Saturday 29 January 2011

This is Kashmir, Indian flags not allowed! (PO)

M D Nalapat

As India entered the 62nd year of the founding of the Republic, television screens were filled not by the ritualistic parade on Rajpath (formerly Kingsway), but by the efforts of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to hoist the Indian tricolour atop Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day (January 26). Although those favouring either independence for Kashmir or integration with Pakistan swore to stop the BJP from hoisting the national flag, what stopped the party was the Jammu & Kashmir state government assisted by the Centre. The Prime Minister himself publicly frowned on the BJP’s “Tiranga Yatra” (Tricolour March), warning that such a move would once again plunge the Kashmir valley into the chaos that had been its lot for months as the result of determined teams of young stone-palters.

Finally, the two top BJP leaders who headed the Yatra had to return in defeat, contenting themselves with raising the flag in Kathua, a town in Jammu where the BJP has a strong presence. They were barred from leaving the Jammu airport, and when they protested, were arrested and taken away from the summer capital of Kashmir. Both Leader of the Opposition in the Lower House (Lok Sabha) Arun Jaitley and Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) saw discretion as the best part of valour, and accepted the order to abort the Yatra with nothing more than a grumble for the cameras. The shamefaced return of the two BJP stalwarts was indicative of the fact that the BJP has become an “opponent” very willing to bark, but terrified to bite.Indeed, Jaitley in particular has annoyed his party’s cadres by his refusal to target Sonia Gandhi, the boss of the ruling coalition, for reasons unknown. The internet has been buzzing with angry mails about his alleged demand that the name of Sonia Gandhi should not be mentioned in any BJP communication about the criminal hoards of foreign money held by ruling politicians in Swiss and other banks. Some say that it is the friendship of himself and his wife with Navin and Rupika Chawla that is the reason for Jaitley’s extraordinary forbearance towards a politician who has made no secret of her determination to eliminate the BJP from the country’s politics. Former Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla and his charming and accomplished spouse Rupika are close to both Sonia Gandhi as well as the Jaitleys, and their diplomatic skills are famed in Delhi.

Friday 21 January 2011

President Hu goes to Washington (PO)

M D Nalapat

Giving a rival credit is always difficult, so it is no wonder that few commentators in Europe, North America and India mention the fact that the ongoing visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the US is pathbreaking. In the past too, Chinese Heads of State have landed up in Washington. There was Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s and Jiang Zemin in the 1990s. Both Deng and Jiang worked hard to give a positive impression of China and its people to the US public, wearing cowboy hats and boots, and in Jiang’s case, singing a song in American English. During the 1980s,China was dependent on the US for almost all its technology and its economic progress, a situation that had not dramatically changed when Jiang Zemin came calling. However, from the time he took over power in 2002, Hu Jintao has concentrated on making China a technology superpower, nurturing R & D laboratories and presiding over the growth of world-class companies such as Huawei.

For the first time in the history of relations between China and the US, it is a meeting of equals. An Indian scholar in the US estimates that in Purchasing Power Parity terms, the economy of China is already as big as that of the US. Others say that it will take China about fifteen years to reach parity. However, what is not in doubt is that China under Hu Jintao and his designated successor Xi Jinping is on course to become the world’s biggest economy within the first quarter of the 21st century. In five years time, the country will most likely be competing with Boeing and Airbus to sell Aeroplanes across the world, and in ten years, will probably produce manufactures that are qualitatively superior to those being made within the powerhouse of the European Union, Germany. Over the past decade, China has moved away from being a low-end supplier of intermediates into a producer of sophisticated finished products, thereby posing a threat to the present commercial hegemony of the US and the EU.

