Friday 30 December 2011

Manmohan pays the price for Sonia (PO)

It is no secret in India that all the ministers in the “Manmohan Singh” Cabinet report to Sonia Gandhi rather than to the mild-mannered and renowned economist who is known for his decency and modesty. Especially in the case of the Congress Party ministers, decisions get taken only after a nod or a hint from “Dus Number” (10 Janpath, the official residence of the Congress President (“CP”). In each ministry, careers get made or broken, depending on how close they are to the actual source of power in Delhi. In India as in Iran, while the legal Head of Government reigns, he does not rule. In the case of Iran as well, many key ministers (including for Defense, Foreign Affairs and Security) report not to President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad but to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. While the China example may also be said to be similar, in that the world’s newest superpower has a governance structure in which the ruling party’s General Secretary ranks above the Prime Minister, the pragmatic Chinese Communist Party has squared this circle by ensuring that the General Secretary is also Head of State. In India, the Congress Party President effectively ranks above the Prime Minister

However, what is interesting in the Indian case is that although most decisions get taken by those reacting to signals from Dus Number, the odium for most such decisions comes upon Manmohan Singh. The Prime Minister (who in the opinion of this columnist deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for the determined way in which he has sought to cool tempers across the various borders of India) was in the past admired by international decision makers and by opinion leaders, especially in the US and the EU. No longer. These days, he is an object of either ridicule or pity, with his helplessness in enforcing his agenda painfully patent. Most tellingly, given the fact that he is a distinguished economist in the poverty-centric mould of Nobel Prizeman Amartya Sen, it is under Singh’s post-2004 watch that the Indian economy is in danger of slipping back into the very crisis that Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao and (then Finance Minister) Singh himself had rescued it from in 1991. That had been achieved through a substantial number of de-regulatory measures, and cuts in import duties followed by removal of restrictions on private industry. Since 2004,reform has been frozen, largely because Sonia Gandhi favours the “Strong Government” model of Indira Gandhi rather than the “Strong Economy” favoured by the earlier boss of Manmohan Singh, Narasimha Rao.

The Indian rupee in particular has been falling sharply over the past two months, with very harmful consequences for the economy. One reason why such a slide speels disaster is that several Indian companies have taken loans denominated in dollars or in euros. The fall in the value of the rupee means that they have to pay out a much greater share of local production than before in order to service the debt. Their losses may amount to as much as $40 billion dollars in 2012,if the value of the rupee continues to fall. As India imports much more than it exports, a falling rupee does great damage, although economics textbooks claim that such a phenomenon may be helpful to the economy. It needs to be remembered that just five years ago, the rupee was equal to – for example - the New Taiwan Dollar. Today, the New Taiwan Dollar is almost double the value of the rupee. This is a measure of the mismanagement of the Indian economy by the present government, which ironically is headed by a prominent economist. Back in the 1970s,in South America too, technocrats were put in charge, only to make a bad situation worse because of their ignorance of ground realities and their reliance on foreign textbooks and experts rather than on field experience. Today, a similar fate has fallen upon India, where - as in South America then - foreign expertise is prized far above the domestic variety. The numerous councils of government have become nests for foreign-trained and foreign-working “experts” to nest in for short periods, while they lobby for a new assignment in the US or in other advanced economies. Naturally, in India they lobby for policies that benefit advanced economies, often at the expense of India’s interests. This dependence on foreign brains - including a multiplying number of NGOs - was last seen during Jawaharlal Nehru’s early period in power, when Louis Mountbatten. Nicholas Kaldor and Verrier Elwin called the shots.

