Sunday 27 May 2012

The ‘Parachute Precedent’ for self-serving clean chits (Sunday Guardian)

A.K.Antony with General V.K.Singh (left) at a farewell dinner in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI
fficials and their political masters in India are satisfied with "wampum", the gifting of baubles and trinkets, usually expressed verbally, as when Barack Obama made a few noises about India "deserving" UNSC status, only to forget about the matter once he left the country. So it is small wonder that Defence Minister Arackaparambil Kurian Antony is offering wampum to General V.K. Singh when the warrior marches away into the sunset years of retirement. The Defence Minister will be hosting a banquet (no doubt celebratory) "in honour of the retiring Chief of Army Staff". Not to be outdone, so will President Pratibha Patil, who exemplifies the sort of Indian that her benefactor Sonia Gandhi prefers to others such as Vedic philosopher Karan Singh. He would do better to take more seriously the several charges of misfeasance that General Singh has sought an investigation into. This includes the purchase of overpriced parachutes by the Special Frontier Forces some years ago, from an unknown company that appeared out of nowhere.
Interestingly, the very agency whose personnel were alleged to have connived in the purchase, the Cabinet Secretariat, gave itself a clean chit and refused to accept the COAS' request for a credible probe. Next, we will have A. Raja "investigating" the charges against himself, and giving himself a clean chit, following what may be termed the "Parachute Precedent". Friends of Avdesh Mathur, the officer who headed the Aviation Research Service till recently, say that he made several efforts to get initiated a genuine probe into several murky transactions in that crucial wing of the government, but was ordered to desist by a senior official in the PMO. Did Mathur actually make such an effort, or was he too among the throng who ignore misfeasance in order to either join in the loot or enjoy a peaceful retirement? If he did make an effort, who was the official in the PMO who asked him to withdraw his request for an enquiry? We will never know, just as we will never know the truth about the SFF's pricey parachutes. Those responsible are protectees of the highest levels of effective governance in the country, levels that Antony or Manmohan Singh are powerless to bring to account.
Not that such a system of exoneration is unknown within the country. After all, the Vigilance Departments of PSUs function under the CMD, who is usually the individual eventually responsible for much of the graft "investigated" by these selfsame departments. Small wonder that only a few minnows get snared, while the sharks usually get away, except for the short period when media scrutiny falls upon them.
The Northeast is seething mainly because of the level of corruption there, which is of Laluvian standards.
A quick check of any single state — let us take Arunachal Pradesh — would show that many "completed" schemes exist mostly on paper, and that while outlays have been huge, results have been meagre. Sadly, none of this seems to be worthy of attention by the Planning Commission. If that agency were to confine itself to a study of the gap between output and expenditure, it would justify its existence. While administrations in other countries speak of tangible achievements — for example, Barack Obama mentioning jobs created — in India, the only figures that get released are usually those of expenditure. The spin is about so much spent under Scheme X and this much under Scheme Y. Just what actual benefit Scheme X or Y has resulted in to the people it was allegedly designed to help remains a secret, because in fact, substantive results from financial outgo is minuscule.
Those indenting for the pricey parachutes may have figured that the SFF will remain a non-operational (in terns of actual combat) force for the next 50 years, as it has remained during the previous half-century, and hence that there is no real risk in going ahead with purchases that are alleged to be dodgy. However, circumstances change, and 1962 showed up the folly of Jawaharlal Nehru's delusion that India and China would "never" go to war with each other. Not only parachutes, but in a host of billion-dollar (and multiples) weapons systems, the UPA is equipping our armed forces to fight the wars of the previous century. Smart systems, missiles and high-intensity warheads are essential, and these have to be made locally rather than imported. The country is paying a huge price for ignoring the few such as General V.K. Singh who are sounding the alarm about a system designed less for defence than for kickbacks.

Friday 25 May 2012

Why NATO targets Syria and Iran? (PO)

By M D Nalapat
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency,Yukio Amano,follows UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s policy of supporting whatever it is that the NATO powers want. In both their home countries,Japan and South Korea,NATO - in the shape of the US military - has been a benign force,defending them against attack by hostile powers. The NATO experience in East Asia has been much less negative for domestic populations than that in West Asia,while South Asia stands in between,except for Afghanistan,where NATO negativism has resulted in the revival of the Taliban and the weakening of forces that could be expected to defend the country against another takeover by the rag-tag militia that is creating panic in NATO headquarters.

