Sunday 28 April 2013

Cheat funds not the only crooks India should worry about (Sunday Guardian)

Saradha group chief Sudipta Sen being taken to court in Kolkata on Thursday. PTI
he topic of the week has moved on from brutal assaults against minors to chit funds, specifically to one in Kolkata that seems to be close to a gaggle of politicians; hardly a surprise. Laws in India are deliberately made in such a way that only a divine being can escape their numerous — and onerous — provisions. An example is the Shops and Establishments Act, which mandates that all such sites be unpopulated by dirt or insects, and indeed, the surrounding areas too need to be similarly free of grime.
Professor Vaidyanathan of IIM (Bangalore) was talking about his own favourite kirana store, which is separated from its customers by a foul-smelling drain. He and other aficionados of the outlet stretch their arms across the fetid waters and garbage to exchange currency with household goods. And what of the fabled Shops and Establishments Act? Each week, a crisp Rs 1,000 note gets exchanged between the shopkeeper and those who are tasked by the state to enforce its unenforceable provisions. Practically every piece of regulatory legislation in India is similarly entirely divorced from the reality of "facts on the ground". Then why have such laws been passed?
Apart from the necessity of keeping the growing army of lawyers in the country occupied, each such law ensures a steady flow of untaxed cash to multitudes of officials. Small wonder that government servants, as a collective, swear by the same "Nehruvian Democracy", as do geniuses residing abroad such as Amartya Sen or Sunil Khilnani. Of course, a goodly portion of each rupee goes to the political class, which has taken the place of British colonial authorities as a rent-seeking layer sucking away the cream from what little progress there remains after the colonial-style (but of course, fully democratic) administration takes its cut.
While estimates of such "rent" vary, those having to dish out such largesse say that in well-administered states such as Gujarat, it is about 10% of the total spent on an activity. In poorly-administered states such as Uttar Pradesh, the figure rises to 30% and on occasion 35%. In today's Delhi, evidence has it that the cut taken from contracts has risen to an effective total of 40% and above. Small wonder that projects are simply not getting completed, and are generating so few benefits to the public in the rare instances when they get commissioned.
If there has been any accountability at all in matters of misgovernance, it is because of the media and the courts. The former, goaded out of its torpor by the whiplash of adverse comment from the blogosphere about its blindness to specific instances of VVIP graft, is picking on a new target every few days. Eventually, of course, the vagaries of the justice system in India may ensure that most of the depredators — if not all of them — will end their lives peacefully and naturally, while being out on bail or acquitted for lack of evidence.
The police in India, notably the CBI, can always be relied upon to ensure that the evidence presented is in a form designed to accommodate the wishes of their political masters. The 1862 Indian Police Act, retained by successive governments of varied hues, ensures that the political executive has sufficient levers at hand to ensure obedience to their dictates of the men and women in uniform, of whom — it must be admitted — a surprisingly large number are admirable in their often hazardous dedication to the public interest.
However, in India the relatively small fry get caught while the whales escape. The financial sector is an example. Recently an internet website documented dozens of cases, which conclusively prove that huge commercial banks (many owned by overseas interests) are guilty of money laundering on an epic scale. However, while the RBI is insistent on damaging economic growth and the competitiveness of Indian companies, it has kept near-silence on the website's revelations.
Could the reason be that many friends and relatives of the well-connected work in the giant institutions, who daily indulge in speculation and money laundering? Certainly chit funds in India are usually harmful to the financial health of the depositor. But so are the much bigger financial agencies who, while being fined millions of dollars even in London and in New York, escape unscathed in India, despite indulging in the same activities for which they have been penalised abroad. Hopefully, the scanner now shining on chit funds will get extended to these agencies as well, if the people of India are to be genuinely protected from financial fraudsters.

