Friday 31 December 2010

President Rajapaksa says no to the West (PO)

M D Nalapat

The past few days, this columnist has been in Colombo, the serene capital of the beautiful island of Sri Lanka, a country with an ancient history and a proud tradition. The Galle Face Hotel, where he is staying, is a combination of western colonial architecture and Sri Lankan heart and soul. The rooms are magnificent, especially those with a sea view, and the service impeccable. The only spot was the inability of the laptop to log on to the internet, a problem in this era of instant and continous communication.

Although India is Sri Lanka’s biggest neighbour, the reality is that it is Pakistan that seems more popular amongst the majority Sinhala population of the country. The reason for this may be that Islamabad has, since 1998,been a reliable supplier of weapons and equipment to the Sri Lankan army in its ( now victorious) battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE),the organisation that killed Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993. Ironically, it had been Premadasa who secretly armed the LTTE against the Indian military contingent that was sent into the island by Rajiv Gandhi in 1987 to enforce a peace agreement between the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE, an organisation that had been funded and equipped by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the 1980s, but which subsequently turned hostile to her son and successore Rajiv in 1987,when he brought LTTE Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran to Delhi and made him agree to less than total independence for the Tamil-majority regions in north and east of Sri Lanka. Although Prabhakaran – under duress, as he was kept a virtual prisomer in the 5-star Ashok Hotel in Delhi as long as he was relyuctant to sign on to the dotted line - agreed, he changed tack as soon as he returned to Sri Lanka, and verysoon thereafter,his men began to harry the Indian military contingent.

How Sri Lanka slipped into China's orbit (

BY M.D. Nalapat

That old habits die hard is clear from the way in which the functionaries of the European Union seek to influence the developing economies on the best way to manage their nations. And woe betide those leaders from the former colonies who explain that their knowledge of local conditions may be a tad better than the EU officials jetting in from Paris, London, Berlin and other exquisite capitals to advise the locals. If Chechnya or Kashmir did not follow the Kosovo and East Timorese path of breaking away from their parent countries, then it was the good luck of Russia and India, both countries with leaders receptive to advice from afar. Indeed, India has the distinction of asking the British Viceroy to tarry a while longer in 1947 after its independence and partition of Pakistan, so terrified were the new rulers of the country to exercise their responsibilities sans the guidance of the colonial hand.

If India has had about a century and a half of unbridled European colonisation, Sri Lanka has had nearly five centuries. Small wonder that its leadership, of whichever political hue, obeyed the dictums of even junior officials from Europe and the US.

That ended when Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected President of Sri Lanka in 2005. Within a year, he had shed the cocoon of subservience that had been the characteristic of his predecessors, going so far as to challenge even India, the country that " Sri Lankans love to hate, and hate to love"

Rajapaksa's most egregious crime of lese majeste has been his refusal to heed the many and ever-shriller EU, US and Indian demands for an immediate ceasefire in early 2009. Then, the Sri Lankan army was on the cusp of overrunning the last sliver of territory controlled by the LTTE, an organisation whose backers have significant influence not merely in Chennai, but even more so in Brussels.

Friday 24 December 2010

The best “Muslim” policy for India (PO)

M D Nalapat

It used to be said that Joe Biden was the only US Senator who was not a millionaire. Now, he is the Vice-President. Unlike Dick Cheney, who was in the same office when huge contracts got awarded in Iraq to a company that he had been closely associated with, Biden stays clear of commerce. Had he been a politician in India, here too he would have been the exception. For there is no easier way to fabulous riches in India than through politics. In the present Manmohan Singh government, almost all the ministers are super-affluent. Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar (the President of the International Cricket Council) is even richer than former PM of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif or present President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari, as are several of his Cabinet colleagues (even though most conceal their wealth through “benami” entities). Unlike most other politicians, Pawar is open about his wealth and his lifestyle, perhaps the reason why he is still popular in his home state of Maharashtra - the state that has given the world Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar.

In a polity which has multiple parties, even a 3% margin can make the difference between electoral defeat and a landslide. This is the reason why parties other than the few “Hindutva” parties ( who may be compared to the “Islam Pasanda” parties in Pakistan) are so eager to win over the Muslims. Now comprising 16% of the population of the Union of India, the Muslim community has understood the power of the ballot, and participates in the electoral process far more effectively than many other communities. The problem facing the Congress Party is that the Muslim vote is divided between itself and other non-Hindutva parties, such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Janata Dal (United). Unless the Congress Party can convince the Muslim community that it can represent its interests better than any other, Rahul Gandhi’s dream of ensuring a majority in Parliament for his party will remain unattained.

Friday 17 December 2010

Manmohan under attack from “Apex of Greed” (PO)

M D Nalapat

Since he took office for a second 5-year term in 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been a changed man. During 2004-2009, he stayed silent while a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office (expected to become Head of the Civil Service in 2011,thanks to his loyalty to the apex of the Congress Party) used to make phone calls on behalf of the political bosses of the party, ensuring that road, power ,coal and other projects got diverted to those in the good books of the powerful. In some cases, individual companies secured benefits amounting to more than $12 billion because of changes in tax laws and in administrative procedures. No wonder that the most powerful in the land regularly travel in luxurious corporate jets maintaned by companies that are given such largesse. Once they land in Europe or elsewhere, jets from locations in Dubai, Sharjah and other such locations await them, to take them to other destinations. Those supposed to be watching out for such activities look the other way, as otherwise, they would be dismissed from the Union Cabinet or from the top echelons of the civil service.

Informed estimates place the personal wealth of the Apex of Power in India at nothing less than $16 billion, not bad for individuals whose only occupation is politics, a field in which (declared) salaries are often less than $1500 a month. Tax records show that the sons, daughters, sons-in-law and other relatives of important politicians have become dollar billionaires, owning vast properties and companies. To take just a single example, the son-in-law of a batchelor leader became one of the largest hoteliers in the country. The Indian media, whose owners are terrified of getting chased by the various departments of the government, never even asked how a batchelor could have a son-in-law! Of course, no media house ever mentioned the fact that this batchelor stayed in the house of a married lady for more than twenty years, with her husband confined to a small room in the same residence, suffering the agony of watching his wife with the batchelor, whose political career continued on its lucky streak, because the public were unaware of his personal habits. As former minister Arun Shourie says, for quite some time, politics in India has become a clubby setup, where both the ruling and opposition sides protect each other in private. Naturally, in public both sides pretend to be opposed to each other, although in the evenings, both sides get together and celebrate their wealth.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Will Wen’s India visit be a success? (PO)

M D Nalapat

During the last quarter of 2010, the Heads of Government of all the P-5 (Permanent Five in UN Security Council) will have visited India. The first to land in Delhi was UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who made an excellent impression in India, in contrast to some of his predecessors. Next followed US President Barack Obama, who created history by setting in stone the foundations laid by George W Bush of a US-India alliance. Next has come President Sarkozy of France, a country that even during the dark days of the Clinton administration was friendly to India (in contrast to the UK, which followed the Clinton line as faithfully as a poodle). On December 15,Premier Wen Jiabao of China comes calling, followed a week later by Russian President Dimitry Medvedev.