Since the past decade, NATO has waged open war in order to alter the status quo. Its battles are not in furtherance of democracy, for itneeds to be remembered that locations such as Qatar and Bahrain, where substantial numbers of NATO troops are based,are far from democratic in their governance. However,thus far,neither Barack Obama nor David Cameron have given any indication of noticing this fact. Instead,they turned their attention first to Iraq and thence to Libya and now Syria, with Iran a permanent target of war plans. After the occupation of Iraq in 2003 and theexecution of Saddam Hussein,what was behind the NATO-assisted removal of the Muammar Kaddafy regime? Although BBC,CNN and Al Jazeera pretended that the uprising was entirely local,now the world knows that special forces from several countries got inserted to Libya and played the dominant role in the defeat of forces loyal to Kaddafy. Neighbouring countries provided weapons,money and training to mercenaries who were inserted into Libya throughout 2011,until the fall of Tripoli Conspiracy theorists claim that Goege W Bush and his “Executive President” Dick Cheney invaded Iraq in order to teach Saddam Hussein a lesson for seeking to assasinate the then US President’s father. George H W Bush was a good leader,although - like Lyndon Johnson before him - given much less credit by commentators than he merited.

However,it was not for him that Iraq was invaded.Rather,the common link between Saddam Hussein,Muammar Kaddafy,Bashar Assad and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is that all four are opposed to the monarchies that rule the wealthy nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council. EliminatingSaddam would,it was calculated,strengthen the position of the GCC and other monarchies. It is no accident that while republican Egypt and Tunisia have undergone changes in the Head of State,the same has not taken place in Jordan and Morocco,both of which are monarchies It needs to be admitted that NATO has stood by its friends in West Asia and North Africa,namely the monarchies. After having taken out Saddam Hussein,another anti-monarchist,Muammar Kaddafy,was dealt within the same way,while a similar fate has been planned for Bashar Assad and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Once the last two anti-monarchial Heads of State join Saddam and Kaddafy, NATO believes that their royal friends in the region will be secure,even if there be some public protest,asin Bahrain and Jordan. And their royal friends have stood by the NATO member-states,often at huge financial cost.During the 2008 economic meltdown caused by the greed of NATO-based financial institutionsinvestors (both public and private) within the GCC lost more than $1.3 trillion,through no fault of theirs.Despite this,they are still holding nearly $4 trillion in the same financial institutions that have been shown to be unreliable.Should the inevitable fall of Greece and Spain be followed by the collapse of Italy and France, GCC investors alone stand to lose $2.1 trillion dollars in financial assets. Despite the rising risk of a repeat of the 2008 meltdown,GCC investors are continuing to keep almost all their funds infinancial institutions situated in NATO member-states.

It is this loyalty to the members of NATO that is being rewarded by the military alliance going to battle to rid the region of the principal anti-monarchial regimes there. A fallout of the tension that such a policy by NATO creates is a steady rise in oil prices.Rather than $30,which is the natural price of crude oil given supply and technological potentialities,it is still about $100 a barrel,entirely because of the tension created by NATO policy towards anti-monarchial regimes in West Asia,principally Iran. Such a spike in oil prices rewards companies based in NATO capitals,as well as the monarchies.

Even better,it slows down growth in China, thereby preventing that country from overtaking the US. It slows down growth in India as well,but Delhi is collateral damage.The real target of artificially high oil prices is Beijing. Given such geopolitical realities as the need for NATO-based financial institutions to retain the immense deposits made in them by GCC investors,and the negative impact on China of rising oil prices,it would be futile to expect a breakthrough in the Baghdad talks on the Iranian nuclear program. The pressure on Syria and Iran will continue,until NATO’s mission to rid the globe of key anti-monarchy regimes gets fulfilled.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Outlaw the neo-Untouchability that is destroying India (Sunday Guardian)

