Issue 3

China’s Kintsugi: How it filled cracks in India’s diplomacy, gaining influence in South Asia

India shares deep socio-cultural ties with its immediate neighbors Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. In the past few years, there has been a palpable shift in diplomatic and economic alliance between these countries. Historically, India has been the leading power in South-East Asia, being also the leader amongst the non-aligned states with great affinity with the three countries. But recently, there have been various pointers that suggest these countries have been leaning more towards China and that this has put the kibosh on India’s influence in South Asia. There have been conspicuous and strategic shifts that have put the northern giant in a position that India was once in. With there being conflicts between India and China in forms of tensions at the border and India banning the Chinese app TikTok, it is important to look at whose influence is growing in the region as this implicates several political decisions in other states. 


An adage by Nepal’s first king Prithvi Narayan Shah goes as follows: “Nepal is a yam between two rocks”. The rocks here refer to India and China. The trajectory of the relationship between these countries in recent years can be likened to a tug of war with the two powers vying for greater influence on the Himalayan nation in between. 

India and Nepal share a porous border. Between these two countries, there are also deep intersections in terms of ethnic identities, culture, political history, trade and diplomacy. Since Nepal is a landlocked country with high mountains and rocky terrains bordering China, most of its imports come from the southern plains and more than 60% of those come from India. Yet, when the country was just recovering from the disastrous 2015 earthquake, India imposed an economic blockade on Nepal, restricting import of goods. 

The Indian government refuted allegations of betrayal in the face of tragedy, holding that the Madhesi conflict in southern Nepal was the actual reason for its decision. The decision nonetheless angered many politicians and citizens in Nepal, harboring anti-Indian sentiments because of how difficult life became due to the scarcity of daily goods in Nepal. 

With Nepal’s economy plummeting, there were reports that the Indian Oil Corporation declined sending adequate oil to Nepal after receiving orders to restrict supply from New Delhi. The Nepali populace agitated over their dependency on India for oil. However,  this was not the only reason that they were furious. At the time, India conveyed to the Nepali government to make several amendments to the new Nepali constitution promulgated that year. This caused many stakeholders in Nepal to be further inflamed at how India played the role of a big brother to Nepal, interfering in Nepal’s internal politics. 

In what was viewed as a keystone to bolstering Nepal-China relationship Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli made an agreement with the Chinese government to buy one third of its required oil from China. China also pledged to donate 1.3 million litres of oil to Nepal. After this, many projects in Nepal were initiated by China under the Belt and Road Initiative, including aid in reconstruction after the earthquake. China’s assistance was key to developing various highways and roads, with more projects including the Kathmandu-Kerung railway in the pipeline. 

In late 2019, India inaugurated plans for a railway near Limpiyadhura region, which Nepal claimed to be its own. The Nepali parliament issued an updated map that includes this region as its own. Many Nepalis supported this move. While both the countries have claimed this territory, the ‘cartographic war’ still ensues as little development has been made through diplomatic negotiation as it was proclaimed before. 

These factors put a severe strain on India-Nepal relationship. With China aiding several projects and a communist government taking hold in Nepal, allegiance between Nepali politicians and their Chinese counterparts has been observed with greater rapport in contrast to a much less cordial relationship with India. 


Since Partition, India and Pakistan have had a relationship that has been rife with several tensions. The two countries have fought four wars and observed several armed conflicts and stand-offs over the years. The fact that several attempts have been made by both countries (Agra summit, Lahore summit, Shimla summit, state visits, talks through diplomatic channels) to improve their bilateral relations shows that they view each other as important neighbors. These efforts have been impeded by the wars, border skirmishes and cross-border terrorism. 

Following the 2016 Pathankot attack and 2019 Pulwama attack, the renewed bilateral relation under new governments in both the states has deteriorated. While India has alleged that the attacks were orchestrated by the Pakistani government, the latter refuted it and claimed that the attacks were local retaliation to increased Indian army presence in the region. This also stoked nationlist sentiments amongst citizens in both countries. After the 2019 attack, India revoked Pakistan’s Most Favored Nation trade status, which implied the subjection of Pakistan goods to higher tariffs and restrictions.

While Pakistan’s relations with India declined, it developed a close relationship with China. Pakistan’s nuclear warfare development program has highly benefited from China’s support. Its  nuclear arsenal consists of weapons that operate in air, water and on land. In May 2020, a ship from Hong Kong headed to Karachi was detained by the Department of Revenue Intelligence and Kandla Customs for mislabeling an autoclave, a device used to manufacture long range missiles, as an industrial dryer. Clearly, China’s and Pakistan’s strategic relationship has been of great concern for the Indian national security. 

In addition to assistance in nuclear weapon development, China has also aided Pakistan’s economic growth with its incorporation into the Belt and Road Initiative through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China will also assist in building railways and highways through Pakistan to the port of Gwadar. This will increase not only trade but also Pakistan’s political and economic dependency towards China, which might pose hindrances to India-Pakistan relationship and also be challenging to India’s own security in the region. 


Like with Nepal and Pakistan, India shares rich socio-cultural and historical ties with Bangladesh as well. While India was a strong ally in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, a few years later, Bangladesh’s new ties to Islamic nations and an emphasis on its own Islamic identity deteriorated relations with India. Furthermore, the two countrieswere part of opposing alliances during the Cold War, which also put more strain on their friendship.

While their ties have seen some improvement with India and Bangladesh making major agreements with regards to land and water disputes such as the Teen Bigha Corridor and co-operation against terrorism, there have also been tensions regarding killings at the border and migration. 

Bangladesh has enjoyed a prosperous commercial relationship with China. Since 2006, China has been Bangladesh’s biggest trading partner. In addition to trade, China also pledged to support Bangladesh with a staggering offer of $24 million in loans after Xi Jinping’s visit in 2016. While this has improved Bangladesh-China relations, this improvement seems to have come at the cost of India’s relationship with Bangladesh. In 2018, China exported $17.8 billion to Bangladesh while India exported $7.5 billion. On the other hand Bangladesh exports amounted to less than $1 billion to China and about $1.2 billion to India. 

It is evident that the rise of China’s influence is eclipsing that of India in these three countries. This foreshadows the growth of China as a regional hegemon in South Asia through several political and economic measures. With India also competing to gain the same vantage point, it has landed itself in a race to ensure efficient diplomatic dialogue, while refraining from interference in its neighbors’ sovereignty and inhibiting their prosperity. As for China’s surging economic influence, it is not something that has gone unnoticed. Experts are aware of the implication of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and what the spillover effects of economic dependence can be. Having said this, India’s relationship with its neighbors is still pivotal on accounts of trade and close socio-cultural ties.  For social cohesion amongst states in South Asia, neutrality will be key to ensuring that there are no tensions. At the end of the day though, its neighbours cannot ignore India even if they are under the influence of China.

(Featured image from

Nirvik Thapa is a student of Sociology/Anthropology, Media Studies and International Relations at Ashoka University. Some of his other interests include music, pop culture and urbanism.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 3

Divorced from Reality: Why are we attracted to the Disinformation Ecosystem?

