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.