Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The enigma of arrival

Book Review: Non-fiction/The Moslems are coming by Azad Essa, Harper Collins, 243 pp; Rs299 (Paperback)
An accidental academics turned ‘desktop terrorist’ and finally as an ‘incidental journalist’, Azad Essa exudes many flavours of multitasking. An irreverent, witty and unusually focussed writer on the wide range of inner contradictions, this India centric updated version of his mildly classic book ‘Zuma’s bastards’ holds much promises than his own anticipation in an interview given to Sarah Khan for New York Times, where he could classify his target readers among the toddlers preparing for SAT type of an obligatory professional target!

Azad, who loves his affiliation with the identities prefer not to shadow his disenchantment towards the odds his surroundings deliver quite often than not. His sarcastic light tone relatively appears more serious when he points on the slushy sanction on burqua in France, notwithstanding even the slight infatuation with this tent like fabrics, he consider this culturally politicized dress not aesthetically fit for romance but still notionally wants no imposition of external compulsions for its functional manuals.

While delving on India’s news making terrains, like Manipur or Kashmir, Azad seems following a much travelled and easy route of looking on the whole issues through a restricted vision of ‘human right violation’. There could be no denial that, it’s also a part of story but over the years, excessive and adamant western conceptualisation has made it more like a bandwagon phenomenon. Problem in Kashmir or Manipur is multi folded and can’t be delved alone through the wit, it requires depth and interface with the ground realities, which certainly this book is lacking.

Being an Al Jazeera journalist, author has used his travelling experiences quite energetically throughout his book-the flow of his opinion on diverse themes, from Arab spring to the cricket world cup of 2011 is quite fascinating and informed. A competent journalist can weave the stories with few facts and lot of imaginations, Azad’s incidental overtures with journalism doesn’t deter him doing the same. The best thing is, he has balance within to make explanation correct and their spontaneity as resolute and impactful as the situation demands.

Many of the essays in this book justifies its aggressive title, and that shrewdness is good but would not be long lasting against the opposite school of thoughts, which believes in ban instead reading of a text for advance contextualization. So far, by chance not any recognizable power has banned this book, although some of Azad’s family members have half heartedly tracked this book and further made unofficial fatwa on this book-this is a family matter, the fine point is! This free flowing collection of Azad’s writing enhances more the capability of judgement than argument, hence readers will find it exactly intelligent through reading most of the pages.

This will be worth of saying on record that, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are the most inspiring faces of India-South Africa diplomatic projects…in opposite, if author consider Hansi Cronje as the third icon of commonness between the India and South Africa on the basis of corrupt entrepreneurial drive, then off-record, he too deserves to be called second counter icon. His occupational fluctuations and extraordinary capacity to derive the facts based on fiction is also not very much untoward of the qualities, on which he deserves this new claim!
Atul Kumar Thakur
June 26th, 2012, Tuesday, New Delhi
Email: summertickets@gmail.com

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Nepal’s politics at a cross roads

Prithvi Narayan Shah, 18th century king and the father -figure of Nepal, had once termed his country’s position as “a yam between two boulders”. He was, of course, referring to Nepal’s unusual status between the two intimidating giant powers — India and China. Even to this day, his metaphor aptly defines the existing state of affairs in Nepal’s strategic terms with its neighbours. Despite the fact that Nepal as a nation is far older than both of its principal neighbours, it has not been able to come out of the major influence of the two, especially India.
While the India-Nepal relations have historic backing from a series of factors, China’s quest to downplay India’s special friendly status with Nepal is part of Beijing’s narrow imperialistic ploy. Now, both in international relations and domestic politics, Nepal is facing the adverse implications of recently increased political engagement with China.

