Friday, 2 March 2018

Eastern Indo-Pacific awaits Trump (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India

M D Nalapat

While President Donald J Trump has visited Europe, East Asia and the Middle East several times, thus far he has not come to any of the countries that form the eastern side of the Indo-Pacific, the giant body of seawater that is the hub of global commerce and geopolitics. Unlike Europe, where the Atlanticist establishment reigns and as a consequence, Trump is unpopular with several local leaders, his image within most of Asia’s ruling elites is good. Candidate Trump gave a promise while on the 2016 Presidential elections campaign that he would – in effect – actualise what his predecessor promised to do, which was to reset US policy from its post-1945 Atlanticist anchor towards mooring onto the Indo-Pacific.
This has so far prevented him from proceeding at speed towards the objective of resetting US policy from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific. However, those close to the strong-willed billionaire say that it is only a matter of months before such a shift gets carried out, including through the removal of those in the top layers of his team who are committed Atlanticists, as indeed are many of the members of the Republican establishment. Interestingly, those close to Senator Bernie Sanders of the Democratic Party say that (unlike Hillary Clinton) he is not committed to preserving the Atlanticist focus of US foreign, economic and security policy, and that he has been devoting increasing interest to the situation in Asia, especially that in China, the Middle East and India. Among the backers of Senator Sanders in his own party is Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who has become an expert on Asia as a consequence of her numerous visits to the continent, although as yet she seems to have been unable to persuade Senator to visit India and Indonesia, two countries that are the most strategically placed so far as geography of eastern reaches of Indo-Pacific is concerned.
Thus far,neither President Trump nor his Democratic critic Bernie Sanders has visited these two most populous democracies in Asia. A Presidential visit to India and Indonesia would have substantial global resonance. Not only are they two of the three most populous countries on the face of the planet, they are also two of the three countries in the world with the highest number of Muslim citizens. Although the Atlanticist establishment focuses near exclusively on the Middle East in connection with matters connected with the worldwide Muslim ummah, the fact is that all three of these countries (Indonesia, Pakistan and India) are located to the east of that region. Donald Trump has given the backing of his administration to Crown Prince Mohammad Al Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who for the first time since the establishment of his very important country is working on rolling back the Wahabbi tide, first in Saudi Arabia and subsequently globally. As this is being written, King Abdullah of Jordan is on a visit to India, where the entire population of the country is in a welcoming mode for an individual who represents the finest traditions of Islam, as indeed would be natural from an individual who is a 41st generation descendant of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) himself.
India has a large Sufi community, and they have come together to welcome Abdullah to Delhi. Unlike in the case of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, where a junior minister was despatched to the airport to welcome him and his family to India, in the case of the King Of Jordan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself went to the airport to receive the royal guest, in a show of empathy for Jordan and its role as an exemplar of moderation in the Middle East. In much the same way, although on a slightly bigger scale, both Indonesia as well as India have proven to the world that the Muslim community is as peace loving and respectful of other faiths as are those who believe in other numerically large religions such as Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. Whether it be in the UAE (especially Dubai) or in Kuwait, visitors to such countries understand how deep rooted the tradition of tolerance is among the almost wholly Muslim citizenry of such states. Hence the need for President Trump to move away from the Middle East-centric perspective of an Atlanticist establishment that is visceral in its dislike of him and the ideas he represents and visit India and Indonesia as well, having already been (as President of the United States) to the most populated country on the globe, China. Both First Daughter Ivanka Trump as well as eldest son Donald Trump Junior have visited India, thereby paving the way for the US President.
The US has long cherished the objective of serving as a beacon of democracy, and a visit to two of the three largest democracies would showcase such concern in a unique way. A “2 plus 2” summit is already planned for Washington next month, where President Trump and Prime Minister Modi will hold talks, as also Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. There is also talk of Prime Minister Modi meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping the same month, now that the leader of second most important economy has demonstrated to the world his control over the levers of governance in Peoples Republic of China. Indeed, should the US President use the visit to hold a meeting of the Quadrilateral Alliance countries (Japan, Australia,the US and India) while in Delhi, that would be a signal that the alliance is as firm in its structure and resolve as any elsewhere. In Jakarta, he could meet with the leaders of Vietnam and the Philippines together with the President of Indonesia, as the three countries merit inclusion in the Indo-Pacific’s first formal alliance. Hopefully by that time, the situation in the Maldives would have evolved in a manner satisfactory to the democracies.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Xi Jinping: President for Life (Rajya Sabha TV)

The Big Picture: Xi Jinping: President for Life

Guest: Prof. B.R. Deepak, Centre for Chinese Studies, JNU ; Prof. M.D. Nalapat, Editorial Director, ITV MEDIA ; Suresh K Goel, Former Ambassador ; Jabin Jacob, Senoir Researcher, Institute of Chinese Studies 

Sunday, 25 February 2018

India’s financial A.Q. Khan network (Sunday Guardian)

