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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.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Michael Wolff’s fiction about Donald Trump (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India

M D Nalapat

THOSE who appreciate a good thriller will find Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” an excellent read, not as history but as fiction. Although the initial reaction to his 321 page book on the Trump White House showed an absence of scepticism about the veracity of the many assertions he has made about what went on in the inner councils of the 45th President of the US, over the weeks, inconsistencies in the narrative are becoming clearer. Among the items hinted by Wolff (and later elaborated in an MSNBC interview) was that Trump was romantically involved with Nikki Haley, the personable US Ambassador to UN, and that both had travelled together several times on Air Force One, sometimes for long transcontinental flights.
This story was shown to be false once it came out that the only time Haley and Trump travelled together on the Chief Executive’s aircraft was on a flight from New York to Washington, a trip that would have been covered in less than an hour. Women have for long undergone the pain of being accused of using their charms to get promotions, and the Wolff titbit was presumably planted by someone in the Trump team who was unhappy at news reports suggesting that Nikki Haley may soon replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Wolff has shown himself to be an easy mark for those wishing to load him with false information in the certainly that he would write as though the falsehoods told to him were true. That the book is a work of fiction becomes clear from the first few pages, where the author goes to considerable lengths to convince the reader that Donald Trump not only did not believe he would defeat Hillary Clinton, but that he actually did not want to be President of the US.
Interestingly, channels such as CNN were discussing the sort of news channel Trump would start, certain as they were that he would lose to their favourite, Hillary. As for Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, would they have exchanged jobs in the innermost circle of power within the world’s most powerful country for an extra dash of celebrity? The first chapter of the book itself makes clear to those not blinded in their reasoning by hatred of Trump that Wolff was penning a work of fiction. Any individual with even a smidgen of insight into the personality of Donald Trump knew that the man hated to lose, and abhorred being second best. He played to win, and played only to win. But not if you believe the anonymous sources quoted by Michael Wolff, which were probably White House and other US Govt staff that had fancy titles but little responsibility, and who were inventing stories to convince Wolff that they were more important than they actually were. It must be assumed that Wolff is a journalist of integrity.
However, every scribe is only as good as her or his sources, and it would appear that his anonymous sources were pushing the Washington Beltway narrative of a US President who was out of his depth and even out of control while holding the most consequential job in the world. Someday the book will be made into a movie despite its erroneous statements, for the reason that Trump’s brand of politics creates foes who will believe the worst about him no matter how improbable such reports may be. Interestingly, around the same time as the book, a film has been released about the Pentagon Papers dealing with the Vietnam war, and the role of the Washington Post and the New York Times in publishing this trove of secret documents to fury from the Nixon White House.
The Watergate-era US President is shown as a petty individual who barred reporters from the Washington Post from coming to the White House after the newspaper disobeyed requests by government agencies to desist from releasing information that had been marked secret. The owner of the Washington Post is shown to be a courageous and idealistic publisher, who gave the “go ahead” to Editor Benjamin C Bradlee despite the risk that publication may lead to the closure of the newspaper as a consequence of hostile actions instigated by President Nixon and his combative team of Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Kissinger. The US Supreme Court made history (and in the correct way) by decreeing that newspapers “serve the governed and not the governors”, and hence that the Post and the Times could publish the secret history of the Vietnam war. Since then, the US has been through several leaks of sensitive records, such as by the Wikileaks expose of US diplomatic files (in which this columnist also figures) and the Titanic-size revelation of secrets of the National Security Agency (NSA) by Edward Snowden.
None of this has adversely affected the interests of the US, thereby proving that secrecy in the name of security is a fetish of governments related to their own desire not to allow errors to come to public attention. It may be recalled that even the “liberal” President Obama went ballistic at both Julian Assange of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden. For years Assange has had to imprison himself in the Colombian embassy in London, while Snowden is in Moscow and faces a long jail term should he ever return to the US. It is clear that all those who reach the top of government undergo a mental transformation in which they believe themselves to represent the nation, so that anybody not obeying them becomes condemned as “anti-national”. That the US is still a free society is why Michael Wolff can not only write a salacious and mendacious book about the President of his country, but thrive in the proceeds and publicity of his effort. In few other countries would he have such a luxury.
 

Monday, 29 January 2018

Demonstrations over controversial film threaten to mar important Indian holiday (Interview with M D Nalapat/CGTN)

Security has been tightened in several Indian states after protests against a Bollywood film turned violent. Demonstrators said the movie shows a romance between a legendary Hindu queen and a Muslim invader.
Schools in one New Delhi suburb were closed after a school bus was attacked. CGTN’s Shweta Bajaj reports that the unrest comes as the country is marking an important national holiday.
Tight security is normal in India ahead of Republic Day, but this year, there’s an extra reason to be on alert. Security has been tightened after radical Hindu groups began protesting a Bollywood Film called "Padmawat".
They said the film is disrespectful to their culture by showing a Hindu queen romancing a Muslim king. People who have watched the film dispute that claim, but that hasn’t stopped the protests.
Protesters even attacked a school bus on Wednesday, prompting officials to close many schools in the area.
The demonstrations have already delayed the film's premiere by two months. One newspaper editor worries about the effect of censorship on India’s society.
“We need a culture of openness, of intellectual freedom, of social freedom,” said Madhav Nalapat, editorial director of The Sunday Guardian. “We have all these debates going on about what kind of food to eat, what kind of clothes to wear. Every day there’s a flurry of false reports, and films are being banned, books are being attacked. This is not a culture in which a service economy can grow. It’s not a culture in which a knowledge economy can grow.”
Many cinemas have decided not to screen the film even though India’s highest court has rejected a request to ban the film. The courts instead directed individual states to maintain law and order.
Some religious groups have accused the director of the film of distorting history. The filmmaker denies the allegations, but the debate continues.

