Connect with us

South Asia

The Real Game of Thrones

Published

on

Starting July 17, 2017and for the coming six week, vast majority of Indians will eagerly await not for Sundays but for Mondays. People will avoid using social media like a contagion and blood (spoilers) will be everywhere. Reason- Game of Thrones, a hugely popular television show becomes available for the Indians on Monday instead of Sunday (thank you Standard Time for messing with our Sundays).

Now airing its Seventh Season, Game of Thrones is the story of several Great Houses, their lords and landed knights vying for an Iron Throne, the seat of Power for the continent of Westeros. Full of amazing actions and not so amazing CGI, lovable characters who lose their heads every now and then along with hugely hated characters who just can’t seem to be dead soon enough, the show’s plot full of schemes and devious plots has become an immense hit amongst the world’s populace, who seem every ready to draw real life parallels from it. The plot is full of the usual sex and violence along with deep plot complexity and loads and loads of power struggles. Where I Live, we love Power struggles and while I do watch Game of Thrones, the bulk of my interest lies in a different Game of Thrones, one that is real and far more complex than the plot of Game of Thrones will ever be. That’s right, a real actual-life Game of Thrones.

India is a not a country, but a continent full of diverse regions like Westeros united by a seat of power(reel- King’s Landing, Real- you know). The regions are governed by regional satraps (hereditary in Westeros, not so hereditary here). To advise these local satraps and aid in their administration, maesters or Administrative officers are trained in well-established academies. The local law enforcement is the primary duty of the regional satraps who govern their regions as they see fit. The result, some regions may be very well-governed and prosperous like the Westerlands while some may languish in poverty and be full of stifle like the Grey Islands (both have real-life parallels). Unlike Westeros, India is home to a diversity of religions (far more than the 2/3 found on Westeros), people, languages, cultures, traditions, practices and behaviors, not found anywhere else in the world. Unlike Westeros, you don’t die if you lose the Game of Thrones, you get another chance in five years. Sooner, if you lucky. No one, not even God himself, should he ever decide to take a guess himself, can predict the Indian Game of Thrones. Alliances are made and broken everyday and yesterday’s friends may become today’s enemies to re-emerge as tomorrow’s best buddies. Calling it unpredictable would be understatement.

The story can be said to have begun in the late 2013. The Great House of the Hand supported by the regional houses of the “Forever-Youth-Leader”, “the one who should not be put in charge of Cattle Fodder” and the other minor houses had been ruling the entire continent for a decade from the seat at New Delhi. However, the head of the Great House of Hand, was worried as their rivals, the Great House of the Lotus had found its new leader, a rags to riches Saffron Knight who had administered the provinces in the west and had made a name for him. While the old guard in the Great House of Lotus, which unlike the Great House of the Hand was not dynasty, was wary to cast its lot with the Saffron Knight, the peasants and the middle class prevailed on it and the Saffron Knight along with his most trusted advisor, Ser Bald-win set out to claim the seat of power. Alliances were made with the Regional Houses in the South and the Centre while the Knight of Good-Governance broke his alliance with the House of Lotus. Most of the smaller houses hitched their fates to either of the two great houses or a new Great House, which they planned on establishing after having captured power. In the Great War that followed, the House of the Hand along with its allies was decimated, fallen to massive charges led by the Saffron Knight and the strategizing of Ser Bald-win. Only the Houses of the Simple Lady in the East, the Smart Guy on the Sea and the Loving Mother in the South could resist the Saffron Knight. Defeated and out of power, the decaying but not yet Dead Great House of Hand re-made alliances with regional houses and Landed Knights. Swallowing its pride, the armies of the House of the Hand were relegated to the rear while the battles were fought primarily and mainly by the Allied Knights. After capturing the seat of power, the Saffron Knight went on to win several key provinces one after another. But his advance was checked, in his own backyard by Ser Protest-a-lot, a brilliant yet eccentric knight and his rag-tag band of the common folk. Ser Protest-a-lot dealt a heavy blow to the Saffron Knight wiping out his entire force, barring a trio.

