Indian government censored info on Zika virus outbreak…

because of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit

. . . . .

“For a week, the Union Health Ministry has maintained that the decision to not make cases of Zika public was to avoid panic. However, an investigation by The Hindu reveals that the Vibrant Gujarat Summit “was a factor” in the decision to keep the Zika incidence under wraps.

“The cases in Ahmedabad district were confirmed by January 4, 2017. In just about a week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship project to attract foreign investors, Vibrant Gujarat, was scheduled to take place. A travel advisory at this time could have ruined the summit. Two independent sources, one of whom is highly placed in the Health Ministry, confirmed that the investment summit was the reason for covering up the Zika cases.

“Soon after a positive case was reported, a team of 250 health workers and entomologists (people who study insects) were summoned to Bapunagar, in the east of Ahmedabad, where the patient lived. The healthcare workers were divided into clusters of 20 to carry out intensified intra domestic (ID) work that involves identifying mosquito-breeding spots and symptomatic patients. The week-long exercise, however, did not mention the word Zika.”

. . . . .
“Even now, I have no idea who the Zika virus patients are. I am only told that two of them fall under my medical boundary.”

[Dr. Harish Sandariya, medical officer, Bapunagar Urban Health Centre, Ahmedabad, Gujarat]

. . . . .

“Consciously did not go public with the cases.”

[Jagadip Narain Singh, Chief Secretary of Gujarat]

. . . . .

“The entire district, with population of close to six lakh people, was told that the screenings were for malaria. ”

• • • • •

In January, three laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika virus had been reported from Bapunagar area in Ahmedabad – but were made public by the government only when the WHO intervened.

“On 15 May 2017, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare-Government of India (MoHFW) reported three laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika virus disease in Bapunagar area, Ahmedabad District, Gujarat, State, India.”

“The routine laboratory surveillance detected a laboratory-confirmed case of Zika virus disease through RT-PCR test at B.J. Medical College, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The etiology of this case has been further confirmed through a positive RT-PCR test and sequencing at the national reference laboratory, National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune on 4 January 2017 (case 2, below). Two additional cases (case 1 and case 3), have then been identified through the Acute Febrile Illness (AFI) and the Antenatal clinic (ANC) surveillance. ”

[Zika virus infection – India, in ‘Disease Outbreak News’, World Health Organisation;
26 May 2017]

. . . . .

The government’s unconcern for public safety has reportedly shocked officials of the WHO’s South East Asia Office (SEARO).

India does have a Joint Monitoring Group for Zika, and has now established an Inter-Ministerial Task Force under the chairpersonship of the Secretary (Health and Family Welfare), the Secretary (Bio-Technology), and the Secretary (Department of Health Research).

But India’s Zika-fighting logistical capabilities are woefully inadequate (in fact, almost nonexistent).

It is in this light that the government’s decision to hold back the news should be seen.

The Central government is involved in this unconscionable cover-up, too, because the Vibrant Gujarat Summit is #Narendra_Modi’s brainchild and idée fixé.

Modi’s over-ambition & his sellout to the Better Than Cash Alliance

…remember the real motivation about the war on cash. It’s not about reducing crime, drugs, or terrorism. It’s not about more convenient payment methods driven by technology. And it’s certainly not changing the incentives for illegal immigration from poor countries to rich countries.

It’s about control. [Harvard’s Ken Rogoff, author of The Curse of Cash] mentions it right at the beginning. But it’s almost like he made a faux pas. He wants to get rid of cash so central planners can more effectively control your financial behaviour. Your option to own and use physical cash gets in the way of “effective monetary policy”. Cash must go.

[‘The less-cash society‘, Dan Denning]

• • • • •

On 28 August 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off the Pradhān Mantrī Jan-Dhan Yōjanā, three months after taking office. It was his abreactive response to the Congress’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

On 23 March 2015, then Union Minister of Finance Jayant Sinha gave the Lok Sabha a written reply:

BTCA, which is a forum of governments, development partners and companies that promote transition from cash to digital payments, has sent a proposal for joining the forum which is under consideration of the government.

On 1 September 2015, three days after the first anniversary of the Jan-Dhan Yōjanā scheme, Narendra Modi signed up India’s membership in the UN-fronted, corporate-funded Better Than Cash Alliance (BTCA). (‘India Announces New Partnership to Accelerate Financial Inclusion for Everyone: Government of India Joins the United Nations’ Better than Cash Alliance for Digitization of Payments to Achieve Financial Inclusion and to Share Success Stories from PMJDY,The World’s Largest Financial Inclusion Programme’; Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Finance, Government of India press release)

On 17 November 2015,, a Bengaluru-based start-up that aids citizens in filing queries under the Right-to-Information (RTI) Act, reported that bank frauds had doubled in the year since Modi’s installation as prime minister.

On 8 November 2016, Modi made his infamous #4Hours2Midnight #Demonetisation2016 speech, delegalising 86% of India’s cash-in-circulation in one fell swoop and sending the country into a tailspin, which was immediate and is ongoing.

* * * * *

Going by his unravelling fustian, it all began as an anti-blackmoney move. By 27 November, according to what Modi said during an excruciating Mann Ki Baat ramble, the narrative had evolved – or devolved – to pushing for a “less-cash society, then cashless society“.

There was not even a passing verbal reference to “black money”. Even on the previous day, 26 November, Modi had, in a very sarcastic philippic against the Congress in Parliament, referred to “kāle dhan ki charchā” (‘black money tête-à-tête’: watch from 3:15 onwards).

A bit less than 24 hours later, the need for nationwide cashlessness had overridden the need to reign in national blackmoney. The narrative morphed literally overnight from kālā dhan to naḵadīhīn (or “kæsh-lass”).

The blackmoney narrative has since been jettisoned by the BJP’s #DemonetisationYatra.

Interestingly, Modi seems to have cogged his 27 November Mann Ki Baat speech freely from an interview that the near-absent Reserve Bank of India governor, Urjit Patel, gave to PTI the same day.

