Thursday 22 June 2000

Preserve the values of our Indic civilisation (Rediff)

Years ago, when it was still fashionable to knock India, V S Naipaul wrote sneeringly of the way Indians relieved themselves "everywhere". The assumption was that the people of this land fancied the open air as their latrine, when the reality was that this was the only available option. No doubt Sir Vidia would have, given the same [lack of] choice, held on and on and on rather than taken the easy way out.

It is not just a shortage of toilets, but of jobs, that is the residue of the decades of Nehruvian policies that this country has been battered with. Many are forced to beg because -- again -- there is no alternative.

But how does one describe those with options who nonetheless resort to beggary as the first and only line of action? In other words, how does one describe the policy of the A B Vajpayee government, which sent a delegation to Canberra and Wellington to beg Australia and New Zealand to restore order in Fiji, and another to New York to implore Kofi Annan to save the hapless Indian soldiers being held prisoner in Sierra Leone?

India is fortunate in its fighting forces. Despite being fobbed off with poor weaponry and execrable generalship during Kargil, our boys won back the territory that had been lost through the negligence of two commanders slated for promotion: Lieutenant General Krishan Pal and Major General V S Budhwar. Had the 21 hostages in Sierra Leone been from the US, the region would have been sizzling with warships and military aircraft. Instead, there are the usual set-piece reports about how well the hostages are feeling and how wonderful the conditions of their captivity are.

We heard the same litany during Kandahar, when Jaswant Singh told us of the five-star luxury that was being enjoyed by the hostages of the Pakistani irregulars who had hijacked the Kathmandu flight. After the capitulation, none of our "free" media outlets has bothered to conduct detailed interviews with the former captives, to give the Indian people a coherent account of the facts. Such publicity would upset the cozy relationships between the media outlets and those responsible for Kandahar.

And what of Sri Lanka, where the BJP-led government urged the Sri Lankan Army to surrender Jaffna? Fortunately for that island nation, this advice was spurned and the LTTE has been unable to march into the town in triumph, despite the best efforts of the Vajpayee government.

Reports are that the US is behind the Israeli help to Colombo. This writer has often criticised Washington, but -- as in 1990 when he supported Operation Desert Storm and called for Indian troops to fight alongside the Americans -- in this operation the only statement that can be made is: Three Cheers for America! The pity is that it is the vacuum created by New Delhi's abdication of responsibility in its neighbourhood that has resulted in Washington having to step in. Slowly the US is acknowledging the mutuality of interests that tie the two "giants of democracy" together, and this time around Washington would have welcomed an active Indian role. But given the pro-LTTE stance of the Vajpayee government, this was not forthcoming.

New Delhi was too scared of the US to actively help Velupillai Prabhakaran, so it did nothing, confining its efforts to diplomatic calls for a Sri Lankan surrender of Jaffna. Chandrika Kumaratunga has certainly been repaid for her India-friendly policy, a lesson that must not be lost on Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Girija Prasad Koirala.

Just whom is the puffed-up cockerel trying to fool? Cringing fear of the NATO powers, as well as of Japan and China, has prevented the Vajpayee government from pushing through the tests needed to fully operationalise Agni and Prithvi. When this cowardice became too evident to conceal, a single Prithvi test was permitted, reportedly after strong objections from Jaswant Singh.

Empirical evidence confirms that a major power such as India cannot be seriously affected by sanctions were it to develop its defences at the desired speed. Sadly, the Vajpayee government -- after the initial flash of bravado demonstrated at Pokhran -- is even more pusillanimous than the Narasimha Rao and Inder Gujral governments in sanctioning the tests needed to ensure a credible minimum deterrent. It is small wonder that US and other television networks have been making fun of India's puny arsenal, claiming that Pakistan's (foreign-backed) programme is much bigger.

Lack of an effective response from India only encourages such transfer of technology to Islamabad by forces too foolish to understand the dangers to their own security were Pakistan to become a nuclear weapons power. The best answer to such threats is to go ahead with the testing of DRDO [Defence Research and Development Organisation] missiles. For that, Vajpayee's remote control in the external affairs ministry (who is himself remote-controlled by "My friend Strobe") will need to lose the hold he has on the prime minister.

