Showing posts with label india. Show all posts
Showing posts with label india. Show all posts

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Review of Vijay Joshi's India’s Long Road: The Search for Prosperity

India’s long road to prosperity, by Martin Wolf
Martin Wolf is impressed by an analysis of what the world’s largest democracy must do in order to thriveFinancial Times, May 24, 2017

India could do far better. That, in a sentence, is the conclusion of Vijay Joshi’s superb book. Joshi is an Indian economist who has spent most of his professional life at Oxford university. In this penetrating account of the past and present of Indian economic development, he casts a bright light on the prospects ahead. If India’s aim is to become a high-income country in the next generation, its economic, social and political performance needs to improve dramatically.

The good news is that there is room for improvement on many fronts. The bad news is that the obstacles to the needed improvement are huge. Worse, many emanate from the failures of the state and the political processes that guide it. Yet, as Joshi also notes, “The two fixed points in the socio-political setting of the Indian state’s development policies are that the country is a democracy, and an extremely diverse society.” The challenge is to improve performance within the constraints of these realities.

The success of Indian development matters, for at least three reasons: India will soon be the most populous country in the world; it is already far and away the largest democracy; and, above all, despite progress in the last three decades, between 270m and 360m Indians still lived in dire poverty (on slightly different definitions) in 2011 (that is, between 22 and 30 per cent of the population). If extreme poverty is to be eliminated from the world, it must be eliminated in India.

While the focus of India’s Long Road is on the economy, its analysis is appropriately comprehensive. It considers the post-independence growth record, the failure to create remunerative employment, the excessive role of publicly owned enterprises, the poor quality of Indian infrastructure and the inadequacy of environmental regulation. The book also analyses the successes and failures of macroeconomic management, the appalling quality of government-provided education and healthcare, the need for a better safety net for the poor, the long-term decay of the state, the prevalence of corruption and the role of India in the world economy.

In covering all these issues, Joshi combines enthusiastic engagement with the detachment of a scholar who has passed much of his life abroad. No better guide to India’s contemporary economy exists.

Over the past 70 years, India’s growth has shown two marked accelerations. The first followed independence in 1947. The second followed the economic liberalisation that began in the 1980s and accelerated dramatically after the balance of payments crisis of 1991. In the first period, growth averaged 3.5 per cent a year. In the second, it rose to 6 per cent (4 per cent per head). Unfortunately, after a further acceleration in the first decade of the 2000s, growth has slowed once again. The principal explanation for this recent slowdown is a marked weakening of investment by an over-indebted private sector.

                    "Joshi argues that India could provide a basic income to all by diverting resources wasted on subsidies"

So what should be the goal for the decades ahead? Joshi describes it simply as “rapid, inclusive, stable, and sustainable growth . . . within a political framework of liberal democracy”. More precisely, if incomes per head could grow at 7 per cent a year, India would achieve high-income status, at the level of Portugal, within a quarter of a century.

Only three economies have achieved something close to this in the past: Taiwan, South Korea and China. It represents an enormous challenge that cannot be met with the current “partial reform model”. The basic flaw of that model, argues Joshi, “is a failure to put the role of the state, and the relation between the state, the market, and the private sector, on the right footing”. The state, in brief, does what it does not need to do and fails to do what it does need to do.

It is no longer enough for the state merely to get out of the way, important though that still is in crucial areas. Among these is the labour market, whose huge distortions and inefficiencies have turned the demographic dividend into a demographic disaster.

Thus, in the 10 years from 1999 to 2009, India’s workforce increased by 63m. “Of these, 44 million joined the unorganized sector, 22 million became informal workers in the organized sector, and the number of formal workers in the organized sector fell by 3 million.” This is a social catastrophe. It is due not only to labour-market distortions, but to a host of constraints on the creation, operation and, not least, closure of organised and large-scale businesses.

Yet India also needs an effective state able to supply the public goods, public services and competent regulation on which an efficient economy depends. Unfortunately, that is not what now exists. All international surveys give India a very low rank for the efficiency and honesty of the state and the ease of doing business. Joshi argues that while the economy is more dynamic and the quality of policy has indeed improved since the 1980s, the quality of the state has deteriorated in many respects.

Among the many failures is the waste of state resources on inefficient subsidies that, though often given in the name of the poor, actually go to the better off. Indeed, one of the most original and persuasive aspects of the book is the argument that it would in principle be possible to provide a basic income to all Indians sufficient to lift everybody out of extreme poverty merely by diverting resources wasted on grotesquely costly subsidies. Yet, to take just one example, state governments continue to bribe farmers with free power, at the expense of a reliable electricity supply.

Will prime minister Narendra Modi be the new broom that sweeps all these cobwebs away? Alas no. His government’s performance is “mixed at best”. It has some achievements. But it has shown insufficient energy in tackling both the immediate problems of inadequate private investment, excessive debt and feeble banks, and the longer-term problems of dreadful education, lousy healthcare, weak infrastructure, corruption, regulatory incompetence, excessive interference and government waste.

A great opportunity for radically improved performance is being missed. This is not bad just for the Indian economy. There is a real danger that if the economy fails to perform as needed and desired, the governing Bharatiya Janata party will find itself increasingly attracted to its “dark side” of communal and caste division. That way lies not just economic failure, but possibly the destabilisation of Indian democracy, one of the great political achievements of the post-second world war era.

Those who care about the future of this remarkable country and indeed the future of democracy itself must hope that Modi gets this right. If they want to understand what he needs to do and why, they should first read this book.

India’s Long Road: The Search for Prosperity, by Vijay Joshi, Oxford University Press, RRP£22.99, 360 pages
Martin Wolf is the FT’s chief economics commentator

Monday, June 17, 2013

Finance and Poverty: Evidence from India. By Meghana Ayyagari & Thorsten Beck

Finance and Poverty: Evidence from India. By Meghana Ayyagari & Thorsten Beck
World Bank Blogs
Mon, Jul 17, 2013

The relationship between finance, inequality and poverty is a controversial one. While some observers attribute not only the crisis but also rising inequality in many Western countries to the rise of the financial system (e.g. Krugman, 2009), others see an important role of the financial sector on the poverty alleviation agenda (World Bank, 2008). But financial sector policies are not only controversial on the macro, but also micro-level. While increasing access to credit services through microfinance had for a long time a positive connotation, this has also been questioned after recent events in Andhra Pradesh, with critics charging that excessive interest rates hold the poor back in poverty. In recent work with Meghana Ayyagari and Mohammad Hoseini, we find strong evidence for financial sector deepening having contributed to the reduction of rural poverty rates across India by enabling more entrepreneurship in the rural areas and by enticing inter-state migration into the tertiary sector.

Cross-country evidence has linked financial development both to lower levels and faster reductions in income inequality and poverty rates (Beck, Demirguc-Kunt and Levine, 2007; Clarke, Xu and Zhou, 2006). As is often the case with cross-country work, endogeneity concerns are manifold, exacerbated by measurement problems inherent to survey-based inequality and poverty measures.  In addition, cross-country comparisons face limitations in identifying the channel through which financial deepening helps reduce poverty rates. Researchers have therefore turned to country-level studies, which allow better to control for omitted variable and measurement biases.  Richer data on the country level also allow for a better exploration of channels through which finance affects inequality and poverty.

India is close to an ideal testing ground to ask these questions given not only its large sub-national variation in socio-economic and institutional development, but also significant policy changes it has experienced over the sample period (Besley, Boswell and Esteve-Vollart, 2007). We use two of these policy changes as identification strategies in our work. Specifically, we follow Burgess and Pande (2005) and exploit the policy driven nature of rural bank branch expansion across Indian states as an instrument for branch penetration and thus financial breadth. According to the Indian Central Bank’s 1:4 licensing policy instituted between 1977 and 1990, commercial banks in India had to open four branches in rural unbanked locations for every branch opening in an already banked location. Thus between 1977 and 1990, rural bank branch expansion was higher in financially less developed states while after 1990, the reverse was true (financially developed states offered more profitable locations and so attracted more branches outside of the program), as illustrated by Figure 1.

Figure 1: Bank branch penetration as function
of initial financial development

Figure 1: Bank branch penetration as function of initial financial development

As an instrument for financial depth, we use the cross-state variation of per-capita circulation of English-language newspapers in 1991 multiplied by a time trend to capture the differential impact of the media across time after liberalization in 1991. With the relatively free and independent press in India (Besley and Burgess, 2002), a more informed public is better able to compare different financial services, resulting in more transparency and a higher degree of competition leading to greater financial sector development. Figure 2 shows the differential development of Credit to SDP in states with English language newspaper penetration above and below the median.

Figure 2: Bank Credit and English newspaper circulation

Figure 2: Bank Credit and English newspaper circulation
Our main findings

Relating annual state-level variation in poverty to variation in financial development, we find strong evidence that financial depth, as measured by Credit to SDP, has a negative and significant impact on rural poverty in India over the period 1983-2005. On the other hand, we find no effect of financial depth on urban poverty rates.  The effect of financial depth on rural poverty reduction is also economically meaningful. One within-state, within-year standard deviation in Credit to SDP explains 18 percent of demeaned variation in the Headcount and 30 percent of demeaned variation in the Poverty Gap over our sample period.  We also find that over the time period 1983-2005, financial depth has a more significant impact on poverty reduction than financial outreach. Our measure of financial breadth, rural branches per capita, has a negative but insignificant effect on rural poverty over this period, though a strong and negative effect over the longer period of 1965 to 2005, which includes the complete period of the social banking policy.
The channels

The household data also allow us to dig deeper into the channels through which financial deepening affected poverty rates across rural India. First, we find evidence for the entrepreneurship channel, as the poverty-reducing impact of financial deepening falls primarily on self-employed in rural areas. Second, we find that financial sector development is associated with inter-state migration of workers towards financially more developed states. The migration induced by financial deepening is motivated by search for employment, suggesting that poorer population segments in rural areas migrated to urban areas. The rural primary and tertiary urban sectors benefitted most from this migration, consistent with evidence showing that the Indian growth experience has been led by the services sector rather than labor intensive manufacturing (Bosworth, Collins and Virmani, 2007)
This last finding is also consistent with the finding that it is specifically the increase in bank credit to the tertiary sector that accounts for financial deepening post-1991 and its poverty-reducing effect.


