28 February 2006

The colour of colonisation

It’s true that the Western world has poured in billions of dollars into the developing world. And, I’m not just talking about aid agencies here. Private investors and businesses have done their part too, while keeping an eye on opportunities that promote future markets – and profits – for them. For, the idea of colonisation needs time to take effect. The West knows this. They’ve had practice in the past.

It’s also true that this colonisation has a strong red-white-and-blue feel to it… an US-UK stamp of success, with France hovering somewhere in the periphery to pick up the spoils. It bears the robust mark of capitalism – the only global system that has stood the test of time. It sees opportunities where others fail. It mobilises natural resources and population to deliver the highest returns. It applies science and technology for both human and capital gains.

But what’s most important to remember is that colonisation creates wealth like no other global system does. The further the idea of colonisation spreads, the larger the size of the wealth pie gets. Colonisation is the biggest wealth enabler I’ve seen so far… with the red-white-and-blue being the key enabling power. The more the red-white-and-blue remains engaged in colonisation, the better are our chances of success. And, who can complain about that!

27 February 2006

A call for colonisation

In a stable and orderly world, the economy flourishes. In an efficient and well-governed world, the markets are open for investment and growth.

A government unable to meet these standards suggests economic risks for the whole world, not just for one country. It signifies a weak government. A government resting on inefficient economic policies, fiscal deficits, balance of payments, inflation, unemployment, poverty… Everything that stands in the way of a brighter future for everyone.

To the advanced economies of the world, a weak government is in need of correction. Even rescue. It calls for the re-establishment of economic order in a world of chaos. It calls for a crusade for prosperity… Even if this crusade means using coercive forces to deal with the economic disorder in another country. It calls for help from the outside – a foreign hand, so to speak. And, of course, the advanced economies of the world are there to see this through.

Robert Cooper, now a diplomat and foreign affairs advisor to the European Union but reputed to have been a great inspiration to Tony Blair, had once said: “The most logical way to deal with chaos, and the one most employed in the past is colonisation.” But today, he acknowledges, the old-school colonisation of the imperial British isn’t enough. It requires better packaging. According to Cooper, “What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values.”

[Citation: Apects of India's Economy]

26 February 2006

The new developing economy

There's a change in the course of things. India is developing at a rapid pace and it is influencing the entire world. One of the key facets of this new India is that, as a modern developing economy, it has taken a fresh look at commerce. Yes, poverty is still around us and cities are still the drivers of wealth, but the old government promoting a socialistic self-sufficient India is now adopting a more liberal path towards commerce. As a result, capital is now more freely available for business enterprises. And, a spirit of commerce is in the air.

In turn, this is fuelling the urban vision that the liberals have always advocated - as against the socialistic self-sufficient path that India has followed for the last 60 years - building cities and towns and railways… slowly reaching into India's rural heartland. This is the new India, the new developing economy.

Funnily, there's a history to this new ideology as well… or, so I learnt recently.

In August 2001, Sauvik Chakraverti, in an essay titled The Liberal Vision, India from the archives of the Centre for Civil Society, quoted a significant point from a letter dated 1717 from the Directors of the East India Company. Apparently, the East India Company advised their Governor at Fort St. George (which developed to become Madras, now renamed Chennai): “Make your settlement a mart for all nations, that being the way God Almighty of old promised to make Jerusalem great.”

Although I'm not sure where Chakraverti got his information, it is nevertheless quite a revelation. In fact, in the essay, Chakraverti goes on to say, “Because of their belief in the simple logic of commerce, the British pursued urban development that led to the building of many great cities and countless hill-stations.” And, they built roads, railways, satellite towns and basic infrastructure to support the growth of commerce in the urban centres. Perhaps because they believed, or so says Chakraverti in his essay, “With free trade, and aggressive urbanization, India will be a rich country.”

25 February 2006

The future matters

"The future matters… it cannot be avoided or ignored just because we are necessarily ignorant of what it will bring."
- Bill Emmott, who recently resigned as the editor of The Economist

It's difficult for a developing economy to sustain itself. Although various economic models have been tested over the years, still no developing economy has been able to arrive at a model which is viable. Most models rely on foreign capital and, without help from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as foreign private capital, they would probably be nowhere today.

India has attracted its fair share of this foreign capital. Thankfully so, as it has helped expand the Indian economy and initiate growth we had not seen before. The Indian economy is booming, visibly so in the IT, ITES, telecommunication, construction, and consumer retail industries. Now, India not only has cutting-edge technologies at its disposal to build its economy, it also participates in creating solutions for other markets abroad. Most importantly, India has somehow managed to leapfrog onto the service sector, using homegrown talent, bypassing the entire rigmarole of industrialization which has plagued many a developed nation.

