Wednesday 25 August 1999

Congress has Two Conflicting Strategies to Regain Power

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

The discussion on the extent to which the Congress should exert
pressure on the United Front (UF) to get its support for a
Mayawati-led ministry in Uttar Pradesh gives an indication of
the emergence of two contrary strategies that the Congress could

While both have adherents and critics among the office-
bearers of the former ruling party, the terms "Pawar" and
"Antony" lines will be used to denote the two approaches, as the
two have emerged as protagonists of the same.

While both sides have thus far refrained from publicly
articulating their strategies and have indeed denied that there
are any differences, discussions with confidants indicate that the
Pawar line is to forge a formal alliance with the UF in order to
isolate the BJP. This would involve joining the UF ministry at the
Centre and joint action in states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat
and elsewhere. Gradually, thanks to the force of numbers and
greater cohesion, the Congress would dominate the UF and in
time would have its own candidate as Prime Minister. Thereafter,
a Congress-led UF would face and defeat the BJP in the subsequent
Lok Sabha polls.

The Antony line would support the UF at the Centre for a
period of two to three years, during which time the Congress
would be revamped into an organisation based on inner-party
democracy and an elected set of office-bearers. The strategy
would be "unity" with the UF in Delhi and "struggle" in the
states, where the Congress would shed its current inhibitions
and become a vociferous opposition to both the UF as well as the
BJP. In certain states local alliances would be forged, such as with
the BSP in UP and Ramakrishna Hegde in Karnataka. By these
means, the Antony strategists hope to have the Congress re-
emerge into health within 24 to 36 months, after which it would
force a Lok Sabha election.

While the Pawar line predicates cooperation with the UF, the
Antony line calls for the Congress to fashion its revival
independent of it. According to Antony, it is necessary for the
party to be away from power for a few years, "to rid itself of the
corruption associated with office". Should the Congress join the
UF, the temptation to revert to old ways would be great, and the
party would share in the scandals and disillusionment caused by
UF rule. Away from power, a fresh team of office-bearers can be
expected to emerge, with the state-level units—rather than the
AICC—being the focus of the leadership's attention.

The proponents of the Antony line have welcomed the
emergence of Sitaram Kesri as AICC president, as the Bihar
politician fits in with its strategy of focusing on dalits, the
minorities and the backward communities. According to the
Kerala politician, an alliance with the BSP will send positive
signals to the dalit vote-banks in the Hindi belt. Next would be
moves to woo the minorities and the backward communities.
Those in favour of the Pawar line give more attention to
government, and to using the advantages of office to generate
visibility and support among the electorate, Hence the eagerness
to join the Gowda government.

The advantage in this behind-the-scenes battle of wills lies
with the Maharashtra politician. Antony has ever exhibited a
reluctance not to go for the jugular, but to even get involved in
battle. Thus, very often his positions are lost almost by default.
Pawar on the other hand, has excellent powers of persuasion that
are put to good use in generating support for his stand. At
present, apart from his closeness to both Prime Minister Deve
Gowda and Congress icon Sonia Gandhi, Pawar has the support
of three CWC members, K. Karunakaran, Ghulam Nabi Azad
and Balram Jakhar. Rajesh Pilot, Ahmed Patel and Meira Kumar
have also given him qualified support, especially on the policy
of backing the UF.

Antony, on the other hand, has only himself as a firm backer
in the CWC.

However, if the attention shifts from the Delhi-based office-
bearers to the states, the Kerala politician has a significant
support base for his "unity and struggle" policy vis-a-vis the UF.
In particular, state units in the south and east are opposed to the
policy of going soft on the UF. In these states, the Congress has
begun to pay heavily for the ambiguity in its stand vis-a-vis local
UF rivals such as the Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh the JD
in Karnataka and the CPM in Kerala. Over the next few months,
such state units may begin to exert pressure to prevent the
adoption of the Pawar line.

And what of the former Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha
Rao? Despite his distaste for Pawar, Rao has become compelled
by circumstances to adopt a dovish posture towards the UF,
which is dangling the threat of putting him or his son in prison
without actually expending the missile by actually doing so. As
long as the threat is present or remains unexecuted — Rao will
be forced to support a conciliatory line towards the very same
UF that is closing in on his followers through the CBI. While Rao
loyalists are being targeted, pro-UF Congressmen as well as UF
politicians are being spared CBI attention, despite their
involvement in numerous scams.