Our findings suggest that financial deepening can have important structural effects, including through structural reallocation and migration, with consequences for poverty reduction. Our findings also have important policy repercussions. The pro-poor effects of financial deepening do not necessarily come just through more inclusive financial systems, but can also come through more efficient and deeper financial systems. Critical, the poorest of the poor not only benefit from financial deepening by directly accessing financial services, but also through indirect structural effects of financial deepening. This is consistent with evidence from Thailand (Gine and Townsend, 2004) and for the U.S. (Beck, Levine and Levkov, 2010) who document important labor market and migration effects of financial liberalization and deepening.


  • Ayyagari, M., T. Beck and M. Hoseini (2013) “Finance and Poverty: Evidence from India”, CEPR Discussion Paper 9497.
  • Beck, T., A. Demirgüç-Kunt and R. Levine, (2007) “Finance, Inequality and the Poor”, Journal of Economic Growth, 12(1), 27-49.
  • Beck, T., R. Levine and A. Levkov (2010), “Big Bad Banks? The Winners and Losers from Bank Deregulation in the United States”, Journal of Finance, vol. 65(5), pages 1637-1667.
  • Besley, T., and R. Burgess, (2002) “The Political Economy Of Government Responsiveness: Theory And Evidence From India”, Quarterly Journal of Economics 117(4), pages 1415-1451.
  • Besley, T., R. Burgess, and B. Esteve-Volart (2007) “The Policy Origins of Poverty and Growth in India,”  Chapter 3 in Delivering on the Promise of Pro-Poor Growth: Insights and Lessons from Country Experiences, edited with Timothy Besley and Louise J. Cord, Palgrave MacMillan for the World Bank.
  • Bosworth, B., Collins, S. and Virmani, A. (2007), “Sources of Growth in the Indian Economy”, in Bery, S., Bosworth, B. and Panagariya, A. (eds.), India Policy Forum, 2006-07, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
  • Burgess, R., and R. Pande (2005), “Do Rural Banks Matter? Evidence from the Indian Social Banking Experiment”, American Economic Review, vol. 95(3), pages 780-795.
  • Clarke, G., L. C. Xu and H. Zhou, (2006) “Finance and Income Inequality: What Do the Data Tell Us?”, Southern Economic Journal vol. 72(3), pages 578-596.
  • Gine, X. and R. Townsend (2004) “Evaluation of financial liberalization: a general equilibrium model with constrained occupation choice”, Journal of Development Economics 74, 269-307.
  • Krugman, Paul, (2009), The financial factor.
  • World Bank (2008): Finance for All?  Policies and Pitfalls in Expanding Access. Washington DC.

Friday, March 29, 2013

America's Voluntary Standards System: A 'Best Practice' Model for Asian Innovation Policies? By Dieter Ernst

America's Voluntary Standards System: A 'Best Practice' Model for Asian Innovation Policies? By Dieter Ernst
East-West Center, Policy Studies, No. 66, March 2013
ISBN: 978-0-309-26204-5 (print); 978-0-86638-205-2 (electronic)
Pages: xvi, 66


Across Asia there is a keen interest in the potential advantages of America's market-led system of voluntary standards and its contribution to US innovation leadership in complex technologies.

For its proponents, the US tradition of bottom-up, decentralized, informal, market-led standardization is a "best practice" model for innovation policy. Observers in Asia are, however, concerned about possible drawbacks of a standards system largely driven by the private sector.

This study reviews the historical roots of the American system, examines its defining characteristics, and highlights its strengths and weaknesses. A tradition of decentralized local self-government has given voice to diverse stakeholders in innovation. However, a lack of effective coordination of multiple stakeholder strategies constrains effective and open standardization processes.

Asian countries seeking to improve their standards systems should study the strengths and weaknesses of the American system. Attempts to replicate the US standards system will face clear limitations--persistent differences in Asia's economic institutions, levels of development, and growth models are bound to limit convergence to a US-style market-led voluntary standards system.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Silver Linings in the Indian Economy

Silver Linings in the Indian Economy. By Harun R Khan, Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India
Fifth Annual Banking Conference on “The Silver Lining of the Indian Economy” organized by NMIMS School of Banking Management
October 6, 2012, Bombay


Recent actions start the course correction but momentum needs to be kept
2. Recent policy measures taken by the government are very significant. They have started the course correction from a point where the Indian growth story was close to getting seriously damaged. However, for these measures to succeed it is important to keep up the momentum. More steps and effective implementation over next 2-3 years are necessary to fully recoup the lost ground.The economy has been facing serious headwinds as growth had slowed down to 5.5 per cent or less for the last two quarters over and above the subdued growth rate of 6.5 per cent for 2011-12, a rate even lower than crisis period low point of 6.7 per cent growth in 2007-08. Our saving and investment rate had also slipped since 2008-09. Gross domestic saving rate averaged 32.7 per cent in three years 2010-11 against 35.0 per cent in the preceding three years due mainly to fall in public sector saving rate. Our gross domestic investment rate averaged 34.1 per cent against 34.9 per cent for the same periods as corporate investment rate fell sharply. Preliminary estimates suggest a further sharp drop in household financial savings in 2011-12 at less than 8.0 per cent of the GDP from more than 12 per cent two years back. Also, corporate investment is likely to have declined further. With falling saving and investment, rise in twin deficits and inflation, potential growth had also dropped by one percentage point or more in the post-global financial crisis period. As we know, potential growth indicates the rate of growth the economy can achieve consistent with stable macro-economic conditions.On the other hand, inflation rose sharply to above comfort levels since December 2009 and averaged 9.5 per cent for next 24-months before lowering to sub-eight per cent but still proving to be intransigent. It is staying sticky at over 7 per cent. Centre’s fiscal deficit had slipped during 2011-12 to 5.8 per cent against the budgeted 4.6 per cent for the year and 4.9 per cent in 2010-11. With gross under-recoveries of oil marketing companies working out to over Rs1.8 trillion or 0.8 per cent of GDP due to unrevised prices of diesel, LPG and kerosene, there was little doubt the centre’s GFD/GDP budgeted estimate would then have overshot by a wide margin. Even after the revision of diesel prices and capping of subsidised LPG cylinders, the budget imbalances are obvious, underscoring the importance of further fiscal measures to contain deficit this year.

3. The current account deficit (CAD) had risen to an all-time high of 4.2 per cent of GDP in 2011-12 and 4.5 per cent of GDP during Q4 of 2011-12. In other words, rising twin deficit, slowing growth and sticky inflation provided all the ingredients for a possible economic crisis. Noting this macro-economic deterioration, some international credit rating agencies had already put India’s sovereign rating on a watch list for an impending downgrade that would have pushed India to a subinvestment grade.

The slew of measures in a span of less than a month should count
4. Against this background, the policy actions that were announced in September 2012 should be seen as major initiatives to reverse the course of economic growth path in the country. In a slew of measures of economic reforms, the government raised diesel prices by `5 per litre and capped subsidised LPG cooking gas cylinders to six a year per household. It permitted foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail up to 51 per cent, in aviation sector up to 49 per cent and in some broadcasting services up to 75 per cent. It also approved sale of its minority stakes in four public sector firms -- Oil India (by 10 per cent), Hindustan Copper (9.59 per cent), MMTC (9.33 per cent) and Nalco (12.15 per cent) -- to raise up to `150 billion – half its disinvestment receipts target for the year. These measures were followed up with an announcement that withholding tax liability will be reduced to 5 percent from 20 per cent for the overseas borrowings /bond issuances for infrastructure sector by Indian firms during July 2012 and June 2015.

5. A debt relief package for the state power distribution companies (discoms) has now been approved. Once implemented efficiently, it can turnaround the investment scenario once again. This month, a package for the life insurance sector was also worked out. The package includes easing investment norms for insurers, faster clearance for new products, easing of procedures, allowing banks to sell products of more than one insurance company and possibly some tax concessions for the insurance sector. More sector-specific packages could follow allowing structural bottlenecks to be removed without sacrificing on regulatory discipline.The Cabinet has also cleared foreign equity cap in insurance sectors at 49 per cent through Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2008. It also approved certain amendments to the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill, 2011 that included foreign investment ceiling in the pension sector at 26 per cent or such percentage as may be approved for the insurance sector, whichever is higher, may be incorporated in the present legislation. Besides, it approved several other plans that are important for the economy, such as the 12th Five Year Plan document for taking it to the National Development Council (NDC), amendments to the Companies Bill 2011, the Forward Contracts (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2010 and the Competition Act, 2002. These moves show the intent and the policy direction though the ultimate impact would depend on the political process of law making that follows.There are several unknowns, such as, the timing of debates and votes, the floor management on the day of the vote and most importantly, the process by which political differences are narrowed enough to see the results. The foundation has been laid and one can be confident that the Indian democracy would once again stand the test of the time.

