Monday 27 August 2012

Does China’s Gu Kailai deserve a life in prison? (Sunday Guardian)

In 1959, Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati (left), a naval commander, murdered Prem Ahuja, his wife Sylvia’s lover.
or the well-heeled (and hence deep-pocketed) woman of substance in China, to wear a personable western boyfriend on one arm while sporting a Gucci handbag on the other is the norm. Western males, especially the Brits with their charming accents and sense of humour, are an essential fashion accessory in wealthy circles in Beijing and Shanghai. Most such tie-ups are not formal, the reason being that several of the society ladies in question are already married, to influential (and rich) Chinese. The male half of such informal Sino-European pairs is usually passed off as a "consultant" or an "artist" or as "photographers". Interestingly, Chinese men do not seem to share the fascination for western women that their counterparts in Japan, India or West Asia have. Their female companions are usually local.
Although conventional wisdom defines China as an authoritarian state, and there is little doubt that any effort to prise the country loose from the grip of the Communist Party would be met with retribution, the reality is that society in China has a level of personal freedom that would be the envy of those not fortunate enough to live along the California coast. While the elite there (as everywhere else) live in a world of their own, even those less affluent live a social life that is full and varied. A personable "fashion accessory" is not necessarily restricted to those with several hundred million euros in a Swiss bank. Many Chinese women working in establishments in the bigger cities have the same distinction of possessing a western boyfriend. They, and those who have yet to acquire the ultimate status symbol of a western companion, would have been glued to their satellite dishes watching foreign coverage of the murder by Gu Kailai of Neil Heywood. The lady is the spouse of one of the most prominent politicians in China, now disgraced. The other, of course, was a "consultant".
Given the extremely high value placed on the single male child in Chinese society, if Gu Kailai is being truthful when she claims that Heywood threatened to do harm to her son Bo Guagua, now slumming it at one of the pricier degree shops in the UK, it is understandable why she felt he had to go. But is the cover story true? If it were, then Heywood was a danger to the life of Gu Kailai's son. If so, and had Gu Kailai been from the West and Neil Heywood from China, and the courtroom been in the EU, the odds are that she would have been released into psychiatric care. After all, the prosecution itself admits that she was "mentally disturbed" when she ordered the killing, and that her act was motivated by the perceived need to protect her son. If these two propositions are true, Gu Kailai does not deserve to spend the next dozen-odd years in prison, as she will now.
Rewind to India 1959, and to the Commander Nanavati case, where a naval officer came upon his spouse and a Bombay based businessman, Prem Ahuja mutually engaged in "aerobic exercises" in the altogether. When Nanavati asked Ahuja if he was prepared to marry his (British-born) wife and look after their three children, the ungallant response was that he, Ahuja, was not obligated to marry all the women that he had "aerobic exercises" with. The gallant Nanavati pulled out a revolver and shot him on the spot. And because a jury of his peers subsequently acquitted Nanavati of any crime, Jawaharlal Nehru ensured that trial by jury got abandoned in India, thereby returning the country to its colonial past, whereby a single judge rather than a lay jury had the sole responsibility for finding a defendant guilty or innocent. Most would have judged the provocation faced by the naval officer extreme enough to warrant his acquittal, but not Nehru, who was clearly angered that leniency was shown to Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati.
The punishment (of life imprisonment) given to Commander Nanavati (despite his earlier acquittal in what was the last jury trial in India) parallels the same verdict that was handed down to Gu Kailai on 20 August 2012 in the Hefei courtroom. Both taken together indicate the distance that India and China have to traverse before reaching the same standards as countries such as Germany, that was almost continuously authoritarian till 1945, or Spain (that got freed from dictatorship of one kind or the other only in 1977),which treat their citizens with far greater consideration. If the prosecution's version in both trials was correct, neither Nanavati nor Gu deserved a life sentence.

Friday 24 August 2012

Conduct Assange trial in neutral venue (PO)

M D Nalapat 
Especially during the 1950s,it was India led by Jawaharlal Nehru that incessantly lectured other countries about how they should behave.The then PM of the world’s most populous democracy fancied himself to be expert on global issues,the reason why he retained the External Affairs Ministry till the last day of his life in 1964. Sadly,the glowing testimonials to Nehru by his numerous acolytes cannot disguise the fact that by that year,India had been comprehensively isolated.

