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Thursday, 30 September 1999

The Silence of the Lambs: Party Elections and the EC


(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)


After the tumult of the Seshan years, it is refreshing to have the
status quo ante restored, in which the Election Commission takes
a "Boys will be boys" attitude towards "elections" in which the
result gets planned in advance. Tirunellayi Natarajan Seshan,
barbarian that he was, refused to ignore such minor flaws in the
electoral process as the use of money, liquor and goondu power
to ensure ballot stuffing. By threats and cajoling, he got conducted
elections that were genuine expressions of the voters' will, except
in such strongholds of "People’s Democracy" as Bengal and
Bihar. Clearly this went against the ethos that "the Leader knows
best," the ethos that has made India what it is today.

Fortunately, these days the Election Commission appears to
have become more reasonable. Now the EC issues some orders
and the politicians flout them. Thereafter the EC members go
before the idiot box to threaten vengeance. Immediately the
politicians come before the EC and hang their heads to chest
level, at which our gallant commissioners forgive them and
allow them to get away with what they did before. Clearly an
improvement over the Seshan period, when (unelected) tribunes
of the masses went away unhappy at the EC’s failure to recognise
that public weal was conterminous with theirs.

It is in this new kinder, gentler era that the "elections" for the
presidentship of the Congress and the Janata Dal are taking
place. By a careful selection of returning officers, who have been
given mystical powers to determine who the winners and who
the losers are in each local election without so much as sniffing
a ballot, the Sitaram Kesri camp has ensured the victory of its
hero.

As evidence of the overwhelming public support to the Bihar
veteran, one may point to the fact that both the Cleans—A. K.
Antony and Manmohan Singh—are supporting him. They 
represent the middle class, now a major factor in "liberalised"
India. 

Political chanakyas, represented by R. K. Dhawan and Arjun 
Singh, are also with Kesri. The brahmins are with him, as proved 
by the support of Jitendra Prasada. The dalits are with him, as 
as been made clear by the presence of Meira Kumar in his 
camp. The minorities are totally on his side, as Ahmed Patel and 
Oscar Fernandes prove. With such overwhelming support, it
would be churlish to demand a free and transparent poll
Fortunately, the Election Commission is not doing so.   

Neither does the EC appear concerned with the goings-on in 
the Janata Dal where too the party president is both player and 
umpire. 

As that party has not yet become fully congressised, there are 
still flickers of resistance to Laloo Prasad Yadav’s attempts to 
convert the Janata Dal into a Nehru Family Congress, with 
Laloo’s charming brood as the sole proprietors. Had the horrible  
Seshan continued in office, the EC may have demanded to
scrutinise the list of electors and the process by which they have
been selected. In the case of both Congress as well as the Janata
Dal, the list of delegates appears to have been conjured up in the
air-conditioned rooms that are the natural habitat of dynasty 
politicians. How such a process is congruent with "inner-party
democracy" is not clear except perhaps to our Election
commissioners.

To less realised minds, it appears that democracy within
political parties is almost an essential condition for healthy
electoral politics. Should backroom bosses continue to control
the distribution of tickets, they will go on tailoring the political
process to their advantage. Unless the base—level workers within 
political parties have a decisive say in selection of candidates
as takes place in the US, for instance—the individuals who are 
given tickets will owe responsibility only to the bosses who 
selected them.

Thus the enforcing of inner-party democracy is crucial to
taking the electoral process in India such that it throws up a
political class that eliminates rather than covers up graft, Thus
it would appear that, if one looks at responsibilities in the spirit
of the Constitution rather than in a narrow technical sense, an
investigation into how elections are now being conducted within
these two major parties is well within the jurisdiction of the
Election Commission.

However, one should not blame the EC members for their
silence over the antics of the leaders of the JD and the Congress.
These days there are often two or even four lunches, dinners and
receptions to attend. There are the fatiguing sessions with TV
presenters.

There are the delightful tete-a-tetes with social and political
lions. Certainly the life of a Defender of Democracy in India is
not an easy one. Small wonder that bagatelles such as the
packing of delegates’ lists goes unnoticed. After all, one must
stick to the letter of the law without worrying about the objectives
of the legislation. One must above all be reasonable, especially
to Leaders.

