Not Your Tibetan Buddhism


Far from being easy to grasp and anodyne, Tibetan Buddhism is rich in tantric practices, the impenetrably esoteric ideas and techniques used to try to slingshot spiritual seekers directly towards the enlightenment they seek to attain within this lifetime to best help others.

Read Here – Aeon

Western Philosophy Is Racist


Mainstream philosophy in the so-called West is narrow-minded, unimaginative, and even xenophobic…how else can we explain the fact that the rich philosophical traditions of ChinaIndia, Africa, and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are completely ignored by almost all philosophy departments in both Europe and the English-speaking world?

Read Here – Aeon

The Madras Observatory: From Jesuit Cooperation To British Rule


The Madras Observatory offers little to the visitor’s eye. Stone slabs and broken pillars lie ignored in a fenced-off section of a local weather centre in the southern Indian city of Chennai. Few tourists venture out to see the ruins of the 18th-century complex…Yet it is the Madras Observatory, and not the spectacular Jantar Mantars, that marks the triumphal fusion of scientific knowledge and imperial power.

Read Here – Aeon

Parched Before The Arriving Rains


This May should also be remembered for its cornucopia of outlandish riches — $900 billion in China’s save-the-world-from-poverty investment, a $350 billion envelope to President Trump to help Muslims defeat each other, and a $250 billion Indian plan to turn its traders into manufacturers of sophisticated weapons.

Read Here – Dawn

This One Is Scary


The last paragraph of a fascinating book on what is the world’s biggest problem — population.

“Over the next 15 years some 2 billion new babies will be born, 2 billion children will need to commence school, and 1.2 billion young adults will need to find work. In addition, the fastest-growing age group globally will be over 60s. Acknowledging the importance of age-structural change, and ensuring that it is integrated into national and international policymaking, will be essential as the globe transitions from a predominantly younger to a predominantly older world.”

We all need to think about this one.

(Excerpt from: How Population Change will transform Our World by Sarah Harper)

India May Not Like It, But Sri Lanka Can’t Move Completely Away From China


Buried under billions of dollars of Chinese debt, Colombo has little option but to go along, albeit at a pace slower than earlier. After all, Chinese money did prop up the war-battered economy and created jobs. and this did help the government in ending the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Chinese know that while the wicket might be sticky at this point, the pitch will eventually help the ball turn their way.

Read Here – The Wire

It’s always long term for China


Pragati

By Rahul Sharma

There is nothing to be excited about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decision to skip Pakistan during his forthcoming South Asia tour. Some might argue that it would have been a good time for Xi to land in Islamabad to show support for the country roiled by political uncertainty, but let’s be clear that the call to stay away does not reflect any change in relations between the two long-standing friends.

Xi is due to visit India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives later this month, trips during which he will test prime minister Narendra Modi’s keenness to improve trade ties between the world’s two most populous countries and reaffirm Beijing’s deepening ties with Colombo that has attracted vast amounts of Chinese investments in its infrastructure.

Ties between India and China have always been testy given the border dispute that saw the two go to war back in 1962. Frosty relations have thawed in recent years and trade between the two neighbours has grown, but there is still a long way to go before any degree of mutual trust can be established.

Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said this week that while Modi and Xi had established good relations when they met at the BRICs summit in Brazil soon after general elections in India, she also made it clear that Beijing had been delivered a strong message that it had to respect the “one-India policy (which means no claims on Arunachal Pradesh) given that New Delhi recognised Tibet and Taiwan to be part of China.

One thing India and its diplomats can be clear about is that his decision to skip Islamabad from his tour does not mean China is ready to dump Pakistan. Usually Chinese leaders club their visits to India and Pakistan, but all that a de-linking this time around could possibly do is give New Delhi temporary comfort that at this point it figures higher in Beijing’s priority than in the past.

