24 October 2017

Quiz - Place Name

Starting today, this blog will feature a quiz thrice a week. Please post your answers in the comments space.

14 October 2017

'28 Boring Words and What to use Instead'

A few weeks back, Jack Milgram wrote to me with a request: can I share an infographic that he made on '28 Boring Words and What to use Instead' on this blog?

I found the infographic interesting and helpful as it focuses on the 'related words' that we can use in place of some 28 boring words.

You can find the infographic here

02 October 2017

The Explainer: Korean Economic Models

Under the influence of the Soviet Union, North Korea became a Communist State under Kim Il-sung. The Soviet Union propped up the Kim regime with military and economic aid. On the economic front, Pyongyang adopted a socialist economic model, where everything was owned by the state; however, as the country was controlled by the Kim family, its economy became a Kim family enterprise.

On the other hand, South Korea, under the U.S., took the democratic path to governance. Democracy and its attendant institutions, like a free press and an independent judiciary, took shape in South Korea. A free market economy took root in the democratic South – freedom of economic activity, private enterprise and a culture of consumerism became a way of economic life. The South is one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world. Some of its private enterprises like Samsung, LG, and Hyundai are global mega brands. 

A Comparison of the Two Koreas – Basic Data
North Korea
South Korea
Area (in km2)
Population (in million)
GDP (in U.S.$ billion)
Per Capita (in U.S.$)
Data source: Wikipedia

01 October 2017

The Explainer: The Kim Family of North Korea

With today's post I am back to blogging. I intend to keep writing on a regular basis. 

In the last couple of months, North Korea tested a nuclear bomb and launched a slew of missiles that has rattled global capitals. Alarm bells have gone off in Seoul, Tokyo, Washington, and Beijing. Some of the North Korean missiles flew above North Japan while a couple of them landed within 200 miles off the Japanese coast. North Korea has even threatened to attack Guam, an overseas military base of the United States in the Pacific Ocean. 

This short piece will focus on the Kim Family that rules North Korea like a family enterprise.

An Orwellian State 
A great deal of secrecy shrouds the political regime in North Korea; little or no information flows out of the country – this is perhaps the precise reason for Pyongyang’s actions being so scary. Before we explore the past and the present, let me share a short note on the Kim family that controls North Korea like a family fiefdom.

As is the case with Orwellian States, there is very little information available in the public space about the Kim family. This should be seen in the light of the fact that all information and propaganda flow in an Orwellian State, especially of the communist type, is tightly controlled by the rulers.

Kim Il–sung, officially titled ‘The Great Leader’, ruled North Korea since the Korean peninsula was split in half by the Korean War (1950–53), till his death in 1994. He laid the foundation of the dictatorship of the Kim family, shaped the communist polity within the country (especially the ‘Juche’ philosophy; ‘Juche’ means self-reliance) while his outlook on the world became the country’s foreign policy.

Upon his death in 1994, Kim Il–sung was succeeded by his chosen heir, Kim Jong–il, officially called ‘The Dear Leader’. The son consolidated the military apparatus through his ‘military first’ policy and accelerated the pace of the country’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and missile development programme. During his regime, millions of his countrymen died due to starvation even as he spent considerable resources on building a formidable nuclear weapons and missile arsenal. He died in 2011. Kim Il–sung and Kim Jong–il are together called ‘Eternal Leaders of the Juche Korea’.  

Kim Jong–il was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong–un. The world saw hope for a time – the fact that Kim Jong–un was educated in the west, exposed to the ideas of democracy and individual freedoms – could turn to be positively different, that he would give up his country’s antagonistic foreign policy (especially against South Korea, Japan and the U.S.), roll back the weapons programme, including the nuclear weapons programme, and usher in greater freedoms in his country.

As events turned out, all hope crashed after Kim Jong–un revved up the development of nukes and intercontinental ballistic missiles (which could reach the U.S. west coast). Kim has proved to be a hard nut to crack; even China, which traditionally has been the only major ally of Pyongyang, is unable to moderate Kim’s behaviour.    

Today, North Korea is widely seen as an international pariah, a view that contrasts sharply with the global perception of the democratic South as a technologically and economically advanced nation. 

