Monday 29 August 2011

Remember Lord Keynes, Mr Prime Minister (Sunday Guardian)

Manmohan Singh with Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj during a function in New Delhi last week. PTI
anmohan Singh may have studied economics, but he has clearly not heard of John Maynard Keynes, who claimed that "in the long run we are all dead". Else the PM would not be constantly repeating the refrain that we should all "wait" for the government to put in place genuine anti-graft measures. In such tardiness, he has got the support of the country's "recognised" NGOs. For example, Aruna Roy, and it is to the credit of Roy that she has shown herself to have the courage to be unhesitatingly loyal to be the UPA's most prominent NGO face against the Anna Hazare movement.
However, despite the exertions of Ms Roy, her efforts at discrediting the anti-graft movement seems to have led to the present effort to paint the group as being a front for RSS headquarters in Nagpur. Those familiar with the core residents of that venerable enclave would smile at the thought. After having been fed rich doses of kheer and gulab jamun during the Vajpayee interregnum, many, if not most, RSS leaders lack any stomach to battle for the principles of their movement, which is why the RSS has ensured that BJP MPs remain in the firm control of Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, two Vajpayee loyalists who are charter members of the Save the System Club. The reality is that "Team Anna" has been given oxygen by the country's refusal to give any more time to a political system that has failed to provide the people with the requisites of a civilised life since 1947, a political system that includes the BJP as much as it does the Congress.
It is a pity that Ms Roy, in her numerous television appearances, has thus far not reminded the government about some of the many laws that were passed in the past and yet not notified, or laws that were proposed (for example, in President Pratibha Patil's annual speeches to the nation) but not acted upon. None of these initiatives were proposed by Varun Gandhi or Subramanian Swamy. Indeed, the Anti-Benami law that got passed in 1988 was the brainchild of Rajiv Gandhi, who was surely never a foe of the UPA core. However, since then this excellent piece of legislation has remained un-notified, and is, therefore, still inoperative. Several other enactments and administrative fiats that could make a genuine difference in the war against graft have suffered the same fate over the years, even as the NAC continues to suggest more and more legislation in their energetic effort at civilising the natives of India.
Another issue for Ms Roy to perhaps pay attention to is the Government of India's signing a disclosure agreement with Switzerland that has only prospective effect, and which is, therefore, an eyewash. Granted that UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi seems to have no influence whatsoever over the Manmohan Singh government (or else, as so many foreign diplomats and journalists have testified, she would surely have eliminated corruption in India), it seems desirable for the NAC to at the least record its disgust at such a patent means of enabling those who have salted away an estimated trillion dollars since 1947 to escape detection.
But why reach back to Rajiv Gandhi and to 1988? In 2006, the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Veerappa Moily (who does not appear to be a votary of the RSS) suggested several anti-corruption measures in its tome on "Ethics in Governance". The Moily committee (which included V. Ramachandran of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, which is hopefully not a clandestine instrument for the RSS takeover of the government) gave several recommendations, many of which are first-class and worthy of immediate implementation. They relate, inter alia, to freeing the CBI of political bias through making it a statutory body. Amendments to the Serious Frauds legislation have been suggested. There are detailed proposals on the Lokpal and the Lokayukta, which would certainly commend themselves not only to Team Anna but to those citizens not part of the Corruption Machine that governance has descended to in India.
As happened to Ram Jethmalani in the Vajpayee period when he sought to introduce legislation that would make the judicial system in India less of a nightmare for those not privileged to have a lifespan exceeding 300 years, Veerappa Moily has been divested of the Law portfolio. And by the looks of it, for the same reason as Ram Jethmalani: for the "crime" of seeking a more transparent, accountable and speedy judicial system. But what has happened to his volume on ethics?
his is still "under study" by a Group of Ministers, who till now have presumably not found the time to even too many pages, for there has been total silence about their views on the ARC recommendations. Even Moily, who otherwise has an equable nature, felt constrained to send a letter of remonstrance to his own government in October 2010, asking about the fate of his recommendations. If he has received any reply, it is probably that the Group of Ministers has reached Page 15 (out of nearly 600 pages) and hence a decision will be taken by about AD 2067, or in roughly the same time as it takes for a typical case to get finally settled in India's superb legal system. And yet television commentators known to be close to the Powers That Be claim that Team Manmohan ought to be "given more time". Yes indeed, in case they discover an elixir that lengthens the average lifespan by several times of what it is today. Till that happens, the impatience of the rest of the population is understandable.

