Sunday, 14 July 2019

Modi’s idea of India replaces Nehru’s construct (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

The Nehruvian construct has long lost its popular resonance, support. 

The objective of almost all politicians is simply to win the next election. This was true even of Indira Gandhi, who was described in divinely lyrical terms by A.B. Vajpayee in 1971. In contrast, Jawaharlal Nehru sought to achieve much more than just another term in office. Nehru had been chosen by Mahatma Gandhi for the PM’s job because he would (in the saint’s view) be the leader best able to transform into reality Gandhian precepts. India was indeed transformed during 1947-64, the period when Nehru occupied the Prime Minister’s room in South Block. Central planning and the eclipse of the Indian private sector by state-owned behemoths took place, as did the putting into place of a social policy that aimed to re-assure the biggest minority community through the state, in effect, treating them as the majority and Hindus as the minority. While substantial social changes were introduced by law made applicable by Nehru to the Hindus, the Muslim community was untouched by reformative legislation. Despite having large numbers still in thrall  to the “Two Nation” Partition mindset, which steadily gained ground from the early 1930s despite the efforts of the Mahatma, the Muslim community was left to past practices, many not compatible with the requirements and thought streams of the 20th century. The Nehruvian education system took away the state-funded window for the teaching of the English language to the poor, restricting fluency in that language and its global advantages to the relatively affluent. Science and technology were regarded as best left to state institutions, while foreign policy was transformed as comprehensively as the nation’s economic and social patterns were. Nehru changed India in a way that was gently sought to be altered by the homespun vision of Lal Bahadur Shastri, but whose premature death took away this danger to the Nehruvian construct. Despite some changes at the margin during the periods in office of P.V. Narasimha Rao and A.B. Vajpayee, the Nehruvian construct continued its sway over the “Idea of India”. For Vajpayee himself was far from being a Ram Manohar Lohia, who had little positive to say about Nehru and the changes made in the country by the policies adopted by one of the two most powerful Prime Ministers in free India’s history. The second was not Indira Gandhi, for her period of awesome power (1975-77) was based not on popular consent but on coercion.
Rather, the second mega-powerful PM after Nehru is Narendra Modi, who was not pitchforked into the job by a patron, but who stepped into it (and has retained it) as a consequence of grassroots support. Just as Nehru did, Modi too wishes to fashion a country that would better fit his standards and vision. During the five years of Modi 1.0, this columnist was explicit that a second term for Modi would see immense changes in the country that he for decades travelled and saw the hard way, on foot and by road. The Nehruvian Idea of India is being replaced by the Modivian Idea of India since 2014, and this change is what has accelerated since the verdict of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Given that the Nehruvian construct had long since lost its popular resonance, the battle cry of the opposition that their aim was to retrieve Nehruviana  back into India’s dominant reality was another of their many self-goals in a country hungry for change. In particular, the more Rahul Gandhi clothed himself in the raiments of his great-grandfather and his grandmother rather than as his own self, the less he resonated against a wholly self-made Modi. Unless the economy enters into a tailspin during the next three years, a Modi 3.0 in 2024 will complete a process of change in India that would long outlast the Prime Minister. Among the differences with the past is that Modi has joined hands with the rulers of the UAE and Saudi Arabia to roll back Wahhabism rather than pander to it the way his predecessors did.
That politicians in India understand the paradigm change in India caused by Modi is clear from the flood away from opposition parties to the BJP. Taking the example of Karnataka, it would be difficult to argue that those in charge of either the JD(S) or the Congress Party in the state lack resources. The movement from JD(S) and Congress in Karnataka cannot therefore be explained solely by money, for if so, the resourceful D.K. Shivakumar would have been welcomed by the MLAs staying in a Mumbai hotel rather than get blocked by the police as a consequence of their complaint. The MLAs are shifting along with the tide that is flowing in favour of Narendra Modi and the alternative Idea of India represented by him. All this with an opposition phalanx that remains anchored to the past rather than acknowledging the needs of the future. The challenge to the supremacy of the Prime Minister in India’s political and policy space is from within his government. North Block has historically sought to raise its relative rather than absolute share in the country’s financial resources. This has meant taxes that are both too high as well as susceptible to harassment of the business community by officials. Modi has sought to eliminate business malpractice through administrative action. A less disruptive option would be to ensure that technology becomes pervasive enough to dry up wells of malpractice. For instance, once digital governance spreads across the spectrum of administrative action, and once 5G becomes commonplace in India, the changes that this would introduce would be phenomenal, provided that they are managed not by the state (as during the Nehruvian era), but by the private sector. North Block has to change its ways so as to increase its absolute take in taxes, rather than resort to the high rates and coercive action favoured by Finance Minister Chidambaram to squeeze resources out of private hands so as to feed bloated spending. Should India continue to grow at less than double digits for the next three years, there may indeed be widespread opposition to Modi, not from politicians but from the street. However, should the Prime Minister ensure that his economic ministries implement policies which guarantee a high Modi 2.0 growth rate, Modi 3.0 may break Rajiv Gandhi’s 1984 record in Lok Sabha seats in 2024.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Rahul should beware of the ‘Partition Mindset’ (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Pandering to those who misused the name of religion for divisive purposes led to India’s partition. That warning from history ought to be heeded by Congress leaders.

The fissure between Narasimha Rao and Sonia Gandhi ensured the defeat of the Congress Party in 1996 and the emergence of the BJP as the principal national party. There had till then been a psychological barrier against a BJP Prime Minister amongst many voters, but this got removed when President Shankar Dayal Sharma swore in A.B. Vajpayee as Prime Minister, albeit for two weeks. Three years later, the Indian military’s performance at Kargil ensured the victory of Vajpayee. However, he refused to approve a covert operation masterminded by Pramod Mahajan to split the Congress, a show of magnanimity that cost him his chair two years later. In 2014, it was an unequal contest between the unpopularity of Sonia Gandhi and the popularity of Narendra Modi, with Manmohan Singh not even in the political frame. The UPA-era PM ought to have stepped aside soon after his multiple bypass surgery, but he continued in office despite his health not being up to the strain involved in being Prime Minister of a democracy of 1.2 billion citizens. Given his health, it is no wonder that Manmohan Singh’s second innings was a disappointment. Had he left in the glow of the 2009 Lok Sabha triumph caused by his still good name, Manmohan Singh’s place in history would have shone rather than become smudged by scams that he had no power to prevent.
In the case of Rahul Gandhi, despite his refusal to demonstrate his administrative abilities by assuming ministerial office during the UPA period, another opportunity to prove his talents presented itself in 2014. Had Rahul rather than Mallikarjun Kharge taken over as the Leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party in the Lok Sabha, it would have been the Nehru scion constantly challenging Prime Minister Modi in the Lok Sabha. Instead, the only challenges Rahul made were in miscellaneous fora across the country, some scarcely worthy of the presence of a genuine national leader. His consistent passing of the baton of responsibility to others weakened the perception that Rahul was the primary challenger to Modi. Had the newly anointed AICC President declared early in 2018 that he was not in the race for the Prime Ministership in 2019, it would have helped Congress’ prospects, given his lack of practical experience in governance. Instead, it was made clear to the voters that Rahul would be PM, were Congress to win enough seats. When it came to choosing between PM Modi and a future PM Rahul, the overwhelming mandate was in favour of the former. Among the consequences of Rahul’s perceived eagerness for the Prime Ministership (not by 2024 it in 2019 itself) was the defeat of the Congress Party at the hands of the BJP in almost all the contests in which they were the principal contenders. Now once again, by resigning from the AICC Presidentship, Rahul Gandhi has added to the BJP’s leadership advantage. It is a commentary on the sentimentalism of many voters in India (especially in the north and the south more than in the east and west of the country) that effectively the most popular substitute for Rahul Gandhi is Priyanka rather than someone outside the Nehru clan.
Despite being reticent during the UPA days, after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Rahul Gandhi adopted several stances that are in tune with 21st century needs. These included his backing for the de-criminalisation of gay relationships and the need to do away with criminal defamation. Should Rahul campaign for more transparency in government and in the need to legislatively expand personal and civil liberties and nudge the Congress Party to press for such changes in Parliament, he may do more good than he has in his former office. Worryingly, Rahul Gandhi seems to believe that Indira Gandhi’s economics is the way towards the social justice only fast growth can ensure, when the fact is that many of the distortions still present in the system owe their origins to Indiranomics. Rahul needs to  take seriously his own experience in both India and abroad, that show the need for systems that transfer power to the individual rather than to the state, and which expand rather than constrict the boundaries of personal and societal freedoms. Rahul has yet to accept that “Nehruvian secularism” has promoted communalism rather than kept it at bay. He ought to have leapt to the defense of TMC MP Nusrat Jahan when she was attacked by the Wahabbi establishment. As Prime Minister, it was Rajiv Gandhi’s surrender to the Wahabbis over Shah Bano that began his descent into political purgatory. Rahul Gandhi needs to show he is aware of the dangers posed by all—repeat all—forms of religious intolerance.
The India of 2019 calls for backing only those having a modern, moderate mindset. The sooner this gets actioned on, the better for the country. Those genuinely secular need to support Nusrat Jahan in her defense of an India where people are free to express their devotion to the Almighty in varied ways rather than in the restrictive way Zaira Wasim now favours. This despite the fact that Wasim’s movies portrayed her as a young woman of moral courage and self-confidence, qualities unlikely to lead to disappointment in the afterlife. Nusrat’s traducers, who claim to speak on behalf of the Almighty, are themselves guilty of blasphemy, for claiming to know in advance as to who will go to hell and who to heaven in the afterlife. According to them, that of course depends on the food eaten, the rituals followed and the dress worn. Pandering to such individuals, who misused the name of religion to sow division in the 1920s and 1930s, led to the partition of 1947. That warning from history ought to be heeded rather than remain ignored in practice by the Congress Party leadership, particularly Rahul Gandhi.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

