The Empress’s long-term legacies

CENTRALISATION OF POWER: Indira Gandhi contributed significantly to promoting an idea of power that was highly personalised and weakly institutionalised. Here, she is seen with some of her cabinet colleagues in April 1984.

CENTRALISATION OF POWER: Indira Gandhi contributed significantly to promoting an idea of power that was highly personalised and weakly institutionalised. Here, she is seen with some of her cabinet colleagues in April 1984. /Picture from THE HINDU

The most important features of Indira Gandhi’s legacy are a somewhat paradoxical combination of destructive and constructive elements


In 1969, Mrs. Gandhi banned corporate donations to political parties. Since then, as noted by analyst Prem Shankar Jha, a parallel economy of gigantic proportions has come into being. Political parties have literally been forced to resort to black money to fund their electoral campaigns. No doubt, this well suited Mrs. Gandhi’s political objectives. The Congress party dominated India’s politics both at the Centre and at the State levels. Thus, the control of the “Licence raj” system ensured abundant funds to the ruling party, leaving the crumbs to the opposition.

However, political corruption survived the demise of the Congress as India’s dominant party and became a systemic feature of the Indian polity. Today, black money is considered a “legitimate” way of financing – Read more

Still On: Russian Minister Says France Still Selling Them New Warships

 Mistral-class helicopter carrier

The Mistral-class helicopter carrier Vladivostok is seen at the STX Les Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard site in Saint-Nazaire, September 4, 2014. Stephane Mahe/Reuters /Picture from Newsweek


MOSCOW/PARIS (Reuters) – Russia says it has received an invitation to take delivery of the first of two French warships, an arms deal that was cast into doubt by tensions between the West and Russia over Ukraine that led the United States and Europe to impose sanctions on Moscow.

The invitation was sent for Russia to take delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers from France on Nov. 14, RIA news agency quoted Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin as saying on Wednesday. RIA also quoted Rogozin as saying the second vessel would be put afloat the same day.

However, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday Paris would wait until next month to decide whether to deliver the first of the two vessels. -Read more

Inequalities and the Ebola crisis

The response to Ebola, which has killed nearly 5,000 Africans but only two western citizens, cannot be colour coded anymore. For the future, we cannot but raise questions about the structural inequalities that prevent accessible health care for the global poor, and societies that eliminate these inequalities


The principle upon which the fight against disease should be based is the creation of a robust body; but not the creation of a robust body by the artistic work of a doctor upon a weak organism; rather, the creation of a robust body with the work of the whole collectivity, upon the entire social collectivity. — Che Guevara

The photograph in August this year, of a very weak, 10-year-old Saah Exco, suspected of having contracted Ebola, sitting naked on a bucket and fighting to stay alive while residents of a slum in Monrovia, Liberia, milled around him, terrified of helping him, might go on to win Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer John Moore another prize. But that’s irrelevant in what is unfolding as a devastating tragedy in Africa. Moore’s and others’ pictures can only show us a glimpse of that tragedy. They do not show that Exco’s mother and brother had died earlier, or that he himself would die later.

The popular media in America and the rest of the western world, which, until recently, was busy dealing with the horrors of beheadings perpetrated by “medieval barbarians,” and other “horrors” in the form of nude photographs of celebrities being leaked online on a daily basis, was suddenly forced to confront another horror. One that was silently brewing for many months in those parts of the world which appear in the western consciousness only through Hollywood blockbusters. And this it was forced to do so only once the first Ebola death happened on American soil.

Global apathy

Nevertheless, the response to the crisis has been on expected lines. The entire discourse surrounding Ebola in the West is about quarantining itself against “those” poor Africans entering “our” space, -Read more

Ethiopia, 30 years after the famine

A man walks past Addis Ababa light railway

A man walks past Addis Ababa light railway /Picture from The Guardian



Three decades after images that shocked the world, country has become darling of the global development community – and the scourge of the human rights lobby

With an Einsteinian shock of hair and a wise man’s beard, Mulugeta Tesfakiros, just off a flight from Washington, settled into an office of glass walls and vibrant artworks in Addis Ababa. The millionaire magnate, who has gone into the local wine business with Bob Geldof, mused on the new Ethiopia: “Most of the people need first security, second food … and democracy after that.”

An hour’s drive away stand the corrugated iron watchtowers of a prison. The inmates include nine bloggers and journalists charged with terrorism. Standing in a bleak courtyard on a family visit day, they talked about how they had been tortured.

“I feel like I don’t know Ethiopia,” one said. “It’s a totally different country for me.”

This is the Janus-faced society that is the second most populous country in Africa. A generation after the famine that pierced the conscience of the world, Ethiopia is both a darling of the international development community and a scourge of the -Read more

How Ben Bradlee transformed The Washington Post

Ben Bradlee led the newspaper during the days of the Watergate scandal. Photo: AP

Ben Bradlee led the newspaper during the days of the Watergate scandal. Photo: AP /Picture from THE HINDU


As managing editor and then executive editor from 1965 to 1991, Mr. Bradlee liked to roam the sprawling newsroom. Once he came up to a young journalist on the National staff, hired just months before, whose story was on Page One that day. Mr. Bradlee jabbed a finger at the front-page story. “Nothing like this!” he said, with a broad, knowing smile.

There was nothing like working for him, either. His enthusiasm was infectious. When Mr. Bradlee stopped to ask what was going on, reporters eagerly shared a tantalizing idea or tip. “Worth a phone call,” Mr. Bradlee often replied, and he needed say no more. His newsroom crackled with the energy of a modern startup. A certain “creative tension” was the reality, a competition among reporters and editors to win his approval. Mr. Bradlee -Read more

Amazon’s Monopsony Is Not O.K.