Sadly for the Leaders, there appears to be a tectonic shift
even within political parties in India. Apart from such upholders
of the rights of the individual as Kanshi Ram’s BSP or Balasaheb
Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, most major parties in India have broken
away from the dynasty formula that parties are the property of
their leaders. Within the Janata Dal, a puny Samantaray is
challenging Emperor Laloo. And in the Congress, Sharad Pawar,
the quintessential knuckler-under, has thus far refused to step
back in line and chant hosannas to the one individual whose
brilliance and dynamism are sure to energise the Congress all
over India the way it has got done in Bihar. But for his carefully-
prepared lists of delegates, Kesri would almost certainly have
lost the election.

As it is, after he wins he is likely to face the same problems
as Z.A. Bhutto did after his massive victory in 1977. Questions
will get raised about methods, lawsuits may get filed.

Unhappily for the Leaders, the courts have not adopted the
ways of the new-look (or don’t-look) Election Commission. Our
judges are. still firm on accountability and transparency, led as
they are by Chief justice J. S. Verma. However, such matters
evidently no longer worry the Election Commission.

What a relief from Seshan and his obsession with fair
elections. These days, "inner-party" democracy appears to have
gone the way of identity cards for voters. And what of it?
There’s the Swiss ambassadofs dinner tonight, while tomorrow
that charming socialite has promised to call. It's a busy, busy
time. 



Wednesday, 29 September 1999

From Garibi Hatao to Tandoor Murder: the Crime Story of Indian Politics

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)


Those were the days. Garibi hatao was the new mantra. A
brilliant young politician named Pranab Mukherjee was finance
minister of India. He presided over some of the highest income-
tax rates in Indian fiscal history. Indeed, if one excludes the
'primitive accumulation' of socialist capital in 1919-21 Russia
(where those having more than 10 roubles had to surrender the
difference or get shot), India probably had the highest marginal
tax rates in history, at one time touching 97.25 per cent of income.
However, despite such revolutionary zeal, restaurants were full
of big spenders, and marriage halls were crowded. Quite
obviously, 2.75 per cent of income went a long way.

It was not just through confiscatory taxation that the evil rich
were crushed. The Industries (Development & Regulation) Act
laid down stringent penalties for producing "beyond capacity":
efficiency was penalised. And few were efficient, at least on
record. They could not afford to be. As for taxpayers, obviously
they were honest. They must have been, seeing that only two or
three individuals went to jail each year for tax evasion.

Revolution was in the air, and a worker — Venkata Giri
Varaha Giri - was elected President of India, defeating the
nominee of the capitalists. Though we were only college students,
we wanted to participate in the ferment, We called on Mohan
Dharia, a devotee of proletarian internationalism, who was
staying in that symbol of village life, Bombay's Ambassador
Hotel. In a cavernous air-conditioned suite, waiters flitted about
with food and drink. We were not offered refreshments, nor
asked to sit. Social revolutionaries must learn to be tough. And
thick—skinned: Dharia and half a dozen other netas shooed us
away, saying they were going to the AICC in the Air-India
building.

As we trudged to the venue, we were passed by the netas
zipping there in air-conditioned limousines. Dharia took the
floor speaking for nearly an hour on the need for Gandhian
simplicity and revolutionary zeal. Snacks were served to those
on the dais, while our stomachs growled. Fleets of limousines
waited outside. Servitors were everywhere.

It is a fair guess that few of the bills for the facilities one saw
at the session were paid for by cheque. Today, 26 years later, the
situation is no different. Political leaders jet from city to city,
hotel to hotel, convention to meeting. Expensive banners float in
the air, posters cover the walls...And a pecking order gets
established. Junior cadres eat at roadside stalls, netas in five-star
luxury. Restaurants in the most expensive hotels are full of netas,
fresh from speechifying about "social justice". One such crusader
has been abroad eight times this year. No one asks at whose
expense.

