Sunday 29 January 2012

MADE replaces MAD (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Although both had enough nuclear weapons in stock to destroy the other several times over, there was never a direct conflict between the US and the USSR. In Korea, it was China that entered the lists against MacArthur and not the Soviet Union, which remained off the battlefield despite urgent pleas by Mao Zedong that his "fraternal ally" join in the effort to remove the US military from the Korean peninsula. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) developed the art of the proxy war, assisting other countries to fight the US, without itself getting involved in combat. This was most successful in Vietnam, where the US was forced to withdraw in defeat after more than 15 years spent battling a numerically and technologically inferior enemy. The fact that either country could pulverize the other, even after a devastating nuclear first strike, kept the peace. The doctrine that a balance of nuclear terror could keep the peace was known as MAD (or Mutually Assured Destruction). It was anything but that, although analysts in the "developed" parts of the world sniffed at suggestions that barbarians such as Indians and Pakistanis too would ensure an avoidance of nuclear war between themselves. Especially during the Clinton administration (1992-2001), "South Asia experts" secured considerable amounts of funding from "peace" foundations for writing tracts purporting to show that India and Pakistan were "on the edge" of a nuclear war, and only vigorous intervention by the "civilised world" (namely themselves) could avert such an outcome. This crescendo of noise reached a peak during 2002, when Atal Behari Vajpayee mobilised hundreds of thousands of troops to go to temporary billets near the Pakistan border, without any intention of ever using them. Vajpayee was a showman, and Operation Parakram was nothing but that, show.
Robert Blackwill was rewarded for defaming India as a potential nuclear flashpoint by the UPA making him a PR agent for India, at a cost in dollars of nearly a million a year.
That there was zero risk of war became clear from the behaviour of Chinese diplomats in Delhi. Nobody knows the Pakistan Army better than the People's Liberation Army (PLA), and if there were the slightest risk of war, much less a nuclear conflict, Beijing would have ordered its diplomats to leave both India and Pakistan. That they stayed put in both countries showed that the PLA was confident that Vajpayee was merely posturing when he shifted nearly a half-million troops to points along the Pakistan border. However, this was not clear to diplomats from the NATO bloc, who got into a panic. The most hysteria was shown by US envoy Robert Blackwill, who in a terrified state ordered every one of the 65,000 US citizens then in India to leave. They were accompanied by other nationals from countries that were reeking with fear about a possible nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Almost all members of this stampede of the cowards were NATO allies, not surprising considering the fact that this particular military alliance only goes to war against those countries that are harmless in terms of conventional capabilities. In the Blackwill-created 2002 flight from India, even the Israelis, otherwise known to be cool-headed, joined the exodus. Except of course for a few tourists who did not think a nuclear exchange reason enough to prematurely leave a country that they loved to visit. As for Robert Blackwill, given the masochistic propensities of the Indian establishment towards outsiders, he was rewarded for defaming India as a potential nuclear flashpoint by the UPA making him a PR agent for India, at a cost in dollars of nearly a million a year! Perhaps Manmohan Singh ought to consider giving a like assignment to past and present heads of Pakistan's ISI, for the way in which they (in the manner of Blackwill) have sought to damage Indian interests.
During the 2002 bogus crises created by Vajpayee's posturing across the border with Pakistan, this columnist had argued in print that India and Pakistan had the same chance of going into a nuclear war with each other as the USSR and the US did, which was near-zero. That the military establishments of both countries were as rational in their calculations as those of Moscow and Washington, and consequently would keep away from catastrophe. Almost all of India's security analysts argued otherwise. Unlike this columnist, almost all had the benefit of generous scholarships that enabled them to nest for long periods of time in thinktanks and universities in the NATO countries, principally the US. Together with hamburgers and steak, they were given generous dollops of false probabilities of irrational behaviour by the Indian and Pakistani sides, all of which got swallowed with zest and regurgitated as "expert" analyses that took the same position on issues as the thinktanks and foundations that had sponsored their sabbaticals. However, the fact was — and is — that if MAD worked in keeping the nuclear peace between the US and the USSR, so would it in the case of India and Pakistan.
MAD gave the US the immunity from direct retaliation it needed to pay the Soviets back for Vietnam, by funding the Afghan insurgency. Today, a new version of MAD has appeared, only this time it is Mutually Assured Destruction of the Economy (or MADE). Pairs in which a direct military conflict with each other would create unbearable economic damage are now in the same situation as the US and the USSR was during the Cold War. Either side dare not take on the other. Today, MADE is operating in favour of China, which — although militarily inferior to the US — knows that an attack on it would cause such severe economic damage to the economies of NATO partners as to be unthinkable. This immunity is the reason why China can encourage the Pakistan Army to hasten the retreat of NATO from Afghanistan by helping the Taliban. Indeed, China is now using Pakistan against NATO the same way that Islamabad was used by Washington against Moscow in the 1980s, by encouraging forces hostile to the alliance in Afghanistan. Beijing knows that the economic and financial linkage between itself and the NATO economies is too pervasive for the alliance to go to war against it. This has given China the flexibility needed to mount asymmetrical challenges to NATO worldwide. If MAD kept the peace during the Cold War, MADE will keep the peace between a rapidly rising China and the US, despite the former's adoption of the ISI's strategy of "death by a thousand cuts" to the enemy.