 By M D Nalapat
Our ‘A.Q. Khan of Indian Finance’ has moles everywhere.
General Pervez Musharraf—whose record in conning his masters (whether these be in Islamabad or Washington) is unparalleled—made out that all Pakistan-related proliferation was caused by A.Q. Khan, who was retired and therefore “no longer a government official”. Living up (or down) to its reputation of being irrationally credulous where its own favourites were concerned, the CIA apparently bought Musharraf’s story, as did the US administration. So whatever took place was the consequence of the independent activities of a single scientist gone rogue, and not part of a GHQ program to make some extra money through nuclear commerce, adding to its profits from staples such as the South Asian narcotics and hawala networks. A.Q. Khan was complicit in the nuclear proliferation emanating from Pakistan, but as part of a network that comprised hundreds of retired and serving scientists, military personnel and civil servants. In India, an “A.Q. Khan network” has been operating since 2004, again with multiple players, but this time in the financial markets and not the nuclear technology field. As yet, however, the Government of India has shown no indication that it is aware of this network and the systemic risk it poses. 
The CBI, ED, DRI and RBI claim to have finally realised that the deliberate defaulting of bank loans through collusion between businesspersons, politicians and officials has reached levels that threaten to sharply slow down the Indian growth story. Such malpractices have coexisted with RBI policies that ensure a lucrative and risk-free margin to multiple foreign financial institutions, even while the central bank has been draining large tranches of manufacturing and service industries of affordable finance. Arbitrage is the name of the game in India, and North Block has long specialised in incentivising such activities by those holding foreign currency, while adopting measures limiting the spread of the bond market. There is indeed a trillion dollar need for infrastructure, but to rely on middle class savers to fund such expenses is unrealistic. What is needed is to replicate what the US did over a century ago while developing its railroad system, which was to attract large flows of funds from wealthy overseas investors through the bond market. The clerk or junior manager in India, who parks his or her meagre savings in LIC, should not be expected to shoulder the financial burden of ensuring that infrastructure in India reaches minimally acceptable global standards. Rather, wealthy pension funds in the EU or in North America should be incentivised to invest in bonds created for the purpose, rather than continue to pour money into the equities market and make huge returns through rigging of prices, in the process cheating the small investor of his savings. Gitanjali Jewellery is not the only private company in which the LIC bought shares at peak value, only to suffer losses once prices inevitably came down to levels better matching fundamentals. India’s financial “A.Q. Khan network” first drove equity prices higher and higher through using its influence in the FII community and over government policy (sometimes simply by official statements of intent of policy) and thereafter “persuaded” public institutions to purchase such shares, much of which were held by India’s “Khan” and his cronies. Profits were assured through insider knowledge, and such moneys were raised through looting of middle class investors. Given price fixing and rigging in several of the stock prices in India, a citizen may ask as to why so much discretion has gone the way of SEBI, an institution where our own “A.Q. Khan” is said to have got appointed those who did his bidding. Our “A.Q. Khan of Indian Finance” has moles everywhere, including in the present dispensation, who give his syndicate real time information collected by the banking system, by exchanges and by other agencies, not to mention prior knowledge of impending monetary and fiscal measures. And yet, it seems that no investigative agency has connected the dots to unmask India’s own counterpart to A.Q. Khan and his network, such as by checking on his continuing contacts and past history with officials manning sensitive agencies. Real time information still being made available to him by accomplices include data which can be used to so manipulate equity markets enough to generate close to Rs 75 crore a day of pure profit for him alone, parked abroad through payment highways created by monetary authorities “so as to meet the needs of global commerce”. The same authorities who sent the informal economy into the ICU by choking them of liquidity from 8 November 2016 onwards. 
Just as Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan operated through a network of serving and retired officers, so does his financial sector counterpart in India. Otherwise it would not have been possible for him to, inter alia (a) get selected helpful CMDs and EDs of banks, (b) make government banks sell loans at low rates to private banks, which almost immediately resold them at a profit, (c) engineer Corporate Debt Restructuring deals where the money saved by the borrower would be split with “Khan”, (d) get so-called “watchdogs” to ignore or compound cases of favourites, while going after those deemed as a threat to the network’s underground business empire, (e) creating dossiers, including manufactured data, on target individuals and ensuring that agencies go after them on the basis of dodgy evidence, and even (f) postpone the introduction of enhanced security features in India’s currency by many years, while ensuring that companies blacklisted by the Home Ministry continued to supply vital items involving currency printing in the country. Depressingly, this list goes on and on and on. 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to be informed about the activities of the financial “A.Q. Khan network” operating in India at speed since 2004, and which seems not at all to have been inconvenienced by the 2014 Lok Sabha election results. India’s “A.Q. Khan” has damaged the economy severely since 2004, by subverting critical financial infrastructure so as to ensure that his global and local moneybag associates increase the zeroes in their offshore holdings of undeclared money at the expense of a country where 300 million people go to bed hungry every night. Just as the Pakistan state had “no knowledge” of the A.Q. Khan network, neither it seems is the Government of India aware of the domestic financial A.Q. Khan network, comprised of high roller operators busily sabotaging the future of India.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Maldives vital to Indo-Pacific strategy (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India

M D Nalapat

PRESIDENT Donald J Trump has been the first President since the Atlantic era ended towards the close of the 1990s to acknowledge that it is no longer the Atlantic ocean but the confluence of the Pacific and Indian oceans (the Indo-Pacific) that is at the core of global geopolitics. This has resulted in a fightback from the well-funded Atlanticist establishment in the US, which interestingly includes several think-tanks and universities based on the West Coast of the US as well. They have in unison sought to ensure a speedy exit for Trump through encouraging Special Counsel Robert Mueller to concoct a case against his target that would convince enough lawmakers to ensure the impeachment of the 45th President of the US.
The problem for them is that Trump is a businessperson and therefore a realist, which means that he would like to reframe foreign and security policies in a manner that is congruent with the needs of the Indo-Pacific century that the world is now witnessing. Such a change in policy would lead to new alliances as well as the downgrading of some of the current partnerships the US has, such as with NATO, a military alliance that is “all dressed up but without a serious conventional enemy to fight”. Given altered realities, what the Pentagon needs is an Asian NATO ( or North America Asia Treaty Organisation) that would link the US in a defensive alliance with Asian powers such as Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam. Already, a Quadrilateral Alliance has taken shape whose area of operation will be the waters of the Indo-Pacific.
The four countries in the Quad (the US, Australia, Japan and India) need to include Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, thereby forming a Heptagonal Alliance. Such an expansion should take place once the navies and other armed units of the Quad familiarize themselves with each other and protocols and processes get formulated and tested that would ensure cohesive and effective functioning, especially in crisis or in conflict situations. There is no everyday place for NATO in such a grouping, although should a conflict take place, that alliance may get called upon to assist, in view of the treaty relationship that the other NATO powers have with Washington. Surveilling and patrolling the Indo-Pacific is a stupendous task, and this would be rendered difficult if regional powers such as the Maldives, Sri Lanka or Indonesia were to become hostile to the Quad.
Of the three, the Maldives is the smallest in size, but in the western waters of the Indo-Pacific, it has a strategic significance that is equal to that of the Republic of China (otherwise known as Taiwan) in the east Asian waters of the Indo-Pacific. The loss of the RoC (Taiwan) as friendly territory would be a severe blow to the ability of the Quadrilateral Alliance to operate off the east coast of Asia, and consequently, this would be a development that would be so unwelcome to Quad members as to ensure that strenuous action will get taken to keep the RoC (Taiwan) as friendly to Washington, Tokyo, Canberra and Delhi as it now is. Looking at India in particular, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government headed by Dr Tsai Ing-wen has initiated a Southbound Policy that has made India a primary focus, and the relationship between Taipei and Delhi is warming up substantially as a result.
The DPP has from the start been close to Tokyo, and this relationship endures, while in the US, several scholars appointed to high positions by Trump are well known and liked in Taipei, as indeed are several scholars (though not as many policymakers) in Australia, the well-known professor, Bruce Jacob, being an example. In the western waters, the location and geography of the Maldives makes that small but significant country a must to remain a friend in the calculus of the Quadrilateral Alliance. Which is why there has been much attention paid in these four capitals to recent developments in the island nation, where the Chief Justice and others have been incarcerated. There is no doubt that ousted Head of State Mohammad Nasheed has far more supporters in Delhi than the present incumbent, Abdulla Yameen. However, in a self-goal, the Ministry of Defence has hurt the relationship between the Indian establishment and Nasheed by unnecessarily controverting a tweet of the latter about a meeting that he had with Nirmala Sitaraman, the sedate but steely Minister of Defense who is trusted by Prime Minister Modi and the second most important minister in the present Union Cabinet, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
Unnamed officials in the ministry went to the press to say that the interaction between Sitaraman and Nasheed “lasted less than a minute”, and that it was “not a scheduled meeting” but a “chance encounter. The ousted Head of State of the Maldives had tweeted that he had discussed the situation in the Maldives with the Union Minister of Defence at Bangalore, and he was well within the bounds of fact in doing so, as Nasheed had mentioned (albeit briefly) the Maldives situation to the minister. The intentional rubbing of salt into the psychic wounds of a consistent friend of India has been taken as a gesture of appeasement towards Yameen, and an effort to please him at his rival’s expense. The episode may create a perception among India’s many friends in the region the Government of India is but a fair weather friend who will delink itself from any individual (no matter how strong the previous record of friendship) and seek to ingratiate itself with any other individual at his expense, if the other person were in a position of authority.
Hopefully Defence Minister Sitharaman will pull up the official who gave such unworthy and unhelpful anti-Nasheed quotes to publications in India. It is unlikely that Yameen will change his country preferences as a consequence of the snub in Bangalore to Nasheed, even while the latter must be unhappy at such unexpected and wholly uncalled for rudeness from a friend. After such a transparent effort at pleasing Yameen, officials in Delhi who are opposed to doing anything more than talk so far as the Maldives is concerned may be believing that the government in Male will become closer to India than to any other country, as Yameen’s predecessors were. In the case of another country of great strategic importance in the Indo-Pacific, Sri Lanka, similar bureaucratic missteps seem to have been made, such that the relationship between Delhi and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been the subject of controversy. Of course, in this case, while there may some questions about the degree of warmth between the Modi government and the Rajapaksas.
The two while in power were instrumental in resisting pressure from a host of countries led by Norway to ease up the campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Rajapaksa brothers refused, and unlike their predecessors, continued the battle until the LTTE was wiped out. Sri Lanka is today a tourist haven as a consequence, and in recent civic elections, former President Rajapaksa has re-established his popularity. Should he return to power in Colombo, the Quadrilateral Alliance will need to ensure his friendship, as Sri Lanka has a very critical geographic position within the Indo-Pacific, and needs to be an ally, as does the Maldives. Given the importance of the Indo-Pacific, it is easy to see why President Trump called Prime Minister Modi to discuss the situation in that very consequential country. The weeks ahead will show how far the Quadrilateral Alliance will go to protect its interests in a fluid political situation.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

