Indian Futures Part 1

What next in the story of Britain and India?

A few days ago, despite the best efforts of the London Underground system, I had a very interesting meeting with one of the most successful British-Indian businessmen of our time, whose identity I shall withhold. He arrived in the UK several decades ago without any capital, and indeed without even much of the English language. He has succeeded in becoming one of the country’s foremost entrepreneurs, with a personal worth in the hundreds of millions of pounds – although he wears it lightly and is open and friendly in person, without any airs or grandiosity. It’s a fact that he is legendary in his sector for being a considerate and kindly employer, and his staff turnover rate is legendarily low. He told me he loves the UK because it’s a place where anybody can come and have a go at making themselves a success, knowing the odds are not stacked against them if they work hard enough.

It was frankly refreshing to talk to a businessman about business and not to have to think about politics, which right now seems endlessly narrow, petty and rebarbative.

A little while back I mentioned there was a political party in the UK which was committing suicide. I meant of course the Conservative Party – ha ha. The recent election, almost another “upset” and surely a warning to the complacent political establishment, demonstrated the sullen resentment of voters in the face of the disgraceful protection of bankers and their friends since the financial crash. As “friends” I don’t include entrepreneurs, hedgies and others with skin in the game, by the way; only those who suffer nothing and only gain from bail-ins and easy credit: politicians, bureaucrats, establishment nabobs: they know who they are.

The anger at the destruction of savings and pensions of ordinary people since 2008 via QE, zero interest rates and banker bail-outs, while wealthy asset-holders have grown effortlessly richer, has provoked something akin to a revolutionary feeling among the masses. People feel as though they are being treated like peasants, and as a result a peasant rebellion is brewing. If you take away their hope then people act as if they have nothing to lose.

I don’t think the UK is ready quite yet for Jeremy Corbyn’s – or rather John McDonnell’s – brand of hard, violent Marxism (or if they are they’ll live to regret it); but I understand their sympathy for the hang-the-rich Stalinism on offer from Labour now. I don’t like it but I understand it. As somebody who believes in liberal capitalism (not neo-liberalism) and a qualified globalism of measured international trade (not hyperactive capital flows hollowing out countries in a race to the bottom of wage levels to enrich a planetary elite), I am nearly in despair.

It is unclear to me which in the UK is out to destroy capitalism the fastest: Conservatives or Labour. Everything the Tories plan to do is against natural supporters such as me; and so is everything Labour plans, although if we suffer as a result of a future Labour victory a balance of payments crisis, a run on the pound, a bond revolt and 20% interest rates, I think I would die laughing. Hollowly.

But back to my meeting with the British-Indian businessman. He of course voted for Tony Blair back in 1997, as did any other businessman with half a brain. The Conservatives were a washed-up brand, knackered and worn out; and there was Labour, inevitable victors, promising to protect and love Capital. Blair lisped that it would all be fine so long as he and his friends could also get rich … I don’t think the businessman would vote for Labour again, but things are so febrile at the moment, who knows? There were aristocrats who supported the French revolution in the hope its radicalism could be contained …

Now why on earth would the British-Indian businessman wish to sit down with me? The answer is that he was looking for somebody to write his biography. I don’t think it will happen – not with me at any rate. His is a fantastic story, but I think he wants a ghost-writer. Typically, these are journalists from tabloid newspapers, highly talented and good at what they do, who will go through the clippings file, conduct a few searching interviews and stitch together a racy narrative. Bundle it up with a wad of photos of the subject with celebrity friends and with luck it’ll be on the shelves of WH Smith for Christmas (and then on the shelves of Oxfam by Easter when auntie decides she needs the shelf-space).

So why on earth am I writing about this? Well, because the book I suggested would be better was different. The thing is, with Brexit underway and the world changing regardless, the UK is about to turn to Asia, where its future lies, and in doing so has several fabulous advantages over its rivals for trade. One of these advantages is personified in my prospective British-Indian biographical subject. He came here because his family fled trouble in the homeland, and he found another home here. Our countries have centuries of history, and on the whole amity, shared between them. Our destinies are intertwined. I explained to him that over the next decade or two an enormous amount of cultural, entrepreneurial, spiritual, and political real estate, so to speak, was up for claim and development as all sorts of ties and relationships between the UK and the subcontinent deepen and tangle in a skein of trade and alliances.