PM Modi will ensure Lutyens Looters get punished (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Those looking towards a financial market in India that rewards not insider traders and ‘fixers’ but the retail investor are hopeful that justice will be done during Modi 2.0.

New Delhi: Unlike during the past, this time around, wrongdoer after wrongdoer is having to come back to India to face justice. Among those soon expected back is Vijay Mallya, “who will have to pay back his dues as well as go to jail for seeking to escape responsibility for so long”, a top official predicted. During Modi 1.0, the Prime Minister had warned “Lutyens Looters” that they would soon be spending sleepless nights. It has taken a while, but at least for some of them, that prediction is coming true. Two recent developments involving a CBI invigorated by new leadership mark a distinct departure from past practice. These are (a) the granting by a Special Court to grant Indrani Mukherjea the status of an “Approver” in the INX matter and (b) persistent CBI pressure on the Ministry of Finance to give approval to the unforgivingly delayed matter of granting approval for the prosecution of four officials who were part of what is known within the bureaucracy as the “PC network” within North and South Block. This very profitable network was formed under a former senior minister in the UPA period who parlayed insider and even strictly confidential knowledge into billions in riches. The INX matter which concerns Mukherjea involves what for new MP Karti Chidambaram (the hugely successful businessman son of the former Union Minister for Finance and later Home) is small change—$1 million—but as per the colonial-era laws still in force, there is scant differentiation between Rs 100,000 and loot of Rs 100,000 crores where legal action is concerned. So far as the request by CBI for sanction to prosecute some senior officials for presumed complicity in the PC network’s many dubious deeds is concerned, from 1947 onwards, a sense of cadre loyalty has ensured that officials belonging to the elite central services almost invariably dismiss as “not proven” even comprehensively documented evidence of graft on the part of their “cadre brothers”, especially if the same happen to be “batchmates”. This presumably explains the tardy manner in which this Chidambaram-linked CBI request for prosecution is being considered in the Ministry of Finance. The argument of those holding back sanction is: once the dam of silence and official inaction breaks, who knows who will get drowned in the flood that may follow. Since Jawaharlal Nehru’s order to drastically reduce the salaries of the higher levels of the bureaucracy (in contrast to Hong Kong, the UK, the US or Singapore, where remuneration levels are much higher), the warning to Nehru of Lee Kuan Yew against his policy of combining low salaries with high discretionary powers has come true. Every schoolchild in India is aware of the manner in which the triumvirate of business, officialdom and politics generate and divide loot on a scale that some estimate matches what the drain from the people was during the colonial period. Once the CVC and the Home Ministry take up with the Finance Ministry the manner in which delay in sanctioning prosecution of the four officials is sabotaging Prime Minister Modi’s efforts at cleaning up the system, it will be difficult for the PC network to sabotage such sanction for much longer.
Illegitimate money flows from India have long been the primary business of a group of insider traders and system manipulators that may be described as operational associates of the PC network. This is the “Mumbai Financial Force”, a small and secretive group within the financial community in the country’s commercial capital. The MFF may more accurately be described as the Mumbai Financial Fraud Force (MFFF). Given the number of senior officials who have derived monetary and other benefits from the PC-linked MFFF, it is small wonder that any infraction of law that comes to light usually gets described and later compounded as a “procedural lapse”. Harshad Mehta’s Narasimha Rao-era formula for rigging the movement of share prices so as to loot the small investor went unobstructed for years, owing to a “procedural lapse”, according to officials. The co-location shenanigans in the National Stock Exchange (NSE) have yet to yield any of the perpetrators before the portals of justice. Indeed, the matter is being treated—not just even but especially by SEBI—as largely a “procedural lapse”. Live data that no exchange should allow to be shared was handed over by the exchange to a private thinktank by an agreement that has yet to excite official notice. Software created from outside the exchange was utilised for algo trading, with the “keys” being made known to a handful of brokers, who therefore made huge amounts of money in trading, all at the cost of the retail investor. A whistle-blower made available to SEBI full details of the actions committed in order to enable a few to profit at the cost of the many, but the then SEBI chief U.K. Sinha seems to have decided that such revelations were unworthy of  significant remedial action. Even when matters involving co-location and dark fibre transactions became too many to ignore, SEBI simply went in for cosmetic steps, even after a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court pointing lapses out. Once again, the Judiciary stepped in where the Executive refused to tread. There have been proven instances where select brokers have submitted multiple applications under a single name to corner the shares offered in an IPO. These shares were then boosted through what the PC network calls “perception management”, before being sold to retail investors, who very soon saw the shares lose value. Data theft does more damage to investor confidence in a modern economy than other forms. Yet repeated data thefts in India have gone unpunished and the evil continues. By contrast, such offenses are subject to severe fines and prosecution in the US, Singapore and the UK.
During the period when Chidambaram was Union Minister for Finance, nationalised banks were made to sell loan assets at throwaway prices to a very few investors. These loans were before long resold to others at a huge profit. Thus far, no forensic audit has been undertaken of such loan asset sales by Public Sector banks during the Chidambaram period. Given the pervasive culture of cadre and batch protection within the elite services, it is no surprise that criminal charges were not filed in the matter despite the wide spread between what the public banks got and what the same loan assets were subsequently sold for by select private financiers, nor was even a criminal investigation initiated. Co-location and dark fibre data leakage that ruined millions of retail investors also was treated not as a criminal but as a “procedural” matter. SEBI seems unaware of the fact that in an age of advanced technology, log sheets that may have been erased by wrongdoers within any exchange can easily be regenerated, so that deleted data gets traced. No such effort has been made in this direction. Those who now head NSE seem as unconcerned about the damaging impact of the co-location scam on the reputation of the exchange as their predecessors.
Among the most successful operations of the PC network was the Multi Commodity Exchange (MCX) matter. The then MD of MCX was the classmate of an individual at the heart of the algo transactions, and he was reported to have shared live data with his classmate for the benefit of select clients. Such activity makes nonsense of regulations meant to ensure a clean and transparent exchange. However, so far as official agencies were concerned, the issue was “merely procedural”. A well regarded Chartered Accounant, T.R. Chadha, researched and presented a detailed forensic report on several of the actions that took place in MCX. Thus far, neither the present MCX Chairman or the SEBI Chairman seem in any hurry to take action on the basis of the Chadha report. Meanwhile, the PC network is known by senior officials to be active in an effort to merge NSE with MCX that would create a monolith with a history of not being held suitably accountable for its actions by SEBI, for reasons that await a comprehensive investigation. Such an enquiry needs to include the circumstances where relaxation of rules was serially given to a few favoured players in the darker corners of the share market, by not merely SEBI but the RBI, and why such leniency shown during that period took place. Two senior officials, Ramesh Abhishek and K.P. Krishnan, have been extensively mentioned by whistle blowers as being very close to P. Chidambaram, and of being responsible for several suspicious decisions involving MCX as well as the National Spot Exchange Limited (NSEL). Both bureaucrats continue to enjoy stellar careers, so it is clear that their seniors do not regard the charges against them as worthy of notice. The two are not alone. There is a network of present and former officials regarded by their peers as having facilitated the operations of the MFFF and the PC network. Only a CBI enquiry into the PC-MFFF nexus would unearth the truth, but those complicit in past scams have sought to create a perception that action against them would spook the share market, when in fact strong action would greatly increase global investor confidence in India. As for SEBI, while it has declared the subsidiaries of some brokerage firms to be “not fit and proper”, the regulator has avoided a similar verdict on the actual brokers involved. Of course, the tradition of subordinates being punished for the crimes committed by their superiors has long been extant in India. In this case, the “punishment” for grave betrayal of investor trust cannot be described as anything other than cosmetic, as indeed have been several other orders that await a comprehensive forensic investigation by a team motivated by Modi 2.0 to rid the regulators of those who are in cahoots with the very wrongdoers they are meant to police.
Those looking towards a financial market in India that rewards not insider traders and “fixers” but the retail investor are hopeful that justice will be done during Modi 2.0. Both during the Narasimha Rao as well as the Vajpayee period, stock market scams that went unaddressed resulted in horrendous losses to small investors, and to the defeat of the Congress and the BJP respectively in the 1996 and 2004 Lok Sabha polls. Prime Minister Modi is known to have studied the legacy of the past carefully, and to have instructed the PMO to ensure a Zero Tolerance doctrine for the many mega financial scams that took place since the UPA came to power. Officials are happy at Indrani Mukherjea turning approver in the INX matter and the moves being made on officials in the Finance Ministry to no longer continue to deny sanction for prosecution of Chidambaram-linked officers. They are confident that the PMO together with Union Home Minister Amit Shah will ensure that the orders passed by Prime Minister Modi to clean the financial regulatory system of crooked elements will soon bear fruit even in the matter of the misdeeds of the hyper powerful PC network. It has been estimated that the loss to the public of lack of sincere regulation has led to more than 71 per cent of the NPAs incurred since 2001 by banks run by the government. Only 29 per cent of NPAs have been caused by genuine borrowers whose failure to pay was based on the market rather than on collusion.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

