26 July 2013

The use and misuse of poverty lines ***

By Nitin Pai 
25th July 2013

The undesirable consequences of using a macroeconomic indicator as a criterion for entitlement.

Earlier this week, the UPA government’s Planning Commission announced that there has been a significant reduction in poverty in India over the last decade—essentially, during the UPA’s two terms in office—from 37.2% in 2004-05 to 21.9% in 2011-12. In other words, while there were 407.1 million poor people in India in 2004-05, the number had come down to 269.3 million by last year. The Planning Commission uses the Tendulkar method (see Rathish Balakrishnan’s explainer on the brief history of poverty lines in India) but it is quite likely that poverty will show a decline regardless of the method adopted to measure it. This is good news.

What was meant to advertise the UPA government’s achievement has actually put it in a spot. How can the UPA government now justify providing deep, open-ended food subsidies to over 822 million people? Does subsidising food for the non-poor, at tremendous cost and contingent liability to the exchequer, have the same justification as delivering essential food to those who absolutely cannot afford it? Not quite. If the Opposition parties mount a political challenge along these lines, it is unlikely that the UPA’s dubious poverty arithmetic will prevail. If.

Let’s consider a broader issue. What is a poverty line good for? Whatever the formula used, a poverty line provides a useful estimate of the level of poverty in a population. How it changes tells us whether public policies are helping or hindering poverty alleviation. The rate of change allows us to compare—albeit in hindsight—which set of policies are more effective in raising incomes. As the Planning Commission’s figures show, poverty declined at an average rate of 0.74% between 1993-94 and 2004-05, and at 2.18% between 2004-05 to 2011-12. This correlates with the higher economic growth rates achieved in the 2000s compared to the 1990s. This is consistent with the empirical observation that economic growth lifts people out of poverty.

What the poverty line is not good for is as a selection tool to identify beneficiaries for entitlements. This is because it is practically impossible to estimate whether a particular person earns more or less than the given poverty line income. This fact is lost on many policymakers and intellectuals—just how does one assess whether a person earns less or more than Rs 33 a day? There are no objective methods to test and verify incomes—no financial records, salary slips, bank accounts and so on. So we are left with self-declaration. However, if people know that those deemed below the poverty line will receive benefits from the government, they are likely to declare themselves poor. To take one example, in 2006, 91% of the families in Karnataka state declared themselves below poverty line.

The Planning Commission can set up expert groups that propose formulas involving automatic exclusion, automatic inclusion and scoring indices. Such methods only create an illusion of accuracy while creating a political economy—read corruption and political patronage—for the procurement of Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards. Note also that once a person acquires a BPL card, she is BPL for life. Such is the bluntness of poverty line-based schemes that they presume that a person, once deemed poor, will remain poor for life. This makes the BPL card even more valuable.

Moreover, for the sake of argument, even if we assume that it is possible to perfectly assess incomes, is it sensible to deny an entitlement to a person earning Rs 34, because the poverty line is set at Rs 33? What about Rs 35? Rs 36? Where do we stop? Any number you pick is arbitrary.

What this means is that while poverty lines are useful as macroeconomic performance indicators, they are useless when used as ‘entitlement lines’. If budgets were infinite, we could live with the leakages and inefficiencies in the knowledge that those who really deserve assistance are not deprived. However, budgets are not infinite, which means that public funds end up in the hands of undeserving people, while there isn’t enough money for essential public goods like education, health, security, roads, electricity and communications. Look at the state of our government schools, hospitals, police stations and roads and ask why they are in such a decrepit condition. It is politically suicidal for any government to cut back on subsidies and entitlements. It is fairly easy, in comparison, to cut down on capital expenditure on public goods.

That’s why misusing the poverty line as an entitlement line is counterproductive—it slows down the rate at which poverty declines. 

Kargil: A Ringside View

Issue Vol 21.4 Oct-Dec 2006 | Date : 24 Jul , 2013

It was the 12th of June 1999. Eleven days had passed since 8 Mountain Division (Mtn Div) of which, I was privileged to be the General Officer Commanding (GOC), had assumed operational responsibility of the Drass-Mushkoh sectors from the local formation. My Div was deployed in the Srinagar Valley since 1989 when Gen Malik, later the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) during the Kargil War, had moved it from Nagaland . We had brought the insurgency under control in the valley and were now inducted in the Kargil sector to restore the situation in Drass.

At the strategic level, besides embarrassing India, Pakistan’s aim was to internationalise the Kashmir issue, as it was losing its grip in the valley and had to do something sensational to bring the issue to international centre stage.

Thanks to the media, Tololing had become a household name and had defied capture for the better part of three weeks. 18 Grenadiers was in contact with the enemy but unfortunately and due to no fault of theirs, were unsuccessful in overcoming the opposition. The battalion, a part of 8 Mtn Div had moved into the Drass sector with 56 Mountain Brigade, its parent formation, along with 8 Sikh and 1 Naga in mid-May 99. 1 Bihar also a part of the brigade had been placed under 70 Infantry Brigade of 3 Infantry Division (Inf Div) in the Batalik sector.

The situation by the time my Div was given charge of the Drass sector was tense. Since mid-May we had not met with any success. Casualties were mounting and there was a discernible impression that Pak was having the better of us. To say that we were surprised would be an understatement. The fog of war was taking a heavy toll on troops who were fighting in the most inhospitable terrains with shortage of weapons and equipment. It was in this background that my formation was moved across the Zojila after deinducting from the counter-insurgency grid in the valley.Our orientation was directed towards fighting insurgency and suddenly with the developments in Kargil, we had to quickly change gear to meet the conventional threat from Pak. The record of the Div in the valley was noteworthy and we had earned a name for ourselves and established a good rapport with the local population. The decision to move the formation for the Kargil operations was a difficult one. While 8 Mtn Div was the Command reserve, moving it from the valley created a vacuum and the Rashtriya Rifles formations took some time to restore the situation.