Jiang group in Chinese army behind incursions (Sunday Guardian)

Jiang Zemin
enerals still loyal to former Chinese President Jiang Zemin are believed to be behind the recent 19-kilometre incursion into territory that has been in the control of India since 1947. This is a barren strip of land near the Burtse army post in Ladakh, which is south of Depsang and the Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip, which was brought back to operational readiness in 2008 and at nearly 17,000 feet is the highest military airstrip on the globe. Information reaching Delhi indicates that "a Major-General based in Chengdu Military District" is responsible for the Chinese side launching a repeat of Jawaharlal Nehru's 1960-62 "forward policy" (i.e. of small armed pickets moving into territory controlled by the other side and setting up makeshift bases there). Since early April, PLA units reporting to senior officers loyal to the Jiang Zemin Group within the Chinese Communist Party have set up three tents, in which at present three dozen soldiers are sheltering. These are being monitored by Chinese helicopters and long-range satellite surveillance system, and are designed to provoke an armed border clash for the first time since the 1986 Sumdurong Chu incursion by China, which too was masterminded by elements hostile to Deng Xiaoping's reconciliatory policy towards India.
Jiang Zemin has considerable influence within that section of the military leadership that is known to have substantial funds abroad, as evidenced by family staying or studying in (NATO-bloc) countries. Although former President Hu Jintao sought to cleanse the PLA of such corrupt elements, "the power of the Jiang group meant that he had only very limited success during the decade (2002-2012) that he was in power". Hu's successor Xi Jinping is known to be similarly opposed to the culture of greed and graft spawned under the Jiang years (1991-2001) and is also facing resistance to his clean-up efforts from those unwilling to give up their extra-legal privileges.
Both President Xi as well as Premier Li Keqiang have made a close strategic relationship with India a priority. India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the second foreign leader (out of two) personally called by Premier Li on the first day of his assumption of office, and planning is on to make India the new Chinese PM's first international port of call in the third week of next month. Following on the success of Huawei in the telecoms market and Chinese power companies in energy plants, Chinese companies are looking to India to sell infrastructure equipment and projects. "Should tensions grow, Huawei may be once again barred from the Indian market, while Chinese companies would be barred from energy, finance and infrastructure sectors," a senior official worried at PLA activism pointed out, adding that "already China has lost more than $120 billion of (additional) Japanese investment and may lose an equal amount in the India market" should the Jiang group have its way in racheting up tensions along China's periphery. "The Jiang Group wants to sabotage Li's India visit, which is why they have got friendly elements in the PLA to launch a Chinese version of the Forward Policy just weeks before Li's scheduled arrival," claim sources tracking developments in China. They add that "the effort to insert troops into territory that has always been in Indian control follows the continued refusal by Jiang-era hardliners in Beijing to agree to a transparency-generating mechanism about its four Brahmaputra dam projects". These sources point out that "both the Pakistan as well as the US lobbies within the PLA are eager to sabotage cooperation with India", and that Xi Jinping's open call for military to military cooperation between Beijing and Delhi has been followed by efforts at a coordinated hard line towards the Taliban in Afghanistan. Such moves have alarmed the Pakistan and US lobbies within China, who are both working through their agents to sabotage the Xi Jinping reset in relations with Delhi, these sources claim.
Trackers of Chinese developments point out that "several so-called ultra-nationalist elements are in fact secretly working at the behest of countries hostile to China, and use ultra-patriotic rhetoric only as camouflage". Several blog posts by "super-patriotic elements in China use language that is racist and xenophobic, thereby presenting a negative picture of Chinese society to foreign observers". India is not the only theatre where pro-Jiang elements are using their friends in the PLA to ensure that Beijing deviates from the Peaceful Rise policy of Deng Xiaoping and Hu Jintao, these sources point out. Such military activism has led to tensions across the eastern and southern periphery of China, from Japan to the Philippines to Vietnam and now India. "Xi Jinping has the potential to be as great a harbinger of economic growth and social and international stability as Deng. However, he is being sabotaged from within by self-proclaimed ultra-nationalists with big foreign bank accounts," said a source familiar with the inner dynamics of Chinese politics. However, the majority view is that "with backing from Premier Li, very soon President Xi will rein in the hotheads," thereby allowing Delhi and Beijing to resume the path towards normalisation first mapped out by Deng Xiaoping and Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. Their expectation is that the present sabotage of a Sino-Indian reset via a new forward policy in Ladakh will subside within the first week of next month, thereby creating conditions for a successful visit by Premier Li, who is being "awaited with warmth" in Delhi by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Friday 26 April 2013

