Sunday, 29 May 2011
By M D Nalapat
THE external image of the Maino family, which runs the country that claims to be the world's biggest democracy, has been carefully and expensively cultivated. Interviews are bestowed only to those journalists who can be expected to lob softballs and to assist in the creation of the aura of saintliness and patriotism which suffuses each of the numerous official accounts of UPA chairperson Sonia Maino.
Space within the internet gets filled up with laudatory accounts, even while—mysteriously—snide references crop up in sites which feature the handful of individuals who challenge the Maino Myth. Union Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram is believed to be behind several of the numerous commands made to website administrators to expunge negative references to the individual whom Chidambaram expects will catapult him to the prime ministership. He has masterminded an internet control law that would make it legally possible for the central and state police agencies to send to prison almost any surfer of the world wide web. Surprisingly, Opposition in India has remained silent over this egregious assault on individual freedoms.
Whenever Sonia’s two sisters, or mother, or nephews and nieces or close personal friends such as the Quatrocchi clan come and go from India after visiting with The Madame, the media are kept far away. Indeed, so are the ordinary people of India, so complete is the security surrounding this privileged group. Their reliance on corporate jets goes unrecorded, as does the fact that exit and entry formalities are minimal, even for individuals who have no security clearance. The numerous foreign visits they make are conducted in secrecy, as is the guest list at the pricey locations where they are put up in by obliging ‘friends’. Not surprisingly, thus far there have been no photographs or news reports about any of the extended Maino clan, while items about Sonia Maino and her two children are almost always in terms that would bring a smile of approval to known admirers of the family, such as Sunil Khilnani or Amartya Sen. Those running media outlets know the baleful consequences of treating Sonia Maino the way the UK media treats David Cameron, or the US media sees Barack Obama. Such lack of teflon is reserved for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has far less sway over his ministers than political secretary to Congress president Ahmed Patel.
Lately, when Rahul Gandhi was informed by his entourage that a heap of cowdung was actually charred human remains, his find was breathlessly covered by the entire media, with a few outlets still reluctant to admit that a Maino could get facts so spectacularly wrong after it was shown that the claim was false. This columnist admits to sympathy for Rahul Gandhi, who may yet bloom into an effective leader. However, this can take place only if he escapes from the protective shadow of his mother and treats the people of India as people deserving of rights and respect, rather than see them the way his mother does, as a seething mass of people who need to be constantly kept under the control of the state. In the guise of ‘security constraints’, Sonia Maino has insulated herself from the very people who have given her entire family status.
Friday, 27 May 2011
M. D. NalapatAll talk about the “emergence” of India and China has stopped with the continuance of the ceaseless bombarding of Libyan cities by NATO. This alliance seems able to go into action only in situations where it faces very weak opposition. Against such weaklings, its
soldiers, sailors and aircrew fight eagerly, conducting their missions with impunity, whether it be against the Serbians in the former Yugoslavia a decade ago or against the legally recognized regime in Libya, that made the mistake of surrendering its WMD capability peacefully in 2003,only to now face attempted decapitation. Each bomb dropped by NATO on Libya shows up the weakness of China and India, both of which have been forced to watch this attack on a defenseless country in silence. Those who believed that they could rely on Beijing to block UN Security Council action crafted by the majority group of the US, the UK and France have now been shown to be wrong. The Chinese do not want to annoy the NATO powers, on whom it depends for much of its export markets.
What a contrast to the period when Mao Zedong or even Deng Xiaoping was in charge. Those two were revolutionaries, unafraid to challenge the world. Chairman Mao at one time went against both the US and the USSR, although the 1960s were harsh years for the economy of the Peoples Republic. Unlike the present, when Beijing is silent at the assault on Libya by a coalition led by France and the UK, in the past it provided immense assistance to North Vietnam in that entity’s successful battle against the US. But for such help, the Vietnam war would have been far longer and much less difficult for the US to carry out. Of course, in 1979, Deng had in effect become China’s Paramount Leader when that country punished Vietnam by a brief 1962-style war, that was conducted not to gain territory but to make the point that Chinese interests could not be ignored by any neighbour. In 1962, the Peoples Liberation Army swept aside Indian forces in the north-east, only to return to the earlier positions once Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had been shown to be a “paper tiger” in his numerous statements that India would “reclaim the land occupied by the Chinese”.
