Monday, February 23, 2015

Nepal: Looking beyond constitution promulgation

Despite the hitches and risk of new confrontation, Nepal's much-awaited constitution is now finally on its way but its promulgation will only lay bare new challenges. The toughest one will be to reinvigorate the ailing economy by denting the cronyism and crimino-political nexus which has enriched the politicians and fueled the informal economy so far.

There is one effort that has drained the precious time and resources of the entire country over the past decade in Nepal: building the constitution. After failure of the first Constituent Assembly (CA) to deliver the constitution at the end of the extended period of four years, the second CA was formed after an election overseen by a caretaker government led by the then Chief Justice of the country.

Finally, eight years after the powerful street revolts paved the way for uprooting the centuries old monarchy and elections for CA, the new constitution is in sight. After a failed attempt to forge a consensus in divisive issues like state restructuring, the ruling parties--which enjoy a two-third majority in the CA--have resorted to the procedure in the CA which allows a voting on those issues.

Unable to influence the outcome in negotiations with the ruling coalition, the opposition led by the Maoists, the former armed rebels of the country who were the largest single party in the first CA but have been heavily downsized in the second CA, have decided to boycott the procedure in the CA.

Sans a miraculous reconciliation in the near future, the ruling coalition formed by the traditionally dominant political parties Nepali Congress and CPN (UML) is now on track to sorting out the issues through voting despite the vehement protests of the opposition.

As the rival sides are drifting further away from each other's position on contentious issues--ruling coalition with upper hand in the CA taking an increasingly hardliner position in favor of status quo vs the opposition reluctant to shed the more radical stand on contentious issues--new faultlines are appearing in a country already fraught with old ones.

 The consequence of this unfortunate turn of events is this: those of us who were looking forward to the new constitution as the document of compromise between conflicting interests if not of absolute agreement and consensus, are set to be disappointed. This also raises the specter of lingering political confrontation and instability in the country that was badly shaken by an armed insurgency that ended only eight years ago.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Raghuram Rajan: India has a long way to go towards good governance (and Nepal has yet to start)

Where is India headed? Despite the enormous challenges ahead, India is on way to further chipping away at the pervasive poverty and keeping the momentum of economic progress.
But what about the India's neighbors? The prospects are much grimmer for every single of India's neighbors in South Asia with a possible exception of post-war Sri-lanka, from terror-stricken and mismanaged Pakistan to impoverished Nepal unable to formulate a constitution during a period of nearly a decade, from Bangladesh mired in political instability to Afghanistan struggling to cope with poverty and rising insurgency, and from Maldives facing acute threat of climate change-induced rise in sea levels to Bhutan that has bought tranquility by violently deporting one third of its population.

But are the neighbors likely to learn from Indian experience to at least streamline their own domestic problems (and eventually start solving them) so that they can catch up with the giant neighbor?
India can teach its neighbors in both the ways: inviting them to emulate it where it has been successful and advising them not to follow the trails that have led to mayhem and disaster.
The neighbors can emulate India, for example, on how to make the best of the globally interconnected economic system by exploiting the inherent strengths of the population.
On the other hand, they need not experience firsthand the hazards of casteism and sectarianism as the source of legitimacy of political formations.
The significance of India for South Asia, however, goes much beyond that. Many sharp minds there can show the neighbors a way out of their misery.
This time, Raghuram Rajan, the governor of Reserve Bank of India, has come up with a prescription of momentous importance for its neighbors. Even though he meant the speech--definitely not as a part of his role in the monetary authority in the country--for an Indian audience of a festival in Goa, the neighbors will be wise to adopt them as if they were the intended audience of the speech.
Here he details how the modern nation state can ignore any of the three pillars of liberal democracy--a strong government, rule of law, and democratic accountability--only at its own peril. Adding 'free markets' as the fourth pillar, he goes on to elaborate how the weakness of one pillar leaves the other three in jeopardy and how in absence of equitable distribution of capabilities, all the four pillars start swaying.
Nepal, with all the four pillars very weak with possible exception of the democratic accountability, has pretty long to travel before we can be confident about the future of the country in the new world order. I intend to further this discourse in Nepali later but here is the full text of Rajan's speech, courtesy site.