India and U.S. on the cusp of a 21st century security alliance (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

If the U.S.-India relationship is to move into high orbit, there will be need for India to begin a process of replacement of Russian weapons platforms with U.S. alternatives, now accessible to India where they were out of bounds in the past.

New Delhi: Just as the US and China arrived at a historic understanding in 1972 as a consequence of the meeting of minds and interests between President Richard M. Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald J. Trump are poised at the cusp of what could be an equally consequential geopolitical shift. This would involve a defense and security partnership between the US and India designed to ensure dominance in the Indo-Pacific as well as in Space and the Virtual World. Because of the Belt & Road Initiative, China is well on the way towards gaining primacy within the Eurasian landmass. Efforts are on to extend such control to the oceans as well, through the Maritime Silk Road. In both these endeavours, Russia has emerged as the key ally of China, and the two have come together in a Sino-Russian security and defense partnership. Given the close association between Islamabad and Beijing, the prospects for India joining hands with China and Russia in the security and defense sphere are small. In contrast to the past, the US is now strategically growing ever more distant from Islamabad, Beijing and Moscow, and in the process, coming closer to India. However, within the Lutyens Zone, the past has continued to impact the policies of the present, in the shape of a continuation of the tight bonds between the Russian defense industries and the military in India. If the US-India relationship is to move into high orbit, there will be need for India to begin a process of replacement of Russian weapons platforms with US alternatives, now accessible to India where they were out of bounds in the past. After the just concluded Pompeo-Jaishankar and Trump-Modi meetings, there has been talk within the Lutyens Zone about how India has “stood its ground” on the proposed purchase of S-400 defensive missile systems from Russia. Some reports even had it that the issue was of such small significance that it did not even figure in the Osaka bilateral parleys between both the principals on the US and Indian side, as well as between key officials. As matters stand, it would appear that the Government of India has reduced to zero oil purchases from Iran while still going ahead with the S-400 deal in the belief that the concession on purchases from Iran would compensate for the Russian transaction. The reality is that (as first reported in The Sunday Guardian article titled “S-400 deal may shatter India’s Indo-Pacific advantage” on 5 May) purchase of S-400 systems by India would shut the door on a comprehensive strategic partnership with the US. It would shut the door on the transfer of advanced US weapons systems to India, a stand that was conveyed to the Indian side during the Pompeo visit. Although not a “deal-breaker” the way the S-400 purchase would be, the choice of Huawei as the partner for rolling out 5G in India would also be a limiting factor in India-US security linkages, given the intrusive nature of the technology in the lives of citizens. However, for India to look elsewhere, the alternative would need to be as efficient and cost-effective as that offered by Huawei.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his interactions with President Barack Obama and now with President Trump, has ensured that both sides have reached a stage where both countries are standing on the cusp of a fundamental security and defence re-alignment that could change global geopolitics the way the 1972 Nixon-Mao understanding did. Today, the world has once again been divided into two competing blocs, one led by the US and the other by China. In 1972, the two blocs were led by the USSR and the US, a situation that ended with the meltdown of the former by 1992. During much of the US-USSR “Cold War”, in effect India was on the side of Moscow rather than Washington. Since the beginning of the 21st century, while the strategic goals of the US and China have begun to visibly diverge and continue to do so, once again (as during the 1950s) Russia and China have become the closest of security partners. Should India decide in Washington’s favour in the matter of a 21st century security partnership, that would more than compensate for the accretion of strength that has been gained by China as a consequence of the China-Russia security alliance. Both President Vladimir Putin as well as President Xi Jinping are looking at whether a newly rejuvenated (by the poll landslide) Prime Minister Narendra Modi will move closer to President Trump in his second term or return the country to the traditional Nehru-era policy of keeping away from Washington-centred alliance systems, both formally as well as in practice. Both Xi as well as Putin are aware that the commissioning of the S-400 system by India would free them of any anxiety that a comprehensive security partnership would develop between Delhi and Washington. Both will make intense efforts to convince Prime Minister Modi that India’s security interests are safe even without having to enter into a close relationship with the US, a stance that several within the Lutyens Zone concur with, given their memories of past situations. However, the reality is that in a world once again divided into two competing blocs, “non-alignment” would result in a loss of both extant opportunities as well as relevance.
The decision for India as to which bloc to get linked to has been made easier by the fact that for decades, Beijing has prevaricated on coming to an agreement on the border with India on the lines that took place between China and Myanmar and between China and Russia. Even on a matter as low down the food chain as India joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group, thus far there has not been a green light from Beijing, despite the gains of the Modi-Xi summit in Wuhan. The accretion of geopolitical heft consequent to a definitive understanding on security between Washington and Delhi may ensure that India gets taken more seriously by China.
Where India is concerned, despite the fact that the Pakistan economy is far smaller than India’s, the robust manner in which China has boosted the capacities of the Pakistan military has raised the threat level from GHQ Rawalpindi to very high levels. Given that the only target of the Pakistan military is India, there is a disconnect between the rising pitch of declarations of Sino-Indian friendship coming from Beijing and the steady acceleration of material and other assistance to the Pakistan military. The progress of work on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (the nomenclature of which remains unchanged even in the segment which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) is another indication that Pakistan has been given by far the highest priority by China within South Asia. The “all weather” linkages are visible even in capitals such as Colombo, Kathmandu, Male and Dacca, where the envoys of China and Pakistan meet frequently with each other in a context where GHQ Rawalpindi has given no sign of any letup in its asymmetric war against India. Now that Russia has joined hands with China as that superpower’s primary security partner, Moscow is coming ever closer to Islamabad, and is in the process of beginning sales of weapons systems to the forces commanded by GHQ Rawalpindi. Given the nature of much of policy formulation in India, there is still a propensity to ignore the immense changes in the geopolitical environment that have taken place just during the two decades of the present century, in particular the cementing of the Sino-Russian defense and security alliance. India is no match for China so far as the interests of Russia are concerned, except that Moscow would like to retain its dominant position within the military in India in the matter of weapons supplies, not just for reasons of commerce, but to ensure a comfortable (to Beijing and Moscow) distance in military matters between Washington and Delhi. President Putin has had the benefit of the fact that Moscow has been a reliable defense partner of India since the 1970s, despite a few hiccups along the way, especially during the Yeltsin period. During this period, the US has been unwilling to transfer advanced weapons systems to India, while Russia handed over even a nuclear submarine, besides providing what is at present the only window open to India to enter the age of hypersonic weaponry through modifications in the BrahMos missile. While this has been the past and remains the current reality, the trend line has shifted. The reason for such a change is the accelerating pace of the Sino-Russian alliance. This, taken in conjunction with the long-established China-Pakistan military nexus, opens the possibility of a diminution of future advanced military supplies from Russia to India. In contrast, the need for an alliance with India to counteract the density of the Sino-Russian partnership has cleared the path for the US to make India a platform for the manufacture of advanced weapons systems, the way China has made Pakistan a platform for the manufacture and assembly of advanced weapons systems, including sophisticated aircraft and missiles. However, such collaboration between Washington and Delhi would be stillborn, were Prime Minister Modi to give final approval to the plan for purchasing S-400 defensive missile systems from Russia.
While the US and India, given their compatible political systems, are potential security partners, in matters of trade, the “Zero Sum” approach of President Trump calls for India to stand its ground on a variety of issues, such as oil supplies from Iran to inter alia protect its investment and opportunities in Chabahar, which could shift China’s way in case India stops all oil purchases from Iran. Whether on the issue of pharmaceutical prices or the demand to give preferential treatment to US manufactures, a much closer fit on the defense and security side would result in the Pentagon counter-acting calls by the US Trade Representative or Department of Commerce to levy sanctions on India. To retain dominance in the Indo-Pacific and maintain primacy in space, cyber-space and underseas, a partnership with India is a necessary force-multiplier for the US. The friendly tone of the Pompeo visit as well as the friendly atmosphere that surrounded the Modi-Trump meeting indicate that this lesson has been clearly understood in Washington. However, both sides will need to make adjustments and compromises that are at odds with earlier policies. There are likely to be an increasing number of high-level contacts between Washington and New Delhi, including a much higher frequency of meetings between Trump and Modi than has been the case thus far, the bilateral summit meeting on the sidelines of the G 20 taking place after a gap of seventeen months. In the 1950s, India lost the chance to become a US ally. Both in the 1992-96 during the Narasimha Rao period as well as during 1998-2002 during the time when A.B. Vajpayee was the Prime Minister of India, it was Washington that failed to take advantage of the opportunity for a strong strategic relationship, preferring Pakistan to India on both occasions. In the era of two forceful leaders, Narendra Modi and Donald J. Trump, once again the door has been opened towards a close partnership in matters of defense and security between the US and India. Will this chance too repeat the dismal history of the past, or will history be made on a scale last seen in the Nixon-Mao handshake in 1972?

