Op-eds and Articles

The Indian National Interest, Op-eds and Articles

Unionisation of the IT industry

Unionisation of the IT workforce can potentially cause the Indian IT sector to fall behind other emerging markets – Varun Ramachandra and Gopal Devanahalli In December 2014, Tata Consulting Services, India’s largest Information Technology (IT) services company, laid off 3,000 employees citing poor performance. This has triggered debates about unionisation in India’s IT & BPM […]

The Indian National Interest, Op-eds and Articles

Of third order enclaves and second class citizens

A Constitutional Amendment settling the land border issues between India and Bangladesh will allow the two nation-states to focus on more substantive issues. by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) On 6th May 2015, the Rajya Sabha unanimously passed the Constitutional Amendment Bill, thus rolling out a process that will culminate in giving effect to the Land Border Agreement Protocol signed […]

The Indian National Interest, Op-eds and Articles

Hyper multi-objective optimisation: the bane of policymaking

Policies fail when they try to optimise for several objectives, ultimately creating a system that fulfils none of them. by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) Multi-objective optimisation is that step in any design process which tries to make a system suitable for several objectives at the same time. This concept is applied in several branches of science like engineering, economics […]

The Indian National Interest, Op-eds and Articles

Entrepreneurship and public policy

The Indian media is awash with news about technology startups and the rise of entrepreneurial activity. However, the hallmark of successful startup ecosystem is the number of other successful startups that spawn out of the existing ones. Individuals who work in firms that successfully exploit new market opportunities are usually innovators or have the potential […]

Op-eds and Articles

Modi's Transatlantic Agenda

The following article was published as a Transatlantic Take by the German Marshall Fund on April 16, 2015. 
Diplomatically speaking, it has been a busy first year in power for India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. In addition to hosting the leaders of the United States, China, and Russia, he has embarked upon state visits to India’s major democratic partners — including Japan, the United States, and Australia — and attended multilateral summits in Brazil, Nepal, Australia, and Myanmar.

Over the past week, Modi undertook an unconventional transatlantic tour to France, Germany, and Canada. This constituted his first visit to Europe as prime minister and a common theme was implicit in that all three countries are G7 members, and as such, advanced, industrialized democracies. While Modi has received some criticism at home for his foreign trips, the flurry of diplomatic activity in his first year as prime minister indicates his clear desire to position India as an active international actor. Modi’s multifaceted agenda on his latest set of visits also conformed to what is now a familiar pattern of international engagement. Broadly speaking, his transatlantic tour over the past week served five important purposes.

The first was to seek investment and technological partnerships with the goal of rapidly developing India’s economy. This objective is at the centerpiece of Modi’s domestic agenda and political platform. While poverty levels in India have fallen dramatically since the early 1990s, the country is still home to the largest number of the world’s poor. The opportunity for growth is now immense given India’s political stability, market size, and low wages.

As advanced economies, France, Germany, and Canada are well-placed to be partners in India’s development. For this reason, Modi met privately with French business leaders in infrastructure and defense technology in Paris as well as investors in Toronto. He visited the Airbus facility in Toulouse and the Siemens vocational training center in Berlin. Modi’s participation in the Hannover Messe, the world’s largest industrial fair, also highlights India’s privileged role this year as a partner country. The prime minister used this opportunity to advertise business opportunities in India, which is proving a rare bright spot in a slowing global economy.

The second objective, closely tied to the first, involves outreach to the Indian diaspora, whose investments have helped drive the Indian growth story. Diaspora outreach is particularly relevant for Canada, which is home to over 1.2 million people of Indian origin. In France, Modi’s engagement with the local Indian community was broadcast to French territories, many of which have sizeable ethnic Indian populations.

Third, there is naturally a political and diplomatic dimension, which involves increasing the face-time and improving personal relations with other world leaders. Modi took a boat tour on the Seine with French President François Hollande and had lunch and dinner with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany. He has also long enjoyed a strong rapport with his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, who was among the first world leaders to call Modi following his election victory last year. Additionally, in an implicit acknowledgement of India’s appreciation for democratic traditions, Modi opted to meet privately with leaders from his host countries’ second-largest political parties, including former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Sigmar Gabriel, leader of Germany’s Social Democrats.

