Friday 28 February 2014

NATO insists on ‘Doctrine of Immunity’ (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat. Friday, February 28, 2014 - Those that bend will be asked to crawl.The Sonia-Manmohan team has been the most NATO-obedient administration ever to take office in India, but with each concession, more get demanded. Especially since the 2003 invasion of Afghanistan by an alliance formed to protect west from east Europe, NATO has expanded its mission into the retention of past dominance by colonial powers through military means.

The UN has become an instrument of the alliance, with current Secretary-Ban ki Moon serving in effect as a front for alliance objectives. If there has ever been an occasion when Ban has deviated in his actions from fealty to the new core objectives, the same has been kept secret. In each theatre, the UN Secretary-General has made a mockery of objectivity by - often ostentatiously - taking the same position on major geopolitical matters as NATO. It is only in the rare instances when Russia and China intervene to prevent or slow down acceptance of NATO demands that Secretary-General Ban tones down his public parroting of the NATO line.

Unlike at any other period in the past, sensitive posts in the UN are practically controlled by nationals from states which are either members of NATO or close to it, Norway and Australia being examples of the latter. These diplomats openly consult with their home governments on all important matters and thereafter, few deviate from the line approved by authorities “back home”. That the diplomats from the NATO bloc as well as their “cousins” ( Norway, Australia, New Zealand) function in concert is no secret to any observer of the UN, which has become a copy of the League of Nations by its adhesion to the principle of trusteeship, with former colonial powers assuming responsibility for countries that once were openly controlled by them, and these days are sought to be via the UN Security Council.

It is a matter of speculation as to how long countries such as France and the UK will be permanent members of the UN Security Council while India and Brazil are excluded. Because of the skewed distribution of power and responsibility in an organisation which claims to be representative of the global community rather than a relatively small segment of it, the time may not be far off when countries such as Brazil, India, South Africa and Indonesia decide that there is no longer any purpose in taking seriously an organisation that even in its inception nearly seven decades ago was skewed in that France, a country that had been defeated in World War II by Germany, was a permanent member of the UNSC but India (a country which voluntarily contributed nearly three million of its people in the front line of the war ) went unrepresented.

If Winston Churchill had his watt, even China would not have been made a permanent UNSC member It was only the prior insistence of President Franklin D Roosevelt of the US that ended with China becoming part of that exclusive club. Roosevelt would almost certainly have preferred India to France in the UNSC, but passed away before he could ensure that. The US has been unfortunate in that those very few Chief Executives who shed the Eurocentrism that suffuses US policy usually passed away before their terms ended. Thus it was with Churchill, as well as with another transformational President, John F Kennedy, who would almost certainly have taken his country out of Viet Nam and formed a close alliance with Nehru once Lal Bahadur Shastri replaced this favourite of Mahatma Gandhi in 1964.

Unfortunately for the US, the country has not been able to shake off the dominance in policy of the Europeanists, with Barack Obama and his Clinton Lite administration being no exception. The cardinal principle of NATO in Third World countries is the Doctrine of Immunity. This holds that a soldier from NATO must never be held accountable by a non-NATO country for any action of his or her in that country. Whether it be murder or assault on a lady, the offending soldier should be left to NATO to “punish”. Of course, in all such matters, the Nixonian My Lai precedent applies. It will be remembered that President Nixon pardoned Lt William Calley for the minor crime of having killed nearly a hundred Vietnamese women and children in cold blood, in a frenzy of bloodlust. Without the protection of this doctrine, NATO would not be able to continue its trigger-happy ways, hence the importance of the Indian case, where two Italian marines have been accused of killing two innocent and unnamed fishermen off the coast of Kerala in India. The marines claim that they mistook the small fishing boat for a pirate vessel (even though such vessels have never ventured that close to that particular coast ).That all except one of the fishermen on board were asleep on deck did not stop them from shooting first and finding out the facts later. Being from NATO, this would probably not have been the first time that they shot and killed citizens from Third World countries. Italy, as well as the rest of NATO, expects that India will respect the Doctrine of Immunity and release the two marines, who are “imprisoned” in the comfortable surroundings of the Italian embassy in New Delhi, with frequent visits by family and friends The European Union as well as the US has joined hands to warn India in private that it will not be forgiven if the two marines are not released immediately from their very comfortable embassy “jail”.

After all, thousands of Third World natives have been killed by NATO troops despite being unarmed and innocent, so why should the two Italians be an exception? Human rights is all very well, but these do not apply in any relations between those from the privileged group of NATO and citizens of Third World countries such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya or Iraq.