Is the Covid-19 virus an act of bioterrorism? Was Sushant Singh Rajput murdered by the entrenched “insider” Bollywood mafia? Is there a paedophilic deep state about to take over the world (QAnon)? Was the moon landing faked? Do vaccines cause autism? Is global warming a hoax? Was there a second shooter on that grassy knoll on 22nd November, 1963? Was 9/11 engineered by the US government? 

No matter how many times scientific evidence refutes these new and old claims/conspiracy theories and fake news, legions of people continue to believe in them. Before we examine the primary reasons for continued belief in fake news, conspiracy theories, disinformation, misinformation etc. let us first pin down the widely accepted definitions of these various terms in the ‘information pollution ecosystem’. According to a report by the State Department of the United States, ‘The Weapons of Mass Distraction’,

misinformation is generally understood as the inadvertent sharing of false information that is not intended to cause harm, just as disinformation or fake news is widely defined as the purposeful dissemination of false information. Conspiracy theories are narratives about events or situations, that allege there are secret plans to carry out sinister deeds.”

What makes this false information ecosystem so pervasive and appealing in an age of instant access to legitimate news sources? 

Despite claims that all of these forms of “information pollution” have multiplied manifolds due to the technology now available, it is important to remember that all of these “pollutants” have thrived throughout known human history. So, for all the technological changes which have inarguably turbocharged the breadth and depth of the dissemination, possibly the single most important element for fake news and conspiracies to thrive has remained unchanged i.e.  the inherent human biases and behaviours which are exploited to feed the engine of this false information ecosystem.

There is a vast amount of empirical evidence emanating from psychology, sociology and communication to show that human beings are not always rational in their beliefs and behaviours, including the kind and sources of information they choose to consume and believe. Research shows that many of us buy into alternative explanations because the world is a big, scary, chaotic place and we crave a sense of belonging and identity and prefer immediate, comforting answers. There are several explanations for why a lot of us are attracted to fake news and conspiracy theories.

Neuroscience has shown that our limbic system is kickstarted into looking for patterns and explanations for threat recognition, evaluation and solutions when confronted with difficult, uncontrollable situations like a disease outbreak or earthquake. This is called illusory pattern perception – our propensity to detect patterns where none exist – and this is pretty much hardwired into our brains. Researchers posit that this tendency evolved as a defence mechanism for our hunter-gatherer ancestors to detect and avoid danger. This tendency to see patterns or conspiracies when dealing with an unfathomable phenomenon spawns any number of theories such as what we are witnessing with the Covid-19 crisis – from 5G towers to bioterrorism to Bill Gates spreading the infection to market a world conquering vaccine. 

Second, there is the principle of confirmation bias, which refers to our tendency to search for information that is congruent with our existing beliefs. Conceding that we are mistaken about something is a tough thing for most of us to do and it is especially so for beliefs and ideas that are fundamental to our worldview. Therefore, we cling even harder to ideas, evidence and information which confirm our worldview and ignore any contradictory information. Cue the now familiar concepts of “echo chambers” and “filter bubbles” of our algorithm led newsfeeds which keep us comfortably ensconced in our comfort zone of like-minded people, facts and opinions on social media – the subject of so much policy debates. And the more the same material is repeated the more we believe it to be true, also called the illusory truth effect. A related concept which lends credence to oft repeated information (true or false) by those in our circle or important others is that of social proof (if my social group believes it, it must be true).

Third, humans are cognitively lazy. Our brains work in a dual processing mode where for most of the time we are on autopilot (System 1), take in information on face value and make intuitive decisions which are good enough (satisficing) without critically appraising it for veracity. We conserve our cognitive energy for more “important tasks” which require us to take a more rational, well-thought, informed, and reflective approach (System 2).  Research shows that over 90% of the time in the entire lives, our information processing and decision-making happens in the system 1 mode and this may result in choosing to believe the fake news report rather than digging deeper to verify it. 

Fourth, let’s look at proportionality bias which is our tendency to believe that large events have large causes. The idea that just one guy with a gun (Lee Harvey Oswald) could murder one of the most powerful people in the world (President John F Kennedy) is unsatisfying, and we intuitively search for bigger forces at work. That is why multiple conspiracy theories of government, mafia and foreign involvement seem more reasonable despite the evidence otherwise.

Fifth, we have the exact opposite of cognitive laziness i.e.  motivated reasoning or the tendency to apply higher scrutiny to ideas that are inconsistent with our beliefs.  We use motivated reasoning to further our quest for social identity and belonging. Further, research shows that naïve realism plays an important role during the consumption and evaluation of information. Naïve realism results in our belief that only our perception of social reality is accurate and based in facts and that those who disagree are simply ignorant or unreasonable. 

Interestingly, an important predictor of belief in conspiracy theories is past belief in another one. So once you believe a sinister cabal engineered one event, it becomes much more likely that you’ll look for shadowy cabals at every opportunity. And that is another problem: sometimes conspiracy theories turn out to be right. Watergate did happen, the CIA did conspire to topple governments, scientists did visit unimaginable horrors on human subjects during “medical experiments”.  Proven conspiracies unveiled after much investigation open the door to conjecture about other events with alternate plausible explanations. 

Another reason for believing in disinformation is our own sense of morality as a proxy for that of other people. So, people who think they themselves might create a deadly disease (for whatever reason) are likely to believe that scientists created AIDS or Covid-19 in a lab. Political extremism also leads people to question the narrative of the establishment. Being less educated or having less money is also associated with a tendency to believe fake news, although this could be partly because belonging to lower socio-economic categories is also associated with greater feelings of disenfranchisement, less control over one’s life and greater uncertainty, which in turn makes conspiracy theories more appealing. And last but not the least there is a certain sexiness to fake news – it is very “novel” and mostly negative – two features that attract human attention much more than cold, hard, verified facts.

The internet facilitates the spread of disinformation faster than ever before and this ecosystem of false information can have a powerful effect on our behaviour. Studies have shown that fake news and conspiracy theories can lead to lower participation in politics, lower vaccination rates, disregard of scientific or medical advice, reduction in environment friendly behaviours, even incite murders and killing sprees. So, it’s imperative to understand why people continue to believe disinformation despite factual, verifiable evidence to the contrary. What it is in our own minds that can make any person vulnerable to believing in this disinformation is also important to locate, is the place to begin.

Purnima Mehrotra is the Associate Director – Research and Capacity Building at the Centre for Social and Behavioural Change, Ashoka University. She has experience across industries – education, research, advertising and non-profit.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 3

Putting Civil Society In Its Place

Much has already been said on the most recent amendments to India’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). Op-ed writers have opined. Editors have pontificated. Civil society leaders have cried themselves hoarse, warning of the threat the amendments pose to both development and democracy.

Graphic from an article by Forbes India.

They all agree that the amendments are ill-conceived, ill-timed and probably ill-intentioned. It’s clear that the new provisions will deter international donors, cut smaller organisations’ access to overseas support, render nonprofit work in research, policy analysis, advocacy and capacity building more difficult and add considerable friction to transactions involving international funds. Few NGOs would survive the 360 days the law now afford enforcement agencies to freeze their finances and operations while they mount a prosecution, even if they are eventually proven entirely innocent of the charges. Many have pointed out the stark contrast between the ostentatious welcome provided to Foreign Direct Investment in the private sector and the minefield which international funding to civil society must traverse. Others have remarked on the relative opacity permitted to funds contributed to political parties via electoral bonds compared with the stringent scrutiny required of nonprofit incomes. For those seeking ease of doing philanthropy, one channel remains – the PM CARES Fund.

