Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Timing of Eric Holder's Resignation

The resignation of United States Attorney General Eric Holder just before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to be a guest of the White House can be read either as a move to close the chapter on the Khobragade affair – or not, depending on his replacement.

Holder’s departure will go beyond the mere verbal expressions of regret that have emerged from Washington about the incomprehensibly severe and degrading treatment of India’s Deputy Consul General in New York last December: on a charge of exaggerating her maid’s income on an official form she was arrested in front of her child’s school, handcuffed and strip searched.

It could allow a revival of warmer relations.

However, if Holder is replaced by Preet Bharara, the US Attorney in New York who Indians perceive as primarily responsible for what happened, the resignation would take on an entirely different color. (Bharara himself has said in a speech at Harvard that the initiative came from the State Department.)

No matter what the reality, if a Bharara nomination is announced when Modi is in Washington it will be an undeniable insult and the consequences could be long term and disastrous, especially if it pushes India into a joint Russian-Chinese effort to end America’s global dominance by gutting the dollar as the international reserve currency.

A coordinated move in Eurasia to reduce holdings of the US$ -- a move often touted as desirable by people of a particular political color -- will undoubtedly cascade into an economic tsunami that will leave no country untouched.

As such a gargantuan collapse will set off a no-holds-barred global power struggle it would most probably include major terrorist attacks and the uncontrolled spread of ebola; it could be a cataclysm worse than any world war.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Reality of the Kali Yuga

The transmigration of individual souls, long derided as the most fantastic of Hindu beliefs, has in the last century been made irrefutable by the scientific discoveries of the matter-energy continuum and the genetic code. When a person dies the indestructible energy pattern of the body floats free and transports the unique soul to a new material form, much as a radio wave carries a human voice to a rightly tuned antenna around the world.

That leaves only one fundamental belief of Hinduism without a publicly argued rational explanation: the long four-stage moral cycle from a golden age of virtue to the dank corruption of the Kali Yuga.

This lack of argument should be seen as part of our general cultural amnesia, for our ancients never postulated anything without reason. Indeed, it does not require much analysis to reveal the rationale for the four yuga cycle.

The first phase, when virtue is “firmly founded on four feet,” harks back to the time when humanity was part of Nature and cultural behavior closely reflected the instinctive. Ideas of the “Noble Savage” and “primitive communism” reflect somewhat similar thinking in the West. This was the time when the Saptarishis, seeking peace among the many tribes of India, assembled all their sacred lore into the Vedas, thereby underlining large commonalities among the groups and creating a common object of veneration.

The second phase of reduced but still excellent virtue was the time of the Upanishads, when rishis in their forest abodes agreed on the existence of a Paramatma universally immanent as the Eternal Law (Sanathana Dharma). The idea that a firm and unbreakable chain of karmic causality controlled individual destiny countered the tyranny of the tribe and gradually reduced groups to vague caste identities associated with specialized functions in an interdependent society. 
As hunter gatherer tribes settled into agricultural existence a protective monarch became necessary; the Ramayana captured and promoted the ideal of that new political reality. The change caused a drop in virtue from the previous era because the concentration of political power and land ownership inevitably introduced a considerable measure of negotiation and thus guile into social relations.

The third era, the time of the Mahabharata, saw the lust for power explode into great imperial conflict. Sri Krishna, acknowledged as the only “purnaswaroop” of Vishnu’s incarnations, set right the growing imbalance of the age and, in the Bhagavad Gita, instructed the virtuous how to endure the Kali Yuga to come.

That final age of overweening corruption can be seen rationally as the shadow of material progress in the preceding Yugas.

The specialized division of labor and the freedom of individuals to make moral and economic choices – a combination that Adam Smith in 18th Century England would describe as the essential attributes of a wealth-creating free market – had made India an immensely rich country. Its luxurious products, ranging from spices that preserved food to fine cotton cloth and diamond jewelry, attracted traders from the far ends of Eurasia and further added to the country's fabled wealth.

