A 19 Century Parsee …

Posted on October 25, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

The Wire’s –  Behramji Malabari …

Behramji Malabari (1853-1912) was social reformer, journalist, poet, travel writer/ethnographer and vital catalyst of change, who did much to shape the national reform discourse in late-19th century Western India.

Born in Baroda and raised in Surat, Malabari moved to Bombay at age 15 and the metropolis became the central site of his myriad investigations into identity and reform, including questions on what it meant to be a Parsi in this city, at the heart of Empire, as opposed to in rural Gujarat.

Malabari had two biographies written about him before he was 40; another shortly after his death in 1912, and then disappeared almost completely from the pages of both Parsi and national reform histories, reduced at best to a mere footnote.

I am the Widow: An Intellectual Biography of Behramji Malabari (Orient Blackswan, 2018) attempts to examine the reasons for this erasure. The following excerpt is drawn from its analysis of Malabari’s scathing indictment of some sections of the Bombay (and wider) Parsi community at the turn of the 19th-century.

We now turn to Malabari’s reading of the Parsi community in his chapter on them in Gujarat and the Gujaratis (1882) which marks the beginning of a career-spanning musing about the writer’s community, its place in India, and his place within it as a social reformer.

The chapter essentially deals with the condition of the rural, more conservative Parsi community settled in Gujarat, and not their peers in ‘reformed’ Bombay.

Sounding a note of ominous doom at the outset, Malabari starts by saying that the Parsis of Surat – long the “head-quarters” of the community –“have fallen upon evil days”.

This is largely because the “Shettia” or aristocratic class has become “by training, lazy, listless, gregarious… grovelling for generations in one and the same groove”.

To his mind, this class cannot understand patriotism, by which he means more than mere loyalty to the British crown: patriotism here seems to be invested with that spirit of public service which marks – to one such as him – the entire colonial enterprise.

Neither do they remember the virtue of “charity…the very basis of their grand old faith”. His choice of the distancing ‘their’ can be read as follows: he does not, by virtue of habit and present circumstance, number himself in the list of Parsi ‘Gujaratis’.

This can be read as a further bid to place or project himself as Parsi, but simultaneously and importantly, more than Parsi; to stake a claim for himself as a national reformer.

Malabari explains his grievances by elaborating, “No doubt our Shetts are loyal to the British Crown; but to what ruling power have they ever been disloyal? Loyalty is their policy, their interest”, and not a matter of ethical or philosophical consent.

Tongue firmly in cheek, he adds that he has no further quarrel with these ‘Shetts’, who are largely “honest, peace-loving citizens” who seldom beat their wives, and have only a few “old-gentlemanly vices” to counterbalance their many “old-gentlemanly virtues”.

The Sheths in Bombay, he holds, come out a little better than the ones in the countryside, but even they are not spared from the problems that are attendant to ‘priestly influence’.

Malabari then proceeds to discuss the relative merits (or lack thereof) of the Parsi Panchayat as an institution. It is, he says, “a highly respectable body” before qualifying the statement by adding, “but it seems to be a body without a soul”.

Making clear the disdain in which he holds the orthodox faction which controls this institution, his description of the Panchayat Sheth is as hilarious as it is acutely sarcastic. He writes that this Sheth is, as a rule:

A prim old man, well shaven, well washed, and well scented. This faultlessly white being walks as if he were a basket of newly-laid eggs…(and) seems to be in dread of progress, of the very motion of life…he hates action of any kind (and) hugs indolence, rejoices in its company and revels in its seductive bosom.

When, once in six months, he is required to attend to a little public business, he helplessly turns to his steward and asks broken-hearted, “Oh! What’s to do again?” as if only an hour ago he had done some tremendous deed of heroism for his country.

The Shett sits down with a grimace, stands up with a yawn, salutes with an ogle or with a rather original parting of the lips, which process he flatters himself is a smile.

He is sensitively nervous about his health. He will not get out of his carriage till a few minutes after it has stopped; this is to avoid any internal agitation which might follow a hasty descent…

Except in these respects, the Shett is a very worthy citizen, and a thoroughly loyal subject of her Majesty. But he has no strength, no stamina. He can look no man in the face.

Towards the end of crafting out of India a “mighty, puissant nation” Malabari says that a “glorious middle class” which is educated and “goes on educating itself” is the only way forward, and besides keeping abreast of the latest advances in the arts and sciences, people (here, the Parsis) have to learn “patriotism and to abjure priestcraft,” replacing in the process, the current system with a “new national church, founded on the simple tradition of good thought, good word, and good deed, bequeathed by Zoroaster.

Let them weed their scriptures of its verbiage”. His translation of humata, hukata, hurvashta (‘good thoughts’, ‘good words’ and ‘good deeds’ respectively) as the foundational creed of the ‘new’, ‘purged’ Zoroastrian ‘church’, without the Dastur as intermediary, while echoing Dadabhai Naoroji and other reformers, goes some way towards explaining the discomfort Malabari clearly caused in some quarters of the Bombay Parsi orthodoxy.

These views clearly contributed to his ‘omission’ from any major role when the history of the community was variously narrated in and after the twentieth century. The ‘ideal’ community, Malabari says, cannot come about until there is “sincerity in all we do” and a “rational scheme for life”, neither of which the Parsis could then lay claim to…

Next, the reader is provided with a note on the ‘Reformed Parsi’ of the period. In the interest of objectivity, this sketch is as critical as the ones preceding it. Malabari says he doubts whether young or ‘Reformed’ Parsis are Zoroastrians at all.

Were these youth to live outside the ambit of organised religion altogether, but live lives of purity and honesty, Malabari says he would mind it a lot less than their present behaviour. However, he is quick to attribute this to the fact that there is currently underway a “transition period” in national existence which has led to “wavering” and indecision “at every stage of thought and action”.

Apart from this, the bane of the Parsi youth’s existence remains, as ever, the Dastur (priest). On this note, the keen ethnographer launches into a full frontal attack on the lowest kind of priest, tracing en route “his origin; rise; decline; his fall unfathomable; his ways of life; his sympathies, antipathies, and miseries; (and) what to do with him”.

This title fairly sums up not just the content, but also the tone of the text which follows it: sarcastic in the extreme, resorting to devices of over and understatement to establish the non-credentials of the priestly community or, as Malabari puts it, “the ignis fatuus (literally translated, ‘foolish fire’) of the dark ages of religion”, a line clearly illustrating why the Parsi orthodoxy – then or since – have no love lost for Malabari…

In addition, the dastur is an immensely hypocritical creature who will “never eat or drink with the Hindu or Mussalman, though he may take a cup of tea or a glass of ice-cream with a European official”, an attitude indicative of the axis along which the Parsis would have themselves aligned.

It was convenient even for then-contemporary histories of the Parsi community (from those by D.F. Karaka to Darukhanawala, and European scholars like C.A. Kincaid writing about the community as ‘the lost Greeks’ in East & West) to focus on the ‘alien-ness’ of the Parsis despite their lengthy stay – and obvious assimilation – in India, because it suited their purposes to be seen/placed or acknowledged, alongside the English, as fellow ‘outsiders’ to the Indian ethos.

This rendered the community both useful to the English as well as ‘different’ enough from ‘Indians’ to allow for different rules of engagement with the rulers to apply to them.

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Pioneer of #Me Too …

Posted on October 15, 2018. Filed under: Mars & Venus, Personalities |

The Wire – As the #MeToo storm rages across the country, provoking anger and outrage, and also for the first time a creeping fear in the hearts of serial sexual predators who operated till now with carefree impunity, one woman is watching the developments with quiet satisfaction.

From her residence in Chandigarh, retired IAS officer Rupan Deol Bajaj is delighted that after 30 years, her 17 and Half Year struggle to punish the powerful man who sexually harassed her is resonating in the stories flooding social media.