When Hillary blocked Janet Napolitano (PO)

M D Nalapat

Friday, April 26, 2013 - After being sworn in as US President in 2009, Barack Obama bid goodbye to almost all of those who had for years worked with dedication to ensure that he got the job. After campaigning as a candidate who would represent a complete break from the domestic sleaze and international prejudices of the Clinton era (1993-2001), Barack Obama fashioned a Clinton Lite administration, with almost all the top spots going to those loyal to “Billary” (Bill and Hillary) rather than to himself. As a consequence, the opportunity for genuine financial reform was passed over, and speculation propelled by an anti-social, clearly criminal, greed continues to be the engine which drives the US financial system.

Instead of fashioning a healthcare system that would sharply lower costs by making use of international opportunities for provision of high-quality medicines and patient care, Obama took on the mantle of the head of a labour union, continuing the Bush-Cheney policy of sourcing purchases exclusively from the US homeland, at the cost of economics and efficiency. Internationally, the Obama administration, while talking of an outreach to Asia, continued the Clinton line of being joined at the hip by the European Union, including in the matter of defense. All calls for an Asian version of NATO were brushed aside because of objections from the Europeans, who wanted as usual to piggyback on the US all across Asia, a continent where history has made them unwelcome in a military role.

Thus far, Bill Clinton has not disclosed the actual sources of the $16 billion that is controlled by him through the various NGOs that he heads. Some estimates speak of $11 billion coming from within the GCC, with the rest mostly from East Asia. In the interests of transparency, it is desirable that the Clintons reveal the actual donors to their various “charities”, rather than follow the example of their close friend Mitt Romney, who was for long very close-mouthed about the taxes (or lack of them) paid out of his huge income. In the period 1993-97 especially, then President Clinton lost the opportunity to make Russia part of the US-led alliance.

Had he treated the successors to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union more respectfully, rather than seeking to strip Russia of its technological sinews and its economic resources, Moscow would have been as docile a partner of Washington as London has been since 1945. Instead, mafias were backed under the Yeltsin interregnum to seek to destroy Russia as a functioning state. The clear intent was to see that the successor entity became so weak that it would lose all ability to function in a viable manner. 

Those who gained huge wealth because of their closeness to the mafias clustering around the Yeltsin household were helped to -in effect - relocate to the US and the UK, thereby placing the bulk of their capital in the hands of Washington and London and out of reach of Moscow. These so-called oligarchs became a Fifth Column burrowing deep into the Russian state, although it is another matter that by the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, it is China more than the NATO bloc that is reaping the commercial benefits of the hollowing out of the Russian state and economy.

Hillary Clinton apparently shares with Bill Clinton the latter’s lack of respect for Russia, a country with a noble people and great historical traditions that would not be obvious to some from the towns of Arkansas, a state not known for anything except Walmart and of course the Clintons. Those in the US, when asked about why the Department of Homeland Security — headed by a statesperson who ought to have been Secretary of State, Janet Napolitano — proved so incompetent in making sure that its own staff as well as that of the FBI and the CIA proved so remiss in identifying the Boston bomber Tamerlane Tsarnaev as a threat to security. This despite explicit warnings being conveyed by the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) in Moscow that the man had imbibed untra-radical views while on a visit to Dagestan, and needed to be carefully watched. A similar warning was conveyed by another Moscow-based security agency to the CIA about the same individual. Neither of these warnings was taken seriously. The FBI in particular clearly did only a perfunctory check of the elder Tsarnaev sibling before concluding that any further investigation was a waste of time. What was the reason for such a lack of attention to a potential security risk?

It is the fact that the US State Department has neatly classified the globe into Good Guys and Bad Guys, and Russia was firmly placed in the latter category even after the USSR collapsed in 1992. In contrast, despite the growing volume of empirical evidence to the contrary, Saudi Arabia is among the “goodest” of the Good Guys. Which is why the warnings from Moscow about Tamerlane Tsarnaev were ignored, while Saudi nationals at the site of the Boston bombings were allowed to leave the US without being questioned, despite their suspicious behaviour, activity recorded by closed-circuit television.

