Thursday, 31 January 2008

Shock and Awe

by Mukul Kesavan


Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar put the BCCI on notice after Mike Procter's decision to hand Harbhajan Singh a three-Test ban © GNNphoto

The two greatest Test series India has played in recent times have been against Australia: 2001 at home and 2008, Down Under. There's a curious symmetry to these two contests: India won the first one, 2-1 and lost the second one 1-2. Harbhajan was the pivot on which both turned: as a hero in the first (he took an astonishing 32 wickets in three Tests) and as a villain in the second, after his run-in with Symonds. If the 2001 series saw the beginning of Tendulkar's transformation into an attritional player, the one just ended saw that master-craftsman persona discarded as Tendulkar went back to being the Master. And in both series India stopped a great Australian team's astonishing winning run: Waugh's team and Ponting's, were looking for a seventeenth consecutive victory and both were thwarted by unlikely defeats.

In the seven years between these two 21st century contests, international cricket was dominated by two developing narratives.

One was driven by the strength of the Indian economy, the purchasing power of its consuming middle class and the consequent and massive increase in the television revenues controlled by the BCCI. The Indian board became the paymaster of world cricket and cricket's calendar became India-centric. This made other countries understandably uneasy and when incidents like the Sehwag controversy in South Africa provoked the BCCI to flex its muscles, Anglo-Australian commentators saw not an evolutionary shift in cricket's centre of gravity, but a thuggish take over, while south Asian fans and journalists saw a western unwillingness to acknowledge the end of empire.

The second story was a growing South Asian unease with the successful Australian attempt to claim the moral high ground in world cricket. Australians don't like it but the country's cricketers are widely seen as potty-mouthed bullies who manage to get away with murder partly because they sledge strategically and partly because the Australian definition of 'hard but fair'—filth on the field and a beer off it—seemed to have been swallowed whole by the umpires and match referees who supervise international cricket. Every time Ponting tells television cameras that after 2003 the Australian team cleaned up its act and then cites figures to show that Australian players have been brought before the match referee much less often than any other major Test side, aggrieved Indian supporters put this down to Australian hegemony. They remain convinced that umpires are willing to sanction manly truculence (obscenity, lewdness and intimidation) but not shrill petulance (jack-in-box appeals, visible disappointment) because the former affects players while the latter is directed at umpires. This sense of being hard done by is reinforced by the pattern of bad decisions suffered by touring teams in Australia, Kumar Sangakkara's appalling decision being perhaps the worst in recent times.

Australian cricket is hegemonic for the best possible reasons. Australia has had the best cricket team by miles for more than ten years, its coaches have, at one time or another, have tried to drill Australian skills into other national squads, its sports science and its training methods are cutting edge and Channel 9's cricket telecast has taught the world how to cover cricket. But because its players fetishize a hardnosed take on the game, they, unlike the West Indies in their pomp, are universally unloved and in recent years the Ugly Australian stereotype has been rendered uglier by Ponting's charmless leadership.

Indians don't think much of Ponting for several reasons. His first tour was dogged by rumours of bad behaviour, his second tour was an embarrassment (he scored less than a dozen runs in three Test matches), his onfield aggression struck Indians as offensive, his unlovely habit of spitting into his palms and rubbing them together left desis wondering how he got people to shake hands with him and not only did he look remarkably like George Bush, he behaved like him too.

Bush invaded Iraq and then managed to get the invasion ratified by the United Nations after the fact. Anglo-American rhetoric about the legitimacy of pre-emptive war is similar to Australian cricket's argument that bullying (so long as it wins matches) can be justified as robustness. 'Hard and Fair' in the world defined by Bush, begins to read like 'Shock and Awe'.

It is in this charged context that the just concluded Test series between India and Australia unfolded, and in the second Test at Sydney, the two grand narratives of 21st century cricket, India's growing economic clout and Australia's cricketing hegemony, met like unsheathed live wires. It didn't help that the tension between the two teams had been personified. Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh took it upon themselves in the recent one-day series between the two countries to answer sledging with fevered aggression. Harbhajan went on record to say that Australian behaviour was 'vulgar' and that they were bad losers. We are now told that he had a run-in with Symonds in Baroda, so when Sreesanth didn't make the squad to Australia, he was, for the Australian team, the Ugly Indian.

From the Indian point of view, the Sydney Test was a textbook illustration of the way in which an Australian series is loaded against the opposition. The Indian team got a slew of awful umpiring decisions, the Australians did their tiresome all-in-the-game-mate routine, Clarke exploited a gentleman's agreement to claim a dodgy catch, Ponting disclaimed a catch and then unsuccessfully appealed for another that he had obviously grounded (and, post-match, barked at an Indian reporter who questioned him about it), then reported Harbhajan for racially abusing Symonds.




The most satisfying part of Hansen's judgment is his characterisation of Michael Clarke as an unreliable witness © Getty Images

When Mike Procter upheld the Australian charge and banned Harbhajan for three matches he brought the two live wires into contact and the lights nearly went out on the game. Indian players have been on the receiving end of the match referee's kangaroo court before and know it to be dysfunctional. Procter is a notably inept match referee who presided over the shambles created by Darrell Hair and the Pakistan cricket team last year. For him to have taken the word of the likes of Michael Clarke, who as a batsman had stood his ground after being caught off a massive edge at slip and who as a fielder had confidently claimed a bump ball catch, over the testimony of Tendulkar who insisted he hadn't heard 'monkey' being said, was the final straw. The most satisfying part of Hansen's judgment is his characterisation of the slippery Clarke as an unreliable witness.

I think it's likely that Harbhajan called Symonds a monkey, but judgment can't be based on what I or anyone else thinks: it rests on what can be proven. There was no corroborative evidence in the Harbhajan affair and the hostilities of the Sydney Test had destroyed any trust between the two sides, leaving the Indian team in a state of thin-skinned rage at being robbed. Procter managed to compound this mess by unequivocally finding for the Australians without explaining how he had come to his conclusions.

This is when India flexed its muscle, but the 'India' in question wasn't the BCCI, it was the Indian team. Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar, the two most senior players in the Indian side, one its best bowler and the other its best batsman for nearly twenty years, put the BCCI on notice. They insisted that the Board stand by Harbhajan and made it clear that the team was unwilling to go on with the tour if Procter's decision wasn't reversed.

Journalists who think the BCCI used the occasion to assert itself are just plain wrong. The Indian board has no interest in cricket as such: witness the absurd schedule it framed for the Indian team. Left to itself, the Board would have hung Harbhajan up to dry (as it had sacrificed Bishan Bedi over the 'Vaseline' affair decades ago) and gone on with the tour: it was Tendulkar's ultimatum that goosed them into action. Press criticism of the BCCI's brinkmanship in chartering a plane to fly the team home from Adelaide if the appeal went against Harbhajan, could just as well be directed at the Indian team, because I'm certain that the old firm, Kumble & Tendulkar, had something to do with the arriving one-day specialists being quartered in Adelaide in solidarity with Harbhajan.

I suspect the reason for this last flourish was the report that Judge Hansen was likely to consider new audio evidence that had not been made available to Procter. The tapes didn't have Harbhajan saying 'monkey' but they had Hayden telling Harbhajan that a word he had used amounted to racism. My guess is that the possibility that the Australians would spin this as clinching evidence, drove Kumble and Tendulkar to circle the wagons in Adelaide. And here's the thing: it worked. The Australians agreed to press the lesser charge. Having set up this eyeballing contest, they blinked.

Is this the end of the rule of law as we know it and the onset of anarchy? No. On the evidence of the third and fourth Tests, it feels more like the dawn of a new age of civility on the ground and a possible end to sledging. There was a time in Test cricket (a very long time) when Australia and England were more equal than the rest and the game survived that asymmetry. It'll survive this one.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Population growth is a threat. But it pales against the greed of the rich

 
It's easy to blame the poor for growing pressure on the world's resources. But still the wealthy west takes the lion's share

