Sunday 30 March 2014

This is 21st century, not 19th, Mr Rajnath Singh (Sunday Guardian)

BJP president Rajnath Singh with party MP Lalji Tandon at the party office in Lucknow on Wednesday. PTI
ince 2006, this columnist has been convinced that Narendra Damodardas Modi is on track to become the Prime Minister of India, and has refused to join the ostrich band of fellow secularists and liberals in their wishing away of the prospect. Making nonsense of their presumed commitment to free speech and to honest and independent inquiry, some have tagged such a forecast as evidence of a "communal" spirit, pointing as evidence several columns written for Organiser, a journal that has yet to hide its affinity with the RSS. Unfortunately for such critics, this columnist is equally a contributor to Radiance, the magazine of the Jamaat-i-Islami Hind, an organisation in which he has more than a few friends, and which he regards with respect, especially for its work in promoting education among women.
During the infrequent occasions that this columnist has met Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat has come across as a political administrator firmly set on bringing his state and perhaps the country to the 21st century. He has often expressed his commitment towards internet freedom, despite the fact that he has received a fair (or, depending on the way one looks at politics in India, unfair) volume of criticism, often in language that would shame a merchant mariner. He has accepted the importance of ensuring that the poor be given access to fluency in the English language, a benefit that has been denied to them since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors in preventing the spread of English education among the poor, Jyoti Basu and Lalu Yadav. Unlike many in his party, he has recognised the need to face external commercial competition rather than wall in what would subsequently be a shrinking market.
The question is: will Modi's acceptance of the 21st century rub off on his party colleagues, specifically on BJP president Rajnath Singh? We know the BJP chief's views on English. The language ought to be banned, no matter that such a step — in contrast to accelerating the spread of the world's link language in the internet age — would consign the whole of India to the level found in the poorest corners of Uttar Pradesh, his home state. Rajnath has been equally forthright in his opinion of homosexuality. While some of us (though not, unfortunately, the Supreme Court of India) believe that what takes place in the bedroom between consenting adults is their own business, the BJP president clearly looks forward to setting up a cadre of Moral Police on the lines of the Saudi muttawa, which would pry into homes and prise loose same-sex couples in parks before dragging them to jail. Indeed, the BJP's complicity in the raft of intrusive and undemocratic laws passed by the UPA is near 100%. Whatever the measure entrenching the state in a position of dominance over the ordinary citizen, the two Leaders of the Opposition (both colleagues of Rajnath Singh) have either stepped aside or joined in their passing. Which is why the prospect of an NDA government with them as the two Deputy Prime Ministers would create some unease among voters eager to shed the baggage of past errors and move forward to future triumphs.
Given that three of the four top leaders of the BJP are clearly functioning and thinking within the mind space of the 20th and even the 19th century, leaving only Narendra Modi as an outlier, the question comes as to whether he can convince his three senior colleagues to follow his lead, or whether he will be made to follow theirs, as seems to have happened in the case of selection of BJP candidates for the ensuing polls. Hopefully, Rajnath Singh will be eager to ensure that he does not repeat his earlier failures, as Chief Minister of UP watching his party plummet in the standing of the voters, and as BJP president (in his first avatar in the job) of seeing his party be denied of a hat-trick in 2004, losing to a Congress Party that the BJP had bested in 1998 and 1999. The BJP president needs to be a bit more contemporary in his thinking, else his views may rub off on subordinates. Witness the Karnataka BJP welcoming Pramod Muthalik into the party fold, a man who has the same views on almost all social issues as Mullah Omar. Rather than pandering to those eager to ensure that India remain poor and sluggish in growth, Rajnath Singh needs to work harder to convince voters, especially the young, that he has adapted to the 21st century and will not seek to ape the UPA in strengthening the grip of the 19th and the 20th on the people of a country that has been let down by its leaders for most of its life as a free nation.