In 2001 as well, Saudi nationals were allowed to leave the US after 9/11,despite having provided huge amounts of money to some of those involved in the plot to destroy the WTC Twin Towers. After all, Bad Guys can do nothing right, while Good Guys can do no wrong. It is this simplistic calculus that has created a security vulnerability for the US, which needs to go to a Zero Base system, where every country (including those in the EU, many hundreds of whose nationals are now busily fighting in insurgencies worldwide) is treated the same. Because Hillary Clinton, in a sense, misled Janet Napolitano, the Boston bombings occurred. Hopefully, the lessons will be learnt from this episode, especially in Syria, where Francois Hollande is eager to protect his armaments industry and is therefore afraid that Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will stop buying French military equipment should the EU arms embargo not get lifted. 

Extremist violence now spawns the globe, and the battle to defeat it mandates cooperation across continents. From now onwards, hopefully the FBI will no longer treat Russian warnings with the lack of seriousness that the Clintons displayed to Moscow.

Video: Blunders of Indian Foreign Policies: Prof MD Nalapat (Speech at College of Defence Management)

Blunders of Indian Foreign Ministry by Prof MD Nalapat speech at College of Defence Management.
The Best speech on the Nationalistic point of view viz a viz National Defense Policy of India and its Foreign Policy.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Stop being saintly celibates, don’t make porn ban priority (Sunday Guardian)

nyone resident in India for longer than 40 seconds understands that this is a country beset by numerous problems. While the British certainly left this country in a mutilated and famished condition, seven decades was more than enough to bring it to health. Instead, conditions remain abysmal, with electric power in rural areas a dream, good roads fantasy and healthcare, housing and education subhuman despite vast sums of money spent on huge bureaucracies. At the same time, especially during the periods when Palaniappan Chidambaram has been in charge of the Finance portfolio, taxes have gone up even as the quality of governmental services has deteriorated from levels that few rational people thought could be made worse.
Apart from income-tax there is a service tax, apparently designed to ensure that private individuals provide the same type of "service" as is commonplace within the portals of government. Of course, these are not all. A plethora of taxes abound, all of which combine to make India a more and more difficult place to conduct any productive work in. And there is the fine print. Even for matters as central to freedom of expression as organising a conference, permission needs to be secured from agencies whose representatives do not even scratch their bodies without being bribed to do so.
In all this, what are our institutions focusing on? Evidently, porn. A bench of the Supreme Court of India has issued notice to the Government of India on a petition — no doubt filed by saintly celibates — demanding that the watching of "porn" be converted into a non-bailable offence. The request must be welcome to the police in India, many members of which force have a sixth sense when it comes to extracting wads of cash from the public, or at least that segment of it which does not have political influence. To those that do, cash is of course paid out to, rather than taken from.
Converting the watching of "porn" would open a fresh avenue for bribe-taking, with millions of potential victims in a world where what passes in the medieval consciousness of the governing class in India as salacious. Now that even the opening of spam mail in a personal computer has become a serious — and soon to be non-bailable — offence, what will follow next in the Mother Grundy trajectory of the Manmohan Singh government will be more and more restrictive definitions of what constitutes "porn". Finally, even the revealing of flesh will be deemed as too salacious for childlike Indian minds to bear, and hence get proscribed.
This columnist is of the view that what a citizen or pair or group of citizens voluntarily do in private is solely their concern, provided that no bodily harm get inflicted on themselves or others. And that watching "porn" would be a more healthy alternative than actually patronising an establishment specialising in commercial sex, provided that this not be of variants plainly inhuman in their scope, such as those involving children or extreme violence. That horrors such as the rapes carried out on innocents get perpetrated by those wholly repressed, rather than by those who find less harmful ways of fulfilling their fantasies. Two decades ago, an American correspondent, John Ward Anderson, came to Bangalore and wrote a front pager on the city that was becoming a tech and IT hub. Bengaluru — to give the city its musical new name — has never looked back since. However, the IT revolution is petering out in India because of the atmosphere of Wahhabist-Khomeinist intolerance towards any but the most restrictive codes of conduct, a prudishness that has added even more "social" crimes to the Indian Penal Code than were left behind by the strait-laced British. This doing away with freedom of expression and speech has combined with miserably slow internet speeds and numerous other problems (not least of which is the rush towards death of the Indian telecom industry) to take away any hope that India would take away from the US the title of IT tech champion. This despite President Obama's energetic efforts to stifle innovation in the US through restrictions on use of global talent and the fact that the best minds (also the most handicapped by circumstances) are to be found in India.
Peeking into bedrooms is the mark of a defensive, insecure and primitive social order, and once the reforms of the 1990s were launched, it was hoped that India would give to its citizens the same personal freedoms as are enjoyed in North America or Europe. Clearly, this is not to be. The "liberal" PM has allowed his regime to encourage those who seek to push this country back to a medieval state, and all for the sake of officials getting more and more avenues to collect bribes from, the citizens they daily victimise.