Her oppressor was the all powerful K.P.S. Gill, Director General of Police in Punjab in 1988, who had a sense of  “untrammelled power and arrogance” in the days when his force was battling terrorism.

“Today the women speaking out have safety in numbers. When I called out the behaviour of Mr Gill, I stood all alone, threatened with death, slander, given punishment postings and a blighted career,” says Bajaj.

“I secured a conviction under the archaic Sections 354 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code; the two sections under which no one had ever filed a case since 1860, when the British first drafted the IPC. These sections are usually clubbed with Section 376 for rape or attempt to rape, but never in isolation’.

“This, because offences that fall under these sections are considered too trivial to even merit a FIR, as I learnt the hard way. But they are an affront to the dignity and honour of a woman and can traumatise her for life. Rape falls under the purview of Section 376′.

“I believe that actions that fall under Sections 354 and 509 of the IPC are universal to the extent that almost all women experience it at least five or six times in their lives’.

“Section 509 deals with words, gestures or actions intended to insult the modesty of a woman and section 354 deals with assault or criminal force with the intention of outraging the modesty of a woman’.

“These are a set of provisions different from physical assault, but which deal with crimes only against women as there is an element of modesty involved. So, all those men who think that unwanted lewd gestures or talking dirty are not offences, need to worry.’

“It was the Supreme Court on October 12, 1995 which upheld the crime against me in this category, describing it as a criminal offence. In doing so, the SC rejected the judgement of the high court which dismissed the case under Section 95 of IPC, a ground that it was too trivial a matter to be considered as an offence’.

“The SC held that Section 95 of the IPC cannot be a shelter in cases relating to outraging the modesty of a women because these are not trivial matters”.

Evening in July 1988, when it all happened.

“This was an official party at the house of the home secretary of Punjab and Mr Gill was present in his uniform. The entire top bureaucracy of Punjab was there and Mr Gill called me to come and sit on the chair next to him. I went and was about to sit, when he pulled the chair close to himself. Sensing something amiss, I went back to the group where I was sitting’.

“After ten minutes, he came and stood so close to me that his legs were four inches from my knees. He made an action with the crook of his finger asking me to stand and said, “You get up. You come along with me.”

“I strongly objected to his behaviour and told him, “Mr. Gill How dare you! You are behaving in an obnoxious manner, go away from here”. Whereupon he repeated his words like a command and said, “You get up! Get up immediately and come along with me.”

“I looked to the other ladies, all of whom looked shocked and speechless. I felt apprehensive and frightened, as he had blocked my way and I could not get up from my chair without my body touching his body. I then immediately drew my chair back about a foot and half and quickly got up and turned to get out of the circle through the space between mine and another lady’s chair. Whereupon he slapped me on the posterior. This was done in the full presence of the ladies and guests’.

“It was only later that I realised that most of the ladies in the circle where I was sitting had got up and left because he had misbehaved with them too. In particular was a young doctor from England. He had done much worse with her and she was crying inside. But neither she, nor her mother who was also present, complained about what happened to her that evening. I knew that they would not stand witness in my defence, when they were not even standing up for themselves. Anything like this happening to a woman is considered shameful, something to keep hidden. Then, and even now’.

“I went straight to the home secretary who was the host and Mr Gill’s boss and said, “What kind of people you have invited?” Gill was without any compunction and stood right there while I complained. By now everyone knew that he had upset the other women too so they put him in his car to be sent home’.

“Years later when the home secretary was called to corroborate the events of the evening, he did not tell the court that I had repeated my complaint in the presence of K.P.S. Gill within minutes of the incident, while Gill was swaying and hearing every word of what I said’.

“You know, I did not actually want to go to the police and fight it in the courts…. I wanted the government to take executive action under conduct rules for moral turpitude against him. But everyone from the then Governor S.S. Ray to chief secretary R.S. Ojha told me that they will not do anything. The chief secretary said to me, “Rupan these things keep happening. You are not diminished. Consider yourself lucky, it could have been worse…”

“The Governor, S.S. Ray, very clearly told me to forget it and go home. He would not do anything. I even went to Sarla Grewal, then secretary in the PMO.  All this made me angrier than ever. I was keeping it from the media too, but one Mumbai-based newspaper, the Indian Post, splashed the story the day after I met Ray’.

“When everything else failed, I went to the police as a last resort, ten days after the incident. V.N. Singh, the inspector general of police, who had seen everything as he was also present at the party that day, took my complaint, gave me a receipt that it had been registered. He then put it in an envelope and sealed it. When I asked him why he had sealed it, he said, “It is my duty to register your complaint, which I have done, but what I do with it after that is entirely up to me. We will investigate only when you get a mandamus from the court.”

“And he very patronisingly told me that his action will somehow save my reputation. I gave a copy of the FIR to the Indian Express because I wanted my version of events to come out instead of the half truths being spoken around. It took me another seven years to get the direction from the SC to prosecute Gill’.

“Even as I ran around trying to persuade the government to take action, there was the constant fear that this should not come out in the open. I did not want media coverage. This is the social conditioning we all grow up with. The die is cast once you write it all down in the FIR. Even my highly educated mother dissuaded me from registering a FIR. I was asked to cry over it privately and move on’.

“Once I drafted the FIR and gave it to the police and the media, I felt liberated and unburdened from the fear of the world coming to know about it. I was an empowered woman but the system and society were conspiring to disempower me. My family and I received death threats. People would call up and say you will disappear and no one will hear of you again. Remember, this was the Punjab of the ’80s when mysterious disappearances were the order of the day’.

“I am so gratified to see so many women coming out to talk about their trauma. Many are doing so years after they were harassed. Make no mistake, this is the most difficult and courageous thing for a woman to do and no one can doubt her when she finally decides to speak’.

Donald Trump is saying, “This is a scary time for men.” I say this is a scary time only for those who were at it with impunity for years. Women, who are 50% of the population are believing the #Me Too stories  because similar things have happened to most of them at some point of time or the other. It resonates with their own experiences. Majority of men in the society are good, but we also know this to be true’.

“My case has set a precedent which will benefit them all. For a change women are being believed. They should not back down at all, and if M.J. Akbar and others say they will take them to court, let them fight it collectively; but they must not compromise’.

“Firstly, the court has defined ‘modesty’ for the first time in my case as it applies to these two sections of IPC. Secondly, the court has laid down that to prove such matters, one witness is enough and the victim herself is the best witness, as long as she is being truthful. Thirdly, in every crime, the prosecution has to prove the intention of the accused. But here it was held that there is no need to prove intention, but just his knowledge of having acted indecently is sufficient to prosecute a person. Fourthly, the court set a time limit of six months in which to complete the trial, so as to ensure that the victim is not deliberately tired out in long-drawn litigation’.

“The difference now is that none of these women need to take the men to court. Their having had the courage to speak on social media is enough for everyone to believe them. It is the single most important validation of  the truth.  If the accused man goes to court, then my precedent gives them ample ammunition to fight it there”.

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Fall of an Officer …

Posted on October 11, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

From TIME …

The Last Temptation of  Michael Flynn – B Admiral Stavridis (Ret.) – 16th Supreme Allied Commander NATO

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn’s enormous fall from grace is an object lesson in the seductive allure of money, fame and power.

His story is perhaps not quite a Greek tragedy, but rather a kind of 21st-century parable with morals for us all.

Throughout my time in uniform with Mike, he was a determined, hard-edged and highly effective intelligence officer — the best ever to serve on my team personally, which he did in Afghanistan while I was the Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and the strategic commander for that mission.

Both General Stan McChrystal — his immediate boss — and I would often comment on how lucky we were to have then Major General Mike Flynn on our team in combat from 2009–2010.