On the other hand, the government has been kowtowing to Ram Vilas Paswan openly and to Sharad Yadav and Parkash Singh Badal secretly. Small wonder that the finance ministry took fright at the plunge in share prices caused by a diligent income-tax officer finding out that most of the financial entities "headquartered" in Mauritius were using that route to speculate in the Indian stock market.

Thanks to the Port Louis loophole, capital gains tax can be avoided in the sale of equity shares in India by FIIs registered in Mauritius. As a result, rampant speculation is going on that is causing hundreds of thousands of small investors to lose their savings. Either Yashwant Sinha should create a level playing field by abolishing capital gains tax on all share transactions, or he should refuse to get blackmailed by a few operators in Dalal Street into blocking the enquiries of the income-tax department into the Mauritius scam.

In fact, it is not only Mauritius that is a haven for crooks wanting to cheat the Indian exchequer of revenue. London is a favourite address for entities wishing to avoid taxation in India. For example, in the past two years, Air-India has shelled out Rs 9 billion to a "nameplate" company that has no functional office or any aircraft, but which has been given the contract to ferry pilgrims on Haj. Naturally, no newspaper will write about this allegedly UK-based outfit. To do so would be against the rules, and may result in suspension of writing privileges for the journo who exposed the facts. Together with the [unreported] details about Sonia Gandhi's educational career and family financial history, these will go unwritten. The Boston-based son and Delhi-based son-in-law (who is the major shareholder in a hotel chain that is setting up 16 hotels across India, despite his middle-class origins) can rest easy. Details of the ownership matrix of the US $1.2 billion chain are unlikely to be made public.

What a wonderful country, where the leader of the Opposition and the prime minister shadowbox in public, but enjoy a cozy working relationship in private. Atal Bihari Vajpayee cannot be blamed for ensuring that Sonia Gandhi remains head of the Congress party, for it is this "leader" that -- in the view of L K Advani and others -- has consolidated the NDA. The blame has to be laid entirely on the members of the Congress Working Committee, the gang that begged Sonia to take over and today lacks the courage to throw her out, even though almost all of them despise her in private and many even voice contempt for the Orbassano school dropout openly. So long as the goodies keep coming in from her captive chief ministers, Sonia Maino will not surrender the AICC's presidency.

An unfortunate byproduct of the Sonia phase has been the development of an anti-Christian feeling in some sections of other communities. That Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka are practising Catholics is of no concern to the rest of us. It is their right to follow the religion of their choice. But her shrill attacks on Hindu organisations and the silence on pro-Pakistan outfits have created a "Jinnah" image for Rajiv Gandhi's widow. As a result, the ISI has been able to find eager recruits from among Hindu organisations to spark an orgy of Christian-bashing that is designed to distance the West from India.

The ISI is aware that interaction with the US-EU will help speed up Indian economic growth. By funding Hindu fanatics to burn churches and kill priests, the Lahore mafia is seeking to deter the inevitable co-operation between the West and India, which after all is home of the Mother Civilisation from which the Germanic, Gallic, Russic and Iberic versons developed.

There is a widespread belief that ISI agents invariably belong to the Muslim community. But information from relevant agencies indicates that many are Hindus, in fact those belonging to fanatic organisations that seek to introduce a Taliban-style society in India. Some of them may not realise where their funding is coming from, though others knowingly collect funds from ISI paymasters such as the D-company.

The rest of us need to realise that only a moderate social ethos can liberate India from poverty, and that any fanatic is evil, no matter which house of worship he or she frequents. Only by holding on to the core values of the Indic Mother Civilisation can we protect our land from going the way of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Saturday 18 March 2000

Clinton's two real loves (Rediff)

Small wonder that Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Kishanchand Advani have upgraded Sonia Gandhi's security cover to equal that given to the President of the Republic. But for the distaste in which most Indian voters hold the middle-school graduate from Orbassano, the BJP-led government would have fallen in weeks. Its twin leaders have both demonstrated their unwillingness to give a coherent administration to this opportunity-rich country. Indeed, if any progress is being made, it is despite the Advani-Atal government.

