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Saturday, 2 December 2017

Ban loudspeakers from all places of worship (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
 
Sound of the decibel level found in a discotheque is not requisite for practice of faith.
 
Among the medley of stories on national television was an item about a graveyard for the Muslim community in Panjim, where loudspeakers have now been banned with the consent even of those using them. The argument in favour of the ban got clinched when it was pointed out that “loudspeakers are used not in graveyards, but in houses of worship”. Such a view assumes that sound of the decibel level found in a discotheque is a requisite for the practice of faith, when in fact the reverse is true. The magnification of sound as a consequence of being expressed through a loudspeaker makes it more, rather than less difficult to achieve the contemplative state that is most conducive to calm devotion. The reason why discos are loud is because they encourage a mood of anticipated pleasure. Excitement gets generated through the high decibel music played within the room where dancing takes place. Surely it is not such a mood that is sought to get replicated in religious places, but the opposite. Of course, it is true that often religious issues generate heat and passion that sometimes lead to arguments and even fights. However, such emotions are not natural to the spirit of genuine religious experiences, which are deepest in an ambience conducive to contemplation. Which is an ambience from where loudspeaker noise has been excluded. All loudspeaker noise. Some time ago, the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh silenced loudspeakers in a temple compound, while permitting the same in a nearby mosque. In like manner, the Trinamool Congress regime in Kolkata had sought to downscale Puja celebrations in some locations, “so as not to offend minority sentiments”. Aside from the Wahhabi fringe, it is ridiculous to assume that Muslims would object to the celebration of a festival as joyous as Durga Puja, and by making such an assumption, the Trinamool Congress is continuing the policy pursued by the Congress Party since Mahatma Gandhi gave support to the 1919 Khilafat agitation of the Ali brothers. This is to ignore the moderate majority of Muslims and treat only the extreme fringe as representative of the world’s second largest religious denomination. The empowerment that successive national governments in India gave this fringe has resulted in the skewing of policy to favour the fringe at the cost of the overwhelming majority within the Muslim community. Such empowerment of a few has, for generations, created an impasse in matters such as a resolution of the Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi legacies. So long as these three leftover problems from history do not get remedied, the danger exists of a poisoning of inter-communal relations in a way that goes against the interests of both Muslims and Hindus.
Mahatma Gandhi entered on a programme of consistent accommodation of fringe elements in the Muslim community with the noblest of intentions. He wanted a united country and was opposed to Partition, seeing in such an outcome, a moral and political defeat. After the shock to Britain of the 1914-19 war and afterwards that caused by the 1939-45 war, there was zero doubt that the British would soon hand over their subcontinental empire to its legitimate inhabitants. Freedom became an outcome close at hand once the loyalty of Indian members of the armed forces to the British Empire began to disintegrate from 1945 onwards in a series of mutinies and desertions. The real task before the Congress leadership was not the (by now inevitable) securing of freedom, but the preservation of unity within the subcontinent of India. Who would prevail, Mahatma Gandhi and his efforts at unity, or M.A. Jinnah and his bid to divide the country?
Jinnah won and Mahatma Gandhi lost, although in our history books this is not seen as a defeat, but as a natural consequence of the perfidy of the British. In reality, partition was not inevitable, except that Jinnah serially outsmarted the Congress leadership, transforming an initially weak Muslim League hand into a winning one on the back of the numerous mistakes made by the Congress Party. These include the resignation of its provincial ministries in 1939, the futile effort to “non-cooperate” with the war effort and the assumption of moral equivalence between the Axis and the Allied powers. By backing the latter during the war, Jinnah accumulated goodwill among British policymakers sufficient to ensure the final success of the “Divide & Quit” lobby. After the war, the Congress Party conceded equal representation to the much smaller Muslim League in the pre-Independence government, an advantage that was used by Jinnah to sabotage the functioning of the Congress-led government, including by ensuring immunity for individuals such as Shaheed Suhrawardy, who let loose gangs in Bengal that rampaged through a terrified Hindu community. In tune with his nature, Mahatma Gandhi forgave Suhrawardy and even took part in several joint activities with the then Chief Minister of Bengal. The post-1919 deference of the Congress leadership to the escalating demands of the Muslim League succeeded not in keeping India united, but in dividing the country, just as a similar deference to fringe elements since 1947 has resulted in a less than satisfactory situation concerning communal relations in India.
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Dipak Misra is the author of the SC edict that the national anthem should get played before any film gets screened in a theatre. Presumably, such an order increases the Patriotism Quotient within the filmgoer population. Hopefully, the CJI will now consider passing another order, which is that loudspeakers get banned in all religious places of worship in the country. That would be a significant step towards ensuring the contemplative atmosphere needed for the tranquillity that is the core of faith. 

Friday, 1 December 2017

BJP asks Rahul Gandhi his religion (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India | M D Nalapat

IN 1981, then General Secretary of the Congress Party Rajiv Ratna Birjees Gandhi (who was to become Prime Minister in 1984) visited Kerala. Because this was the home state of this columnist, Rajiv asked him to accompany him while he toured the state. On learning that the only surviving son of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was to visit Thrissur, the picturesque town that is the cultural hub of the state, this columnist advised him to visit the Guruvayur temple to give respect to the deity installed in that ancient house of worship. Arrangements were made to bring “mundu” and “veshti” (cotton robes) for Rajiv and his cousin Arun Nehru, who too went with him, as this is the preferred attire for visits to the temple. Rajiv, who was as agnostic as his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, was a bit bemused at first at the atmosphere and the rituals at the temple, but followed through in a manner that won the hearts of the millions of devotees of Lord Guruvayurappan, the presiding deity of the Guruvayur temple, which is famed for the large number of elephants used in temple rituals and on festive occasions.
After that visit to Guruvayur, Rajiv made it a point to visit temples in several other cities, and it must be said that this move of his earned him a substantial amount of goodwill among the pious, who otherwise were a bit wary of his modern ways. Rajiv was born of a Zoroastrian father and a Hindu mother, and as in other traditional societies, among Zoroastrians as well, the children take the faith of the father. As Rajiv’s father was Feroze Gandhi, this would have made him a Zoroastrian, as would have been his son Rahul. However,the Rajiv Gandhi branch of the Nehru family only bring up their mother and grandmother Indira Gandhi, never referring to Feroze Gandhi, who is the Forgotten Gandhi despite being the source of the Gandhi name by which the family is known. The Sonia Gandhi branch of the Nehru family seldom discuss their religious identities, but those who know them closely say that Sonia is a devout Catholic whose family in Italy has been a generous contributor to Catholic charities. The people of India have large hearts and minds, and would not have held it against Sonia Gandhi that she belonged to the Christian faith. Indeed, the Christian community in India has distinguished itself by numerous contributions to education and healthcare.
The “Hindu” community is comprised of thousands of strands, several of them being entirely different from each other even in the modes of worship. Similar is the case with other communities, with even the minuscle Zoroastrian community having divisions such as those between “dasturs” and others. So far as the Muslim community is concerned, with a strength exceeding 170 million across the country, it is difficult to justify the tag of “minority”. Although of course the overall position of the Muslims of the subcontinent underwent a change after the events of 1947, yet in India, across several fields of activity Muslims have distinguished themselves by their industry and talent. In India, there is a Modern, Moderate Majority of Muslims ( 4M) which is a great gift to the country.
Rahul Gandhi has followed the example of his parents in visiting temple after temple, despite being silent as to his religious affiliation. Close friends say that he too subscribes to the Catholic faith, while others say that the incoming President of the Congress Party is agnostic.
As mentioned in these columns, the December elections to the Gujarat state legislature is crucial to the future of Prime Minister Modi. A Congress victory over the BJP would come after 22 continuous years of BJP rule in the state, and would position Rahul Gandhi as a serious challenger to Modi in the 2019 national polls. Given that more than 80% of the population of Gujarat is from the Hindu community, it is obvious why Rahul Gandhi has found the time to visit temple after temple during his tours of the state. However, a register apparently signed by him has caused a political storm, because the incoming chief of the Congress Party reportedly signed the register as a “non-Hindu” in the company of Ahmed Patel, the third most powerful individual in the Congress Party after Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Months ago, Ahmed Patel fought off a challenge from the BJP to get re-elected to the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament), and ever since, has been focussing on ensuring victory for the Congress Party in Gujarat.
Taking Ahmed Patel to the Somnath Temple was clearly a gesture by Rahul Gandhi that the soft-spoken tactician from Gujarat still enjoyed his trust,despite rumours that he would be sidelined once Rahul took over from Sonia. Taking a Muslim leader with him to a Hindu temple was a clear affirmation of Rahul Gandhi’s adherence to “Nehruvian secularism”, which makes no pretence of equal treatment of all, but instead ensures a privileged position for the minorities. If Rahul Gandhi is still a Christian and a Catholic, that is not a matter to be hidden but to be celebrated, as both the faith and the sect are noteworthy for the many gifted individuals in their ranks. Rather than seek cover behind silence, Rahul Gandhi needs to openly proclaim his faith. Such candour will win him the goodwill of the people of India in a way that seeking to avoid the issue through silence will not. The BJP is asking if Rahul Gandhi is a Hindu or not. The question of whether he is or is not is irrelevant, provided Rahul is honest and transparent about his actual faith.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Exclusion not the antidote to Wahhabism (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
 