George Monbiot
Tuesday January 29, 2008
The Guardian


I cannot avoid the subject any longer. Almost every day I receive a clutch of emails about it, asking the same question. A frightening new report has just pushed it up the political agenda: for the first time the World Food Programme is struggling to find the supplies it needs for emergency famine relief. So why, like most environmentalists, won't I mention the p-word? According to its most vociferous proponents (Paul and Anne Ehrlich), population is "our number one environmental problem". But most greens will not discuss it.
Is this sensitivity or is it cowardice? Perhaps a bit of both. Population growth has always been politically charged, and always the fault of someone else. Seldom has the complaint been heard that "people like us are breeding too fast". For the prosperous clergyman Thomas Malthus, writing in 1798, the problem arose from the fecklessness of the labouring classes. Through the 19th and early 20th centuries, eugenicists warned that white people would be outbred. In rich nations in the 1970s the issue was over-emphasised, as it is the one environmental problem for which poor nations are largely to blame. But the question still needs to be answered. Is population really our number one environmental problem?
The Optimum Population Trust (OPT) cites some shocking figures, produced by the UN. They show that if the global population keeps growing at its current rate, it will reach 134 trillion by 2300. But this is plainly absurd: no one expects it to happen. In 2005, the UN estimated that the world's population will more or less stabilise in 2200 at 10 billion. But a paper published in Nature last week suggests that there is an 88% chance that global population growth will end during this century.
In other words, if we accept the UN's projection, the global population will grow by roughly 50% and then stop. This means it will become 50% harder to stop runaway climate change, 50% harder to feed the world, 50% harder to prevent the overuse of resources. But compare this rate of increase with the rate of economic growth.
Many economists predict that, occasional recessions notwithstanding, the global economy will grow by about 3% a year this century. Governments will do all they can to prove them right. A steady growth rate of 3% means a doubling of economic activity every 23 years. By 2100, in other words, global consumption will increase by about 1,600%. As the equations produced by Professor Roderick Smith of Imperial College have shown, this means that in the 21st century we will have used 16 times as many economic resources as human beings have consumed since we came down from the trees.
So economic growth this century could be 32 times as big an environmental issue as population growth. And if governments, banks and businesses have their way, it never stops. By 2115, the cumulative total rises to 3,200%, by 2138 to 6,400%. As resources are finite, this is of course impossible, but it is not hard to see that rising economic activity - not human numbers - is the immediate and overwhelming threat.
Those who emphasise the dangers of population growth maintain that times have changed: they are not concerned only with population growth in the poor world, but primarily with growth in the rich world, where people consume much more. The OPT maintains that the "global environmental impact of an inhabitant of Bangladesh ... will increase by a factor of 16 if he or she emigrates to the USA". This is surely not quite true, as recent immigrants tend to be poorer than the native population, but the general point stands: population growth in the rich world, largely driven by immigration, is more environmentally damaging than an increase in population in the poor world. In the US and the UK, their ecological impact has become another stick with which immigrants can be beaten.
But growth rates in the US and UK are atypical; even the OPT concedes that by 2050 "the population of the most developed countries is expected to remain almost unchanged, at 1.2 billion". The population of the EU 25 (the first 25 nations to join the union) is likely to decline by 7 million.
This, I accept, is of little consolation to people in the UK, where the government now expects numbers to rise from 61 million to 77 million by 2050. Eighty per cent of the growth here, according to the OPT, is the direct or indirect result of immigration (recent arrivals tend to produce more children). Migrationwatch UK claims that migrants bear much of the responsibility for Britain's housing crisis. A graph on its website suggests that without them the rate of housebuilding in England between 1997 and 2004 would have exceeded new households by 20,000-40,000 a year.
Is this true? According to the Office for National Statistics, average net immigration to the UK between 1997 and 2004 was 153,000. Let us (generously) assume that 90% of these people settled in England, and that their household size corresponded to the average for 2004, of 2.3. This would mean that new immigrants formed 60,000 households a year. The Barker Review, commissioned by the Treasury, shows that in 2002, the nearest available year, 138,000 houses were built in England, while over the 10 years to 2000, average household formation was 196,000. This rough calculation suggests that Migrationwatch is exaggerating, but that immigration is still an important contributor to housing pressure. But even total population growth in England is responsible for only about 35% of the demand for homes. Most of the rest is the result of the diminishing size of households.
Surely there is one respect in which the growing human population constitutes the primary threat? The amount of food the world eats bears a direct relationship to the number of mouths. After years of glut, the storerooms are suddenly empty and grain prices are rocketing. How will another 3 billion be fed?
Even here, however, population growth is not the most immediate issue: another sector is expanding much faster. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation expects that global meat production will double by 2050 - growing, in other words, at two and a half times the rate of human numbers. The supply of meat has already trebled since 1980: farm animals now take up 70% of all agricultural land and eat one third of the world's grain. In the rich nations we consume three times as much meat and four times as much milk per capita as the people of the poor world. While human population growth is one of the factors that could contribute to a global food deficit, it is not the most urgent.
None of this means that we should forget about it. Even if there were no environmental pressures caused by population growth, we should still support the measures required to tackle it: universal sex education, universal access to contraceptives, better schooling and opportunities for poor women. Stabilising or even reducing the human population would ameliorate almost all environmental impacts. But to suggest, as many of my correspondents do, that population growth is largely responsible for the ecological crisis is to blame the poor for the excesses of the rich.


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Sunday, 27 January 2008

Lebensraum and Genocide - by Arundhati Roy

 Listening To Grasshoppers

Genocide, Denial And Celebration
It's an old human habit, genocide is. It's a search for lebensraum, project of Union and Progress.


ARUNDHATI ROY I never met Hrant Dink, a misfortune that will be mine for time to come. From what I know of him, of what he wrote, what he said and did, how he lived his life, I know that had I been here in Istanbul a year ago I would have been among the one hundred thousand people who walked with his coffin in dead silence through the wintry streets of this city, with banners saying, "We are all Armenians", "We are all Hrant Dink". Perhaps I'd have carried the one that said, "One and a half million plus one".*
[*One-and-a-half million is the number of Armenians who were systematically murdered by the Ottoman Empire in the genocide in Anatolia in the spring of 1915. The Armenians, the largest Christian minority living under Islamic Turkic rule in the area, had lived in Anatolia for more than 2,500 years.]


***
In a way, my battle is like yours.
But while in Turkey there's silence,
in India, there is celebration.
***

I wonder what thoughts would have gone through my head as I walked beside his coffin. Maybe I would have heard a reprise of the voice of Araxie Barsamian, mother of my friend David Barsamian, telling the story of what happened to her and her family. She was ten years old in 1915. She remembered the swarms of grasshoppers that arrived in her village, Dubne, which was north of the historic city Dikranagert, now Diyarbakir. The village elders were alarmed, she said, because they knew in their bones that the grasshoppers were a bad omen. They were right; the end came in a few months, when the wheat in the fields was ready for harvesting.

"When we left...(we were) 25 in the family," Araxie Barsamian says. "They took all the men folks. They asked my father, 'Where is your ammunition?' He says, 'I sold it.' So they says, 'Go get it.' So he went to the Kurd town to get it, they beat him and took all his clothes. When he came back there—this my mother tells me story—when he came back there, naked body, he went in the jail, they cut his arms...so he die in jail.

And they took all the mens in the field, they tied their hands, and they shooted, killed every one of them."


Araxie and the other women in her family were deported. All of them perished except Araxie. She was the lone survivor.

This is, of course, a single testimony that comes from a history that is denied by the Turkish government, and many Turks as well.

I am not here to play the global intellectual, to lecture you, or to fill the silence in this country that surrounds the memory (or the forgetting) of the events that took place in Anatolia in 1915. That is what Hrant Dink tried to do, and paid for with his life.

***
Most genocidal killing from the 15th century onwards
has been part of Europe's search for lebensraum.
***

The day I arrived in Istanbul, I walked the streets for many hours, and as I looked around, envying the people of Istanbul their beautiful, mysterious, thrilling city, a friend pointed out to me young boys in white caps who seemed to have suddenly appeared like a rash in the city. He explained that they were expressing their solidarity with the child-assassin who was wearing a white cap when he killed Hrant.

The battle with the cap-wearers of Istanbul, of Turkey, is not my battle, it's yours. I have my own battles to fight against other kinds of cap-wearers and torchbearers in my country. In a way, the battles are not all that different. There is one crucial difference, though. While in Turkey there is silence, in India there's celebration, and I really don't know which is worse.

In the state of Gujarat, there was a genocide against the Muslim community in 2002.I use the word Genocide advisedly, and in keeping with its definition contained in Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The genocide began as collective punishment for an unsolved crime—the burning of a railway coach in which 53 Hindu pilgrims were burned to death. In a carefully planned orgy of supposed retaliation, 2,000 Muslims were slaughtered in broad daylight by squads of armed killers, organised by fascist militias, and backed by the Gujarat government and the administration of the day. Muslim women were gang-raped and burned alive. Muslim shops, Muslim businesses and Muslim shrines and mosques were systematically destroyed. Some 1,50,000 people were driven from their homes.

Even today, many of them live in ghettos—some built on garbage heaps—with no water supply, no drainage, no streetlights, no healthcare. They live as second-class citizens, boycotted socially and economically. Meanwhile, the killers, police as well as civilian, have been embraced, rewarded, promoted. This state of affairs is now considered 'normal'. To seal the 'normality', in 2004, both Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani, India's leading industrialists, publicly pronounced Gujarat a dream destination for finance capital.

The initial outcry in the national press has settled down. In Gujarat, the genocide has been brazenly celebrated as the epitome of Gujarati pride, Hindu-ness, even Indian-ness. This poisonous brew has been used twice in a row to win state elections, with campaigns that have cleverly used the language and apparatus of modernity and democracy. The helmsman, Narendra Modi, has become a folk hero, called in by the BJP to campaign on its behalf in other Indian states.

As genocides go, the Gujarat genocide cannot compare with the people killed in the Congo, Rwanda and Bosnia, where the numbers run into millions, nor is it by any means the first that has occurred in India. (In 1984, for instance, 3,000 Sikhs were massacred on the streets of Delhi with similar impunity, by killers overseen by the Congress Party.) But the Gujarat genocide is part of a larger, more elaborate and systematic vision. It tells us that the wheat is ripening and the grasshoppers have landed in mainland India.

It's an old human habit, genocide is. It has played a sterling part in the march of civilisation. Amongst the earliest recorded genocides is thought to be the destruction of Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War in 149 BC. The word itself—genocide—was coined by Raphael Lemkin only in 1943, and adopted by the United Nations in 1948, after the Nazi Holocaust. Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines it as:

"Any of the following Acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [or] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."