Graphic from The Hindustan Times

Less has been heard on the intent of the additional constraints the amendments impose. The government claims that international contributions to NGOs in India have been misused and that compliance with the onerous reporting required for such funds has been lacking. It has not, however, provided any evidence that the pre-amendment 2010 law was inadequate to the task of remedying such malfeasance. The cancelling of over 23,000 FCRA registrations since 2010 suggests otherwise. 

Coming on the heels of the praise lavished on NGOs by senior government functionaries for their outstanding humanitarian response to both, the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide distress caused by the summary measures taken to control its spread, the creation of new impediments to civil society work is nothing short of mystifying. As recently as October 17, 2020, the Prime Minister has sought to include civil society as a key partner in the plans to deliver coronavirus vaccines to all Indians.

What might one infer from these contradictions? Some clues might be discerned in the arguments put forth by senior government functionaries. They posit a ‘pure’ form of voluntary civil society action unsullied by formal organisational structures, partnerships with government or the addition of policy advocacy to the civil society repertoire. The government’s warmth towards this form of civil society action is manifest in its outreach to ‘service delivery’ NGOs for both, input to policy and to fill in the vast gaps in last mile public services from healthcare to education, skill development, sanitation and the like. It is also visible in the boundaries defined for the deployment of corporate philanthropy in the form of mandatory CSR. On the other hand, its intolerance for civil society work that focuses on human rights, environmental justice, amplifying muted voices, holding government or business to account, and defending democratic freedoms is equally evident in the kind of NGOs that have been singled out for punitive action, a list that includes Amnesty, Greenpeace, INSAF, Lawyer’s Collective and the like. 

The message is crystal clear. Comforting the afflicted is good, afflicting the comfortable is absolutely not. Silent, unquestioning delivery of services by nonprofits, and the philanthropy that supports such work, is fine, even praiseworthy. Any challenge to policy, in design or implementation, is unacceptable. Most Indian donors have proven themselves amenable to these restrictions, either because their own goals are in sync, or to protect themselves, their assets and their interests. International donors focused on augmenting government plans and programmes too will face no significant barriers. It is only the ‘black sheep’ who must be deterred, closely monitored, and made vulnerable to intimidation and harassment through a maze of regulatory hurdles.  

It is precisely for these reasons that the International Commission of Jurists has roundly condemned the new amendments to the FCRA as unconstitutional and in violation of international law on freedom of association. They echo the 2016 criticism by the first UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association who described the 2010 version of the FCRA as failing the test for allowable restrictions on the right to association developed by international human rights bodies.

It completes a vision of state, and executive, supremacy with every institution designed to counteract such untrammelled concentration of power reduced to cheerleader status at best, subservience at worst. At another time and place this vision was embodied in a slogan that has since come to signify some of humanity’s darkest deeds: ‘Ein Volk. Ein Reich. Ein Führer.’

Parliament, the media and, arguably, the judiciary have all been corralled to varying degrees. Women, Dalits, Muslims and other minorities are regularly reminded of their ‘aukat’. Civil society too, is being shown its place.

Ingrid Srinath is Director of the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy at Ashoka University. The views expressed here are entirely personal.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 3

Everyday Forms of Geopolitics

We think geopolitics is all about international politics, where nations and national governments are involved. Many disputes over geographical borders are not even bilateral issues between two nations-states; there may be a third and fourth party in the backdrop. Former foreign secretary, Amb. Shyam Saran explains in a recent article how the U.S. forms the third angle in the present military stand-off between India and China in Ladakh. He says, “[China] has started looking at most issues through the prism of the more confrontational relationship it has today with the US. It is looking at India also through that prism and is telling the US, this is a country which cannot even take care of its borders, and you are thinking of this country as a major component of your security relationship in this region”

Yet, geopolitics can also shape the personal and social lives of individuals and communities. The geographical location of the border influences decisions about marriage, local elections, commercial exchanges, cultural expressions, regional unities and transnational affiliations. A recent book by Sara Smith called Intimate Geopolitics discusses how in Ladakh today, matters of the body and the heart, of love, marriage and romantic relationships, become caught up in larger questions of nations, borders and geopolitics. When geopolitics enters the intimate spheres of our lives and governs our deepest emotions – who we may love, trust and befriend, it becomes intimate geopolitics. It affects daily movements, trade, occupations, politics, and domestic relationships. 

In Kashmir, parts of Manipur and other militarized zones of India where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in place, war becomes indefinite, routinised and normalized to such an extent that people living in these regions become used to the everyday violence, killings, abductions, and random detentions. These places form, as anthropologist Haley Duschinski remarks, zones of exception and social abandonment, where violence is normalised and invisibilised to the rest of the country.

In Ladakh, Sikkim, or Arunachal Pradesh in the Himalayan borderlands of India, home to many Tibetan Buddhist communities, the situation is slightly different. Geo-strategically important in India’s border war with China, these Himalayan regions have been marginal in the national cultural imagination and yet, important for national security. In post-colonial India, different governments have tried in their own way to integrate these populations into mainstream political, economic, and cultural networks, through development, education, and other forms of soft state power. Berenice Guyot Rechard shows in her book Shadow States how development has been a means of establishing a benevolent state presence among these border people. The Indian state has also encouraged and funded Buddhist cultural traditions locally as a method of integrating and keeping these populations within the gravitational pull of the nation.

Yet, problems remain and resurface from time to time, whether it is the form of friction between identities, naming of local place-names, and loss in livelihoods such as yak-herding or tourism. Many of the local Tibetan Buddhist communities have historical and cultural connections with Tibet, through trade, religion or political alliance. When India and China emerged as new nations in the 1940s, both embarked on their individual projects of nation-building and border strengthening, leading to the political-economic integration of the border communities on each side. After the Chinese annexation of Tibet and subsequent border war between India and China, the Himalayan communities on the Indian side were integrated more tightly within their Indian political identity. Over the years, these Himalayan Buddhists have found it strategically necessary to show their Indian allegiance by distancing themselves from Tibet and the Tibetans. This has created a conflict within them as they reconcile their historical connections to Tibet with their contemporary political ties to India.  

Further, the military presence in these border regions affect the communities in different ways. In Arunachal Pradesh, many local Tibetic names have been replaced by Hindi names or names of Hindu gods and goddesses, because the army people, unused to Tibetic phonetics, renamed the places where they settled in and spread out their settlements. This has led to a wiping out of cultural landscapes because every place-name comes with a story or legend, and as these names are erased, places lose their cultural moorings. Land and livelihood are also affected when armies move in. In many high-altitude regions, where the Indian army has built firing ranges, yaks, an economic mainstay for many of the Himalayan Buddhist communities, have lost their grazing pastures. With army build up, tourism, which is the main source of contemporary income for these communities, also suffers.

