Monthly Archives: November 2011

what does egypt want…

Fascinating survey…..see my earlier post on the Arab Storm. Most Egyptians want economic recovery, not more protests, according to national Gallup surveys conducted over the past eight months.


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November 29, 2011 · 10:41 pm

india’s military buildup


…the number one story of 2011 on Foreign Policy.

India is now the world’s largest weapons importer, according to a 2011 report by arms watchdog SIPRI, accounting for 9 percent of the world’s international arms transfers — most from Russia — between 2006 and 2010. India will spend an estimated $80 billion on military modernization programs by 2015

But, how real/large is the China threat?


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November 29, 2011 · 10:39 pm

to mart or not to mart…


Sharad Pawar’s cheek has recovered, and so we can now move on to more pressing matters. A $450 billion  retail market has just been opened for foreign investment.

On Thursday, the cabinet allowed 100% foreign direct investment in single brand retail, up from 51% earlier, and placed a 51% cap on multi-brand retail, having earlier allowed 100% FDI in the wholesale segment. No parliamentary approval is needed for the decision, but state governments can disallow implementation in their states.

Not surprisingly, a critical economic reform policy issue has turned into a screaming match amongst our enlightened politicians.  Leaders of Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Orissa, and West Bengal have all publicly opposed the move, as has the BJP and the Trinamool congress.  In characteristic fashion, Maywati said on Sunday that FDI was to please Rahul Gandhi – the yuvraj – and his foreign friends.

The debate thus far has focussed on the consequences of foreign investment for the kiranas, the local mom and pop shops. Opponents argue Tesco-Mart and Co and will drive the kiranas out of business and negatively influence employment; supporters argue that it will reduce prices, improve efficiency,  and eventually compel the kiranas to become more competitive and improve business practices.

But have we got this all wrong? Is the kirana really the crux of the debate? What is the expected nature of the competition between mom and pop stores and the Tesco-Mart and co? Will consumers actually switch from their local store to Tesco? Which consumers?

India’s retail market is an estimated $450 billion,  of which 90% are kirana stores. And, of these 8 million kiranas,  about 5-6 million are in rural areas. As  Tesco-Mart and Co are not permitted to set up shop in these rural areas, these kiranas are safe. So, its the rest of the urban kiranas that are supposedly threatened by foreign investment in the retail sector.  But are these kiranas really under threat?

Consider the following comment in response to an article about FDI in the Guardian.

‘Corporate style retail marketing is so impersonal.There is no one to talk to and you wander all by yourself what to choose or what to discard.No shared experiences and even though there are few “supermarkets’ where I live In Bangalore I do not go there for my shopping.I prefer the small neighbourhood shops whom I know well,who talk to me,and share their views.They deliver home all we need and that by a mere call.’

Why would the consumer shift from shopping at a Kirana store to a Tesco? Service at kirana’s in unbeatable. Your local kiranawalla not only delivers groceries home, packages and puts them in your car, but also knows individual customers by face, their preferences, and actually helps them shop – mine picks the best veg for me, allows me to try the fruit, and will even take it back if Im not happy the next day. He delivers a single packet of cigarettes and a carton of milk, recognizes my voice on the phone, and will even give me groceries on credit if need be.  So, why go to Tesco? The assumption underlying the current debate in political circles rests on the assumption that the consumer will actually prefer Tesco. He might not however.  Cheaper prices could be one incentive. But, considering real estate prices and the space-squeeze in urban centers, these shops are likely to be in the outskirts of cities.  The upper middle class is unlikely to venture far to save a few rupees. Equally, the  lower middle class consumer that are struggling to make ends means, may not have the time or the inclination to make this trek. Consider also that only 1% of the country currently drives cars. If you’re going to make the trek,  you probably also want to do a bout of bulk shopping. Where do the shopping bags go?

The kiranas seem safe. At least for the foreseeable future. Lets not confuse policy with politics.

 The real question then seems to be whether the Indian market is large enough for the Tesco-marts?When was the last time you went to Big Bazaar, or Spencer’s?  How much business do they do compared with your local? And is the market really big enough to accomodate the kiranas, the spencers, big bazaar, and the Tesco-Maarts? Big Bazaar chain of outlets has a debt of about Rs. 4,300 crore and is scrambling for ways to reduce its debt.

Tesco-Mart investment is expected to help the sector and economy more generally through the investment they will bring rural infrastructure, back-end operations, food-processing units, warehouses, and supply chains. Commentators note that this is not a problem for these retailers as they are on the hunt for higher growth in emerging markets such as India. But, the question remains, are consumer spending patterns going to change substantially enough – from the kiranas to the tesco-marts – to make india an attractive investment opportunity for foreign retailers?

I dont want to come down on one side of the FDI debate; both sides of the argument carry weight and only time will tell which side carries more weight. But, lets not confuse the issue by focussing our discussion on these kiranas. Rather than be threatened by the Tesco-Marts, they are likely to be Tesco-Marts biggest competitors.

There are more critical issues that should take center stage. Will, for example, tesco-mart be successful in improving supply chains and back end operations while facing stiff opposition from various states? How? What processes need to be put in place?  How  are we to ensure that they remain responsible investors, that generate employment, and invest in sustainable and efficient infrastructure?


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November 28, 2011 · 10:37 pm

where is the future?

Bhadrakumar is right to note that ‘Egypt is the “brain” of Arabism and what happens in Cairo in the coming days — with the revolutionary fervour resurging, reclaiming lost territory and restoring primacy in the political discourse — is going to impact profoundly on the politics of the entire region.’