Sonia and her large family love chocolate, and the Rajya Sabha election has given them yet another chance to feast. Most of the selected candidates will have been chosen for their ability to lavish mithai on the charming family that is estimated to be costing the country's taxpayers Rs 3.6 million per day in security, infrastructure and related costs.

Of course, such sweet-filled considerations for selection have operated in every election since Sonia Maino took over the Congress party. And it is thus that upstanding citizens who have made weighty contributions to public life such as Mani Kumar Subba were selected as Congress candidates. Small wonder that even Kapil Sibal (who knows a bit of law and of Mr Subba) felt that Subba would be a candidate who would enhance the prestige and image of Mahatma Gandhi's party. Chacha Advani, who has voluminous data on this favourite of 10 Janpath, is as usual following his Three Monkeys policy of seeing, hearing and speaking no evil.

Were Lal to indulge in bedtime reading, he may perhaps look through information on the ONGC, for example. For more than two decades this organisation has concentrated on not discovering oil. Enquiries with staff would show the whys and hows of the sabotage of the country's petroleum capabilities by individuals responding to pressure from external interests.

Every once in a way -- by mistake -- the ONGC discovers a rich field. This is promptly sold to overseas interests who -- surprise, surprise -- ensure that production gets stifled. The juniormost engineers in ONGC are aware of the location of the proven fields that have thus been gifted to companies seemingly unable to extract oil.

Were the home minister to call into account just a few officials of the ONGC and the petroleum ministry, he may reduce India's import bill by billions of dollars. What he does do is issue bold statements on 'wars to the finish' against extremists and crooks, the most recent being in Andhra Pradesh, the home of some offshore finds that have been given away by the ONGC.

In this trait, he is following in the footsteps of his leader Atalji who kept repeating that he would not compromise with the terrorism at Kandahar till almost the hour when Jassu and his three passengers from Indian prisons were airborne.

Instead of backing the Kalyan Singhs and the Keshubhai Patels, were Advani to spend his diminishing energy on rooting out specific instances of anti-national sabotage such as:

1. the scuttling of oil discoveries by ONGC;

2. the denial of equipment to Indian troops facing Pakistan;

3. the causes behind the rotting of millions of tonnes of foodgrain;

4. the use of Kathmandu as a hawala channel and as the point of entry for counterfeit Indian currency (Attari is chicken feed, but then Nepal is a Hindu kingdom that can by definition do no wrong, which is why it is soon to be rewarded by the reopening of air traffic with India;


5. the throttling of the nuclear and missile programmes by a team of politicians and their henchmen, he may do some service to India rather than to just the two Holy Families at 10 Janpath and 5 Race Course Road.

Unlike Murli Manohar Joshi, who imprudently sought to take action on the Nehru trusts, our media-friendly home minister has been singularly inactive in probing -- much less booking -- political families that are auctioning Indian interests.

Poor Jassu. Even the Israelis treat him with contempt. Tel Aviv gave exactly four hours notice to the Indian foreign minister when it called off his visit to that capital. The explanation given by Jassu's admirers in the Indian media was that all the key personalities in Israel had rushed off to Washington, when the fact is that they were all very much at home.

Thanks to Jassu's forging spirit, even leaving aside Clinton favourite Pervez Musharraf, now Chandrika Kumaratunga has invited Knut Vollebaek of Norway to intervene in its internal dispute with the Tigers. The same Vollebaek had made some very dismissive comments on India while in New Delhi, for which he was duly lionised in Sacher-Masoch's spiritual home.

Today this sneering critic of India has insinuated himself and his masters into Sri Lankan domestic issues, to silence from New Delhi. At one time there were the glimmerings of a Delhi Doctrine; South Asian problems should be left to South Asians themselves to settle. Now, thanks to Vajpayee diplomacy, the region is experiencing significant alien intervention.

Had the forgetful Vajpayee remembered Indian interests, he would have dropped plans for an address to the joint session of Parliament by that declared enemy of India, William Jefferson Clinton. He would have factored in the fact that this anti-Indian president has thus far refused to give the privilege of a state visit to the head of the world's largest democracy.