In broad terms, Nepal has suffered a lot by mismanaging its conventional role of a passive and focussed nation that tempered its special peaceful standing in South Asia. In his later days, King Birendra shared close relations with China, and so the royal massacre of 2001 shocked the Chinese greatly. King Gyanendra, who then occupied the throne in highly suspicious circumstances and without the respect that his predecessors enjoyed from an average Nepali, sought to cement ties with China by offering it space in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in 2005. India had been understandably less than amused by Kathmandu’s overture to China.
Since the end of the monarchy, Nepal’s politics has turned more inward looking. The breathless twists and turns hatched by political parties, whose working patterns are radically different from one another. Such is the friction among them that the attainment of any goal collectively or individually has become a lot more challenging. After the bloodless coup in February 2005, Mr Baburam Bhattarai, a thinking leader from the Maoists’ camp, came forward against the obstinate ideological hardline pursued by the likes of Mr Puspa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as ‘Prachanda’, called for the democratic means of struggle — that was a point of highest accomplishment in Nepal’s democratic transition.

Things are not similarly idealistic and flexible now, even with Mr Bhattarai as the elected Prime Minister having greater acceptability inside the party and outside. The conclusion that can be drawn over the failures of Constitution making on another deadline is that Nepal’s polity is undergoing a major change in its fundamentals.
Consequently, the assertiveness could be found at an all-time high among the elite political participants, though this is hardly surprising as every major political change in Nepal (even in the past) has created a new class of elite with shrewd aspirations. That’s why the project of democratic revolution has not met with the success that it deserved in Nepal since 1950.

Chronic political deadlock is denting the credibility of mainstream political forces in Nepal. There is the need for an immediate consensus among the country’s political parties to acknowledge the progress that democratic movements have made since 1990, when the county first tasted democracy, although on restricted scale. Misleading demands of the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, the Rashtriya Janshakti Party and others for bringing back the Constitution of 1990 or to go for an election only because the term of the CA has ended is condemnable. Such a move will give a fresh lease of life to a defunct monarchy. Despite the failures of the CA, revisiting the last seven years since the abolition of monarchy presents many positive landmarks on which the future base of democracy could thrive.

In this time of uncertainty, the Interim Constitution of 2006, which is still functioning, can offer the new proposed Constitution all the progressive set of rules that is enshrined in it and has a degree of high credibility. The Interim Constitution consists of all the major issues to be followed in the future, such as the abolition of monarchy, provision of federalism, participative representation in state services and others.

The intra-party feuds in the major political parties of Nepal and the failure of these parties to reach a consensus on crucial issues including on the CA, have severely damaged the democratic spirit of the country through decades of struggle. As compared to the Nepali Congress and the CPN (UML), the Maoists are new to power and lack the soundness they should have as representative of a ruling collation.
The issues of federalism based on ethnic identity need a sensitive response on the policy front. Unfortunately, exactly the opposite has been done by the top political leaders. Before the Madhesi parties’ total convergence with the Maoists on this front and their outsmarting acts over NC-CPN(UML), the region of Madhesh had passed through a rather volatile phase in which many lives were lost in the process of peaceful demonstrations in favour of statehood. A major blast in Janakpur (unofficially Nepal’s political laboratory) left four dead, including an emerging Maithil-Nepali leader Ranju Jha.

Kathmandu has to be more accountable in the changing times to the Madhesi-Janjatis who now have a greater say over political matters and can easily make or break the established political discourse for their long-anticipated rights. The concentration of power in Kathmandu has to be reduced. While this will happen with the upcoming execution of the federal model, it may not cure all the maladies of ‘divisive political mania’. Still, its impact at least in selected terms would be long-lasting in favour of a peaceful and stable Nepal.
In the ongoing round of political manoeuvrings, India has played an apparently passive role. Diplomatically though, this cannot be taken as inertia, as silence speaks too. No longer is India ‘Swyambhu’ and no longer is Nepal ruled by the comprador capitalists.
Atul Kumar Thakur
June 24,2012,Sunday, New Delhi
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in The Pioneer, June 18, 2012/ http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/51822-nepal%E2%80%99s-politics-at-a-crossroads.html )

The case of agricultural diversification in India

The decline in the share of agriculture in India’s GDP has been rapid in the post-liberalisation era; despite the fact that the growth of agricultural income during the 1990’s has been marginally better than the corresponding rate of growth in the 1980’s. Growth in agriculture stagnated towards the end of the 1990’s and has decelerated thereafter. In this context, the composition of income from agriculture and allied sectors of the economy has been suited.
Agricultural diversification has been achieved as a larger area of land is now utilised for the cultivation of high value corps. With trade liberalisation, the relative prices of exportable commodities have increased rapidly and those of importable commodities have comparatively decreased. In the short run, a continuous increase in the relative price of a commodity enhances its production more often by substituting it for importable commodities without any statistical effect on the cropped area. As a result, the share of exportable commodities has increased in the total value of agricultural output.