Sanders and Harris would vanquish Trump (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Bernie Sanders-Kamala Harris ticket would energise the Democratic Party base.

A mandate for systemic change, such as a Bernie Sanders-Kamala Harris Democratic Party ticket for the 2020 US Presidential polls, has the momentum needed to overcome Donald Trump’s many advantages. Although the 45th President of the US is frequently lampooned (mainly for his tweets), the fact is that he has relentlessly sought to fulfil the promises made by him in the 2016 campaign. Some of the methods used are unorthodox, but Trump did not emerge in politics through the conventional political process that almost all leading Republican or Democratic politicians in the US had. Several of the stances adopted by Trump are in reverse gear so far as political correctness is concerned, such as his obvious unconcern about the way the Department of Homeland Security is dealing with even infants who are in their custody as illegal immigrants. About the only member of the inner core of the Trump family who seems not to have led a privileged life from birth is the soft-spoken First Lady. However, Melania Trump has figured in the media in inverse proportion to her headline-generating husband, so that her modest life before becoming the spouse of the New York billionaire seldom gets mentioned. Overall, the present President of the US is a ruthless and brilliant tactician who grasps what needs to be said or done in order to succeed. In such a situation, the Presidential candidate favoured by the Clinton machine within the Democratic Party, Joe Biden, would soon be cut to pieces by Trump. Despite being the first choice of the Clintons, the former Vice-President was shredded just days ago by Kamala Harris, who drew attention to Biden’s past stance in favour of individuals and policies discriminating against the African-American community, which is still suffering from the error President Abraham Lincoln made in choosing a closet segregationist, Andrew Johnson, as his Vice-Presidential candidate in 1864. This “Veep pick” believed in racial supremacy, and sought to reverse moves towards justice for African-Americans soon after taking over as President after the murder of Lincoln. Had an individual closer to Lincoln’s own humanistic views on the subject of race been appointed, John Wilkes Booth may have hesitated in killing Lincoln. Given the thespian’s knowledge of politics, it is safe to assume that Booth knew that Johnson, who would succeed to the White House should President Lincoln die, was the opposite of the latter where matters of racial justice were concerned. It took a century of continuing prejudice and injustice before President Lyndon Johnson enacted the Civil Rights Act and thereby removed several of the discriminatory measures still extant against African-Americans. When compared with India’s affirmative actions in favour of the Dalit community, US moves to reverse the injustice done to African-Americans have been far less pronounced, even after the Johnson reforms. The eight years of President Barack Obama were suffused more with symbolism rather than substance where race relations were concerned, although the major healthcare reforms embodied in Obamacare was carried out in his time. President Trump has sought to roll back elements of Obamacare, while taking measures against Latino migrants that are impossible to succeed despite their cruel nature.
India is a country where the elite celebrates those who have harmed the interests of its people. Henry Kissinger and Bill Clinton (while in office) pursued policies that were hostile to India, and yet both were lionised during visits to India. In the US, it is ironic that the African-American community adores Bill Clinton, the US President who did more than almost any predecessor to empower Wall Street against Main Street, and whose measures resulted in jail for hundreds of thousands of African-Americans for petty misdemeanours conflated by such laws into major crimes. The US has displaced almost every other country in the world in the number if its citizens who are behind bars, often because of the “Three Strikes” Nixon-Clinton doctrine that specifies lengthy jail time for three offenses, no matter how petty. Despite himself having “smoked but not inhaled” marijuana, President Clinton refused to legalise non-toxic variants but instead retained the harsh provisions put in place by Nixon, who seemed to act as though prison was the most appropriate place to send minority groups to. The relative situation of African-Americans improved not at all under Clinton, yet the community seems in thrall to the Clintons. Until very late into the campaign to win the 2009 Democratic Party nomination for that year’s Presidential race, almost all major African-American associations backed Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. Now, the same entities are supporting Clinton favourite Joe Biden in the race for the party nomination, despite African-Americans Cory Booker and Kamala Harris being in the contest, and Biden having been close in previous years to both policies and personalities opposing racial equality and justice, views and actions that he has yet to express regret for. Of course, the Clintons are diligent in their calculations, and if they find that Biden is likely to lose in the contest for the party nomination, will switch to another candidate who can be expected to follow the dictates of the Clintons in matters of policy and personnel the way Barack Obama did in his first term. What the Clintons wish to avoid is a situation in which those genuinely opposed to Wall Street (principally Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders) get nominated. This despite the fact that in a contest pitting genuine votaries of change against Trump, the latter may lose. President Trump has been venting continously about “socialists” in the Democratic Party. However, Warren, Harris and Sanders may be better described as social democrats rather than as socialists. Given the manner in which Wall Street has been overwhelmingly favoured over Main Street, several million otherwise Democratic voters chose Trump in 2016 because of his proclaimed stance (in contrast to Hillary Clinton) against those involved in the business of “money making money”. Once elected, Trump turned to Wall Street to fill the top economic jobs in his administration, and surrounded himself with billionaires and a few mere millionaires. In 2020, it will be harder to convince those close to penury that Donald Trump is their champion and not a candidate such as Senators Warren, Harris or Sanders.
Given the mood of the US electorate, a Bernie Sanders-Kamala Harris ticket would energise the Democratic Party base the way Trump does his. It would be best for the Democratic nominee to indicate in advance the running mate. What is needed to be avoided is be to follow conventional logic and choose a running mate whose policy prescriptions are substantively different from those of the nominee. What happened after the death of Abraham Lincoln should be a warning that all future Presidential nominees need to heed. Every individual is mortal, and if a Head of State passes on and gets replaced by a person with opposing views on policy, it would be a travesty of the mandate. Joe Biden or Beto O’Rourke are betting that their being close to the Republicans on matters of policy will help secure more “independent” votes. They are wrong. Most voters want real, not cosmetic, change. This time around, what will count is genuine commitment to change from Reagan-Clinton-Bush-Obama-Trump policies that have reduced the relative income of the middle class, added to the number of poor, and vastly expanded the wealth of the handful of hyper-rich people having such outsize representation in Team Trump.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