As the battle for borders rages in the high glaciers of the Himalayas, the local communities living in these borderlands fight their own battles. As armies descend on the border zones, and diplomatic channels are simultaneously activated to defuse border tensions on the ground, the people who live in these borderlands are often forgotten. Geopolitics infuse into their everyday lives and livelihoods, making war a felt experience even for those not in war uniforms. Their struggles are more of an everyday form of geopolitics.

Swargajyoti Gohain teaches Sociology and Anthropology at Ashoka University, India. She has published widely on borders, state, culture, politics, and Tibetan Buddhist communities in Northeast India and the Himalayan region.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 3

Stoned, Shamed, Depressed – A Conversation with author Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava

Stone, Shamed, Depressed: An Explosive Account of the Secret Lives of India’s Teens is a book that examines the lives of urban teens. Children as young as middle schoolers have started engaging in activities like social media usage, substance abuse, body-shaming, video gaming, sexual bullying and online-bullying. The author, journalist Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava, highlights the urgency of these matters. How does one deal with impressionable teenagers being exposed to virtues and vices that even adults have difficulty navigating? Why do these children, who have all possible resources and comforts at their disposal, engage in these activities? Here, I talk to the author about her observations and why she is worried.

Isha (I) – Starting with the topic of drugs, I always assumed that increased usage is a result of increasing freedom with age? Is that true or is there something else at play here? 

Jyotsna (J) – I have heard lots of stories about college and there being choices available for every budget, but I find it fascinating the easy and casual usage in very young children, even in middle school. The difference in how they use it is that it isn’t recreational, it is an effort to fit in with their peers. It isn’t even a choice for many with the enormous pressure they are under to achieve ridiculous 100% cut-offs and very often you aren’t that student. As a society, we haven’t reexamined what we keep pushing our kids into. So kids are saying look, we’ll do it but doesn’t mean we’ll do it the right way. So many of them fall back on drugs to help stay awake and study constantly. A student told me that he started having marijuana at 13 and used it as an “experience enhancer” for movies. Why do you need that, why isn’t a movie enough for you? He said we’re all trying to fill a void, fill something. So there is a lot going on and it isn’t recreational for these kids.

I – In today’s environment where drugs have been vilified so much, I feel like this book could be used by someone to back their anti-drug stance. So how do you think this book fits into that whole conversation?

J – I have been very careful to not judge any of the stakeholders in the book and let others hopefully read between the lines and judge for themselves. Because it is not at all normal for 13 and 15-year-olds to be consuming marijuana and laced drugs.  My attempt is to bring a mirror to our society because very often we don’t want to acknowledge that things happen, and if we don’t acknowledge if we don’t accept we’re never going to able to realize that some stuff is more important. We don’t really have a very cohesive drug policy or we’re not really looking at mental health when it comes to the young ones, so I think my book has been an attempt to actually bring issues out in the open so that we can accept and deal with them. If there is no acceptance there will never be any conversations and change. 

I- So regarding policy, how do you think legalising marijuana or changing legal drinking age and such will affect this issue?

J- With everything, I think the buck stops with the family. Banning has never been the solution and I think really it all comes down to where you’re coming from. I could say that schools need better policies and sex education but the truth is we need to talk about it at home. I think there is an enormous amount of wealth being substituted for parents’ time and it is doing a lot of harm in the long run. Giving devices to these kids at the age of 6 and 7 and taking them back at the age of 13, it’s not working. It’s leading to aggression. Social media is a new toy for everyone and I think parents need to figure it out first and help kids harness it in a better way. We need to teach kids about cyber safety, or about how just because everyone is having drugs, doesn’t mean you should too. We need to normalise the existence of things that happen around us and say that this is no longer a western concept that everyone is smoking, drinking. One of the first people who reacted to the book was a gentleman on Twitter who said: “This is western bullshit”. This is precisely the reason I’ve written this book we’re still caught up in what should happen versus what is happening. If a child is using drugs, they need counselling and de-addiction centres, which is so against our values. So many children only have one question for me “How do we talk to our parents?” If someone is genuinely going through an issue whether it is mental health or sexual bullying, we need to deal with it accordingly and figure out what is and isn’t a mistake. If we aren’t willing to accept that a teenager hitting his parents or talking gangrape isn’t a mistake and other things are a mistake, we won’t realise that some issues do need deeper intervention. It all depends on how we acknowledge these issues.

I- Were a majority of your interviews based in Delhi NCR or how were they located?

J- No actually I have a lot from Bombay, Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad. Each of these has its own problems. I think NCR is rocking it when it comes to drugs while there is more gadget addiction in Bangalore, gaming in Chennai. A college student in Delhi told me there is a difference in how drugs are used in Delhi versus in Bombay. In Bombay it’s something done by the older lot, you hear about celebs and substance abuse but it’s done and over with. In Delhi, it’s a production. All of these kids who were already on drugs in school, they are going into harder stuff in college and I don’t think there’s anybody who’s stopped them or had a conversation to tell them that you know when you’re lacing marijuana with something else, you’re reaching another level. They’ve never had these conversations and always had money.

I- So how would you say this works in Tier 2 And 3 cities?

J- The issues are different in Tier 2 cities. But anybody today who has a smartphone, even in rural and semi-rural areas is vulnerable. The genesis of it all is that smartphone. We’re pretty much the biggest market, I think some 839 million smartphone users by 2022, and a bulk of our population is young. You can do anything on that phone. I demarcated it as an urban book simply because in the very rural the issues are very different, the addiction is very different, it comes from the frustration of having to make ends meet, versus this society where everything is on a platter By that I also mean Tier 2 towns, they have a lot of money and are giving smartphones to kids. I don’t think you can demarcate too much because that vulgar language of gangrape in Mumbai you can also possibly hear it in Patna. In Tier 3, there’s a lot of gaming going on. As a country we’re aspirational and social media has opened up everybody to it. So kids who are getting botox at 15 are no different than the 9 or 10-year-old kid who has gone on the reality dance show on TV because the parents may be from Ludhiana or wherever, they’re equally aspirational. Many parents I spoke with find no issue when it comes to privacy, They say it’s part and parcel of the game. I am talking to you about cyber safety, but in a tier 3 city where you’ve given your child a phone and he’s gone to study in a school where you’ve never been perhaps, you’re not even equipped to deal with the knowledge he has.

I- Moving on to another topic you write about which is bullying, homophobia and body-shaming. These kids exist on social media where body-positivity and pro-LGBTQ+ stances are quite prominent. How do these kids exist in that space and still manage to act this way?

J- Again this comes back to the conditioning of our society. I can actually see that with 90% of people if a child goes up to their mother and father and says that I’ve been body shamed, I can actually see that the reaction is going to be, it’s okay, it’s a part of life, you’ll get over it. As a society, we don’t deal with anything that isn’t tangible. Even with the Sushant Singh Rajput incident, we circled around the issue for months. Finally, when we did come to mental health, we were talking about older people. We haven’t touched children. It’s enormous in the 15-20-year-olds. All kind of positivity starts with a society that says we may be traditional but that doesn’t mean it’s always correct that we need to move with the times and unfortunately I think that’s a long way from now.