The Saffron Knight lost another battle, this time in a province right next to his citadel. He was surprised and defeated by a coalition of the Knight of Good-Governance, the one who should not be put in charge of Cattle Fodder and the Great House of the Hand. Successive defeats put pressure on the Saffron Knight but he took a lesson from his defeats. The next year, while he lost battles to House of the Simple Lady in the East and the Loving Mother of the South, his battle prowess was praised and he snatched a key state in the North East from the Great House of the Hand, helped by their former vassal who was wary of a Landed House in his state under the Great House. In the near-abroad, the Kingdom of Green, a sworn enemy had begun a plethora of nefarious activities to harm the state. The Saffron Knight allowed a free hand to his warriors and the Kingdom of Green was given a befitting reply, shells for a bullet, rockets for a shell. In the East, the Empire of the Chairman grew restless, apparently at the growing power and I don’t care attitude of the Saffron Knight. Back Home, while Ser Protest-a-lot did win a great victory, inexperience and infighting ensured that he could not follow through on his victory and was defeated by the House of the Lotus in a skirmish. The Great House of the Hand under a bold Ser Captain wrested back a key province from an ally of the Great House of Lotus but Ser Bald-win ensured that the Great House of the Lotus won the major province of “80 Castles” and appointed the High Priest to govern the province. The death of the Loving Mother of the south sparked a rebellion in her house and Ser Bald-win, sensing an opportunity played peacemaker and gained their support to elect their fellow brethren to the seat of the “Protector of the Constitution, Lord of the Pardons and the Commander of the Army, Fleet and Dragons”. The Great House of the Hand realized that the next War could not be won without several allies. They tried to cobble together a coalition of the defeated lords but Ser Bald-win engineered a major coup when he weaned away the Knight of Good-Governance to his fold, hammering the final nail on the coffin of “the ambitions of the House of Hand to field a unified force against the Saffron Knight”. To defeat the Saffron Knight, the Great House of the Hand needs to find a new contender to the throne, some-one powerful enough to check the Saffron Knight but not so powerful so as to overthrow the House of the Hand itself and time to mount such a challenge is fast running out before the next War. But will it be able to do so, only time will tell.

(This article is intended to be a fun read and does not Endeavour to offend anyone. Have a hood laugh)

Continue Reading
Comments

South Asia

The Not-So-Missing Case of Indian Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Published

on

Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

Hitendra Singh and Gauri Noolkar-Oak*

Recently, an article published in Modern Diplomacy caught our attention. The author has cited Mr. Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and found his famous statement on Indians lacking enterprise and innovation to be ‘music to his ears’. He has then gone on to paint Indians in broad strokes – ironic, for it is something he has accused Indians of doing – and labelled them as a nation lacking entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. While his reasoning certainly has an element of truth and an instant appeal, our response looks to add nuances to his argument and provide a more realistic and complete picture of enterprise and innovation in India.

To begin with, the terms ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ cannot be used interchangeably; not all entrepreneurs are innovators, and vice versa. There are more than 50 million medium and small businesses operating in India which contribute 37% of India’s GDP and employ around 117 million people. These numbers sufficiently prove that entrepreneurship is alive and kicking in the Indian society; Indians are running businesses not only in India but are leading and successful entrepreneurs in many countries of Asia, Africa and rest of the world. Hence, an argument that Indians lack entrepreneurship does not hold much strength.

In the case of innovation and creativity, a different story is emerging. It is slow but is happening and it is solving some of the largest social and developmental challenges in India – from grassroots, to research labs, to top-tier institutions such as ISRO and various DRDO labs. At a global level, India has not only moved up six places in its GII ranking in 2017, but is also ranked second in innovation quality. India has also won international acclaim for its innovative and cost-effective technology; such as its first mission to Mars in 2014, the Mangalyaan, was successful in the first attempt, made entirely with domestic technology, and cost less than the Hollywood movies ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Martian’. It is surprising that the author spots lack of innovation in a household broom but does not see innovation in a nation that sends a successful Mars mission on a budget that is less than that of a Hollywood movie about Mars.

