Sunday 29 December 2013

BJP’s Helmut Kohls need to emulate Pope Benedict (Sunday Guardian)


Pope Benedict
t is difficult to persuade the holders of high office that the time has come for them to gracefully step aside. Ask the Catholic Church. It was as far back as 1294 AD that Pope Celestine decided that ill-health made it impossible for him to carry out Papal functions, and hence stepped aside. After that, it was Pope Benedict who on 28 February 2013 handed over the papacy to a successor, Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. There are those, including many within the Catholic faith, who have had issues with Pope Benedict's unbending opposition to liberal tendencies, but none can deny that by his resignation, the former Cardinal of Munich revealed a grace that few have exhibited before or since. In the somewhat more dusty field of politics, had Helmut Kohl stepped down as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1998 before trying to further extend his 16-year stint in office via a fresh election, he may have been remembered more kindly by his people. After all, it was Kohl , who, together with Francois Mitterand, crafted the Maastricht Treaty, which became the foundation for the modern European Union. It was Kohl who oversaw the re-unification of Germany, even if he had been a trifle over-generous to his eastern cousins, a very un-German profligacy for which taxpayers in the Federal Republic are paying for to this day.
As happened to Winston Churchill at the time of his greatest triumph in 1945, Helmut Kohl was defeated at the hands of the despised Social Democrats. However, next to Africa, where the apparently ageless Robert Mugabe continues on his mission of driving his country into the sand, it is in India that politicians carry on for what seems an eternity to their party colleagues. Jawaharlal Nehru was showing his age by 1958, but in deference to the belief of numerous essayists, who saw him as crucial to the very survival of India, he soldiered on, making errors of judgment that haunt the country to this day. Even after the 1962 defeat at the hands of Mao Zedong, a defeat caused by bad policy implemented through personal favourites of scant ability, Nehru flicked aside any thoughts of stepping down, grimly hanging on until his physical frame gave way less than two years later. His party was, at least for the record, as insistent on his carrying on to the end as the BJP was in the case of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was visibly in poor health by the middle of 2003. Indeed, the then Prime Minister graciously offered to step down, only to be greeted by a cacophony of wails from his party colleagues beseeching him to stay, despite his ill-health and the obvious attraction of retirement in the bosom of his family. A similar wailing took place in 2004 when Sonia Gandhi announced her decision not to become Prime Minister, although in her case, she persevered with this decision, unlike Vajpayee, who quickly withdrew his offer to quit, only to be turfed out of office by the electorate a year later.
Had the chorus asking Vajpayee to reconsider his desire to quit been ignored and L.K. Advani taken over from Vajpayee in 2003, the BJP may have remained the party of government a year later. Except to the higher-ups in the BJP, it was clear that the cadre of that party were disillusioned with Vajpayee. They saw him as following a "Congress like" agenda, rather than seeking to implement at least a few of the measures that the saffron party had for years been proclaiming as its reason for existence. In the 2004 polls, a significant chunk of core BJP voters stayed away from the voting booth, even as several of the cadre worked less than enthusiastically for a BJP victory. An Advani-BJP would in 2004 have spelt change, the way a Modi-BJP will next year, provided Narendra Modi provides a clean break with the past by refusing to field those discredited by two successive defeats in general elections. These lines are being written in Tamil Nadu, where too there is a soft Modi wave. Provided that the present, hugely discredited, state leaders of the BJP there and elsewhere are denied tickets in favour of fresh faces. 400 fresh faces in the Lok Sabha polls, to be exact. The remainder can be given to party hacks, and should be told to contest from difficult seats in view of their vast experience. Visiting BJP headquarters at Akbar Road, there is no indication that the party has learnt anything from the victory of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi. The hacks, especially the senior most, are busy stitching suits for the swearing in after what would essentially be Modi's victory. But if they swamp the lists of candidates, then it will not be the BJP that will head the next government, despite the Modi wave.
Winston Churchill once spoke of giving a peerage to a superannuated politician — not himself, as of that date — so that "it becomes a disappearage". There are several Helmut Kohls in the higher echelons of today's BJP. They need to accept that the public want change, which is why they are for Narendra Modi, and for a 21st century team that is not simply a retread from a failed past.