Since this definition leaves out the persecution of political dissidents, real or imagined, it does not include some of the greatest mass murders in history. Personally I think the definition by Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, authors of The History and Sociology of Genocide, is more apt.Genocide, they say, "is a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator." Defined like this, genocide would include, for example, the monumental crimes committed by Suharto in Indonesia (1 million) Pol Pot in Cambodia (1.5 million), Stalin in the Soviet Union (60 million), Mao in China (70 million).

All things considered, the word extermination, with its crude evocation of pests and vermin, of infestations, is perhaps the more honest, more apposite word. When a set of perpetrators faces its victims, in order to go about its business of wanton killing, it must first sever any human connection with it. It must see its victims as sub-human, as parasites whose eradication would be a service to society. Here, for example, is an account of the massacre of Pequot Indians by English Puritans led by John Mason in Connecticut in 1636:

Those that escaped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyre, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente thereof, but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice....


And here, approximately four centuries later, is Babu Bajrangi, one of the major lynchpins of the Gujarat genocide, recorded on camera in the sting operation mounted by Tehelka a few months ago:

We didn't spare a single Muslim shop, we set everything on fire...hacked, burned, set on fire...we believe in setting them on fire because these bastards don't want to be cremated, they're afraid of it.... I have just one last wish...let me be sentenced to death...I don't care if I'm hanged...just give me two days before my hanging and I will go and have a field day in Juhapura where seven or eight lakhs of these people stay...I will finish them off...let a few more of them die...at least 25,000 to 50,000 should die.


I hardly need to say that Babu Bajrangi had the blessings of Narendra Modi, the protection of the police, and the love of his people. He continues to work and prosper as a free man in Gujarat. The one crime he cannot be accused of is Genocide Denial.

Genocide Denial is a radical variation on the theme of the old, frankly racist, bloodthirsty triumphalism. It was probably evolved as an answer to the somewhat patchy dual morality that arose in the 19th century, when Europe was developing limited but new forms of democracy and citizens' rights at home while simultaneously exterminating people in their millions in her colonies. Suddenly countries and governments began to deny or attempt to hide the genocides they had committed. "Denial is saying, in effect," says Professor Robert Jay Lifton, author of Hiroshima and America: Fifty Years of Denial, "that the murderers did not murder. The victims weren't killed. The direct consequence of denial is that it invites future genocide."

Delhi, 1984: Congress contribution to India's genocide history
Of course today, when genocide politics meets the Free Market, official recognition—or denial—of holocausts and genocides is a multinational business enterprise. It rarely has anything to do to with historical fact or forensic evidence. Morality certainly does not enter the picture. It is an aggressive process of high-end bargaining, that belongs more to the World Trade Organisation than to the United Nations.The currency is geopolitics, the fluctuating market for natural resources, that curious thing called futures trading and plain old economic and military might.

In other words, genocides are often denied for the same set of reasons as genocides are prosecuted. Economic determinism marinated in racial/ethnic/religious/national discrimination. Crudely, the lowering or raising of the price of a barrel of oil (or a tonne of uranium), permission granted for a military base, or the opening up of a country's economy could be the decisive factor when governments adjudicate on whether a genocide did or did not occur. Or indeed whether genocide will or will not occur. And if it does, whether it will or will not be reported, and if it is, then what slant that reportage will take. For example, the death of two million in the Congo goes virtually unreported. Why? And was the death of a million Iraqis under the sanctions regime, prior to the US invasion, genocide (which is what Denis Halliday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, called it) or was it 'worth it', as Madeleine Albright, the US ambassador to the UN, claimed? It depends on who makes the rules. Bill Clinton? Or an Iraqi mother who has lost her child?

Since the United States is the richest and most powerful country in the world, it has assumed the privilege of being the World's Number One Genocide Denier. It continues to celebrate Columbus Day, the day Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas, which marks the beginning of a Holocaust that wiped out millions of native Indians, about 90 per cent of the original population. (Lord Amherst, the man whose idea it was to distribute blankets infected with smallpox virus to Indians, has a university town in Massachusetts, and a prestigious liberal arts college named after him).

In America's second Holocaust, almost 30 million Africans were kidnapped and sold into slavery. Well near half of them died during transportation. But in 2002, the US delegation could still walk out of the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, refusing to acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade were crimes. Slavery, they insisted, was legal at the time. The US has also refused to accept that the bombing of Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden and Hamburg—which killed hundreds of thousands of civilians—were crimes, let alone acts of genocide. (The argument here is that the government didn't intend to kill civilians. This was the first stage in the development of the concept of "collateral damage".) Since the end of World War II, the US government has intervened overtly, militarily, more than 400 times in 100 countries, and covertly more than 6,000 times. This includes its invasion of Vietnam and the extermination, with excellent intentions of course, of three million Vietnamese (approximately 10 per cent of its population).

None of these has been acknowledged as war crimes or genocidal acts."The question is," says Robert MacNamara—whose career graph took him from the bombing of Tokyo in 1945 (1,00,000 dead overnight) to being the architect of the Vietnam War, to President of the World Bank—now sitting in his comfortable chair in his comfortable home in his comfortable country, "the question is, how much evil do you have to do in order to do good?"

Could there be a more perfect illustration of Robert Jay Lifton's point that the denial of genocide invites more genocide?

And what when victims become perpetrators? (In Rwanda, in the Congo?) What remains to be said about Israel, created out of the debris of one of the cruellest genocides in human history? What of its actions in the Occupied Territories? Its burgeoning settlements, its colonisation of water, its new 'Security Wall' that separates Palestinian people from their farms, from their work, from their relatives, from their children's schools, from hospitals and healthcare? It is genocide in a fishbowl, genocide in slow motion—meant especially to illustrate that section of Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which says that genocide is any act that is designed to "deliberately inflict on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part".

The history of genocide tells us that it's not an aberration, an anomaly, a glitch in the human system. It's a habit as old, as persistent, as much part of the human condition, as love and art and agriculture.

Most of the genocidal killing from the 15th century onwards has been an integral part of Europe's search for what the Germans famously called Lebensraum—living space. Lebensraum was a word coined by the German geographer and zoologist Freidrich Ratzel to describe what he thought of as the dominant human species' natural impulse to expand its territory in its search for not just space, but sustenance. This impulse to expansion would naturally be at the cost of a less dominant species, a weaker species that Nazi ideologues believed should give way, or be made to give way, to the stronger one.

The idea of lebensraum was set out in precise terms in 1901, but Europe had already begun her quest for lebensraum 400 years earlier, when Columbus landed in America. The search for lebensraum also took Europeans to Africa: unleashing holocaust after holocaust. The Germans exterminated almost the entire population of the Hereros in Southwest Africa; while in the Congo, the Belgians' "experiment in commercial expansion" cost 10 million lives. By the last quarter of the 19th century, the British had exterminated the aboriginal people of Tasmania, and of most of Australia.

Sven Lindqvist, author of Exterminate the Brutes, argues that it was Hitler's quest for lebensraum—in a world that had already been carved up by other European countries—that led the Nazis to push through Eastern Europe and on toward Russia. The Jews of Eastern Europe and western Russia stood in the way of Hitler's colonial ambitions. Therefore, like the native people of Africa and America and Asia, they had to be enslaved or liquidated. So, Lindqvist says, the Nazis' racist dehumanisation of Jews cannot be dismissed as a paroxysm of insane evil. Once again, it is a product of the familiar mix: economic determinism well marinated in age-old racism, very much in keeping with European tradition of the time.

It's not a coincidence that the political party that carried out the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire, was called the Committee for Union & Progress.'Union' (racial/ethnic/religious/national) and 'Progress' (economic determinism) have long been the twin coordinates of genocide.

Armed with this reading of history, is it reasonable to worry about whether a country that is poised on the threshold of "progress" is also poised on the threshold of genocide? Could the India being celebrated all over the world as a miracle of progress and democracy, possibly be poised on the verge of committing genocide? The mere suggestion might sound outlandish and, at this point of time, the use of the word genocide surely unwarranted. However, if we look to the future, and if the Tsars of Development believe in their own publicity, if they believe that There Is No Alternative to their chosen model for Progress, then they will inevitably have to kill, and kill in large numbers, in order to get their way.


Advani's chariot of fire: And so the Union project was launched

In bits and pieces, as the news trickles in, it seems clear that the killing and the dying has already begun.

It was in 1989, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that the Government of India turned in its membership of the Non-Aligned Movement and signed up for membership of the Completely Aligned, often referring to itself as the 'natural ally' of Israel and the United States. (They have at least this one thing in common—all three are engaged in overt, neo-colonial military occupations: India in Kashmir, Israel in Palestine, the US in Iraq.)

Almost like clockwork, the two major national political parties, the BJP and the Congress, embarked on a joint programme to advance India's version of Union and Progress, whose modern-day euphemisms are Nationalism and Development. Every now and then, particularly during elections, they stage noisy familial squabbles, but have managed to gather into their fold even grumbling relatives, like the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

The Union project offers Hindu Nationalism (which seeks to unite the Hindu vote, vital you will admit, for a great democracy like India). The Progress project aims at a 10 per cent annual growth rate. Both these projects are encrypted with genocidal potential.