With the exception of Bhutan,no 
country backed Delhi in the 1962 war with Beijing,even Colombo and Kathmandu,which have long been close to India. Even after Nehru imposed a cease-fire in Kashmir and took the dispute to the UN,more countries backed Pakistan than India,a list that included the US. Of course,it needs to be remembered that the administrative elite in the UK could still not bring itself to “forgive” India for the effrontery of believing that freedom was preferable to bondage under the Union Jack.Officials such as Philip Noel-Baker worked tirelessly at the UN to ensure that opinion swung against India, a situation that continued till the dawn of the 21st century, when 9/11 resulted in a sharp decline for backing within the US and the EU to those favouring the breaking away of territories from India.

Nehru’s constant preachiness ensured that critics of India remained so. In particular,his sharp-tongued favourite, Vengalil Kumaran Krishna Menon,spewed vitriol on former colonial powers and their newfound champion,the US,while he led the Indian delegation to the UN. In contrast, Pakistan’s delegates acted in a very deferential manner towards representatives of the Great Powers, thereby making certain that Nehru’s gamble (of taking the Kashmir issue to the UN) failed to generate any positive effects for India,although it must be said that the move was greatly appreciated by Edwina and Louis Mountbatten,who suggested the reference to the UN to Nehru in the first place.

Although Indira Gandhi and to a lesser extent son Rajiv sought to continue to preach international morality to countries that not so secretly looked down on India because of the country’s poverty, by the 1990s,this tendency had changed into one of quiet acceptance of geopolitical realities. Since that time,Nehru’s cloak of International Moralist has been worn by 
the senior members of the NATO bloc,principally the US, France and the UK. These three powers never cease to remind the world of their own presumed morality,and of the low standards of the rest of the international community When emails purportedly from Asma Assad,the First Lady of Syria,surfaced in NATO media,those who procured them were presumably rewarded. However,when Bradley Manning,an idealistic soldier in the US military,shone daylight on a trove of emails from the State Department, or exposed the heinous murder of innocents by criminals piloting US combat aircraft,he was arrested and is now immured in a windowless cell.

The whistle-blower who exposed the targetted killing of unarmed civilians from the skies ought to have been given a reward rather than prison,except that NATO’s commitment to free speech extends only to that which suits its strategic objectives. And while Manning is in prison,the man who gave him a platform to reveal his secrets,Julian Assange,remains in what is effectively a prison,a room at the Ecuadorian embassy in London,in daily fear lest British police breach diplomatic protocol and apprehend him That the sexual charges brought against Assange are serious is without a doubt.Unless the founder of Wikileaks faces a court and convinces it of his innocence,
the stain will continue to cast a shadow not simply on him but on the ace whistle-blower that he helped to create,Wikileaks. However,given the fate of Bradley Manning and countless others judged to be less than helpful to the war aims of NATO, it would be foolhardly to expect fair treatment in Sweden,a country closely connected with several NATO member-states,and which fully backs the EU in its efforts at retaining in the 21st century the primacy the continent enjoyed in the 19th century. Clearly,justice will only be assured if the trial of Julian Assange takes place in a country where the long shadow of NATO does not fall. Given that India has become an auxiliary of the alliance since 1998, clearly this country would not be a fit venue.

Far better would be Brazil or Argentina, countries that have demonstrated a feisty independence of power blocs. Just as alleged international human rights violaters have been tried in Europe despite coming from Africa,on the (often specious) ground that justice is not possible in Africa, it is clear that Julian Assange ought to face his accusers in a neutral venue Hopefully,either Assange himself or Ecuador will make the suggestion to the international community, to conduct the trial of the Wikileaks hero in a venue that is independent of NATO influence.An alliance that is blind to its own transgressions while constantly hectoring others about (what it considers to be) theirs is hardly the unbiased body that is needed if a trial is to be fair. Julian Assange ought to agree to face a trial,one in which hopefully his name will be cleared,provided that it take place in a neutral venue.

Monday 20 August 2012

After Syria, wait for the regional deluge (Sunday Guardian)


Security officials investigate the scene after a bomb attached to a fuel truck exploded outside a hotel where UN observers are staying in Damascus, Syria on Wednesday. AP/PTI