Here it would be apt to rely on a study based on alternate measures ( namely the Simpson index),of diversification for understanding the state of affairs and concentration of non-food corps on several factors such as income, land distribution, irrigation intensity, institutional credit, road density, urbanisation and market penetration. Regression analysis suggests that increased road density, urbanisation encourages commercialisation of agriculture and with commercialisation, farms in a region are increasingly specialised in the production of certain crops and crops-groups as per the resource infrastructure and institutions of the region.
Considering the multi-dimensional importance of agriculture diversification, it is important to understand the drivers of agricultural diversification in the country. Changes in the relative prices of corps have influenced the crop enterprise mix immensely. Price is basically a reflection of the demand and supply situation. In a closed economy, the prices that farmers receive alternately, farm harvest price is influenced by the minimum support price (MSP) and the MSP has been influencing acreage under crops. But in several growing economies, minimum support prices (MSPs) for agricultural commodities have been increased in recent past. Apart from contributing to food price inflation, this increases the spread between prices paid to producers and subsidised prices charged to consumers, fueling the fiscal burden. Since MSPs need not always extend to all agricultural commodities and public procurement need not cover all commodities either, this creates perverse price signals and distorts resource allocation.
Triggered by food price increases, there have been interventions on the consumption side, including price controls, consumption subsidies, food aid, food for work arrangements, cash transfers and the elimination of taxes on consumption across a range of countries. Are these fiscally sustainable? Do they lead to additional distortions? Do they lead to supply-side adjustments or are they knee-jerk reactions? But in India’s case, agricultural diversification has not affected much through the price rise or policy response directed on that —so the case of agricultural diversification remains positive in India.
The per capita income is hypothesised to affect the diversification as measured with the percent of non-food crops in either way. The non-food crops more specifically, fruits and vegetables are increasingly recognised as a new source of growth in agricultural income. On the other hand, an increase in the per capita income is the cause of a shift in consumers’ preferences from staple food items to fruit and vegetables. Such changes in the dietary pattern are the causes of a diversification in the production portfolio. This implies a positive effect of income on the percent of gross cultivation areas (GCA) under non-food crops in the country.
The size and the quality of land has always been an important factor in agricultural production relations. The average size of operational holding is often considered an important determinant of crop diversification. These variables are supposed to have a negative effect on diversification indices. Many populous states of India such as Bihar, UP etc are witnessing the growth of small size of farmland, which is affecting productivity and income involved with this. After an extent, the role of technology in improving productivity while alternately reducing the unit cost of production and conserving natural resources cannot be overemphasised. Thus, land management is the need of hour to sustain the welcome pattern of agricultural diversification.
The kind of growth in agriculture during the 1990’s has widened rural inequity. Leakage in the rural economy has increased with the inequitable growth of income in the system. Some of the increased leakage in the rural economy is also associated with the kind of growth of manufacturing and how the process of rural development is being handled by the (state) governments and policy agencies. Consequently, it’s evident that very few policy measures are properly responding to the haunting problems in rural areas under the inefficient local administrative machinery that instead forward the pace of implementation of central plans and create many bottlenecks for stretching the project for all wrong ends.
A forward looking, speedy metamorphosis of India’s bottom tier administration would be the pre-imminent step for retaining agriculture as an occupational option and further for thinking of carrying on with its bright materialistic side that comes through diversification and knowledge based farming.
Atul Kumar Thakur
June 24,2012, Sunday, New Delhi
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in Governance now,June 2002/http://www.governancenow.com/news/public-reporter/case-agricultural-diversification-india )