The fourth dimension, and the one that has grabbed headlines, involved strategic relations. France, in particular, has historically been a close partner of India in terms of defense, space, and nuclear technologies. The announcement that India would buy 36 Dassault Rafale combat aircraft, with the option of buying more, was especially significant, and the deal promises to keep that platform’s production line running.

Finally, there were aspects to Modi’s visits that were of considerable symbolic significance. In France, Modi visited a memorial at Neuve-Chappelle honoring the Indian soldiers who perished during World War I. Although little-remembered in either Europe or India today, over 60,000 Indians died fighting in Europe, with some units suffering casualty rates of over 100 percent as replacements were decimated. In Hannover, Modi unveiled a public statue of an Indian icon, Mahatma Gandhi. And in Toronto, Modi paid his respects at a memorial for the 1985 bombing of an Indian airliner that was en route from Canada to India. The attack, in which 329 people were killed, was the worst terrorist attack in aviation history until 9/11. Modi’s visit to the Toronto memorial underscored the common threat posed by terrorism to India and the West.

In the age of jet-setting diplomacy, there are diminishing marginal returns to official visits by heads of government. However, the rich agenda on offer during Modi’s tour to Europe and North America offers one example of purposeful messaging and specific deliverables. Modi’s economic agenda was, as usual, at the forefront. But, equally, the political aspects related to India’s common values with the transatlantic community should not be overlooked.

Op-eds and Articles

The Dying Art of the Visa: A Personal History

The following article was originally published by the Huffington Post (India) on April 12, 2015. An excerpt is included below, and the full text can be accessed here.Poor Phileas Fogg. In his fictitious journey around the world in eighty days, Jules Ve...

Op-eds and Articles

Beijing Unravelling

The following article originally appeared in the Indian Express on March 18, 2015. An excerpt is included below and the full article can be accessed here

The future of single-party rule in China ought to be of major concern to India. China is among India’s largest trade partners and the two countries collaborate closely on various multilateral issues. At the very least, China’s political fortunes will have implications for the global economy, with which India’s future is closely intertwined. China alone was responsible for a third of global growth last year and remains an important driver of international commerce and finance.

At the same time, the border dispute remains a serious test of bilateral relations between China and India. The relationship between the CCP and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) means that there could be uncertain, and potentially severe, security implications for India should the CCP disintegrate or lose its hold on power. Whatever India’s concerns may be regarding China’s rise today, the sudden termination of Communist China would present New Delhi with an economic and strategic crisis of the first order.

Indeed, the most satisfactory outcome for all involved may be a soft landing, one by which the party gradually liberalises, democratises, and becomes more accountable and transparent. The probability of this is low, at present. Vested interests in China are resistant to such change and Xi is moving the country  in a very different direction, socially and politically — although not necessarily economically. But it is in India’s interests to assess and anticipate the likelihood of various possibilities, and do anything in its power to realise an optimal outcome. 

Op-eds and Articles

Internet Freedom 2.1

The following report was published by the German Marshall Fund on March 2, 2015. The Executive Summary is copied below, and the full report can be downloaded here.

The Internet has become closely associated with freedom of expression and the global economy. Today, it plays a direct or indirect role in almost every aspect of life. Yet many fear the Internet as we have come to know it is at risk, with restrictions forcing fragmentation along political, corporate, or cultural lines. Despite growing concerns about the future of the Internet, discussion surrounding online freedom remains largely mired in a handful of issues: the necessity and appropriateness of government surveillance in the United States, digital privacy in Europe, and censorship in authoritarian states such as China. However, between them, the United States, Europe, and China account for less than half of the world’s Internet users. For much of the rest of the world, any discussion of Internet freedom falls at the complex intersection of political and social liberties, nation-building, security threats, economic development, and resource constraints.