6. On our part, we certainly think that the slew of economic reforms measures undertaken by the government recently would impart a positive momentum to the economy. The Reserve Bank in its Mid-Quarter Review of Monetary Policy noted the likely positive impact of the changes in FDI policy on capital flows and over the long run on higher productivity, particularly in food supplychains. The Reserve Bank had been consistently arguing for need for supply-side responses to help contain inflation. Earlier in its Annual Report released in August 2012, it had highlighted the urgent need to step up non-debt creating inflows, especially in the form of FDI in view of the wide current account deficit (CAD). It had argued for further improving the FDI inflows in sectors such as insurance, retail, aviation and urban infrastructure. It had noted that FDI in retail may be particularly helpful in improving supply chain management through greater investment in backend infrastructure, including cold storage for farm and poultry products.

7. Considering that these steps being undertaken paved the way for a more favourable growth-inflation dynamics, the Reserve Bank moved to address possible liquidity tightening ahead by a pre-emptive 25 basis point cut in its Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) at its Mid-term policy announced on September 17, 2012. CRR is also a potent monetary policy tool and should help in lowering the cost of credit and augmenting its supply, thus improving credit flows. The CRR cut was in addition to a 50 basis point policy rate reduction that the Reserve Bank had effected in April 2012 in anticipation of action for fiscal consolidation and supply-side initiatives.

8. Several policy measures have been taken in less than a month. When these measures get implemented and feed through the system, they would contribute significantly to recovery of India’s growth as well as growth potential. Capital flows have recovered and would go a long way in restoring confidence for business activity in the country. Growth would start improving as a result. Whether the recovery will be quick or slow-paced would depend on several factors, including global conditions, which at the moment are not very conducive in spite of some positive news on labour and housing markets in the US. What is important is that recent actions by the Government have reduced the macro-economic risks and structural impediments.

9. Part of our recent woes was self-inflicted as inadequate movement on policy and implementation fronts worsened investment climate that had already suffered due to global uncertainties and cyclical downturn in the Indian economy. This had added an element of structural retrogression in the Indian economy. The government has now shown its resolve to effectively redress this. If steps announced are well-implemented and if we stay on path of reforms, the economy would turnaround faster than what many expect. But several challenges remain and not only policy changes but effective implementation holds the key to success.

10. The most important challenge would be to further lower the twin deficits by staying on path of fiscal consolidation, keeping a tab on private consumption demand and using expenditure switching policies to lower CAD. Monetary policy would for some more time need to focus on inflation while using available space to support growth to the degree it can. Inflation, if left unattended to, can play the biggest spoil sport. The rupee has already appreciated 6.8 per cent against US dollar since the onset of this new wave of reforms on September 13, 2012. This may help lower inflation somewhat as exchange rate-pass-through takes place. However, it is important to understand that exchange rate is neither a first-best solution nor a sufficient tool for addressing the challenges of structural inflation that we face today. Ultimately, fiscal policy would need to work towards expediting supply-side responses and keeping private consumption demand in reasonable control. Monetary policy would need to be cautious in the interim.

Downward cycle may be bottoming out
11. After a downturn, there are some signs of green shoots that if nursed with appropriate policies, including continuous economic reforms, with an eye on macro-financial stability, can pave the way of recovery for the Indian economy. Falling growth was somewhat arrested in Q1 of 2012-13. At 5.5 per cent, it was marginally better than in the 5.3 per cent in Q4 of 2011-12. While this is not a material improvement, when juxtaposed with the recent policy measures there is hope that growth would improve in coming quarters and more so next year. Rainfall has been deficient by 8 per cent from the long period average in 2012 monsoon season. The deficiency during June and July 2012 has adversely impacted the Kharif crop. However, good rainfall in August and September have improved the soil moisture content and reservoir levels and raised the prospects for a good Rabi crop. As we see subsequent rounds of crop estimates, the deficiency of about 10 per cent in case of foodgrains and oilseeds is likely to be reduced, thus providing a further silver lining.

12. India grew at a rapid pace with an average growth of 8.7 per cent during 2003-04 to 2007-08 essentially because investment boomed, especially in infrastructure such as power, roads and telecom. In the last three years of this period growth averaged 9.5 per cent before the Lehman crisis changed the world. India’s potential growth was assessed at nearly 8.5 per cent during this period. India’s growth dropped to 6.7 per cent during 2007-08 due mainly to spill over from global financial crisis. India, however, stood out as an island of calm that withstood global financial Tsunami. Its growth dropped less than its peers and it staged a V-shaped recovery clocking 8.4 per cent growth over next two years. However, the euro area crisis, the rising structural problems and high inflation combined to bring about a precipitous fall in India’s growth. The growth dropped to 6.5 per cent in 2011-12 – lower than the crisis-affected growth of 6.7 per cent in 2007-08. More importantly, growth has averaged 5.4 per cent over last two quarters.

13. Is this the new normal? There are strong reasons to believe otherwise. While potential growth may have fallen, we are clearly running a negative output gap with realised growth below potential. With current momentum, we can also recoup our lost potential and after a few years start growing back at 8-8.5 per cent on a sustainable basis. What is important at this stage is to further improve macro-economic conditions by lowering twin deficits and to ensure that inflation stays below the threshold at which high growth cannot be sustained.

14. Growth came down due to exceptional reasons. Firstly, inflation had stayed high for over two years and there is enough theoretical and empirical evidence to suggest that when inflation reaches that high and becomes persistent, the costs of deflation in terms of growth sacrifice turns out to be large. Part of the growth sacrifice occurs for reasons of monetary tightening that high inflation inevitably brings if complete macro-economic destabilization and possible hyper-inflation is to be averted. Hyperinflation risk is not something that can be dismissed lightly. Growth also comes down for reasons beyond monetary tightening. High inflation erodes consumers’ real purchasing power and lowers aggregate demand. It acts as a regressive tax on poor and erodes their consumption base. Producers also postpone investment decisions in an era of heightened uncertainty. To contain the high level of inflation and manage inflationary expectations, monetary policy in India was tightened continuously since February 2010 and these risks were contained even though inflation still remains perceptibly higher than the Reserve Bank’s comfort. Monetary policy needs to factor in the growth-inflation dynamics in a forward-looking manner but keep focussing on inflation for some more time so that inflation persistence is overcome. This would have a positive spin off for growth to recover. As we have stated in the Mid-Quarter Monetary Policy Review of September 17, 2012, when the policy initiatives being taken now by the Government materialize into concrete action, monetary policy will reinforce the positive impact of such actions while continuing to maintain its focus on inflation management.

15. Secondly, growth came down because of unfavourable global climate. The euro area crisis coming on the heels of Lehman crisis is playing on animal spirits. Global trade has decelerated sharply and is impacting investments. Indian industrial growth is found to be highly correlated with global industrial growth. As we integrate more and more with the rest of the world, we have to pay price of globalization even as we reap its benefits. As we have observed in this context, global developments affect our economy through commerce, capital flows, confidence, commodity price, contamination, currency rates and credit rating channels.Global business cycles are, therefore impacting both investment demand and with a lag impacting consumption demand as incomes fall and appetite for leverage reduces.

16. Thirdly, growth came down in India because investment climate was vitiated due to emergence of serious structural bottlenecks related to land, labour, regulatory framework, linkages or availability of funding, partly due to elevated concerns for asset quality. Part of the problem occurred in the mining sector, where judicial and executive efforts to improve governance have created a sort of a hiatus in activity. When a clearer operational regime comes into play businesses would adjust to more normal functioning based on fair returns. The other part of the problem was in the power sector where bulk of the 54 GW of new investments capacities created during the 11th Plan turned into potential bad investments as coal was in short supply. Mitigation of the problem is hopefully in the offing. If debt restructuring of discoms is well executed and coal supplies are quickly ensured, the power sector investments can revive in the 12th Plan. New capacity generation can easily match and possibly surpass that in the 11th Plan. Power sector can turn out to be a major driver of growth once again. As per the plans, the SEB losses are being cut by power tariff revisions.

Investment revival is possible
17. Big steps for reforming power sector are now being taken and can pave the way for revival of investment. The debt restructuring of discoms is being done in an incentive-compatible manner and may not encourage moral hazard or regulatory forbearance. The scheme contains various measures required to be taken by state discoms and state governments for achieving the financial turnaround of the discoms. The restructuring/ reschedulement of loan are to be accompanied by concrete and measurable action by the discoms/ States to improve the operational performance of the distribution utilities. There may not be an immediate fiscal impact for the centre, given that its obligations under the scheme are medium-term in nature, the fiscal impact for the states in the near-term would be the interest outgo on 50 per cent of outstanding short-term loans which are to be taken over by them in a phased manner. While, a great deal of ground would still need to be covered for operational effectiveness of the scheme, it does have the capacity to reverse the falling fortunes of power sector investments. One hopes that the ticking clock of the potential time bomb of the power sector can now be defused. It is worth noting that the accumulated losses of the state power distribution companies (discoms) are estimated to be about `1.9 trillion as on 31st March, 2011.