How did he end up a convicted criminal, nationally disgraced, financially ruined and struggling to put his life together again?

Born in a middle-class family, Mike Flynn was never part of the West Point aristocracy of the Army, nor was he a tactical commander in the field.

He attended the University of Rhode Island in his home state and entered the Army through the Reserve Officer Training Corps route as an intelligence officer — destined not to command sweeping armies, but rather to serve as the consigliore and advisor to the warrior commanders, a kind of Machiavelli to the Prince.

In uniform and especially in the field, he was widely acknowledged for his innovation, grit and competence, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan in counter-terror campaigns.

But there are three key facts to understand about Mike Flynn that set the stage for all that has unfolded.

First, his worldview is distinctly threat-based, like most senior military officers. He sees danger and hostility everywhere, and is quick to judge it as well as react aggressively, often with immediate effect. This tendency to listen to the darker angels of his nature served him well in combat, less so in civilian life.

It made him highly receptive to the worldview of President Donald Trump, Steve Bannonand others who are so resolutely predisposed to look at the world through a dark lens.

Second, his background and role as an intelligence specialist led him to search for levers and keys to influencing others, especially our nation’s opponents.

In the Cold War during the early part of his career, he focused on the Soviet Union and watched with fascination and satisfaction as it imploded. He observed the rise of Vladimir Putin and came to understand the emergence of new threats from Moscow.

The chance to go and see Putin up close and personal must have been irresistible to him, and — along with the cash — contributed to his decision to sit next to Putin at the infamous Moscow dinner in 2015, a decision I am certain he would happily reverse in retrospect.

It also made him a logical candidate for the position of National Security Advisor and the conduit for some level of interaction with Russia during the presidential campaign.

Third, like all active-duty military, he never had an opportunity to make significant amounts of money.

Over the 33 years of his service in the Army, he would have earned somewhere around $70,000 annually, averaged out through those decades of service — certainly enough to live on, but hardly a chance to build wealth for his family.

Like many other senior military, especially those like Mike who were nationally known, upon retirement he was deluged with offers from the financial world.

He created a consulting company and made a series of choices about where to provide advice — something he had done throughout his military career — which turned out to lead him into the orbit of Russia in ways that have caught him up.

Thus big money, a chance for real power and the ability to confront the nation’s enemies all came into play, creating someone who could leave many of us shaking our heads as he took the podium at the Republican National Convention and led chants of “lock her up.”

Entering politics for any retired military officer is a deeply dangerous zone, because service in the military hardly prepares you for the unique cut-and-thrust of domestic politics.

Some have done it well — think George Marshall or Colin Powell — and others have crashed and burned, from Ollie North to Michael Flynn.

How his story ends is yet to be determined. Much will turn on the results of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation and his cooperation with it. Mike Flynn has always struck me as forthright and honest at his core.

Mike called his controversial memoir, published soon after he retired – The Field of Fight. He is in for the fight of his life in rebuilding his reputation; but luckily for him, this is a country built on second chances.

He gave this nation great service throughout a long and distinguished military career, and the choices he makes in the weeks and months ahead will tell us whether he will win this most challenging battle.


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Aung San Suu Kyi – Then and Now …

Posted on October 5, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

Then –

The Story of Aung San Suu Kyi, who went from devoted housewife to Champion of Democracy in her native Burma, is told in a new film whose Producer gives these touching details. 

When I began to research a screenplay about Aung San Suu Kyi four years ago, I wasn’t expecting to uncover one of the great love stories of our time. Yet what emerged was a tale so romantic – and yet so heartbreaking – it sounded more like a pitch for a Hollywood weepie: an exquisitely beautiful but reserved girl from the East meets a handsome and passionate young man from the West.


For Michael Aris the story is a coup de foudre, and he eventually proposes to Suu amid the snow-capped mountains of Bhutan, where he has been employed as tutor to its royal family. For the next 16 years, she becomes his devoted wife and a mother-of-two, until quite by chance she gets caught up in politics on a short trip to Burma, and never comes home. Tragically, after 10 years of campaigning to try to keep his wife safe, Michael dies of cancer without ever being allowed to say goodbye.


I also discovered that the reason no one was aware of this story was because Dr Michael Aris had gone to great lengths to keep Suu’s family out of the public eye. It is only because their sons are now adults – and Michael is dead – that their friends and family feel the time has come to speak openly, and with great pride, about the unsung role he played.


The daughter of a great Burmese hero, General Aung San, who was assassinated when she was only two, Suu was raised with a strong sense of her father’s unfinished legacy. In 1964 she was sent by her diplomat mother to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford, where her guardian, Lord Gore-Booth, introduced her to Michael. He was studying history at Durham but had always had a passion for Bhutan – and in Suu he found the romantic embodiment of his great love for the East. But when she accepted his proposal, she struck a deal: if her country should ever need her, she would have to go. And Michael readily agreed.


For the next 16 years, Suu Kyi was to sublimate her extraordinary strength of character and become the perfect housewife. When their two sons, Alexander and Kim, were born she became a doting mother too, noted for her punctiliously well-organised children’s parties and exquisite cooking. Much to the despair of her more feminist friends, she even insisted on ironing her husband’s socks and cleaning the house herself.


Then one quiet evening in 1988, when her sons were 12 and 14, as she and Michael sat reading in Oxford, they were interrupted by a phone call to say Suu’s mother had had a stroke.


She at once flew to Rangoon for what she thought would be a matter of weeks, only to find a city in turmoil. A series of violent confrontations with the military had brought the country to a standstill, and when she moved into Rangoon Hospital to care for her mother, she found the wards crowded with injured and dying students. Since public meetings were forbidden, the hospital had become the centre-point of a leaderless revolution, and word that the great General’s daughter had arrived spread like wildfire.

When a delegation of academics asked Suu to head a movement for democracy, she tentatively agreed, thinking that once an election had been held she would be free to return to Oxford again. Only two months earlier she had been a devoted housewife; now she found herself spearheading a mass uprising against a barbaric regime.


In England, Michael could only anxiously monitor the news as Suu toured Burma, her popularity soaring, while the military harassed her every step and arrested and tortured many of her party members. He was haunted by the fear that she might be assassinated like her father. And when in 1989 she was placed under house arrest, his only comfort was that it at least might help keep her safe.


Michael now reciprocated all those years Suu had devoted to him with a remarkable selflessness of his own, embarking on a high-level campaign to establish her as an international icon that the military would never dare harm. But he was careful to keep his work inconspicuous, because once she emerged as the leader of a new democracy movement, the military seized upon the fact that she was married to a foreigner as a basis for a series of savage – and often sexually crude – slanders in the Burmese press.


For the next five years, as her boys were growing into young men, Suu was to remain under house arrest and kept in isolation. She sustained herself by learning how to meditate, reading widely on Buddhism and studying the writings of Mandela and Gandhi. Michael was allowed only two visits during that period. Yet this was a very particular kind of imprisonment, since at any time Suu could have asked to be driven to the airport and flown back to her family..


But neither of them ever contemplated her doing such a thing. In fact, as a historian, even as Michael agonised and continued to pressurise politicians behind the scenes, he was aware she was part of history in the making. He kept on display the book she had been reading when she received the phone call summoning her to Burma. He decorated the walls with the certificates of the many prizes she had by now won, including the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. And above his bed he hung a huge photograph of her.


Inevitably, during the long periods when no communication was possible, he would fear Suu might be dead, and it was only the odd report from passers-by who heard the sound of her piano-playing drifting from the house that brought him peace of mind. But when the south-east Asian humidity eventually destroyed the piano, even this fragile reassurance was lost to him.