The Indian government's policies are also changing in tandem with this changing economic scenario - to position India as not just a developing nation, but a force to reckon with in the future. All hands are on deck. And the forthcoming budget is likely to be a promising one, fuelling further growth for the country. If the future mattered to India before, it matters even more now. No longer shall we remain ignorant.

23 February 2006

Whose fault is it that we are poor?

Whose fault is it that we are poor? It's ours, of course. We are 100% responsible for our impoverished state - and for our debts to the outside world. Our impoverished state is a result of our unsound economic policies and our lack of skilful debt management.

But, aren't our economic policies also endorsed by the international financial community? Don't the international financial institutions and leading economists around the world help shape the financial policies of debtor countries like ours every year? Isn't this debt management just another facet of globalisation?

Perhaps, the fact that we are poor isn't really a country-specific issue. Rather, it's a global issue. What happens to us affects the whole world. I mean, if India's poverty is erased, the whole world becomes a better place to live in, right? In other words, should we perform badly in economic and financial terms, the whole world risks to lose. And, that's quite a responsibility.

The prosperity of other countries around the world is inextricably linked to our own prosperity. And, vice versa. Isn't it time we looked at eliminating poverty more holistically?

20 February 2006

The path of least intellectual resistance

I'm a pessimist. I see doomsday approaching every time there's a war somewhere in the world, or an MNC spreading its wings in my country with an eye on a billion consumers, or when I read about our political leaders and their scams. An alarm goes off inside my head and I immediately take a defensive stance, bemoaning every decision the government takes as unfriendly. But, when it comes to action, I do nothing.

Why do I do this? Why do I assume that everything will go wrong at the slightest provocation? Why do I suffer the role of a doomsayer when I needn't? Why do I do nothing when I should be?

As luck would have it, I took a few days off just to chill… to think things through for myself. A sort of 'time for introspection' you might say. Then, thanks to a few friends, I saw the film 'Rang de Basanti'. And, it wasn't long before a few home truths came to me: Indeed, I am a pessimist and a cynic. I see the faults too quickly, ignoring the benefits. I see the destructive nature of things and do nothing constructive myself. I jump to the negatives, and miss out of the opportunities which exist along with the same negatives.

In short, I take the path of least intellectual resistance. Because, it's easy to do.

Perhaps we should all see 'Rang de Basanti' once again.

15 February 2006

Ideas into action

Translating ideas into action seems to have been the key message in the closing plenary session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos. And, what ideas were these that required action from the rest of us? Well, as you can guess, globalisation was on top of the agenda. Not to be outdone were other areas of global interest: competitiveness, education, ethics & values, financial markets, history, human rights, labour, monetary policy, NGOs, peace & security, politics & diplomacy. Climate change, global inequalities, and cultural/religious divides followed close behind.

Globalisation had taken top slot at the WEF as national boundaries were vanishing, and along with them, many of the obstacles that had prevented the idea of a ‘one world’. This was possible, thankfully, not only due to the availability of technology and telecommunication networks, but also due to the emergence of greater liberal views, visible in both political and business leaders from across the globe.

Former US President Bill Clinton summarised this feeling in his interview with Klaus Schwab, Founder and Chairman of WEF: “Because of globalization and technologies like the Internet, the opportunities for making such impact have increased… The power of private citizens to do public good is greater than at any time in history.”

Good words; good thoughts. But how would these thoughts and ideas translate into action? And, what I would like to know is, how concerned are these WEF leaders in translating their ideas into action? Would they not be more concerned about ensuring that their individual country or company becomes more prosperous in the process of globalisation, despite what happens in other parts of the world? Would any country or company be really willing to sacrifice itself for the greater good of the world?

I think not. But then, mine is a cynical view of the world. Perhaps visionaries like Bill Clinton are right when they say [as a measure of one’s final achievements], “Make sure that people are better off when you’re done.” Perhaps that’s the real objective – and the real measure – of seeing ideas into action.

14 February 2006

No reason for pessimism

Tomorrow, where will our energy come from?

I don’t mean the physical energy that our body requires, but the kind of energy that sustains us as a collective community… a living planet. That means, I’m talking about the supply of oil, thermal and nuclear power, natural gas, fossil fuel, etc. that sustain us everyday. The world’s demand for energy is increasing, resulting in increasing prices of not just fuel but almost everything, and there doesn’t seem to be a way out.

A rapidly growing world population and economic growth all around have big roles to play here. For instance, escalating demands for energy in developing countries like India and China are large contributing factors in increasing demand for world energy. Then, there are issues like trade barriers, a lack of transportation infrastructure (which once again relies on oil), global warming and climate change, and the threat of terrorism affecting supply.