Should India jail the two, then the way gets opened for other countries to do the same in cases where NATO personnel have killed innocents. The Doctrine of Immunity has to be enforced, and this is what the EU (led by France and Germany) has warned India should be done, in order to avoid “an irreparable break in relations”. Murder is murder only when not committed by NATO personnel. All such cases come under self-defence, even when those killed were unarmed fisherfolk sleeping peacefully on deck before being shot and killed by trigger-happy marines.

Sunday 23 February 2014

This is no time for silence, Mr Modi (Sunday Guardian)

MD Nalapat, 23 February 2014.
here are those politicians who dislike any individual who tells them unpleasant truths to their face. Used as they are to courtiers spewing praise with the frequency of spit around a "paan" shop, our politicians early in their stint in powerful positions believe in their own excellence and infallibility, until brought to earth by electoral disaster. Let it be admitted that this columnist is not in the "friends" list of Narendra Modi, unlike others who know the man closely. However, during the few occasions when he has met first the BJP party functionary and later the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the BJP's Prime Ministerial nominee has ever been friendly and receptive, even when views have been presented to him with which he clearly disagreed. Contrary to the widely-spread view of Modi as imperious and more than a trifle arrogant, he has always seemed relaxed and marked by sudden flashes, not of anger, but of humour, which is why a meeting with Modi has always been an experience to remember.
In particular, Narendra Modi has never hesitated to speak out his mind on issues, even when such views have been controversial. Most politicians say things that are entirely different from their actual views, in the belief that such dissimulation will help them garner votes. Take the way in which several have rushed to comment on the Godhra train burning of 2002, when a frenzy seemed to settle on Gujarat, resulting in the deaths of several dozen Hindus and many more that number of Muslims. Whole families joined in the mayhem, whether they were Congress or BJP or neither, but this has been ignored in a narrative that places the entire blame on a single individual.
Narendra Modi has thus far refused to accept the advice of several detractors and more than a handful of friends that he "apologise" for the post-Godhra riots. For to do so would be to accept culpability in the killings that took place, and it has been Modi's view that no Chief Minister could have prevented the violence that followed television images of the victims of the train burning being taken to their cremation. This columnist has covered riots before, getting stabbed in one and escaping an attack in a second, and can testify to the fact that when a mob goes crazy, it becomes a malign force of nature impervious to sanity and often to the police. So it was with the 2002 riots, and which is why there has been no apology from Narendra Modi, nor is there likely to be, despite the pointing out of the "alliance advantage" of such a Mea Culpa. Narendra Modi is what he is, and as this columnist has said before, is packaged in cellophane rather than in an opaque material. Like him or loathe him, you know what to expect from the man.
Which is why it is a surprise that thus far, Narendra Modi has been silent on the action of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa in seeking to free Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan, three of those who succeeded in killing Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur in 1991. Since confessionals are the vogue in these more transparent times, let it be admitted that this columnist has a soft corner for the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. She faced terrible obstacles in her youth and early adulthood in a society marked by extreme patriarchy, and has done more for the girl child than any other politician in power. However, one wishes that she had not listened to the counsel of those who urged her to release Rajiv Gandhi's killers, for by doing so she has destroyed the faith of many who believed that she was strong on national security. Jayalalithaa may get a few more "CM votes" in her state because of the attempted release, but she has lost a much larger number of "PM votes" across the entire country by this step.
But what of Narendra Modi, one of whose electoral assets is that he is seen as being strong on national security? Thus far, there seems to be silence from him on Jayalalithaa's attempted release of the three LTTE men from prison. Hopefully, Narendra Modi will not go by the advice of friends in Delhi about what and when to say, and when to keep silent, for these are the very worthies who lost 2004 and 2009 for the BJP and who are on course to keep the BJP tally near 175 in May if they run the party campaign. When steps get taken that negatively impact national security, whether these be by friend or foe, it is expected of Narendra Modi that he will speak out, thereby ensuring that Modi remain what has brought him so very far, Modi.

Rise of ‘Common Man’s Party’ (Pakistan Observer)

Saturday, February 22, 2014 - Dismissed as an irrelevance by many, the Aam Aadmi (Common Man’s) Party (AAP) surprised its critics by winning 28 out of 70 seats in the Delhi assembly polls. The party became the sole beneficiary in the national capital of the collapse in public esteem of the Congress Party led by Sonia Gandhi, winning over the slum dwellers and the religious minorities that were the primary vote banks of the Congress Party. However, its tally would have been lower had not the Bharatiya Janata (India Peoples) Party scored a series of self-goals. Till the final weeks of campaigning, it was led in the city by an individual who had been removed from the 1998-2004 Vajpayee government for reported improprieties.

