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Indo-Pak thaw: what went wrong?

The Kashmir Monitor




By Imtiaz Alam

What has so abruptly reversed the Modi government’s consent to a meeting sans the resumption of the dialogue process between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UNGA? With few exceptions, there is much more than what is being played out in the pliant and hostile media in both India and Pakistan.
This time, it seems that haste and utter lack of confidence in each other’s intentions – besides internal political fissures in India – became the immediate cause for such an ill-thought-out cancellation of an otherwise doomed-to-fail foreign ministers’ moot. The excuses for the cancellation of the foreign ministers meeting as quoted by the Ministry of External Affairs of India on September 21 – a day after its confirmation – seem to be an afterthought since the killing of a BSF soldier had taken place two days prior to the acceptance of the invitation. And the postal memorial tickets about Kashmir were issued prior to the Pakistani general elections. The tone and tenor of the Indian MEA’s response was so terrible and clumsy that a former high commissioner of India to Pakistan, Sharat Sabharwal, tweeted: “IFS does not …take such hasty flip flop decisions. Seems handiwork of ‘muscular’ thinking. More ‘brawn’ than ‘brain’.”
The mood in India was quite hostile, as we had seen during the visit of former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, a minister of the Congress government in Punjab, who was the personal guest of our newly elected prime minister on the latter’s oath-taking ceremony. What could not be digested by the Indian media was Sidhu’s embrace with COAS General Bajwa, and the latter’s offer to open the border for Sikh pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Indeed, this goodwill gesture by Gen Bajwa must have surprised New Delhi since successive Indian governments had been suggesting it to Pakistan for decades.
The authorities in Pakistan were, perhaps, flabbergasted by the tone of Prime Minister Modi’s call to Imran Khan, and his letter suggesting “constructive engagement” was construed as an invitation for dialogue. When Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi mentioned it in his first press conference, he was immediately rebutted for this misconception by the Indian MEA. Not knowing exactly the probable Indian response to an invitation for a ministerial meeting and the Saarc Summit, Prime Minister Khan signed quite a disjointed letter to PM Modi on September 14. The letter proposed a meeting between the two foreign ministers and also invited him to visit Islamabad on the occasion of the Saarc Summit which “will offer an opportunity for you [Modi] to visit Pakistan and for us to restart the stalled dialogue process”.
Those who closely and independently watch Indo-Pak relations could only laugh at the simplicity of PM Khan or those who had drafted a rather simplistic letter. Even in meekly accepting the invitation for the FMs’ meeting, MEA spokesman Raveesh Kumar had clearly rejected the possibility of the resumption of dialogue and a Saarc Summit in an environment of “state-sponsored terrorism”. He was in fact laughed at by reporters on his definition of a meeting-sans-dialogue, even if he noted that the killing of their soldier took place after the letter was received on September 17, and before its partial acceptance two days later.
If the invitation letter from PM Khan was sent in a hurry, without sounding out India’s actual intentions and in disregard of its long-held position regarding “terrorism and talks”, India’s tentative response for the FMs’ meet, and then its accusation-laden rejection, reflected Modi’s typical flip-flop policy towards Pakistan – as so aptly described by some of his sane liberal critics in India.
What is intriguing about the whole diplomatic fiasco is why New Delhi accepted the invitation in the first place and then went back on it – and that too so abruptly and rudely. How is it that one one day the “evil agenda of Pakistan” stood “exposed” and the “true face of [the] prime minister of Pakistan” was “revealed to the world in his few months (sic) in office”. Perhaps, given the height of bellicosity and self-congratulatory eulogy over so-called “surgical strikes”, the Modi government’s acceptance of the FMs’ meet caught it on the wrong foot while it was in the eye of a storm over a most controversial 7.4 billion euro deal for French Rafale fighter jets. The deal was brokered by Modi in his talks with the former French president, Hollande, to benefit billionaire Anil Ambani’s company, in violation of rules, over the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
Coinciding with the revelation by Hollande that “we did not have a choice, we took the interlocutor [Anil Ambani] who was given to us”, Indian Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat issued an extremely provocative statement on September 22 that “it is time” that “we need to take stern action to avenge the barbarism that terrorists and the Pakistan Army have been carrying out”. The purpose seems to be to divert the Indian public’s attention from this mega-corruption scandal. Those who think that the cancellation of the FMs’ meeting was done because of state elections in India are off the mark since Modi has been contesting elections primarily on the Hindutva’s communal agenda with a broad-based appeal for growth and employment.
In the meanwhile, addressing the Vishva Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) ‘Dharma Sansad’, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Sri Mohan Madhukar Bhagwat declared that “the day is not far (away) when [the] saffron flag will fly atop the Ram Mandir” that is to be built on the debris of Babri mosque. The VHP has convened a national congregation of sants next month to build the Ram temple in 2019 when the Indian elections are to be held. Ironically, the Congress Party has been critical of Modi’s occasional overtures towards Pakistan.
During such a domestic fuss in India, Prime Minister Imran Khan could have avoided his Twitter response – reminiscent of Trump’s erratic tweeting. The Pakistan Foreign Office had responded to the Indian MEA’s tirade in a measured way to keep India on the back foot; we had even offered a joint investigation into the mutilation of the body of an Indian soldier.
But we are in the habit of not being left behind in raising the antes and we don’t hesitate in matching the war of words while flaunting nuclear weapons. It is in Pakistan’s own interest not to heighten tensions with India, and to cool down the eastern front. Let India refuse to talk and let Pakistan continues to respond with talk of peace. India won’t like to offer a helping hand at a time when we remain under international scrutiny on terrorism and Afghanistan. It is inclined to respond in the “same coin” in any way and anywhere as Gen Bipin Rawat has so blatantly confessed.
Let’s wait for the opportune time. We must keep our role strictly as the human rights defenders of the Kashmiris, while promoting our own credentials in the war on terror – both at home and in the region. In my view, India-Pakistan dialogue will start when we focus on what PM Vajpayee and Gen Musharraf had agreed, as reflected in the joint statement issued on the occasion of that Saarc Summit in Islamabad in 2004. Given the volatile situation in Kashmir, why shouldn’t we try our best to ensure ceasefire on the LoC and offer to pick up the thread from where PM Manmohan Singh and Gen Musharraf had left it.
Instead of throwing each other’s respective ‘core issue’ against one another, both Pakistan and India should take more – and many – confidence-building measures and address tractable issues while thinking of out-of-the-box solutions to intractable disputes. Most importantly, the paradigms of mutually assured destruction, increasing proxy and subliminal warfare and the mindset of enmity will have to be shed by the countries if we want to live in peace and as good neighbours for the larger benefit and progress of our people.