The UP imbroglio has shown up the fault lines behind the
facade of Congress-UF cooperation. The months ahead will show
whether the former ruling party will hitch its fate to the UF or
attempt to once again recapture the dominant heights of Indian
polity. At present, the odds favour the former outcome.

Thursday 19 August 1999

Spiking Rao to Boost Clinton

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

US diplomats are prone to asserting that the period of ’zero sum'
solutions between India and Pakistan are now over, and that it 
is no longer true that a concession given to one must be at the 
expense of the other. The difficulty is that there appears to be a 
zero sum situation between the US and India on the nuclear  

President Clinton, dogged by the Whitewater scandal and by 
it allegations of inconsistency on Haiti and Bosnia, needs a 
spectacular foreign policy success to wash away the wimpish 
traces in his image. Forcing India and Pakistan to cap their 
nuclear programmes will provide just such a success. Hence the 
frenzied behind-the-scenes diplomacy on the non-proliferation 

This tacit equation of India with Pakistan ignores the reality 
of the vastly more advanced Indian programme as compared to 
the Pakistani one. While India actually detonated a nuclear  
device twenty years ago, and since then has progressed 
considerably in fabricating delivery systems, Pakistan’s  
programme is as yet a mix of borrowed technology and carefully 
planted stories about that country’s nuclear capability. However,
it suits the US to pretend that Pakistan too is a major player in  
the nuclear league, so that its ’capping’ can be taken as a reason
for India to abandon its own programme. 

The problem with the US formulation is that it ignores the
fact that India is not a country ruled by a military oligarchy but 
a democracy, and that no government that is seen as 
compromising on national security can survive politically. Even 
the Rajiv Gandhi government which came to power in 1984 on
a landslide, got defeated in 1989 amidst allegations that decisions  
involving national security were being taken for venal motives.  

The vice-like grip now taken by the PMO on foreign policy 
means that any bureaucratic dissent with the current PMO drive 
to ’improve' relations with the US will not get publicised. 
However, key officials within the ministry of external affairs 
confirm that in confidential briefings the MEA has warned 
against 'pushing into the background India’s security interests in 
favour of ’better commercial relations with the US'. It is pointed  
out that a country of India’s size needs its own strategic deterrent, 
especially in the context of a volatile geographic environment. 

The MEA’s argument is shared by policy planners in the 
ministry of defence, as well as by the three armed services, who 
are in favour of vigorous development and deployment of the  
missile systems developed by India’s scientists. They point out 
that such a deterrent, which in India’s case has been economically 
developed, will in fact lead to a lowering of defence costs, by 
protecting the security environment more effectively than 
significantly higher·cost traditional weapon systems. These circles 
point to the relatively low investment needed to develop Agni 
further, for example, as compared to the huge outlays needed to 
purchase fighter aircraft from abroad. 

Indeed analysts within the defence establishment claim that 
one reason behind the US obsession with capping India’s space 
and nuclear programmes is to ensure the future development of 
this country as an arms market for the US as large as that offered 
by certain west Asian powers. They claim that arms 
manufacturing companies in the US are concerned that Indian 
R & D will in the next decade lead to this country displacing
western manufacturers in many .third markets, as the Chinese
are already doing. Hence the hidden American pressure to  
throttle the research and development programmes in the defence   

The problem facing the PMO is that the dominant opinion 
within a key ministry—finance—is in favour of making strategic    
concessions to the US in the expectation of getting commercial 
advantages from that country. However, analysts within the   
Commerce ministry point out that the present US administration, 
faced as it is with joblessness at home,   in no position to give   
economic concessions 'to India, because concessions to one
country will be demanded by several, and the US administration   
cannot be seen as giving preference to outsiders at the expense  
of American industry'. Economic ties between India and the US 
'are dependent on company to company rather than on country
to country links, and these will grow simply because no one can
ignore the emerging Indian market'.

As for the implied strategic prescriptions of the finance
ministry, while its economic effects are debatable, its political
consequences are not. The BJP, groping for an issue after the
fizzling-out of the communal atmospherics of the Babri Masjid
agitation period, will get a free ride on the horse of national
security should India abandon the Agni programme and halt the
deployment of Prithvi.