But we should ask. We should demand that all expenses of
political leaders and their families, whether on travel or hotels
or major purchases, be made public. That all the assets bought
by them and their sons and daughters be similarly open to
scrutiny. The expenses of the typical "socialist" crusader would
tot up to several lakhs of rupees a month. Going to New York
or Paris — naturally in the defence of working-class interests —
does not come cheap.

There are two reasons why crime and politics have become
inseparable in India, The first is the fact that few political parties
have inner-party democracy. The rank and file have virtually no
say in who the office-bearers should be, So the Sushil Sharmas
— the procurers of ’services’ for netas — dominate. In such a
culture, promotion depends on attending the durbar of leaders,
gifts in tow, rather than on grassroots work. Unless a system is
introduced whereby the rank and file elect their leaders — as the
primary system ensures in the US — and have a say in who the
candidate should be, criminals will continue to infest Indian
politics.

Apart from introducing inner-party democracy, we need to
reduce the power of the state in decision-making. Just as high 
taxes breed evaders, needless regulation generate corruption.
Though considerable progress has been made during the current
dispensation in loosening the stranglehold of government - and,
by implication, politicians - much more needs to be done before
commonsense rather than suitcases determine the direction of
policy. Just as those who have black money are not dismayed by
high taxes, those auctioning decisions vehemently defend the
powers of the state to intrude into most areas of our economic
life. The tandoor murder episode has a long genesis, having been
spawned by the lifestyles of our leaders, the lack of accountability
to those who elected them, and the grip of government over our
lives.

We need to put away not just an indicted individual but the 
entire guilty system.





Tuesday, 28 September 1999

India's Kashmir Policy: Separate Wolves from the Sheep

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)


The hostile reaction from Pakistan-financed organisations to the 
proposal to hold elections in Kashmir should be reason enough 
to go ahead with them. Islamabad is aware that even if the voter 
turn-out were poor due to fear of violence the very replacement 
of central rule with an administration run by local Kashmiris  
could well bring down the "hate level" to a degree that would 
be sufficient to undermine popular support for militancy. This is 
exactly what happened is Assam and Punjab. Thus, the fact that 
many Kashmiris are not favourably disposed to elections is not 
reason enough to abandon the idea. That such hostility exists is 
beyond doubt. A poll on Kashmir recently in the inaugural issue 
of a weekly magazine found that the over-whelming majority of 
the respondents favoured a solution to the state’s problems 
outside the Indian Constitution.


What the magazine’s poll demonstrates is the wisdom of
those who framed the Indian Constitution and who made the
covenant with itself indissoluble. Had there been a secession
option, divisive tendencies in many parts of the country would
have been strengthened and might perhaps have led to the
breaking up of the Indian state. In the absence of secession as an
option, such tendencies have been contained, albeit with varying
degrees of success. If India with all its diverse cultures and
languages has held together, it is only because the option for any
part to secede was clearly ruled out from the beginning.

Link Ignored
The link between Kashmir and the very survival of the Indian
state has been ignored by many in the Clinton administration.
The agenda of those like Robin Raphel on Kashmir is to
internationalise the issue and hopefully secure a result in
accordance with the wishes of the Pakistanis. However, policy-
makers here need to recognise that the appointment of an
assistant secretary who is openly pro-Pakistan as the head of the
South Asia section of the US State department is a consequence
rather than the cause of the Clinton administration’s
subcontinental policy.

US diplomats are well aware of the fact that their every
expression of doubt on the finality of Kashmir’s accession to
India provides oxygen for the terrorist movement in the state.
The fundamentalists in the Valley appear convinced that the US
and other western countries will secure azadi for them eventually
provided they continue their guerrilla tactics against India.
Western governments know only too well Pakistan’s role in
fomenting terrorism in Kashmir but choose to look the other
way. For example, the US overlooks the flouting of its own non
proliferation laws by Pakistan and ignores the fact that Islamabad
has outstripped Tripoli and Teheran as centres where fanatics
are trained in such accoutrements of "moderate democracy" as
RDX explosives and the use of Kalashnikovs. The fact that this
policy will rebound on US interests as surely as India’s help to
the LTTE boomeranged on New Delhi appears to have been
overlooked.