PM Modi, make defaulters pay, not innocent taxpayers (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
What is needed is to check forensically each such loan to ascertain all facts.
As Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has made consequential alterations to traditional policies, the most important of which has been demonetisation, followed by a long overdue rollout of GST. The problem facing the Prime Minister is that, while he is the prime mover of these innovative policies, operational details in their implementation get drawn up by the bureaucracy. We have seen the manner in which the Modi brainwave of demonetisation were fleshed out and implemented within the bureaucracy in a manner that was hugely disruptive. This was evident in the case of GST, which has had to be modified multiple times because of the impractical features of the measure as initially implemented, including its multiple and excessively high rates, as also the bringing in of businesses for reporting and taxation purposes that are so small as to have merited exclusion from the complex reporting methods. These have been made mandatory in a context where access to the internet is still miserably inadequate in several places, and where small businesspersons (realistically those with an annual turnover below Rs 5 crore) do not have the time or the expertise to double up as accountants and lawyers, two professions that have seen a huge bulge in clients as a consequence of the GST as drawn up by unfettered bureaucrats. Such impractical detail springs from the colonial-era propensity of the financial bureaucracy to frame each policy in terms of the immediate revenue that it will bring into government coffers, rather than its impact on growth, especially in the medium and long terms. There are, of course, blind spots in this obsessive search for additional revenue, and the most glaring of these is the state-controlled banking system, into which much treasure is being poured from taxpayer rupees annually. Indira Gandhi nationalised private banks with a deposit base above Rs 50 crore in 1969 “in order to ensure funding for the poor”. Instead, these banks have, since their takeover, been serving as piggybanks for the cronies of politicians. In much the same way, LIC and other government institutions buy and hold on to large chunks of equity in private companies, so that those in power and their favourites can be given profitable sinecures such as directorships and other privileges, some in secret because they are illegal.
What took place between Nirav Modi and the Punjab National Bank is only what has taken place hundreds of times in public sector banks in the past two decades. Government of India has been writing off each year a large number of loans that it believes will not get repaid. What is needed is to check forensically each such loan to ascertain whether (a) fresh loans were given despite existing ones being overdue for 18 months or more, (b) whether the collateral for such loans was sufficient to recompense the bank in case of default, and (c) who the individuals were who recommended the loans that were at severe risk of going bad. Bank officers need to familiarise themselves with handling micro recording equipment, so that verbal orders on the part of senior managers and directors, or from VIPs outside the bank, go on voice record. Each direct or other conversation should be affirmed by the manager concerned in an email or a letter to the individual making the loan recommendation, with copies to seniors in the bank’s hierarchy.
Should such a record not exist, the entire responsibility for a loan gone sour will fall on the manager who gave sanction to the moneys being paid out to those who subsequently defaulted. Some such non-repayments may be because of market conditions or other factors (such as policy changes) over which the individual or company availing of the loan has no control. However, there needs to be accountability for loans given to obvious looters of the public banking system, including where necessary summary dismissal, or stoppage of promotions and recovery of at least part of the losses suffered by the bank from the individual who sanctioned the loan. In cases where the money lost by the bank is in excess of Rs 50 crore, jail time for the officers responsible should be mandatory, unless it can be shown that the loans were made in good faith to those who merited them through their proficiency in business or the professions.
What is unconscionable is to make the innocent taxpayer pay for crimes committed by bank managers and their clients. In an example of the distance Prime Minister Modi is willing to traverse from the conventional, his government has ordered the forcible merger of a Mumbai-based company with a now defunct stock exchange begun by the major shareholder of the former. Oddly, the stockbrokers who actually owed the moneys in default seem to have escaped penal action thus far, while a separate company has been marked for destruction through forcible payment by it of the dues of the other entity. There have been whispers that the move against this company was taken on the instance of a former Finance Minister, who wanted to both destroy an exchange competing with a favourite of his, as well as to protect the parties guilty of default (i.e. brokers) by loading the entire liability onto a separate company. He is said to have made trusted officials in the concerned ministries go ahead with this unprecedented measure of forced merger of two private companies. The best way to prove such conspiracy theorists wrong would be for the Central government to administer in 2018 itself the same medicine (of forced merger) to several dozen other pairs of private companies, so that the losses of one get set off against the profits of another run by the same individuals as controlled the first. In the Nirav Modi case, it seems that an honest bank official refused to “roll over” fraudulent paper in the same manner as his predecessors had done. This made it impossible to conceal the scam, and now—although six years late—the public have been made aware of the way in which a nationalised bank was cheated in connivance with a section of its own staff. The assets of those responsible should be located and used to repay the loans taken, rather than rely on taxpayer rupees for the purpose. The people of this country must not be made to pay the price for losses to banks incurred by dishonest businessmen and ethically challenged bank managers. Through asset sale and through other means, Prime Minister Modi should ensure that the guilty few, rather than the innocent many, pay for the commission of frauds such as those committed in the ongoing PNB-Nirav Modi disaster.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Kim stuns globe with Sister power (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India | M D Nalapat

