad (sic) Gita: only intentions and not consequences matter. How can anyone ever argue with that? The NAC wins. India loses.”

I wonder how many people saw that bit of nonsense before it was immortalized online. Did no one object to the silly caricaturing of the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita, one of humanity’s grandest statements of philosophy and faith?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Austerity Measures Could Lead to Depression

Economic austerity measures imposed by governments could land the world in a Great Depression.

That is the unvarnished warning from two parts of the UN System that usually have very different takes on policy matters: the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In a new Policy Brief, UNCTAD has explained that warning. It noted that because of lack of consumer demand several advanced economies were “hovering on the brink of a second bout of recession,” but their “political attention" had "turned to ways to cut fiscal deficits and reduce the domestic public debt.” If they continued with that effort it would make it impossible for the private sector to grow and "de-leverage" its own massive debt.

Without “a rapid policy turnaround” said UNCTAD, the world is “in danger of repeating the mistakes of the 1930s.”

“During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the United States had experienced “two sharp downturns in succession.” Recovery from the “first wave (August 1929 to March 1933),” began “after President F.D. Roosevelt took office, in 1933. However, another severe downturn set in during 1937-38. That second downturn, UNCTAD said, was the result of “poor government policy, especially the decision to tighten up fiscal policy too early in the recovery.”

UNCTAD called on countries “threatened by recession and deflation” to “avoid intensified austerity measures because these are unlikely to produce the intended outcomes and could propel the world into a renewed bout of recession, or even into an outright depression.” (It did not address the possibility of hyperinflation if governments continued massive stimulus policies by simply printing new money.)

Given today’s highly integrated world economy, the “impact will not be limited to specific sectors or to well-defined regions.” Further, a “lost decade” for the world economy would “throw into question the ability of democratic governments to tackle the most urgent challenges of our age.”

Not to mince words, that is a warning that a Depression could bring fascist demagogues to power.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kim Il Jong's Death

It is now eight hours after the North Korean announcement that Dear Leader Kim Il Jong died last Saturday. Since then, both BBC and CNN have suspended normal programming and broadcast nothing but analysis and commentary about this unexpected development. (Dear Leader was known to be ailing, but his death was generally supposed to be years away.)

Indian television broadcasters initially took note of the North Korean dictator's death in crawlers, then as a back item in the headline announcements led by cricket, and finally, as important news. I have yet to see any attempt to explain the importance of the news, so the higher billing was probably purely imitative of foreign broadcasters.

Why is the news important?

The primary reason is that it introduces a new level of uncertainty in a region of high and multi-layered tensions. Pyongyang has been given to a high degree of paranoia since the 1950-1953 Korean War, and in recent years it has repeatedly raised the spectre of war in response to what it sees as aggressive moves by South Korea and the United States. It has specifically held out the prospect of nuclear war, the capacity for which it has developed, along with missiles capable of hitting Japan, its other hated enemy in the region.

The "Great Successor" to the dead dictator is his son, the almost unknown Kim Il Un, reported to be in his thirties, with little experience in matters of State. His relationship with the military, the centre of power in North Korea, is unknown.

There are many imponderables in the current situation. What might happen if the Great Successor encountered challengers? How would China react if the ensuing power struggle threatened its strategic stake in the country?

What effect will these developments have at a time when economic factors are threatening to destabilize China itself? In recent years the number of "mass incidents" -- as Beijing describes widespread public unrest -- has been running over 180,000 annually. The sizable "village" of Wukan (population 20,000) in southern China has been on strike since September, and it has managed to drive out the local Communist Party functionaries. Throughout the once-bustling southern provinces the rage of workers has been erupting in increasingly larger demonstrations as factories close for want of foreign orders.

If Wukan sets the pattern for the national unrest that will be inevitable if the world dips further into a recession, we could be seeing events of earth-shaking significance. There are some 160 million migrant workers in China who have been deliberately kept as an underclass, without residential rights in cities and forced to live on hardscrabble wages.

