Monday 28 October 2013

Rahul Gandhi is ensuring Narendra Modi’s victory (Sunday Guardian)

MD Nalapat
Narendra Modi during a campaign rally in Jhansi on Friday.
he era of Pamulaparthy Venkata Narasimha Rao showed the people of India — though not the Congress Party — that a government run under the aegis of the 44-year-old party (for after all, in 1969 Indira Gandhi created a new party out of the embers which she left behind in the old) need not be headed by a member of the Nehru family to do a reasonable job of governance. It is therefore fortunate for the ruling branch of the Nehru family that their next choice for the Prime Ministership, Manmohan Singh, has turned out to be such a disaster. While there are many who point out that the mild-mannered economist is among the most potent weapons in the armoury of Narendra Modi, what is forgotten is that it is the litany of failures of Manmohan Singh that has sparked a growing consensus within both the Congress as well as Congress-leaning voters that Rahul Gandhi should take over from Manmohan Singh, and soon. Should such a transfer of Prime Ministerial authority take place before the polls, the Congress tally would certainly be increased, although the closer such a transition is to polling day, the lesser will be the dividend of the shift to Rahul Gandhi.
That dividend hinges on whether the heir to the Congress abandons his teardrop-generating Mills & Boon routine and focuses in his speeches on governance, and what he proposes to do to improve the abysmal standards of administration in the country. Enough tears have been shed over the years for the AICC general secretary's grandmother and father. Certainly the deaths of both were tragic, and created a national catharsis. However, so far as seeking to place responsibility for their deaths on the BJP is concerned, as yet even the IB or the CBI has not brought forward any credible evidence that Narendra Modi rather than the ISI was behind the Khalistan movement or the wholly indefensible manner in which Bhindranwale was neutered by the Army while taking refuge in the Golden Temple.
If there is any record of any BJP leader meeting Beant Singh and Satwant Singh and motivating them to commit their horrible deed, this — as with so much else in Delhi — remains hidden from the public. Similarly, while considering the innuendo that the BJP (now led by Modi) was — even if tangentially — behind even the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the presumably extensive contacts between BJP leaders and LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, which must have preceded Dhanu's deed, have as yet been kept secret.
As for Muzaffarnagar, where the role of Azam Khan appears to have escaped the attention of the Intelligence Bureau officers who apparently brief Rahul Gandhi diligently, what stands out is the — perhaps wilful — incapacity of the state government to protect lives.
In Gujarat, the post-Godhra riots of 2002 were the first and thus far the last communal riots that the riot-wracked state has seen during the Modi government. In the case of Uttar Pradesh, there has been a surfeit of riots since Akhilesh Yadav became Chief Minister, but apparently the SP's Good Cop face is yet to learn how to prevent such fires the way Modi has succeeded in doing for the past eleven years.
For at least the past four years, it has been clear that in the mind of the voter, the 2014 contest will be a referendum between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. While even two years ago, Rahul had the edge over the Gujarat strongman, that position has steadily been reversed, and with each month, the attractiveness of Modi to the voter has grown even while Rahul's voter base appears to be shrinking. After all, his is not the only family to have suffered grief in India.
In so many riots or railway accidents, there are families which have lost most of their members. Soldiers and police officers are dying with increasing frequency during these insecure years, and each leaves behind a family in as much pain and raw anger as has been described by Rahul Gandhi at Indore. Revealing one's own pain and rage is usually less effective in capturing votes than showing empathy for the pain of others, and the more Mills & Boon becomes the AICC bible, the more votes will flow to Narendra Modi.
Indeed, it would appear that the Gujarat-born leader of the BJP is at — or close to — the figure of 220 BJP seats which this columnist predicted as the 2014 result, after Modi had taken charge as the Election Committee chairperson. Manmohan Singh is helping Rahul Gandhi boost his appeal, but mostly within his own party. But with each tearjerker sally, Rahul Gandhi is ensuring the victory of Narendra Modi.

Saturday 26 October 2013

NATO laughs as India, China bicker (PO)

MD Nalapat
Saturday, October 26, 2013 - Far more than the UK, which from for the past six decades has handicapped itself in Delhi by the way in which it has sought to protect the interests of Pakistan, it is France that is the most influential European country in India. This ascent to the top of the Influence Sweepstakes came about in 1998, when Paris was noticeably less shrill in condemning the Indian nuclear tests of that year than were London, Washington, Ottawa and Canberra. Of the four, the most vicious attacks came from Canada and Australia, who evidently regarded India as an upstart nation suffering from delusions of equality with the NATO powers.