Fanaticism and exclusion cannot be fought with fanaticism and exclusion.
 
In 1992, this columnist warned “South Asia experts” at meetings in the US that Wahhabism was an existential danger to several countries, including many that were Muslim-majority. However, he was met with scepticism. The Wahhabis, after all, had been loyal foot soldiers of first the UK and later the US for considerably over a century, first against the Turkish caliphate, later against Arab nationalists such as Egypt’s Nasser or Algeria’s Ben Bella, and very recently against the USSR in Afghanistan. Indeed, practitioners of this creed are still serving incumbent US administrations, these days against Iran and its allies such as Syria’s Bashar Assad. Policymakers as well as “think-tankers” in the US and the EU have, over the decades, indulgently encouraged Saudi Arabia to send billions of dollars annually to institutions and individuals committed to the exclusivist, supremacist Wahabbi creed that was developed more than two centuries ago, and which has since been seeking to gain more and more followers across the globe, in the process, creating severe ripple effects on community relations. In India, for instance, almost every “Hindu-Muslim” clash involving loss of life is between Wahhabis and members of the Hindu community. There have been close to zero such encounters between Shias and Hindus, or between Sufis and Hindus, and relatively few between Sunnis and Hindus, if we differentiate the Sunni community from the (much smaller number of) Wahhabis who often pose as the sole representatives of this important branch of the Islamic faith. Almost all acts of terror in the US or the EU that have been perpetrated by Muslims have actually been carried out by Wahhabis, and these teachings are also the basis for the theology of Al Qaeda and its latest mutant, ISIS. Small wonder that these days, warnings about Wahhabism are taken somewhat more seriously even in the US and the EU than was the case a quarter-century ago, although even now, analysts there always confuse Wahhabis with Sunnis, thereby doing a great injustice to the latter, many of whom are modern and the overwhelming majority of whom are moderate. 
Now, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has become the first member of the Al Saud family to publicly acknowledge the harm done by Wahhabism, and to call for its substitution with genuine Islam, a faith that promotes tolerance, mercy and beneficence. The Saudi Crown Prince has acted just in time. A rolling back of Wahhabism and a return of moderate and inclusivist practices is essential for the Muslim community more than for others, and in such a task, India’s moderate majority among Muslims can be a global asset. At present, there are tens of millions across the globe, who segregate themselves from the rest of the societies they are resident in, and who clutch at uniformity in their dress and deportment. There is nothing objectionable in the hijab or a headscarf, if such choices be the consequence of free will and are not based on coercion. Should an overall climate of freedom of expression and lifestyle prevail within a country, such individuals will find courage to challenge those who are illogical enough to claim that wearing the same type of dress as was in vogue a millennium ago is obligatory for the wearer to enter heaven. 
In India, where Muslim women have been in the lead in battling against such medieval practices as triple talaq, finally a fightback by the Muslim community against Wahhabism is taking place, with several both in educational institutions as well as the workplace refusing to follow those dress codes that have been imposed across centuries. Except of course voluntarily, the way many women still wear that most graceful of dresses, the sari. It may be possible to fight fire with fire, but fanaticism and exclusion cannot be fought with fanaticism and exclusion. Recent edicts of some schools in UP who have banned girls who wear the hijab or a headscarf, will encourage Wahhabi tendencies, rather than damp them down. Such acts of exclusion will be used by the Wahhabis to validate their “Us versus Them” dialectic, thereby reinforcing existing affinities to this school of theology, rather than weaning people away from it. 
The difference between Malaysia and Indonesia is that one country enforces a ban on the eating of pork, the other does not. The difference between Nepal and India is that one of these countries prohibits the eating of beef under threat of prosecution and, in practice, sometimes death, whereas the other freely permits its consumption. It is a big difference, although there is certainly a case for reducing the eating of beef, given the environmental impact of such consumption. However, such an objective needs to be achieved through informal persuasion and not through the force of law. A state that relies on the police to enforce certain choices in dress, diet and lifestyle choices is usually one where laws are ignored by many. Assuming that the script of the movie is as derogatory of the character of the heroine as is being depicted by detractors of Padmavati, banning its exhibition (that too without having seen the movie) will not erase the historical fact that large parts of India underwent centuries of rule by Muslim kings. Much more reflection needs to take place as to exactly why Muslim invaders were successful over Hindu kings who ruled over far more prosperous lands. Rather than threaten film producers and actors, those aggrieved by it should instead produce a movie that ends with a resounding victory by the defenders of Chittor against Alauddin Khilji, who would in this movie jump into a fire to escape his foes, thereby creating an alternative reality suiting their historical preferences. 
The UPA went into a frenzy of enactments, passing laws and imposing regulations each time a television anchor demanded “action”. In the case of the NDA as well, there has been far too frequent a reliance on the bludgeon of law and the police in enforcing choices that are less than universally popular. In a free society, regulations curbing freedom of choice and speech should be the exception rather than the usual recourse of those elected to office. Wahhabism cannot be defeated or even slowed down through methods and mindsets similar to those favoured by adherents of this creed. 

PM Modi scripted India’s victory over UK in UN (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
 
President Donald Trump was decisive in changing US position on India.