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Brazen statements on job shortage

The Kashmir Monitor



By Mihir Swarup Sharma

Back when Narendra Modi was just a candidate for the post of Prime Minister, he seemed to understand what India’s biggest problem was: jobs. He promised tens of millions of jobs would be created if he were voted to power – India’s unemployed young people would be transformed, he promised, into an army for development.

Four years later, this promise has turned into a weapon for the opposition. His predecessor, Manmohan Singh, pointed out last year that young Indians were “desperately waiting for the jobs that they were promised.”


The Modi government’s response has been typical: not harder work, not economic reform, but bluster. Two recent statements from senior ministers who should know better stand out. Piyush Goyal said that the large number of people who are lining up for jobs in the Railways that he oversees – over 15 million applied recently for a minuscule number of vacancies – did not in any way mean that there is a shortage of jobs in India. And Human Resources Minister Prakash Javadekar, whose job is indeed to prepare the Indian workforce for employment, has insisted that each and every sector in India has witnessed job opportunities. “We have to find out why people with post-graduate degrees apply for sweeper jobs in the government,” he said.

Well, minister, the answer is staring us all in the face: that there simply aren’t enough high-quality jobs available. Yes, even low-skilled government jobs provide security; but in a growing economy, the private sector should also be creating enough and better-paid jobs in such a way that security would be rendered irrelevant.

The fact is that when millions of Indians turn up for jobs that they are manifestly overqualified for, it cannot be seen as anything other than a failure of economic management on a massive scale.

There was not even the slightest remorse expressed by the ministers for whatever combination of circumstances may have arisen in the economy to cause this sort of desperation on the part of job-seekers. Nor was there an iota of compassion for these young job-seekers or a comprehension of the lack of choices they face.