At the national level, grassroots innovation and entrepreneurship are gaining more and more institutional recognition; the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) and the annual Festival of Innovation at the Rashtrapati Bhavan are perhaps the only high-level government initiatives supporting and celebrating innovation in the world. Additionally, many universities and educational institutes across the country host innovation competitions, festivals and incubators.

Several remarkable individuals are nurturing India’s growing innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.Prof. Anil K. Gupta founded SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions) in 1993 and the Honey Bee Network in 1997 to connect innovators from all sections of the society to entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors. For more than 12 years, he has walked around 6000 kilometres across the country, discovering extraordinary grassroots innovations on the way. Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, an eminent chemical scientist, has led multiple scientific and technological innovations in the country, earlier as the Director-General of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and now as the President of the National Innovation Foundation.

And then, there are thousands of common men and women, hailing from various walks of life, innovating continuously and creatively to solve pressing everyday problems in the Indian society. There are the famous Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a cost-effective way of manufacturing sanitary napkins, and Mansukhbhai Prajapati, who invented a clay refrigerator which runs without electricity. Then there are Mallesham from Andhra Pradesh, who sped up the process of weaving Kochampalli sarees and reduced the physical pains of the weavers, and Shri Sundaram from Rajasthan, who found a way to grow a whole tree in a dry region with just a litre of water. Raghav Gowda from Karnataka designed a cost-effective and painless machine to milk cows, while Mathew K Mathews from Kerala designed a solar mosquito destroyer. Dr. Pawan Mehrotra of Haryana has developed a cost-effective version of breast prosthesis for breast cancer survivors while Harsh Songra of Madhya Pradesh has developed a mobile app to detect developmental disorders among children.

Three women from Manipur, OinamIbetombi Devi, SarangthenDasumati Devi and Nameirakpam Sanahambi Devi invented an herbal medicine that is proven to promote poultry health. Priyanka Sharma from Punjab developed a low-cost biochip to detect environmental pollutants, while Dr. Seema Prakash from Karnataka revolutionised eco-agriculture by inventing a cost-effective plant cloning technique. AshniBiyani, the daughter of Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani, leads the Khoj Lab, which collaborates with the NIF to help commercialise grassroots innovations and ideas.

These and thousands of such examples present a very encouraging picture of the creativity and innovation of Indians. The innovation that the author admires are rooted in a context. Apple and Google (or Lyft or Uber or Spotify) could be created because there was an end consumer who was looking to pay for their products. There are many India innovator-entrepreneurs, such as those mentioned above, who have created products for a necessarily less glamorous but useful India context. Products like brooms and packaged food add convenience to the time-stretched urban and middle and upper middle classes; with a large unskilled and semiskilled workforce competing vigorously for such jobs, does the Indian society have an incentive to invest in innovating them?

Having said that, it is true that upsurge of innovation in India is relatively recent, i.e. about two to three decades old. It is also true that the Indian society has been experiencing socio-economic affluence on such a broad scale only for the past three decades, since the market reforms of 1991. It has been 70 years since Indians have gained sovereignty and control over their resources. The top five innovative countries according to the GII – Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, USA and UK – have been sovereign states for about at least two and a half centuries. It would perhaps then be more accurate to compare India’s current innovation scenario with, for instance, the USA’s innovation scenario in the mid-19th century.

Further, given the economic and resource drain faced by the Indian society over centuries, Indian innovation was geared more towards surviving rather than thriving. This explains the ‘group mentality’ strongly rooted in mainstream Indian society; staying and cooperating in a group increased one’s capacity to cope with and survive through all kinds of adversity. Individualistic aspirations, beliefs and actions were then a price to be paid for the security blanket it offered. And yet, once relative stability and affluence began to set in, the innovative and creative instincts of Indians lost no time in bursting forth.

Long story short, both innovation and entrepreneurship are thriving in India. They might not be as “macro” or glamourous as Apple or Uber, but they are solving fundamental problems for the Indian masses. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of room for improvement and growth – India has a long way to go to be recognised as a global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the scenario is not by any means bleak, as these many examples point out. The trajectory of enterprises and innovation in India is only upward. The future is promising.