Then, in 1995, Michael quite unexpectedly received a phone call from Suu. She was ringing from the British embassy, she said. She was free again! Michael and the boys were granted visas and flew to Burma. When Suu saw Kim, her younger son, she was astonished to see he had grown into a young man. She admitted she might have passed him in the street. But Suu had become a fully politicised woman whose years of isolation had given her a hardened resolve, and she was determined to remain in her country, even if the cost was further separation from her family.


The journalist Fergal Keane, who has met Suu several times, describes her as having a core of steel. It was the sheer resilience of her moral courage that filled me with awe as I wrote my screenplay for The Lady. The first question many women ask when they hear Suu’s story is how she could have left her children. Kim has said simply: “She did what she had to do.” Suu Kyi herself refuses to be drawn on the subject, though she has conceded that her darkest hours were when “I feared the boys might be needing me”.


That 1995 visit was the last time Michael and Suu were ever allowed to see one another. Three years later, he learnt he had terminal cancer. He called Suu to break the bad news and immediately applied for a visa so that he could say goodbye in person. When his application was rejected, he made over 30 more as his strength rapidly dwindled. A number of eminent figures – among them the Pope and President Clinton – wrote letters of appeal, but all in vain. Finally, a military official came to see Suu. Of course she could say goodbye, he said, but to do so she would have to return to Oxford.


The implicit choice that had haunted her throughout those 10 years of marital separation had now become an explicit ultimatum: your country or your family. She was distraught. If she left Burma, they both knew it would mean permanent exile – that everything they had jointly fought for would have been for nothing. Suu would call Michael from the British embassy when she could, and he was adamant that she was not even to consider it.

When I met Michael’s twin brother, Anthony, he told me something he said he had never told anyone before. He said that once Suu realised she would never see Michael again, she put on a dress of his favourite colour, tied a rose in her hair, and went to the British embassy, where she recorded a farewell film for him in which she told him that his love for her had been her mainstay. The film was smuggled out, only to arrive two days after Michael died.


For many years, as Burma’s human rights record deteriorated, it seemed the Aris family’s great self-sacrifice might have been in vain. Yet in recent weeks the military have finally announced their desire for political change.        .

And Suu’s 22-year vigil means she is uniquely positioned to facilitate such a transition – if and when it comes – exactly as Mandela did so successfully for South Africa.

Alas – And Now –                                                                                                           .


The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, imprisoned for 15 years over a 21-year period in her struggle for human rights and democracy, has suffered a swift and dramatic fall from grace as a global icon. She is now widely seen as an enabler of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Suu Kyi has been the subject of much criticism since taking power two-and-a-half years ago, but the most recent and vociferous condemnation has centred on two events: the jailing of two Reuters journalists who exposed a massacre of Rohingya civilians by the military, and her government’s failure to respond to international investigations into allegations of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

In September, the two Reuters journalists were convictedof possessing official secrets, despite testimony by a policeman    that they had been entrapped.

The journalists had reported on a 2017 massacre of Rohingya Muslims by security forces, which resulted in the eventual conviction of seven soldiers for murder.

It is notable that it was Suu Kyi’s civilian government, not the military, that prosecuted the journalists. Suu Kyi could have ordered the charges dropped, as she did for student protesters during her early days in office. Instead, before the trial was over, she commented that the reporters were guilty of violating the Official Secrets Act, and once even allegedly referred to them as “traitors”.

The second great disappointment has been the government’s response to the UN Human Rights Council’s report into the violence that drove almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh last year.

The report, released in full in September, found conclusive evidence that security forces had indeed engaged in mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya, with genocidal intent. It went on to accuse Suu Kyi and her government of contributing to the atrocities through “acts and omissions”.

The HRC recommended the UN Security Council refer the Myanmar commander-in-chief and five generals to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The UN Human Rights Council also set up a body to prepare evidence for trials.

Rather than pledge to cooperate with the investigation, however, Suu Kyi has consistently defended the military action against the Rohingya and repeatedly pointed to a lack of understanding of the complexities of the situation.

Her only concession to the increasing international condemnation of her government has been this muted statement: There are, of course, ways in which, with hindsight, we might think that the situation could have been handled better.

Limitations on Suu Kyi’s power

The military remains a very powerful force in Myanmar. It has the power to appoint its own personnel to a quarter of the seats in the parliament and oversees the three powerful ministries of Home Affairs, Defence and Border Affairs.

The government has no power to hold the military accountable for actions against the Rohingya. Suu Kyi is therefore in a very weak position.

She has nonetheless gone out of her way to not just defend the military, but praise it. In Singapore last month, she made headlines when she declared that the three generals in her cabinet were “rather sweet”.

Suu Kyi has stressed that her government’s aim of removing the military from politics would eventually be achieved through negotiation, keeping in mind the need for national reconciliation. However, her dream of constitutional reform depends entirely on military approval.

This would appear to inhibit any ability for her to censure the military. She also has

Suu Kyi still has considerable moral authority within Myanmar, and the military is still widely unpopular. Thus, despite the severe limitations on her power, she does have other options to lead effectively on issues like human rights, the Rohingya and press freedom.

Suu Kyi and her government should start by recommitting themselves to a belief in universal human rights. She should also express empathy with the victims of the atrocities in Rakhine state, which may begin to shift popular opinion against the actions of the military and engender more public sympathy for the Rohingya.

Further, Suu Kyi needs to pledge full cooperation with the ICC investigation into the serious allegations of ethnic cleansing and genocide, and call for a genuinely independent domestic inquiry to pave the way towards true reconciliation.

Suu Kyi may not be able to compel military cooperation with the ICC investigation, or even unfettered access to the country for investigators. But drawing on her moral authority could go a long way to help. She could pave the way for visas and travel approval, for instance, both of which were denied to investigators by her government.

Finally, the government must develop robust, urgent repatriation plans for the Rohingya – in cooperation with Bangladesh and the UN – that guarantee their security, human rights, a pathway to full citizenship and an end to segregation in Rakhine. They need a plan for inclusive development policies in the state, and to restore both media freedoms and humanitarian access to the region.

The opportunity for such moral leadership is quickly evaporating.

Suu Kyi and her government were elected by a landslide in 2015, winning about 80% of seats up for election. Polling released last week showed that only about half those surveyed believe the rights of people have improved in the two-and-a-half years that she has been in power and less than half the population feel there has been any political or economic improvement.

There have also been increasing complaints about the performance of the government.

With her support eroding both home and abroad, Suu Kyi appears to have a limited window to adequately address the Rohingya crisis and regain her moral authority. Otherwise, Myanmar risks slipping back into isolation and again becoming a pariah state.The Conversation

Anthony Ware, senior lecturer in International & Community Development, Deakin University and Costas Laoutides, senior lecturer in International Relations, Deakin University.


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The Reading Habit …

Posted on September 26, 2018. Filed under: Guide Posts, Personalities |

Charles DeGaulle  — “Don’t ask me who has influenced me. A lion is made up of the lambs he has digested – and I’ve been reading all my life”.

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1971 War – Why India Won …

Posted on September 23, 2018. Filed under: From a Services Career, Personalities |

And ..

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BBC – Freedom of the Press …

Posted on September 22, 2018. Filed under: Guide Posts, Personalities, The English |

What India’s first newspaper on Democracy

The front page of Hicky's Bengal Gazette, 28 April 1781Image copyrightUNIVERSITY OF HEIDELBERG
The newspaper was named after its founder, James Augustus Hicky

India’s first newspaper, founded in 1780, held up a mirror to British rule in India. It can also teach us about how tyrants work and how an independent press can stop them, writes journalist and historian Andrew Otis.

Known as Hicky’s Bengal Gazette after its intrepid founder, James Augustus Hicky, the newspaper notoriously dogged the most powerful men in India.

It dug into their private lives and accused them of corruption, bribery and abuse of rights. Among many claims, it accused the then ruler of British India, Governor General Warren Hastings, of bribing the chief justice of India’s Supreme Court.