Asia’s biggest developing democracies — India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Thailand — account for one-quarter of the world’s people, but only about one-tenth of the global online population. The policy decisions these states make going forward will be of considerable importance for the future of the Internet and offer some useful lessons about the limitations and vulnerabilities of the global Internet freedom agenda as it is currently being pursued by the United States and Europe.

Six broad conclusions or principles can be drawn from a survey of these countries’ experiences. 

1.The online world is an outgrowth of the offline world, rather than a distinct phenomenon. Internet policy cannot be considered in a vacuum, or divorced from other relevant aspects of public policy, such as security, economic policy, or governance.

2. Laws, norms, and cultural attitudes related to Internet use vary widely, even among democracies. A one-size-fits-all approach to Internet freedom will not work and may even prove counterproductive.

3.Online freedoms and greater security are not inherently at odds with one another in open societies. Discourse that presents a false choice between security and freedom is harmful for both, as well as for state legitimacy and economic growth.

4.While much discussion of Internet freedom frames the issue as a conflict between governments, corporations, and civil society, each sector is divided on the merits of unfettered Internet freedom.

5.Current legislation pertaining to the Internet in many democratic countries is deeply flawed, even in the context of their own constitutional rights pertaining to freedom of expression. By and large, Internet-related legislation is vague, making implementation arbitrary, and undermining public trust in state institutions.

6. Users are often not adequately informed of the privileges and restrictions associated with Internet use in their native countries. Policies and initiatives designed to advance Internet freedom globally — whether by Western governments, Internet companies, international NGOs, or local Internet activists — have not necessarily been developed with these constraints in mind.

The Internet freedom agenda consequently suffers from a lack of capabilities, skepticism about intentions, misplaced objectives, a dependence on unreliable technological solutions, and charges of double-standards. Governments and Internet activists in Asia’s large democracies can take a few important steps to address some of these shortcomings. First, they can better integrate issues related to Internet freedom with other aspects of policy discourse, including security, intelligence, trade, economics, healthcare, immigration, and the environment. Secondly, they can overcome the apparent trade-off between freedom and security by strengthening the rule of law: empowering independent regulators to oversee government programs and ensuring avenues for recourse to justice for those accused of online infractions. These steps can help improve security while protecting individual rights and privacy. Finally, they can introduce Internet awareness as an element in school curricula, in a manner similar to drug, sex, health, and civic education, along with other measures to better inform the public about the privileges and restrictions of Internet use.

Meanwhile, U.S. and European governments, institutions, and NGOs would be better off adopting a more modest and less eye-catching approach to Internet freedom. If the first step of Internet freedom was recognizing the challenge, and Internet Freedom 2.0 involved putting ideas into practice, what may now be required is a patch to fix glitches in current policy: Internet Freedom 2.1. In addition to assisting developing democracies in their efforts, U.S. and European governments, institutions, and NGOs could help educate legislators, jurists, and journalists from around the world on comparative Internet laws and practices. They could also help “de-Americanize” Internet discourse by highlighting case studies of successful Internet businesses from around the world. And lastly, they could support better research on the relationships between online communications, political and social freedom, and economic development.

Op-eds and Articles

The Specter of Japan-Like Stagnation

The following article was originally published by U.S. News & World Report on February 19, 2015. An excerpt is below, and the full article can be accessed here
The economist Simon Kuznets used to tell his students that there were four types of countries: developed countries, undeveloped countries, Argentina and Japan. His aphorism pithily captured Japan as the positive outlier, the non-Western country that industrialized in one generation in the 19th century, and rebounded even more quickly after the devastation of World War II. By the 1980s, Japan was a global economic powerhouse, giving us Sony, Toyota and Nintendo, pioneering the bullet train and buying up American real estate. Business leaders the world over scrambled to learn the secrets behind the country’s success.