Financial sector can remain robust with efforts to contain newer fragilities
18. India has stood out amongst its peers with an enviable record on financial stability. India’s gross non-performing assets (NPAs) of scheduled commercial banks as a percentage of gross advances had declined from 12.7 per cent in 1990-91 to 2.4 per cent in 2010-11. In case of public sector banks, this ration had dropped from 14.0 to 2.3 per cent over the same period. However, during the recent economic downturn, there has been a sharp deterioration in asset quality of the public sector banks (PSBs), as the ratio reversed to 3.2 per cent in 2011-12. While the NPA levels are still low by historical trends or cross-country comparison, newer fragilities were obvious by the high slippage ratio and a spurt in restructuring loans. The slippage ratio of the PSBs increased to 5.7 per cent of gross advances by at the end of 2011-12 from 4.2 per cent a year ago. The recovery also slowed down, especially in the stressed sectors. While some of these changes reflect the NPA cycle that generally tracks economic cycle, the sectoral bottlenecks also had a role to play in such deterioration.

19. There has been movement towards resolving the sector-specific issues, especially in power and aviation. With gradual improvement in economic activity, the stress may be further reduced across all sectors. This will bring back some of the strength of the bank balance sheets that had got eroded in recent years. Unlike many other countries, India is a bank-dominated financial system. Though the role of the financial markets has increased over the year, the financing pattern of the corporates suggests that banks account for over a fourth of total sources of funds for the corporates. As such, maintaining health of the banks is important so that they can nurse recovery by credit expansion with the silver linings already on the horizon. The ratio of bank credit to GDP in India is around 55 per cent, which is much below what is prevalent in many advanced economies. Therefore, the challenge for Indian banks is to facilitate the growth of the real sector through financial products and innovations subject to adequate safeguards and adoption of sound risk management policies. In the Indian context, foreign banks can potentially play a significant supplementing role of resource mobilization to fund higher growth, apart from augmenting competition and efficiency among the banks. For example, foreign banks still have a lot of leeway available for funding infrastructure projects vis-à-vis the prescribed exposure limits. Further, given the higher requirements of lending to the priority sectors under the revised policy framework, foreign banks can bring in a lot of innovations and better practices and processes to lend to the critical sectors of the economy like the SMEs and agriculture.

20. The Reserve Bank has been a conservative central bank that accords very high priority to financial stability. It is for this reason that the Reserve Bank is focussed on the implementation of the Basel III norms. It is also training its eyes on curbing increasing slippage and withdrawing regulatory forbearance that supports it in a phased manner. Some transitory sops to infrastructure loans in case genuine delays in commencement of commercial operations are possible but these should be the exceptions rather than the norm. Maintaining financial discipline is of paramount importance and this would certainly demand higher accountability and sacrifice by the promoters. On Basel III, the Reserve Bank has unveiled the broad course that the banks need to follow. With gradual improvements in market conditions, capital raising options for the banks would steadily improve. It should be possible for public sector banks (PSBs) to raise about `1.5 trillion of equity over the period of a little over 5-years till the end of 2017-18. The shareholders’ value locked in the PSBs need to be tapped by innovative means. Stronger banks are in fact needed to support credit flows for higher growth in the Indian economy.

Containment of twin deficits remains a challenge but within our realm
21. The impact of the recent governmental measures in reducing the fiscal deficit is not likely to be very large. In effect the reduction in diesel and LPG subsidies would amount to marginal fiscal correction in the current fiscal year. This underscores the importance of taking both short term measures for moving closer to the budget targets as well as long term steps to structurally correct the deficit, thus eventually lowering the fiscal dominance of monetary policy. Recently, the Kelkar Committee has estimated that GFD/GDP ratio for 2012-13 could slip by 1 percentage point to 6.1 per cent from the budgeted 5.1 per centif corrective measures are not taken. It has also made several recommendations on fiscal consolidation laying down a path to narrow it down to 5.2 per cent in 2012-13, 4.6 per cent in 2013-14 and 3.9 per cent in 2014-15, when the effective revenue deficit can be brought to zero. Improved tax collection, asset sales, pruning of subsidies and rationalization of planned spending holds the key to this path. Disinvestments, minority stake sales, higher PSU dividends, hiking urea prices and widening services tax net are part of the recommended strategy. The bottom line is that a workable path to fiscal consolidation is available – be it through the Kelkar Committee or through the rolling targets set following the 13th Finance Commission. What is important is to get there or at least very close to there through sustained efforts and not become lax in face of political or electoral cycles. It is expected that the government would take further aggressive steps to prevent fiscal slippage this year and complete its borrowing programme broadly in line with what was envisaged and without any undue pressures in the financial markets. This can make substantial contribution to keeping interest rates low and reviving the economy. In fact, the recent announcement of the Central Government’s borrowing calendar for the second half of 2012-13, which sticks to the budgeted borrowing figures reflect Government’s resolve for containing the Gross Fiscal Deficit (GFD). It is, however, imperative that further strong measures forfiscal corrections are implemented in the rest of the year broadly in line with the Kelkar Committee recommendations. Recent appreciation of the Rupee has, besides mitigating the risk of imported inflation, would also greatly aid in containment of GFD by way of reduction in subsidy burden of the Government arising out of high Rupee cost of imported oil.

22. The trends in the external sector are also showing signs of some improvement after considerable stress witnessed last year. The CAD/GDP ratio declined to 3.9 per cent in Q1 of 2012-13 from 4.5 per cent in Q4 of 2011-12. While this is a positive development, it has come about as imports contracted in face of growth slowdown and some benefits accrued from exchange rate pass-through from rupee depreciation in 2011-12 and in the first quarter this year. Macroeconomic and external sector policies would need to still factor in external sector risks in the coming period, especially as event risks emanating from global developments remain significant. Therefore, further efforts would be necessary to contain CAD and bring it in line with its sustainable level of around 2.5 per cent of GDP. The recent reform measures have brought about major change in global investor perception. These investors are now willing to continue investing in India’s long-term growth story. Another silver lining is that India’s net international investment position (NIIP) that reflects the net claims of non-residents on India has improved with the decrease in these claims by US$23.9 billion over the previous quarter to US$220.3 billion as at end-June. While this largely reflects the valuation changes, augmentation of non-debt creating flows in the new phase of economic reforms would certainly lower external financing risks, thus providing a much needed cushion against our external sector pressures.

We need to convert the silver linings to our advantages
23. I would like to conclude by saying that India in the second half of 2012-13 is shaping as very different from India in the first half. There are positives emerging across the horizon. This is reflected in our currency movement that will bring further positive spin offs by lowering inflation, fiscal deficit and reducing corporate stress. Growth could start improving into the next year. Battleagainst inflation is, however, far from over and we need careful calibration of monetary and non-monetary responses to tame it. Late revival of monsoon and steps taken/being planned to improve the supply responses should moderate the inflationary pressure overtime. Stronger fiscal measures on the path envisioned would pave the way for sustained recovery. We have seen marginal improvement in CAD. This should not, however, lull us into any complacency as the path to its sustainability requires several adjustments. It is equally important that correctives now being put in place do not attenuate regulatory prudenceor deflect the focus away from long term sustainability of the external sectorby taking a short term view of the proposed solutions for improving capital flows.

24. The slew of measures in a short span need to be turned into a habit of well-paced action, improved execution and governance and credible commitment without backtracking or reversals. A more gradual-paced reforms earlier enabled us to achieve high growth path. In the context of steps taken/planned for our reforms, one area where we need to focus seriously is on communication, both internal and external. This should encompass convincing our domestic constituency about the experience and benefits of reforms which have to be carried forward for achieving the goals of inclusive growth by having a strong and resilient macro-economy. It would also imply meaningful engagement with the international rating agencies and investor class. There is no reason to believe that these would not work though there are still many a bridge to cross to translate the intentions to deliverables on the ground. The silver linings are now visible on the horizon. We need to build upon them and implement our plans in the right earnest. The door of opportunity is again knocking at us. These silver linings lifting the dark clouds are, however,not something as part of our destiny but they are within our reach, if we work hard on them with all sincerity to convert them to our long term advantages.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chellaney: Hydro-control turning China into dreaded hydra?


Hydro-control turning China into dreaded hydra? By Brahma Chellaney
Bangkok Post, Oct 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM
With Beijing controlling the sources of Asia's most important rivers, water has increasingly become a new political divide in China's relations with neighbours like India, Russia, Kazakhstan, Nepal and the Mekong River countries.

International discussion about China's rise has focused on its increasing trade muscle, growing maritime ambitions, and expanding capacity to project military power. One critical issue, however, usually escapes attention: China's rise as a hydro-hegemon with no modern historical parallel.

The Mekong River, whose water level last March dropped to only 33 centimetres, the lowest in 50 years. People living downriver in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia attributed the fall in water level to newly constructed dams in China.

No other country has ever managed to assume such unchallenged riparian pre-eminence on a continent by controlling the headwaters of multiple international rivers and manipulating their cross-border flows. China, the world's biggest dam builder _ with slightly more than half of the approximately 50,000 large dams on the planet _ is rapidly accumulating leverage against its neighbours by undertaking massive hydro-engineering projects on transnational rivers.

Asia's water map fundamentally changed after the 1949 Communist victory in China. Most of Asia's important international rivers originate in territories that were forcibly annexed to the People's Republic of China. The Tibetan Plateau, for example, is the world's largest freshwater repository and the source of Asia's greatest rivers, including those that are the lifeblood for mainland China and South and Southeast Asia. Other such Chinese territories contain the headwaters of rivers like the Irtysh, Illy and Amur, which flow to Russia and Central Asia.

This makes China the source of cross-border water flows to the largest number of countries in the world. Yet China rejects the very notion of water sharing or institutionalised cooperation with downriver countries. Whereas riparian neighbours in Southeast and South Asia are bound by water pacts that they have negotiated between themselves, China does not have a single water treaty with any co-riparian country. Indeed, having its cake and eating it, China is a dialogue partner but not a member of the Mekong River Commission, underscoring its intent not to abide by the Mekong basin community's rules or take on any legal obligations.

