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.

However, neither London nor New York would approve of such a move,as both seek to reduce India-Iran trade to zero.And because the RBI follows orders from afar, it seems likely that it will reject any move to use each other’s currencies. Those at the top of this colonial-minded institution must be happy at the accolades they are winning in the only places that count - London, Zurich, Framkfurt and New York - at the way in which they are putting oil security at risk. After all,they have made New York and London happy by pushing up interest rates paid by Indian corporates, Zurich is delighted that the Government of India is continuing a policy of blocking the reverse inflow of money placed by Indian nationals in Swiss banks.Had there been anb amnesty,hundreds of billions of dollars would have returned to India, thereby creating employment and wealth.However,Zurich would be devastated,which is probably why the Reserve Bank of India and the Ministry of Finance oppose any practical scheme to get Indian money in Swiss banks back to India,instead chasing willow-the-wisps in a pretence of action.

Thus far, the cosy band of what may be called “Closet Colonials” has run a tight ship,ensuring that those who favour the continuation of the colonial straitjacket ( of course,dressed up attractively in populist garb) mutually protect each other. In India,the difference between “Ruling “ and “Opposition” is more apparent than real,because all sides butter each other up with regularity,taking care to see that core interests do not suffer.An example is the $45 billion 2G Spectrum Scam. Frantic efforts are being made to reduce the investigation into a political circus,by setting up committees of politicians to “investigate” the matter. If the personal staff of the Opposition leaders are quizzed,they would reveal that dozens of individuals from the telecom industry have been visiting them over the past few months,presumably to assist in investigations into their own wrongdoing. The reality is that the only hope of getting to the bottom of this scandal is by allowing the Supre Court to run the investigation,something that only the Prime Minister seems keen on doing, and with good reason.

Finally,change may be taking place. A sign is a new interest in investigative reporting by magazines and television channels that have long acted as lapdogs of the powerful. These days,a television channel not known in a decade for its zeal or courage has been breaking one story after the other,even those relating to one of the two “Touch Me Nots” “ of Indian politics,Sonia Gandhi (the other being Atal Behari Vajpayee). Thus far, the plethora of “free” media outlets in India have stayed far away from stories that may cast the owner of the Congress Party in a negative light,aware as they are that Sonia Gandhi is protected by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram,both of whom would do anything for their beloved leader,including setting loose the massive bureaucracies that they preside over. Despite this,the INDIA TODAY Group (run by Aroon Purie,who brought modern journalism into India in the 1970s as a young man but seemed lately to have gone to sleep) has become almost as feisty as Geo TV,a good sign for India. It is becoming harder for the Closet Colonials to protect their own,especially because the amount of wealth that they have accumulated cross into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Of course,the reaction has been to go after those who are not part of the charmed circle,such as the former Chief Justice of India, K G Balakrishnan, against whom a diversionary attack has been launched. His close relatives have all had their income-tax and bank accounts outed,as well as numerous property transactions. Balakrishnan is the only Chief Justice of India who was born a Dalit,a low caste that has been discriminated against in India (and Pakistan) for millenia. There are several former Chief Justices whose relatives have accumulated vast wealth,including the family of former Chief Justice Sabharwal. However, none of those have come into media attention the way Justice Balakrishnan has been.Hopefully,this will soon get rectified.

Because of redistricting,many more parliamentary seats are urban rather than rural.The urban voter is more demanding of his MP than the rural,and far more fickle.Hence the pressure for change. Over the past few weeks,the Central Bureau of Investigation has been dancing around the question of what action to take against the VIPs that it knows are guilty of the scams that have come to public notice.Thus far,true to form,these VIPs have been given kid glove treatment. Thus far,none of them have even been chargesheeted,leave alone arrested. However,because of the efforts being made by young elements in the media (assisted by whistleblowers eager for change) , public anger is mounting,and this may force the hand even of this famously corrupt agency. Most important is the fact that the Prime Minister of India is an honest individual,who therefore has the moral courage to go after the scamsters,should he find the political courage to do so. 2011 is becoming a Year of Change thus far,despite the efforts of the Closet Colonials to smother the drive towards high-level accountability.

Corruption is the disease that is ruining India. The difference that an administration can make can be seen in two satellite cities of Delhi,Gurgaon and NOIDA. While the first comes under a Congress government,the other is under the control of Chief Minister Mayawati,who expects to become the first Dalit Prime Minister of India. It is well kjnown that Haryana (the state where Gurgaon is situated) has become the hunting grounds of land grabbers with high-level support from the Congress Party. the Chief Minister has to fend calls for assistance from VVIPs every day,with the result that the administration has become slack,and Gurgaon’s roads look like moon craters. Although the city boasts many high-tech centres and generates billions of dollars in taxes,its civic amenities are rudimentary and law and order non-existent.Many residents have suffered as a result,but it seems that all the VVIPs care for is themselves.In contrast,the roads and civic amenities in NOIDA are far better,even though UTtar Pradesh has been among the most backward states in India. Chief Minister Mayawati is doing a far better job than Chief Minister Hooda,because - unlike him - she is her own boss.The poor Chief Minister of Haryana is in reality nothing but an office boy for powerful people in the All India Congress Committee.

The way matters are developing,it seems unlikekly that the PM will be able to solve the mountain of scams that is on his plate.This failure will most probably lead to political turmoil on a scale that may make elections likely in 15 months time.In those elections,hopefully, the Closet Colonials will finally be given their comeuppance,after having looted the country for six decades on a scale that dwarfs the loot indulged in by the Mughals and the British.

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