Kocheril Raman Narayanan being made of different metal from Jassu and Atal, has refused to make a visit to the US unless he is treated with the dignity not only he as an individual deserves, but his country. And yet the Vajpayee regime is falling over itself to grovel before a chief executive who has insulted India's President by declining to offer him the same courtesies as he has to literally dozens of others. Clinton should be given the courtesies of the same 'working visit' he has offered our own President, rather than the ceremonial of a state visit.

Just as Pakistan's generals have, Clinton knows the one action designed to generate fawning accommodation from India's leaders is to hurt the country's interests hard and insult openly and personally. With every barb thrown from the White House, the welcome mat has got further dusted and extended in Delhi.

So what if Clinton is breaking several US laws by coddling up to a dictator busy trying to hang the last democratically elected head of government in Pakistan? He has always been a man who follows his instincts, no matter where it leads him.

The untold story about the Pakistan stopover is that many other powers besides China -- whose intervention was promptly disclosed -- secretly interceded on behalf of Musharraf, including a country from the ASEAN region and two from the Gulf. Should their own regimes get felled in the way that Sharif's was, perhaps the gentlemen who made the calls on Musharraf's behalf will remember this stab in the back of democratic values as they themselves get carted off to execution.

It is strange that countries that claim to promote Muslim interests forget the 130 million Muslims of India in their eagerness to help Pakistan's crazies destroy the world's biggest functional anarchy. However, the fact is that no such advice was needed: from the start, it was clear that Clinton would not let down Musharraf, especially after being briefed by favourite poodles of the Pakistan army not to allow those hateful Indians to dictate just where the US president should or should not go.

To be fair to Clinton, it is not that he hates every large Asian country. China, for example, is close to his heart, which is why he and Al Gore have done so much to promote the interests of that glorious People's Democracy and its vibrant leadership, so steeped in democratic traditions and methods.

When US law prevented Clinton from selling AWACS technology to Beijing, Clinton got Israel to transfer know-how. After legal advisors pointed to the risks of gifting midair refuelling technology to Communist China, Billy Boy made sure that Tony Blair acted as the deliveryman. Once Al Gore occupies the White House, it should not be long before the Motherland gets reunified with the return of Taiwan to its bosom.

The hearts of Gore and Clinton may fibrillate at the mere mention of India, but they beat in unison with Pakistan and China, both of whom are collaborating so readily in efforts to reduce the trade in narcotics and to stem proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The message is clear: if India wants to be loved, it should adopt (in its external relations) the methods that Pakistan and China have used to become the favourites of the Clinton administration. This advice is especially relevant were Al Gore to make his way into the Oval Office.

Thursday 17 February 2000

What counts, India or ties to a family? (Rediff)

During the last weeks of Sitaram Kesri's stewardship of the Congress party, there was a trickle of individuals heading for the exit. The same phenomenon is today visible in the Sonia Congress, with Meira Kumar being the most prominent of those deciding to quit a party dominated by an ill-educated lady and her children, sisters and mother. Yes, there are pressures on the Mainos, but there are compensations as well. Each week representatives of the Congress chief ministers come to Delhi to meet Ahmed Patel and to deliver "sweets."

However, Sonia and her brood are not the only ones enjoying a plentiful supply of Swiss chocolates. A check of passports will reveal several sons, wives, daughters and relatives of the well-connected ratcheting up frequent flyer miles on visits to Europe and the United States. Home Minister L K Advani has much of the details.

As Advani can find out if only he asked, both the UK as well as desi citizens have extensive networking in Washington, and regularly give several assurances of good conduct on behalf of their friends in India, among whom is that peerless follower of the Eduard Shevardnadze school of diplomacy, Jaswant Singh Rathore.

For years one fact has been well known about Jassu. It is that each evening, he becomes a high-spirited joy to his friends, the very heart of any get-together. Indeed, talk has it that the ISI planned the Indian Airlines hijack in the evening because it knew that Uncle Atal would entrust the resolution of the problem to kindred soul Jassu, who in the evenings is in a particularly generous mood and thus can be expected to take a lenient view of the ISI's pranks.