As the Vajpayee government was itself seen to be riddled with graft, although not to the elevated level witnessed during the time of Manmohan Singh, that a politician was deemed too dodgy even by its relaxed standards proved to be the undoing of Vijay Goel, who had been anointed the chief minister designate of Delhi by BJP National President Rajnath Singh, who was himself appointed to his prestigious post after his predecessor, Nitin Gadkari, had to quit on corruption charges relating to the funding of a slew of companies controlled by him. The six years that Vajpayee was Prime Minister saw a reversal of fortune for many in the BJP, who got lifted out of penury into great prosperity. Gadkari,who comes from a simple family of modest means, these days flies around in corporate jets and has a lifestyle that is even better than that of a billionaire in the US, with fleets of cars and servants Gadkari became a rich man after being appointed a minister in Maharashtra, a state where money flows into the pockets of officials and politicians in abundance. While Rajnath Singh does not show off his wealth the way Gadkari does, there are hundreds of instances where individuals have spoken about him and his close family members in less than admiring terms. His perceived lack of probity is perhaps reason why the BJP lost the state assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh when he was the chief minister, and why it lost national elections comprehensively when he served his first term as BJP President, this current stint being his second. In Indian politics,nothing succeeds as much as failure, and Rajnath Singh’s dismal record in office did not prevent the BJP from once again making him its boss.

In the 2014 Delhi elections, nearly two dozen nominations were reportedly auctioned by select BJP leaders to well-heeled candidates, almost all of whom lost.An urban constituency has far greater awareness of the merits or lack of it of a candidate, and by choosing candidates with a spotty record, the BJP assured itself of a low tally, getting a dozen less seats than what it had expected. The replacement for Vijay Goel as chief ministerial candidate of the BJP was Dr Harshvardhan, an honest but wholly uncharismatic figure. In an age where television makes or mars political careers - look at the trajectory of Imran Khan in Pakistan - the selection of an uninspiring albeit honest leader in Delhi to replace a person regarded as sleazy was not enough to persuade voters to go away from their attraction towards the Asm Aadmi Party and its catchy slogans.

The AAP has fashioned a series of policy initiatives geared towards key voting blocs, and this was used by them to become second only to BJP in the Delhi assembly. Now the AAP has gone national, and has attracted a battery of known and distinguished names to fight the elections. The middle class, which till now stayed away from electoral fray, has become emboldened to fight because of the Delhi victory of the AAP.

Well known individuals such as former Central Bureay of Investigation Director Joginder Singh (who was the only CBI chief to succeed in getting crucial information in the Bofors gun deal case), environmental activist Medha Patkar, Civil Rights campaigner H S Phoolka and Psephologist Yogendra Yadav are among the many luminaries being fielded by the AAP in the coming polls. The new party wants to show up the BJP and the Congress Party as being birds of a feather, in the grip of vested interests and filled with corrupt leaders.

The most powerful businessman in India is Mukesh Ambani,who has built a multi-storeyed residence in Mumbai for himself and his wife and children at a cost of more than a billion dollars, making Antilla the most expensive residence in the world. Mukesh is an affable individual with extensive media interests, but this did not stop AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal for going after him as having secured a very high price for the sale of gas from what was one a state-owned offshore field. The fact that both BJP as well as Congress leaders have been silent on the gas deal has given oxygen to Kejriwal’s jibe that both are in thrall to the powerful Ambani family, of which Mukesh is the senior member. Given the legal system in India, it is likely that the Gas Price controversy will go the tortured way of the 2G Spectrum controversy, and that the next government will find itself hard pressed to defend the gas deal against the criticism coming from the AAP as well as from a section of civil society.

These days, many civil servants have ceased to be afraid of retaliation, given the weakening of once powerful individuals and institutions, and are leaking information to activists that it will be difficult for courts to ignore. By going after India’s most powerful businessman,an individual with access at will to the very top of the governmental pyramid, the AAP is presenting itself as the best - indeed the only – effective antidote to the hated two “C”s, Congress and Corruption, and as the best bet for the third “C”, the Common Man. Had the BJP freed itself of its Vajpayee-era legacy,it would have easily met the AAP challenge. However, just two months before the general elections, the party appears to be floundering against this attractive new challenger. Now that it has destroyed the Congress Partythe AAP is turning its sights on the BJP.