Worse, while promoting multilateralism on the world stage, China has given the cold shoulder to multilateral cooperation among river-basin states. The lower-Mekong countries, for example, view China's strategy as an attempt to "divide and conquer". Although China publicly favours bilateral initiatives over multilateral institutions in addressing water issues, it has not shown any real enthusiasm for meaningful bilateral action. As a result, water has increasingly become a new political divide in the country's relations with neighbours like India, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Nepal.

China deflects attention from its refusal to share water, or to enter into institutionalised cooperation to manage common rivers sustainably, by flaunting the accords that it has signed on sharing flow statistics with riparian neighbours. These are not agreements to cooperate on shared resources, but rather commercial accords to sell hydrological data that other upstream countries provide free to downriver states.

In fact, by shifting its frenzied dam building from internal rivers to international rivers, China is now locked in water disputes with almost all co-riparian states. Those disputes are bound to worsen, given China's new focus on erecting mega-dams, best symbolised by its latest addition on the Mekong _ the 4,200-megawatt Xiaowan Dam, which dwarfs Paris's Eiffel Tower in height _ and a 38,000-megawatt dam planned on the Brahmaputra at Metog, close to the disputed border with India. The Metog Dam will be twice as large as the 18,300-megawatt Three Gorges Dam, currently the world's largest, construction of which uprooted at least 1.7 million Chinese.

In addition, China has identified another mega-dam site on the Brahmaputra at Daduqia, which, like Metog, is to harness the force of a nearly 3,000-metre drop in the river's height as it takes a sharp southerly turn from the Himalayan range into India, forming the world's longest and steepest canyon. The Brahmaputra Canyon _ twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States _ holds Asia's greatest untapped water reserves.

The countries likely to bear the brunt of such massive diversion of waters are those located farthest downstream on rivers like the Brahmaputra and Mekong _ Bangladesh, whose very future is threatened by climate and environmental change, and Vietnam, a rice bowl of Asia. China's water appropriations from the Illy River threaten to turn Kazakhstan's Lake Balkhash into another Aral Sea, which has shrunk to less than half its original size.

In addition, China has planned the "Great Western Route", the proposed third leg of the Great South-North Water Diversion Project _ the most ambitious inter-river and inter-basin transfer programme ever conceived _ whose first two legs, involving internal rivers in China's ethnic Han heartland, are scheduled to be completed within three years.

The Great Western Route, centred on the Tibetan Plateau, is designed to divert waters, including from international rivers, to the Yellow River, the main river of water-stressed northern China, which also originates in Tibet.

With its industry now dominating the global hydropower-equipment market, China has also emerged as the largest dam builder overseas. From Pakistani-held Kashmir to Burma's troubled Kachin and Shan states, China has widened its dam building to disputed or insurgency-torn areas, despite local backlashes.

For example, units of the People's Liberation Army are engaged in dam and other strategic projects in the restive, Shia-majority region of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan-held Kashmir. And China's dam building inside Burma to generate power for export to Chinese provinces has contributed to renewed bloody fighting recently, ending a 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Army and the Burmese government.

As with its territorial and maritime disputes with India, Vietnam, Japan and others, China is seeking to disrupt the status quo on international river flows. Persuading it to halt further unilateral appropriation of shared waters has thus become pivotal to Asian peace and stability. Otherwise, China is likely to emerge as the master of Asia's water taps, thereby acquiring tremendous leverage over its neighbours' behaviour.

Brahma Chellaney is Professor of Strategic Studies at the Centre for Policy Research and the author of "Water: Asia's New Battleground." Project Syndicate, 2011.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Medvedev seeks to boost India arms sales

Russia Is Chasing Delhi Arms Sales, by TOM WRIGHT
WSJ, Dec 21, 2010


NEW DELHI—Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrives Tuesday in India on a two-day trip aimed at solidifying Moscow's role as New Delhi's largest arms supplier in the face of increased competition from the U.S. and Europe.

Mr. Medvedev is the fifth and final leader of a member nation of the United Nations Security Council to visit India in 2010, underscoring New Delhi's rising importance as a global political and economic power.

India's fast-expanding economy and growing military budget offers Russia enormous potential to increase sales of military equipment. A U.S.-India nuclear deal in 2008, which paved they way for civilian nuclear exports to India, also has opened the door for Russia to sell civilian nuclear technology to New Delhi.

New Delhi, meanwhile, is hoping Moscow will allow Indian oil and gas companies a larger role in developing Russian energy assets. India is a net importer of crude oil.

Russia and India will sign agreements in defense, economic and space sectors during Mr. Medvedev's visit, Indian officials said, without giving details.

India is one of Russia's largest customers for military equipment, accounting for a third of the sector's exports—a legacy of the Cold War when New Delhi sided with Moscow against Beijing. About three-quarters of India's current military hardware is of Russian origin.

But in recent years, India has begun courting other suppliers of military hardware from the U.S., France and the U.K., all of whose leaders have used visits here this year to clinch deals.

"Russia's defense industry is not as capable as it used to be during the Cold War," said Laxman Kumar Behera, an expert on India's military at the New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses. "India is trying to diversify its supply sources."

The U.S., during a visit to India by President Barack Obama in November, announced a $4 billion deal for Boeing Co. to supply the Indian air force with 10 C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft.

In July, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron used a trip to the country to announce a $1.1 billion deal to supply 57 Hawk trainer jets.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited India in December, during which the two nations signed a deal for France to supply two nuclear reactors valued at $9 billion.

Mr. Sarkozy also lobbied for France to win an $11 billion deal to supply 126 fourth-generation fighter jets to India's air force. Moscow is competing for that deal, which New Delhi is scheduled to award next year.

Russia wants India to chose the MiG-35 fighter, made by RSK MiG, but has to compete against a number of other suppliers including U.S.'s Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp., France's Dassault Aviation, and a consortium of European bidders.

To boost its chances next year, Russia has been emphasizing how it is jointly developing military equipment with India.

Both nations are planning to build a fifth-generation fighter aircraft, which could be valued at tens of billions of dollars, but is unlikely to enter production until 2020. Indian media have reported one of the deals likely to be signed this week could include details of this joint production.

"Russia and India have moved to a new level of cooperation in the military-technology area, from the relationship of buyer-seller to joint development and production of modern weapons," Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said in late 2009 after a regular meeting of an intergovernmental commission.

But Russia also has disappointed India on some orders. An aircraft carrier, due for delivery in 2008, has been delayed until 2012, while the cost has doubled to $2 billion. Spare parts for Russian planes also have been hard to come by.

Russia—like the U.S., U.K. and France—also is keen to help India develop its civilian nuclear industry to meet growing power needs.

Russia and India in December 2009 signed a civilian nuclear-cooperation agreement, much like the U.S.-India deal. Moscow already is helping to construct two power plants in India's southern Tamil Nadu state, which are nearing completion.

The stakes are high for Moscow, whose trade with India is skewed toward military sales. While other countries, notably China, have tapped in to India's booming economy, selling a range of manufactured goods from power equipment to telecoms hardware, Russia's trade has remained relatively small.

Russia's two-way trade with India in the year ended March 31 stood at $4.6 billion, a decline of 16% over the previous year, and only about a tenth of China's bilateral trade.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao spent three days in New Delhi last week, during which India and China agreed to boost trade to $100 billion by 2015.

Still, India continues to see Russia as an important counterweight to China, says Naresh Chandra, chairman of the National Security Advisory Board, which advises India's prime minister on security matters.


India and Russia have targeted to grow bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2015, of which military sales to India will play an important role.

New Delhi is planning to spend $32 billion on the military in the current fiscal year, almost double the amount five years ago, as it modernizes its armed forces as a deterrent to Pakistan and China.

India is hoping greater access to Russia's oil and gas fields will reduce its dependence on imported energy. India's state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp. said this month it is in talks to take part in the development of Russia's massive Trebs and Titov oil and gas in northwest Russia.

ONGC already has a 20% stake in a consortium led by Exxon Mobil Corp. which is developing Russia's Sakhalin-1 oil and gas field.

—Gregory L. White in Moscow contributed to this article.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

India's Government By Quota - The affirmative-action plan to eliminate caste discrimination was supposed to last 10 years. Instead it has become a permanent, and divisive, fact of life

India's Government By Quota. By SHIKHA DALMIA
The affirmative-action plan to eliminate caste discrimination was supposed to last 10 years. Instead it has become a permanent, and divisive, fact of life.WSJ, May 01, 2010

For nearly half a century, group or racial preferences have been America's prescribed remedy for racism and other -isms standing in the way of social equality. But anyone wishing to study the unintended side-effects of this medicine on the body politic need only look at India. There reactionary groups are trying to co-opt a women's quota bill, not to create an egalitarian utopia, but its opposite.

India's ruling secular Congress party has joined hands with Hindu nationalist parties on a bill to guarantee 33% seats in the parliament and state legislatures to women. This is on top of a similar quota that women enjoy at the local or panchayat level. The bill sailed through the upper house but has met stiff resistance by India's lower-caste parties. Why? Because it threatens their monopoly on the country's quota regime.

Just as racism is the bane of America, caste is the bane of India; its rigid strictures for centuries sustained a stratified society where birth is destiny. Although caste has declined in India's large, cosmopolitan cities, elsewhere this system still restricts social mobility for the country's 100 million dalits (untouchables). They are not only consigned to demeaning jobs but they're not even allowed to pray in the same temples as upper castes.