Those involved with the successful campaign to ensure victory for India’s Dalveer Bhandari in the elections to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), say that more than the UK, which has no seat on the International Criminal Court at Hague for the first time in the history of that institution, it is Pakistan that has been devastated by India’s candidate prevailing over the UK’s Christopher Greenwood, who like Bhandari has already served a nine-year term on the court. Since June this year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally intervened to make his team swing into action to secure a second term for the courtly judge, Rawalpindi GHQ concurrently made the Government of Pakistan go into diplomatic overdrive to ensure that Bhandari lost. Islamabad’s hopes were raised after the candidate from Lebanon overtook the Indian candidate in the race for the lone “Asia” seat, thereby forcing a contest against the UK, a permanent member of the UN Security Council instead. Given that none of the “Permanent 5” (US, China, Russia, France and the UK) had ever lost an election to another country before, it was conveyed by diplomats to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the chances for a Bhandari victory were “not substantial”. Modi, however, decided to go ahead with the contest, despite the risk of losing, arguing that it was important that India oppose the tradition of a privileged P-5 member always prevailing over an ordinary member of the UN, such as India. Reform of the archaic UN system has been made a foreign policy priority of the PM, and part of the proposed alternative construct (to the 1944 Bretton Woods architecture that has been left unchanged since then) is to ensure adequate weightage to the General Assembly, rather than have this huge body constantly defer to the Security Council (specifically the P-5) in matters coming up for decision within the UN system. Hence, rather than waste much effort on the Security Council (which could be expected to follow the tradition of supporting one of their own against other countries), India’s UN envoy, Syed Akbaruddin was told to concentrate his efforts within the General Assembly, which he began doing from 20 June onwards, once briefed on the importance that Modi was placing on this election. 
Those spoken to say that the matter involving Kulbhushan Jadhav’s capture by the Pakistan army on trumped-up charges was critical in making PM Modi aware of the need to ensure that India not lose its seat at the ICJ, which was why campaigning began in earnest only after the Jadhav case got referred to the ICJ. In contrast, the Lebanese candidate, who was elected rather than Bhandari earlier in the polling process, had begun his campaign more than three years before, and had during this period secured the support of enough members of the General Assembly and Security Council to enable him to move past the Indian candidate in the balloting. 
UNGA DEFEATS UNSC FOR THE FIRST TIME
The Modi government refused to succumb to informal pressure by the P-5 and by some other countries to withdraw from the contest and therefore make the election of five judges unanimous. According to those involved in the ICJ campaign, pressure from London to withdraw was continuous up to the final days of the contest, peaking during September. These efforts got reduced only after it became clear that Modi was firm that India would remain in the contest, even against a P-5 member such as the UK, and even when there was a significant risk of India losing. Among the Asian countries, the most steadfast in defence of the British candidate was Japan, which to the end backed Christopher Greenwood in line with Tokyo’s policy of marching in lockstep with the victors of the 1939-45 global war. Another factor was the British royal family, which is close to the Japanese royal family. Indeed, several countries across the globe that have monarchs as titular heads of state—especially in the Arab states—backed the UK solely on the grounds of the latter being a monarchy like themselves. In contrast, the Commonwealth link failed to secure any advantage for London, with most of the members of that grouping, especially from Africa, remaining with India. Throughout, Pakistan worked in tandem with the UK in order to seek the defeat of India, expending considerable effort in the process. 
On the Indian side, once in mid-June the Prime Minister gave the command to go full steam on the Bhandari nomination, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Ministers of State V.K. Singh and M.J. Akbar, Foreign Secretary Subramaniam Jaishankar and UN Representative Syed Akbaruddin worked seamlessly in convincing UN General Assembly members that the hour had arrived to show the UN Security Council that it could not have a monopoly of power over an institution with nearly 200 active members, an argument that resonated with members uneasy with the sense of entitlement and arrogance in functioning of the Permanent Five members of the UN Security Council, who as a group have been resisting reform of the UN for close to two decades. Sushma Swaraj made nearly 60 calls to UNGA members, while both Singh and Akbar worked hard within their zones of responsibility to ensure support for Bhandari. Both Foreign Secretary Jaishankar and Permanent Representative Akbaruddin followed the Prime Minister’s lead and worked long and hard to ensure the shock defeat of the UK candidate, the first time a UNSC candidate from the P-5 had been bested by a candidate from the UNGA. As expected, both Australia as well as New Zealand put ethnic linkages first and stood by Greenwood over Bhandari to the last, although Canada under Justin Trudeau was more circumspect.
TRUMP’S INTERVENTION
Prime Minister Modi gave himself the task of tackling the core of Greenwood’s support, which was the P-5 in the UNSC. He personally brought up the ICJ matter to each of the five leaders of the countries involved. Interestingly, not even China (which has for long tied itself to the Pakistani bandwagon) refused Modi’s request to support Dalveer Bhandari, although almost to the end, Beijing gave its diplomatic backing to the UK. Until pulled up by President Donald Trump himself, who has invested considerable effort in forging an alliance with India, the Permanent Mission of the United States in the UN worked daily in seeking the defeat of Bhandari. This was despite it being headed by Nikki Haley, whose earlier avatar of Namrata Randhawa was Indian in ethnicity. Ambassador Haley personally gave complete backing to Greenwood over her ethnic cousin Dalveer Bhandari, until the final stages, when it took a command from the White House to make her change her stance. 
President Trump intervened on India’s behalf when it became obvious that 2/3rd of UN General Assembly members favoured India. Unfazed by such support, the UK sought to invoke the conference route, whereby the much bigger UN General Assembly would have only the same representation as the Security Council. However, both Moscow and Washington opposed such a move, aware that it would not only anger Delhi, but provoke resentment within the UNGA, which since the time of the George W. Bush war and subsequent occupation of Iraq has been forced to assume a powerless role. 
Among the factors that worked against Greenwood was that the jurist was an enthusiastic backer of that war, justifying on shaky legal grounds Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to march behind Bush in launching the 2003 war that sent Iraq into chaos. This ever faithful “human poodle” of US policymakers was subsequently rewarded by a well-paying UN position in recognition of the way in which he followed Washington’s lead on the Iraq war without hesitation. 
MUSLIM COUNTRIES BACKED INDIA
Besides the monarchies, another bloc that stood by the UK was Eastern Europe, where questions of ethnicity are still important. In contrast, several western European countries broke away from the UK and gravitated towards India. These were led by France, which under the youthful Emmanuel Macron has been trying to assume a global leadership role as during the De Gaulle era, and in the process cultivating the developing countries. President Macron was the second among the P-5 leaders to sense the groundswell of resentment against the UN Security Council for usurping the powers that ought to have remained with the General Assembly, which is the actual but largely ignored heart of the UN system. He was preceded by India’s all-weather friend, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who early in the process signalled Moscow’s unwillingness to damage Moscow’s cordial relations with India by backing a UNSC member-country candidate, who saw his Indian competitor increase his UNGA lead over him with every round of voting, to the level where another round would have led to a 2/3rd vote for Bhandari against Greenwood. 
Finally, only China was left by the UK’s side, but even Beijing understood that backing the UNSC candidate over the UNGA’s favourite would damage its standing as a champion of the developing countries. Beijing, therefore, joined with the US and Russia in opposing the move by London to take the contest to a UNGA-UNSC conference with three members from each side. The UK judge’s politically motivated support for the Iraq war on specious grounds was disseminated extensively among UNGA members by numerous delegations, and played a role in most of the Muslim-majority countries ignoring the increasingly frantic efforts of GHQ Rawalpindi, acting through the civilian government in Pakistan, to secure the victory of the UK judge. Greenwood’s term was ending, but he wanted a fresh innings in the ICJ. Of the 58 Muslim-majority countries, more than 40 eventually backed India over the UK, many out of disgust at Greenwood’s role as an apologist for the 2003 Iraq war launched by Bush and Blair after giving false evidence to the UN through Secretary of State Colin Powell. 
Now that the UNGA has shown that it has the capacity to challenge the dominance of the UNSC if it has the requisite numbers, Prime Minister Modi is quietly looking at UN reform, including ensuring for India a permanent berth in the UNSC. The victory of Dalveer Bhandari was the opposite of what took place in 1971 during the Bangladesh crisis, when almost the entire UNGA voted against India. In the ICJ episode, that was reversed, with almost the entire UNGA (183 members exactly) voting with the candidate enjoying the backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Gujarat victory critical for Modi (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India | M D Nalapat