Saturday 27 August 2011

NATO destroys yet another country (PO)

By M D Nalapat

Some years ago, in the Indian site, this columnist had written of the NATO militaries as resembling an army of simians. Such a force - if let loose within a confined space – can create immense damage, but are unable to clean up the resultant mess. This is precisely what the world has witnessed in Iraq. Despite more than a decade of sanctions that directly resulted in nearly a million extra deaths during that period ( because of shortages created by the UN-approved measures), the regime of Saddam Hussein was able to provide food, energy and housing to the people of Iraq, whereas eight years after “liberation” by key NATO members, the country and its population are worse off than before the 2003 invasion that led to the execution of Saddam Hussein. As for Afghanistan, after a decade of the world’s most modern military force fighting against a ragtag band of insurgents, more than a third of the country is back in the hands of the Taliban, while a fifth of the rest is on the brink of a similar fate. As a consequence of its failure to subdue this force, NATO is desperately clutching at plans for engaging the “moderate Taliban”, an oxymoron if ever one was created.

Serbia has yet to recover from its brief burst of battle with NATO, and now Libya has joined the lengthening list of countries devastated by the attentions of NATO. Clearly, the top brass in a military alliance designed to do battle in Europe against the USSR were reluctant to close shop. They have therefore redesigned NATO as a military instrument with multiple uses, especially against “asymmetric threats”, a term which refers to countries that have ramshackle militaries. Both Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gaddafy followed the dictates of the NATO powers in surrendering whatever WMD was in their possession, unlike Syria and North Korea, two countries that have been left undisturbed by NATO as a consequence. Clearly, military planners within the alliance are ready for action only against those rivals that have had their conventional capabilities degraded to the point at which they do not represent any significant risk against the alliance. Had George W Bush and Tony Blair truly believed their own rhetoric about Saddam Hussein having WMD, they would never have sent their armies into Iraq the way they did.

As mentioned in these columns, Gaddafy’s fate got sealed when he accepted the advice of his Europe-dazzled sons to disarm and place the survival of his regime in the hands of NATO. Since 2003, Muammar Gaddafy dismantled his WMD program, synchronised his intelligence services with that of NATO and generally accepted each of the prescriptions handed over to him. Had NATO been an alliance that respects reciprocity, all this ought to have made NATO turn as blind an eye to his battle with sections of the population as we have seen in the case of Bahrain, where the ruling family has been given a free hand to sort out the situation. Instead, the situation changed when Nicholas Sarkozy was informed by French banks that Colonel Gaddafy may withdraw the immense bank deposits of Libya from them to institutions in China, and when he learnt that several contracts that French enterprises were expecting to come to them would vanish because Gaddafy wanted to spend less on French military and other toys and more on social services. Libya had to be made an example of, lest other Arab governments think of shifting their money elsewhere than within the NATO bloc as a consequence of the loss of $1.3 trillion by the GCC and its people alone because of the financial fraud perpetrated in 2008 by banks and other financial entities headquartered within the NATO bloc.

These days, companies based within NATO are finding it difficult to retain the monopoly position they have enjoyed, sometimes for generations. In particular, Chinese companies are challenging them in numerous markets, as are companies based elsewhere in Asia, including within South Korea and India. As a consequence, they now rely on military force to retain their privileges. This has been illustrated with commendable transparency in the case of Iraq and Libya. In the latter case, even though the fumes of battle have not ceased (and are unlikely to), oil companies such as ENI and Total are hard at work figuring out the assets they can seize because of the local victories of the Sarkozy-appointed “National Transitional Council”. Interestingly, even though the NTC is a creation of Paris, the UN has accepted it as the legitimate government of Iraq. Indeed,in the 21st century the UN seems to have regressed into the period between 1919 and 1939,when the League of Nations awarded “mandates” to dominant countries that permitted them to rule weaker ones. In the past decade, similar mandates have been proferred in the case of Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan. In the case of Libya, President Sarkozy’s takeover of the Libyan state via the creation of the NTC has been similarly legitimized by the UN in an astonishing abdication of principle.