Friday 14 January 2011

Army Chief appears before MPs committee (PO)

M D Nalapat

Although romantics stress the “closeness” between India and Pakistan (especially when they go armed with candles to the Wagah border crossing),the reality is that the two countries have evolved on entirely different trajectories. For the people of Pakistan, the special privileges given to those professing themselves to be Muslim are as natural as they are in Saudi Arabia.In India, the laws mandate that all religions should be treated equally. However, because of the effort of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to make Muslims feel secure in India after the bloodbath that followed partition, the minorities have been given privileges denied to the majority (Hindu) community. For example,schools and other educational institutions run by minority owners are exempted from most of the severe laws that are applied on those run by Hindus. And while almost all big Hindu temples are (mis)run by the government, the religious institutions of Christians and Muslims are free of state control.There would be an outcry if the many beautiful mosques and churches of India were to come under bureaucratic control,the way Hindu temples are.Interestingly,even while the so-called “Hindu” BJP was in power ( 1998-2004),it did nothing to free temples from state control.Clearly,the advantages of having wealthy temples firmly in the government grip outweighed the pull of ideology.In India,’Sabse Bada Rupaiya”. Money trumps all.

However,the advantages given to the minorities and the equality of status they enjoy in India are a far cry from the privileged position of Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, two countries that are increasingly being linked together by a common socio-religious culture. When Muslims from India go to locations such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and see the way the faith they love has been given a privileged status in these two countries (as indeed,in Malaysia and in the entire GCC Group), some get upset that a similar high pedestal is not provided for them in India. However, most are happy at being part of a secular society, although this makes them different from the populations of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan,two religious states where a single faith rules. However,the difference between India and Pakistan excludes the economic elite. Those who are super-rich are the same in any part of the globe. They drink the same brands of alchohol and favour London and Paris as holiday destinations rather than Shimla or Murree. When they meet each other,their common values ( centred around their money) ensure smooth interaction. So while there are huge differences between an average Pakistani and an average Indian,there is almost no difference between a super-rich Pakistani and a super-rich Indian. Such closeness gives an illusion that the entire society is similar,when in fact it is not.

Friday 7 January 2011

Moment of truth for India’s closest colonials? (PO)

M D Nalapat

Most parts of the creaky - and corrupt — bureaucracy that swallows up more than a third of national income are unaware that the British Raj ended in 1947,and that India is a free country. Most of the laws of the land are based in the colonial-era formulations,each designed to tie down the population and slowly grind them down into the poverty-stricken,illiterate masses that they overwhelmingly were when India became “free”. Jawaharlal Nehru loved British colonial constructs,and saw to it that they remained, by ensuring that laws, procedures and personnel remained the same. An example was that of Girija Shankar Bajpai, who was sent by Churchill to the US during the 1939-45 war to convince President Roosevelt that Indians were unfit to attain freedom. When a native lisped such words, Churchill expected,they would be taken seriously and the US pressure on him to grant at least some autonomy to the natives would get reduced.Bajpai performed with felicity,and Roosevelt soon silenced those in his team who wanted a clear commitment from Churchill that the freedoms mentioned in the Atlantic Charter would be given to the people of India. Alas,Churchill,who left India as a subaltern with a medley of debts behind him,including to the prestigious Bangalore Club (where his name still adorns the records as a defaulter), believed that only those who were of European origin deserved any freedom at all,and who was therefore determined to hold on to India for eternity.

Strangely,it is Churchill and the Churchillians who are the heroes of several within the top rungs of those manning key institutions in India. An example is the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), whose top echelon is ever attentive to signals from New York, Zurich, Frankfurt and London, relying on advice from them. Days ago,the RBI threw oil markets in India into a spin when it meekly followed advice from London and New York to block payments to and from Iran through the usual mechanisms, without first putting in place an alternative system. The RBI - which follows a policy of sky-high interest rates and severe curbs on Indian business transactions so as to help foreign competitors - was allowed to do this by the Manmohan Singh government,which is still smarting over Grand Ayatollah Khamenei’s repeated calls to the Muslim Ummah to wage war on India, a war that would presumably be waged against India’s 160 million Muslims as well. The Grand Ayatollah,whose knowledge if geopolitics seems to be at the same level as his fluency in Esperanto, has converted a friend into a foe through his statements against India, with the result that Teheran no longer has any friends in Delhi who can stand up to international bullying. Of course,the best course would be for the two countries to accept each other’s currency. Iran can use the rupees it earns to set up projects in India or buy manufactures and services from this country.