The timing of the Pak intrusion was intriguing and perhaps was the reason for its initial success, which took the Indian Army and the country by total surprise. The perfidy of launching an operation when efforts were being made after the Lahore summit to improve relations between the two sides should serve as a lesson regarding the degree of trust with which we must respond to peace overtures by our neighbour. At the strategic level, besides embarrassing India, Pakistan’s aim was to internationalise the Kashmir issue, as it was losing its grip in the valley and had to do something sensational to bring the issue to international centre stage.

Pak perceived that the political situation in India was fragile and in such an environment the Indian polity would not have the stomach to retaliate to any aggressive designs. Militarily, Pak selected areas for the intrusions which would offer minimum resistance and where they could exploit the large gaps in the defences. Also by launching such an operation, Pak aimed to secure maximum territory for strategic and tactical gains, change the status of the Line of Control (LoC), revive insurgency in the valley and elsewhere in J&K as well as isolate Ladakh from Srinagar. It was a highly ambitious plan and since it surprised the Indian Army, it met with tremendous initial success.

Terrorist attack on Indian Railways: Cause for Concern

An hour past midday on 13 June 2013, Maoists attacked the Dhanbad-Patna Intercity Express near Jamui district in Bihar, killing three persons and injuring six passengers.The train was attacked despite being escorted by five armed personnel from the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and Railway Protection Special Force (RPSF). The dead included a Railway Protection Force personnel, a Bihar Police sub inspector and a passenger. The Maoists also made off with one AK 47 and two INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifles from the police escorts.

This was the third attack by Maoists on the Indian Railways this year, the earlier two incidents relating to blowing up of rail tracks. Attacks on India’s communication infrastructure represent a serious challenge to the nations’ security establishment, one that can adversely affect growth besides having serious connotations on move of forces during war and in other conflict situations.

Attacks on the rail network have been a part of Maoist strategy since long. In 2009 and 2010, the large number of attacks directed against Indian Railways prompted preventive measures, which led to a decline in such incidents in the next two years, as indicated by the table below . However, the malaise, while contained, has by no means been obliterated and has the potential to rear its ugly head again. The June attack is a pointer in this direction as the attack was conducted by day – a departure from Maoist methodology that emphasised conducting such attacks by night. Evidently, the confidence level of forces inimical to India is on the rise.

Attack On20092010201120122013
Railway Tracks15221042
Railway Station17441_
Railway employees         (Abductions)533__

On the internal security situation, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde reiterated that LWE remains India’s gravest challenge and the strategy to combat violence in these areas has to be a combination of security measures coupled with development. While measures to improve security over the rail network have yielded positive results, much more needs to be done on this front. Indian Railways play a vital role in connecting remote regions, which is both a strategic necessity and also a more economical mode of transport for development. Such networks not only connect backward areas to metropolitan cities but also are six times more energy-efficient than road and four times more economical. Presently, when many industrial projects are languishing due to environmental regulations, the social costs in terms of environment damage or degradation are significantly lower in rail. Rail construction costs are approximately six times lower than road for comparable levels of traffic. It is the only major transport mode capable of using any form of primary energy. It is primarily for this reason that railway infrastructure is targeted by Maoists to cause dysfunction to the state by prohibiting any development in that region.

Indian Railway network is divided into seventeen zones out of which five zones (4, 5, 16, 15, 14), comprising East Central Railway, Eastern Railway, South Eastern Railway, are spread over the red corridor (see map). There have been more than 100 terrorist attacks on Indian Railways infrastructure in eastern sector alone in the last five years(See Table). The aim is to loot weapons from the police forces placed to protect railways property as also to create a sense of fear amongst businessmen/contractors and gain psychological ascendency among masses.

Railway lines in districts of West Bengal and Assam such as Karbi Anglong, North Cachar Hills, Golaghat, Udalguri, Jorhat and Jalpaiguri have repeatedly been targeted. These fall under Eastern Railway Zone which particularly needs to protected as they are the lifelines to our North Eastern borders. Eastern Central Region where maximum number of attacks has taken place is unique in the sense that both goods and passenger traffic assume great importance in view of the huge coal loading in the coal-bearing belt of Dhanbad Division of Jharkhand state and densely populated area of Bihar. Frequent attacks compel railway authorities to suspend trains causing inconvenience to passengers and disrupting business, trade and other development activities for days.

Why Buffett Bailed on India

By Willie Pesek Jul 23, 2013 

India has long been viewed as a value investor’s dream: rapid growth, 1.2 billion people pining for a taste of globalization, and underdeveloped industries ripe for turnarounds. So it surprised few when the genre’s guru, Warren Buffett, placed a bet on the world’s ninth-biggest economy.

What did come as a surprise, though, was last week’s decision by the billionaire’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. to give up on India’s insurance market after just two years. Adding to the drama, the withdrawal came the same week India unveiled plans to open the economy as never before to foreign-direct investment.

William Pesek is based in Tokyo and writes on economics, markets and politics throughout the Asia-Pacific region. ... MORE

Buffett isn’t alone in voting with his feet. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., ArcelorMittal (MT) SA and Posco are pulling back on investments in India that they had announced with great fanfare. What’s scaring foreigners away? A rampant political dysfunction that has stopped India’s progress cold.

Headwinds from New Delhi are contributing to the slowest growth rates in a decade, a record current-account deficit and a 7.9 percent plunge in the rupee this year. Fiscal neglect has bond traders demanding higher yields for government debt than India wants to pay. But the most devastating no-confidence vote is coming from the big, long-term money India needs to boost its competitiveness. Foreign-direct investment slid about 21 percent last fiscal year, and this one doesn’t look promising.

Biggest Democracy

In theory, no Western executive or investor can ignore the vast potential of Indian consumers, 29 percent of whom are under age 15. India’s geopolitical importance is rising in step with China’s ambitions. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, visiting New Delhi this week, is hoping to deepen Washington’s bond with a possible bulwark against Beijing’s influence, as well as increase bilateral trade.

The problem is an Indian government that won’t get out of its own way. The long debate over foreign-investment limits says it all. In September 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government passed a law allowing big retailers to open stores directly in India, yet no one has. Reasons are legion: too many prerequisites; constraints on whom goods can be purchased from; a raft of regulations limiting franchise models and factory construction; and the hair-pulling need to negotiate separately with each of India’s 28 states.

