Friday, December 30, 2011

Yet Another Summit Meeting

The Japanese Prime Minister, Noda, visited India this week. As usual, there was much talk about boosting trade, technology transfer and maintaining high levels of ODA assistance for infrastructure projects. Despite all the special reports, exclusive interviews and sound-bites, there seems to be little evidence of any real change in the bilateral equation.

When the dust settles down one hard fact will still remain: Japan-India trade stands at $15 billion while Sino-Japan trade is chugging on at $340 billion per year.

Why is there such a huge gap between the rhetoric and reality? A part of the answer perhaps lies in the completely unrealistic expectations with which Indian's approach the Japanese. Take for instance, India's desire to obtain advanced technologies from Japan. On 28 Dec., an Indian Express report on bullet trains headline said, 'Japan Says Will Provide Latest Technology'. The crux of the report was a quote by one Toshihiro Yamakoshi, Director, Office of Project Development, Japan's transport ministry, who is aparantly stated, 'Japan would be offering the necessary technology' for the six corridors that India is planning to develop.

A transport ministry offers technology that does not belong to it and the report claims that Japan 'will provide latest technology'. This might have made some sense if the reporter was quoting a Soviet official in the erstwhile USSR. But Japan is not USSR and neither companies not technologies belong to the government to do as they please.

The Chinese officials understood this simple fact a couple of decades ago and focussed their attention, not on the MITI officials, but on Japanese companies that needed cheap labor and access to markets. They delivered what was promised in meetings, played transnationals against each other and, over the years,  built-up their own companies as formidable competitors.

At the end of this prime-ministerial visit, Indian politicians and bureaucrats will no doubt pat each other on the backs and hope that the private sector will  take a cue from the high-level discussions and "do the needful" - until the next summit meeting.

Joint Forum of Indian and Japanese CEOs - Joint Report (28 December 2011) -

Friday, December 16, 2011

Zebra Crossing

Ever wondered why there are so many jaywalker's on Indian roads?

Here is a part of the answer:

This is a 'zebra-crossing' in the heart of central Delhi. It takes you from a flower-bed to a high, layered  there is no point in attempting to cross the road from here - unless, of course, you happen to be a zebra! :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


The Economist has come up with a term for China's single-minded pursuit of advanced technology - 'Techno-Nationalism'.

Techno-nationalism designates the restriction of foreign participation in domestic research and development. The focus is laid on national gains through accessing foreign technology and the monopolization of technology, rather than on mutual exchange with other nations.

China, of course, is not a pioneer in this business of linking nationalism and 'national interest' to the rapid assimilation of the latest technology, by all means possible. Countries in continental Europe did exactly the same thing after the advent of the Industrial Revolution in England; Japan did it immediately after the Meiji Restoration, while Taiwan and South Korea followed suit in the late 1960's.

There are at least two significant factors that seems to be unnerving people when China does a repeat performance: The scale and speed at which China is assimilating technology, and the fact that this is taking place in an era when the advanced countries imagined that they had got the rest of the world neatly bound & gagged under the new IPR regime.

In stark contrast, India's approach in this arena seems to be laid back, lacking in a sense of urgency or purpose in reducing dependence on imported technologies.

Will this change in the days to come?



Hughes, Christopher W. (2011) The slow death of Japanese techno-nationalism? Emerging comparative lessons for China's defense production. Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol.34 (No.3). pp. 451-479. ISSN 0140-2390, URL -

NBR Reports (May 2004)
China's Post-WTO Technology Policy: Standards, Software, and the Changing Nature of Techno-Nationalism by Richard P. Suttmeier, Xiangkui Yao and Alex Zixiang Tan

Book Review by Noriko Matsumoto: Gregory P. Corning (2004) Japan and the Politics of Techno-Globalism, Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, ISBN 0-7656-0969-X, hardback, 235 pages plus index.