However, just as in other locations, facts on the ground may not follow the script favoured by NATO. In the case of Libya, this columnist has warned for five months that the NATO intervention would only result in civil war and in the steady destruction of the infrastructure that made Libya one of the more prosperous countries in the region. All this is at risk today, as chaos descends in the form of armed gangs set loose by NATO across the country. Not that there is ever any chance of those responsible for such a catastrophe being held accountable by so-called “international” bodies, most of which are now firmly in the control of the NATO powers in a way that their own economies are not. Over the past decade, tens of thousands of civilian deaths have resulted from NATO operations, without even a mild protest from the International Court or the Human Rights Council. Such inaction is leading to the same loss of respect for the UN system as took place in the past with the League of Nations, which became seen as being controlled by a small group for their own purposes.

Whether it is Libya or any other country, each has the right to develop its societal dynamic in its own way. Unless a country poses a threat to others, the way Talban-controlled Afghanistan did, it is not legitimate target for international action. In the case of Libya, since 2003 Colonel Gaddafy disarmed his military of WMD and fully cooperated with the US-led War on Terror. His fate has become a lesson to others who may have been tempted to follow in his path of conciliation with NATO. Small wonder that the other regimes in the sights of NATO - Syria and Iran in particular - are in no hurry to follow the Libyan example. Rather than seek to finish off a leader who buried the hatchet publicly and fully the way Gaddafy did, NATO would have been better advised to show its magnanimity and its willingness to keep agreements in good faith. That would have acted as an incentive for Syria, Iran and even North Korea to follow suit, thereby making the globe a safer place. Today, all three states - understandably – have zero faith in the bona fides of the NATO powers, and as a consequence are each going their own way. Combine this with the economic desolation seen within NATO ( much of which has been caused by the huge spike in military spending caused by foreign adventures), and overall even the medium-term prognosis for NATO is dim, despite the smiles of congratulation at the advance of NATO proxies into Tripoli.

Unlike during the Vietnam war, when the Pentagon extensively sourced its procurement from Asia, the Bush-Cheney team sought to give US entities a monopoly over the supply of the items needed, even items as militarily inconsequential as toothpaste. The result of such an autarchic policy has been a big increase in spending, with the US alone spending more than a trillion dollars in its wars with Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, we have seen this use of the state machinery to block competition across several sectors. The EU, for example, has banned Indian pharmaceuticals from its market, despite the low cost and high quality of medicines produced in India. Just now, the EU has banned Samsung hi-tech products. A time will come when Asia bans German cars and French defense equipment in retaliation for the frequent bans on Asian products on specious grounds. The US and the EU cannot protect their way out of economic trouble. They need to give their citizens access to the benefits of a global market, rather than break every canon that they have been preaching for decades. As for NATO, it will soon become clear that while it may be possible to defeat a ramshackle force with the massive use of airpower, that may not translate into monopoly privileges over Libyan oil reserves. Should China or India come up with better terms than Italian or French companies, the people of Libya will ensure that their government act in a way that protects their interests, rather than only those of NATO. The use of military power for commercial advantage ought to have vanished when the 19th century did. Its reappearance in Iraq and Libya is a worrisome sign that NATO has not learnt the lessons of history.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Politicians must free Indians (Sunday Guardian)