Bill Clinton was faithful to the State Department rule that India must always be equated with Pakistan, and visited Islamabad after taking off from Delhi. However, of the five P-5 leaders coming to India, only Premier Wen Jiabao of China is following this script. He will visit Pakistan after India, thereby ensuring that Islamabad enjoys parity with Delhi in his travels. In other matters as well, China differs from Russia, the UK, France and the US on its India policy. It is the only power within the five that has yet to endorse India as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the reason being that it does not want to seem as though Beijing is favouring Delhi over Islamabad, its all-weather friend since the time of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s. On Kashmir, Beijing has continued with the line once followed by the US and the UK (but never by Russia and seldom by France) that India should make substantial concessions to Pakistan for the sake of peace. Several in South Block regard an Indo-Pakistan peace as being of much greater benefit to Islamabad than to Delhi, and hence believe that a lot of the sacrifices should be made by Pakistan. This is clearly not China’s view. Policymakers here (and this column is are clear that as the bigger country, India should concede more - much more - than Pakistan. This Pakistan-oriented view is particularly strong within the Peoples Liberation Army, which considers the Pakistan, Myanmarese and North Korean militaries as being their closest allies, with India’s military remaining a concern rather than a source for joy.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Chidambaram for soft policy on militants (PO)

M D Nalapat

The Union Home Minister of India, Palanipaan Chidambaram, was among the highest-paid lawyers in the country even while he dabbled in politics. He is therefore accustomed to reading from a brief, and sharpening the arguments that his clients seek to make. It is no secret on Raisina Road, the stately colonial-era avenue that fronts North and South Block, that although he is bound by the Constitution of India to report to the Prime Minister,in fact he reports to Congress President (CP) Sonia Gandhi, who since 2004 has enjoyed the benefits of unlimited governmental power without any legal responsibility. Within the Prime Minister’s Office, the loyal Minister of State Prithviraj Chavan used to consult her and her close associates before any major decision got taken.

Chavan’s ability to steer investigations by agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) (the country’s premier police agency) is legendary. Suffice it to say that under his watch, no individual who accommodated the interests of the Congress President has suffered at the hands of the CBI, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and other agencies was harassed,while few individuals who went against those same interests escaped unscathed. These days,the CBI,the DRI and the ED have become bywords for corruption and cronyism, and enjoy sub-zero credibility within the Indian public. As for the efficiemt Minister of State in the PMO,he has been rewarded for his fealty by being annoited Chief Minister of the most lucrative state in India,Maharashtra,the capital of which is Mumbai.Another PMO official whose job was to ensure that the writ of the Congress President was followed within the Manmohan Singh government was sent off to a foreign capital for a well-deserved break,before he returns in triumph next year on a major promotion. As in Pakistan, in India as well,sweet are the rewards of absolute loyalty to well-connected individuals.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Khamenei bats for Pakistan (PO)

M D Nalapat

Iran has figured significantly in the Indian strategic calculus for a considerable period of time. Although relations with that important country were strained during the period when the Shah of Iran ruled the Peacock throne, they became better when Mohammad Khatami was President. He succeeded in ensuring an increase in the number of Iranian students studying in Indian universities, and presided over an increase in trade and in other contacts. As President, Hashemi Rafsanjani also paid a lot of attention to India, a link that has continued even after he stepped down from that post. However, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has not been as attentive towards the importance of India, and ties have become weaker since he took office. Part of the reason has been the rise in tensions between Iran and two allies of India, the US and Israel. During his first visit to Tehran, this columnist saw several banners and signboards wishing death to Israel and the US, and in his talk to students at Shahid Behesti University, began by pointing out that India regarded both Israel and the US as very close allies, and if anyone in the audience objected to listening to a speaker admitting that fact, she or he was welcome to leave. However, the natural good manners of the Persian people asserted themselves over the hatred for the US and Israel that forms an intrinsic part of some elements of Iranian society, and nobody left the hall. This great culture, one that has lasted for thousands of years, is one of the major reasons why India and Iran are likely to remain close to each other.

The Shah of Iran was a close ally of the US, which is probably why he took a very strong pro-Pakistan position during both the 1965 as well as the 1971 conflict between India and the world’s second-most populous Muslim country (after Indonesia). As a result of the clear tilt of the Shah of Iran towards Pakistan, relations with Delhi suffered, and remained chilly till the Shah abdicated in 1979. Soon after that, the war between Iraq and Iran started, and this became the cause for India to withdraw its military trainers from Iraq, as there was no intention to take sides in a conflict between two of the most important countries of the Middle East. The withdrawal of military cooperation by India annoyed Saddam Hussein, especially as the Iraqi strongman had been as close a friend of India as Egypt’s Gamal abdel Nasser had been in the past. However, the gesture did not lead to any improvement in ties with Iran. These had to wait till Rafsanjani and Khatami took over.

Sunday 21 November 2010

False morality in midst of immorality (PO)

M D Nalapat

During her younger days, the present Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha (House of the People, or Lower House in Parliament) Sushma Swaraj was a modern woman, definitely in step with the most progressive elements of the 20th century. Originally a Socialist before she joined the conservative Hindu-centric Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 1990s, Swaraj championed the right of a woman to her own lifestyle, earning for herself condemnation from those who believe that a woman’s role is what has been described by the ancient Indian lawgiver Manu: as a slave of first her father, then her husband and finally her own son. She dressed soberly but attractively, and refused to observe “purdah” and avoid contact with men. In the modern world, men and women need to work closely together, so it was understandable that Ms Swaraj (who is happily married) functioned in close proximity to such socialist giants as former Defense Minister George Fernandes and former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, steadily rising in stature as a woman politician who understood the need for India’s society to modernize and move away from ancient restrictions and prejudices. However, once she took over as Information and Broadcasting Minister in the BJP-led government in 1998, Sushma Swaraj had a transformation, even demanding that female newsreaders in the state-run broadcasting service cover their arms fully while on air.

Clearly, this new avatar of a once-progressive woman politician would have been comfortable with the dress code enforced in Iran, where a woman has to be fully draped even in the privacy of her own home when men are present who are not husbands and sons However, Ms Swaraj should not be blamed for such a return into the medieval past. She naturally wishes to someday become the second lady PM after Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi, and has calculated that only a Saudi-style adherence to “modesty” and to its enforcement will gain her the support of conservatives in the BJP, many of whom marry off their daughters at a young age and are against the teaching of English to the young. These days, she demurely covers her head and modestly lowers her gaze when men are present, a very different avatar from her bold, pathbreaking past, a past that energized and motivated hundreds of thousands of young Indian women to follow her example and break free from the fetters of convention into a lifestyle that is closer to that followed in Europe or China.

Saturday 13 November 2010

A US-India war on corruption? (PO)

M D Nalapat

During the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidential term, “Billary” ( Bill and Hillary Clinton) has been his motto. More than 90% of his policies, and his staff - those not Republican -come from the ranks of those who supported Hillary Clinton and husband Bill in their personal attacks on the charismatic African-American who overshadowed them. Within his administration, he formidable trio of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke saw India as a troublesome country that ought to be told to behave (in other words, accept US diktat) before being given any concessions. Their condescension towards India was in contrast to the stand taken by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who backed Indian independence even while Winston Churchill said that the “Hindoos were a beastly people” who do not deserve freedom.Of course, Churchill believed that Muslims too ought to remain British subjects for eternity. President Roosevelt (and his idealistic spouse Eleanor) disagreed, pointing out that the Atlantic Charter to which both the UK and the US was committed stood for freedom. Of course, Churchill’s reply was that only those of European origin deserved to be free. The rest should remain in the same way as several European peoples were under the occupation of Hitler-led Germany.

Although they pass themselves off as “liberals”, there is a subliminal prejudice beneath the “tolerant”l veneer of several of the East Coast intellectuals who form the bulk of the Clinton cohort. They are people who would like to freeze “primitive” societies into their present lifestyles, the way anthropologist Verrier Elwin got Jawaharlal Nehru to do to the North-east. Because of Nehru’s policies, the Northeast of India was denied development, so that “the people may continue in their pristine way”. Even today, the standard of roads and other infrastructure in that region is way below that of other parts of India. While George W Bush embraced multiculturalism - especially as it related to the vibrant Hispanic community - Bill Clinton sought to impose solutions on the rest of the world in partnership with Europe. To the Talbotts and the Holbrookes, the only way a country can be a “responsible stakeholder” is if it accepted the US-EU position on all major issues. Small wonder that many were sceptical of the faith of Manmohan Singh that President Obama would not come to India empty-handed, but would announce several major agreements in a Rooseveltian spirit.

