Dr Susmit Kumar
Dr Susmit Kumar is unique in more ways than one. He was selected for the prestigious Indian Administrative Service (IAS) but chucked it for a life in US academia. He did his doctorate in 1992 from Pennsylvania State University in just two years, is a voracious reader, who consumes about 15-16 global newspapers daily and writes prolifically on subjects as varied as Islamic militancy to karma philosophy, rise of China to meeting India's energy challenges.
Excerpts from an e-mail interview with The Indian Diaspora by Kavita Bajeli-Datt:
What made you leave India, especially after you had got selected and joined the elite Indian Administrative Service (IAS)?
We all know the plight of Ashok Khemka, a Haryana-cadre IAS (civil servant), who has been transferred 45 times in his 23 years' career. Despite being a very honest bureaucrat, he is not getting central deputation... After being in power for more than six decades, all the Congress leaders are thoroughly corrupt and they enrich themselves and their family members, apart from collecting money for the party. Hence I would prefer BJP over Congress. However had I been in IAS, I would have been in the league of Ashok Khemka. That’s why I thought it better to quit IAS and go to the US for higher studies.
Did you do your PhD. after leaving India and IAS - and in just two years instead of the usual four or more?
When I joined Pennsylvania State University, Dr Stewart K Kurtz, the Director of Materials Research Lab (MRL) and a professor of Electrical Engineering, asked me to come up with an algorithm and write the computer code to solve a problem, which two senior professors were not being able to solve for the last several years. Fortunately, I came up with an algorithm and wrote its computer code in less than two weeks. For this very reason, Dr Kurtz allowed me to defend the PhD thesis in just two and a half years without having a master’s degree at that time. I did not have a master’s degree even from India. Before going to the US, I had a BSc. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Bihar College of Engineering (now NIT), Patna.
From a scholar you seem to have turned a prognosticator - making prophecies on a whole range of international issues? How come?
My background is scientific research. While working at two US universities for eight years, I published 22 peer-reviewed scientific research papers. Out of 22 papers, I was first author in 20 papers. It is the first author of a paper who does the majority of work. For scientific research, you first collect all the data, either from already published papers or doing experiments, and then you fit the data to some mathematical equations/formula/rules which can be used to predict the behavior under similar circumstances.
In my 1995 paper, published in an European magazine and available at my website (www.susmitkumar.net), I first described the then socio-economic-cum-political environment in MENA (Middle East and North African) countries in great detail. Based on these facts, I then predicted the global rise of Islamic militancy and also what would be its final outcome. Right now everyone says that the present global Islamic militancy would last for at least a generation (25 to 30 years), but nobody is predicting how it would end or what would be its final outcome, whereas I predicted both in my 1995 article. In my 1996 article, published in the same magazine and available at my website, I predicted that Afghanistan was the Waterloo for the Soviet Union and it might become the Frankenstein for the US.
You will get an idea about my work from the fact that my 2008 book, “Modernization of Islam”, an extension of my 1995 article, had 640 endnotes/references. My 2012 book “Casino Capitalism” had 268 endnotes/references. In “Casino Capitalism” book, I have more than 35 tables and charts to analyze the last 300 years of global economy. These tables and charts were based on data from sources like the US Federal Reserve, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, US Office of Personnel Management, US Department of Treasury, US Department of Commerce, US Bureau of Economic Analysis, World Trade Organization (WTO), Annual Economic Report of US President, newspapers like The New York Times and Washington Post and research papers published in economics journals.
To what do you owe your eclectic range of scholarly interests - from Islamic militancy to China, from Wall Street to Karma?
Since my childhood, I have a habit of reading newspapers. My father used to subscribe to several newspapers and magazines. In my high school days, I used to read The Indian Nation (English daily from Patna), Aryavarta (Hindi daily from Patna), Amrita Bazar Patrika (English daily from Kolkata), Dinaman(a Hindi weekly magazine), Dharamyug (Hindi weekly magazine) and The Illustrated Weekly of India (English weekly magazine). These days also, I read 15 to 16 newspapers (from US, UK and India) every day on internet. After finishing my PhD and getting a regular job, I bought the entire 32 volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica. In my US house, I have more than 600 books on various subjects. Due to all these, I have been able to write on wide variety of subjects.
Where do you think Islamic extremism is headed and what will be its effect be on the world?
Hitler was trying to create Third Reich, a super colonial power, which according to him would rule over the world. But instead of creating a super colonial power, he destroyed colonialism. During World War II (WWII), he destroyed the economies of then colonial powers like Britain and France to an extent that they had to leave nearly all their colonies because they did not have had enough money to support their troops to fight the rising independence movements. Britain gave independence to Jordan in 1946, Palestine in 1947, India in 1947, Myanmar in 1948, Egypt in 1952, and Malaysia in 1957. Similarly, France gave independence to Laos in 1948, Cambodia in 1953, and Vietnam in 1954, and Dutch also gave independence to Indonesia in 1949. Had there been no Hitler and no WWII, colonial powers would not have left their colonies in late 1940s and 1950s.