Saturday 22 February 2014

AAP’s plan: Unstable government, snap polls (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 22nd Feb 2014
AAP leaders Yogendra Yadav, Manish Sisodia and others addressing a press conference in New Delhi on 15 February. PTI
he Aam Aadmi Party aims to reduce the tally of the BJP to the 150-175 level at which the saffron party will be unable to lead a stable government in the next Lok Sabha. Strategists believe that a tally in excess of 200 will enable Narendra Modi to take charge, while a tally between 175 and 200 ought to ensure that another leader takes the helm, even if the BJP leads the government. The assumption is that any such alternative leader will create disillusionment in a Modi-fied rank and file, as well as within the electorate, leading to a snap poll by 2016 or early 2017, in which the AAP expects to garner the 200 seats needed to lead the next government as well as shape the agenda of governance during its term. Given that the Congress is at its nadir, the AAP is aiming to concentrate on around a hundred constituencies where the BJP is either wobbly pre-poll or made so because of the choice of discredited candidates, a list that includes 48 sitting MPs of the party.
Although its leader Arvind Kejriwal describes himself as an anarchist, the party is much more organised than its rivals. Rahul Gandhi, because of the thinness in numbers of his team, is nowhere near establishing control of a party that is still overwhelmingly populated in its middle and higher ranks by leftovers from the Indira and Sonia Gandhi periods, few of whom have made the adjustment to the 21st century style of politics embraced by both the AAP as well as the "Modi-fied" sections of the BJP. Fortunately for Kejriwal, the hold of Vajpayee-era politicians within that party is still very strong, so much so that almost all the sitting MPs are slated for re-nomination, while in most of the other seats, the usual claimants are likely to be accommodated, despite their repeated failure to get elected in past elections. While there have been reports of a Modi Dream Team, comprising names such as Subramanian Swamy, General V.K. Singh, Anil Kakodkar, Kiran Bedi, Rajeev Chandrashekhar and A.K. Doval, among others, as of now the centre of gravity is still with the senior ministers of the NDA period. Even in metropolitan constituencies such as those in Mumbai and Delhi, the BJP top brass (barring perhaps the Prime Ministerial nominee) is unwilling to follow the AAP and Rahul Gandhi in giving a try to those who have built up stellar reputations outside politics.
While Sharmila Tagore and a Nandan Nilekani are the names most in the news, Team Rahul has reportedly identified about 30 individuals, some of whom are to be given tickets. The AAP, being a new party, has done much better. Names such as H.S. Phoolka and Joginder Singh are doing the rounds for Punjab, while Medha Patkar and Mayank Gandhi are to be fielded from Mumbai. BJP leader Nitin Gadkari can expect a ceaseless barrage of revelations about his finances from Anjali Damania in Nagpur, as can several others in the saffron party, including Anant Kumar in Bangalore and Rajnath Singh in Ghaziabad. While the BJP is reported to be mulling the choice of a person of indeterminate sex as its candidate in Amethi, AAP's Kumar Vishwas is seen by neutral analysts as having the potential to defeat Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, although Sonia Gandhi seems unassailable in Rae Bareli. In Delhi, West Delhi and Chandni Chowk are seen as certain AAP seats, while in VIP constituencies such as Farrukhabad, the party aims to put up a stiff fight against Congress heavyweights (in this case, Salman Khurshid), to dispel doubts over its anti-Congress stance.
Thanks to its success in keeping the BJP from power in Delhi, the AAP has seen a tide of minority support swelling in its direction, with Kejriwal reportedly in favour of reservation of jobs for minorities even in the private sector. A slew of suggested sops are to be unveiled so as to tempt voters into backing the new party, where the expectation is that about 20 seats can be won, with ten as the floor. Kejriwal himself has gone public that just five seats should enable the AAP to be an effective force in the next Lok Sabha, with decibel volume compensating for low numbers. The aim of AAP appears to be the same as that of Team Rahul, to see this election as the semi-final, with victory in the snap polls seen as certain were a fractured mandate to come about in the 2014 polls. The AAP is spreading the message that the Congress and the BJP differ only in packaging, but are the same in chemistry, and that both are in thrall to powerful economic interests. Interestingly, by its full-throated attack on the Ambanis, especially Mukesh, the AAP appears to be gaining traction within that section of Corporate India that has long chafed at the dominance of Dhirubhai Ambani's two sons in the fields of governance and commerce.
Led by the formidable troika of Prasant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and Yogendra Yadav, the intention of the AAP is to ensure a fractured mandate, such that governance will become difficult if not impossible, thereby paving the way for a mid-term poll. By then, they hope to sell their message of change across the country, thereby giving them in 2016 or early 2017 the number of seats (200-plus) that the BJP needs in the coming poll in order to ensure that its nominee, Narendra Modi, take charge of the country.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Brother Ahmed, now tell us about Sonia (Niti Central)