ELECTRONIC voting machines (EVMs) are geared towards generating results much faster than paper ballots, yet in India, election results get released days and sometimes weeks after polling. In contrast, the United States voter usually knows within hours of the close of polling as to which candidate is the winner. During the November 8,2016 Presidential elections, assuming Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton got some sleep that night, by morning it was evident that the Democratic nominee had lost. Despite having worked for the prize for nine years before 2016, Hillary Clinton lost the nomination to Barack Obama and the election to Donald Trump.
The US election system is complex, with several millions of ballots having to be counted, and yet results are declared within hours. Why EVMs are transported to sundry locations and thereafter stored for considerable periods of time in other places is another of the myriad administrative procedures extant in India that make no sense to the rational mind. Add to this the assumption by the Election Commission of India (EC) that the average voter is the most impressionable human being on the planet, and it will be understood why elections to the state assembly have taken place in Himachal Pradesh (HP) some weeks ago, but the results will be declared only on December 18, together with the Gujarat results.
The Election Commission believes that the declaration of results for HP would so influence the mind of voters in Gujarat as to somehow gravely affect the result. The fact is that election campaigns in a democracy are meant to influence minds rather than put people to sleep (as they would, if each of the EC’s many formal and advisory regulations concerning the conduct of campaigning were to get carried out not only in letter but in spirit. The EC has not explained the expert psychiatrists and psychologists it would have consulted to determine that voters in Gujarat would be so powerfully affected by election results in Himachal Pradesh as to suddenly swerve from the preferences they would have held earlier. Commonsense indicates that the voter can be trusted to digest information about other poll battles and yet calmly exercise her or his franchise. But commonsense is not a favoured virtue within the dovecotes of bureaucracy, where colonial-era perceptions about the population co-exist with colonial-era laws, practices and procedures. The Constitution of India mandates that the country should be socialist. Every leader swears by Mahatma Gandhi. Even the present Prime Minister, Narendra Damodardas Modi, is a fervent admirer of the leader from Porbander, making it a point to pay homage to a statue of the Mahatma if he finds one in any country he visits. Mahatma Gandhi lived a very simple life, whether it be his diet (squashed vegetables and occasionally coarse cereal) or his places of stay, which were often huts in the poorer parts of the city he was visiting. In contrast, ministerial bungalows in Lutyens Delhi that are occupied by the successors to the British colonial masters are the same as were the official residences of the “sahibs” whose era was thought to have ended on August 15, 1947. Googling “Nalapat Saraph” may reveal the extensive research carried out by Dr Anupam Saraph and this columnist on the subject of election fraud through tampering with electronic voting machines. Even if the machine shows on a screen the party the voter chose in the booth, that is not fail-safe, as it is possible to still introduce trojans that ensure (for example) that every other vote for a particular party (or every fifth vote) gets transferred to another party.
The only reliable method is to ensure a paper receipt for each vote, that can latter be tallied in case of doubt about the results. Although corruption is not unknown within the higher bureaucracy, it has traditionally been assumed that the bureaucrats manning the Election Commission of India are not just honest but masters of such technical subjects as the inner workings of electronic voting machines (EVMs). The EC has time and again assured the populace that EVMs are tamper-proof and that the lengthy period between casting ballots and knowing the result does not in any way vitiate the tally of votes cast by electors in each poll. That is fortunate, for in states with a high degree of literacy and awareness such as Gujarat, any result other than that reflecting the will of the people would generate a storm of protest, the way Z A Bhutto’s victory in the 1977 polls created an upwelling of anger that cleared way for Chief of Army Staff General Zia ul-Haq to remove Prime Minister of Pakistan from office.
Largely because of a decline in the rate of growth and the consequent public disquiet that this has caused, the Congress Party senses the chance for a comeback victory in a state that has been the fief of the BJP for two decades. However, the party in power in both the centre as well as in the state has a powerful weapon in the form of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is still far and away the most popular politician yet in the country, with many more people being counted among his ardent admirers than those who strongly oppose him. These perceptions will make a difference in the polls, as the BJP will need to ensure that its supporters feel sufficiently enthused to go out and vote rather than remain at home, especially because those against the Prime Minister seem motivated enough to cast their ballots in large numbers. Even if the BJP has a natural majority in the state, that would not be an effective majority unless the level of participation in polling of its supporters is as high as that of backers of the Congress Party.
Winning Gujarat is essential for Prime Minister Modi, to ensure that his party remains on the front foot for the 2019 national polls. But even a good showing (although short of a majority) by the Congress Party would be seen as a plus for Brand Rahul. However, the incoming President of the Congress Party will need to retain power in Karnataka state elections early next year, to prove that the Congress Party under his leadership can stop the Modi juggernaut in a manner that Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi failed to achieve. Gujarat and Karnataka are two state elections that are of overwhelming importance for both Prime Minister Modi as well as his prime challenger, incoming Congress President Rahul Gandhi.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

China’s root-cause solution for Rohingya crisis (CGTN)


Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi said on Tuesday she hopes talks with Bangladesh this week will result in a memorandum of understanding on the “safe return” of Rohingya Muslims who fled to its neighboring country in the past three months. At the same time, China proposed a “three-phase” solution to tackle the cause of the Rakhine state issue. What is significance about China’s resolution? What are the next steps for implementing this proposed solution on the ground?

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Karni Sena must not disgrace Rajputs (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
 
In a country where FIRs rain down like confetti, none has been initiated against Karni Sena.
 
It is difficult to understand why the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC)—itself out of place in a democracy—was presumed to be the definitive authority about what celluloid offering would be permitted to get screened in public, and which completed movie would be returned unexhibited into the cans storing film reels. For, this is clearly not the case. An organisation terming itself the “Karni Sena” has given itself the responsibility of certifying whether a movie that none of its members has seen should be shown within the country. They have also grabbed for themselves the CBFC’s power to censor and edit the film, Padmavati. There are several who sought to jail Subramanian Swamy for writing an oped years ago that dropped out of view almost as soon as it was published. These individuals seem, however, reluctant to go to the police to complain about the threats made against the producer and actors of Padmavati. A public threat to cut off Deepika Padukone’s nose has been made by an individual claiming to represent the Rajput community, but who seems to instead be a disgrace to this or any segment of the country’s population. Another “Karni Sainik”—who is clearly aeons distant from the chivalry of the Rajput community—has offered a reward of Rs 5 crore to any individual who would be barbaric enough to do grave harm to producer Sanjay Leela Bhansali or actress Deepike Padukone. A munificent sum, when murder “suparis” of Rs 5 lakh are considered generous in Mumbai, given the city’s expanding population of illegals. In a country where FIRs rain down like confetti, none has been initiated against the members of the Karni Sena. Rather than on television screens, the Karni Sainiks should volunteer to go to Syria and Iraq to do battle against ISIS, judging by the ferocity and the fighting spirit they exhibit in television studios against a somewhat less formidable foe, Deepika Padukone. 
Prisons in India are crowded by those who have never had the privilege of a day in court or even been formally charged. A young undertrial, who finds himself in jail for lack of money (to ensure that the police work for the truth, rather than follow the path designed to secure a bribe), may find himself moving past the threshold of senior citizenship before finally managing to extricate himself from a prison environment that destroys productive capacities through conditions that are exceptionally harsh. As they were when our country became free of colonial masters who regarded the people they ruled as trash, and behaved to them accordingly. Across much of the governance system, very little has changed in the laws and practices since 15 August 1947. In particular, most of the effective control over the administration is as firmly in the hands of the IAS, as it earlier was under the ICS, the traditions of which the successor service has followed with pride since 1947. As for the politicians who in theory run the system, these are regularly sent off Yes-Minister-style on grand tour after grand tour, moved from dazzling event after dizzying event, the news headlines they get being in inverse proportion to their success in imposing their preferences over those of the bureaucracy. Seeking to wrest control from the bureaucracy is a battle almost all politicians give up within weeks of assuming office.
An interesting result in a country that was divided on the basis of the toxic Two-Nation theory is that during some periods, those belonging to Community X get a much higher dose of immunity from prosecution for offences than others, while in other times, that benefit flows to Community Y. Depending, of course, on the particular composition of vote relied upon by a ruling party to cross the 35% threshold that almost always ensures victory in the Westminster “first past the post” system so faithfully copied in India. Or in other words, substantial power for a period of five years of huge financial resources and vast powers. The impunity with which the “Karni Sena” has been agitating against the release of a yet-to-be-screened film is indicative of the gap between formal and effective power. Another example is the way in which groups of unemployed youths stop vehicles transporting bovines, and in some cases, murder those at the wheel. These are of recent vintage, but those who trumpet that such conditions represent a change from the past, are themselves oblivious to the reality that similar takeovers of power have long been endemic in India. How else could state-owned banks give so many loans to individuals who clearly had not the faintest intention of repaying the same? How else could resources such as spectrum or coal been allocated on the shadowy preferences (expressed in yellow post-it stickers) of those devoid of formal positions of power who left powerless those with impressive formal titles?
After having stood by Victorian values and codes in matters such as criminal defamation or consensual relations between adults, the Supreme Court has fortunately defended freedom of speech. Hopefully, the Government of India will gain courage from this stance and put an end to the tandava of those who seek to prevent any expression of opinion that does not meet their standards or pander to their taste. A good place to start would be to stop the Karni Sena from its numerous acts of intimidation and worse. The UPA lost the confidence of the voter because of its supine attitude to serial misuse of authority by government agencies. The situation now is different, in that it is not government agencies but non-state usurpers of their authority who are working hard to make this country a global laughing stock. Refusal to take action against them must not be an option for a Prime Minister as committed to the imperatives of the 21st century as Narendra Modi.