The Union project has been largely entrusted to the RSS, the ideological heart, the holding company of the BJP and its militias, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. The RSS was founded in 1925. By the 1930s, its founder, Dr Hedgewar, a fan of Benito Mussolini, had begun to model it overtly along the lines of Italian fascism. Hitler too was, and is, an inspirational figure. Here are some excerpts from the RSS Bible, We or Our Nationhood Defined by M.S. Golwalkar, who succeeded Dr Hedgewar as head of the RSS in 1940:


Ever since that evil day, when Moslems first landed in Hindustan, right up to the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been gallantly fighting on to take on these despoilers. The Race Spirit has been awakening.


Then:

In Hindustan, land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu Nation.... All others are traitors and enemies to the National Cause, or, to take a charitable view, idiots....

The foreign races in Hindustan...may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizen's rights.


And again:

To keep up the purity of its race and culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races—the Jews.Race pride at its highest has been manifested here...a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.


(How do you combat this kind of organised hatred? Certainly not with goofy preachings of secular love.)

By the year 2000, the RSS had more than 45,000 shakhas and an army of seven million swayamsevaks preaching its doctrine across India. They include India's former prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, the former home minister and current leader of the Opposition, L.K. Advani, and, of course, the three-times Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi. It also includes senior people in the media, the police, the army, the intelligence agencies, judiciary and the administrative services who are informal devotees of Hindutva—the RSS ideology. These people, unlike politicians who come and go, are permanent members of government machinery.

But the RSS's real power lies in the fact that it has put in decades of hard work and has created a network of organisations at every level of society, something that no other organisation can claim.

The BJP is its political front. It has a trade union wing (Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh), a women's wing (Rashtriya Sevika Samiti), a student wing (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) and an economic wing (Swadeshi Jagaran Manch).

Its front organisation Vidya Bharati is the largest educational organisation in the non-governmental sector. It has 13,000 educational institutes including the Saraswati Vidya Mandir schools with 70,000 teachers and over 1.7 million students. It has organisations working with tribals (Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram), literature (Akhil Bharatiya Sahitya Parishad), intellectuals (Pragya Bharati, Deendayal Research Institute), historians (Bharatiya Itihaas Sankalan Yojanalaya), language (Sanskrit Bharti), slum-dwellers (Seva Bharati, Hindu Seva Pratishthan), health (Swami Vivekanand Medical Mission, National Medicos Organisation), leprosy patients (Bharatiya Kushtha Nivaran Sangh), cooperatives (Sahkar Bharati), publication of newspapers and other propaganda material (Bharat Prakashan, Suruchi Prakashan, Lokhit Prakashan, Gyanganga Prakashan, Archana Prakashan, Bharatiya Vichar Sadhana, Sadhana Pustak and Akashvani Sadhana), caste integration (Samajik Samrasta Manch), religion and proselytisation (Vivekananda Kendra, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Hindu Jagaran Manch, Bajrang Dal). The list goes on and on...

On June 11, 1989, Congress prime minister Rajiv Gandhi gave the RSS a gift. He was obliging enough to open the locks of the disputed Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, which the RSS claimed was the birthplace of Lord Ram. At the National Executive of the BJP, the party passed a resolution to demolish the mosque and build a temple in Ayodhya. "I'm sure the resolution will translate into votes," said L.K. Advani. In 1990, he criss-crossed the country on his Rath Yatra, his Chariot of Fire, demanding the demolition of the Babri Masjid, leaving riots and bloodshed in his wake. In 1991, the party won 120 seats in Parliament. (It had won two in 1984). The hysteria orchestrated by Advani peaked in 1992, when the mosque was brought down by a marauding mob. By 1998, the BJP was in power at the Centre. Its first act in office was to conduct a series of nuclear tests. Across the country, fascists and corporates, princes and paupers alike, celebrated India's Hindu Bomb. Hindutva had transcended petty party politics.

In 2002, Narendra Modi's government planned and executed the Gujarat genocide. In the elections that took place a few months after the genocide, he was returned to power with an overwhelming majority. He ensured complete impunity for those who had participated in the killings. In the rare case where there has been a conviction, it is of course the lowly footsoldiers, and not the masterminds, who stand in the dock.

Impunity is an essential prerequisite for genocidal killing.India has a great tradition of granting impunity to mass killers. I could fill volumes with the details.

In a democracy, for impunity after genocide, you have to "apply through proper channels". Procedure is everything. In the case of several massacres, the lawyers that the Gujarat government appointed as public prosecutors had actually already appeared for the accused. Several of them belonged to the RSS or the VHP and were openly hostile to those they were supposedly representing. Survivor witnesses found that, when they went to the police to file reports, the police would record their statements inaccurately, or refuse to record the names of the perpetrators. In several cases, when survivors had seen members of their families being killed (and burned alive so their bodies could not be found), the police would refuse to register cases of murder.

Ehsan Jaffri, the Congress politician and poet who had made the mistake of campaigning against Modi in the Rajkot elections, was publicly butchered. (By a mob led by a fellow Congressman.) In the words of a man who took part in the savagery:

Five people held him, then someone struck him with a sword...chopped off his hand, then his legs...then everything else...after cutting him to pieces, they put him on the wood they'd piled and set him on fire. Burned him alive.


The Ahmedabad Commissioner of Police, P.C. Pandey, was kind enough to visit the neighbourhood while the mob lynched Jaffri, murdered 70 people, and gang-raped 12 women before burning them alive. After Modi was re-elected, Pandey was promoted, and made Gujarat's Director-General of Police. The entire killing apparatus remains in place.

The Supreme Court in Delhi made a few threatening noises, but eventually put the matter into cold storage. The Congress and the Communist parties made a great deal of noise, but did nothing.

In the Tehelka sting operation, broadcast recently on a news channel at prime time, apart from Babu Bajrangi, killer after killer recounted how the genocide had been planned and executed, how Modi and senior politicians and police officers had been personally involved. None of this information was new, but there they were, the butchers, on the news networks, not just admitting to, but boasting about their crimes. The overwhelming public reaction to the sting was not outrage, but suspicion about its timing. Most people believed that the expose would help Modi win the elections again. Some even believed, quite outlandishly, that he had engineered the sting. He did win the elections. And this time, on the ticket of Union and Progress. A committee all unto himself. At BJP rallies, thousands of adoring supporters now wear plastic Modi masks, chanting slogans of death. The fascist democrat has physically mutated into a million little fascists. These are the joys of democracy. Who in Nazi Germany would have dared to put on a Hitler mask?


The Dehumanised: Dalit massacre, Jehanabad, 1997
Preparations to recreate the 'Gujarat blueprint' are currently in different stages in the BJP-ruled states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.

To commit genocide, says Peter Balkian, scholar of the Armenian genocide, you have to marginalise a sub-group for a long time. This criterion has been well met in India. The Muslims of India have been systematically marginalised and have now joined the Adivasis and Dalits, who have not just been marginalised, but dehumanised by caste Hindu society and its scriptures, for years, for centuries. (There was a time when they were dehumanised in order to be put to work doing things that caste Hindus would not do.Now, with technology, even that labour is becoming redundant.) Part of the RSS's work involves setting Dalits against Muslims, Adivasis against Dalits.

While the 'people' were engaged with the Union project and its doctrine of hatred, India's Progress project was proceeding apace. The new regime of privatisation and liberalisation resulted in the sale of the country's natural resources and public infrastructure to private corporations. It has created an unimaginably wealthy upper class and growing middle classes who have naturally become militant evangelists for the new dispensation.

The Progress project has its own tradition of impunity and subterfuge, no less horrific than the elaborate machinery of the Union project. At the heart of it lies the most powerful institution in India, the Supreme Court, which is rapidly becoming a pillar of Corporate Power, issuing order after order allowing for the building of dams, the interlinking of rivers, indiscriminate mining, the destruction of forests and water systems. All of this could be described as ecocide—a prelude perhaps to genocide. (And to criticise the court is a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment).

Ironically, the era of the free market has led to the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in India—the secession of the middle and upper classes to a country of their own, somewhere up in the stratosphere where they merge with the rest of the world's elite. This Kingdom in the Sky is a complete universe in itself, hermetically sealed from the rest of India. It has its own newspapers, films, television programmes, morality plays, transport systems, malls and intellectuals. And in case you are beginning to think it's all joy-joy, you're wrong. It also has its own tragedies, its own environmental issues (parking problems, urban air pollution); its own class struggles. An organisation called Youth for Equality, for example, has taken up the issue of Reservations, because it feels Upper Castes are discriminated against by India's pulverised Lower Castes. It has its own People's Movements and candle-light vigils (Justice for Jessica, the model who was shot in a bar) and even its own People's Car (the Wagon for the Volks launched by the Tata Group recently). It even has its own dreams that take the form of TV advertisements in which Indian CEOs (smeared with Fair & Lovely Face Cream, Men's) buy over international corporations, including an imaginary East India Company. They are ushered into their plush new offices by fawning white women (who look as though they're longing to be laid, the final prize of conquest) and applauding white men, ready to make way for the new kings. Meanwhile, the crowd in the stadium roars to its feet (with credit cards in its pockets) chanting 'India! India!'

