Sunday Levity: Now they are infiltrating into our advertisements!

“Get me an air chief marshal, any air chief marshal”

This happened. Yes, it really did. (linkthanks Sidin Vadukut)

The photograph of former Pakistan Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed in uniform appeared along with those of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi in a full-page newspaper advertisement given by Ministry of Women and Child Development to mark the National Girl Child Day.[The Hindu]

If that were not bad enough:

The advertisement also showed sports icons Kapil Dev and Virender Sehwag and sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan along with the former PAF chief with the heading, “Where would you be if your mother was not allowed to be born?”

It gets even worse. Sandeep Unnithan’s “casual search of the web revealed that the Director of Audio Visual Publicity (DAVP) which released the advertisement seemed to have lifted the high resolution photograph official portrait of the former Pakistan air chief from a Chinese website.”

After the fig leaf dropped off

Time to demonstrate those ‘reformist credentials’

Now that the Communists are off the UPA government’s back, let’s see how much reform Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P Chidambaram can deliver. Ajay Shah writes

Assuming the PM and the FM decide they want new drafting work done for one piece of legislation, it takes roughly a month of focus for a small team to get a good quality draft done. This is parallelisable – so 10 new drafts could get done in a month. The question is then one of whether it’s possible to introduce a new Bill and get it passed within the short time available. There might be some pieces of legislation which are non-controversial, where this could indeed come about.

I wrote an opinion piece in today’s Financial Express titled What now, UPA? about these questions. Now that the CPI(M) is out of the way, what is the task ahead of us in building the financial sector that India deserves?

Here’s the quick summary. There is a big task ahead of us. A lot of it can be done without legislation. The pending Bills are on the right track. But they are only a small slice of the legislative agenda in financial sector reforms. The bulk of the work has yet to begin. For the fuller rationale about these issues in financial sector reforms, see the Mistry and Rajan reports. [Ajay Shah]

This blogger, though, is not holding his breath—but will find the greatest happiness if proved wrong.

India’s foreign policy at a crossroads

Harsh Pant’s new book

Barring the Communists, both sides of the debate over the India-US nuclear deal claim that their position is informed by India’s national interest. Given the profound changes in India over the last two decades—a relatively short period of time in the history of nations— it is but natural that there are deep differences on India’s role in the international arena. This has not been helped by the lack a serious intellectual effort to define, discuss and arrive at a broad non-partisan consensus on the national interest. As K Subrahmanyam mentioned in his interview with Pragati—The Indian National Interest Review in May 2008, even the recommendations of the task force that he chaired on global strategic affairs have not been made public, less accepted by the government.

If India is to make the most of the opportunities that are available at this critical moment in history, and if it is to avoid repeating the grand mistakes of the past, there is an urgent need for such a debate. That’s part of the motivation behind Pragati. Now, Harsh Pant’s new book fills a void and, hopefully, will set the stage for the launch a debate “perhaps to end all minor ones that India has been having for the last few years”. Some excerpts from “Contemporary Debates in Indian Foreign and Security Policy: India Negotiates Its Rise in the International System” (available here) are on YaleGlobal Online. (linkthanks Yossarin)

Look out for Dr Pant’s essay in the July 2008 issue of Pragati that will be out tomorrow (July 1st, 2008)

Command vs Cell

India’s new Integrated Space Cell

The good news is that the Indian government finally moved its feet on setting up a defence organisation for affairs in space. But there’s a distinct pusillanimity, lack of ambition, embarrassment or perhaps, bureaucratic consideration in what it decided to call the outfit. Instead of calling it an aerospace command that strategists have been advocating, the government has decided to call it an Integrated Space Cell (ISC). Setting up a Command would have given it a weighty profile—commands are headed by officers of the rank of Lieutenant-General or equivalent. A cell, on the other hand, can be commanded by anyone.

It is baffling that the report announcing the setting up of the ISC should mention that it has been so constituted to counter China’s plans for the militarisation of space. While China is an important consideration, it is by no means the only consideration. It may well be that the UPA government is attempting to counter criticism that it has been soft on China, but it was wholly unnecessary to exclusively cite it by name. Somebody messed up the messaging.

The unwarranted bravado in the messaging is met with an unwarranted downscaling of the new organisation. Setting up an outfit called a ‘cell’ suggests a tentative approach to a strategic issue. Unless the ISC is provided the resources, capabilities and bureaucratic heft, it is unlikely to be really effective. It remains to be seen whether the ISC is a command that is called a cell out of political correctness, or is, after all, a mere cell.

Related Link: Adityanjee’s article in Pragati on strategy and space.

The Second Delusion

The nation has charged far ahead of its foreign policy establishment’s mindset

A perspicacious piece by Ashok Malik on how the foreign policy establishment is yet to come to terms with India’s new reality (linkthanks V Anantha Nageswaran). First, there is a capacity problem. Second, there is the systemic incapacity to undertake a fundamental re-imagination of India’s role in the emerging world. Finally, there is the incessant feel-good “Bollywood gives us global influence” fodder that lulls everyone into the Second Delusion. (The first was when the Indian government believed that it was a leader of the “bloc of developing countries”).

Mr Malik’s antidote, therefore, is all too necessary.

In his inaugural speech, the Commerce and Industry Minister began by saying that he found the reference to India as a ‘rising great power’ very “uncomfortable” and proceeded to use that word five times. Two days later, the National Security Adviser was asked to speak on India’s equation with other great powers and said this was a “delicate subject”. He then explained how India wanted good relations with everybody from SAARC to the European Union, Japan to West Asia, without really revealing much at all.