Little Comfort
However, this will be of little comfort to India if, in the meantime,
it follows the Clinton administrations prescription of scuttling
important defence programmes. Narasimha Rao's policy has
been to speak softly on security issues. However, the Prime
Minister appears to have forgotten the second part of the adage,
which is that the individual who speaks softly needs also to carry
a big stick. On the contrary, India has consistently given in to US
demands such as capping Agni and refusing to deploy Prithvi.
This has served to encourage Islamabad to believe that it will not
be punished for continuing its covert war against India.

What is needed in the near future is a parliamentary
commission of inquiry to determine the reasons why this country
has neglected its defences since 1989. After the collapse of the
USSR, a substantial quantity of defence equipment could have
been purchased from there at comparatively low prices. This
included tanks, aircraft, frigates and spares. For reasons that are
not clear, this opportunity was not utilised, leaving the field
open for other countries, including Pakistan. And although
reports regularly appear in the Indian press about
"breakthroughs" in defence research, the fact is that most projects
have either been put on hold or shelved for lack of funding.
It is this weakness that renders India's policy of making
concessions owing to western pressure on Kashmir dangerous.
Transparency in methods needs to be matched with firmness in
policies if the militancy in the Valley is to be extinguished. While
there should be no bar on foreign human rights organisations
visiting Kashmir, this should be in the context of a clear policy
that the state is a part of India, and that terrorism there will be
fought with the same vigour shown by France and the US against
equivalent acts in Paris or Oklahoma.

In contrast, the ministry of external affairs continuously
repeats the mantra that it is ready to discuss "any issue" with
Pakistan. Does this mean that it is ready to discuss the secession
of Kashmir? If not, this should be made explicit. Should Pakistan
refuse to come forward to normalise ties unless India agrees to
such a condition, then so be it. In the future, as its defence burden
further destroys the Pakistan economy, popular anger may lead
to a strengthening of separatist tendencies in that country. Surely
Benazir Bhutto, with her touching concern for the rights of self
determination, will not then deny such a privilege to her own
citizens.

There is a certain deja vu about the developments in Kashmir.
On January 1, 1948, India complained to the UN about the
danger to peace as a result of Pakistan’s sending irregulars into
the Valley. On January 15, 1948, the Pakistan government
officially denied that it was providing aid and assistance to the
"so-called invaders". Forty-seven years later, the same round of
allegations and denials continues. Thirty years ago—in 1965
Bhutto sent irregulars into the Valley from Pakistan while
denying that he had done so. Today another Bhutto is doing the
same. India's "achievement" in Kashmir diplomacy from 1948
onwards can be compared to a man going round and round in
circles.

Not a Strong Point
Learning lessons from history does not appear to be a strong
point with lndia's policy-makers. Whether in 1948, in 1952, in
1963 or now, the western powers have attempted to tacitly
influence India into handing over the Valley to Pakistan. There
has been a long list of diplomats preceding Robin Raphel,
individuals eager to carry forward the process of India's
disintegration that was begun in 1947. And yet New Delhi
continues to entertain illusions that "this time", western reaction
will be different. The only factor that will make it different is not
the masochistic "diplomacy" we are seeing now, but significant
accretions in India's economic and defence base.

The terrorists in the Valley cannot be countered with the
bland diet of autonomy. Rather, they need to be met by methods
they respect, even while the rest of Kashmir is given —through
the ballot box—the same rights and privileges enjoyed by other
Indian states. Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Bihar or Jayalalitha's Tamil
Nadu show that apart from defence, income tax, internal security
and foreign affairs, almost all other functions have been usurped
by the state governments. Farooq Abdullah or Shabbir Shah, the
prospective Wazir-e-Azams of Kashmir, will soon recognise this
post-liberalisation reality if they are brave enough to face the
electorate.

