Friday 30 April 1999

The enemy within (Rediff)

The silver lining in the fiasco that saw the country being pushed into yet another general election is that politicians in the 13th Lok Sabha are likely to be supercautious rather than frisky. The post-defeat inability of the anti-BJP parties to form an alternative government shows up the dangers of adventurism. This, plus the 'Narayanan Precedent' of asking for written evidence of a majority before swearing in an alternative team, is likely to prevent a short life for the next Lok Sabha.

President K R Narayanan is now the subject of an intensive whispering campaign, centred around his and his wife's friendship with the Nehru family. It is being claimed that Mrs Narayanan -- allegedly because she follows the Christian faith -- wanted Sonia Gandhi to succeed in her Operation Topple, and therefore used her (considerable) influence on the President to rig decisions against the BJP.

As evidence, these critics point to the President's immediate order to the prime minister to prove his majority; his indulgence in giving Sonia Gandhi several days to win over recalcitrants; and his refusal to give the Vajpayee government a second chance to prove its majority after the Congress's bid for a Sonia ministry collapsed.

Such comments are unfair to a deeply sincere and straightforward individual. Usha Narayanan's faith is not relevant to the political discourse. Even if she were Christian, the fact remains that the Christian community in India has done wonders in the fields of health and education. The faith is an Asian one, even though these days most believers come from Europe and the Americas. One of the unfortunate side-effects of Sonia Gandhi's pell-mell rush to become prime minister (a process she began in 1995, with the attack on Narasimha Rao) is a backlash against the innocent Christian community in India. These individuals have nothing to do with the Maino family's shenanigans, and should not be made political pawns. To target them is as unfair as it was to target the deeply patriotic Sikh community for the murder of Indira Gandhi, or to blame the Hindus for the killing of Gandhiji.

President Narayanan has one way of showing to the nation that he is not bound to the apron-strings of 10 Janpath. This is by speedily allowing the prosecution of Madhavsinh Solanki in the Bofors matter. By sitting on the file for nearly two months, the President has generated avoidable controversy over his motives, just as a similar tardiness over the Shiela Kaul file did some months ago. True, the President knows both Solanki and Gopi Arora personally -- the latter more than the first -- but such personal considerations will never come in the way of national interest where Kocheril Raman Narayanan is concerned. Clearly, the President was waiting for the political weather to clear before giving his assent, lest he be accused of partisanship. Now that stage one of the storm is over, it is likely that he will soon give assent to the prosecution of Solanki.

It is a national disgrace that several countries have got back huge amounts of kickbacks from Swiss banks, even though India has (deliberately) failed to make much headway on Bofors. Part of the reason is the open linkage between the Swiss authorities and 10 Janpath. Recently, the President of Switzerland made it a point to call on Sonia Gandhi at her government-provided residence, thus giving a clear signal of the Swiss government's determination to protect her. In the same way, the Malaysian government under Mahathir Mohammed is protecting Ottavio Quattrocchi from extradition. Clearly, both Switzerland and Malaysia can be expected to put the personal interests of 10 Janpath above the need for justice.

In this, they are joined by several bureaucrats in the HRD, home and finance ministries in India who have secretly been working overtime to protect Sonia Gandhi. Thanks to the influence of an NRI business family, the Prime Minister's Office too has thus far served as the highly effective office of Sonia's defence team. Vajpayee has paid with his job for listening to this NRI family and following the footsteps of Narasimha Rao in protecting Sonia, even to the extent of pulling up Human Resources Development Minister M M Joshi for looking into the various government-funded Nehru trusts, all of which are illegally controlled by Sonia and her children.