Among other gems of prose, these were common to both Narendra Modi and Urjit Patel, word for word:

  • “…leapfrog into a less cash-use economy at par with more developed nations.”
  • “We are also urging banks to make a big push with PoS* machines with traders so that debit card use becomes more prevalent.”

*Point of Sale

Either that, or Urjit Patel had written Modi’s speech. Or they had the same lazy-ass speechwriter.

* * * * *

From the time of Modi’s cavalier, nonchalant #Demonetisation2016 speech, fiscal observers and experts have been trying to figure out exactly what compelled him to toss a move aimed to introduce unprecedented and foolhardy fiscal homogeneity into the subcontinent’s roiling financial mix.

So, what’s really going on?

* * * * *


This is what’s going on.

Without consulting the citizens of India (or even Parliamentarians), Modi put himself and the country in thrall to an iffy ur-capital confederacy named Better Than Cash Alliance.

With the United Nations Capital Development Fund as its secretariat, the BTCA is a caucus of 22 developing and emerging-economy nations comprising India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Afghanistan, Colombia, Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Moldova, Peru, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, the Philippines, Uruguay, Vietnam, and Mexico.

The entire ‘Indian’ subcontinent has been coöpted.

There is not a single developed country in the list.

The BTCA is funded (and advised) by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi Group, Ford Foundation, MasterCard, the Omidyar Network, USAID, and Visa Inc.

Going by two papers released in September 2016 by the McKinsey Global Institute (‘Digital Finance for All: Powering Inclusive Growth in Emerging Economies’ and ‘Accelerators to An Inclusive Digital Payments Ecosystem’), India is a test case for ‘going cashless’ after Nigeria’s cashless experiment pretty much came a cropper in three years, from rollout to rollback.

‘Accelerators to An…Ecosystem’ reduced the vastly-vexatious matter of India’s nondigitalisation to one centred on knowledge and analysis, diminishing the structural issues to nothing:

The reality is that despite the evidence about what creating digital economies means, until now there hasn’t been a coherent and tailorable framework available to governments and companies about how to realize these gains. This is partly because knowledge about digital payments has been highly fragmented. The lack of a broad and cohesive analytical framework has prevented governments and companies from leveraging the experiences of other markets and players to implement digital payments most effectively.

Here’s the problem with this, and more besides.

* * * * *


The BTCA has placed India and Bangladesh in competitive stances in the frontline of what one German site wrote, in reference to India’s demonetisation, was a “brutalen Schritt zur Bargeldlosigkeit” (‘brutal step towards cashlessness’).

Bangladesh had joined the BTCA in June 2015, barely two months before Modi plumped for India’s membership in it.

According to PMO scuttlebutt, Modi considers himself in a cashlessness race with Bangladesh. The shocking abruptness of his announcement of 8 November (and subsequent evidence of the government’s utter and appalling unpreparedness for minutiae such as foreign tourists stranded in India, Indian tourists stranded abroad, diplomatic missions blocked from withdrawing daily-use cash, and the paucity of small-currency notes) might best be seen in the light of Modi’s desire to beat the rollout of a moneta liberum paradisum in the rest of the subcontinent.

On 26 November 2016, the BTCA released a case study on Bangladesh (‘The Way Forward for Digitizing Payments’), recommending “specific actions that government and the private sector can take to guide future policymaking”.

Two days later, on 28 November 2016, during a workshop on ‘Digital Payments for Digital Bangladesh: Building an Ecosystem for All’ (as part of the government’s Vision of a Digital Bangladesh), at the Prime Minister’s Office in Dhaka, Bangladesh Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith was all confidence when he said:

I think it is possible to have a paperless government within two years. … The ground is, in fact, quite ready to digitise all kinds of payments and receipts of the government. We have already experimented with this in a few areas and we find it to be quite easy and secure.

If the current trend continues, it is possible within a couple of years to reach a situation where most of the government operations are turned paperless.

But note that the operative words here are that Bangladesh is prepped to “digitise all kinds of payments and receipts of the government” and can envision a time when “government operations are turned paperless”. (Italics mine)

Muhith didn’t show Modi’s recklessness.

Bangladesh has a two-year timeframe during which to digitise government transactions. It is a safe enough timeframe, given that in 2015, almost 70% of Bangladesh government payments were made digitally.

As of May 2013, almost 97% of the transactions in India were done through cash (‘Indian Prepaid Card Market Outlook to 2017’, RNCOS Business Consultancy Services). By December 2015, this percentage had dropped (by 12.38%) to 85%. As of 2012, a “fraction of the 10 million plus retailers in India have card payment acceptance infrastructure – presently this number stands at just 0.6 million” (‘Payment Systems in India: Vision 2012-15, Reserve Bank of India).

Nearly 23.2% – 38 million of Bangladesh’s population of 163,739,417 (app. 164 million: as of 8 December 2016) – have so far utilised mobile money services.

India, meanwhile, has 224.1 million smartphone users. In the absence of precise data, we could go out on a limb and presume that the majority of them have made use of mobile payment transactions (including college students, who comprise <18% – or 40.34 million – of smartphone users, according to Ericsson ConsumerLab, ‘The Changing Mobile Broadband Landscape’; 28 April 2015). Assuming that the only bills they pay digitally – the only bills most of them, being collegiate, can usually pay – are their mobile top-ups, the number of Indians who make payments through mobiles is 183.76 million, give or take a couple of million, at the outside.

What this means is that, by a generous estimate, 13.75% of Indians make digital payments via smartphones. Calculated in terms of the total number of wireless telecom subscribers (980.81 million, RBI est.), the maximum percentage of digital transactors is 18.74%. In either case, in real terms of digitalisation, it means that the Modi-BTCA combine has its work cut out turning India into a functional, integrated, wall-to-wall cashless society.

While the BTCA is basically sitting back and watching the demonetisation rollout with increasing jerkiness and governmental panic in India, its case study on Bangladesh was greatly more cautionary, acknowledging that

the overwhelming majority of payments in Bangladesh are still made in cash. Achieving further progress will require continued efforts by the government to implement policies that create enabling conditions and evolve the regulatory environment in order to overcome key barriers such as the need to achieve more competition, and more interoperability enabling payment transactions between different service providers and platforms.