What effects such changes will have on South Asia are also completely up in the air. With Pakistan on a razor's edge and Tibet in a slow boil, the chances of conflict are high. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might be right in his belief that China does not intend to attack India. But what if conflicts in South Asia persuaded Beijing that it had no choice?

The possibility of war is certainly on the minds of Chinese leaders. AFP reported on 13 December that Chinese President Hu Jintao, speaking to the powerful Central Military Commission, had "urged the navy to prepare for military combat, amid growing regional tensions over maritime disputes and a US campaign to assert itself as a Pacific power." The speech was posted on an official web site, so it is not a case of Western sensationalism.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Where the Moon Don't Shine

The Secretary-General of the United Nations is not required to be an orator, and none of the 8 men who have held the office has been an inspiring public speaker. However, all except the incumbent, Ban Ki-moon, have had the good sense to deliver professionally written speeches; although generally soporific they did not make audiences wince, at least not in print. Ban’s speeches, even in print – perhaps especially in print – are squirm inducing, for he suffers from the fond belief that he can write his own material – and that he is funny.

The UN Press corps, except for Undiplomatic Times, has been generally kind in taking note of the disastrous consequences, but now Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch, who blogs at Foreign Policy, has posted a priceless piece about Ban’s efforts at humor. In “It’s OK, You’re Allowed to Laugh,” he strings together some of the unbelievably awkward things Ban has said in his efforts at humor. It’s definitely worth a click.

 As I have had occasion to note in previous blogs, Ban imagines himself something of a songster. When still a Secretary-Geleral-elect, he appeared at the annual UN Correspondent’s Association Ball and droned out “Ban Ki-moon is coming to town” to the tune of the Santa Claus song. Colum records a more recent attempt to escape the bounds of prose:

“In an Oct. 2008 speech before the United Nations Association, Ban took inspiration from rap star and producer, Jay-Z, who was being honored for his humanitarian works, and delivered a rap homage to the association's then-president, William Leurs. ‘I will try to be a bit courageous and creative myself,’ Ban said. ‘Since one of the honorees is my man Jay-Z, I think I'll try his language tonight. It is a foreign language to me, but one which I love, so please bear with me’."

Global Classrooms are a cinch
With the help of Merrill Lynch
When you put the org in Google
Partnerships go truly gloooobal.
There is hope for Earth's salvation
With the Cisneros Foundation
With Jay-Z there's double strife
Life for children and water for life
Human health will get ahead
With the valiant work of (RED)
For the poor and doing good
Stays the job of Robin Hood
UN stays on the front burner
Thanks to our champ Ted Turner
And whole revolutions stem
From the work of UNIFEM.
But tonight my special shout-out
Goes to one I can't do without
We have travelled up and down
Frisco, Atlanta, Chicago town
Yes, the king of all the doers
Is my trusty friend Bill Luers
Bill, I cannot say goodbye
So take the floor and take a bow.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Ambassador Bill Luers.”

 Colum's piece ends on a note of pathos only UN correspondents can fully appreciate:
“In recent months, Ban, who was reelected this summer to serve a second five-year term as U.N. chief, likes to joke about the lukewarm support he receives at home. This is clearly one of Ban's favorite jokes, and he's used it more than once. Speaking in August at the Denver University Korbel School's annual dinner, Ban recalled "I was deeply honoured that the General Assembly supported my re-election. The vote was unanimous: 100 percent. But then a Korean reporter asked my wife how she would rate my work as a husband and father, she said, ‘Well, I'd give him 70 percent.' So I lodged a protest -- a strong protest. I thought my daughter might support me. But she said, ‘70 percent sounds rather generous.' So I have decided that my first priority for my second term is not foreign affairs-- it is domestic policy!

 "Ladies and germs, he'll be here all week. Make that five more years.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Do Indians Have Less Freedom Than Americans?

Another piece of feel-bad journalism  came our way on 11 December from The New York Times blog on India.

Business Standard columnist Nilanjana Roy made the case that Indians have less freedom of expression than Americans. “The framers of the United States Constitution so highly valued free speech that they enshrined it in the document’s very first amendment” she wrote. “India, the world’s other mammoth democracy, has a first amendment too, but its intent and meaning are quite the opposite.”