Al Qaeda finds base in India, Modi is on its radar (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 29th Mar 2014
Ayman al Zawahiri
l Qaeda al Hind (AQAH), the Indian arm of Osama bin Laden's terrorist organisation, has achieved viability, more than a decade after Laden included India in the list of priority targets for Al Qaeda, and after his successor Ayman al Zawahiri called for the setting up of a base in this country.
Linked to the global organisation via couriers and sympathisers, AQAH has, in the estimate of intelligence professionals, more than 300 members scattered across the country, including in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kozhikode, Jaipur, Patna and Delhi. These are usually professionals below 40, some educated abroad. The number excludes AQAH volunteers presently working in other countries.
"AQAH members are dispersed across a range of organisations, some illegal such as the Indian Mujahideen but many operate legally in the guise of NGOs and businesses such as recruitment agencies and travel bureaus." AQAH members function as the backbone of a cluster of extremist organisations, forming a network at the top that ensures the coordination necessary for operations and surveillance to get carried out.
"Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), out of deference to the need to keep fooling the United States, provides assistance in the form of sophisticated communications equipment, training and the funnelling of money from private sources in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to groups infiltrated by AQAH, rather than to the organisation directly," a senior police officer revealed.
A high-level source, now retired, warned that "the Intelligence Bureau has not been able to pay the establishment of Al Qaeda in India the attention it deserves", because "Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has ordered the IB to focus primarily on uncovering what he calls Hindu terror networks". A considerable degree of IB attention and resources have since 2007 gone into "seeking to locate 'Hindu terror' cells, and to monitoring the activities of Hindu organisations across the country, to the neglect of focus on international terror organisations, including those spawned by the ISI", according to a senior intelligence analyst.
However, a colleague disagreed, saying that "IB director Asif Ibrahim has been paying increasing attention to Al Qaeda and ISI, and this is why there has been so much success in rolling up several Indian Mujahideen networks".
The IM was given strong covert backing by the ISI after the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, so as to ensure deniability between future attacks and itself. The "reluctance of the authorities to pry into local support networks of the ISI in Mumbai after 26/11, including sympathisers within the state police at different levels, encouraged such groups to intensify their recruitment and to expand their safe houses", a senior intelligence professional claimed. "While Pakistan is the epicentre of Al Qaeda, the organisation has by now got secure bases in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan," he added.
"Eliminating Narendra Modi is the key aim of AQAH," the source said, the calculation being that "taking out Modi would unleash a violent reaction across the country similar to that which took place in Gujarat after the 2002 Godhra train firebombing by a mob assembled close to the station." Such a calamity would poison communal relations in India for decades to come, and make it easier for Al Qaeda to fulfil the objective of their Pakistan Army allies, "which is to reverse India's economic gains and bring India to zero growth," an individual tracking the ISI pointed out.
Apart from Modi, another focus of AQAH is Syria. "The war in that country between Wahhabis and the Assad administration requires tens of thousands of volunteers, and India has been targeted as a source for hundreds and eventually thousands of recruits for Al Qaeda operations in Syria," a country where the ongoing conflict has resulted in the creation of multiple safe zones for terror operatives to train and recuperate in.
According to a senior intelligence operative, a section of Syrian and Yemeni students in universities in India are trying to recruit Indians to go to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to join the brigades being formed there. "While most Syrian students are apolitical, there are a few in Delhi and in Hyderabad who have been recruited by Qatari and Saudi sympathisers of the Syrian armed opposition to try and persuade other Arab students and also Indians to join in the fighting," a technical analyst claimed. He added that in his estimate, "more than 200 Indian citizens are already active in the Syrian conflict". These function from Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia "and an estimated 40 in Syria". He was worried about the fact that "these recruits will have the capability to take on armed military formations after their training and experience, and these skills may get used on the side of insurgent groups" in India. According to a Syrian expert, there are more than 130,000 foreign fighters in various Qaeda-linked formations in Syria, including more than 6,000 from European Union states and about 400 from the US. The largest Arab contingent is from Libya (22,000), followed by Saudi Arabia (16,000) and Tunisia (13,000). There are also about 2,000 fighters from Chechnya in the Russian Federation.
According to an official, "Thus far, Indian intelligence agencies have not paid much attention to the ongoing recruitment of their nationals for operations in Syria." This is unlike Germany, which has sent intelligence professionals several times to Damascus to get details of EU nationals killed or captured by the Syrian army and air force. He warned that "there is recruitment for operations in Syria in the guise of mobilising financial support for the groups fighting there".
This, according to him, "is even taking place at centres in Delhi", including in a prominent university, besides Pune, Hyderabad, Kozhikode and Chennai. "The new government will have a major problem on its hands, as there will be a determined effort by AQAH to create chaos in India after the polls," adding that "tracking and neutralising this network has to become the priority for the IB."