MD Nalapat18 Feb 2014

Brother Ahmed, now tell us about Sonia
Hand it to Ahmed Patel, he has never hankered for a ‘lal batti’ or the army of flunkeys that accompanies a Minister, preferring the raw reality of power to the glittering excess of the form of pseudo-power that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for example, revels in. Despite the fact that this writer has not been widely perceived as an admirer of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and that indeed more than one uncharitable soul has insinuated that he has “something personal” against the charming mother of Rahul and Priyanka, Ahmed Patel has been friendly and courteous on the rare occasions when we have met.
Perhaps he accepted my explanation that the assessments of Sonia were not based on personal pique, but came from a belief that her leadership would ultimately turn out to be a disaster both for India as well as for the party that her family owns. In 1995, when this was first expressed in print (in the editorial pages of the Times of India), the landscape of those negative about a person who is admittedly very charming when she chooses to be was as denuded of people as a landscape. Since around 2010 (a long wait, it must be admitted), the ‘desert’ has filled up rapidly, so that these days, it would appear that there are far more detractors of the Congress president than there are admirers. It has been an amusing sight to watch those who used to hector and even avoid the present writer for his refusal to join the Sonia bandwagon now search for the most uncomplimentary of phrases to describe her.
There are no two people more in thrall to Sonia Gandhi than AK Antony and Ahmed Patel, and it must be painful in the extreme for them to see their idol being excoriated daily, publicly by the BJP leaders (including those who helped her immensely during the six years when A B Vajpayee was PM) and privately by an increasing number of worthies within her own party. Which is why it is surprising that the most potent arrow in the Sonia quiver is as yet unmentioned, much less unused. This is the fact that it is not simply Narendra Modi who came from an underprivileged background, but Sonia Gandhi herself. Friends in Italy confirm that the lady’s family was in dire economic straits in the 1960s, when she met and married Rajiv Gandhi. Since then, especially during the 1980s, the fortunes of the Maino family have soared, no doubt because of their commitment to hard work and to professional excellence. It would be churlish in the extreme to attribute their financial success to Ottavio Quatrocchi or to the many business deals that this middleman was instrumental in securing. Although neither Sonia nor her two sisters managed to get past high school, all three are clearly possessed of loads of brainpower. In a way, their trajectory is equivalent to that followed by Bill Gates, who developed Microsoft despite being a college dropout.

Ahmed Patel has wisely remained silent throughout much of his political career. However, this lack of loquacity has deserted him these days, as witness the fact that he has joined the ranks of the swelling number of scholars who are biographers of Narendra Modi. This columnist admits to himself writing, in the Sunday Guardian, that Modi’s “first job was to be a tea boy, his second the Chief Ministership of Gujarat and the third is likely to be the Prime Minister of India”.

This was after meeting a fair amount of people in Gujarat who each – and independently of each other – claimed that their CM had once made tea and sold it in earthen pots, usually along with his father. There are some who are so politically correct that they wish not to offend manual workers by calling them such. They are the ones who changed the designation of “peon” into “office attender” and next perhaps “domestic servant” into “Assistant Household Manager”. The manager would, of course, be the lady of the house or the master, in case he is at that point in time a bachelor. It is probably to spare Narendra Modi the pain of recalling his underprivileged past that Ahmed Patel decided to re-designate the job of tea boy into the far more grandiose title of “canteen contractor”. Ahmed always attempts to be helpful to friend and critic alike, which probably explains this foray into the arcane world of historiography. Now that he is a certified biographer, hopefully well on the way towards his first book, it is time that Ahmed Patel did his party a favour by reminding the voters of this country that Modi is not the only VVIP who springs from humble origins. He needs to reveal to voters the financial situation in the Maino household when Stefano’s young daughter went to the UK in order to make her fortune. Thus far, there is only silence about what exactly was the condition of the Maino family. There are, of course, those who claim that the man was a close second to the Agnelli family in the matter of wealth, but this is not entirely credible. Only a very cruel millionaire of a father would banish his daughter to distant shores to work when she had little education to speak of.