The train has to run on time, but it has to go in the right direction at the desired time

 A free market requires a strong government, rule of law, and democratic accountability
Raghuram Rajan

Thank you for inviting me to this Festival of Ideas. Since this festival is about ideas, I am not going to tax you with the Reserve Bank’s views on monetary policy, which are, by now, well known. Instead, I want to talk about something I have been studying for many years, the development of a liberal market democracy. In doing this, I will wear my hat as a professor in the field known as political economy, and discard my RBI hat for the time being. If you came here expecting more insights on the path of interest rates, as I expect many of you did, let me apologize for disappointing you.

My starting point is the truism that people want to live in a safe prosperous country where they enjoy freedom of thought and action, and where they can exercise their democratic rights to choose their government. But how do countries ensure political freedom and economic prosperity? Why do the two seem to go together? And what more, if anything, does India have to do to ensure it has these necessary underpinnings for prosperity and continued political freedom? These are enormously important questions, but given their nature, they will not be settled in one speech. Think of my talk today, therefore, as a contribution to the debate.

Fukuyama’s three pillars of a liberal democratic state

In his magisterial two-volume analysis of the emergence of political systems around the world, political scientist Francis Fukuyama builds on the work of his mentor, Samuel Huntington, to argue that liberal democracies, which seem to be best at fostering political freedoms and economic success, tend to have three important pillars: a strong government, rule of law, and democratic accountability.

I propose in this talk to start by summarizing my (necessarily imprecise) reading of Fukuyama’s ideas to you. I would urge you to read the books to get their full richness. I will then go on to argue that he leaves out a fourth pillar, free markets, which are essential to make the liberal democracy prosperous. I will warn that these pillars are weakening in industrial countries because of rising inequality of opportunity, and end with lessons for India.

Consider Fukuyama’s three pillars in greater detail. Strong government does not mean one that is only militarily powerful or uses its intelligence apparatus to sniff out enemies of the state. Instead, a strong government is also one that provides an effective and fair administration through clean, motivated, and competent administrators who can deliver good governance.

Rule of law means that government’s actions are constrained by what we Indians would term dharma – by a historical and widely understood code of moral and righteous behaviour, enforced by religious, cultural, or judicial authority.

And democratic accountability means that government has to be popularly accepted, with the people having the right to throw unpopular, corrupt, or incompetent rulers out.

Fukuyama makes a more insightful point than simply that all three traditional aspects of the state – executive, judiciary, and legislature – are needed to balance one another. In sharp contrast to the radical libertarian view that the best government is the minimal “night watchman”, which primarily protects life and property rights while enforcing contracts, or the radical Marxist view that the need for the government disappears as class conflict ends, Fukuyama, as did Huntington, emphasizes the importance of a strong government in even a developed country.

No matter how thuggish or arbitrary the government in a tin-pot dictatorship, these are weak governments, not strong ones. Their military or police can terrorize the unarmed citizenry but cannot provide decent law and order or stand up to a determined armed opposition. Their administration cannot provide sensible economic policy, good schools or clean drinking water. Strong governments need to be peopled by those who can provide needed public goods – it requires expertise, motivation, and integrity. Realizing the importance of strong government, developing countries constantly request multilateral institutions for help in enhancing their governance capacity.

Strong governments may not, however, move in the right direction. Hitler provided Germany with extremely effective administration – the trains ran on time, as did the trains during our own Emergency in 1975-77. His was a strong government, but Hitler took Germany efficiently and determinedly on a path to ruin, overriding the rule of law and dispensing with elections. It is not sufficient that the trains run on time, they have to go in the right direction at the desired time. The physical rail network guiding the trains could be thought of as analogous to rule of law, while the process by which consensus is built around the train schedule could be thought of as democratic accountability.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Analysis of election results in Delhi

Delhi poll verdict: 
Is Modi-led India spinning in circles?

