Sunday 26 January 2014

The Nehru era returns, this time as AAP (Sunday Guardian)

everal of those who are members of the year-old Aam Aadmi Party were not born that sorry day in 1964 when Jawaharlal Nehru finally gave up clinging to life. As in the case of Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2003, had Jawaharlal Nehru demitted office in his prime in 1958, his reputation in history may have been a tad better. From that year, he began to lose focus and made a series of mistakes, including the dismissal of the world's first popularly-elected Communist government in Kerala in 1959, and the diplomatic and military disaster that culminated in the PLA's victories in 1962. Believing those around them who wail that they are indispensable and therefore in a sense indestructible, all too many leaders continue in office well beyond the period when their health or their common sense equips them for such a role. History, whether written by historians within the country or outside, has indeed been kind to Nehru, omitting the fact that he continued with the colonial system of law and administration in a context where these constructs impeded rather than encouraged progress. So total was his faith in what the British left behind that even a Girija Shankar Bajpai, who lobbied long and aggressively in Washington against Indian independence, was given the lead role in the determination of foreign policy. About the only "de-colonisation" which took place was the replacement of the Union Jack with the Tricolour, and brown folks inhabiting the stately official residences and offices which formerly were the preserve of white overlords.
Despite strenuous efforts by the British to choke Indian business to a pygmy status, in 1947, private business houses in India were more than the equal of those in Japan or even most countries in Europe. The House of Tata, the House of Birla, as well as several others saw independence as the gateway towards spreading across the globe, thereby giving jobs and prosperity to millions. However, this was not what Nehru had in mind. He chopped and pruned private Indian industry such that by the time he passed away, Japan, South Korea and even Thailand had a business sector that was far more vibrant and diversified than their Indian counterparts. Interestingly, after a few tentative steps at reform beginning in 1992 and continued since then, the Manmohan Singh government has steadily returned the economy and the country towards the Nehruvian period of the state having a smothering degree of control over private industry. The high interest rates, high taxation and high degree of regulation that has been the signature tune of Manmohan Singh and his principal economic sidekick Palaniappan Chidambaram have destroyed manufacturing in India and slowed down the growth of the services industry. Successive — and carefully chosen — governors of the Reserve Bank of India, including the present, have delighted the overseas competitors of Indian companies by the way in which they have boosted interest rates.
Kejriwal and his party seek to revive the 1950s in India, despite the fact that a considerable degree of silt has been deposited in the banks of the Jamna since then.
The manner in which he has re-introduced the Licence Raj has given Manmohan Singh the distinction of being the first Nehruvian in India. However, that sobriquet is in danger of being snatched away from him, for a challenger has come up who has even more contempt for the Indian private sector than he has, and who regards the whip of control preferable to the use of non-coercive reason as being the best way to manage the people of India. This Nehruvian par excellence is Arvind Kejriwal. He and his party seek to revive the 1950s in India, despite the fact that a considerable degree of silt has been deposited in the banks of the Jamna (Yamuna) since then. Were Arvind Kejriwal to achieve his obvious ambition of becoming the Prime Minister of India (rather than a mere Chief Minister), he would choke private industry in India as effectively as Jawaharlal Nehru did.
The police in Delhi do not seem to like Kejriwal. In fact, the tenets he and his associates espouse would make the police even more powerful than they are in a country where colonial-era law and practices is still the norm. The more things change, the more they seem to remain the same.

Modimatics: Minimum 240, target 300 (Sunday Guardian)