eware of what you are wishing for, lest the wish be granted. This adage is coming true in West Asia, where the countries which together form NATO have been seeking a weakening — and eventual collapse — of the Bashar Assad regime in Damascus. Iraq 2003 was a textbook example of the softening up of a regime's morale by Infowar. A campaign began by 2002 to paint the secular Saddam Hussein as a Wahhabi fanatic, and Al Qaeda (which loathed him) as its ally of choice. Its success may be judged from the fact that even in 2012, long after the dust has settled on the conventional battlefield in Iraq and revealed exactly zero links to Al Qaeda, perhaps a majority of US citizens and certainly many citizens across the Eurozone still believe Saddam to have been a theological cousin of the Taliban. That anyone watching Iraq state television during his time, with its female presenters dressed in garb that would seem salacious not simply to a Taliban functionary but to a Saudi member of that country's Vice & Virtue squads, could have convinced himself that such propaganda was rubbish was beside the point. Lies were harnessed in the service of victory in true Churchillian style. Seven years later came Libya, where the hapless Muammar Gaddafi — who had in the meantime willingly surrendered his WMD to NATO — was portrayed as a lunatic eager to set aflame the region. Ironically, some of the numerous warlords, who now collectively control the whole country, have reportedly forced the exit of some of the very NATO diplomats who the previous year had been enthusiastic backers of the NATO operations that felled Gaddafi. Worse, it would seem that even some Al Jazeera journos have been chased out of the country, despite that channel having teamed up with BBC and CNN to act as the voice of the uprising.
Of course, not all of Libya is in the control of the warlords. Discreet arrangements have been made to ensure that the interests of some of the members of NATO are protected in the relatively small number of enclaves from where Libya pumps out and exports its crude oil. And now it is Syria's turn. Certainly Bashar is no exemplar of democracy. But then, neither are those running nearby states that are each investing heavily in financing, training and equipping "freedom fighters" to be inserted into Syria from Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. For reasons that are not clear, neither Navi Pillay or Valerie Amos or Ban Ki-Moon seems as enthusiastic about sending observers to monitor the treatment of Shia in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, or non-Wahhabi Sunis and religious minorities such as Christians in locations that now include Egypt. Clearly, neither Ms Pillay nor Ms Amos nor the indefatigable Mr Moon has heard anything about the treatment being meted out to Kurds, Arabs and Armenians in Turkey, not to mention Shia.
The fact is that differential treatment of minorities is the norm across much of the region, with the exception of the UAE or Kuwait. In fact, Syria has a much better record in this respect than either Saudi Arabia or Turkey, not to mention Iran. Despite the 24/7 coverage they are giving to the Syrian "freedom fighters" (and their somewhat un-Gandhian methods of struggle), neither the BBC nor CNN seems to be aware that Asma Assad (the spouse of Bashar) is herself a Sunni, or that several of his relatives too are from that branch of the great religion of Islam. Or that the Defence Minister of Syria, who was recently killed by "freedom fighters", was Christian. For some reason, neither such facts nor the present comprehensive breakdown of law and order seems to be of any interest to BBC, Al Jazeera or CNN. They should be, because what took place earlier in Libya has already had a huge impact on regional security. Libyan fanatics and weaponry are flooding across borders, endangering and destabilising countries in Africa, West Asia and soon, parts of Europe. Once Syria succumbs to the same chaos as has descended on Libya, that country too will become a haven for fighters. And just as the guns and training given to the LTTE returned to haunt India, so will the guns, bombs and training being given against Bashar Assad come back to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers enthusiastically engaged in a struggle to free the region of Shia influence.

Friday 17 August 2012

Mukherjee takes on civil society (PO)

M D Nalapat
THE newly-elected President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, has been in government since his third decade of life, having served in numerous positions under varied Prime Ministers. It was not therefore a surprise when, on August 15,he put himself firmly on the side of the government led by Sonia Gandhi and administered by Manmohan Singh in its now two-year battle with Civil Society. President Mukherjee had a clear message to the people of India: trust those who for more than six decades have led the country into continuing poverty and graft.

Even though relief has not come all this while, the people should be patient and wait, perhaps for six decades more, rather than seek to challenge a system that has delivered so little to them in comparison with those found in East Asia. India’s political parties are, in effect, the personal property of individual families, while “opposition” to any ruling party at the centre is usually notional, with both sides taking care of each other’s interest, albeit in secrecy. The consequence has been an unparalleled rise in the wealth of those in politics. Gone are the days when even middle ranking politicians would travel by bus and stay in nondescript facilities. These days, they travel by chartered flights and helicopters, staying in the most pricey establishments and toting mineral water from springs in France. Indeed, they and their families are rapidly losing touch with India, so enamored are they of Europe, a continent that they implicitly regard as the fount of wisdom and culture, despite its sorry record of colonialism in the past and interference in the presentwithin countries across the globe.

