Tuesday 30 November 1999

Results are the Best Image-Builder, Vajpayee

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

Karl Marx wrote that history repeats itself as farce. Atal Behari
Vajpayee needs to take note, for the initial direction of his
government gives the impression he believes that it is not a 1998
model BJP-led sarkar but a recycled version of the 1950 Nehru
government. Sadly, neither does the BJP enjoy the majority in
Parliament and the state assemblies that the Congress party had
during that time, nor is the country a freshly independent one
eager to be moulded.

Instead of expending effort on determining ways of getting
bread—and—butter legislation passed in a fractious Parliament, the
Vajpayee government is cogitating over major Constitutional
changes. Fifty years have gone by since Independence, and
during this time the Constitution has evolved in incremental
steps rather than in the sudden leap implied in A. B. Vajpayee’s
proposal. Moderation is preferable to the chop and cut of less
stable polities. Pakistan, for example, has moved from
Westminster-style democracy to Basic Democracy to Bhutto
Populism to Martial Law to Islamic State. Hopefully, this country
will be spared such turmoil. Instead of setting up (yet another
expensive) commission, what needs to be done is to bring
forward in the nominal course limited proposals for changes in a
few clauses.

In another display of a subliminal belief that India got
freedom only after he was sworn in as Prime Minister a month
ago, A. B. Vajpayee - through his parliamentary affairs minister
— would like to appoint a Delimitation Commission that would
make Lok Sabha seats proportional to population.

This would reward the least efficient states with more
parliamentary clout, and make them the masters of the federal structure, 
rather than equal partners with the rest. Tensions 
would get created that would exceed those in 1965, when it was      
proposed that English be abolished by 1967. Should M. L.   
Khurana go ahead with his plan, the regional parties would    
swiftly withdraw support, and he and his chief will get plenty 
of leisure to write articles on constitutional  and political reform. 
If the Vajpayee government insists on spending more money   
on Parliament, then it should come forward with legislation that    
increases the number of Lok Sabha seats proportionately in all    
the states. This would insure against damage to the federal    
principle, and avoid punishing those states that effectively    
implemented family welfare programmes. Along with this, 
measures should be taken-to break up states with populations     
larger than 50 million. As the anarchy in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar   
has shown, regional governments are as yet unable to handle a
population size in excess of 50 million. New states should     
therefore be the priority, rather than risking the destruction of 
the regional balance within the country by upsetting the present   
proportions between the states in the matter of Lok Sabha seats. 

Along with rewriting the Constitution and changing the   
regional balance to make four states dominate the  country’s 
politics, A. B. Vajpayee would also like to take the path trodden   
by the two previous Cleans, Rajiv Gandhi and Vishwanath   
Pratap Singh. Apparently, Pramod Mahajan has yet to inform his   
boss that the many meetings and campaigns organised by the 
BJP were not entirely funded by widows and orphans. As a   
result, Sedapatti Muthiah was nudged out of the government, 
setting in motion a process that has now claimed Buta Singh and    
is likely before long to affect Ram Jethmalani, besides several      
others. Indeed, with assets a mere Rs. 40 lakh more than his   
income, Muthiah is a relative pauper in high-level politics. 
chief minister of a state where the BJP is an alliance partner is    
worth ten times as much, even according to the records.    
Fortunately, there is no Karunanidhi there to uncover such    

However, now that the Tamil Nadu chief minister has shown 
the way, others will be tempted to investigate and get cases filed    
against more VIPs. This can only benefit the public in India,   
where thus far there has  been very little accountability in the  
political class, who have mostly adopted the Maharashtra model   
While the Mr. Clean mantle is likely to be as much an
albatross around A. B. Vajpayee's neck as it was on the others
who tried to use it, the country may yet benefit from the flurry
of investigations that the Muthiah decision will provoke. Now
all that the Congress and other Opposition parties need to do is
to get investigated charges against Cabinet ministers, and press
for a charge-sheet, thus making politics in India as hazardous as
it is in the United States.

While A. B. Vajpayee’s (large) band of friends may delight in
his Clean image, the voters are more concerned that he become
Mr. Results. Rather than the sublime issues that apparently
fascinate him so much, the Prime Minister needs to concentrate
on basic essentials such as growth and security, For example,
Sikander Bakht can privatise key public sector companies,
auctioning 76 per cent of the equity to the public and reserving
24 per cent to the employees at a heavily subsidised rate.
This would give the workers an incentive to support reform
of PSUs, rather than see it as a threat. Missile flights should be
resumed, while nuclear tests should take place unless the United
States makes available data that can enable a reliable deterrent
to be made.