One of the worst effects of the falling rupee has been on fuel prices, which have gone up by 40% in 2011. As S S Nair points out, these hikes mainly affect two-wheeler riders and small car users and not the rich. He adds that these hikes lead to increased inflation, particularly food inflation, because fuels form an essential factor for production of all goods and services. Such a rise in prices of essential commodities result in increased suffering to millions of disadvantaged people. Because of higher costs of production and transportation, development is retarded resulting in loss of revenue. Exports have declined, being less competitive. Transport, especially Civil aviation, is suffering huge losses due to high fuel prices. Taxes on petro-products are another reason why fuel prices are so high in India. As has been pointed out, Central and state governments have been taxing fuels (about 50% in some states) and making huge profits at the expense of people from sale of petroleum products. Government in general has been earning about Rs.1,50,000 crores from the sale of petroleum products, from the helpless common man. As Nair points out, the domestic price of petro-fuel on account of international price should only about Rs. 30 only as against about Rs.75+ in India. The fuel price inIndia is double that in China and many times higher than in USA, although India is much poorer than either country. Adding to the pain of consumers is the fact that Internet speeds in “Internet Superpower” India is very slow. Coverage in India is far below that of the other billion-plus country, China. Bandwidth is low, and the refusal of the United Progressive Alliance to rectify this state of affairs has meant that several tens of millions of people are denied the benefits of going online.

And even those who somehow leap past the obstacles to Internet usage set up by the government face such pitfalls as an Internet Law that is more draconian than even regulations in Stalinist USSR. Armed with these powers, the government has been bullying Internet service providers to drop content, especially matter that is critical of Sonia Gandhi. The objective is to ensure that the internet is as sanitized of anti-Sonia content as is the Indian media, the owners of which are wary of falling foul of the government by publication of matter on the all-powerful Congress President or her (never reported) close relatives family. Of course, India is not alone in such an unwelcome trend. South Korea’s President Lee has jailed a internet critic for a year, while other governments too have launched crackdowns on the use of cyberspace to fight for democratic freedoms and clean administration. Fortunately, civil society in India has finally awoken from a deep slumber, and these days is challenging state structures that have trodden on their rights for decades, ever since Indira Gandhi threw law into the dustbin by a series of enactments that expropriated vast swathes of property and handed these to the control of a government run by her. Small surprise that corruption in India began to gallop precisely during that period.

Whatever happens to the ongoing battle of civil society against the corruption that has become second nature to India’s politicians, it is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and not the architect of the times Sonia Gandhi, who is paying the price for all the rot. The Prime Minister is heading towards the dustbin of history, and all because he lacks the nerve or the ability to fashion a government in his image, rather than in that of his political boss.

Monday 26 December 2011

Sasikala’s proximity to Jaya was based on ‘control & rule’ (Sunday Guardian)