Courtesy: CGTN America

Sunday, 28 January 2018

BJP MP Varun Gandhi asks Lok Sabha Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan; start 'movement' to encourage rich MP (NewsX)

BJP MP Varun Gandhi has asked Lok Sabha Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan, to start a 'movement' to encourage rich MPs to give up their salaries for the rest of the term of the lower house. He says this will reinforce people's faith in their representatives.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nC7OwYHvxE&app=desktop 

Saturday, 27 January 2018

The EC boosts AAP in dealing it a blow (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
 
Boundary into overreach may have been crossed, not by BJP, but by ECI.
 
Politics in India is a saga of unintended consequences, and so it may turn out to be for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). In 2014, its supremo Arvind Kejriwal seems to have been given more than the normal dose of flattery by his followers, as he believed that he could emerge as the national alternative to Narendra Modi during the year’s Lok Sabha polls. Hence, his high-decibel verbal assaults on Modi, together with the electoral challenge posed to the next Prime Minister in Varanasi. Given the nonexistent possibility of a repeat of its earlier successes in Assembly polls, it was wise of the Congress Party to silently withdraw from the 2015 Delhi Assembly contest, thereby enabling the AAP to demolish the BJP just months after the latter party had swept the Lok Sabha polls in the national capital. The victory should have served as the signal for Kejriwal to focus on Delhi and showcase to the nation his administrative skills. Instead, he continued an obsessive negative focus on (now) Prime Minister Modi, behaving more as the (by then non-existent) Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha than as the Chief Minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Even more incongruously, Kejriwal, in full view of television cameras, would switch from Chief Minister to Chief Agitator at ten minutes’ notice, in the process converting an attempt at pathos into farce. Kejriwal’s neglect of urban India’s mindset through a focus on rural problems was another error. The AAP seemed to regard themselves as a 21st century version of Charu Mazumdar’s change agents in Naxalbari, rather than as the city-centric force they are best equipped to be.
The Jan Sangh began and thrived as an urban party, and to this day, the BJP relies on a Lok Sabha sweep of the cities to ensure power. Potentially, it is the AAP that can offer the stiffest challenge to the BJP in the cities and towns of India, a factor that has presumably motivated the high-voltage counterattack on AAP and its leaders by the BJP. If we look at FIRs filed against political leaders, it is almost as though there is only the AAP, so prolific has been the filing of cases against its functionaries. Given the electoral math, Kejriwal’s party is far more a long-term threat to the BJP than it is to any other party. 
The problem with going after an opponent is that you may be too successful for the good of your cause, and this is what seems to be taking place vis-à-vis Kejriwal and the BJP. The boundary into overreach may have been crossed, not by the BJP but the Election Commission of India (ECI), which has disqualified 20 AAP MLAs for “holding an office of profit”. Legislators are elected by the people, and a wholly unelected body such as the ECI ought to think multiple times before reducing the choice of the voters to a nullity before their term is over. Indeed, a case exists for holding elections to the ECI, so that the commissioners are chosen directly by the people, rather than by the government of the day. Such a system would also ensure that India’s Election Commissioners have more familiarity with the practical mechanics of the electoral system than is indicated by some of their decisions. 
To those such as this columnist who are not intelligent enough to understand the nuances of the “office of profit” controversy, it seems a tad unfair to disqualify elected legislators simply because they have been given an office. Legislators countrywide are provided accommodation, and this obviously costs money. So is such housing also to be regarded as “profit”? As for office staff, every legislator (and MP) should be given office space as well as staff so as to look after constituents, the way the US does. Also, previous governments, including in Delhi, appear to have appointed Parliamentary Secretaries. Why is it that the ECI had not questioned these? Is it the contention of the present commissioners that their predecessors were remiss in their duties? There are Parliamentary Secretaries in other states in India. Whatever the limits placed on the functioning of its elected executive, Delhi was made a National Capital Territory. Is the ECI gaze confined only to the city in which commissioners have their office and residences? India has an asylum full of laws, and if technicalities get used to disqualify the elected, it would be possible for zealous individuals in authority to zero in on some technicality or the other to ensure that legislatures (and Parliament) get drained of much of its members otherwise than through elections. Of course, although the AAP is blaming the Narendra Modi government for the action of the ECI, the reality is that each of the commissioners is above the age of consent, and hence they have to be regarded as fully responsible for their own actions. 
Anna Hazare became a national hero in 2011 courtesy arrest by Home Minister P. Chidambaram. Despite its public stance at the time, the BJP was obviously delighted with the development, as it has given the Home Ministry official, through whom the arrest was made, an MP and now a Minister of State. The BJP leadership was clearly aware that the arrest of the venerable Hazare would further damage Congress prospects, which perhaps explains its reward for the then Union Home Secretary. Should the Congress Party return to power in 2019 courtesy the errors of the BJP, hopefully it will similarly remember the service done to it by Chief Election Commissioner A.K. Joti, the man responsible for the AAP legislators’ disqualification, and make him an MP and an MoS (Independent Charge). Joti’s move has created an aura of vindictiveness around the BJP that is undeserved because it is wholly the ECI and not at all the Modi government that is responsible. This blow could give the AAP several more votes in each of the 28 Bangalore Assembly segments of the Karnataka electoral map where it will set up a candidate. The temporary loss of 20 MLAs pales before the gain in goodwill that AAP has got across India as a consequence of CEC Joti regarding an office as “profit”.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Only free Catalonia can save the EU (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India