S-400 deal may shatter India’s Indo-Pacific advantage (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Several other purchases, such as the planned acquisition of another Akula-class nuclear submarine, may also attract US sanctions. But would the Trump administration be willing to give India access to nuclear submarines, air defence systems, etc? According to senior officials spoken to, the reply is in the affirmative.

Washington: In the 1950s, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles looked at the world in two tones: dark and light. Those formally allied with the United States were in the well-lit space, while the others belonged to dark corners or should be sent there. During 1939-45, Muslim League supremo M.A. Jinnah skilfully cultivated Allied policymakers by placing himself at their service during wartime, in contrast to Mahatma Gandhi, who asked the British first to leave the country before their cause (of defeating Japan and Germany) could be considered by the Congress Party leadership. Jinnah’s support for the Allied cause proved crucial in enabling him to implement the measure which has done the greatest harm to Muslims across the subcontinent, which was the partition of India on the grounds of religion. After freedom was secured on 14-15 August 1947, Governor-General Jinnah of Pakistan placed his country firmly in the western camp, in contrast to Jawaharlal Nehru, who took a position of such nuance that his preferences became opaque. The Eisenhower administration responded by flooding Pakistan with US weaponry and assistance. The hesitant, often elliptical, Indian requests for similar assistance were ignored on the grounds that Pakistan was now a “treaty ally”, which India declined to be. Then as now, backing even the truncated post-1947 India would have generated greater geopolitical dividends for the US than sacrificing Delhi’s goodwill through pandering to Rawalpindi, but it took decades—until the second term of President George W. Bush more than a half-century later—that this truth began to significantly seep into the policy processes of the US government. Although the dominance of the Clinton cohort in Barack Obama’s first term dampened moves towards a close relationship between the US and India, by the close of his second term, guided by Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, substantial progress had been made towards making India a favoured recipient of US weaponry and technology, a policy that has been continued by Donald J. Trump, who has engineered a paradigm shift in US strategic thought through an embrace of the Indo-Pacific as the primary security-related theatre of interest for his administration. In such a strategy, India plays a role next only to that of the US itself.
That Trump seeks to eliminate competition to the US and its perceived interests by means fair or otherwise has not been secret. Just as a forced decline in petroproduct exports from Iran would boost sales of US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar (not to mention the US itself), reducing Russia’s sales of advanced weaponry would remove a formidable competitor to US rivals such as Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics. It was India whose orders rescued much of Russia’s defence-industrial complex from extinction in the 1990s, and the country remains the top buyer of Russian defence systems. On its part, Moscow has opened the store to India, and has given access even to nuclear submarines, besides offering the S-400 air defence system. This is at present superior to any technology on offer by the US or by any other country. The problem is that its installation would entail the permanent stationing of Russian personnel to take care of maintenance as well as segments of operation of the air defence system. Practically every movement across Indian airspace would be registered by the system, and the overall performance parameters of the aircraft flying overhead would become known to the Russian side, including any advanced military aircraft (such as the F-35) that the US may supply to India. According to a senior US Air Force technical expert, the purchase of the S-400 system would entail “long-term reliance on Russian technological and logistical support to an intractable level”. He added that “when the S-400 surface-to-air missile system is installed, Russia will know the intimate details of everything happening over India’s skies”. This would not have been a problem until the close of the Cold War.  Till the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, GHQ Rawalpindi’s “iron” ally China and the Soviet Union were foes. Now, Moscow has become the most important military and civilian ally of Beijing, which remains tethered to Islamabad in its South Asia orientation. This being the case, allowing Moscow to access every byte of significant defence-related data has a different connotation than during the Cold War period. Apart from India, another country in talks with Moscow about the purchase of the S-400 system is Turkey. Should such a sale go through, it would mark the beginning of a process that would end with Ankara’s exit from NATO. In the case of India, going ahead with the S-400 purchase would foreclose any high-octane defence cooperation between India and the US in an era when Washington is on the cusp of unveiling its Indo-Pacific strategy at the forthcoming Shangri-la dialogue, a strategy where India has the pride of place as the key partner of the United States.
In the 1950s, it was the US side that pushed India towards the USSR as the primary (and for a considerable period, the only) defence partner. In 2019, it will be India (through the purchase of the S-400 system) that would select Moscow over Washington as the anchor ally in matters of national defence, bypassing the reality of the Moscow-Beijing military alliance that is gaining traction by the day as a force countering the US in theatres across the globe, including most recently in Venezuela. Lockheed Martin is at present willing to transfer its entire F-16 assembly line to India, and such a move would soon be followed by the transfer of the F-35 to India, an aircraft that is competitive in price and performance with those on offer by France, the European consortium and Russia. Given India’s manpower and technical skills, the country could emerge as a global manufacturing hub of military aircraft, followed by civilian assembly, within the term of a government. This is the vista presented by the Lockheed offer, and which has been placed at risk by the impending purchase of the S-400 air defence system from Russia, a country that has become toxic in the US Capitol, a location that has substantial goodwill at present for India. Indeed, there is a strong undercurrent of support for a robust security and defence relationship between India and the US, and should such a moment be seized, among the early harvests would be the formal designation of India by the US Congress as a US ally on the same footing as NATO. How would the use of the S-400 system by India impact such a move? According to a senior official close to President Trump, “concerns over the S-400 stem from intelligence collection. Any US jet could be tracked by the system, thereby helping the Russians better understand US manoeuvres, flight patterns and operations”. This is not merely an academic issue in the context of the rising possibility of the US getting engaged in combat with the Sino-Russian alliance in theatres such as the Korean peninsula or the Taiwan straits, besides locations such as the Baltics, Iran and Venezuela. Over the decades, India has developed an overpowering degree of reliance on Russian military hardware at the same time that Beijing and Moscow have seen their military-to-military ties develop, such that Moscow is now engaged with Islamabad in a manner closer than at any period since Tashkent in 1966, when Moscow forced India to make concessions such as the return of the Haji Pir pass to Pakistan in the belief that doing so would secure Rawalpindi’s support for the USSR’s friends in Afghanistan.
Getting an exemption from CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) in the S-400 would be a difficult ask for Delhi from a Washington where lawmakers are discussing Russia in hostile tones every session. Several other purchases, such as the planned acquisition of another Akula-class nuclear submarine, may also attract sanctions under CAATSA. But would the Trump administration be willing to give India access to nuclear submarines, air defence systems, aircraft carriers and other high-end defence equipment? According to senior officials spoken to, the reply is in the affirmative. They claim that as yet, the Indian side has not made a formal request for such transfers. “A senior Indian official may informally ask (the US side) about availability, but thereafter fail to follow up by giving a formal request. Unless such a request gets made, the inter-agency process required to clear such transfers cannot get activated”, a top official claimed, adding that “the mood on both Capitol Hill as well as in the White House is in favour of ensuring that India be given the means to defend democracy in Asia”. Another high official suggested a direct conversation about such specifics between the US President and the Prime Minister of India “to get the process onto the fast track”, warning that “informal soundings are not taken seriously in DC unless followed up through paperwork”.
At the forthcoming Shangri-la dialogue, the US is expected to unveil its Indo-Pacific strategy. India would be the keystone in that particular arch of defence and security, but this would depend on the choices made (or avoided) by policymakers in the Lutyens Zone, whose propensity for formulating policies that fritter away advantages for India have by now become the stuff of global conversation.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

