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.