There’s an urgent need for diversifying the supply of energy, managing the demand-supply ratio, finding and adopting ‘cleaner’ technologies, sharing information, winning public trust… so that the world’s need for energy in the future is not in jeopardy.

That ought to be a neat summary of the world energy issue at hand. So, imagine my surprise when I learnt from the World Economic Forum that there’s no looming energy crisis in our hands. That, there is adequate supply of energy for the whole world. That, the market and the governing energy institutions are (and will be) ready to absorb the energy shocks of the future. Apparently, there’s no reason to worry, nor to be pessimistic.

10 February 2006

The seeds of wealth

There was a time when we commonly used a phrase ‘the wealth of natural resources’ to describe our world. It conjured images of a safe, green, life-giving landscape... bountiful fruits, grains and water... a fertile soil... and below that, an abundance of minerals and fuel to last us for ever. The seeds of wealth were found within these natural resources and renewal was a natural process we didn’t need to dwell on.

Inspired by this wealth, or perhaps out of boredom or some dissatisfaction with it, we embarked on new ventures, setting up industries using technology and inventive minds to create wealth of another kind: A wealth of machines and power and production; of transportation and housing and labour. A new process was in place. It was called industrialisation; and it created wealth out of mass production.

As a result, people flocked to these industries in groups. Groups grew into towns, towns into cities. Along with this came pollution, industrial waste, soil deterioration, deforestation and hazards of health not encountered before. Healthcare became important; so did education and entertainment. Many more inventive minds got down to work and planted seeds of wealth of another kind: A wealth of services to cater to our every need.

Our needs grew astronomically, and the safe, green, life-giving landscape with its wealth of natural resources was stretched to its limits. Even industrialisation, with its technology and mass production, was not enough to save the world. Questions soon arose about sustainability and development, but no-one seemed to find the right answers. The romance of nature with its wealth of natural resources dried up in our minds. What was left was a debate over ‘needs versus nature’, a dualism unresolved even as I write this blog.

But all is not lost. Not yet, anyway. The World Economic Forum – with industrialists, economists, politicians, scientists, environmentalists, social activists, journalists and even religious leaders – is not giving up on this agenda. Inventive minds are at work once again. Soon they’ll plant the seeds of wealth of another kind.

09 February 2006

Of man himself

We view nature according to our desires. We draw links between our desires and the land we live on... the environment that sustains us. We imagine our living spaces and design them to suit our desires... to suit our needs of the hour. We are caught in our own ego-centric, narcissistic sense of beauty and function. And, we tailor our environment to fit this imagination... this delusion... this man-made reality. And, to hell with the environment! The environment is there to serve us, after all.

Of course, there’s a scientific reason to all this. An anthropological one too. A cultural one. A historical one. An economic one. And, oh yes, a political one. Yes, there are reasons galore to justify how man sees nature; and what man does with it. It’s all in the name of progress. We all believe that things are going to get better and better... and that, technology is the basis of this progress. That’s why we’ve celebrated industrialisation – the producer of chemicals and everything synthetic. Not to mention a nuclear, or some other esoteric, utopia which is the answer to our present-day angst-ridden fears.

Our lives are no longer dependent on nature and divine guidance. They are now guided by reason, science and technology – the works of man himself.

07 February 2006

Divided views?

If we have divided views on God, do we also have divided views on nature?

World religions disagree on their perceptions of God, on how people should relate to God in its singular or various forms. Yet, at the core of every religion we have people and their faith; the same people who destroy the environment in order to sustain themselves and/or make gains in material possessions.

How would such world religions respond to a concept like environmentalism? Would they support their followers in order to win and keep their faith? Or would they agree, like some environmentalists do, that people are expendable in order to protect nature and celebrate the sacredness of Mother Earth?

06 February 2006

Nature and the Hindu philosophy

“When the Lord desired to create life, He created the Sun, Moon, and Earth, and through them a congenial atmosphere for life to come into being. Therefore the Sun, Moon, Earth, Stars and all objects in the universe jointly, not individually, create the atmosphere for the creation, sustenance, or destruction of everything in the universe.”
[from Swami Vibudhesha Teertha, Sustaining The Balance]

Much of India’s history and culture can be traced back to the Vedas. It is from the Vedas that Hinduism as a religion originated and formed the basis of everything that a Hindu does today. And, it is from the Vedas that every Hindu forms his or her holistic view of the Universe.

Hence, it is natural for a Hindu to be close to nature. Because, Hinduism as a religion is close to nature. Hindus worship the Sun, the Moon, the rivers, mountains, forests, animals... everything that is an integral part of nature. The relationship between man and nature is at the very centre of Hinduism. Hindus can actually perceive God in every object in the Universe.

“That which sustains all species of life and helps to maintain harmonious relationship among them is dharma. That which disturbs such ecology is adharma.”

The Vedas have taught us this for thousands of years.