Saturday 28 December 2013

No place for Team Vajpayee leftovers in Team modi (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 28th Dec 2013
Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi waits before addressing supporters at an election rally in Mumbai last Sunday. REUTERS
hroughout Mumbai on Christmas Day, huge posters and hoardings came up, reminding people that this was the 89th birthday of Atal Behari Vajpayee. For those who remained indoors, most newspapers helpfully carried full page advertisements conveying the same message. Have those in charge of the BJP forgotten the fact that Vajpayee lost the 2004 elections and soon afterwards, was never directly heard from again? In a context where the 2014 elections will be decided by the preferences of the 30-and-under voters, to expect that an expensive media blitz featuring Vajpayee would attract any votes, except from the advertising managers of major newspapers, ignores the reality that the actual focus of the voter is Narendra Modi, who is engaged in seeking to "Modify" the BJP. His enemies within and outside the BJP try and spread the perception that it is the "Old" BJP (sometimes called the Delhi-dominated BJP) that has succeeded in modifying Modi, rather than the other way about. With each visit to Delhi, where he appears in photo-ops together with the Delhi-based leaders, who have lost election after election since 2004, efforts are intensifying to convey the message to the voter that the BJP remains where it was ten years ago. The hope of those eager to stop the BJP from coming to office is that more and more voters will believe that it is the new kid on the block, Arvind Kejriwal, who represents change, and not Modi.
While the Aam Aadmi Party mascot is derided by the Ashoka Road headquarters of the BJP, in weeks to come, it will be seen whether he can amass a following throughout the urban constituencies that the BJP needs to sweep in order to ensure that Narendra Damodardas Modi gets sworn in as the Prime Minister of India.
Both the Leaders of the Opposition (chosen after approval from RSS headquarters in Nagpur) have been based in Delhi throughout their political lives, and come from the same social and geographic background. As for L.K. Advani, if it is to be assumed that the EVM machines functioned in a flawless manner, the 2009 defeat revealed him to be untenable as a leadership option before the voter. After Manmohan Singh, there is no longer an appetite within the country for another 80-plus individual to take over the physical and political demands of the office. Advani lost his best chance at the job in 2003, when Vajpayee offered to resign because of reports that his health was deteriorating, reports that subsequently proved to be accurate.
Except perhaps for the previous Pope, it is almost impossible to find anyone willing to demit high office — or the chance of that — no matter what his or her age or state of health. Vajpayee's may be called the BJP 1. 0, a party whose government was seen to function in many respects as a diluted version of Nehru's Congress party. Apart from the surrender to terrorists at Kandahar and the lack of any action except posturing after the LeT attack on Parliament, Vajpayee went in for two unilateral ceasefires in Kashmir that proved a boon to the terror groups operating in the Valley. After the 1998 Pokhran explosion, he very quickly did an Indira Gandhi, who too refused to follow up Pokhran I in 1974 with the additional tests needed to improve a nuclear warhead. Vajpayee declared a unilateral ban on further testing, thereby throwing away the only card India had to force through a nuclear deal on less than humiliating conditions. Aware that India may bark hard, but has the softest of bites, even the cosmetic concessions won by Manmohan Singh from George W. Bush in their 2005 nuclear handshake have been reversed by President Obama.
Vajpayee's BJP 1.0 lost in 2004, as did L.K. Advani's BJP 2.0 in 2009. It may, therefore, be premature for the mood at Ashoka Road to be the same as it was ten years ago, that victory is a foregone conclusion. The party is now led by Rajnath Singh, who has the distinction of having lost UP for the BJP while he was its Chief Minister, and the country while he was president of the party. Narendra Modi was anointed the PM candidate not because of backroom intrigue at the top, but because of a groundswell of support at the base. He now needs to show that Team Modi is not simply a collection of leftovers from Team Vajpayee (almost all of whom got absorbed in Team Advani, thereby ensuring that the latter failed to give an impression of change in a country eager for that quality). The Prime Ministerial nominee of the BJP needs to present, by the New Year, his Shadow Cabinet, indicating his choices for key portfolios such as Home, External Affairs, Finance and Defence. Will Modi pick unorthodox choices for these portfolios, or — as his detractors hope — continue with the remnants of Team Vajpayee? If the latter, then the voter is unlikely to expect genuine change from a switch from Congress to the BJP.
A supporter waves a placard as she attends a public rally addressed by Narendra Modi in Mumbai last Sunday. AFP
Interestingly, since Modi took charge, within the BJP there have been those asking for a radical change in economic policy, such as the Subramanian Swamy-Nitin Gadkari call for a zero rate of income-tax. While a zero rate may be too ambitious, there is little doubt that a three-rate system of 20%, 10% and 5% income tax — with the exemption limit for payment of tax pegged at Rs 5 lakh a year — will generate more revenue, exactly the way P. Chidambaram's 1997 lower tax rates did.
The economy needs less regulation, lower interest rates and lower rates of tax. While confidence in Narendra Modi is high, a similar enthusiasm is not visible for those who were in the Vajpayee Council of Ministers. They could neither make a dent in black money secreted abroad or succeed in getting Ottavio Quattrocchi back to India from Malaysia. Team Vajpayee was the best thing that happened to the Congress, just as the incessant press conferences of the Delhi-based BJP leaders drowned out the linkage of Harsh Vardhan with the one man who counted, Narendra Modi. In Delhi at least, voters saw the Aam Aadmi Party as being more opposed to the Congress than a BJP defined in the national capital not by Modi but by its Delhi-based leaders.
The performance of the BJP in Parliament has been less than stellar. Laws which ought never to have been passed were waved through, often by the expedient of walkouts. Tax measures that hurt key BJP voter segments were allowed to pass unopposed. Individuals such as Ram Jethmalani (subsequently drummed out of the party) and Subramanian Swamy were far more effective in articulating public anger and disquiet than the gaggle of Delhi-based leaders whose primary political activity consists of 30 minutes before a television camera. With supporters such as these, Narendra Modi has little need of critics.
Modi's ascent in politics represents a complete break from the durbar politics of Delhi, and for such a switch to be effective, he needs to locate and to showcase a team that shares his vision and his drive. He needs to show that it is now BJP 3.0, a party for the 21st century. He needs to present before the nation not only himself but the new avatar of the BJP, Team Modi as a whole. Only thus can his party avoid nationally what happened in Delhi, that the BJP emerges as the single largest party, but then has to sit on the Opposition benches.