Rushdie was cat’s paw in UP electoral game (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 29th Jan
Salman Rushdie was scheduled to reach Jaipur on 20 January to address the 2012 Literature Festival. As has been their practice throughout the four previous years of what has become a major global international literary meet, the organisers of the Jaipur Litfest kept the relevant authorities in Delhi and in Jaipur informed about the list of invitees, including Salman Rushdie. Informally as well, because of the contacts between key players in the UPA and those involved in the management of the 2012 festival, not just the government but Congress leaders were informed of Rushdie's visit. "At no stage was any objection raised by anyone — in government or in the ruling party — about the invite to Rushdie", a Congress source said, adding that "Rushdie himself was aware of the sensitivity of the Satanic Versesin India, and the need for him to avoid public mention of this subject while in India".
Indeed, Rushdie has been periodically visiting this country since the book got banned in 1988, and thus far, has faced little opposition. It helped that he made matters easier for his hosts by avoiding a public discussion of the banned work. "Coming to India is important for Rushdie, who has a strong affinity to this country, especially to Mumbai," a friend of the writer claimed as an explanation for why the writer remained respectful of constraints on the range of subjects he would publicly talk about while in this country. Certainly, there was little risk of Salman Rushdie breaking the invisible red lines that he has remained within since 1988, by openly commenting on the Satanic Verses in the Festival, or reading excerpts from the book. This being the case, there would ordinarily have been no reason for the hullabaloo which erupted over his participation in the 2012 Litfest.
Certainly Rushdie would have kept to the rule book during his planned Jaipur visit as well, which is why the organisers were surprised when a controversy suddenly erupted over the invitation to him. According to sources in the Congress (who, let it be revealed in the interests of transparency, are apprehensive lest a Rahul Gandhi takeover of the organisation, and later the government, may affect their prominence and influence), a decision was taken by key strategists of the Heir Apparent to (1) not warn the organisers against inviting Rushdie, (2) ensure that selected Muslim organisations get informally and indirectly briefed about the Rushdie visit, so as to generate protests over Rushdie's participation. This would be followed by (3), the securing through informal and non-specific warnings of threats to Rushdie's life as well as the safety of other attendees of the JLF. "The immediate acceptance of the demand of the Muslim organisations (to ban Rushdie) would show that the Congress listens to the minority voice rather than ignore it", a party source claimed.
Salman Rushdie has long ago dropped many notches from the radar of demonology of religious fanatics, his place having been taken by the likes of George W. Bush, Narendra Modi and others. While a few organisations claiming to represent the Muslim community made a ruckus about the writer's participation in the Festival, the Muslim population as a whole remained spectators, with not a single town or city witnessing a major demonstration in support of the demand that Rushdie ought to be disallowed from participating in the Festival. What gives credibility to the claims made by Congress sources is the ease with which the four-layered security cordon surrounding the high-profile JLF was breached by dozens of strangers, who were clearly uninterested in literature of any kind, but who were determined to keep Rushdie out. The drama was played out, with Rushdie as the villain, the Festival as the stage prop, and the Congress governments at Jaipur and at the Centre the heroes rescuing the community from the odious presence of the writer of Satanic Verses. However, judging by the tepid response of the Muslim community to the news that Rushdie had been kept away (with not even crackers getting burst anywhere), any electoral gains from the episode are likely to be ephemeral. The sources say that the mastermind of Operation Rushdie was that hardy Nehru family loyalist and Home Minister-in-waiting, Digvijay Singh.