Using her friendship with Jayalalithaa, Sasikala (left) replaced the CM’s supporters with her own loyalists, thereby exercising iron control over the state’s administration. PTI
t was 1977, and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran had appointed IAS officer V.S. Chandralekha as the state's first-ever woman collector, posting her at Cuddalore. Savvy about the ways of the world and hungry to get ahead, Chandralekha acquired a PRO whose task was to ensure that her activities were given frequent and respectful coverage in the local media. The PRO, R.Natarajan, was not squeamish about the means used to ensure flattering coverage. Whatever his methods, Natarajan soon had a flock of journalists feeding off his trough, and a satisfied boss, who soon became a star in the state, a process helped by her growing proximity to MGR. The CM made no secret of his admiration for the no-nonsense Collector, who was later transferred to Madurai, naturally with the indispensable Natarajan (and his wife Sasikala) in tow.
First impressions
Around this time (1981), MGR decided to bring his screen heartthrob, Jayalalithaa, into politics, as the propaganda secretary of the AIADMK. She was wildly popular in the state as a movie star, and in a state where "reel" life often substituted for the real in public consciousness, was seen as MGR's alter ego. Countless stints of acting together had reinforced the perception within the broader public that Jayalalithaa was MGR's partner in love, not his wife Janaki, who abandoned her unpromising film career after marrying MGR.
In 1982, because of Jayalalithaa's polish and fluency in English, MGR elevated her to the Rajya Sabha. By then, it was clear to other party members that he was grooming co-star as his political heir. "Look after her, see that the rally is a success", was the command given by the CM to Chandralekha, when the AIADMK organised a huge women's rally in Madurai (1982) that showcased the propaganda secretary in her new role of defender of women's rights.
Chandralekha did so with her usual dispatch, and the rally was a huge success. Along with demonstrating the crowd-pulling capacity of Jayalalithaa, the event marked the start of a close friendship between the two, a bond that picked up speed once MGR transferred Chandralekha to Chennai as urban development secretary, a prize department.
A friendship blooms
Given her affinity for newspaper coverage, it was a given that the indefatigable Natarajan was by Chandralekha's side even in Chennai, using his smiling visage and much else to garner adulatory headlines on the performance of his lady boss. However, Natarajan had a problem, and that was his wife, Sasikala. She was childless and was medically certain to remain so. Would Chandralekha consent for Sasi to indulge her maternal instincts by looking after the IAS officer's young son Abhijeet by a Bengali husband, who too was a civil servant, but who had moved out of Chandralekha's life? The offer was gratefully accepted, and Sasikala proved a caring guardian for the precocious boy.
Jayalalithaa With Sonia Gandhi at her residence in New Delhi in 1999
Sasikala liked movies, especially those where lavish lifestyles were featured. Success to her was acquiring the luxuries that made life meaningful. She began to fret to her husband about the one-bedroom tenement that he and she were sharing in Chennai. After repeatedly being reminded about what a miserable life she led when compared to the movie stars whose lives she followed so enthusiastically, Natarajan asked Chandralekha for yet another favour. Could Sasikala be given permission to do a video film on the glamorous propaganda secretary, which she could subsequently sell at a huge profit? Of course, she did not even have a video camera, so deprived was she in her role of spouse to the improvident Natarajan. That problem was quickly solved with the gift of a camera by Chandralekha.
As for Jayalalithaa, while she did not see much point in a video film about her ("After all, who am I? MGR is everything!"), she finally agreed to Chandralekha's request, and permitted Sasikala to begin filming her, at work and off-duty. During those few days of shooting, something happened between the two.
Sasikala had woven a cocoon around Jayalalithaa, who met only with those approved by the “Mannargudi Mafia”, as Subramanian Swamy termed her family. So tight was this cordon that it took an election defeat to awaken Jayalalithaa.
By the time winter arrived in 1984, the relationship between Jayalalithaa and Sasikala blossomed into a beautiful friendship, with the younger lady soon taking charge of the 36, Poes Garden household of her busy friend. From laundry to menus, Sasi managed matters at home. That year, she became indispensable to the future CM of Tamil Nadu, providing comfort and reassurance in the darkening days that followed MGR's stroke (1984) and growing incapacitation. With each step that MGR took towards his eventual demise (in 1987), those within the party who had not warmed to the role played by Jayalalitha began a campaign against her.
When MGR died after three years, a distraught Jayalalithaa, leapt onto the carriage transporting the cortege to the cremation site. She was pushed away from the vehicle carrying MGR's body, rough hands pulling at her sari and tearing much of it away, in full view of rolling cameras. The (literal) manhandling of Jayalalithaa ensured that the emotional Tamils took to the lady who was MGR's love in so many movies, and indeed was clearly his favourite in real life as well.
Power behind the ruler
Though MGR's widow, Janaki, quickly took over both the Two Leaves symbol as well as the post of CM, it was Jayalalithaa who attracted the crowds. This drew the party MLAs to her in droves, so much so that Janaki lost the no-confidence motion brought against her by Jayalalithaa's supporters, thereby becoming MGR's heir in the party.
