Thoughts from the doorstep of the second decade

This blog turns ten today

It all started with a post in September 2003 calling for India to send troops to the Iraq, to enable the United States to send more troops to Afghanistan and take on what I came to since call the military-jihadi complex. The blog initially used Blogger (remember “Push button publishing for busy people”?) before moving onto Movable Type (remember MT?). The Wayback Machine has a snapshot of what this blog looked like in December 2013 2003.

My first tagline was “Expressions of an Opinionated Mind.” Over time as I came to appreciate how much I didn’t know, the tagline changed to “The Education of an Opinionated Mind.” I received more education from writing this blog and discussing issues with regular commenters than at the universities I went to. In fact, the blog attracted very intelligent and well-read readers and commenters, and the discussions were almost always civil and of high quality. Comments dwindled with the rise of Twitter. That’s unfortunate, because blogs and comments elevated the public discourse as much as Twitter has lowered it.

From the outset, this blog has focussed on narrow set of themes: foreign affairs, national security and public policy, with some eclectic asides. The actual posts perhaps reflect the concerns of the times: from navigating the geopolitical tumult following 9/11 and the transformation of the India-US relationship in 2003-06, to first warning and then despairing over the destructive and self-defeating domestic policies of the UPA government.

Mighty oaks it is too early to tell, but the acorn did sprout several saplings. The Indian National Interest (INI) platform of blogs came into being in May 2005 and brought together some brilliant minds. To this day, each of the several INI blogs is independent, with no editorial control or ‘party line’ (and here’s one place to read them all). In April 2007, we started Pragati—The Indian National Interest Review, a monthly magazine on strategic affairs, public policy and governance. It published its 77th issue last month and is now updated on a weekly basis.

Then in October 2010, we formed the Takshashila Institution, and moved the blogs—including this one—and Pragati to a public charitable trust. Takshashila envisions becoming a lighthouse of ideas for an India with global interests and one of the best schools of public policy and statecraft. We took the first step in that direction with the launch of our Graduate Certificate in Public Policy (GCPP) programme in 2011. All this happened because of the collective talent, energies and resources of my fellow bloggers, co-founders and supporters of Takshashila.

Until the opinion editor of Mint invited me in 2007 to write occasional articles for the then new newspaper, I had not thought much of writing in the mainstream media. Since then I started writing for mainstream media (MSM). In September 2010, the editor of Business Standard asked me to write a monthly column on East Asian geopolitics, which I called the Asian Balance and which I continue to enjoy writing.

The journey this blog started eventually brought me back to India—after almost two decades abroad—last year. My colleagues and I decided to work out of a physical base in Bangalore even as we continue to operate as a networked organisation—with fellows, members and scholars in several countries around the world. The Bangalore office now houses some dangerously smart people and attracts a wide variety of seriously talented people (and last week one intrepid mouse, who was eventually non-violently repatriated).

I know that my wife has been reading this blog from the very first day, so it’s important that I acknowledge her patience and superior wisdom. It still scares me to know that my mother reads it too. In a few years, the kids are likely to do so. The internet never forgets, so I am mildly worried about the prospect of them debating my old blog posts with me.

While I can’t say I have robust empirical evidence, I do think that the frequency and quality of posts are linked to the quantity of caffeine in the bloodstream of this blogger. The quality of beans matters too, I think, although some of the best posts have been written after consuming the humble three-in-ones from the office pantry.

To longtime readers, thank you for sticking on (I suspect you have enjoyed the ride so far). To all readers, thank you and I hope the reading has been worth your while. Don’t believe anything that’s written on this blog (or elsewhere)—think about it before making up your mind.

One of my discoveries as a father was that babies never stop to celebrate their achievements: they just go on to the next one. That’s a good rule to follow—I just made a little exception today.

This road will take you

To Takshashila!

The following poem is an excerpt from Rahul Soni’s translation of 21 poems from Magadh, by Shrikant Verma


I am going
to Takshashila

Where are you going?
To Nalanda

But this road does not lead
to Nalanda

It used to once, but not anymore
The road to Nalanda has changed
Now this road will take you

to Takshashila
not Nalanda

Do you want to go
to Takshashila?

People going to Nalanda, often
the roads that you are shown do not
take you where you want to go –

like Nalanda

How the Information Age is changing politics

What happens when radically networked societies confront hierarchically structured states?

