21 October 2018

Weekend Videos

  • Five things ants can teach us about management (3m 11s, BBC Ideas)
  • “A First-Class Catastrophe”: Lessons Learned from Black Monday (21m 14s, YouTube)
  • The life story of Microsoft founder Paul Allen (1m 16s, Business Today)

Graphics: India's Top Export & Import Partners

If you are preparing for any competitive exams, like related to bank, management, and civil services, the graphs below can help you a great deal. 

14 October 2018

Weekend Videos & Pix: Nikon Micro Pix, Inside Syria, & #MeToo

  • Nikon Small World winners zoom in on microscopic marvels (108 imagesNew Atlas)
  • Has #Metoo helped or harmed women? (video, 5 min 27 s, BBC Ideas)
  • Inside Syria (13 min, SNI)

06 October 2018

Weekend Videos - Spies, Secrets of FB, & the Sun

Check out these videos to rev up your learning this weekend.

  • Why our lives will keep revolving around the Sun (BBC Ideas, under 5 minutes)
  • Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network (Al Jazeera, under 47 minutes)
  • How British spies made a cyber immune system (CNN, under 4 minutes)

04 October 2018

Did India exist as a political entity before 1947?

Continuation of yesterday's post.

The second speaker was Prof. Runa Sarkar, Dean and Professor of Economics at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIMC). She opened her remarks with a flourish: 
“I think the topic is about India’s rich legacy. But India as a political entity became a reality only in 1947. So, I think we should interpret the topic as ‘legacy of the Indian subcontinent’.”
This is the usual semantic gimmickry that the liberals often come up with. I wanted to confront her with one question: 
"So, did the British, in 1600, set up the East ‘Subcontinent of India’ Company or did they name it the East INDIA Company?"
But I was not allowed to ask a second question. The well-meaning moderator said that other folks in the audience should get a chance to ask questions.  Well, then came a great question from a gentleman: 
"I think the greatest legacy of India is her spiritual heritage. What do you think should the younger generation do to take it forward?"
Pat came the reply from Prof. Sarkar: 
"I do not think the spiritual legacy you mentioned is the exclusive preserve of India. There is no legacy that is only our own. It belongs to the world at large."
Living in denial comes so natural to the liberals. Is that how such an insightful and deeply relevant question should be answered? 

03 October 2018

The Gap between India's Intelligentsia and Her Common People

On 1 October 2018, I was at St Xavier's College, Kolkata, as a member of the audience at a panel discussion, followed by the launch of their thirteenth annual publication named YOUTHINK (to which I had contributed an article as a guest author). The event was billed INTELLIGENTSIA 2018.

The topic for the panel discussion was ‘Hopes from Hindsight: Can India strategically capitalize on a rich legacy?’ The panelists were

• Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly, a former judge of the Supreme Court of India and former chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission;
• Dr Runa Sarkar, Dean (Academics) and Professor of Economics at IIM Calcutta, and
• Aarti Sharma, head of the eastern and northeastern operations at OYO Rooms.

The discussion was moderated by Dr Surendra Munshi, retired Professor of Sociology at IIM Calcutta. After spending close to two hours in his presence, I could sense his high learning, wisdom and great ability to navigate through contentious issues.

Justice Ganguly was the first speaker; his opening remarks were insightful, especially his rendering of a poem depicting Draupadi’s perspective on dharma and a woman’s place (in her context) in a man’s world. He was followed by the other speakers (more about them later in my next post). In this post, I will share the question that I asked Justice Ganguly.

In his second intervention, Justice Ganguly declared that the two prime reasons the British could conquer the world were: their liberal education and their sense of justice. He elaborated his argument by recalling the establishment of great institutions of learning in India (a reflection of their liberal education) and the application of equity in their legal system. He further quoted the names of some eminent freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in this case.

I was stunned to hear this line of argument, especially as it came from an eminent man of learning with decades of experience in public life.

After about a 45-minute discussion came the Q&A.

Here’s what I asked after being freely allowed by the moderator (there were only three guys who wished to ask questions):


“My name is Bharat C. Jain. I wish to ask Justice Ganguly about his remarks on the Britishers’ liberal education and sense of justice. I disagree with what your views.
“Sir, forgive me for what I am going to ask you for it is in direct contravention of what you mentioned earlier. I am not as learned as you are.
“The British established great institutions of learning in India not to educate Indians but to raise an army and a bureaucracy subservient to their British masters… to advance their political and commercial interests.  
“The British practice of law was based on inequity. They had two different sets of laws (and forms of punishment) for the British and for the Indians.”