Anna Hazare greets his supporters after coming out of Tihar Jail in New Delhi on Friday. PTI
ome years ago, this columnist chanced to visit the corridors of Mumbai's pricey Breach Candy Hospital when the incomparable Raj Kapoor was in his final days of life in a room there. Knots of people congregated outside the door of the room where the thespian was, most talking, some smiling, a few laughing at what must surely have been an unrelated subject. However, as soon as a media person got sighted, the talk would cease, the smiles and laughter get retracted, and the most sorrowful of countenances would in seconds form on faces that wore very different expressions before a scribe or a cameraperson was sighted. Our politicians react in much the same way as did the visitors to the Kapoor bedside. Each time elections come by, they sacrifice those holidays in London and the Maldives, don homespun and tramp through miles of slush in heat, cold and rain. With each step, they repeat the mantra that "the people are supreme".
Really? Since when? Certainly not from 15 August 1947, the date at which "the country" became "independent". For although there were cosmetic changes, in substance, little got altered. Before and after, those outside the privileged portals of government had to get permission before carrying out even actions that are the right of any citizen in a genuine — as distinct from what may be termed a "colonial" — democracy. Indeed, based on the facts (as distinct from perceptions and theories), a case could be made out that in the so-called "post-colonial" system, all that happened was that the political upper crust of governance took on the mantle formerly worn by Whitehall, while the civil service (which continued unmolested despite having been created by London as an instrument of repression) got transformed into the Raj. Those Brits holding fort in India for the greater glory of the Mother Country. Certainly, our politicians and civil servants have the view that they, and they alone, have the right to take the final decisions about the future of the country. Decisions that almost always get taken with personal or sectional interest firmly in view.
Hence the hysterical reaction within the political-administrative phalanx about Anna Hazare and his movement. For here has arisen a man who forgets that this phalanx alone has the qualities needed to govern India effectively. Forget that over the past 65 years their record in governance has been abysmal. If there has been some small improvement in people's lives, it is despite the exertions of this indigenous class of colonialists. Only when this ruling stratum gets weaker relative to its strength in more palmy days, does the rest of the country escape, to an extent, from the stifling clutches of a system of governance that places a premium on implementing the Lowest Common Multiple whenever it can. Whether in agriculture or in industry, in healthcare or in education, habitation or energy, the policies pursued have been suboptimal, which is why voters respond so strongly to the few politicians such as Narendra Modi who have somehow escaped from the colonial complex found within the politico-administrative phalanx created by the British Raj and preserved and strengthened by the tenets of Nehruism.
In no democracy would the administrative system have the panoply of powers that is extant in India. At each level, from the village to the megapolis, government agencies spin webs designed to trap the citizen, who can escape only after payment of a bribe. If the anger of the people at the colonial treatment meted out to them by their self-professed "servants" has boiled over during the term of the UPA, it is because — as during the period of Indira Gandhi — the governance structure has since 2004 been engaged in a systematic increase in its discretion and in its reach. Some months ago, a friend in Bangalore had the misfortune to be within the list of taxpayers subjected to raids and harassment by the Income-Tax department in the zeal of its officials to meet the arbitrary quotas that have been set for them since Palaniappan Chidambaram took over the Union Finance Ministry in 2004. Mani Shankar Aiyar waxes eloquent all across the world about the rich texture of democracy in India, not surprising from an individual who has always depended on the exchequer for his monthly paycheque. Were he to witness a tax raid, see families forced to remain indoors for days at a stretch, watch as cupboards get overturned and records get taken away — sometimes for ever — he may have at least a faint quaver in his voice the next time he brags about our democracy.
For both officials and their political masters know that democracy is a farce in India, and that the only nostrums that work in practice are money and power, a duo that almost always appear in tandem. Coming back to this friend, his wife, who was in the final stages of pregnancy, was dragged about the city to multiple locations, in the course of which she delivered prematurely. Thus far, there has not even been an apology for such conduct. And why should there be? Mistreatment of the citizen by the ruling caste is commonplace.
ontrast this with the ferrying around of Sonia Gandhi. Once, this columnist had the misfortune to have his flight land a bit before that carrying this distinguished daughter of privilege did at Palam. For more than an hour, he had to wait along with other motorists while the great lady dawdled inside the airport. We were freed from captivity only when Sonia Gandhi's immense cavalcade swept past at an accelerating pace, the very tyres indicating contempt for those waiting out of sight in the shadows, much like "unseeables" waited in gullies in Kerala while the upper castes walked past. To her or to Manmohan Singh or to the many thousands of others in the post-1947 colonial matrix of power, it is a given that only from within their ranks can there be people found to man the fastnesses of government. A Nandan Nilekani is an aberration, when he ought to be the norm. The political class and the administrative echelons of the IAS and the IPS spend much of their time infiltrating into as many nooks and crannies of the governance structure as they can fit into, whether these be airlines or wheat storage yards, intelligence agencies or old-fashioned policing.
The Jan Lokpal Bill suggested by Anna Hazare challenges the monopoly of power within the politico-administrative ruling caste that has done so little to the country, yet gained so much from it since 1947. Small wonder that they are apoplectic at this small, unprepossessing man who had had the nerve to say that Old British or New British, enough is enough, and that the people deserve to be free.