Friday 27 December 2013

India & US: Mars and Venus (Pakistan Observer)

By M D Nalapat. Saturday, December 28, 2013 - India’s version of the Washington “Beltway” (the location where those who make policy reside and work) is even smaller in size and number than its North American counterpart. Having continued the British colonial system of centralized government, successors to Empire have ensured that not more than a few dozen individuals decide on matters relating to foreign and defense policy or national security.

During the period (1947-64) when Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister, he decided all major aspects of national policy. In economics, he emasculated the private sector in India, aware that in the past, they had backed his rival Vallabbhai Patel over him. Indeed, during the days before Independence, almost all leaders of the Congress Party, barring Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and of course Mahatma Gandhi, wanted Patel rather than Nehru to be free India’s first PM.

However, Mahatma Gandhi’s views were as decisive in the Congress Party of the 1930s and 1940s as Sonia Gandhi’s are today, with the result that Patel had to be content with being the second-in-command, a role that proved increasingly distasteful and which contributed to his death in 1950 of a heart attack. Although there were still a few leaders such as Rajendra Prasad who stood up to Nehru, by 1955 the diminutive Kashmiri had become the master of both the party as well as the government If during the Nehru period, foreign policy was dictated by one man, during Indira Gandhi’s time in office (1966-77 and 1980-84), it was decided by a handful of individuals, all members of the pandit community of Kashmir. These were P N Haksar, D P Dhar and R N Kao, the last being the chief of RAW.

The three would suggest policy options to Indira Gandhi, who would then adopt one of them. Later, during the time when P V Narasimha Rao became Prime Minister (1992-96), officials in the Ministry of External Affairs were given a greater role in policy formulation, although the last word remained with Rao and the small, informal group of advisers with whom he periodically met, usually singly. It was during this time that full diplomatic ties got established with Israel. After the collapse of the USSR, Rao was seeking a similar alliance of convenience with Washington, and although some within the Ministry of External Affairs opposed the move, the PM’s informal thinktank calculated that giving recognition to Israel would make the Clinton administration less insistent on the two hot button issues of nuclear capability and Kashmir, a wish that never materialized. The Clinton administration was hostile to a partnership with India, except on terms which would have been political suicide for Rao, which were giving up of nuclear deterrent through signing Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear power and accommodating Islamabad on Kashmir.