Thrill and revelations of stunted Kashmir

Book Review: Non-fiction/The Meadow by Adrian Levy &Cathy Scott-Clark, Penguin, 510 pp; Rs499 (Hardback)
By the 1995, Kashmir valley was accustomed for hosting the worst of terror plots by the Pakistan supported militant operatives. This year, six foreign nationals were abducted by an obscure Islamic outfit in valley for securing the release of Pakistani militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar (few years later, this man has plotted the attack on Indian parliament) and the world for the first time started acknowledging panic stricken Kashmir’s grim plight.
Though this incident initially electrified the international governments and the government in India too, but the whole episode ended non-descript and without getting back the remaining four hostages (one miraculously escaped and another was beheaded and found a month later). Only some foibles were melted in the collective perceptions towards India and over the complex issue of Kashmir but it took another six years till the twin towers were collapsed and Pentagon attacked in 2001-9/11 to get USA realised that the world is not so flat by the counter-posing strong assertive power of international terror networks.
Discourse changed radically henceforth and war on terror became so inevitable that even the uproaring capitalist virtue seemed halted for a while. That was a late consciousness and ineffective too, as it was neither meant to end the terror nor had any welfaristic aims for other struggling countries against the militancy-clearly USA had single plan in action to reestablish its hegemony in the crucial oil rich terrains of Middle East and strategically essential, Afghanistan. That was ineluctable from the USA part seeing the might, it hold over the new strategic composition in post cold war years, but ensuing after single massive attack on its land, its riff raffling outweighed all limits against the structured rogues.
‘The Meadow’ is based on the authentic account of that lone survivor and Adrian Levy-Cathy Scott Clark’s painstaking research in Kashmir and throughout the world where they could get anything particular about those six hostages and the series of events followed. A sizable part of the research for this book is based on the verbatim authors has collected through their meticulous and ministering search over the years. So locutions sound horribly shocking and suffice for flouting big claims that the governments across the world make against their win over illegal terror (legal terror is that pursued by the state with some acceptance and more intrigue!).
This book presents a good example of investigative and also narrative journalism barring few dispensable details. On many places, this creates confusion in differentiating between author’s opinion and their commentary on real incidents. Like few pages on Jagmohan’s gubernatorial stint in Jammu&Kashmir with inefficient clarity of authors on his stand during the most turbulent phase of early 1990’s distracts from the theme, and in real, it has less to do with the triangular dispute of Kashmir that has multiple layers.
Gathering large number of facts is quite normal with the kind of book, this is, however excessive leeway of the authors for collecting more news than views produces the overall effect less natty and disorganised. Seeing through the pages, book projects many forgotten side stories, few of them are worth of revisiting and rest are easily escapable. Turning of Kashmir into a conflict zones from an abode of peace and syncretism didn’t take too long after the end of world war-II that ruined the erstwhile colonial powers. The power shifted from the ageing Europe towards USA and USSR, newly independent nation like India has stout aspiration to succeed in a new world and that was troublesome for the departing imperialists.
So they made the extremely virulent planks by converging ‘identity issues’ with the twins-religion and geography and also backed the whole plan by some strongest futuristic pronouncements. More than any other issue, this nasty idea of Mountbatten became able to confuse Nehru on Kashmir matter in the later years and that hyper-moralism tolled negatively on the peace and stability of this region. The masterly hateful antics on which M.A.Jinnah’s career thrived in the politics, succeeded to form a country with the brutal tantamount on the uncountable numbers of people who lost their lives or lost their calm forever. Unlike Nehru, Jinnah was not leading a real democracy, so he lost his control from his most unrealistic venture-Pakistan very soon and this newly born nation’s democratic training halted in infancy and never could recuperate those exercises, even half willingly since then.
The tussle of the two nations was begun as regional dispute and soon turned a hotcake of multilateral discussions without any plans to resolving the complications at fore among the different stakeholders. Abduction of those six foreign tourists in 1995 was inhuman, lately refutation got place against the Pakistan’s proxy war in Kashmir valley but so far condition was deteriorated much badly. India faced challenge on its secularism through a troubled Kashmir, Pakistan almost failed as a nation in projecting the very wrong agenda and what happened to Kashmiriyat, very few had any afterthought!
Situation has indeed changed in the Kashmir valley today, if compare the existing scenario of 1995, but is it really marks the win of good on evil? To a large extent, state had no option but to crush the terror networks being handled from the outside with very active interface of local dissents, those who were not qualified to be called ‘revolutionary’ since they did not know the meaning of their fight against India. The demand of ‘Azaadi’ couldn’t be simplified under the incredible leadership, Kashmir faced in the last six and half decades. That’s why, grand narrative like the ‘The Meadow’ is the simplest outcome of Kashmir’s long forgotten existential needs.
A book of this serious stature has been written for those six kidnapped tourists, this is indeed commendable as working on such project requires commitment, far ahead than one comes through the professional obligations alone. But it would be unlikely that thousands, who lost lives and lakhs of Kashmiris in valley or outside suffering the mental agony, will be ever able to be narrated through even the voluminous meta-narrative compositions…their distorted past and uncertain future probably needs no chronicler!
Atul Kumar Thakur
June 24th, 2012, Sunday, New Delhi
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in The Kashmir Today,June 24,2012/ http://kashmirmonitor.org/kashmonitor/06242012-ND-thrill-and-revelations-of-stunted-kashmir-28818.aspx )