 She quoted from a “sharp” analysis by one Lawrence Liang, a “legal expert” who had noted the “irony” that in the United States the phrase “the First Amendment” refers to the “almost absolute” right to free speech, while in India, it is a reference “to the attempt to ‘strengthen state regulation over free speech’.”

While allowing that India had a freer Press “than countries like Iraq, Malaysia, Afghanistan, China and North Korea,” Ms. Roy noted that New York-based Freedom House placed India 77th in its national ranking, “along with Bulgaria and East Timor, behind South Africa, South Korea and Lithuania.” Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres put it even lower, 122nd, “below Congo, Indonesia and Nepal. Ms. Roy seemed unaware that both organizations are essentially purveyors of propaganda.

 Recalling that New Delhi had first constrained the Indian Constitution’s pledge of the fundamental right to free speech and expression in 1951, she said it reflected “not just political expediency, but perhaps a larger and very Indian discomfort with the idea of untrammeled freedom of expression.” From that ignorant tarring of a culture that has for three millennia encouraged an uninhibited examination of every topic under the sun, Ms. Roy then descended to the minutiae of book banning in independent India.

“The 1955 ban on Aubrey Menen’s “Rama Retold” revealed a discomfort with religious parody and inquiries into faith. A ban in 1959 on Alexander Campbell’s “Heart of India” was an early indicator of a very Indian prickliness about “outsider” histories that show the country in a bad light.”

She did not mention the political background to those developments, namely, the communal bloodshed the British masterminded to create their proxy, Pakistan. It killed a million Indians and left a huge raw wound in our political system that has only partially healed. Since independence, Britain has continued a relentless campaign to subvert India, using religion to manipulate people.

Meanwhile, British "historians" have generated a ceaseless flow of propaganda to mislead and confuse Indians. Censorship is the least desirable way to try and prevent such manipulation, but that seems to be the best our inept politicians today can do. It is regrettable but necessary.

Ms. Roy also avoided any mention of book banning by American authorities, federal, state and local. The list of texts that have come under challenge is not short. It includes books ranging from Candide, The Decameron and Tropic of Cancer to Grapes of Wrath, Catch 22 and the Pentagon Papers. These and a multitude of other bans have been overturned, but only after much legal wrangling. Fanny Hill, written in 1749, was not cleared of obscenity charges until 1966.

During the McCarthy period (1950s), the Committee on Un-American Activities of the United States Congress effectively banned not only books but writers, actors and other film personalities, driving many to penury and some to suicide.

 Those were, of course, the bad old days of the Cold War, but can we say that such atrocities will never be repeated when 13 media organizations in New York felt it necessary a few days ago to complain jointly that city police were preventing them from covering the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters?

As a writer for the online media report Fishbowl reported, “there were many journalists barred from covering the eviction, and some were even dealt with physically. Josh Harkinson, a writer for the website Mother Jones, said he was 'violently shoved', another reported that it ‘was getting scary’ and a New York Post journalist was allegedly ‘in a choke-hold,’ according to NY1′s Lindsey Christ. Animal New York added that last night it witnessed a NBC reporter having his press credentials taken away by police, and The New York Daily News just had a reporter arrested.”

In conclusion, it is necessary to note that comparing India and the United States is a fruitless task. The two countries are completely different in culture and circumstance, and decisions such as curtailing free speech cannot be subjected to a common measure. Having said that, I must add that despite the sobering constraints on my own blog, India is doing pretty well.

Occupy the Global Black Market!

The Times of India on 10 December had a front-page story explaining why Britain had refused to join a European Union deal to move towards closer economic cooperation. It said that Prime Minister David Cameron had been unable to “secure a halt in ongoing EU efforts to curb the City of London’s huge financial services sector.”

It quoted Cameron saying he had failed to get “safeguards” from EU colleagues. French premier Nicolas Sarkozy noted that the British had asked for “something we all judged unacceptable – for a protocol to be inserted into the treaty granting the United Kingdom a certain number of exonerations on financial services regulations.”