BECAUSE of his youth and therefore absence of long years experience in government posts, Kim Jong Il, the Supreme Leader of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK),was dismissed as a lightweight in both media commentary as well as expert analysis in NATO member states. Experts forecast that he would soon get ousted, and reports from the leadership core of the DPRK indicate that there were at least six serious efforts at replacing him, four of which were given up before being operationalised, but two of which were carried out, only to fail in the beginning stages itself. Those within NATO warning that Kim would have a short reign in power clearly seemed to be aware of such moves, which was perhaps why they made confident predictions of his imminent downfall.
In contrast, from the start of the term of Kim III as Supreme Leader of the DPRK, succeeding his grandfather Kim I and his father Kim II, this columnist was clear that the new leader, though very young, had a modern mind and boldness of spirit, and that he would seek to ensure that the DPRK become both a nuclear as well as an economic power. A further prediction was made (in both written as well as spoken commentary, some of the latter of which is available on Youtube) that Kim Jong Un would seek to unify the Korean peninsula through a process of negotiation with those in charge of the Republic of Korea (RoK). This would not be through war with South Korea but through conciliation such that the North Korean leadership core would be given positions of eminence in the united country, with Kim Jong Un perhaps settling for the title of Chairman for Life of the Unity Government, which would have as the next in line (and effective CEO) a President elected by all the Korean people. Key officials in the DPRK government would be given top jobs in the Unity Government, while the military would be unified, with both North Korean as well as South Korean officers merging into a single entity.
The US and its allies (including Japan) would like a repeat of the East German absorption into West Germany in the case of the DPRK with the RoC. They for long had the belief that Beijing would walk away from Pyongyang the way Moscow began to distance itself from East Berlin by 1987 in the hope that NATO member states would make concessions to the USSR. Instead, each concession by Gorbachev was followed by demands for more from Washington and its partners. The DPRK leadership made a detailed study of the implosion of the former USSR, and so did the Chinese Communist Party. Neither is therefore in any rush to repeat the steps towards surrender undertaken by Gorbachev during his six years in power as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Kim Jong Un has made a study of not only the fate of the USSR, but also that of Iraq and Libya (as predicted by this columnist in 2011, when Sarkozy, Cameron and Hillary Clinton began their campaign of destabilization in Libya).
Indeed, it was just weeks before taking over as Supreme Leader in North Korea that Kim heard of the gruesome death of Muammar Kaddafy, a leader who had believed his son Saif and had surrendered all his WMD stockpile to NATO. Clearly, the influence of his son was greater than the lesson which had unfolded before his eyes in Iraq, where in 2003 Saddam Hussein was toppled (and later hanged) even after he had given up the WMD that may have prevented an attack on him by US forces. That US President George W Bush and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld knew that Saddam had no WMD was obvious from the fact that some of the military convoys moving through roads in Iraq during the 2003 conflict were over twenty kilometres long. Such long lines of vehicles would never have been risked by a risk-averse Pentagon were there even the smallest probability that Saddam Hussein had WMD that his forces could lob in direction of such convoys. Rather, it was the knowledge that their leader had earlier surrendered WMD stocks that lowered morale of Saddam’s commanders, most of whom surrendered without giving battle to US and UK forces.
Earlier, during 1990-91, Saddam Hussein watched in almost a paralysed state when US forces began to get deployed to Kuwait and other nearby areas in preparation for an attack on Iraq. During the war itself, fear of massive retaliation kept Saddam from using WMD against US forces. During Operation Desert Storm as well, Iraqi generals gave up with only a token fight, aware that Saddam Hussein had banned the use of WMD. Some of them had been of the view that if Saddam had deployed WMD during the beginning of the US build-up, it may have dissuaded the US from using land forces in subsequent phases of the conflict. And if missile supplies got used in much greater profusion than was the case during the 1990-91 Gulf War, there is at least some grounds for believing that Washington may have abandoned plans for attack out of worry that there would be too many casualties in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar as a consequence of the use of WMD by Iraqi forces in the pre-attack phase of Operation Desert Storm.
The wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria have been exhaustively studied by Kim Jong Un, who has clearly reached the conclusion that (a) to surrender WMD would be suicide and (b) not using WMD in a future conflict would doom North Korea to defeat and the elimination through executions of the DPRK’s leadership core. Hence the determination of Supreme Leader Kim to continue with his nuclear missile and bomb program, no matter what the countermeasures of the US-Japan alliance ranged against him. Despite preparing for war, Kim Jong Un seeks both peace as well as unification, and in this context, the decision to send his sister Kim Yo Jong to Pyongchang to witness the Winter Olympics was a stroke worthy of a diplomatic maestro. Kim Yo Jong handled herself with tact and charming manners during her stay, where she was wisely treated with honour by President Moon Jae-In of South Korea.
The visit was intended to convince the people of South Korea that North Korea wanted not war but peace. However, this needed to be an honourable rather an imposed peace. In other words, no repeat of the German merger of the DDR with the FRG in 1989 but a formula based on equality of treatment and mutual accommodation and respect. Through his taking the risk of sending his own sister to a location filled with US forces, the North Korean leader has revived hopes for a peaceful unification of the two Koreas among the Korean people. However, such an outcome hinges on Tokyo and Washington as well, and both were dismayed by the success of Kim Yo Jong in charming her hosts.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Modi must restore democracy in the Maldives (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
India-US joint intervention in the Maldivian crisis would enhance the credibility of the two militaries as the lead force for stability and justice in the entire Indo-Pacific.
From the start of his misrule, it was obvious that Maldivian head of state Abdulla Yameen cared not a whit for democracy. Using the power of the executive, he managed through complicit officials to cobble together a majority in Parliament through expelling several members.
Subsequently, Yameen has steadily and stealthily been seeking to promote radicals in their effort to Wahhabize the Maldives, the way President R.T. Erdogan is doing in the Turkey by overturning the moderate ethos of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, slowly replacing it with a system infused with Wahhabi ideology dressed up in camouflage. Mohamed Nasheed, who was removed from office as President of the Maldives by Yameen and a group of Wahhabi camp followers in the police and military, is opposed to religious extremism, and this is the “crime”
for which he was punished with prison and exile. Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed of the Supreme Court showed unusual spine in declaring the obvious, that the disqualification of several anti-Yameen legislators was mala fide. Instead of accepting the Rule of Law, Yameen has used the Law of the Jungle to imprison CJM Saeed. Shamefully for the institution, his terrified brother justices have overturned his judgement, “because President Yameen asked for it”. The “law” in the Maldives is clearly what Wahabbist Abdulla Yameen wants it to be. Even former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has been jailed. Given the deep pockets of the Wahhabi International, it is no surprise that the radicalising military and police forces on the Indian Ocean nation are backing the Wahhabist Yameen, rather than the Rule of Law as represented by the verdict of the Chief Justice of the Maldivian Supreme Court.
It is clear that the individual legally entitled to remain the President of the Maldives is Nasheed, rather than the usurper Yameen. That being so, the call by Actual President Nasheed for India to assist in removing Usurper President Yameen from power is legal and within the full ambit of international law read in a democratic manner. China, of course, has called for “restraint”, not on the part of Yameen, but on the part of those powers alarmed at the destruction of democracy in the Maldives. Were India to accept Beijing’s advice and not act, it would be clear to all the countries of the Indo-Pacific that Modi-led India’s backing for full sea and air access and sovereignty of all the powers within the Indo-Pacific is worth tuppence. Just as in 1988, there needs to be kinetic assistance given to those in the Maldives who are battling to retrieve the moderation and democracy that the island nation was for so long known. If police and military units on the island remain captive to the Wahhabi International and oppose India’s “Responsibility to Protect” intervention, they need to be dealt with ruthlessly. Some NATO member states may look askance at a Third World country doing what they believe is the exclusive prerogative of the “Herrenvolk” (i.e. themselves). President Donald J. Trump is however likely to prevail over the Clinton holdovers within the US bureaucracy and back democracy in Male by ensuring that US forces in the Indian Ocean join hands with their Indian counterparts  in Operation “Restore Democracy” in the Maldives. The exigencies of geopolitics has made both India and the US military allies, and joint intervention in the Maldivian crisis
on the basis of the request for such action by Actual President Nasheed would be a useful spur to greater cooperation between the two militaries in the future. Such an operation would enhance the credibility of the two militaries as the lead force for stability and justice in the entire Indo-Pacific. Once the Usurper President gets replaced in the seat of power by the Actual President, the latter could hold elections within 18 months, thereby giving the people of the Maldives an opportunity to vote for either Wahhabism or the moderate ethos of genuine Islam, vote for either the freedoms of a moderate democracy or the straitjacket of a Wahabbi autocracy. On retaking office, President Nasheed must remove the police and military officials, who have subverted the Rule of Law by disobeying the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and send them to exile rather than to prison. As for China, the country’s Communist Party is nothing if not pragmatic, and a return of the ousted leader is certain to be followed by overtures to him from Beijing.
The Indo-Pacific has by now far outstripped the Atlantic Ocean as the primary pivot of the 21st century, despite efforts by the East Coast establishment in the US together with some NATO member states to pretend the opposite, that the Atlantic Ocean is still as dominant in global commerce and diplomacy as was the case in the half-century after 1945. To fulfil its natural role as the lead actor in the coalition ensuring security and access within the eastern side of the Indo-Pacific the way the US still is in the western reaches, there needs to be effective action besides verbal protestations of intent and capability. The Lutyens Zone ensured that India took a pass in the global war on ISIS from 2014 to the present by refusing to kinetically join either of the coalitions battling the terror group, that led by the US or the other led by Russia and Iran. Ideally, India should have joined both the Moscow-Tehran-Damascus forces (in Syria) and the
Washington-Baghdad partnership (in Iraq), thereby preserving strategic independence from what may be called “New Cold War” considerations.
This New Cold War is yet another consequence of Atlanticist logic, and has the US and some of its allies facing off against Russia and China in multiple theatres. In 1988, the Lutyens Zone warned Rajiv Gandhi against intervention in the Maldives, but the then Prime Minister went ahead, thereby boosting India’s reliability as a partner. Now that another call for intervention from the elected authority of the Maldives has come, Narendra Modi needs to show the same resolve as Rajiv Gandhi did, by ensuring that Yameen-led Wahhabis are stopped from blocking the democratic rights and freedoms of the Maldivian people, more than 95% of whom share with 98% of their Muslim counterparts in India the divine qualities of modernity and moderation. Should the Modi government fail this test of will, none in the Indo-Pacific will take seriously India’s boast of being an effective and reliable partner.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Trump faces media war (Pakistan Observer)