As a hugely successful businessman looking to pursue a further avenue as a landmark birthday approaches, the opportunity to become involved in politics, or to craft some kind of ambassadorial role, is open to him if he wants to build a suitable profile, one which demonstrates an interest in the history and cultural exchange between the countries he knows, as well as demonstrating commercial and financial acumen.

But in a sense that is the same for anybody who wants to have a go – just as the businessman said at the outset of our meeting: anyone can have a go. And my point is that the future is India – and if it’s not stupid, the UK in a meaningful relationship with India.

Pakistan and China: India’s strategic challenge in 2017

Examining the tactics India can use to turn the tables on its less-than-all-powerful tormentors

Look at a map of South Asia. I’ve said before that China’s unappealing wingmen are Pakistan and North Korea but luckily North Korea has shown no interest in India, lying as it does to the far east of the Middle Kingdom. China, though, right on top of India, is a threatening presence, while also shaking a fist at all the other countries in its neighbourhood, such as Vietnam and the Phillipines, as the People’s Republic throws its weight around the region. Pakistan is its enthusiastic henchman where India is concerned.

China’s strategy for regional –hemispheric? – domination consists of several elements. Forget for now its economy: nearly all growth in China today and tomorrow is debt-fuelled and will deplete wealth in the long run (Michael Pettis has done the calculations here). In fact it’s exactly because China’s real economic growth is grinding to a halt and its debt load reaching nose-bleed levels that expansion and power must now be projected by additional, alternative means.

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April update – and the contortions of the Left

Modi gets his man, triumphs in Delhi local polls; how the Left now backs the bankers; a great new magazine

A little bit of a round-up and some thoughts on the plight of the Left around the globe: I have been busy on something else this month (see below), so I am running around catching up on what I want to discuss on here. Back to normal service soon! OK …

At last Vijay Mallya, rural Hertfordshire’s most notorious alleged loan defaulter (but ask the banks and his wretched employees, who should know, or the Central Bureau of Investigation in Delhi, which recently charged the business genius with fraud) was arrested in London on 18 April on an extradition warrant. This doesn’t mean he’ll be dragged, handcuffed and squealing, onto an India-bound jet next week, desirable as that might be. It’s the start of a long, lawyer-enriching process that should nonetheless eventually see the ‘businessman’ back in the country he loves – and I do mean India not the Bahamas. PM Modi tweeted, ‘There is no place for corruption in India. Those who looted the poor & middle classes will have to return what they have looted.’ Not much fun to be in Modi’s crosshairs, I should think. Mallya’s besotted cheerleader at the FT must be sobbing.

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Antifragile India

What are we to make of the extraordinary progress and results that Modi is achieving? It could be the ‘antifragile’ phenomenon in action.

Of the five recent Indian state assembly elections – in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur – the BJP either won outright or formed a ruling coalition in four of them. Only in Punjab did the party strike out, and this was easily foreseen. I think it is time to begin to speak of Modi making India – and himself – ‘antifragile’.

The most stupefying electoral result was from Uttar Pradesh. At the conclusion of my last post I cautiously guessed at a 60-70% chance of Modi (and I purposely say ‘Modi’ rather than ‘BJP’) winning in UP. It transpired that an unprecedented landslide in Modi’s favour gave the BJP 312 seats (excluding alliances) out of a 403-seat Vidhan Sabha. This is almost unbelievable, especially when the doom-laden predictions of electoral oblivion – heavily predicated on the ‘disastrous’ demonetisation of late 2016 – are taken into account.

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Election fever is breaking out in Uttar Pradesh

In a tight, dirty race, which of the electoral horses in a three-party race will cross the line first in UP?

In legal circles it is said that hard cases make bad law, but in electoral politics the opposite is true, and a crunchy election may be a decisive pinch point and an interesting, perhaps reliable indicator of the future course of events.

At present several Indian states are electing their assemblies, which is done every five years. For those not familiar with the Indian political structure, the simplest way to describe it is to say that it’s mostly like the US federal system, but with bits of the British parliamentary arrangement thrown into the mix.