But, it seems like Syria is the forbearer of the future of the Middle East. Plus, it is where all pretences about what the spring is/can be/ must be shaken. More on Syria coming up.

He also notes that if the military establishment is swept away, the US would have to re-think its strategy in the whole region. Again, I’d say Syria is going to be the real test of US strategy as well as a possible game changer.

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November 28, 2011 · 4:36 pm

intellectual identity crisis?

I used to think i was firmly in the culturalist camp, that materialist power/interest explanations fell short in explaining international politics without an emphasis on the identity of actors, the impact of normative structures, questions of legitimacy and all that other constructivist ‘fluff’.

then i started following the Syrian crisis closely.

the US, France, and Britain have asked for Assad to  end the violence and step down. same goes for turkey and saudi arabia and the arab league. the discussion of possible consequences for failing to do so range from sanctions to intervention. ( the arab league approved sanctions as of yesterday).  this concern and these sanctions are framed in terms of the rights of people, democracy and liberty.  turkey and france argue that to oppose assad is necessary for them as democratic countries, i.e it necessarily follows from their identities.

a culturalists dream? the strengthening of a solidarist international society? Even the Arab League is coming around to support liberal norms, warming up to even R2P.

but, only the really naive would buy this narrative. the Syria game is being driven by strategic interests, an an ongoing competition for influence in the middle east.  the US would like to curb Iranian influence, especially in light of its withdrawal in Iraq. Iran would like to increase its influence, and with the US withdrawal from Iraq,  Iran could now have a sphere of influence extending from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. Israel is apprehensive either way –  it would like to see the end of the Syria-Iranian friendship, but is worried about an Islamist government coming to power – Assad is the enemy they know. The Great Game is on, and is accelerating to dangerous levels in Syria.

And its not about human rights, democracy or other solidarist  norms. Its about strategic interests, competition, and  the balance of power played out against the shadow of the future.This would fit a realist analysis well; ideas are epiphenomenal and mostly just serve as justifications for achieving strategic interests. States might use the language of human rights and democracy, but these are justifications masking other interests. Andrew Hurrel points out how pluralist concerns are advanced and strengthened through solidarist arguments.

So, goodbye arm-chair culturalism? Hello realism?

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more on the arab spring

Western and Indian media sources alike have been so pre-occupied with Egypt revolution 2.0, they seemed to have missed important other developments in Egypt. An Al Jazeera article by Malika Bilal notes, ‘Several thousand protesters bearing gigantic Egyptian flags flocked to the centre of Abbassiyah on Friday in a mass show of support for the country’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).The voices of those who back the SCAF have largely been overshadowed by the thousands, who are demanding an immediate end to military rule in Egypt.

This strike me as the perfect example of how the media and other commentators have focussed only on those developments that fit with the dominant narrative of the Arab Spring – that of thousands of protesters revolting against their autocratic rulers. But there are some that actually prefer the maintenance of the status quo – whether it is the military in Egypt or even Assad in Damascus. The point is not whether the demands of one side are more legitimate than the other, or whether protestors expressing support for their current rulers are actually bed-fellows with the autocrats…..but rather, that the discourse of human rights and democracy has the potential to be so totalizing that it blinds to other voices of dissent…even the pursuit of human rights and liberty can become a hegemonic project, a liberal hegemony that crowds out other alternative voices and means of emancipation. And, as I had mentioned in a previous post, the Arab Spring narrative can actually enable the perusal of policies that safeguard state security rather than human security.

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November 27, 2011 · 4:31 pm

how can he slap?

Big News of the Day. Sharad Pawar got slapped by a sadarji. Nothing else is on tv and so a few thoughts.

1. There is a difference between condoning a particular act and accepting that it might be worth considering that the reasons and anger behind such an act are real, regardless of whether they are justified.

2.  The media – especially dear Miss Nidhi – is not able to grasp this rather grammatically clear and logically sound sentence.  She is either having a  slow day or a cosy day with some big babu.

3. The media also seems to think that an analogy can be made between group violence ’ terrorism’ and a slap by a single man. They call him an ‘attacker’.

4. When did Anna Hazare become such a hero? Perhaps AB Sr. needs to put Anna on speed dial for the KBC ‘phone a friend’ option.

5. Mr. Mora clearly is not interested in sticking to the issue. For him, its a problem of violence – the good father even mentioned his daughter.  He also, like Nidhi, is either slow or cosy. Nidhi, I understand, its a larger media problem; Mora, as an editor of a journal, you say.

6. Seems more like a security/bodyguard problem. Rajdeep might disagree – he asks whether the anti-neta sentiment is getting to dangerous levels. Danger is subjective, sure. But surely we would know with some degree of certainty if we were faced with danger.

7. Rajdeep, you look smarter than you are. To say that there is a need to appreciate peoples’ emotions does not mean that one also implicitly legitimates the slap. Raju seems most worried about the “movement spiralling out of control.” He got the FEAAR. Or, just nothing else to say. How else did we get from a slap to a “culture of violence”?  ”I worry that the line between democracy and anarchy can be very thin”. Raju, you just keep getting better and better.

8. What about when our babus through cheears in parliament?

9. Ha, who would have thought my first blog post would be about slaps. Jai Hind.

10. Shoe-attacks ( shoes are the new drones) apparently have been terrorizing our babus all year round. Or so Raju, Nidhi and the rest of their friends tell us. But, look at the incidents, most have been by party karamchari’s unhappy with an internal party decision. Not quite the grievance of the common man.

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