Friday, 20 May 2011
M D Nalapat
Immediately after the killing of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad, some military chiefs in India expressed confidence that they too were capable of carrying out a similar operation. Soon afterwards, India’s mild-mannered Prime Minister had to point out the obvious, that India was “not the US”, and therefore that it was not possible for Delhi to replicate the feat of Washington. Around the same time, in a predictable reaction to the posturing of the Indian military, ISI chief Shuja Pasha warned that “targets were prepared” for a strike, in case India carried out a US-style mission. This is, of course, no secret, that Pakistan will retaliate to an Indian strike in contrast with its acceptance of a US one. On the Indian side, even the monkeys that infest the precincts of South Block (the headquarters of the Defense Ministry) are aware that nineteen locations within Pakistan have been identified for a retaliatory attack, should there be a nuclear adventure against India. Such a sequence of action and inevitable reaction is the reason why a nuclear war between India and Pakistan is outside the realm of possibility, and why even a conventional war is almost impossible. Neither side would have much to gain from such a conflict, even should it finally prevail, and a lot to lose.
Thursday, 19 May 2011
Wednesday, 18 May 2011
By M D Nalapat
DAYS after the terror attack on Mumbai that took place on 26-28 November 2008, this columnist was informed by elements in the intelligence community that the operation had been conducted by the ISI, and that serving—in addition to retired—officers of the ISI and other military formations in Pakistan had provided the training and logistics for the youths recruited to carry out the attack. The US-approved Chief of Army Staff, Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, had demanded of the ISI that the organisation “do something” to reduce the rate of growth of the Indian economy. In particular, Kayani wanted to reduce the growing commerce between India and the US-EU combine.
The ISI's reply was the Mumbai terror attack, which was carried out in collusion with elements in the Maharashtra establishment and with the help of sleeper cells within the hotel industry that had been activated in the months prior to the assault. That there was high-level complicity in the 26-28/11 attack became clear when none of the many leads that pointed to the involvement of local Al Qaeda-ISI supporters was ever followed up.
A check of flight records would have shown the number of visits made by friends and relatives of senior police and other officials in Maharashtra to Dubai and London (the two locations favoured by the ISI for meetings with their agents in India). None of this data was ever examined. Indeed, despite clear evidence that the ISI was behind the attack, incoming Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram meekly followed the Washington line (that the Pakistan state was not involved) and the Maino line (that there was zero local involvement in the planning and execution of the crime. It was only after the Obama administration gave permission to Chidambaram via the Headley confession that the Home Minister became more outspoken about the ISI hand. In contrast, on December3, 2008 itself and subsequently, this columnist revealed details about ISI involvement in his column in www.upiasia.com and elsewhere, to indifference from the Union Home Ministry which then—as now—was (and is) more intent on identifying and taking action against threats to the primacy of Sonia Gandhi than it is about national security.
Friday, 13 May 2011
M D Nalapat
Both the Indian as well as the Pakistani elites have yet to get over their feelings of inadequacy in confronting international challenges. This lack of self-confidence is what leads both to cling to outside players, rather than activate their own strengths. However, the reality is that either country has the size and capability to ensure that its own interests are protected, although of course, the local elites refuse to acknowledge this.
An example is the way the Pakistan elite has swung into a reactive mode when confronted by daily accusations of complicity in the harbouring of Osama bin Laden since 2002. Rather than wring one’s hands and plead innocence, what is needed is for the Pakistan establishment to come out with a comprehensive White Paper on Afghanistan, that would detail the way in which the CIA and other agencies used the Pakistan establishment for their own purposes. This columnist well remembers the 1990s, a period when US (and EU, and Chinese, and GCC) diplomats in Delhi ceaselessly urged Indian policymakers to concede to the demands being made by the jihadis battling Indian security forces in Kashmir. It was no secret that these elements were in even closer touch with US and EU diplomats in Delhi than they were with the intensely-monitored Pakistan mission. Not only diplomats but media-persons from the US and the EU routinely took the side of the jihadis in their reporting, as did outlets such as CNN and the BBC. It took 9/11 for that to change, some what. The Clinton administration followed the line of oil giant Unocal in seeing the Taliban as a friendly force capable of providing access to Central Asian petro-products via territory controlled by it. Senior US diplomats made several visits to cities in Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to liase with the Taliban, even as they lectured Delhi against giving assistance to the Northern Alliance, help that was meagre and intermittent, thanks to US-EU-GCC-China pressure on the side of the Taliban.