The dilemma facing the Prime Minister is that national
security is one of the three planks holding together the Congress
party’s effective electoral platform, the second being the party’s
non-denominational approach to regions and communities, and
the third the ability to provide a stable government without 
falling apart midway. Thus there exists a clear contradiction
between the political interests of President Clinton and the
political survival of P. V. Narasimha Rao. No prizes for guessing 
which option the PM is likely to exercise in Washington. 

Monday 16 August 1999

The Thumb of Ekalavya - India's Security Interests and the U.S.

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

The multitudes who watched the teleserial, Mahabharuta and the
somewhat smaller number who would actually have read the
epic would be familiar with the fate of Ekalavya. Born of—in
today's jargon—'socially disadvantaged' parents, the boy was
barred from learning the skills reserved for the martial castes.
This did not prevent him from picking up these skills on his own,
all the while imagining to himself that the great teacher,
Dronacharya, was guiding him.

When the five Pandava brothers found out that the low-born
Ekalavya was not just their equal but in some respects their
superior in the crucial art of archery, they complained to
Dronacharya, who made Ekalavya cut off his thumb, thus
ending his career in archery.

If Ekalavya’s fate comes to mind during the month in which
India joined the nuclear club 20 years ago, it is because the
modern-day Pandavas—the five accepted nuclear powers—are,
through the United States, seeking to cut off lowly India’s
nuclear thumb through a voluntary capping of its activities and
capabilities in the nuclear and missile fields. Should the
Narasimha Rao government eventually agree to this strategic
mutilation, it would be as significant an act of self-abnegation as

Restrictive View
The mandarins of North Block, which houses the Union finance
ministry, are focusing on finance capital as the engine of economic
progress, especially the capital flowing in from abroad, This is a
rather restrictive view of development, and not just because such
financial inflows are ordinarily prone to sudden reversals in
direction. It is also restrictive because it ignores the fact that the
locomotive behind economic change has always been science 
and technology based on a durable foundation of educational with

Had the finance ministry shown the same eagerness to
buttress indigenous research and development that it is showing interest
to attract finance capital into this country, India's long-term 
interests may have been better served. One is reminded of the 
consistent western criticism of Pandit Nehru's drive to improve 
the level of scientific research in India, and to create the social 
and institutional infrastructure needed for growth. Today, this 
far-sightedness has resulted in a science and technology 
establishment that is the equal of any other power. Had Pandit 
Nehru - or his successors - accepted the western viewpoint and
choked off funds to high-technology areas (as is being done by 
today's mandarins) India would today be at the mercy of outside
powers in the sphere of defence. 

The argument used by the small but dominant body of
officials seeking to cap India's technology in the nuclear and
missile field is that the U.S. would 'guarantee India's security in
the same way as it does that of Japan and Western Europe'. Such
a formulation ignores the very real difference between India on
the one hand and Western Europe and Japan on the other. In the
case of India, U.S. policy has often been ambiguous—and at
times hostile—on basic security concerns. One example is the
recent statement implicitly accepting the Pakistani demand for
a change in the present status of Kashmir. Another is the close
American attention to 'human rights issues' in sensitive Indian

Should the finance ministry prescription be accepted, India
would be at the mercy of the U.S. on all issues affecting its
strategic interests. Should the U.S. perceive India as being 
insufficiently ready to open up its markets to American l
companies, it could up the ante on Kashmir and other sensitive 
indian states, and use the ensuing turmoil as a lever to press for 
further concessions. It is, for example, clear that Pakistan—which I
has been a client state of the U.S.—could have been compelled
by that country to desist from supporting terrorists in India. The
fact that Pakistan does not feel inhibited in carrying on such
activity and that other U.S.-friendly nations such as Saudi
Arabia also give financial help to fundamentalist organisations
within India, can be logically taken as indicative of a strategy to
keep tensions within this country on the boil.

Washington constantly speaks of its support for the territorial
integrity of India, while in the same breath derecognising
Kashmir's accession to this country. It speaks of its commitment
to regional peace, while simultaneously retaining its military
base in the Indian ocean. This brings us to one expressed
(through Paul Kreisberg, a senior American diplomat) U.S.
reason for stopping the development of Agni. According to
Kreisberg, this is essential ’in order to forestall any threat to U.S.
naval vessels in the Indian Ocean'.