Saturday 6 November 2010

An Obama defeat not bad news for India (PO)

M D Nalapat

Over the past month, a troupe of Obama backers have descended on India, seeking to soften opinion in the country ahead of President Obama’s visit. The English-language media in India, both print as well as television, have given continuos coverage of such non-events as former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott discussing issues centering around the braid theme of “what India can do for the US”. Apart from a few retired diplomats and civil servants, as well as the participants themselves, there has been no viewer interest in such fare. Then why air on television or print so many such “debates and discussions” featuring an army of retired (but hoping for re-employment) Clinton-era officials and their Indian clones? In large part, such coverage is a tribute to the public diplomacy skills of the huge US embassy in New Delhi, that networks intensively with not only the journalists working in these media outlets but ( much more crucially) the proprietors. Getting the US ambassador over to dinner is a social coup for Delhi’s glamorous society ladies, and all of Timothy Roemer’s charm and gift of the gab are being put to good use in a context where the Obama administration has been largely hostile to India.

This columnist visits the Information Technology (IT) hubs of Bangalore and Hyderabad often, and in both there is anger at the shabby way in which Indian IT professionals are being treated in matters of visa and entry into the US. These days, visa interviews for software professionals has turned nasty, with the (normally polite) consular officials clearly under instructions from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discourage Indians from going on work assignments to the US. Interestingly, the Republican Party has turned to Indian-Americans, especially in the conservative south. Some years ago, India-born Bobby Jindal became the Governor opr Louisiana, defeating his Democratic Party opponent despite the fact that she belonged to the (Caucasian) majority. Now, another Indian-American, Nikki Randhawa, has been elected the Governor of South Carolina, defeating her Democrat rival in a campaign marked by numerous personal attacks on her. Both Nikki and Bobby have married within their communities, and that fact has not stood in the way of conservative white voters overwhelmingly preferring them to white Democratic opponents who have near-total backing from local African-American communities. Although it is not considered politically correct to mention this, it is a reality that several African-Americans resent the economic success of the Indian-American community. This is unfortunate, for India has been a consistent backer of racial equality, being for long the only non-Communist country to give assistance to the African National Congress while Nelson Mandela was in jail. Within the African-American community, leaders such as Martin Luther King have been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, and they in turn have inspired many Indians, including this columnist, who once wrote a short biography of Dr King in his mother tongue, Malayalam. By his numerous negative actions on India, President Obama seems to be reacting more as a sectional leader than as the elected head of the entire American people, which is perhaps one reason why his party has suffered so badly in the 2010 polls, just two years after he was elected as the first African-American President of the US. In this respect, Obama;s election has put his country on a higher moral plane than India, which has yet to see a Muslim Prime Minister emerge, despite having been free for 63 years.

Friday 29 October 2010

Can Obama make India an ally? (PO)

M D Nalapat

Within a week, President Barack Obama will come to India on a three-day visit,” the most time that he has spent in a single country” since assuming office. It seems an age ago, but just four years ago, it was then Senator from Illinois Barack Obama who introduced a killer amendment to the Senate legislation ratifying the Bush-Singh nuclear deal. Some weeks previous to this effort, Senator Obama had met a small group of Indians visiting Washington in order to sound out legislators on the agreement. At the breakfast meeting, which was held at the residence of a prominent Indian-American Obama backer, the brilliant and very persuasive junior senator was transparent in his distaste at the attempt by George W Bush to give India the same rights in nuclear commerce as those states that had signed the Non-proliferation Treaty. Obama clearly saw India as undeserving of the privilege of nuclear commerce unless it first gave up its nuclear weapons, a view that he shared with the leaders of almost all of Europe, Australasia, East Asia and North America.

The only reason that the Nuclear Suppliers Group accepted the US contention that India merited a waiver was the steady and relentless pressure exerted by President Bush. To the final hours before the final NSG vote two years ago, Bush and Condoleezza Rice cajoled world leaders among the 45 member-states to ensure a unanimous decision favouring India. To the last, countries such as Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand and China opposed the waiver, but finally fell in line because of the diplomatic blitz unleashed by President Bush. Had it been an Obama presidency, there would never have been an India waiver, for the incoming President of the United States has appointed a non-proliferation team whose members have spent much of their working lifetimes trying to get India to follow the advice given by Bill Clinton, which is to “cap, roll back and eliminate” its nuclear and missile deterrent. Although Clinton has got a bad press in India for such insistent advice, he may perhaps not have been aware that India was a country of more than a billion people in a very unpleasant neighbourhood. Or, if he was aware of this, perhaps he may have been willing to introduce legislation to permit a few tens of millions of Indian nationals to settle in the US, should a nuclear attack befall an India that disarms itself under his advice. Bill Clinton has visited India since demitting office as President, usually to paint the country as the endemic focus of either AIDS or as the prime candidate for a nuclear attack. These visits have been sponsored ones, one having as the host Amar Singh, one of the most colourful politicians in India, whose access to big money is as legendary as the wonderful time those attending his many soirees have.

Friday 22 October 2010

Will Manmohan Singh be forced to quit? (PO)

M D Nalapat

In the 1960s for over three decades, probably the most influential non-official individual resident in India was Ottavio Quatrocchi, an Italian who had the blunt demeanour of an Australian rather than the charm that the people of that ancient civilisation are justly known for. Nearly 70 key projects were sanctioned during this long period to companies that “Mr Q” was considered to favour, especially Snam-Progetti. Those officials who dared to sanction contracts to companies other than the few favoured by Quatrocchi found their careers in India ended, including Cabinet Secretary P K Kaul, who was shunted off to Washington before completing his term in office, after a contract was won by another company instead of Snam. The then Petroleum Secretary, A S Gill, who was in line to be Cabinet Secretary found his career at an end after this decision was taken,and the minister concerned was swiftly removed from his post, as were others who dared take decisions other than those believed to have the backing of “Mr Q” What the source of the power of this Italian fixer is remains obscure.

However, none of his political allies could save his career in India once his name was outed in the scandal involving the purchase of Bofors guns in 1986. A year later, Swedish radio claimed that about $65 million had been paid as bribes to get the contract (peanuts in this day and age), and the Swiss authorities established that “Mr Q” was one of the beneficiaries. The Central Bureau of Investigation asked that his passport be impounded. Instead, on the recommendation of the minister looking after the CBI, Quatrocchi was allowed to fly out of India on 29 July 1993 to the safety of Kuala Lumpur. Since then, he has depended on his family members to ensure that contact be retained with influential individuals in India, a task that they have done so well that even today, he is among the few who can “get almost anything done” through the Government of India, including ensuring the return of the money that the investigating authorities say was a bribe paid to secure the Bofors contract. While other governments seek to confiscate the money stashed illegally away by the powerful, the Manmohan Singh government returned it to “Mr Q” a few years ago.