Clearly, the family was poor, which is why it is admirable that Sonia entered into what must have been a life of some hardship in order to help pay the bills. Clearly, she was not selling tea (sorry, being a canteen contractor) in the UK. Then what was she doing? How did she get by in a country that is and was frightfully expensive? It is time for Ahmed Patel to blast to smithereens the propaganda that Narendra Modi was the only top leader of a national party today to come from the poorer sections of society. By credible accounts, this is a hard-got by distinction shared by Congress president Sonia Gandhi as well. The time has come for Ahmed Patel to harness his skill in biography into revealing the truth about the Maino family in the beginning of the 1960s, so that the garibs in this country can get motivated by seeing for themselves how it is possible to climb from penury to prosperity, and how an entire family, the Mainos, can make good in a way that that part of the Modi parivar that is not in the chief minister’s gaddi has not yet succeeded in undoing. They still remain where they were, while the Mainos are where they are. And to know where that “where” is, we now turn to Ahmed Patel.

Sunday 16 February 2014

For Modi, the hard part comes post Lok Sabha elections (Sunday Guardian)


Narendra Modi along with other state party leaders at the Hunkar rally in Patna on 27 October 2013. PTI
anmohan Singh is to the whole of India what Jagannath Mishra was to Bihar. The greasy younger brother of Lalit Narayan Mishra, who was killed in Samastipur, destroyed governance in a state which still boasts some of the best minds in the country, together with Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Had Nitish Kumar not fallen into the trap of key BJP leaders who hoped to derail Narendra Modi's ascension as the BJP's prime ministerial nominee by seeking to veto the anointment, Bihar would have recovered much more than already took place from the wreck that Mishra left behind. However, these days, both Nitish and his party are inchoate, and governance in Bihar has once again slipped, although not yet to the Mishra-Lalu levels. The man, whom current CBI director Ranjit Sinha once gave a clean chit to in the fodder scam, deepened the swamp created by Jagannath Mishra, who apparently auctioned each decision of his. Given the choice between a return to Lalu and backing Nitish Kumar, voters in Bihar are likely to ensure that the majority of seats get won by Narendra Modi in a context where the UPA is being seen as auctioning decisions exactly the way Mishra did in Bihar.
It may be recalled that it was The Sunday Guardian which first popularised the fact that Modi comes from "the most backward of backward castes" and that "his first job was as a tea boy". Admirers of Modi were angered by the fixing of a caste identity on a man, who has never used that tag in his politics, and by recalling his only regular job until L.K. Advani got him made the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, but if Modi carries his party to victory in May 2014, it will not be because of good governance or his relative honesty, but his backward caste identity and his humble beginnings.
In the coming elections, so deep is the anger at the Congress Party that Narendra Modi has become the most credible anti-Congress face.
Just before the last US presidential poll, this columnist ran into Ashley Tellis, who has been as friendly to India as it is possible for a US policymaker to be, this time in Shanghai. When the staunchly Republican Tellis mentioned the election, the response of this columnist was that "gays, women favouring abortion and minorities would ensure Obama's re-election." And so it proved. Voters back a candidate for reasons that are often alien to the starched, pressed and neatly packaged analyses of "experts" in newspapers and universities, and so it will be with Narendra Modi, who has won the backing of voters on a scale not seen since Indira Gandhi trumpeted her desire to "Garibi Hatao" in 1969. Garibs (poor) believed her and voted accordingly. Srikant Verma, the brilliant if somewhat inebriated Congress sloganeer, gave the call of Na jat par na paat par, mohar lagegi haath par (do not vote on the basis of caste, vote for the hand), and this is what happened. In the coming elections, so deep is the anger at the Congress Party that Narendra Modi has become the most credible anti-Congress face. While Arvind Kejriwal is striving daily to usurp that role, the fact that he owes his job to the Congress Party has somewhat diluted the force of his anti-Congress rhetoric.
Voters are looking at three "Cs". They want a leader who is pro common man, but who is implacably opposed to both Congress as well as corruption. The Aam Aadmi Party's tally is likely to fall below ten, because (a) voters are not sure if Kejriwal will do a deal with Congress the way it has in effect happened in Delhi, and (b) even its most ardent backers do not believe it can come to power nationally. Hence, many sympathisers who are nevertheless anti-Congress are going to vote for Narendra Modi, who is the only BJP leader to have consistently opposed Sonia Gandhi in a context where others in his party have been deferential to her.
What is carrying Modi forward is as much an anti-Congress wave as it is a pro-Modi current. Rather than his party, it is Modi that voters wish to back. Indeed, the only fear of several is that the BJP may assume power with a PM other than Modi, or that Narendra Modi will have a Union Cabinet filled with Vajpayee-era personalities. It is no secret that some in the BJP would welcome such a situation, especially the former. The Gujarat CM will find that the hard part has only begun, should he get sworn in as PM in mid-May. And that the primary obstacle to his success will be from within his own party, exactly as it has been for Manmohan Singh.