A. B. Vajpayee should also begin taking steps to implement
those sections of the BIP manifesto that speak of making laws
transparent and non-oppressive. The Budget should retain a low
direct tax structure while raising customs duties to the levels
sanctioned by the WTO, except in cases where a lower duty
promotes exports. New export processing zones need to be
created in the Northeast and the Andaman islands, while ports,
power, roads and other infrastructure should have liberal entry

The state governments should be given discretion in FDI and
other project sanctions, while legislative measures need to be
taken to prevent delays due to the filing of PILs. These days,
most embassies and other agencies have their own stable of
friendly NGOs that can file PILs, hold seminars and organize
press conferences to push alien commercial and political interests

Sonia Gandhi's error in backing unpopular leaders and their
policies, and Congress's repudiation of its nationalist heritage,
has given the Vajpayee government more leeway than newspaper
headlines would indicate.

Rather than get lost in philosophical diversions, the Prime
Minister needs to craft a practical agenda for the forthcoming
Lok Sabha. Only if the country sees him and his team getting
down to business will it generate for the government the good-
will needed to prod Parliament towards passing legislation
needed for prosperity.

Wednesday 24 November 1999

To Become Global, Act Global (Rediff)

At long last, Atal appears to be realising that his hand-picked foreign minister's unvarying advocacy of the Washington line may not be in India's best interests. Rather late, but better by far than never. Vajpayee has publicly acknowledged that Bill Clinton is fixated on Islamabad, even when the men in uniform illegally throw out a democratic government. These comments were made on the very day that Jaswant Singh had traveled halfway around the world to get a few hours time with a junior US official, Strobe Talbott, whose close collaboration with the CIA in matters relating to the Soviet Union was no secret to his journalistic colleagues.

After numerous rounds of talks, Washington has -- if anything -- further hardened its stand on India. At every opportunity, as for example to the Turkish parliament, Clinton attacks New Delhi as a threat to peace. Why not petition the Americans to give Jassu the job he is most suited for, that of replacing Dick Celeste as the US ambassador in India? His dear friend Brajesh can move on to Washington and together, the two can complete the job that so many in the past -- ranging from Laxmi Kant Jha to Amar Nath Verma -- tried to do, making India a full foreign policy colony of the US, just as the UK, Australia and Japan are.

Jassu loves going to places where he can meet state department officials, which is why it is surprising that he has found so little time for the Gulf region, a destination swarming with official US visitors. In economic policy the Nehru family stunted India and set it back by 50 years. However, in foreign policy even Rajiv Gandhi devoted considerable attention to this region so crucial for India as both an employer of labour as well as a source for hydrocarbons.

After the Rajiv defeat in 1989, New Delhi has neglected the Gulf. In exchange, India is slowly being forgotten in a region where not long ago the rupee was acceptable tender. Indeed, till the 1960s it was the preferred medium of exchange in countries such as Kuwait. Today, if there is any coherent strategy for fusing India's technological prowess with Gulf capital, Jaswant Singh has kept it a secret. Small wonder that even in nations such as Syria, where a moderate social ethos prevails, even Indian films are slowly becoming rarer. The world's largest democracy figures less in the external calculus of Damascus than even Yemen.

A pity. With the speeding up of the Arab Free Trade Zone, it would be beneficial for Indian companies to locate plants in Syria that could market goods throughout the Gulf region. Today, the US and the EU have virtually monopolised the Arab market. This can change in a decade, if the Government of India were to help companies to get reasonable terms from the Syrians. Not difficult, considering the huge reserves of goodwill present in the country for India, another country seen as pursuing a foreign policy that is 'independent' of the Sole superpower. Clearly, Damascus has not heard of Jassu yet!

This has been said before, but it bears repeating: the talent pool available in the Indian Foreign Service is among the world's best. However, the critical spark is missing, and this is political leadership. Like them or hate them, the Nehru-Krishna Menon team had a clear foreign policy and followed it. Today, 'strategy' is in preparing the menus for state banquets, and in worrying about what dress to wear in the forty-seventh meeting with 'my dear friend Strobe.'

That Talbott and Jassu are 'dear' friends has been revealed to all his minions -- and repeatedly so -- by the Indian foreign minister himself. Just how dear this friendship is becoming to Indian interests is becoming more apparent by the day, as Washington once again pressurises India to help its enemies (the Pakistan army) to gain the strength needed to wreak further harm on local interests.

It would be interesting to compile the 'confidence building measures' that India agreed to under Clinton's pressure, despite a total absence of reciprocity from the Pakistan side. It would not be difficult to calculate the harm done to Indian interests by these one-sided gestures, as for example the spurt in terrorist infiltration after New Delhi thinned frontier posts in the Jammu region in 1993, again as a CBM. And yet, even today there is a pathetic belief that Bill Clinton will end his love for the Pakistani generals, a feeling clearly shared by the most likely candidate to succeed him, George Bush Jr, who believes in the 'stability' of the grave and has welcomed the murder of a democratic government in Pakistan.