It alleged that Hastings and his top aides launched illegal wars of conquest, taxed the people without representation and suppressed freedom of speech.

The newspaper also reported on the lives of Europeans and the Indian poor – often news that its competitors would have ignored. It bonded with those at the lowest levels of colonial society, especially the soldiers who fought and died in the wars waged by the British East India Company.

At the height of its power, the Company controlled large parts of India with its own armed forces. But it was disbanded after Indian soldiers in its army revolted against the British in 1857.

The newspaper, in fact, called on the soldiers to mutiny, arguing that their throats were “devoted to the wild chimeras of a madman”, a reference to Hastings.

Warren HastingsWarren Hastings was the then ruler of British India

But soon the criticisms became too much for the government to stand. Those in power sought to discredit those who held them accountable.

The East India Company funded a rival newspaper to control the narrative, while Hastings’ surrogates resorted to ad hominem attacks, calling the newspaper “insolent” and referring to its writers as “pitiful scoundrels”.

Finally, when one of its anonymous writers argued that the “people are no longer bound to obey” when the government no longer consults their welfare, the East India Company moved to shut it down.

Hastings repeatedly sued Hicky himself for libel. Hicky stood little chance in front of a bribed judiciary.

He was found guilty and, despite printing his newspaper from jail for another nine months, the Supreme Court issued a special order to seize his printing press, shuttering India’s first newspaper for good.

Eventually the allegations of abuse of power and rights made it back to England. Armed with reports from Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, the members of parliament launched an investigation.

This resulted in the recall and impeachment of both Hastings and the Chief Justice of India at the time.

The reports in Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, and later, in the British newspapers, were instrumental in building public pressure against corruption.

General Warren Hastings' impeachment trial in 1788General Warren Hastings’ impeachment trial in 1788

Like in the case of India’s first newspaper, authoritarian leaders today seek to suppress the press. The source of their power is to convince enough of the public to believe them, and not what they read in the press.

Politicians who want to be dictators are not new. But why are they so dangerous now?

They have new tools to sow divisions between citizens. Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and other forms of social media have created “filter bubbles” in which people consume and share content they already agree with.

The result is that people across the world are increasingly divided into tribes as social media allows politicians to communicate directly with their citizens.

For instance, US President Donald Trump often lashes out at the news media with tweets, denigrating them as “fake news” and as “enemies of the people”.

Social media has also had a deadly effect in India, where a recent spate of mob lynchings were linked to child abduction rumours spreading over WhatsApp.

Online trolls in India have also backed a Hindu nationalist agenda. Activists and journalists in the country were arrested in August and, in the fallout, many on social media termed them “anti-national” and said they were against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led government.

In such a tumultuous atmosphere, it is time for companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter to be accountable for their effect on society and to follow ethics guidelines that newspapers have followed for decades. Social media companies bear a responsibility to foster connections and dialogue – not division and hate.

Dictators such as Hastings have come and gone. But these men set the stage for the subjugation of India. They created the political structure upon which British rule began. Through them, a subcontinent that is home to hundreds of millions came to be ruled by a company of a couple of hundred men.

They gained legitimacy not only through the sword, but by controlling what others could write about them.

Now we have democratically elected politicians who wield social media in the same way, using it to degrade the value of a free press and pit citizens against each other.

The fight between Hastings and Hicky is not that different from the fight we face today. The only thing that has changed is the tools used to fight.

Andrew Otis is the author of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette: The Untold Story of India’s First Newspaper, published by Westland.

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Jane Fonda …

Posted on September 21, 2018. Filed under: Movies, Personalities |

Of Course there was Henry Fonda, a wee bit of Peter but there is a Wholesome Lot of Jane Fonda …

First Her Views on Men –

“Men are trained not to be empathic, not to be emotional. So it’s not easy what they’re trying to do. But they have to try to do it! So it doesn’t matter if it’s been two weeks or two years. It just matters what kind of changes they’ve gone through.’

“Why not do what the guys who lose their union jobs in Pennsylvania do? Work at Starbucks, f**k it!’

“Oh, poor top-paid executives who can’t get his job back. F**k it! Sweep the floor at Starbucks until you learn! If you can’t learn, you don’t belong in the boardroom. And there are plenty of women who do belong in the boardroom.”

And the NYT –

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Raghuram Rajan on NPAs’ …

Posted on September 12, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

“A Man with a Gun Will Take Your Wallet – A Banker Will Take Away All You Will Ever Have” Jefferson  —————————– Excerpted from the Wire –

A larger number of bad loans were originated in the period 2006-2008 when economic growth was strong, and previous infrastructure projects such as power plants had been completed on time and within budget. It is at such times that banks make mistakes. They extrapolate past growth and performance to the future.

So they are willing to accept higher leverage in projects, and less promoter equity. Indeed, sometimes banks signed up to lend based on project reports by the promoter’s investment bank, without doing their own due diligence.

Slow Growth

Unfortunately, growth does not always take place as expected. The years of strong global growth before the global financial crisis were followed by a slowdown, which extended even to India, showing how much more integrated we had become with the world. Strong demand projections for various projects were shown to be increasingly unrealistic as domestic demand slowed down.

Government Permissions and Foot-Dragging

A variety of governance problems such as the suspect allocation of coal mines coupled with the fear of investigation slowed down government decision making in Delhi, both in the UPA and the subsequent NDA governments.

Project cost overruns escalated for stalled projects and they became increasingly unable to service debt. The continuing travails of the stranded power plants, even though India is short of power, suggests government decision making has not picked up sufficient pace to date.

Loss of Promoter and Banker Interest

Once projects got delayed enough that the promoter had little equity left in the project, he lost interest. Ideally, projects should be restructured at such times, with banks writing down bank debt that is uncollectable, and promoters bringing in more equity, under the threat that they would otherwise lose their project.

Unfortunately, until the Bankruptcy Code was enacted, bankers had little ability to threaten promoters (see later), even incompetent or unscrupulous ones, with loss of their project. Writing down the debt was then simply a gift to promoters, and no banker wanted to take the risk of doing so and inviting the attention of the investigative agencies.

Stalled projects continued as “zombie” projects, neither dead nor alive (“zombie” is a technical term used in the banking literature).

It was in everyone’s interest to extend the loan by making additional loans to enable the promoter to pay interest and pretend it was performing. The promoter had no need to bring in equity, the banker did not have to restructure and recognise losses or declare the loan NPA and spoil his profitability, the government had no need to infuse capital. In reality though, because the loan was actually non-performing, bank profitability was illusory, and the size of losses on its balance sheet were ballooning because no interest was actually coming in.

Unless the project miraculously recovered on its own – and with only a few exceptions, no one was seriously trying to put it back on track – this was deceptive accounting. It postponed the day of reckoning into the future, but there would be such a day.


How important was malfeasance and corruption in the NPA problem? Undoubtedly, there was some, but it is hard to tell banker exuberance, incompetence, and corruption apart. Clearly, bankers were overconfident and probably did too little due diligence for some of these loans.

Many did no independent analysis, and placed excessive reliance on SBI Caps and IDBI to do the necessary due diligence. Such outsourcing of analysis is a weakness in the system, and multiplies the possibilities for undue influence.

Banker performance after the initial loans were made were also not up to the mark. Unscrupulous promoters who inflated the cost of capital equipment through over-invoicing were rarely checked. Public sector bankers continued financing promoters even while private sector banks were getting out, suggesting their monitoring of promoter and project health was inadequate.

Too many bankers put yet more money for additional “balancing” equipment, even though the initial project was heavily underwater, and the promoter’s intent suspect. Finally, too many loans were made to well-connected promoters who have a history of defaulting on their loans.