PC will abandon Sivaganga, shift to new seat (Sunday Guardian)

Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram | REUTERS
nion Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has put together an informal think-tank to map out a strategy in the post-2014 situation. The team is being supervised by Chidambaram's son Karthik, who has — according to senior Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) sources — persuaded Chidambaram to change his constituency from Sivaganga to Puducherry, regarded as a safe Congress seat. Chidambaram has been the MP from Sivaganga from 1984 to 1999 and again from 2004 to the present. However, in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, a TNCC office-bearer smilingly said that in 2009 "it took a miracle worthy of being classified alongside Diego Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal in the 1986 FIFA World Cup to enable Chidambaram to get himself declared elected in the Lok Sabha elections. One minute he was trailing and the next, the Returning Officer declared him elected," the TNCC leader said, refusing to elucidate further on a matter which he says is now before a court of law.
However, the man whom foes in the TNCC believe is aiming to be Sonia Gandhi's post-Manmohan choice for the Prime Ministership is clearly unwilling to trust overmuch in the good sense of returning officers a second time around. Hence, the word from the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee is that Chidambaram is abandoning Sivaganga and migrating to the Puducherry seat in the 2014 elections. The Union Territory has been a Congress stronghold and Chidambaram is hopeful that his sunny nature and affable disposition will ensure that he wins by a comfortable margin. Within the TNCC, a nominee of Chidambaram's rival in Tamil Nadu Congress politics, Shipping Minister G.K. Vasan, has been appointed president of the TNCC. Clearly, the Congress high command recognises that Vasan has significantly more clout at the grassroots than Chidambaram, who is much better at handling bureaucrats than fellow politicians. The change of guard at the TNCC may have been a factor in Chidambaram's decision to shift to the UT, say Congress office-bearers.
"Chidambaram has the same strengths as Manmohan Singh, only better. He too is trusted by the West and is an economic expert. Hence he will be the obvious choice for PM in case Rahul Gandhi declines the job," a prominent businessperson from the state said, mentioning that "it is no secret that the many endorsements from abroad and within Tamil Nadu (including Time magazine and M. Karunanidhi himself) for him to take the top slot have shown that he is the next in line after Manmohan Singh steps down next year."
Trouble-shooter Karthik has, according to TNCC leaders, been in touch with Puducherry Congress Committee office-bearers to ensure a friendly reception for his powerful parent. "Chidambaram's promise is that he will be able to do much more for the constituency than the sitting MP, who wields scant influence in either Delhi or Chennai, both cities that affect the Union Territory's fortunes substantially. This is despite the Naidu-caste politician, V. Narayanasamy, being Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office. "When Manmohan Singh himself has no power, what influence can a lowly MoS have?" asked a TNCC office-bearer, who favours Chidambaram's move to the Union Territory.
While the Finance Minister's shift from Tamil Nadu politics into the Puducherry backwater may leave a few local leaders of the party in the UT fuming, there is little doubt that the Chettiar legal eagle can get any seat he wants in the next elections, so complete is the faith reposed in him by the Congress First Family. Meanwhile, voters in Puducherry are looking to see if Chidambaram throws a few goodies their way via the Ministry of Finance before the elections get announced. Son Karthik is, as always, tireless in winning friends and influencing people to ensure that come 2014 his father gets his chance at the top job. Said a Chettiar community leader, "Our community knows how to ensure fast growth, and Chidambaram will do a much better job of making India a strong economy than Manmohan Singh, who comes from a different background." He is looking forward to the day when the "first Tamil PM" will take office.