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tale of neglected India!

Book Review: Fiction/ The inexplicable unhappiness of Ramu Hajjam by Taj Hasan, Hachette, 231 pp; Rs295 (Paperback)
Owing to chronic neglect, India has, in patches, its many circumscribed zones, often decoding them for knowing the real issues appeared too onerous. Also maintaining a’ sangfroid’ position is unthinkable —for both the extreme suppressers and dissents —hence, what is prevailing in the foreground is too far derailed to be called functionally rational. Raking off the resources is at alarmingly high in India’s ‘red corridors’ with the incessant proverbial follies of law executioners and adamant dissents, whose causes for fight are somehow genuine but not all antics where they are matching in the ‘play of open butchery’ with the forces of state.

Taj Hasan’s debut novel is pathbreaking as it has been written with a great degree of interface with the bottom level of socio-economic life in distant rural terrains that have been neglected and bereft of any engagement from the side of state. The author of this book is a distinguished name in the country’s police service and is equipped with a deep understanding of the nature and causes of such discontent. Thus, Hasan hardly takes the widely travelled route of formal circumspection in his narration; instead he constructs a fiction which tells everything the way any serious work of non-fiction, in its best form, would do.

It can be easily sensed from recent trends that Indian English fiction writing seems to have completely severed ties with purposive issues such as alienation, betrayal of system and the persisting tussle between growth and disavowing loud voices. The growing indifference with politics or socio-economic plots is building the charm for new fiction writing in India, which seems increasingly more unreal —if only for some exception that can sometimes be discerned. From the perspective of a thinking person, such developments are irritating, condemnable and avoidable.

The inexplicable unhappiness of Ramu Hajjam is set in the villages of Tesri and Bhagatpur on the same stretch of river Kareh. The tale moves simply through intertwining with centuries of social divisions that have made the societal structure totally amiss from any healthy prospects. The protagonist Ramu Hajjam is a part of the Indian tradition that gives a viable condition to subsist for existence and not to contradict an age old balance based on ‘social discrimination’. What he does throughout his life by facing the harsh treatments of feudal minded characters like Subedar Singh and others doesn’t restrain the successive generation in joining a course correction exercise, however, through the same language of violence.

His son joins the rank of Naxalites, kills the oppressor, though his chosen path shown to be not accepted by Ramu Hajjam, and is still bound to live a stoic life. That moral dilemma in actual terms is present in the picture of the existing conditions in many troubled villages across India which in no way have any connection with an alternative India; the one that is aspiring for a global jump by escaping its dark domestic truths. Covertly this book refers this objectionable devoid unsustainable in the medium to long run.