None of them – Cameron, Sarkozy or TOI – explained what exactly the British were trying to protect. A keyword Internet search yielded not a single story, Indian or foreign, that spelled out the matter.

This is not because the issue is too difficult to explain.

The City (financial center) of London is the Wild West of international finance, where drug runners, organized crime groups, dictators, mega-corporations and garden-variety tax cheats can all invest with the greatest of ease. What Cameron wanted to protect was Britain's role as the manager and epicenter of the global black market. Without exemption from EU regulations, that cannot continue.  

Among the many interesting questions that float around this situation is how, given the much touted “freedom of the Press” in democratic countries, this total media blackout has been achieved.

There are several factors. One is that the rich won’t talk about it, and the poor can't. Another is British propaganda presenting London as the center of virtuous “free enterprise.” A third is that most media bigwigs probably have a secret stash in some tax haven.

There is no one to bell the cat.

In this situation, the London Olympics offers civil society activists an unprecedented opportunity to draw attention to the black hole of criminality in The City. It would be a perfect time to launch "Occupy the Global Black Market!"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Internet Censorship

Media reports invariably say that Union Cabinet Minister Kapil Sibal’s meetings earlier this month with representatives of Facebook, Google and Microsoft were an “attempt” to censor the Internet. In fact, the government has gone well beyond that; the Internet is effectively being censored right now, and in ways that strike at the root of our democracy.

I can vouch for this from first-hand experience, for the problem of restricted access to this blog reported earlier seems to be rooted in the “Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011” the government published in April this year.

As Heather Timmons of The New York Times reported on 7 December, the Rules “require ‘intermediaries,’ companies like Facebook, Google and Yahoo … to respond quickly if individuals complain that content is ‘disparaging’ or ‘harassing,’ among other complaints. If the complainant’s claim is valid, these companies must take down the offensive information within 36 hours.”

Timmons cited an unpublished study by the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore that concluded the Rules were already “chilling” free speech on the Internet in India. That finding was based on the responses of major Internet service providers to bogus notices sent by CIS claiming to be offended by third party content; in six of seven cases, the supposedly offensive pages were removed without question. One of the censored items was an entirely legitimate comment on a news report about the Telengana movement; the “intermediary” removed it as well as 14 other comments on the story.

In my case, the block has been on the entire blog as well as on several items critical of the mass media. Who asked for the restrictions remains a mystery; Google does not respond to emailed enquiries from lowly bloggers, so I have no quick way of finding out. My guess is that it is The Times of India, which has a track record of trying to stifle critical blogs.

The Rules that make this situation possible are broadly and badly phrased. Internet service providers are required to act on complaints that content is “harassing, blasphemous, defamatory” or “derogatory.” Content that “threatens … friendly relations with foreign States” or is “insulting any other nation” is likewise on the hit list. These are all grounds that in the normal course of law would require a judicial finding that weighs a set of complex factors. No procedure is set out to assess the legitimacy of a complaint. Nor is there a provision for the owner of the content to present a defence. In fact, there is none even requiring that the content owner be notified of the action.

As they stand, the April Rules are indefensible. Their ministerial promoters and apologists, sworn to uphold the Indian Constitution and the integrity of our democracy, should be ashamed of themselves.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Next World War

With the Eurozone teetering on the verge of collapse and the export-led Chinese economy facing a disastrous crash, it is more than likely that the world will slip into another Great Depression. That will require national elites to recalibrate their perks and priorities, setting off furious power struggles that could, as in the 1930s, tumble the world into a global war.

The epicenter of the war will be in Afghanistan where, in fact, it has already begun. Arrayed behind the current confrontation between the United States and Pakistan are all the major Powers of the world, albeit without much clarity of declared purpose.

We can expect the lack of clear ideological lines to continue, for like the First World War, the coming conflict will be widely seen as a confused power struggle undisguised by Good versus Evil ideologies. However, the stakes are high, for the struggle will pit Britain, China and Pakistan, nations that have an established record of subverting and opposing democracy, against the United States, India and Russia. (Moscow is a founding member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that aims to exclude extra-regional players from Asian geopolitics but it has moved quietly into the democratic corner as the crisis in Afghanistan has deepened.)