India has fallen into a self-destructive pattern of relenting on the big issues, then killing would-be investors with the details. Take the experience of furniture retailer Ikea of Sweden AB, which in January won approval to open outlets in India. Not content with the Swedish icon investing about $2 billion, the government played hardball. It tried to bar Ikea from selling food in its stores; Ikea stood its ground. But the damage was done.

Executives fully expect to have to navigate India’s notoriously bad infrastructure, rigid and often unskilled labor markets, red tape and official corruption. They’re less keen on tripping over the fine print of vaguely written laws and local power brokers with agendas at odds with New Delhi. Headline-making disputes involving household names like Ikea, Wal-Mart and Berkshire don’t help India’s image.

The Indian army’s new strike corps

By Rohan Joshi on July 23, 2013

Five key questions that the country’s leadership must answer.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) gave its approval last week to the raising mountain strike corps along the border with China last week. The Indian army’s only “China-centric” strike corps — first mooted in 2009 — will reportedly cost Rs. 62,000 crores (about $10 billion) and will raise over 45,000 soldiers. Reaction to the announcement has been mixed; some commentators were encouraged by the government’s move, while others have taken the view that the reaction is latent and cannot mask the very real structural challenges that India’s armed forces face today. China’s own reaction to the announcement was muted.

Indeed, opinion was also divided among friends and INI colleagues. However, after vigorous debate via email, the following questions were arrived at that the powers-that-be ought to be answering with regard to the new strike corps:

1. Given the timing of the approval by the CCS, it is conceivable that the motivation is related to the Border Defense Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), put forward by China but received with limited enthusiasm in India. Should India continue to negotiate the BDCA with China, additional muscle deployed along the border with China can effectively convey red lines in negotiations and compromises. But what good is a border defense cooperation agreement anyway, when India and China have different perceptions on what actually constitutes the “border” between the two countries?

2. Important questions need to be asked on just how India expects to build capacity for a new strike corps numbering 45,000 soldiers. Will the divisions and brigades under the corps constitute new raising? If the answer is a partial yes, then what component of the new corps will absorb existing formations and units? There appears to be very little clarity on the subject currently publicly available.

Assuming there will be an element of new raising, to what extent will the accretion be on a “save and raise” basis vs. only net spend? This is important because it carries with it long-term financial implications at a time when there is additional pressure on defense spending as a result of the country’s slowing economy. Questions of how additional capacity will be built also need to be answered. The Indian army already suffers from a shortage of 10,000 officers and over 30,000 soldiers in other ranks. If additional capacity has to be raised, what will its source be?

3. Next, how effective can we expect the new strike corps to be without a mechanized component? What utility can mountain divisions really provide as a strike force, given the terrain? What is the airborne component to lift and shift forces, if there is no mechanized component? How effective can the new formation be when the infrastructure needed for the rapid mobility of men and material along the border with China continues to be woeful?

4. Will the new strike corps be a dual-tasked formation (i.e., will it play a role on the Pakistan border, if the situation arises) or will it be a formation solely focused on the Tibetan plateau, as some media reports suggest? Given what we know about its constituent units, how effective can the formation be in areas like Ladakh, or in plain or desert terrain along the border with Pakistan?

5. The final point gets to the crux of the issue where India is concerned: our collective thinking continues to miss the forest for the trees on defense-related issues. We have been unable to break away from an army and land border-centric mindset that dominated our strategic thinking 65 years ago (back then, probably with good reason).If we really are serious about developing capabilities to raise the costs for a Chinese misadventure, would the resources not be better spent on the Indian Navy instead?

India continues to complain about being strategically outflanked by China, but has not done enough to address threats in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Navy is stretched for resources and strategic projectsmeant to augment its capabilities have been waylaid. Instead, we are about to create a new corps and raise as many people as the entire Indian Navy has today without adequate consideration of deterrence already at play where China is concerned. Indeed, what is the point of India’s nuclear weapons and missiles if it continues to obsess over and dedicate asymmetric sums of money and resources towards offensive formations that can achieve, at best, limited tactical gains if a border conflict with China were to break out?

Ultimately, bolstering capabilities along the border with China will always be welcome, but the effectiveness of such an endeavor will be limited if we don’t develop the necessary infrastructure along the border, don’t address shortages in troops and equipment and continue to ignore the growing asymmetries between the Indian and Chinese navies.

Unfamiliar territory

Manoj Joshi
24 July 2013

Last week, Border Security Force personnel guarding a section of the railway being built to link Jammu to the Kashmir Valley fired on a crowd of protestors at Dharm Sharti village near Ramban, killing four and injuring a dozen. The circumstances around the case are murky. Some allege that the BSF desecrated a Koran, others claim that they walked into a mosque wearing shoes. Another account says that a local Imam's brother was detained by a BSF ambush party the evening before and following an argument over his identity papers, a crowd attacked the BSF camp, leading to the firing. The BSF had handed over its security responsibilities to the Central Reserve Police Force since 2005 so it is surprising that the force at Ramban was allegedly conducting "ambushes" and detaining people. The BSF's task there was to specifically guard the railway project. This is a matter that requires some investigation. 

The incident has caused widespread protest in Kashmir and once again brought into focus the atrocious record of the BSF in Kashmir, for which the responsibility must rest with the Union Home Ministry. When the force was moved into the Valley in the wake of the uprising that began in January 1990, it had never participated in a law and order operation, at least for a sustained period of time. However over the next decade and more, the BSF was, in addition to the Indian Army, the key paramilitary force involved in combating the Kashmir insurgency. 

From the outset, there were charges of serious human rights violations against several BSF units and personnel. The Union Home Ministry did not provide the force with any guidance and simply threw it into the turbulent waters of Kashmir and expected it to learn how to swim. Led by its Inspector General Ashok Patel, it built up its intelligence wing, the G-Branch, by turning around captured militants. Some of the "turning around" involved use of torture. The force's Papa II detention centre became dreaded for what went on inside them and to date there has been little or no accounting for what happened there. 