Jayalalithaa With Sasikala in tow after casting her vote in the local Assembly polls in Chennai in May 2001
Standing by her side was Sasikala, by now her constant companion, in repose as well as work. If "Sasi" had a vice, it was her suffocating love for Natarajan and the rest of her and his family. She could never desist from helping out a relative, no matter how condemnable his actions or dissipated his character. The numerous relatives of Sasikala decided that this was their chance to big-time wealth.
Opportunity came calling when the AIADMK swept to power in the 1991 assembly elections. By then, Natarajan had ensured that he and his wife dominated the nominations for the party ticket. They also took care of the campaign and the collection of funds. Jayalalithaa was content, retreating for long stretches of time to her books, reading classics of literature over and over again, all the while leaving the sordid work of politics to Sasi. Not surprisingly, Natarajan and the rest of Sasikala's brood encouraged such a hands-off attitude.
Decisions began to be auctioned by Sasikala and her kin, a process that saw exponential growth in the personal wealth of her huge family, together with a sharp decline in Jayalalitha's popularity in whose name all these decisions were being taken. By that time, Jayalalithaa wised up about Natarajan, expelling him from her presence and (she thought) that of her partner as well.
However, the bonds of family proved far stronger than friendship, and Sasikala continued to meet with Natarajan, who guided her in the numerous paths that needed to be trodden in order to make Sasikala's family super-rich.
The Mannargudi Mafia
By the time the next assembly elections rolled along in 1996, the family was very wealthy indeed, and the entire blame for this fell on the doting CM, who was regarded as being complicit in the family's moneymaking, especially given her closeness with Sasikala's relatives, including adopting a nephew as her "adopted son".
Jayalalithaa with Vajpayee and Prakash Singh Badal of the Akali Dal party in 1998. AFP, REUTERS
Sasikala had woven a cocoon around Jayalalithaa, who met only with those approved by the "Mannargudi Mafia", as Subramanian Swamy termed her family. So tight was this cordon that it took an election defeat to awaken Jayalalithaa to see the damage. She announced the severance of all ties with Sasikala, by then in jail on corruption charges. However, a series of tearful missives from her prison cell won back the love of Jayalalithaa, and months after the break, there was a reunion. Sasikala did not forget to ruthlessly eliminate, from the party and elsewhere, all those who had shunned her during her exile from Jayalalithaa's feelings. Slowly, carefully, she replaced supporters of the former CM with those who owed loyalty only to herself and her clan.
The Lok Sabha elections (1998) brought the AIADMK to power, as part of the NDA. Vajpayee's trouble-shooters saw Sasikala's influence and the emotional grip on Jayalalithaa, and began cultivating the "Mannargudi Mafia". However, the lust for money of Sasikala's family was too much even for Pramod Mahajan to stomach, and he and Brajesh Mishra launched an operation to cut the AIADMK to size, refusing to process decisions that the party wanted.
The effect of such indifference was to open the door to Sonia Gandhi, who by the end of that year had established links with Sasikala's clan. In 1999 came the tea party at the Ashok Hotel attended by Sonia and Jayalalithaa. Hosted by Subramanian Swamy, smarting over Vajpayee's refusal to make him a Union Cabinet Minister, the get-together initiated the parleys which led to the AIADMK withdrawing support from the NDA.
A reality check
Although Jayalalithaa lost the 1999 Lok Sabha polls (as well as the Congress Party that migrated to the DMK and has remained with that party ever since), she returned to power in Tamil Nadu in the 2001 assembly polls. But unseated by a Supreme Court decision, she handed over formal power to O. Panneerselvan, a trusted aide, who regularly visited 36 Poes Garden to take dictation from Sasikala. Elsewhere, he had to follow the instructions of her kin, or risk losing his job.
By the time Jayalalithaa returned to office in 2003 (because of a High Court verdict), it was too late. The people of Tamil Nadu had had enough. In 2004, she did poorly in the Lok Sabha polls, and lost the state once again to the DMK in 2006.
But through all of this, Jayalalithaa remained loyal to Sasikala, refusing to credit multiplying reports of the cupidity of her clan.
In 2011, when the AIADMK won back the state, the Sasikala clan moved in for the kill. But this time around, Jayalalithaa had no intention of duplicating her earlier stints in office, each of which had ended in electoral disaster. She asked Sasikala to keep her flock away from government. Jayalalithaa knew that this was probably her last shot at entering the history books as a great leader of the country. If she were to lose control of the administration to Sasikala, it would be curtains to such an ambition.
Meanwhile, reports swirled about how Natarajan was going around saying that his nominee would take over as CM "once Jayalalithaa goes to jail" (in the Bangalore disproportionate assets case). Should Jayalalithaa be forced to quit, Sasikala wanted her choice to be appointed, as did the army of hangers-on of her family that she had implanted within the AIADMK.
Finally, by mid-November, Jayalalithaa had had enough. She expelled Sasikala from the party, this time most likely for good, thereby sacrificing her happiness, which would undoubtedly give her a chance at entering the history books – maybe even as Prime Minister, should there by an AIADMK sweep in the next Lok Sabha polls.