As imperial power had corrupted older ideals of governance, so wealth and luxury undermined the spiritual value system founded on the teachings of the Upanishads. 
The tamasic qualities of greed, jealousy and anger unmoored “practical” men and women from the fine concern with the truth founded in concern for karmic consequences. As that phenomenon grew it led to a larger closing of the Indian mind, preventing the society from perceiving and responding to internal and external threats. The ineffectiveness of leadership resulted in things falling apart at the slightest challenge; every invader found Indian allies and collaborators.

Interestingly, India did not attract invaders just with its wealth; its religious concepts -- or rather, incomprehension of them -- were key factors stirring them into action.

Within India, the concept of a Universal Spirit was firmly anchored in the concepts of Dharma and Karma, both preventing any individual or group from setting rules on behalf of the Almighty. Those anchors were lost as monotheism made its way from India to the philosophy of Plato. and then into the first Greek translation of the Jewish Bible three centuries before the advent of Jesus.

Within the Jewish fold the loss of constraints on the concept of God had little negative effect because of the belief in Israel’s exclusive covenant with YAHWEH; but as the messianic faiths of Christianity and Islam advanced exclusive claims on God that delegitimized each other and all other religions, the result was unending conflict.

The economic and political fallout was heavy. As Islamic conquests around the Mediterranean cut off Christian Europe’s access to the Indian spice trade it inspired an ongoing search for alternate routes to India. Marco Polo skirted north of Muslim lands to China, and his book describing a return to Europe via India, gave Christopher Columbus the idea that another path to the Orient might lie across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, an old Phoenician legend recounted by Herodotus that Africa was an island led the Portuguese to explore a southward sea route. 
Six years after Columbus made landfall at Hispaniola, Vasco da Gama rounded the southern cape of Africa and a Gujarati pilot took him across the Indian Ocean to Calicut. A later Portuguese expedition to India was blown far off course by a storm off the western coast of Africa and landed up in Brazil. Within a matter of decades Europeans moved from belief in a flat earth to circumnavigating the globe.

I have described in an earlier post the horrendous consequences of European expansion for the people of the newly discovered regions. In India the European intrusions were preceded by those of Arabs, Turks and Afghans occurring as it were, in slow motion over the period of a millennium. There was no concerted response even though Guru Nanak went throughout the country seeking to spark a renaissance. It took the mass murder and dire poverty inflicted by the British to bring his efforts to fruition four centuries later.

As the country now looks to a period of sustained economic growth it is well to remember that the path out of the Kali Yuga must be essentially spiritual and that enormous challenges face us. Our political elite is sodden with corruption, our policing authorities are wolves, the intellectual leaders who should be helping India recover its true self are in the pay of our most bitter enemies, and even some of the leaders of our fighting forces, men who should value honor above life itself, have sold their integrity for that most pitiable of rewards, money.

I firmly believe that our exit from the Kali Yuga is unstoppable. The power of the bhakti of the great mass of Indians – certainly the only thing that has kept the country on an even keel through the worst disasters – will ultimately cleanse the elite. However, there is no predicting the pace of change. It will depend entirely on the moral conduct of younger generations. If they are committed above all else to personal integrity and sacrifice in the service of the country India can recover itself swiftly. If not, we could linger for generations in the current bewildered and weakened state at the mercy of brutal foreign forces.

There are many signs those forces are strengthening. The latest is the announcement of an Indian chapter of Al Qaeda, which has from its inception been under British control. I take it as an indication that the British incubus is readying like some real life Voldemort to return from the realm of the undead.

As with the evil Lord of the Harry Potter stories, Britain has a range of allies awaiting the return, from corporate leaders, media houses and poisonous advertising agencies to openly anti national A-list film stars and of course, the corrupt in every field with black money under British management.

Also, a slow coup d'etat seems to be gathering strength from within the civil service that runs everything from elections to our unconstitutional and out of control Intelligence Bureau. The death of a popular BJP politician in a car accident in Delhi, the fall that put another outspoken leader into a coma in Rajasthan, the attempt to tar the most active environmental activists in the country, and now the bid to bring the judiciary under bureaucratic control, are not incidental straws in the wind. .