Yet, unless we can determine the unaccounted wealth of bankers, I hesitate to say a significant element was corruption. Rather than attempting to hold bankers responsible for specific loans, I think bank boards and investigative agencies must look for a pattern of bad loans that bank CEOs were responsible for – some banks went from healthy to critically undercapitalized under the term of a single CEO.

Then they must look for unaccounted assets with that CEO. Only then should there be a presumption that there was corruption.


The size of frauds in the public sector banking system have been increasing, though still small relative to the overall volume of NPAs. Frauds are different from normal NPAs in that the loss is because of a patently illegal action, by either the borrower or the banker. Unfortunately, the system has been singularly ineffective in bringing even a single high profile fraudster to book. As a result, fraud is not discouraged.

The investigative agencies blame the banks for labeling frauds much after the fraud has actually taken place, the bankers are slow because they know that once they call a transaction a fraud, they will be subject to harassment by the investigative agencies, without substantial progress in catching the crooks.

The RBI set up a fraud monitoring cell when I was Governor to coordinate the early reporting of fraud cases to the investigative agencies.  I also sent a list of high profile cases to the PMO urging that we coordinate action to bring at least one or two to book. I am not aware of progress on this front. This is a matter that should be addressed with urgency.

2)  Why did the RBI set up various schemes to restructure debt and how effective were they?

When I took office it was clear that bankers had very little power to recover from large promoters. The Debts Recovery Tribunals (DRTs) were set up under the Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions (RDDBFI) Act, 1993 to help banks and financial institutions recover their dues speedily without being subject to the lengthy procedures of usual civil courts.

The Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interests (SARFAESI) Act, 2002 went a step further by enabling banks and some financial institutions to enforce their security interest and recover dues even without approaching the DRTs.

Yet the amount banks recover from defaulted debt was both meager and long delayed. The amount recovered from cases decided in 2013-14 under DRTs was Rs. 30590 crores while the outstanding value of debt sought to be recovered was a huge Rs 2,36,600 crores. Thus recovery was only 13% of the amount at stake.

Worse, even though the law indicated that cases before the DRT should be disposed off in 6 months, only about a fourth of the cases pending at the beginning of the year were disposed off during the year – suggesting a four year wait even if the tribunals focused only on old cases.

However, in 2013-14, the number of new cases filed during the year were about one and a half times the cases disposed off during the year. Thus backlogs and delays were growing, not coming down. A cautionary point as we welcome the NCLT’s efforts is that the DRTs and SARFAESI were initially successful, before they became overburdened as large promoters understood how to game them.

The inefficient loan recovery system gave promoters tremendous power over lenders. Not only could they play one lender off against another by threatening to divert payments to the favored bank, they could also refuse to pay unless the lender brought in more money, especially if the lender feared the loan becoming an NPA.

Sometimes promoters offered low one-time settlements (OTS) knowing that the system would allow the banks to collect even secured loans only after years. Effectively, bank loans in such a system become equity, with a tough promoter enjoying the upside in good times, and forcing banks to absorb losses in bad times, even while he holds on to his equity.

The RBI decided we needed to empower the banks and improve on the ineffective CDR system then in place. Our first task was to make sure that all banks had information on who had lent to a borrower. So we created a large loan database (CRILC) that included all loans over Rs. 5 crore, which we shared with all the banks.

The CRILC data included the status of each loan – reflecting whether it was performing, already an NPA or going towards NPA. That database allowed banks to identify early warning signs of distress in a borrower such as habitual late payments to a segment of lenders.

The next step was to coordinate the lenders through a Joint Lenders’ Forum (JLF) once such early signals were seen. The JLF was tasked with deciding on an approach for resolution, much as a bankruptcy forum does. Incentives were given to banks for reaching quick decisions. We also tried to make the forum more effective by reducing the need for everyone to agree, even while giving those who were unconvinced by the joint decision the opportunity to exit.

We also wanted to stop ever-greening of projects by banks who want to avoid recognizing losses – so we ended forbearance, the ability of banks to restructure projects without calling them NPA in April 2015.

At the same time, a number of long duration projects such as roads had been structured with overly rapid required repayments, even though cash flows continued to be available decades from now. So we allowed such project payments to be restructured through the 5/25 scheme provided the long dated future cash flows could be reliably established.

Of course, there was always the possibility of banks using this scheme to evergreen, so we monitored how it worked in practice, and continued tweaking the scheme where necessary so that it achieved its objectives.

Because promoters were often unable to bring in new funds, and because the judicial system often protected those with equity ownership, together with SEBI we introduced the Strategic Debt Restructuring (SDR) scheme so as to enable banks to displace weak promoters by converting debt to equity. We did not want banks to own projects indefinitely, so we indicated a time-line by which they had to find a new promoter.

We adjusted the schemes with experience. Each scheme’s effectiveness, while seemingly obvious when designing, had to be monitored in light of the distorted incentives in the system. As we learnt, we adapted regulation. Our objective was not to be theoretical but to be pragmatic, even while subjecting the system to increasing discipline and transparency.

All these new tools (including some I do not have the space to describe) effectively created a resolution system that replicated an out-of-court bankruptcy. Banks now had the power to resolve distress, so we could push them to exercise these powers by requiring recognition. The schemes were a step forward, and enabled some resolution and recovery, but far less than we thought was possible. Incentives to conclude deals were unfortunately too weak.

3)   Why Recognize Bad Loans?

There are two polar approaches to loan stress. One is to apply band aids to keep the loan current, and hope that time and growth will set the project back on track. Sometimes this works. But most of  the  time,  the  low  growth  that  precipitated  the  stress  persists.  Lending  intended  to  keep  the original loan current (also called “ever-greening”) grows. Facing large and potentially unpayable debt, the promoter loses interest, does little to fix existing problems, and the project goes into further losses.

An  alternative  approach  is  to  try  to  put  the  stressed  project  back  on  track  rather  than  simply applying band aids. This may require deep surgery. Existing loans may have to be written down somewhat because of the changed circumstances since they were sanctioned. If loans are written down, the promoter brings in more equity, and other stakeholders like the tariff authorities or the local government chip in, the project may have a strong chance of revival, and the promoter will be incentivized to try his utmost to put it back on track.

But to do deep surgery such as restructuring or writing down loans, the bank has to recognize it has a problem – classify the asset as a Non Performing Asset (NPA). Think therefore of the NPA classification as an anesthetic that allows the bank to perform extensive necessary surgery to set the project back on its feet. If the bank wants to pretend that everything is all right with the loan, it can only apply band aids – for any more drastic action would require NPA classification.

Loan classification is merely good accounting – it reflects what the true value of the loan might be. It is accompanied by provisioning, which ensures the bank sets aside a buffer to absorb likely losses. If the losses do not materialize, the bank can write back provisioning to profits. If the losses do materialize, the bank does not have to suddenly declare a big loss, it can set the losses against the prudential provisions it has made.

Thus the bank balance sheet then represents a true and fair picture of the bank’s health, as a bank balance sheet is meant to. Of course, we can postpone the day  of  reckoning  with  regulatory  forbearance.  But  unless  conditions  in  the  industry  improve suddenly and dramatically, the bank balance sheets present a distorted picture of health, and the eventual hole becomes bigger.

4)   Did the RBI create the NPAs?

Bankers, promoters, or their backers in government sometimes turn around and accuse regulators of creating the bad loan problem. The truth is bankers, promoters, and circumstances create the bad loan problem. The regulator cannot substitute for the banker’s commercial decisions or micromanage them or even investigate them when they are being made. Instead, in most situations, the regulator can at best warn about poor lending practices when they are being undertaken, and demand banks hold adequate risk buffers.

The RBI is primarily a referee, not a player in the process of commercial lending. Its nominees on bank boards have no commercial lending experience and can only try and make sure that processes are followed. They offer an illusion that the regulator is in control, which is why nearly every RBI Governor has asked the government for permission to withdraw them from bank boards.