M D Nalapat

THERE are numerous occasions on which the well-paid albeit under worked (in terms of productive effort) bureaucrats in the European Union Secretariat lecture other countries about the need to respect the popular will. However, when it comes to their own members, the EU gives them a free pass, no matter how egregious the human rights transgression. The Romany are as a community treated very shabbily in much of Europe, denied the privileges and access of most other citizens, barring migrants from those regions which have been the target of “human rights wars” waged by EU member states together with the US. No serious effort has been made to spend the relatively small sums required to bring the underprivileged and historically persecuted Romany populations of Europe to the same educational level as other members of the community.
To practise what’s preached seems a difficult task for the Brussels bureaucracy including in the matter of going by the expressed will of the population. Catalonia and its people have been witnessing this double standard during the past months, with the EU backing Madrid in its smothering of the right of the Catalan people to have the political construct of their choice, in line with what the EU claims are its foundational values. The King of Spain has encouraged his Ministers in the Central Government in their undemocratic refusal to permit Barcelona to have a government of its choice, led by Carles Puidgemont, the individual who represents the desire for autonomy of the Catalan population. Indeed, Puidgemont will most likely get arrested were he to return from Belgium, where he fled under threat of incarceration were he to remain in Spain. Despite the clear preference for freedom of a majority of voters in Catalonia (which included around a third of non-Catalans, almost all of whom would have voted against independence), the EU has refused to chastise the Madrid government for tactics reminiscent of General Francisco Franco and his suppression of the anti-Nazi Spanish Republic.
Not surprisingly, Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering sent over aircraft and troops to kill those Spaniards who were opposing the Franco dictatorship which continued for decades and ended only with his death of old age. Catalonia is seething with discontent, eager to be freed of the high cost in both money as well as liberty of being ruled from Madrid rather than from Barcelona. The EU is an institution on life support after the British people voted to break away from the Union last year. Only two countries, the UK and Germany, bear the financial burden of the EU, with the others being passengers so far as payments into the grouping are concerned. Once the UK breaks away, only Germany will be left, and the financial burden on Berlin will be so substantial that voters in that country will follow their British counterparts in seeking to break away from Brussels and its expanding bureaucracy.
In Italy, the northern region is restless at the way in which it is being made to subsidize the poorer south, and increasingly there are voices calling for a “Catalan solution” to the problem. Even in France, certain regions regard themselves as meriting more autonomy than the centralised French system of governance gives them. It is in fear of such a boost to fissiparous impulses that the EU as a grouping has stood by Madrid while it uses police methods to deny the Catalan people the freedom they desire from the coils of Spain. Such a stance is an error, for the most important advantage of the EU construct is the fact that it has made national boundaries largely irrelevant. Even if Catalonia were to secede from Spain, were both in the EU, the people of either country would be able to travel and settle down in the other. Apart from the fact that less of Catalonia’s taxes would be going for the upkeep of facilities and personnel in what would be left of Spain, there would be almost no difference on the ground even after the Catalan region got its independence.
The same situation would apply to any other region within the EU that broke away from the country in which it is now a part. Indeed, given such a situation, it is an example of the perversity and absence of rationality in multiple bureaucratic decisions that Brussels is warning Barcelona that any new Catalan state may not get admitted into the EU. In fact, EU rules should be amended such that a breakaway part of an existing member state would automatically become part of the EU. This would cushion the blow to the remaining part of the vivisected state, and reduce very significantly the impact of any such move towards freedom. Indeed, this would emerge as a key advantage of the European Union, that it would permit the full play of regional sentiments even should they cross the line of sovereignty and towards independence. Smaller states could be governed better and have central governments that are closer to the people.
The massive “tent” that is the EU would be able to accommodate any splinter state that gets formed as a consequence of popular impulses. Rather than turn away the Catalans or seek to join with Madrid in choking the momentum of their drive towards independence, the European Union leadership should embrace new states that are formed out of its present member states. Within the EU, such pluralism can flourish, which indeed will give the EU an advantage that it otherwise did not have. Even in the case of the UK, should Scotland secede, London may find that EU membership is preferable to opting out, but only in that situation. The EU is a perfect construct for ensuring the painless break-up of a member state into separate entities. In this respect, Europe has an advantage that most other regions with secessionist impulses lack.
 

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Modi’s India – Just talk or substance? (Interview with M D Nalapat/CGTN)

One of the most awaited speeches at the World Economic Forum in Davos was that of Narendra Modi, who is the first Indian prime minister to attend the high-profile forum in more than two decades.
The timing is highly important: India is looking for investment as its economy has been struggling for the last six months. The country needs high growth to employ its population of 1.3 billion.
Modi's speech pitched India as a hotbed for opportunities.
"I invite you all to come to India if you want wellness with wealth, wholeness with health and peace with prosperity. You will always be welcomed in India wholeheartedly," he said.  
Back in India, the economy is slowing down and job growth is sluggish. Modi’s "Make in India" plan has not taken off yet, but he is looking for ways to fulfill the needs of the country's population.
Indian economists say bureaucracy still remains a major hurdle and the government led by Modi hasn't done enough.
"Unfortunately till now we still have high taxes. We still have high regulations and we have too much of the government. The fact is that Prime Minister Modi wants minimum government, but so far the minimum government has not taken place," economic analyst Madhav Nalapat told CGTN.
Modi has repeatedly promised an easier business environment for other countries to set up enterprises in India. In Davos, he repeated the same pledge.
But on the ground, things haven’t changed. From tax structure to labor and land reforms, too much bureaucracy has always been India’s bane.
The complicated red tape concerns land use, staff hiring and investment, economist Subhomoy Bhattacharjee said, noting that India has productive resources, of which the country is not making full use.
India's economy is expected to reach five trillion US dollars by 2025 with an urgent need to create jobs for its young population. Therefore, Modi’s vision for India includes a global manufacturing hub, a dream that still needs major structural reforms. 
Time is also running out for India. The country has a demographic potential for the next 20 to 25 years after which its population will start ageing.
For now, India’s seven-percent growth is not enough to spread its benefits to the large population.
"We need 11-12 percent growth. We need the same kind of growth that China had during the period of Deng Xiaoping when he systematically launched economic reforms between 1981 and 1983. We need a double-digit rate of growth, seven percent is not enough”, said Nalapat. 