* Gauri Noolkar-Oak is Policy Research Analyst at Pune International Centre, a liberal think tank based in Pune, India.

Views expressed by the authors are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation.

Continue Reading

South Asia

Changing Perceptions: How Pakistan should use Public Diplomacy

Published

on

Traditionally in International Relations the concept of “hard power” remained the basic focus for states so as to achieve power and dominance in international anarchic system but with the changing scenarios in the age of globalization, economic interdependency and rapid spreading of information through various tools, “Soft Power” concept emerged which had great impact on states’ foreign policies. This term of soft power was first coined by Joseph Nye in mid-1960’s which could be defined as the ability of the state to influence others without coercion and this soft power technique basically revolves around three major instruments such as Culture, political values, and foreign policies. Apart from soft power concept, there is another basic concept called as “Public Diplomacy”. This could be described as the further dimension of soft power because by practicing Public Diplomacy state can initiate their soft power policies and can achieve the desired outcomes by winning the hearts and minds of foreign audience and non-governmental entities because by doing so it will enable government and decision making bodies of foreign states to act accordingly.

In context of South Asia particularly taking into consideration the important developing state Pakistan whose basic concern is to maintain friendly and neutral relations with other states Public diplomacy could, however, help it to maintain its relations in the regional complex structure where India is seen as the dominant power and alongside India the powerful rise of China as an external actor in South Asia. By efficient usage of Public diplomacy, Pakistan can improve its bilateral ties with the neighboring states.

The image of Pakistan in foreign media is portrayed as the state which is full of many internal and external challenges and it is also not portrayed as the safe country to travel into. In order to improve the image, Pakistan firstly needs to improve its relations with states within the region and for that India which is considered as hostile neighbor Pakistan should effectively use its public diplomacy tool it should introduce exchange programs because by educating youth and by deploying positive image in their minds Pakistan can influence them which could bring change in the coming years and also by increasing tourism activities. This would make foreigners aware of the fact that Pakistan is a secure state. Similarly, cultural activities, sports diplomacy, literature, art, and media could also have a great impact so as to change the perceptions.

Hence it could be suggested that for the development of state it is important for Pakistan to improve its public diplomacy by changing perceptions of public and elite of neighboring states it should take basic steps which could change the negative image which is in limelight since 9/11. Pakistan by enhancing the public diplomacy in other states as the tool to implement its soft power policies would, however, be able to economically, culturally and politically improve its stance in the International arena.

Continue Reading

South Asia

Rolling back militancy: Bangladesh looks to Saudi Arabia in a twist of irony

Dr. James M. Dorsey

Published

on

Bangladesh, in a twist of irony, is looking to Saudi Arabia to fund a $ 1 billion plan to build hundreds of mosques and religious centres to counter militant Islam that for much of the past decade traced its roots to ultra-conservative strands of the faith promoted by a multi-billion dollar Saudi campaign.

The Bangladeshi plan constitutes the first effort by a Muslim country to enlist the kingdom whose crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return Saudi Arabia to an undefined form of ‘moderate Islam,’ in reverse engineering.

The plan would attempt to roll back the fallout of Saudi Arabia’s global investment of up to $100 billion over a period of four decades in support of ultra-conservative mosques, religious centres, and groups as an antidote to post-1979 Iranian revolutionary zeal.

Cooperation with Saudi Arabia and various countries, including Malaysia, has focused until now on countering extremism in cooperation with defense and security authorities rather than as a religious initiative.

Saudi religious authorities and Islamic scholars have long issued fatwas or religious opinions condemning political violence and extremism and accused jihadists of deviating from the true path of Islam.

The Saudi campaign, the largest public diplomacy effort in history, was, nevertheless, long abetted by opportunistic governments who played politics with religion as well as widespread discontent fuelled by the failure of governments to deliver public goods and services.

The Bangladeshi plan raises multiple questions, including whether the counter-narrative industry can produce results in the absence of effective government policies that address social, economic and political grievances.