But there is a problem, and the problem is lebensraum. A Kingdom needs its lebensraum. Where will the Kingdom in the Sky find lebensraum? The Sky Citizens look towards the Old Nation. They see Adivasis sitting on the bauxite mountains of Orissa, on the iron ore in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. They see the people of Nandigram (Muslims, Dalits) sitting on prime land, which really ought to be a chemical hub. They see thousands of acres of farm land, and think, these really ought to be Special Economic Zones for our industries; they see the rich fields of Singur and know this really ought to be a car factory for the People's Car. They think: that's our bauxite, our iron ore, our uranium. What are those people doing on our land? What's our water doing in their rivers? What's our timber doing in their trees?

If you look at a map of India's forests, its mineral wealth and the homelands of the Adivasi people, you'll see that they're stacked up over each other.So, in reality, those who we call poor are the truly wealthy. But when the Sky Citizens cast their eyes over the land, they see superfluous people sitting on precious resources. The Nazis had a phrase for them—überzahligen Essern, superfluous eaters.

The struggle for lebensraum, Friedrich Ratzel said after closely observing the struggle between Native Indians and their European colonisers in North America, is an annihilating struggle. Annihilation doesn't necessarily mean the physical extermination of people—by bludgeoning, beating, burning, bayoneting, gassing, bombing or shooting them. (Except sometimes. Particularly when they try to put up a fight. Because then they become Terrorists.) Historically, the most efficient form of genocide has been to displace people from their homes, herd them together and block their access to food and water. Under these conditions, they die without obvious violence and often in far greater numbers. "The Nazis gave the Jews a star on their coats and crowded them into 'reserves'," Sven Lindqvist writes, "just as the Indians, the Hereros, the Bushmen, the Amandabele, and all the other children of the stars had been crowded together. They died on their own when food supply to the reserves was cut off."

The historian Mike Davis says that between 12 million and 29 million people starved to death in India in the great famine between 1876 and 1892, while Britain continued to export food and raw material from India. In a democracy, Amartya Sen says, we are unlikely to have Famine. So in place of China's Great Famine, we have India's Great Malnutrition. (India hosts 57 million—more than a third—of the world's undernourished children.)


Nandigram 2007: Even the CPI(M) has its own armed militia

With the possible exception of China, India today has the largest population of internally displaced people in the world. Dams alone have displaced more than 30 million people. The displacement is being enforced with court decrees or at gunpoint by policemen, by government-controlled militias or corporate thugs. (In Nandigram, even the CPI(M) had its own armed militia.) The displaced are being herded into tenements, camps and resettlement colonies where, cut off from a means of earning a living, they spiral into poverty.

In the state of Chhattisgarh, being targeted by corporates for its wealth of iron ore, there's a different technique. In the name of fighting Maoist rebels, hundreds of villages have been forcibly evacuated and almost 40,000 people moved into police camps. The government is arming some of them, and has created Salwa Judum, a 'people's militia'. While the poorest fight the poorest, in conditions that approach civil war, the Tata and Essar groups have been quietly negotiating for the rights to mine iron ore in Chhattisgarh. Can we establish a connection? We wouldn't dream of it. Even though the Salwa Judum was announced a day after the Memorandum of Understanding between the Tata Group and the government was signed.

It's not surprising that very little of this account of events makes it into the version of the New India currently on the market. That's because what is on sale is another form of denial—the creation of what Robert Jay Lifton calls a "counterfeit universe". In this universe, systemic horrors are converted into temporary lapses, attributable to flawed individuals, and a more 'balanced' happier world is presented in place of the real one. The balance is spurious: often Union and Progress are set off against each other, a liberal-secular critique of the Union project being used to legitimise the depredations of the Progress project. Those at the top of the food chain, those who have no reason to want to alter the status quo, are most likely to be the manufacturers of the "counterfeit universe".Their job is to patrol the border, diffuse rage, delegitimise anger, and broker a ceasefire.

Consider the response of Shahrukh Khan to a question about Narendra Modi. "I don't know him personally...I have no opinion...," he says. "Personally they have never been unkind to me." Ramachandra Guha, liberal historian and founding member of the New India Foundation, a corporate-funded trust, advises us in his book—as well as in a series of highly publicised interviews—that the Gujarat government is not really fascist, and the genocide was just an aberration that has corrected itself after elections.

Editors and commentators in the 'secular' national press, having got over their outrage at the Gujarat genocide, now assess Modi's administrative skills, which most of them are uniformly impressed by. The editor of The Hindustan Times said, "Modi may be a mass murderer, but he's our mass murderer", and went on to air his dilemmas about how to deal with a mass murderer who is also a "good" chief minister.

In this 'counterfeit' version of India, in the realm of culture, in the new Bollywood cinema, in the boom in Indo-Anglian literature, the poor, for the most part, are simply absent. They have been erased in advance. (They only put in an appearance as the smiling beneficiaries of Micro-Credit Loans, Development Schemes and charity meted out by ngos.)

Last summer, I happened to wander into a cool room in which four beautiful young girls with straightened hair and porcelain skin were lounging, introducing their puppies to one another. One of them turned to me and said, "I was on holiday with my family and I found an old essay of yours about dams and stuff? I was asking my brother if he knew about what a bad time these Dalits and Adivasis were having, being displaced and all.... I mean just being kicked out of their homes 'n stuff like that? And you know, my brother's such a jerk, he said they're the ones who are holding India back. They should be exterminated. Can you imagine?"

The trouble is, I could. I can.

The puppies were sweet. I wondered whether dogs could ever imagine exterminating each other. They're probably not progressive enough.

That evening, I watched Amitabh Bachchan on TV, appearing in a commercial for The Times of India's 'India Poised' campaign. The TV anchor introducing the campaign said it was meant to inspire people to leave behind the "constraining ghosts of the past". To choose optimism over pessimism.

"There are two Indias in this country," Amitabh Bachchan said, in his famous baritone.


One India is straining at the leash, eager to spring forth and live up to all the adjectives that the world has been recently showering upon us. The Other India is the leash.

One India says, "Give me a chance and I'll prove myself."

The Other India says, "Prove yourself first, and maybe then, you'll have a chance."

One India lives in the optimism of our hearts; the Other India lurks in the scepticism of our minds.

One India wants, the Other India hopes... One India leads, the Other India follows.

These conversions are on the rise.

With each passing day, more and more people from the Other India are coming over to this side. ...

And quietly, while the world is not looking, a pulsating, dynamic, new India is emerging.


And finally:

Now in our 60th year as a free nation, the ride has brought us to the edge of time's great precipice....

And one India, a tiny little voice in the back of the head is looking down at the ravine and hesitating. The Other India is looking up at the sky and saying it's time to fly.


Here is the counterfeit universe laid bare.It tells us that the rich don't have a choice (There Is No Alternative), but the poor do. They can choose to become rich. If they don't, it's because they are choosing pessimism over optimism, hesitation over confidence, want over hope. In other words, they're choosing to be poor. It's their fault. They are weak. (And we know what the seekers of lebensraum think of the weak.) They are the 'Constraining Ghost of the Past'. They're already ghosts.

"Within an ongoing counterfeit universe," Robert Jay Lifton says, "genocide becomes easy, almost natural."

The poor, the so-called poor, have only one choice: to resist or to succumb. Bachchan is right: they are crossing over, quietly, while the world's not looking. Not to where he thinks, but across another ravine, to another side. The side of armed struggle. From there they look back at the Tsars of Development and mimic their regretful slogan: 'There Is No Alternative.'

They have watched the great Gandhian people's movements being reduced and humiliated, floundering in the quagmire of court cases, hunger strikes and counter-hunger strikes. Perhaps these many million Constraining Ghosts of the Past wonder what advice Gandhi would have given the Indians of the Americas, the slaves of Africa, the Tasmanians, the Herero, the Hottentots, the Armenians, the Jews of Germany, the Muslims of Gujarat. Perhaps they wonder how they can go on hunger strike when they're already starving. How they can boycott foreign goods when they have no money to buy any goods. How they can refuse to pay taxes when they have no earnings.


Stamp out the Naxals: They have no place in Shining India
People who have taken to arms have done so with full knowledge of what the consequences of that decision will be. They have done so knowing that they are on their own. They know that the new laws of the land criminalise the poor and conflate resistance with terrorism. (Peaceful activists are ogws—overground workers.) They know that appeals to conscience, liberal morality and sympathetic press coverage will not help them now. They know no international marches, no globalised dissent, no famous writers will be around when the bullets fly.

Hundreds of thousands have broken faith with the institutions of India's democracy. Large swathes of the country have fallen out of the government's control. (At last count, it was supposed to be 25 per cent). The battle stinks of death, it's by no means pretty. How can it be when the helmsman of the army of Constraining Ghosts is the ghost of Chairman Mao himself? (The ray of hope is that many of the footsoldiers don't know who he is. Or what he did. More Genocide Denial? Maybe). Are they Idealists fighting for a Better World? Well... anything is better than annihilation.

The Prime Minister has declared that the Maoist resistance is the "single largest internal security threat". There have even been appeals to call out the army. The media is agog with breathless condemnation.

Here's a typical newspaper report. Nothing out of the ordinary. Stamp out the Naxals, it is called.