But the scheme that India's founders devised to eradicate the caste system has actually deepened the country's caste divide, and created several more. The women's quota bill is only the latest development in the competition for victimhood status that has pitted every group with any grievance, real or imagined, against every other.

India's founders began on the right track, constitutionally banning untouchability in 1950 and, just as in America, guaranteeing equal treatment under the law for everyone regardless of caste, sex, religion or race. But then came the fatal leap. They created a list or "schedule" of all the dalit sub-castes deserving preferential treatment and handed them 17.5% of the seats in the parliament and state legislatures. They also gave them 22.5% of all public-sector jobs and guaranteed spots in public or publicly funded universities.

The scheme was supposed to last 10 years. Instead it assumed a life of its own, making scheduled-caste status a bigger driver of success than individual merit (at least before liberalization opened opportunities in the private sector).

The tipping point came in the late 1980s when the government's Mandal Commission. This body, charged with examining the plight of the poor and disenfranchised, concluded in its final report that the original list of scheduled castes was too short. It recommended a new, catch-all category called Other Backward Classes covering over half the population and called for reserving 49.5% government jobs and university seats for these groups

The report caused an uproar. Hindu students from nonscheduled castes, particularly from modest backgrounds, exploded into riots. Already rubbed raw from the existing quota regime which allowed academically inferior, scheduled-caste candidates to breeze into the best universities and land secure government jobs while they struggled, they took to the streets. A few immolated themselves, one big reason why the government collapsed in November 1990. But the quota system survived, and post-riot governments have slowly expanded it.

Quotas have become a fact of life in India because they are the major currency with which Indian politicians buy votes. In a few states with their own quotas, almost 70% of government jobs and university seats go to the reserved castes.

The major political resistance to the quota regime during the Mandal riots came from Hindu nationalist parties—but that was before they found a way to make it work for them. In some states like Rajasthan they have actually instituted quotas for the poor "forward castes"—code for upper-caste Hindus.

And these parties wholeheartedly back the latest women's quota bill because it will simultaneously allow them to: establish their progressive bona fides; once again stick it to Muslims, arguably the only genuinely disenfranchised minority without its own legislative quota; and consolidate their power base in parliament since the women elected are likely to be relatively well-off Hindus.

A tragi-comic note in this drama is Raj Thackeray, an ultra-nativist, Hindu politician from Mumbai who wants to chase all out-of-state residents out of his city. He is warning the lower-caste leaders to show respect for women by supporting this bill or else "they will be given a lesson on it."

Protests have broken out in the country, with Muslim and lower-caste women opposing it as currently written and urbane, city feminists demanding its immediate passage. But the lower-caste parties' only objection is that the quota bill doesn't contain a sub-quota for lower-caste women. In other words, the debate in India is no longer about using quotas to redistribute opportunity—it is about redistributing the quotas themselves. No politician or party is opposing this bill on principle.

It would be tempting to blame the abuse of quotas on the degraded state of Indian politics. But, in reality, India is demonstrating the reductio ad absurdum logic of quotas.

Progressives in India—as in America—believe that equal protection of individual rights is insufficient to create equality because it does nothing to address private discrimination. Protecting the property rights of persecuted castes is hardly enough if they can't get jobs in the first place. Hence, in their view, government has to give persecuted groups a leg up to equalize opportunity.

But this turns the system into a zero-sum game, triggering a race for the spoils in which powerful groups can seize the advantage. Because quotas or preferences don't originally apply to them, they become the new aggrieved—victims of "reverse discrimination." And it is easy for them to mobilize this sentiment into a political movement precisely because they are powerful.

India's lesson is that abrogating individual rights through group preferences or quotas institutionalizes the very divisions that these policies are supposed to erase. Human prejudice can't be legislated away. That requires social activism to coax, cajole and shame people out of their intolerance. There are no short cuts.

Ms. Dalmia is a senior analyst at the Reason Foundation and a Forbes columnist.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tackling Insurgency

Tackling Insurgency. By K C Dixit
IDSA, Dec 29, 2009

Military operations must aim at creating a sense of security by preventing insurgent depredations on the people, and forcing misguided elements to seek an honourable negotiated settlement. Our conventional training philosophy, which is based on dehumanizing a man, motivating him with an ardent regimental spirit and building in him a very specific image bordering on arrogance and flamboyance, is not ideally suited to carry out counter-insurgency operations. Thus, changes in attitudes are mandatory to achieve the primary objective of winning over the hearts and minds of the people. But sudden transitions are always difficult to manage, since it will often mean discarding conventional military wisdom. In fact, military hawks usually term it as appeasement or a live and let live approach adopted by weak-kneed commanders. Hence, reorientation training for counter insurgency environment is mandatory both for political masters and the army.

Even at the tactical level, there is scope for refinement. It must be remembered that during the conduct of operations, tactical successes are necessary to retain initiative, to maintain morale and motivational levels of own troops and to force the insurgents to remain always on the run. But if tactical operations are executed in an uncontrolled manner, they directly contribute to the achievement of insurgent strategy of creating a sea of hostility. Thus, there exists a contradiction. We must accept that fighting back is a fundamental human instinct, and even soldiers will retaliate in self defence if their own survival is threatened by insurgents and their supporters, notwithstanding clear directives to field commanders to attempt apprehension of hostiles first, and open fire when hostiles resist or attempt escape. Anyone will retaliate, if their own survival is at stake. Therefore, it must be emphasized during training that security forces are carrying out extremely delicate tasks under serious tactical constraints. Patience and perseverance are the prime requirements in such scenarios. Also security forces must develop consummate, calculative and deft, tactical, psychological and political sophistication to come up with correct answers to numerous unforeseen situations that can crop up in an insurgency environment; be it during ambushes, or search operations, or interrogation of hostiles or their supporters, or innocent civilians. Unfortunately, it is unrealistic and impractical to produce templates for application.

We need to re-confirm if employment of army using conventional concepts and infantry tactics but with restrictions on the use of fire power is the only answer? Obviously, the answer to the problem, particularly in the initial stages of insurgency, is the first step and must start with the identification of the problem and accurate visualization of pattern of insurgent operations to include their initial, intermediate and final objectives. Furthermore, their capabilities must be accurately reviewed and tasks likely to be executed correctly identified. Of course, the overall aim of all clandestine and subversive activities would be to expand their influence over people by attraction or coercion with a view to assert their credibility in the minds of masses and to gain initiative in the military field. Expressed in terms of tasks, all insurgent activities include: guerilla operations to acquire military capability and ascendancy, recruitment to expand politico-military base, tax and ration collection to sustain expanding capability, selective killings to coerce non-partisans to extend support and political initiatives to gain and widen external and internal support. Perforce, security forces’ tactical operations must be designed to combat such insurgent activities with least inconvenience to the people and contain insurgency. Therefore, counter insurgency operations automatically include: population control and denial, psychological operations, civic action programmes and search, ambush and raid missions to isolate and capture insurgents and destroy their camps. In such a complex situation, conduct of uncontrolled operations usually results in real and contrived excesses and loss of credibility. Thus, ironically excessive use of military force by uninitiated commanders and troops will always be counter-productive and must never be attempted.

To amplify further, general cordon and search operations are usually counter-productive and need to be replaced by selective cordon and search operations conducted on the basis of real time actionable intelligence, to prevent causing avoidable harassment and humiliation to people. Furthermore, excessive employment of road opening parties, convoy escorts and other security measures, particularly curfew restrictions, though defensive by nature, are not only counter-productive but also offer lucrative targets to the insurgents to inflict casualties and achieve their overall strategy. Therefore tactical operational activity should only be directed at insurgents and their active collaborators/ sympathizers with least disturbance caused to neutral and friendly people. Of course, intelligence capability will be the most vital Key Result Area to conduct such operations. Logic automatically dictates employment of special forces, operating from designated firm bases, to launch surprise strikes aimed at capturing maximum number of insurgents and arms or destroying their camps, vis-à-vis conduct of large scale and un-controlled operations during the initial stage. However, during later stages of insurgency, if guerrilla activity gets widespread, there is a need to move into open conventional warfare. In both situations, the army will be forced to counter insurgent activity adopting conventional tactics with restricted fire power, but once again supported by a psychological warfare effort. The overall object will continue to remain winning over the hearts and mind of the people.

Commanders and troops must understand that they are operating in a ‘No Win’ situation and their overall aim will always remain achievement of a more perfect peace. It simply implies that there is no such thing as a quick military victory. Conduct of counter-insurgency campaigns will invariably extend over a number of years. None should attempt to achieve ‘quick-end’ results, particularly by excessive use of force. Excessive use of force is counter-productive and must be avoided. Patience, perseverance, warmth and genuineness must be displayed by totally committed, dedicated and motivated leadership at all levels. Undeniably, counter-insurgency environment demands a very high order intellectual acumen unimagined ever before in conventional setting. Since it is a ‘No Win’ situation, performance evaluation may not be based on head count of number of insurgents captured/ destroyed and weapons captured or on number of hearts and minds won over. At the same time there is no room for ‘Zero Error’ or ‘live and let live’ approach to the problem. Such is the nerve racking complexity of the problem that the need for ensuring correct type of mental conditioning at all levels assumes vital significance. Fighting insurgency in this backdrop tends to create tremendous pressure on the minds of security forces’ personnel due to contradictory requirements and as such needs to be addressed appropriately at various levels.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Views from India: the “haughty,” “condescending,” “arrogant,” and “patronizing” NYT editorial of last July 18, 2009

An Editorial and Its (Mal) Contents. By S. Samuel C. Rajiv
IDSA, July 25, 2009

An editorial in the New York Times on July 18, 2009 ahead of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India - ‘Secretary Clinton goes to India’, has generated a lot of interest. A prominent Indian-American Democratic politician from Maryland, Kumar Barve, who is also a Majority leader in the House of Delegates, criticized the tone and tenor of the write-up as “haughty”, “condescending”, “arrogant”, and “patronizing.” Barve points out that the editorial’s first sentence, which defines India as “a longtime nuclear scofflaw,” is factually incorrect, as India had never violated any nuclear agreements it has signed.

