Wednesday 30 June 2004

It's money, not Modi (Asian Age)

By M.D. Nalapat 

The pundits have spoken. The 2004 verdict was a rejection by rural India of the city-centric BJP. Also, a recoil from the 2002 carnage in Gujarat, when ministers in the Narendra Modi government participated as zestfully in genocide as their Congress counterparts did during the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. Atal Behari Vajpayee has himself claimed that his unwillingness to sack Modi resulted in his rejection by the Indian voter.

Almost every metropolis in India chose anti-BJP candidates this time, barring Bangalore, which went determinedly saffron. The richest constituencies in India, South Mumbai and New Delhi, went for the Congress Party, as did several others where the only rural people seen are in the movies. And as for Narendra Modi and the Gujarat massacre, the truth is that this was an issue only among the converted, those against the BJP's policy of "Hinduising" society and the polity. 

The RSS and (the intermittent) Venkaiah Naidu are correct. If Modi were such anathema to the Indian voter, the BJP would not have won in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh last year, and done so well in the admittedly moderate state of Karnataka this time. The party even managed a respectable number of votes in Kerala, another redoubt of the fashionable liberal. 

A close examination of the voting trends shows that the BJP's slippage was in the constituency that had been backing the party since 1998, the middle class. A large chunk of those who voted for Vajpayee that year and in 1999 either kept away from the polls or voted against the BJP and its allies. While the pundits have heaped the discredit for the Tamil Nadu debacle on their favourite whipping girl, Jayalalitha, the reality is that the AIADMK held on to its vote share, while the BJP lost a lot of its support. It was the BJP that cost the AIADMK the election, by scaring away minority voters, rather than the other way about. The Dravidian party actually got a higher number of votes this time around than it had in the past. As in many other states, it was Vajpayee's lack of shine within the middle class that did it in. 

And why this aversion to a man touted by the media as a cross between Lincoln and Tennyson? The reason was not Modi. It was money.

Astonishingly, no pundit has bothered to remember the hammerblows that the honest middle-class investor has received as a result of the graft indulged in by the Vajpayee government. Nobody remembers the Unit Trust of India with its 20 million depositors, most of whom got taken to the cleaners during the Vajpayee years. While it had been (then) finance minister Manmohan Singh who had first permitted the UTI in 1994 to invest the bulk of its corpus in equity rather than in safer assets such as bonds, it was during 2000-2002 that the corporation was systematically milked of its capital by forcing it to invest in shares of dubious companies, including several based in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Not only was the UTI forced to buy such dodgy equity, it had to do so at a hefty premium, which was presumably split up between the promoters and the hidden voices that ordered UTI to purchase useless stock. The mobile phone records of disgraced UTI chairman Subramanian will show just who made the calls that led him to squander public funds. 

While there has not been any effort at uncovering the names of those who fleeced the Indian investor of nearly Rs 45,000 crores, nor has any "anti-BJP" party cared to bring out the facts (now that they are in a position to examine the records), those who lost their savings because of the systematic fraud conducted via the UTI know who was responsible: the Prime Minister's Office run by Brajesh Mishra. And they got revenge the only way they could, by voting against Vajpayee.

It was not only the UTI. The BJP had been strong in the metros, the precise locations targeted by another scam, that of the Conditional Access System (CAS). In an era of broadband and the technology of convergence, the Vajpayee government attempted to force television viewers in the big cities to go in for an expensive and outdated technology for reasons that are obvious. Every one of those who either had CAS forced down her or his throat, or was facing the threat of such action, would have had a powerful incentive to punish the Teflon "poet" who gave Narendra Modi a clean chit in 2002 but discovered two years later that the man was evil. Worse, that the chief minister of Gujarat had caused him his chair.
No, Atal, it was not Modi. It was you. It was your men (and not a few women) who realised by 2000 that the Indian stock market could easily get manipulated to get a horde of sacrificial lambs to invest during artificially-induced peaks, then face ruin as values slid. Today, the Indian stock market is not a casino, for there is no element of chance in it at all. Operators manipulate prices, their operations constrained only by the aversion to the equities market that the honest investor is demonstrating. Naturally, none of this will ever be seriously investigated.