This government is at last showing some sense in tackling Naxalism. Less than a month ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked state governments to "choke" Naxal infrastructure and "cripple" their activities through a dedicated force to eliminate the "virus". It signalled a realisation that Naxalism must be stamped out through enforcement of law, rather than wasteful expense on development.


"Choke". "Cripple". "Virus". "Infested". "Eliminate". "Stamp Out".

Yes. The idea of extermination is in the air. And people believe that faced with extermination, they have the right to fight back.By any means necessary.

Perhaps they've been listening to the grasshoppers.




This is an abridged version of a lecture delivered by Arundhati Roy in Istanbul on January 18, 2008, to commemorate the first anniversary of the assassination of Hrant Dink, editor of the Turkish-Armenian paper, Agos.


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This reckless greed of the few harms the future of the many

 

 



The government must act firmly to control an industry that destabilises all our lives with its naked pursuit of huge profits

Will Hutton
Sunday January 27, 2008
The Observer


Never in human affairs have so few been allowed to make so much money by so many for so little wider benefit. Across the globe, societies and governments have been hoodwinked by a collection of self-confident chancers in the guise of investment bankers, hedge and private equity fund partners and bankers who, in the cause of their monumental self-enrichment, have taken the world to the brink of a major recession. It has been economic history's most one-sided bargain.
Last week's financial panic was further evidence of the extreme foolhardiness with which global finance has been organised and managed. There was the biggest one-day fall in Wall Street since 11 September, which spilled over into every world stock market and the largest single cut in American interest rates for 25 years as an emergency attempt to stop the rout. A new crisis emerged in an obscure American insurance business (monoline, it is called). To cap it all, there was the £3.7bn bank fraud at Société Générale.
The growing realisation of how exposed the financial system is - and from transactions that should never have taken place - is reinforcing the mounting credit crunch, which, in turn, is spooking stock markets. The US economy is weakening while in Britain new mortgage lending is at a 10-year low. The staples of a settled life - jobs, pensions and house prices - are all under threat.
The availability of credit is one of the fundamental pillars of any economic system. Like the delivery of gas, electricity and water, finance should be regarded as a utility and after the credit-crunch disasters of the 1930s, following the free-market 1920s, it was regulated as one. But Anglo-American financiers have used the theories of the free-market fundamentalists to argue that it should be liberated from such regulatory 'shackles' and again run as a business like any other.
Yet finance is not like any other business. When a bank makes a mistake, the ramifications for the rest of the financial and economic system are so severe that it has to be bailed out - witness Northern Rock. Because of this truth, financiers have organised themselves so that actual or potential losses are picked up by somebody else - if not their clients, then the state - while profits are kept to themselves. An industry that socialises losses while privatising profit, and that has the capacity to create booms and busts alike, has to be as closely regulated as any utility.
I was reminded of the system's proclivities by a consultant friend who was hired to arbitrate over a performance bonus between a hedge fund and one of its asset managers. The individual in question was paid a base salary of some $100,000, but the investment funds he managed had done well over 2007, rising in value by more than $500m. His bonus was $206m and he felt that to conform to industry norms, his bonus should be nearer $250m - the cause of the dispute.
What, I asked, would happen in 2008 if the assets he managed fell in value? He would get paid his base salary and no bonus came the reply. And would he be required to repay any of the $250m he had pocketed this year? Of course not.
This is the one-way, short-term bet that is endemic in the way the financial services industry rewards itself and which incentivises recklessness. Raghuram Rajan, former chief economist of the IMF, differentiated between two sources of wealth generation in the financial markets in an insightful article in the Financial Times earlier this month. There is run-of-the-mill 'beta' value created because stock markets and the economy are set fair and going up; then there is special 'alpha' value generated by investors such as American billionaire Warren Buffett who see opportunities others do not.
The problem is that while we know a priori that there are only one or two Buffetts around who deserve alpha-style pay, this has become the way the entire financial system's executive class rewards itself - being paid as if just one year's performance revealed them to be alpha superstars when, in truth, most are ordinary beta performers. It takes longer than a year to reveal who is alpha and who is beta, whatever executives like the hedge-fund manager in dispute over his bonus may claim.
The remuneration structure is a disaster. One of the reasons why rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel faked a stunning £3.7bn of transactions at SocGen may have been because he regarded himself as being paid as a beta when he should have been paid as an alpha like everybody else. Moreover, he was able to fool the bank by trading in the daffy instruments that the financial system created to persuade national governments that it is not running excessive risks, an insurance that laid off risks to others. Hence the casino character of many new financial markets, which essentially operate as bookmakers accepting differing bets on future prices. Underneath their technical names - monoline insurance, derivatives, debt securitisation - lies little more than bookie principles and practice.
But selling off bad risks doesn't mean the catastrophe won't occur. And when the balloon goes up, the financial system screams for government intervention - to cut interest rates aggressively and to bail out stricken banks and insurance companies. Indeed, better still for the financiers, a gullible government can be persuaded to assume the risk, the exact principles of the Goldman Sachs-devised bail-out of Northern Rock - lubricated by excessive fees to the partners.
Thirteen years ago, I tried to blow the whistle on financial market liberalisation in my book The State We're In. It was obvious then what is even more obvious now: financial market freedom embeds short-termism, guarantees lower investment, works against business building and innovation, generates booms and busts, inflates house prices, creates system-wide risk and excessively rewards those who work in them. I thought the Germans and Japanese were better than the British and Americans in the way they organised and regulated finance and that while Britain and America might look good in the short term, their economies would eventually come back to earth with a bump.
New Labour threw a protective mantle around the financial markets in a way it never would for industry and sceptics were patronised as backward-looking, Old Labour know-nothings. Let's hopes these new crises will prompt a root-and-branch rethink. Of course, like the Americans, the British need to respond by aggressively cutting interest rates, cutting taxes and lifting public spending.
But more, we need to regulate closely how the financial system deploys its capital, develops its loans and how its people are paid, an initiative that requires global support. We need the financiers to serve business and the economy rather than be its master.
This is not a question of helping the financial system better to understand the risks it runs through more 'transparency', the friendly diagnosis deployed by both the Governor of the Bank of England and the Prime Minister in speeches last week. This is about reworking the one-sided bargain between finance and our economies. Only then can we lay the foundations for recovery and bring some semblance of fairness and rationality to the way these plutocrats behave.


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Friday, 25 January 2008

Economic Growth: Where next when we are already sated with luxury?

Yet iPods were launched as long ago as 2001, and I now read that Apple has sold more than 100 million of them and fears the market has reached saturation. I had thought I was part of an exclusive world club of those who would spend a considerable sum on something that was pure luxury. But this is not the case at all. In the years since its invention it has become part of competitive consumerism: "I have one... he has one... oh, you mean you don't have one?"

Every parent will be familiar with the pattern, just as every advertiser will know how to prompt and tease people into feeling socially inferior simply because they haven't acquired something that basically they don't need but have been pressured into wanting.

Faced with a saturated market for iPods, Apple is worried. iPod sales in the US have been no higher than they were last year. Eager to keep people wanting new ones they have fiddled with the design and added more so-called "features". Being up to date is a key part of marketing psychology: the sense of being left behind threatens people's self-confidence and is a powerful blackmailing tool especially effective for use against parents. It is a totally pernicious trend encouraged by a market that puts the need for growth as its first priority. Apple's latest version, the iPod Touch, has touch-screen technology capable of playing videos and of downloading from computers without a cable connection. Who needs it?

I am not saying it isn't fun to have these things. But to seek to build industrial growth and marketing strategies around ever-diminishing returns of fancy refinements to objects that are not really needed in the first place, must surely get the whole balance of economic effort wrong.

It is all fine and dandy when world economies are favourable, but we are not in such times. We are bombarded daily by doom-merchants hanging in there with malicious glee in expectation of a slump. By midweek we were being told of a growth rate of 4 per cent in the last quarter, and "significant risk" of a downturn in the economy. George Soros declared that we are heading for recession, and business gurus were on hand to analyse the latest trends in the FTSE and movements in the housing market.

A corporation that doesn't declare perpetual growth is seen to be in trouble, and in need of attention. Step forward private equity to help turn round enterprises that aren't meeting the norms of economic expectations. We are on a treadmill of economic behaviour that is failing to answer what the world needs, which is to satisfy the needs of its peoples rather than the wants of the already affluent. Does it have to be like that? Indeed, I would say that the imperatives of the planet – finite resources, pressures on the environment – are such that now is the very time to conceive of other economic patterns.

China has proudly announced an 11 per cent growth in the past year, but at what cost, not only to its citizens but also in pollution of the atmosphere. The gadgets we so enjoy are being manufactured by working populations whose conditions and outlook are shaped by the need for growth. When I was in China in early 1980 the country's economy seemed to be focused on meeting the needs of its people: not just reasonable housing, fresh water and subsistence living, but literacy and social cohesion. The policy of the one-child family was merely the most ruthless strategy to deal with its internal problems. Globalisation – the international movement of capital and business – has served to extend the problems worldwide.

There are plenty of places where people's needs are not being met. But all too often their economic effort goes to supplying the luxury wants of the rest of us. Yes, yes, I know all about trade, and investment, overseas aid and companies based in the developed world bringing employment to the undeveloped. But it all serves the goddess of growth. Surely it's time for a radically new approach to the planet's resources and how to deploy them.