Pakistan has a treasure trove of documents that show the manner in which the US and other countries helped the Taliban, including details of the cash and other payments made by the incoming Bush administration in the weeks preceding the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre by teams formed by “Al-Qaeda”. What is needed is for these documents to get released in the form of annexures to a White Paper that would show the extent to which the US (and other countries) have been complicit in building up the Taliban
Thursday, 12 May 2011
M D Nalapat
In case the 1979 example of the Shah of Iran being deserted by the United States and West Europe - after having been their security surrogate in the region for fifteen years - was not sufficient to educate West Asia's rulers about the fair-weather nature of the relationship with these chancelleries, Egypt has provided fresh evidence of this reality.
To promote its geopolitical interests, the West finds champions in-country. In Sri Lanka, it encouraged General Sarath Fonseka to stand against Mahinda Rajapaksa in the 2010 Presidential polls in Sri Lanka. At the time, Fonseca had direct command of the Sri Lankan military – the force which the same global community believed had committed grave violations of human rights in the final stage of the campaign against the Tamil Tigers. This time around, in Egypt it is Mohammad El Baradei, the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nobel Laureate, seen as the white knight riding to the rescue of US-European Union interests. This, in a country where both Iran as well as the Muslim Brotherhood have been at work for years cultivating the underclass that had been ignored by the Egyptian elite and their international backers.
This time, though, there are more than Western interests at play and the outcomes could be more unpredictable than anticipated.
First, there is the regional activity of Iran. For the Khameini regime in Iran (which the West mistakenly calls the "Ahmadinejad" government when it is the Supreme Leader who controls key swathes of the administration, including foreign, security, education and economic policy), events in Egypt are a comeuppance for the US and the EU, which backed the losing side in protesting against what was once again a rigged election in Iran in 2009.
Since that time, Teheran has greatly boosted its clandestine capabilities and activities in the region, with the intention of promoting chaos, should there be an attack on the regional Shia superpower by the US, the EU or Israel. Most of the effort has gone into assisting those in favour of the collapse of regimes that side with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) against Iran, and which have most recently been outed in Wikileaks.
Wednesday, 11 May 2011
M D Nalapat
Amidst the rejoicing over NATO’s fight for the ‘liberation’ of Libya from Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade-long rule, few have bothered to ask the dark question: who are these rebels, apparently without a face or organization? How did they ‘win’ the support of NATO’s military might, and find a way of closing in on Gaddafi and his supporters? How did Al Qaeda and fundamentalist involvement quietly surface amidst the mayhem? And what does this mean for the West and for the rest of the Middle East?
The answer lies in the events of 1994, when the US backed the Taliban to defeat the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Had the Clinton administration not backed them from 1994 to their takeover of Kabul in 1996 and beyond, the Taliban would never have taken over more than three-fourths of Afghanistan, Al Qaeda would never have become a global organization, and the history of the world in this 21st century would have been different.
The players in this grim game are well known. It is no secret that the elements that later coalesced into the Taliban, had their fairy godmother in the former US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robin Raphel. She even demanded, as far back as 1997, that Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance resistance leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud (later assassinated by Al Qaeda operatives on September 9, 2001) surrender to the ISI's favoured militia.
Thus far there has been no negative blowback for her career. Instead, another US president, George W. Bush, utilised her services in Iraq, and Hillary Clinton ensured Raphel's return to Afghan affairs in 2009 as a team member of the late Richard Holbrooke, US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Throughout her tenure in the newly-created South Asia desk at the State department in the early years, Raphel batted for the Pakistan army, getting her reward in the form of a lobbying assignment for that country in 1997 after she stepped down from her diplomatic post.