Tuesday, 21 September 1999

Advantageous Alliance - India and Pakistan should Join Hands

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Years ago, a friend was challenged by others to jump onto another bogie from a moving train. After a few jeers at his  reluctance, he obliged, lost his balance and lost both his legs. Reading the reports in a contemporary newspaper on the Pakistan elections, the incident came back to mind. They suggest that western mediamen incessantly taunt Pakistani politicians about their new "softness" on India. 
Profitable Industry 
It would be unfair to posit that western newspersons are merely articulating the anxiety of their chancelleries that Pakistan continue baiting India. Tensions between the two have evolved into a profitable industry, with individuals and institutions competing for money from various foundations and sheikdoms for studying or supporting fundamentalism and terrorism. 
However, just as it is possible  that the CIA has such incompetent personnel in Pakistan that they are unaware of the Chinese missiles coming  in, it is possible that the Robin Raphels genuinely believe that the dominance of the armed forces in Pakistan protects rather than subverts democracy, or that opening  the Pandora's box of states' integration will  not adversely affect India’s stability. Such options have to be viewed a little more realistically.   
Should the modicum of sanity evident during the Pakistan elections—where the focus appears to have been on economic issues—develop into a  help the process of mending relations between the two  countries. This is possible only if the two major political groups in Pakistan—those led by Nawaz Sharifand Benazir Bhutto—join hands in order to ensure that the legal foundations for genuine democracy are built. If true democracy were to evolve in Pakistan, there would be virtually no support for the current Islamabad policy of attempting to undermine India’s unity. Instead, the voters would push for normal cultural, economic and political ties. 
An India-Pakistan entente would make South Asia one of the major strategic regions in the world. Together with the undoubted muscle of the Pakistan armed forces, the region would have a military machine that could challenge just about anyone. Indian and Pakistani technology could jointly work to develop new markets in the Gulf and the CIS states for high technology items that could be jointly manufactured. SAARC could develop business ties with the Gulf, with the CIS states and with ASEAN  even while maintaining cordial links with other major players 
such as the US, China and Russia. Above all, the entente would generate support for a multicultural, multi-religious society such as is seen in Indonesia, Singapore or the US. There is no doubt that India would gain substantially from cordial ties with Pakistan. 
As for Pakistan, its gain would be even greater. Should Islamabad continue with its policy of support for extremist elements, the resulting financial and social drain would, in the next decade, further balkanise that country. After that, India could develop friendly links with the Sindh and Punjab regions of Pakistan, while Iran would establish alliances with Baluchistan
and the NWFP. Should Islamabad continue with its policy of obliging those who promote tension with  New Delhi, it could well find itself unable to hold together in the long-run. 

Little Doubt   
However, there is little doubt that a united and friendly Pakistan would be preferable  to a vivisected one. If the two political leaders who together command the support of the Pakistani
people, can put aside their differences over detail and come together on matters of substance, they could pass laws that would make it technically impossible for another army-inspired
attempt to topple a democratically-elected government. While there may be differences over Bhutto's policies, the fact remains that She was removed from office in a questionable manner, just as Sharif had been earlier. Despite the support the Pakistani generals are getting from many countries, western public opinion in the US and Europe would find it difficult to accept the
toppling of a government once the laws that permit such deeds are scrapped. Western and Asian public opinion can be an effective ally of Sharif and Bhutto as they work together to put
in place a constitution that is genuinely democratic. Such a system should also ensure that the minorities in Pakistan get a fair deal.
Just as Mexico accepted that there was little to be gained in trying to wrest Texas and California from the US, perhaps even the Pakistani fundamentalists will realise that India will never agree to a plebiscite in Kashmir. The reason is that a reopening of the states mosaic may generate demands from splinter groups all over India for similar action. On at different footing, but illustrating the same point, is India's silence over Aksai Chin, which is based on the reality that a war with China would be an option too expensive to undertake. Sadly, the security
establishment in Pakistanis as yet unwilling to accept that tension with India because of the obsession with Kashmir is taking Pakistan on a ruinous course. However, the politicians
appear to have become more realistic. 
Should the only legitimate democratic force in Pakistan - the major political parties - get together in defence of democracy and ensure that the men in uniform are confined to the barracks the way Bangladesh has done, international opinion may militate against the type of action; Farooq Leghari took. The question.whether Sharif and Bhutto have the good sense to act in concert to usher in a democratic system accountable. only to the law and the voter. It is ironic that while President Leghari claims he is fighting corruption, most of his appointees are people of dubious repute. And what logic is there in his assertion that  democracy is being protected   giving unelected generals and officials an effective veto over decision-making? 
Natural Ally
A united Pakistan will be a natural ally of India. Instead of remaining a satellite of faraway countries, Pakistan can join the rest of the SAARC  developing this region as one of the major players in international geopolitics. India by itself cannot undertake. such a role. It needs the cooperation of other SAARC countries and this includes Pakistan.  While that country would risk its very existence by continuing its confrontation with India, India would lose several crucial points in its rate of growth for at least a decade as a result of continuing tension on its western order. This apart from the fact that an India-Pakistan alliance would generate  a massive synergy for economic and social progress. Will the political class in Pakistan remain subordinate to the generals? Or will they create a democracy that calls for better reactions with India? The months ahead are decisive. If Nawaz Sharif and Bhutto lose this chance, there may not be another one for a long time to come. 