Written with a masterly command of literary elegance and factual correctness, this work of fiction exudes enough potential to be ranked as a reliable source for contextualising the situation from red corners. Although earlier, indeed few good books have been written on this theme within the non-fiction category by Indian polemicists or in journalistic writings, the domain of English fiction were never so resolutely involved with the radical upsurge in forgotten rural India. Hasan’s book primarily constructs a leading character, Ramu Hajjam, though simultaneously, it also captures amazingly well the whole collective world around the principal lead. This book is a big success in terms of creative engagement with the kind of ‘issues’ that should never be (considered) ‘non-issues’!
Atul Kumar Thakur
June16,2012, Saturday, New Delhi
Email: summertickets@gmail.com

The visionary’s World

Book Review: Non-fiction/cinema-Deep Focus: Reflections on Cinema by Satyajit Ray (edited by Sandeep Ray), Harper Collins, 171 pp; Rs550 (Hardback)
There is unanimity among different sections of polemists who regard Satyajit Ray as the man who heralded realism in Indian cinema and whose contribution is strongly felt in India and the world; not only in the cinematic arena but on the overall movement of realistic art. Ray was a thinker, writer and gifted speaker, which made him distinctively creative and appealing to different class of observers. The first writing proposal Ray received was from P.C. Mahalnobish, renowned economic planner of free India, who at that time was heading the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in Calcutta. Impressed by the young economics student, Mahalanobish offered Ray a regular column in ISI’s journal. This marked the beginning of the latter’s tryst with writing.

At a different point in time, Rabindranath Tagore had induced Ray’s mother to send him to receive art education at Shantiniketan, which Ray happily joined to live under the shadow of Tagore rather than earning a formal recognition in art. After Tagore’s death, he felt living in the campus was purposeless and thus left his art training in the final year in favour of travelling across India with meagre resources but the rich company of a few likeminded friends. Free humane spirits always drove him more than anything else; Ray, like Tagore, remained attached to the beautiful attributes of life and works. As a filmmaker, he met the acclaim he deserved though his contributions as a writer remained subdued under the deep canopy of the former.

It was in 1976, when Ray published his first collection of articles, Our Films, Their Films that critics started to take notice of his sublime, creative side. Our Films, Their Films is one of the most memorable collections of Satyajit Ray's writings, besides My Life, My Work, a five-part lecture delivered by him in Calcutta in English in 1982, and Under Western Eyes, an essay about distorted European and American perceptions of Indian culture as well as Indian cinema, which appeared in Sight and Sound in 1982 and can be called Ray’s finest ever piece in depth and vision.

Deep Focus ,which comes after an abnormal hiatus, is a rich anthology of Satyajit Ray's writings, which includes, Under Western Eyes and twenty one other previously published pieces, compiled under the editorship of his son Sandip Ray. The range of pieces is diverse in length and arc from the subtle to the substantial. They focus on a spectrum of subjects: from the craft of filmmaking and cinema as an art to Ray's childhood memory of an accidental family visit to a “soft porn” Bengali silent film as well as the unusual experience of sitting on a Soviet film festival jury. The book also includes personal responses from Ray’s fellow directors such as Charlie Chaplin, Jean Godard, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosowa and others.

This compendium of Ray’s (literary) work is an impressive feat despite the glaring omission of some of his finest write-ups: Speaking of Films, Ordeals of the Alien, Why do I make films?, and his memorable tribute to Rabindranath Tagore, written in 1991 for the Guardian, which was incidentally, the last article written by Ray in English. However, this book genuinely maintains ----as is the tradition with other earlier Ray centric works—the intricate details of Ray’s cinema through pictorial representation and by recalling the behind the scene catalysts such as Banshi Chandragupta, art director, Subrata Mitra, cameraman and others who assisted Ray very firmly. Under his restless natural urge to depict scene and sensibility, Ray’s star casts were naturally fit to act according to his creative imagination; whether or not the same actors would have well with other directors is a discussion that falls within the realm of conjecture .