04 February 2006

from Land of the Spotted Eagle

Once more, man and nature… according to Standing Bear.

The Lakota was a true naturist – lover of Nature. He loved the earth and all things of the earth, the attachment growing with age. The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. Their tipis were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth. The birds that flew in the air came to rest upon the earth and it was the final abiding place of all things that lived and grew. The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing...

Wherever the Lakota went, he was with Mother Earth. No matter where he roamed by day or slept by night, he was safe with her. This thought comforted and sustained the Lakota and he was eternally filled with gratitude.

From Waken Tanka there came a great unifying life force that flowered in and through all things – the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals – and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were kindred and brought together by the same Great Mystery.

Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky, and water was a real and active principle. For the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them. And so close did some of the Lakotas come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.

The animal had rights – the right of man’s protection, the right to live, the right to multiply, the right to freedom, and the right to man’s indebtedness – and in recognition of these rights the Lakota never enslaved the animal, and spared all life that was not needed for food and clothing.

This concept of life was humanizing and gave to the Lakota an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of things; it gave him reverence for all life; it made a place for all things in the scheme of existence with equal importance to all. The Lakota could despise no creature, for all were of one blood, made by the same hand, and filled with the essence of the Great Mystery...

The old people told us to heed wa maka skan, which were the ‘moving things of the earth.’ This meant, of course, the animals that lived and moved about, and the stories they told us of wa maka skan increased our interest and delight. The wolf, duck, eagle, hawk, spider, bear, and other creatures, had marvelous powers, and each one was useful and helpful to us. Then there were the warriors who lived in the sky and dashed about on spirited horses during a thunder storm, their lances clashing with the thunder and glittering with the lightning. There was wiwila, the living spirit of the spring, and the stones that flew like a bird and talked like a man. Everything was possessed of a personality, only differing with us in form.

Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of earth. We learned to do what only the student of nature ever learns, and that was to feel beauty... Bright days and dark days were both expressions of the Great Mystery, and the Indian reveled in being close to the Big Holy.

[Citation: Virginia Commonwealth University, American Nature Writing, Spring 2003 program, Ann M Woodlief, Instructor. However, I am not certain of the origin of this document, nor the accuracy of its content.]

03 February 2006

A reverence for nature

“People still revere and are intimately entangled with nature in India.”
– Valmik Thapar, Indian tiger expert, wildlife conservationist and author

Man has always been connected to nature in India. According to ancient Indian science and medicine, nature and man are essentially one. Man is said to be the microcosm; the Universe is the macrocosm. What exists in the world exists in man. Man is nothing but a miniature world containing the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether) which constitute the minerals, vegetables and the animal kingdom.

However, India has suffered over thousands of years. She has lost much of her fertile soil, her forests, her flora and fauna, her biodiversity. With an ever-bulging population, we are rapidly eating into our stock of renewable resources. It’s likely that, sometime in the not-so-distant future, we shall exceed our ability to sustain ourselves.

But until that day comes, we can still celebrate what India has to offer us. And that’s plenty… according to a spectacular six-hour mini-series on PBS/WNET, the details of which I found in a story called A Reverence For Nature while surfing the Internet

The mini-series, titled INDIA: LAND OF THE TIGER, showcases “the natural history and wildlife of the great Indian subcontinent. Hosted and narrated by Valmik Thapar, this ambitious documentary features footage of remarkable scope and beauty, and explores the various ways humanity is connected to nature through myth, legend, culture, and religion.”

02 February 2006

Something to learn from the Indians

[from the Native American Indians; not the Indians from India.]

Folklore has it that the Native American Indian considered the environment his brother. The earth, the moon, the sun, the winds, the rain, the rivers, the mountains and the trees… were his relatives – to be treated with love and respect. And, the American Indian taught his children so, generation after generation. The legacy was passed down not only to ensure the present, but also to guarantee the future.

Thinking about the future was an enormous responsibility for the American Indian. And this responsibility, naturally, demanded a vision. A vision put things into perspective – that he was only a small part of a much larger picture. Without a vision, an American Indian – and his tribe – was nothing. He believed, without a vision, everything turned destructive. He believed polluting the waters, cutting down forests, killing animals for pleasure… were disrespectful and counter-productive to life.

The American Indian believed that life was a cycle of welfare and harmony; and all his decisions were driven by this. Hidden in this belief was the key to his universe: the re-generation of life. The only things that upset this cycle, that destroyed the essence of the universe, were a generation’s greed and its unwillingness to sacrifice for the future. These teachings go back to the very beginnings of the American Indian people.

Whenever businesses talk of corporate social responsibility (CSR), I am reminded of the Native American Indians. Perhaps, the business leaders of today – and their political counterparts – have something to learn from the American Indians.