By M D Nalapat
THOSE close to the Hillary Rodham Clinton 2016 Presidential campaign say that the lady was of the view that Donald J Trump would be easy to defeat. The fear within the Clinton camp was that a candidate such as Marco Rubio would clinch the Republican Party nomination. Rubio was young, unlike both Clinton and Trump, and he would have had as much of a lock on the swelling Latino vote as Barack Obama had on African-American turnout. It was with some relief, therefore, that the Clinton campaign got the news that Trump had prevailed over all sixteen of his adversaries within the Republican Party and was now the party nominee for the Nov 08 polls.
Soon afterwards, individuals in the media with strong connections to the Clintons got released a stink bomb against Candidate Trump in the form of the Access Hollywood tapes. They even ensured that the hapless journalist who was accompanying Trump on the bus in which he made some tasteless remarks got fired to add to the gravity of the story, even though all he was doing was his job: keeping the star happy, this time by pretending to appreciate the references of the older man to his success in ensuring that women did his bidding. Hillary Clinton was certain that publication of the Access Hollywood tapes would finish off support for Trump among women voters, which she needed in overwhelming numbers to offset her unpopularity with white male voters, especially those with limited or non-existent education.
Led by John Podesta, who usually kept his activities (if not his sanitized views) under the radar, the Clinton campaign used its reach into the US media to ensure that Trump’s sexual boasts were broadcast over and over again, an overkill that probably damaged their effectiveness as a “Trump repellent”. To Hillary’s shock, Candidate Trump not only suffered only negligible political damage from the tapes, but his retaliatory focus on a serial seducer of women, William Jefferson Clinton, brought back memories of the way in which Hillary had stood by her husband.
The media prizes access, that telephone call from a Head of Government in the early hours of the morning asking for advice, that one-on-one meeting every now and then in the great man’s office, so that the whole world would know that the journalist in question had access to the top, the price for which was silence over the indiscretions of the leader. Both Clinton and Kennedy gave that sort of access to the journalists they knew would be loyal to them. While the US President would get gushing copy from select scribes while in office, the journalists themselves could secure from them information about the inner workings of government sufficient to fill the front pages for days. Within the Washington Beltway, Bill and Hillary Clinton have long been the most powerful couple in the capital of the US after the President of the day (and for four years while Barack Obama occupied the White House, until Hillary Clinton resigned as Secretary of State in order to launch a campaign to succeed Obama in the White House, which she hoped to occupy in 2017 together with First Man Bill Clinton. They both are generous to their supporters and vindictive to those who oppose them, and since her defeat in the US Presidential elections, Hillary Clinton has been devoting a substantial degree of attention towards making President Trump toxic to Big Media in the US.
The result is that the only large media group that supports Trump is the chain of media outlets controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his sons. Time Warner, in particular, has been carrying out a vicious campaign against the 45th US Head of State since his inauguration. Its news channel, CNN, has been carrying on a continuous campaign designed to ensure that President Trump get impeached, and has been portraying the White House under Trump as being a nest of the Federal Security Bureau of Russia. Every day they are looking to Special Investigator Robert Mueller to justify the faith of the Clintons in him by coming up with evidence that could be manipulated in a way that could lead to the impeachment of the President and his replacement with Vice-President Mike Pence, whom the Clintons believe lack the charisma and the ruthlessness needed to ensure that the Republican Party continue to hold its present position of primacy within the political establishment, a situation largely created by the unexpectedly strong hold of Donald J Trump on the imagination of large swathes of US voters.
However, the campaign against Trump is moving into the ridiculous. Time has carried a handsomely paid essay by Karl Vick, which claims ( and not as a joke either) that the American Century has been single-handedly brought to a close by the election of Trump as US President. That 2017 has seen the end of US primacy, a position of superiority based ( according to Vick, who must occasionally be delusional as a consequence of certain items of consumption) on the superior morality of the US, a champion of “ freedom and free markets, progress and human rights”. The essayist forgot about the way in which President Truman sought to preserve the French colonial empire in Vietnam, or how Richard Nixon encouraged Henry Kissinger to use clandestine methods to ensure that AT & T retain its South American monopoly. Vick seems never to have heard of the dictatorships that the US has backed – and is still backing – across the globe.
Or the quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by the mess in the Middle East ( especially Libya) that was caused by Time Warner’s favourite couple, the Clintons. Or the 2008 financial collapse, that shattered confidence in the money management of the US. To him, writing a sponsored article for TIME, it is Trump and Trump alone who is responsible for every catastrophe and failure of US domestic and foreign policy. Just as ( to him) it was only the US (and not mistakes made by a geriatric and sclerotic Politbureau of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) Union) which caused the fall of the Soviets. Not to mention the revelation ( especially to the Chinese) that it was the US and not Deng Xiaoping that steered China towards economic superpower status. Both CNN and TIME are expending considerable effort seeking to discredit President Trump. Instead, they are making themselves an object of ridicule.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