India and a 21st Century Anglosphere (JINSA)

M.D. Nalapat

When President Barack Obama travels to India in early November, he will be visiting a country much more conscious of skin color than his own. Because of his mixed Euro-African ancestry, Barack Obama's election as President of the United States is seen in India as a transformational event. The fact that millions of American voters of European extraction preferred him to John McCain affirmed a truth widely believed in India about the United States, that America is culturally "quadricontinental" and not "unicontinental." The American melting pot has given the world not just a vibrant people (of multiple hues) but also a composite culture that is a fusion of strands from Africa, Europe, Asia and South America. Unfortunately, change even in the Obama administration seems to be only skin-deep. The contemporary Washington "establishment" obsessively considers itself and America to be, in effect, an extension of Europe, in much the same way as the ruling structures in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

All three of these latter countries may be termed as belonging to the classical  "Anglosphere," the geopolitical construct ascribed to Winston Churchill in which ethnicity trumped almost all other qualities. It was Churchill, the wartime prime minister of Great Britain, who insisted over President Roosevelt's objections that the freedoms promised in the Atlantic Charter were to apply only to the peoples of Europe and not to those in Asia or Africa who were denied their liberty for years after the Allied victory in the "war for democracy." A war in which, let it be noted, more than two million Indian soldiers served (and a further six million auxiliaries worked in defense industries and logistics). This is a figure far in excess than the numbers mustered by France yet Winston Churchill rewarded France with a seat at the post-war High Table in preference to India. Had Churchill continued to get his way, even China would not have gained admission to the Big Five in the United Nations Security Council, as the country was not European or neo-European. While Churchill deserves the admiration of the world for the manner in which he confronted Germany's Nazi dictatorship, his attitude in matters of ethnicity marked him as belonging firmly to the 19th century.

With Barack Obama's 2009 entry into the Oval Office, it was expected that the United States would lead the way to what may be termed a "21st Century Anglosphere," the grouping of countries with common linguistic, cultural and, let it be admitted, colonial ties to the former British Empire. While this concept has been around for some time, especially since Churchill emphasized the unity of the "English-speaking countries" in the period since German aggression launched World War II, what may be termed the "Classical (or Churchillian) Anglosphere" had ethnicity in addition to the English language as its foundation. Churchill rejected Roosevelt's view that those of the English-speaking world but not of European ancestry had the same claim to cultural and other traditions of that world.

An Entrenched Establishment Retards India's Political and Economic Development

Along with the United States and, of course, the United Kingdom, India would be the major player in a 21st century partnership of the English-speaking countries. Given that India is still a "work in progress," a closer association with the Anglosphere should help to nudge the country's ruling elites towards the legal and institutional reforms needed for a deepening of its democracy. An obvious candidate for change would be the prevailing political party structure in India, each of which is dominated by either a single family or an equally self-perpetuating clique of individuals.

Friday 15 October 2010

Ethnic dimension in Kashmir & Afghanistan (PO)

M D Nalapat

Together with Kashmir, a territory that divides the Pakistan establishment from its counterpart in India is Afghanistan, a land of great beauty that has suffered the cruelty of conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979. Led by the Pakistan military, the key policymakers in Islamabad wish to see an end to Indian interest in Afghanistan. This preference that has been embraced by countries such as China, Germany and Turkey, which take care to ensure that their international initiatives for that country do not include participation by Delhi. As for the US and the UK, while both believe that Pakistan’s support would be boosted by India being kept out of Afghanistan, neither is willing to risk its warming ties with Delhi by openly saying so. Of course, every now and again,” experts” close to the Obama administration (and friendly to the Pakistan military) such as

Barnett Rubin prescribe both a reduction in India’s involvement in Kabul as well as US and EU diplomacy to get Delhi to move much beyond the status quo in the matter of Kashmir. None of these scholars have fought a democratic election, so they can be forgiven for failing to understand the public consequences of any such “surrender” over Afghanistan and certainly Kashmir.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Will Wen’s India visit be a success? (PO)

M D Nalapat
During the last quarter of 2010, the Heads of Government of all the P-5 (Permanent Five in UN Security Council) will have visited India. The first to land in Delhi was UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who made an excellent impression in India, in contrast to some of his predecessors. Next followed US President Barack Obama, who created history by setting in stone the foundations laid by George W Bush of a US-India alliance. Next has come President Sarkozy of France, a country that even during the dark days of the Clinton administration was friendly to India (in contrast to the UK, which followed the Clinton line as faithfully as a poodle). On December 15,Premier Wen Jiabao of China comes calling, followed a week later by Russian President Dimitry Medvedev.

Friday 8 October 2010

Why should a democracy block Islamic banking? (PO)

M D Nalapat

Although efforts have been made over the past twenty years to bring Islamic banking into India — a country that has more Muslims than Pakistan — as yet the Reserve Bank of India and its master, the Union Finance Ministry, has not given permission for the same. The reason is simple. Across the financial establishment in India, the influence of US and EU financial interests is overpowering. Several senior civil servants have their close relatives working in such institutions, and therefore accept the advice given by them. Certainly, banks in foreign countries will not want the Indian government to clear the way for the establishment of Islamic banking centres, for that may result in funds flowing from Zurich, London, Frankfurt and New York (all major “Islamic” banking locations) to Mumbai or Kochi. Acting on cue, the monetary and finance authorities in India have continued to block access to Islamic banking avenues, thereby denying millions of observant Muslims in India a chance to keep their assets in safety.

As has been mentioned earlier in these columns, the “British” law that boosters of the Nehru family such as Amartya Sen and Sunil Khilnani are so proud of pointing to is in reality English law for colonial subjects, a construct very different from English law for Englishmen. The laws in India give overwhelming powers to the administrative machinery, and no redress to the citizen except through the goodwill of some other governmental agency.Over time, the duration of cases in India has lengthened in a way calculated to resemble the “yugas” of the ancient Indian epics (each of which lasts millions of years). Many civil cases take sixty to ninety years to finally get decided, while in a criminal matter, the final verdict usually comes after the convict has passed away due to old age. Days ago, there was a “superfast” judgment delivered in a Karnataka court against an individual accused of the murder of a software company employee. The time taken was five years, and this is only the first stage. Even at such a “superfast” pace, the appeals process can drag on for fifteen or more years before conclusion. India’s judicial system is now internationally known for the frequency of “stay orders” and the length of time that it takes for verdicts to get delivered.

Friday 1 October 2010

India-Pak, learn from China’s economy (PO)

M D Nalapat

When Bill Clinton fought against George Bush Senior in the 1992 US Presidential elections, he kept the focus on the economy, going so far as to get coined a motto: “It’s the economy, stupid”, thereby ensuring that his entire team focused on bread and butter issues. Clinton understood that voters vote with their wallets, rewarding those who are seen as promoting prosperity, and punishing candidates whose policies may perpetuate poverty. If Barack Obama got elected as US

President two years ago, a large part of the explanation may lie in the fact that his Republican Party predecessor, George W Bush, created an economic slowdown by going along with policies that promoted uncontrolled speculation and greed in business and banking circles. Even more devastating to US prosperity, Bush Junior ran two wars in the most expensive way possible, funneling contracts to high-cost US suppliers (many close to Vice-President Dick Cheney and other key supporters of his) rather than source materiel from the most cost-effective source, the way the US military operated during the Vietnam war.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Outsourcing policy to foreign NGOs (P.O.)

M.D. Nalapat

After a gap of more than six years, your columnist is once again in the country that a century ago ran half the world. For years, indeed decades, he has been fascinated with the way in which a small island nation expanded across the globe to secure territory and resources to fuel its prosperity. Some say that much of the cause can be attributed to the spirit of democracy that pervaded the United Kingdom. However, this may be a simplistic view, for the reality is that the UK of the Empire period was a class-ridden nation, where the nobility (both economic and ancestral) had privileges denied to the many. Unlike in France or Russia, where there was a revolution against the aristocracy, the English never revolted against their nobility, except for the brief spasm of republicanism led by Oliver Cromwell four centuries ago. Of course, the difference between Britain and Russia was that in the former, it was much more easy for a low-born person to become wealthy than during the reign of the Tsars. When the nobility monopolised top positions the way the upper castes did in ancient India.