There was more than a tinge of outright racism in the comments and criticisms of the nuclear tests, which were based on the principle that only “civilized” nations had a right to the atomic bomb. Because of this belief in the virtues of ethnicity, neither Canada nor Australia (nor indeed London and Washington) have uttered a word against Israel, which was outed two decades ago as a nuclear weapons state. This is because Israel - to these countries - is a civilized state, owing to the fact that the majority of its population can trace their ethnic roots to what NATO impliedly regards as the only civilized corner of the globe, Europe. Committed as they silently are to the notion of the superiority of a single ethnicity, it was natural that this group of four (three within NATO and the other sheltering within the NATO umbrella) would oppose India having the same sorts of weaponry as “civilized” states.

The exception to this cacophony of abuse in 1998, led by US President Bill Clinton, was France. Those were the days when Paris was run by independent-minded leaders in the mould of Jacques Chirac rather than (0ccasionally growling) poodles of the Nicholas Sarkozy variety. Had the consort of Carla Bruni been President of France in 1998, it is very likely that he would have ensured that his country marched in lockstep with the UK, the US, Canada and Australia in condemning the 1998 nuclear tests by India.

However, he was not yet in power, and from the start, Paris made it clear that it was not willing to impose the harsh sanctions on India that Clinton was mooting. In return, a grateful Atal Behari Vajpayee and his de facto Executive PM, National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, gave France pride of place in commercial transactions, especially in the field of defense. That partiality has continued to the present, with lucrative upgrades of French equipment and multi-billion euro purchases of French defense equipment, especially aircraft, with India becoming only the second country in the world (apart from France itself) to trust that country with the sourcing of its advanced strike aircraft. Although Paris is not yet in Moscow’s league, where an airctaft carrier that belongs in the junkyard has been bought by India for close to $6 billion dollars once the full costs of maintenance and operation are factored in, yet Paris comes close to being among the important reasons why India has such a huge gap between its exports and its imports.

Interestingly, there are a group of French scholars who write regularly in Indian publication. Some are firmly tethered to the pro-Congress camp, regularly attacking the opposition BJP in language which comes directly off press briefings from 24 Akbar Road in New Delhi, the headquarters of the All India Congress Committee. Others have the reverse view, becoming even more strident of “the rights of the majority community” than even the more assertive Hindu organisations. Still others tack towards regional parties, adopting their stances as their own and building up contacts with their leaders. In such a manner, across the political spectrum, French scholars have influence in India. The core point that all of them make is the “China Danger”.

They regularly warn of the designs of China on India and demand a strong response from India. Of course, what usually goes unstated (except on a few occasions) is that the best way of countering the “China Danger” is to buy more weapons from France. By helping to create a scare about Chinese intentions vis-à-vis India, these articulate and persuasive commentators are proving of immense value to the French defense industry, which these days depends on Arabs and Indians for its survival. Given the need to create an atmosphere of tension between Beijing and Delhi, it is not surprising that these commentators have been scathing in their coments on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s just-concluded visit to Beijing. The fact is that Prime Minister Singh and his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang, have gone far towards recreating an early-1950s mood of bonhomie in Sino-Indian relations. Both sides understand the importance of better ties for not simply matters of security but also of economic growth.

China can be the source of $40 billion in investment in India, and at least 2 million Chinese tourists can come to India because of their Buddhist heritage. Eventually that figure can go up by many times. It would be transformational for Asia were Beijing and Delhi to become friendly to each other and to cooperate in matters of security. Both Prime Minister Singh and Prime Minister Li understand this, as does President Xi Jinping. However, such a rapprochement will generate frowns across the brows of NATO policymakers. They are delighted at any symptom of tension between Delhi and Beijing, and at each newspaper headline or television report which portrays the Sino-Indian relationship negatively. The success of Singh and Li in burying old ghosts and in seeking to create a better dynamic for ties will be a matter of concern for NATO, even as it will be welcomed by the 2.5 billion people who inhabit China and India.