* * * * *


Nigeria’s cashless policy, the pilot of which was rolled out on 1 January 2012 and went apostolic on 31 July 2014, pretty much floundered from the get-go.

According survey reported in a paper, ‘The Impact of Central Bank of Nigeria Cashless Policy in Nigeria Economy’ (by Martin C. Ezeamama, Nnamani Joseph Ndubuisi, Dr. [Mrs] Mary I. Marire, and Dr. C.C. Mgbodile; IOSR Journal of Business and Management [IOSR-JBM], Volume 16, Issue 12.Ver.I, pp. 84-95, December 2014,, “34.0% of the respondents cited problem of internet fraud, 15.5% cited problem of limited POS/ATM, 19.6% cited problem of illiteracy and 30.9% stayed neutral – the respondent not been sure of problem been expected or experienced”.

On 3 August 2015, the Central Bank of Nigeria sent out a circular, ‘Re: Nationwide Rollout of Cashless Policy to the Remaining 30 States‘:

It has come to our notice that some banks have started applying charges on withdrawals above the threshold in the remaining 30 states of the Federation.

CBN hereby directs that the charges in these 30 States be put on hold, until further directive is received from the Bank.

In the light of the above, charges inadvertently applied by banks on their customers ‘account in the remaining 30 States with effect from 1st July, 2015 should be reversed immediately.

On 9 August 2015, the CBN in agreement with the Bankers’ Committee put on hold the roll out of cashless policy exercise nationwide.

* * * * *


Demonetisation has almost universally bombed.

  • 1982: Ghana decides to demonetise its 50 cedi (GH₵) currency notes so as to monitor – not eradicate – money-laundering. It is superchaotic. Eventually, the Ghanaian republic returns to physical assets and foreign currency.
  • 1984: Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari introduces different coloured notes to delegalise the old currency (the Naira: ₦), intending to fight black money. The economy collapses.
  • 1987: Myanmar demonetises roughly 82% of the kyat (MMK). Total chaos ensues. The massive 8888 Uprising follows in March 1988.
  • 1991: Under Mikhail Gorbachev, the then Soviet Union demonetises the upper Russian rubles – ₽50 ₽100. Within eight months, Gorbachev is removed from office.
  • 2010: North Korea demonetises the won (₩). A major economic breakdown ensues, with widespread starvation filtering out. Kim Jong-il dies in December 2011 after a year-long illness.
  • 2012: Libya demonetises 96% of the old dinar ( ل.د, or L.d). The economy, liquid-state after Moammar Gadhafi’s killing in October 2011, blows up. The leadership still has no clue as to the quantum of state assets.
  • 2015: Zimbabwe demonetises its entire multicurrency framework (Australian Dollar, Botswana Pula, British Sterling Pound, Chinese Yuan, Euro, Japanese Yen, Indian Rupee, South African Rand, and United States Dollar). The $100-trillion note goes for a toss when $1 trillion ends up valued at $0.5.

* * * * *

Where might this end up? Providence alone knows. The data can prognosticate but not predict.

But this much is certain: In the sprint to be first in the subcontinent in everything known and unknown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi might have ended up beating every subcontinental neighbour to a fiscal implosion, engineered a tough-to-scratch statal handover to a slew of US-based corporate vultures, and ensured the end of the overambitious BJP regime come General Election 2019.

Banking Boulders & Demonetisation: Why 18% of India’s ATMs Are Down

Because an American banking software provider cancelled the licence to its Indian “provider of services”

• • • • •

Here’s why India’s ATMs are running closed.

It’s because a US company –ACI Worldwide, a 41-year-old NASDAQ-traded payment systems company headquartered in Naples, Florida, which specialises in electronic transaction software, providing retail and wholesale banking products as well as retailer-focused software and hardware solutions – has withdrawn its software-as-a-service (SaaS) licence, made out in 2001, to an Indian private company.

The Indian company, Chennai-based Financial Software & Systems Private Limited (FSS), services more than 40,000 ATMs of 22 leading public and private banks across India.

There are 220,000 ATMs in India – so ACI Worldwide’s licence cancellation has effectively rendered 18.19% of ATMs nationwide inoperable.

Banking boulders.

* * * * *

On Friday, 11 November 2016, ACI Worldwide ran a public notice in newspapers through its Mumbai-based general manager for the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, announcing that it had terminated its agreement with FSS with effect from 1 November 2016, and prohibited Indian banks from using its the FSSNet platform.

(ACI Worldwide offers testing, onsite technical support and 24/7 global helpdesk support. FSSNeT offers payment processing services across all delivery channels including ATMs, Point-of-Sale [POS] terminals, Internet and mobile with authorisation by the banks. ACI also provides services such as card management, merchant management, internet payment gateway, mobile banking and mobile payment, reconciliation and settlement, financial inclusion, and value-added services and ATM management services on a pay-per-use model, including ATM-leasing and site management.)

The ACI Worldwide notice said: “Since the breaches of the agreement were not cured by FSS, the agreement has been terminated with effect from September 01, 2016.”

The notice said that ACI Worldwide had issued a notice to the FSS on 2 August 2016 to fulfil its obligations to stop data-leaks by 1 September 2016, failing which the agreement would go belly-up come 1 November 2016. On 1 September 2016, the FSS denied breaching the agreement.

* * * * *

The FSS and ACI Worldwide have been having a series of running battles. The excrementum putidum hit the fan in 2013, when the FSS took ACI Worldwide Solutions Private Limited, ACI Worldwide Incorporated, Florida, USA, and ACI Worldwide (Asia) Pvt Ltd, Singapore, to the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for breach of agreement – under Section 19(1)(a) of the Competition Act, 2002 – and on ACI’s BASE24 software – which runs about 77% of ATMs and about 80% of POS terminals in India – and of denying “existing players like the [FSS]” of “market access to the downstream market”.

On 13 January 2015, however, the CCI disposed of the FSS’s plea, declaring that “no contravention of … the (Competition) Act is made out against ACI in the present matter … As the dominance of ACI [of competitive forces in the dominant market] has not been established, the issue of abuse of dominant position does not arise.”