What is carrying Modi forward is as much an anti-Congress wave as it is a pro-Modi current. Rather than his party, it is Modi that voters wish to back.

Saturday 15 February 2014

Manmohan: Incredible melting man (Pakistan Observer)

MD Nalapat. Friday, February 14, 2014 - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has many friends. His charm and powerful mind have ensured that several who came in contact with him get entranced by the man. Years ago ,in 2003,when he was only Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House),this columnist called on him at Parliament and predicted that the way politics was developing in the country, he would soon become the Prime Minister. The gentle economist did not brush away the suggestion, but merely smiled as he bade farewell. Mohammad El Baradei, the former IAEA boss, is among the many statespersons who regard Manmohan Singh as among the most impressive individuals he has ever met. Although his declared economic philosophy is very different from that of Jawaharlal Nehru, those who are loud in their hero worship of India’s first Prime Minister are equally filled with praise about Manmohan, Amartya Sen being an example. The Nobel Prizeman is among the more famous acolytes of the Nehru family, and is a close personal friend of the PM, as he is of Dr Singh’s boss, Sonia Gandhi. Why boss? Because from the start of his two terms in office, it has been Sonia Gandhi who has in effect been the Prime Minister of India.

This columnist even in 2005 wrote of Sonia Gandhi as the “Real” PM with Manmohan as the “Virtual” PM, because by then it had become clear that every single minister in what passed for the Manmohan Singh Council of Ministers looked for guidance to Sonia Gandhi (referred to as 10 Janpath, in view of the fear that her name evokes in a context where Finance Minister Chidambaram and Home Minister Shinde stand ever ready to act in situations where critics are seen to cross red lines in their opposition to the Congress President).A few weeks after Manmohan Singh took over, this columnist had pointed out that all that was needed to establish his leadership over the team was to force a junior minister to resign or any senior official close to 10 Janpath to get transferred to a less prestigious posting. This never happened. Rather, officials would get juggled around based on the whims of the Congress Party leadership rather than because of administrative logic.

The case of a senior police officer, P M Nair,is instructive. In 1997, he had been in the task force investigating the Bofors scam, where bribes were paid by a Swedish company to VVIPs in India. It was only under then Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda that the Bofors scam was correctly investigated.Every Prime Minister before and since ensured that the guilty escaped. P M Nair never bothered whether those he investigated were close to the Congress leadership or not. He simply did his duty, and he did it well. However, that caused him to some within the sights of an informal radar of officials seen as hostile to 10 Janpath. Not only during the period when Manmohan Singh has been in office ,but when Atal Behari Vajpayee too was the PM, those officials on the anti-Sonia radar saw their careers slow down and even collapse, even while favourites zoomed forward to bigger and better postings, often ending up as Governors of states, ensconced in the mansions left behind by their British predecessors. The “real” government ensured that the higher reaches of the bureaucracy got filled by those who would unquestionably obey signals that flowed in abundance from those close to the Congress leadership. The economic quagmire that India is presently in owes its origin to the manner in which resources such as Spectrum, Oil and Coal were handed over almost free of (declared) cost to Crony Capitalists.

These usually refused to pass on the benefits of the low price of acquisition to the people of the country, instead gouging them through high prices. In many cases, they either refused to produce in marketable form the natural asset they had been gifted, or else produced quantities far lower than what was possible and expected. India was systematically violated - and this is the only word which can describe the process of control and misutilisation of natural resources under Manmohan Singh - and reduced to chaos.

Although the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has slapped a few desultory prosecutions on a few officials, the Big Fish, those whose telephone calls led to decisions getting taken on the award of natural resources to Crony Capitalists, have escaped. This is natural, as the leadership of the CBI comprises of police officials with a track record of adjusting to the secret wishes of selected VVIPs, and who themselves have amassed vast sums of money in the course of their careers.Sadly, those who claim to be “Opposition” leaders are themselves often participants in the loot, getting a regular cut in deals in exchange for silence. As a consequence, few believe that there will ever be a bringing of the guilty to account, even if the Congress Party loses the May 2014 General Elections. Most of the big names in the opposition, especially those who were members of the Council of Ministers during the Vajpayee period ( 1998-2004) have a track record of assisting Sonia Gandhi and her close confidants to lead a privileged existence. Indeed, Prime Minister Vajpayee went the extra million miles to help Sonia, even shifting ministers such as Maneka Gandhi and Murli Manohar Joshi who sought to impose some accountability on the numerous state-funded trusts controlled by Sonia Gandhi and those close to her. His ministers were eager participants in such moves, and are looking forward to a second stint in power courtesy the Narendra Modi wave rolling across the country .