Paul Krugman /Picture from The New York Times

Paul Krugman /Picture from The New York Times, the giant online retailer, has too much power, and it uses that power in ways that hurt America.

O.K., I know that was kind of abrupt. But I wanted to get the central point out there right away, because discussions of Amazon tend, all too often, to get lost in side issues.

For example, critics of the company sometimes portray it as a monster about to take over the whole economy. Such claims are over the top — Amazon doesn’t dominate overall online sales, let alone retailing as a whole, and probably never will. But so what? Amazon is still playing a troubling role.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s defenders often digress into paeans to online bookselling, which has indeed been a good thing for many Americans, or testimonials to Amazon customer service — and in case you’re wondering, yes, I have Amazon Prime and use it a lot. But again, so what? The desirability of new technology, or even Amazon’s effective use of that technology, is not the issue. After all, John D. Rockefeller and his associates were pretty good at the oil business, too — but Standard Oil nonetheless had too much power, and public action to curb that power was essential.

And the same is true of Amazon today.

If you haven’t been following the recent Amazon news: Back in May a dispute between Amazon and Hachette, a major publishing house, broke out into open commercial warfare. Amazon had been demanding a larger cut of -Read more

Lessons from mutiny on the bounty

The recommendations of the World Bank/IMF are presented to us, the people of the South, as scientific, objective, necessary, fair, and in the best interests of the countries where they are to be implemented. This is why the rebellion episode by the bank staff to its restructuring is so significant



In the Financial Times of October 8, the columnist Shawn Donnan, reported that the World Bank was facing an internal “‘mutiny.” Yes, the word mutiny was used. The professional staff were apparently angry about several issues, a deep discontent, because of which the rebellion had been brewing over many days. The key issue was the restructuring exercise being undertaken by the President, Jim Yong Kim, to save, through both the elimination of benefits to staff on mission and also through possible lay-offs, the sum of $400 million. The restructuring exercise, staff felt, was deeply flawed both procedurally and substantively. The columnist reported some members saying that this “thing [restructuring] is affecting everything.” “We can’t do business. We don’t have the budget. It’s a mess, …” Another staff member complained that “nickel and diming” on travel budgets was causing travelling staff to have to pay for their own breakfasts. “It’s really small beer,” she said. “Has anyone ever thought about the impact of these changes on staff morale?”

Resistance against restructuring

To assuage their feelings, before the semi-annual meeting of the Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) with Finance Ministers and Central Bankers of member countries, President Jim Yong Kim had to hurriedly convene a “town hall” meeting with the staff to discuss their concerns. The issues that -Read more

Presumed Guilty in China’s War on Corruption, Targets Suffer Abuses

Zhou Yongkang, the former domestic security chief, faces charges of violating party discipline. Many lawyers view his case as a test of whether party leaders are committed to legal reform. Credit Feng Li/Getty Images

Zhou Yongkang, the former domestic security chief, faces charges of violating party discipline. Many lawyers view his case as a test of whether party leaders are committed to legal reform. Credit Feng Li/Getty Images /Picture from New York Times



BEIJING — He was starved, pummeled and interrogated for days on end in an ice-cold room where sleeping, sitting or even leaning against a wall were forbidden. One beating left Wang Guanglong, a midlevel official fromChina’s Fujian Province, partly deaf, according to his later testimony. Suicide, he told relatives and his lawyers afterward, tempted him.

In the end, he said, he took a deal: He signed a confession acknowledging he had accepted $27,000 in bribes, wrongly believing he would be released on bail and able to clear his name of a crime he says he did not commit.

“He did what they told him to do in order to save his own life,” his sister, Wang Xiuyun, said in an interview. -Read more

The limits of autonomy

Over the years, as the RBI established a track record of performance, governments have found it sensible to confer the bank a large degree of autonomy. Governors have also understood that having the political authority on board was crucial. This informal arrangement is poised to end soon



At a symposium in Switzerland in May this year, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan told his audience, “The government can fire me, but the government doesn’t set the monetary policy … ultimately the interest rate that is set is set by me.”

All indications are that the position is set to change. Setting the interest rate will soon cease to be the prerogative of the RBI Governor. It’s hard to resist the feeling that the RBI’s actions over the past year will have contributed to the changes that are imminent.

In the present scheme of things, the RBI Governor consults his four Deputy Governors. There is a Technical Advisory Committee on Monetary Policy with five external members that provides advice. The Governor listens to bank chiefs and economists. But the final call on interest rates is that of the Governor alone.

In the past, RBI Governors did not think it necessary to trumpet the fact. They thought it more politic to emphasise that decisions on interest rates were made after due consultation with the government.

RBI autonomy

Discretion is warranted because the RBI’s autonomy is not sanctioned by statute. The RBI can only be as autonomous as the government wants it to be. Over the years, as the RBI established a track record of performance, governments have found it sensible to confer a large degree of autonomy on the RBI. Governors, in turn, have understood that having the political authority on board, to the extent possible, -Read more

President Pranab Mukherjee crosses Arctic Circle to meet ‘original’ Santa Claus


ROVANIEMI, Finland: When President Pranab Mukherjee crossed the famed Arctic Circle on Thursday evening, becoming the first Indian head of state to do so, there was somebody even more famous eagerly awaiting to greet him with an unmistakable “Ho, ho, ho” deep-throated laugh. A chubby and merry white-bearded man, clad in a red coat trimmed with white, surrounded with mischievous-looking elves, reindeers with huge antlers and, of course, “jingle bells” playing softly in the background. Yes, Mukherjee also became the first Indian President to meet and greet the “original” Santa Claus in his “official home” on the Arctic Circle. Accompanied by daughter Sharmistha and his official delegation, Mukherjee crossed the Arctic -Read more