05 March 2017

The Explainer: China's Xinjiang Problem

The chilling warning of the Islamic State issued to the Chinese government of launching terror attacks has turned spotlight on the ethnic cauldron that’s engulfing the Xinjiang province in western China. The dangerous conflict between the native Turkic Uighur and Beijing is symptomatic of the many dangers that China faces because of its demographic and political policies.
While Beijing blames the extremist Uighur Muslims for the terrorist violence, the latter have accused the former of repression and use of excessive force against them. They also blame the Chinese Government of resorting to demographic means of subverting the Uighurs by destroying their ethnic identity in their own ancient land. Also, they have charged the Chinese Government with economic discrimination. For several years now, the Uighurs have called for secession from China.

China launches ‘Go West’ policy  
Taking a 
serious view of the Islamists’ call for secession of Xinjiang from China, Beijing has used, and continues to use, demography as a controlling tool. To this end, they launched the ‘Go West’ policy to encourage the migration of Han Chinese, which is the biggest ethnic group in China, to Xinjiang.
The policy of increasing the presence of the Han Chinese in a traditionally Turkic Uighur-dominated province has paid rich dividends for Beijing. Such has been the impact of this policy that the Han Chinese, who constituted a mere 6 per cent of the total Xinjiang population in 1955, now make up about 40 per cent of the total population in Xiajiang!

Economic impact of the ‘Go West’ policy
The sharp rise in the population of the migrant Han Chinese has led to a massive loss of economic opportunities for the native Turkic Uighurs. Today, most of the provincial administrative jobs go to the educated Han Chinese; also, the Han Chinese own major business and economic resources while the Turkic Uighurs languish on the margins of the society.

Cultural impact of the ‘Go West’ policy
The Uighurs are ethnically closer to the Islamic traditions of Central Asia than to the cultural traditions of the ethnic Chinese groups. However, most Uighurs practice a moderate form of Islam, unlike the ultra-orthodox Wahabbi type (brought in from Saudi Arabia by religious extremists), which is followed by the more radical elements in Central Asia.

In Xinjiang, Beijing keeps a hawk’s eye on the mosques that dot the landscape of the massive province. The secret services, Beijing’s eyes and ears, are always on the prowl looking for secessionist and terror elements. Often, such is the control that Beijing extends over the mosques that whenever there is violence, they are asked to close down for an indefinite period. 
Muslims are barred from observing fast in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan; in some extreme cases, people are forced to shave off their beards and ordered not to wear any garment that makes for public display of their faith (like burqa/yashmak/hijab).

China and War on Terror
The September 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S. and the subsequent launch of the War on Terror came in as a shot in the arm for Beijing. Soon after, in a master-stroke, Beijing labeled the radical Islamists, especially the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) members, in Xinjiang as part of Al-Qaeda network. As a result, the U.S. and major European nations banned the ETIM. By aligning its local fight with the international effort against the Islamists, Beijing won the sanction of the international community in its fight against the extremist members among the Uighurs.
In fact, Beijing cited the capture of 22 Uighurs, reportedly linked to Al-Qaeda, by the U.S. as evidence of the growing radicalisation of the Uighurs. However, Beijing suffered a major embarrassment when the U.S. released these 22 Uighurs, after a long detention period at the Guantanamo Bay prison, when it found that they were not terrorists!

Cutting the ethnic umbilical cord
Over the years, Beijing has strengthened diplomatic ties , especially economic ties, with Central Asian nations, which are linguistically and ethnically linked with the Uighurs.
To this end, it took initiative to form the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), whose members include Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan (all former Soviet provinces with majority Muslim populations). Over the years, its diplomacy has paid off as these countries have cut off potential sources of support for the Uighurs from radical sources in their territories.

The Pakistan Connect
In the recent past, China also said, for the first time ever, that the Uighur separatists underwent training in Pakistan’s numerous terrorist training camps. Given that Pakistan considers China as an all-weather friend, the accusations shocked the Pakistani establishment. However, this accusation is unlikely to change the relationship equation between the two countries, though it is widely believed that Pakistani leaders have been told by their Chinese counterparts in no uncertain terms that such terror camps which export extremists to fight the Chinese State should be shut down immediately.