Those friends of India in the US who are rushing to fund his campaign need to educate the Texas governor about US history, and how he is insulting the faith of his great republic by conniving at the butchery of democracy in one of the world's most populous countries.

Fortunately, in yet another show of independence from Jassu's 'Follow Clinton' line, Prime Minister Vajpayee has correctly refused to join Washington in singing hosannas for Pervez Musharraf, whose links to the Afghan drug cartels are presumably known even to the CIA. He has insisted on the restoration of democracy in Pakistan, ignoring the chorus of voices who urge a 'business as usual' policy. Hopefully, he will move further along the track of encouraging democracy in Pakistan, aware that only a fully federal, moderate and narcotics-cleansed Pakistan can accept a policy of peace with India.

New Delhi needs to give active support to forces in Pakistan fighting against the military jackboot that has for so long treated Pakistanis not in uniform with contempt. Women, Shias, Mohajirs, Ahmediyas, Hindus, Christians, Balochis, Pashtuns, Seraikis and Sindhis are second-class citizens in that state, and only when they win equality will a climate get formed against the drain of resources towards terrorism and its partner in Pakistan, militarism.

Either the CIA is sleeping on the job, or Bill Clinton does not read its reports. Otherwise, he would have realised that it is the Pakistan army that is protecting Osama bin Laden, for fear that the canary will sing about the opium trade once he falls into US custody. Expect the fugitive onetime ally of the generals to wind up either shot 'accidentally' or suffering a heart attack. He knows too much about the heroin industry and its linkages to the Pakistan elite to be kept alive.

However, seeing the pro-uniformed stand of the US, the generals need not get worried about a change in the US policy of pretending that Pakistan has no control over its servants, the Taliban, whose heroin-related activities bring in so much lucre to the generals. They can, it is clear, rely on Dictator Lover George W Bush to protect their operations as surely as they have on Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

Perhaps in this second innings, Atal Bihari Vajpayee will break free of his hand-picked advisors and set the course for a rational and principled foreign policy that promotes both Indian values and interests. This means a degree of activism in critical regions, even though Jassu's friends may not appreciate this. For example, New Delhi can help Kuwait and Iraq negotiate an end to the issue of the remaining PoWs, that is bedevilling ties between two Arab states and forcing Kuwait to oppose the lifting of sanctions against Iraq.

India can also act as a link between Syria and Israel, as the two adversaries circle one another in an attempt to fashion a peace. New Delhi has diplomatic -- and friendly -- ties with both Tel Aviv and Damascus. Prime Minister Vajpayee can nominate a special envoy who can visit Damascus, Tel Aviv and other capitals and help in the search for peace.

In the past, India saw its responsibilities globally. For example, New Delhi backed the ANC and the PLO at a time when few countries did. It is another matter that Yasser Arafat dumped India and adopted Clinton's anti-India line on Kashmir as soon as the Americans took him on board. Do the right thing, not for gain, but because it is right, says the Gita, which has yet to be included in school curricula in India, because Jawaharlal Nehru (or Lady Mountbatten, it doesn't matter whom) thought it a 'Hindu' rather than an Indian text. In fact, the Gita and the Mahabharata belong to all Indians, of whatever faith.

Only the local 'Hindu' Taliban will oppose M F Husain, for example, drawing on his -- I repeat the word 'his' -- ancient heritage in painting, just as the 'liberal' Taliban oppose the teaching of the Gita and the Mahabharata in Indian schools, preferring the European classics so dear to the Nehrus.

Why this inferiority complex, Atal, that makes us preen when the Indian foreign minister eagerly goes halfway around the world to get lectured by a junior US official? That prevents us from injecting ourselves in regional diplomacy? India is an ally of the democracies, even though the subliminal racists among them may not quite see it that way. The closer the linkages between New Delhi and the Gulf states, the stronger the gravitational pull of moderation rather than the extremism financed by Saudi Arabia, given trained foot soldiers by Pakistan and implemented in Afghanistan.

Contrary to what the 'Hindu' Taliban believes, by and large the Muslim-majority states are free of extremism. Even in the Sheikdoms, it is only in Saudi Arabia that the women are in chains. In both Kuwait and the UAE, Arab women are getting education and equal opportunity. In Kuwait the Emir has come out in favour of universal suffrage, even though fanatics are seeking to prevent ratification of the Royal decree.

Across the border, in Riyadh, Arab women are mobilising in favour of equal treatment. Universal education and employment for women will be the best antidote against Pakistan-style fanaticism, which says that Muslims should live separately from the rest of the community to 'maintain their purity'.