They should put everyone on alert. In fact, everyone should be prepared for a 9/11 type attack that will justify declaration of an Emergency and suspension of civil rights and procedures.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Grand Strategy for India

A recent book review in The Hindu of “India’s Grand Strategy: History, Theory, Cases” presented such a muddle of views on the topic that I did some research and made the frightening discovery that our leading lights in the field don’t know what they are talking about.

India's best and brightest seem to think that “Grand Strategy” is some form of intellectual soup into which they can toss anything they fancy.

Some of the scholars even seem unable to distinguish the strategic from the tactical: one is the pursuit of lasting interests and long term goals, the other of the short-term and the immediate.

 A Grand Strategy takes stock of history, makes an assessment of national experience, encapsulates all vital interests, and looks to the future. It reflects national character, defines the nature of the State, and is accepted as a common frame by all shades of political opinion in the country.

 Indian civilization is the result of a Grand Strategy established by the Saptarishis and pursued over millennia by the country’s intellectual elite.

It began with the Saptarishis assembling the sacred lore of all the tribes in the Vedas, which thus became a unifying object of common veneration. Intense discussion of the hidden meanings of the Vedas yielded the worldview of the Upanishads.

The consensus that emerged was that an immortal and changeless essence underlies the endless mutations of the Universe, holding it in order with the force of Truth (Satyam/Ritam/Dharmam).

As that essence exists in living things, our ancient Grand Strategists postulated that death is but a door to another life; they envisaged the individual soul, of the same substance as the Universal Soul (Paramatma), passing in a series of lives to the end of Creation. In that scheme of things tribal differences shrank into insignificance and allowed different groups to settle into interdependent castes.

 The Ramayana, authored by the low caste Valmiki and setting forth the ideal of a just King, Ramrajya, marked the next step in India’s ancient Grand Strategy. It promoted the evolution of caste federations into unitary kingdoms.

 The schema of the rishis foresaw society passing through cycles of corruption and virtue, and many millennia later, when the ideal of Ramrajya was trampled down in struggles for imperial power, the Mahabharata laid down the rules for the survival of the virtuous in a time of predominant evil.

Modern history covers the final phase of that age of predominant evil, with Mahatma Gandhi marking the turning of the tide with his opposition of racism in South Africa and colonial rule in India. With those he initiated the modern human rights revolution and the movement for national self-determination that transformed the world in the second half of the 20th Century.

 A Grand Strategy for India now must take up where Gandhi left off but our latter-day claimants to the role of rishis seem oblivious of the need for that continuity.

For instance, the Introduction to Grand Strategy for India: 2020 and Beyond, a book published in 2012 by the New Delhi based Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, makes no mention of Gandhi as it notes that India after independence had a role in world affairs disproportionate to its power. In fact, none of the 25 essayists in the book gives any indication of being aware of the traditional Grand Strategy that forged Indian civilization.

 The book reviewed in The Hindu does consider Gandhi, but wierdly. To quote the reviewer (Suranjan Das): “Siddharth Mallavarapu uncovers the Gandhian notion of grand strategy that proposes substitution of Western values with principles of truth, nonviolence and a decentralized polity that should convince other societies that India does not pose a threat.”

The broader background of Indian civilization is missing entirely from the IDSA book and makes a hunchbacked limping appearance in the other one (published by Rutledge). If the reviewer accurately reflects the views of the essayist (Swarna Rajagopalan), on the history of Indian Grand Strategy she relates our contemporary lack of a coherent world view to the “ancient Indian maxim that rulers were required to be driven by principles which were ‘context dependent’ and ‘not absolute in application’.”

Another essayist who looks to the past (Jayashree Vivekanandan) is equally whacky: she believes the Indian State’s “accommodative strategies” in meeting external and internal threats traces back to the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s policy as he expanded his domain.

The gaping omission in the IDSA book and the ludicrous theories in the other volume indicate a failure to make even the skimpiest historical connections, and it is scary that this disconnect extends to contemporary affairs.