Sunday, 12 September 1999

Jhatka is Better than Halal, Gujral Ji


(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)


Mid-November, and the Lok Sabha session has begun. BJP, Shiv
Sena and Samata party members flock to the well of the House,
waved there by their leaders, and soon begin hurling projectiles
at the Congress and UF members, In a trice, led by defence
minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, those attacked fight back.
Projectiles careen through the air, screams of the injured rise
above the din, and pools of blood form everywhere.

Soon the BJP members and their allies leave for Rashtrapati
Bhavan, there to demand the dissolution of the Lok Sabha on the
Romesh Bhandari model. In a Mulayam-Kanshi style of
inattention to constitutional niceties, they threaten that Parliament
will not be allowed to function until fresh elections are announced
under a care-taker government comprising members of all major
parties.

Had the Congress party, led by Sitaram and Sonia, succeeded
in getting the Kalyan Singh ministry dismissed on the grounds
of the very violence instigated by it, this could have been what
the nation would have witnessed in a few weeks time. In
between, the cities of India would have been in chaos as the
BJP - barred from democratic forums by its opponents - would
have taken to the streets to hit back. All efforts by finance
minister Chidambaram at economic stabilisation would have
dissolved in the face of the Parliamentary deadlock.

Those who are today venting their anger at the correct
decision of the Gujral government to retreat from its earlier
impulsive decision to impose President's Rule in UP should ask
themselves whether they would approve of the dissolution of the
Lok Sabha after violence generated by Opposition members. For
that would be a mirror analogy of Tuesday's developments in
the UP assembly.

Revolutionaries such as Kanshi Ram or Sitaram Yechury
may not regard laws as worth upholding. For them what counts
is victory, no matter at what cost. Thus a Yechury who would
(one presumes) oppose the removal of the Basu government in
Bengal because goons often beat up Congress workers, is unhappy
at the reprieve given to Kalyan Singh. Likewise, while he
approves of the feverish attempts by Jyoti Basu to bring foreign
investment into India, he is against any other state adopting a
similar policy.

As for Mulayam Singh Yadav, for him the only constitution
that needs attention appears to be his own. One cannot blame
these worthies. During the decades of Nehru family rule,
institutions got drained of substance and personalised decisions
became the norm. Sitaram Kesri, looking over his shoulder at
Sonia Gandhi, is only trying to live down to such a legacy.

Self, then, becomes more important than country. If Deve
Gowda does not show Kesri "proper" respect, he must go. Now
that Inder Kumar Gujral has followed President Narayanan's
lead and upheld the Constitution, he should be destabilised.
Should the Congress Working Committee once again threaten
withdrawal of support, it is in danger of becoming as popular in
the rest of India as it has become in UP and Bihar. Economic
factors dictate that the present government should run for at
least three years. They dictate that the “dream budget" of
Chidambaram I should be followed by Chidambaram II and
Chidambaram III.