Inequality of income is a fact of life, but if this is accompanied by as severe an inequality in opportunity, then the society concerned becomes brittle and easy to break. In any country where a “caste” system develops, in which power and money get monopolised by a small segment on the basis of birth, there will come a period when such a society can no longer meet the needs and begins to fall apart. Such a danger exists even in the country that is today well on the way to becoming the next superpower, China. Should the Communist Party of China (CCP) get dominated by “princelings” (the children of top party leaders), then the hold of the party over the people will slacken, as will morale and motivation inside the party, which would change into an instrument for the retention of privilege created by birth. Already, a disproportionate share of the top echelons of the CCP comprise of cadres who were lucky to be born of influential parents. If this segment grows at the expense of those (such as current CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao) who were born from humble stock, the rapidly-evolving population of China would begin to lose respect and loyalty towards a party that has made China once again a Great Power.

Friday 24 September 2010

Outsourcing policy to foreign NGOs (PO)

M D Nalapat

After a gap of more than six years, your columnist is once again in the country that a century ago ran half the world. For years, indeed decades, he has been fascinated with the way in which a small island nation expanded across the globe to secure territory and resources to fuel its prosperity. Some say that much of the cause can be attributed to the spirit of democracy that pervaded the United Kingdom. However, this may be a simplistic view, for the reality is that the UK of the Empire period was a class-ridden nation, where the nobility (both economic and ancestral) had privileges denied to the many. Unlike in France or Russia, where there was a revolution against the aristocracy, the English never revolted against their nobility, except for the brief spasm of republicanism led by Oliver Cromwell four centuries ago. Of course, the difference between Britain and Russia was that in the former, it was much more easy for a low-born person to become wealthy than during the reign of the Tsars. When the nobility monopolised top positions the way the upper castes did in ancient India.

Inequality of income is a fact of life, but if this is accompanied by as severe an inequality in opportunity, then the society concerned becomes brittle and easy to break. In any country where a “caste” system develops, in which power and money get monopolised by a small segment on the basis of birth, there will come a period when such a society can no longer meet the needs and begins to fall apart. Such a danger exists even in the country that is today well on the way to becoming the next superpower, China. Should the Communist Party of China (CCP) get dominated by “princelings” (the children of top party leaders), then the hold of the party over the people will slacken, as will morale and motivation inside the party, which would change into an instrument for the retention of privilege created by birth. Already, a disproportionate share of the top echelons of the CCP comprise of cadres who were lucky to be born of influential parents. If this segment grows at the expense of those (such as current CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao) who were born from humble stock, the rapidly-evolving population of China would begin to lose respect and loyalty towards a party that has made China once again a Great Power.

Friday 17 September 2010

Does “freedom” mean vote every 5 years? (PO)

M D Nalapat

Till two centuries ago, China comprised about 35% of the global economy while India accounted for around 26%. Only after the grip of European powers became strong in the 19th century that their economies contracted. The mentality of the European powers was that only they had the right to prosperity, while the rest of the world needed to be content as slaves. In India, Britain ensured the destruction of almost all of local industry, thereby seeking to create a market for its own manufactures. Certainly this brought some prosperity to the UK, but the wealth generated there would have been much more had India been allowed to continue to be a prosperous country. The markets for British produce would have been far larger. As for China, by squeezing revenue out of channels such as the opium trade, the European powers ensured the fall of the Imperial Dynasty and its replacement with a series of fractious and incompetent warlord regimes, a phase that ended only with the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949.

While China entered into its current period of economic growth through reform in the 1980s, till today India has continued with its colonial-era laws, that transfer obligations to the population and authority to the state Today, despite corrupt and incompetent governments at both the central and state levels, the Indian economy is growing at a speed of almost 10% annually, because of the savings of its people and their zeal for education and betterment. India is called a “free” country, while China is authoritarian, with no elections and single-party rule. However, here in Hong Kong, where your columnist has been since the beginning of the week, it would seem that people here have as much - if not more - freedom than people in Mumbai or Delhi, all of whom have to get permission from multiple authorities (usually in triplicate) before being allowed to do the simplest tasks.

Friday 10 September 2010

Is Manmohan Singh’s time up? (PO)

M D Nalapat

Had Manmohan Singh ended his political career as Finance Minister of India during 1992-96, he would have earned a few pages in the history books as the individual who implemented the 1992-94 economic reforms, which did so much to ensure a higher rate of growth. However, once he took over as PM in 2004, that period was relegated to the background. Whatever be the soft-spoken thinker’s place in history, it will almost entirely get based on his performance as PM. And it must be said that the five years since he took office have been disappointing. Economic reform stalled, while corruption continued to skyrocket. Those tracking the workings of government claimed that the final decision on most issues - especially those involving procurement - were taken by Number Ten ( 10 Janpath, the official residence of Congress President Sonia Gandhi) rather than Number Seven ( 7 Racecourse Road, the PM House).

Although the habitually tame English-language media in India said otherwise, the fact is that the public were underwhelmed by the performance of the Central government. Prices shot up, while urban infrastructure deteriorated. The progress of road construction was slow, while the provision of broadband internet and affordable mobile telephone charges was delayed. The tax structure and the web of government restrictions became ever more oppressive, and yet the much-written about Father of Reform did nothing. Of course, he busied himself in foreign policy, but to the population of India, what matters is the home front, not the fact that Singh and his demure better half were lionized in capitals across the globe. Those who had for long admired the man and saw him as a redeemer felt bitter, and many did not hesitate to vent their frustration in public, although they were of course in a minority. As is their wont, much of the media were fulsome in their praise of the PM, compliments that they bestowed on every holder of that office.

However, since the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) returned to power in 2009, Manmohan Singh changed. Several VVIPs were jailed for corruption, a drive that finally began netting the big fish rather than minnows. Petroleum prices were decontrolled and the money earned from auction of spectrum went up by more than twenty times. It had been no secret that the PM was deeply unhappy at the meagre revenue secured by the auction of 2G, but could do nothing because the political leadership of the party protected the alliance partner responsible. But when 3G began to be auctioned, Singh stepped in rather than keep away the way he had from 2004 to that period, and ensured a huge windfall for the exchequer. Of course, there have been two major failures on his watch, the first being price rise and the second Kashmir. After a flawless election in 2009, the reins of office were handed over to an untested Omar Abdullah, who expected the people of his state to emulate the US electorate and choose good looks over competence. The grandson of Sheikh Abdullah has been a total failure as CM, and ought not to have been given the reins when experienced leaders were available. Omar is considered part of the Rahul Gandhi Brigade, and if so, this first test of fire of this youthful team has been a disaster.

Friday 3 September 2010

India cannot ignore Myanmar and Iran (PO)

M D Nalapat

As Asian allies of the US know, in making demands - sorry, requests –of them, Washington looks only at what it perceives to be its own short-term advantage. Even if the recommended measure has the potential to have very harmful effects on its ally, the US ignores such an impact, and insists on its advice being followed. Small wonder that except for countries that are host to large numbers of US troops, few Asian countries uncritically follow the line given to them by the US State Department or other branches of the administration. If India has somehow managed to get by in a challenging neighbourhood, the reason lies in the fact that public opinion often forces even pro-US governments to reject advice coming from Washington.

Myanmar was an example of India going along with US and European wishes. For more than ten years, Delhi toed the line taken by these two geopolitical giants, joining them in demanding that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi be released and enabled to take over the governance of the country. It needs to be admitted that this columnist is also an admirer of the charismatic Myanmarese leader, and has been since he was in his teens. At the time - and we are talking of the 1960s - he used to stay in a government residential colony in Delhi named “Maan Nagar”, and used to watch a graceful girl clad in multicoloured lungis visit the home of the Burmese diplomat staying opposite. Even in those days, Suu Kyi was the very expression of grace and poise, who was moreover polite enough to once in a way return the greetings of the scrawny boy who used to look up from his book whenever she visited the neighbour’s quarters. Of course, despite this bias towards Myanmar’s valiant democracy warrior, he is in agreement that India’s geopolitical needs mandate engagement with the regime now ruling that country,and that the adoption of a US-style policy of sanctions would help neither the people of Myanmar nor India’s interests.