Mr Javadekar even said that “people who do not work out of choice cannot be called unemployed”. Is it possible that Modi Sarkar imagines that everyone without employment prefers to watch things on their Jio phone rather than earn a living? It is impossible to overstate how out of touch that sentiment is. Even in the best case scenario, which is that the minister was referring only to the worrying decrease in the labour participation rate of women – fewer women in India are working, while in the test of the world more women worked as development progressed – it still reveals an inability to understand the real problems faced by job-seekers. If women are not going out to work, it is not out of “choice”. It is because neither law and order nor their social relations in their community have allowed them to do so. Is this not something a government should be concerned about – if, that is, it values half of India? Or should it just dismiss the crushing of womens’ aspirations as “their choice”?

The ministers complained that there was not enough data to prove that jobs were not being created. This seems to undercut various other claims made by government apologists that jobs are indeed being created – on the basis of the pension records kept by the provident funds, for example. Many economists have poked clear holes in this theory. At best, that reveals that under pressure from demonetization and the GST, some jobs are coming into the formal sector – but it does not reveal whether or not jobs are being created overall. While it is amusing to discover that not even the Modi government ministers believe its own propagandists, the politicians’ statements are still important. Their complaint about the lack of official data is shared by many.

Yet data is scarce, of course, for a very specific reason: the survey of unemployment in the country, conducted by the Labour Bureau every year from 2010 to 2016, was discontinued by the Union Labour Ministry – in a strange coincidence, the Survey showed sharp job losses after the National Democratic Alliance government came to power in 2014. So when the ministers – and earlier the Prime Minister himself – complain that there is no data on employment, what they should instead explain is why the government chose to stop collecting data on employment.

The reason, of course, is that this government does not want the release of any data that would reveal the true state of the economy. The manipulation of the backseries of GDP data revealed exactly how desperate it is to whitewash its unusually poor record.

The Modi government seems to believe that voters are comically stupid. That they will not only believe that jobs are being created, but also that mobs of people applying for a few government jobs is a sign of how many other jobs there are. That they will also believe that a lack of data that the government has itself organised can be replaced by earnest assurances from the Prime Minister and his Cabinet that large numbers of jobs have indeed been created.

The most reliable independent source for jobs data are the reports from the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, or CMIE. Their latest report, issued earlier this month, indicated that 11 million jobs had been lost in 2018. Think about that – 11 million jobs were lost, not created. This comes at a time when most economists believe that we need to create between 6 and 12 million jobs a year just to keep pace with the number of people entering the job market. Nor were previous years better – demonetization in particular wreaked havoc, costing millions of jobs.

There is little doubt, therefore, that Modi has failed to keep the promises that he made before being elected. The question is whether he will be held accountable for those promises. Perhaps if the Prime Minister or his colleagues had been open about their failures and accepted that they understood where they had gone wrong and how more jobs could be created going forward, they might have been able to retain some credibility. Instead, they have chosen to deny that a problem even exists and to pretend instead that the promises have been fulfilled. This is brazen even by the standards of Indian politics.

There are good reasons for greater urgency. India’s window to create high-quality manufacturing jobs – the sort that helped countries like China move up the income ladder – is closing. More and more processes are being automated, and the scope for mass manufacturing that takes in lower-skilled workers and gives them solid secure employment is narrowing. But the World Bank has insisted in a recent report that there is still enough time. Given its vast numbers of young people, it is India that should be benefiting from these last decades in which manufacturing will matter. But instead the government has failed to undertake genuine economic reform, relying instead on adulatory press handouts and ministerial statements – managing the headlines and not the economy, as Arun Shourie put it. India’s young people, lining up in their lakhs in the hope even of a job as a government sweeper, deserve better than this callous indifference to their fate.

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Is Rahul Gandhi emerging as a reliable brand?

The Kashmir Monitor



By Shuchi Bansal

The Congress’s recent victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have put the spotlight on its president Rahul Gandhi.

While an earlier column spoke of brand Modi and whether he has lost some of its sheen, little has been said on Rahul Gandhi and if he, as a brand, has come of age. Or whether, despite his party’s recent wins, it is too early to think of him as a dependable brand.