The FSS-ACI relationship goes back to 1991, when FSS became a reseller of ACI’s BASE24 software in India. In 1998, the FSS became a distributor and service provider for BASE24 software in India through various International Distribution Agreements (IDAs). Disputes between the two began in 2007-08. On 16 June 2008, ACI proposed a new arrangement, terminating the distribution agreements with the FSS, assigning the licence agreements to ACI India, and demoting the FSS to the role of “provider of services in respect of BASE24 software to ACI Banks in India”.

And, then, everything went to hell and gone.

* * * * *

The question is:

Did Prime Minister Narendra Modi know that almost 1/5th of India’s ATMs were inoperable on the day he rolled out his precipitate demonetisation juggernaut?

Yes. He did.

Since behind-the-scenes, last-minute negotiations with ACI Worldwide tanked, the RBI was forced to announce on the night of Tuesday, 8 November 2016 that the “recalibration” of ATMs would take a while. It also led Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to deflect the crisis and misinform the public on Saturday, 12 November 2016, saying:

“ATMs could not have been calibrated [before the announcement] because of secrecy issue. Thousands of people are involved in recalibration exercise (and) secrecy could not have been maintained. Recalibration takes at least 2-3 weeks.”

The “secrecy issue” – that ridiculous excuse – is one thing, recalibration another. More to the point, major banks in India are trying to wheedle other global banking software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers to rush in with their bailouts.

But nobody’s biting – primarily because of the ACI Worldwide experience in India.

The BJP, demonetisation, and faking the numbers

West Bengal: Notes in denomination of Rs 500, 1000 found in garbage vat, private car

“Two sacks with torn and damaged currency notes of old ₹500 and ₹1,000 stacked in them were recovered from a garbage vat [āstākūṛ, in Bānglā] in the southern part of the city’s Golf Green area [specifically, Golf Club Road in the Jadavpur police station jurisdiction] this morning.”

. . . . .

“In North Dinajpur district in north Bengal, the police seized Rs 1.60 crore in ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes from a private car on NH-34 under Itahar police station area last night.”

* * * * *

Sightings of dumped ₹500 and ₹1,000 demonetised currency notes have also been reported from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The government says it’s all kālā dḥan being dumped by panicking black money hoarders.

* * * * *

Which narrative makes no sense.

The torn and damaged notes discovered at Golf Green in Kolkata seem to be part of a cyclical subeconomy that few people know about and the government and banks never acknowledge: This subeconomy is run by traders who make a living picking up damaged notes past their shelf lives and depositing them in the banks for termination.

These traders are a crucial part of any economy – especially the Indian one, in which 85% of transactions are conducted in cash.

In cash-intensive economies, currency notes have brief lives – because handling also entails mishandling, finger-grunge is a killer, and paper is one of the least-durable commixtures in existence.

Banks, in fact, depend upon currency-note recyclers to keep the cash economy running and the RBI needs them to keep its mints up-to-date.

And, now, the recyclers are tossing the notes away.

Economists expect 20% of the ₹500 and ₹1,000 currency-in-circulation (or 301,688-crore out of ₹1,508,440-crore) to not make it’s way back into the system. In other words, 17.2% of the total currency-in-circulation (₹1,754,000-crore) might be lost to this round of demonetisation forever.

(To extend the life of currency notes, Britain decided to go the ‘polymer currency’ way: the fiver, £5, became a plastic note in September 2016. £10 will be plasticated in 2017, and £20 in 2020.)

Exactly how does the Indian government plan to get this back?

It doesn’t. It hasn’t a clue. Demonetisation slammed the door shut on currency-recyclers.

* * * * *

Of course, all this loose cash is all black money, the government says.

Which narrative makes zero sense, too.

Here’s why:

Inflation makes uninvested loose cash drastically drop in value quarter-by-quarter. Merchants, traders and small-time retailers keep cash in bundles (not in gunny sacks, or in – that faded, old trope that spotlights the archaic Indian mindset – mattresses) because they buy and sell in cash. Hard cash is a fast-moving commodity. It doesn’t grow fat sitting at home.

Knowing this – it’s not rocket science – black money honchos invest ASAP in bullion or real estate, because gold and immovable properties always increase in value, inflation, deflation or plateau.

* * * * *

And as for counterfeit money:

RBI data (2015-16) has it that 632,926 counterfeit notes were detected in commercial banks this year. (This was a 6.42% increase on the 2014-15 haul of 594,446 counterfeit notes.) About 41% (259,500) of these were ₹500 notes, and 23% (145,573) were ₹1,000 notes. (And 35% – 221,524 – were₹100 notes – which Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is not interested in talking about.)

* * * * *

The arithmetic is child’s play: ₹129,750,000 in ₹500 counterfeit notes; ₹145,573,000 in ₹1,000 counterfeit notes; and ₹22,152,400 in ₹100 counterfeit notes.

A total of ₹297,475,400 (app. ₹29.75 crore) this year. Or 0.00167% of the total currency-in-circulation of ₹1,754,000 crore.

. . . . .

This BJP government either knows something we don’t – or it doesn’t really know much at all.

[This article has been updated to conform to better data and stricter calculations]

Noble Bob

…or what the numbers say about Dylan’s Literature Nobel


From where I am – which seems to be amidst a brass band blowing into the wind – it looks like Bob Dylan might be preparing to give the world his biggest, erectest, knobbliest finger yet.

Turn up for the Nobel Prize 2016 ceremony at the Oslo City Hall on 10 December 2016.

In a fitted, dark, edgy chalk-stripe tux; open-collar, polkadot shirt; and a John B. Stetson hat covering his pate of thinning wirewool.

And lean into the mahogany lectern and mumble:

“Thank you for the honour – but no.”

Or maybe not.