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OBOR: China’s bait-and-switch debt trap strategy

There’s a loan shark prowling in the South China Sea

In an important article for Project Syndicate, Brahma Chellaney says that if there’s one thing China excels at, it’s the use of economic tools to advance perceived geostrategic interests. On a petty level that means dredging sand up into little island berms in the South China Sea and parking machine guns on them. In the grander scheme of things it is what has become known colloquially as ‘The New Silk Road’, or to give the project its proper title and acronym, the One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR). It’s a trillion dollar boondoggle that has as its superficial aim the re-establishment, in the interests of commonwealth and trade, of the ancient merchant route that connected East to West, along which the Romans travelled all the way to India and China two thousand years ago (the Chinese name for the Romans, by the way, is ‘lei jun’ – legion).

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What is this ‘demonetisation’ of which you speak?

Let’s cut through all the meretricious nonsense being written about the radical financial and fiscal reform Modi has unleashed.

‘India’s Prime Minister Has Singlehandedly Crushed The Economy With His Reckless Cash Ban’ runs the headline of one of the latest articles condemning the so-called ‘demonetisation’ unleashed by Modi in India. ‘Modi is quickly solidifying his place as one of monetary history’s biggest idiots’ it adds, before going on to display even more staggering ignorance and error than many of the other hundreds of similar articles on this subject have done.

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We don’t need no stinking dynasties!

The Democrats and the US media gave Trump the Modi treatment – with the same results

My friend Winston the electrician called round last week, a couple of days after Donald Trump’s election victory. I unlocked and swung open the gate and he was pointing at me.

‘You’re the man, Andy, you’re the man! You said Trump would win!’ he said.

I’d briefly forgotten the conversation we’d had the previous Monday, on the eve of the US presidential election, when I’d heretically argued that in spite of all the pro-Clinton hysteria on the TV and wireless, I thought that Trump had a very good chance of stealing victory from under the noses of the Democrat-supporting media. Almost all journalists and commentators were so frantically virtue-signalling that they couldn’t detect the reality of what was happening on the ground.

And so it transpired. I didn’t take any particular delight in Trump’s victory; I wasn’t even gruntled at having been more or less correct in predicting he would win. I didn’t like Hillary at all – a greedy, corrupt, establishment money-grubber and war-monger who had utterly forsaken the ordinary folk who were the Democratic Party’s mass (and essential) voters. Trump was loud, vulgar, abusive and egomaniacal – although he was less boring than the alternative. Like many, I quite liked some of what he was saying but I wondered if it was insincere and crazed gibberish that he had no real intent of making good on. But he certainly knew how to ‘lead and pace’ his supporters.

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Turning the screw on Pakistan

Modi and Doval ensure that Pakistan’s villainy is at last being internationalised.

If India seems to have an unusual affinity with Israel – they increasingly share trade and technology links and so on – it might partly be because their recent histories are oddly similar.

Both had the experience of declaring statehood as secular democracies at roughly the same time (India in 1947, Israel in 1948).

Then, immediately afterwards, both were attacked by Islamic neighbours: India by Pakistan; Israel by Egypt, Jordan, Syria and whoever else had a hammer. Israel was again attacked by Muslim neighbours in 1967 (the Six-Day War) and yet again in 1973 (the Yom Kippur War). Stridently Islamic Pakistan attacked India again in 1965 and yet again in 1971.

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September upsum

A lot’s happened since Bharatiyata! started half a year ago. Let’s have a quick review of what this is all about …

I started this website back in February and now, just over six months later, I’m going to do a quick upsum to see how far we’ve come, where we’ve got to, what topics we’ve covered and where we’re going. It’s a drawing of breath before moving forward again.

First of all, I haven’t done much over the past month – in fact the work has been mostly behind the scenes as I’ve been ‘SEO-optimising’ the site (mind-numbing work) and bringing various things up to date. At the start I decided I wouldn’t take advertising on here because Bharatiyata! was not created to be a money-making vehicle, at least not in the short-term sense of scraping fractions of pennies from click-throughs. I have zero interest in that model of commerce. I’m trying to be generous with this site and am simply attempting to give information and insight to people who might be interested in those topics. Continue reading “September upsum”