Even if we put aside the numerous financial scams that made the Vajpayee government the most venal in the history of the Republic, just the UTI and the stock market fiascos are enough to show just why the BJP's main vote bank — the middle classes — deserted the party this time. Those appearing on television to urge people to back Vajpayee were — almost to a man — from among the super-elite of the country, those who have risen from poverty to lavish lifestyles. They conduct their birthday parties in Paris and spend $150,000 on a single visit to London. Of course, that is a city with many — and expensive — diversions. Today, the "face" of the BJP are these individuals, each oozing money from the pore, eyes darting sideways to see where the next suitcase of cash will come from. 

Under Vajpayee and with the active connivance of the RSS the BJP has become the party of the nouveau riche, expensive watches, clothes, goggles and all. Were all these choices made by Narendra Modi? Each was made by Vajpayee, L.K. Advani being but a shadow that — despite inspired leaks in the media about his defiance — faithfully follows Atal Behari Vajpayee to this day.

During the 2004 campaign, those handpicked by Vajpayee to run the show used to descend on state capitals to bully local party workers. Often, they would be accompanied by charming "friends" who would shop in the afternoons while Netaji went about ensuring five more years of Atal. These delightful individuals would be accompanied by party workers, who would watch as items worth lakhs of rupees got purchased from a single outlet. All payments would, naturally, be made in cash, in Rs 1,000 bills. Small wonder that few of the honest — and that is the operational word — party workers felt much motivation to get out the vote. Even in Kashmir, this time around the "Hindu" constituencies showed a much lower voter turnout than the normal. There was a turning away from this corruption and misrule, even though few voters were aware of the non-economic ways in which the country has been shortchanged by those in government and by those then in the Opposition who remained silent.

Will Sitaram Yechury come forward and demand that the telephone records of the UTI's then chairman be made public? Will Harkishan Singh Surjeet or A.B. Bardhan ask how so many highway contracts went to Malaysian companies, or will they remember that Ottavio Quattrocchi was for long a resident of Kuala Lumpur, and desist? Will they ask that the mysterious "Q" be made to come to India to face justice? Unlikely. They are all now part of one big, happy family. Suresh Pachauri can be relied upon to do the job that Brajesh Mishra did during 1998-2004. After the next election, when the Congress-led coalition collapses, there will be another Narendra Modi, another red herring, to pin the blame on. The system will go on, the Swiss bank accounts will continue to grow, and millions of honest Indians will have no other way of showing their protest than by evicting Tweedledum and bringing in Tweedledee.,nalapat

Saturday 26 June 2004

Avoid a Kuwait in Taiwan (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat

MANIPAL, India, July 25 (UPI) -- During his decade-long battle with Iran, Saddam Hussein was the recipient of support from the United States as well as from such countries such as the United Kingdom, which did not want to see a Khomeinists theocracy dominate the Persian Gulf.
Those in India who were in contact with the deposed president of Iraq and his advisers say that the belief among them was that the United States would not intervene to reverse a takeover of Kuwait, provided that the Iraqi forces did not carry the campaign forward into Saudi Arabia.
Former U.S. ambassador April Glaspie's ambiguous response to Saddam Hussein a short while before the decision to invade was taken was only one of a series of similar messages relayed to the dictator during that period. Soon afterward, Saddam Hussein took over Kuwait, and got thrown back - and, after another decade, out - by the United States.
Within the higher levels of the Chinese Communist Party, a similar debate is now going on about Taiwan.
Will Washington really intervene to reverse a PRC takeover, or will the United States simply indulge in some saber rattling, impose a trade embargo for a while, and then get back to business as usual with Beijing?
The Chinese Communists look at societies holistically, not separating out the different strands but conceptually weaving them into a unified entity with a common decision core. Hence, "casual" remarks from businesspersons or academics known to have close personal ties with senior administration officials are given the same attention as official statements, sometimes more.