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.
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