It also begs the question whether change in Saudi Arabia has advanced to a stage in which the kingdom can claim that it has put its ultra-conservative and militant roots truly behind it. The answer to both questions is probably no.

In many ways, Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism and militancy, violent and non-violent, despite sharing common roots with the kingdom’s long-standing theological thinking and benefitting directly or indirectly from Saudi financial largess, has created a life of its own that no longer looks to the kingdom for guidance and support and is critical of the path on which Prince Mohammed has embarked.

The fallout of the Saudi campaign is evident in Asia not only in the rise of militancy in Bangladesh but also the degree to which concepts of supremacism and intolerance have taken root in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan. Those concepts are often expressed in discrimination, if not persecution of minorities like Shia Muslims and Ahmadis, and draconic anti-blasphemy measures by authorities, militants and vigilantes.

Bangladesh in past years witnessed a series of brutal killings of bloggers and intellectuals whom jihadists accused of atheism.

Moreover, basic freedoms in Bangladesh are being officially and unofficially curtailed in various forms as a result of domestic struggles originally enabled by successful Saudi pressure to amend the country’s secular constitution in 1975 to recognize Islam as its official religion. Saudi Arabia withheld recognition of the new state as well as financial support until the amendment was adopted four years after Bangladeshi independence.

In Indonesia, hard-line Islamic groups, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), earlier this month filed a blasphemy complaint against politician Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, a daughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno and the younger sister of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who leads President Joko Widodo’s ruling party. The hardliners accuse Ms. Sukarnoputri of reciting a poem that allegedly insults Islam.

The groups last year accused Basuki Tjahaja Purnama aka Ahok, Jakarta’s former Christian governor, of blasphemy and spearheaded mass rallies that led to his ouster and jailing, a ruling that many believed was politicized and unjust.

Pakistan’s draconic anti-blasphemy law has created an environment that has allowed Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatives and powerful political forces to whip up popular emotion in pursuit of political objectives. The environment is symbolized by graffiti in the corridor of a courthouse In Islamabad that demanded that blasphemers be beheaded.

Pakistan last month designated Islamabad as a pilot project to regulate Friday prayer sermons in the city’s 1,003 mosques, of which only 86 are state-controlled, in a bid to curb hate speech, extremism and demonization of religions and communities.

The government has drafted a list of subjects that should be the focus of weekly Friday prayer sermons in a bid to prevent mosques being abused “to stir up sectarian hatred, demonise other religions and communities and promote extremism.” The subjects include women rights; Islamic principles of trade, cleanliness and health; and the importance of hard work, tolerance, and honesty.

However, they do not address legally enshrined discrimination of minorities like Ahmadis, who are viewed as heretics by orthodox Muslims. The list risked reinforcing supremacist and intolerant militancy by including the concept of the finality of the Prophet Mohammed that is often used as a whip to discriminate against minorities.

Raising questions about the degree of moderation that Saudi-funded mosques and religious centres in Bangladesh would propagate, Prince Mohammed, in his effort to saw off the rough edges of Saudi ultra-conservatism, has given no indication that he intends to repeal a law that defines atheists as terrorists.

A Saudi court last year condemned a man to death on charges of blasphemy and atheism. Another Saudi was a year earlier sentenced to ten years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing atheist sentiments on social media.

Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations have long lobbied for the criminalization of blasphemy in international law in moves that would legitimize curbs on free speech and growing Muslim intolerance towards any open discussion of their faith.

To be sure, Saudi Arabia cannot be held directly liable for much of the expression of supremacism, intolerance and anti-pluralism in the Muslim world. Yet, by the same token there is little doubt that Saudi propagation of ultra-conservatism frequently contributed to an enabling environment.

Prince Mohammed is at the beginning of his effort to moderate Saudi Islam and has yet to spell out in detail his vision of religious change. Beyond the issue of defining atheism as terrorism, Saudi Arabia also has yet to put an end to multiple ultra-conservative practices, including the principle of male guardianship that forces women to get the approval of a male relative for major decisions in their life.

Prince Mohammed has so far forced the country’s ultra-conservative religious establishment into subservience. That raises the question whether there has been real change in the establishment’s thinking or whether it is kowtowing to an autocratic leader.