In this process, India can export teachers and even turnkey educational institutions. It is unfortunate that modern education in India has been shackled by restrictions that prevent the development of world-class facilities that are self-financing. If educationists are permitted to open medical, engineering and technical colleges that finance themselves by stiff fees changed to international students (fees that are much lower than the US or Australia), then billions of dollars can be earned each year. Sadly, policy has thus far worked in the reverse direction, stopping such enrollment or limiting it to unviable levels. HRD Minister MM Joshi needs to change such a mindset.

If India is an eagle, the head reaches into the CIS states that were formerly part of the USSR, and one wing touches the Gulf, with the other spanning the ASEAN states. A leg abuts into the south of Africa, while the other touches Australia. The core is, of course, the SAARC region, with Myanmar and Afghanistan as future members of this group. The only recalcitrant is Pakistan, with its Lahore fanatics now hiding behind a Mohajir mask.

Should that country not make peace with India, it is likely to splinter, as the non-fanatic provinces decide that it is better to break away rather than be sacrificed on the altar of a war mandated by the narcotics mafia, which needs to cloak itself in religious hues to escape public attention and odium. After that, the broken-away provinces can -- as did Bangladesh -- establish ties with India.

Prem Shankar Jha is a genius but even he can be sometimes wrong, as he was on the impact of US sanctions and now when he writes of the 'catastrophe' facing India if Pakistan 'fails'. Pakistan has already failed. It would be better for both its tortured people as well as the region if this fact were accepted, and bridges built 1970 and 1986-style with those within that territory that are working to create zones of freedom and moderation from the ruins of fanaticism. Atal Bihari Vajpayee appears slowly to be moving away from the Jaswant Singhs in accepting this reality, and for this he deserves praise. Now, Atal, give us an Indian foreign minister! 

Monday 15 November 1999

Candidate Selection Crucial to Rao's Success

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

Although there has lately been a fair amount of comment about
the linkage between the coming assembly polls in Andhra
Pradesh and Karnataka and the future of the Prime Minister, it
would be accurate to say that the elections will determine the
Congress party’s future as well. Political bandwagons roll down
as well as up, and a defeat in these two states would have a
ripple effect on the polls in six states scheduled for early 1995.
A poor showing there would affect the results of the parliamentary
poll that would follow soon after.

As realisation of the danger of throwing the baby out with
the bathwater dawns on the faction leaders in the ruling party,
a more united effort can be expected. In any election, the last
three weeks are usually crucial in determining the result, and
last-minute unity will, therefore, efface much of the negative
perceptions created by continual Congress bickering. However,
as yet there is little sign of such unity. Senior leaders of the ruling
party in key states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are looking
at the coming assembly polls as affecting mainly the Prime
Minister and are, therefore, delinking themselves from them
when pressing for strategies in their respective states.

In place of efforts at building up a pan—Indian base, these
days almost all leaders in the party are focusing on regional vote
A banks. Thus, for example, Sharad Pawar is concentrating on
Maharashtra and Arjun Singh on the Hindi belt. Implicitly, it is
being assumed that the era of powerful national leaders is
drawing to a close, and that the future will witness coalitions of
powerful regional leaders within the Congress party in the
manner of the 1966-69 'Syndicate'. The only stumbling block in 
such a course is the Prime Minister himself, who has built up a
pan-Indian image for himself.

Should the ruling party lose in Andhra Pradesh and
Karnataka, however, the Prime Minister would find his influence
within his party severely limited. The Congress cadres have ever
displayed a propensity to supinely follow a leader, provided that
he or she can pull them to electoral success. After election
defeats, however, defections are common. There was an army of
top leaders who broke away from Indira Gandhi, not when civil
liberties were demolished during the Emergency, but immediately
afterwards, when the Congress party lost the 1977 parliamentary
polls. At the state level, even charismatic Congress leaders such
as Karnataka’s Devraj Urs found their flock deserting them soon
after an electoral defeat. Should the assembly polls go badly for
the ruling party, Narasimha Rao would get reduced from the
national leader of his party to a faction leader.

Recent electoral results have shown the importance of
individual candidates in elections. In the assembly polls that
took place in some Hindi-belt states less than a year ago, the
Congress party did badly in those seats where considerations
other than electoral merit guided the selection of candidates. In
Delhi and Rajasthan especially, many seats were lost because
relations and cronies of leaders were preferred over genuine
party workers in ticket distribution. This was pointed out by the
Janardhan Reddy committee set up by the AICC to analyse the
poll results.

However, the behaviour of Congress leaders in the states
going to the polls a month hence indicates that no lesson has
been learnt.