What did Justice Ganguly say?
“Yes, the British did all that [what I mentioned] because they wanted to establish a colony in India.”

The highly learned man agreed with my stand but only when confronted. Why were such historical distortions peddled?

The episode lay bare the huge gap between the intelligentsia (persons of high learning) and the common people like me. For ages, the intelligentsia have set the tone for public discourse (on issues like the equity of the British justice system in colonial India) and the common people have accepted such factual distortions without even a hint of murmur.

(Second post tomorrow)

24 May 2018

The Explainer: Violence Against & By Rohingya

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, is home to several ethnic groups. Chief among these are Burman (68%), Shan (9%), Karen (7%), and Rakhine (4%). In a diverse and multi-ethnic society, that is largely mired in poverty, the tension between the various ethnic groups, especially over their way of life and access to resources, often surfaces in violent clashes.

Rohingya – A Short Intro
The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority in Rakhine state of Myanmar. The Government of Myanmar does not recognize them as Myanmese citizens and as such views the estimated 1.1 million Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. Myanmar says it is ready to grant them citizenship if they identify themselves as Bengalis (i.e., Bengali-speaking migrants from Bangladesh), something that the Rohingya firmly refuse to accept. In this context, it would be apt to share one important fact: after the British annexed the Rakhine region in 1824–26, thousands of people (from what is today’s Bangladesh and some parts of northeast India) were encouraged to migrate to today’s Myanmar to work in agricultural fields.

Myanmar has maintained that the Rohingya are illegal migrants from India and Bangladesh and have refused to recognize them as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. The Myanmese government has defended this approach, arguing that past secessionist movements indicate that the Rohingya never identified as part of the country (more on this later).
The Rohingya have accused the majority Buddhist community of discrimination and using violence to subdue them. As they are stateless, it is hard to quantify the exact population of Rohingya. However, because of the unending discrimination, thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh flee every year in a desperate attempt to reach mainly Muslim-majority countries, Malaysia and Indonesia (even in these countries, the Rohingyas are recognised as refugees and not granted citizenship).

Widespread Violence

Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have been at loggerheads for several decades. Episodes of intense violence have been followed by periods of uneasy calm.

About six years back, violent clashes between the Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims erupted. Tens of people were killed and triggered a flood of Rohingya migrants, especially into neighbouring Bangladesh.

In October 2017, armed militants, especially from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya terrorist group, killed several police and military personnel in several coordinated attacks on security camps and check-posts. They also killed tens of people belonging to Buddhist and Hindu communities. In retaliation, the country’s police and security forces launched counter-terrorism operations against Rohingya Muslim militant groups. The Rohingya Muslims have accused the country’s security forces of extra-judicial killings, abuse of women, and destruction of property. Since then, about seven lakh Rohingya have fled Myanmar to escape the violence and persecution.
In a recently released report by Amnesty International, the leading human rights group accused Rohingya terrorists of killing Hindu men and children while forcing women to convert to Islam and sexually abusing them.

Rohingya and Terrorism

Myanmar has consistently accused the Rohingya Muslims of ties with radical Islamist terror groups, like the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaida, from which flow both money and arms. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, (also known as Harakah al-Yaqin), the main Rohingya terror group, is led by a Saudi-based committee of Rohingya emigres. 

Let me cite Brahma Chellaney, one of the world’s foremost experts on conflict zones:
“The external forces fomenting insurgent attacks in Rakhine bear considerable responsibility for the Rohingyas’ current plight. In fact, it is the links between Rohingya militants and such external forces, especially terrorist organizations like the IS, that have driven the Government of India, where some 40,000 Rohingya have settled illegally, to declare that their entry poses a serious security threat. Even Bangladesh acknowledges Rohingya militants’ external jihadi connections.