One thing India and its diplomats can be clear about is that his decision to skip Islamabad from his tour does not mean China is ready to dump Pakistan. Usually Chinese leaders club their visits to India and Pakistan, but all that a de-linking this time around could possibly do is give New Delhi temporary comfort that at this point it figures higher in Beijing’s priority than in the past.

China seldom takes a short-term view of the world, and has clearly defined its relations with other nations on the basis of its long-term goals and needs. A recent info graphic in Global Times, a Chinese government-run newspaper, provided a view of how Beijing divides its worldly ties.

China essentially follows four partnership models: creative partnership, comprehensive cooperative partnership, strategic partnership (of cooperation) and comprehensive strategic partnership (of cooperation). The difference, according to the newspaper, is that while cooperative partnerships are formed at a fundamental level, are bilateral in nature and focus mainly on politics, economics, science and technology and culture, the strategic partnerships can be both bilateral or multilateral and are based on benefits of national security.

While one would imagine that diplomacy and foreign relations are usually dynamic in nature and, therefore, likely to change depending on circumstances, in China’s case one can merrily assume that any shift will only be snail paced with little or no change in the foundation. Foreign policy, like so many other things in China, can be rather nuanced and small variations in definition of relationships can mean a lot more than what the world outside may understand.

So it is interesting to see that China clubs the European Union and most large European nations except Germany and Russia as those with which it has a comprehensive strategic partnership. With Germany it has an “all-round strategic partnership” and with Russia it is in a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination”

With India, Afghanistan, South Korea and Sri Lanka, Beijing shares a “strategic cooperative partnership”. That means it sees all of them through the same prism, an idea that may not appeal to India, but might go down well in Kabul and Colombo.

According to the Global Times, China’s ties with ASEAN, central Asian republics, the United Arab Emirates, Canada and some East European countries are seen to be one of “strategic partnership”, while those with Nepal, Congo, Bangladesh and some other key African nations fall under the head “comprehensive cooperative partnership.”

The emerging great power rivalry with the United States and the old, historic unhappiness with Japan has led China to define its relationship with these two very differently than those with other nations of the world.

It calls its engagement with the United States a “new model of major-power relationship”, which means Beijing definitely sees itself in league with Washington, an idea that obviously reflects on its relationships with other capitals. In short that means that while China is willing to engage with all, it doesn’t consider anyone a bigger rival than the United States. Countries such as India are, therefore, mostly marginal to China’s larger cause.

Similarly, its defines ties with Japan as a “strategic relationship of mutual benefit.” Given the huge bilateral trade and Japanese investments in China even as the two battle over a gory past, the definition makes sense.

Pakistan is the only country with which China has an “all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation.” In layman’s terms, it simply means that Beijing considers its relationship with Islamabad over and beyond its ties with all others. The phrase “all-weather” is key; China might be willing to shift gears either way in its relations with other countries, with Pakistan it will always be an even ride just as it has been for the past several decades.

Let’s not forget it was Pakistan that essentially helped Beijing open its door to the world in the 1970s, an event that has now propelled China to almost become the world’s biggest economy. China never forgets its friends and that’s a thought Pakistan can live comfortably with irrespective of whether it has a democratically elected government or army rule.

It’s also a thought India’s new government needs to keep in its mind while dealing with Beijing and Xi, the now all-powerful man in China.

Rahul Sharma, a former newspaper editor, is President, Rediffusion Communications, Mumbai; Secretary, Public Affairs Forum of India, and a keen foreign policy follower. Views are personal.

Disquiet In The Neighbourhood


Businessworld

By Rahul Sharma

The taxi driver ferrying me to the airport in Sri Lanka was pretty clear about why the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had chosen to stay away from the Commonwealth Summit in the capital Colombo this week.

“Your prime minister doesn’t like our president’s closeness to the Chinese,” he declared, as he sped over a spanking new expressway to the airport at Katunayake, a journey that once took nearly two hours but now has been reduced to about 25 minutes.