Saturday 28 January 2012

China’s global proxy game (Gateway House)

Across the world, from Iran to Sudan, Syria and Venezuela, China has been boosting the military and other capabilities of forces hostile to the NATO powers, led by the U.S. In doing this it is following a time-worn, low-cost, low-visibility strategy of draining the U.S. in particular through feints and jabs, conducted by states and organizations that are in effect proxy players for Chinese aims.
This strategy is as old as the Cold War and the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD. From 1952-92, the period of the Cold War, the possibility of any form of direct attack by the former USSR on the United States or vice-versa, was reduced to near-zero by the principle of MAD. Each had the capability of absorbing a nuclear first-strike and thereafter inflicting terminal damage on the other. Knowledge of such capability kept the peace in Europe, and enabled that continent to escape the conflicts that broke out in Asia.
Indeed, the USSR was so intimidated by the U.S. nuclear arsenal, that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) lacked the courage to mount even a conventional challenge, not simply against the U.S. and its NATO allies, but also against countries such as Pakistan, that were being used by Washington to conduct a war by proxy against Moscow.
   Had a fraction of the munitions expended by the USSR during its failed adventure in Afghanistan been spent on locations within Pakistan – in particular the regions feeding the American-led insurgency in Afghanistan – it is very probable that Russia might have crippled the U.S. enough to have held its ground in the Afghan campaign.
   At the time, China was nowhere on the horizon. Today, the view that China is becoming a significant influence in South East Asia and the Indian Sub-continent seems well-ground in U.S. thinking. The 2012 U.S. Department of Defence strategic vision document recently released by President Obama explicitly mentions the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) as being in the same category of hostile nations as Iran, and therefore a direct threat to the U.S. The ultimate goal for China? Being the pre-eminent power in Asia first – and then the world. Its strategy: copy-catting the NATO and U.S. pattern of using military superiority for economic advantage, as seen recently in Iraq and Libya.
 As U.S and NATO forces prepare to leave Afghanistan by 2014, it’s clear that Afghanistan has become the first significant theatre of effective confrontation between the West and China. China is in fact adopting the 1980s U.S. strategy of using Pakistan to drain and drive the U.S. out of the region just as the U.S. did with Russia in Afghanistan.
   It also seems that U.S. President Barack Obama indirectly recognizes this power shift but realizes he has little scope with which to change direction. Obama has understood that while military power can win a territory from a conventional enemy, it cannot hold it unless it is willing to inflict human casualties on a scale made impossible by cable television and the use of mobile telephones as video cameras. The same occurred with the British Raj in India. Once international publications began to extensively cover the various protests of Mahatma Gandhi, the list of feasible responses by the India Office in London narrowed considerably.
   Obama has rather unfairly been condemned on the campaign trail as being “weak” on national security. But the reality is that it was he – rather than eight years of George W. Bush – that saw off Osama bin Laden, just as it is since 2009 that drone attacks on terrorist hideouts in Pakistan have accelerated and severely crippled Al-Qaeda. Indeed, in 2001, the Bush administration gave a free pass to the most deadly elements of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, by permitting their evacuation from Kunduz and other locations within Afghanistan.
   Obama’s withdrawal from the region comes against a backdrop where China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seeks increasing influence. It is no secret that the PLA and the U.S. military consider themselves rivals.
   As this withdrawal takes place, the PLA will have greater influence over the Pakistan military than the Pentagon – public perceptions and statements to the contrary. Some may argue it has had greater influence for nearly a decade. The evidence of this is that at the smallest provocation, Pakistan now challenges NATO by cutting off supplies to its forces across the Durand Line. The preferred outcome for the PLA would be a complete withdrawal, in humiliation, of all NATO forces from Afghanistan and Pakistan, followed by the Pakistani takeover by a Taliban affiliate of the ISI.
What of India, caught in the claws of the dragon’s new great proxy game? Certainly China has no hesitation in using Pakistan against India – a course of action which the Pakistani military has always been eager to follow.
Not so, however, with China’s commercial interests, which see in India a $300 billion viable market for Chinese goods, a large chunk of it being telecom and infrastructure. The powerful state-owned enterprises are as important to Beijing as the Chinese army, and they don’t want military tension with India. Already, Chinese banks are lending to Indian business – last week, a trio of state-owned banks lent $1.1 billion to Indian businessman Anil Ambani to help him refinance the loans of his telecom company. That came on top of the $3 billion syndicated loan to Ambani’s power company, Reliance Power, last year. India-China trade, at $63 billion, is expected to touch $100 billion in the next couple of years.
A reasonable prediction will be that once NATO gets bundled out of Afghanistan, the state companies will finally have the upper hand over the PLA in policies towards India. Elsewhere in the world, the NATO humiliation in Afghanistan is likely to further a shift towards China as the new protector of nervous states worldwide.
M.D. Nalapat is Director of the School of Geopolitics at Manipal University, and a regular contibutor to Gateway House.