Watching those claiming to represent them gorge on the proceeds of corruption, the people of India may be forgiven for having less faith in The System than President Pranab Mukherjee, who is justly famous for such efforts as imposing a 97% rate of income tax in the 1970s and seeking to block colour television from coming to India in the 1980s.The politician from Bengal lived in a black and white world, and wanted the same for each of his countrypersons. One of the many small signs that the tolerance that is the warp and woof of genuine democracy is disappearing in India (and there are many bigger ones as well) is the fact that since the 1980s,this columnist was invited each year by the President of India to an At Home in the Presidential palace every August 15 (Independence Day).This despite the fact that he has been a critic of every Prime Minister and of every government since he began his career in journalism four decades back. When A P J Abdul Kalam was President, his office resisted pressure to drop the name of this critic from the Invitees list. That was done by the previous President of India, Pratibha Patil, whose sole contribution to the history of India is that she spent more, much more, on foreign travel than any of her predecessors. She was, however, a faithful follower of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, and was hence rewarded with five years as Head of State. Pratibha Patil justified Sonia Gandhi’s trust in her by, among other like deeds, ensuring that known critics of her idol got disinvited to the Presidential palace. For the last two years of her reign, invitations to the annual At Home ceased to come, a situation that seems to have been continued by President Mukherjee.

The mantra of those enjoying the benefits of high office is simple: Trust us. Trust us blindly, no matter that our record all these decades has been abysmal. The only recourse allowable to a citizen in “the world’s largest democracy” is to trudge to the ballot box once every five years and choose among a list of uniformly uninspiring candidates. Any other activity is impermissible and indeed, ”a danger to democracy”, as President Mukherjee (on August 14) and Prime Minister Singh (on August 15) warned the nation on live television. In India, because of the fact that its system of laws and administrative procedures is firmly anchored in the colonial past, any show of public protest needs government permission in advance.

This was the system that got introduced by the British Raj, and it is the system that is being followed now in what is presumed to be a democracy. So comprehensive are the powers of the state that a citizen can find himself incarcerated and his assets sequestered by a host of authorities for the vaguest of stated reasons. Going to courts means a life-long struggle that consumes all of one’s time. Some lucky litigants get final decisions (after the lengthy process of stays, adjournments and appeals) in as quick a time as twenty years after filing a case. By then, of course, they may even be dead. Most fail to get a final decision in such a short time, their cases continuing for thirty, forty and more years, well past their lifetimes.

Hence going to court to get redress from arbitrary actions by state authorities is a long, expensive and painful process. Experts in the system of British colonial law and practice such as the present Union Finance Minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, have taken care to see that several of the actions of the authorities in his bailiwick are non-justiciable. Hence, the citizen has no recourse to the courts but must seek justice from the very structures that have done him the injustice in the first place. For those lacking the power and panoply that has been the lot of President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it is a scary situation. Small wonder that they are coming out on to the streets to seek to claim the rights and privileges that genuine democracies bestow on their citizens. Small wonder that they are being opposed by President Mukherjee and Prime Minister Singh.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Why Obama has disappointed India (CNN)

By Madhav Nalapat, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Madhav Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair at Manipal University in India. This is the latest in a series looking at how the world sees the U.S. election, and what the Obama presidency has meant for ties with other countries. The views expressed are the author's own.

Condoleezza Rice’s appointment as U.S. secretary of state in 2005 saw India become a priority for the George W. Bush administration. Indeed, in July that year, President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a nuclear deal that would free India of some of the technology and other restrictions first imposed on it after the 1974 Pokhran test.

While the center of gravity of the Clinton administration’s diplomacy towards India remained that country’s relationship with Pakistan, Bush expanded the dialogue to place emphasis on cooperation in space, military training, education and other sectors that had been neglected since the 1960s, when the U.S.-India partnership that helped bring about the Green Revolution in India dissolved because of Indira Gandhi’s alleged post-Allende obsession that the CIA was planning a similar fate for her. During the final couple of years of the Bush II presidency, it became easier for Indian scientists to visit the United States and for talks to commence on future hi-tech cooperation.

However, once Barack Obama came to office in 2009, and created an administration that seemed less about his own (stated) beliefs than an overall policy matrix best described as “Clinton Lite,” talks were replaced by talk. Obama was immensely successful in flattering Indian policymakers, for example by openly declaring (of course in India, rather than at U.N. headquarters) that Delhi merited a permanent seat at the Security Council. However, on the ground, the Clintonistas in agencies such as State, Commerce and Disarmament ensured that the welcome mat for India-U.S. technological cooperation got speedily replaced by the same worn rug that represented nowhere (unless, of course, if India followed South Africa in giving up its nuclear weapons). Conditions on military sales that were expected to be waived during the Bush II period, meanwhile, were reintroduced.