Given the circumstances the BSF did a remarkable job and even though it was not trained it took on the militancy frontally. But its record will forever be tainted by the excesses of some of its rogue personnel and the failure of its senior officers and the MHA to try and remedy the situation. 

While in the case of the Army, there were several officers and men who were sentenced to prison terms for human rights violation. There has been virtually no BSF official who has been punished for his actions which ranked among, if we may say so, world class atrocities. Among these were incidents of arson that killed hundreds in Lal Chowk in Srinagar and the Bijbehara massacre of October 1993 that led to the deaths of 31 people. In 1996, all twelve persons who faced a court martial for the Bijbehara incident were acquitted. More recently in 2010, a BSF commandant was accused of ordering the shooting a 17-year old boy for no reason other than that he and his friends shouted slogans against the BSF. 

The sad fact is that the BSF procedure, unlike that of the Army, has failed to convict a single person for the human rights excesses carried out in the two decade period the force was deployed in Jammu and Kashmir, except in the case of the rape of Mubina Gani in 1990. 

As part of the reform of the security system suggested by the Group of Ministers in 2002, the BSF was designated specifically as a "border guarding force" and tasked to look after the India-Pakistan border and the India-Bangladesh border. In the latter case, the force once again got into trouble. On one hand, there have been charges of its complicity with cattle smugglers, and on the other, it has been accused of using excess force against Indians and Bangladeshis. According to a Bangladeshi human rights organization, so far this year, 15 people have been shot on the border by the BSF and many more have been abducted and tortured, an Indian outfit has claimed that more than 1,000 people, mainly Indians have been shot on the border by the BSF in the last decade. Some of the claims are, no doubt, propaganda, but the reports of the past decade are too insistent to be completely untrue. 

Primary blame for the BSF's predicament must rest on the Ministry of Home Affairs. They were never raised as a counterinsurgency force, yet, in 1990, they were pitched into Kashmir. Even as a border guarding force, the BSF was originally viewed as a trip wire for the India-Pakistan border, one that would act as a screen against any Pakistan army thrust into India and was thus equipped and organized like the Army. But the India-Bangladesh border is a very different place with lots of human movement back and forth, and requires a force which has a great deal of tact, as well as integrity. Unfortunately, both have been in short supply where the BSF's record is concerned. 

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

*** Unprotected on the front

M.P. Anil Kumar : Fri Jul 26 2013

If only the country would foster a culture of respect for the soldieri

The sniffer-dog squatted on its haunches. Lieutenant Manish Singh sensed the dog couldn't scent the spoor of blood anymore. He signalled his troops to crouch and scan sharply for their quarry — a terrorist who escaped after being shot by a squad of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) — as one could easily hide in the terraced maize fields of Rajwar (Kupwara district). Gunfire rang out; he sighted the Afghan spraying bullets. As the six commandos returned fire, Singh felt the shooting pain of a bullet piercing through his lumbar and his legs went numb. Disregarding his state, he let off a burst from his gun and felled the quarry. Seeing his bloodied back, his men rushed to his side, but he ordered them to ensure the terrorist was dead.

He was evacuated to Srinagar. Severe blood loss and multiple organ failure had him on the ropes but he recovered remarkably. But the bullet smashed his spinal cord, paralysed him from the waist down, and condemned him to lifelong wheelchair mobility. He was decorated with the Shaurya Chakra for his bravery on September 25, 2012.

What rankled his parents most was the indifference of the government and the media. "Instead of recounting what our son did, rats biting off his toe made front-page news," they resentfully lamented. A stray bullet hit a commando on the head in the same operation; the helmet yielded, the nerve damage he sustained has enfeebled an arm.

I asked Singh whether he wore a flak jacket. He said no, as the ordinary bulletproof jacket with its 8 kg metal plate not only encumbered but weighed you down as well. What if he had worn the lighter, more ballistic-resistant Kevlar vest? He said it might have prevented the spinal injury.

The flak jacket and combat helmet examples show how remiss the government is in not providing the troops engaged in counterinsurgency operations (CI ops) with the best protective kit. Singh and his buddy are from the Special Forces. So you can imagine how badly neglected the RR and regular troops deployed for CI ops are.

Kevlar body armour is rated as bang for the buck but the excuse trotted out is trite — the prohibitive cost. If you trawl the internet, you'll find that these are produced in Kanpur, too, and it's affordable. One per cent of the defence budget can kit nearly three lakh troops with both vest and helmet. In fact, ex-Kanpur stuff protects the forces of the UN and Nato.

Though they shot him, the RR could only hurt the Afghan terrorist. The reason is that we use 5.56 mm ammo. The basis for switching from 7.62 to 5.56 mm calibre was strategic; it was argued that the 7.62 mm round had overkill capability, apart from being relatively heavy. With its lower killing power, 5.56 mm bullets were likely to injure the enemy, thus necessitating the employment of more soldiers to evacuate the wounded, resulting in the insidious depletion of enemy fighting strength. The idea originated in the West. Their armies made the transition and we followed suit. But this make no military sense for us. Why not shift to bigger calibre weapons for CI ops?

Assessing the Bodh Gaya Terror Attack

July 25, 2013

The ‘serial bombing’ on July 7, 2013 at the sacred Mahabodhi temple complex in Bodh Gaya marks the beginning of a dangerous trend at attacking symbols of India’s cultural heritage. As many as thirteen bombs were planted, of which three were defused, resulting in injuries to two monks. Fortunately there were no casualties.

Bodh Gaya is a world heritage site recognized by UNESCO. India has as many as 30 such sites. Along with the rock-cut monuments of Ajanta caves and the stupas at Sanchi, the Mahabodhi temple is venerated by the Buddhists. These sites represent important milestones in artistic and religious development.

Terror attacks have occurred on world heritage sites elsewhere, notable among them being the Bamiyan in Afghanistan (by Taliban) and Borobodur Temples in Indonesia.