Surveys are being conducted of 380 constituencies where it is expected that the BJP has a chance.
MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 25th Jan 2014
BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi holds a bow and arrow as party President Rajnath Singh displays a mace during a rally at Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday. PTI
arendra Modi has begun consolidating his leadership within the BJP, decentralising operations to centres such as Mumbai, Hyderabad and Lucknow, where formerly all operations were controlled and monitored from Delhi. Surveys are being conducted of 380 constituencies where it is expected that the BJP has a chance of winning, and in each, names are being vetted who would add an extra boost to the campaign if nominated as the party candidate, rather than drag down the ticket. This is in the context of reports that several seats were lost in Delhi and Chhattisgarh because of poor choice of candidates, including some who "bought their nomination". The target is to secure 300 seats for the BJP alone, or in the "worst case" scenario, 240. Preliminary calculations indicate that any tally beyond 200 for the party will ensure either the BJP leads the government, or that any alternative government would collapse in a couple of years, leading to a fresh election that the BJP would sweep. However, rather than 2016 or Rahul Gandhi's reminder to his flock about 2019, the intention is to "win now, and win big". A BJP tally beyond 220 would "ensure that Prime Minister Modi has a strong hand to effect needed reforms", a key strategist claimed, adding that "any tally above 240 would put him in a position where he would smoothly be able to fulfil his promise of prosperity with security and stability" to the voter.
Aware that the BJP has become an enervated outfit, with cadre activity considerably reduced since Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee took a conscious decision in 2001 to move away from the saffron model towards a more Congress model of party development, Team Modi has been busy setting in place its own framework for the implementation of Vision 2014, which is the securing not just of 272 Lok Sabha seats, but 300. BJP strategists are aware that cadre disenchantment with the functioning of the Vajpayee government contributed to the party's defeat in 2004. BJP Prime Minister designate Narendra Modi is aware that a high tally is essential for him to have the credibility and depth of institutional support needed to achieve his plan of re-organisation of the working of government agencies.
While the BJP may still be enabled to lead the next government should its tally be as low as 180 seats, some of its senior leaders are talking of a "last mile" strategy where they, rather than Modi, would be projected as the PM designate "in order to get enough allies to secure a majority in the Lok Sabha". The downside is that such a government would in effect be a continuation of the past, and therefore a severe disappointment to those who voted for change by opting for Modi. "It would weaken the BJP. There is no option to Modi. Either he becomes PM or Leader of the Opposition", said a strategist.
A number cruncher revealed that a Modi-less BJP "would get less than 110 seats", while a BJP with Modi fully in command would "comfortably cross 240 and could reach 300", hence the significance of the projection of Modi as PM.
The Congress Party is likely to cross double-digit wins only in Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Assam, according to number crunchers active in assessing the situation.
Indications are that a Modi-led government would be very different from the "politician-heavy" governments that have been in vogue since 1947. The names of technocrats and experts such as Deepak Parekh, General V.K. Singh and even scientist Anil Kakodkar are doing the rounds as possible entrants, although all of this remains speculation. What is clear is that a Modi-led government would "function under his leadership and in fulfilment of his promises to the electorate", rather than — as with the Manmohan Singh Council of Ministers — be a collection of "feudal lords, each jealously safeguarding their independence from the Prime Minister's Office".
The Congress Party is likely to cross double-digit wins only in Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Assam, according to number crunchers active in assessing the situation. "Modiji's twin strengths are clean government and strong growth." In his estimate, "If the Aam Aadmi Party gains 25 Lok Sabha seats, it means a loss to Congress of 50 seats and to the BJP of 30 seats." This could cost Modi either the PM-ship or the capacity to run the government with the freedom he needs to perform. Hence the effort to ensure that the AAP does not act the spoiler by poaching on the swelling vote banks being built up by the Modi for PM campaign, especially in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, cities where they are hoping to win seats by persuading voters "that AAP is stronger on fighting corruption and the Congress Party" than Modi. "We have to see that the AAP tally is within single digits," a key strategist said, adding that "in the weeks ahead, it will be clear that to fight Communalism, Corruption and Congress, the best bet is Narendra Modi and not Kejriwal."
The leaders hand-picked by L.K. Advani to assist him in leading the party into the 21st century are without much of a base in their home states, a list which includes Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu, Yashwant Sinha, Ananth Kumar and Rajnath Singh. Those privy to the thinking of the "Delhi Group" within the BJP say that their own forecast is that "the BJP will get around 170-180 seats, which in their view means that one of them (with Jaitley and Rajnath being the frontrunners) can become the PM, in a context where they expect (or hope) that Modi will not be able to cobble together a majority if he is projected as the PM candidate". While Narendra Modi himself is silent on possible post-poll outcomes, a strategist claimed that in the event of a lower seat tally, "we will seek to persuade him to serve as Leader of the Opposition", in the expectation that "a hodge-podge government will rapidly lose public support" and pave the way for fresh elections "where there will be a big majority for Modi". They are unanimous that there is no point in the BJP being part of any government "unless the comprehensive growth and reform agenda of Narendra Modi can get implemented". For this, the calculation is that the BJP needs "240 seats, so that the centre of gravity is with the BJP".
Calculations made on the basis of ground-level research suggest that "in UP, 45 Lok Sabha seats are feasible, and 25 in Bihar", according to these strategists, who say that "this time around, there could be a clean sweep in MP and Gujarat, while in Rajasthan the only non-BJP seat will be that of the late Sis Ram Ola". They place the number of alliance seats in Maharashtra at 35, while the BJP is expected to get 17 seats in Karnataka. The expectation is that the alliance will get at least 7 seats in Haryana, as well as all except two seats in Punjab, and four in Delhi. Although outside analysts regard this as improbable, number-crunchers working towards a 300-seat verdict claim that the BJP will on its own win three seats in Orissa and two in Andhra Pradesh. They see "a clear preference for Narendra Modi" in the electorate this time, "similar to that for Indira Gandhi in 1971". A senior strategist dismissed the AAP as "promising circuses for the people while Modi promises bread".