This is, especially marked in Karnataka, where senior party
leaders are vying with one another in promoting the names of
friends and cronies for assembly tickets. A union minister wants
tickets for both his son-in-law and his son, while a former chief
minister is threatening to leave the party unless his son is given
the ticket (his son-in—law is already an MP). Apart from their own
relations, each Karnataka leader — armed with lists of hangers-
on in each constituency — is fighting the others in promoting the
cause of their acolytes.

After the Congress lost power to the Janata party in 1983 in
Karnataka, it swept the state in the 1984 parliamentary polls.
Smelling victory, the Congress leaders of the state crammed the
list of candidates for the 1985 assembly polls with hangers-on.
The result was a second humiliating defeat at the hands of the
Janata party, which had been far more selective in the choice of
candidates. Looking at the scrimmage now going on for tickets
in Karnataka, it looks as though 1985 may get repeated. That is,
unless the Prime Minister steps in and ruthlessly allocates tickets
on the basis of prospects of victory.

Although at first glance the splintered opposition in both
Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka may appear to benefit the
Congress party — with the BJP, the Janata Dal and the Bangarappa
Congress fighting with each other in Karnataka and the Telugu
Desam, the BJP and BSP at war with each other in Andhra
Pradesh — in reality anti-Congress voters may decide to club
together and choose the candidate who seems most likely to
defeat the ruling party. This could reduce the Congress tally in
both states to a level below the majority it presently enjoys.
However, should the Congress party field voter-friendly
candidates, the negative impact of the anti-Congress feelings in
the two southern states could get counter-balanced.

It would be too much to expect from the state leaders of the
Congress to give up their ingrained habit of promoting cronies
and relations. Unless the Prime Minister himself intervenes to
curb the nepotistic tendencies of his flock, the going for his party
— and for himself — is unlikely to be smooth.

Saturday 13 November 1999

The 'Messiah' School Vs. the Realists

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

Sitaram Kesri's generous promise to Prime Minister Gujral that
he would not be disturbed for another year begs the question of
likely developments within the Janata Dal, Should there be an
attempted palace coup within the ruling party, then Congress
support may not be enough.

Indeed, it is this very support that has created enemies for
Gujral within the Janata Dal. While H. D. Deve Gowda had
attempted to create a Karnataka-model non-Congress electoral
alliance at the national level, the present Prime Minister has been
text book correct in his dealings with the party, refusing to get
involved in its internal dissensions. This does not suit those who
would like to see a straight fight between the BJP and the non-
Congress ruling parties in the next elections, with the Congress
virtually eliminated by dissensions and splits.

The embryo of the future can already be discerned. The lead
position is still with the BJP, its handicap being the narrowness
of its support among other formations. The second contender is
the collection of regional and "national" parties (almost all with
clearly-defined regional bases) now in national office. Bringing
up the rear is a weakening Congress party, with its national vote
falling below the 30 per cent level for the first time.

While the conventional wisdom is that a combination of the
non-BJP parties can prevent that party from doing well, the fact
is that such an amalgamation may in fact benefit the saffronites.
For example, anti-Congress voters may switch to the BJP rather
than vote for a Congress nominee in constituencies where the
“secular alliance" has given the seat to that party.

In the same way, supporters of regional parties may balk at
voting for the Congress if asked to do so by their chieftains, and
may support the BJP or its allies instead. Conversely, hardcore
Congress supporters may refuse to back regional groups, even
if asked to do so by the AICC.

Within the Congress, there are two strands of thought: the
first is the "messiah" school, which holds that the entry of Sonia
Gandhi will so galvanise the electorate that it will jettison other
loyalties to bring back the Nehru family raj. While there exists
a keen competition among Congress worthies for the title of
"First Follower" (of Sonia Gandhi), Arjun Singh appears the
natural choice for this honour. This group would like Sonia
Gandhi to take over the leadership formally and then begin
working her magic.

The second is the "realist" group, which recognises the
changes that have come about in the psyche of voters since 1947.

This segment, working under the direction of Sitaram Kesri,
has two strategies: first, to position the Congress as the main
opposition in as many states as possible, even if in the process
JD or CPM feathers get ruffled. Thus the Narasimha Rao policy
of indulgence to old friend Jyoti Basu has been given up in
favour of the Dasmunshi-Banerjee line of attack on the Left
Front, both in Bengal and Kerala.

It is hoped that this will result in a doubling of Lok Sabha
seats from these two states. A problem area is Gujarat, where the
Vaghela ministry may be having adverse repercussions on the
Congress base.