Friday, 17 November 2017

A new Indo-Pacific alliance takes shape (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India | M D Nalapat

THE recent meetings in the Philippines of East Asian countries as well as some major powers are important in that they were the venue for what is clearly a new Indo-Pacific alliance. The Indo-Pacific has been defined by this columnist to refer to the entire body of water which comprises both Pacific as well as the Indian Ocean, and this will by far be most important arena of geopolitical activity in 21st century. There are potentially two possible combinations that would reach the hyper-power level. These are a Russia-India-China alliance or in Asia, a US-India-Japan-Vietnam-Australia-Indonesia-South Korea partnership.
The repeated spikes in border tensions between China and India caused by the lack of an agreed Line of Actual Control defining the boundary between the two countries has gravely affected the ties between them. Just a month ago, the two sides came close to armed conflict at Doklam. Given such a situation, as also the ever more comprehensive relationship between Islamabad and Beijing, it is unlikely that a Russia-India-China alliance would take off. Apart from the extremely slow progress in border talks between China and India, the other reason why such an alliance is unlikely lies in the fact that both Russia and China would like India to return to Nehruvian policy of “non-alignment”.
Although such a term implies equidistance between two sides, in reality “non-alignment” in practice meant a tilt towards Moscow and away from Washington. These days, when Beijing talks about the desirability of India remaining fixed to a “non-aligned” policy, what is meant in practice is that Delhi should continue to keep its distance from Washington, the way it was throughout the Cold War between the USSR and the US. This is no longer possible or desirable, as India and the US have been coming closer, beginning with the second term of President George W Bush and accelerating in the final two years of the Barack Obama administration, when Ashton Carter was Secretary of Defence and worked hard at drawing India into a military partnership with the US.
The Trump administration has carried forward this legacy, and the obvious chemistry between Donald Trump and Narendra Modi is assisting a process of congruence between the strategic objectives of the two largest democracies on the planet. The just-concluded Manila meetings were marked by a warming of relations between the Philippines and the US (contrary to the chill that developed under the preachy and largely Clinton-dominated Obama administration, Aware of the military importance of the Philippines, the Trump administration has lavished considerable effort on winning back President Duterte, and appears to have succeeded. However, the most important takeaway from the East Asia Summit has been the open coming together of India, Austrialia, Japan and US in a Quadrilateral Alliance.
This had first made its appearance during the 2010 tsunami which devastated much of Asia, causing in its wake the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. The four countries had coordinated their rescue responses, and seemed prepared to continue the collaboration, but backed off because of a negative reaction from China, who regarded the tsunami coalition as being the initial phase of an Asian NATO. While Japan and the US were unconcerned about Beijing’s attitude in the matter, both Delhi as well as Canberra developed cold feet and hastily backtracked. Some time ago, wary of China’s reaction, India vetoed the inclusion of Australia in naval exercises involving Japan, India and the US. This was despite the desire of Tokyo and Washington to admit Canberra into the club.
However, the recent Doklam standoff between the two armies has hardened attitudes in Delhi towards Beijing, and among the consequences is the Modi government’s acceptance of the Quadrilateral Alliance (India, US, Japan, Australia). In the future, it is likely that Vietnam and Indonesia will join the group, and possibly the Philippines as well, thereby necessitating a change in nomenclature. Already, the militaries of these countries have been liasing with each other on an accedubledlerating basis, and exercises are becoming the norm. While the militaries are coming closer in a manner disagreeable to Beijing, at the same time commercial links with China are growing. Under Prime Minister Modi, China’s trade surplus with India has more than doubled ( to $ 51 billion) during the three years of the Narendra Modi government.
The Prime Minister has also relaxed visa procedures for Chinese nationals, giving them the e-visa facility, and has liberalised the protocol for Chinese investment in India. It is noteworthy that throughout the 73 days of high tension between India and China caused by the Doklam standoff, no Chinese company operating in India was in any way inconvenienced. It had been suggested by some quarters that they should be subjected to investigations and worse, but no such action was taken. Of course, had there been an actual conflict, the situation would have been different. Hopefully, Delhi and Beijing will have the wisdom and maturity to ensure that such a situation never takes place. The two countries have much to lose in a conflict and nothing to gain. Although, some see the Quadrilateral Alliance as directed against China, the reality is that the primary focus of the four navies will be to ensure safety and security of the maritime sea lanes traversing between West and SE and East Asia.
In particular, pirates are a menace that need to be extinguished so that the safety of shipping is ensured in the waters of the Indian Ocean especially. While the Clinton establishment in Washington (with Hillary Clinton correctly regarded as the Empress of the Beltway) has been ensuring a flood of negative reportage about President Trump, in reality the 45th US President has been very successful in much of his diplomacy, the only derailment being the initial (and essential for US interests) effort to establish a cooperative relationship with Moscow. While Richard Nixon transformed relations between China and the US, it is likely that the Trump presidency will ensure a partnership between India and the US on a scale and depth never imagined since the early 1940s, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wanted to establish an alliance with India but was stopped from doing so by Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the UK, which at the time was master of India and loath to let go the “Jewel in the Crown”.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

ISI, Al Qaeda plan to repeat 1990s Kashmir in Assam (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
 
A WhatsApp message is being circulated, asking for ‘1 crore 21 lakh Muslims to come out on the roads (of Assam) on November 27 (to stop) harassment of (Bangladeshi) Muslims.’ The objective is to stop de-regularisation and possible deportation of several million illegal Bangladeshi migrants. 
 