Friday 27 January 2012

UP elections block Salman Rushdie (PO)

M D Nalapat
Although the first three decades since freedom in 1947 saw a single party rule at the centre and in most - when not all - the states, since then, the Indian political scene has become fractured into a multiplicity of parties, each with a loyal core of supporters. A weakness of India-style democracy is that almost all political parties in India are each controlled by a single family, with the top job being inherited by the next of kin of the departing leader. The Nehru family illustrates this proclivity for nepotism most starkly. The founder of the political dynasty that has ruled India for nearly three-fourths of itshistory was Motilal Nehru, who used his influence with Mahatma Gandhi to secure a berth within the Congress leadership for his only son, Jawaharlal. The more Gandhiji dealt with the younger Nehru, the more he liked the impetous “Brown Sahib”, who had his schooling in Harrow, and who to the end of his days was happiest in the company of people from the British isles. Since the mid-1930s,it became an obsession of the Mahatma to ensure that his successor as Congress boss was the young Nehru. Democratic niceties were not allowed to stand in the way of this love and faith for the handsome Kashmiri Pandit. Despite being supported by only a small minority of the senior leadership of the party, Gandhiji ensured that Nehru got made the Congress President and later the first Prime Minister of free India.

History records that the very first decision taken by the Mahatma Gandhi-annoited PM was to beseech the outgoing Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, to stay on in Delhi, this time as free India’s first Governor-General. In the annals of history, it would be difficult to come across another instance of a colonial master being begged by his former subject to continue to serve as the boss. Mountbatten wanted to be the Governor-General of Pakistan as well, but Mohammad Ali Jinnah (who apparently had more self-respect than his Indian counterpart) made it clear that the former Viceroy would be welcome in Pakistan only as a guest, and not as formerly, the Head of State Nehru ensured that the colonial administration, including its rules, laws, personnel and procedures, continued seamlessly after 15 August 1947. The consequence of continuing with the vast discretionary powers of the British period has been corruption on a gargantuan scale. The fastest way to become rich is to win a lottery. The next fastest is to enter electoral politics. Today, in every star hotel in India, the rooms and restaurants are filled with politicians and their families. London and Dubai have become the locations of choice for themselves and their family members. Within the country, they treat ordinary people with the contempt they feel for those who elect to power people with such a low level of ethics and vision. However, for a few weeks during each election cycle, they change their tune, pretending to be deferential towards the very people whom they ignore for the rest of the time. Once the votes get cast, the political elite once again forgets that India is supposed to be a democracy, and with the various agencies of their state as the junior partners, behave as though they are the British during the time when the latter were the masters of India.