Interestingly, the resurgence of the Congress and that of Rahul Gandhi in particular seems to represent an almost textbook example of a challenger brand.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) unexpected poor performance is also perhaps a classic case of what a market leader should avoid—complacence, overconfidence and petty-mindedness being on top of the list.

“While it’s true that Rahul Gandhi has a long way to go before he can match the perceived stature and the personal popularity of Narendra Modi, he has certainly been able to narrow the gap between them. I would say this is an outcome of some of his bold initiatives helped to a great extent by the missteps of the latter,” says Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting.

Dheeraj Sinha, managing director (India) and chief strategy officer (Asia) at Leo Burnett, agreed that Rahul Gandhi has emerged as a viable challenger with the recent wins in the Assembly elections.

However, he argues that challengers don’t win the game in India, leaders do. “Will Rahul be able to position himself as a viable leader of the country is the question. Just being a challenger won’t make it happen for the Congress,” he says.

Advertising veteran Sandeep Goyal who has done his doctorate in human brands, says that a challenger brand is defined by a mindset. It has ambitions larger than its conventional pool of resources and is prepared to do something bold. The most common narrative associated with the challenger brand is that of the underdog.

However, challenger brands are today more often focused on “what” they are challenging rather than “who” they are challenging.

“Rahul Gandhi is, therefore, by definition, truly a challenger brand. The important thing that everyone seems to be missing out on is that he is cleverly not really challenging Mr Modi but challenging incumbency, unfulfilled promises, growth agenda, and the performance of the current government, ‘mistakes’ like demonetization and GST (goods and service tax). In politics, these are really the ‘category drivers’. Rahul is also focusing on disenchantment/ unhappiness with jobs/economy, which is really challenging the ‘user experience’ with the current government,” says Goyal.

Sinha feels that Rahul’s underdog image helps him. He began his political career as a fumbling novice, which earned him the Pappu sobriquet.

“It’s because not much was expected of him is why his stock goes up every time he exceeds expectations, even for accomplishments that are less than extraordinary. On the other hand, his rival suffers a huge disadvantage for having set unrealistically high expectations, and whatever be his achievements, they are bound to fall short of the promise. This has no doubt negatively impacted both his credibility as well as popularity, which has helped Rahul Gandhi seize the narrative. When one starts at the bottom, the only way is up. The converse is equally true,” points out Sinha.

Brand Rahul seems to be gaining some traction. “His speeches have improved both in form and content. He is more consistent, more combative.

The hesitant, reluctant brand Rahul of yore is slowly but surely transforming into an astute leader who has pedigree and lineage,” feels Goyal.

Of course, none of this guarantees a defeat for the BJP, or a victory for the Congress, in this year’s general elections. Goyal says that as of now, brand Modi is stronger and better resourced, but beginning to fray at the edges.

Also, a bit hurt, if not bruised. In 2014, brand Modi epitomized “hope” and “progress.”

“In 2019, he cannot stand for Hindutva or Ram Temple or The Cow. That would be a big mistake. In 2014, brand Rahul was untested and nascent. In 2019, he is portraying himself as progressive, secular, empathetic and pedigreed… Both brands have their own appeal,” he says.

As Leo Burnett’s Sinha says, leadership brands need to appeal to the whole market.

Will brand Rahul be able to cover this distance from being a challenger brand to the leader brand in the next few months remains to be seen.

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Your waste: someone’s taste

The Kashmir Monitor



By Zeeshan Rasool Khan,

While we every other day listen to boastful claims that the country India is developing fast. It has become very difficult for most of us to accept the brute reality that here the people die because of hunger. Yes, death due to starvation is the unthinkable, reality of India. According to sources, about 14.9% of the Indian population is undernourished. Half of the world’s hungry live in India. Thousands are those who do not know if the next meal would be availed or not. Reports say, everyday 20 crore people have to hit the sack with an empty tummy. In the year 2018, many cases of hunger-death were reported in India. This bitter truth is being cloaked with bragging. Global Hunger Index 2018, which has placed India at a 103rd place out of 119 qualifying countries, is a testimony to this fact that India is not what media shows i.e., all is not well within the nation with respect to common masses. Howbeit, it is not any matter of berating the nation. There is no question of cutting anyone to size in connection with this issue. Instead, it demands serious contemplation from everyone irrespective of our positions in society.