The editorial goes on to describe India as a “major contributor to global warming,” which again can be contested very convincingly. India contributes less than 4 per cent of global emissions, and has one of the lowest per capita emissions in the world (less than 2 tonnes of CO2 per annum). The United States and China on the other hand are together responsible for 40 per cent of global emissions. In the same paragraph, it calls on India “to do a lot more to constrain its arms race with Pakistan and global proliferation.”

India and Pakistan are neither involved in any competitive arms racing nor can Pakistan afford to do so and go down the route of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Indian’s defence budget as a percentage of GDP has come down from over 3 per cent in 1988-89 to under 2 per cent in 2008-09. This has to be seen against the background of defence budgets in India’s neighbourhood – nearly 5 per cent of GDP for Pakistan and 7 per cent for China. Given the lack of transparency in these figures, compounded by a whole range of internal and external security threats, arguments in favour of increasing India’s defence budget have actually more weight.

Urging India to take “more responsibility internationally,” the supporting arguments the editorial gives in favour of this ‘advice’ is the strong mandate secured by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the fact that the country has weathered a global recession better than others. The reasons responsible for the re-election of Dr. Singh are varied. This writer is not sure if taking on greater responsibilities overseas was a factor for the Indian electorate to choose him. To do more internationally to help the world ride out the financial storm is labouring the point. Despite the size of its economy (worth more than a trillion dollars), India still has a negligible share of world trade. Its strengths have primarily been its growing domestic demand, a high savings rate, among other factors, which have helped weather the crisis that has gripped the rest of the world.

The editorial then calls on India to help allay Pakistani fears, without defining what those fears are – a grand Indian design to break up the country may be! The editorial does make the right noises about Pakistan and the need for the US administration to keep the pressure on it so that it prosecutes those involved in the heinous Mumbai terror attacks. The K-word however does find its customary place, as it perhaps should in any discussion involving the two countries. But the editorial notes the possible difficulties in finding a solution to the issue “while Pakistan is battling the Taliban.” It can actually be argued that this is the right time for Islamabad to face the reality of the dangers from the Frankenstein monsters operating with impunity within its territory and strive for a negotiated settlement to the vexing issue rather than otherwise. The organic linkages between the demons that the Pakistan Army has taken on in certain parts of its territory and the pervasive culture of ‘jihad’ that official instruments of the state continue to employ to bleed India are ignored.

The argument about Kashmir also does not take account of the fact that it is just a symptom of the disease between the two countries and not the cause. The raison d’etre of Pakistan as a separate and distinct homeland of the major minority religion of the Indian sub-continent is too stark a reality to be ignored. The same logic is extended to imply that a functioning, stable, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and diverse India is an anathema to the very existence of Pakistan. Pakistani society is in itself a hotch-potch of mutually antagonistic ethnic and tribal groups seemingly held together by artificial hatred towards India. These tensions threaten to rip the country apart any time soon. Ignoring these factors to imply that all will be hunky-dory between the two countries if Kashmir were resolved is at once naïve and immature. The argument also resounds with similar such formulations that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root cause of all that is wrong in the Middle East, ignoring such facts as the Iran-Iraq war, the cruel lack of development of economic and human resources, heavy-handed dictatorships and autocratic regimes, lack of freedom and democracy, among other factors.

On the issue of the Indo-US nuclear deal, the editorial reiterates the contention aired by the paper earlier as well as by non-proliferation ayatollahs that it frees up India to use its domestic sources of uranium solely for weapons production. It therefore urges the Obama administration to press India to cap its production of fissile material so that Pakistan can be pressured to do the same. Secretary Clinton is also urged to press India to pursue regional arms talks with Pakistan and China and sign the CTBT. This, at a time when the US has still not ratified the CTBT, a point acknowledged by Clinton in her interactions with the media on her visit here.

The agreement between Presidents Obama and Medvedev in Moscow to undertake further cuts in their weapons stockpile is held as an important negotiating point to convince India on this score. While the sequel to the START-1 treaty needs to be appreciated, as also the new administration’s right noises on disarmament, Indian concerns regarding these issues remain. Achieving comprehensive and universal nuclear disarmament is still a long way to go, despite the personal interventions of the US President who has made disarmament one of the pillars of his administration’s foreign policy. Continuing and robust nuclear force modernization programmes of nuclear weapon states are a huge stumbling block in any effort to convince New Delhi of the merits of arguments regarding FMCT and CTBT. Most reports also indicate that Pakistan has a greater stockpile of weapons material and more bombs in its arsenal than India, though it may not have as many delivery systems.

The editorial then derides India and Pakistan for not being able to define what they mean by a ‘credible, minimum’ nuclear deterrent. The US (and the then USSR) lurched alternatively from having a credible deterrent to massive retaliation to flexible response, all the time building thousands of weapons and delivery systems worth many billions of dollars without exactly seeming to know the exact numbers required to keep each other at bay. Concerns about the ‘missile gap’ (which turned out to be untrue in the first assessment carried out by the ‘whizkids’ led by the then Defence Secretary Robert McNamara) illustrate the difficulties in deciphering what the other person is up to in the nuclear realm, given the inherent nature of the nuclear weapon as not a war-fighting tool but a war-prevention ‘asset’. This is not to argue that India and Pakistan need another 50 years to figure out how not to fight a nuclear war but to keep things in perspective given the nature of the issues involved.

On Iran, acknowledging India’s “grudging” support to earlier UNSC Resolutions, it urges India to do more and hopes that India’s “arm will not be twisted this time around” in order to get this support. India has already stated that it is not in its interest to see any more nuclear weapon powers in its neighbourhood. At the same time, it has upheld Iran’s right to peacefully exploit the power of the atom. Given its strong civilisational and trade links, and Iran being Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s neighbour – both countries of concern and vital interest to it, coupled with its energy requirements, it will be difficult to expect India to be more strident on the issue than what it has already been. Engaging and assuaging the Iranian regime’s sense of security and convincing/forcing it to give up its nuclear weapon ambitions, if any, through diplomatic and economic sanctions, seem to be the only way forward on the issue.

The editorial ends by lecturing India to “stop its pretensions to non-alignment” and calls on Clinton and Obama to encourage India to “behave” like a vital partner of the US “in building a stable world.” At the end of it, one begins to wonder if talking out loud, shooting with the mouth (or pen/keypad) and carrying a big stick (‘danda’ in Hindi) are the only characteristics of a great power. By the way, these are usually the defining hallmarks of a typical local cop in Delhi.

S. Samuel C. Rajiv is a researcher at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

India Picks Economic Growth Over Carbon Dioxide Caps

India Picks Economic Growth Over Carbon Dioxide Caps
IER, July 27, 2009

The Obama Administration and European governments continue to lobby developing countries, such as India and China, to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. But India and China reject these calls because they understand that artificial restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions will harm their economies.

During her recent visit, India’s Environment Minister reminded Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that India would not accept caps on their carbon dioxide emissions. According to the Washington Post:

But the clash between developed and developing countries over climate change intruded on the high-profile photo opportunity midway through Clinton’s three-day tour of India. Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh complained about U.S. pressure to cut a worldwide deal, and Clinton countered that the Obama administration’s push for a binding agreement would not sacrifice India’s economic growth.

As dozens of cameras recorded the scene, Ramesh declared that India would not commit to a deal that would require it to meet targets to reduce emissions. “It is not true that India is running away from mitigation,” he said. But “India’s position, let me be clear, is that we are simply not in the position to take legally binding emissions targets.” [emphasis added]

It is refreshing to see that at least some government officials—though not from this country – understand that when you take options away from businesses, you reduce economic activity. If it were really true, as Secretary of State Clinton alleges, that reducing emissions will actually spur job creation and economic growth, then why would the government need to force its plan on the private sector? (See video.)

Furthermore, why stop with caps on carbon dioxide emissions? Why not impose a cap-and-trade plan on the use of steel? All those businesses currently using steel as an input would then have to scramble to find higher-priced substitutes, and this would create jobs in the plastics industries.

Of course the above “logic” is nonsense. Steadily shrinking the cap on permissible emissions will hamper U.S. economic growth and because businesses will be forced to switch to lower-carbon-intensive techniques than they otherwise would have chosen, their output will be lower and the productivity of labor will fall. That is, of course, the intent of the proponents of cap and trade plans including the Waxman-Markey bill that recently passed in the House of Representatives. The so-called “green jobs” created in some sectors, such as wind turbines and solar panels, will be counterbalanced by job destruction in other sectors that rely on fossil fuels and inexpensive energy.