But Japan has since lost its luster. Today it may be the first major economy feeling the full effects of post-industrialization. It has experienced two decades of little or no real economic growth. With a median age of 45, its shrinking working-age population struggles to support a growing number of elderly. Low-cost imports and robotics have slashed the demand for wage labor. And Japan now suffers from a discernible lack of economic dynamism as a homogenous society with a rigid work culture that continues to be hostile to immigration. Ironically, the very characteristics that once made Japan so successful are now among its biggest liabilities.

Japan’s example serves as a cautionary tale for other industrialized societies, and Europe in particular.

Op-eds and Articles

Anti-Americanism is Dead

The following article originally appeared in The Indian Express on January 27, 2015. 
In the two days since US President Barack Obama has arrived in India, we have witnessed a multitude of memorable photo opportunities: Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugging, them having tea at Hyderabad House, and Obama’s appearance at the Republic Day parade. But what is this visit all about? What is it meant to achieve? There are three ways of evaluating Obama’s second — and most likely final — visit to India as president.

The most obvious is through a purely symbolic lens: the significance of having a US president as chief guest at India’s Republic Day. This alone ensures that it is no ordinary visit but an implicit acknowledgement and celebration by the US of India’s constitutional democracy, its diversity and role as a responsible military power. Additionally, between his two visits, Obama will have spent almost a week of his eight-year presidency in India, a not-insignificant amount of time, given his priorities at home and abroad with respect to West Asia, Afghanistan/ Pakistan, Russia and China.

Obama was also greeted warmly in the Indian capital this week, at a time when US relations with several other major countries — Russia and China, and even allies such as Germany, Japan, Turkey and Israel — are relatively poor or frosty. Despite the tyranny of routine crisis management, both sides have shown that they can take the time to invest further in a mutually beneficial partnership. By this measure, Obama’s very presence at Republic Day already makes this visit a success.

A second way of evaluating the visit is by its political logic, on both the domestic and international fronts. Obama’s presence at Republic Day removed the last vestiges of a reflexive anti-Americanism that had persevered among many members of the Indian political and policy establishment. Modi’s government has gone further and recognised the domestic political value of a closer relationship with the US. While many in the UPA felt that maintaining equidistance in India’s relations with major powers was politically beneficial, this view was increasingly out of step with Indian public attitudes. Surveys still consistently reflect a high opinion of the US, especially among younger Indians, although this has declined somewhat since the global financial crisis.

The political logic within the US is less pronounced, beyond the gradual rise in importance of the Indian-American community as a politically organised actor that values good relations with their country of origin. Indian-Americans constitute the best-educated and wealthiest ethnic group in the US, and their numbers are no longer insignificant from a political standpoint. Obama’s administration has been the most heavily populated by Indian-Americans. But in future years, Democrats and Republicans will be in greater competition for Indian-American support. None of this means that there will not be continued differences — and sometimes sharp ones — between India and the US. But as long as they are discussed frankly and managed privately, they need not impede the overall relationship.

Another kind of political logic is international. Modi has been unabashed about deepening partnerships with countries in the Indo-Pacific region with which India shares both interests and values, particularly Japan and Australia. And the Chinese military incursion during President Xi Jinping’s visit last year reinforced the need to manage China’s rise by diversifying regional security partnerships, even while deepening economic engagement with Beijing. A closer relationship with the US, a keystone of security in the Indo-Pacific, helps accomplish that objective.

Meanwhile, Obama’s advisors, after some vacillation, have come around to broadly sharing this viewpoint. The first term of Obama’s presidency swung from attempts at reassuring and accommodating China’s rise to a policy of managing it, described as the “Pivot” (or rebalance) to Asia. While it was only a year or two ago that the momentum behind the pivot was beginning to slow down, Obama’s India visit is one of a number of minor corrective measures that appear to be taking place. The international implications of this visit will not be dramatic, but are part of a gradual and steady process.

A third way of evaluating such bilateral visits is in practical terms, as decision-forcing mechanisms. India and the US now have a vast range of bilateral dialogues and working groups, and negotiations often get bogged down in bureaucracies. High-profile visits are a way of forcing negotiators to reach compromises.