Saturday 25 January 2014

Geneva-II: Russia key to Assad future (Pakistan Observer)

MD Nalapat. Friday, January 24, 2014 - Since the region got liberated from rule by the Ottoman Caliphs into the hands of the European powers and the US more than a century ago, the territories comprising the GCC have remained loyal partners of the Atlantic alliance. Almost all the money made from sale of crude oil gets sent back to the economies of NATO member-states, even though increasingly it is countries in Asia that are the buyers for GCC oil, predominantly China, India, Japan and South Korea. In 2008,GCC investors lost nearly $1.5 trillion because of the profit-chasing practices followed by NATO bloc financial institutions.

Despite the constant drumbeat of optimistic noises, central bankers in Washington, London and Frankfurt know that the euro is only a small step away from collapse. This situation is unlikely to change, because of the fact that the measures needed to make Europe competitive once again are political suicide. Hence the present trajectory of slow choking of jobs and prospects, a situation that can only get remedied if the financial reserves of the GCC were to be deployed to create jobs in Europe rather than migrate to much healthier long-term investment climes such as India, China and Brazil. Given that the GCC countries are each controlled by small elites without reference to the will of the population as a whole, NATO is eager to fulfill the agenda of the GCC in the region, so as to provide some re-payment for the immense financial benefits that its members are reaping at the expense of the GCC.

Although there are strains between Doha and Riyadh, at present Qatar is not influential enough to challenge the leadership of Saudi Arabia within the GCC. Indeed, on key issues, although tactics and favourites may differ, the geopolitical objectives of both Doha as well as Riyadh are often similar. Thus, both wanted to see an end to Muammar Kaddafy, who delighted in making fun of the rulers of the GCC member-states and thereby earned their ire. This was made possible in 2011 because Moscow and Beijing stepped aside to allow NATO to pound the much weaker Libyan military into submission. Years of sanctions, followed by the destruction of WMD stockpiles, had weakened Libya to an extent sufficient to permit the risk-averse NATO generals to march in, this time mainly from the air. Defeating an emaciated military is easy, as Iraq 2003 demonstrated. Of course, once the war switched from the conventional to the asymmetric ,NATO began to face setbacks.

The reality is that Syria is dead. The country will no longer be able to return to what it was before the NATO-GCC operation to remove Bashar Assad from power. While David Cameron, Francois Hollande and John Kerry do not see any irony in “promoting democracy” together with unelected GCC rulers, they are well aware that the reason why there is visceral hatred for Assad in Ankara, Riyadh and Doha is because he is al Alawite and a Shia. As the Syrian National Council’s Al Jarba said in his opening remarks at Geneva II, ”a minority should not rule over the majority”. It is another matter that Al Jarba represents not Sunnis but Wahabbis, which many consider an entirely different sect, or that Wahabbis are deeply unpopular in Syria, as they increasingly are throughout the Muslim world.