Friday 19 August 2011

Should the thief be the judge? (PO)

M D Nalapat
If during Ayub Khan’s Pakistan 40 families ruled the country, as mentioned before in these columns, these days around 400 families are ruling India. They comprise politicians, civil servants, businesspersons and even a few journalists. Indeed, India is blessed with what may be termed “Sarkari journalists”, those who are adept in currying the favour of any dispensation that gets elected to power. When the BJP rules, they take out their Sanskrit phrase book and speak with authority of the ancient classics, while during Congress rule, they show off their knowledge of French wines, aware that Europe has a special place in Sonia Gandhi’s heart. In the infrequent intervals when smaller parties grab the Prime Ministership, such scribes abandon their Savile Row suits for rough homespun pyjama-kurta,and speak in Hindi rather than in English or (even better) French. Small wonder that fr years, several of these “defenders of the public interest against the establishment” were each given talk shows by the national broadcaster, Prasar Bharati. These usually comprised of interview formats that were of such scintillating brilliance that not even their spouses could bear to watch a full segment. Of course, despite the nil viewership, several lakhs of rupees were paid each month to each “independent editor” by the state broadcaster

Small wonder that there has been an amazing transformation in the lives of the Sarkari journalists over the past two decades. Most have exchanged tiny flats for impressive mansions, and routinely send their children abroad to expensive educational institutions for study. The price of such munificence is silence about VVIPs, the very section of Indian society that accounts for much of the country’s problems. Despite frequent boasts about India being a democracy, the mainstream media is almost totally silent about the rampant wrongdoing indulged in by VVIPs and their friends and relatives. Thus, the public remain ignorant about the frequency of the foreign travel of the VVIP set, or of their business interests and personal lives. Even something as non-controversial as health is kept a close secret, as witness the total blackout over the health condition of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. The result is rumor, with some saying that she has a skin cancer, while others aver that it is a brain tumor. Such reticence would be unthinkable in Europe or in North America, but is taken for granted in the feudal culture of South Asia, where some aspects of politics resemble the situation in North Korea more than they do a genuine democracy

The British-bequeathed system that has been the gift of Jawaharlal Nehru to India has ensured that the forms of democracy get preserved, even while the entire substance gets drained out. The very process of contesting elections involves large dollops of Black Money, as the legal limit for election expenses is absurdly low. This money gets provided by dubious interests, including narcotics smugglers and other crime syndicates. The help they give a politician to get elected results in the criminal class getting immunity from prosecution. Many, of course, become elected politicians themselves. Either no case is filed, or if a case get filed ( usually because of the pressure of public opinion), the prosecuting attorneys ensure that their case get presented so badly that the judge gives the benefit of the doubt to the accused. This was the modus operandi used under both the Vajpayee as well as the Manmohan Singh governments to enable the fugitive influence peddler from Italy, Ottavio Quatrocchi, to be acquitted in both Malaysia as well as in Argentina. Government agencies rely on the Law Ministry for counsel, and these are secretly briefed to ensure a walkover for the other side, of course for a price. Small wonder that Law and Justice ( a double misnomer in the case of this particular ministry) is so much sought after by greedy polticians. In any case, the justice system in India functions so slowly that it will be years - if not decades - before a case even gets heard i court.Hence the judicial system is no longer a check on wrongdoing