Which also explains why this evening-transformed soul was so generous towards both Pakistan and the Taleban, and why he insisted on accompanying such rambustious fellows as Masood Azhar to Kandahar. Small wonder that Uncle Atal sees him as the next prime minister of India.

Will India's home minister ask for the dossier on the three businesspersons who contact the prime minister of India so often? Will he check on the phone calls made from and to 5 Race Course Road from London and Geneva? Will he find out just why these favourites of both him as well as the prime minister visit Washington so often, and whom they meet while there? Or will he act as though he were responsible not to the people of India but towards a clutch of influentials?

There is hope, although a fading one, that the real L K Advani will speak out, will act, as his colleague George Fernandes has at last begun to do. Surely, the Indian people have a right to know the identity of the minister who ordered that the hijacked IA aircraft be allowed to leave Amritsar without attempting to keep it on Indian soil. Surely, we have a right to know the identity of the diplomat in a key western capital who advised that a surrender be effected and that three terrorists be released, and who recommended that such a view be accepted.

Should these facts be hidden now, they will come out later after the Vajpayee government goes. There are too many records of the verbal and other messages for the details to get buried.

True, looking at India's kept press, it would be logical for wrongdoers to assume that their errors can forever be kept hidden. Just as they howled in chorus during the time when Bill Clinton imposed sanctions on India, echoing the US chorus that these measures would "melt down" the Indian economy, today the Washington establishment has succeeded in making its numerous friends in the Indian media come out with lengthy reports on why it would in fact be desirable for Billy Boy to visits Islamabad as well.

The truth is that if Bill Clinton makes a stopover in Pakistan, he should be treated as unwelcome in India. You can either be a friend of democracy or a supporter of dictatorship. It is not possible to be both. Those who chorus about the "inevitability" of talking to Musharraf do a disservice to the people of Pakistan, who are still largely untainted by the fundamentalism unleashed by the narcotics mafia. Only by publicly snubbing Musharraf can such democratic forces get strengthened in Pakistan, and only if they do, can there be peace between the two cousins.

It is astonishing to read Brajesh Mishra's picked members of the National Security Council write about how a stable Pakistan (of course, under the current gang of thugs) is "essential to Indian interests". In the first place, a stable Pakistan is just not possible unless the current dispensation gets radically altered. In the second place, only a stable moderate Pakistan is in India's interests. If that country remains in the grip of the crazies, it would be better for Indian interests for it to fragment into a medley of states, including Seraikistan.

Given current trends, such a process is likely to pick up speed within five years. In such a process, New Delhi needs to be on the side of the disadvantaged in Pakistan, namely the women, minorities, Seraikis, Shias, Sindhis, Mohajhirs, Pashtuns and Baluchis. The peoples of Pakistan need help to resist the oppression of the narcotics mafia. They do not deserve to be ignored or to face the spectacle of the world coddling dictators just as Hitler and Mussolini were indulged during the 1930s.

There is also need to pay attention to Afghanistan. A proud race has been subjugated by Sunni Punjabis. The ISI now controls Afghanistan, making slaves of the once-proud Pashtuns. If the Taleban cannot escape from its present fate of being a servant of the Sunni Punjabis, then it deserves defeat at the hands of its foes.

Time is running out for Vajpayee. It may also be running out for the BJP unless its leaders realise that duty to the nation is more important than blind faith in a "supreme leader", now matter how charming and bountiful. Why is it that only George Fernandes has to battle against efforts at scuttling the nuclear and missile deterrent? Why does Advani allow Jaswant Singh to mortgage Indian security by demanding that India sign the CTBT under the humiliating conditions offered by Clinton?

The nation was fooled on Kargil. It opened its eyes at Kandahar. It will not forgive a third betrayal by the tired old men who rule over its destinies. This will come when Clinton insinuates himself and his country into the Kashmir cauldron in a month, thanks to the surprising welcome this enemy of Indian interests is being given by a Vajpayee government that talked of "zero tolerance" to the same terrorism to which it succumbed at Kandahar.