Pakistan’s ISI, through a “Major Shafiq”, has from February this year tasked its India-based units with ensuring that “Assam 2019 catches fire the way Kashmir did from 1989”. They have begun work on this objective by establishing contact and coordinating strategies with associate groups within the state, especially from Rohingyas and illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam and Bengal. The Myanmar headquarters of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which is an affiliate of Al Qaeda, is engaged with the same mission and is active in involving the Rohingya in India, as is the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Arakan (HUJI-K). The plan is to provide recruits for clandestine entry into India from Myanmar and Bangladesh, who will be expected to carry out the actions ordered by the ISI and Al Qaeda in Assam. These measures are designed to (i) create a communal holocaust in parts of Assam that would drive out the majority community from those locations, and (ii) ensure safe zones for Rohingya and other extremists in Bengal. Interestingly, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Amir of Al Qaeda, had specifically mentioned Assam in a 55-minute video released in 2014. This marked the start of their drive to spark extreme radicalisation of significant numbers of people in that state from within the pool of Bangladeshi migrants. Similar radicalisation is being carried out in Bengal as well, a state where Wahhabism in the violently exclusivist form manifested in Kashmir is a developing threat, which seems thus far to have been downplayed by Writers Building. In Myanmar itself, both Ataulla and Abdus Burmi, the Emirs (chiefs) of ARSA and HUJI-K, respectively, have close working links with Pakistan army-linked Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), as well as with elements of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh, where its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) is active in assisting extremists, together with other India-based groups and even political parties.
Apart from Myanmar and Bangladesh, another recruitment zone for Rohingya recruits by extremist organisations tasked with later waging non-conventional war in parts of India, is Indonesia, a country that has opened its doors to the Rohingya from Myanmar. Both the United States and the European Union (EU) are urging India to do likewise, even though they themselves have shut the door on such immigrants, despite their chatter about “Rohingya rights”. Interestingly, the Indonesian authorities have been either unable or unwilling to put in check extremist organisations such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which is openly calling for armed volunteers to go to armed war against the authorities in Myanmar, so as to carve out an “Islamic Emirate” or Rohingyastan out of substantial parts of that country. In India, both in Bengal and Assam, the Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) has been quietly setting up units since 2011, and it has been estimated that well over 18,000 (eighteen thousand) cadres have been recruited out of illegal Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrant pools in these two states.
The Wahhabi International has worked hard at ensuring that the US, the UK, France and other NATO powers support the Rohingya cause. These countries are ignoring the decades of insurgency that Myanmar has endured from separatists. The danger is that such facilitation could ignite waves of fresh recruitment to militant organisations the same way as took place in the 1980s as a consequence of the US empowerment of religious fanatics to battle the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR. In their usual thoughtless manner, the larger NATO member-states are willy-nilly at risk of replicating the chaos of Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria in Myanmar, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, through their high-decibel support for those generating religious fervour through selective presentation of the situation facing the Rohingyas. Thus far, India has not (openly at least) warned against such destabilising efforts by the NATO powers to implant fanatics into countries not their own. Such silence in the face of policy errors that could have a grave future impact is reminiscent of the silence of New Delhi at Moscow’s subduing of Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and the 1960s, as also the lack of official blowback to the USSR’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Since 2015, substantial amounts of cash from Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Wahhabi-friendly locations (that include cities in Canada, the UK and Germany) are flowing, mostly through hawala channels, to NGOs in India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia and other countries to fund marches and protests demanding free entry for the Rohingya into these countries.
OPERATION ASSAM
Operation “Kashmir 1989 in Assam 2019” is assisted by the ease with which the Rohingya, as well as others from Bangladesh can infiltrate the state. Four districts (Dhubri, Cachar, Karimganj and South Salmara) share a border with Bangladesh. Because of delay in fencing the borders of Tripura and Meghalaya, despite a security alert in both locations, these two states have also witnessed a large influx of migrants from Bangladesh, including several Rohingya. Since al-Zawahiri’s call, efforts by Wahhabi organisations to poison the communal atmosphere in parts of eastern India, so that it approximates the situation in Kashmir (where members of a particular community have almost entirely been driven out), have been unceasing. An example is a WhatsApp message asking for “1 crore 21 lakh Muslims to come out on the roads (of Assam) on November 27 (to stop) harassment of (Bangladeshi) Muslims. If we do not unite in time we will all have to die like in Myanmar. Come with your father and mother onto the roads.” The objective of such rants is to stop a planned de-regularisation and possible deportation of several million illegal Bangladeshi migrants. These are at risk of being outed by the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The call of groups sympathetic to radical elements is to not only allow free migration from Bangladesh into India, but ensure that an estimated six-million-plus illegal migrants now resident in Assam (and countless others in Bengal) be given full rights and papers of Indian citizenship. A few organisations are in the lead in organising such moves. Across the state, inflammatory material is being distributed that warn of an imaginary plan by Central and state authorities to “lynch and murder members of the minority community”.
Fortunately, in India, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are modern and moderate, and therefore refuse to respond to incendiary calls to action by groups that subscribe to the Wahhabi doctrine of exclusivism through violence. Muslims in India are overall wedded to moderate doctrines such as the Barelvi and have not given way to Wahhabism the way it has been the case in Pakistan, and to a lesser extent in Bangladesh and Indonesia as well. However, funding from Wahhabis outside the country has resulted in several theological institutions and educational establishments getting set up in Bengal and Assam, where credulous students sometimes believe in the exclusivist teachings fed to them by teachers with links to extremist ideologies. The good news is that both Bengal and Assam have a tradition of tolerance and mutual respect, hence it is proving to be difficult for the ISI to recruit enough fanatic cadre so as to carry out its plans for eastern India. However, because of the plans put into operation by the ISI, an atmosphere of fear, panic and hatred is being sought to be created by organisations linked to Al Qaeda and its associates (including the ISI, which sheltered Osama bin Laden and still does Ayman al Zawahiri).
Despite the threat of inciting mobs of illegal migrants in their hundreds of thousands, the state government in Assam is on track to carry out a scientific assessment designed to locate illegal migrants, who have bribed or tricked their way (through false and forged papers) into Assam. Although Indian citizens have nothing to fear from the ongoing preparation of a National Register of Citizens in Assam, increasing efforts are being made by the ISI and its auxiliaries that are designed to mislead them into joining agitations sponsored by external interests. The proposed mass manifestation on 27 November is regarded by such entities as a dress rehearsal for launching an operation designed to turn selected parts of Assam in 2019 into what Kashmir was allowed to become from 1989 onwards. Hopefully, the ISI-Al Qaeda operation will end in failure, rather than convert Assam into the cauldron that the Pakistan army made parts of Kashmir for many decades.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

GST is India’s Gandhian Society Tax (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

For those tied to Gandhian economics, progress means spread of austerity through tax disincentives and stifling of efforts at moving up the consumption chain.
 
The 10 November reduction in GST rates of less than 200 items need to be followed by many more changes, not only in rates, but in the very structure of the tax. For its numerous rates and its complexity (which makes compliance difficult at best and impossible in many situations) owe their origins to the economics championed by Mahatma Gandhi, and which has been explained in Sriman Narayan’s book on the subject. The aim of Gandhian economics is to ensure the universalisation of simple lifestyles, with minimal reliance on either modern machinery, consumer items or financial systems. Such simplicity is certainly not what voters expected when they cast their ballots for Narendra Modi in 2014. Of course, there is reason for scepticism at the change in mindset of several traducers of the tax. An example is former MoS (PMO) Prithviraj Chavan, who has pointed to the harmful consequences of global financial predators penetrating India. After silence on the matter while serving under international finance champions Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram, Chavan red-flagged the September 2015 decision by the NDA government to partner with the US-based “Better Than Cash Alliance”, which was followed two months later by a North Block agreement with USAID “to expand digital payments in India”.
Such alignments ignored the fact that less than a tenth of unaccounted wealth in India is in the form of currency. Or that practically none of the plastic card and wallet companies are Indian-owned, so that billions in dividends, royalties and profits flow out of this country every year as a consequence of the monopoly of foreign-owned plastic payment systems in India. In contrast, China has developed domestic substitutes for Visa, Mastercard, YouTube, Google, Twitter, Facebook and other virtual platforms to a level where these are challenging US-based giants even in major markets.
Unlike the dominant narrative in India, currency is not immune from taxation. At several stages of deployment, especially in a condition of high velocity of circulation, taxes get paid out of cash spent. For example, much of the petrol and diesel bought at the pump gets paid for in cash, thereby ensuring a hefty contribution to government revenues. Only those following the barter-based Gandhian economic model believe that cash is so undesirable as to be best abolished through Government Order. Looking at the way GST rates for different commodities have been fixed, it is clear that Gandhian economists were in command of the process. Such minds regard any lifestyle other than basic living as “sinful”, and therefore levied GST of absurdly high levels even on food eaten in air-conditioned comfort. There is a case for high rates on cigarettes and such other severely harmful products, but why penalise the eating of an idli in air-conditioned comfort? How many of those who cooked up this Gandhian version of GST do without air-conditioners themselves?
The purpose of high rates on items of less than subsistence consumption is clearly to keep people in a low-level consumption mode. Should they seek to move upwards, they are punished with high rates. Such consumption-dampening measures impact growth negatively. Given the double digit growth needed for India to escape the unrest and chaos caused by youth unemployment, North Block needs to focus on fiscal and regulatory modes of accelerating growth, rather than remain obsessed with meeting each year’s expenditure through taxation proposals that slow down future growth. India’s monetary and fiscal policy has long been directed towards adding to the profits of the very US and EU-based financial giants that caused the 2008 global financial crash. The RBI’s traditionally high interest rates ensure profits to foreign players through interest arbitrage. Foreign investors are also assisted in picking up Indian assets cheaply as a consequence of US-centric economic policies on domestic entities. Gandhian economics designed to reduce lifestyle levels of citizens combines with Chicago School-model incentives, enriching only investors from hard currency areas. A revolving door of senior monetary, economic and financial policymakers and those employed in foreign financial companies (either directly or through close relatives) has ensured steps designed to penalise domestic entities to empower foreign entities.
It was fortunate for Henry Ford and for the US economy that there were no Gandhian economists in Washington when he launched the Model T, thereby making automobiles affordable to millions more US citizens. In India, the cars would have immediately been classified by our Gandhian GST Council as “luxuries” and subjected to such high rates of taxation that the market would have been unviable for mass production of such cars. Taxing substantial percentages of turnover through high and unstable GST rates is a certain recipe for sluggish growth. Is it the intention of the framers of such tax rates to ensure that as many citizens as possible be prevented from moving into a better life? Why should an improvement in lifestyle result in the items involved attracting high 18% and super-high 28% GST rates? Progress should mean a steady rise in living standards of the citizenry, from low to middle to high. However, for those tied to Gandhian economics, it means the spread of austerity through tax disincentives and the stifling of efforts at moving up the consumption chain. Such a “Gandhian Socialist” mindset may be comfortable with low rates of growth. However, a government elected to office to satisfy the rising aspirations of 1.26 billion citizens, should set its sights on 10%-15% annual growth through policies that encourage rather than dampen upward mobility in lifestyles. Mahatma Gandhi was happy leading a simple life. However, the people of India—most of whom are anyway forced to lead very simple lives, with more to follow as a consequence of the adoption of Gandhian modes of taxation—expect their government to engineer an upward change in their economic circumstances through low tax rates, low regulations and low interest rates. Mahatma Gandhi was unique in his love of poverty. Most of us lack his self-denying nature, and expect those in charge of the economy to understand that, rather than propel us towards a Gandhian lifestyle by growth-dampening tax policies.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Battle over Wahabbism convulses GCC (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India | M D Nalapat
 