It led to one British delegate being quite frank in suggesting that India’s intellectual contribution to the conference was below expectation. Another delegate pointed out that the world had heard of great powers, superpowers and hyperpowers, but now faced the prospect of a “nervous power”. Actually, what India is burdened with is an establishment nervous at the idea of power.

When asked to enunciate specific national goals and responses to well-defined challenges, Indian foreign policy interlocutors speak in platitudes without giving away anything. Actually, there is precious little to give away. Indian grand strategy is marked by its absence. In place of clarity, one is left with generalities.

At the IISS meeting, for instance, the Foreign Secretary spoke of India’s “civilisational engagement” with ASEAN. The following day, the NSA spoke of Iran being an “ancient civilisation”. Almost as a pattern, a few days later an article in a newspaper sought to date the India-Iran strategic partnership to the 16th century, when the ruler in Tehran lent his troops to Humayun to displace the successors of Sher Shah Suri.

This is plain humbug. In terms of hard power, India’s so-called civilisational engagement with a bewildering array of countries and regions has won it very little genuine influence. It is one thing to boast that Hindi films are watched halfway across the world and that Indian culture and soft power are geographically expansive. It is another to suggest that these can replace hard diplomacy, anchored in military and economy muscle and a trenchant security doctrine. [The Pioneer]

Related Links: The June 2007 issue of Pragati injected some new perspectives on India’s role in the coming decades. Read the piece on Soft Power, Hard Reality. Also see Rohit Pradhan’s pithy post on India’s attitude towards hard power.

Confused about India’s energy policy?

How many expert do you need to craft one definition?

The Planning Commission says: “The broad vision behind the energy policy is to reliably meet the demand for energy services of all sectors including the lifeline energy needs of vulnerable households in all parts of the country with safe and convenient energy at the least cost in technically efficient, economically viable and sustainable manner considering different fuels and forms of energy, both conventional and non-conventional as well as new and emerging energy sources and to ensure this supply at all times with a prescribed confidence level considering the shocks and disruptions that can be reasonably expected. In other words the goal of the energy policy is to provide energy security to all”. [Draft Report of the Expert Committee on Integrated Energy Policy, Planning Commission, Government of India, December 2005, p16(PDF)]

How’s that for an inclusive policy vision?

A few hundred good men

Can India’s foreign policy get anywhere with fewer than 600 men and women running the show?

Two op-eds, one by Stanley Weiss in the International Herald-Tribune (linkthanks Adityanjee) and another by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express (linkthanks Sameer Wagle) deal with India’s lacklustre foreign policy. Mr Weiss writes about India’s neighbouring countries, for the international audience and has nothing really for those who are aware of Lax Indica. Dr Mehta’s piece, on the other hand, presents an important—often overlooked angle—to the discourse over why India’s foreign policy is the way it is.

It’s got to do with capacity. The Indian Foreign Service has only around 600 officers in total—and they not only man the foreign ministry desks in New Delhi and over 162 missions and embassies around the world, but also handle such administrative tasks such issuing passports at regional passport offices. India’s engagement with the external world has intensified manifold over the last 20 years: yet the primary task of shaping this engagement is left to such a small number of people.

But merely increasing the cadre strength of the IFS is not the solution. The bigger point is that foreign policy is too important (and certainly too big) to be left to professional diplomats alone. In Dr Mehta’s words India lacks the ability to “draw in from a wider pool that would allow it to think strategically rather than merely diplomatically.” And it lacks this ability because of a certain hollowness in the academia and the intellectual space. Apart from a handful of ‘premier’ think tanks, there are few institutions that produce thought leadership on foreign policy issues.

While analysing India’s foreign policy, most commentators—including this one—are guilty of focussing only on intentions. It is common enough to complain that India could have done better in this case or shown more backbone in that one. That’s the flashy end of foreign policy analysis. Worrying about organisation structure, staff strength, training and collaboration with minds outside government looks mundane in comparison. Dr Mehta does well to remind us of the importance of the latter. Just why is it important? In Essence of Decision, a seminal work on explaining how governments make decisions, Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow describe three models of analysis. Their “Organisational Process” model suggests that government policies are primarly the result of bureaucratic output (and not the unmodulated action of a unitary actor).

To the extent that foreign policy is determined by the people in the foreign ministry (and their interactions with those outside it) restructuring the bureaucracy is likely to yield better results. It must, though, be accompanied by a change in the organisational culture—one that seeks, respects and uses outside expertise. This much is for the government to do. But raising think-tanks and academic departments is something that civil society is arguably better placed to accomplish. The government will remain the main actor, but there is something Indian citizens and corporates can do to make India’s foreign policy more credible. Mr Weiss, the author of the IHT article, heads an impressive organisation called Business Executives for National Security, a “a nationwide (US), non-partisan organization, is the primary channel through which senior business executives can help enhance the nation’s security.”

There’s nothing like it in India.

If all dentists are asked to fix computers

A lot of people will end up with bad toothaches

What’s this got to do with public policy? Read Atanu Dey’s op-ed in Mint to find out:

The social responsibility of corporations is to make a profit while following the rules. They have a comparative advantage in doing that, just as the government has a comparative advantage in making rules and solving social problems. Insisting that companies solve social problems is like expecting the dentist to fix a broken computer. Yes, he can possibly fix the computer if I lean on him hard enough and he spends a lot of time learning hardware maintenance, but that will be at the cost of a lot of untreated toothaches. [Deeshaa]