While U.S. military sales to India have increased, as have joint training missions, the placing of intrusive conditions on sale of weapons platforms, and a reluctance to offer anything other than dated U.S. models, has held back the military-to-military relationship, leaving it a mostly mercenary and opportunistic one, devoid of the broad strategic understanding and parameters that are needed to anchor any long-term relationship.

Interestingly, since the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition led by A.B. Vajpayee entered office in 1998, Delhi has, in effect, followed a policy of strategic retreat from its immediate neighborhood, in the expectation that the space vacated would get filled by Washington. Instead, it’s Beijing that has moved in. Today, in Nepal, Sri Lanka and increasingly the Maldives, primacy that was once India’s is exercised by China, which since at least the middle of the previous decade has seemingly had more influence over the Pakistan military than the United States. The absence of what may be described as a “bonding of fundamentals” that has characterized U.S.-India ties since Obama became president has led to post-1998 Indian acceptance of junior partner status to the U.S.

The dysfunction and hesitation on core strategic issues that has characterized U.S.-India relations since 2009 (despite the fact that in Singh, India arguably has one of the most U.S.-friendly prime ministers in Indian history) has been exploited by China to expand its regional influence substantially over the past three years. Having acted as if faithful toward the Europeanist view of the legitimate role of India (namely that it be a subsidiary power devoid of its own hi-technology skills and a seat at the diplomatic high table) President Obama is rapidly squandering the opportunity first afforded by Vajpayee and Singh of crafting a close strategic partnership between Delhi and Washington, a relationship that would be a nightmare to Beijing.

While Mitt Romney doesn’t seem to have clear views on much besides “prudent” tax planning, his just announced running mate has more than once spoken of the centrality of India in the international geopolitical calculus. Paul Ryan is clearly in favor of a return to the George W. Bush path of building a close partnership with India. Given his tenacity, there’s little doubt that he would ensure, at the very least, a return to the Bush II period, should his ticket get elected.

The question is, will it be too late? There’s considerable resentment in Delhi at U.S. foot dragging under Obama, and this has dampened the enthusiasm for closer ties. However,  for now, Manmohan Singh has until 2014 before his term ends, and hence the prospects for a genuine partnership still exist.

And what if Barack Obama gets re-elected? Will he accept that unless India gets added to Japan, the “jaw” that encloses the eastern coast of Asia from Vladivostok to Male will lack sufficient teeth to establish primacy in not simply the Indian Ocean, but the China seas?

As of now, there seems very little chance that the non-proliferation ayatollahs and the other NGO types that crafted so much policy for the Clintons have given up their grip on the imagination of President Obama. The result is likely to be the slipping away of any prospect of a meaningful U.S.-India alliance. The good news (if such it may be called) is that once again, the vacuum created by the United States may get filled by China, within whose policymaking groups there is increasing realization of the need to forge much closer ties with India.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

From Mera Bharat Mahan to Maino Bharat Apmaan (Organiser)

MD Nalapat, Independence Day Special, Organiser, Aug 19th 2012 edition
$img_titleGurgaon and Kokhrajar represent "Maino Bharat", a country that has significantly degenerated after  undiluted Sonia Gandhi rule was established in 2004. Of course, her influence on matters of governance has been present from the 1980s, since the passing away of Sanjay Gandhi. It was from that time that Ottavio Quatrocchi became a feared name within the dovecotes of  state power, bagging contract after contract. During 1992-96, not all recommendations from the Italian branch of the Nehru family were acted upon by P V Narasimha Rao. About 25 per cent of her orders remained unfulfilled, with the result that the PM soon became the target of attack by colleagues such as Arjun Singh whose daily routine was to  visit 10 Janpath. 1998-2004, was the period when a well-wisher of the Maino family, Brajesh Mishra functioned as the de facto executive PM.

Thanks to him and to the kindly nature of A B Vajpayee, Sonia wielded a great deal of influence during the NDA,an alliance that she has been relentlessly condemning. Many were the good deeds done by Mishra towards Sonia Gandhi and her acolytes, who enjoyed pride of place in getting patronage from the official setup just as they do now. Small wonder that the man who functioned as the kingpin of the NDA administration for six years has been honoured by the UPA.