I- A third topic you address is teenagers exploring their sexuality and having sex. How does one deal with this, at what age is it necessary to have a conversation about this?

J- My dilemma has been, how do you deal with consent by minors, when they have consensual intimate relationships and then have been asked to leave their schools and such. A lot of children are really sexually empowered and these conversations need to start very young, at 7 or 8 years according to some counsellors. Consent to me is a very big word with not adequate importance given to it by society. A lot of mothers have come up after some of these cases and said we’re teaching our boys respect but I think that’s tokenism. We need to go beyond it. A doctor made a lot of sense when he told me that in the last few years, we have been talking about how our girls are changing, how they are driving and working late doing everything. But we forgot to tell our boys to change as well. If they still remain where they were while girls are changing, we’re going to have this clash. There’s frustration in teenage girls as to why the onus is on them and we have done this to ourselves as a society. So consent is a very important word that we need to teach them.

I- In addition to body-positivity, social media is also urging women to embrace our sexuality. I am guessing that it’s targeting slightly older women but the narrative is also being embraced by younger girls. Since increasingly younger girls are trying to fit into this narrative of let me embrace my sexuality, how do you deal with that? 

J- To be one of the girls, you have to let go of your virginity or you aren’t cool enough. Getting rid of it is like a badge of honour and very casual for 15, 16-year-olds. It really does come down to how comfortable a child is in their skin to be able to take this enormous onslaught of peer pressure. And knowledge is important when you’re, say, trying to date a boy and you send nudes over Snapchat and you think they will disappear after being seen, but somebody else has recorded it it’s in circulation. When no one speaking to them, they’re listening to their peers and going ahead so I think it boils down to really what those conversations you’re having at home, that communication channel has to always be open. 

I find that even six months make a difference. If you keep pushing social media, say a child who gets in at 13 versus at 15 or at 8 versus at 12, I find that the child is evolving and learning more things. You can’t push beyond a point but that little bit of experience keeps adding up, that ability to scope things out react accordingly adds up.

I- How do you see these phenomena of drug usage and social media and such play out as these kids enter college and parents lose even more control. You have said that drug usage tends to increase in such cases, but what else changes?

J- I find that again it all depends on how solid your base is. Some things do change, for instance, people in their 20s are using social media for activism in unimaginable ways. Drugs may become a recreational activity more than before, but then mental health is escalating in the 20s. With the whole sex thing, I think kids are taking control of their lives you’re adults, so in that sense, it’s your life. Your parents have to make sure they’re around to hold hands be there if you want to talk. 

In my interviews, this kept coming up about social media anonymity, how do you trust the world with bearing your body and soul? But we’ve all had our rebellion, unfortunately, it’s a lot to be on social media and living a public life. So the pressure to be somebody is more for your generation. We went to school and got bullied, got home and forgot about it until the next day. You go to school and get bullied and you come home you’re still getting bullied so its 24×7 now.

Isha is a student of Psychology, English and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 3

A Life on Our Planet: an appeal to all of us, on nature’s behalf

The rusted insignia of the hammer and the sickle. Walls rotting, cracking into pieces like soil during a drought. Chairs sitting in abandonment. Among a sea of tattered books and a room of shattered glass, emerges the 94-year old naturalist and broadcaster, Sir David Fredrick Attenborough in his new documentary A Life on Our Planet. Standing in the ghost town of Pripyat, abandoned by civilization almost 60-years ago as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion, David Attenborough begins an intimate address of his witness statement. 

He reminds us that while the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, “a result of bad planning and human error”, was a disastrous event in human history, it is only one tragic example from a long list of errors made by us. Human mistakes, perhaps no less harmful, continuously occur across the globe. These errors have overrun the natural world and led to a steep decline in the planet’s biodiversity. Just as Chernobyl did, is the Earth too heading towards becoming uninhabitable? 

Though Attenborough humbly appreciates how extraordinary his life spent exploring the wild has been, his experiences through time have taught him that the wild is finite and needs protecting. He describes how centuries ago humans had arrived at a stage where their “predators were eliminated and diseases were controlled.” Once we felt that there was nothing left to stop us, our wants grew endlessly and we kept exhausting the Earth in an unsustainable manner. 

The documentary highlights a trajectory of instances where the growing demand of our species has led to the ruin of the non-human world: deforestation of the Borneo rainforest, the decline of  Orangutans, animals pursued to extinction, overfishing, warming of the Arctic summers, depleting freshwater and the turning of coral reefs to white. While the bleaching of coral reefs is mistaken to many as a beautiful phenomenon, it is a tragedy draped in white as it signifies the dying of the reefs. But there’s more to the documentary. It isn’t just another story about the global decline of nature. 

Although the documentary begins by acknowledging how we have threatened the stability of our planet, it goes further to show that there is still hope for us. We stand a chance against our own mistakes if we find ways to live sustainably and reintegrate back with nature. Using the comfort of Attenborough’s voice to intimately describe his experiences in the wild, the documentary seems to invite its viewers to be concerned about the environment not out of guilt, but perhaps out of responsibility. The documentary attempts to evoke a sense of collective consciousness toward our planet’s climate crisis. 

Throughout history, collective consciousness has played a role in bringing about change in different realms of society. In the environmental realm, such an instance of change is mentioned in the documentary when Attenborough describes how people’s perception towards the killing of whales was changed in the 1970s. Many environmental groups pushed the agenda against the whaling industry which sparked widespread public discussion on the issue. The harvest of whales was eventually made a crime as a result of the formation of shared consciousness revolving around the issue of whaling. 

Since the development of collective consciousness can have such a profound impact, it is natural to question how such consciousness is created in the first place. What unites people to form similar beliefs? Are there particular sources that help in the creation of collective consciousness? Have these sources transformed over time? How can we create a collective consciousness in today’s world? 

Before attempting to answer these questions, let us first look at the origin of the concept. The French theorist and sociologist Emile Durkheim was one of the first to coin the term. He recognised that while people had individual moral principles, they were often bound to one another by culture and shared a sense of solidarity with each other. 

According to Durkheim, the phenomenon resulted in a set of beliefs, ideas and principles which was shared collectively by many individuals in society. One of the biggest driving forces for the development of collective consciousness was the fact that it created a sense of belonging among people. 

Over time, the source of collective consciousness changed. In his book The Division of Labour in Society, Durkheim suggests that primitive and modern societies followed different models of solidarity. Primitive societies followed a “mechanical model”. People in such societies were united by shared beliefs, religious practices and ideas. This was a time when people’s attributes were homogeneous in nature, they didn’t work in different economic branches. Thus, people in primitive societies were mainly similar to one another. They shared unifying experiences.

The forms of collective consciousness we see today have been influenced by the attributes of modern society. Durkheim terms the social integration of such societies as “organic solidarity”. Modern economies are based on the division of labour and this creates a whole range of classes. People now have different jobs, believe in different gods, practise different religions and in general have very different experiences. However, since people have specialised roles in society, they are bound to be dependent on each other. The dissimilarity, the heterogeneity among people has created solidarity as a result of a high level of interdependence. 