It is two weeks to the day since the Swedish Academy announced Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature 2016, in its extravagantly-chandeliered Börssalen ‘Grand Hall’, located on the upper floor of a 238-year-old, two-storey building of prosaic Neoclassical design. Until 1998, this building housed the floor of the Stockholmsbörsen. In a nod to either history or cognominal laziness, it is still referred to  as the Börshuset, despite that it is no longer used for trading in numbers – strictly speaking. Po-faced, unbeguiling, the building, located in the picturesque Old Town in central Stockholm, occupies most of the northern skirt of a large kvadrat – a piazza, for politicking and other sins, dating back to the founding of Stockholm in the mid-13th century. Then, again, the Börshuset is today a politics-free zone – strictly speaking.

The Börshuset is a bureaucratic yellow ochre on the outside, but glitters with Palladian panelling on the inside. The Nobel Prize has invested the pile with a grace and gravitas it would otherwise have struggled to obtain.

Now, consider Dylan: think back to his hoboesque harmonica neck-brace, his fretful 1959 double-O Martin acoustic, his beat-up J50 Gibson. Imagine the Börshuset – and the Freemason-like proceedings inside of the Swedish Academy – carrying the smallest sliver of appeal for Dylan (whose architectural tastes, such as they’ve ever been, range from Chinese fairylights swarming his topiary, to big copper onion-domes that stick out on Google Earth like a Disney djinn’s turban, to Edwardian themes on his sweet clapboard childhood home in Duluth, Minnesota).


Nor can I.

Meanwhile, though, there are 18 buckram-stiffened lifetime members of the Nobel Committee for Literature who, so goes the Stockholm scuttlebutt, are beginning to extrude cobwebs in their Empire Swan chairs waiting for the 2016 literature laureate to make a courtesy pingback.

But we might as well not get alarmingly anal about Dylan not calling back. Remember, this is the dude reputed to send bogus messages from his Point Dume home in Malibu to ward off fans who Navajo down on his cell number:

“The … number you have dialed has been changed, disconnected, or is no longer in service. If you feel you have reached this recording in error, please hang up and try your call again.”

Compare the pingback put-down to the other thing that Dylan has not also done (but not said that he won’t ever do) – taking even one telephone call from the Nobel Committee, acknowledging even one email, or answering even one SMS, since 9(-ish) am (G+2) on October 13. But Swedes run on Swiss timepieces, and the Nobel Prize runs on its own steam. Keeping to the pace of the programme clock, the Nobel Committee on Literature announced, sharp at 1 pm, the literature conferral on The Man With The Bangabout Martin (Or Gibson) Acoustic Guitar And Sinusoidal Hohner Mouth-Harp – harps, rather, in seven flavours: C, G, D, F, A, B, and E.

Applause was uncertain, uneven, ununanimous. Veterans in the press pack – many of who had covered the 2006 Nobels during which Ladbrokes had pegged Bob Dylan’s odds at 500/1 – were aware that Dylan was playing at a Las Vegas concert (where he pointedly ignored the audience, much as he was ignoring the Swedish Academy).

But you have to ask: Can Dylan continue to ‘ignore’ the Swedish Academy – and that unilateral largesse? (Largesse, because it is, after all, 8 million Swedish kronor [$932,786]. Unilateral, because the Swedish Academy, taking no shit from a bestowee, “has never held a view on a prize winners decision in this context, neither will it now, regardless of the decision reached”. And ignore, as in ‘cold-shoulder’, with neither warm-up nor glaciation, neither feeler nor response, neither validation nor rejection.)

Sure he can – but it would be to no account.

The Nobel Prize has a dynamics of its own: Notably the most patrician, impositional, propulsive award since the heyday of the poisoned chalice, the Nobel needs no acknowledgement, no RSVP. It just is. It is self-sustaining, self-sufficient, powered by the undying will of a man dead a century and more. The Nobel names you as its laureate – and you become one. No refusal. No denial. No appeal. No running away as speedily as your ass can take you without running out of gas.

A Nobel for a rebel is quite the holy grail of mainstream hostile takeovers: the bloodless coup – because, no matter how well or how badly he takes this award, the name of Bob Dylan, primo peacenik, is forever etched alongside that of Alfred Nobel, the unlikeliest maecenas in history, a name as synonymous with the world of deepthink as of demolition.


Technically, it is also a tittle late for Dylan to wholly ‘ignore’ the Nobel Prize: His Facebook and Twitter accounts acknowledged it. As did his official website,

On 20 October 2016, a few days behind the news, The Guardian had been pleased to announce: ‘Bob Dylan website acknowledges Nobel literature prize win after five-day wait’.

“In a subtle update on Dylan’s website, a page promoting a new book of his lyrics now includes the declaration ‘winner of the Nobel prize in literature’.”

17 hours later, on 21 October, The Guardian was reduced to lamenting that Dylan’s website had scrubbed the acknowledgement.

However, contrary to The Guardian’s hesitant dipping and dowsing for poetic meaning in a matter analogical to tooth extraction, the Nobel award announcement on Dylan’s website was not “a subtle update” (leave alone a ghost of a press presentiment that Dylan might up – because he has, severally, implied being prepared to do and has done – and leave the building).

Put up on 17 October 2016, the announcement on Dylan’s website was clear, celebratory, and capitalised:


It stayed up for two days. It was deleted, without preamble, and replaced with:

‘Order from Amazon’

It was an extraordinary erasure of a prix extraordinaire, considering that Dylan had won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation (the very same award given John Coltrane posthumously in 2007 and Thelonius Monk in 2006) – and isn’t shying from owning up to it. There is a whole page devoted to his Pulitzer on his website.

Three days ago, the Dagens Nyheter daily quoted Per Erik Wästberg, Seat No. 12 of De Abruten (‘The Eighteen’) lifetime members comprising the Swedish Academy: “One can say that it [Dylan’s aloofness] is impolite and arrogant.”

Still, as a musicologist friend said, coming to the defence of Zimbo: “It’s early days yet.”

In the subliteral Dylanverse, it’s only two weeks to go.


Here’s what his cites as the “Prize motivation” for Dylan:

• “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

(Not in the Nobel’s 105-year-old history has a Nobel laureate received such a concise citation – maybe even abrupt, possibly – the horror! – unsyntactical and unceremonious.)

Here’s what the 2008 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation award read: that he was awarded

• “[f]or his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power”.