A few such compromises appear to have been reached. These include modest efforts at joint defence development as part of operationalising the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), as well as initial discussions on more ambitious projects related to jet engines and aircraft carriers. A deal on civil nuclear liability appears to have also been struck, as well as a renewed defence framework agreement, and financing initiatives for clean energy. The visit, therefore, proved an occasion to finalise several agreements that might otherwise be languishing in working-level negotiations.

There has been much criticism in both countries, sometimes justified, of the India-US bilateral relationship becoming too transactional, at the expense of strategy. But combined, the symbolism, political logic and decision-forcing aspects of Obama’s visit amount to the closest thing to a strategic partnership that is possible in an increasingly tactical world. Obama’s advisors have made much of the fact that he is the first US president to visit India twice during his tenure. Hopefully he will not be the last.

Op-eds and Articles

Beyond the Obama-Modi Bromance

The following article originally appeared in the Huffington Post India on January 26, 2015. An excerpt is included below, and the full text can be accessed here. Official negotiations have a tendency to be bogged down in bureaucracies, at one or b...

Op-eds and Articles

A Symbolic Visit

The following commentary was originally written for the Asia Society Policy Institute on January 22, 2015. 
The bilateral relationship between the United States and India has entered a new, and arguably more normal, stage. When a U.S. President visits Britain, France, or Japan, there is not always an expectation of major breakthroughs, announcements, or deliverables. Similarly, observers should get used to seeing India-U.S. bilateral summits for what they are: regular consultations and demonstrations of goodwill between the leaders of two important and friendly countries with a wide set of converging interests.

That being said, President Obama’s visit to India to participate in the 2015 Republic Day festivities is of immense symbolic and political importance. By inviting a U.S. President as Republic Day chief guest for the first time, New Delhi has shown a willingness to embrace its relationship with Washington in an extraordinarily public manner. Until recently, the act of featuring a U.S. president at a nationally-televised parade showcasing India’s culture and military power would have been perceived as being in contravention of the cherished vestiges of non-alignment. The government of Prime Minister Modi, however, recognizes that the presence of the president of the United States holds significant domestic and international political value.

Such visits also do continue to serve as valuable, decision-forcing mechanisms. We may see some forward movement on possible joint defense and civil nuclear initiatives, trade and investment, and climate and energy cooperation. The details, however, are likely to be negotiated until the very last minute.

Op-eds and Articles

For Better Signage on the Cyber Highway

The following article originally appeared in The Hindu on December 15, 2014. An excerpt is below, and the full text can be accessed here.

If you are reading this article, you have in all likelihood committed a crime. According to Indian law — specifically, Section 66A of the amended Information Technology Act — you could be facing a fine and a prison sentence of up to three years for having sent “by means of a computer resource or communication device” information that is “grossly offensive or has menacing character” or information you know “to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will.”

The IT Act’s vagueness and comprehensiveness are troubling at many levels. Instances of Section 66A’s use have been infrequent but arbitrary. Several prominent examples date from 2012, such as a Jadavpur University professor arrested for disseminating a cartoon of Ms. Mamata Banerjee, a businessman in Puducherry charged for a supposedly offensive tweet against a politician, and the arrest of two young women in Maharashtra over comments related to Bal Thackeray’s funeral. Last year, the IT Cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) compared the ostensibly draconian nature of Section 66A to the Emergency, with several leaders urging that it be amended or watered down.

Just last week, the Supreme Court requested clarity on Section 66A from the Centre, pointing to the inadequacy of the law and the arbitrariness of its use. The government, in its reply, defended the law: “even a single unlawful/illegal message or image has a potential to tear the social fabric and destroy peace and tranquillity.”

The inadequacies of India’s Internet regime are not relegated to this one particularly contentious piece of legislation. In reality, the Indian state, Indian society, and the Indian economy confront a series of interrelated dilemmas pertaining to the future of the Internet. The manner in which these dilemmas are addressed will be crucial to determining India’s future as an open society, a secure state, and a competitive economy.