By M D Nalapat
THE 2G scam has its 40 thieves, and if the country is to escape the pit that is being dug for it by the crooked, it is necessary that these forty spend at least six to ten years in jail each. Should this happen, the climate of VVIP immunity that has so afflicted India will get diluted, and more and more people will get empowered to give evidence against even the powerful. After decades when the people of India followed the dictates of the Election Commission and avoided any criticism of those in power, finally the dam is beginning to burst, and these days, even the powerful are facing open charges of corruption. Reports are appearing about the sudden wealth of sons and son-in-laws, although, of course, as yet neither the Income Tax department nor the Enforcement Directorate has dared to question these fortunate offsprings about their new found wealth.
All over the country they are purchasing land and other assets. All across the world, they are holidaying in super-expensive resorts. Their parents are flying by corporate jets within India and to foreign countries. Although we claim to have a "free" media, the widespread misuse of corporate jets by politicians and high officials goes unreported.
Those caught in the scam are hopeful that in months, if not in weeks, the brilliant bench of Justices Singhvi and Ganguly will get shifted to other cases. Hopefully, this will not happen, and the duo will remain in the 2G bench until the top scamsters in the loot get sent to jail for long prison terms. There are many questions that have as yet not been investigated by agencies who are clearly under pressure to protect the powerful rather than obey the Supreme Court and go after the guilty. The Rule of Law in India seems to have been replaced by the Rule of the In-law, definitely for the past decade, if not more. There are reports that a senior Law Officer personally took an interest in one of the telecom companies under investigation. If true, Law Minister Veerappa Moily needs to remove him from high office. There are reports that the son-in-law of a prominent politician and the son of a Chief Minister were beneficiaries in one of the many CWG scams. Thus far, neither has been questioned. The IAS officer who was the administrative head of the CWG is out playing golf while Suresh Kalmadi has been sent to jail. Why such indulgence? Who is being shielded?
A culture of immunity has spread across India, so that VVIPs feel that there is no chance that they will be held to account for the multiple crimes that they commit against the national interest. Some—such as ONGC bosses since decades—ensure that potential oilfields in India remain untapped, so that the country may continue to depend on foreign oil companies for essential fuel. Others purchase expensive—and unused— weaponry that has only a single purpose, that of filling the coffers of Swiss banks, while a few spend their time fashioning the high interest rate policies that the Finance Ministry and the RBI have jointly implemented so as to choke the ability of Indian corporates to compete against international rivals. In the process, hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees gets misspent, even while the people starve.
It is the head of the snake that contains the poison sac, not the parts lower down. While the CBI, the Ed, the Income Tax and other agencies of the government go after the lesser levels of the administrative, business and sometimes even the political apparat, almost never is someone high up bothered. Indeed, a web of protection cocoons them, such that even the ruling and opposition party leaders refuse to entertain even the thought of exposing the corruption of higher-ups. And why should they? The children of the opposition leaders dance and revel in the same discos, in the same 5-star hotels, as do the offspring of those ruling at the moment. They form a bond of comradeship that reaches upwards to their parents, who too are usually good friends in private, even while they fool the people by pretending to be rivals in public. Indeed, a new doctrine is being propounded by some prominent opposition leaders, which is that the Nehru family ought to be given immunity from criticism. In exchange, presumably, their own shenanigans will be kept covered and unpunished.
The Income Tax department has done everything short of disbanding itself in its efforts at protecting individuals such as Hassan Ali, who was enabled to withdraw $8 billion from Swiss bank accounts by a mysterious de-freezing of his accounts in 2009. The ED pretends to take strong action against those cheating the exchequer, but in reality follows the dictates of its political masters in pretending to enquire when in fact covering up evidence of wrongdoing. Of course, when as whistle-blower emerges, the ED can always trump up a false charge against that person, such as accuse him of offering a bribe. Today, the Home Ministry and the Finance Ministry are the two Doberman beasts that deed, these days, the volume of loot has begun to exceed that endured during the days of the British raj. Much of this gets sent abroad, often through relatives with foreign nationalities.