PMO unconcerned about scientist deaths (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 26th Oct 2013
The Research Reactor CIRUS at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre
hile there has been substantial international media comment on the unnatural deaths of several scientists working in Iran's nuclear program, similar attention has not been paid to the (much larger) number of unnatural deaths that have taken place of scientists and engineers working in India's own nuclear program. The latest casualties were discovered on 7 October, when the bodies of K.K. Josh and Abhish Shivam were discovered near the railway tracks at Penduruthy near Vishakapatnam Naval Yard. The two were engineers connected with the building of India's indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, Arihant. They had apparently been poisoned and their bodies placed on the tracks to make it seem like an accident. However, they were discovered by a passer-by before a train could pass over the bodies. In any other country, the murder of two engineers connected to a crucial strategic program would have created a media storm. However, the deaths of the two were passed off both by the media as well as by the Ministry of Defence as a routine accident, with only the ordinary police officer tasked with investigations into the cause of death. The inquiries went nowhere.
Scientists working in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) have been particularly liable to "suicides" and murders, with several being reported during the past five years. In each case, the unnatural death in question gets passed off as either a suicide or an unexplained killing. This far, there has been no report of the police having identified any of the perpetrators of the murders of personnel whose brainpower has been crucial to the success of several key programs. On 23 February 2010, M. Iyer, an engineer at BARC, was found dead in his residence. The killer had used a duplicate key to enter the house and strangle the engineer in his sleep. Interestingly, efforts were made by some of the investigating police officers to pass the death off as a suicide. Finally, the Mumbai police decided to register a case of murder. However, as is usual in such cases, no arrests were made and the investigation ran into a stonewall. Forensics experts say that in all such unexplained deaths of scientists and engineers involved in the nuclear program, fingerprints are absent, as also other telltale clues that would assist the police in identifying the culprit. These indicate a high degree of professionalism behind the murders, such as can be found in top-flight intelligence agencies of the type that have been so successful in killing Iranian scientists and engineers active in that country's nuclear program.
Unlike Iran, however, which now protects its key personnel, thus far the Government of India has not taken any appreciable steps to protect the lives of those active in core strategic programs relating to the country's nuclear deterrent.
While it is true that at least one of the unnatural deaths — that of former BARC scientists Uma Rao on 29 April, 2011 — seems to be a case of suicide, the other suicide verdicts are challenged by the families of the deceased engineers and scientists, who say that there was no indication that their loved ones were contemplating such an extreme step. What is surprising is the inattention of the Government of India towards what many believe to be a systematic outside effort to slow down India's march towards nuclear excellence by killing those involved in the process. Such a modus operandi differs from that followed in the case of the cryogenic engine scandal in 1994, when key scientists working on the program to develop an indigenous cryogenic engine were picked up by the Intelligence Bureau and the Kerala police on false charges of espionage, together with two Maldivian women. The Bill Clinton administration had sought to scupper the Russian sale of such engines to India, but Russian scientists friendly to India had secretly handed over blueprints relating to the making of such engines. This soon became known to the CIA, which is believed to have orchestrated the plan to paralyse the program by sending its key scientists to prison. Although the charges were found to be entirely false, that vindication took a decade to come about, and in the process, the Indian program was slowed down by an equivalent number of years. Thus far, none of the IB or Kerala police officers who acted as the apparent catspaw of a foreign intelligence agency in slapping false charges on key scientists has suffered even a minor punishment, much less be arraigned for treason.
According to the Government of India, over just a three-year period, there have been at least nine unnatural deaths of scientists and engineers at just BARC as well as the Kaiga nuclear facility, of which two have been categorised as suicide, with the rest unexplained in terms of bringing to book those responsible.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Forget nuclear, India and Japan should go cyber (Sunday Guardian)