'BJP is on track to lose 2019 election' (Rediff)

'The middle class is already alienated.'
'If the stockmarket is destabilised, the BJP is finished; the party will lose in every town.'
'And if the stockmarket crash happens just before the 2019 elections, the BJP will not cross the 150 mark in 2019.'

The Narendra D Modi government's last full Budget has been described as populist with an eye on the 2019 election. Will the schemes announced in Budget 2018 be enough to give Modi another term as prime minister? M D 'Monu' Nalapat, political analyst and academician (honorary director and UNESCO peace chair department of geopolitics and international relations at Manipal University) does not think so.

"The time for reform was in the first year but the government did a pass to that," Professor Nalapat, below, tells's Shobha Warrier.
Do you feel the finance minister wrote Budget 2018 with the 2019 election in mind?
Any kind of a transformational Budget has to be in the first year of the government, and not the last year.
So, whatever done in the last year is discounted as something done with the election in mind.
Then, of course, the longevity of any government is in doubt in a democracy.
So, the time for reform was in the first year, but the government did a pass to that.
They basically had a Budget that pleased Wall Street and not the Indian mainstream.
It was all meant for the fund managers so that we could have these artificial upgrades and downgrades in ranking.
But these rankings have no effect on ground. It's all for those with dollars to make more dollars in India.

The complaint by many was that this government was just the continuation of the two UPA governments.
Yes, the influence of P Chidambaram is still very strong in the government in the financial portfolios because most of the senior civil servants are Chidambaram loyalists.
That is why there was no new thinking at all in the Budget.
In fact, there was no new thinking at all from 2014.
The same old people are controlling the government. The home and finance ministries are functioning as they were before.
Narendra D Modi changed the BJP as an organisation, but not the government.
The ideological mentor of this unimaginative Budget is Chidambaram. His men have succeeded in making sure of Chidambaram coming back to power as the prime minister.
If Rahul Gandhi does not become the PM, the next senior person is Chidambaram.
The whole emphasis has been on collection of money than promotion of growth.
This is the colonial mindset of the finance and home ministries of this country since 1947.
What does the finance minister say? We collect finance for the coming year; they don't say, we want the economy to grow for the next generation. They collect money in such a way that harms growth in the next generation.
What we need is lower, much lower, taxes for growth so that the government gets a smaller share for higher growth.
Here, the government is looking at a larger share in lower growth.
The entire emphasis on the Budget reflects the emphasis of North Block and their colonial way of thinking.

You mean the 7.5% growth they are talking about is not enough for the country?
Yes, we need to have a minimum of 11% growth. China did it, why not India? We can do it.
7% or 8% is too low for a country of this size. And you have gone to 5.7% which is a catastrophe, and that too when there is high global growth.
UPA (Dr Manmohan Singh's United Progressive Alliance government) had an excuse of the global crash, but now there is a global revival. But India is not sharing the global revival.
In the past, India did not share the crash, now we are not sharing the revival too.

Do you feel the government was late in announcing the healthcare initiative and schemes for farmers?
These schemes are practical only if the economy is growing at 12% to 15%. They are not practical when the economy grows at 6% or 7%.
Today, where is the money for all these schemes?
Secondly, the government had the benefit of about Rs 4 lakh crore because of the lower oil prices. Where has all that money gone?

With the government increasing the MSP (minimum support price) by 150%, do you think rural India will be happy?
When demonetisation was announced on November 8, 2016, my comment was the BJP had signed the political death warrant for 2019! I stand by that even today.
Rural India still suffers from the effects of demonetisation.
Another bad decision was not allowing the rural co-operative banks to accept old notes for new.
For the Uttar Pradesh election win, the only explanation I have is that Muslims went from Mayawati to Akhilesh (Yadav) and Congress and they were not strong enough to win.
Mayawati was too weak as a result of the Muslim vote deserting her and the BJP got the benefit. The switch could not push the SP-Congress to win but weakened the BSP enough to lose. It (the result) has nothing to do with rural India supporting demonetisation.
Demonetisation will still be the killer for the BJP, and the way GST was implemented, it is another killer.
The government is in denial even today about the negative effects of demonetisation. Otherwise, how did the two bureaucrats who pushed the most for demonetisation become the finance secretary and finance commission member?
Another thing that affected rural India was the way some very big Indian and foreign corporate houses did forward trading and speculation in food stuff.
The third toxic measure was flushing liquidity completely from the market. These three toxic measures affected the rural sector very badly.
Today, you see that the economy is slowing, revenues are slowing and the government has no money for this.
Istrong>It is obvious that schemes like universal healthcare and 150% MSP for farmers are announced with the 2019 election in mind. Will they bring in votes for the BJP in 2019?
This is the fourth year of the government and nobody is going to believe them.
Nobody believes anything a government says in its last year.
The time for reform was the first year. Now, it is too late for anything.
I forecast in 2013 that the BJP would win 300 seats and the Congress would get 50 seats.
I will say as of now, the BJP is on track to lose the election unless a complete change of situation takes place.
Gujarat was saved for the BJP by Mani Shankar Aiyar. And for that, the BJP should give a Padma Vibhushan to him!

