Archive for August 17th, 2018

Atal Bihari Vajpayee: A titan of Indian politics and his political life in four distinct stages

August 17, 2018

Nice editorial by Mint as we just bid goodbye to India’s former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

Politicians are thick upon the ground in India. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a rarer breed: a statesman. It was a stature he acquired despite himself at times. In a political life that spanned seven decades, he rose to become one of India’s most consequential prime ministers and a colossus of the Indian Right.

His political life had four distinct stages. In the 1930s, K. B. Hedgewar’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was still in many respects a fledgeling organization, digesting diverse influences—from Bal Gangadhar Tilak and the Hindu Mahasabha to, most importantly, V. D. Savarkar. Vajpayee joined the organization towards the end of the decade. Under Hedgewar’s successor, M. S. Gowalkar, the RSS made a tactical choice to stay aloof from the mass movement for independence. Vajpayee had other ideas. In 1942, he jumped into the Quit India movement and was briefly arrested for it. This ability to step over the line when it came to party orthodoxy would come to be one of his greatest political strengths.

The second stage is expansion of Jana Sangha/BJP, third stage was time around Ayodhya and Babri Masjid demolition and fourth as the Prime Minister.

On economics:

When it came to economic policy, Vajpayee was a big picture man with the perspicacity to pick the right men to see to the details, and the wisdom to back them. He continued the economic reforms begun under Rao, pushing disinvestment, making the first moves towards the goods and services tax (GST), blessing the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, opening up the insurance sector and much more. And with his National Telecom Policy and focus on the country’s road and highway infrastructure, he laid the foundations for two critical elements of India’s growth since. Equally important was his administration’s success in building institutional strength; the rapport between the finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India has rarely been stronger than it was during his time.

As prime minister, he stands with Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and now, Narendra Modi, in his ability to seize and shape the political discourse. In his ability to win allies and disarm rivals, he keeps company with just the first name on that list. No doubt about it: A giant has left the national stage.


Hajj: how globalisation transformed the market for pilgrimage to Mecca

August 17, 2018

Seán McLoughlin  (Professor of the Anthropology of Islam, University of Leeds) has this fascinating piece:

More than 2m Muslims are currently gathering in Mecca ahead of the annual Hajj, which begins on August 19. As long as they are fit and financially able, the pilgrimage is an obligatory act of worship that followers of Islam owe to God once in their lifetime. Reenacting the faith-testing ordeals of Ibrahim (Abraham, the Biblical founder of monotheism) and his family, Muslims believe that an “accepted Hajj” will cleanse them of all their sins. Their hope is to return home as pure as the day they were born.

But until the introduction of modern transport systems, most Muslims beyond the Arab world had little expectation of completing this fifth and final pillar of Islam. Before the mid-1950s, the number of overseas pilgrims rarely exceeded 100,000 and modern Saudi institutions were still developing. Yet by the early 2000s, the total number of Hajj pilgrims had passed the 2m mark, reaching a recent peak of just over 3m in 2012.

New opportunities for pilgrimage in the jet age have put immense pressure on the infrastructure of Mecca. Hundreds have lost their lives during periodic disasters including fires and stampedes, most recently in 2015. Undoubtedly, the Saudi authorities have invested huge sums in continually seeking to improve facilities and the overall management of the Hajj.

Hajj organisers and guides I have interviewed compare overseeing the pilgrimage to hosting the Olympics every year.


Historians of Indian Railways point how the railways helped Hindus in India visit pilgrim centres across the country.

How France continues to dominate its colonies via the currency system

August 17, 2018

Fascinating piece on The Minskys Blog:

French geopolitics in Africa is interested in natural resources. Initially, the franc zone was set as a colonial monetary system by issuing currency in the colonies because France wanted to avoid transporting cash. After these countries gained their independence, the monetary system continued its operation and went on to include two other countries that were not former French colonies. At present, the CFA franc zones are made up of 14 countries. The fact that even today the currency of these regions is pegged to the euro (formerly French franc) and that reserves are deposited in France shows the subtle neocolonialism France has been pursuing unchecked. It is a currency union where France is the center and has veto power. This is supported by African governing elites who rely on the economic, political, technical, and sometimes military support provided by France. It is no wonder then that these former colonies are not growing to their full potential because they have exchanged development through sovereignty for dependency on France. This article investigates the set up of the CFA franc zones, its ties to French neocolonialism and its ability to further breed dependency in the former colonies of West and Central Africa.

Why French continue to dominate compared to say British?


Tourists snap up ‘zero euro’ banknotes with Karl Marx’s image

August 17, 2018

Did not know that ECB permits printing of zero euro banknotes as souvenirs. They feel same as Euro notes but with zero value as they are not legal tender and cannot be tendered as currency.

They also printed a zero euro note with Marx’s image. And it is selling like hotcakes:


How 250 year old Greek bell makers defied the global financial crisis

August 17, 2018

Nice video of of the Galanopoulos brothers who are one of the two surviving bell-makers in Greece. Their family has been in the business of making bells since 250 years. Most other bell makers in Greece failed barring them and another one in Athens.

Am wondering whether the financial crisis led more demand for church services as people looked to God in case of despair. This led to rise in demand for their bells? But then other bell makers should have survived too..

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