Team Anna or Team Jawahar? (Sunday Guardian)


Anna Hazare, along with Kiran Bedi, waves the Tricolour at a public meeting in Chennai last Sunday. PTI
ee Kuan Yew was grateful to Jawaharlal Nehru, for the Indian leader made the mistakes that Singapore's Minister Mentor ensured his city-state avoided. The most consequential was Nehru's decision to retain the immense web of powers and privileges enjoyed by Brits during their period in power. If in the past the divide was between the Brits (and others of like ethnicity) and the natives, since 1947 it has been between the few in the higher reaches of government and the multitude outside. Who has not witnessed a high official step gingerly from an aircraft, an attractive airline escort in front and a flunkey carrying his briefcase at the rear? So delicately is the Personage treated by airline staff that the suspicion is reasonable that the individual is in the final stages of pregnancy, except that the "baby" carried is an exaggerated sense of self-importance. After India secured her freedom — thanks substantially to the multiple revolts in the military, which finally convinced even Churchill that they could no longer rely on armed natives to keep the unarmed ones cowed — Jawaharlal Nehru led the march to occupy the palaces and mansions vacated by the former rulers, he himself choosing the most imposing bar, the Viceregal Palace, the Commander-in-Chief's residence. Of course, it is hardly a surprise in a land ruled for so many centuries by the Mughals that the city has become dotted with mausoleums and locations where VVIPs ascended to the afterlife, from Indira Gandhi's official residence to the modest surroundings in which the Mahatma resided in the final days of his life. Apart from such structures, there are of course an increasing number of post-1947 tombs, none of which attracts attention except when the Protocol Division of the MEA makes it mandatory for foreign dignitaries to visit them. Once or twice a year (and usually only then), their Indian counterparts come to toss flowers and to wear a sorrowful expression. Bollywood is not the only location where acting talent abounds.
Politicians, whose "fund collections" are energetically facilitated by the Civil Service, have ensured that in a presumed democracy of a billion and a quarter souls, any quango or post that involves state interface with the public remains the incestuous preserve of those who gave academics, commerce and other productive fields a miss and headed to the cram shops to get into the IAS, the IFS and the IPS, not to mention sundry other official fraternities that have collectively ensured that administration in India is easily the worst among the democracies. Their consistent failure to generate a satisfactory result (besides of course enriching themselves and their political patrons) has not prevented the Civil Service in India from continuing to block the entry of anyone other than themselves in the halls of public office. When the time came to choose the latest CVC, for example, the then Cabinet Secretary confined the choice to a single batch of the IAS, so convinced was he that this small subset of brother officers offered enough choice for selecting the government's anti-graft czar. Both our politicians as well as our civil servants love to visit a country we need to constantly revile to show off our nationalistic credentials, the US. In that country, the administration is deliberately seeded with individuals who have entered different levels from other fields of activity. Until at least half of each government department at levels of undersecretary and above comprise of people who have had successful careers in the area that a particular ministry is dealing with, the country will continue to suffer from policies that are designed to maximise bribes and not efficiency, a fact that Rahul Gandhi does not seem to have yet noticed.
t is a given that the new Lokpal will once again come from the ranks of those who have enjoyed a government salary for all their working (?) lives. Anna Hazare has been brilliant in the way in which he has given confidence to the people of this semi-democracy that it is indeed possible to rid the system of corruption. He has also been forthright in placing the blame for
the present state of affairs at the doors of those administering the state. Where he has gone horribly wrong is in equating low-level with high-level corruption, and in demanding a monster that would in law have oversight over several tens of millions of state employees. In their more fanciful moments, Team Anna even seeks to place private industry, including the media, within the purview of the Lokpal. Their belief is that people love to pay bribes and to get ripped off, and hence that the bribe-giver should be placed on the same footing as the bribe-taker. Such a view would ensure that few dare to step forward and expose the wrongdoing of officials, and is tantamount to jailing both the rapist as well as the victim (for the "crime" of having sex). Rather than go by the fundamentalist thinking of Team Anna, what a (future) government needs to do is to ensure that bribe-givers be given every incentive to expose those to whom consideration was paid.
There is an immense difference between the effects of a high-level bribe taker and someone at the lower levels. The Lokpal needs to focus on the top tier of governance, and ensure accountability at that level. Otherwise it will expend most of its energy going after clerks and patwaris. And as for the CBI, the problem with this agency is that it is manned by deputationists, who need to revert back to their parent cadre after a stint in the organisation. This being the case, officers would be chary of falling foul of the very politicians and officials who would be supervising their careers once they leave the CBI. The organisation needs a permanent staff rather than deputationists. Once an IPS officer joins the CBI, for instance, there can be no going back to the parent cadre. Unfortunately, this administrative wrinkle seems not of much concern to Team Anna. From flogging those who consume alcohol to seeking to set up an octopus that would further choke the machinery of government, Team Anna is a case study in how good intentions can lead to disastrous results. They are following in the path of Jawaharlal Nehru, who brought in Soviet-style innovations to India and killed the chances of the country to harness its talent to banish growth.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Musharraf’s admirer is new US envoy to India (PO)