One of the root causes of hunger is poverty that has been challenging to every developing country and India is no exception. Despite the reports of GHI, which says, the poverty level has reduced by 0.9 % since 2011 we must accept that our efforts have been too meagre to achieve any feat in this direction. Let us accept we have failed in defeating poverty. But, that does not mean we will rest on our laurels and let poverty-stricken die. If we cannot eradicate the gigantic issue of poverty but we have immense potential to secure poor. If we cannot build palaces for indigents, however, we can provide them shelter to hide at least. If we cannot raise their standard of living but there is no doubt that, we can mitigate their problems. Likewise, if we cannot provide them with sumptuous food, at least we can make sure that they will not sleep hungry, die due to hunger and starvation.


There is no dearth of food. Credible reports suggest that India produces sufficient food to feed its population. However, access to the available food is lacking. And this inaccessibility is partly due to low income of people and mostly due to our behaviour of wasting food. It has been estimated that nearly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted every year. This wastage starts from processing continues up to packing, supply management, and consumption.Due to imperfect packaging methods and inefficient supplying system, a considerable amount of food is lost. According to one estimate, about 40 percent of fruits and vegetables and 30 percent of cereals are wasted and do not reach the consumers because of improper packaging and supplying techniques. Prevalent ways of processing and subsequent supplying of paddy and other grains result into wastage of a part of it. Common Fruit growers know it better, while packaging, what quantity of fruits is wasted. Fully ripened fruit is often discarded as ‘rotten’ because of apprehensions about its transportation. Same is the case with vegetables and other foodstuffs.

These squandered grains, discarded fruit and vegetables make a large part of wasted food. Imagine if these grains, ripe fruit, and vegetable reach any poor, how great it would be. At the consumption stage, significant levels of food wastage occur. The gluttony, most people are indulged in is itself a form of wastage. Some people eat like a horse without thinking about health risks that overeating leads to. They keep on inviting ailments rather than getting any benefit but never cogitate, how by exercising moderation in eating we can help others. The excessive food that we take can easily become a morsel for a destitute.

Our weddings, events, restaurants, hostels, and houses are a major source of food wastage. At weddings, a huge amount of food is wasted. A large amount of food including multiple dishes are served, which results in leftovers that finally finds a place in trash bins. It would have been far better to have control mechanism at our weddings for prevention of food-wastage. However, even in absence of a mechanism, we can play a significant role in reducing wastage of food by best use of leftovers. Leftovers from weddings and even from our homes, restaurants, hostels, and hotels are often thrown away. But there is an option for us to make better use of it. We can recycle leftovers. We can make many other dishes from it, which can be used for the next meal. Massimo Botturra of Italy – the world’s best chef has come up with this innovative idea. He has founded the association namely ‘Food for Soul’ with the motive to fight food waste. He uses surplus food /leftovers productively to tackle food wastage and nourish poorest people of the city. Most of Hoteliers and restaurateur, across the world particularly India, have followed suit that is a good sign. Others, who are not aware of this idea, should imitate the same .So that more and more necessitous are benefited. In fact, using leftovers to feed the poor living in our vicinity would be one of the finest uses of leftovers. By this way the uneaten edibles from our homes, restaurants, etc. can fill the bellies of many and eliminate their hunger.

Efforts are on throughout India and fortunately, in our state too, to reach out the hunger struck population. No doubt, some NGO’s are working to utilize extra cooked food and give it to needier. But, the challenge is big and efforts are small. Broad-gauge efforts are required that must be started from the individual level. While processing, packaging, supplying, and consuming, utmost care needs to be taken to check the frittering. Through this mindfulness, we can preserve lot of food and can make it available to the poor. In addition, if everyone would refrain from wasting food and take care of penurious people of respective communities, we can ensure food availability for a maximum number of deprived people.

It is worth to mention, feeding hungry cannot obliterate hunger as it is related to several problems. However, we cannot deny the fact that hunger itself is the root of various other troubles. Hunger deprives a person from growth. It increases the vulnerability of a person to a myriad of complications, which can have an adverse impact on social, behavioural, emotional, and physical health of a person. Satisfying one’s hunger can make him eligible to earn livelihood otherwise his destiny is elimination. So, we must think logically to gain the best of both worlds.

(The writer can be reached at: [email protected])

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