The important duty of the regulator is to force timely recognition of NPAs and their disclosure when they happen, followed by requiring adequate bank capitalization. This is done through the RBI’s regular supervision of banks.

5)   Why did RBI initiate the Asset Quality Review?

Once we had created enough ways for banks to recover, we decided to not prolong forbearance beyond when it was scheduled to end. Banks were simply not recognizing bad loans. They were not following uniform procedures – a loan that was non-performing in one bank was shown as performing in others. They were not making adequate provisions for loans that had stayed NPA for a long time. Equally problematic, they were doing little to put projects back on track. They had also slowed credit growth.

What any student of banking history will tell you is that the sooner banks are cleaned up, the faster the banks will be able to resume credit. We proceeded to ensure in our bank inspections in 2015 that every bank followed the same norms on every stressed loan.

We especially looked for signs of ever-greening. A dedicated team of supervisors ensured that the Asset Quality Review (AQR), completed in October 2015 and subsequently shared with banks, was fair and conducted without favor. The government was kept informed and consulted on every step of the way, after the initial supervision was done.

6)   Did NPA recognition slow credit growth, and hence economic growth?

The RBI has been accused of slowing the economy by forcing NPA recognition. I actually gave a speech in July 2016 on this issue before I demitted office, knowing it was only a matter of time before vested interests who wanted to torpedo the clean-up started attacking the RBI on the growth issue.

Simply eye-balling the evidence suggests the claim is ludicrous, and made by people who have not done their homework. Let us start by looking at public sector bank credit growth compared with the growth in credit by the new private banks. As the trend in non-food credit growth shows (Chart 1), public sector bank non-food credit growth was falling relative to credit growth from the new private sector banks (Axis, HDFC, ICICI, and IndusInd) since early 2014.

This is reflected not only in credit to industry (Chart 2), but also in credit to micro and small enterprise credit (Chart 3).


The relative slowdown in credit growth, albeit not so dramatic, is also seen in agriculture (Chart 4), though public sector bank credit growth picked up once again in October 2015.

Whenever one sees a slowdown in lending, one could conclude there is no demand for credit – firms are not investing. But what we see here is a slowdown in lending by public sector banks vis a vis private sector banks.

Interestingly, if we look at personal loan growth (Chart 5), and specifically housing loans (Chart 6), public sector bank loan growth approaches private sector bank growth. So the reality is that public sector banks slowed lending to the sectors where they were seeing large NPAs but not in sectors where NPAs were low.

The fact that the public sector bank credit slowdown to industry dates from early 2014 suggests that the bank cleanup, which started in earnest in the second half of fiscal year 2015, was not the cause. Indeed, the slowdown is best attributed to over-burdened public sector bank balance sheets and growing risk aversion in public sector bankers. Their aversion to increasing their activity can be seen in the rapid slowdown of their deposit growth also, relative to private sector banks (see Chart 7). After all, why would public sector banks raise deposits aggressively if they are unwilling to lend?

In sum, the Indian evidence, supported by the experiences from other parts of the world such as Europe and Japan, suggests that what we were seeing was classic behavior by a banking system with balance sheet problems. We were able to identify the effects because parts of our banking system – the private banks — did not suffer as much from such problems.

The obvious remedy to anyone with an open mind would be to tackle the source of the problem – to clean the balance sheets of public sector banks, a remedy that has worked well in other countries where it has been implemented.  This  is  not  a  “foreign”  solution,  it  is  an  economically  sensible  solution.  It  is something that has been repeatedly flagged by the government’s own Economic Survey, under the guidance of the respected Dr. Arvind Subramanian. Clean up was part of the solution, not the problem.

7)   Why do NPAs continue mounting even after the AQR is over?

The AQR was meant to stop the ever-greening and concealment of bad loans, and force banks to revive stalled projects. The hope was that once the mass of bad loans were disclosed, the banks, with the aid of the government, would undertake the surgery that was necessary to put the projects back on track.

Unfortunately, this process has not played out as well. As NPAs age, they require more provisioning, so projects that have not been revived simply add to the stock of gross NPAs. A fair amount of the increase in NPAs may be due to ageing rather than as a result of a fresh lot of NPAs.

Why have projects not been revived? Since the post-AQR process took place after I demitted office, I can only comment on this from press reports.  Blame probably lies on all sides here.

  1. Risk-averse bankers, seeing the arrests of some of their colleagues, are simply not willing to take the write-downs and push a restructuring to conclusion, without the process being blessed by the courts or eminent individuals. Taking every restructuring to an eminent persons group or court simply delays the process endlessly.
  2. Until the Bankruptcy Code was enacted, promoters never believed they were under serious threat of losing their firms. Even after it was enacted, some still are playing the process, hoping to regain control though a proxy bidder, at a much lower price. So many have not engaged seriously with the banks.
  3. The government has dragged its feet on project revival – the continuing problems in the power sector are just one example. The steps on reforming governance of public sector banks, or on protecting bank commercial decisions from second guessing by the investigative agencies, have been limited and ineffective. Sometimes even basic steps such as appointing CEOs on time have been found wanting. Finally, the government has not recapitalized banks with the urgency that the matter needed (though without governance reform, recapitalization is also not like to be as useful).
  4. The Bankruptcy Code is being tested by the large promoters, with continuous and sometimes frivolous appeals. It is very important that the integrity of the process be maintained, and bankruptcy resolution be speedy, without the promoter inserting a bid by an associate at the auction, and acquiring the firm at a bargain-basement price. Given our conditions, the promoter should have every chance of concluding a deal before the firm goes to auction, but not after. Higher courts must resist the temptation to intervene routinely in these cases, and appeals must be limited once points of law are settled.

That said, the judicial process is simply not equipped to handle every NPA through a bankruptcy process. Banks and promoters have to strike deals outside of bankruptcy, or if promoters prove uncooperative, bankers should have the ability to proceed without them.

Bankruptcy Court should be a final threat, and much loan renegotiation should be done under the shadow of the Bankruptcy Court, not in it. This requires fixing the factors mentioned in (a) that make bankers risk averse and in (b) that make promoters uncooperative.

We need concentrated attention by a high level empowered and responsible group set up by government on cleaning up the banks. Otherwise the same non-solutions (bad bank, management teams to take over stressed assets, bank mergers, new infrastructure lending institution) keep coming up and nothing really moves. Public sector banks are losing market share as non-bank finance companies, the private sector banks, and some of the newly licensed banks are expanding.

8) What could the regulator have done better?

It is hard to offer an objective self-assessment. However, the RBI should probably have raised more flags about the quality of lending in the early days of banking exuberance. With the benefit of hindsight, we should probably not have agreed to forbearance, though without the tools to clean up, it is not clear what the banks would have done.

Forbearance was a bet that growth would revive, and projects would come back on track. That it did not work out does not mean that it was not the right decision at the time it was initiated. Also, we should have initiated the new tools earlier, and pushed for a more rapid enactment of the Bankruptcy Code.

If so, we could have started the AQR process earlier. Finally, the RBI could have been more decisive in enforcing penalties on non-compliant banks. Fortunately, this culture of leniency has been changing in recent years. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20.

9)   How should we prevent recurrence?