 The IDSA book is, in fact, actively and massively misleading. In its Introduction, the editors (Krishnaappa Venkatshamy and Princy George) write that Europe’s role in our strategic thinking “has diminished in recent years … despite India’s strong relations with individual European countries such as Britain, France and Germany.”

The essayist on that matter (Dhruva Jaishankar), is described as urging “India’s strategic planners to recognise Europe’s potential as … a political partner with shared values, and leverage for building India’s relations with other countries, particularly China, Russia and the United States. Europe can also be a significant target for India’s multi-polar engagement strategy—one that does not bring with it the complications associated with India’s other bilateral relations, such as with the United States and China.”

 It is mind-boggling that anyone can think Indian relations with Europe are uncomplicated when we can look back on several nasty colonial encounters, more than a century of oppressive British rule, two European world wars, the cynical British manipulations that brought on Partition, decades of British-proxy Pakistan’s terrorist war on India and the European Union’s arrogant critiques of Indian policies on a whole range of issues!

None of the other writers in the book achieves quite that level of idiocy, but some come close, among them Manu Bhagavan who is noted in the Introduction as suggesting that the reform of the United Nations could lie in a return to Jawaharlal Nehru’s plan for “a global government to which all the world’s States would cede some of their sovereignty.”

 Many essays, especially those on Left Wing extremism and terrorism, civil-military affairs, and relations with neighboring countries, are not about strategy at all but tactics. Even the late lamented K. Subramanyan makes that confusion in noting that India in the first phase of independence had a Grand Strategy in Nonalignment and centrally planned development!

 These are not abstruse academic criticisms. If the best thinkers in the country on a whole range of critically important issues cannot tell the difference between strategy and tactics, it is small wonder that India is in such a discombobulated mess.

So, what should an Indian Grand Strategy involve?

 The groundwork has been laid in the Indian constitution; it is left to bring the directive principles to life and envisage a new role for India in world affairs. There must be four essential elements to that effort.

The first is to clear the cobwebs from our minds about industrialization. It is not progress. It is a deadly combination of false values, destructive policies and wasteful practices that is killing the planet’s life systems. Those eager to have India follow China as “workshop to the world” need to consider the pollution it will bring to land, air and water, and the consequent spiking of all degenerative diseases, especially cancer.

 Secondly, we need to be clear about the nature of international relations today. The world order has been intensely criminalized over the last seven decades because imperial European Powers have not given up their exploitative and oppressive policies but have merely taken to pretending that they no longer exist. Britain, primarily, has been responsible for building a global money laundering system and promoting every form of organized crime, including drug trafficking, terrorism and the illicit trade in arms.

 Thirdly, we have to be prepared for a wave of change over the next generation that will transform the world more radically than it was by the industrial revolution. The Internet, Worldwide Web and mobile telephone connectivity are only the thin end of the wedge: other new technologies will require us to reimagine manufacturing and trade. The age of carbon-based energy is over, and with it, the era of giant tankers, transcontinental pipelines and manufacturing for mass markets. The future belongs to off-grid renewable energy. With the capacity of small scale manufacturers to reach niche markets cost-effectively, the artisan can take on the factory and win; as 3 D printing matures a village craftsman can produce the same quality of product as the largest corporation.

Fourthly, the power structures of the industrial era are beginning to crumble. The old power elites cannot control the new information technologies without killing the creative power of their own societies and falling behind their democratic peers. Nor can they continue controlling the world through conflict if there is an effective effort to inform a global audience of their machinations. An Indian Grand Strategy must involve such an information effort, not through government propaganda but by seeking to promote a world order based on community-based networks. The goal must be peaceful transition to a prosperous world order protective of individual freedom and creativity.

The overall goal of ancient Indian Grand Strategy was unity in diversity.

Modern India must look not only for such a global dispensation but to the deeper unity captured by the term “global brain.”

System scientists say that the evolution of a supra consciousness is inevitable once global connectivity passes a certain as yet undetermined threshold of activity; it must be the overall aim of an Indian Grand Strategy to have it governed by our broadest ideals of Nara Narayana.