Courtesy: CGTN’s Shweta Bajaj

Monday, 22 January 2018

Naxals At Your Doorstep - IBTL Connect

Madhav Das Nalapat, Editorial Director, The Sunday Guardian; UNESCO Peace Chair & Vice-Chair, MARG shared his views on the topic Naxals At Your Doorstep.




Saturday, 20 January 2018

Netanyahu hints at path India must take (Sunday Guardian)

 By M D Nalapat
 
The Israeli PM explained why the colonial construct of ‘maximum government’ was destructive for gifted populations such as those in Israel and India. 
 
The modern State of Israel was formally born some months after the Union Jack got replaced with the Tricolour across an India that was declared independent on 15 August 1947. Israel had to fight three major wars for its very survival, not to mention numerous other conflicts, each of which was intended by its foes to deal it a lethal blow. The populations of the neighbourhood it is situated in have for long been hostile to the very existence of the Jewish state, and have made several attempts at sabotage, violence and terror against citizens of Israel. And in the case of the ISI-directed 26/11 Mumbai attackers, against the Jewish population in Mumbai. The Holtzbergs were not assassinated because of a property dispute. Indeed, they had never before had any contact with the men sent over from Pakistan for their execution, although it is likely that local sympathisers of terror networks met them earlier to glean information about them and the place they were living and working in. The Jewish couple was killed because of the same reason that six million of the same faith were gassed to death by Germany during 1939-45. They were murdered just for being Jewish, and this despite their being the most productive citizens in the European countries fortunate enough to host them. During that period, their neighbours became their executioners, their supposed friends metamorphosed into their abusers, not simply verbally, but often physically as well. European civilisation has had somewhat dramatic effects on native populations in Australia, North America, Africa and Asia, but it was only after the extermination camps got set up by the 1933-1945 German government that the people of that continent experienced for themselves a level of brutality not seen since the ravages of Timur in India, where he boasted of having slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocents, or the conquests of Genghis Khan across Eurasia.
It was, therefore, a traumatised and numerically tiny community that looked towards once again returning to the region where their theological ancestors had been born millennia ago. And so in 1948, they set up the State of Israel under David Ben Gurion. Of course, given the history of India’s leaders being alone in their backing for the doomed Turkish caliphate in 1919, just as they were the only country to back the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, it was no surprise that India voted against the admission of Israel to the United Nations in 1949. Full diplomatic relations between Tel Aviv and Delhi had to await the Narasimha Rao government in 1992. After that, it was only in mid-2017 that a Prime Minister of India visited the State of Israel. During this time, the chemistry of the region changed, with the Saudi Arabia-Iran rivalry superseding in regional importance the problem of Palestine, even as the consequences of Wahhabism (including the nurturing of ISIS) became impossible to ignore among Sunni populations. Modi was, therefore, in a far more advantageous position to visit a country that for decades had stood by India than any of his predecessors.
Unlike India, which remains poor because of defective policies fashioned by a colonial bureaucracy, Israel has become an advanced country, far richer per capita than India. It was to diplomatically hint why this difference was so that Binyamin Netanyahu gave an inspired address to the Raisina Dialogue. Even setting aside other pluses, the opening speech of Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Raisina Dialogue made his visit worthwhile. With liberal doses of irony mixed with subtle humour, he explained why the colonial construct of “maximum government” (naturally at the expense of the autonomy of civil society) was destructive for gifted populations such as those in Israel and India. It was not the initiatives of government that assured progress so much as the freeing of individual initiative through a dismantling of the constricting framework of regulations and laws that bureaucrats (and their political patrons) so cherished. Israel had made such a transition much earlier and reaped the benefits, and Netanyahu hinted that India should follow. He highlighted the freedoms inherent in a democracy, and by implication warned against their being snuffed out or curtailed, the way some are seeking to do in the matter of lifestyle, diet and even movie habits.
However, it must be admitted that Netanyahu oversees the Palestinian territories in a way that leaves very little room for individual freedom. This columnist has long held that Israel should take for itself what territory it considers necessary for its own safety and salience, but leave the Palestinians free to run their own lives in the remainder of the West Bank and Gaza, of course as a demilitarised state where there would be only the police and not an army or air force. What of course needs to be avoided is the creation in that region of another Pakistan, an army with a state, that views its reason for existence as the downfall of its neighbour. A civilian (and for a while internationally monitored) airport and port should be built within the Palestinian territories that remain after an Israeli withdrawal. The Palestinian people are as capable of innovation as Israelis in Israel and Indians outside India have shown themselves to be, and even a territorially diminished but fully autonomous State of Palestine could soon become a regional economic powerhouse, especially if investment flows in from its Arab neighbours and from countries such as India. Hopefully, during his forthcoming trip to the Palestinian territories, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will announce a gift of such essentials as the setting up of a university and a hospital complex within the West Bank.
Prime Minister Modi has frequently shown great courage in moving ahead on policy paths that his predecessors feared to tread. Should he fulfil his 2014 pledge of “minimum government” through eliminating the red tape that is drowning the economy in red ink, that would be his most significant achievement.

