Atanu Dey On India's Development

Profiting from Terrorism

Public Radio International (PRI) program “Open Source with Christopher Lydon” of July 19th is called “A Class Profile of India“. The guests on the show were Pankaj Mishra, Suketu Mehta, and yours truly.

India, according to Messers M&M, is a mess.

And it appears that the mess can be traced to the problem that there is a segment of the population which is doing absolutely fabulously and there is a huge segment of the population which is absolutely miserable. And the outcome of this disparity between the standards of living of these two classes: It is terrorism.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, economic disparity in India is to blame for the bombs that killed 207 commuters and maimed over a thousand.

Not just that, according to Mr Mishra, Hindus are to blame for the 1993 terrorism in India and indeed all terrorism. Hindus systematically kill Muslims and then there is a reaction in which “militants” bomb innocent people. The words “pogrom” is used often. Worse, it appears only the number of Muslims killed matter and just to drive home the point, the numbers are tripled.

Mr Mishra has a sturdy disdain for numbers and data, when it does not suit his thesis. So he is very happy to use numbers such as “400 million live on less than 1 dollar a day” but he dismisses data on the real growth in per capita income across the board (though the upper income deciles have gained more than the gain to the lower deciles) as just a lot of “fiddling with numbers.”

The show was slanted to tar India with a very wide brush. Mishra had his line pat. He deliberately mis-characterized Islamic terrorism acts as those arising from economic injustice. What his thesis essentially boils down to is that the poor are rebelling against the rich and that is what explains the terrorism of 11th July.

If I were a poor person in India, I would be insulted and offended by his thesis. The poor do have a right to rebel against injustice but Mishra is not doing them a favor by accusing them of using terrorism and wholesale murder to make their case.

I have more to say but for now I am too incensed to write coherently.

Yes, one does profit from terrorism. If you can spin terrorists bombs as acts of justice against an oppressive Hindu majority, you get invited to write op-eds and appear on talk shows in the US and other rich countries.

  • http://www.kushtandon.squarespace.com Kush Tandon

    Pankaj Mishra is an absolute idiot and master of subterfuge. Two weeks ago, on Sepia Mutiny, I raised some valid points against his tirade.

    Expediency is his hallmark – goes back to canard about Indian army and Sikh massacre in 2000.

    Right now, I am really bored of him

  • there is no god but allah

    Kush Tandon wrote:-
    Pankaj Mishra is an absolute idiot and master of subterfuge. Two weeks ago, on Sepia Mutiny, I raised some valid points against his tirade.
    you wouldnt have that many similar responses there, but on the other hand it
    was not the work of dead fruits on politics.
    I used to have that site on my RSS reader.
    It was ok back when vinod and vijj were contributing after that i did on occasion read their blog but it was trite and deceptive on issues such as the one related to this one on terrorism.
    In some senses they may be preaching to the converted.
    Regarding mishra I dont know what to make of him except that NYtimes made him into a star(its relative these are desi standards come on yaar).

  • http://www.sandeepweb.com Sandeep

    Mishra is a house-nigger par excellence. Wonder why he leads the swanky lifestyle that he does all the while pontificating on class injustices and communal atrocities committed in India.

  • there is no god but allah
  • http://www.crazyfinger.org Crazyfinger

    I sympathize with your experience. When I read about you being on the panel, I wondered if that made any sense, but didn’t think much of my apprehension. Not because of any meritocratic reasons or anything but because the whole set up, with its positioning of “left,” “right” and the “middle” worldviews, appeared doomed from the start. Nevertheless, bravo for the participation and hope the “incensed” state keeps that fire in the belly intact.

    In the past I had assumed that nearly everything that an individual comes to believe at any stage in his/her life, comes about from one’s own experience.

    But over the course of years, it seems to me that while some people gather their beliefs shaped mainly by their own experiences, there are a vast number of others who adhere to strong beliefs that are not necessarily derived from their own experience, but instead from their knowledge (of political systems etc., for example), from external sources of opinions that they may have assimilated from their historical reading, and from watching other people’s experiences at a distance. It seems to me that folks like Mishra belong to the latter category.