War Games
The Pentagon is prone to playing war games, and not always on
computer screens, and one such 'game' could involve the despatch
of an American naval task force to the Indian waters in pursuit
of a strategic or tactical aim. Should Agni, Prithvi and such other
systems be done away with, the country would be defenceless
against such a move, one that was actually put into operation by
the U.S. navy during the 1971 Bangladesh war. To entrust the
defence of 880 million people to the goodwill of a power located
thousands of miles away, and which has had a history of putting
pressure on India to compromise its security concerns to
accommodate a hostile Pakistan, would be an act of

If the industrial revolution generated the momentum for the
development of European economies two centuries ago, the
chemical revolution during the turn of the century and the
computer revolution in the post-World War II period were
responsible for fuelling a substantial share of the progress made
in the 1900s. Today, the atomic revolution may well be the new
frontier. This is the reason why such immense effort is being
made in countries such as the US or Japan to harness fusion
energy. India lost out on the industrial revolution and forfeited
her freedom. India lagged behind on the chemical and computer
fronts this century, and missed out on prosperity. Today the
Clinton administration is asking this country to step aside once
more as a helpless bystander while others develop—and reap the
benefits of—frontline technologies.

US Intervention
Afghanistan is a nearby case that illustrates the consequences of
American intervention, an intervention not the less detestable
because it followed the equally repugnant Soviet one. Today that
country has been effectively partitioned into three states, each
controlled by a warlord who has thrived on U.S. resources and
weaponry. Cambodia is another example, a country where the
U.S. worked behind the scenes to oust the 'neutralist' Prince
Norodom Sihanouk only to welcome him back after many
millions of lives had been lost. Should the Dan Burtons and the
Robin Raphels have their way, Kashmir, Punjab—and indeed the
whole of India—may go the way of Afghanistan or Cambodia.
Only an independent strategic deterrent will curb this U.S.
propensity to intervene and experiment in third countries.

The U.S. needs to treat India not as so much avoirdupois in
the 'white man’s burden', but as an independent major power
with its own perceptions and strategic deterrents. This America
will do once India sheds the belief that only genuflection and
surrender will propitiate the gods in 1600 Pennsylvania avenue.
One hopes that the Narasimha Rao government will not go the
way of Ekalavya—or Gorbachev or Alia Izbetgovich, for that
matter—but follow the way mapped out not just by China but
also by Malaysia and even tiny Singapore. India’s strategic
independence and scientific prowess are too valuable to mortgage 
and destroy. 

Thursday 12 August 1999

Scientists See End to Nuclear Neglect

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

Scientists and defence planners are closely monitoring the stirrings
of change in the Rao governments security policies after the
Brown amendment. The earlier dismay at the systematic neglect
of nuclear research since 1984 has given way to an expectation
that the programme may get back the political backing it enjoyed
during the tenures of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
A scientist who had been among the 1974 Pokhran explosion
masterminds said that "six to eight more tests are needed before
the safety and reliability of the Indian deterrent can be assured".
He pointed out that the US had carried out 1,149 tests, Russia
1,100, France 209, Britain 45 and China 43 to India's solitary
nuclear explosion at Pokhran.

A senior defence planner said that ”the Brown amendment
proved that those who were slowing down the Indian nuclear
programme on the grounds that the US would not arm Pakistan
were wrong". According to him, "while Pakistan does not as yet
have the capability of making nuclear weapons, this could
change in less than five years with the help of China. The only
defence against a threat of nuclear blackmail would be to perfect
our own systems". In the view of a scientist associated with the
Indian missile programme, "by giving weapons to Islamabad
despite knowing about its clandestine nuclear programme, the
Clinton administration has signalled that Pakistan has joined
Israel in the list of 'protected states' that can develop nuclear
weapons without fear of US sanctions".

Senior officials in the Department of Atomic Energy, (DAE)
on condition of anonymity, pinpointed two members of the
Atomic Energy Commission who, "routinely block funding for
essential research". According to another official, "it is curious
that these (two officials) parrot in meetings the exact arguments
of persons in Washington who are out to sabotage the Indian
programme. This has had a devastating effect on morale".

While agreeing that funding for the nuclear programme "has
been choked off almost to the point of killing it", a senior
scientist in the DAE said that "the other side is that there has to
be greater financial accountability. Also, safety standards must
be rigorously enforced by making the safety function independent
of the DAE". However, others reiterated that the problem was
not within the DAE as much as it was lack of political will in
backing the nuclear programme.

A scientist active during the Pokhran explosion claimed that
"the DAE has done world-class research despite poor funding.
However, it has not been allowed to license its technologies to
the private sector, nor to tap technical institutes such as the IITs
to help research".