Hopefully, at least now Prime Minister Vajpayee will not block ongoing probes into the Nehru trusts and into the armaments and pipeline deals that made a family in Italy super rich. During the 1980s, both the brothers-in-law of Sonia Gandhi -- Walter Vinci and Jose Valdemoro -- became affluent, by means that numerous identifiable public officials in India are anxious to keep secret. Sadly for Sonia's sisters Nadia and Annouscka, both their husbands divorced them as soon as they became rich. As a result, they moved to Delhi to live in 10 Janpath, along with their mother Predebon. India being a rich country and Italy a poor one, New Delhi can certainly afford to pay for the telephone, transportation and housing charges of the Maino family, as it has been doing for years, without complaint.

Indeed, a host of visitors from Italy descended on Delhi a fortnight ago, eager to watch as their relative formally took possession of the family inheritance, the Government of India. Hopefully when the results of the next election get announced, these friends can return to watch Orbassano's first-ever prime minister get sworn in. After that, Sonia can more openly reward her friends and punish her critics, all out of taxpayer's money.

It is noteworthy that the country to which the Hope of the Nation still looks for inspiration -- and airline and telephone bills, as well as the roster of mealtime guests will confirm this -- is among the 19 pounding Yugoslavia to dust. If there should be a conflict between NATO and Indian interests, where will Sonia's preference lie? Will she be able to order missile strikes that can hit targets in Italy? More to the point, why has she so far not uttered a word of condemnation of the barbaric bombing of an independent country from bases in Italy? These are questions that should interest strategic planners in India as much as the dog that did not bark caught the attention of Sherlock Holmes.

However, it is not only in Europe that Sonia has backers. One of the worst-kept secrets in Delhi has been the interest of the Communist Chinese in a Sonia-led government. Natwar Singh needs to reply to suggestions that he indicated a willingness to implement a freeze on Agni and on nuclear tactical warheads when he spoke to Chinese officials in Beijing. All Natwar needs to do is take a lie detector test to disprove such charges, spoken by unhappy left cadres who secretly say their comrades in China forced them to back Sonia Gandhi as prime minister. It is perhaps not entirely coincidental that a CPI delegation was in Beijing at about the same time as Natwar was.

The Chinese need to realise that they should not interfere in domestic politics. The hotheads in the PLA have already done much future harm to China's long-term interests by helping Pakistan develop strategic muscle. They should not convert a future ally -- India -- into an enemy by their reckless adventurism. India and China must work together, but this is not possible so long as China gives nuclear and missile secrets to Pakistan and dabbles in Indian politics.

NATO's new doctrine of the 'divine right' of the (European-race) alliance to intervene militarily anywhere in the world means that India needs to expand the range of Agni to intercontinental levels, and to refine weaponry. This is the only deterrent to some idiot in London or Washington who may seek to duplicate a Kosovo in Kashmir.

The East Timor agitation is being fuelled by NATO in order to set up a protectorate in a volatile region. Both India and China have to concert to block these efforts, by supporting Indonesia in protecting its territorial integrity. Here too, Sonia Gandhi is silent. Perhaps she, like NATO, favours an 'independent' East Timor that will serve as a NATO base

Kashmir in India, Tibet in China, East Timor in Indonesia and Chechnya in Russia are all examples of how NATO seeks to use ethnic differences to weaken states that are likely to emerge as superpowers. The NATO-subservient regimes of Yeltsin and Habibie have thus far not been able to oblige their patrons, only because of strong public opinion. The friends of Indonesia and Russia need to convey forcefully to Moscow and Jakarta to retain the multi-religious nature of their states, and not succumb to NATO pressure.

Hopefully, instead of being a dupe of NATO, China's leaders will join with India in creating a multi-polar world order. The worst enemies of India have always come from within. The Mughals and the British could never have subjugated the land without the support of hundreds of traitors. Even today, the loudest voices against India framing sensible economic policies or creating a minimum credible deterrent come from within. In the Jawaharlal Nehru University, for example, the joke is that there are professors to spout the Chinese, the German or the American line, but none who support the Indian one. The trouble is that this is no joke. As the fawning supplication before Sonia Gandhi (and by implication her backers) has shown, we have a long way to go before being free.

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