America First meets China First (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Trump’s aim is to reverse Xi’s drive to overtake the US in technological innovation.

“America First, and Donald J. Trump first in America”, at least for the next six years. This is the evolving Trump Doctrine in a single sentence. No other US President during the post-1945 period has sought to so ignore the recommendations of the Washington DC bureaucracy as the nation’s 45th President has, although as yet the Beltway has prevented his plan of distancing Moscow from Beijing, thereby leaving the world’s second most powerful economy without the support of what remains a potential Great Power, albeit severely diminished since the Brezhnev-Gorbachev-Yeltsin years. However, he is trying to break free on North Korea in a manner not yet emulated by National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both of whom remain anchored to the establishment view that North Korea must render itself defenceless before any sanctions against it can be relaxed. As the practical New York businessman who is now Commander-in-Chief knows, such a policy would only snuff out any hopes that the DPRK would desist from going any further in accumulating deadly weapons, technologies and operations than is already the case. It is illustrative of why US policy in the 21st century has substantially destroyed the very countries it intervened to rescue (such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Iraq) that the Washington Beltway sees it as “extreme and illogical” that Kim Jong Un would not agree to surrender his most potent defences against a US attack in the absence of a formal end of the 1950-53 Korean war. The present occupant of the Blue House in Seoul, Moon Jae-In, does not suffer from such delusions, and seems increasingly in a mood to ensure that conditions get created that would end in at the least a mutual non-aggression pact between Pyongyang and Seoul. The thought of Koreans killing Koreans, as happened during the blood-soaked conflict 68 years ago, has entered the Korean psyche with such force that public opinion in South Korea would be thrown into violent protest and turmoil against the elected authority, were Moon to agree to join hands with Trump and Abe in a pre-emptive war on the DPRK. In any such war, the North would be almost completely obliterated, while the South would be damaged to an extent that would reduce it to something close to the pitiable condition that Syria is in today, after a “War of Liberation” was accelerated in 2012 against Bashar Assad by NATO and the GCC. And while Japan would suffer significant damage, the US is likely to escape relatively unscathed, barring perhaps Guam. It will take some more time for North Korean scientists to fashion bombs and projectiles sufficient to reach the US West Coast, and each time any policymaker in Washington demands full disarmament without any corresponding concession or even gesture on the US side, those North Korean scientists and technicians must be working at an even more feverish pace than usual. The North Korean regime has to feel confident that Kim will not meet the fate of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, and thus far both the words as well as the body language of the Pompeos and the Boltons (not to mention the “Attack North Korea” crowd in the US Congress) emanate no such assurance. It is only Trump who, on occasion, talks in a manner that could get results, but the North Koreans are as avid readers of the Washington Post and as eager viewers of CNN as the writers and anchors in these media outlets, hence, Kim Jong Un cannot be faulted for believing that Donald Trump may soon get deposed, so that all the promises and progress made through engagement with him would be lost.
In contrast to his policy towards both North Korea as well as Russia, which are still “work in progress” as a consequence of bureaucratic recalcitrance, President Trump seems to have secured sufficient support within the Beltway to ensure that he implement the first stage of his policy towards China, the aim of which is to ensure (through lower growth and stunted technologies) that Beijing remain well behind the US during the present century. In other words, Trump’s aim is to reverse Xi’s drive to overtake the US in technological innovation by 2035 and by 2049 make China the world’s leader in the manufacture of hyper-tech items now dominated by the US. The ten sectors specified by the Chinese leadership include aerospace, robotics and Information Technology. As Hiroyuki Akita has pointed out, Beijing is within reach of Xi’s tech targets. Recently, China—albeit briefly—even had a faster supercomputer speed than the US, while the PRC is second only to the US in the number of companies active in Artificial Intelligence and in the use of supercomputers. As for international patent applications, China is second only to the US and on track to catch up with the US within three years. Although Trump has talked about the mammoth trade deficit with China, it is not that figure which is creating anxiety within America Firsters, but the fact that tech breakthroughs such as the 5G technology rolled out by Huawei may be 30% cheaper than that of its nearest US competitor, giving the company a global edge sought to be blunted by recourse to “national security” prohibitions. The only credible way those seeking (naturally for reasons of “national security”) to prevent a Huawei 5G rollout in India will succeed is if they offer 5G alternatives that are cheaper and better. That seems much too big an ask at present. Given the slow pace at which India’s governance system operates, expecting the Modi-Abe Alternative Intelligence and Advanced Technology Tokyo partnership to challenge Chinese competitors seems a faraway goal. Given Trump’s “Can Do, Must Do” mindset, there is unlikely to be an end to severe US-China frictions until either the US succeeds in preventing Beijing from displacing Washington as the “Tiger on the global mountain of economy and technology”, or President Xi is able to beat back US attacks and succeed in his objective of ensuring Chinese leadership in cutting edge technologies within a fistful of years. Given that Trump is capable of using any means at hand, including possibly attempting to inflict a short but humiliating military defeat on China in air or sea in the Korea, Taiwan or South China Sea theatre so as to humiliate Xi, expect “interesting times” in the Sino-US dynamic. When America First meets China First, only one will prevail.

Prof. Nalapat on Modi’s visit to Japan in the backdrop of a possible US-China conflict (PGurus)

Is a US-China conflict in the near future? US-India-Japan-Austalia Quadrilateral alliance and its role should a conflict with China happen. A hangout with Prof. M D Nalapat

India must prepare for a US-China military showdown (Sunday Guardian)


To many, a US-China conflict may seem to belong to the domain of fiction or Hollywood movies. But such optimism may be an illusion.