Even though it seems that people now lead very individual lives, we still have found ways to express ideas and build collective consciousness. In the early days of modern societies, the advent of mass communication was one of the biggest sources boosting the dissemination of ideas widely and quickly. Different forms of the media gave us ways to not only to express our ideas but also created spaces where we could affirm them. While the media was initially used as a means to distribute ideas, it also became a means to influence the existing ones and create new kinds of ideas that shaped the consciousness of the collective. 

Even in the case of whaling, radio, television and print media were widely used to create the collective consciousness. Songs, films and literature on Whales grew to such an extent that Whales became popular personalities. People started viewing whales as creatures that needed to be protected. Thus, the media played an important role in building collective consciousness against whaling. This eventually led to the growth of anti-whaling activism. 

As technology progressed, we experienced a shift in the source responsible for the expression of ideas. In today’s world, that source is the internet. In the past, collective consciousness emerged from sources such as holy scriptures, traditional beliefs or big media houses. Now, with the power of the internet, all those with access to the internet have the ability to influence and shape the collective consciousness with varying degrees. Every element on the internet exists with the possibility of being a part of the collective consciousness.

David Attenborough’s documentary A Life on Our Planet, has come out in times where the internet is perhaps the most important source for shaping the collective consciousness. But he started imparting his influence much before the advent of the internet. 

Back in the 1950s, people didn’t know what Pythons, Pangolins and most other animals looked like. He was one of the first people to bring documentaries of the wild and the natural world to television screens. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to have regular access to television, we have grown up watching Attenborough’s documentaries and listening to voice. His appreciation of the natural world has been contagious and has inspired many. Thus, when a personality like Attenborough publicly immerses himself in ecological activism, he comes with the powerful ability to push the collective consciousness to care about the planet. 

Along with changing times, Attenborough too has updated by taking some of his activism online. He now uses Instagram to raise awareness about climate change. His latest documentary landed on Netflix, a popular streaming platform especially among the youth. Although his activism through these different platforms contributes towards the creation of collective consciousness towards the environment, it is up to us to manifest our consciousness in a way that can bring about change.

Shrishti is a Politics, Philosophy and Economics major at Ashoka University. In her free time, you’ll find her cooking, dancing or photographing.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 3

How the Economics Nobel Laureates help us Understand the Way the World Works

Image credits: Niklas Elmehed for Nobel Media

When we think about the word “auctions”, we may conjure images of high society bidding for expensive paintings, or banks selling off indebted property. It seems to be a distant phenomenon that doesn’t impact our daily lives. But as it turns out, auctions play crucial roles in our lives – from deciding the price we pay for electricity in our homes, to the limit of carbon emissions allowed to different countries. In a mission to learn more about how auctions work, Paul Milgrom and Robert Wilson studied various auction formats and designed an optimal auction mechanism for governments to sell complex public assets. For this, both won this year’s Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Officially the ‘Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel’, this prize has been awarded to researchers in economics from 1969 onwards, to 86 individuals so far. The ideas studied in the prize-winning contributions, and the methodology followed to reach certain conclusions, often tell us a great deal about how economics has been practiced in the respective times. 

As explained by The Economist, the initial winners were often those who tried to model the economy into a few neat equations, while winners in the past two decades have tried to pick more specific topics, and conducted empirical research to back their results. In the course of the past half a century, the winners of this prize have made several contributions to help us better understand the way in which the world around us works; whether it’s auctions, the role of psychology in the making of economic decisions, alleviating global poverty, governing common resources, and so on. In this article, we have a look at some of the recent prize winners, and understand the impact their contributions have had on our everyday lives.

2020 – Paul R. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson “for improvements to auction theory and inventions of new auction formats” 

Milgrom and Wilson studied how different formats for auctions–specifically the bidding process, final prices, information available to bidders about the product as well as other bidders’ prior knowledge–all affect the outcomes of the auction such as the revenue generated for the seller, and the broad societal benefit. Through the theoretical study of auctions, they came to design practical auction formats that have real-world implications. In one such instance, they helped the US government auction interrelated objects simultaneously, like radio frequencies to telecom operators. Their contributions ensure that these public assets are sold in the most efficient manner possible, such that buyers (here, telecom operators) get the optimum allocation of their choice, and society’s benefits are maximised (revenue for governments that can be used to fund other public goods.) This auction format can be useful for India’s 5G spectrum auction that is scheduled for next year.

2019 – Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty” 

Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer extensively conducted field experiments using Randomised Control Trials (RCTs), to examine causes and effective solutions to address poverty-related issues such as poor education and health, lack of microcredit, and so on. By comparing a particular outcome (for instance, academic scores or morbidity rates) across two groups that have similar average characteristics, and differ only in having received a particular treatment (receiving textbooks or deworming pills), they try to quantify the impact of various poverty alleviation measures. The results of these experiments have significantly contributed to policy creation in developing countries globally. A series of experiments found that “poor people are extremely price-sensitive regarding investments in preventive healthcare.” This can inform government policies for pricing vaccines (COVID-19 and otherwise); a shift from highly subsidised vaccines to free ones to even giving additional incentives like free foodgrains, can vastly increase vaccine take-up.

2017 – Richard H. Thaler “for his contributions to behavioural economics”

Thaler’s work incorporates insights from psychology into economic models, to create a more realistic understanding of human decision-making. For instance, the lack of self-control that occurs when one’s long-term goals are defeated by short-term actions, such as difficulty in making healthier lifestyle choices, and saving for the future. To incorporate this finding into useful policy measures, Thaler and his colleagues suggested that governments try and nudge citizens in the right direction (provided they are not misled or coerced.) This has been used extensively to improve pension savings, organ donation and even handwashing. His research has also shed light on common marketing practices that take advantage of human irrationality; this includes “overexposing the rare winners and covering up the multitude of losers” in lotteries, to inflate people’s expectations of winning. Such insights from Thaler’s work can thus help us self-evaluate how we interpret information and guide us to make better decisions. 

2015 – Angus Deaton “for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare”

Deaton’s work delved into understanding how individuals distribute their spending across different goods and how they choose to save. This is important because until the 1980s, work in development economics was largely theoretical, or limited to aggregate data from national accounts. Deaton’s work paved the way for linking individuals’ choices to understanding aggregate outcomes in an economy. For instance, his analysis of household consumption data in India showed that during adverse periods, there are lesser resources allocated to female children compared to males. This helps us quantify the extent of gender discrimination in an individual household as well as across a country, thus helping us design apt policies to adequately address it. It also informs governments about the importance of frequent and accurate data collection, to track and analyse the micro-level causes for macro-level economic outcomes. 

2009 – Elinor Ostrom “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons” 

Ostrom’s work challenged the traditional economic thought of “tragedy of the commons”, which suggested that common property be privatised or regulated by central authorities to prevent mismanagement. Ostrom studied various common resources from fisheries to groundwater basins, and found that its exploitation could be avoided by collective local action. Her work delved into understanding the sophisticated methods followed by people to ensure the sustainable and non-exploitative usage of common property. She also explored the diversity and complexity of the combined social and ecological world, and stressed the importance of different approaches to problem-solving rather than a one-size-fits-all institutional approach. This has largely contributed to contemporary discussions around issues like climate change.