Schoolgirls visit Parliament earlier this month. MPs spent most of the time discussing a 1949 cartoon instead of issues of governance. PTI
nflation is destroying the lives of hundreds of millions. Publicly provided water, sanitation, housing, education, energy and health are in an abysmal condition in the seventh decade after the British left for home. Corruption has become the norm, with the honest officer regarded as an oddity, if not a fit subject for the mental asylum. Government spending is out of control, with the fiscal deficit about to cross into double digits from the 3% that it was when Manmohan Singh, Montek Ahluwalia and C. Rangarajan took control of economic policy. The more money the country is pouring into expanding irrigation or discovering petro-product reserves, the less the output. Justice gets delivered at a pace that often stretches beyond the lifetime of the litigant, with zero penalties for such tardy disposal of suits and cases. The country is becoming a nightmare to exist in for those who observe the law and pay their taxes honestly.
But not for everyone. There exists a segment of the population — the "neo-Untouchables" (because criticism of them is barred) that accounts for about .001% of the total. These are those with access to political and official power, and therefore to the benefits that flow from both. Their families can be seen in summer or in winter at the more expensive hotels in London, Paris, Dubai and Geneva. Their children can be seen in pricey universities, acquiring the best degrees that money can buy in between living it up with friends. They do not need to worry about picking up any of the skills that are needed for getting employment on return to India. Their parents will ensure that they find a cosy nest, including in politics. At one time, the BJP was the exception to dynastic politics, and it needs to be said that thus far, the offspring of neither Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley nor L.K. Advani have entered even a municipal corporation as an elected member. However, others in the BJP have not shared this view, and have ensured that their children step into cosy political shoes, often before they themselves vacate office.
This columnist is of the view that the spouses or children of ministers ought not to be eligible for elected office in the same chamber(s) that their parent or parents are, i.e. Parliament in the case of Central ministers and Legislative Assemblies in the case of state ministers. Also, that those having a net worth of more than Rs 10 cr ought to be ineligible for nomination as a candidate in a state or Central election. Those whose net worth rises above Rs 10 cr (after indexing for inflation since the election took place) ought to be ready to have the balance confiscated. Power and money ought never to reside in the same personage, if democracy is to remain healthy. It is not accidental that the era of greed that is destroying the economies of the US and Europe began during the Reagan-Thatcher years, when — in the words of Deng Xiaoping — to get rich was glorious. Those wishing to go into business ought to be kept out of high office, rather than continue in both professions at the same time, as all too many are doing.
Given all the deficiencies in governance in India, it was to be expected that our MPs would indulge in some introspection at the 60th anniversary sitting of both Houses of Parliament. Instead, the most time was spent on a 1949 cartoon that showed both Jawaharlal Nehru and B.R. Ambedkar. There is no record of Ambedkar ever having expressed annoyance at the cartoon, and indeed, his grandson Prakash was categorical that the father of the Constitution of India would not have minded. However, the cartoon became the excuse for a wholesale assault on all those who dare to express the view that our MPs have been less than wholly successful in converting India into a prosperous land for those outside the circle of power. Untouchability may have been declared illegal once India became free, but today, a new group of "Untouchables" has emerged, our political class. According to these neo-Untouchables, no one has the right to express any view about them that is not laudatory. It is time to outlaw such neo-Untouchability as well, and soon. In a democracy, the powerful ought to be subjected to the most scrutiny and criticism, not shielded from both, the way they are in North Korea, the country that seems to be the inspiration for the many attacks on liberty that we are seeing since the UPA came to power in 2004.

Bad apples in IB, RAW are making mockery of govt (Sunday Guardian)

Home Minister P. Chidambaram shakes hands with J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at the meeting of Chief Ministers on NCTC, in New Delhi earlier this month. PTI
week ago, Indian security agencies issued an alert warning of terror strikes by Pakistani individuals whose names and photographs were made available to the media. Even while congratulations were pouring in on the sleuthing done by the IB and RAW, the supposed terrorists turned out to be petty businesspersons in Pakistan. Thus far, there has been no sign of any effort at fixing responsibility on just why the Counter-terrorism Group at the Home Ministry failed to check its facts before releasing information.
Because of the avoidance of public accountability that characterises security agencies in India the public has remained in the dark about the sequence of events that led to the goof-up. What is the reason for the cover-up, why even the Pakistan desk of RAW was kept out of the loop when innocent names got outed as terrorists planning an imminent strike?
Those following developments say that the reason lies in the closeness of several key IB and RAW officers with the politically influential, and using the latter as sources for information, much of which turns out to be misleading. The Pakistani names in question were, according to sources in the UAE, "revealed by a source in Dubai who was introduced to Indian intelligence personnel by an individual with strong political connections". Because of the influence wielded by this person, the information given by the newfound source was uncritically accepted. Although a check on the persons named by the source was carried out by the Lahore station of intelligence agencies, having been informed of the high-level Indian contacts of the Dubai source, the officer doing the fact check merely rubber-stamped the report sans any enquiry. Those dealing with the penetration of agencies by hostile aliens say that the likelihood is high that the source was himself an ISI plant, whose task it was to give wrong information that would, when released, show up the incompetence of Indian security agencies. These sources say that all too often, "influential individuals from India come in contact with undercover ISI operatives in Dubai and London, thereby compromising national security".
Is it to protect the influential individual who — sources claim — introduced the renegade source to the Dubai station that the entire matter has been hushed up, with orders given to cover up the sequence of events that led to the fiasco?
Last week's fiasco over the Pakistani names and photographs underlines the need for a clean-up of Indian security agencies.
Officers say that Home Minister P. Chidambaram has "politicised the security agencies, in contrast to Shivraj Patil, who never sought to carry forward a political agenda via the IB". This accusation is denied by those close to the Home Minister, who claim that he has been responsible for a "massive improvement in the functioning of the agencies under him". A source claims that "an offer of a governorship has been made to the present IB director, so as to motivate him to carry out his duties in a manner that is politically advantageous to his patrons". However, those close to DIB Nehchal Sandhu say that such a charge is unfair, and that the IB has remained "100% apolitical" during his watch.
Another organisation where several reports of alleged misfeasance have been cropping up is the Aviation Research Service (ARC). Those within the organisation say that its chief till recently, A.B. Mathur, wanted to launch a comprehensive enquiry into at least three deals, the first involving the purchase and fitting of aircraft for special purposes, the next involving the purchase of parachutes from an obscure supplier at inflated prices, and the third involving the purchase of technical systems. They claim that "higher levels dissuaded Mathur from pursuing his demand for a full enquiry, as they know that political protectees (i.e. officers enjoying high-level patronage) are involved in these scams". Mathur is due to leave on a UN mission for Kosovo by the month-end, his objective of cleaning up ARC (where a particular officer is even known to his colleagues as "Mr Ten Per Cent") unfulfilled. Even the NTRO, which deals in activities that are wholly technical, has been subjected to allegations of graft and impropriety, and once again, there has been very little effort at fixing responsibility via an enquiry.
Officers pushing for accountability are hoping that the PMO will take the initiative in conducting a comprehensive in-house enquiry, especially into ARC transactions that don't pass the smell test. "The bad apples in IB, NTRO, ARC and RAW need to be removed. However, their political patrons are blocking action," an officer concluded.