Jiwan Kshetry

Delhi poll results that handed down a heavy symbolic defeat to PM Modi's party have proved that 'Modi wave' in Indian politics was really a wave that can rise to dizzying heights so long as appropriate momentum is there but has an inevitable tendency to come down the moment the momentum is lost. The future of electoral politics in India is no longer as predictable as we thought till now. 

"Modi will have to be a boatman: one oar must focus on the economy and the other must concentrate on the Hindu agenda."

These were the prophetic words of one Sakshi Maharaj a powerful priest-turned-politician as told to the Reuters reporters in India recently. 

Indeed. That statement was a veiled threat by the man to Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, that if he backtracks in his promise to further the rather divisive Hindutva agenda in India, a backlash from the conservative constituency formed by powerful Sadhus like himself was inevitable. On articulating the dilemma of Modi--who came to power by striking a delicate balance between the development and Hindutva agenda--as a helmsman of India, though, he was succinct.

To illustrate what would happen if Modi abandoned the Hindutva agenda by solely focusing on development, Sakshi reportedly told that Modi's imaginary boat will spin on circles, like a boat propelled by one oar on one side. 

On Tuesday, suddenly the weakness of the Modi government in India was exposed: despite the glittering and stupendously costly campaign showcasing the achievements and potential achievements under Modi, his party was decimated in the provincial elections in Delhi by a newcomer party which has existed for only few years. 

As it appears, it is perfectly possible that the Modi government may be susceptible to spinning in circles if not already doing so. 

As the results in Delhi show, however, Sakshi may have been only partially true. As the marriage of convenience between neo-liberalism and hardline Hindutva shows signs of strains the oar rowing the Hindutva agenda seems to be overplaying its role giving rise to the spin. 

From forced conversions infuriating the minority communities in the country to the thugs of RSS (Rastriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the parent organization of Modi's party BJP) posing as moral police out to 'teach discipline to the young' alienating the young middle class, the heavy-handed approach of the extremist elements in Modi's power base seems to be badly backfiring. People in Delhi have repudiated BJP for precisely same excesses which Sakshi saw as the lukewarm responses from Modi fixated too much on the development agenda. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Forget not the crimes bygone: Activist Shabnam Hashmi's scathing letter to Kiran Bedi

 The author, and many of her like, cannot digest the fact that Modi has smashed the vote bank politics. In Kashmir PDP is sharing power with BJP. Peoples' lives wherever are lost is sad. But the author, like most Muslims, are one sided, and that is not acceptable. Muslims started Godhra riots and the aftermath was a repercussion. 
Looking back, in 1946, Muslims started great Calcutta killings, and then that spread to Bihar where Muslims were killed. Read history.
Yes, the 2002 mayhem of Gujarat was the (rightful) repercussion of Godhra riots - sounds like a cliche? That is indeed the standard reaction of many in India towards the tragedy.

You cannot empirically prove or disprove such assertions. One thing is sure though: those who think so presume that the crime of a few in a community automatically confers to the entire community and that the punishment of anybody from the 'guilty' community is the duty of everyone in the 'victimized' community. That is indeed the justification of horrendous crimes committed in the name of religion or faith anywhere in the world.

This particular comment was posted in response to this scathing--revealing and comprehensive despite its short length--letter in India Resists website by activist Shabnam Hashmi. Here is the entire text of the letter:

An open letter to Ms Kiran Bedi from Shabnam Hashmi

February 8, 2015 2:52 pm

Let me begin by saying that I have never been your fan because I strongly disagreed with your patronising and dictatorial way of doing ‘social service’.

Shabnam HashmiNow that you will have ample free time I request you to reflect and introspect. I suggest make yourself a coffee sit in a rocking chair and put your feet in a bucket of hot water and relax.
Please think about what they have done to you.

I might not have been your fan but you have been a very confident professional woman. Every human being has shortcomings and we constantly strive to improve them but to be publicly ridiculed for the shortcomings is highly humiliating.

I saw a photograph where you are half bent and looking at Modi asking him something. The expression on your face is of helplessness and wanting approval from him.