The policy process followed by Narasimha Rao, of asking officials in the Ministry of External Affairs to prepare a first draft of policy and then getting the same vetted by the PM’s informal thinktank is being followed to this day Manmohan Singh is passionate about the US, the country where one of his two (very accomplished) dauighters has settled down. So deep is this feeling that the Obama administration obviously calculated that a calculated insult such as the arrest and mistreatment of a foreign service official would only be met with a routine expression of protest. According to those tracking developments, it was a mid-level lady official in the US embassy in Delhi who for the past nine months “has been on the Sunita David case”.

Mrs David is the maid whom Deputy Consul-General Devyani Khobragade ( a 39-year old official with a good record) is alleged to have underpaid. Up and down the line at both the State Department as well as the US embassy in Delhi, those officers of a similar activist bent (and who are known as Hillary’s flock, because of their ideological closeness to the former Secretary of State) worked overtime to “punish” Ms Khobragade for “underpaying” Mrs Richards, going to the extent of spiriting away her family to the US with not even a glance from Indian intelligence agencies, whose counter-spy capabilities against the US and its NATO partners is almost zero in the Manmohan era.

According to the doctrine accepted by those working in the Manmohan Singh government, the US can never do anything wrong, even by accident. Ever since the matter of the maid and the diplomat surfaced in the media, US envoy to India Nancy Powell has been briefing friendly envoys informally about the incident. She has placed her full weight behind those who arrested Ms Khobragade and who spirited the maid’s family off to their new life in the US.

Indeed, in her interaction with friendly diplomats,she has explicitly accused the Government of India of “human trafficking”, according to those who move in same social circles as the US ambassador to India. Down the line,the Hillary flock have been active in justifying the arrest and strip- searching of a senior Indian diplomat officially accredited to the US government. This has created outrage within the Ministry of external Affairs where the usual effort is less to cashier the US than to ensure that a son or daughter gets a scholarship to study in that country. For more than a day,the Maqnmohan Singh government kept to the script predicted by US diplomats, and contented itself with a few noises of protest.

However, public anger grew at the insulting treatment given to a lady diplomat at the hands of US marshals, and this combined with a near-revolt in the Ministry of External Affairs to force the Prime Minister’s hand. In 1998,during the time when Atal Behari Vajpayee was PM, the US embassy in Delhi had unilaterally and without asking for permission from Indian authorities put up concrete road blocks in front of its embassy, besides sealing off an entire road running parallel to the embassy walls. Then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra was as accomodative of the US as Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, so this somewhat high-handed action was condoned. It was only a few weeks ago that these barricades were removed, in a sign that India would not accept any extra-territorial rights by the US to unilaterally take decisions the way Washington would in an occupied country, such as Iraq till very recently and Afghanistan to the present.

For the present, US diplomats in Delhi are being treated exactly the way Indian diplomats are in the US, which is a significant change from the past. Unless Devyani Khobragade is freed from the legal clutches of Preet Bharara, the US attorney who joined hands with the Hillary flock in the State Department to punish the diplomat by arresting her, it can never be business as usual between India and the US. However, given that the Obama administration treats India with contempt, and is dominated by remnants from the Clinton period, such a walking away from police action is unlikely.

When last heard,Ambassador Powell was still fuming to all those within earshot of “dastardly crime of human trafficking” that has been committed by Indian diplomats. It looks as though Delhi will have to await a new administration in 2016 (assuming that it will not be headed by Hillary Clinton) before once again picking up the thread of strategic engagement with the US. It is a measure of the insensitivity of Team Obama to Indian sensitivities that even the worm - which is the best way to describe the Manmohan Singh approach to Washington - has been forced to turn away from endless conciliation to a tiny show of temper .