Manmohan Singh’s refusal to enforce probity and efficiency within his team is what has resulted in the present meltdown of governance in India. Each ministry functions as it likes, especially if it is commanded by a minister who has more influence over Sonia Gandhi than Manmohan Singh, ministers such as Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram. The PMO is helpless to enforce accountability and coordination among key ministries, with the result that the machinery of government has slipped into paralysis. The legacy of Manmohan Singh will be that of a Prime Minister who has almost destroyed the country by his abdication of responsibility to political operators. A sad ending for the decade in office of a man universally known to be honest and scholarly .

Sunday 9 February 2014

India must help Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban (Sunday Guardian)


Afghan soldiers secure a site where a suicide bomber attacked an Afghan army bus in Kabul on 26 January. The attack was claimed by the Taliban. REUTERS
ndia's rickety nuclear deterrent illustrates the "smoke but don't inhale" approach of our timid policymakers. Given their pre-occupation with making money for themselves and friends and family, our politicians leave less consequential activities such as national and foreign policy to officials. In a system where there is zero retribution for omission but a high risk of punishment for commission, it is small wonder that timidity has marked foreign and domestic policies, if bombastic verbiage is ignored. In Homi Jehangir Bhabha, India had a scientist with vision and drive, who would have made the country a nuclear weapon state had he been given the political go ahead. However, Jawaharlal Nehru placed more reliance on his international stature than on military prowess in assuring the safety of the country from outside intervention, and Bhabha was never given all that he needed in order to propel this country towards parity at least with France and the UK in matters nuclear. As a consequence of Nehru's incomprehension of the necessity for a nuclear deterrent, it was China that exploded a device before India, despite the fact that this country's nuclear establishment was at that point in time far more advanced than Beijing's.
The putting in place of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ought to have been when India set off its first nuclear explosives. However, it was only in 1974 that Pokhran I took place. The "peaceful nuclear explosion" (so named presumably because no human lives were lost in the operation) resulted in a volley of sanctions against India, soon viciously led by US President Jimmy Carter, who was clear in his conviction that a country such as India was too barbaric to have a weapon that (in his view) should be the monopoly of the "civilised world". The best response to such pressure would have been to press ahead with more explosions, so as to perfect the technology and train more personnel in its manufacture and use. Once it was clear that India could not be pushed back into a box, negotiations would have taken place that would have brought this country into the NPT as a nuclear weapons state. Instead, the fact that fear of international reaction prevented India's leaders from a second explosion for 24 years gave confidence to the "civilised world" that it could succeed in arm-twisting India into giving up nuclear weapons altogether. In 1998, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee did what Prime Minister Rao was persuaded by his Finance Minister not to do in 1995, explode the Pokhran II nuclear devices. Subsequently, the PM unilaterally announced an end to further testing and thereby refused to sanction the additional tests then needed to ensure a workable set of devices.
To this day, despite the brave talk of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India has been given only grief for the way in which it has diluted its Three Stage Programme and its nuclear autonomy through the India-US nuclear deal. Barack Obama has reverted to the Clinton policy of seeking a rollback of this country's nuclear and missile programme, except that these days, the effort comes camouflaged as "constructive cooperation", which has the sole objective of finding out ways of slowing strategic programmes rather than doing the sensible thing of collaborating with India in mastering thorium technology as well as space applications. India's bonsai-sized nuclear programme is testimony to the way in which the timidity of its officialdom has prevented the exploitation of its geopolitical potential. What is clear is that such cowardice failed to prevent the volley of sanctions that still afflict India, whereas a vigorous policy of testing and development would have forced the US and the rest of the "civilised" world to accept India as a country which deserves the same rights and consideration as themselves.
And now comes Afghanistan. Doomsayers say that the withdrawal of US troops will lead to a surge in Taliban control. In fact, the best recruiting agent for that body of terrorists is the US presence. Once foreign troops leave, much of the impetus for recruitment into Taliban ranks will cease, except for the levies pushed across the border by the Pakistan army. The people of Afghanistan have tested the Taliban during 1996-2001 and do not want their return. However, the Afghan National Army needs training and equipment, and India is well placed to provide both. Rather than the Halfway House strategy that Indian officialdom is so prone to, what is needed is a full scope engagement that includes the supply of weapons and the training of soldiers. The Taliban represents a security challenge not only to its home country but to ours as well, and the front where it needs to be fought and defeated should not be Kashmir or other parts of India, but Afghanistan.