Friday 27 August 2010

A people drowning in red-tape (PO)

M D Nalapat

Under its energetic Vice-Chancellor, Seyed Hasnain, the venerable University of Hyderabad has sought to improve both its image as well as its performance. As a part of the process of modernization that he has initiated, the Vice-Chancellor decided to award honorary doctorates to mathematical wizard David Mumford and World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand. In India, the Ministry of Human Resource Development seeks to control every operation of a university except perhaps staff visits to the canteen, hence its permission was sought for the award of the honour. Strangely, some within the gargantuan HRD Ministry bureaucracy objected to the award of a doctorate to “that foreigner Anand”, forgetting both that Anand was an Indian citizen and that the other awardee was British. In the arrogant style copied from earlier colonial masters of India, the ministry demanded that Anand “prove that he was Indian”, a step that enraged the chess grandmaster’s many fans in India. Finally, a media outcry led to the HRD Minister himself apologizing for the error. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal is a well-meaning and capable son of the Punjab who is seeking to unshackle Indian education from a ministry that retards rather than promotes human resource development, but instead finding that the reverse is taking place, with more and more controls getting established.

Although the HRD ministry has, in the way usual with the Indian bureaucracy, been secretive about just who was the (hitherto faceless) official who sought to question the nationality of “Vishy”, hopefully this information will soon become public knowledge, once Right to Information queries get filed and processed. However, it is unlikely that the culprit will be punished, or even rebuked, for seeking to humiliate an Indian icon. While power is plentiful in the Indian system of governance, accountability is almost totally absent. For example, none of the many officials who slept for four years over the corruption now exposed in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games has been subject to disciplinary action. Only a handful connected with the Games themselves have been forcibly sent on leave or retired, mainly to ensure that the public stain does not reach higher than them. A country that has 200 million people going to bed hungry each night is estimated to have spent $6 billion on a sporting extravaganza that seems likely to get drenched in unseasonal monsoon showers. Certainly, several well-connected people must have gained immense benefit from such a waste of taxpayer rupees.

Friday 20 August 2010

With courage, Pak people face Nature (PO)

M D Nalapat

Unlike the catastrophe in Haiti, which was extensively covered in international media, there has been much less coverage of the recent floods in Pakistan, caused by unprecedented rains. In Peshawar, on a single day (July 28) nearly 318 millimetres of rain fell, while the previous record was 217 millimetres - in an entire month. Stretching over 1500 miles and affecting nearly 25 million people, comparisons have been made between this flood and Cyclone Bhola in 1970, which hit then East Pakistan. However, while Bhola led to an estimated 300,000 deaths, the loss from the present disaster has thus far been contained at less than 2000 directly dead, although illnesses and accidents can push this figure higher during the coming weeks. Thus far less than $500 million have been pledged by foreign countries for flood relief, although close friends of Pakistan such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia can be expected to match the US contribution, thus far the biggest. Both governments need to launch an immediate appeal within their citizens to donate money for the floods, funds that should flow through agencies that have a good track record of effectiveness in their operations.

Where in 1970 it was East Pakistan that was hit, this time around the primary damage has been done in the Baloch and Pashtun territories of Pakistan. Major infrastructure has been destroyed, and livelihoods lost. The international community will need to locate $ 5 billion of civilian assistance each year for three years, if Pakistan is to regain the assets lost in a few deadly weeks last month. Although Pakistan’s main ally, the US, has given large amounts of assistance since the 1950s, the overwhelming bulk of this has gone to the military, a situation that is expected to continue under the Pakistan-friendly trinity of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and CIA chief Leon Panetta, two of whom are loyalists of Bill Clinton, while the Defense Secretary is a George W Bush pick. Although Candidate Obama sought to distance himself from the Washington DC Beltway, once elected President, he ensured that his administration is 70% Clinton, 20% Bush and 10% Obama in its composition, one reason why the gloss seems to have disappeared from Barack Obama, who promised change but has thus far delivered a warmed-over version of the past two decades.

Friday 13 August 2010

Sonia Gandhi scripts Kashmir policy (PO)

M D Nalapat

Far and away the most powerful person in India, Congress President and United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi wields the most power within the Manmohan Singh government, and in any conflict of views between her and the PM, it is the latter who usually gives way, because of Gandhi’s total control over the legislative and organisational machinery of the Congress Party. With a preference for meeting important visitors in the book-lined study of her government-provided home at 10 Janpath in New Delhi, the “CP” is invariably gracious and warm to her V VIP guests, though she always makes her own preferences known, and expects that they will be carried out. In the matter of policy towards Kashmir, the CP’s lead advisor is regarded as being Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah,a close friend of the Peoples Democratic Party heiress Mehbooba Mufti. Very different from his father, a distinguished officer in the Indian army known for his leftist views and strong sense of secular nationalism, the suave Wajahat believes that the Government of India should walk an extra thousand miles in order to satisfy the aspiration of the Sunnis in the Kashmir Valley for “Azaadi”. He regards it as part of Indian diversity that a regime get established in Kashmir that would bring into its governance structure several of the elements of Sharia law, and where the Sunnis of the Valley would put in place policy that gives them the central place in the entire state, despite the presence within it of a majority of Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Shias, Gujjars and others.

Given the close proximity of CEC Habibullah to Gandhi, it is no surprise that this is the very policy that the Congress Prime Minister is seeking to pursue in Kashmir. Three days ago, Manmohan Singh went on national television to deliver a speech that even mentioned the word “azaadi”, although he had to suffix it with the remark that any solution had to be within the confines of the Constitution of India. It was the last remark that led to the numerous pro-Pakistan elements within the Kashmir polity rubbishing the PM’s offer, and demanding nothing less than a Kosovo-style independence from Delhi. Indeed, several within the Valley believe that it is only a matter of time before NATO forces - together with troops from the OIC countries - land in Kashmir and give them the freedom they so passionately seek. While such expectations had sharply subsided during the period when the BJP-led government was in power, the “Habibullah Line” on Kashmir that is being pursued since 2004 has led once again to a steep rise in the number of those who believe that if there is enough mayhem on the streets, international intervention will follow. Chance remarks by foreign diplomats - who seem drawn to Kashmir the way ants swarm towards honey - have only fed such expectations, thereby resulting in the present massive show of Street Power by tens of thousands of Valley Sunnis.

Friday 6 August 2010

India’s Corruption Games 2010 (PO)

M D Nalapat

The only two countries in the world that each have a billion-plus population are India and China, and there is corruption in both. However, the difference is that even dishonest officials in China seek ways of implementing approved policies, in the process, earning some money on the side. However, in India, so far as the huge army of corrupt politicians and officials is concerned, the entire objective of decision-making is to earn money. In the process, if some good gets done, that is entirely accidental. So, whereas in China the making of money is a by-product, with the focus being on ensuring results, in the case of India, results are the (rare) by-product. The sole objective behind each decision is to make money, as much of it as is possible.

During the first five years of the present Sonia Gandhi-led United Progressive Front government in New Delhi, then Union Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram (now Union Home Minister) greatly increased the powers of the tax collection and regulatory agencies, so that these days, they are as operationally unaccountable to the public as was the case during the years when India was ruled by the East India Company. The stock market regulator - the Securities and Exchange Board of India, or SEBI - passes a slew of orders that either bar some companies from doing any business or help other entities in theirs. On record, there seems to be very little justification for either step, so clearly the actual reasons are such as to be invisible to the naked eye. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) curries goodwill in financial markets in the European Union (the only location that the RBI’s colonial-era higher-level team respond to) by repeatedly raising interest rates and accelerating the very inflation that they profess to reduce.