That Sonia Gandhi has overpowering influence in decision-making is no secret, an authority that will soon be strengthened when loyalist Pulok Chatterji takes over as either the Cabinet Secretary or the Principal Secretary to the PM. This versatile individual made no secret of his loyalty to Sonia Gandhi, helping in the past to ensure that government decisions got taken that met her needs, and that the activities of the state-funded mega-institutions headed by Sonia Gandhi remain undisturbed by audit or media teams. Such dedication mandates a reward, and Chatterji is likely to soon take over one of the two prize posts mentioned above, as will another individual now in the Planning Commission, who ensured that his nephew (known to the Vadras as Ashok Uncle) took over as chief of an intelligence agency, which he promptly ran to the ground. In the process, he acted as the courier for funnelling cash to members of a certain family who were visiting London. It was only during the time of the Nephew that the chief of an intelligence agency acted as a courier himself, but this so pleased a certain Family that the Uncle will soon be given an even better post than that which he is presently luxuriating in. Needless to say, both Nephew and Uncle are favourites of both the ruling as well as the opposition benches, so incestuous is the power elite in Delhi
It is only with the arrival of Chief Justice Kapadia on the scene that this culture of immunity seems to have been affected. That and the fact the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems finally to have woken up to the fact that his great-grandchildren will have to hide in shame, should he refuse to at least attempt to clean up the putrid system over which he presides. In his second term, the PM seems much more pro-active than during 2004-2009, so that agencies such as the CBI ( which is often called the Criminal Bureau of Investigation because of the misdeeds of its officers, many of whom are hand-picked for their pliability) are being forced to bring at least a few top officials, politicians and businesspersons to account. In the past, these would have escaped because of their political connections and cash hoards. However, at long last, a few VVIPs are finally on their way to justice. Of course, even now, it is very probable that these may escape, the way many others have in the past. They may spend just a few months in jail rather than the many years that are required if the ends of justice are to be met.
Friday, 6 May 2011
M D Nalapat
The Obama administration has largely reverted to the Clinton presidency’s policy of looking at India as a lesser power, although unlike Clinton, who began mouthing praise on Delhi only when US business interests in the country reached critical mass, Barack Obama has been generous with “wampum”, showering sugary words and making insubstantial gestures, even while it seeks to lock India into a dependent relationship now that Pakistan is drifting apart from Washington and moving into Beijing’s orbit. In the nuclear field, the Obama administration is insisting on conditions that collectively negate the Singh-Bush nuclear accord, in effect continuing to force India off the path of nuclear capability. In Space, although a few token gestures have been made, none of these has been followed up by any intensification of cooperation between NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The grip of the Europeanist world view is too strong for President Obama to acknowledge that India is at least the equal of France, Britain or Germany, and needs to be so treated. Instead, the policymakers in the DC Beltway are still at work using their many friends in the Sonia Gandhi-led coalition to lock India into a one-sided relationship that would severely affect this country’s prospects for future growth and technological autonomy and excellence.
That the Sonia Gandhi-led administration ( for let us face reality, rather than cling to the legal fiction that any minister other than - perhaps - himself sees Manmohan Singh as the boss) is uninterested in going the China route of technological self-sufficiency has been once again illustrated by the decision to award the 126-aircraft contract to the French or to a French-led consortium. A senior Indian politician, who seems to have been given information from a rival country’s sources once it was clear that France was in the driver’s seat on what is expected to balloon into a $18 billion contract, has publicly accused France’s First Lady Carla Bruni of having intervened with Italian-born Sonia Gandhi in order to ensure that the contract went to Paris in one form or the other, something that has now happened. For more than a year, reports have been swirling around Raisina Road that “Number Ten” ( the 10 Janpath residence of the all-powerful UPA chairperson, who was born in Orbassano in Italy but has made India her home for four decades) was in favour of the French option, although such reports were not accompanied by any proof. It may be that Sonia Gandhi is simply being made the target of a smear campaign, so hopefully both she as well as Bruni will clarify the nature of their contacts and discussions before gossip spreads about the relationship that she shares with the Maino family, who are frequent visitors to India. Of course, given the timidity of the Indian media on all negative matters relating to Sonia Gandhi, the allegation made by Dr Swamy, the Indian politician close to both China and the US, has gone almost totally unreported.