Archive | November, 2014

INI9: 9 minute conversation with Rohini Nilekani

I discuss sanitation, malnutrition and dams with Rohini Nilekani in the latest INI9: 9 minute conversations on strategy, policy and politics.

The conversation happened on the sidelines of the Takshashila-Hudson conference, Shaping India’s New Growth Agenda: Implications for the World, Bangalore 2014.

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Purnaiah and Talleyrand

Two statesmen and survivors lived curiously similar lives around the same time and in far sides of the world.

In high school, we learnt of the attempts at collaboration between Napoleon Bonaparte of France and Mysore’s Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. Both powers were implacable enemies of an expansionist British empire near the end of the 18th century, and tried to coordinate their efforts against the British in different parts of the world. Napolean tried to conquer Egypt and capture the Suez, in part because he wanted access to the Red Sea and India.

Many British individuals ended up playing significant roles in both theatres of conflict, including a young Arthur Wellesley, who participated in the final siege of Srirangapatna. Wellesley became a governor of Mysore and won a decisive victory against the Marathas at Assaye, before being spotted back home and pulled to the campaign in Europe against Napoleon. His military successes eventually led him to become the first Duke of Wellington.

Tipu, Hyder Ali and Napoleon were strong personalities in their own way, and some comparisons have been drawn between them both back then and later on. The novelist Walter Scott (of Ivanhoe fame) allegedly* had this to say, at the abdication of Napoleon in 1814:

Although I never supposed that [Napoleon] possessed, allowing for some difference of education, the liberality of conduct and political views which were sometimes exhibited by old Hyder Ally, yet I did think he might have shown the same resolved and dogged spirit of resolution which induced Tippoo Sahib to die manfully upon the breach of his capital city with his sabre clenched in his hand. [Wikipedia*]

However, the most astonishing duo were not the heads of state, but the Mysorean and French ministers Purnaiah and Talleyrand.

Talleyrand and Purnaiah

Krishnamacharya Purnaiah (also spelled Purnaiya) started managing the finances of Mysore under Hyder Ali, slowly moving to manage much of the state’s administration as well. Helping manage an easy transfer of power to Tipu upon the death of Hyder Ali, Purnaiah continued to be a close confidante and aide to Tipu Sultan. After the defeat of Tipu, he continued on under the British and was then appointed Dewan as the British allowed the Wodeyar family back into power in the early 19th century.

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was a French politician and diplomat, who grew up and trained as a clergyman during the last years of the Ancien Régime. Early in his diplomatic career, Talleyrand was unsuccessfully sent to Britain to prevent war. This was just a year before Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lost their heads in the French revolution. Though he had to seek exile during the tumultuous early years of the French revolution, he managed to make it back and become the Foreign Minister. In this time he also started working alongside Napoleon Bonaparte and continued as foreign minister under him.

Talleyrand had a significant role to play in improving peace at stability through treaties between Napoleonic France and other European powers – complementing the emperor’s conquering zeal. Like Purnaiah, Talleyrand made it back again as the foreign minister when Louis XVIII was restored to power after Napoleon.

Purnaiah had an uncanny ability to be found indispensable, no matter who was ruling Mysore. A realist and a statesman in his own right, he managed to continually save his own fortunes as well as promote the public interest. As Vikram Sampath notes,

After Tipu was vanquished, when the British forces traced [Purnaiah] and compelled him to surrender he supposedly declared ‘How can I hesitate to surrender to a nation who is the protector of my tribe from Kashi to Rameshwaram?’ Of course the alternate view point has been that it was Tipu himself who urged his Prime Minister to flee and serve the next ruler of the Kingdom. [Statesman and a survivor, Deccan Herald, 2011]

The case was not very different with Talleyrand. Both Purnaiah and Talleyrand had conflicted relationships with their longest patrons – Tipu and Napoleon respectively. Both fell out of favour at times, and acted on their own interests when they had to, but remained important and impossible to ignore or completely sideline.

Here’s to two statesmen and survivors, from far sides of the world. Purnaiah and Talleyrand.

PS. I first heard of Talleyrand through a quote of his. “The one thing you cannot do with a bayonet is sit on it.”

Photo: Crops of Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838), Metropolitan Museum of Art & Purnaiya, Chief Minister of MysorYale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

*I say allegedly because I can find this on Wikipedia but am unable to find the original source.

Update, November 17: froginthewell shares the link for the original Walter Scott quote. It’s from “Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart. Walter Scott to Robert Southey, 17 Jun 1814” on Page 119. My thanks for the same.

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The Unhistoric US-China Climate Deal

China and the United States of America inked a climate pact this month and this has been lauded by various corners as landmark and historic. Vasudevan Mukunth quoted me in his article for Scroll.

Here is the full text of my comments to Scroll.

The history of the global negotiations on climate change negotiations has so far shown two things:

One, big emitters have typically employed salami slicing tactics, where they inch up the emission levels they are willing to go down to. Changing the base years and letting the reduction targets slide are commonplace.

Two, any penalty measures used to enforce emission reduction targets have been repeatedly flouted – including by countries like Canada – with no direct consequences.

I remain skeptical of this deal because the size of the Chinese emissions ‘peak’ remains unknown. That gives a lot of wiggle room for China. Secondly, there is no tangible enforcement mechanism presented, nor does one seem feasible. At best, this is a gentlemen’s agreement between the United States and China, and there are no gentlemen in international relations.

Implications for India and other developing countries:

India has routinely done a poor job of defending its record in global climate change negotiations, though it has done far better in substance than the likes of China. There is a risk that India will be painted into a corner, in spite of being a low carbon emitter on a per capita basis, and in spite of significant efforts at home to promote renewables.

Further, India’s more immediate focus must be on climate adaptation, but international financing and promotion of mitigation efforts serve to distract domestic policy. For India to get back to high economic growth, India must be willing and able to use all forms of energy — from coal to natural gas to nuclear power and renewables, and use the growth to provide better public goods and build resilient infrastructure.

This deal and its seeming historicity makes it a harder challenge for India to make its case convincing for a global audience.

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A Long Overdue Hike in Bangalore’s Water Prices

The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) recently hiked its water tariff, a move that was long overdue.  I am quoted in Citizen Matters on why this hike is a good move.

The hike in BWSSB’s water tariff is a welcome development that was long overdue. BWSBB has been a national leader in the professional delivery of water supply and sewerage services, and it is no accident that Bangalore has the largest number of metered water connections in the country.

Water is an increasingly scarce resource in the 21st century, and pricing it at its highest marginal cost is essential to conserving this vanishing resource. While we talk about excessive or misdirected LPG and petrol subsidies, the water subsidy that even the most prosperous Bangalore receives is much higher.

The higher price of water will also spur more people to do rainwater harvesting and efficient use of water. We must also recognise that people pay many times more for water tankers – a small increase in BWSSB tariffs could in fact reduce overall water cost for the city’s residents.
[Citizen Matters: Should Bengalureans be grateful for BWSSB’s water rates? 11 November 2014]

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