Through these contributions by economists, Laureates and otherwise, we find important ways in which we can understand the world around us. What started out as a means to model the working of our economy, has now shifted to understanding how humans interact with the world around them, and the search continues for more efficient and equitable ways to do so. This shift towards making economics more human, beneficial and practical is a hopeful and welcome change in the fate of the ‘dismal science’.

Samyukta is a student of Economics, Finance and Media Studies at Ashoka University. In her free time, she enjoys discovering interesting long-form reads and exploring new board games.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 3

Tanishq: Victim of an uncontrollable beast

Image: screenshot from Advertisement

Much has been written about the controversy raised by the Tanishq ad that depicted an inter-faith marriage.

Since all of you would have seen the ad, I’ll refrain from wasting time and space describing the ad.

The big tragedy about the reams of editorial coverage in print and on news TV is that the focus is on the advertising industry and the debate has been reduced to a discussion on whether brands should ride on ‘political’ developments and ‘divisive’ subjects.

As far as I am concerned, the issue has little to do with advertising and all to do with the larger issue of the collapse of tolerance in society. Much of this erosion of tolerance is provoked by the need to follow the herd to be popular in social media.

Before we get to the crux of this article, which is ‘the interaction between social media and advertising in the Tanishq case’, let me give you a quick lesson in media.

For a moment, think of all news TV consumed as represented by a one-meter rule. All the viewership of ALL the news channels is represented by the one-meter rule. If you look at the share of ALL the English news channels, it will occupy perhaps ONE centimeter of this one-meter rule. “English news is very niche in India, and therefore accounts for only 1% share of News viewership at an All India level,” says BARC.

That’s it. That is the reach of English news channels. 

Yet, English news channels are not without influence – perhaps they enjoy unnatural and undue influence, thanks to the scale of India, the low allocation of funds to news-gathering in India – and social media.

So let me illustrate how this undue influence works.

Republic TV does a story, say, on match-fixing.

Republic’s social media handles all talk about this issue.

Republic’s social media team creates a flurry of hashtags connected to the story.

Republic’s social media team ‘buys’ reach (legally) on social media and cause the story and the hashtags to trend.

The underpaid and under-resourced journalists in small towns across India, with no budgets for travel or, indeed, for endless phone calls across the country, take the easy way out and follow ‘influencers’ on social media. In the current illustration, they’re following Republic’s handle and, of course, keeping an eye on trending topics.

So journalists across the country, thanks to this extraordinary, unchecked and unfettered ‘source’, viz social media, decide that the match-fixing story is VERY IMPORTANT.

And they write and file their own stories as well.

So much for what the media does.

The consumer, the citizen, does his or her own amplification, spurred by similar provocations.

The consumer, too, follows influencers and keeps track of hashtags and trends. In addition, the consumer keeps an eye on social media updates of friends and relatives and truly LOCAL infleuncers. 

And if the Republic match-fixing story pops up on these pages, up pops the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). In dealing with the fear, the consumer adds his or own bit of spice to the story, based on the echo chamber he or she lives in.

Now, let’s get back to the Tanishq ad.

Consider what has happened to a citizen of Jamshedpur who has no knowledge of Tanishq or the controversy, no problem with Hindus and Muslims marrying each other and has never seen the ad and has not seen the coverage on TV.

The story appears on Twitter because the citizen’s classmate RT’ed a tweet. In the RT, the citizen’s classmate denounced the ad, denounced Tanishq and denounced the Tata group.

Aware of FOMO, our hero, the citizen of Jamshedpur referred to earlier, RTs the RT.

And, as thousands of similar citizens do the same, a controversy is born, even if the ad has hardly been seen by the majority who protest about it.

Now it gets worse. Politicians of all hues, too, are on social media and follow the same trends.

And, very quickly, they find that they have the opportunity to ‘ride’ a trend. They can profit or lose by choosing one side of the controversy; in the Tanishq case, the ‘profitable’ side was to denounce inter-faith marriages and, consequently, denounce Tanishq.

So they ‘protest’ at Tanishq showrooms, confident in the knowledge that the protest will be covered by media.

And a new story will be born and aired by news channels.

And the new story will find its way into social media.

And the new story will come back to Jamshedpur.

And FOMO will make the new story trend….

It’s a new news cycle. Unchecked and without a sense of responsibility. More frighteningly, no one has control over this beast.

Tanishq was a victim of this uncontrolled and vicious beast.

The question is: Who is the next? And the next? And the next?

Anant Rangaswami is the editor of Storyboard, the advertising, media and marketing show on CNBC TV18. He is also senior editor at, and has authored two books, ‘Watching from the Sidelines’ and ‘The Elephants in the Room: The future of advertising in India 2016.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 3

Forget the Rhetoric: India cannot be the next China!

Image credits:  bmnnetwork

You have to be living under a rock if you haven’t noticed the global backlash against China.

China holds a position of producing a majority of the world’s products and probably will continue to do so in the near future. The industrial giant grew in a rapid and very unsustainable manner over the last few decades becoming a hub for outsourced manufacturing – from making toys and clothes to medical equipment and electronics. China’s aggressive economic growth and unfair trade practices coupled with diplomatic tensions (surrounding the pandemic and border disputes) have given life to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – a multilateral group comprising India, Japan and USA and Australia. The four nations resumed dialogue after November 2017 in an attempt to temper Chinese dominance in the Indo-pacific region. The dialogue has raised many questions, the most crucial being – who will now take the role of the ‘world factory’?  

Can India be the next China?

No. At least not in the near future…

While we have heard rhetoric that  often revolves around  how India has a young workforce while China has an ageing population or how the aggressive attributes of China are going to lead to its downfall and create room for new hubs of manufacturing . I beg you to open your mind past the rhetoric and consider some evident issues that won’t allow India to ‘replace’ China in the global market. 

All it takes to break down this rhetoric is a look at employment and GDP statistics through the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors.

I’m not saying that demographic figures aren’t  important, of course they are. But simply basing the fact that India can become the next manufacturing hub simply because of a younger population  is simply absurd. Let’s look at the Indian agricultural industry for example – while over  42% of the country’s man power is employed in the primary sector, it only contributes to approximately 17% of the GDP, making it the most populated and least efficient wing of the Indian economy. So if demographics and economic output was proportional, the Indian primary sector would be the pillar of our economy. 

Unlike most economic giants, India skipped industrialisation trying to build an economy that was driven by the tertiary sector, heavily reliant on a digital infrastructure and not a physical one. It’s hard to deny that the focus on the tertiary sector was a success looking at how it has formed the backbone of the Indian economy. While it only employs 32% of the country’s population it contributes to over 54% of the GDP. But a country that has a literacy rate of less than 78% and an inefficient primary sector, cannot simply rely on one wing of the economy. India needs to increase investment in manufacturing.

What can India do now?

Increasing investment and innovation would be an ideal first step…

Dynamic efficiency, a term any high school Economics student would know (and a concept China mastered) holds the key to India’s reign over global manufacturing. The term in this context would translate to high investment in innovation and technology in the short run that would allow industries to manufacture products at an efficient and economical manner in the long run. Chinese growth was and continues to be driven by some of the world’s highest investment rates, which has allowed the creation of the manufacturing muscle China proudly owns. While India only invests about 30% of its GDP into infrastructure, China has consistently invested 50%. 