It should never be forgotten that genuine Islam, with its message of peace, tolerance and compassion ,is light years away from the exclusivism and fanaticism of the Wahabbis,a group that owes its origin to the need by the British Empire to create disaffection amongst Arabs for Turks. Interestingly, Prime Minister Erdogan has become the first leader in Turkey to - in effect - embrace Wahabbism, a factor which has made him very popular in Riyadh and Doha, and has given his country much prosperity because of money flows from the GCC Al-Jarba and his SNC have exactly zero control over the multitude of groups battling the Syrian military in Aleppo, Homs, Daraa and the outskirts of Damascus. Hence there is no way an agreement with them will affect the battlefield situation, a fact known to John Kerry, Francois Hollande and David Cameron, their sponsors. The fact is that the Geneva II talks are not about ending the fighting, for those in Geneva who claim to represent the “opposition” are little more than conduits for cash and weapons to the numerous groups fighting on the ground.

These groups, while happy to get assistance from the SNC, regard these “5-star warriors” with contempt. What Geneva II is about is to secure at the negotiating table what the SNC-Al Qaeda partnership has failed to achieve in the battlefield, the removal of Bashar Assad. What these groups seek is that Assad and his team go the way of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Kaddafy, even if the effect of such a removal of the Syrian Head of State will be the Libyanisation of Syria, a breakup of the country into different zones, each controlled by a warlord, most of whom would be followers of the ideology of Al Qaeda. Were NATO to ensure the removal of Assad, it would once again show its financial lifelines in the GCC that their personal objectives can be achieved by a military that is in practice useless except against emaciated militaries in states such as Mali or Afghanistan.

Just as in Libya, the key to the success of the only objective of Geneva II, the removal of Bashar Assad from power in Damascus, is Moscow. In Dmitry Medvedev, NATO has a Russian leader who is as much in sympathy with them as Mikhail Gorbachev was in his prime. Already, Medvedev has succeeded in making Assad follow the Saddam-Kaddafy path of first eliminating the WMD in the possession of his military. Sanctions are already in effect, as they were on Iraq and Libya.Once the WMD gets fully eliminated, a conventional air attack by NATO on Syrian military installations becomes feasible. Before that, huge boosts of cash and weapons will be given to the fighters on the ground, so that the Syrian army gets sufficiently degraded to allow NATO generals to conduct a conventional strike. Of course, all this depends on whether Dmitry Medvedev can once again deliver for NATO, the way he did in Libya. The future of Bashar Assad will get decided not in that tortured country or in Geneva II conference rooms ,but in the Kremlin, as Medvedev seeks to convince President Vladimir Putin to “be a good European” and throw Bashar Assad to the wolves circling for his head. 

Monday 20 January 2014

Do not fall silent now, Mr R.K. Singh (Sunday Guardian)