Some Representative World Heritage Sites in India and Neighbourhood

CountryHeritage Sites
AfghanstanHas two sites.The Bamiyan Valley: (1st to the 13th centuries) combining  various cultural influences into the Gandhara school of Buddhist art.) In March 2001 the two standing Buddha statues at the site were destroyed ion an attack by the Taliban.
2.Temple of Preah Vihear
IndiaHas 30 heritage sites.
1.Ajanta Caves: (paintings and sculptures from 2nd century BC down to 6th century AD).
2.Ellora Caves: has 3structures sacred to three faiths-Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism
3. Sanchi monuments(2nd century BC)venerated by Buddhists (2nd century BC) A major Buddhist centre.
4.The Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya: is significant for the most important event in Lord Buddha’s life- the attainment of Enlightenment under the bodhi tree. Its first temple was built by Emperor Asoka in 3rd century BC although the current brick temple dates to 5th century.
IndonesiaBorobodur Temple: Located in the island of Java, it dates back to the 8th century AD and has some 72 stupas.
JapanBuddhist Monuments (made of wood, including in the Horyu-Ji area (7th or early 8th century),
LaosTown of Luang Prabang: Fusion of traditional architecture and  European colonial architecture  (19th and 20th centuries)
2. Vat Phou and associated ancient settlements 
MalaysiaFour heritage sites Gunung Mulu National Park, Kinabalu National Park,
Historic cities of the Straits of \Malacca.                  
NepalLumbini the birthplace of Lord Buddha (623 B.C)
PakistanSix heritage sites of which Taxila (5th c. BC to 2nd c. AD) located on Indus is the most well known. It was an important Buddhist centre of learning.
PhilippinesIt has five sites
ThailandFive sites. City of Ayutthaya most well known, was founded in 1350,and destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century.
VietnamHas seven sites
Source: Extracted from World Heritage website.
The Link 

Could the terror attack in Bodh Gaya have any link to the Rohingya problem in Myanmar? Circumstantial evidence would appear to point in that direction particularly Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Saeed’s twitter threats to strike on Buddhist holy places to avenge attacks on Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. If this is true, this would not be the first time that violence has been resorted to on Indian soil in reaction to Myanmar’s Rohingya problem. Some earlier incidents like a mob vandalizing the Buddha statue in the Buddha Park in Lucknow in August 2012 as a reaction to the treatment of their Muslim brethren in Assam and Myanmar suggests a dangerous trend. The Dalai Lama, it is reported, too received threats from extremist groups. Further, in October 2012 when suspected Indian Mujahideen (IM) operatives were arrested for their role in 2012 Pune blast they disclosed plans to target Hyderabad, and Bodh Gaya.

Myanmar’s challenge

Myanmar, going through a significant transitional phase, is faced with many challenges. Possibly the biggest challenge before the new democratizing government is that of ethnic reconciliation. In 2012, violence had broken out between Buddhists and Rohingyas in Rakhine State which left 192 dead and 140,000 displaced. In March this year violence spread to other parts of the country including Meikhtila (central Myanmar) where 44 people died and 13,000 were displaced. In the past, U Nu had declared Buddhism the state religion and Ne Win’s ‘Burmese way to socialism’ made for a curious combination of Buddhism, nationalism and socialism. The Saffron Revolution in 2007 was the biggest anti-government protest since the 1988 uprising, in which the monks (who number around 500,000)) took active part and the Shwedagon Pagoda (Yangon) once again came into spotlight. Then, as in 1988 some of the protesters sought refuge by crossing the border into India’s northeastern states like Mizoram.

The continuing violence against the Rohingyas mars Myanmar’s claims of reform. The Rohingya population (mainly concentrated in the Rakhine state) has been denied citizenship and has been discriminated against. It is confronted with a “two child policy for the Rohingyas” and a proposed legislation to ban Buddhists marrying Muslims. In addition the vitriolic pronouncements (directed against the Muslims) of the Mandalay based monk, Wirathu who leads the 969 Movement, have further inflamed a worsening situation. The national leadership, including Aung San Suu Kyi has not taken any forthright and bold position on this issue. With the holiest of Buddhist places of pilgrimage such as the Shwedagon Pagoda located in Yangon, Myanmar would have a vested interest in preserving its priceless heritage.

Regional Implications

Myanmar’s Buddhist majority nationalism has sometimes been compared with the situation in Sri Lanka under President Rajapaksa where the Muslim and Christian minorities feel increasingly threatened. As the original home of Buddhism, the conflict involving Buddhists in each of these countries does not augur well for the region especially for India which has a plural society.

The Rohingya problem once again has called into question the ASEAN principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of its members. While the Buddhists are in a majority in Myanmar, they are in a minority in many neighbouring ASEAN States. The separatist movement in southern Thailand has made Buddhists their target. Buddhists have also been attacked in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The volatile situation in Myanmar has the potential to create instability in Southeast Asia and the Myanmar government may be forced to rethink its Rohingya policy.

Implications for India

The Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai led a delegation to Nay Pyi Taw for the 13th Myanmar-India Foreign Office Consultations. Meeting only a day after the blasts, the two sides exchanged views on the subject, especially as a Myanmar monk was among the two injured by the blast. India and Myanmar have a track record of cooperation on security matters. Perhaps the time is now ripe to intensify and enhance this dialogue. This was reinforced by the Indian delegation’s meeting with Myanmar C-in-C of Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing regarding enhancing cooperation in the defence sector through cooperation in training, border region management and combating drugs in the border region.

Provocative acts of terror or hate speeches have the potential to disturb the ethnic and religious harmony in India, which is already under various pressures due to economic transformation and modernization.

The intent and purpose of the serial blasts in Bodh Gaya is to create societal fissures. India will, given its pluralism, always remain a target for terror attacks and therefore strengthening the security apparatus is of utmost importance. The economic consequences of such selected attacks are also stark and could adversely impact on the flow of tourists to the country. Bihar attracts a large number of foreign tourists, majority of them visit the Mahabodhi temple. Many dignitaries from Myanmar, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Japan, Nepal, etc mark Bodh Gaya in their itinerary.

Not surprisingly, the Bihar government has demanded a professionally trained security force to guard the Bodh Gaya sites. The blasts there have come as a warning; luckily the damage to life and property was limited. Religious places and cultural sites are centres of huge gathering and conglomeration with visitors from all over the world. Given the crowd and the hustle and bustle such places become targets of terror attacks. Recently, the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, regarded as the biggest human gathering, fortunately did not encounter any untoward incidents.

