Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
August 9, 2019
Mr. President: Mid-August is when the subcontinent celebrates independence from
Britain. Born in a cauldron of hate 74 years ago, India today is again filling it to the
In one fell swoop, Mr. Modi has denuded Kashmir of the flimsy shroud purporting to
preserve its cultural and territorial integrity through articles 370 and 35A in the
constitution -- the latter empowering the state legislature to define permanent
residents while Article 370 ensured special status allowing a state flag, a separate
constitution and autonomy over internal administration.
The proverbial velvet glove masking the iron fist has been removed. It allowed a
certain pretense by the quisling generations of leadership while they shielded their
ears from the sound of military boots. All the while, restive young men tired of fetters
and humiliation surrendered to the desire for freedom and paid the price ... in blood.
How many have died? No one really knows but in the decades since the 1980s,
estimates run to a hundred thousand, perhaps more, although Delhi's figures are
naturally lower. And a new cycle of death is about to commence.
The question of which particular central government is in overall control matters less
when the residents of a state/province/territory are free to run their own daily lives. In
Kashmir they are not, because Delhi does not agree with their wants. As a matter of
fact, the whole Indian subcontinent has been fractious, often at war, and wars have a
In 1950, three years after independence, India had a per capita GDP placing it in the
middle range among the countries in the world. Now despite its 'economic miracle' it
is near the bottom preceding only destitute African nations and war-torn Syria and
Afghanistan. Pakistan and Bangladesh are similar.
In one of the world's hottest (but clearly not hot enough) economies, almost 80
percent of India lives on less than a half dollar a day or 20 rupees. So reported
Reuters in 2007, drawing on the report, "Conditions of Work and Promotion of
Livelihoods in the Unorganized Sector," published by India's "National Commission for
Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector" or (NCEUS).
It identifies most of those having to live on less than 20 rupees (or 50 US cents in
2007) as from the informal labor sector, providing day labor with no job security.
Worse, 26 percent were living below the then poverty line of 12 rupees per day, until
the gate posts for poverty were changed to burnish the country's image. Meanwhile,
the rupee has nearly halved in value to its present 71 to the dollar. The fate of
Pakistan and Bangladesh are not dissimilar.
But compare the subcontinent to other countries that were not too different
economically seven decades ago. In 1950 India had a per capita GDP of US $597.
Pakistan $650; Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea in the mid $800 range. The
figures for 2018 from the World Bank tell their own story: India $2016, Pakistan
$1473, Indonesia $3894, Thailand $7274 and South Korea in astronomical $31,363.
Why are India and Pakistan not even close to any of them?
Pakistan has been damaged by the spillovers of the Afghan war but that is a small
part. What about India? Kashmir and its other insurgencies drain resources.
Moreover, military expenditures driven by the mistrust of each for the other, and
India's search for some undefined and unattainable glory are also part of the problem.
The major cause by far are incompetent governments unable to deliver sound
economic policy ... starting first with a decent education system. The wealth of a
country in our modern world lies with the capabilities of its work force, not last
century's divisive nationalist rhetoric. If it is not clear to the governments in the
subcontinent, then Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore (current per capita GDP over
$58,000) has a blueprint.