China is continuing to innovate and invest, increasing the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in manufacturing. The Chinese State Council introduced an Artificial Intelligence Development Plan aiming to build a $150 billion national AI industry in the near future. Part of this plan involves  integrating AI technology in China’s factories . The application of AI in Chinese factories aims to target production R&D as well as the production process including: manufacturing, product development, logistics, monitoring and environmental safety. Companies like Shanghai STEP have created industrial robots along with control systems and software for industries that have effectively transformed welding, packaging, construction, and machining. Even logistics technologies are being powered by AI, to bring productive efficiency in Chinese factories to a whole new level. The use of  AI in Chinese factors holds great potential, taking away the threat posed by the country’s ageing population. While the Indian economy is still taking baby steps towards an industrial economy, the Chinese manufacturing sector is already evolving to suit the needs of the future. It is peremptory that India dedicate their efforts to increasing infrastructure if they are to compete in the global manufacturing market. 

What role do politics play?

An important one for sure…

While the Indian democratic system has its many positives, it also has its own limitations, especially when it comes to economic reform. When working on infrastructural projects such as construction of power plants, the Chinese government can simply acquire land and compensate the affected people. Taking on similar projects in India would have several barriers because of the limitations of central control on states, political procedure and legal disputes. For example if a decision to contract a high speed railway line passes in the Lok Sabha, the process maybe delayed and blocked by the Rajya Sabha. Let’s assume that the project is approved in both houses, issues such as raising government revenue or displacement of minorities more often than not hinders the process. The Indian democracy hence has to fight many battles (one at a time) as part of this infrastructure politics.

‘It is impossible to make one generation better off without making any other generation worse off.’

This is a basic rule for an economy that needs to achieve dynamic efficiency. It is going to take a lot of planning, spending and sacrifice if India is going to even be a contender for becoming the world’s factory. While political and economic reform of such extent is too much to ask for, it is the need of the hour. The country has abundant raw material and a mammoth working population, but falls short on investments and planning. India will have to completely shift its economic structure, which will have repercussions that the Indian society and economy may not be prepared to handle.

Karantaj Singh finished his undergraduate in History and International Relations. He is now pursuing a minor in Media Studies and Politics during his time at the Ashoka Scholars Programme. He enjoys gaming and comics in his free time.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

Issue 3

Remembering Eddie – 6 Essential Songs

Eddie Van Halen was an idol for an entire generation. Van Halen, along with bands like Journey, KISS, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue defined the 1980s fantasy of being a rockstar. Thanks to MTV and the popularity of music videos, band members were as recognizable as movie stars. Eddie was able to break the stereotype that virtuosos should always be serious or brooding characters. Van Halen brought joy to rock and roll.

The name of Van Halen is synonymous with incredible solos and lightning fast shredding, but what made Eddie special wasn’t his skill or flawless technique, it was his creativity and limitless passion for music. 

Perhaps the easiest place to find his bag of tricks on full display is the solo in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” one of the biggest singles of all time. The story behind that track encapsulates his approach to life, he decided to record the legendary solo for a case of beer and dancing lessons from the King of Pop because he didn’t want to complicate their equation with contract work, initially uncredited on the track from Thriller.

Van Halen, who passed away on Oct 6th after a long battle with cancer, managed to push the boundaries of the electric guitar in a way the world hadn’t seen since Jimi Hendrix. His unique style has left an indelible imprint on all rock music that has come out since the 80’s. He expanded the repertoire of guitar players to include fireworks like tapping, tremolo picking and blistering legato (playing only with the left hand) runs across the entire fretboard.  When people heard the unaccompanied guitar track “Eruption” off Van Halen’s debut album for the first time in 1978, they couldn’t believe what they were listening to. Getting those sounds out of a guitar was unheard of. 

Reducing Eddie to just his solos would be doing him a disservice – many professional guitarists will tell you that he was one of the best rhythm guitarists of all time. Eddie was an innovator, an inventor of sounds and styles that keep him relevant to this day, more than 40 years later. He was a master of the keyboards, responsible for the unmistakable intro to “Jump”. He built his own guitars, hot-rodding different parts from his favorite models to create the “Frankenstrat”, the iconic red and white striped guitar. He didn’t stop there, he modified his amplifiers with a light dimmer to coax a rawer, more powerful sound that is instantly recognizable. It became so popular that it was even given a name, the “Brown Sound”. Head into any recording studio today and you will find some kind of replica of that particular sound, which is plastered across modern rock music.

Six songs are not nearly enough to define his legacy, but in my opinion this is the best entry to discover Eddie’s work.

Runnin’ With The Devil (Van Halen I, 1978)

The first line of their first song signifies what Van Halen is about – “I live my life like there’s no tomorrow.” This song began the Van Halen era, introducing Eddie and the band to the world with a bang. Melting horns bring in the staccato bass and legendary intro. 

Ain’t Talkin Bout Love (Van Halen I, 1978)

This song gives you everything you want from a classic Van Halen tune –  iconic riff, catchy chorus, a steady beat and a great solo. This is a tune that sticks in your head from the moment you listen to it, one of the band’s best. 

Hot For Teacher (1984, 1984)

I must confess, this is my favourite Van Halen song. The lyrical content is meant to be relatable and frivolous but the musicianship on this track is par excellence. The breakneck pace of the song seems effortless because of the years that Eddie and his brother Alex (the drummer of the band) spent practicing together in their garage. Listeners get treated to the Eddie show with leads, dynamics and intelligent rhythm on full display. 

Jump (1984, 1984)

This is Van Halen’s most successful single and perhaps their most well known song. A perfect blend of pop and rock, this song rocketed to the top of the US charts. The song is defined by its instantly recognizable keyboard line. Eddie shows off his entire synthesizer arsenal with acrobatic arpeggios sprinkled all over the track, most notably in the pre-chorus where he plays a 4:3 polyrhythm over the drums.

Panama (1984, 1984)

The band wrote this song after lead singer David Lee Roth was accused by a reporter of singing about only women, partying, and fast cars. He realized he’d never written a song about fast cars, and decided to write one. During the bridge of the song we can hear Eddie revving his vintage Lamborghini Miura! The rhythm guitar work on Panama is quintessential Eddie and this strong is a strong contender for having the best Van Halen riff. This song is a staple in pop culture, heard everywhere from Superbad to Family Guy.  

Why Can’t This Be Love (5150, 1986)

This single is often unfairly criticized as it marked a departure from the original vocalist, David Lee Roth. However, Sammy Hagar shines on this synth driven catchy track which is a perfect 80’s time machine. An interesting fact about this tune is that on the first two world tours after this song was released, Sammy Hagar played all the guitar parts and the solo while Eddie Van Halen only played the keyboard sections.

Shaayak is an Economics and Finance Major at Ashoka University. He is a guitarist at Delhi band Apartment Upstairs and a music producer.  He has also worked with the Centre for Social and Behavioural change to produce an audio adherence program for Iron and Folic Acid pills for pregnant women in rural areas.

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