A senior Defence ministry official agreed that "not enough
has been done to generate revenue by licensing technology not
only to Indian private industry, but to friendly countries such as
South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia". A DAE scientist pointed
out that "India is rich in thorium. Thus it makes sense to develop
technologies for power plants that will use thorium-based U-233
fuel. However, for the past 10 years, almost no funds have been
provided for such research". He added that "this is in contrast
to Japan, Germany and France, which have developed nuclear
power substantially". He added that "in case the CTBT is signed
by India, it must be on condition that the present restrictions on
technology and data transfer be removed".

A senior defence policy analyst working in the government
added that "the policy of adjustment to western sensitivities has
given no benefits. Not only has the flow of arms to Pakistan been
resumed, the ban on the sale of even safety-related items to India
has continued. At least now, one hopes the government will
wake up and drive a better bargain".

Defence and DAE officials are unanimous that the Jaswant
Singh committee's recommendations need to be adopted by
policymakers. The committee had observed that "if indigenously
developed (nuclear power) technology is not implemented,
(there will be) grave and irreparable damage (to Indian security).
As fossil fuels are finite, it is essential to harness nuclear power.
The Government must modify its policy and adopt a committed
programme with enhanced funding". 

Tuesday 10 August 1999

India should Move to Protect its Interests in Afghanistan

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

Should the Taliban consolidate its hold over Afghanistan, it will
be bad news for India. At present, the fundamentalists in
Kashmir are using Pakistan as a base for their operations. Now
under US pressure to cease such support, Islamabad may simply
transfer formal responsibility for the Kashmir insurgency to
Kabul. Given that there will not be an extension of the "Turn the
other cheek", policy adopted towards Pakistan, New Delhi will
then have to decide on the methods of retaliation.

In geopolitics as in public health, prevention is better than
cure. While the Najibullah regime, identified with the Soviet
occupiers, was not sustainable among the Afghan people, that of
President Burhanuddin Rabbani is. The only way to prevent
Taliban's consolidation is for New Delhi to declare that it
continues to recognise the Rabbani government, and to give it
assistance to beat back the fundamentalist offensive. Should
India dither and Rabbani’s forces get routed, the ISI will ensure
that the next target is the democratic government that will soon
get formed in Srinagar.

There are excellent legal and moral reasons for such a stand.
While a change of government brought about by democratic
means needs to be accepted, a shift in power brought about by
force is unacceptable. It is indeed remarkable that the very
countries that correctly waged war on Saddam Hussain for
annexing Kuwait are today condoning the Taliban’s recourse to
"Saddam" methods in Afghanistan.

This appears to be less the product of a well-conceived
strategy than one more aberration created by the Pakistan-
centric leadership at the South Asia division of the US state
department. Thanks to such officials, Washington has ignored
the twin holes in its anti-terrorist front caused by Saudi Arabia
and Pakistan. While Iran, Libya and Sudan are sought to be
contained, as yet little has been done about Saudi funding and
Pakistani training of extremists.

New Delhi will need to implement a programme of help to
the legal government in Afghanistan, besides taking up through
diplomatic sources the dangers to regional security caused by
the virulent teachings of the Taliban.

In Kashmir, India is attempting to fashion a democratic
alternative to rule by the extremists. They can be expected to
respond by sending in fresh levies of terrorists, once they are
freed of the need to deal with the Rabbani forces. Thus, security
in Kashmir is tied to the success of the legal government in
Afghanistan against the extremists.

The international drug bazaar has become an important
source of funding for extremists, almost as important as Saudi
millionaires. Through the UN, India needs to spearhead an
international campaign against drug cultivation in Afghanistan,
Pakistan and elsewhere, a campaign that includes the aerial
spraying of defoliants on areas where drugs are cultivated. In
addition, the domestic laws against drug trafficking need to be
made much more stringent, so that they are brought on a par
with Singapore. Extremism cannot be fought only by soldiers.
The roots need to be tackled, through helping Afghan moderates
fight extremists, and by fashioning an international campaign
against drugs in the subcontinent.