Global shortages have already given us wars over oil. We are on the brink of wars over water. I bet they have plenty of iPods in Davos, but how many in Darfur? Competitive consumerism doesn't seem to be the answer. Is asking, "How can we restore growth" the right question?

Economic Growth: Where next when we are already sated with luxury?

Yet iPods were launched as long ago as 2001, and I now read that Apple has sold more than 100 million of them and fears the market has reached saturation. I had thought I was part of an exclusive world club of those who would spend a considerable sum on something that was pure luxury. But this is not the case at all. In the years since its invention it has become part of competitive consumerism: "I have one... he has one... oh, you mean you don't have one?"

Every parent will be familiar with the pattern, just as every advertiser will know how to prompt and tease people into feeling socially inferior simply because they haven't acquired something that basically they don't need but have been pressured into wanting.

Faced with a saturated market for iPods, Apple is worried. iPod sales in the US have been no higher than they were last year. Eager to keep people wanting new ones they have fiddled with the design and added more so-called "features". Being up to date is a key part of marketing psychology: the sense of being left behind threatens people's self-confidence and is a powerful blackmailing tool especially effective for use against parents. It is a totally pernicious trend encouraged by a market that puts the need for growth as its first priority. Apple's latest version, the iPod Touch, has touch-screen technology capable of playing videos and of downloading from computers without a cable connection. Who needs it?

I am not saying it isn't fun to have these things. But to seek to build industrial growth and marketing strategies around ever-diminishing returns of fancy refinements to objects that are not really needed in the first place, must surely get the whole balance of economic effort wrong.

It is all fine and dandy when world economies are favourable, but we are not in such times. We are bombarded daily by doom-merchants hanging in there with malicious glee in expectation of a slump. By midweek we were being told of a growth rate of 4 per cent in the last quarter, and "significant risk" of a downturn in the economy. George Soros declared that we are heading for recession, and business gurus were on hand to analyse the latest trends in the FTSE and movements in the housing market.

A corporation that doesn't declare perpetual growth is seen to be in trouble, and in need of attention. Step forward private equity to help turn round enterprises that aren't meeting the norms of economic expectations. We are on a treadmill of economic behaviour that is failing to answer what the world needs, which is to satisfy the needs of its peoples rather than the wants of the already affluent. Does it have to be like that? Indeed, I would say that the imperatives of the planet – finite resources, pressures on the environment – are such that now is the very time to conceive of other economic patterns.

China has proudly announced an 11 per cent growth in the past year, but at what cost, not only to its citizens but also in pollution of the atmosphere. The gadgets we so enjoy are being manufactured by working populations whose conditions and outlook are shaped by the need for growth. When I was in China in early 1980 the country's economy seemed to be focused on meeting the needs of its people: not just reasonable housing, fresh water and subsistence living, but literacy and social cohesion. The policy of the one-child family was merely the most ruthless strategy to deal with its internal problems. Globalisation – the international movement of capital and business – has served to extend the problems worldwide.

There are plenty of places where people's needs are not being met. But all too often their economic effort goes to supplying the luxury wants of the rest of us. Yes, yes, I know all about trade, and investment, overseas aid and companies based in the developed world bringing employment to the undeveloped. But it all serves the goddess of growth. Surely it's time for a radically new approach to the planet's resources and how to deploy them.

Global shortages have already given us wars over oil. We are on the brink of wars over water. I bet they have plenty of iPods in Davos, but how many in Darfur? Competitive consumerism doesn't seem to be the answer. Is asking, "How can we restore growth" the right question?

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Unsentimental Education

Unsentimental Education

Unless the Labour party starts to show some mettle, we will be stuck with a system which cripples state education, preserves the class structure and permits a few thousand frightening, retentive people to rule over us.

GEORGE MONBIOT

If only the government would justify the paranoia of the ruling classes. They believe, as they have always believed, that they are under unprecedented attack. All last week the rightwing papers rustled with the lamentations of the privileged, wailing about a new class war. If only.

The whinge-fest was prompted by the publication of the Charity Commission’s new guidance about public benefits(1). If institutions want to retain their status as charities, they should demonstrate that they do good(2). The benefits they create should outweigh the harm they might do, the poor should not be shut out, and "charities should not be seen as ‘exclusive clubs’ that only a few can join". It hardly sounds radical: after all, what sort of charity is it that doesn’t meet these conditions? Well, it’s a distressed gentlefolks’ association called the private school, and it costs us £100m a year in tax exemptions(3).

Though they cannot meet even the crudest definition of charities, the commission - doubtless terrified of the force they can muster - grants private schools a series of escape clauses. Their charitable status will be preserved if they provide some subsidised places to poorer pupils or share some of their facilities with other schools, even if they charge for them(4). Thus, according to Melanie Phillips, Simon Heffer and a Telegraph leader, the commission has launched a "class war"(5,6,7), motivated (according to Heffer) by "government-orchestrated spite" or (a headteacher writing in the Telegraph) "the rhetoric of envy"(8). As seven of the Charity Commission’s nine board members were privately educated(9), this seems unlikely.

The private schools and their alumni have been fighting a class war for centuries. "Public schools" are so-called because this is what they once were. Eton was founded in 1442 exclusively for the children of paupers: no one whose father had an income of more than five marks could study there. Harrow, Winchester, Rugby and Westminster were also established as free schools for the poor(10). But they and their endowments were seized by the nobility, often by devious means, and the paupers were booted out. Today, private schools continue to capture public resources, by buying up the best teachers (trained at public expense) from the state sector(11). Under the Tories they received a further government subsidy, called the assisted places scheme.

No one who read Nick Davies’s investigation a few years ago into the state of our schools could doubt that the harm done by private education outweighs the benefits(12). Drawing on academic research, he found that the schools which fail are the ones whose pupils are overwhelmingly poor. "If the bright middle-class children are being siphoned off into private schools and a minority of state schools … then children in the rest of the system will fail to achieve comparable standards. The system fails because it is segregated, because it leaves the struggling children to struggle alone."(13) The Charity Commission’s loophole - private schools can keep their taxes if they subsidise places for the bright children of the poor - exacerbates the harm they inflict on the rest of the system.

But the damage goes far beyond this skimming. British private schools create a class culture of a kind unknown in the rest of Europe. The extreme case is the boarding prep schools, which separate children from their parents at the age of eight in order to shape them into members of a detached elite. In his book The Making of Them the psychotherapist Nick Duffell shows how these artificial orphans survive the loss of their families by dissociating themselves from their feelings of love(14).Survival involves "an extreme hardening of normal human softness, a severe cutting off from emotions and sensitivity."(15) Unable to attach themselves to people (intimate relationships with other children are discouraged by a morbid fear of homosexuality), they are encouraged instead to invest their natural loyalties in the institution.

This made them extremely effective colonial servants: if their commander ordered it, they could organise a massacre without a moment’s hesitation (witness the detachment of the officers who oversaw the suppression of the Mau Mau, quoted in Caroline Elkins’s book, Britain’s Gulag(16)). It also meant that the lower orders at home could be put down without the least concern for the results. For many years, Britain has been governed by damaged people.

I went through this system myself, and I know I will spend the rest of my life fighting its effects. But one of the useful skills it has given me is an ability to recognise it in others. I can spot another early boarder at 200 metres: you can see and smell the damage dripping from them like sweat. The Conservative cabinets were stuffed with them: even in John Major’s "classless" government, 16 of the 20 male members of the 1993 cabinet had been to public school; 12 of them had boarded(17). Privately-educated people dominate politics, the civil service, the judiciary, the armed forces, the City, the media, the arts, academia, the most prestigious professions, even, as we have seen, the Charity Commission. They recognise each other, fear the unshaped people of the state system, and, often without being aware that they are doing it, pass on their privileges to people like themselves.

The system is protected by silence. Because private schools have been so effective in moulding a child’s character, an attack on the school becomes an attack on all those who have passed through it. Its most abject victims become its fiercest defenders. How many times have I heard emotionally-stunted people proclaim "it never did me any harm"? In the Telegraph last year, Michael Henderson boasted of the delightful eccentricity of his boarding school. "Bad work got you an ‘order mark’. One foolish fellow, Brown by name, was given a double order mark for taking too much custard at lunch. How can you not warm to a teacher who awards such punishment? … Petty snobbery abounded," he continued, "but only wets are put off by a bit of snobbery. So long as you pulled your socks up, and didn’t let the side down, you wouldn’t be for the high jump. Which is as it should be."(18) A ruling class in a persistent state of repression is a very dangerous thing.

The problem of what to do about private schools and the class-bound system they create has been neatly solved by the Guardian columnist Peter Wilby(19,20). He proposes that places at the best universities should be awarded to the top pupils in each of the UK’s sixth forms, regardless of absolute results. Middle-class parents would have a powerful incentive to send their children to schools with poor results, then to try to ensure that those schools acquired good resources and effective teachers. They would have no interest in sending their children to private schools.