Here’s a video recording of my talk at the Takshashila Shala in Chennai last Sunday. It doesn’t offer answers, but explores some of the questions that I’ve been thinking about.

Onto some levity. V Keshav, The Hindu’s editorial cartoonist, who spoke on cartooning and politics at the Shala, sketched this live when I was talking.

Takshashila’s Graduate Certificate in Public Policy Programme

A distance education programme on Indian public policy for dynamic individuals

“As economic growth propels India towards becoming a middle-income country over the next decade, it is imperative that its structures, processes and ideas of governance keep pace. Closing the governance gap requires talented individuals to be equipped with the right ideas, competencies and networks.

Takshashila’s Graduate Certificate in Public Policy (GCPP) programme aims to equip dynamic Indians with knowledge, skills and exposure to public policy.

The 12 week course provides a firm understanding of the fundamentals of public policy and governance and enable participants to apply them in their professional lives and political discourse. The programme is designed to prepare participants to better engage in the public arena, as analysts, public officials, leaders or indeed, as active citizens.” Classes start in January 2012. More details and online application over at the Takshashila website.

“I know where you are coming from”

Takshashila Shala // Pune 2011 – Attendee Geography

According to EventBrite’s estimates, here’s where Shala participants are coming from. It’s guessing the location based on IP addresses, so those who registered from corporate networks might show up as being at their network gateway locations. Still, it gives us a fair sense of attendee geography. The top five locations are from Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai.

(If you’d like to share a cab or need/can give a lift, give a shout on twitter, using the hashtag #shala)

The Takshashila Shala // Pune 2011

Getting people excited about public policy

We had two excellent sessions of the Takshashila Roundtable Conclave Programme in Bangalore and Hyderabad. We had extremely high quality discussions and a good mix of participants. This format, however, restricts the number of participants to 50 (26 actually, if my colleagues would allow me to have my way). Chatham House rules do enhance candid debate, but also prohibit video recording, webcasts and reportage.

To balance the candour of conclaves with the reach of an open event, our next event at Pune (on Sunday May 29th 2011) will take place differently. The Takshashila Shala has an innovative, informal format that blends scheduled presentations with spontaneous, even ex tempore talks from participants. Takshashila Fellows will be present to share their research and insights. Throughout the day there will be three parallel tracks on: Foreign affairs, national security and strategy; Economics and public policy; Politics, citizenship and governance.

Each of these will take place in a separate room at the Venture Center, NCL, and will be webcast. Participants can propose to speak on any topic under these themes, and if there’s interest and time, they can have the floor for 20 minutes. While this can be done on-the-spot, we recommend those interested to speak to let us know in advance.

After the main session, participants will take a bus ride to Doolally Microbrewery for, well, spirited discussions at Pune’s first microbrewery.

Finally, the following evening, Monday, May 30th, we convene at CMYK Bookstore, Goldfields Enclave, Koregaon Park, Pune for a Shala Extra for a discussion on books and magazines on current affairs.

There is no charge for participating in the event. We encourage you to make an appropriate donation to the Takshashila Institution. So if you’d like to participate, head over to the online registration page and sign-up as soon as possible.

INILive Pilot: Bin Laden’s killing and implications for India

A live, online interactive programme on strategic affairs, public policy and governance

Here’s the recording of today’s INILive pilot.

Update: Edited transcript of the initial remarks:

In today’s programme I will analyse the issues related to the killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan last week. I will also try to address some of your questions and comments. Today, you can interact with me over twitter, using the hashtag #inilive

Now, there can be very little doubt over whether the Pakistani military leadership, Generals Ashfaq Kayani and Shuja Pasha were aware of Osama bin Laden’s location. The ISI is competent enough for this. Usually, top leaders have “plausible deniability”, they can claim that they didn’t know what their organisations were up to. In this case, General Kayani was ISI chief at the time bin Laden supposedly moved to Abbottabad. His denials are not plausible.

But what about the operation to get bin Laden? What role might the Pakistani military have played here? There can be many explanations. Let’s talk about the three most interesting ones:

One, it was, as the Obama Adm claims, carried out unilaterally by the United States, without informing the Pakistanis. Two, it was orchestrated by the Pakistani military establishment as a card in the endgame of the war in Afghanistan. Three, and it was an outcome of an ongoing power struggle among various sections of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. Continue reading INILive Pilot: Bin Laden’s killing and implications for India