    The world does have a place for these two different mindsets, but the difference is this: in areas like economic development (and hence economic disparity) in India, what we need foremost is people who can actually do stuff productively in the real-world, i.e., business people, especially entrepreneurs (social, business etc.), sportspersons, economists, i.e., precisely those people whose performance and skill-set is driven, measured and shaped largely by their own past experiences. Knowledge can be learned, can be taught, can be broadcast, but gaining useful experience requires hardwork, isn’t it?

    People with only knowledge, with only opinions and whose opinions are shaped not by what they did but what they read and assimilated are really poor judges of where everything is going and what’s right or wrong with it. India has long suffered and continues to suffer from the overweight of precisely this group of people, i.e., people with opinions, knowledge, and political ideas that polarize one from the other. Well, I’ll say it, Mishra’s article is full of this intellectual obesity. I am sure he brought his full weight to the panel discussion.

    We know that we often chide ourselves for being either too emotional or too intellectual in a conversation or a debate when a sense of proportion is warranted. For too long we have lived with this ineffective categorization (emotional vs. intellectual). But for our economic condition, for our goals, and for our challenges, we should now introduce another comparison vector into our blog discussions and debates, that is knowledge vs. experience. This is so that actual doers – the engines of market economy – are given primacy when pitted against knowledge and opinion hoarders. Then, perhaps we’d have a less polarized, more real conversation and more real debates, you know, where open minds prevail.

    Regards,
    Crazyfinger

  • http://www.lifeandsomething.blogspot.com Gaurav

    Atanu,

    Glad to know that I am not the only one who suffers from incoherent rage :-)
    Sadly however in my case rage doesn’t translate into anything.

    Regards

  • http://wateronlotus.blogspot.com Raghuveer

    Pankaj Mishra is the opus dei of the economic world (courtesy: ‘da vinci code’). I do not know how we turn out self-loathers like him.

    Someone please tell him that poverty exists in almost all countries – we do not see terrorists striking everywhere. The man really needs to travel more – and even if has, it has been wasted on him. Really, how much more delusional can you get? To make conclusions like him on a public forum is not just bad judgement, its sacrilegious.

  • RC

    The beginning of his show C. Lydon says that the Mumbai bombings were an attack of have not on the have-s. WTF???

    Looks like Lashkar-e-Toiba and ISI and Al-Queda nexus doesnt mean anything.

    Kush,
    Nobody on SM will call out Pankaj Mishra or C.Lydon on his absolute bogus claims.

  • http://www.lehigh.edu/~amsp/blog.html Amardeep

    Atanu, I think you’re being unfair to Mishra. He never made a direct causal link between economic disparity and the blasts. That was the host’s goal to make the show sound “current,” but both Pankaj Mishra and Suketu Mehta resisted it.

    Direct quote from Mishra: “Acts of terror really have to be faced down and they have to be dealt with and this is really not at all a way to negotiate for equality or social and economic justice. But I do think the connection between this bombing — as Suketu said, so much is unclear — it’s not right to speculate about who is behind this and how did it happen. But just going back to the bombing in 2003, it was largely the work of local Muslims who were angry about what happened in Gujarat the previous year.”

    He never said what you say he said.

    I agree that the show didn’t give you as much air time as it did Mehta and Mishra. Is your complaint with how you were treated on the show or with Mishra specifically?

    In your post you say, “the word ‘pogrom’ is used,” and then fail to mention that it was Suketu Mehta who used the word in the interview, not Mishra.

    People should listen to the show (corrected link) and decide for themselves whether what Mishra is saying is “gibberish.”

    Finally, I was also a little shocked when you responded to the statistic about 100,000 farmer suicides by saying, effectively, ‘yeah, these things will happen as India transitions from an agricultural to an industrial economy.’ That comment reflected a rather distressing lack of empathy for the plight faced by the rural poor.

    Your point may be valid, but I wish you would make it in a more sensitive way.

  • Deepak

    Hi Atanu,

    PRI (Public Radio International) is a notoriously “progressive”, “liberal” radio production. They will do anything to show how economic progress (i.e. third world countries trying to get rich) is bad. They also practice the left-winf ideal of moral equivalence, so for them terrorists are just people with a different point-of0view trying to express themselves. I listen to their local affiliate here in Cleveland, and I am not surprised by the show at all.