http://www.sundayguardianlive.com/opinion/12464-netanyahu-hints-path-india-must-take 

Friday, 19 January 2018

Syria’s Kurds deserve full autonomy (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India

M D Nalapat

IN the battle against IS (Daesh), two armed groups have been the most effective. The most deadly is the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps ( IRGC), which has eliminated the terrorists from much of Syria, despite themselves being in the crosshairs of two influential countries and a major bloc, the US, Israel and the GCC. But for the IRGC, assisted by precision bombing by Russian military aircraft, long before now IS would have occupied Damascus, the way they were intending to. The only location where they still have presence near Syrian capital is Idlib, which has for the past four years been a protectorate of US. Indeed, IS found refuge in several locations where militia supplied by US and its allies have held ground, and it is from these locations that they expect to regroup after losing Raqqa, the way the Taliban regrouped in parts of Afghanistan during 2006-2009 after having been defeated in conventional battle by US-assisted Northern Alliance.
However, in places controlled by the IRGC and its allies, there is no space for this extremist group, barring isolated acts of terror designed to kill as many civilians as possible. After the IRGC, the most effective force against Abubakr al Baghdadi’s men has been the Kurds. Fighters from this ethnic group have played a considerable role in the shrinking of IS, both in Syria as well as in Iraq. In the latter country, the only reasonably secure zone is the territory which they effectively control, but which is under blockade by the central government in Baghdad. That Washington has given the green light to such an ungrateful action on the part of the Haidar al Abadi government in Baghdad once again adds force to the view across the region that the US is a fair weather friend who can turn against even those that have helped it enormously, should some policymakers in Washington fall under the influence of lobbies against such friendly groups. The Kurds have suffered for decades the effects of Washington extracting advantage from then before tossing them aside the way a banana skin gets thrown away once the fruit inside gets consumed, including when President George H W Bush watched in silence when Saddam Hussein used his air force to massacre Kurds in the villages and towns where this distinct ethnic group is in a majority, including by bombing them with NATO-supplied chemical toxins. After the brief conventional conflict in 2003 between the US-led alliance and Saddam Hussein’s depleted and hopelessly outgunned army, President George W Bush refused to trod on the path of his father. Instead of abandoning the Kurds once the conflict was over, Bush Junior helped establish a Kurdish safe zone in the north of Iraq, which has remained to the present, despite the recent loss of Kirkuk as a consequence of divisions within the Kurdish leadership.
Should the Bagdad government not bow to the requirements of justice and commonsense and respect the full autonomy of the Kurd Autonomous Region of Iraq, it will ultimately be the loser, as tensions between Erbil and Bagdad will grow to the detriment of stability. Unfortunately for the Kurds, in Iraq the US appears to be returning to the George H W Bush policies, in that it is leaving the Kurdish territory to its fate in its eagerness to placate certain Shia and Sunni groups in Iraq, neither of whom wish to respect the autonomy of the Kurds. Unless Washington returns to the policy of the son (George W Bush) rather than the father, the US will lose an essential ally in the war against both armed extremism as well as the ideological and theological matrix that breeds such fanaticism. The Kurds are overall representative of the modern and moderate face of Islam (which is the only genuine face) and hence need to be supported by the US and other major democracies rather than betrayed repeatedly, the way it has been their fate for generations.
Fortunately, this seems to be happening in Syria, where the Trump administration is (as yet) backing a Kurdish Autonomous Zone on the lines of the KAR in Iraq. Despite opposition from such opposites as Bashar Assad and Recip Tayyip Erdogan, the US Departments of State and Defence should go ahead with ensuring the safety and longevity of a KAR(S for Syria) on the lines of the KAR (I for Iraq). The Syrian Kurds have been frontline fighters against Daesh, and are the only ar,ed groups backed by NATO that are free from infestation by terrorist elements temporarily masquerading as “freedom fighters” ( i.e. freedom to set up the same kind of rule as al Baghdadi did in those parts of Syria and Iraq once controlled by him). President Bashar Assad needs to be pragmatic and accept that Syria will in effect be governed as two zones, the first controlled largely by him and another comprising the Kurdish zone, which will have between a third and a fourth of the area of the Syrian Arab Republic. If he were to fight the Kurds (the way Erdogan wants), he would be placing at risk his control of the non-Kurdish segments of Syria, thereby losing far more territory in the longer term than any temporary gain from attaching parts of the Kurdish zone. Only Turkey under Erdogan has a genuine interest in preventing KAR(S) from being formed, as that would lead to calls for setting up KAR(T for Turkey).
The Kurds are treated far worse in Turkey than they are in Syria and almost as bad as they were for long in Iraq, and it is likely that members of this ethnicity in Turkey will demand justice and fair play, something that President Erdogan is unlikely to concede peacefully to them. Just as KAR(I) led to KAR(S), so will the latter provide the impulse for the formation of KAR(T). Rather the oppose the historically justified demands of the Kurds for full autonomy, Baghdad, Damascus and Ankara should show statesmanship and agree to Kurdish zones so as to keep their countries united rather than once again lapse into civil war. As for the Donald John Trump administration, it should recognise the Kurds as the most reliable allies of Washington in the region besides the Jewish community in Israel, and follow through with their commitment to assist in the setting up of a Kurdish safe zone in Syria on the lines of that already functioning in Iraq.
 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court beguns the final hearing in Aadhaar case (NewsX)