Sadly for this country, the Rao-Manmohan years witnessed
a "penny wise pound foolish" policy on security. As a result of
lack of support for Afghan moderates and parsimony in defence
expenditure, vast amounts of money had to be spent fighting the
insurgencies that such a policy encouraged. Today, should New
Delhi hesitate to help President Rabbani, it will be spending
many times that money in the next three years fighting the
Mujahideen that may flood it after Rabbani’s final defeat.
This is true despite the fact that the Taliban's success may
prove as self-defeating for Islamabad as the growth of Hamas
proved for Tel Aviv. In the early years of Hamas, Israel saw it
as a counter to the PLO. It was only much later that it realised
that it had a monster on its hands far more potent than chairman
Arafat’s men.

While the Pashtuns in the Taliban have thus far been willing
V to take Islamabad’s help, once they themselves form the Afghan
government, traditional ethnic nationalism will come into play,
and there is a high probability of a future linking up of Pakistani
and Afghan Pashtuns to attempt to carve out an ethnic state out
of both countries, Many within the Taliban—those that are not
fully under the control of the ISI—may realise that a policy of
jehad in Pashtun areas has lower costs and greater returns than
attempts at subverting Kashmir.

Rather than adopt in its entirety the Narasimha Rao policy
of turning the other cheek whenever slapped by Pakistan, New
Delhi needs to evolve separate responses to Pakistani businessmen
and people, and to the attempts by the Benazir government to
foment insurgency in India. While the first group needs to be
won over through concessions and contact, the second needs to
be tackled firmly.

In this, the US is a model. Despite international disapproval,
Washington went ahead with its show of force in Iraq, to
reinforce the point that defiance will not pay. Hopefully, the
apparent confusion at the Taliban takeover of Kabul will be
replaced by a policy that serves this country's strategic interests.

Saturday 7 August 1999

Below 150, Sonia finis. Below 200, Vajpayee falls again (Rediff)

Below 150, Sonia finis. Below 200, Vajpayee falls again 

India is the land of the Sorcars -- those masters of magic -- and it is therefore no surprise that there is usually a huge gap between the two. Take the case of two BJP ministers, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha. While one is widely perceived to be a success, the other mediocre. Under Singh, who has apparently been content to follow the Prime Minister's Office's directions on foreign policy, India has substantially diluted its stand on Kashmir and the nuclear issue, in exchange for words of praise from the US and the EU.

Both Jaswant and the real master of the MEA, Brajesh Mishra, preen at every certificate issued by Washington, London and other capitals, in the manner of schoolboys getting a pat on the head from the schoolmaster. No cost-benefit has been done of the substantive impact of such "gains" on the 970 million citizens of India, the only gauge that counts.

Yes, there has been much patting on the head. However, the prohibition on World Bank and other multilateral loans to India remains in effect, even while Pakistan is busy negotiating fresh tranches of assistance on very soft terms. Both the US and its primary satellite, the UK, have complimented Nawaz Sharief essentially for bowing to the inevitable. The Great Jihadi had no option but to clutch at the face-saver provided by his army. Thanks to the Washington summit, both India and the US have lost.

The jihadi forces in Pakistan now believe that a victorious army was made to reverse course under pressure. Had it been conclusively demonstrated that Musharraf's men had been whipped, the affection for them in the populace may have declined, thus making it easier to cut the defence budget to levels that can save Pakistan from economic collapse. More people would have realised the futility of fighting a neighbour that -- despite its politicians -- is getting more powerful by the day. Instead, the illusion that the druggie-kookies can take on the professional and multicultural Indian forces is still alive, courtesy Clinton.

The US too has lost by its obsessive desire to insinuate itself into any conflict. More people in Pakistan now believe in the "stab in the back" theory that holds that Kashmir would have been Pakistan's by now but for the Jehadi prime minister knuckling under pressure and pulling back forces who were (according to this view, one heavily propagated in Pakistan's Urdu press) scattering the racially-inferior Indians. This lends further impetus to the already existing tendency in kook circles in Pakistan to target the US as an enemy as horrible as India, and to the purchase of tickets to New York and Chicago to bomb and kill in retaliation for the Clinton-Sharief agreement.

Indeed, a parallel can be drawn with 1917 Germany, where too the armistice (that the German army's comprehensive defeat made inevitable) was passed off by the kooks there as a fraud perpetrated on a winning army by mainly-Jewish politicians. This canard spawned the most evil individual to have been born in the 19th century, Adolf Hitler. Today, the Kargil lie created through Bubba's impulsive intervention will create individuals who in time will pose significant security challenges to the US.