After more than a century of benefitting from support by the Anglo-American powers, Wahabbism is being challenged in a manner not seen even after 9/11. The battle against this school of theology and human behaviour is being led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The young prince has shown that he has nerves of steel, not hesitating to arrest even close relatives, each with billions of dollars in their bank accounts.
There has been much global commentary about the risk that the Saudi Crown Prince is taking by this extreme step. Those “experts”, diplomats and opinion makers in the US and the EU who for decades have lived lavishly on the largesse doled out by those arrested are naturally apoplectic about this bold move, and have forecast disaster for the 32-year old son of King Salman as a consequence of the arrests. In reality, the Crown Prince had no choice but to take strong action against even the cream of Saudi society, for it is these elements who have been funding movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and who have donated hundreds of millions of dollars each to Wahabbi individuals and institutions worldwide.
If Prince Mohammad is to succeed in his mission of switching societal tracks in Saudi Arabia from Wahabbism to the much more modern and moderate practices in the United Arab Emirates, these highly-placed persons are guaranteed to continue to try to block his path. For the future of the globe as well as the Ummah, it is vital that the Crown Prince succeed in his battle against Wahabbism, for otherwise the instability and societal fractures seen in the globe as a consequence of the spread of Wahabbi influence will lead to catastrophe. The only problem is that some reckless individuals within the inner circle of the Donald J Trump administration in Washington are urging Prince Mohammad to make internal reform a lower priority than open conflict with Iran. The Crown Prince will have to choose. He cannot both ensure internal reform on the scale planned by him and at the same time face the fires that even a low intensity conflict with Iran will result in. Of course, the resultant chaos would severely affect oil production in the Middle East, thereby deepening the markets for US crude oil, to the benefit of that country at the expense of the GCC. Now that Washington is not only self-sufficient in oil production but has become a major exporter of petroleum, the downside to the US of turmoil in the Middle East has been much reduced. However, such instability will cause great damage to the economic prospects of countries such as China and India, thereby lowering their ability to compete with US companies Within the GCC, a policy of outright enmity with Teheran would be unpopular in Oman, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, each of whom has extensive trade and other linkages with Iran. The Trump administration is creating instability in global markets by making the same error as the Saudis, which is to undertake a two-front battle.
The immediate danger comes from a nuclearizing North Korea, and it is here that attention needs to get focussed in the Pentagon. However, the same geopolitical illiterates who made such a mess of Iraq, Libya and Syria are now seeking to replicate their success by destroying Iran. The problem is that Iran is way more powerful than Iraq, Libya and Syria put together ever were. The country has been hardened by its resistance to decades of effort by the US, the EU and a part of the GCC to destroy the governance system in the country. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Committee (IRGC) is probably the most deadly fighting force in the region, and has lately played a major role in the steady takeover of territories that were seized by Daesh (ISIS) in 2014.
Even without nuclear weapons, the Iranians have sufficient firepower to inflict punitive damage on countries that move against it, including Israel, where Prime Minister Netanyahu is leading the anti-Iran crusade in the Mideast when the attention needs to be on the battle against the Wahabbis. A follower of the tactics of Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu is in daily contact with friends within the Trump administration, goading them on to more and more actions against Iran. Such moves may wound Teheran but will not subdue it, in large part because neither Russia nor China will allow Iran to succumb to its regional enemies. For both countries, Iran is a reliable partner. Similarly for Iraq as well, that has in the past and would in future oppose any moves against Tehran.
In 2003, the George W Bush administration took its attention away from Afghanistan to go after Iraq, and as a consequence the US has in effect lost the war against the Taliban, at least thus far. Should Riyadh and Jerusalem concentrate more on a quixotic campaign against Tehran than on ridding the world of the menace of Wahabbism, that philosophy will gain a second life and indeed emerge stronger Both Qatar as well as Turkey are opposed to the courageous moves against Wahabbis by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The Emir of Qatar has made no secret of his backing for the theology, despite his country hosting a US base. As for President Recip Tayyip Erdogan, he is seeking to win back for Turkey the role it had before the 1914-19 war, when it was a Calpihate.
Indeed, Erdogan is acting in a manner suggestive of the past glory of Turkey rather than the present-day reality of its being a middle-rank player in global geopolitics. Such moves are leading to tensions inside Turkey, most acutely with the Kurds, against whom several actions have been carried out, as also against the many followers of Fethullah Gulen in Turkey. Although Prince Mohammad has thus far held his hand so far as Turkey is concerned, he has been instrumental in persuading the UAE to join in the diplomatic isolation of Qatar, a policy that has disconcerted the government of that small but wealthy country that in the past, refused to join the UAE.
However, Egypt under General Al Sissi is giving full backing to the Crown Prince, as is Washington and much of the EU, despite Riyadh’s ill-advised and very costly in human terms war on the Houthis in Yemen. So long as the Crown Prince follows a double track strategy (of warring against both Iran as well as the Wahabbis), the future is uncertain. Hopefully, he will stop trying to overpower Iran and instead focus on internal reform. Should he succeed, the Crown Prince would deserve the gratitude of the world.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Nawazuddin Siddiqui and India’s Canutes (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
 
In a society less Victorian than our own, the two ladies who figure in the book, would have written their own versions of what took place between themselves and the actor.
 