Was the citation format taken from a go-to secretarial bureau marked ‘Templates’?


What’s with the coördinating conjunctions, then?


I do not smell a conspiracy here, mostly because Dylan is up shit creek.

For Elmer Johnson a.k.a Lucky Wilbury a.k.a Boo Wilbury a.k.a Blind Boy Grunt a.k.a Elston Gunn a.k.a Jack Frost a.k.a Jack Fate a.k.a Sergei Petrov a.k.a Robert Milkwood Thomas a.k.a Tedham Porterhouse to be eligible for that almost-cool million that comes with the gong, uncompromising Swedish Academy rules require Dylan to give at least one lecture, specifically on literature, within six months of 10 December, Alfred Nobel’s birthday.

It’s sort of like asking for the moon – made of Appenzellar cheese, slices cut to a size, merci vielmal.

First, when not singing – well, even when he is, most times – Dylan drips out syllables as if through a sieve of rust-flaked adenoids: If he’s into talking, I must’ve missed that major epiphany in my childhood.

Second, he carries around a beaky albatross named ‘Shyness Central’. Granted, Pulitzer Prizewinners tend to dawdle and giggle overlong at the mic – but Dylan didn’t only not put in an appearance at the 2008 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation award ceremony, but he also sent an off-key emissary – his musicorporate son, Jesse Byron Dylan, looking a comprehensive ill-fit in bunchy pinstripes (which his dad would have just killed with his cool, by the way).

Third, the Nobel Prize endowment of $932,786 is 0.518%-1.166% of Dylan’s estimated holdings of between $80 million (Richest Celebrities) and $180 million (Celebrity Net Worth). He’ll live fine without the Nobel small change.

Can anyone truly imagine Dylan orating in front of 1,300 people sitting primed to tinkle their wineglasses with their spoons in thunderous applause – all dressed, as gender might variously demand, to resemble penguins or crinoline tents?

Thought so.

The Swedish Academy, likely prepped the night before to anticipate the sort of dude whose existence no finishing school can bring itself to acknowledge – Spectral Septuagenarian Souljaman – is already getting into firefighting formation.

They’re determined to have Dylan finish the formalities – whatever flexibility with the rules it might call for.

As Jonna Petterson, spokeswoman, the Nobel Foundation, said:

• “Yes, we are trying to find an arrangement that suits the laureate.”
• “Yes, he can also opt to give (sic) a concert instead of a lecture.”


It seems unlikely that we’ll ever know exactly how Bob Dylan came to the odds – or the odds came to Dylan – which involved almost nonchalantly shrugging off integers from the stiffest numbers scrum of all: the punters’ run.

The 2016 Nobel for Literature went, literally, to a horse so dark and so swift that even experienced punters, in the mêlée for the hard cash, not the bookmaking thrills of the bookish, missed it.

Haruko Murakami, leading the list at an easy, long-legged canter, had been the favourite since betting began. On 3 October, the odds (Ladbrokes) had been Murakami (5/1); Syrian poet Adūnīs (6/1); retired American writer Philip Roth (7/1); Kenyan playwright, novelist, journalist, and memoirist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (10/1); Albanian novelist and poet Ismail Kadaré and celebrated Spanish novelist Javier Marías (both at 16/1); Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes, the Irish John Banville, Norwegian playwright and novelist Jon Fosse, the American Joyce Carol Oates, and Hungarian novelist and screenwriter László Krasznahorkai (all at 20/1); and Israeli novelist Amos Oz, Austrian novelist and political activist Peter Handke, and Hungarian playwright and novelist Péter Nádas (all at 25/1).

Murakami never broke his stride. On 6 October, Ladbrokes was still plugging Murakami (4/1) for lead nag, with Adūnīs (6/1), Philip Roth (7/1), Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (10/1), and Joyce Carol Oates (14/1) next, followed by Ismail Kadaré and Javier Marías (both come to a stop at 16/1).

Dylan joined the race-line on this day, 6 October, one week before the Literature Nobel was given him. From a mudstuck backrow 50/1 (Ladbrokes) with 7 days to go; to 16/1 (Ladbrokes) on 12 October, less than 24 hours before the award announcement; to 8/1 (Unibet), when betting came to an official close on the hushed night of 12 October, hours before the Nobel award – and Dylan was still not showing promise.

A day prior, on 11 October, absolutely nobody had been betting hard on Dylan – not even the otherwise dependably loyal American media. The Guardian, on its part, announced American writer Don DeLillo as a surprise “outside contender”. DeLillo’s speed was ferocious: Ladbrokes announced that he had swept up from 66/1 (from the Margaret Atwood boonies) to a Murakami-contesting 14/1 (and even, briefly orbital, to 4/1).

On 12 October – when, I assume, five selected members of the Swedish Academy were in the thick of bloody but honourable literary triage – Dylan started the day tied for 8th place (at 16/1) with Javier Marías: and ended the day (Unibet) at 4th place (8/1), after Adūnīs (5/4), Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (3/1), and Murakami (13/2).

In fact, on that day before the reckoning, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Murakami’s numbers had wrestled, weakly and for form’s sake, for the top spot. Sometimes one led, and an hour later the other. At one time, Ladbrokes had Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o as favourite (at 7/2), with Murakami and Adūnīs tied in second place (at 6/1). At other times, Unibet had Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o holding the slightest edge.

Dylan: Somewhere. Diaphanous. In the wings.


On 6 October, the day that Bob Dylan stepped into the scrimmage, such as it was, his odds were 50/1 – the same as that of the (lately-outed) Italian pseudonymous writer Elena Ferrante, the reclusive Thomas Pynchon, midcentury/Midwest writer Marilynne Summers Robinson, and feminist-science fiction doyenne Ursula K. Le Guin.

In the best tradition of media lit crit, New Republic asked a question and answered it, unasked:

‘Who Will Win the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature?’

“Not Bob Dylan, that’s for sure.” (

By 12 October, the sentiment in the US had hardly changed. ‘Will Don DeLillo win the Nobel Prize in literature?’ asked the Los Angeles Times, fondly but archly observing that “for the last couple of years, Bob Dylan has been on the betting list for the Nobel Prize in literature. The idea holds little truck with readers — Alex Shepherd writes about the possible winner, “not Bob Dylan, that’s for sure” at the New Republic — but the musician is fun to bet on all the same.”