A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court has begun the final hearing in the Aadhaar case. The bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra is hearing the petitions challenging the validity of Aadhaar contending that it violates an individual’s fundamental right to privacy. Senior Supreme Court lawyer, Shyam Divan, appearing for petitioners, told the five-judge Constitution bench that Aadhaar may cause death of citizens’ civil rights. “A people’s Constitution is being sought to be converted into a State’s Constitution,” Divan told the apex court. He claimed that if the Aadhaar programme was allowed to continue unimpeded, it would “hollow out” the Constitution. The counsel said the government’s unique identity programme, which it had rolled out through a “succession of marketing strategies and smoke and mirrors” was “designed to tether every citizen to an electronic leash”. Divan claimed that the Aadhaar programme “inverts the relationship between the citizen and the state.” In August last year, a nine-judge bench of the apex court had held that Right to Privacy was a Fundamental Right under the Constitution. Several petitioners challenging the validity of Aadhaar had also claimed it violated privacy rights. The issue regarding the validity of Aadhaar and possible leakage of data has cropped up time and again since the inception of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) number. On January 15, the Unique Identification Authority of India said it has decided to enable face recognion to add another layer of security for inclusive authentication for Aadhaar card holders. The service will be launched by July 1.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu visits Delhi today; Pakistan in 'Jahanam' this January? (NewsX)

The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has arrived in Delhi today for the first visit by an Israeli leader to this country in 15 years. This comes six months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian PM to visit Israel. India and Israel are getting closer and closer. After the Israeli PM leaves, ten heads of state of Asean countries are arriving here- all together. How is this re-positioning India's role in the region? 


Saturday, 13 January 2018

My Lords, please end delays in justice (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
 
The Supreme Court needs to set time limits for disposal of cases. 
 
Some weeks ago, this columnist and his wife went to a cinema show at a mall in Gurgaon, whose cafeteria had an excellent chocolate éclair. It was while consuming this together with a glass of coconut water that the national anthem was played on screen. It took a few moments before the éclair and the coconut water could be safely deposited by the side of the seat, thereby enabling this columnist to rise to attention, guiltily conscious of the fact that for part of the time that the anthem was being played, it was not possible to be standing to attention. Fortunately, there were very few other viewers, and none rushed to the police and the nearest television anchor to declaim against the apparent “disrespect” (albeit for a few moments) to the anthem as a consequence of deciding not to stand until after the éclair and coconut water were safely deposited.
Any normal citizen would instinctively rise to one’s feet whenever the national anthem got played, and this columnist is no exception. However, the incident did create some curiosity in his mind as to what materials the relevant Supreme Court bench relied upon when it made the playing of the national anthem obligatory at theatres (though not as yet at school or sports assemblies). There must be weighty reasons based on objective research for the learned bench to believe that such a move would significantly boost the patriotism quotient of customers at movie theatres, and that feelings of patriotism were otherwise not strong enough, else the highest court in the land would not have given the emphatic order that it did. However, some may argue that, given the Republic of India’s age of 71, cannot the citizenry of this country be trusted upon to be patriotic without recourse to methods such as the obligatory playing of the national anthem in theatres? That they do not need their lives and their activities to be micromanaged by the state and its institutions the way it was during earlier times.
The superiority of civil society over the myrmidons of government is clear from the fact that cash surpluses come from the private sector and the deficits from the state sector, barring monopolies such as ONGC or the RBI. Unfortunately for India’s prospects after 1947, those who took charge from Lord Louis Mountbatten believed that only the government could be trusted to do the right thing and never the people. They continued a governance structure, in which the myriad arms of government have far more authority and discretion over the lives of citizens than in any other major democracy. They systematically weakened private industry and individual initiative and pumped resources into the state sector, which from that time onwards has been digging deeper and deeper into public funds for mere survival.
As for the judiciary, that noble and necessary institution has entered into practically every domain of human life in India, whether public or private, and routinely gives judgements that have enormous consequences, sometimes on individuals, but often on much more people, sometimes even on the entire country, without sharing sufficient detail about how such conclusions were reached. Of course, among the champions in a competition between the judiciary and the executive for decisions that impact the most number of people is probably the 8 November 2016 demonetisation of 86% of the country’s currency, done so as to try and suck up the 6% of black money that exists in the form of Indian currency.
The judicial system is at the heart of the Rule of Law. And most of us have direct evidence of the painfully slow manner in which the legal system functions. In a particular case familiar to this columnist, the two children of a deceased individual from Mumbai have spent nearly four decades in court because a self-proclaimed relative in Haryana filed a suit to get an equal share of the property left behind by their father. Thus far, there is no sign of the case getting finally decided, and such delays seem not the exception, but the norm in all too many cases. India has a world class judiciary and the Supreme Court needs to set time limits for disposal of cases. Deadlines given need to take account of the fact that human life is short, and hence justice needs to be completed within five years at a maximum. We have a system where practically all judicial decisions can be re-examined and re-litigated, and where a plethora of additional cases daily move into the chain, there to form larger and larger pools of cases yet to be finally—and this is the operative word, finally—decided.
In another case involving a family, some relatives residing in Bangalore filed a property suit against another branch of the family living in Trivandrum, that was finally decided in favour of the latter by the Supreme Court, but after more than two decades, during which the individual against whom the case was filed died of old age. More than two decades later, the same Bangalore-based relatives have now filed essentially the same case against those Trivandrum-based relatives who are still alive. Will this too have to wait another 20 years and another Supreme Court verdict before getting settled? And after that, will there be a third effort through filing yet another case? Has it become the reality in India that in practice, cases never get settled except temporarily? Should not changes in procedures get introduced that ensure that this no longer be the case, and that an absolute 5-year rule gets established? When will the Supreme Court act on this?
Fortunately for those who prefer the 21st rather to the 19th century, the Supreme Court has lately made moves towards re-examining its earlier dismissal of a High Court verdict decriminalising same sex relationships between consenting adults. Hopefully, it will also relook its earlier rejection of a petition to decriminalise defamation. Given the obvious interest of the executive in ensuring that the powers enjoyed by British colonial officers remain, only our judiciary has the power to ensure that the people of India be treated as adults, rather than juveniles or half-wits. Only “minimum governance” and not “maximum powers” to officialdom can create the impetus needed for China-style growth in India. For ensuring such a situation, the hope of citizens is that the Supreme Court of India will consistently and strongly widen the zone of individual freedom by pruning that of governmental discretion.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Quad must expand into the seven (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India