13 days when the country starved with a Gandhian (Sunday Guardian)

Anna Hazare during his fast and death at Jantar Mantar in April, 2011
elhi is not a city for those with an obsession with being natural. The weaves and twists of policymakers forces even the reluctant to reach for the greasepaint, daub psychic mascara so as to accentuate the sight of opportunities, and coats of transformative rouge to win over the powerful. The nation's capital does indeed have a place for those who refuse to playact, those who insist on being just themselves, and this is the railway platform. The glitzy homes and tony addresses are reserved for those who enact multiple roles each day, and cheat more people in a morning than a Rome pickpocket.
In such a city, Ashutosh is noticeable for his lack of affectation and his refusal to be other than what he is. A dreamer who still believes in the vision of a just country, where people will get what they deserve rather than the opposite. His book on another uncut diamond, Anna Hazare, reflects the down-to-earth style of this journalist, as he gives us a Press Enclosure peep into the 13 days when the Anna phenomenon filled television screens, including that edited by him.
Television has left print far behind in the grabbing of public attention, and Ashutosh gives the reader an hourly account of the atmosphere in the newsroom as well as the Editor's cabin as the Hazare drama moved towards its climax. Those anticipating revelations of secret meetings or clandestine deals will be disappointed, but to others less voyeuristic, the book gives a fact-filled account of what took place during those 13 days when Anna Hazare came to Delhi, was arrested, then released and was finally silenced with a promise which was overturned when Vice-President Hamid Ansari went by the playbook of those eager to ensure that the Lokpal Bill not get morphed into law, and overruled the objections of the majority in the Rajya Sabha, which wanted an all-night discussion followed by a vote. Had Ansari obliged, history would have been made.
Ashutosh seems to believe that the UPA Chairperson is sincere in her protestations that she wishes to battle graft, and that if only Manmohan Singh and his team had had the benefit of her presence, the Anna situation would have been handled with far more tact.
Ashutosh has an eye for detail and a flair for analysis that fuse to ensure interesting copy. Not for him the flattering presentations that some others of his profession are known for. Instead, he shows up the clay that today fills not just the feet but even the torsos of so many politicians. In this disreputable crew, he has an idol, Rajiv Gandhi, who he was convinced had learnt the lessons of 1984-89 and who would therefore have been an outstanding leader had he been given a second chance as PM. We will never know, as Dhanu ensured that such a chance was denied to the youngest PM India has had. This affection for Rajiv extends to Sonia Gandhi as well. Ashutosh seems to believe that the UPA Chairperson is sincere in her protestations that she wishes to battle graft, and that if only Manmohan Singh and his team had had the benefit of her presence (during the days that she was ill), the Anna situation would have been handled with far more tact.
thers may say that neither Manmohan Singh nor P. Chidambaram are likely to move a muscle without consulting the "Congress High Command, and that there must have been instructions from The Family to take a hard line on the former jawan from Ralegan Siddhi. That the "High Command" was not amused by Hazare's presumptious behaviour was transparent from the statements of loyal soldiers such as Manish Tewari and Digvijay Singh, but Ashutosh seems to believe that they act on their own. Perhaps he has been briefed so by unknown sources. If so, these need to be identified.
However, what cannot be denied is that Ashutosh has written a fast-paced book that hopefully will serve as a model for future excursions into the world of politics and policy in India. Those hiding behind the dense fog of a professorial approach to truth-telling need to emulate Ashutosh in turning out prose that is stark yet substantive. He believes ­— in common with most of us — that a better India is very possible. He tells the story of another such individual, having the same belief, who was determined enough to not stand by the wayside but leap into the arena.
The honesty of purpose of Anna Hazare comes out in every page of Ashutosh's book. Would that there were more such!