Hughes, Christopher W. (2011) The slow death of Japanese techno-nationalism? Emerging comparative lessons for China's defense production. Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol.34 (No.3). pp. 451-479. ISSN 0140-2390

Edgerton DEH (2007): The Contradictions of Techno-Nationalism and Techno-Globalism: A Historical Perspective

Passive Surveillance, Active Apprehensions

Ever so often the word 'technology' seems like a synonym for 'magic'.

A few months back, I was fascinated by the case of the 'Stuxnet' virus. A computer programme so meticulously created, it spread through innocuous pen-drives all over the world until it lodgded itself in its target: a particular type of centrifuges purchased by Iran from Siemens, Germany, and which was being used to enrich uranium, allegedly for nuclear weapons. A few months after its launch the virus found its target, set the centrifuges on a wild spin and rendered them completely unusable.

And now WikiLeaks reveals that just about everything you say or do on the communication networks can, and is being monitored in real time by companies and government departments that operate beyond the purview of any regulatory authority. They just tune their equipment on to satellites orbiting 36,000km away and pick out conversations that end up changing the course of wars (Kargil); demolish carefully crafted careers of politicians, fixers and journalists (Amar Singh, Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi), as and when the spooks (or their minders) decide the pull the plug on them.

WikiLeaks lists over 150 organisations who are engaged in this business, and, among them, two have been named from India: Shogi Communcations (Himachal Pradesh) and ClearTrail (Indore, MP). Google for ClearTrail and you are unlikely to find a company website easily, but they do seem to be hiring a lot of software talent. Their products are called mTrail, for mobile phone interception and ComTrail, which is
"devised for mass monitoring of IP and voice networks. It is equipped to handle millions of communications per day intercepted over high speed STM & Ethernet links. It doubles up as targeted monitoring system, speaker recognition, target location and instant analysis across thousands of terabytes."
Apparently there are over 33 such mass-surveillance sets with the state governments alone. The number of devices with private individuals and companies could be anybody's guess.

What is completely unclear, however, is whether these companies have build the equipment on their own (something commendable) or merely imported it from other countries like Israel. In the latter case, it is more than likely that the salesmen are playing the game both ways.

Either way, there seems to be plenty of trouble ahead!


Friday, December 02, 2011

Discovering Dhiren

In circa 1996, when Sree & I were rummaging through second-hand books at Daryaganj's Sunday-pavement-market, he suddenly picked up a shabby, damp, dog-eared book and said, "Buy this! If you don't like it, I'll take it from you whenever you want -- a buy-back guarantee!"

The same book resurfaced while I was unpacking recently:  Dhiren Bhagat's "The Contemporary Conservative". It was dustier and more dog-eared than ever before. I sat on the floor and flipped through a couple of pages, read Vinod Mehta's cover note, the first essay, and then the second and third...and kicked myself for not picking this book earlier.

It is a style of writing that you rarely get to see these days. As the cover note says, nearly all the pieces are "unsparing, learned, meticulously researched and provocative". I liked, in particular, the way he yanks away the pedestal from under some public figures like Arun Shourie (Why Shourie Can't Think Straight), Mani Shankar Aiyer (PM's Press Aide) and Khuswant Singh (Khuswant: RIP, 1982).

Here is his take on Indian politics:
"...Consequently political culture has come to acquire quite a few unwritten rules and methods: you tell a lie when you have to: rarely, if ever, refuse to do someone a favour - it is permissible subsequently not to do the favour but you must pretend that you tried. When involved in negotiation or agitation, if you see a vacant space, occupy it; when it becomes difficult to stay there, retreat....The basic premise is that everyone has a price. The skill of the politician is to find out what that price is.."
Its such a pity he passed away in 1988, when he was just 31. There would have been so much to look forward to in the papers, if he were around!

  • Wikipedia article on Dhiren Bhagat - created today :)
  • Bhagat, Dhiren (1990). The Contemporary Conservative. New Delhi: Viking / Penguin India. ISBN 0-670-83789-X.
  • "Khushwant`s post mortem's". Business Standard, India. 2005-01-31.
    "Sena turns the heat on Aiyar". Times of India. 2004-08-22.
    "The Writer as a Young Man". The Hindu. 2002-01-20.