How can an individual who has spent millions upon millions in Black Money to get elected have the mindset needed to cleanse India of the corruption that is choking the country? The answer lies in the fact that for six decades,the political class in India has refused to get passed laws that subject them to scrutiny and punishment. The laws passed are so riddled with loopholes and exceptions that few get enmeshed in its coils. Which is why the entire political class in India is so horrified at Anna Hazare,who is asking for the Jan Lokpal Bill to be passed.This is an enactment with real teeth,and hence the palpable reluctance of the political class to get it passed. Instead,they are moaning about the “anti-democratic” War on Corruption that is led by Anna Hazare,Sri Sri Ravishankar and Baba Ramdev.Of the three,it is Sri Sri Ravishankar who has the greatest following,that too across the globe. All three are secular leaders. While Hazare is a social activist, Sri Sri Ravishankar is the founder of the Art of Living,that teaches an individual to adopt a harmonious lifestyle. Baba Ramdev teaches yoga,the ancient science of exercises designed to improve health. All three have united to lead the effort to ensure that the India of the 21st century gets free of the filth of the India of the 20th,an era in which only the unethical have jumped ahead,while the honest languish

It ought to be compulsory for every legislator,at the regional as well as the national level, to submit to a polygraph test to determine if she or he spent Black Money during the campaign,or has any undeclared assets.Any person failing the test should get disqalified,and the person with the next highest number of votes should be declared elected (provided that person passes the lie detector test). The political class in India has made common cause with the many academics singing hosannas to “Nehruism” in making a fetish of the so-called Westminister Model.The reality is that India is not the UK,and ought to have evolved its own system rather than borrow wholesale the very system that was created by the UK so as to keep India in submission. Today,there is a growing popular movement against a series of laws and institutions that are in essence no different from that during the colonial period. What India is seeing is a Cultural Revolution,where Mao Zedong’s cry of “Bombard the Headquarters” is being reproduced by a saintly 74-year old from the village of Ralegaon Siddhi in Maharashtra. And the people are responding, with the government ( that is so effective in blackmailing and slinking the corrupt,including much of the so-called Opposition) helpless against an honest man. As predicted in these columns,a tide of anger is sweeping across India that will end in the creation of a system of governance that is more transparent and more pro-people ( rather than pro-politician) than the present. Setting a thief to catch a thief has been the prescription of the political class,which has only ensured that corruption grow each year rather than diminish. In contrast, Anna and Sri Sri say that only the honest can catch the crooked,so they should be given the authority to do so.No wonder India’s well-fed political class is reaching for blood pressure medication.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

London truth made simple (China Daily)

MD Nalapat

Since the passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 exactly five months ago, NATO has conducted many sorties in Libya killing hundreds of civilians. As the resolution was passed specifically to prevent civilian casualties, the UN Security Council needs to convene a special session to discuss why NATO raids have killed so many civilians and stop allied forces from launching any more attacks.

The UN Security Council (UNSC) will be seen as failing to respond to the international community if it does not do so. Or, it would be seen as accepting the BBC-CNN definition of the "international community", which comprises only the US and the EU. To these two news channels, any geographic space outside these two zones - with the possible exceptions of Australia and Canada - fall outside the "international community".

But since the present UNSC has become more representative of the new international order than its predecessors, it should grant audience to the Libyan people, instead of lending its ears only to a handful of major powers hell-bent on changing the regime in Tripoli.

Another subject that the UNSC needs to discuss is the situation in the United Kingdom, specifically the riots that have rocked London, Manchester, Birmingham and other cities. Civil unrest in selected corners of the globe get flagged for discussion by the United States, the UK, France, Germany and other NATO member states. This is unfair, and the UNSC should discuss the riots in the UK, especially in London.