However, it was only after a  former civil servant was sworn in as her proxy PM in 2004 that undiluted Maino rule began in India. In genuine democracies there is a clear line between the civil service and the political leadership. It is the function of the politician to provide the impetus and the context for decisions and to ensure that these be in accordance with an overall vision and strategy. In the UPA, the fact that the Sonia-appointed "political" leadership of the administrative machinery is bureaucratic rather than political has had a severe impact on the economy. Instead of the 15 per cent annual rate of GDP growth that the versatile population of India could easily achieve,were it gifted  sound policy and effective implementation, the country has seen far lower rates of growth. Over the past two years,the level of GDP increase is approaching the pathetic rates of growth of the Jawaharlal Nehru period. Unless there be a clear political direction to the bureaucratic machine, the trend will be to avoid bold policies and to underperform, the way Team Maino has been since coming to office.

Politics and strategies that flow from it,need to be rooted in the needs and traditions of the country for it to be effective as change agents. Jawaharlal Nehru was technically political, but in a British rather than an Indian way. He was open about the fact that he was Indian only in skin colour and had as deep a mistrust of the people of the country as did the British civil servants who studied at the same institutions that Nehru, Indira Gandhi and later Rajiv Gandhi attended.

Only such a   mindset can explain Nehru's decision to continue the colonial-era administrative and legal structures in their entirety after 1947. These constructs give enormous power to those who get their salaries from the exchequer, leaving the citizen at the mercy of one or the other minion of the state. British officials who had served in India would have approved the wholesale copying of their methods and structures by so-called “democrats”. At the all-important level of the district all power has been funnelled into the hands of the Collector, despite the huge increase in the complexity and number of issues that need to be dealt with as compared to the period of the British raj. Even the methods of selection of civil servants has remained the same in "free" India that they were in the Haileybury days of the East India Company.

The preservation and continuance of the colonial structure has been hailed as the essence of democracy by apologists of the Nehru family such as Amartya Sen and Sunil Khilnani, both welcome guests at 10 Janpath and at the numerous (state-funded) institutions controlled by the family that rules India. Given the way in which the British colonial influence has infected the ideology of the Nehrus, it is fitting that an Indira Gandhi Centre should come up not in any city in India but in the spiritual and intellectual home of the Nehrus, the UK, naturally at a huge cost to the impoverished Indian taxpayer. That Oxford University gladly accepts largesse from a nation where more than 300 million people starve each day is a testament to its social consciousness. However, it is not only the Government of India but sundry High Net Worth individuals in the country who have gifted vast sums of money to affluent countries while facilities in their own are in a rotten state. To them as to Nehru, anything Indian is reactionary and retrograde. Even ancient classics were communalised. Such masterpieces as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Jataka Tales and the Panchatantra, which ought to be taught in primary and secondary schools across the country as part of the heritage of this country, are considered by Nehruvians as not worthy of such attention.

Muslims,Sikhs,Jains,Buddhists and Christians are as much a part of Bharat as Hindus, and the history of this land—all of it—belongs equally to all its citizens. One of the most pernicious effects of Nehruism is the forced separation of Indians into self-contained streams, exactly the way Morley-Minto intended more than a century ago.

It is a disservice to Muslims and Christians that some self-appointed leaders of these two vibrant communities call for reservation on communal grounds. During the Mughal period, there was no discrimination against Muslims. During the British raj, Christians were not subjected to any extra discrimination. In fact, they were favoured by—for example—the grant of vast tracts of land in the cities for the setting up of churches, a show of benevolence that was not extended to those wanting to set up gurudwaras, mosques or temples. Despite the lack of discrimination against them, Nehru insisted on setting Muslims and Christians apart from Hindus, marking them off through policies that divided the people of the country into “majority” and “minority”. Although “freedom” came to India in 1947, the great works of ancient India were barred from school and college curricula because they were seen not as Indian but as “Hindu”. If Julius Ceasar belongs to the entire people of that ancient civilisation, Italy, and Alexander to the whole of the gifted people of Greece, Sri Ram belongs to the whole of India, not to just a portion of the citizenry. Learning about ancient India and absorbing the wisdom of its classics would enhance rather than detract from the spiritual power of the Christian and Muslim faiths, the two most powerful religions in the world. But it would appear that to Nehru, anything that was from ancient India was retrograde, an attitude borrowed from  Sidney Webb and Vladimir Lenin.

The comprehensive nationalisation of Indian industry carried out by Nehru and continued by Indira Gandhi revealed their mistrust of their countrypersons. Nehruvian ideology did not want any agency to become so strong that it would have the potential to challenge the monopoly of the state, the way a large conglomerate might. Even the British before them accepted that Indians were entrepreneurial and productive, and did not stand in the way of a Jamshedji Tata, for example. Had the post-1947 dispensation in India shown at least this level of tolerance towards domestic private industry, India would not be in a situation where multinational companies rule even in villages with their offerings of soap and toothpaste. Just as Korean companies have become market leaders across the globe, so could Indian companies have.