The Way Forward

The incident in Bodh Gaya raises at least two important challenges to India’s security – the threat to both its architectural heritage as well as the warp and woof of social fabric. While law and order is a state subject, but because of India’s international obligations to protect the heritage sites the onus is on the centre. Increased cross-border mobility, instantaneous access to information, easy reach to small arms in tandem with low-intensity conflict, have combined to increase the burden of responsibilities for both the centre and the states. This often leads to lax implementation of standard operating procedures. As the challenges to state security multiply, there will be a greater need for closer consultation and coordination among the centre and the states.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.


- Pogroms and political virtue
Mukul Kesavan

The stock response of the Bharatiya Janata Party to the argument that Godhra makes Narendra Modi politically untouchable is “What about 1984?” There are several inadequate comebacks to that question and the best of them is that no one should use one pogrom to justify another. I once heard this used to good effect by the columnist, Aakar Patel, in a television discussion. This answer has the virtue of not being party-political nor attempting in some grotesque way to demonstrate that the pogrom permitted and encouraged by the Congress government in Delhi in 1984 was morally less horrible than the pogrom that occurred on the BJP’s watch in Gujarat in 2002.

The problem with this response, though, is that it doesn’t answer the questions that fly in close formation behind the “What about 1984?” question, namely, “Why is the BJP worse than the Congress?” and, relatedly, “Why is Narendra Modi any worse than Rajiv Gandhi?” specially given the latter’s infamous comment, “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes,” which seemed, retrospectively, to rationalize the systematic killing of Sikhs in the days that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

These are important questions regardless of who asks them. The fact that they are often asked by Narendra Modi’s unlovely supporters isn’t a good reason for not taking them seriously.

It has been nearly thirty years since the earth shook, and for those who didn’t live through the horror of those days as reasoning adults, it is worth rehearsing the hideous significance of 1984 in the history of the republic.

There had been communal violence right through the early history of the republic with mostly Muslims at the receiving end. The complicity of the lower echelons of the state apparatus in this violence — Uttar Pradesh’s Provincial Armed Constabulary was notorious for its institutionalized animus against Muslims — was widely recognized. But the scale on which Sikhs were killed, the participation of Congressmen at every level, the total complicity of the police and the fact that the butchery happened in the country’s capital, in Delhi, made 1984 a watershed in the history of the republic.

In a previous column, I wrote about Modi doubling down on the Gujarat killings by refusing any expression of regret or responsibility and also by continuing to sponsor individuals like Maya Kodnani who had taken an active part in the violence. In this context, we should remember the way in which Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress exploited the Delhi pogrom by running a fear-mongering election campaign that suggested that 1984 was a feature not a bug.

I remember a Congress advertisement that unsubtly suggested that Indians ought to vote for the party of firm governance if their taxi-drivers made them nervous, this, remember, at a time when Sikhs drove taxis in large numbers in Indian cities. I remember the Congress’s election doggerel: “Chunauti nayi, ek sandesh,/ Mazboot hai haath, akhand hai desh.” This, roughly translated, encouraged voters to vote for the ‘Hand’ (the Congress’s election symbol) if they wanted a government capable of preserving India’s unity. The use of the word, akhand, to indicate the unity and integrity of the nation was significant: the Congress, unprecedentedly, was using a word from the sangh parivar’s playbook, stealing the idea of a majoritarian “akhand Bharat”.

Similarly, the reluctance of the Congress to purge itself of members accused of participating in the 1984 pogrom, its willingness to field them as parliamentary candidates and to appoint them to ministerial office, doesn’t add up to a record that can be virtuously contrasted with the BJP’s and Narendra Modi’s brazenness after Godhra.

Hurrying the law in the time of retirement

Raju Ramachandran

Supreme Court judges who are about to leave office should stay away from cases in which judgments are likely to be reserved

In his dissent in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) case last week, Justice A.R. Dave said he had to be “quick and short” because the Chief Justice was soon retiring. Due to paucity of time, he said the judges had no discussion on the subject before they started writing their judgments. In making this public disclosure of the judges not being able to confer, Justice Dave is not alone. Distinguished predecessors over the last 40 years have voiced syingimilar complaints. It is worth recalling examples of some momentous cases where collective decision-making did not happen.

Kesavananda Bharati (1973) is the most celebrated case in Indian constitutional law. It is the majority opinion in this case which laid down the basic structure doctrine (that the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution did not extend to destroying its essential features). In his judgment, Justice Chandrachud (a ‘minority’ judge) wrote that the impending retirement of Chief Justice Sikri did not leave enough time after the conclusion of arguments for an exchange of draft judgments. Of the 13 judges who constituted the bench, he said that he had the benefit of fully knowing the views of only four of them. Later, Justice Jaganmohan Reddy (a ‘majority’ Judge) wrote in his autobiography (The Judiciary I Served, 1999) that there were only eight judges at a conference convened by Sikri to discuss the case. He records that Justice A.N. Ray had told him that he had not been invited, that when he asked Sikri why some had not been called he said that he knew the views of those others but not those of the judges he had invited, and that he (Reddy) had told Sikri that it was not proper.

Land act

Some years later, Chandrachud as Chief Justice presided over a five judge Constitution Bench, which heard a challenge to the validity of the Urban Land (Ceiling & Regulation) Act, 1976 (Bhim Singhji, 1980). The judgment was delivered on November 13, 1980 since Justice Krishna Iyer was retiring two days later. Justice Tulzapurkar delivered a detailed judgment striking down the Act. On the other hand, Justice A.P. Sen wrote a detailed judgment declaring certain provisions of Sections 23 and 27 of the Act as invalid, but the rest of the Act as valid. In a very short order of seven paragraphs, Justices Chandrachud and Bhagwati declared the Act valid except for Section 27 (1) (unlike Sen who found fault with Section 23 as well) saying that “fuller reasons” would follow later. Krishna Iyer wrote an uncharacteristically short judgment agreeing with Chandrachud and Bhagwati saying: “I have not had the leisurely advantage of my learned Brothers’ full judgments save some discussion but my impending retirement impels a hurried recording of my reasons for subscribing to the order passed just now.” Almost five years later, just before Chandrachud’s retirement in July 1985, a short order was delivered by him and Bhagwati saying that they had read Krishna Iyer’s judgment closely and found that there was nothing useful that they could add to it. If the full text of Krishna Iyer’s judgment had been available to them “sufficiently in advance,” they said they would not have delivered a separate order saying “fuller reasons” will follow! And so the majority view is articulated only in the self-confessedly “hurried” judgment of Krishna Iyer.