An HF-24 MK II aircraft.
t is injurious to the health of a career in the armed forces for an individual to believe that India needs to be more self-reliant in defence equipment than the country presently is. The domestic private sector is ring-fenced away from bidding for major defence contracts. Not, of course, that any significant player is in the business of weapons manufacture. Even should an Indian-owned entity wish to get into defence production, it would not get sanction from the government for such a move. The only domestic outfit allowed into the field is the DRDO and state-owned enterprises, whose core function is to provide jobs for the boys. Why do the DRDO and its affiliates take so long to manufacture an item of equipment, such as a battle tank, an aircraft or even a rifle? Because members of the team formed for the purpose have, many of them, decades to go before they retire, and should the product come off the assembly lines before at least twenty years have gone by, what would they do with the rest of their careers? It needs to be said that after that length of time, several times the product is first-rate, the HF-24 aircraft or the INSAS rifle being examples. The problem is that the finished product is almost never developed further. There will be no HF-24MKII or III, nor will there be an INSAS MKII. The steady upgrade of the product that is the staple of manufacturing is discarded in the Indian public sector, which has to contend with those who want only to purchase equipment and services from hard currency areas. Unfortunately for the public interest, the media in India has thus far never overly bothered about why India-built equipment disappears into the ether soon after the first models come off the assembly lines.
Decades of neglect have meant that it is unlikely that domestic enterprises will be able to ramp up R&D to the level needed to produce world class equipment. Hence the need for international partners. Thus far, the only major overseas suppliers of defence equipment to India who are at least halfway willing to share the secrets of advanced technology with their local partners are the Russians. However, ever since the USSR collapsed into the Russian Federation in 1992-93, Moscow has been obsessive about the bottom line, focusing less on product enhancement than on how to gouge out more money from the customer. Hence the need to diversify. It is in such a context that Japan comes in. Since the 1960s, Tokyo has lavished assistance and investment on China, getting in return the continuing hostility of much of the Chinese populace. For the past three years in particular, there have been numerous anti-Japanese riots in China, in which Japanese companies and even personnel have been targeted. Of course, in sheer scale and viciousness of such attacks, none can compare with the way in which a section of employees of Maruti Udyog in Gurgaon rounded on their managers. While there may not yet be an exodus of Japanese investment from Gurgaon, there is unlikely to be any fresh investment in a location where Japanese investments are clearly not physically safe from action by vandals. However, because India is seen as a friend, whereas China is not, Japanese companies are still willing to invest in this country, if no longer in their once favoured destination, Haryana.
Given that both India and Japan are targets of the People's Liberation Army of the People's Republic of China, it makes sense for Delhi and Tokyo to collaborate in ways that would strengthen their joint defence. While naval vessels and aircraft may help, an acute vulnerability is in the field of cyber warfare. Both China as well as the US routinely hack into information about companies competing with their own. While Chinese snooping into data that could help their companies beat the competition is well known, it took Edward Snowden to reveal something that ought to have been obvious. That the US too uses the excuse of the "War on Terror" to hack into emails that would give their companies the edge. Edward Snowden has exposed the fact that the data interception indulged in by the National Security Agency of the US is on a scale that is far too massive to be explained away on purely national security grounds. It would take a battalion of saints within the entrails of the US administration to desist from using such capabilities to boost US business by giving them details on the competition, perhaps through roundabout routes so as to retain deniability. Both India and Japan need to safeguard themselves against such corporate snooping by China and the US, and the way to do that is to cooperate in creating cyber networks that are immune from hostile interception. Neither Japan nor India acting alone has the capacity to ensure such defences of its corporate and national security secrets, but if both work together, the odds are that they will succeed in protecting their cyber networks. Rather than chase the mirage of nuclear cooperation with Japan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh needs to recruit Tokyo into joining hands with Delhi in the all-important field of cyber security.

Saturday 19 October 2013

Corporate rivalry behind Birla FIR, say analysts (Sunday Guardia)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 19th Oct 2013
These sources claimed that the FIR against Birla “had to be seen in the context of a clear trend of blackening the name of top Indian corporates”.
nalysts tracking the number of cases getting filed against prominent Indian corporate figures claim that a clear pattern has emerged over the past four years of "selective targeting of key businesspersons who are providing stiff competition to overseas rivals" in India as well as in international markets. They point out that in this period, key functionaries of the Birlas, the Tatas, the Ambanis, the Mittals, the Jindals and other key business groups have been "persecuted and often prosecuted", with multiple FIRs being filed that have the effect of "paralyzing normal operations and casting a shadow over an entire group". A senior analyst tracking linkages between certain NGOs and businesses headquartered in countries other than India pointed out that "an arrest, an FIR or even some sensational newspaper headlines become the first items that come up in any search of a businessperson's name". Because of the number of cases that are getting filed against Indian business groups, "the perception that Indian business leaders overall are crooks and unreliable partners is gaining ground internationally". His colleague added that "such a perception makes acquisition of overseas assets difficult". He further pointed out that "widespread negative publicity, often based just on interested leaks from select agencies, makes it difficult even to raise funds from abroad" for many business houses in India.
The analysts pointed out that "although foreign business houses indulge in the same sort of practices as domestic companies do", yet "there are almost no FIRs getting registered against key executives of foreign companies". On the other hand, "it seems to be Open Season on prominent Indian businessmen", he added. "Often the only evidence against such names comes from anonymous leaks from investigating agencies, who succeed in entangling business targets in litigation lasting decades", a senior official pointed out, adding that "getting a false case registered against a business rival is these days as simple as ordering a cup of tea". Even after such cases are shown to be false (often after years), "there is no action taken against the officers responsible". A senior official tracking the flurry of cases that have erupted since the past four years against Indian corporates says that "there needs to be severe punishment against those responsible for foisting false cases, rather than the present situation" (of absence of any consequences). A senior official traced the present spike in cases to some of the players active against the Tata Nano factory in Nandigram, claiming that "an East Asian MNC funded some of the agitations and suits in that battle so as to slow down the progress of the Nano". Since then, "other MNCs and even a few domestic players have been using NGOs in order to get their rivals into difficulty with the law".
According to an analyst, "there was 'shorting' of stock in companies run by Kumar Mangalam Birla in the days immediately before the CBI named him in an FIR on the coal scam". An associate pointed out that "once the FIR became public and the stock fell, these operators booked huge profits". He wanted an enquiry into the operators involved in shorting the stock of Kumar Mangalam Birla's companies "and whether any such operator had any contacts with those privy to the fact that an FIR was getting filed". Another analyst pointed out that "Birla had become a headache for international competitors, because of his many overseas acquisitions", including a Canadian company, and wanted a "full enquiry into the contacts of CBI officers and foreign elements, especially those active in Delhi cultivating senior figures in the government".
These sources refused to make any comments about CBI director Ranjit Sinha except to say that he has qualities that made him a favourite of Lalu Prasad Yadav and some others. According to an analyst, "it is the easiest thing in the world to plant misleading information on an investigating officer", who is often blinded to reality by the lure of making it into the headlines and becoming a hero".
These sources claimed that the FIR against Birla "had to be seen in the context of a clear trend of blackening the name of top Indian corporates", thereby making them less effective in fending off competition from abroad. An analyst repeated that "the Nano success at Singur emboldened other companies to follow the same path" of planting information in credulous police hands, and that the "results are clear in the cases filed against domestic companies that generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and several thousand crores of taxes". However, those close to the CBI dismiss such claims and say that "the agency proceeds only on the basis of facts and never with any motivation except to get at the truth".