Indeed, since 1992, domestic industry did seek to spread its wings,but when it emerged as a possible challenger to European entities, Maino policies ensured the steady emasculation of Indian industry that has taken place since 2004,with restrictive policies and sky-high interest rates hobbling domestic companies that just years before were emerging as world leaders in specific lines of production. The Leninist control of the state over the means of production ( called the essence of democracy by apologists of Nehruism) was in the name of the poor.

However,the state denied the poor of India access to such effective instruments of self-help as the English language. Even today, those educated in government schools are placed under a severe handicap vis-a-vis students in private institutions. While the Nehru way of dealing with this is to bring private school education (run by Hindus) down to the level of state schools, a government genuinely interested in the public weal would have sought to raise the standard of state schools upward. However, a downward trajectory is natural to the Maino era.

While there is a strong case for positive discrimination in favour of Dalits (including tribal people), there is no rational reason for including minority faiths within the ambit of such measures. The state ought to be impartial and equal as betwen all faiths, for such a mindset is at the core of secularism. India is the only democracy on the planet where religious structures of a single community have been taken over by the state. It is government control of temples in India that has led to the systematic theft of idols from temples. It was expected that the NDA would take an inventory of the idols that have been stolen from temples during at least the past two decades and take steps to ensure that an Interpol alert gets issued to prosecute those who were responsible for buying and selling such assets. Such an inventory was not even attempted. Indeed, a close look at the policies of the NDA would show that it followed the ideology of  "Nehru Lite" i.e. Nehruvism in a diluted form.

The steady worsening of relations between communities in India is directly traceable to the policies of exclusion followed by the state since the post-1987 period,when the raj decided that the best way to avoid a second rebellion was to ensure that the people of India got divided into the same warring groups as had facilitated British takeover. India needs to become a genuinely secular republic i.e. a country where followers of different faiths are given equal rights and responsibilities.

Manmohan Singh's plaint that recent killings in Assam are a “blot” on India is similar to Jawaharlal Nehru's 1962 lament that “Our hearts go out to the people of Assam”. A Prime Minister is not expected to moan but to command, not simply to commiserate but to act. Unfortunately for Manmohan Singh, he has a boss who is interested only in what may be described as “agronomy”. All that Sonia Maino expects from her satraps is that they send copious quantities of “US potatoes”, Swiss “cheese”,  European “chocolate” and other goodies to pre-determined locations.

Expert farmers such as Vilasrao Deshmukh have remained favourites precisely because of their skill in cultivation. Coming to the economy, it may be said that the “agro leakage” to politicians during the 1980s was  15 per cent, with the rest of the spent money going either for productive purposes or to other hands. In the 1990s this rose to 30 per cent, which is why those who came to power during that time can afford to send their families abroad and to live on a scale that a pre-1947 maharaja would envy. Since Maino raj descended on India in 2004, the leakage to the political class has crossed 50 per cent. Add to that a proportionately high share to officials and hangers-on, and it will be obvious why the country's institutions and infrastructure are entering a phase of terminal decline. The Congress Party has been transparent in making the outstretched hand its symbol. After all the hands have taken their share of the fruits, what gets leftover is meagre indeed.

Were Gurgaon and Kokhrajar the exceptions, there would be less need of despair.The horrific reality is that they have become the norm. Law and order has disintegrated across India,including in once well-run states such as Karnataka and Maharashtra. Across much of the country, local police units have in effect become auxiliaries of mafias,registering false cases against those falling foul of gangsters and protecting criminals. Meanwhile, law after law gets passed, each with stringent provisions that are susceptible to misuse. Only the uncomplicated mind of an Anna Hazare would believe that yet another bureaucratic monster in the shape of the Lok Pal would stanch the spreading slime of graft. In India, the anti-corruption agencies have themselves become the most corrupt of the spectrum. The ethos of India is liberal.The tradition of India is inclusion. Whether it be the sari-clad village belle bringing home water from the well, or the jeans-clad city dweller having a drink at the pub with a male friend,both need to be respected. Since 2005, this commentator has warned about the collapse that Maino rule would bring India.That forecast is coming true in such starkness that even admirers of Sonia Gandhi understand that things are amiss. Hopefully, 2014 will see a release from Maino raj. Hopefully,what comes afterwards will be a dispensation that has faith in the people of India,and which loosens and removes the colonial-era restraints that have hobbled this country for so long. Hopefully, what comes afterwards will be an ideology of tolerance towards those with different views, so long as they desist from violence. What is clear is that just five more years of the misrule that the country is witnessing now will prove terminal to the future of India.