    Thanks for trying to stand up for the right way. Good luck.

    Deepak

  • http://gudem.blogspot.com Chandra

    What else is new with Mishra? Hindu bigotry explains all terrorism in India. If only we can have Mogul rule once again, Hinduism will be safe. But wait, according to Mishra, Hinduism did not even exist before the 19th century fundamentalists took over the religion. With regards to quoting stats, that’s classic Mishra – stats are valid and useful only when he quotes them.

    Less said about terror equivocating Sepia Mutiny’s savaging Indians actually living India, the better.

    Atanu, you haven’t written on how you reacted to Mishra on the show.

  • RC

    Atanu,
    I think the answer to the farmer suicides has not been given by anyone properly. I agree with Amardeep about your response was a tad cold to the issue. Suketu Mehta never got a chance to comment on it but in general no one had the good explanation for me.

    I think the issue is lack of “backruptcy protection” type legal framework. A bankruptcy, the way its formed legally in the US, can give a person a fresh start. Coupled with good micro-lending institution the farmer issue can be tackled. Mukesh Ambani’s latest annoucement about corporate agriculture with distribution network is going to address this issue. Again the solution is one offered by the “market” (probably to the chagrin of closet communists)

    But the most abomibale thing I heared was Pankaj Mishra saying that Mumbai blasts were have-nots attacking the haves. Completely discounting Islamic extremism and forgetting that India has the most amounts of “Islamic extremist attacks” anywhere in the world (this includes Israel even). Sepia Mutiny had a post on that written by Vinod.

    Pankaj Mishra’s statement along with Lydon’s attitude makes a comment written by somone on Sepia Mutiny ring true. The commenter had said: ” A lot of Americans, dont considere it terrorism, when non-whites are killed. They just think its brown-on-brown violence. Oh how uncivilized are they?”

  • RC

    On yeah, Mishra was actually saying that the bombing is due to class warfare, but when Suketu Mehta got a chance to speak and said that we shouldnt speculate, he changed his tune and said we shouldnt speculate.

    And anyone who is not ideological does not say that nothing about this attacks is known.
    ToI reported that National security adviser MK Narayanan one page note showing Pak Fidayeen confessions, when the PM was on his way to G-8. Its here
    But nothing will ever constitute enough knowledge about the attacks to the ideologues.

  • RC

    OMG, so many grammatical and spelling errors in my last two comments :-) People forgive me and read thru’ the mistakes.

  • http://www.lehigh.edu/~amsp/blog.html Amardeep

    RC, It seems like you’re not challenging my point that Atanu’s statement is incorrect. I don’t know what you’re referring to when you say that Mishra was blaming 7/11 on economic disparities before being corrected by Suketu. The quote I posted above is verbatim. If you have a direct quote from the interview where he says that, please post it and I am happy to be corrected.

    Also, it’s interesting that neither Rediff nor the Hindu carried the story you’re linking to. According to Rediff it might be SIMI. And they still haven’t figured out what to do with the mystery body they’re holding.

    I’m not saying that I think anyone other than Jihadists carried out these attacks. And I personally strongly suspect an LeT role.

    But I do think it’s fair to say that the exact individuals involved aren’t known yet, and that the investigation is still pending without a major breakthrough. They’ve arrested various people here and there, but no conclusive announcement has been made.

  • AmarSheepSingh

    oh goody more sm crowd here….

    Amardeep wrote

    Your point may be valid, but I wish you would make it in a more sensitive way.

    Why? may I ask one has to resort to sensitivity.

    Lyndon was insensitive throught out looking for links between class struggle
    and sensitively ignoring the muslim issue.

    Also were you sensitive when you posted a link about RDX NOT BEING USED?

    Going back to the general bombing issue,
    Recall that the 1st group to help the 1st class travelling victims were shanty town dwellers the underclass.
    where was the class struggle then?

    Now to your other point

    …when you responded to the statistic about 100,000 farmer suicides by saying, effectively, ‘yeah, these things will happen as India transitions from an agricultural to an industrial economy.’ That comment reflected a rather distressing lack of empathy for the plight faced by the rural poor.