Friday 30 July 2010

Why “hawks” carry the day in India (PO)

M D Nalapat

Although many within the subcontinent point to the simillarities, the reality is that by the dawn of the 21st century, at the least the Indian and Pakistani militaries have developed two very different cultures. Especially from the 1970s, the effort in Rawalpindi has been to look westwards, at the Arab countries, Turkey and Iran to bring together the elements of a Pakistan identity. India and its culture and history have been left behind, even while elements of it - such as Mohenjo Daro and Taxila - show that the land of Pakistan has hosted civilisations that were world leaders two millenia ago. Since the period of General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, there has been a steady congruence between the culture of Saudi Arabia and the ethos of the Pakistan army, even though in Pakistan as a whole Sufi remnants remain strong. Even these days,in the local cultures, there is an emphasis on Pirs and Makhdooms, concepts alien to Saudi Wahabbism.

Even had he been denied any assistance from Washington, General Zia would still have sought to help the Afghan mujahideen. Indeed, there is evidence that units of this Pashtun militia were formed in Pakistan soon after the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The plan of then US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brezesinski to defeat Moscow by the giving of assistance to the mujahideen was based on advice given by GHQ Rawalpindi to contacts in the Pentagon in the beginning of 1980. Of course, Brezezinski may never admit to following any advice not given by his friends from Europe!.

Friday 25 June 2010

Nirupama Rao comes calling in Pakistan (PO)

M D Nalapat

Unlike more conservative societies such as Saudi Arabia, which prize uniformity and discourage diversity, India prides itself on its mosaic of faiths and peoples. The food, dress and attitudes in an eastern state such as West Bengal is very different from that in the northern state of Rajasthan. The first has had a Communist government in power since the 1960s,while the latter still respects the Maharajas whose kingdoms were taken over in 1947 and who - despite having signed a binding covenant with the Government of India at the time – were deprived of their titles and much of their wealth in 1969 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, to whom the only law that mattered was her personal whims.

Even nearby states are very different. Maharashtra (where Mumbai is situated) is one of the most poorly administered states in India, where even the police are more likely to side with lawbreakers than with law-abiders. This was on international display less than two years ago, when a few scruffy youngsters held the city to ransom for three days after having come ashore from Karachi. The reaction of the Mumbai police (except for a very few instances of personal courage) would have made Inspector Clouseau of Pink Panther fame look serious. That it took more than 72 hours to clear them away from just three buildings revealed the sorry state of preparedness of Mumbai against a terror attack, in contrast to Pakistan, where action against desperados has been swifter. In contrast, the next-door state of Gujarat has a super-efficient government that ensures one of the highest rates of economic growth in India.

Friday 18 June 2010

Cost of an Indian life $500 (PO)

M D Nalapat

Prime Minister Rajiv Ratna Birjees Gandhi’s political future was permanently darkened by the 1987 revelations about illegal payments made for purchase of Bofors guns. At the time, there were suggestions that the media frenzy in India was being fuelled by leaks from a competitor of Bofors that had lost the gun contract. Whatever the source, the information about illegal payments was so detailed that Rajiv Gandhi spent his last two years in office firefighting, his effectiveness eroded despite an overwhelming majority in Parliament. The Bofors wave resulted in the Congress Party’s defeat in the 1989 Lok Sabha (Lower House) elections,resulting in the formation of a government headed by Rajiv’s former Defense Minister V P Singh, whose main campaign slogan was that he would bring the guilty to book within a year.

Of course, nothing of the kind happened. As soon as V P Singh began to occupy the Prime Minister’s spacious office in South Block, his enthusiasm for Bofors died, perhaps because quite a few of his allies were also implicated in the scandal. Instead of seeking to clean up the administrative machinery of the Government of India (where people turn from paupers to billionaires in a year’s time), V P Singh decided to let loose caste fury across the country, by pushing for a higher reservation for “Backward Castes” in government jobs. This group ranks just above Dalits in the traditional Hindu hierarchy (which incidentally is largely followed by Christians and Muslims as well, who are each divided into “high”, “middle” and “low” castes, although not on paper. The resultant uproar led to his resignation and replacement by political rival Chandra Shekhar, who in his turn was quickly overthrown by Rajiv Gandhi, who sensed that his party could return to power in the elections. The Congress Party did get close to a majority in 1992,but this was due to the sympathy wave that followed the assassination of the young leader by the LTTE, in revenge for his having sent an Indian military force to Sri Lanka four years earlier.

Friday 11 June 2010

No visas for S Asia media dialogue (PO)

M D Nalapat

Wafting through the corridors of North Block, the abode of India’s sprawling Home Ministry, are rumours that Congress President Sonia Gandhi wants a more youthful face to her loyal government than the 77-year old Manmohan Singh, and that her choice is the athletic 64-year old, Palaniappan Chidambaram, who was shifted from Finance to Home after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008. The new minister in charge of internal security shares with the current Prime Minister the advantage (in Sonia Gandhi’s eyes) of having a zero political base, thus being unable to pose any political challenge to the Nehru dynasty, which was ruled the Congress Party (and usually the country) since the 1930s. Should Chidambaram be appointed PM, he is unlikely to repeat Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s feat of replacing the Bandaranaike family’s control over the Lankan ruling party with that of his own clan. Congress office-bearers say that the Congress President’s instruction to her new Home Minister was simple: prevent another terrorist attack, so as to prevent the BJP from staging a comeback on the back of public insecurity.

Chidambaram, who in his other life is one of the country’s top lawyers, knows that he has to deliver, and his chosen way has been to reinforce the system of bureaucratic control that he had favoured while Finance Minister from 2004 to 2008. During that time, he ensured that sweeping powers were given to the Income-Tax Department, so that in today’s “democratic” India, any taxman can - in his subjective estimation - accuse a citizen of evading taxes by concealing income, and freeze bank accounts and take over property. Several such actions have been taken out of the purview of courts by modifications in the rules introduced by Chidambaram, not that the courts in India can be expected to deliver justice in a single lifetime. For example, the Bhopal phosgene gas leak caused 15,000 deaths and more than 117,000 serious illnesses in 1984. Only last week (26 years later) has a token sentence of 2 years in jail been awarded to the officers of Union Carbide, the US company that operated the Bhopal plant. Naturally, the convicted officers all got bail immediately after the verdict, and went home to their families, even as the Bhopal victims still writhe in pain and starve because several are physically unable to work.

Friday 4 June 2010

Communists face defeat in India (PO)

M D Nalapat

Visitors to China will go to book stores without seeing a single copy of the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the authors of the “Communist Manifesto”. In contrast, should they visit India, several bookstores carry the works of the two, while in cities in Bengal and Kerala, communist literature is plentiful. Jesef Stalin and Vladimir Lenin may have been tossed aside in Russia, but not in these two States, where even today, they are lovingly commemorated in conferences and even in curricula. Indeed, the first place where a communist party came to power in a free election was Kerala, which elected the Communist Party to office in 1957, only to have the central government dismiss it in 1959,after an agitation led by the Catholic Church that was backed by the daughter of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Congress President Indira Gandhi. Soon afterwards, in 1967, the Communists were back in power, not only in Kerala but also in West Bengal.

Nationally, the only time that Communists have held office was during 1996-97, when the Home portfolio was looked after by Indrajit Gupta. Indeed, there was even a prospect of India getting a Communist as Prime Minister, something that would have choked off the economic liberalisation that has powered this country’s ascent since the 1990s. Luckily for the economy, a section of the Marxist leadership sabotaged the chances for West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu to move to Delhi, thus clearing the way for the Karnataka leader H D Deve Gowda to take charge, although only for a year. After that, the high point of Communist and Marxist influence in the central government came in 2004,when the government led by Manmohan Singh was forced to depend on the 61 MPs of the Left to ensure a majority in Parliament. In the 2009 polls, the Red bastions fell, and today, the two Communist parties are once again sitting on the outside, except in Tripura, West Bengal and Kerala States. While the Communist parties (the pro-Moscow Communist Party of India and the pro-Beijing Communist Party of India-Marxist) have both won and lost elections in Kerala, in Bengal they have been continuously in power for more than three decades, a record of longevity only equalled by the Congress Party, which was in office in India from 1947 to 1977 without facing defeat. The long years of “Red Rule” have changed the culture and mindset in Bengal, pushing to the sidelines the courtly, aristocratic culture that has for hundreds of years been the hallmark of the Bengali. In days past, visitors to Kolkatta (then named Calcutta) would marvel at the charm and politeness of every local citizen he or she encountered, from taxi drivers to hotel receptionists to shop assistants. They were matched in good behaviour only by the old Lucknow aristocracy, which to this day retains the formal traditions of the Mughal Court.