Many years later, a nine judge Bench of the Supreme Court decided by a majority that primacy in the matter of appointments to the superior judiciary vests with the Judiciary and not the Executive (Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association, 1993). M.M. Punchhi, a dissenting judge, wrote in his judgment that he had hoped that some “meaningful meetings” would be held, so that the court could strive to reach a unanimous decision. He complained that he was “overtaken” when he received the draft opinion of Justice J.S. Verma for himself and on behalf of four others. In despair he wrote “the fait accompli appeared a stark reality; the majority opinion an accomplishment.” Here there was no retirement looming large, and so one can only wonder why meetings could not be held. These instances, spread over four decades, are telling.

Emergency Alert

Sagari Chhabra : Sat Jul 20 2013

Emergency Retold is a new edition of a book on the Emergency by the distinguished journalist Kuldip Nayar, released on June 26, the 38th anniversary of the Emergency. 

Kuldip Nayar was arrested under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) in 1975, held in Tihar jail and only released on a writ of habeas corpus. He then toured the country and kept a record of the darkest chapter of India's democratic life. The book is a valuable account of the times by a prisoner of conscience.

How does one explain the Emergency to a new generation, Nayar asks in his new preface? More than one lakh opposition leaders and critics were detained without trial. The Cabinet gave post-facto sanction. Power was vested in Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her son, Sanjay Gandhi. Nayar also feels that institutions never regained their original vigour and sanctity. In other words, the idea of India was derailed.

In the book, Nayar recounts how the Emergency came about and freely takes names in his courageous signature style. After the ruling of the Allahabad High Court setting aside her election on grounds of corruption, Indira Gandhi responded to the advice of West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray and her younger son, Sanjay. Secrecy was paramount. Nayar details that "Ray and Mrs Gandhi drove to Rashtrapati Bhavan… The president understood the implications quickly ... He did not think of demurring".

On returning, Gandhi decided on a Cabinet meeting at 6 am. She knew that the arrest of Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai and several hundreds more was going according to plan. On the morning of June 26, censorship was imposed on all press writings related to the internal situation. Nayar records that after the initial arrests, there was almost no resistance and if there was any, it was "tackled". A few leaders like George Fernandes and Subramanian Swamy went underground.

Indira Gandhi thought that Parliament would certainly endorse the Emergency, so she convened it on July 21, 1975. The book quotes some of the leaders who, however, spoke up against the Emergency: AK Gopalan (CPI-M), Mohan Dharia (Congress-I, expelled), Era Sezhiyan, PG Mavlankar, and SA Shamim. The CPI gave full support to Gandhi, with Indrajit Gupta stating that the proclamation of Emergency was justified and everybody supported it. However, a few newspapers like The Indian Express and The Statesman tried to stand up against censorship. Express proprietor Ramnath Goenka was threatened that his son and daughter-in-law would be interned under MISA.

In the Supreme Court, Shanti Bhushan argued that the right to personal liberty was not a gift of the Constitution but a fundamental concept of democracy, which could not be suspended. However, the Supreme Court ruled that in view of the presidential order of June 27, 1975, no person had any locus standi to challenge the legality of a detention order. Only Justice HR Khanna dissented, but his was a minority voice.

Talking to the Taliban

July 25, 2013
President Obama is losing sight of our interests in Afghanistan. Again.

Despite clearly laying out U.S. interests in Afghanistan at West Point in 2009—disrupting, dismantling, and defeating Al Qaeda—the president faltered when he authorized a nation-building-cum-counterinsurgency strategy that far outstripped that goal. Mission leap, not mission creep. Now the White House is allowing its efforts to get the Taliban to the negotiating table to obstruct more important aims.

The path to negotiations in Afghanistan has been a troubled one. Thus, a White House desperate for good news was quick to trumpet the long-awaited, painfully brokered grand opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf state of Qatar. But hope erupted into disappointment, as it so often has since President Obama took the reins of foreign policy in 2009. President Hamid Karzai condemned the office and abruptly cancelled a more crucial negotiations processthat over the status of U.S. forces in Afghanistan post-2014.

Why did our President Karzai respond to an opening towards peace in this way? A sign. The Taliban representatives in Qatar had posted a sign in front of their office that read, “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Karzai was widely ridiculed for his hostile reaction over such a “cosmetic” issue and the White House, in frustration, let loose a leak that the “zero option,” that would see all U.S. troops depart by the end of 2014, had been mooted within the confines of the National Security Council. The message from Washington was clear: You need us more than we need you. Play ball on talks, or else.

The trouble is, this was not really about a sign, but rather was a consequence of larger problems in the U.S.-Afghan relationship and, in particular, Washington’s imperious approach to the issue of talks with the Taliban. This stems from President Obama’s misprioritization of U.S. aims in Afghanistan.

Our core interests vis-à-vis Afghanistan are the pursuit and containment of terrorists with transnational ambitions and the maintenance of sufficient regional stability. The latter concerns Pakistan—an unstable, paranoid nuclear power with a penchant for sponsoring militants—far more than Afghanistan (U.S. policymakers often fail to appreciate the extent to which the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan has destabilized Pakistan). A negotiated settlement between the Kabul government and the Taliban movement is a useful but not essential for either of these interests. This is not to say that a negotiated settlement with the Taliban is not a desirable outcome—first and foremost for Afghans—and that America does not have a role to play on this issue. But, the pursuit of talks must not be allowed to obfuscate America’s ability to keep a residual force of special operators, trainers and air support in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

How can Washington get back on track to play a positive role in Afghanistan’s political future?