Indian officials have it exactly right: They are being asked to sacrifice the welfare of their own citizens by Western leaders whose countries were built on a foundation of abundant energy.
India’s declaration also undermines the entire rationale for the Waxman-Markey bill. Taken in isolation, some experts contend that the Waxman-Markey caps on U.S. emissions will have virtually no impact on the trajectory of global warming, even taking the standard climate models at face value. Even the most outspoken scientists on global warming agree that unilateral American efforts are pointless, without similar targets being adopted by the developing world.

Proponents of cap and trade have justified its economically crippling, yet environmentally irrelevant, constraints on the U.S. by saying it will provide American negotiators with moral authority when seeking worldwide restrictions on industry. The idea is that we need to impose limits on the U.S. economy before other governments will agree to shackle their own economies in turn.

India, rightly so, has just declared that it will do no such thing. Let us hope that our leaders see the flaws in their logic and reverse course on this job-killing cap and trade plan before it is too late.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Views from India: Why Manmohan Singh is in Yekaterinburg?

Talking Heads: Why Manmohan Singh is in Yekaterinburg? By P. Stobdan
IDSA, June 16, 2009

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is attending a slew of Russian hosted high profile meetings including those of the SCO and BRIC in Yekaterinburg which would be viewed keenly by most international watchers. The SCO, keenly nurtured by Russia and China as an exclusive nucleus, had hitherto excluded those with observer status from its core deliberations. The forum became popular as an embryonic counterpoise to the United States after 2005 when it bluntly issued a quit notice to the US from Central Asia and decided to salvage an assortment of autocrats being ostracized by the West. Since then, even Iran has been seeking shelter under the SCO auspices.

Why has Russia changed the summit format this time around to include Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia in the core deliberations? While it reflects the changing international realignment, the spin now emerging clearly indicates that Russia is counter-strategizing to deal with global issues or at the least it is unwilling to concede the challenges being posed by NATO. The rift with the trans-Atlantic alliance continues as Moscow has rejected the idea of exerting pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme in exchange for the US abandoning its planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe. For its part, NATO has not abandoned its quest to bring Ukraine and Georgia within its fold. The standoff over Georgia also continues.

It is also clear that Russia’s showdown with Georgia has changed the rules of the game. Moscow had lost diplomatic face not only in Europe but also in Asia. Many of Russia’s friends including SCO members were incensed by its adventurism towards former-republics, including the way in which it had been using gas as an instrument for arm-twisting. China and the Central Asian states were wary of Russia’s action and as such they did not endorse Moscow’s call for recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossestia during the last SCO summit in Dushanbe. The adroit Chinese were certainly not keen to pick a fight at the risk of ruining relations with the West. Moscow has also perhaps realized that it is fast losing influence in the Eurasian space, especially given that the global meltdown has made Central Asian states more dependent on China. The former Soviet republics are relying more on Chinese driven institutions than moribund organization led by Russia. Unlike Russia, China has showed no inclination for prematurely confronting the West. Instead, it was cautious about admitting Iran into the SCO as a full member and may have moderated Central Asian behavior to the chagrin of Moscow.

It is against the backdrop of this trend of Russia losing economic, political and cultural attractiveness vis-à-vis China that we should see Moscow’s attempt to bring India fully into the Eurasian space. Another reliable partner is Russia’s old trusted ally - Mongolia. India’s inclusion is also linked to the global financial crisis. Both Russia and China have been attempting to evolve a fresh financial architecture, including a proposal for a new global currency to replace the dollar as a way to preempt another financial meltdown. Russia hopes that Brazil, India and China would join hands as part of the BRIC forum to push the idea further.

The SCO meeting would be significant especially since it is being held against the backdrop of the new American Af-Pak Plan and Obama’s attempt to muster the support of regional powers to make his Afghan policy a success. The SCO, under Russia’s presidency, has been talking about Afghanistan more seriously than before mainly because the focus of geopolitics has shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan – Russia’s traditional backyard. In fact, the high profile March 2009 Conference in Moscow clearly set the stage for the SCO to play a stepped-up role, when it announced a roadmap to deal with increasing security concerns emanating from Afghanistan. It called for comprehensive cooperation against terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime. The Russians suspect that the global economic downturn may have had an impact on the Taliban as well and thus strengthen the drugs trade. But SCO efforts are being hampered by the NATO presence in Afghanistan. The Russians claim that Afghan opium production increased 44 times after NATO and US troops were deployed in the region and since the withdrawal of Russian border guards from Tajik-Afghan border in 2005.

Moscow has shown willingness to provide transit routes for NATO shipment across Russia and Central Asia to Afghanistan. But this is being downplayed by the US which prefers to rely upon Pakistani supply routes. Attempts would be made by the SCO to bring Afghanistan within its fold this time. As the US intends to deal with and not confront the Taliban, Moscow fears that there will be a power vacuum in Afghanistan upsetting the existing balance. Some SCO declarations may come as music to Indian ears, since they would be a contrast to the NATO’s military approach and are likely to insist upon Pakistan stopping terrorism emanating from its soil. For New Delhi, the SCO may provide a useful platform to counter the negative fallout for Indian interests emerging from the Af-Pak plan. India had earlier pushed for a policy that integrates development projects in Afghanistan with security initiatives and has also insisted that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Taliban.

It is also likely that Russia is once again trying to use its leverage to soften India with regard to ongoing tension with Pakistan. Putin made a failed attempt earlier to bring together Vajpayee and Musharraf at a similar summit held in Almaty in 2002. Vajpayee did not relent.

The SCO carries a range of ambitious goals under its charter as letter of intent, including the development of an energy club, an inter-bank consortium, and cultural centres to set up an SCO university. But all in all, its strength is slightly exaggerated. The grouping suffers from nebulous internal contradictions. Everyone plays a game under the SCO template. There are internal discords and competing interests. Behind the SCO façade both China and Russia are competing for energy deals with Central Asian states. And like in Africa, Chinese firms are buying resource mines by befriending the region’s corrupt regimes, and in the process is fuelling corruption and undermining a host of environmental and labour standards.

The importance of India is occasionally aired by the SCO members, but in reality Russians and Central Asians only pay lip service while China effectively scuttles anything positive involving India in the Eurasian space. Decades of Indian efforts for an energy deal with Central Asian states remain frustrated. Except on security issues there is little that India can achieve in the SCO. The danger is that though the SCO is not a military block, it is increasingly getting securitized due to stepped-up co-operation to fight terrorism through intelligence consultations and large-scale military exercises. Many have dubbed it as an Asian NATO.

There is nothing wrong in Manmohan Singh attending the Yekaterinburg meeting even if it is a low diplomatic parade. It is also alright if the Prime Minister wants to dispel the myth that he only cares for Washington. In any event, India stands to gain by being courted by other centres of power rather than placing all its eggs in the American basket.

Prof. P. Stobdan is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Infomercial Comes to Life in India's Remotest Villages

The Infomercial Comes to Life in India's Remotest Villages. By Eric Bellman
Traveling Salesman Mr. Sharma Sings, Jokes To Spread Gospel of Global Consumerism
WSJ, Jun 10, 2009, page A1

BENIPUR VILLAGE, India -- Advertisers in India can't rely on TV, radio or even newspapers to reach the country's 700 million rural consumers. So they use Sandeep Sharma.

On dirt roads across the subcontinent, the former wedding singer cracks jokes, gives demonstrations and stages game shows to spread global consumerism, one village at a time.

He is one of thousands of traveling performers who bring the world's biggest brands to audiences of a handful in the remotest reaches of the nation. He offers free Castrol oil changes for tractors. He dishes out bowls of Nestlé noodles in village schools. He pushes Unilever soaps and creams. He promotes tooth powder and condoms.

"Stick to the countryside if you want to be successful," the 34-year-old says, beaming after a recent performance before a small crowd of villagers in stifling heat. "When we arrive, the whole village comes out."

It's a good time to be a traveling salesman in India, relatively speaking. Insulated from the worst of the global recession, India's rural consumers are spending as never before. International brands -- eager for ways to offset contracting markets elsewhere -- are sending out armies of salesmen like Mr. Sharma. Overall advertising spending climbed about 10% in India last year. Rural advertising grew at more than four times that rate.

The standard procedure for Mr. Sharma starts with kowtowing to village elders in order to get permission to set up his mobile stage and to try to find out who in the village has money. He then rouses the villagers. He used to walk around with a megaphone announcing the show, but dogs chased him. Now he drives around in his truck with the music turned up or hands out candy to children, asking them to bring out their neighbors.

Mud Huts

One recent afternoon in the single-road village of Benipur (pop. 5,000), he opened the back of his truck to reveal a stage, speakers and bright posters. The village is a sandy strip of one-story houses and simple shops, most of them brick but a few made of mud with thatched roofs. The road up to the village is flanked with carefully constructed 10-foot towers of cow dung, burned as fuel for cooking and heating. Trucks, tractors, scooters and herds of goats slow as they see the stage. A curious crowd grows. The music starts. Mr. Sharma shouts into the microphone.

"You have to sacrifice so much in life, but these Nokia handsets have all the extras," he says, waving his hands. "Nokia makes life easier."

He pulls barefoot people onto the stage and quizzes them about the product. When they answer the questions correctly, they get a Nokia keychain in the shape of a guitar. Two other performers do a skit mimicking characters from a popular Hindi film.

"Brother, why would you need a cellphone?" one performer asks as he passes the only microphone. "To flirt with the most popular girl in the village," comes the answer. The crowd giggles.

As Mr. Sharma pitches, village life goes on. Next to his truck, villagers pump water from a well. Across the street, a couple of farmers shoe a horse. Two cows, unmoved, stand across the street for the whole show.

[See the full article at the link above.]