Do you think with this Budget, the BJP has alienated the salaried middle class which stood by the BJP?
The middle class is already alienated.
The BJP needs to win in the cities to come back to power.
If somebody is willing to risk Rs 3,000 crores and crash the stockmarket, that will be the end of the BJP, and politicians in India have 20 times more money abroad.
The fact is Rs 3,000 crores of foreign money can decentralise the Indian market and cause a crash.
If the stockmarket is destabilised, the BJP is finished; the party will lose in every town.
If I were an Opposition politician with lots of money, I will use the money I have in foreign funds to destabilise the Indian stockmarket and create a crash. It is not difficult.
And if the stockmarket crash happens just before the 2019 elections, the BJP will not cross the 150 mark in 2019.
Otherwise, as of now, the BJP may get 210, according to me.

Is there anything in the Budget that can help create jobs which was what the prime minister promised in 2014?
The best thing a government can do is to get out of the economy, get out of regulations and allow people freedom.
In the 1950s we had a flourishing private sector because of the Japanese and Korean private sector and Nehru killed it.
Modi should remember his promise of minimum government and implement it. We don't need more government.

Modi came to power giving so much hope to people for a better tomorrow. What happened?
Most of the key people in the Modi government are Lutyens zone people.
They are so dominant in creating Indian policies. Modi and Co have gone into coexistence with Lutyens.
This is a Lutyen zone government and as long as it is that way, the country will not make any progress it needs to make.
Modi had a great opportunity, but I am sorry to say he is on track to losing it.

Did he miss the bus?
The bus is still there, but Modi will have to run, run really fast, to catch it.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Cabal plans October meltdown in share prices to rout BJP (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

A former UPA minister is trying, secretly, to engineer a meltdown in stock market prices by 1 October this year.
A prominent politician, who was a minister during the Manmohan Singh government, is behind a move by as much as 31 brokerages and international and domestic financial agencies to secretly engineer a meltdown in stock market prices such that market indices lose around half their 2 February level by 1 October 2018. They are working in tandem with a few officials in key ministries, who have lately renewed or expanded their contact with the politician in question in the expectation that he will return to a top position in a future government, should the BJP go the A.B. Vajpayee way next year and fail to get re-elected. The politician’s business associates in India and abroad are hopeful that he may even get “the highest job”, according to a senior official tracking the activities of the former minister. A colleague estimated that “at least Rs 39,000 crore was made by the minister while in office just through stock market manipulations”. An officer dealing in the financial sector explained that the minister would use the information and clout of a particular ministry to move share markets in the direction most profitable to him and those friends and family who joined with him in such speculation. “If the Finance as well as the Commerce & Industry Ministries worked in tandem, and if they had a high-level confidential source in RBI as well, they could make policy announcements (or hints) that would immediately push up or down prices of certain stocks”, an official explained, adding that this was precisely what was done during the minister’s long tenure in office. 
If coordinated moves were designed so as to drive prices artificially up by making retail investors flock to certain stocks, the minister would subsequently influence government agencies through trusted officials to purchase stock and “make huge buys at elevated levels”, a senior official explained. These would “mostly be the shares purchased earlier (at much lower prices) by the minister and his cabal (of friends and family), by using foreign institutional investors and devices such as Participatory Notes, so that they cannot be identified”. The officials said that it would be “child’s play” to check the share purchase docket of agencies such as LIC or other state-controlled financial giants to determine which shares were bought during 2004-2014 at prices that soon afterwards crashed. He went on to say that this was surprisingly not attempted by the present government. He added that “the (former) minister has seen to it that the officials who connived with him have almost all been given important responsibilities even to this day, hence their loyalty to the man”. In other instances, leaks made through business newspapers and television channels were carefully designed so as to depress prices of select shares, and once prices fell significantly, the minister and his cabal (including associates in trusted brokerage firms and stock exchanges) would buy such shares through the anonymous FII route. Once the shares were bought, “fresh announcements in the form of rollback of earlier statements, or positive hints about policy towards the sector in question would be given. This would send up prices of target companies, at which time the shares bought at low prices would be sold.” The sources said that “by this fail safe system, the minister and his cronies and kin made enormous sums of money working entirely through the banking system”, a part of which was later brought back into the country through FIIs, and some cash through hawala routes. “Certain brokers, many of whom operate from Rajasthan and Punjab, are close to the (former) minister. They are neck-deep in hawala transactions, and are the channels that are being used to bring cash back into the country”, a senior official claimed. “These brokers need to be investigated seriously for their hawala links, but so far even SEBI has done precious little against them”, an official said, adding that he was hopeful that this may change in view of the fact that “some outstanding police officials have recently been given responsibility for investigating hawala channels”. 
Amazingly, the former minister is claiming credit for both the negative opening of the Singapore stock exchange on 2 February, as well as the unusual warning by Fitch rating agency that higher welfare spending in the budget just announced would impact India’s upgrade. Fitch’s comment was unexpected and the former minister has claimed to his associates that his “friends” in New York, London, Singapore and Dubai will ensure that Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, as well as Goldman Sachs will soon issue similar warnings on India. The “October Meltdown” cabal expects these coming negative international comments by the very agencies that the Narendra Modi government is showcasing as his boosters, to spook financial markets. 
In the weeks before the Union Budget was presented, reports appeared about likely measures, including a tax on long-term capital gains. In the past in many cases, were a report about a proposed budgetary measure to get revealed in the media, that step would have been cancelled, but in the case of the 2018-19 Union Budget, the government has gone ahead with the announcement of a tax on long-term capital gains despite media reports forecasting exactly such a move. “The cabal was confident that the measure would be introduced despite the media reports. They however advised unsuspecting clients to buy stocks.” The stocks bought during the pre-budget period by retail investors were in large part those being offloaded at the same time by the 31 brokers and other financial players behind the “October Meltdown” cabal led by the former UPA-era minister, who interestingly was the same individual who got planted the fake news report about a “coup attempt” by the then Chief of the Army Staff, General V.K. Singh. “The very brokers who advised unwary clients to buy were themselves at the same time short-selling their own stock through proprietary and offshore accounts, including those controlled by the former minister and his kin.” As all such transactions are taking place through the FII route and anyway official agencies seem to be looking the other way, officials say that the “October Meltdown” cabal is confident that they will escape any consequences for the actions they are taking to ensure that retail investors suffer immense financial losses as a consequence of the manipulations indulged in by the gang. “The only problem facing the cabal is that it will cost about Rs 3000 crore to engineer a crash of sufficient proportions.”  Those aware of the operation claim that the UPA-era minister is presently willing to spend only Rs 500 crore of his own stash in the operation, but that he has raised another Rs 650 crore from others. An official forecast that the former minister will pony up “as much as Rs 2,000 crore, but only if he is confident that he will get the same rank in a post-poll government as he enjoyed during the UPA period”. A colleague of the official added that the ambitious and brilliant politician from a large state “does not want to be the Subramanian Swamy of the new government, who does the heavy lifting bringing down the image of the rival party and then gets peanuts as reward, the more so as the moves made by him would be carried out in secret, unlike Swamy’s, which were all in the open”. 
Many of the senior members of the cabal, including brokerage firms close to the former minister, retain close contact with senior officials and politicians in the present government, several of whom the former minister had assisted while he was in office. Many of the officials who worked closely with the former minister in facilitating his moneymaking operations retain positions of high responsibility in the present government. Once he took charge as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi decided in a statesmanlike gesture to avoid a housecleaning of the bureaucracy by removing those linked to the previous regime. Instead, many such officials have been given honour and respect by the new government, as well as multiple promotions. Unfortunately for Modi, some of these officials have continued their confidential contacts with their previous patrons, and are favourably inclined towards a change in government. The UTI scam that cost millions of small investors their savings played a key role in ensuring the defeat of the BJP in towns and cities across India in 2004. Should there be a stock market crash on the scale planned by the “October Meltdown” cabal headed by the former minister, once again towns and cities across India are likely to vote against the BJP. It may be remembered that in the Gujarat Assembly polls, only a strong showing in urban areas ensured the return to power of the BJP, and this in Modi’s own state. A stock market crash would be sufficient to persuade even Gujarat voters to look elsewhere the next time around. 
The officials concerned gave examples of the manipulations of the former minister, including in the sale of a mining entity in Goa, whose share price was temporarily lowered (during negotiations for outright sale) as a consequence of a budget announcement made by the finance ministry during the UPA regime. Once the transfer of the company took place to friendly hands (at a low price), the final budget proposals withdrew the very budget announcement that had temporarily depressed the mining company’s stock so as to enable its purchase at a low price. “There are dozens of such examples of manipulation of share prices, but no one seems to be interested in looking into them”, an official said, adding that SEBI has been “worse than useless” in checking much of the misuse of stock exchanges for enrichment through price manipulation and insider trading. 
Should the former minister be given an assurance by his party that he will be pitchforked into high office after the polls, the BJP may be in for an electoral ride made impossibly rough by the newly formed “October Meltdown” cabal using its deep pockets to engineer a steep and steady fall in share prices during the period preceding the Lok Sabha elections. 