My Take
China is increasingly worried over the developments in Xinjiang. It believes that if the Xinjiang problem is not tackled in the ‘right’ way, it has the potential to ignite similar fires around its vast peripheral areas.
It is a fact that political rights need economic contentment, because together they give a sense of belonging and empowerment to all involved. Appropriate management of the needs and aspirations of varied groups is critical to the State’s ability to ensure good governance and provision of security. In the light of this, the major challenge that China today faces is to absorb and resolve the clashes that may arise between contending interests between the Turkic Uighurs and ethnic Chinese groups.

04 March 2017

The Explainer: China, ISIS, & Uighurs

                                                                                                                                                                                         Source: VOA

In its first-ever direct threat against China, the Islamic State’s Uighur fighters have vowed to return home to Xinjiang, a province in western China, to launch jihad against China. The Uighur extremists, in a video, have vowed to ‘shed blood like rivers’ against the Chinese State. 

The Islamic State (IS) is also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). For the sake of simplicity, I have used the name ‘Islamic State’ in this explanatory article. 

The Uighurs in China accuse the Chinese government of suppressing their voices and unleashing repression against them.

So, who are the Uighurs?
The Turkic Uighurs are a predominantly Islamic community with deep racial and ethnic ties to Central Asia. For centuries, the Uighurs have co-existed with about 12 other ethnic groups in Xinjiang.

Till about 1912, Xinjiang was a part of the Qing Empire. After the demise of the Qing dynasty in 1912, the status of Xinjiang has swayed between autonomy and complete independence. In 1933, Turkic insurgents broke free from Chinese control and established the Islamic Republic of East Turkestan (also known as the Republic of Uighuristan or the First East Turkistan Republic).
The following year, China reabsorbed the region. In 1944, emboldened by the support of the Soviet Union, Turkic Uighur rebels once again declared independence to set up the Second East Turkistan Republic.
However, the Turkic Uighurs’ dream of an independent state was short-lived. In 1949, the Communist Party of China (CPC) came to power after establishing full control over the whole of China and creating the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  The same year, the Communists regained complete control of Xinjiang while in 1955, Beijing classified Xinjiang, which accounts for about 16 per cent of the country’s area, as an ‘autonomous region’ of the People’s Republic of China.
Today, the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is home to about 2.3 crore people from thirteen major ethnic groups, the largest being the Turkic Uighur community.

Nostalgic of the times when there was an independent Xinjiang, some Uighurs see China’s presence in the province as a form of imperialism. The more radical among these, like those belonging to the extremist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), have called for secession from China.

Practice of Islam in Xinjiang

The practice of religion in a Communist State is either undercover, if such practice is illegal, or controlled 
by the State, if such practice is allowed. China practices the latter method; it tightly controls the citizens’ right to practice faith.

In Xinjiang, China keeps a hawk’s eye on the mosques that dot the landscape of the massive province. The secret services, Beijing’s eyes and ears, are always on the prowl looking for secessionist and terror elements. Often, such is the control that Beijing extends over the mosques that whenever there is violence, they are asked to close down for an indefinite period.
In 2014, the Chinese government banned Muslim staff from observing fasting and engaging in other religious activities in the Muslim holy month of Ramzan (also Ramadan).
The practice of one’s faith is a matter of personal choice, at least for folks like us in India; in China, it is a matter of State policy.

The second and concluding part of this article will appear tomorrow. 

01 March 2017

Freedom of Speech is a Two-Way Street

Gurmehar Kaur says that war, not Pakistan, killed her father; she also said that she is not afraid of ABVP and that students across the country are with her.

Yes, wars kill. But is the war against India OUR creation? Or is it Pakistan that has been using terrorism to wage a proxy war against India? Pakistan killed the father of this girl – the army man was fighting against Pakistan. (Captain Mandeep Singh, the girl’s father, was killed by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists.)

It is preposterous to say that war killed him - as if war happened by itself. The girl's comment is not anti-war; it is specially anti-ABVP as she is a member of AISA.

What wrong did Virendra Sehwag did? What crime did Randeep Hooda commit in (applauding and) retweeting Virendra Sehwag’s tweet? Do the Leftist-Liberals think that freedom of speech is their right only? The truth is that the Left-Liberals abuse anyone who does not agree with them. It is well-known that the Leftist-Liberals show a deep antipathy toward anything non-conformist (with their world view).