Sunday 22 December 2013

Brazil rejects white elephant Rafale for Saab (Sunday Guardian)


Dassault Rafale F1.
hite Elephant? Make that a White Whale because the Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft will cost the Indian taxpayer more than $22 billion in equipment, spares and other services, not to mention the fact that it will be almost as expensive to maintain in flight as some commercial jets. The high cost of the Rafale is the reason why France has thus far not been able to sell any of these military jets to an air force other than itself. Even that induction has reportedly been reduced to a number which makes the aircraft irrelevant in an actual conflict. The French air force may buy only a little over two dozen aircraft over the years from Dassault Aviation, far less than the number it had originally agreed to purchase. Almost certainly, the undistinguished performance of the Rafale in the Libyan theatre in 2011, and its ineffectiveness in quelling insurgents in Mali two years later (where helicopter gunships proved far more deadly in taking out the enemy than this high-performance, super-high cost aircraft) may have helped such a decision by the French authorities. Besides, of course, the fact that it will be hugely expensive just to keep the aircraft in operation, although it needs to be said that NATO member states that specialise in producing weaponry said that it would be financial suicide to actually use the aircraft in appreciable quantities.
Based on the information given to him, this columnist elsewhere argued in 2011 and subsequently that the zeal which Nicolas Sarkozy (then President of France) displayed in ridding the world of Muammar Gaddafi was because of the need to sharply ramp up defence sales to the Gulf Cooperation Council powers. His economy on a downward slide and the defence sector gasping for oxygen, Sarkozy looked towards the GCC and India (both locations where decisions over procurement get made on grounds having some relation to the Swiss) to purchase huge volumes of super-expensive French equipment, especially the Rafale. That Sarkozy was an admirer of the major shareholder of Dassault Aviation is something he or his spouse Carla Bruni ever kept secret. The GCC wanted Gaddafi to go, so off with his head. They wanted Bashar Assad to disappear, which is why Sarkozy's successor Francois Hollande has been declaiming about the "civilisational necessity of getting rid of cruel dictators", except — of course — those buying French armaments. Thus far, however, despite doing the GCC's bidding and getting rid of Gaddafi, a man who unwisely unilaterally disarmed himself just years before his public execution in the presence of French Special Forces, and by leading the wolf pack against Assad, no GCC defence ministry has placed orders for the Rafale. It is only India, and that too without asking for the removal of any inconvenient personality, which has placed an order for the Rafale which will cripple the economy for years to come, and make the Air Force as financially strapped in its operations as the Navy has become after it went in for that huge shard of floating junk, the aircraft carrier "Admiral Gorshkov".
Not surprisingly, given that the government in Brazil is much more accountable to standards of good governance than any government in India has been, Brasilia chose the Saab option. Some years ago, when the Air Force MMRCA deal was being discussed in the media, this columnist had indicated his preference for Saab, not just buying the Gripen fighter but the entire company, which was then available for a price below what the Rafale purchase will entail. Such a takeover would have given India access to a level of technology that the DRDO, committed as that organisation is to ensuring that each project lasts as long as the career cycle of its scientists, has never achieved. Dassault offered no such technology transfer, only a few inconsequential transfers of knowhow. Given that the company is being rescued by the India sale, such parsimony in technology transfer is testimony to the low negotiating skills of those who finalised the Rafale contract. Of course, the Gripen was attacked by backers of the Rafale as being single-engined as against the double-engine French aircraft. However, there is no demonstrable safety difference between these two types, while the Rafale has the disadvantage of needing two pilots rather than a single aviator at the controls.
Next to the Gripen, the best aircraft for the IAF to buy would have been the Boeing F/A Hornet, which is a far superior specimen than the other aircraft that was offered, the F-16 (which the US administration pushed hard for India to buy). That purchase would have given India a toehold in the hi-tech segments of the US defence industry, still far and away the world's best. However, by going in for the Rafale, this country has paid through both nostrils to acquire an aircraft that by the time it gets inducted in volume will already be obsolete when compared to its Chinese counterparts

Friday 20 December 2013

Preet Bharara sours India-US ties (Pakistan Observer)

MD Nalapat. Friday, December 20, 2013 - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh makes no secret of the fact that he works under the guidance of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who despite her primary school education has managed to establish absolute control over the party and the government. Her foreign policy has been completely different from that of mother-in-law Indira Gandhi, who sought to retain independence in action for her country. Prime Minister Singh himself has what in India is called a World Bank (and since Kofi Annan era, the UN) mindset, which looks with exaggerated awe towards Washington, and bends over backwards, forwards and sideways in order to avoid offending what is both world’s biggest economy as well as the country holding the most people in prison, even more than China, a country with four times the US population.