I’ve heard this muttered over the past days, conviction muffled but not muted: “The idea [of Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel] holds little truck with readers…” Certainly, nobody I know of who (also) reads had the slightest inkling that Dylan would cop the Literature Nobel.

That said, the Nobel Committee hardly appears to have been detached from judgment. In the Biobibliographical Notes on the Nobel Foundation’s website, Dylan’s ‘Works in English’ were prioritised, as if he has works in other languages, too. His ‘Albums’ are listed next. At the very end of the conga line, the whip-like snap of a long, defensive tail, pointedly named ‘Further Reading’ – basically, a list of books on Dylan (including an encyclopaedia) that the Nobel Committee on Literature cobbled together to show it knows its business.

References sans reading.

As The Atlantic put it, both bluntly and sharply:

“The first listed entry is the ‘Bob Dylan Song Book’, a 1965 collection of sheet music and lyrics, and the last is ‘If Not For You’, a little-noticed 2016 children’s book that that illustrated the lyrics of a 1970 Dylan song (see pic #4). His self-repudiated 1971 prose collection ‘Tarantula’ and 2004 memoir ‘Chronicles, Volume One’ are in there, too.”


The Swedish Academy’s closed-door proceedings seem to be as arcane and as secret as the Vatican’s Papal Conclave to elect the pope. We’ll have to wait until 2056 to know what it was that the Nobel Committee for Literature 2016 found so radically and swiftly persuasive that, on the night of 12 October, it went against the very name that the numbers in Geneva were throwing gold Öres at, should the Nobel Committee discover itself in the mood for some experimentation: that of the Norwegian Jon Fosse, pegged as the mörkhäst, the dark horse.

The Swedish Academy says it understands that the “constant changes call into question what criteria the Committee is currently using to determine ‘ideal’ literature”.

But the call for answers has not gone out yet – because “the answer can only be deduced after the fact, as the Academy’s logs are kept under wraps for 40 years”.

40 years to wait for classified information about who, in the year 2016, let the odds out.



Pak Balōch or Iranian Bělūch: India’s looming headache hō yā dō

In answer to a friend’s query: “Shia Iran, are they so fond of Sunni Pak that they will sever ties with their age-old economic and strategic allies?”

Beyond the reflexive “ḵẖudā jāāně, mêrê ākā“, here’s my take:

• • • • •

This goes beyond and counter to the Shī’a-Sunnī siblicidal instinct. Iran and Pakistan go back a long way. Iran was the first country in the world to recognise a sovereign state of Pakistan. They signed a friendship treaty in 1950. Iran supported Pakistan against India during the subcontinent-redefining 1971 war. Iran and Pakistan (and Turkey) were founder-members in 1985 of the Tehran-based Economic Coöperation Organization, which was expanded into a 10-member entity in 1992, the seven new members being Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan).

ECO is meant to be a ‘single market’ trade-bloc entity (like the EU, the Eurasian Economic Union, and the Gulf Coöperation Council), but it has bypassed the usual, prudent route of establishing a ‘common market’ first. And this is as much because of an across-the-board lack of economic liberality as of intermarket fractiousness. ECO, which was supposed to have set, like conceptual concrete, in 2015, still has a long way to go. It will never get close to the ‘unified market’ state (just as nor will the EU, which will, however, undoubtedly survive as a cautionary proverb in the fullness of time) – but that’s another story.

It would be imprudent to downplay ECO (as much as it would be foolish to exaggerate it). With a combined GDP (purchasing power parity) of $4.7 trillion (2015 est.), it lists as 5th-highest in the world. (The EU, with 28 member-states, has a GDP of $19.14 trillion [2015 est.].)

Unfortunately for it, ECO comprises of states with dipshit development indices, for the most part. In a sense, ECO is the victim of an interstatal drift that precedes it. Iran and Pakistan have been inching apart since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when a shade more than 1/5th of Pakistan’s population was Shī’a. Pakistan hadn’t pushed the point; Iran had kept its brewing revolution to itself. Pakistan went on to thank Iran by being among the first nations to recognise the Islamic Republic of Iran, and by not supporting Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88.

But the earlier, smooth-as-silk momentum became history. Both Pakistan and pre-Islamic Revolution Iran had been US satellites, secure in their boyz-from-the-‘hood eminence. The 1979 singularity – which would eventually spread to become unexpectedly and stunningly pan-Islamic, in terms both positive and regressive – put paid to all that.

Successful revolutions tend to overbreed ambitious outreach. Iran looked sideways – and began infeeding Afghan Shī’a and Tajik ethnic groups. The House of Saud, in the first of its in-your-face and eventually globe-spanning machinations, hustled its way into a position of paramountcy in Pakistan’s ledger of funding, piggybacked Pakistan into Afghanistan, and eventually won joint fief over 85% of this nation at war with benefactors, malefactors, and itself alike, playing the Tālibān like a Heratī dutār.

Oddly undeterred – for a ‘young’, radical religiorepublic with growing worries about externally-engineered discoherence and a surging Western fixation with Decima peregrinatione (The Tenth Crusade) – George W. Bush described his ‘War on Terror’ as “this crusade” on the very day of the 9/11 atrocity, and the WoT is often referred to as “The Tenth Crusade” – Iran kept at it, giving Pakistan some serious anxiety attacks.

It was Bush who drove a thick, deep wedge between the two nations when he shoehorned Iran into the ‘Axis of Evil’ (inclusion in which has done as much damage thereafter to Iran’s international standing as exclusion from it has done as little damage to Pakistan’s). The ‘Axis of Evil ‘ terminological rubbish has gone on to play as vast, explicit geopolitical havoc (if not more and longer-lasting), than the original wāḥḥābi ahramān itself. In many ways, the current global crisis is the child of a superpowerful fool’s understanding of ‘axis’ and ‘evil’ – a world-changing Unterstellung.