Undoubtedly, Ray’s influence in Bengal stands next only to Tagore. This marks the continuance of the Bengali middle class’ articulate fascination with culture and literature very actively; even the long static rule of Left front hardly derailed them from the special works of Bengali cinema, literature and art. On one level, it is satisfying, if not gratifying, to have the legend’s influence so closely down even to the bottom social level but it simultaneously also affirms the blockade of path breaking productions in literature, art or cinema from Bengal. That’s something that cannot be sidelined as a momentary affliction that will soon wither away.

Ray was against any such conformism that prevented looking at retrospective works in new light, new approaches; his writings in this book or his vision across his works exemplify this. He transcended from economics to arts as an academic learner and shifted from his professional overtures with the then leading advertising agency, D.J.Keymer (Now, Oglivy &Mather) towards making realistic Bengali cinema which reveals his dynamism and self discipline. The essays in the present volume highlight, what was not ideal with cinema, society or with the overall systemic structure during the lifetime of Ray while his work continues to be open to varied inferences by critics and intellectuals.

Deep Focus would prove to be a prominent source of reference for all those who love cinema and wish to acquaint themselves with Ray’s vision on different themes, in a different timeframe. If the respective countries (France,Japan and Italy) could be proud on Jean Renior, Akira Kurosowa and Vittorio De Sica, India too could nominate some of the most epoch making cinema makers from her land. But in any case, Ray would be the ranked first and his works would serve to know about India in making and complete totality. Ray mortally departed at dawn of economic liberalisation in India. Twenty years down the lane, all spheres are in laissez faire mode, whereas Satyajit Ray’s idealism or shrewdness faces the risk of oblivion, alas.
Atul Kumar Thakur
June 16, 2012, Saturday, 2012, New Delhi
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in Businessworld,June5,2012/ http://www.businessworld.in/businessworld/businessworld/content/Visionary%E2%80%99s-Worldview.html )

Time to think!

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Time to start thinking: America and the spectre of decline by Edward Luce,Hachette/Little Brown , 292 pp; Rs699 (Hardback)
Edward Luce, formerly the Financial Times’ south Asia bureau chief based in New Delhi and now the paper's chief Washington correspondent, have done a remarkable job through this book by chronicalising the painful sides of the US with illuminating details. Luce’s meticulously researched work makes a strong case that those who doubt that the US is in decline are holding an unjustifiable position. If the decline of the US is a cause for concern, the failure of its policy establishments in responding to the change in their country’s fortunes is not less worrisome.
He vindicates a political system that is run and being motivated by money and its primary stakeholders are chasing the source of big money to stay on the ground of politics. And the mass US citizen appears like a perfect combination of apathy and fanaticism-however both the state of mind falls short of their potential and destined to rove in confusion.
The vicious combine of economic recession and political waywardness placing welfare schemes in backyard, and leaving social mobility on alarmingly low. Politicians are commonly believed as catalyst behind this whole mess, which shaped the US for a rare multitasking of trouble-making and trouble-shooting. The Republicans are single mindedly block legislation aimed to reform while promoting the interests of their wealthy cohorts.
Luce observes deadlock in Washington as the side effect of America's obstinate constitution. This constitution was framed for the system of government in pre-industrial times could not possibly be taken suitable at this age. That makes constitution ignored in practice, which further stop the reformist stances of government. Trillions of dollars have been spent in Afghanistan and Iraq, the principal result being to crush few enemies and more sovereignty of the nations. Luce here fails to see the foreign policy disasters that have caused for the US to fall from grace-this is a non-escapable weakness with this book.
The US leads the world in trade-still many agrees that companies such as Google and Facebook could emerge only in the US. However, danger is quite acute of losing its competitive edge, not least because many of the technical minds who come to the US to study are choosing to go out after they qualify rather than make a career there. This is partly because of the restrictive immigration policies but also because pay and prospects in emerging economies are starting to match or even pass those in the US.
Luce's book is a call to thinking, but the US is grappling through impractical ideas and myths. The country once has celebrated globalisation as a new process in which the US capitalism was replicated throughout the world. But as new synthesis of capitalism come on to the scene in the course of time, America's relative economic position is set to decline. Even if the US could somehow be reformed and its policy-making reset, this would not change much now.
The author’s take that challenges are not unique for the US seems right. Indeed its difficulties are not radically distinct from those all developed countries face in responding to the new global economic structuring. Only fundamental difference in the US has from the rest other that it can strive to defy the normal course of history that is unfortunate and out of reach from any course correction. Book is worth of serious read; those who still dreaming American dreams can find it little extra harsh!
Atul Kumar Thakur
June 16th, Saturday 2012, New Delhi
Email: summertickets@gmail.com