While targeting both the BJP and the Left parties as enemies,
the Congress strategy is to take away as many groups as possible
from the anti-Congress "secular" formation, now led by Harkishan
Singh Surjeet and H. D. Deve Gowda. Thus both Mulayam Singh
Yadav and Kanshi Ram are being wooed in Uttar Pradesh, Laloo
Yadav in Bihar and privately Jayalalitha or the TMC in Tamil
Nadu. A quick calculation is that the Congress can secure over
220 seats on its own should enough of such alliances fructify.
The “messiah" group is attempting to create the impression
that without a Nehru family member (even one born in Italy) the
Congress cannot do well. They are pointing to the 1984 success
of the Congress led by Rajiv Gandhi, though others say that in
that post-assassination mood, even Pranab Mukherjee would
have been able to engineer a massive win for the then ruling

Privately, many high-level Congress functionaries admit
that in the emerging political culture, dynastic logic does not
work. Further, that ugly comments about the lengthy foreign
stays of the Gandhi family siblings and the business dealings of
friends and relatives may in fact hurt the party’s interests.
However, in public they join in the chorus of Sonia Lao Desh

In fact, while the vote-getting abilities of Sonia Gandhi may
be an untested proposition, what is clear is that a party where she
plays a dominant role will be much less able to attract support
from other formations. For every Moopanar who compares her
to Annie Besant, there is a Ramkrishna Hedge who says that only
a democratised Congress will become a worthwhile poll partner.
Just as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is acting as a dampener on
the efforts of the BJP to attract allies, the Sonia factor is scaring
away formations from the Congress.

It is also preventing the party from an honest introspection
into just why it has slipped so badly. Such an exercise would
show that the creation of a family dictatorship and the adoption
of policies that were tailored to personal needs were primary
factors behind the collapse.

Unless the Congress party can fashion a new India-relevant
platform, in which it marries nationalist goals to the needs of a
globalised market economy, it is unlikely to evoke resonance
within the electorate. By chasing after saviours, the party office·
bearers are distancing themselves even further from the demands
of the new electorate.

Wednesday 10 November 1999

To Believe or not to Believe in Uncle Sam

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

Prime Minister Narasimha Rao's style of functioning is based
on consultation and consensus. After a progress of consultation,
the Prime Minister gently steers the different players into
accepting a consensus that ideally incorporates the strong points
of both sides while avoiding the pitfalls. If this process has not
worked in the all-important issue of relations with the Clinton
administration in Washington, it is because the views of the
opposing players are too contradictory to reconcile.

On one side—which at present seems to be the stronger
one—stand the principal secretary to the Prime Minister,
A. N. Verma, the finance secretary, M. S. Ahluwalia, and a few
elements of the scientific community such as Dr. VS.
Arunachalam, tipped for an important post in the government.

This group has been the object of sometimes uncharitable
comment on account of their alleged propensity to 'toe the
Washington line'. However, officials close to the trio affirm that
they are motivated not by extra-national considerations but by
a genuine belief that in today’s unipolar world, it is in India’s
best interests to accommodate the US. In the present context, this
would imply effective (as distinct from open) acceptance of the
American demand that India’s nuclear and missile programmes
be capped and then rolled back.

In contrast, the opposing group - which comprises the heads
of the country's defence and scientific establishment - wants
these two programmes to go ahead so that operational systems
can be in place by the end of the decade. They argue that one of
the few high-tech fields in which India has attained world
class - thanks to the support given by lawaharlal Nehru and
Indira Gandhi - should not be throttled under US pressure. In
particular, they are against the reported advice of the first group
to accept the US proposal for bilateral capping agreements in the
nuclear and missile fields.

This second group points out that the US wants to curb 'not
just activities in these two fields, but also capabilities developed
over four decades'. They point to the deterrent effect of high-
technology weapons and claim that if these had been fully
operational and deployed, 'Pakistan would not have dared to
wage a proxy war with India in the Kashmir theatre'. Further, it
is pointed out that Pakistan's nuclear programme is 'clandestine,
rudimentary and based on borrowed and stolen technology',
whereas the Indian one is 'transparent and indigenous'.

This group claims that the Americans are hyping up the
Pakistani programme 'to convince the Indian public that a
capping of both would be an even-handed measure, rather than
directed against India, which is the factual position'.

Analysts within the commerce and planning bodies of the
government of India too are sceptical of US promises, this time
of economic concessions in exchange for throttling our nuclear
and missile programme. They point out that the Union finance
ministry has, during the past three years, unilaterally dismantled
most of the protective devices sheltering domestic industry, and
has given foreign companies an access to Indian markets and
companies ’unprecedented even in the West'. And yet, 'despite
such a unilateral set of concessions to western interests, India has
not been given a single tangible concession in return. Indeed, the
pressure is increasing for yet more concessions.