Because winning elections means hitting the jackpot, in terms of access to the cash and other benefits that flow from power, the period of the election cycle sees a transformation in the attitudes and discourse of the political elite. Suddenly they become very sensitive to what they see as “public opinion”. And it is into precisely such a maelstrom that Salman Rashdie found himself in, when the British author (who first said that he was from Pakistan and latter corrected himself and claimed to be Indian) got invited to the 2012 Jaipur Literary Festival to do a reading of his book,”Midnight’s Children”. It may be remembered that Rushdie is also the author of the book “Satanic Verses”, which was first banned by the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1988.Soon afterwards, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa asking for Rushdie to be executed for the crimes of apostasy and blasphemy, an edict that made Rushdie both famous and a recluse. The controversy helped sales of his many books. Rushdie has a turgid style, and let it be confessed that this columnist has not been able to go beyond a few dozen pages of any of his books. They are either very poorly written or “too evolved” for this columnist’s tastes. However, perhaps because it is taken as a sign of literary ignorance not to like Rushdie, the author has a considerable following.

The Congress Party is looking forward to installing Rahul Gandhi as PM, but for this to be a smooth transition, he needs to show that he has the potential to be an electoral asset. Hence the need for Rahul to ensure that the Congress Party wins a lot more than the 23 (out of 403) assembly seats that it won in UP during the last assembly polls five years back. Rahul’s backers (and let it be confessed that this columnist too has a soft corner for the only son of Rajiv Gandhi) are aiming at the Congress Party getting close to a hundred sears, or more than four times their previous tally. This is possible only if the Congress Party can attract the Muslim vote away from the other two contenders, the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, both of whom have traditionally been more attractive to the Muslims than the Congress Party, which is seen as a less than reliable friend, and whose concern for the Muslims is more verbal than real. Given the importance of the Muslim vote, when Rahul Gandhi’s key political advisor Digvijay Sighh (a former chief minister of neighbouring Madhya Pradesh) realised that Salman Rushdie was to give a speech in Jaipur, he began to worry that the presence of the author in a Congress-ruled state would turn Muslims away from the Congress Party Very soon afterwards, as if on cue, some Muslim organisations began to demand that the invitation by the Jaipur Literary Festival to Rushdie get withdrawn. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram (who is the Cabinet minister most trusted by Sonia Gandhi) talked to the chief minister of Rajasthan, the state where the festival was being held.

The conversation is secret, but immediately afterwards, reports began to appear in the media of mysterious groups “out to kill Salman Rushdie”.The Mumbai underworld was talked of as the danger to the author. The cries against Salman Rushdie coming to India, a country that he has visited many times in the past, got used as an excuse to put pressure on the organisers of the Literary Festival to disinvite Rushdie. Later, even a video link with the author was called off. The clear worry for the political managers of the Congress Party was that even a video image of Salman Rushdie in an event held in a Congress-ruled state would annoy the Muslim community. In holding such a view, they were implicitly denigrating a community that is as tolerant and as socially progressive as any other. While few Muslims like Salman Rushdie (as they are aware of the way in which his writings are being used to give a bad name o them), the overwhelming majority don’t care about the issue. They are too busy going about their daily lives, just as their fellow-Indians who are Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist or Jain are. To seek to portray an entire religious community as narrow-minded and prone to violence is wrong and indeed shameful. Yet that is the image conveyed by the episode of Rushdie’s aborted visit to India.

This columnist believes in freedom of speech, and hence considers it wrong that a silent conspiracy took place to deny Salman Rushdie the right he has as a Person of Indian Origin to come to India. Had he come to Jaipur, while there may have been a few protests by those organisations anxious to show that they are “Islam Pasand”, the overwhelming majority of Muslims (together with other Indians) would have ignored him. Salman Rushdie would have come and gone,the way he has so many times in the past, without any fuss. However, the anxiety of the Congress Party was to block his presence in India during the time when elections are to take place in a state (UP) where 18% of the population is Muslim. This denial of the right of Rushdie to come, and the right of others to listen to him, has once again brought into focus the imperfect nature of India’s democracy. While the Constitution of India is a wonderful document, sadly the Criminal and Civil Procedure Codes are still based on the colonial British model. And it is these that are repeatedly used to flout the promise of the Constitution and deny the people of India the freedoms enjoyed in genuine democracies. While Salman Rushdie is a writer best ignored, the effective denial of entry by him to India has hurt the conscience of the country.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Free India from the Nehru-British model (Organiser)