    What would empathy do here Mr Singh?
    Give them more incentive to be unproductive
    which would keep more people tied in farm sector….
    Lets here your or better yet Mishra’s solution or may be i should for suketu mehta to write a screen play “mission farmer”…

    I could not beleive that mishra would be such a big fool to suggest that maoist rebels are running pseudo goverment with taxes and ‘dispensing justice’…
    The taxes are stealing from the poor.
    No other way of looking at.
    And an eg of justice was done in bihar when
    the naxals broke a prison and freed 300 prisoners.

    Naxals and maoists are not new phenominon…
    Such things are casualy ignored by ‘sensitive’

  • AmarSheepSingh

    Kush,
    Nobody on SM will call out Pankaj Mishra or C.Lydon on his absolute bogus claims.

    HAHAA
    Nooooo they would say its for sulekhaaa.
    Enjoy my south asian brother

  • http://space_of_ankan.blogspot.com ankan

    Actually, Pankaj Mishra does have a point to the extent that the realities of rural India, as also the apalling conditions of the urban poor, gets overlooked by most of the “shining India” crowd. I think the euphoria is disproportionate to the results on the ground.

    Atanu was very reasonable in admitting that there are many problems. Your thrust that things have “improved” is in my opinion the moot point. A growing economy will not mean that everyone will be able to party in the discotheques of Colaba. The doomsdayers need to get this to their collective brains.

  • RC

    Amardeep,
    I listened to the program again to get a quote from Pankaj Mishra, but you are right, he doesnt say explicitly that 7/11 is a have v/s have-nots attacks, it was more an insitant theme from C. Lydon.

    Instead of telling Lydon that he is full of sh#$ about the have v/s have-not stuff, Mishra went on with his version of have v/s have-nots and thus tacitly agreeing with Lydon’s ridiculous (and bigoted) assertion about the bombings. Until Suketu Mehta came in and said that the bombing is a separate issue from the poverty issue. Suketu Mehta’s comments were much more balanced and made a lot more sense than Mishra’s.

    The height of intellectual dis-honesty from Mr.Mishra is that he would even mention the word islamic extremists while explaining the Mumbai bombings. So, by extention, according the Mr. Mishra the Varanasi bombings of a temple (during a religious festival), Bombing of mall in Delhi during last Diwali, attack on a sacred Hindu shrine in Ayodhya were all due to disgruntled poor people.

    That intellectual dishonesty is what troubled me. Nobody denies that there are challanges in India with respect to gap between rich and poor, and there is some ways to go before it can be remedied, but discounting the external threat to the nation from terrorism altogather sounds sinister.

    Lastly, majority left-right opinion in the US feels the Israel had the right to defend itself against the terrorist attacks by Hezbullah. There is a disagreement about the degree on which Israel’s action is justified, but not the right. But in case of India they wouldnt even acknowledge that there is a terroristic threat from Pakistan towards India?? Let alone agreeing that India has the right to defend herself ???

    May be its just a problem of poor brown people living in sub-saharan conditions, how could they be subjected to terrorism ..

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  • http://opinion.paifamily.com Nitin

    Err…I don’t understand this. What’s Atanu Dey’s failure to demonstrate empathy towards farmer suicides got to do with the points he’s making? Should his ideas be more acceptable if were to fake a certain emotion?

    I’d understand this if he was running for elected office. He isn’t.

  • AmarSheepSingh

    I’d understand this if he was running for elected office. He isn’t.

    Well Nitin why shouldnt some one who is running for elected office be able to
    call a spade a spade?

    Should some one who is running for elected office not call for better utilization of
    indias labour?
    Farm sector is unproductive.
    Why shouldnt some one who is running for office say, “Farmers we have a tough road ahead, and too many off you are working on too little land and growing too little food”, instead of “we are a tradition of small villages” and empathaticCRAP.

    Why shouldnt some one who is running for electoral office be able to say that “india HAS BEEN UNDER ATTACK FROM ISLAMIC TERRORISM”.

  • http://www.bhavane.com/journal Hari

    It was pretty clear throughout the interview that he (Pankaj Mishra) did not want to face the facts that the economic growth in India is real and that everyone inlcuding the poorest of the poor are seeing its effects. When Atanu said that it was his job to read econimic reports and made a statement that the growth has affected everyone, Pankaj Mishra dismissed it as some kind of fantasy!