If the girl has the freedom of speech to flaunt her anti-ABVP views, so should anyone else, even those who are critical of the girl’s views be. Freedom of speech is a two-way street. It cannot be that the Leftist-Liberal muckrakers have the monopoly on a right guaranteed by the Constitution of India on all citizens of India.

I will not condone the behavior of anyone who threatens the girl. It is fair to disagree; it is wrong to be abusive. The BJP/ABVP activists who indulge in violence/issue threats of violence should be reined in; in a democracy, there is no place for violence to ‘settle’ scores (and points of disagreement).

Perhaps Ms Kaur does not realize that those who claim to support her and stand by her today will disappear tomorrow; her so-called supporters will desert her soon after she had served their purpose. Unfortunately, she may have to live with this episode even as her Leftist-Liberals desert her to catch their next scapegoat.

 To know more about her political backers, click here.

07 February 2017

The Explainer: What is the Govt's Contingency Fund?

What are the different types of accounts of the Government of India?
The Government of India has three major types of accounts. These are listed in the Union Budget. The three are:
(a)   Consolidated Fund of India;
(b)   Contingency Fund of India, and
(c)   Public Accounts.

What is the Consolidated Fund of India?
This is the most important account maintained by the Government of India. The Consolidated Fund of India contains all the revenues (tax and non-tax revenues) earned and all the expenditures incurred by the Government of India.

No money from the Consolidated Fund of India can be spent by the Government without approval of the Parliament of India.

What is the Contingency Fund of India?
Contingency means ‘unforeseen’ or ‘emergency’. As mentioned above, all withdrawals  from the Consolidated Fund of India require prior approval of the Parliament.

However, sometimes there are emergency expenses for which the Government may not wait for the Parliament’s approval; like, expenses incurred to tackle a devastating flood/earthquake.

In such cases, the Government of India will withdraw funds from the Contingency Fund of India. Once the expense is met, the Government may seek approval of the Parliament for such withdrawal. In short, the Parliament’s approval comes post-facto (i.e., after the expense has been made).

However, after the Parliament approves such expense, an equal amount is withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund of India to be put back into the Contingency Fund of India.

What are Public Accounts?
Public Accounts hold money that does not belong to the Government of India. Such accounts include the Employees Provident Fund and Small Savings Scheme. This money belongs to the general public but is held in Government’s trust.

Whenever withdrawals are made from such accounts, the Government pays out the amounts without the Parliament’s approval.

05 February 2017

The Complete Explainer Series

The complete collection of my Explainers on matters of politics and economics.

GK topics for GDPI

Economic Issues for GDPI

List of disputes between China and the U.S.

Israel-Palestine Part 1

Credit Rating

Who are bulls, bears, pigs and chickens? (Stock Markets 2) http://www.bjnocabbages.com/2011/07/explainer-stock-market-part-ii.html

What influences the share price? (Stock Markets 3) http://www.bjnocabbages.com/2011/08/explainer-stock-market-part-iii.html

Why a Fiscal Deficit is dangerous?

The Explainer: What does the Budget consist of?

What does the Budget consist of?
Take a look at the table graphic below. This document titled, Budget at a Glance, is the best document to understand the components of the various types of figures in the Budget. 

The Union Budget 201718 consists of the following:
(a)   Actuals for 201516,(b)   Budget Estimates for 201617,
(c)   Revised Estimates for 201617, and 
(d)   Budget Estimates for 201718.

The Actuals for 2015-16 may be represented as such but they STILL would be PROVISIONAL only. This means that these figures are NOT the final figures for 201516 but are subject to further revision. In fact, the final figures for 201516 will only be available toward the end of Financial Year 201617 (or Fiscal Year ’17).

Budget Estimates (BE) relate to the figures which the Finance Minister set out in his Budget Speech last year (i.e., on 28 February 2016) for the Financial Year 201617.

However, all figures – related to revenue collection, expenditure, other allocations – are subject to change. These numbers are mere ESTIMATES and not actuals. As the year progresses, such figures may sometimes need to be revised. For example, if there is low industrial and agricultural activity (meaning lower economic output), tax collections may dip. This, in turn, will reduce the government’s Revenue Receipts.