If Prime Minister Gujral draws the correct conclusions from
this crisis, and realises that compromise breeds instability, not
firmness, it may prove a blessing to the United Front. Should he
be more decisive, then yes, there is the chance of a sudden jhatka
as those angered by this may combine and strike. But that would
be preferable to the slow halal that is draining away the good
name he has accumulated over decades.

Indeed, the odds are the popularity he will get as a result of
sensible policies firmly pursued may shield him from the chop.
More than places of worship or divisive appeals to caste, region
and community, what will work wonders on the electorate is
economic progress. Unless bold steps are taken on infrastructure
and on freeing the economy from the colonial system of over·
regulation, the 9 per cent rate of growth that is needed for
political triumph will not come. Narasimha Rao made huge
fiscal compromises in his final two years. They did not save his
party. On the other hand, bold steps—as he took during his first
two years in office—may have worked.

Rather than be seen as perpetually at the mercy of others, 
I. K. Gujral needs to become his own man, and go about his duties
with a resignation letter in his pocket. That is the best way of
ensuring that it may never be needed.

In his first interview after becoming PM—incidentally to the
present writer—the Prime Minister had spoken of clearing away
the colonial cobwebs that constrain activity and enterprise in
India. So far those have remained just words. Hopefully he will
take heart from President Narayanan’s courage and follow the
Rashtrapati's example of boldly doing what is right, no matter
what the self-seekers say.

Strong action on Bofors, a drive against the mafiosi that .
dominate Mumbai and are now spreading their tentacles to
Bangalore, effective laws and enforcement against the drug
trade, open development of the nuclear deterrent: these are a few
of the measures which alone will give Gujral’s combination a
chance against the BJP.

Apart from the residual mistrust of the minorities towards it,
there is nothing to fault the B]P. Apart from its minority-friendly
image, there is sadly not much that is positive about the
"secular" coalition. And what of Sonia and Sitaram? Put India
before Ego, if you can, and before voters pounce on your party
and demolish it totally. A democratic Congress has the chance
of emerging as one of the poles in a two·party system. A dynastic
or autocratic Congress, never.



Wednesday, 1 September 1999

India First-Wafflers Cannot be Winners

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)


Idiots do not know what they require, which is why they don’t
hesitate to play with fire or rummage through refuse. India 
appears to be full of them, judging by the filth on the roads and 
the prevalence of self-destructive policies. In a fitting tribute to 
the democratic process, most governments in this country have 
paid homage to the mentally deficient among us by refusing to 
acknowledge that self-interest, expressed in macro forms needs 
to be the determinant of policy.

Stable Prices
India needs low and stable petroleum prices, which is why
Saddam Hussein's capture of Kuwait in 1990 went against its
interests. While tens of thousands of Indian nationals were
stranded in Kuwait and Iraq, there was a case for a show of amity
with the Iraqi dictator, though perhaps not to the extent of
External Affairs Minister I. K. Gujral's public demonstration of
physical warmth towards him. However, once Indian nationals
were safely back, national interests called for a policy of support
to the coalition that finally ended the occupation of Kuwait.
Instead, Rajiv Gandhi threw a tantrum when the Chandrasekhar
government allowed US aircraft to refuel in India.
Much is being made by apologists of the policy of
"ambiguity", where transparency is avoided. However,
paradoxically, such a policy will succeed only when there is no
ambiguity whatsoever that the hidden potential actually exists.
For example, the deterrent value of the current policy of "nuclear
ambiguity" will be effective only when joined to a vigorous
programme of development of launch vehicles; creation of
fissionable stockpiles and development towards miniaturisation 
of warheads. Where the Narasimha Rao government erred was
in not backing up its low-key posture with frank development
of defensive capability.

There has been much praise of the "heroic" Indian resistance
to “nuclear hegemonists”. However, if there is no development
of defensive nuclear weapons and carriers, the refusal to sign
CTBT will be meaningless. lndia would then have been better
advised to have bargained for specific advantages in trade and
strategic fields as a quid pro quo for signing CTBT. India needs to
give depth to its policy on CTBT by much more active
development of nuclear and missile technology, despite the risk
of US retaliation.