In December, King Salman fired a government official for organizing a mixed gender fashion show after ultra-conservatives criticized the event on Twitter. The kingdom this week hosted its first ever Arab Fashion Week, for women only. Designers were obliged to adhere to strict dress codes banning transparent fabrics and the display of cleavages or clothing that bared knees.

In February, Saudi Arabia agreed to surrender control of the Great Mosque in Brussels after its efforts to install a more moderate administration failed to counter mounting Belgian criticism of alleged intolerance and supremacism propagated by mosque executives.

Efforts to moderate Islam in Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar, the world’s only other Wahhabi state that traces its ultra-conservatism to the teachings of 18th century preacher Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, but has long interpreted them more liberally than the kingdom, have proven to be easier said than done.

Saudi King Abdullah, King Salman’s predecessor, positioned himself as a champion of interfaith dialogue and reached out to various groups in society including Shiites and women.

Yet, more than a decade of Saudi efforts to cleanse textbooks used at home and abroad have made significant progress but have yet to completely erase descriptions of alternative strands of Islam such as Shiism and Sufism in derogatory terms or eliminate advise to Muslims not to associate with Jews and Christians who are labelled kaffirs or unbelievers.

Raising questions about Saudi involvement in the Bangladeshi plan, a Human Rights Watch survey of religion textbooks produced by the Saudi education ministry for the 2016-2017 school year concluded that “as early as first grade, students in Saudi schools are being taught hatred toward all those perceived to be of a different faith or school of thought.”

Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle noted that Prince Mohammed has remained conspicuously silent about hate speech in textbooks as well as its use by officials and Islamic scholars connected to the government.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League last year documented hate speech in Qatari mosques that was disseminated in Qatari media despite Qatar’s propagation of religious tolerance and outreach to American Jews as part of its effort to counter a United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state.

In one instance in December, Qatari preacher Muhammed al-Muraikhi described Jews in a sermon in Doha’s Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque as “your deceitful, lying, treacherous, fornicating, intransigent enemy” who have “despoiled, corrupted, ruined, and killed, and will not stop.”

No doubt, Saudi Arabia, like Qatar, which much earlier moved away from puritan and literal Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, is sincere in its intention to adopt more tolerant and pluralistic worldviews.

Getting from A to B, however, is a lengthy process. The question remains whether the kingdom has progressed to a degree that it can credibly help countries like Bangladesh deal with their demons even before having successfully put its own house in order.

Continue Reading

Latest

Newsdesk40 mins ago

New Funding for Mindanao Trust Fund to Strengthen Peace and Development in Southern Philippines

Efforts to bring peace and progress in Mindanao were reaffirmed today following the signing of a new agreement that will...

Economy3 hours ago

Record high remittances to low- and middle-income countries in 2017

Remittances to low- and middle-income countries rebounded to a record level in 2017 after two consecutive years of decline, says...

Newsdesk5 hours ago

Bangladesh: World Bank Increases Support for Clean, Renewable Energy

The World Bank today approved $55 million to expand use of clean renewable energy in rural areas of Bangladesh where...

Newsdesk10 hours ago

Mher Sahakyan on “Belt & Road from the Perspective of China’s National Security”

Moscow, Russian Federation—On April 16-23, 2018, the “The Digital Economy: Man, Technology, Institutes” was held at the Faculty of Economics...

Tech13 hours ago

Busting the Blockchain Hype: How to Tell if Distributed Ledger Technology is Right for You

Blockchain has been hailed as the solution for everything, from resolving global financial inequality, providing IDs for refugees, to enabling...

Green Planet13 hours ago

Building a Climate-Resilient South Asia

Last summer’s monsoon hit South Asia particularly hard and left nearly 1,400 people dead and displaced millions of others. In...

Energy14 hours ago

Indonesia’s ‘Superheroines’ Empowered with Renewables

About a third of Indonesians, roughly 80 million people, live without electricity and many more with only unreliable access. In...

Newsletter

Trending

Copyright © 2018 Modern Diplomacy