Friday 21 January 2000

Brajesh and Jassu repeat their Kargil triumph! (Rediff)

Ever since Kargil, this columnist has been critical of the activities of Brajesh Mishra and Jaswant Singh, two amateurs who have been given control over both national security and foreign policy by the BJP's absolute leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Several scrollers reacted angrily to such views, convinced that they represented a "hidden" Congress agenda. After the surrender of three terrorists in Kandahar, hopefully at least a few of such critics will realise the truth of the charge against the national security advisor and the external affairs minister, that they have acted in a manner that weakens India's response to terror and have made the country behave in a servile manner when confronted with overseas threats.

There will be more instances to demonstrate the harm being done to Indian interests by Vajpayee's loving indulgence to this deadly duo.

It is not that either can truly be blamed. Jaswant Singh Rathore had zero foreign policy experience when given this sensitive portfolio in 1998, if one excludes periodic contacts with backpackers roaming across Rajasthan. Newspaper columns and bookshops can be scoured uselessly for decades without coming across traces of Jassu's views on foreign policy during his initial decades in public life. And yet, it is to such a man that the external affairs portfolio was given.

As for Brajesh Mishra, if he has had any exposure to security issues, it is only by going through the security checks at airports all over the world, in the course of his travels.

It is to such neophytes that the very keys of the country's safety were handed over. Atal's health and habits being what they are, in effect this pair runs his administration. Both have taken care to exclude any other individual from the matrix. Today, whether it is nuclear policy or trade, it is Jassu's team and not the armed forces or the commerce ministry that formulates and conducts policy, thanks to Jassu's control over half the prime minister's mind.

The owner of the other half, Brajesh Mishra, has fashioned a system in which ministers are reduced to ciphers, with departmental secretaries directly reporting to him and taking decisions on the basis of such consultations. That such decisions are often delayed -- and flawed when they are made -- does not seem to worry dear Brajesh or his nominal boss, who gives sound bites that he will not compromise with terrorists the very day in which Jassu takes off for Kandahar with his newfound pals, the three ISI operatives released by benevolent Uncle Vajpayee.

It is only in India that the perpetrator of an offence is himself the judge. Uncle says that there will be an enquiry into the "entire" hijack episode. Who will conduct the interview? Brajesh and Jassu. Whom will they investigate? Brajesh and Jassu. Certainly a unique definition of accountability.

The doctors at Sloan-Kettering have not yet released their findings about Uncle, but the prognosis cannot be excellent, judging by the sprouting of efforts to ensure that Jaswant Singh Rathore gets anointed as the successor to Uncle Vajpayee, a transfer that will have the same consequences for the Union of India that the nomination of Mikhail Gorbachev had or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Uncle's men hope that the external affairs minister will edge out the ever-faithful, ever-silent Lal Kishen Advani from the BJP's prime ministerial sweepstakes, when the time comes.

If Vajpayee is Rama, Advani is Lakshman, always content to follow in the footsteps of his all-powerful elder. During the hijack crisis, if those close to Uncle are to be believed, the home minister maintained a glum silence, even in Cabinet. He allowed the steering wheel to pass from his hands to those of Brajesh and Jaswant. Rather than these two, it was the Union home minister who should have acted as the pointperson for the government on the hijacking. Instead, he was reduced to the status of a bystander.

By his silence, by his dittoing of all that Vajpayee's two favourites do, the Union home minister may make the mistake of becoming unelectable thanks to a total identification with the Vajpayee court. Any boy of twelve can raise his hands on every cue, if that is all that is needed. The many who respect Advani expect him to do a little more, to use his own mind rather than rely solely on the two power-of-attorney holders of Atal. They expect him to balance the reckless disregard of national interests seen most lately in the hijack episode with his own track record of advocacy of rational policies. If he does not do this much, Advani does not deserve even the office he now holds.

Apart from the geriatric reaction time of the "Crisis Management Group" to the hijack, and the babu-like attitude of the National Security Guard, which were went aloft only after the ISI agents had taken off towards Lahore, there is a significant point which -- naturally -- has been missed by a media well cared-for by Jassu and Brajesh. This is the entire approach of the Vajpayee government to the hijacking. From the time when the tired old men who run this government got (what was left of) their wits about them, the CMG's approach has been that India is a state with near-zero ability to protect its interests, except for plaintive appeals to more powerful countries. Such a stance has made India look like the Maldives.