The mood in the capital city of Japan is sombre, and while the majority of his people cling to the hope that military conflict involving Japan is impossible or at least avoidable in the modern age, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe knows otherwise. The risk of conflict between US and Chinese forces is rising, and Abe is, therefore, working to ensure that the post-1945 legal limits on the Japanese military get removed, so that a robust defence or attack may speedily get carried out by his forces when and where needed. The “Self-Defence Forces” of Japan are a formidable force, especially the Navy, and Abe is fast-tracking operational congruence with India, so that the ease of joint operations becomes as smooth as that between the United States and Japan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was handed over a $75 billion currency swap agreement in Tokyo this week, so that he would be in better political shape to ensure closer working relations with Japan in a context where relations between Washington and Beijing are entering storm levels. The South China Sea; the Taiwan Straits; and the Korean peninsula are just three of the theatres in which an accidental or impulsive move by local military commanders on either side could trigger an exchange of fire between ships and between aircraft. As for the Himalayan frontier, Washington is impatiently waiting for the bureaucracy in India to go ahead with the signing of BECA (a geospatial data agreement) so that the legal decks get cleared for full scope cooperation between Washington and Delhi in the exchange of input on the activities of countries that both regard with suspicion. Subsequently, the question will be taken up of ensuring that the Indian Army be given the equipment needed to take on any comer in combat. The US is moving towards shifting some of its defence production facilities to India, but this is running up against opposition within the Lutyens Zone that is fanned by weapons dealers from countries such as France and Russia, who would lose out were India to source a high and rising proportion of its defence import needs from the US, a development that would make geopolitical sense. Another US effort could be to expand the “Five Eyes” signals intelligence alliance into the Six Eyes, so that India gets added to the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Among the locations which are suitable for the setting up of tracking facilities capable of covering the Indian Ocean are some of the islands in the Andaman chain, while facilities on the west coast of India could keep a watch on the Arabian Sea.
In this militarily binary world, India needs to choose between the US and China as its preferred security partner. Beijing appears to have foreclosed the matter by continuing to expand its hugely expensive “all weather” relationship with the Pakistan military, while knowing from the start that the only two enemy targets of that force are Afghanistan and India. That Pakistan was for long a treaty ally of the US was of no concern to China even during the 1960s, well before the 1972 Nixon-Mao rapprochement between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the US. This was because Beijing was confident (through understandings reached in secret with GHQ Rawalpindi) that at no time—and despite Pakistan’s frequent promises to the US to “fight communism”—would the Pakistan military go on attack mode against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). However, Pakistan did provide facilities for US snoop mechanisms designed to look into China, on the condition that it would simultaneously be given data collaterally collected on India by such methods. Also, Pakistan army officers visiting the PRC would, on occasion, debrief their US counterparts on what they saw and heard in China, which at the time was a country judged as hostile to US interests. Thus, through being an “eye on China”, GHQ Rawalpindi was given a free pass by the CIA and the Pentagon in its increasing closeness with the Central Military Commission (CMC) in Beijing. Simultaneously, the Pakistan military routinely briefed the PLA on what they saw in the US, and in particular on training methods and equipment used by the world’s most powerful military in its exercises. By playing both sides for decades, GHQ Rawalpindi derived a double benefit (from both Washington and Beijing), a free ride that ended with the onset since the Trump Presidency of what is certain to be a period of prolonged hostility between the US and China.
Although both US commanders as well as their Chinese counterparts have publicly warned the forces under their command that the chance for war is no longer negligible, as yet a US-China conflict seems to many to remain confined to works of fiction or Hollywood movies. Such optimism may be an illusion. It needs to be remembered that during the five years prior to the 1914-1919 World War, at the close of which Germany was emasculated and Russia became Bolshevik, there were only stray (and almost invariably ignored) indications of the coming conflict. German, Russian and British elites met and partied together, while the Royals of all three countries were frequently in touch, being friends and relatives of each other. It was a stray event, the assassination by a Serbian group of an Archduke of the Hapsburg monarchy that tipped the balance towards war. Well before that, tensions that were being neglected by policymakers continued, in consequence, to fester. Finally, the perception that there was need for a “swift and decisive” war took hold, resulting in a conflict lasting five years, with global consequences, including for Asia. In many ways, the existing situation in Asia resembles that which was present in Europe during the years immediately preceding 1914. These days, both US President Donald J. Trump and President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) meet several times a year, and both Commanders-in-Chief of the two biggest militaries in the world take care to be as pleasant to the other as Tsar Nicholas was to Kaiser Wilhelm during their pre-1914 meetings. Around them, however, swirl disagreements and dissonance, based on the reality that the US administration (especially under Trump) will not accept falling behind China in matters of GDP and technological prowess, a situation that seems inevitable given the present trends. Actions get taken by government agencies that are logical only in the context of the other country being factored in as an enemy and not simply a rival. Given that the hold of the Chinese Communist Party over the administration and the people of the world’s other superpower is at the heart of China’s success, the Trump administration is making no secret of its efforts at weakening that hold to ensure through a multiplicity of means that the PRC’s growth rate falls to below 5% and counting. High growth rates over three decades have ensured social stability in China, and a decline as steep as what is planned could result in turmoil. That is, unless the people of that country believe that the hardships they may face are because of the hostile actions of countries jealous of China’s rise, specifically the US. And that armed conflict may be the only way forward in a situation where other methods seem devoid of results. Paradoxically, the weaker the Chinese economy and the more at risk the hold of the Xi-dominated “leadership core” of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over the country, the higher the risks of military conflict. Such a situation would be certain to dissipate emotions directed by the Chinese people towards the CCP as a consequence of disappointments and frustrations, and would make them endure hard times with patience and fortitude. As Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee discovered in 1999, even a war caused by one’s own errors of judgement (in this case, the decision of National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, together with Army commanders to abandon winter quarters along the Line of Control in the Kargil sector till weather conditions improved, thereby giving an opportunity for Pakistan’s irregulars to occupy the abandoned shelters) leads to a boost in popularity. The Kargil conflict ensured the return of Vajpayee in the Lok Sabha polls, for a fresh five-year term.
It needs to be stressed what the core objectives of India should be. An obvious desideratum would be that no South Asian country act in a manner that degrades the core interests of India. Another would be to ensure that no single power become empowered enough to dominate the Eurasian landmass, for such a power would then be a short step away from world domination. In the decade ending 1945, Japan sought to dominate East, South and South-East Asia and was defeated. The US sought to become the dominant power in Eurasia during the 1960s the way the British Empire had been in the past, but confronted obstacles that it lacked the methods and resources to overcome. Washington is now a much diminished power, and needs new allies in order to ensure not dominance but primacy, especially in the most consequential theatre of the 21st century, the Indo-Pacific. Within the Indian Ocean segment of this body of seawater, India is an indispensable partner for the US, hence the outreach to Delhi. However, this country’s 19th century colonial-minded bureaucracy has a very expansive view of itself coupled with contempt for the people of India, and hence routinely misses not just opportunities, but opportunities for opportunities. Surprisingly for those who believed he would act on the “Minimum Government” pledge made during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi is as respectful of the bureaucracy as his idol Sardar Patel was, with the consequence that the many speed brakes placed by well-placed babus along the path to fulfilment of the Prime Minister’s plans have ensured that several have moved ahead at much slower speed than anticipated by those who voted for Modi in 2014. A full scope defence and strategic relationship with the US is essential for both that country and India, if they are jointly to ensure primacy over the Indian Ocean and subsequently, retain primacy in the Pacific Ocean as well, a task in which Japan would be key, while a friendly Taiwan would be an incalculable asset. In such a process, it is clear that countries such as the Seychelles, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Myanmar should ensure that the core interests of the US-India alliance not get adversely affected through their actions. Of course, such moves will meet with opposition from China, which is focused on keeping the US out of the oceans to the maximum extent it can, so that a vacuum gets created that can get filled by the PRC and its powerful military. While continuing to make purchases of petro-products from Iran makes sense for India, the purchase of S-400s from Russia in place of seeking a combination of THAAD and Patriot Pac 3 missiles from the US does not. It is not a question of narrow technicalities, but of broad strategy, as the US-India defence relationship will approach its potential only when India sources most of its defence imports from that country, while at the same time ensuring that hotheads in the US Congress not succeed in imposing conditions that would wreck the US-India military relationship and thereby open the door to Chinese primacy in the Indian Ocean Region. Certainly, any Senator or Representative seeking sanctions on India will become the toast of the powerful PRC lobby in Washington. Apart from the seas, the US and India need to partner against the more violent manifestations of Wahhabism, wherever these be found, although the latter must take care to ensure that it does not get embroiled in Team Trump’s repeat of Ariel Sharon’s 1982 Lebanon blunder. By inserting the Israeli Defence Forces against the Shias on behalf of a Maronite Christian armed group, Sharon made Israel the only country in the world which Shia terror groups routinely target. Given its grievous errors while dealing with the Shia situation in several locations, the US is likely to be the second. India must not go down that path, and Modi should make it clear to Trump that good relations with Tehran will remain a priority for Delhi even while mil-mil ties with the US get ever closer.
Primacy and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific; joint operations against Wahhabi terror groups and to safeguard the stability of the GCC; prevention of any single country gaining dominance over the Eurasian landmass; the promotion of the values of tolerance and inclusion that are the foundation of democracy. Such are among the objectives of an India-US defence and security alliance, and it is hoped that progress in this direction will be much faster in the coming years than it has been since the previous decade. This will take place in a context where the US will ignore what it sees as China’s efforts to have a veto over policy over matters such as Taiwan. It may even be that in 2019 Vice-President Mike Pence may visit India, perhaps early in the new year, and may even make a brief refuelling stopover in Kaohsiung in the Republic of China (Taiwan) en route back to Washington. President Tsai Ing-wen of RoC (Taiwan) may be permitted by Prime Minister Abe to make a refuelling stopover and thereafter another in a US city while on her next visit to the Vatican. The Hudson Institute speech by Vice-President Pence (which has been compared to the Fulton speech of Winston Churchill about the Soviet Iron Curtain across Europe) indicates that Team Trump is determined to use the tools at its command to reverse what seemed before his 8 November 2016 victory to be an inexorable climb to the top by the PRC. Armed conflict often begins by accident and thereafter may take on a momentum difficult to restrain. The good news is that even a brief military encounter between the US and China is likely to push southwards not just stock but commodity markets, thereby once again sharply lowering the price of oil. The bad news is that the all-powerful bureaucracy in India seems clueless as to how to navigate the country’s way through increasingly choppy times, and seems destined to repeat mistakes of the past that we in the present are still suffering the consequences of.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