M D Nalapat

PRESIDENT W J Clinton twice declined an offer of alliance with India, first when P V Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister of India and later during the period in office of A B Vajpayee. This will count as a history-altering error by the 42nd President of the United States, of as great import as his refusal to craft a US-Russia alliance rather than continue with Cold War-era efforts at downsizing and humiliating Moscow, of course, after the pervasive influence on the Clintons on academic and journalistic life in the US reduces sufficiently to permit an accurate estimate of the 8 Clinton Presidential years and the nearly six “semi-presidential” years when either Hillary Clinton or her acolytes were in effective command of much of the Obama Administration. The later period was when geopolitical disasters such as the meltdown in the Middle East occurred.
It must be said to the credit of the 43rd US President (George W Bush) that he accepted the counsel of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and worked towards building up a 21st century alliance with Delhi, albeit mainly on US terms, a phenomenon particularly marked during the Sonia-Manmohan years, when essential initiatives such as the thorium fuel nuclear energy program and the indigenous nuclear submarine program were slowed down to a crawl. It was only during the last quarter of the Obama Administration that a more balanced alignment was agreed by Washington thanks substantially to the vision of Defence Secretary Ashton Carter. The Modi Administration accepted the judgment of the Washington Beltway (the traditional establishment) that Donald J Trump would first never win the Republican Party nomination for the 2016 presidential election, and after he succeeded in besting all other challengers, that he could not prevail over Hillary Clinton.
There is much talk of the Russians and the Trump campaign. The reality is that Russia, together with China, India, the UK, Germany, Japan and other major powers concentrated their attention on the Clintons, almost entirely ignoring the Trump campaign except for jokes and laughter at its expense. It was only on November 8, 2016 that Delhi, Tokyo, London, Paris and other capitals scrambled to establish closer ties to Team Trump, with Japan’s Shinzo Abe the first to do so. In the case of India, the official establishment kept Prime Minister Modi away from Candidate Trump for fear that Hillary Clinton (not to mention Barack Obama) would look askance at such moves. Members of the Trump campaign who visited Delhi since the close of 2015 until the close of the presidential campaign met far fewer (and far more junior) officials than did those visitors who were close to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Subsequently, however, Modi was able to establish a rapport with Trump the way he had with Barack Obama, who was among the few individuals the Prime Minister of India had a personal liking for. While Manmohan Singh understood the importance of ensuring a close security relationship with the US, he lacked the nerve to challenge the Cold Warriors in the Congress Party and sign in the military field the three Foundation Agreements with the US. Even Modi has so far been able to sign only a single agreement, that on logistics. Weapons lobbies have worked on the bureaucracy to prevent the other two from being signed, although it is likely that this may happen when President Trump visits India for the first time. The 45th US President is expected to make a visit to the world’s most populous democracy within a relatively short time, and is assured of a warm welcome throughout the country.
Prime Minister Modi understands the twin reality of (i) a close security relationship with Washington and (ii) deep economic ties with Beijing, given that the scope for bilateral trade between India and China is $ 300 billion within five years, in case synergies get tapped the way they should be. Concerning security, Modi has given his blessing to what was previously the “tsunami alliance”, so named because it came into effect as a consequence of that 2004 disaster. Australia, Japan, the US and India are coming together in a security alliance named as the Quad. However, in the years to come, it is likely that Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines will join the group, making it seven-cornered. Although it has a political system different from that of the other six members, Vietnam has close ties with each of them, and its military skills make it a valuable addition to the alliance evolving in the waters of the Indo-Pacific.
During Trump’s visit to India, it is certain that discussions about the Indo-Pacific will form a substantial part of the agenda, as will issues such as economic growth and terror. Although the Washington Beltway has been working at top speed to try and unseat Trump through resignation or impeachment, the brightening economic situation within the US is making it more difficult to convince the US public that the elected President should be sent out of office, presumably through a hatchet job on him conducted by Beltway personality Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Of course, Mueller has been working at a frantic pace to try and fulfil the hopes of Bill and Hillary Clinton. The formidable “Empress of the Beltway” still has hopes of making her husband the first “First Gentleman” ever to stay in the White House, although of course those women who had less than pleasant encounters with Bill Clinton may dispute such a description. Led by the US (which has by far the strongest navy in the world) and India (which has a position of vantage in the western reaches of the Indo-Pacific), the Quadrilateral Alliance between Australia, Japan, India and the US has come to stay. Joint sharing of intelligence and joint military exercises and training are certain to follow.
Such exercises will take place in the eastern reaches of this vast ocean as well, and not just in what is known as the Indian Ocean. However, the four powers that have already joined together need more partners if they are to do justice to their core mission of keeping the sea lanes of the Indo-Pacific safe for maritime commerce. After India, it is Indonesia that is the most important player in the western reaches of the Indo-Pacific, and it is therefore necessary for the Quad to invite Jakarta to join the coalition. It helps that Indonesia is a moderate state where extremists are under watch and are being dealt with so as to lower the risk such elements pose to the rest of society. The culturally vibrant Philippines is a significant player in the region in terms of potential, while Vietnam brings several security and other assets to the table. The sooner the Friendly Four expand into the Sincere Seven, the better it will be for overall security in Asia.
 