Saturday 27 February 2010

FM Qureshi seen as Army favourite (PO)

M D Nalapat

Although as yet far behind in quantitative terms, the Indian elite see their country as China’s equal. While rates of growth have decelerated in China since the 1980s,they have accelerated in India. And like Pakistan, the second most-populous country in the world has a young population, while China’s is ageing. By 2027, the effect of this is expected to boost India’s prospects of catching up with what will at that time be the world’s largest economy (in Purchasing Power Parity terms), China. Hence it was with anger that South Block, the home of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of external Affairs, heard of Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s “blank cheque” to the Chinese Communist Party to mediate the Indo-Pakistan dispute.

Earlier, US President Barack Obama had made a cringing visit to China, during which he had generously made to the Chinese leadership the offer first made by Bill Clinton 13 years earlier, of partnering with Washington in “managing” India-Pakistan relations. That offer had led to the mistrust of Obama that today pervades the Indian establishment Why did Foreign Minister Qureshi make such a statement just two days before Foreign Secretary-level talks between the two sub continental neighbours? He would certainly have been aware of the strong Indian distaste of involving any country in the bilateral tango between India and Pakistan, especially China, which since 1963 has been aligned with Islamabad in its bid to limit Delhi’s freedom of action. There are three theories doing the rounds within Raisina Road, the Indian Beltway.

Saturday 20 February 2010

Subdued reaction to India-Pakistan talks (PO)

M D Nalapat

Besides the current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, India has had three PMs who were very much in favour of reaching out to Pakistan. The first was Morarji Desai, the austere Gandhian from Gujarat who became the first non-Congress PM of India in 1977. Morarji began the day drinking a cup of his own urine (and, perhaps for unrelated reasons, remained spry and fit throughout his 99 years). He was a pacifist who, as Finance Minister under Jawaharlal Nehru, reduced budgets for India’s military during 1959-62, a factor which experts believe helped cause the defeat of the Indian army at the hands of the Chinese. As Prime Minister, he refused to intervene in the matter of the imprisonment and subsequent execution of Z A Bhutto by General Zia, publicly saying that this was an internal matter of Pakistan’s. He refused Israel permission to use Indian facilities for a pre-emptive strike on Pakistani nuclear installations, and withdrew all Indian intelligence networks from Pakistan, a factor that probably contributed to his getting the Nishaan-i-Pakistan. Indeed, during his brief period in office, the Indian external intelligence agency Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) was sharply reduced in size and scope.

The next PM who was very friendly to Pakistan was I K Gujral, the pipe-smoking Jhelum-born Punjabi intellectual who took over in 1997. He enunciated the Gujral Doctrine, which held that as South Asia’s largest country, India should make the most sacrifices for peace. As PM, Gujral ordered a halt to all offensive covert activities in Pakistan, a decision that even today impacts India’s capabilities in its western neighbour. It was during his time that visa procedures for citizens of Pakistan were first relaxed, and some people-to-people interaction took place after fifty years of freeze. After him, the BJP’s A B Vajpayee belied the rhetoric of his party by becoming very friendly to Pakistan, especially to Mian Nawaz Sharif, for whom he had a strong bond of affection. Vajpayee saw Sharif as a man of peace, and came to Lahore in a bus in 1999,creating the hope that peace was at hand. However, the absence of the then Army Chief Pervez Musharraf from the Vajpayee-Sharif Lahore Summit was an ominous sign, that was followed by the Kargil operation and the coup against Sharif. After Kargil, Vajpayee no longer felt confident enough to continue with the peace process, although he did go ahead with two unilateral cease-fires in Kashmir, that were used by the Jehadis to consolidate their position.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Why colonial law for “free” citizens? (PO)

M D Nalapat

 Until General Zia-ul-Haq sought to align Pakistan culturally with Saudi Arabia in the 1970s by changing the laws of the land in a way that became closer to that country, Pakistan too had the same system of British colonial law as India. In the satisfaction at the “European” standard of such laws, what is forgotten is that the laws passed by the British in their Indian colony were not the same as those that were enacted for citizens of the UK. Instead the laws passed in India were designed for colonial subjects, and hence gave disproportionate power to the state authorities and very little rights to the citizen. Because of the potential for generating bribes and patronage that such British-era laws bring, political leaders in India have thus far refused to liberalise the laws in a manner that ensures that citizens of India cannot get persecuted by the state,the way they were under the British Raj.

In India, an Income-tax officer has the power to take away property and even liberty on the basis of a subjective decision, as was the case when the British were masters of the subcontinent. Several of the actions of the Income-tax department have been kept outside the purview of the court system, so that the citizen needs to appeal only to other officials to get redress. Thanks to such vast powers, it is easy for the government of the day to intimidate people, especially those with High Net Worth. Of course,even relatively poor and honest taxpayers can get harassed by the Income-tax department, especially if the order to do so has come - orally of course - from powerful politicians and the officials who toady to them. In India, there are many former Chief Ministers (of Indian states) who are in politics. Almost all of them have become super-rich, but only those who fall foul of the present governmnent have been subjected to searches and seizure of wealth. The others remain protected by their connections. Recently,there were raids on the residence of the former Chief Minister of Jharkhand state,Madhu Koda, an individual who has no contacts with India’s influential media fraternity. According to the authorities,about $1 billion was recovered, in the form of foreign bank accounts. While the figure may look large,the reality is that Madhu Koda is a poor man when compared to the immense wealth acquired by some other former Chief Ministers,several of whom are in office under the very dispensation that arrested Koda (because he was a political inconvenience to the government). Had every former Chief Minister been raided and investigated, it would have been a matter for congratulation. However, what the nation saw was a few being punished, while the many escaped.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Hidden hand poisoning ties between India and the West? (UPI Asia)

Manipal, India — Quiet surveys conducted through multiple sources indicate that the root of the spasms of "curry bashing" – violent attacks on Indian students – seen in Australia over the past year is the belief of migrants from some European states that only whites ought to be allowed to emigrate to Australia.Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, Germany ensured that a huge chunk of Western Europe's resources would go into subsidies for the eastern part of the continent, believing that ethnicity would trump economics.

Had Western Europe adopted a strategy of relying on global skills for its expansion, rather than relying on a single source, Eastern Europe, with a half-century history of dysfunctional educational and occupational networks, that most productive part of the world would have witnessed rates of growth closer to those of India and China than to Japan’s.

As matters stand, the hugely expensive Western gamble on Eastern Europe is likely to see the eclipse of Western European companies within the next 15 years, faced as they will be by competition from China, India and Brazil. Had even one-third of the investment that flowed into Eastern Europe gone to India, for example, the returns from that would have been enough to wipe out the losses now being made in Eastern Europe.
Eastern Europe surely includes many highly artistic, liberal and talented individuals. Yet it also includes those whose notions of ethnic privilege belong to a bygone era, but have now been made the foundation for EU immigration policies.

Such individuals would like to see the United States, Canada and Australia copy the European Union in shutting the door to those of non-European ethnicity. They have linked up with anti-nonwhite immigrant lobbies in all these countries to seek to enforce an effective ban on even highly skilled migrants from nonwhite countries.