By M D Nalapat
The choice of a career foreign service officer, Nancy Powell, as the new US ambassador to India, underlines the fact that President Obama has left relations with India to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while he focuses on the far more consequential relationship between China and the US. In Beijing, Gary Locke (a former Cabinet-level official known for his antipathy to Delhi and sympathy for Beijing) has a direct channel of communication with the White House, unlike Powell, who on occasion will find it difficult even to reach Hillary Clinton, given her modest status in the pantheon of power players in Washington. During her stint in Islamabad, the soft-spoken envoy became very close to President Pervez Musharraf, and her reporting helped ensure that the Bush administration saw both Musharraf as well as the Pakistan military as reliable assets of the US in the region. Powell believed that the Pakistan army could be relied on to faithfully implement the policies cooked up in the Departments of State and Defense, and raised very few red flags, so complete was her trust in the suave commando whom she clearly admired, the then (coup-selected) President of Pakistan.

It is no secret that decision-makers in South Block (location of the Ministries of Defense and External Affairs, as well as the Prime Minister’s Office) share with North Block (the Home Ministry) a deep distrust of the Pakistan military, especially the army. Although US and EU diplomats have over the years been lyrical about the “constructive approach” of the men in khaki, administrations in India have not seen any improvement in the ground situation, where irregular elements continue to infiltrate the Line of Control in Kashmir, besides entering India by land from Bangladesh and Nepal. During her period in Islamabad, Powell almost totally ignored such activities, concentrating on the situation in Afghanistan, and satisfying herself (after frequent briefings from President Musharraf and his key assistants) that Pakistan was fully on board as a major non-NATO ally of the US. Doubts about such an assessment began only after Powell left her post in Pakistan’s well-planned capital. After that, she moved on to Nepal, at a time when the Maoist groups were gaining in strength, thanks to the short-sighted policy of the then monarch of backing them clandestinely against democratic forces in Nepal, whom King Gyanendra regarded as a bigger threat than the Maoists. UnlikeAmbassador Moriarty, who was forthright against the insurgents, there is no record of Nancy Powell adopting a similar no-nonsense approach to a group that saw armed struggle rather than the ballot box as the preferred means to power. Of course, it must be said that in the course of her career in the State Department, she has had the distinction of beingambassador to both Ghana as well as Uganda, and succeeded in improving ties between the US and these two important countries. However, her preferred region of interest has remained South Asia.