  •     Improve governance of public sector banks and distance them from the government.
  • Public sector bank boards are still not adequately professionalized, and the government rather than a more independent body still decides board appointments, with the inevitable politicization. The government could follow the PJ Naik Committee report more carefully. Eventually strong boards should be entrusted with all decisions but held responsible for them.
  • Pending the change above, there is absolutely no excuse for banks to be left leaderless for long periods of time as has been the case in recent years. The date of retirement of CEOs is well known and government should be prepared well in advance with succession. Indeed, it would be good for the old CEO and the successor to overlap for a few months while they exchange notes. All the more reason to delegate appointments entirely to an entity like the Bank Board Bureau, and not retain it in government.
  • Outside talent has been brought in very limited ways into top management in Public Sector Banks. There is already a talent deficit in internal PSB candidates in coming years because of a hiatus in recruitment in the past. This needs to be taken up urgently. Compensation structures in PSBs also need rethinking, especially for high level outside hires. Internal parity will need to be maintained. There will be internal resistance, but lakhs of crores of national assets cannot be held hostage to the career concerns of a few.
  • Risk management processes still need substantial improvement in PSBs. Compliance is still not adequate, and cyber risk needs greater attention.
  • Improve the process of project evaluation and monitoring to lower the risk of project NPAs
  1. Significantly more in-house expertise can be brought to project evaluation, including understanding demand projections for the project’s output, likely competition, and the expertise and reliability of the promoter. Bankers will have to develop industry knowledge in key areas since consultants can be biased.
  2. Real risks have to be mitigated where possible, and shared where not. Real risk mitigation requires ensuring that key permissions for land acquisition and construction are in place up front, while key inputs and customers are tied up through purchase agreements. Where these risks cannot be mitigated, they should be shared contractually between the promoter and financiers, or a transparent arbitration system agreed upon. So, for instance, if demand falls below projections, perhaps an agreement among promoters and financier can indicate when new equity will be brought in and by whom.
  3. An appropriately flexible capital structure should be in place. The capital structure has to be related to residual risks of the project. The more the risks, the more the equity component should be (genuine promoter equity, not borrowed equity, of course), and the greater the flexibility in the debt structure. Promoters should be incentivized to deliver, with significant rewards for on-time execution and debt repayment. Where possible, corporate debt markets, either through direct issues or securitized project loan portfolios, should be used to absorb some of the initial project risk. More such arm’s length debt should typically refinance bank debt when construction is over.
  4. Financiers should put in a robust system of project monitoring and appraisal, including where possible, careful real-time monitoring of costs. For example, can project input costs be monitored and compared with comparable inputs elsewhere using IT, so that suspicious transactions suggesting over-invoicing are flagged? Projects that are going off track should be restructured quickly, before they become unviable.
  5. And finally, the incentive structure for bankers should be worked out so that they evaluate, design, and monitor projects carefully, and get significant rewards if these work out. This means that even while committees may take the final loan decision, some senior banker ought to put her name on the proposal, taking responsibility for recommending the loan. IT systems within banks should be able to pull up overall performance records of loans recommended by individual bankers easily, and this should be an input into their promotion and pay.
  •     Strengthen the recovery process further.
  • Both the out of court restructuring process and the bankruptcy process need to be strengthened and made speedy. The former requires protecting the ability of  bankers to make commercial decisions without subjecting them to inquiry. The latter requires steady modifications where necessary to the bankruptcy code so that it is effective, transparent, and not gamed by unscrupulous promoters.
  • Government should focus on sources of the next crisis, not just the last one. In particular, government should refrain from setting ambitious credit targets or waiving loans.
  1. Credit targets are sometimes achieved by abandoning appropriate due diligence, creating the environment for future NPAs. Both MUDRA loans as well as the Kisan Credit Card, while popular, have to be examined more closely for potential credit risk. The Credit Guarantee Scheme for MSME  (CGTMSE) run by SIDBI is a growing contingent liability and needs to be examined with urgency.
  2. Loan waivers, as RBI has repeatedly argued, vitiate the credit culture, and stress the budgets of the waiving state or central government. They are poorly targeted, and eventually reduce the flow of credit. Agriculture needs serious attention, but not through loan waivers. An all-party agreement to this effect would be in the nation’s interest, especially given the impending elections.
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Bejan – the Parsi Astrologer …

Posted on September 8, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

Mark Manuel in HuffPost dated Jul 2016 –

Shree Ganesha Namah! It’s Bejan Daruwalla’s birthday on Monday. That bawdy Parsi astrologer and celebrated Ganpati-bhakt will turn 86.

He continues to be in demand. Age cannot wither him nor custom stale his infinite variety. Everybody from Narendra Modi down holds their palm out to Bejan when they meet him, hoping for a freebie.

This birthday, he’s not in Mumbai. People think he’s from here. And is always here. But he’s from Ahmedabad. Where his father owned textile mills. Bejan was into poetry and literature. He eschewed the family business to become a professor.

He was also, he tells me, Ahmedabad’s 100-metre sprint champion in his day. And he played hockey and cricket for the varsity. I find that hard to believe. Bejan is roly-poly and 200 pounds, all 5 feet of him.

He shuffles around and requires an Asthalin pump to breathe. It’s difficult to imagine him being a streak of lightning. But I like him as he is. His girth matches his mirth. And at 86, he is full of Parsi masti and dum.


Bejan and I go back a long way, to 1984 in fact, before Indira’s assassination and Bhopal… both of which he accurately predicted. But he’s not a Prophet of Doom. He’s forecast some wonderfully accurate successes for Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar when they were down and out.

And the political fortunes of world leaders, the destinies of nations. When I got to know Bejan, he used to write a hugely popular daily astrology column for the newspaper where I was a rookie sub-editor. He used to give us one week’s forecasts at a time. I lost them all once.

Afraid of also losing my job, I fearfully began writing the daily forecasts myself under the great Bejan Daruwalla’s name. It’s easy to do — most people are emotionally bankrupt, they want to read only good predictions. But I got caught.

My editor was furious. Not with me. But with Bejan. He called and fired him. Told him that one of his “boys” was writing the astrology column and nobody could tell the difference!

We have been friends since then. I see him once or twice a year. He travels the world, but like a homing pigeon always finds his way back to Mumbai. I took him out to dinner when he visited Mumbai for the launch of his 2016 book of forecasts.

Dinner was at Trattoria, hangout of Mumbai’s foodies, expats, young blood and all kinds of party animals. A stream of strangers queued up to meet Bejan. Seeking his autograph, a selfie and some a free consultation.

Bejan revelled in the attention. He ate, talked, predicted, cracked dirty jokes, signed autographs, posed for photographs, this was his big scene. I sat back and watched. He is after all a star, India’s most popular astrologer, acknowledged as one of the 100 great astrologers in the last 1,000 years by the Millennium Book of Prophecy.

But he’s also a man. A mortal like the rest. Once, he talked to me about death. He is a Zoroastrian, he goes to the agiary, and he ties the Parsi sadra and kusti.

But he gets his assurance from Ganesha. Bejan told me, “Ganesha is my anchor, my protection, my strength. And when I die, I’ll go to Ganesha. I’ll tell you something, I practice ephemeris and western astrology, I know how to read the code of the planets, and while I can truly predict the fate of countries, I don’t know my own destiny.

The great lesson of astrology is that you are aware that life itself is change. Accept it, and enjoy it in every possible way. ”

For his birthday, he always makes a general forecast. This time he’s made three. Narendra Modi’s best year will be 2018. In 2012, Bejan predicted a landslide victory for Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. “Tum todh dega, phaad dalega!” he told the bemused Chief Minister of Gujarat.

Modi thought he was delightfully crazy. Bejan also predicts 2018 will be a great year for India. “The country will become a superpower but Pakistan will not disappear,” he says ominously.

His third forecast is for the world. It’s Nostradamus-like. “The end will not come by a nuclear war, an asteroid will smash the earth, but we will not perish, we will prevail in a new space station!”

He is my friend, I love his madness, his eccentricities. But I could not let that pass. Stung by my disbelief, Bejan called me seven different names in Gujarati.

I have heard all his insults before. Several times. They are like Bejan Daruwala himself. Inoffensive, outrageously funny, well-meaning and timeless.

They are what endear him to me.

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