(The writer is former editor of Mathrubhoomi and Times of India and presently a columnist with a number of publications).

Monday 13 August 2012

M D Nalapat on NDTV's We The People

Prof. Nalapat appeared on the NDTV's We The People's discussion on the IAS. You can see it online here:

Prof. Nalapat's comments start around 18.00, 32.55, and 41.45.

Diaspora needs to invest in Tamil-majority areas in Lanka (Sunday Guardian)

Buddhist devotees watch a mahout bathe an elephant calf during the Vesakha annual religious festival in Colombo in May. AP/PTI
mong the bouquet of cultures that defines India, there is a special resonance for Tamil, a language that goes back millennia. Together with other noble offshoots of the Indian mainstream such as Bengali, those speaking Tamil continue to make history across the world, winning awards for science and literature and doing superbly in business and the professions. Among the Tamil diaspora, those coming from Sri Lanka are distinct, in that many left the island in the 1980s, following the riots that left thousands dead. The parents of this columnist were resident in Colombo in 1983, when the worst violence occurred, and was fortunate in that a mob entering their home stopped on seeing a statue of Lord Buddha in the living room, and left without doing any damage. Others had a different experience. The lucky simply lost their property, but many paid with their lives for the Sinhala-Tamil hostility that has been a legacy of British rule. Before 1948, because a large number of them were literate and moreover Christian, special preference was given by the colonial authority to Tamils in government service. After freedom, power went into the hands of the Sinhala majority, who sought to reverse the discrimination against their largely Buddhist community that was present during the days when the Union Jack fluttered over flag posts in Colombo, Jaffna, Kandy and elsewhere. However, they went too far, effectively blocking Tamil youngsters from access to higher education, and therefore to state employment. After three decades of such unequal treatment, leadership of the Tamil movement went into the hands of armed groups, finally getting monopolised by the LTTE by the simple expedient of killing any Tamil leader who did not follow their line.
The next three decades were hell for Sri Lanka, not only for the Tamils but for the majority (73%) Sinhala population as well. The LTTE was expert in blowing up people and buildings, or in gunning them down. Thanks to their bitter experience in Sri Lanka during the 1980s, several within the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora shifted to the side of the Tigers. Had they refused, it would have been unsafe to have taken out life insurance on the relatives that they had left behind in Sri Lanka. To oppose the LTTE was suicide. Even to not join them when asked was fatal, as Neelam Tiruchelvan (for example) found out decades ago. Even those who had done much for the Tamils, but who were opposed to the violence unleashed by the LTTE, such as A. Amirthalingam or Laxman Kadirgamar were killed by Prabhakaran's men, whose initial training had been in India under the aegis of Indira Gandhi. Nearly a third of Sri Lanka came under the LTTE's occupation and rule, although the extent changed over time, depending on the direction taken by the conflict with the Sri Lankan Army. Several times in the past, LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran was offered a deal by Colombo. Even after the killing of
Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE in 1991 or the way in which 9/11 indicated the danger of a soft approach towards terrorism, European countries in particular continued to back the LTTE. Norway was a particular friend, with Foreign Minister Eric Solheim even calling Prabhakaran a "military genius" in his conversations with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006, talks designed to persuade Rajapaksa to — in effect — introduce a Two-State solution in the island. Unlike Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi, who bend into pretzels when sweetly requested to by the Europeans, Rajapaksa insisted on keeping his country united. By 18 May 2008, he had defeated the LTTE and sent Prabhakaran to the other world.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is not a city slicker the way Jayawardene was, or even Premadasa. He comes from a village in the deep south of Sri Lanka, and has the shrewdness of such origins. He knows that following in the footsteps of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and seeking to impose Sinhala domination over the Tamils would not only not be practical, but it would be a repudiation of the Buddhist faith that he is devoted to. This gives an opportunity to the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora that in the past was sympathetic to the Eelam concept. Sri Lanka is and will remain a unitary state. Within that state however, the Tamil-majority areas have the potential to be for Sri Lanka what the south coast is to China, the most prosperous part of the country. For this to happen, the Tamil diaspora needs to invest, invest, invest in Sri Lanka's Tamil-majority areas. Should this take place, it would be in the finest traditions of a culture that generated the Chola empire, and which has given so much to India, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and other locations where Tamil-speaking migrants are present in sizeable numbers.