The taxi driver’s view was remarkably at odds with that of the Sri Lankan government, which is piqued by New Delhi’s decision to stay away after pressure from political parties in Tamil Nadu months ahead of a general election, which is likely to throw up another coalition government.

Sri Lanka is a vastly different place than what it was when a three-decade ethnic war ended in 2009 with the killing of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels who were fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils.

Prabhakaran was a feared man – god to some and terrorist to others – who led a bloody quest that ended tens of thousands of lives on the island, shattered the economy and wiped out most of the political leaders through use of suicide bombers.

There is now a government headed by a confident President Mahinda Rajapakse who, in his second term, is still riding a high after being declared a saviour of the majority Sinhalese community.

Military checkpoints have given way to sparkling pavements, restored buildings and shiny roads. There is a positive buzz around Colombo, where hybrid taxis and fancy cars jostle for space with Bajaj three-wheelers.

One of things that Rajapakse has done in the past few years apart from rebuilding the country is that he has seemingly sold his country to the Chinese, or so many Indians and Sri Lankans would like to believe.

Indeed, the Chinese are everywhere. They are doing what they are very good at – building new highways, bridges, airports, convention centres and ports that are making Rajapakse look extremely good at home. His beaming face looks down from large cutouts that adorn the sides of the new expressways that now connect Sri Lankan cities.

For a nation that witnessed various bloodbaths since the riots against minority Tamils back in 1983 triggered the long war, these are years of change and the Chinese are more than happy to participate in the development process by helping a president who is keen to build political equity for the long term. Indians, on the other hand, have held back to ensure that New Delhi’s domestic political constituency remains stable.

If Singh would have gone to Sri Lanka, he would have been driven on a brand new Chinese built airport expressway to a Chinese built and renovated convention hall for the summit. On the way he could have had a peek at a brand new Chinese-built shipping port in Colombo and many a Chinese restaurants and massage parlours that have sprouted across the capital.

If he went deeper south to Rajapakse’s home town of Hambatota, he would have seen another large port and another convention centre that the Chinese have built. The new highway to Galle on Sri Lanka’s southern tip and another to the eastern port city of Trincomalee also have a Chinese stamp. More importantly, there are more Chinese visiting the country than Indians.

The once disjointed country, broken by war, is now connected the way it was 30 years ago thanks to the Chinese. Are Sri Lankans unhappy about it? No, they aren’t. They appreciate what Rajapakse has done after winning a war his predecessors could not. And the lack of a strong opposition makes him a powerful leader to contend with.

And what is India, which once held sway over Sri Lankan politics and economy, doing about negating the increasing Chinese influence on the island? Precious little, to say the least. The Indian contingent is standing by the tracks watching the Chinese win a race that was once New Delhi’s to take, thanks to state-level politics that binds its hands.

Rajapakse is a grassroots politician who understands the pulse of his voters better than most in Sri Lanka; he also understands that while hobnobbing with the Chinese is beneficial, India can’ be wished away completely. He wants to stay engaged, but at his terms.

It’s a smart move. If things go wrong again in the Tamil-dominated north and east, he can happily put the blame on India’s door. If not, he can take the credit for working with India to help the minority. The south is not a worry for him – at least not yet – as that’s his majority Sinhalese political base.

The good news for India is that it is still appreciated among large chunks of a country which, like many others, could soon reach a point when it begins distrusting the Chinese.

The immigration officer at the airport says that Chinese were different from Indians and that the Indian prime minister’s participation in the Commonwealth Summit would have helped New Delhi earn critical brownie points against Beijing. “Your prime minister should have come,” he said, as he stamped my passport and waved me off with a wry smile.

Yes, the prime minister should have gone, if only to keep the tiny neighbour happy. Singh’s absence may not necessarily push the Sri Lankans deeper into the Chinese arms, but it would definitely make it slightly more difficult for New Delhi to do business with Colombo. Given its chaotic neighbourhood, India needs to keep its friends; not turn them into indifferent acquaintances.