By MD Nalapat

Even those who disagree with the policies and approaches favoured by Sonia Gandhi will agree that she has been very effective in ensuring her sway over first the Congress Party and subsequently the Government of India. That she was hugely influential throughout the term in office of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi was no secret. Contract after contract got awarded to an Italian conglomerate that had as its fixer in Delhi, a person by the name of Ottavio Quattrocchi. While Sonia Gandhi’s admirers claim that the Quattrocchi and Maino clans were and are distant from each other, others claim that even now, his wife and children meet frequently with the Mainos, even spending holidays together.

Certainly, only intervention from the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao ensured that the Italian middleman was enabled to escape from India in 1994, never to return. Almost before the aircraft in which he was travelling from Delhi touched down in Europe, Sonia Gandhi got launched a campaign against Rao, inspiring admirers such as ND Tiwari and Arjun Singh to even float a new party, although she disappointed them by not being present at the launch. In 1996, the split in Congress votes caused by the Tiwari-Singh faction, added to the dip in the party’s image because of their incessant cries that it was Rao rather than the BJP that was the main enemy resulted in the defeat of the Congress Party and the subsequent ouster of Rao, who unwisely agreed to surrender the post of Congress President to a man who each day used to fall prostrate at his feet, Sitarm Kesri. Just hours after taking over as AICC President, instead of reaching out for Rao’s feet (the way he had till then), Kesri grabbed at his political throat, soon bundling Rao out of the leadership of the Congress Parliamentary Party as well, with help from Sharad Pawar. In a short while, he was himself turfed out, being replaced by Sonia Gandhi in a coup masterminded by K Karunakaran.

So pervasive has been the charm of Sonia Gandhi that her interests were energetically protected by the NDA, under the gentleman Prime Minister, Atal Behari  Vajpayee, who treated the Congress President as an adopted daughter, despite the fact that it had been Sonia Gandhi who had persuaded J Jayalalithaa in 1999 to withdraw support from the NDA and join with the Congress Party to form an alternative government. That move collapsed only because Sonia Gandhi insisted on her party forming the government on its own, with her other partners having to be content with a supporting role.

This was not acceptable to Mulayam Singh, who declined to support a government led by Sonia Gandhi, and who has since been kept out of the Central government by Sonia Gandhi. Reports are that this spell in the purgatory of being neither ruling nor opposition will end soon, and that the Samajwadi Party and the Congress Party will once again team up, with (if they get enough seats) Akhilesh Yadav as the new CM of UP and Mulayam Singh taking over a key ministry in Delhi, the way Ajit Singh has. As the example of Jaipal Reddy shows, Sonia Gandhi is willing to forgive past critics if expediency demands, although she may not forget.
Indeed, during the six years that the NDA was in office, pro-Congress elements were given priority over nationalists in the shows broadcast by All-India Radio and Doordarshan. The then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra was very respectful of the feelings of the Pakistan army, and helped ensure that many scholars who had consistently opposed the Pakistan army disappeared from AIR and Doordarshan, getting replaced by those close to 10 Janpath (and to Pakistan). It is also not possible to forget or to excuse the fact that it was the NDA that allowed Ottavio Quattrocchi to escape from Malaysia, because of the CBI presenting a shoddy case before the courts in that country, a case prepared by the Union Ministry of Law. No official responsible for Mr Q’s escape has had his or her career harmed in the slightest. Instead, many  have been protected and promoted by the UPA.

Returning to the ideology of Sonia Gandhi, those tracking the tension and subsequent snipping that was directed against PV Narasimha Rao by her were of the view that the root of it was personality. That Sonia could not abide a person outside the clan being PM, is much the same way that Indira Gandhi looked with scorn at Lal Bahadur Shastri. However, after an analysis of the way her government has been functioning since 2004, it is clear that it was  ideology more than personality that was behind the cooling of relations between Rao and Sonia. The AICC President is a believer in the Nehru model of governance, which is founded on the European colonial principle that the people of India are immature and need guidance and control by a strong hand. While admirers of Jawaharlal Nehru across the globe see him as the “Father of Democracy” in India, the reality is that Nehru continued (with a few cosmetic changes) the forms and processes of governance that had been established by the British. Over more than two centuries, the East India Company and post-1857 the Crown had put in place a  system of governance which obliged the population to seek permission from one official or the other and often more than one before undertaking most tasks.