The Prime Minister shares with Sonia Gandhi an eagerness to visit the US and its NATO allies at every opportunity, despite the fact that such trips have not resulted in any concessions to India from any of these countries. On the contrary, there have been numerous concessions made by India to the NATO bloc economies, especially since 2004,the year when the Sonia-Manmohan took charge Those who behave in a servile fashion are treated as servants, and it therefore ought to have occasioned no surprise that Washington humiliated Delhi a few days ago by sanctioning the arrest by a New York prosecutor, Preet Bharara, of Deputy Consul-General Devyani Khobragade, a brilliant young lady officer with an impeccable record of service to the country.

There have been reports, all unconfirmed, that Bharara’s relatives include several who - allegedly - backed the 1980s and 1990s movement for an independent Khalistan out of parts of the Punjab State. Several US,UK and Canadian citizens made huge donations to “Khalistan Liberation Movement”, which entered upon more than a decade of insurgency in India,in which several hundred people lost their lives.

However, those close to Bharara say that the charge that he has a Khalistan connection is false, and that he is “100% American”, with no interest in politics except within the US. It is a fact that the youthful attorney has made a name for himself by going after powerful names in the finance industry, sending them to jail on the basis of painstaking investigation of wrongdoing. To allege a Khalistan angle to his arrest of the Indian diplomat may therefore do an injustice to a zealous crime fighter, unless clear evidence is brought of a Khalistan link. However,there is no doubt that neither Bharara nor those in the State Department who gave permission for the arrest of the Deputy Consul-General of India in New York had any qualms in humiliating not only the diplomat but her country.

That they felt emboldened to do so reflects the fact that since 1998,the year when Atal Behari Vajpayee took over as Prime Minister of the National Democratic Alliance government, the Government of India, whether led by the BJP or by the Congress Party, has sought to forge an implicit alliance with Washington the way Delhi had with Moscow for decades, until the USSR itself collapsed in 1992. Indeed, the first serious effort at a US-India alliance was during the aftermath of the 1962 war with China, when a chastened Jawaharlal Nehru sent several supplicatory messages to President John F Kennedy. Had the latter not died in 1963, such a partnership may indeed have taken place, with Kennedy going beyond the State Department line that India must first “settle” Kashmir with Pakistan before close cooperation took place.

However, his successor Lyndon Johnson had very little regard for India, and the opportunity was missed, just as it was in 1992-96,when President Bill Clinton once again insisted on the “solving of the Kashmir issue” before accepting Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao’s outstretched hand of friendship. The third chance came and went in 2001,after President Bush and Vice-President Cheney heeded the advice of the Saudis and the CIA and chose Pakistan over India as the ally of choice for the war against the Taliban, after India had indicated its readiness to join the battle. By far the best chance came in 2004,when Manmohan Singh took over as the Prime Minister, determined to craft a new partnership between India and the NATO bloc.

While George W Bush and Condoleezza Rice were broadly sympathetic to the concept of an India-US alliance, they could not persuade sceptics such as the State and Commerce Department to go along. The result was that all the deals on offer were 95:5,with the US side asking for 95% and leaving the Indian side with just 5% of the total concessions made. The mistake made both by the Bush White House as well as by President Obama was to ignore the role of public opinion in a democracy. They saw that Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi were eager for any deal, even a 95:5 split, and could not understand why the two who jointly ran the Government of India could not deliver their country to Washington. Public opinion in India, although filled with invective about Yankee perfidy, is in reality very pro-American, and even an 80:20 deal may have passed the public opinion test, but the most Obama has been prepared to go has been 90:10. Hence, once again, a US administration has squandered an opportunity to convert India into as reliable an ally of the US as it has been in the past for Moscow. The Khobragade episode has shown the Obama administration the limits of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh in seeking to accomodate the US.