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Polygamy must go, not just triple talaq (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
 
Muslim women will be doubly happy were polygamy to get abolished. 
 
Since the British era, the obsession of the Ministry of Finance has been to slice away as big a share as it can get away with from the national cake, rather than working out rates that would best grow the cake. An example is the clumsy way in which GST has been conceived and implemented. Both the 28% and 18% rates should be abolished, as should the applicability of GST regulations to small-scale industries and enterprises. Now comes another hugely consequential legislative enactment—abolishing the inhuman practice of “instant triple talaq” that has been used to divorce Muslim women who are citizens of India. The triple talaq bill can indeed do with modifications, including inclusion of a new clause that would make the practice of multiple wives illegal prospectively, rather than be allowed to continue into the indefinite future. Should any political party in India vote against the abolition of polygamy, the women of India will not forget or forgive them. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad needs to press his colleagues for legislation that would abolish not just instant triple talaq, but polygamy. This practice is scripturally permitted to Muslims only on the condition that every wife be treated 100% equally. Except for unique personalities such as the Prophet himself, such a condition is impossible to fulfil. There will always be variations in spousal treatment, whether this be in terms of material necessities provided or the quantum of affection lavished on each wife. Given such a virtually impossible condition for taking more than a single wife, it is obvious that those intent on following the Word of God as revealed by Prophet Muhammad should not have more than a single spouse. The proposed bill should enforce monogamy, as is the case in numerous countries across the globe that have substantial Muslim populations, including in Europe and North America. In all these states, polygamy is banned, and so should it be in India.
In the name of protecting the rights of Muslims, what almost all political parties through their leaders are doing is to continue to empower the Wahhabi fringe within a community that is overall as modern and moderate as its Hindu counterparts. Across the country, Muslim women (save a few in thrall to patriarchy) have welcomed the move to make illegal instant triple talaq, and they will be doubly happy were polygamy to get abolished through the passage of a law in this regard. Those wishing to indulge in such a practice are at liberty to find employment and a new life in the diminishing number of countries that still permit polygamy, but they should not in future be allowed to embrace the practice in India. It is heartening that women in India, especially those born into the Muslim faith, have been vocal in welcoming the rolling back of the medievalism that has been left shamelessly undisturbed (and indeed coddled) by successive governments since 1947, following on the Congress Party’s failed efforts to woo religious fanatics in the minority community from 1919 onwards, rather than stand together with the moderate majority of Muslims. More recently, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s political fortunes began to fade once he tossed aside the views of his minister Arif Mohammad Khan in favour of Wahhabis in the minority community to get passed a retrograde bill concerning divorce for Muslim women. There are still those in the Hindu community who favour the practice of “sati”, the burning of widows at the pyre of a deceased husband. Should this be reason enough to bring back such a loathsome practice? There are still those in the Hindu community who believe that a woman should forever be under the thumb of a man, whether he be her father, her husband, or (later) a son. Those celebrating such practices and beliefs are acting contrary to the freedom-suffused and inclusive spirit of Sanatan Dharma. Recent efforts to force-feed specified diets, dress and lifestyles on the population are reminiscent of the ravages of the Saudi Muttawa, the religious police that has been finally been curbed by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has repudiated the Wahhabism that has so crippled his country’s ability to adjust to the changed chemistry and needs of the 21st century. Those who are taking up the cause of battling Muslim fundamentalism must be similarly active against fundamentalists of other faiths as well, including their own, if they are to gain credibility as a force for beneficial change.
The people of India have finally outgrown the period when they would passively accept the diktats of the colonial system of governance still kept in existence by the political class. As for the Mamata Banerjees, they will meet the political fate of Sonia Gandhi if they pursue a policy of appeasement of the Wahhabi fringe within the minority community. Instead, such politicians should recognise the common interests that bind together the Hindu and Muslim communities and empower the moderates. This is especially important in Bengal, in a context where Wahhabism is growing in potency in Bangladesh despite Hasina Wajed’s efforts at curbing such a tendency. The danger of contagion is high, given the open border between India and Bangladesh, whose citizens have been flooding into Bengal and Assam, and from there to the rest of the country, for decades. The Congress Party under Rahul Gandhi needs to signal its support for the 21st century by calling for a legislative ban on polygamy. As for the provision for imprisonment in triple talaq cases, this should be made conditional on the wife, who alone should have the right to demand such a punishment.
This, of course, would in effect mean that her marriage was truly over. The right to enforce a jail term on the husband must vest with the aggrieved wife rather than with the police. In 1919, a fateful turn by the Congress Party in the matter of a revivalist movement for the Caliphate led to other acts of fundamentalist appeasement and a swelling of the ultimately successful demand for Partition. It is now 2018, and political parties in India need to do what is right for the many by ignoring the veto of the few. If they continue to pander to the fringe, India may enter through political miscalculations into another stability-destroying cycle of distance and discord between Hindus and Muslims. Isolating the fringe within all communities and engaging with and empowering the moderate, modern majority within each must be made the norm in politics.