But who is prepared to fight the necessary class war? Not the government, or not yet at any rate. Not the Charity Commission. Unless the Labour party starts to show some mettle, we will be stuck with a system which cripples state education, preserves the class structure and permits a few thousand frightening, retentive people to rule over us. And this will continue to be deemed a public benefit.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Why share price falls will put the brake on consumer spending

Why share price falls will put the brake on consumer spending

By Jeff Randall
Last Updated: 6:47am GMT 23/01/2008

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Yesterday morning, I nearly threw the radio out of the bathroom window. The cause of my temper tantrum was yet another air-head contributor claiming that what was going on in the City - sharply falling share prices - had nothing to do with life in the real world.
# Read more by Jeff Randall

It's a view that you might have expected from a 1970s social affairs lecturer, but not in post-Thatcherite Britain.


What happened on Monday, when the stock market fell by 5.5pc, its biggest one-day drop since the terror attacks of 9/11, will have a very immediate impact on ordinary consumers. Not just through a downturn in sentiment but via the pockets of millions who hold shares directly or in pension pots, tax-free Isas and other savings plans.

Earlier this week, I had a chat with Lucy Neville-Rolfe, a Tesco director, who told me that of the company's 300,000-plus UK employees, 179,000 own Tesco shares, most of which were accumulated through a save-as-you-earn scheme. These are not "free" options for senior managers, but small stakes in the company bought by supermarket staff who are not earning fortunes.

Tesco's shares have held up well compared with those of most of its retail rivals. Even so, the price has fallen by 15pc in recent weeks. By contrast, shares in Sainsbury's (with 60,000 employee investors) are down by nearly 40pc. At Marks & Spencer, 25,000 staff have seen their investments in the business fall by 45pc from last spring's peak. Where's St Michael when you need him?

Aside from retail, Britain's other main private-sector employer is financial services. At the big five banks, being a staff investor has proven less rewarding than dealing with an account manager in a Bangalore call centre. Many workers are nursing horrible losses on their employers' shares, which have fallen by 40pc-50pc. Money in the bank is not what it was.
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Add all this up, and you have yet another nasty turn of the screw on consumers' thumbs. Already feeling the pain of falling house prices, rising mortgage bills and higher utility payments, their hopes of easing the torture by cashing in profits from staff share schemes have been cruelly cut off.

This is not the parallel universe of venture capitalists, private-equity bosses, hedge-fund managers, investment bankers and futures traders. It is the unpleasant downside of being a bit-part player in a share-owning democracy.

It is true life - right here, right now - the upshot of which is that hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of pounds of disposable income have vanished. In some cases, the cash has already been spent, exacerbating debt worries. Or, as a friend at Barclays (40,000 staff shareholders) told me:

"I have a keen appreciation of how much poorer I am than I was at this time last year."

For the Endowment Generation, those, like me, who were told by mortgage advisers in the mid-1980s that the best way to fund a new home was through an endowment policy, the stock market's wobble spells double trouble.

We are relying on rising share prices to pay back a 25-year debt, but it's not happening. When these schemes still had more than 10 years to run, stock market "corrections" were merely a notional destruction of wealth. But as the clock ticks down to pay day - mine has only 18 months left - red-faced insurance companies are sending out urgent warnings to many thousands of policy-holders, informing them that what has been built up in their accounts will fall well short of the amount required to clear the mortgage.

Given that between 1977 and 1999, stock markets enjoyed their greatest-ever bull run - 21 years of growth, with only two years of decline - many leading fund managers have performed miserably. They lost so much ground in the dark days after the World Trade Centre atrocities that even though share prices later recovered strongly, with four positive years between 2004 and 2007, millions of endowment policies are full of holes, made worse by Monday's nervous breakdown.

So please, whatever your view on the rights and wrongs of council-estate capitalism, let's have no more comments about anxiety over falling share prices being the preserve of a Square Mile squirearchy. You may loathe Tesco and all that it stands for, but its shares are probably underpinning your pension.

If that's the case, you enjoyed temporary relief yesterday after the US Federal Reserve cut interest rates by 0.75pc, the biggest reduction for more than 20 years. Tesco's shares jumped by 16p to 426½p, as London responded positively. For the market as a whole, however, it still looks like a long haul back to the FTSE 100's peak of 6,900 in December 1999. The index closed last night at 5740.

In America, where stock market indices have outperformed their British counterparts since the bursting of the dot.com bubble, not even the prospect of much cheaper money could lift the gloom. If anything, the Fed's move has dented confidence further because it had a whiff of desperation.

The world's pre-eminent central bank is supposed to be driving the car, steering it away from dead ends and holes in the ground. Instead, the Fed's chairman, Ben Bernanke, looks increasingly like a back-seat instructor, screaming conflicting messages as the vehicle lurches dangerously.

Just as prime minister John Major did in the dying days of the last Conservative government, Bernanke appears to be responding to headlines, making up monetary policy to fit the latest poll on consumer confidence or dip in share prices.

As a result, many on Wall Street are losing faith in the Fed's ability to avoid a crash.

The Bank of England, under Mervyn King, should not go down the same road. It would be completely inappropriate to start slashing interest rates here, where the threat of inflation is real. There is no premium in panic.

India's poor hold the key to its future

By Peter Foster
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 23/01/2008

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Worldstage: New Delhi

In a week when Gordon Brown has visited India and world markets have been rocked by fears of global recession, the stark contrasts between rich and poor in new India are more striking than ever.
# Peter Foster: Till we meet again

As this correspondent leaves the country for the last time, the disparities of wealth remain so vast, they are sometimes dizzying. How do you make sense of a world where you fly to Mumbai in the private jet of one of India's richest men one day and then spend the next in the teeming slums where nine million people live in conditions that, in Europe, would be declared unfit for animals?

Cows rest among the traffic in a busy street in India
Education and healthcare can remove the grinding poverty that afflicts most of India

One particular night, two years ago, the jet belonged to Vijay Mallya, owner of the Kingfisher beer brand and the man often styled as "India's Branson".

He was exhausted but very happy, having a few hours previously signed off on a new airline that would see his ever-present corporate banner take to the skies. He was brimming with excitement about the new India, a business story "of such humungous proportions", he said, that people in Europe and America "cannot comprehend".

As we lounged on the monogrammed upholstery, sipping a fine Chablis, Mallya punched a button on his arm-rest. A plasma screen television came to life and played a pilot of an advertisement for the new airline. It starred Mallya, exhorting would-be customers to "Fly the Good Times" with him, the self-styled "King of Good Times" in boom-town India.

As the plane touched down, its wing-tips seemed almost to brush the tin-roofed shanties that crowd the perimeter of Mumbai's airport, their sweet stink filtering through the air-conditioning system of Mallya's private Boeing.

On the tarmac, we went our separate ways - Mallya to his Bentley and penthouse; me and my notebook to a couple living in a hovel under a bridge in Dharavi slum.
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Shenaz and her husband, Subir, both in their early twenties, made their living sifting household rubbish for metal, squatting on the floor of their shack searching for anything that might be worth a few precious rupees - an iron bed spring, a brass door catch, a few strands of copper wire - anything that had a price with the scrap dealers. Like millions of others, they had come from a village in rural India to scratch a living in the city.

Theirs was - is - a pitiful existence, but as I rapidly came to realise on my travels in India, pity is a commodity that most people, however poor, don't have much time for.

Shenaz and Subir lived on the edge of an open sewer, in a wooden box not much bigger than two large packing cases, actually and metaphorically at the bottom of India's billion-man economic dust-heap. Surely village life was preferable to this, I wondered? Shenaz smiled. "Here we eat every night," she said, "and we even save some money."

Development, as the economists say, is a "messy business", but in India that particular truism is all too often an excuse for inaction and indifference.

Foreign visitors to India (and plenty of wealthy Indians besides) often allow themselves to think that India's poor - some 700 million people, depending on where you draw the line - are content in their poverty; that they know nothing else and somehow manage to keep smiling. But in my experience, that is not the case.

The truth is that India's poor are angry, and rightly so. Their schools are too often empty of teachers - India sits only above Uganda for absenteeism, according to a UN survey this year - and, without education, the poor have no chips to join in the game of global capitalism.

Public health is a disaster - almost half of all children in India are malnourished - a fact that can largely be ascribed to the fact that their political masters are running a kleptocracy, often of African proportions. Why else did the World Bank withhold £550 million in health-project loans to India last year, a humiliation also meted out to Chad, Kenya and Congo?

At times over the past four years it has been hard to love India (though very rarely Indians themselves), such is the contempt with which much of the country's elite treats the unwashed poor. Ministers deliver laudable speeches almost daily, economic summits are attended with back-slapping fanfare but the gap between intention and action remains Brahmaputra-wide.

Perhaps it is caste discrimination - still endemic in 80 per cent of Indian villages, says Human Rights Watch - that allows such indifference to the poor to prevail. Perhaps it is just that India's middle classes are enjoying themselves so much - the stock market increased by 50 per cent this year - that they don't see the connection between rural poverty and their own futures.

But like it or not, while the poor are India's burden today, they are also the key to it tomorrow. More than 70 per cent of Indians believe their country will be an economic superpower by 2020, according to a survey published last month by a German research organisation.

But that commonplace prediction won't come to pass unless and until Shenaz and Subir, and several hundred million people like them, receive the health and education they need to become the next generation of consumers and workers.

It is a matter of pressing self-interest, not charity, for India's elite classes, because, without that investment in the human foundations of India's economy, Mr Mallya and his customers might not be "flying the good times" for as long as they currently seem to think.