The rest of the world will play a secondary but important role. Most of the nations of the Asia-Pacific will support the democracies; the recent summit in Bali showed the depth of regional misgivings about Beijing’s increasingly brusque use of power.

Africa will also support the democratic side, for neocolonial Europe has been in retreat across the continent for two decades, and as the recent anti-Chinese tenor of elections in Zambia indicated, there is growing outrage at Beijing’s predatory version of “South-South cooperation.”

Despite the efforts of al Qaeda in Brazil (where it has taken root in the sizeable Arab minority), and the pro-British drug cartels of Colombia and Mexico, Latin America will also be on the side of the democracies.

Iran’s recent confrontation with Britain shows where that important nation is likely to line up; and the inchoate struggles of the “Arab Spring” will probably be decisive in determining the alignment of the rest of the Middle East.

 It looks like an unequal struggle until we factor in Britain’s enormous corrupting influence as the primary manager of the global black market. Not only does it give the Axis Powers command of organized crime groups and terrorist movements around the world, it gives them the hidden support of elite groups in every country that have hidden their “black money” in British run tax havens. Powerful interests in the United States, India and Russia will thus be primed for treachery.

In addition, British propagandists, by far the most accomplished in the world, will be able to blur perceptions about the true nature of the struggle and create confusion globally. In that, Britain will be able to count on the reach of its own media organizations and of proxies in most of the democratic countries. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s pose as an “Islamic” champion will continue to confuse the Ummah and Beijing will be able to mobilize the support of “Leftist” sympathizers in many places. India will have to contend with all three factors.

Although New Delhi has wisely rejected the concept of anti-China military cooperation with the United States and Australia, it would be folly to ignore the realities of the current situation. In a period of supposed relaxation of tensions, China has been building up its forces all along our northern border; it now has a permanent presence in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. The thaw in relations between Islamabad and Delhi is in the context of American pressure on Pakistan; it is unlikely to lead to anything meaningful. Britain continues its long-standing effort to subvert India through its political, corporate, media and Naxal proxies.

In dealing with the coming crisis, official India is handicapped in many ways. The most serious problems are the lack of strategic direction in our fractured political culture and the subservience of much of our “elite” media to British interests. In combination, those two factors have created a sense of national drift and growing disillusion. Unless our political class mobilizes to meet these and other challenges that lie ahead, the country will be in great danger.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Indian Retail: Paging Dr. Kurien

Amidst the first week of furor after the Central cabinet approved foreign investment in Indian supermarkets, the Universe sent us a small but important signal: Varghese Kurien turned 90. 

The life of the US-trained engineer who quit a government job in 1949 and went on to fashion the cooperative of milkmen in Gujarat that became Amul, now a Rs. 10,000 crore dairy group, has important lessons for the retail industry.

Kurien turned on its ear the conventional wisdom of his day that the future of the milk industry lay in large, well-funded farms using the latest technology. The “White Revolution” he engineered left the ownership and care of cows in the hands of traditional herders – Amul now has 30 lakh milkmen organized in 15 district cooperatives – and focused on the modernization of processing, distribution and marketing. Widely imitated around the country, the model that made India the world’s top milk producer ended all talk of the need for giant “modern” dairy farms.

We can do the same with the Indian retail industry, but we need a band of genius entrepreneurs to incorporate producers, middlemen and retail outlets into a new business model revolutionizing the linkage of rural and urban economies. It will require action on the following five fronts:

1. Grouping of retail and service shops into neighborhood mini-malls developed according to a standardized building, lighting, and display model (allowing for easy replication around the country). Street hawkers can be incorporated into the operations of these mini-malls to perform their home delivery function. All the small businesses involved would retain their individual ownership and decision-making capacity, but in every urban area, a single agency staffed with professional managers would oversee the building and organization of these mini-malls. The businesses would also have support from four other agencies representing their shared interests: 

2. A common purchasing agency, also professionally staffed, to represent all the mini-malls in an urban area; it would procure supplies from nearby farmers, artisans, and SMEs and be responsible for matching supply and demand.  