Thank you, Google, for remembering Kamala Das (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
Amma lived her life in the way celebrated in Frank Sinatra’s song, ‘I did it my way’.
On 1 February, Google featured the mother of this columnist, Kamala Das (later named Suraiya), in its search website, commemorating the day when her book My Story had been released. My mother—Amma—wrote about relationships that she had had, being among the very few women to do so at that time. Her premise was that the body of a woman belonged only to herself, and hence she alone had the right to decide on relationships, no matter what her marital or maternal status. My Story was not the only controversial book penned by a member of the family. Years earlier, the Nehru government had banned Rama Retold, a satirical novel written by Aubrey Menen, the uncle of this columnist. Although there were of course writers and editors within the clan who ruffled no feathers, such as his paternal grandfather C.V. Subrananya Iyer, who was the Founder-Editor of the first English-language journal published in the Malabar district of British-held India, the Malabar Quarterly Review. Or great-uncle Narayana Menon and grandmother Balamani Amma, the former launching the rationalist movement in Kerala through his writings. From the start, Amma must have been a handful to bring up, as the only mind she felt compelled to obey was her own. At a very young age she decided to marry my father, who cherished her to the close of his life in 1992, and who stood by her no matter how many the controversies her writings and on occasion her lifestyle created. Father had begun to love my mother about a year before they married, and this flame never faltered in him, nor the reciprocal feelings in her. They quarrelled with each other, each sometimes exasperated the other, but the shock absorber preventing serious damage to their 43-year relationship was their devotion to each other, a feeling that weathered all storms. 
Kamala—Amma—was her own college and university, reading shelves of books every month and demonstrating a huge curiosity about life. For years after she began writing, in both Malayalam as well as English, few editors saw her as a good investment in their use of newsprint. One day, when this columnist returned home from school with awful grades, Amma showed him dozens of rejection slips from editors, each safely stowed away. She showed the lot and smiled, for by then Kamala Das was already among the more famous of poets in English and novelists in Malayalam. Her silent lesson was that however terrible today was, there would be a tomorrow which could well be better, much better. Years earlier, his mother had saved this columnist’s life, sitting without rest and sleep beside his bedside for the weeks that pleurisy threatened to take his life away, leaping for the oxygen supply whenever breathing was becoming too difficult to bear. Amma’s bedside vigil continued day upon day, night after night, until providence decided that enough was enough, it was time for better health to arrive. It was probably from that time that this columnist realised that women were in reality the stronger sex, and that the world would be much better were they not so often shackled by patriarchal mores. This, of course, was hardly a problem in Amma’s family, which for generations had been a matriarchy. Would Amma have had the confidence to begin a writing career with so limited a base in formal education if she had not been confident since the beginning of her life that women were special, and that it was therefore natural that they do special things? Would Kamala Das have had the courage to ignore or deflect the verbal and written darts thrown at her by those angered by her refusal to shrink herself into a stereotypical mould, if she had not been nurtured within a matriarchal culture? Perhaps she would, for there are several women from precisely such an environment that have surprised traditionalists by moving away from conventionality. Oddly for those at home in societies where only sons matter, my mother could not forgive her three children for all being male, as too were two Muslim boys with differential sight that she and my father brought into our home. Living together as a family, it was soon obvious that religious differences were superficial. It was perhaps from Irshad and Imtiaz that by the close of the 1970s Amma grew interested in Islam, a religion that she acknowledged publicly as hers only in 1999. 
Much has been said about this conversion, and some unflattering theories have been aired about the reasons, with some even claiming that she would have reconverted but for “pressure” from this columnist. It is amusing to hear that there are those who claim to believe that a woman as secure as Kamala Das would have listened to anyone’s orders, much less a son who with pride accepted her as the Matriarch. Such talk took wing after Amma died in 2009 and was buried in the Palayam mosque rather than cremated. Two days before she passed on, Amma had told her daughters-in-law “not to burn” her, a command that was relayed to this columnist. She was therefore buried as she had wished, but from then onwards, trolls have feasted on this columnist for not cremating her. The traducers are still active, and the latest bout of abuse has been in the form of an application to the Kerala High Court to ban a forthcoming movie on Kamala Das (Suraiya), because the script apparently did not incorporate the defamatory falsehoods peddled about her by individuals who were unhappy with the poetess embracing a faith they privately saw as retrogressive. The individual who filed the case portrays Amma as a weak woman bullied by others into doing what she did not want to do, and also not doing what she wanted. This is not so much an insult as it is a joke. Kamala (Suraiya) lived her life in the way celebrated in Frank Sinatra’s song, “I did it my way”. She lived her entire life her way, and those who loved her (including her husband and her sons) would not have had it otherwise.