Although millions lost lives in violent events like World Wars, these events worked as a catalyst for the evolution of human civilization. They brought changes in few decades which otherwise would have taken several centuries. Till WWII, Europeans were fighting each other which they did for thousands of years and are now moving towards unification. Nobody would have predicted it in early 1900s. Also nearly all European kingdoms were gone. According to me, in order to give birth to a beautiful child, a woman has to go through labor pain. In the first half of last century, Europe went through this labor pain. In my 1995 article, I predicted that now it would be MENA countries which would go through the same.
The global Islamic militancy may lead to a temporary establishment of an Islamic empire in the Middle East and North Africa, with fundamentalist Islamic parties taking power. These ruling parties will try to turn back the clock by imposing Sharia rules. But in the end, it will lead to the formation of secular and democratic nations, such as Turkey, in the region. Until World War I, Turkey, whose population is 99% Muslim, had been the seat of the Ottoman Empire (1299–1922), an Islamic empire, and the Islamic caliphate. It is now a secular, democratic nation since 1923. At the end of the crisis, Islam will shed its image of a 7th Century religion and become a 21st Century religion, more tolerant to non-Muslims and women. Hence the current rise in Islamic militancy worldwide does not reflect Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” but is instead a violent prelude to the modernization of Islam, and a major step toward the integration of human civilization.
What do you think of the rise of China and its current economic downturn with many prophecies saying that this will lead to the collapse of its present authoritarian system?
During WWII, only US and UK deliberated for 3 years about the future of global economy, culminating into the 1944 Bretton Woods Accord. At that time, entire Europe was under Hitler and countries like India and China did not have any economy to have a say in the Accord. Under British Plan, which was rejected, there would have been one global currency (say Bancor) managed by an international bank and also an International clearing house to oversee export and import of each country. The British team was led by none other than John M. Keynes, a genius in economics. Countries with too much imports and too much exports were to be penalized. But the US was able to impose its will as UK was entirely dependent on US, even for food. The US was able impose its currency as global currency. It also created institutions like IMF where nothing can happen without the wishes of the US. In IMF, nearly all decisions require 85% vote and US is the only country which has more than 15% voting share.
But in the last several years, China has become the number one trading partner, replacing the US, of nearly all major countries. It is using its currency yuan, instead the US dollar, as the mode of transaction with its trading partners. In 2009, only 1% of Chinese trade was in yuan whereas, in 2014, 19% of Chinese trade was in yuan. As per HSBC CEO, 50% of Chinese trade would be in yuan by 2020. Hence in next several years, yuan is going to replace the US dollar as the mode of transaction in global trade.
Till now taking advantage of dollar being the global currency the US has been funding its twin deficits – trade and budget deficits, by printing its currency whenever it wants. After creation of two international financial organizations by China, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and New Development Bank (formerly BRICS Bank), the IMF and World Bank, dominated by the US, are bound to lose their status to the former two. It is just a question of time that both the former banks would start to lend money in yuan, leading to the collapse of the US dollar status as the global currency. Once the US dollar loses the status of global currency, the US economy would collapse in the same way the Soviet Union economy collapsed in late 1980s. But China would not be able to impose its will on the global economy. Instead the collapse of US economy would lead to the global Great Depression. The world will not have an option but to implement the British proposals during the deliberation before the signing of 1944 Bretton Woods Accord.
What future do you see for India and for Narendra Modi?
Due to six decade mismanagement by the Congress Party, India has missed the boat. Now it is too late even for a person like Narendra Modi to match Chinese economy. Instead of becoming an exporting country like China, India is becoming an importing country like the US. Just 10-11 years ago, India’s trade deficit was in upper $20s billion a year whereas lately it is near $200 billion a year because of increase in the middle class population. In next several years, the middle class population in India would even surpass the entire US population, increasing its trade deficit to the US level which is $500 billion to $600 billion a year. In no way Indian economy can survive this much import.
I support the theory that a country should never import a mass consumption item and it should find a substitute for an imported mass consumption item at the earliest. Despite having 7th largest land mass (nearly 1/6th of Russia and 1/3rd of US as well as China also), India has 2nd largest arable land area in the world, nearly equal to the US, the largest in the world. The US agriculture production, employing only 2% of its population, is much more than that of India. As India imports nearly 75% of its petroleum consumption and crude oil is the biggest import, costing $112 billion in 2014-15 which was more than $150 billion when global crude oil price was its peak, India should find alternative fuels like corn-based alternative fuels include biodiesel, bioalcohol (methanol, ethanol, butanol), chemically stored electricity (batteries and fuel cells), hydrogen, non-fossil methane, non-fossil natural gas, vegetable oil, propane and other biomass sources. This is just an example of how India can reduce its import bill.
How do you view the 30 million strong Indian Diaspora - are they an asset for India or have most turned their backs on India?
Till now India has been able manage its increasing trade deficit due to the massive remittance from its strong 30 million India diaspora. According to a World Bank report, India received $70.39 billion in remittances in 2014. That’s ahead of China, which got $64.14 billion, and more than all the remittances received by the Philippines, Mexico and Pakistan combined. Without $70 billion remittances, India’s rupee might have gone down drastically against the global currencies.
Before the advent of IT industry, the Western countries viewed India, a backward and idol-worshipping voodoo place. But young Indians, in 20s and 30s working in IT industries world-wide, have drastically changed the image of India in entire world. These IT industry Indians, working in the US, have created millions of jobs, back in India in IT industry.
(Kavita Bajeli-Datt can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org/ Dr Susmit Kumar can be contacted at email@example.com)