“But the truth is that Myanmar’s jihadi scourge is decades old, a legacy of British colonialism. After all, it was the British who, more than a century ago, moved large numbers of Rohingya from East Bengal to work on rubber and tea plantations in then-Burma, which was administered as a province of India until 1937.
“In the years before India gained independence from Britain in 1947, Rohingya militants joined the campaign to establish Pakistan as the first Islamic republic of the postcolonial era. When the British, who elevated the strategy of “divide and rule” into an art, decided to establish two separate wings of Pakistan on either side of a partitioned India, the Rohingya began attempting to drive Buddhists out of the Muslim-dominated Mayu peninsula in northern Rakhine. They wanted the Mayu peninsula to secede and be annexed by East Pakistan (which became Bangladesh in 1971).
“Failure to achieve that goal led many Rohingya to take up arms in a self-declared jihad. Local mujaheddin [holy warriors] began to organize attacks on government troops and seize control of territory in northern Rakhine, establishing a state within a state. Just months after Myanmar gained independence in 1948, martial law was declared in the region; government forces regained territorial control in the early 1950s.
“But Rohingya Islamist militancy continued to thrive, with mujaheddin attacks occurring intermittently. In 2012, bloody clashes broke out between the Rohingya and the ethnic Rakhines, who feared becoming a minority in their home state. The sectarian violence, in which rival gangs burned down villages and some 140,000 people (mostly Rohingya) were displaced, helped to transform the Rohingya militancy back into a full-blown insurgency, with rebels launching hit-and-run attacks on security forces.”

Global Reaction

There are two sides to this story: (1) the use of violence against the Rohingya for being ‘different’ and (2) the use of violence by the Rohingya against the other ethnic and religious groups in Myanmar. The former has attracted global attention; several organisations/nations have (a) condemned the Myanmar Government for its failure in stopping the violence (some have described the situation as ‘ethnic cleansing’) and (b) revoked the honours/awards bestowed on Aung Saan Suu Kyi, the tallest and de facto leader of Myanmar.

However, the international community has turned a blind eye to the intense terrorist violence perpetrated by the Rohingya militants against Buddhists, Hindus and followers of other religions. The international community’s discriminatory attitude has only emboldened the Rohingya terrorists who know that the global spotlight is on the Myanmese military and not on their own use of violence against ‘others’.  

20 May 2018

Random Musings on Developments in Karnataka

Some random ramblings on the Karnataka situation.
The situation appeared grim for the BJP, right from the start. 

Before the Floor Test
took place in the Karnataka Assembly at 4 pm yesterday, the following were possible scenarios I had shared with my Readings Broadcast List on WhatsApp.

(1) The BJP might just scrape through with a little help from some Congress   Lingayat MLAs for two reasons:
a.  their unhappiness with the possibility of a Vokkaliga CM (H. D. Kumaraswamy is a Vokkaliga) and
b.  B. S. Yeddyurappa (BSY) is a Lingayat.

(2) Also, the Congress and JD (S) MLAs know that even if BSY lost the trust   vote, the BJP won’t keep quiet. Over the next few weeks, the party will   try to engineer defections in the INC and JD (S) – thus turning the   numbers in the BJP’s favour.

(3) The fence-sitting INC and JD (S) MLAs also know that if they go out of   power (forming the government now and losing the majority later), they   may just lose the chance to make money (that is why they are in politics, aren’t they?) and stay relevant.
(4) If the BJP would engineer defections, it would be for today and 2019. The Karnataka battle will bruise the BJP in the short term but will pay rich dividends in 2019. Remember, all politics is local.
(5) However, despite all this and more, the BJP may just lose the Floor Test.

(6) BSY might resign before the Floor Test. I shared this message ten minutes before the proceedings started.

As it is, BSY resigned as the BJP could not muster support from the rival parties.

Following the resignation, the INC and its media friends went to town with grand statements that the Constitution has been saved, that democracy has won, and that there is widespread disenchantment with the BJP for its policies of demonetisation and the GST.

Let’s look at the tripe of ‘the Constitution has been saved’. In inviting the single largest party to form government, the Governor strictly went by the law (as laid down by the Supreme Court). If the INC and JD (S) had a pre-poll alliance, the Governor would have invited the alliance.

The Congress says that the BJP was rejected in Karnataka. Only arrogant folks will mouth such laughable statements, especially after the Congress went down from 122 seats to 78 seats while its arch-rival raised its tally from 40 to 104. The Congress’ humiliation cake had an icing: the chief minister Siddaramaiah lost from one of the two seats he contested.      

Consider the dumb idea of ‘democracy has won’. It beats reason when a party with just 38 seats is extended support by a party with 78 seats – the post-poll alliance between the JD (S) and the INC has only one objective: keep the BJP out. The post-poll alliance between the INC and the JD (S) is a marriage of convenience and as with all such marriages, it won’t go far. Too many inflated egos and contesting vote-banks will scupper any chance of a full-term for the alliance.