One important reason to do so is that hundreds of billions of dollars of Asian investors' savings are vested in London. During the global financial crisis, which broke out in 2008, investors from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries alone lost $1.3 trillion, much of it because of mismanagement by institutions based in London.

Asian investors expect the international community to do more to protect their savings from a second meltdown, and that's why it is important for the UNSC to discuss the incidents in London.

Although police have controlled the riots for the time being, the authorities have not yet addressed the underlying factors of the unrest, one of which is the immense discontent among the underprivileged youth of the city. The UK is spending huge amounts of money on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya, but refuses to make the (far more modest) outlay needed to ensure that underprivileged youths in its own country get access to the levels of education, training and opportunities that would help them get respectable jobs.

The other members of the UNSC need to prod the UK into making such an outlay, rather than reserving its taxpayer-funded surpluses for bailing out private financial institutions guilty of violating the canons of prudence and ethics and pouring them into wars.

People of every country have the right to go about their social transformation in their own way, provided they do so peacefully and without disturbing or harming other countries, the way Libya was before it was attacked by NATO forces nearly five months ago.

Colonial and powerful countries have always imposed (or tried to impose) their systems and rules on the colonized and weak ones on one pretext or the other, most of the time with fatal consequences. For example, in the 1800s, India had several hundred times more schools than Britain, but in less than a generation the colonial rulers destroyed the indigenous education system on the excuse of modernizing education. That forced more than 85 percent of Indians to become functionally illiterate by the time the Britons left in 1947.

While advice from anywhere is welcome, and may on occasion be useful, the reality is that local problems need local solutions. Only when a particular situation in one country could have a big impact on the interests of other countries that the international community should pay special attention to it. And because the UK, especially London, is the repository of a large part of the savings from across the world, there are compelling reasons why the riots and their causes and possible cures need to be debated exhaustively by the UNSC.

Besides, given the deep economic interdependence among countries today, it's surprising that the UNSC has not yet called a special session, for example, to discuss the eurozone debt crisis. Similarly, it has avoided any discussion on the global financial crisis, which was thousands of times more important and harmful to international interests than many matters discussed by the UNSC. Ironically, relatively trivial matters are brought before the UNSC by the countries responsible for the global financial meltdown and the eurozone debt crisis.

If the UNSC and the developed world can ask governments in other countries not to use force against protesters and rioters, how come UK Prime Minister David Cameron orders the use of police power to quell riots and disturbances? And why shouldn't the UK stop fighting wars and jumping into military action and instead use the money on social security, education and employment creation programs?

If the developed world wants its voice to be heard by those whose money it has been controlling for its own benefit, it has to call for discussions on the eurozone debt crisis and the London riots at the UNSC because the European Union and the UK are repositories of international savings and a wrong turn by any of them can have a debilitating effect on rest of the countries.

The author is vice-chair of Manipal Advanced Research Group, and UNESCO peace chair and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University, India.

(China Daily 08/17/2011 page9)

Monday 15 August 2011

A tyranny of the elected? (Sunday Guardian)