Friday 19 April 2013

India, China moving closer on Kabul (PO)

M D Nalapat

Friday, April 19, 2013 - Since the late 1970s,China backed the US in its efforts at weakening Moscow, providing assistance that was very useful in ensuring that the Soviet leadership was constantly kept off balance. The Afghanistan theatre was important in such efforts, with China joining hands with the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in backing the insurgency against Moscow-backed governments in Kabul. Rivals of the USSR rejoiced at the decision by Mikhail Gorbachev to (a) continue the earlier policy of avoiding taking the war into Pakistan territory, the way the US is now and (b) hurriedly withdrawing Soviet troops from Afghanistan in line with his policy of passive non-violent non-resistance to anti-Soviet activities. The defeat in Afghanistan provided the first clear indication that the USSR under Gorbachev had lost the will to resist its enemies, and was on the way to downfall.

During the 1990s,when President Clinton implemented his policy of assisting the Taliban to come to power in Kabul, much help was given by Beijing - usually through Pakistan - to ensure such an outcome. The Taliban was from the start backed by the same constellation of countries that had been active in the anti-Soviet armed struggle in Afghanistan earlier, although Beijing and Washington did not join the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in recognizing the Taliban government in Kabul which took office in 1996. Clinton was wise in camouflaging his support to the group, as later on, after 9/11,he was able to escape all responsibility for the growth of the Taliban, placing the blame entirely at the door of Islamabad.

However,the fact that Benazir Bhutto, under whom the Taliban was given massive assistance, remained a favourite of Washington showed that her policy of backing the militia had not only the concurrence of the US, but was in response to a command from Washington. In the US, several corporate groups saw in the Taliban a pathway towards using Afghanistan as a gateway to Central Asia, especially in the matter of oil and gas pipelines. Indeed, several key policymakers in both the Clinton and Bush administrations were employees of Unocal, an oil giant with substantial influence among policy-makers in the world’s largest economy and self-declared “leader of the free world”

Amid all the bustle, Beijing stood by its word to Washington that it would remain a reliable ally against the USSR, including support to the Taliban. Oddly, for a country that at that time was still under the shadow of the Kemalist (and therefore resolutely secular) Turkish military, Ankara too backed the Taliban. It could be argued that the Turkish military’s support to the NATO policy of backing for Wahabi elements worldwide may have diluted its capacity to resist the (ultimately successful) efforts of the “Wahabi Lite” Erdogan regime to push the men in uniform into a tight box, with many top generals in jail or in the courts. Since Erdogan’s triumph in reversing the policies of Kemal Ataturk, Ankara has joined with Doha in joining the Wahabi coalition, most recently in the Syrian theatre, where both are battling to ensure that the Shia dynasty of the Assads gets replaced with a governance structure that, as in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, is Wahabbi-controlled. Since 2011 in particular, the Wahabis have made significant gains in geopolitical terms within West Asia, although by now, their ascent has led to disquiet in capitals such as Washington and Berlin, if not as yet London and Paris. In a changed context of seeing the growth of Wahabism and its armed manifestations as security threats rather than opportunities, Beijing may be reconsidering its policies towards Afghanistan. While Islamabad has reverted to the pre-9/11 policy of wholehearted backing for the Taliban in Afghanistan, seeking to secure for them the dominant role in any post-2014 government in Kabul, this time around Beijing is no longer cheering the militia on. Problems in Xinjiang and a sharp increase in radical sentiments even within Han communities such as the Hui have led to the pressing of the “pause” button on the question of resuming assistance to the Taliban.

This has brought Beijing closer to Delhi, to whom the Taliban continues to be anathema. Should India and China work together in Afghanistan to help block extremists from coming to power, the two countries would prove decisive in enabling Afghan moderates to win back the space that they have lost since 2005,the year when NATO began to revert to the pre-9/11 policy of backing for elements ideologically aligned to the Taliban. Discussions are due between the military and security establishments of India and China, and the question of a policy towards Afghanistan will be high up on the priority list. Should Beijing join hands with Delhi in seeking to promote the interests of Afghan moderates at the expense of the extremists, that could be a game changer not only for Afghanistan but for Sino-Indian relations.