However, this flouting of Washington's diktat should be in
the context of a policy that clearly recognises the importance of
close strategic and commercial links to the US. While this seems
unlikely during the Clinton administration, the US will eventually
come to recognise that a stable, secular, democratic India is its
best ally in the Asian arc stretching from Vietnam to Oman. This
is why there is no contradiction in opposing the US view on
CTBT while supporting US private investment in India, or
development of ties between the US and Indian armed forces.

Since Eisenhower, US policy towards South Asia appears to
have been formulated by spooks and colonels, both groups
guided by the Wild West concepts of "good" and "bad" guys.
Even today, the Robin Raphels ensure that romanticism rather
than realism dictates Washington's policy towards the countries
that fall within New Delhi's sphere of influence: Afghanistan,
Pakistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Sadly, the South Asia bureau of the US state department does not
appear to have read Mahatma Gandhi, who wrote that "means
are after all everything". If, for example, Shia fundamentalism is
sought to be countered by Sunni extremism, what will result is
the development of both.

The only antidote to Muslims, Hindu or Christian extremism
is democracy based on sound economic foundations. A powerful
antibiotic against extremism is the education of women, it being
no accident that religious fanatics usually thrive in places where
women are kept uneducated. In India, secular education must be
provided to all citizens. While some may want a religious
education as well, it should be legally obligatory that such 
education should be supplemented with curricula designed for
the future.

Ignoring the Danger
Where the Indian "secularists" go wrong is in ignoring the
danger to democratic society caused by religious or caste
separatism. If the B]P is communal, so is Mulayam Singh Yadav,
with his appeals to Muslim and Yadav groups. However, our
"progressive secularists" have evidently fashioned an approved
list of individuals who can be crooked and communal without
inviting their censure.

While the breast-beating over the "humiliation" suffered by
New Delhi at the UN Security Council elections is uncalled for,
the same cannot be said about the MEA’s pathetic equivocation
over Afghanistan. Instead of declaring its support for President
Burhanuddin Rabbani, the UF government immediately began
referring to the "former" government, thus showing that India
is a fair weather ally. What is needed is a policy of strong
diplomatic and material support to Rabbani’s forces so that they
can beat back the Taliban.

Should the ISI's surrogates win, they will spend the next few
years trying to destabilise Kashmir, before returning to their
natural goal of a unified Pashtun state carved out of Pakistan and
Afghanistan. Then, just as RAW got educated about the LTTE,
the ISI will understand the damage they have done to Islamabad
by arming Pashtun extremists.

Religious Tolerance
This country needs to ensure that the religious tolerance found
in Indonesia or at home spreads over the CIS states and West
Asia, rather than Saudi-Pakistani tribal fanaticism taking root in
other Asian countries. An unexpected ally of such extremism is
the Clinton administration, and not just because of its Pakistan-
centric policy. Thanks to its strategy of "isolating" Iraq and Iran,
Washington has strengthened the extremists in both these
countries against the moderates. By starving the Iraqis, it becomes
easier for Saddam Hussein to hold on to power. By ignoring the
need for links with the bazaaris, the US is cutting itself off from
a group that could help establish democratic traditions in Iran.
New Delhi needs to point this out.

Again, however, pointing out errors is not the same as a
generalised policy of opposition to the US. If reports by some
Indian diplomats are correct, the external affairs ministry sought
to drum up support for India’s security council candidacy by
focusing on the need to challenge "superpower dominance". If
this is so, it is a good thing India lost. It is none of New Delhi’s
concern to challenge any other country, except when its own
interests are involved. With all its faults, the US is a democratic
power with which it is imperative that close relations be forged.
Both countries will need to work together to ensure that secular
and democratic traditions get established in Asia. While it makes
sense to oppose US policies that impinge negatively on Indian
interests, it is quixotic to attempt to reproduce the Nehru-
Krishna Menon diplomacy of the 1950s. The posturing and
bravado thaghas become a staple of India policy needs to get
replaced by measures that closely reflect and advance vital
interests. Ambiguity should not be synonymous with vacuity.