Monday 14 October 2013

Don’t turn India into Talibanistan (Sunday Guardian)

Jiah Khan
nuradha Ugde and Abdul Wahab are in a Mumbai jail. Anuradha's husband Sunil hanged himself a few days back, leaving behind a video message on his cellphone. According to the message, Anuradha and Abdul were an item, with her spending quality time with him whenever husband Sunil was out of town, which was often. Distraught at such a choice of pastimes on the part of his spouse, Sunil turned to Inspector Ajit Kadam of the Agripada police chowky or help in making Anuradha accept that her behaviour was a trifle too Khajuraho-esque for what must be a prim Maharashtrian household, or was until Anuradha discovered the charms of Abdul.
Apart from the 19-minute video clip, there is no proof on record that Anuradha was anything other than a blameless housewife. However, we must take Sunil Ugde's word for it that it was the Anuradha-Abdul tango which motivated him to take his own life. However, from that to arresting two adults for "abetment to suicide" is further indication that the police and legal system in India are going the way of 1996-2001 Afghanistan in regarding relations between the sexes as criminal unless accompanied by a marriage certificate. Earlier, an aspiring film star, Sooraj Pancholi, was similarly tossed into prison because his sometime girlfriend, Jiah Khan, killed herself. The reason, according to Jiah and the distraught relatives she left behind was that Sooraj was refusing to marry her and indeed, had walked out or was in the process of walking out of their relationship.
As Donald Rumsfeld would say, "stuff happens", especially when younger members of both sexes come together. This has been the case since the origins of the human species and is unlikely to change simply because Mullah Omar and his growing band of fellow social conservatives across the globe see such activity as illicit. A High Court in India finally accepted that this is the 21st century, by in effect, de-criminalising relations between the same sex. Because this country still hews on to the 19th century laws enacted for slave people by the British, in place of "all that is not expressly forbidden is permitted" (which is the way civilised societies behave), in India, anything not expressly permitted is deemed to be illicit.
This is, of course, in addition to the huge list of items that are expressly barred, including the taking of bribes, although this is the core activity of any government in India.
There was a time not too long ago when it was forecast that more than 500 million Indians would learn to speak an international language (such as English) besides their native tongues. That society in India was evolving in a modern, moderate direction.
That illusion is melting away, with conservatism in dress and deportment becoming commonplace. If newspaper reports are correct, even the BJP believes that the burqa and the shervani are the dress that "genuine" Muslims ought to wear, so much so that these were reportedly provided to those Muslims who attended a Modi rally. So are Muslim women who wear the sari or even jeans not "good" Muslims? Can the quality of a human being and fealty to a faith be defined by dress and by ritual alone, or is it more basic?
According to those seeking to convert Hindustan into Talibanistan, the social codes approved and enforced by Mullah Omar need to be brought into effect in this country as well.
The fact is that except for primitive 19th century colonial minds, a voluntary relation between the sexes is not a crime. If it be true that Anuradha was a trifle over-enthusiastic in her dealings with Abdul, and even that such behaviour caused her husband to end his life, the same is not reason enough to deprive her and her male friend of their freedom.
Exactly as in a colonial state, jail has become the first — usually the only — option of the police system in India. It is time for a change, so that this country turns its face towards the future rather than a dark past.