Friday, May 30, 2008

Gandhi, Churchill and Hitler

It is fashionable among some in Britain to poke fun at Gandhi. If they are to be believed, Gandhi was weak, simple, foolishly idealistic, and it was Churchill who really saved Gandhi's India by successfully leading a defence against Hitler.

It is well known that Churchill looked upon Gandhi with great distaste. Some Brits who love Churchill like to paint Gandhi as naive, repeatedly publishing articles stating that the world needs more Churchills and less Gandhis. The tone of some of these articles is derisive towards Gandhi; the author of one article even refers to him using Churchill's infamous epithet. Many of these articles are linked to the Churchill Center's struggle to have Churchill declared the Man of the Century by Time Magazine. This center goes so far as to hint that Gandhi was an admirer of Hitler, using this quote from Gandhi: "I do not consider Hitler to be as bad as he is depicted. He is showing an ability that is amazing and seems to be gaining his victories without much bloodshed." One question that is asked repeatedly is how Gandhi would have managed against Hitler.

Now, I think this is a ridiculous question to begin with, one that is intended to confuse rather than elucidate. One might as well ask whether one would choose Einstein or Gandhi to delve into the laws of the universe. Different people choose different roles; it is stupid to compare the historical roles of Gandhi and Churchill. What is being compared is their impact and their strength of character. And when it comes to character, Churchill's mean-minded pettiness vis-a-vis Gandhi is well documented. Apart from his public distaste for Gandhi as a person, Churchill has made some truly ugly comments, such as the time when, asked what he wanted to do about the millions of Indians who were dying in the Bengal famine, wished aloud that Gandhi was one of them.

Nevertheless, this entire mess of unlogic does give rise to an interesting question. What would Gandhi do if he was faced with Hitler? Gandhi was non-violent in the British context because he saw this as a good solution to the colonization. Non-violent methods were sufficient to restrain the British, who had based the entire colonization on arguments of inherent moral superiority over Indians and who were worried about this international image. Some think that Gandhi would still have chosen non-violence against the Nazis. But I think that if he realized the Nazis had no interest in being perceived as benign, his methods would have changed too. I think Gandhi would (with heavy heart) have gone to war.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


The arguments for Telangana are quite old, but I still can't exactly understand them. All of the arguments seem to be based on emotional grudges and wishful hopes rather than any understanding of how creating a separate state would help the people of the region. Pointed questions are sidestepped rather than answered.

For example, consider this FAQ from the US-based Telangana Development Forum.

Q: Isn't it economically better to be a bigger state than a smaller state?
A: Bihar is bigger than Goa but poorer, so this argument is false.
>: Citing exceptions doesn't prove anything; the fact is it is much harder for a smaller state to compete economically because its bargaining power is low.

Most of the argument is based on the notion that rich Andhra people habitually come to Telangana to "steal" resources or "divert" them to Andhra. The source of this sentiment is easy to trace: blaming someone else for your problems is always the path of least resistance.

The idea that the Andhra regions are exploiting the Telangana regions may be grounded in truth. But there is no verifiable data on any of these sites to support this. Almost all of the claims are rants rather than arguments.

Off the top of my head, here are some reasons why Telangana would be BAD for everybody involved:
  • Loss of bargaining power for both Andhra and Telangana. The whole is much more powerful than the sum of the parts.
  • Partitions of states with protracted separation movements hate each other (e.g. India-Pak, Pak-Bangladesh, Punjab-Haryana). This has always been true. The governments and people of Andhra and Telangana would spend inordinate amounts of energy quarrelling with each other.
  • Politicians will have finer control of the pie. Instead of having one top dog, we would have two top dogs in the same area. As the number of top dogs increases, things always get worse for the ordinary people.
  • Look at Karnataka and Tamil Nadu fighting. Arguments over various issues are bound to crop up between neighbouring states. The balance of power lies with larger states. If Tamil Nadu or Karnataka have a problem with the much smaller Telangana, they will chew up the small state and spit it out. It is an unrealistic dream to imagine that everything can be worked out between Telangana and its neighbours.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Brain Drain

It seems very dangerous to be a small country with large reserves of a natural resource in today's world. Quite swiftly, a media campaign painting the country's situation as requiring Western intervention is drummed up. Over a few years this builds up to the point where the country can be invaded, and its resources are signed away in order to "pay" for "rebuilding".

But India seems exempt, partially because it is a large country, and partially because there aren't many crucially important natural resources. The one really abundant resource in India is manpower. But India willingly gifts this resource to various rich countries; there is no need to invade.

This doesn't matter to a few Indians. But for many, those living in India and even some who have "gifted" themselves to the West but still care about India, this is a sad thing. India should do things to prevent it, they believe. But there is cause for despair, and little cause for celebration on this front. Rao's reforms of 1992 have brought a modicum of prosperity to India, but some governments don't seem to have learnt the positive lessons from those reforms.

People are important. All efforts should be made to keep the best people, by keeping them happy. Money spent on retaining good talent is repaid many times over. The presence of talent has a ripple effect, stimulating talent in other individuals. The loss of talent has exactly the opposite effect: the loss of talent is exacerbated by the loss of potential mentors for new talent.

Reports such as this one are especially wrenching.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Food Crisis, and the Fingers Pointing at India

In the current global food price crisis, George Bush and Condoleeza Rice deflected attention away from America by pointing fingers at the convenient focal points for all negative changes occurring in the world today: India and China.

The American appetite for fuel already has most of the world irritated; it is already blamed for the half-million Iraqi deaths. Now bio-fuels have made imminent the near-starvation of a billion other humans. The American publicity machine recognized that adding this to the list of transgressions wouldn't do much good. So a simple, plausible deflection was arranged: India and China are eating more, they are to blame.

The pro-American media is quick to try to soothe tempers in India by saying that Indians eating more is a good thing. But this is just meant to blind gullible Indians. After hearing this, who will the starving man in Africa blame? The Indians who are enjoying a "good thing" by eating more while the African starves, obviously. This statement is simply a smart publicity move to kill two birds with one stone: soothe ruffled Indian feathers, and still make everybody blame Indians (who are trying to eat enough to survive) rather than the Americans (who want to drive more SUVs and luxury cars).

Besides, the figures show that these statements are completely false. Indian foodgrain consumption increased by 2% in 2007-2008, while American foodgrain consumption increased by almost 12% in the same year!! (See this report). So even in terms of who's eating more (setting aside the biofuel issue), America is to blame more than India.

The problem I am trying to address here is not the food crisis itself, but attempts to evade responsibility and pin blame on others through a publicity machine. Such attempts are indeed a "cruel joke".