3. An infrastructure development agency working with existing middlemen to minimize waste of farm products, arrange for standardized packaging, and timely delivery of supplies.

4. An agency to work with producers to establish cooperatives focused on maintaining environmental and quality standards and ensuring a fair return.
 5. A financing agency to work with banks in creating a new investment product, the micro-bond. Marketed to the populations served by different parts of the new system, micro-bond issues can finance every aspect of its development and operations, building and keeping wealth within the community.

Such a reorganization of the retail industry would resolve the issue of foreign investment by making it impossible for any mega-corporate model to compete with it. It would also support strong, equitable economic growth and keep prices firmly under control.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Creepy Crawly Feeling - 2

As a result of the item that someone was blocking my blog and main website, Netsparx, the Goa-based company maintaining unceremoniously dumped me as a client. In the process I discovered the actual ISP is in Haryana. Netsparx has not responded to repeated queries whether information to access my site was given to anyone else.

Google reported on 2 December that its crawlers received the 404 error (not found) response from the entire blog site as well as from the following specific items:

1. The Indian Press - 6: The Press as Business (posted July 2011)
2. The Indian Press- 7 a: The Foreign Hand (posted August 2011)
3. NYT Blog Asks Why no Indian Steve Jobs (posted October 2011)
4. What Are They Advertising? (posted October 2011)
5. Posts relating to keywords India and China.

The list indicates an attempt to restrict access to what I have to say about the Indian mass media, advertising, and their foreign connections. (By the way, The Indian Press - 7 b: Foreign Links, has been delayed by the need to further research the very extensive ties that bind our media to Britain.)

Meanwhile, according to a Google report on 2 December, the visibility of the blog on the worldwide web continued to be restricted by 343 robot.txt files. (Those files signal search engine "crawlers" not to report the contents of the site.)

Who is responsible for this?

It is difficult to say right now. Will post on any discoveries as I continue to ask around.

Meanwhile, would appreciate reposting by readers who do have access to the blog.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Best Reason to Avoid Retail FDI

The best argument against allowing foreign direct investment in Indian supermarkets is that it will open the door to virtually unrestricted entry of Chinese manufactures.

Giant Western retailers like Walmart source much of what they sell from Chinese small and medium companies, and that is unlikely to change if and when they move into India. It is also possible that a Chinese company -- perhaps the government itself -- will invest the $100 million necessary to get into the Indian market and open the sluice gates for sub-standard products.

Under WTO rules, once India sets the rules for FDI in multi-brand retail, it cannot discriminate on the basis of nationality or for strategic reasons. Chinese SME (small and medium enterprises) will be able to enter the Indian market as a matter of right, on equal terms with Indian companies, letting loose a flood of the substandard and poisonous products for which China has become notorious in recent years.

It is futile to hope that Indian regulators will be able to deal with the flood of hazardous products from China. According to a new book by Peter Navarro and Greg Autry, “Death By China,” even the United States, with its much better regulatory system, has been unable to do so.

The book begins with a chapter that examines the extent to which Chinese products now dominate American supermarket shelves. There’s seafood from aquaculture farms in the heavily polluted Yangtze river, the most bacterially infected waters in the world, into which the Chinese pour massive amounts of antibiotics. Frozen chicken, fruit juices, canned fruit, honey, garlic and numerous other food items also carry into the United States the residual poisons of one of the most polluted environments in the world.

With China producing some 90 per cent of the world’s Vitamin C, nearly three-quarters of its penicillin, half of its aspirin, a third of its Tylenol, and much of the drugs, enzymes, and other ingredients that find their way into a wide range of products, there is little escape even for the most health conscious consumer.

“These statistics should disturb all of us for one simple reason” say Navarro and Autry: “Far too much of what China is flooding our grocery stores and drug emporia with is pure poison.” And that is so despite the fact that Chinese imports consistently top the list of substandard products held up at their borders by American and European regulatory agencies.

How confident can Indian consumers be that we will fare any better?