Although some within the strategic community in India have delusions of grandeur about the role played by Delhi in theObama calculus, the Powell appointment has once again shown up the differential treatment between approaches to China and India. While the first country is a personal priority of President Obama, such that he closely monitors policy to that emerging superpower, in the case of India, Obama confines himself to the honeyed language of which he is expert. Actual policy is left to Hillary Clinton, who regards the Europeans (and in particular the UK, and now France) as not merely experts on India, but as useful interlocutors. Although the expertise of the Secretary of State is most pronounced in the matter of specialty restaurants at the Maurya Sheraton hotel in Delhi (her favoured haunt while visiting the country), she has very definite views on India’s role. It is that Delhi needs to behave in the manner that the US and the EU decides is proper for it, and forget about seeking parity with China. In that sense, the Powell appointment is welcome, for it illustrates the much lower position of India in the strategic calculus of the Obama administration, as compared to China, which has always had high-powered envoys, beginning with George H W Bush.

Nancy Powell knows the Pakistan military well, and she has kept up her contacts with top generals in India’s westernneighbour. However, she has much less reach within the Indian establishment, except at the formal level. Of course, given the obsession of the metropolitan elite in India with the US, she can be assured of an obsequious welcome, by journalists, businesspersons, officials and politicians, almost all of home have family in the US. While key elements of the strategic community in India would like the Obama administration to give up its Euro-centric view of India (as a country that needs to be guided and led by the hand, in the manner of a frisky adolescent), such a development seems remote under Powell’s watch. She has been steeped in the State-Defense culture of seeing India near-exclusively from the priosm of India-Pakistan relations. She can be expected to follow Hillary Clinton’s instincts and insert herself into the subject almost from the day she assumes office in Delhi from Peter Burleigh, the acting envoy, who too shares with Nancy Powell close ties to the US intelligence community, and is a distinguished professor at the University of Miami, which has one of the best International Relations programs in the US.

While President Obama has been ruthless with BP in the matter of the Gulf of Mixico oil spill, in the case of India, he has been putting almost unbearable pressure on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to pass legislation that would insure US and other foreign companies from financial responsibility in case there is a nuclear accident. In other words, US lives have value, but Indian lives do not. Only because of the fact that the Government of India has a record of bowing to US (and EU) dictates has a Nuclear Liability Bill been passed that takes away 85% of the liability of a foreign supplier in case there is a mishap. This is not enough for Obama. He wants 99% of the liability to be transferred to the Indian taxpayer, something that even Manmohan Singh has balked at, despite his and Sonia Gandhi’s known desire to please any US administration, be it Republican or Democratic. Certainly, both will roll out the red carpet to the new US envoy, especially the UPA Chairperson, who Hillary Clinton regards as a policymaker who can be persuaded to accept the US view in most matters, and who has therefore been carefully cultivated by her.

It is no secret that the road map of the Indian strategic community in Afghanistan and Kashmir is very different from that of the Pakistan army. Seeking to bridge this gap has been a task that Powell’s admirers in the US academic community have been trying for decades to accomplish. Certainly the US mission in Delhi has formidable PR skills, as well as contact with hundreds of decision -makers, including journalists and academics. Those who “follow the line” are made welcome, while those having an independent view are ignored. In the final year of his present term in office, President Obama’s most urgent priority is an orderly retreat from Afghanistan. Powell is among those who regard it possible to enlist the Pakistan army in such a mission, if only India were to make enough concessions. Her task in Delhi will be to follow the example of another Clintonite envoy, Frank Wisner, who spent much of his tenure seeking to persuade India to make concessions on Kashmir, and on other strategic issues. However, even though the Manmohan-Sonia duo are eager to please not just Barack Obama but Hillary Clinton as well, their capacity to ensure concessions is limited by resistance from that segment of the strategic community in India that is not obsessed with finding jobs in US think tanks, but who believe that only the acceptance by the US that India is the “other tiger on the mountain” can ensure a genuine partnership between two countries sharing a common language and an exceptionally vibrant people. Although there will be the obligatory cheers of welcome for the Powell appointment, deeper than the headlines and the statements, there is resentment that President Obama has distanced himself from the longstanding US policy of sending distinguished Thought Leaders to India, rather than career diplomats such as Frank Wisner or Nancy Powell. The omens for a true alliance remain bleak, given Obama’s handover of India policy to his Secretary of State and her favourites.