    Christopher Lydon and Pankaj Mishra just wanted to continue to beat the drum of “400 million under $1 a day”. They refused to see that even those in the lower class are gradually seeing the effects of growth. “Sharing the economic growth pie equally” is an argument that is often put forth but never going to be a reality. If the econimic growth is a reality only when those 400 million start earning, say, $10 a day, then, yeah, everything is a fantasy. But if those earning, say, 10c day have started earning, say, 50c a day, isn’t that a great leap forward? [a. I don't know that exact numbers, but I just made up the 10c/50c as an example b. $1 a day, while it may sound really bad, it still is about Rs 16K per year. It is low, but not something by which you can not get by in rural areas, I think. Or is it?]

    About farmer suicides: Atanu was only trying to explain the reasons for the suicides. While he could have been more empathetic, the discussion was on why this is happening. Pankaj Mishra, while saying that Atanu’s reasons were “false”, he never provided a reason himself. He went on say it is shameful. Yes it is shameful, but we have to face the facts of why this has been happening, and the reason given by Atanu seems to make sense.

    PS: I agree, though, that Pankaj Mishra did not say that that “have nots” committed the Mumbai bombings.

  • http://www.crazyfinger.org Crazyfinger

    In the light of this radio show, I am announcing a friendly blogpost contest and offering a free copy of Stephen Miller’s new book “Conversation: A History of a Declining Art” to three “winning” blogposts. I have put up the details of this blog-post contest on my blog. Come on over, read up and participate if it’s sounds interesting to you…

    Thanks a bunch!

    http://www.crazyfinger.org/2006/07/win_a_free_copy.html

    Regards,
    Crazyfinger

  • http://dipanjanc.blogspot.com dipanjan

    Atanu, given the limited opportunities, constant interruptions and the absurd framing of the whole discussion, you did your best to make the important points.

    Now I’ll have to rant a little. Sorry.

    I agree that Pankaj Mishra did not say that that “have nots” committed the Mumbai bombings

    Chris’s prelude and the first five questions he asked Mishra were all variations of framing the blasts as a struggle between have and have-nots. Chris also specifically tied that to Mishra’s NYT article which was “almost forecasting” the blasts. Not once did Mishra deny that connection and countered (or even doubted) Chris’s framing. Here is a direct quote from that section of the discussion:

    Chris: “The reality that you described was nation’s 70% are still on the farm and something just under 400 million Indians
    living on a dollar a day – almost sub-saharan poverty”

    Pankaj: “Absolutely and these are I’d say some of the most essential facts about India and you don’t actually see them mentioned. So that’s why when something like Mumbai blasts happen, people suddenly say “how did that happen”. You’d have to relate those facts to what’s actually going on in india right now and to see that there is actually a lot of rage and
    discontentment among a large section of
    population which feel left behind by the economic reforms . You see that kind of frustration splilling over in places like China where number of riots are going up every year.

    If Mishra is not connecting the failure of economic reforms to the bomb blasts here, I do not understand English (which is always possible given that CPI(M) forced us to not learn that foren language in our bangla-medium state government public school until we were 11).

    Ignoring the global context of Islamic terrorism, denying Pakistan’s role in its manifestation in India and comparing terrorism in India to riots in China by tying them to economic inequalities are disingenuous.

    Also after Suketu’s refutation of Chris’s framing when Mishra changes his tone a little , he says “this is really not at all a way to negotiate for equality or social and economic justice”. So he disagrees with the “way”, but still does not question the fact that “they” are indeed negotiating for equality and social justice. It is tough to swallow that rationalization.

    Also why is this disdain for bloggers and why the adoption of right-wing talk radio’s (Rush/Laura Ingraham/Sean) “elite” meme? Whoever wants to see India grow and is benefiting from that growth is an ‘elite’ now?