Poor Bubba. It must have been on Madeleine Albright's advice that he accepted the Jehadi's plea to be received on July 4. Albright's appointment is clearly one of the decisions taken by Clinton in those historic moments when Monica Lewinsky was inside the White House. There can be no other explanation for the appointment of an individual so intellectually challenged to a post that is so critical to the future of US interests. The only prominent individual who makes Albright look normal in comparison is Sonia Gandhi, who needs notes even to know when to wave and how to walk.

The venerable president of the Congress should not be faulted for wanting to be prime minister, as ambition is not a crime. Should her party get 200-plus seats, it will be almost a formality that Sonia will get sworn in as the next European from the Nehru family to rule India after Jawahar, Indu and Rajiv. If these three could not destroy India, neither can the bahu who believes a wedding certificate can substitute for any proof of competence or capability.

In case the charms of Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka do not work, and the Congress tally falls significantly below 150, the worst-affected will be the BJP. A weakened Congress will be instantly more attractive to the converts from secularism now within the BJP fold. Within a year of a new Vajpayee government getting sworn in, these elements can be expected to make common cause with Congress leaders, egging them on to dump Sonia and thus fulfil the precondition for a Grand Alliance of the "secular" brigade.

The moves by George Fernandes and Ramakrishna Hegde -- dear friends of many present Congress leaders -- give an indication of this alignment. Unless the BJP crosses 200 seats, its life in government is likely to be as short as the tenure of the 1998 Vajpayee regime. Thus, it is crucial for the BJP not only that it do better than in the previous election, but that Sonia does not collapse as a vote-getter. The best insurance for the longevity of a new Vajpayee regime will be the continuance of Sonia Gandhi as the dictator of the Congress.

But we are digressing from our comparison of Jaswant and Yashwant. The ground reality is that the first has been a disaster, while the second has been an outstanding success.

Despite an unfortunate habit of trying to raise tax rates (as distinct from taxes), and continuously being a prophet of doom rather than of boom, the Union finance minister has done a remarkable job in managing the economy. It is no accident that in the Prime Minister's Office, foreign policy is monopolised by Brajesh Mishra, who leaves economic issues to be tackled by N K Singh.

Had the principal secretary been involved in economic policy, there is little doubt that India would have gone the way of Brazil under Delfim Netto, when each policy was hailed by Washington but led to disaster for the Brazilian people. Finally, the army dictators had to remove the finance minister to stop further riots and economic collapse.

Brajesh Mishra's appointment as his deputy has been the root of most of Vajpayee's political problems, including the break with Jayalalitha that led to his Lok Sabha defeat five months ago.

Unlike the case of the Samata or the Akali ministers, who got away with whatever they wanted, Mishra torpedoed most of the decisions of the AIADMK crew, even as he leaned on Vazhapaddi Ramamurthy or even Ananth Kumar in the case of any decision not previously cleared by Pramod Mahajan.

Mishra made a clear North-South distinction, interfering not at all with the north-based regional parties, but acting the overlord in the case of the southern ones, even the Lok Shakti, where Ramakrishna Hegde has had to struggle hard to have his way in a manner not a problem for the Samata-Akali lot.

If I K Gujral looked only to those born in Pakistan to fill vacancies, Vajpayee seems reluctant to cross the Vindhyas. This is going to create tensions should there be a second round. This time, ministers unfortunate enough to have southern bases are unlikely to accept the hectoring of the principal secretary, who is meek as a lamp before the Samata and the Akali crew.

This writer believes the US is a friend because it is a fellow democracy, and that in time relations between New Delhi and Washington will become very close. However, this does not mean that all the prescriptions of US bureaucrats on Indian foreign, security and economic issues are correct. The "loyalty test" that US bureaucrats inflict on their South Asian intermediaries is to uncritically accept all their nostrums, upon pain of being called a Cold War relic and anti-American to boot.

Like millions of Americans, this writer believes that Clinton is often wrong, especially on policy towards South Asia. This does not dilute the writer's belief that, after India, the US is the best country in the world. Or that India needs to adopt much more of the feisty, transparent style of US legislatures, as well as the ruthless manner in which security interests get defended by Washington.

Looking at the way even big parties get dominated by a single individual or clique, it is to India's advantage that the next Lok Sabha too be a melange of parties. That will prevent a Sonia or a Brajesh autocracy, and hopefully in the process further extend the range of freedoms enjoyed by a people colonised for most of the dying millennium.