Every day of his life, the citizen was faced with roadblocks that could only be crossed if some official agreed to step aside. The consequence of such micro-management was a steady shrinking of economic welfare. The share of India in global output fell from 24 per cent in 1820 to less than a twentieth of that by the time in 1946 that signs of mutiny within the armed forces (epecially the navy) finally convinced Whitehall that India could no longer be held, and that it was best to leave.

While India has a relatively democratic constitution, thanks to individuals such as BR Ambedkar, the country still has a colonial criminal code and a colonial system of administration. So does Singapore, except that the difference is that in that city-state, the administration is free from corruption, and hence delivers results. In India, while the vast discretionary power of the colonial state remain in the hands of those in control of the machinery of government, there is so much corruption that the administration has become much of a burden and a hindrance as was the case under the British. What the people of India are enduring today is the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru, whose concept of democracy was to give people the right to vote in exchange  for taking away all other rights. “Freedom” should not come once every five years, but ought to be present 24/7 in the citizen’s life. Unfortunately, in India almost any activity necessitates a visit to a government office and the payment of a bribe to secure a service. This is in line with the core philosophy of Nehruism, which is that the people of India ought to be  treated the way children are. They should always be under supervision and guidance, the way it was under colonial rule. It is a philosophy that has been wholeheartedly accepted by Sonia Gandhi, and which she is making sure her government follows.

Narasimha Rao and A B Vajpayee had a different vision from that of the Nehruvians, which was that the people of India were not immature but adult. That they could be trusted with the same rights and freedoms as populations in Europe or North America enjoy. Rao and later Vajpayee began to dismantle the colonial-style web of powers and procedures that stifled initiative in India. He was less than 20 per cent successful, but even this small change has resulted in a significant increase in economic output and public expression. Both the courts as well as the media became more independent of the executive during the five year tenure of Rao. After that, it was only during the AB Vajpayee regime that a further increase in the discretionary power of the citizen vis-a-vis the state took place, to about 30 per cent of the desired level. Once the UPA came to power, year by year since 2004 the level of discretion available to the citizen has fallen, so that it is now close to 15 per cent. Before the next Lok Sabha elections in 2014, it may fall still further, to the colonial level of  10 per cent  that was the case during the regimes of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The latter had even less compunction than her father in taking away the rights of citizens, in the process creating potential future minefields in international law. An example was her 1969 decision to abolish the rights granted to the former royal families through the Instruments of Accession signed by each in 1947. It is this framework of covenants that is the legal basis of much of the Union of India, including the State of Kashmir. By unilaterally breaking such a covenant, Indira Gandhi has shown her contempt for the very process that resulted in the accession of the princely states to the Union of India. What if Islamabad now brings up before the International Court of Justice that the accession of Kashmir is void, because Indira Gandhi’s government unilaterally tore up these covenants by her arbitrary action of unilaterally breaking the solemn promise made by the Government of India in 1947 to the former rulers of the princely states? In the colonial form of administration continued by Nehru and his succesors, promises made by the “rulers” to the “natives” are not to be taken seriously. In the British-Nehru system of governance being followed since 1947, the “rulers” are those who man the machinery of government, while the rest of the population comprise the “natives”.

This columnist has been to several countries that have been democratic for many more decades than India has been. In each, those in government do not observe the wall between the Governors and the   Governed that is commonplace in “democratic” India. Take the example of Sonia Gandhi. Whoever be the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi has been granted privileges not enjoyed by any other wife or widow of a past PM. She travels in a long motorcade, with traffic being stopped for long periods of time whenever her convoy leaves the gates of 10 Janpath. An army of government staff attend to the needs of her and visiting relatives. Even her two children each enjoy substantial privileges, not given to the progeny of even the incumbent Prime Minister of the country, Manmohan Singh, whose family members go about their lives unobtrusively and without incurring huge public expenditure and inconvenience. In this respect at least, Manmohan Singh is a much better example in democratic standards than his political boss. But why such privileged treatment to her? It is because Sonia Gandhi is now the principal upholder of the British-Nehru School of Governance, in which the people of India are regarded as children needing to be constantly chastised and directed. If in the past, such overlordship was conducted by those of European (especially British) ethnic origin, the only change since 1947 is that these days, the rulers are from the same gene pool as their subjects.