    The very section where he blasts the “mysticism” in everyone’s intellect except his own, he ends up using a strawman. Another direct quote:

    “It’s a kind of fantasy that’s being fed by the media and these bloggers who belong to the same kind of elite who are peddling this fiction that ‘tide is rising and all the boats are rising’ and 1.3 billion peole will one day enjoy the same standards of living and high consumption that all the pople elsewhere are
    enjoying in the west and in Europe and in
    America”

    He is referring to Atanu’s statement that the Indian growth was affecting and will affect all sections albeit inequally. Where did Atanu peddle the fiction that all the boats would be raised to the levels of (current) western consumption and living standards? He was talking about the potential of economic reforms to raise all Indian boats to a level higher than where they were prior to the reforms.

    And finally when asked about his vision for India, he just repeats a recent interview of the current prime minister ! I thought everything was going wrong in India.

  • http://barbarindians.blogspot.com Barbarindian

    Islamic terrorists and communists in India joined hands long time ago. So in a way Mishra is right, it has something to do with class warfare.

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1794302.cms

    An Osama Bin Laden look alike was used by Laloo and Ram Vilas Paswan for election caompaign. Even before the blood had dried on Mumbai tracks, Mulayam gave a clean cheat to SIMI. Most recently Indian Government banned several supposedly anti-Islamic sites. The recent reservation fiasco was just the kind of opportunity the Islamists and Communists were looking for. Now we have an OBC spin to the terror angle. I predict that from now on the blasts will target only upscale areas or places that symbolize the wealthy. We managed to add about 500 millions to the about 100 million who cheer after every blasts.

    We have a serious problem on our hands.

  • NA

    Terrorism in India includes both the islamic & the naxalite variety. So Pankaj Mishra may have got it partially right. It’s the only way we can account for the naxalite violence in this country.

  • NA

    Compare this “he dismisses data on the real growth in per capita income across the board” with this http://www.deeshaa.org/the-plough-and-the-keyboard/
    “What really distinguishes Indians is that India is a extremely poor country in terms of per capita GDP. While GDP is not a complete picture of society, it is a useful (though imperfect) indicator of the economic success of the society.”

    So how do you dismiss the claim of “fiddling with numbers” when you yourself claim it to be imperfect?

  • creative_dude

    Hi Atanu,
    I have not seen this interview. But I’m not surprised when you say that Mr. pankaj mishra would have linked the bombay blasts to poverty in India.

    Sounds very similar to Mr. Kasuri’s statement that unless kashmir issue is solved bomb blasts will continue.(This was later retracted).

    The reason why I’m saying this that the were given by another pseudo/communist blog/website (http://www.theotherindia.org/environment/the-nitwit-state-of-nitwit-orissa.html).

    What this artcile mentions is that Mr. Mishra has written a book on same lines. Therefore I’m not surprised that he would be harping on the same theory. Must be his editor who asked him to do it.

    Problem is, we are a democracy. We have to handle all veiw points, however anti/national they might be.

    If you look at the leftists today, they control most of the government today. They are making all these noises because after a long time it looks like development is finally reaching the grassroots. This might lead to erosion of their vote banks which are based on caste politics.

    I’m from Orissa. and I’m currently very proud of the kind of investment happening there now. the total investment is close to 400,000 crores . But even in all these matters it is left which creates problems.

    Guess we intellectuals have a long fight in our hands.

  • http://uspeed.blogspot.com Sudeep

    I dont know what to write. I too, have been made incoherent with rage for a while now. The blasts cut too close to the bone.

    I guess the best way to deal with the likes of Mishra, Amardeep Singh is to turn the rhetoric of these deracinated Indians on their adopted societies.

    If Mishra claimes, 7/11 had to do with class warfare, ask him if he thinks 9/11 had to do with class warfare. If they claim its Hindu-on-Muslim violence that motivated these attacks, ask them if they think 9/11 attacks were motivated by Christian-on-Muslum violence. Either ways, they will be left scrounging for cover.

  • AmarSheepSingh

    well not exactly!
    that is the beauty of the ‘sensitivity’ arguement.
    You see by implying only they are capable of having the balance of heart and mind required they can say well you are being
    insensitive….

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  • SR

    You did well my friend, you did well….
    however I wish punching the others was also allowed..they called bloggers ‘elite’..then what the heck are they themselves? i bet they wouldnt want to live in the pavements of dharava for even a second…

  • Raj

    Atanu..you should have known what you were in for when you agreed to participate in a leftist radio show…