It just isn’t easy any longer to return Pakistan and Iran to their earlier, counterintuitively-secular bonhomie. History is dogged, and it gifts the present with a dog’s life. Until 1857, Afghanistan’s western Herat region had been part of Iran, and Iran has gone monster revanchist on it. Pakistan isn’t having any. The rivalry is one of concealed knives, but it is hardnosed rivalry.

• • • • •

And, then, Balochistan raised its head – very high: a neat, well-marked bullseye for both parties. An incident in June 2008 served to cement Pakistani and Iranian concerns: The Jōnḍollāh (‘Soldiers of God’, or People’s Resistance Movement of Iran), a crossborder group based in Balochistan in Pakistan and the Sīstān o Belūchestan province in southeastern Iran, kidnapped 15 Iranian border guards, executing them all by the end of that year. The Jōnḍollāh are Sunnī: It hardly matters. Pakistan is hunting them down. So is Iran: In April 2015, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the pāsdārān, utterly destroyed a Jōnḍollāh cell in Qasr- Qand and Nikshahr in Sīstān o Belūchestan.

• • • • •

Here’s the thing: If India takes on the task of supporting Balochistan versus the rest of Pakistan, it will have to do so with little choice – or, even, none at all – between the Pakistani Balōch and the Iranian Belūch. (The still unresolved problem for India: they form a single ethnic continuum, but are citizens of two neighbouring nations with very different priorities. Iran is irreplaceably critical to the India-cheerled International North-South Transport Corridor [INSTC], while Pakistan is the starting chock of the geopolitically-inimical China-engineered China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [CPEC].) Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitches warning shots at Pakistan a very long distance from the LoC (such as, on Saturday, 24 September 2016, from a BJP party huddle at Kozhikode in Kerala), New Delhi is reportedly still far from having figured out whether to treat the Balōch/Belūch as a single, immixtured, no-border peoples with a single enemy, Pakistan, or as a dual demographic kept hermetically apart by a 910-km-long Iran-Pakistan border, and therefore calling for separate, specific protocols.

By no means is this easy to sort out. The nearest approximate that India has is the Bengal-Bangladesh unitary division – and that isn’t a patch on the Balōch/Belūch headache of a conundrum. The Balōch/Belūch extend a swath from Iran’s Sīstān, running east along Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand valley, scattering and pacing through Makrān in Pakistan almost to the river Indus, and building up to a not-negligible presence in Karachi, and in the rocky hills east and northeast of Quetta, Balochistan’s Balōch-minority capital.

So: One entity? Two? Three (if you must account for Afghanistan, too)? How is India to choose between the Balōch of a presumptively-genuine and backable fidā’ī’ūn inclination and the Jōnḍollāh, who have an agenda lockdown in place: a resolución militante to bring justice to “all the Sunnīs” in Iran (which might or might not be to the incumbent Indian government’s general satisfaction but is unoptional because it is certain to cock-up the works with Iran)?

Faced with possibly igniting the Iranian Korosh-Belūch against Iran and backing up Pakistan between a rock and a hard place – where it might find logic or resignation or comfort in doing that very unpredictable thing that will not serve India – will India do shamshīr-bāzī or shamshīr-bahāduri: swordplay or sabre-rattling?

Damned if I know. But I definitely do not want to bet on the outcome.

Why Pakistan will never back down on Balochistan

India might not go to war over Kashmir, but Pakistan will, if push comes to shove, go to war over Balochistan. Here’s why:

Balochistan is economically invaluable – indeed, irreplaceable – to Pakistan. It carries a survivability significance for Pakistan far greater than Kashmir does for India. At 347,200-sq-km, Balochistan constitutes 44% of Pakistan, and is by far its largest province. But, immeasurably rich though it is in natural gas, gold, silver, copper and marble, it has less than 7% of Pakistan’s population.

Then, there is the small matter of the Balochistan coastline of 771-km comprising 73.5% of Pakistan’s total coastline (of 1,049-km). And the equally minor fact that Pakistan’s strategically-critical, China-funded and -built Gwadar port – which is itself located 72-km from India’s equally strategic double-berth in Chabahar port in Iran – happens to be in Balochistan. The province is crucial to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The CPEC is crucial to Pakistan’s plans to shrug off the US funding yoke with China’s geopolitical help and financial aid.

• • • • •

So, here is the problem with Prime Minister Modi horning in on Balochistan and trying to internationalise an issue that had its first physical acquaintance with some European Union Parliament leaders only on 13-14 March 2016 (when Hammal Haider Baloch, foreign spokesperson for the Baloch National Movement, attended an EU Parliament session as an observer in Strasbourg, France). This was 10 days before Canadian Baloch activist Naela Qadri Baloch visited India to ratchet up support.

Both events happened days after the arrest (on 3 March 2016) of Indian national Kulbhushan Yadav aka ‘Kul Yadav Bhoshan’ (alias Mubarak Patel) in Chaman, Balochistan.

Modi’s Balochistan intervention policy was already being formulated by the time of Qadri Baloch’s visit. It was aired four months after Qadri Baloch’s drop-in, from the pulpit of the Red Fort in Delhi.

There is little doubt that Pakistan’s 19-month-old National Action Plan against terrorism (and the subsequent strengthening of its National Counter Terrorism Authority [NACTA]) has had a terrible, and terrifying, consequence on the Baloch. Even, going by the Pakistan government’s Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, a disproportionately malevolent effect: According to statistics, while the “War on terror has cost Pakistan Rs118.4 billion since 2001, … Balochistan has suffered losses worth Rs4.3 billion…” – or just 3.63% of Pakistan’s losses due to its so-called ‘war on terror’ over the past 15 years.

In purely monetary terms, Balochistan costs Pakistan very little, and returns a whole lot more than it costs. In the same terms, Kashmir costs India a lot, and returns a whole lot less than it costs.

And therein will lie Modi’s problem. In a logical world, it would be easy to see why India would give up Kashmir before Pakistan gave up Balochistan.

But this is not a logical world. Neither country will, to put it vulgarly, give up shit for eclairs.

I think our prime minister has just dug for India a very deep hole.