A visit to any government office will show the lack of respect and attention given to members of the public by these neo-colonial representatives of the ruling politico-official elite. Toilets for the public are filthy and usually unusable. Chairs are in disrepair, where they are provided at all. No respect is given to the fact that the time of the citizen is valuable. He or she is forced to wait for long periods and finally receive atrocious service, unless a bribe be paid.Indeed, just as the British in India became wealthy by looting the public, so is the new ruling class. The British-Nehru system of governance is ideal for the generation of bribes. Which is why every 5-star hotel has its restaurants filled with the families and friends of officials whose salaries would not pay for a single meal, especially given their affinity to Scotch whiskey and French wines. Of course, when the rulers go  on tour to the rural areas, the water they and their entourage takes with them has to be Evian. Anything Indian is looked down upon by the British-Nehru ruling caste, especially the ordinary people of this once-great country.

Today, there is a conscious effort by the UPA to reduce to the level found in China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran access to the internet. Bandwidth is deliberately kept low and slow, while coverage is restricted by high costs of usage. Contrast the situation in India with South Korea, whose people had a lifestyle even lower than that in India when Jawaharlal Nehru took over the reins of government in “free” India 65 years ago. Today, they are on an average fifteen times richer and have universal internet access at high speeds. Fluency in international languages and the internet is core to the future of India and both are being neglected by a ruling caste that knows only a lack of knowledge and consciousness among the people can preserve the system that first made the British in India rich, and now them. Despite his many admirable qualities, Anna Hazare has erred in placing emphasis on administrative solutions to the problem of corruption in India. What is needed is the dismantling of the British-Nehru system of governance and its replacement with a construct that is modern and democratic, not just the creation of yet another gargantuan bureaucracy, with immense potential for subversion from within.

Although the Right to Information Act is a useful first step (being indeed the only worthwhile reform implemented by Manmohan Singh since 2004), lately the PM has begun to side with those calling for its dilution. Instead, the RTI needs to be expanded and made stronger so that officials and their political masters face a transparent process while they take decisions. Freedom of speech and access to the internet need to be expanded to the level enjoyed by citizens in a genuine democracy. The entire population of the country needs to be enabled to learn at least one international language, so as to improve prospects. Rather than boost foreign businesses at the expense of domestic entrepreneurs (which is what the Nehru-British model does), the reverse should be the case. Even under Narasimha Rao, his failure was to extend the benefits given to foreign businesses to Indians, especially ordinary Indians. While Finance Minister Manmohan Singh was ever ready to slash import duties and spread a welcome mat for foreign enterprises to take advantage of the domestic market, he refused to lower taxes in India, especially income tax. Unfortunately, Pranab Mukherjee is following the same path, refusing to acknowledge that lower rates of tax would lead to greater collections through higher buoyancy and compliance. Instead, he has continued P Chidambaram’s vicious policy of harassment of taxpayers. At the same time, he has obeyed the wishes of Sonia Gandhi, who is opposed to an amnesty scheme designed to bring back illegal overseas deposits into the country. Such a move would hurt foreign banks, which is why the UPA Chairperson has refused to back it. However, it would bring back enough money into the country to reduce to zero the budget deficit, as well as raise funds for infrastructure development.

When will the people of India understand that their “democracy” is a sham? That there has been a seamles continuation of the British colonial system since 1947? That there has been no increase in the discretion given to the citizen vis-a-vis  the government? That foreign businessess continue to be given preferential treatment over Indian entities, notably by RBI policies designed to please foreign financial enterprises by hurting the interests of the citizens of India? Only when they do will a movement arise that can replace the Nehru-British system of governance with a construct that has democratic values and which gives the people of India the rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens of genuine democracies.