R.K. Singh
f conditions within the country are so dire now, the reason lies in the fact that those appointed to the Central services often decide to throw their consciences away while in office. They see the evil that is being done or hear about it, but choose to remain quiet.
All too often, some join in the loot, aware that the chance of retribution is slight. Even the IAS couple in Madhya Pradesh appear set to simply pay some tax and get to keep the money they have made through improper means. Almost no officer shows the spine to expose wrongdoing while in office, even by placing views on file that indicate something suspicious is going on.
Small wonder that the "steel frame" has degenerated into the "rubber frame", indicating the type of substance which makes up the disappearing backbone of officials in India. Not that they can be blamed, for the harsh treatment meted out to officials such as Ashok Khemka, who have challenged corrupt ministers and senior colleagues, offer a cautionary tale to those eager to challenge graft and maladministration. However, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has pointed out that modern technology enables whistle-blowers to expose the corrupt at minimal personal risk.
Videographing evidence and uploading the same online is something that the 16-year-old son or daughter of an official can do with ease, which means that the excuse of potential harassment as the reason for not telling about graft is no longer valid. The Aam Aadmi Party has its downside, a Nehru-era economics textbook being part of that, but it is a fact that ordinary citizens have become more confident of their ability to fight the corrupt, as a consequence of its emergence.
This columnist has never been an admirer of former Home Secretary R.K. Singh. Colleagues describe him privately as parochial and obsessed with colonial-era visions of controlling the citizen rather than empowering them. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has become an obstacle to progress in India, with its efforts at controlling even the guest list of those invited to international conferences. Rather than simply say that organisers need to inform the MHA — especially under Palaniappan Chidambaram — it has made it mandatory to secure its permission for a range of activities that are the citizen's prerogative in any genuine democracy.
A recent example is the request by authorities in Afghanistan to an Indian university to serve as guide and mentor in the setting up of a modern University of Afghanistan. The university has for the past four months been struggling to get MHA and Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) permission for such collaboration, only to this far meet a blank wall. Conspiracy theorists would say that it is the US lobby in the MHA and the MHRD that is blocking permission, because Washington would like to see a US rather than an Indian university mentor the proposed University of Afghanistan. However, rather than the Central Intelligence Agency, it is likely to be the official sloth that is responsible for the delay in giving permission. The point is that R.K. Singh as Home Secretary has been complicit in several of the ridiculous micro-managing that the MHA is seeking to do over routine activities of people and institutions in India, and should he be a part of any future government, is likely to attempt the same. Seeking a smothering degree of control is core to the colonial DNA that our administrative machine still retains.
However, whatever were his predilections, R.K. Singh needs to be congratulated rather than chastised for speaking out. The former Home Secretary has made some serious allegations, and it is unfortunate that even the BJP (which he has joined) is downplaying them. Among them is the revelation that even station house officers in Delhi were appointed after bribes were paid, allegedly to the Union Home Minister himself. Interrogating such SHOs, hopefully with the cooperation of the then police commissioner, is essential, and the sooner this be done, the better. Neeraj Kumar needs to step up and either confirm or refute his brother officer's charges. The officers need to testify in the full glare of the media rather than in the secrecy of cloistered chambers. Singh has also alleged that a businessman was sought to be protected by the Union Home Minister, even though he was close to a Karachi don known to have an interest in firecrackers. Is this the same Mumbai businessman who has regularly provided aircraft for the convenience of certain high-level BJP leaders, and who is known to be a business associate of certain BJP functionaries who regularly appear before television?
The people of India are entitled to the truth, no matter which party or which leader is involved, and if R.K. Singh is to keep to his pledge of transparency, he should reveal the name of the businessperson as well as give tangible details of other acts of treachery to the public interest. Don't fall silent now, Mr Singh.

Saturday 18 January 2014

Rahul Gandhi: Too little, too late (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat. Friday, January 17, 2014 - In war as in politics, timing often makes the difference between success and failure. By the date when this column appears in print, Rahul Gandhi is likely to have been declared as Prime Minister Designate, should the Congress Party repeat its 2004 and 2009 successes in the May 2014 General Elections. It has taken a while, but it would appear that the Congress High Command, comprising of the vote AICC President Sonia Gandhi (referred to by senior colleagues as “CP” or Congress President), AICC Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and the half-vote of Sonia Gandhi’s daughter and Rahul’s sister, Priyanka.

Although the last is by far the most popular and charismatic of the three, she has been kept on the periphery of politics, even as Rahul has emerged on centrestage. Congress seniors say that the reason was that in 2004,with Rahul away abroad, it was daughter Priyanka to whom Sonia Gandhi turned to fight the traditional constituency of Amethi. At that point, for whatever reason, Priyanka is reported to have declined the request, thereby forcing Sonia to summon Rahul back from overseas and into the bustle of an election, which he won with ease. Since then, Priyanka has been dusted off the shelves only when elections beckon, and that too to campaign only in Amethi and in Sonia Gandhi’s constituency of Rae Bareilly rather than across the country. Rahul Gandhi loves traveling abroad.