Just as (then US assistant secretary of state) Robin Raphel signed the death warrant for the five Al-Faran hostages some years ago by publicly exonerating Pakistan of any role in the affairs, the Vajpayee team ensured success for the ISI by praising the two countries that organisation controls, Pakistan and Afghanistan. On the other hand, had New Delhi declared the culpability of both from day one, and warned of "serious consequences" to both were the hostages to be harmed, pressure would have mounted on the hijackers from their Pakistani masters. Instead, by doling out good-conduct certificates to Kabul and Islamabad, the Vajpayee team gave the ISI confidence that its perfidy could be hidden, thus shoring up its resolve.

Instead of this suicidal credulity, New Delhi should have put the focus -- and the onus for safety --squarely on Musharraf and his Taleban slaves. It should have put its forces on the western borders on alert and begun exercises. The Line of Control ought to have been activated through artillery barrages against ISI camps in PoK. Without such a holistic strategy, Indian efforts were doomed after the aircraft was allowed to take off from Amritsar and the UAE authorities made it depart from the al-Minhad air base. After that, the hijackers were on home soil, and only a policy that targetted their masters would have been effective. Not only was this not done, Jassu actually lauded the ISI's team.

Kargil has come back to haunt India, just as predicted. Then, the Pakistanis were given the bonus of India voluntarily refusing action except along the 143 kilometre stretch of territory across which the infiltration took place. This time, by tactically treating the hijacking as the work of isolated thugs rather than as part of the strategy of a sovereign state, the Vajpayee team refused to take those steps that were needed to make Pakistan realise that this time, India would make it pay.

The very "avoiding of broader tensions" that the pro-ISI Clinton administration praised the Vajpayee team for became the coffin of Rupin Katyal and the Advani policy towards foreign militancy in Kashmir. How long before Atal realises the harm that his two power-of-attorney holders are doing to the BJP, the party that has laid itself at his feet? How long before he realises that Bill Clinton will praise him only when he sells out Indian interests, and not when he defends them?

Of course, Clinton has been seeing a lot to praise recently. Now the ISI's favourite American is slavering at the mouth, waiting for India to deliver the promise made by Jassu in an article for a US journal, that India would sign the CTBT as a "gesture of goodwill" towards an administration that is implacably hostile to its interests. Poor Vajpayee does not realise that a signature on CTBT in these conditions would further damage not just Indian interests but those of the BJP.

How long can Atal depend on the Sonia factor to see him through? True, the AICC president is the best ally the BJP can have, forcing millions of Indian voters who otherwise would have supported Congress to go the saffron way. True, her incompetence has made it possible for Vajpayee to escape 90 per cent of the odium for Kargil and 70 per cent of that for Kathmandu. However, should the Congress fare disastrously in the February state election, it is likely that even Congresspersons may realise just how big a liability Sonia Maino is, and dump her.

Should that happen, the clock will begin ticking for Vajpayee, as his coalition partners are furious at the way in which the PMO is riding herd over them. Brajesh believes that he is in a Nehru Family regime, where ministers are mere clerks. This makes him bypass them and deal directly with officials, creating tensions that could soon explode, exactly as the AIADMK did just a year ago.

In his Lakshman avatar, Advani is no check at all to such misdirected policies. As for Kushabhau Thakre, his is the case of a good man lost in big-city alleys. The BJP president is evidently one with the rest of his flock in being too terrified to speak out against the boss, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, even to the extent of requesting the master to please find better power-of-attorney holders than Jassu and Brajesh.

The joke in Washington is that the Indian foreign minister is available on the phone to any janitor in the state department who does time pass by calling him. As for Brajesh, Clinton's contempt for his minion got manifested in a recent White House visit, when he was made to wait for 40 minutes before being allowed to see a sub-Cabinet official. Naturally, the ever-faithful Brajesh pocketed the snub meekly.

In 1999, the BJP lost vote share despite Sonia, despite the propaganda victory at Kargil. A year more of Jassu and Brajesh, and they will sink to current UP levels nationwide. The two paralysed faithfuls, Advani and Thakre, better start praying that someone will wake Atal up before this. They, clearly, are unable to.