(The columnist, a former newspaper editor, is President, Public Affairs, Genesis Burson-Marsteller and co-founder of Public Affairs Forum of India. He has a keen interest in China and Southeast Asia. Views are personal) 

It’s The Jobs, Stupid


By Rahul Sharma

Caravan Daily

There is a very good reason why Narendra Modi speaks to India’s young and exhorts them to vote the current Congress-led government out. He understands the simmering discontent among the country’s massive young population that is out looking for jobs and not finding any unlike other politicians who still believe only in politics of dole, caste and religion.

The state of the young in India is dismal and the mood gray. A slowing economy and high cost of living have only added to their woes. Add to that the fact that business sentiment will continue to be poor for the next several months in the run up to the elections – and even after that if a sustainable government doesn’t come to power – and you see a horribly potent recipe for social unrest.

Modi knows that if the young – a brand new, vibrant constituency — start believing that he will get those jobs and the financial sustainability that would let them buy all the gadgets, goods, automobiles and apartments, they would come out in throngs and help him win next year’s general elections.

Given the state of India’s shrinking job market into which 12 million youth trundle in every year, Modi’s call resonates well not only in large urban centres, but also the smaller towns where aspirations and opportunities have made traditional roles redundant.

So how badly off is the situation?

If you believe a new Confederation of Indian Industries-Economic Times (CII-ET) survey of India’s young, it’s pretty nasty out there. Of its 1.2 billion people, 800 million are less than 35 years old – and they seem to be really upset with the way things are.

According to the survey, findings of which were published in The Economic Times, three out of four of them believe that the economy today is worse off than it was in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crises. More than half say it is the worst time to look for jobs and nearly 60 percent have postponed buying a house, a car or having children. Worse, nearly 40 percent of the people polled in 28 cities said they won’t mind taking a pay cut if that improves their chances of holding on to a job.

It can’t get worse for the Congress; and it can’t be better for Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is still looking for that one issue that could change its fate and bring it out of its decade-long political wilderness.

“This is the most disturbing micro impact of the macro slowdown,” the newspaper quoted Rajya Sabha MP and entrepreneur Rajeev Chandrashekkhar as saying. According to him, educated Indians looking for their first or second jobs are hurting the most.

Thousands of engineering, medicine and businesses schools in India produce millions of graduates each year. But they hit a hard wall when they get into the job market. The impact is two pronged. Fewer jobs also mean there aren’t many takers for the seats in the graduate and post-graduate schools, many of which are beginning to shut down.

“The following set of numbers shows the young have read the grim job market right. Andhra Pradesh has over 700 engineering colleges and 350,000 seats – the highest in any Indian state. But just 200,000 seats were filled up this year. Why? Because just 20% of the class of 2013 have got jobs. When young Indians give up the chance of getting an engineering degree, you know there’s something very wrong,” the Economic Times wrote.

The other, bigger, impact is on the consumer, automobile and real estate markets, which are now losing their sheen as poor demand pulls the economy down. No wonder, the government is being forced to ask state-owned banks to offer cheaper loans for consumer goods and two-wheelers to boost demand in an otherwise depressing economy.
These are problems only politicians can address. There is a need for a fresh thinking and new policies that could create more jobs, both in the manufacturing and services sector. There is a need to lift business sentiment so that investments on hold can be channeled into infrastructure and other industries that would create jobs. These are issues that can’t be solved overnight, but if you have a large chunk of your population that is either unemployed or underemployed, you have a huge problem on hand.

If you believe Modi, then he probably understands the issues better than other politicians. The Congress doesn’t seem to have a solution, nor can it explain its lethargy in fixing the situation in the 10 years that it has ruled India. The grand old party is not even talking about jobs – at least not yet. A disgruntled youth is not good for politicians and the country. The leader who can show a way to the youth stuck in between a rock and hard place is likely to win the next election.

It is up to politicians and the next government to take the right steps.