Members of India Anti Corruption Movement wear Anna Hazare masks, in Bangalore on Friday.
oth Swami Ramdev and Anna Hazare share Mahatma Gandhi's desire that India returns to innocence, to a period when there was no linguistic pollution via the English language, nor the cultural catastrophe causing such perversions of human civilisation (and couture) as the miniskirt. In this, they are joined by Lalu Yadav, except of course where his own children are concerned. It was the Mahatma's yearning for a return to the heady primitivism of the past that led him to anoint Jawaharlal Nehru as his successor. He knew that the younger man, despite his profession of modernity, would ensure through his economic policies that India remained in the low-income trap into which it had been pushed by the beloved British who were his mates at Harrow. 65 years after "freedom", the new saviours of India seek a return to a time when the country was as insular as it was when the European conquest got launched in earnest four centuries back.
However, it is not Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev's Gandhian rhetoric that is putting off India's politicians. They themselves use such cant with verve and frequency. Rather, it is the horror of seeing the "unelected" deign to prescribe nostrums to the "elected representatives of the people". In 1993, the then Chief Justice J.S. Verma decreed that judges were a breed apart. In a novel interpretation of the Constitution of India (no doubt caused by that document being in the English language), the learned Chief Justice ruled that henceforward, only judges could judge judges. The donning of the woolsack was in effect an elixir which transported the blessed fraternity of The Bench into divine status. From then onwards, they would decree away polluting industries and kirana stores at will, changing laws and procedures in a few paragraphs of polished — or otherwise — prose. That the Constitution of India was silent as to the divine status of the judiciary was a detail that was brushed aside by Verma and his joyous successors. Keeping the judicial system firmly in the hands of judges would ensure probity and efficiency.
Since J.S. Verma, there has been a succession of Chief Justices of India, and the families of more than a few have blossomed forth into successful businesspersons, enjoying a standard of living far above that provided by a judge's pension. Of course, since P.V. Narasimha Rao's opportunistic refusal to get Justice Ramaswamy dismissed, the judiciary has become even less immune to outside accountability than politicians and civil servants. While there are indeed the Kapadias in their number, these seem to follow a depressing procession of Sabharwals and Balakrishnans, the latter in such profusion that even Justice J.S. Verma may hesitate to claim that his novel interpretation of the Constitution of India has resulted in the cleansing of the judicial stables. And as for efficiency, while in the UK courts have worked night and day to ensure punishment to those who have rioted in cities across the UK this week, in India, the list of cases continues to be such that justice comes only after deferral decades, and certainly long after those seeking it pass over to the hereafter.
Given the situation that has developed in the Indian judicial system as a result of Justice Verma improving (and in the interests of avoiding a contempt citation, this is the only adjective that this columnist dares to use) on B.R. Ambedkar's work, a case can be made out for denying similar immunity to any other pillar of the processes of governance. Ambedkar and his huge cohort took two years (the equivalent of a few seconds in the judicial process in India) to come up with a document that visibly owes much to numerous others, including those that were written out in a matter of hours by those more responsive to timelines than the rulers of India. Now, in an interpretation of the foundation document of the Union of India as revolutionary as that propounded by Justice Verma, politicians have come up with the doctrine that only the "elected" have the right to steer any change in the institutions and modes of governance. The others should relax on their sofas and watch Sharad Pawar's boys get thrashed by England on the cricket pitch.
And what if the country's numerous — and amazingly prosperous — political leaders continue to fail to come up with solutions other than those specifically designed to benefit them and their near and dear? The only option is to entreat them to do better. Certainly, no citizen who has not been through the immense financial expenditure and the use of strong-arm methods that have together become the staples of campaigning in the world's most populous democracy has the right to even attempt to seek avenues of pushing the country out of the ditch in which it has remained in the seventh decade of what was presumed (in 1947) to be deliverance. Whether it is Sonia Gandhi or L.K. Advani, both are clear that Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev or any of the others clamouring for change have only the right of petitioning The Elected for redress. And what of the fact that almost all election expenditure is in the form of black money, or the numerous indicted criminals who have "won the people's mandate"? Why, these should be given a free pass, as if they were not spotless, they would not have been elected. Hence, Kapil Sibal's jibe at the Hazares and the Ramdevs "to get elected". Sibal is one of the brighter MPs, in fact among the brightest, almost in the same class as Mani Shankar Aiyar, and hence it is unlikely that he is unaware that getting elected in India and rooting out Black Money is a significant contradiction in terms.
ust as it is time to bring back accountability — from outside — to the Indian judiciary, it is long past the time when any sane individual could argue that the political class in India has stood up to the demands of history. Over 65 years, the Indian political class has — often deliberately — comprehensively failed to ensure that the people of India get free of the degradation into which they were pushed by colonial rule. Indeed, the only difference between that era and now seems to be in the pigmentation of the skin of the rulers. Otherwise, it is the same story, of all the powers vesting in government and all the responsibilities being thrust on the emaciated shoulders of the people. Hazare and Ramdev may be wrong in their views, but they can hardly be more harmful than the lot that claims a divine right to exclusive power, our elected representatives.