In the end, I think the biggest loser in the Karnataka saga is the Congress party and the biggest winner is the BJP. The BJP might have lost the Floor Test but in the eyes of the voter in the street, it came across as a victim of the post-poll alliance between opportunistic parties.

One more thing: the noise over the Federal Front and the rejuvenation of the INC is all humbug.

In the Federal Front, super large egos, of regional leaders like KCR, Mamata Banerjee and Chandrababu Naidu, will force them to behave like crabs.

The INC, under Rahul Gandhi, is tottering and losing election after election. Enough said about the INC. 

28 April 2018

The Explainer: India's External Debt

India’s external debt, as at end December 2017, was at around U.S.$513.4 billion. 

Over the years, several people have asked me a pertinent question: Is this the money the Government of India owes to external agencies like the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)? 

Well, the answer is complicated.

To understand external debt, let’s use the traditional Q&A method. 

Give me a breakdown of India’s external debt.
India’s external debt is a mix of both long-term and short-term debt.
(a) There is a dominance of long-term borrowings – 81 per cent (U.S.$415.8 billion) of the total debt of U.S.$513.4 billion. 

(b) The remaining 19 per cent (U.S.$97.6 billion) is short-term external debt. This means this debt would come up for payment in the next twelve months. 

Define debt by types of maturities.
The maturity of a loan relates to its repayment period, i.e., when it becomes due for repayment.

Based on maturity, there are two kinds of loans: long-term and short-term. 

A long-term loan is a loan with a maturity period of more than one year. The longer the maturity period of the debt the lower the pressure on payments.

A short-term debt has a maturity period of less than one year, i.e., this debt would come up for repayment in the next twelve months. This debt, in the case of external debt, includes both the principal as well as interest on such loans. In other words, short term external debt includes short term debt by original maturity as well as long term debt.

What are the components of External Debt?
There are several components of India’s external debt. However, for the common person to understand something as complex as external debt, the following are the main components of India’s external debt:

Multilateral credit – borrowed by the Government of India from institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank;
Bilateral credit – borrowed by the Government of India from other countries (like Japan and Germany);
External commercial borrowings (ECBs) – these are the borrowings of companies like Reliance Industries from abroad;
Deposits of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). NRI deposits are treated as liabilities as they have to be repaid to the depositors, and
Foreign Institutional Investment (FII) – investment by foreign fund houses (like mutual funds) in India’s stock markets and government securities.

As mentioned, India’s external debt is U.S.$513.4 billion. So, does it mean the Government of India borrowed all this money?
Yes, but just a part of it. Government debt is also called ‘Sovereign’ debt. 

The share of the Government’s debt in the total external debt is just 21.2 per cent (U.S.$108.9 billion). The remaining 78.8 per cent is non-Government debt (U.S.$404.5 billion). 

What are the components of Government debt?
Of the total Government debt of U.S.$108.9 billion,
42.1 per cent has come from multilateral agencies (like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund);
18 per cent came from bilateral creditors (like Japan). In fact, Japan was the single biggest lender to India – nearly 79.7 per cent of bilateral credit came from Tokyo, followed by Germany at 10.9 per cent and Russia (5.3 per cent), and
39.9 per cent was sourced from Other Sources (like foreign institutional investment in government securities and defence debt).

How does India compare with the rest of the world in external debt?
India compares quite favourably with the rest of the world in external debt. 

India’s external debt to GDP ratio is 20.4 per cent – among the lowest in the developed and developing world. For the U.S., it is nearly 100 per cent while it is 14 per cent for China.

India’s foreign exchange reserves to total external debt is also good – 74.8 per cent (based on World Bank data for 2016). 

India is not vulnerable to any major or minor problem arising on the external debt front. 

Please share your feedback in the comments section.

25 April 2018

Datagraphic: Top Economies in the World, SAARC, and BRICS

It has been more than a year since I posted something of significance. From today, I will try to blog on a regular basis - beginning with this set of datagraphics on the biggest economies in the world, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and the BRICS grouping (comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

As you know, 
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reflects the money value of all goods and services produced in one country in one year.
In the third week of April 2018, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released the World Economic Outlook (WEO). The report confirmed India’s rise to the sixth rank in the world economy by the size of its GDP. India overtook France and is behind the U.S., China, Japan, Germany, and Britain.