Step back. “Afghan-led” is a term that has been bandied about liberally in Washington, London, and the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). However, the Afghan National Security Forces have only recently taken the lead on security operations across the country. The same must now occur for talks. Thus far, the U.S. has sought to coerce and prod Kabul to the table, often in ways that are callous to Afghan interests and oddly disconnected from our own. Talks must be pursued at Kabul’s pace and in line with Kabul’s interests. Last year, the Afghan High Peace Council assumed a more robust approach when it visited Islamabad and announced a five-step “road map” toward a negotiated settlement. This is encouraging, not only because Afghans are taking the lead, but that the center of gravity for talks need not be the Presidential Palace. Indeed, if President Karzai leaves office as he should next year, the Afghan government will be in a stronger position for talks having taken control over most insurgent prisoners and assumed authority over the “night raids” so feared by the Taliban. These are two important “sticks” now held by Afghan government.

Facilitate Karzai’s constitutionally mandated departure from office next year. This is the most important piece of the puzzle. President Karzai has become the most significant obstacle toward a stable Afghanistan, standing as he does over an extraordinarily corrupt government that has failed to be effective at anything besides siphoning money from the U.S. Treasury into bank accounts in Dubai. He is also one of the greatest obstacles to a healthy political future for Afghanistan. President Karzai is so despised within the Taliban movement that its leaders will never seriously negotiate with him, just as the mujahideen refused to negotiate with President Mohammad Najibullah in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This is not to say that Karzai will cease to play a political role in Afghanistan once he leaves office. He will still retain considerable informal power—the sort of power that really matters in a patronage-based society. But Afghanistan must be formally led by someone with credibility and legitimacy—two assets that Karzai spent long ago. The United States should focus its remaining political capital in Afghanistan on ensuring a smooth and nonviolent transition of power to a new head-of-state via elections that, if not free and fair, are freer and fairer than the fraudulent 2009 elections.

Clear the chefs out of the kitchen. There are too many trying to play a significant role in the negotiations process: the U.K., Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and—of course—Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States. Too many chefs are in the kitchen, and they are all working off different recipes. Washington must focus its efforts not on opening a Taliban office in Qatar, but on coordinating the role of the international community, with the obvious exception of Pakistan, which will continue to march to the beat of its own drum no matter what the United States does or does not do. Unfortunately, even the U.S. government itself has been a house divided on the issue of talks. The President must enfranchise a single well-resourced official with the necessary authority to lead, not just on talks, but also on Afghanistan’s political future. The Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan is the natural choice, but the short history of this position has been plagued by personality conflicts, mismanagement, and debilitating turf wars.

Doha Dialogue, Obama’s Zero and the Afghan Future: Advantage Taliban

D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS 

Obama has floated another Zero Option (remember the earlier Prague speech on global nuclear disarmament that won him the Nobel?), this time on the number of American troops to stay in Afghanistan after 2014. This statement, whether bluff or threat, follows Karzai’s angry remarks and Afghanistan’s official protest against the dialogue with the Taliban in Qatar earlier, which witnessed the Doha dialogue collapse.

Clearly both the expressions of the two Presidents are linked. Why was Karzai upset and angry with the Doha dialogue with the Taliban, when his government has already initiated a parallel process through a High Peace Council in Afghanistan? And the follow up statement by Obama on zero option in Afghanistan – is it a policy formulation, or a bluff, or worse a threat directed at Karzai?

Remember the Hollywood blockbuster – Clash of Titans and its sequel, the Wrath of Titans on the Greek mythology involving Perseus, Zeus, Hades and Ares? It appears, Obama and Karzai are fighting their battles, without realizing that there is larger good that needs to be nurtured and safe guarded. And that can be done only by dialogue and better understanding of each other’s situation, sensitivities and future projections, and not by threatening each other and fighting in open.

Unless the mighty Zeus and Hades realise their past mistakes and come together, Kronos can never be stopped. We the little Perseuses, are powerless (unlike the mythical one) and cannot afford to see our mighty Gods fight amongst themselves in our names, and in the process fail us for generations. Remember, the Kronos is getting powerful, and has the full support of the Ares!

Back to the contemporary power politics in Afghanistan from the Hollywood/Greek myth, what is the Zero option that the President Obama is talking about, and what are his reasons today?

Though “Zero Option” was in the public debate especially within the American think tank circles during the recent past, it was never formally enunciated by the American leadership – either as an option, or as a strategy. The “Zero Option” aims at removing all the American troops stationed in the US after 2014. As has been referred elsewhere, Obama as the Commander in Chief of the mighty American military has the right to increase or cut down his troops. In theory.

But the general understanding has always been that the US would do the following as a part of its larger exit strategy before December 2014. It is widely quoted that the level American troops in Afghanistan today is over 60,000 to be gradually reduced to 34,000 by February 2014, and then further lowered by the end of December. It was expected, that this strategy will not result in the complete withdrawal of American troops at the ground level from Afghanistan, and that there will be a “residue American force” even after December 2014.

What is this residue American force for, as has been originally advocated? It was to serve three purposes – first and foremost, to ensure that whatever has been achieved militarily in the last ten years do not go waste. This will be done by an overall assessment of ground situation in Afghanistan after 2014. The second objective is to continue the training of Afghan troops; both the Afghan National Army and the Police are being rained heavily by forces from the rest of world. The last objective, the most important one, for keeping an American residue force even after 2014, is to ensure that the al Qaeda network across the Durand Line does not get revamped after 2014. As a part of this objective, the American strategy could be observed from continuing with their Drone attacks, even after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

If the above three are the primary objectives of the US to have a residue force, why would Obama float a “Zero Option” today, almost 18 months in advance to December 2014 deadline? Clearly, the Obama option of Zero is not linked with a long term military strategy aimed at a political objective in Afghanistan after 2014. Rather, it is a bluff, directly aimed at a short term political objective – threatening Karzai to play along with the American objectives.

And why should Obama bluff or threaten Karzai? To find an answer to this question, one has to go back to the earlier Qatar dialogue with the Taliban. While in principle Karzai had agreed to the American objective and initiative to negotiate with the Taliban, where he differed drastically was on the follow up American strategy.