We are not told if it was actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui who lost his nerve or Random House, the publishers of his attempt at an autobiography. Whatever, his book, An Ordinary Life, has been pulled out from bookstores because of the actor’s “Kiss & Tell” approach to some of the women in his life. Not that the publishers can be entirely blamed. Laws in India are more sweeping in their scope than those of other major democracies, thereby making it difficult to evade legal action initiated by anyone either aggrieved or professing to be. Already, a Delhi lawyer has sought to prosecute the romantically active actor on a medley of charges, including—horror of horrors—adultery. This columnist had believed that only the husband was entitled to seek legal recompense in cases of adultery, but it would seem that such a charge can be flung even by an individual whose wife is not the object of the litigation. Add to this the ease of initiating litigation in India. The judicial system, especially once Chief Justice Verma, a quarter-century ago, insulated the institution from both the legislature as well as the executive, has few obvious limits to its discretion and scope. It is therefore clear that Niharika Singh and Sunita Rajwar (who at one time were apparently close friends of the actor from Budhana) have each the ability in our system to tie both Siddiqui as well as Random House in litigation that may go on for decades, India is of course a country where lawyers bequeath cases to more than one generation of their successors before the matter gets disposed of. Near-permanent stays and multiple (and lengthy) adjournments are a staple of litigation in India, where time gets calculated by “yugas”, each spanning several millions of years, so that a delay of several decades in the final disposal of a case is but a millisecond in such a universe. Surprisingly, in other countries, such an attitude to time is frowned upon, which is why so many foreign investors insist on outside adjudication for any dispute. Of course, as Cyrus Mistry demonstrated while he was in charge of the Tata group, even the condition of outside arbitration in a contract need not stand in the way of the matter being heard (and heard and heard and heard) in an Indian court. This means that the party taking recourse to the domestic judicial system can refuse to abide by outside arbitration until this be adjudicated through the elaborate and multi-layered Indian court process, often up to the level of a Division Bench of the Supreme Court of India.
India’s Canutes are seeking to stifle expression they deem inconvenient,
King Canute sought to roll the waves of the sea back, and expectedly failed. In similar fashion, through court verdicts and through other means, India’s Canutes are seeking to stifle verbal, cinematic and written expression that they deem inconvenient, unaware that technology is leaping ahead in such a fashion that transparency will soon become inevitable. Unless it be decreed someday that India and its citizens be barred from the internet, a disruptive mode of communication and information dissemination that is constantly fighting back against efforts at control. Should some individual download Siddiqui’s efforts at literature online, it would become accessible to millions within an instant. And if this person is (according to the internet protocol used) operating from Belarus or Panama, rather than from the hyper-regulated territory that comprises the Union of India, getting judicial recourse against him or her would be close to impossible. Both Random House as well as Siddiqui would lose out on the royalties they would have earned, had their nerve held and both the actor and his publisher been ready to face up to the hectoring of television anchors eager for their “villain of the day” in the nightly gladiatorial contests that talk shows are in India. And, of course, face up also to the possibility of jail time, perhaps courtesy a Delhi lawyer, who has made it his mission to go after the actor. But by consigning the book to “raddi”, the lens of public attention has been focused much more strongly on the two ladies aggrieved by Siddiqui’s absence of discretion. Their experiences with him have become public knowledge in a way far more potent than would have been the case had the book come out and within weeks, faded from sight. Coming from a family which includes Aubrey Menen (the author of what was the first book banned in free India), this columnist has refused to take recourse to the law even when the most toxic of calumnies were said and written about him and other loved ones, including his mother. Those credulous enough to believe rubbish are welcome to do so. With technology’s advance, no Canute can any more abolish the swelling tsunami of information, misinformation and disinformation that is being let loose as a consequence of the march of technology.
In a society less Victorian than our own, the two ladies who figure prominently in An Ordinary Life, would have written their own versions of what took place between themselves and the actor, who has now garnered so much attention as a consequence of his book being scrapped. Will it now go online? Will a publisher outside India print perhaps a racier version, now that his pursuers have ruffled actor Siddiqui by their moves? If sold outside India, copies in plenty will find their way back to our country. The response seen to the Siddiqui book illustrates the Victorian attitude, which is “Do what you like, but don’t get found out”. Unfortunately for the bashful, in these days of mobile phones doubling as cameras and recorders, keeping such secrets secret is becoming an impossible errand.

Friday, 3 November 2017

EU fails the Catalan test (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India | M D Nalapat

THE European Union advertises itself to the world as a defender of human rights and as an ethics-based governance structure. In reality, it most resembles a USSR-era Trade Union, with its giant (and very well-paid) bureaucracy, its complex rules and its unwieldy membership. Barring the forced submission of Serbia as well as Ukraine, and the ongoing efforts to ensure the subordination of Russia to EU wishes, overall Europe has been characterised by peace, in large part because of growing prosperity in Western Europe and the desperation of the sclerotic leadership of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to avoid any other than a verbal war with the Atlantic Alliance.
The hyper-expensive NATO military alliance was built on the myth that Moscow was on the brink of sending its troops and tanks westwards towards Germany and Austria, and that the Politbureau of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) was constantly looking at sending a rain of nuclear-tipped missiles towards Germany, France and even the US. For the entire period that it has been operational, NATO has served as a comfortable billet for all ranks of the navy, air force and army of its members. Although constantly leaking stories to a complicit media that nuclear war was just days away, each of the senior staff in NATO Headquarters at Brussels knew that the probability that the USSR would attack them was as close to zero as it is asymptotically possible to get.
Fake news about Soviet intentions and a massive conflation of the “Red Threat” caused taxpayers across both sides of the Atlantic to remain quiescent while hundreds of billions of dollars were squandered on what was essentially a Parade Ground military. Aware that NATO member-state citizenry – certainly by the time the 21st century arrived – were growing sceptical of the need to lavish money on the high cost of the upkeep of the most expensive militaries on the globe after the USSR had imploded, the concept of “humanitarian wars”, “anti-dictatorship wars” and “ counter-terrorism” battles was placed at the centre of public discourse.
After the 1991 Desert Storm, when the US armed forces expectedly made mincemeat of Saddam Hussein’s poorly led and equipped forces, the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US and its partners took place, and in this campaign as in all others involving attacks on primitive fighting formations, Spain was in the forefront. Iraq was followed by Libya and thereafter Syria, two conflicts that caused the refugee flood into Europe and a ramping up of the terror threat in Europe, an outcome forecast by this columnist in 2011, when this ill-considered series of campaigns was launched by the leaders of France, the UK and the US. Of course, each such campaign was classified as a “humanitarian mission”, despite the immediate loss of thousands of innocent lives and the eventual deaths of several hundred thousand as a consequence of the disruptions caused by NATO’s wars in North Africa and West Asia, each against foes that compare with NATO the way a ramshackle bicycle does with a modern Mercedes Benz.
The Catalan cry for self-determination followed by independence presented a test for the EU. Given the sensible policy of accepting the wishes of the local population and absorbing Catalonia into the Union as a state separate from Spain, very little change would have taken place, except that the taxes collected within the Catalan region would not have been at the disposal of Madrid. As an EU member, Spain through its citizens would have the right of entry, stay and work in Catalonia and vice versa. However, the EU leadership has taken a very narrow, status quo-centric view of the situation, and has in effect shut the door on Catalan entry. In other words, after all the talk of human rights and freedoms, the Catalan people have been ordered by Brussels to submit to the government led by Mariano Rajoy, whose hectoring manner and intimidatory tactics have been met with silence from “human rights warriors” within the EU.
Just as NATO kills of innocent people don’t count as kills but only as “collateral damage”, EU member states have complete license to hold on to regions eager to break away, and will be backed by the other countries no matter how anti-democratic the moves made against those seeking to be free. The next time the EU or any of its numerous representatives lecture others about rights and freedoms, a reference to the way in which the Madrid government has suppressed the autonomy of the Catalans may (although this is doubtful) occasion some shame on the part of those delivering human rights homilies. The Catalan people are now being ruled by the deputy to Rajoy, a politician who has made no secret of her contempt for any notion of self-rule for Catalonia. She can be expected to rule the territory in such a way that the local people will regard Madrid with even more toxicity than presently.
Given such a situation, the manner in which the EU has fallen in line behind the King of Spain and the Prime Minister combined with the festering situation in Catalonia will show to the world their lack of sincerity in the constant chatter about human rights. Throughout Europe, there are groups that are feeling disadvantaged and which are in fact being discriminated against. This is without counting the Roma, who are being treated as fourth-class citizens in the countries in which they are located, again to silence from EU Headquarters. The ideal solution to Catalan discontent would have been for Madrid to agree to a separation, and the incorporation of the new state into the EU. By its obstinacy in ignoring principle for the sake of marching in lockstep behind the King of Spain’s Catalan-phobic reactions, Brussels has failed the Catalan test.