The manner of her arrest has touched once again what may be described as “colonial nerve” in India, bringing out a bubbling lava of discontent at shabby treatment given to the lady diplomat. Preet Bharara may not have ever been a supporter of the Khalistan movement, but by his action in indicting Devyani Khobragade, he has helped one of the core objectives of that movement, which was to keep India and the US far apart. Thanks to Bharara and the State Department officials who backed him, 80:20 will no longer work. It will have to be at least 60:40 if the US is to make India an ally, the way it did China (with a 40:60 deal in China’s favour) in the 1970s.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Mr Chidambaram, it’s time to walk the talk (Sunday Guardian)


LGBT people during a protest against Supreme Court’s verdict on Section 377 of IPC, in Bhubaneswar on Friday. PTI
he best news of the month is that Palaniappan Chidambaram has finally woken up to the need to do away with the "medieval and colonial" laws that so infest the system of justice in this country. These comments were made after Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi expressed dismay at Justices Singhvi and Mukhopadhyaya's touching loyalty to Victorian values. For Chidambaram has, along with Kapil Sibal, been responsible for criminalising vast swathes of human behaviour since 2004. The Chidambaram-Sibal duo has ensured that a slew of fresh legislation and regulations have come into force, that are so diffuse in their meaning that almost any action can be deemed sufficiently criminal to send an individual to prison. Chidambaram in particular has ensured that prison gets made the default option for a slew of tax-related actions on the part of the private citizen. Discretion given to the official has increased in proportion to the increase in punishments prescribed. Small wonder that the quantum of bribes has gone up significantly during the past nine years. Of course, the domestic economy gets very little benefit from such unrecorded income, as since 1998, much of the black money collected as bribes — even within India — gets sent abroad, to Dubai, London and Singapore, amongst other destinations. It has taken a long time for Chidambaram to realise the harm he has done to the future of India by seeking to perpetuate and deepen a medieval code of "justice", intended by its British framers to be a way of ensuring that the people of India remain in chains, unable — by the force of law — to develop their skills and improve their lives, save by the express consent of one government agency or the other.
India is unique in having a modern Constitution that co-exists without challenge alongside an archaic set of laws, including the criminal and police codes. These belong to the 19th century and are clearly intended to hold down rather than liberate the citizen. It is a mystery as to how the IPC, the CrPC as well as the overwhelming bulk of existing laws and regulations in the country can get reconciled with Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution of India, which together guarantee equality before the law, prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, sex, caste, location or faith, and the protection of life and liberty. If a Hindu sets up a school, that becomes subject to the Right to Education Act, which seeks to make up for the wilful failure of the state to ensure a proper school education for the poor by leeching onto the private sector. However, a school set up by a member of the minority community gets exempted from the RTE's far-reaching provisions. A temple can be taken over by the government at a whim, and often are, although a church or a mosque is exempt from such control. In Kerala, the Guruvayur temple near Thrissur gets far more visits by devotees (and far more gifts of gold and cash) than the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum, yet the treasure of the latter is several hundred times greater than that of Guruvayur, or indeed, tens of times greater than that of Tirupati, which witnesses a flood of gifts from devotees each hour. Unsurprisingly, there is a clamour for state takeover of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple, so that over time, it too can become as bereft of its treasures as those temples under state control have become. The fact that the colonial-era discrimination against temples was not overturned during the six years that the NDA ruled is partly why the Vajpayee period is seen by many as a Congress Lite regime, rather than a genuine alternative to Nehruvian policies.
By its verdict on the gay rights issue, the Supreme Court has once again illustrated the unnatural adherence of post-Independence India to Victorian codes that have seemingly been set in stone for an eternity. Already an object of pity on the world stage, the SC judgement re-criminalising a huge swathe of human sexual behaviour has made this country a laughing stock. Now once again, the police and self-appointed moral policemen will get licence to peek into bedrooms and swagger into parks, to "enforce the law". The visit of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to India in 2005 gave a fillip to ties between two countries that have not always been the best of allies. However, in an effort to make up for lost time, it would appear that institutions in India are on course to ensure that the legal system in India remains chained to what the country's former British masters wanted it to be, which is a system very like what is in vogue to this day in Saudi Arabia. That is, unless Chidambaram acts on his "Born Again" commitment to human dignity and the freedoms given by the Constitution, and seeks to do away with the archaic and oppressive laws that he and his partner Sibal have introduced in the era of the so-called "reformer", Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Constitution of India needs — at long last — to prevail over laws that belong to the dustbin of history.