These economic policy analysts point out that the US
administration has to contend with a protectionist US Congress
in giving concessions to India. They point out for example that
the 1978 Nuclear Non-proliferation Act prohibits the US
administration from giving access to certain high technologies to
countries such as India that have not signed the NPT or accepted
full scope safeguards. Signing a regional pact, while it would
have immediate effects on our nuclear programme, would
therefore not automatically guarantee access to top-quality
American technologies in sensitive spheres. They also point to
protectionist measures such as the 1988 US Omnibus Trade
Competitiveness Act to reinforce their claim that the Clinton
administration's dangling of (obviously unspecified) carrots is a

Scientists in the nuclear establishment point to Tarapur as a
reason for not relying on US assurances. They point out that the
Americans not only backed out of the Tarapur agreement long
before its period ended in October 1993, but also refused to take
back the spent fuel, as they were obliged to do. Further, the US
has till now even prevented India from reprocessing the spent
fuel itself. As for analysts in the economic ministries - barring
finance - they point to the post-Marrakesh revival of Special 301
and Super 301 by the US administration to illustrate their
contention that the US has one standard for itself and another for
countries perceived as being weak.

Experts within the strategic defence establishments point out
that the US has itself generated tensions in the Indian defence
neighbourhood, by arming Afghan Mujahideen who are now
infiltrating Kashmir, by arming Pakistan which is engaged in a
covert war with this country, and by permitting the sale of
advanced aircraft and technology to Taiwan and, now perhaps,
China. Indeed, these analysts claim that it is the US defence
industry that is behind the Clinton administration's pressure to
cap and roll back India's nuclear and missile programmes, 'so as
to increase the market for US armaments and to nip future
competition in the bud'.

Officials connected with the negotiations on GATT that have
taken place over the past five years claim that 'too much was
conceded too soon in the very beginning'. They give as an
example India's agreeing in April 1989 to allow the GATT
Uruguay Round package to include not just goods but also
services, norms, standards and 'intellectual property'. This
concession gave western countries a significant bludgeon against
labour-abundant economies such as India’s. They say that the
Indian system of leaving such negotiations to officials should be
dispensed with, and Parliament consulted in all crucial stages.

These officials deny that they have a 'confrontationist' agenda
on lndo-US relations. They say that they are simply against the
present policy of making concessions without clear quid pro
quos, and are also against throttling programmes that will give
a future economic superpower its own protective strategic
umbrella. However, some of their allegations - about
'international arms dealers' and such other unsavoury types
influencing government policy - seem to verge on the fanciful.

One man, and one man alone, will have to decide which of
these two sets of options to plump for in the tough negotiations
that will take place next week in Washington. Life must be lonely
these summer days in 7 Race Course Road.

Monday 1 November 1999

Nationalism 'Sonia-Vajpayee-Atal-Maino' style (Rediff)

Tax records in Spain and Italy document the sudden increase in the wealth of three families, the Valdemoros, the Vincis and the Mainos. Sadly, both Walter Vinci and Jose Valdemoro decided that they needed new wives more in sync with their rise in status, and freed themselves from dear Nadia and Annouschka, sisters of Sonia Maino, the Hope of India's Millions.

Today, all three reside happily in the cramped 12,000 square feet living quarters provided for them by the Government of India. In view of the family's services in bringing to India oil pipelines, fertiliser factories and other goodies via dear, dear Maria and Ottavio, Sonia and her relatives enjoy cars, telephones and other services paid for by the affluent country that they have made their own. Uncle Atal has wisely decided not to inform the Indian taxpayers just how much is being spent on the Mainos by the taxpayer. After all, a clamour may go up that the money spent is insufficient!

How lucky that Uncle Atal -- so dear a friend of Uncle Gopi and Uncle Shri back home in London -- is around. He has ensured that Gopi Arora, who knows more about Bofors than any other living being, has not been disturbed by chargesheets or enquiries. And unless Arora is made to turn approver, by tempting him with the prospect of a year as a State guest, there is zero chance that actual convictions will ensue in the Bofors case.

After spreading canards that President Narayanan was ''shielding'' the guilty in the gun deal by ''refusing'' sanction to prosecute, it transpires that it is Uncle Atal who is shielding Gopi Arora from confessing. Who cares that these flawed and inadequate chargesheets will not hold water in court?

However, just as a Swedish radio station broke the veil on Bofors, who knows what other accidents may not take place to disrupt the plans to ensure that the guilty of Bofors escape? Armaments deals are a source of several political, bureaucratic and (now) service fortunes, and none of these worthies would like to see a precedent get set of accountability. As General Malik's purchase-filled sojourn in South Africa demonstrates, deals of the Bofors genre are getting done every week at a defence headquarters cleared of those who ask inconvenient questions.