The breaking-down momentum

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Breakout Nations by Ruchir Sharma, Penguin/Allen Lane, 292 pp; Rs599 (Hardback)
Ruchir Sharma is possessed with both knowledge and narrative, which is not an ordinary blend. As an investment banker, he heads Emerging Market Equities and Global Macro at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, exposure he gained from his global career in high finance makes the strong foundation of his book -Breakout Nations. The major focus of his highly publicised book is on emerging economies and on the sliding developed world, but in patches book also looks on the issues related to business itself in straight terms.
The story hits the headlines quite often, how China and India have become the world's major economies. How Russia recuperating its old materialistic might by transforming sic British football. News are on global scale about the economic miracles and power shift from the so-called advanced world to what has been categorised the emerging world, including the BRIC countries, Goldman Sachs's shrewd acronym for the four largest economies of that caliber- Brazil, Russia, India and China. This diverts attention from the other powerful middle-income economies, such as Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, or the few African countries, notably Nigeria.
Ruchir does thorough introspection on the other strong emerging economies too, where his judgement appears apt. He superlatively rates South Korea for evolving as manufacturing hub; he calls it ‘Germany of Asia’. Though only recently, in the Asian financial crisis of 1998, it was bailed-out-by the IMF in emergency, but ahead, crisis was taken proactively by the industry and its policy regime. So things are structurally different now, he also believes Korea’s unification is not a utopian imagination.
For investors, Breakout Nations is a rare cautionary tale- if countries can act wrongly by not displaying the right political will; investors often reverts the same by relying on herd behaviour. The book has some sharp observations on bubbles of various kinds, for asset prices, technology booms and the impending commodity bubble. The future appears more shaky-greater volatility, unjustified inflation, political uncertainty-and end of incorrigible optimism of the 1990s and even of the time spent few years back. Now, investment climate would be based on more skewed judgments than even before.
What decides the economic success of countries? Book provides meticulous observations on emerging economies and their cases-winners like South Korea and Poland; disappointments like Hungary and Mexico-foregone success stories of Malaysia; potential hope like Turkey and Indonesia; wonder like Sri Lanka and the BRICS. Ruchir is not exuberant on Brazil, forecasts a slowdown for China with intelligent reasons. India gets a fifty-fifty chance though the actual analysis is far more pessimistic- he finds many problems in categorising India as ‘breakout nation’. One of them is erratic political decision-making. Only damage control on persuasion he performs by quoting scientist Antoine Lavoisier, ‘Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.’
Author stress that there is no mechanism which guarantees the state of political will; democracies can stumble as much as authoritarian regimes-regionally inclined nationalist politicians like Rajapaksa and Erdogan can often perform more than their liberal counterparts.
Sharma also examines a handful of countries he classifies as the Fourth World of Frontier Economies. These are countries where the rule of law has a limited occupancy and where the prospects are as uncertain as are the stock markets across the world. All Gulf States fall into this category. So do the African countries, though some of which show promise. Sri Lanka is classified as a Frontier economy but he corrects it to admit lastly as breakout nation.
World is not passing through a decent phase, Breakout Nations reveals it, offers some solution too for coping the dangers around the corner…its realisation is though not so easy!
Atul Kumar Thakur
June 6th, Tuesday, 2012, New Delhi
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in The Financial World/Tehelka,June08,2012)