India’s Air Force needs 200 more fighter aircraft (Sunday Guardian)


Defence should not be left to generalist administrators or to purely military users who may not factor in India’s overall geopolitical needs and vulnerabilities.

Not surprisingly for an election season, there continues to be a rising crescendo of comments and counter-comments about the agreement entered into with Avions Dassault to get 36 Rafale fighter aircraft. Some explain the difference in price as being the consequence of the 36 aircraft needing to be configured to carry a nuclear payload on deep-strike missions in enemy states. Technical experts could testify as to how much more it would cost per aircraft to configure it to carry a nuclear rather than a conventional payload in terms of the weapons loaded, and as there are several such individuals in India, it is time that they revealed their financial and technical calculations, so as to give greater clarity to the debate. The per aircraft cost for 36 seems much more than for 126. Can the argument be made that this was because the configuration needed to carry on board non-conventional weapons required a much more expensive refit than what is needed for aircraft carrying only conventional weapon payloads ? We do not know. The unit costs being substantially more for the specially-configured 36 aircraft than for the 126 may be the consequence of the French supplier needing additional funds in order to finance an upgrade of the existing M 88 engine of the Rafale. This is relatively underpowered when compared to other fourth generation fighter aircraft. Also, the present model of the Rafale does not have stealth capacities. Does the pricey variant supplied to India include this additional feature? The reality is that any boosting of the capability of the Rafale engine is an expensive process, and Dassault has been in a parlous financial situation. It needs to be remembered that in modern warfare, any air rather than missile attack by the IAF on a major military power would run the risk of being exposed to the air defence network of that country. Should the target country have systems such as the Russian S-400 that India is also purchasing, the risk to attacking Rafale fighter aircraft would be substantial. Even cruise missiles can get intercepted by the Russian system. The S-400 is a superb anti-aircraft system, especially if the country that is the target of an IAF attack has been given a system that features the latest Russian missiles. It is not clear that India too will get the latest Russian missiles for its S-400s or will acquire only older models for the air defence systems that are being purchased for an initial cost of $5 billion. There was a time when Moscow and Delhi were as close as Beijing has long been to Islamabad, but that era has long passed, which is why the continued heavy reliance on Russia for critical defence needs requires a relook.
The problem facing the defence procurement system in India is that the users (i.e. the wings of the military) seem not to be given financial parameters and limits while designing their specifications for weapons systems. As a consequence, they may configure specifications in such a manner that only the most expensive models would be eligible, as took place in the MMRCA process. This would be analogous to a motorist being asked to choose the vehicle he wants, irrespective of cost. He would naturally choose a Ferrari or a Maserati, rather than a Volvo or a Toyota. The MMRCA program is designed to replace the MiG 21s, of which over 400 have been in service for the IAF. In order to have both an effective defence as well as credible attack capabilities, at least around 200 more aircraft are needed to be acquired in the near future. A mere 36, no matter how magnificent each fighter aircraft may be, is not sufficient. In such a context, the offer by the US to transfer the entire F-16 assembly line to India should be seriously considered. The F-16 variant being offered to India is the latest, and contains weapons systems and avionics far superior to the aircraft supplied to Pakistan. Locating assembly lines in India would ensure that the IAF get the 200 additional fighter aircraft it needs to be a potent strike force, while additional aircraft could be sold to other countries so that such sales subsidise part of the costs of making and equipping the F-16s destined for the IAF. Without the offer to relocate production lines to India, the offer of F-16s was rejected in the past, and correctly so. However, entering into the manufacture of the airframes for such aircraft would open the way for future manufacture (jointly with the US) within India of more advanced models, thereby adding to both local jobs as well as skills. It may also be possible to persuade corporations such as Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and BAE to set up facilities in India to manufacture radar, electronics and weaponry for the F-16s that are locally manufactured. The airframe accounts for only around a third of the total cost of production of a frontline fighter aircraft, and the rest comprises other items, most of which can be made in India. Our country and the US need to enter into a much closer defence and security relationship, which is why it would make sense in geopolitical terms to acquire the THAAD anti-missile system on the same terms as offered to South Korea, as well as Patriot PAC 3 anti-aircraft systems. Hyper-reliance on a Russia that is today closest to a China that is still much too cosy with Pakistan seems a risk.
India’s defence is way too important to be left to generalist administrators or to purely military users who may not factor in the overall geopolitical needs and vulnerabilities of the country. Just as China makes a necessary partner for India in commerce and economics, so does the US in defence and security. The IAF needs a minimum of 200 frontline aircraft to ensure sufficient attack and defence capabilities. The transfer of F-16 production to India, followed by the transfer of part or whole of production facilities for more advanced fighter aircraft and subsequently their equipment, makes more sense than looking at every critical defence need and corresponding purchase in isolation.

Friday, 26 October 2018

UNESCO Peace Chair & prominent Indian academician & columnist, Prof M D Nalapat at the RSYP (Inventure Academy)

UNESCO Peace Chair and prominent Indian academician & columnist, Prof M D Nalapat, in his address to the students at the Round Square Youth Parliament, spoke on the role of media as an organ that cleanses and purifies the government system. He spoke about minimum government and maximum governance for growth and development and how today’s youth and technology are the key factors towards a brighter future Currently Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian and Itv network (India),[1] Vice-Chair of Manipal University's Advanced Research Group, and Director of the Department of Geopolitics, Manipal University. He has been the Coordinating Editor of the Times of India and editor of the Mathrubhumi. He is the son of renowned author and poet Kamala Das. The inaugural Inventure Academy Round Square Youth Parliament - Our World, Our Voice was launched with Prof M V Rajeev Gowda and Dr Sumer Singh as Guests of Honor at the opening ceremony. This five day event from 15 to 19 August 2018 was held at Inventure’s campus on Whitefield-Sarjapur Road, Bangalore. The conference was conceptualised by Inventure Academy to equip children with the Right to Participate (guaranteed by Article 12 of the UNCRC) in the world that they are inheriting and to enable them to be positive change makers. This was achieved by exposing our youth to different perspectives, dialogues between nations and the process of decision-making through a blended platform of the Model United Nations (MUN) and Model Parliament (MP). The conference exposed students to the process of how laws are created and implemented through the interplay between various stakeholders, including international organisations such as the United Nations, National Parliament, Media and Civil Society. This helps to demonstrate how citizens (including children) can have an impact and be a part of the solution. The focus of this Parliament was our children contributing to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 by 2030 - “Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all”. The specific sub areas of focus included the quality of education and funding, child and cyber safety, and the impact of conflict on the healthy development of youth.