The example of Admiral Bhagwat is there to scare away any officer from making enquiries into the quality of the equipment ordered from dubious foreign and domestic sources. So long as George Fernandes does not make the process of selection transparent and professional, a few bigwigs will be able to rig the orders, just as they have been doing for decades. As an admirer of George -- who follows his convictions with courage even if most of them are wrong! -- this columnist is disappointed at the defence minister's reluctance to make the changes in the functioning of his ministry that are essential for the future. Hopefully this 'Don't rock the boat' attitude will get replaced by traditional Fernandes activism.

A dear friend of many VVIPs in Delhi -- Mian Nawaz Sharief -- is now in ''protective custody'' in Pakistan. There is no need for worthies on this side of the border to worry that details of the many sweetheart deals entered into between Mian Saheb and his friends in India will get exposed by the Pakistan army.

Bill Clinton will ensure that the generals in Pakistan obey his order to avoid embarrassing friends of his in both Islamabad and New Delhi with revelations of the sugar and other deals. There have been rumours swirling around that Mian Saheb financed at least two political leaders in India during the 1998 election, calculating that they would return to power.

As with other Sharief hypotheses, neither of the two got Cabinet posts after the election, thanks to the 1998 arithmetic differing from 1996. If Pervez Musharraf were to reveal details of such transactions, he would be doing a service to the subcontinent. However, as the general is as tightly controlled by Washington as he himself controls the Taliban, such transparency is unlikely.

Uncle Atal's handpicked foreign policy team -- closet Nehruvians to a man -- are feeling queasy at the collapse of the pretence that their skills have led to the United States accepting India's position, while in fact what has happened is that they have made New Delhi a US satellite in matters of foreign policy. After all the compromises, Washington continues to strain at the leash in its eagerness to shower Pakistan with armaments. New Delhi is being told for the four hundredth time -- to chop off its arm so as to strengthen Pakistan to make fresh attacks.

It is American arms and assistance that emboldened Islamabad to be so intransigent against the world's largest democracy, a fact that the Clinton administration does not want to acknowledge, met as they are by fawning Indian interlocuters eager to genuflect. Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh -- for example -- is in a tizzy of delight at being favoured with talks by Strobe Talbott, a junior official. Would Hubert Vedrine of France, Robin Cook of Britain or Joscka Fisher of Germany tolerate a series of meetings with anyone other than their US counterpart, Madeleine Albright, herself?

It takes a slave's mind and vision to actually feel honoured that a junior officer is deigning to meet with the external affairs minister of the world's largest democracy, or that Karl Inderfurth (who has the status of a joint secretary) spent time with India's Principal Secretary to the PM-cum-National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, who went scurrying off to the US just after the poll.

Every now and then there are howls from Secular Fundamentalists about the ''vice-like grip'' of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh over the Vajpayee government. The unrestrained ability of the Brajesh-Jaswant duo to replace a Union of Soviet Socialist Republic-satellite foreign policy with a US-satellite one indicates that the RSS has less influence over Vajpayee than even his domestic staff.

Under this team, India has effectively conceded Pakistan occupied Kashmir to Pakistan (sans any concession in return), secretly slowed down its missile and nuclear weapons programme, instituted a policy of confining a riposte to Pakistani adventurism to the Line of Control rather than meeting it all along the border with that rogue state, and concentrating 90 per cent of the ministry of external affairs's attention on ways of coddling the most anti-Indian US president since Richard Nixon, a man moreover who is a lame duck in his own country, unable to get his way on major issues.

It is nauseating to watch the Vajpayee team beg Clinton to visit India, often on television, as Jaswant Singh so frequently does, talking of the ''president's visit'' without any qualifying words indicating that he means the head of another country, not his own. For the pleasure of watching Bubba gorge himself on tandoori cooking, it would be interesting to note the concessions that the Mishra-Jaswant duo have agreed to, especially on security-related issues.

Clinton's fondness for the jehadis has once again become clear from his support to Chechen insurgents in Russia. Washington wants the territory to become free, East Timor style, to encourage friends such as the Musharrafs. This is why it is so anxious to halt the Russian army from finishing off the illegal Chechen state.

In India, Bill Clinton has ensured that his diplomats in Delhi routinely encourage agents of Islamabad such as the Hurriyat Conference in their task of vivisecting India. The Hurriyat few are always given a sympathetic hearing by the Clinton team, whether in Srinagar, Delhi or Washington.

Today, the cacophony of voices in the White House demanding more pressure on India to destroy itself to satiate the bloodlust of the generals is becoming deafening, and is getting reflected in the fact that Pakistan continues to get World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans while Indian requests are being blocked. Clinton's attempt at derailing the Indian economy and sabotaging its defenses are being met by further begging by New Delhi for Bubba to visit India and kick it around some more.

Some nationalism!