In such case, the Government may revise the Budget Estimates (made in the Budget). Such altered figures are labeled Revised Estimates (RE). These RE are listed in the third column.

In the fourth and last column, you will find Budget Estimates for the coming Financial Year 2017-18. These figures reflect the various estimates made by the Government in terms of Receipts (including tax collections) and Expenditures (including interest payments and salary payments to government employees).

02 February 2017

The Explainer: Budget Basics

In India, there is hardly any economic event that captures popular imagination as much as the Union Budget. In this Budget series, The Explainer will focus on the complex budget jargon that puts off even 'interested-in-budget' souls.

So, here we go!

What is a Fiscal Year?
Any twelve-month period that is used for submission of accounts, taxation purposes and to state financial reporting by private and public sector companies is called a Fiscal Year.

In India, the Government has laid down the provision that the 12-month starting on April 1 and ending on March 31 of next year will be treated as a Fiscal Year.

To put it in perspective, this article is being written on 2 February 2017, i.e., in Financial Year 2016-17. This is also called Fiscal Year ’17.

In the same way, the financial year for 2017-18 will start on 1 April 2017 and will end on 31 March 2018. So on 1 April 2017, we will enter Fiscal Year ’18.

Why is the Union Budget usually presented in February?
The Finance Minister of India presented the annual Union Budget for 2017-18 in the Parliament of India on February 1. It is typically presented in February for the following reasons: 

(a) After presentation, the Budget is tabled in the Parliament where members of both the Houses would debate the various provisions listed in the Budget. This would require a few days of debate and discussion. 

(b) Also, after such budget debate, any amendment to the original provision (like increasing or decreasing the allocation for a said ministry/program and rolling back any budget proposal) will have to be tabled, discussed, passed, and brought into law by the Parliament. 

(c) Also, the administrative system, especially in case of tax administration, would need to be geared up to reflect any change in the financial, taxation or any other system.

What is the Economic Survey?
The Finance Minister's Budget Speech contains two major components: Part A and Part B.

Part A of the Speech contains the Economic Survey while Part B comprises the Union Budget Speech.

The Economic Survey is tabled by the Ministry of Finance in the Parliament along with the Union Budget.

The Economic Survey is an assessment of the performance of the Indian economy in the fiscal year going by. For example, the Economic Survey 2016-17 presents an assessment of the performance of the Indian economy in that fiscal year (i.e., 2016-17).

What is the Budget?
So while the Economic Survey is an assessment of the performance of the Indian economy in the fiscal year gone by (i.e., the one that ends on March 31 this year), the Union Budget is a statement of revenues and expenditures for the coming fiscal year, i.e., the one that starts on April 1 of this year.

The second part of this Explainer will appear tomorrow.

28 January 2017

India's Top 10 Trade Partners

If you are preparing for GD, Essay Writing (WAT) and Interview at India's leading b-schools; this is especially helpful for IIFT.

14 January 2017

The Best Way to Crack GDPI

My last two posts focused on General Topics for GDPI and Economic Issues for GDPI

In this post, I will dwell on the other important aspects that you should focus on:

(a) Academics
  • Study your graduation subjects.
  • If you have favourite subject(s), you must be comfortable with almost everything related to this subject.
  • Also, throw a glance at your project(s) work and paper presentation(s).

  • Think about long term plans (even if not concrete);
  • Get a hang of things in your chosen line of activity; 
  • How your mental strengths and current skill set match your choice of career, and 
  • Also, think about Plan B, i.e., what if Plan A (of doing an MBA and later career choices) does not work out. 

 Personality-related Questions
  • Hobbies;
  • Mental strengths and weaknesses – think of instances where they came into play; 
  • How a particular strength helped you become better;
  • What are you doing to overcome/tackle any weakness, and
  • Information about home town/state – uniqueness, history, cuisine, comparison between home town and town of employment (if different from home town).
(d) Work-related 
  • Current work profile;
  • Company profile – financial figures, names of top executives, nature of business, strategy;
  • Current state of the industry, and 
  • What did you learn from work, etc.

 Also, prepare for questions on 
  • Why management career;
  • Why MBA;
  • Alternate career plan; 
  • What other calls do you have, and
  • Which school will you join (in case of multiple calls). 

Be invested in your future. Be passionate. Work hard. Keep learning!