Details of his flights to varied locations (with Ankara and Bangkok being favoured destinations) have been kept secret by a protective Manmohan Singh, ever willing to play the role of faithful retainer to the family that made him the Prime Minister of India despite only a single Member of Parliament (ie himself) backing him. Officials say privately that private aircraft are the favoured means of travel, and that Rahul is often accompanied by friends and family members on such outings. His tax records show only a modest income and a level of wealth that is under whelming, but Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram is there to ensure that inconvenient questions not get asked about the 7-star travel and stay of the Prince of Wales of what since 1969 has been the Congress (Indira). It was Rahul’s grandmother Indira Gandhi who converted the party into a 100% family-owned enterprise, such that the leader of the party after about thirty years (when Rahul and Priyanka retire), it will be Priyanka’s daughter Miraya who takes over as AICC President.

By all accounts, Priyanka, husband Robert Vadra and their two children are a close-knit and dutiful family. The children go to a normal school and have normal friends, and by most accounts, none of four have the conceit or arrogance which comes from controlling govt which runs country Rather than keep Priyanka in the shadows, it would have been best for the AICC President and Vice-President to have ensured that she too begins to participate in political events on a regular basis. There is something distant about Rahul Gandhi, who comes across as someone who is uncomfortable with India and its people. Each meeting seems choreographed, with an invisible partition between Rahul and those he is with.In contrast, Priyanka clearly loves being in India and among the vibrant people of this country. She enjoys crowds in a way that neither Rahul or Sonia appear to do.

Hence the presence of Priyanka at party functions would have been a plus for the family, a lesson that has even at this late stage not been learnt, for once again, Priyanka Vadra is being pushed to the periphery of politics, asked to confine herself to Amethi and Rae Bareilly rather than to the entire country, way Rahul and Sonia operate. Not utilising the potential of Priyanka Vadra is among mistakes committed by Rahul Gandhi. Another is the fact that he has thus far refused to accept any ministerial or other governmental responsibility. True, his father Rajiv Gandhi had a lack of similar experience before taking over as PM in 1984,but it needs to be remembered that Rajiv Gandhi lost in 1989 more than half of the parliamentary seats he had carried in 1984.

After Rajiv Gandhi’s disastrous stint in office, voters in India have paid much more attention to experience. Consequently, had Rahul Gandhi accepted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s offer of a portfolio of his choice, and conducted himself well, he would have been in a much better position to challenge the BJP’s Narendra Modi, whose trump card is success in running complex state of Gujarat since 2002.Modi’s one blemish is fact that riots took place that year in which several hundreds were killed, a third of them Hindu and the rest Muslim.

However, the Chief Minister seems to have learnt from that mishap, and since then, Gujarat has been free of violence, unlike much of the rest of the country. Today, people are looking at the Gujarat of 2014 rather than that of 2002,which is why the effort to freeze history to the latter date has failed in political terms With all his drawbacks, Rahul Gandhi is a much more attractive choice for Prime Minister than Manmohan Singh, which is why it would be better for the Congress Party to appoint him not simply as the PM nominee but as the PM, replacing Manmohan Singh. However, this seems unlikely.

The Congress Party is likely to go to the polls with Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister, a factor that will cost it about thirty seats in coming polls. Even if Rahul is made the PM, it will be too late to prevent his party from repeating Rajiv Gandhi’s debacle of more than halving Congress tally of seats from election to election. The time for Rahul to have taken over as Prime Minister was early 2011.By that time, Manmohan Singh had become an object of derision because of his refusal to ensure honest distribution of the country’s natural resources, and his “Chalta Hai” (anything goes) attitude towards graft. Had Rahul taken charge and put in place the very corrective measures that he is championing now, his party may not now be as unpopular as it is. However, it is clearly “too little, too late” for Rahul Gandhi. It will be a miracle of his party remains in the driver’s seat after the May elections.