Sunday 23 March 2014

Obama repeats Nehru’s 1962 mistake (Pakistan Observer)

Sunday, March 23, 2014 - It was unexpected that President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation would ignore the warnings of the US and its NATO allies and re-incorporate Crimea into the Russian state. Putin is more than twenty years late in this essential (for Russian security and geopolitical significance) step.

The re-merger of Crimea ought to have been done in 1992 itself when Ukraine became an independent state, as this territory has historically been part of Russia and was placed under the Ukraine only for administrative convenience in 1954. However, because of the fact that then Russian President Boris Yeltsin followed a policy of near-total acquiescence in the dictates of the Russo phobic Clinton administration, he failed to demand that Kiev return the Crimea to Moscow. The fact is that the Crimea is as strategically located as Kashmir for example is, and control of the territory is crucial for Moscow ensuring that any future policy of military envelopment against it will not take place.

In the subcontinent, the entire territory of Kashmir gives the holder access to central as well as south-central and west-central Asia, which is why the fact that India holds only the Kashmir Valley as well as Jammu and parts of Ladakh has sharply circumscribed its ability to influence matters throughout this vast region. The clear calculation behind the secret and overt backing given by NATO agencies, both NGO as well as GO (governmental organisations) to anti-Russian groups in Ukraine was that Putin would not interfere militarily, and would confine himself only to verbal protests. Such was the information reaching NATO-based intelligence agencies from  contacts high up in the Russian government an within business groups viewed as close to the Kremlin. 

In their zeal to weaken Russia further by setting up a government in Ukraine which would demand that Moscow pull back its naval and other forces from the Crimea, it is clear that Barack Obama, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel (whose anti-Russian impulses are well disguised, which is why Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of Russia is an admirer of hers) made the same mistake as Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962. The Indian premier assumed on the basis of his Intelligence Bureau chief B N Mullick that Beijing would not respond except with verbal barbs to the reckless “forward policy” of army that was implemented by his hand-picked Corps Commander (also a close relative), Lt-Gen B M Kaul, who holds record of being the most promoted in peacetime but in wartime the least competent General in the history of modern Indian army. Although he recognised Kaul’s shortcomings, then Defence Minister Vengalil Kumaran Krishna Menon fawned on him so as to keep Nehru happy.

The Chinese hit back in October 1962,shocking Nehru almost out of his mind and impelling him to send a series of pathetic letters to US President John F Kennedy, begging for military help. Had Kennedy been able to overcome the objections of the UK-centric policy advisors he had on India (including his envoy J K Galbraith who had contempt for Nehru but pretended otherwise while in Delhi) and respond in full measure to Nehru’s pleading, India may have been swiftly transformed into a US ally rather than move into the USSR’s orbit as it subsequently did. Instead, Kennedy sought to use Nehru’s distress to fulfill the Harold Wilson agenda of making India surrender the Kashmir Valley, sending a high-level mission to Delhi to pressurize the Indian establishment into making such a concession.

Just as M A Jinnah had backed the Allies during the 1939-45 war while Mahatma Gandhi had adopted a “neutral’ policy which in effect was tilted towards the Axis, the Pakistan army under General Mohammad Ayub Khan had joined the US and the UK in a military alliance, the very grouping that Nehru used to publicly condemn almost every week to the anger of US officials, steeped as he was in the anti-US Fabian socialism of his days in college in the UK. The consequence of the sharp difference in language and behaviour of General Ayub and Nehru towards the World War II allies was that both London and Washington decided to try and settle the Kashmir issues in accordance with wishes of GHQ in Rawalpindi. As a consequence, nothing came of the 1963 effort at mediation, while the opportunity for an alliance between Delhi and Washington was lost in the din of recriminations that accompanied the Harriman-Sandys mission on Kashmir, while refusal of Washington and London to pressurise Delhi beyond a point made Field Marshal Ayub Khan reach out to Beijing as an add-on to Washington.

Because of the fact that they have so much influence within both the government as well as with Big Business in Moscow, the perception that Vladimir Putin would not respond militarily to the snatching away of the Ukraine from the Russian to the NATO sphere of influence was complete in Brussels. Had there been any doubt about this, there would not have been the enthusiastic (and largely open) support that was given to the illegal ouster of President Boris Yanukovich of Ukraine and his replacement with a businessperson with extensive investments within the NATO bloc. According to the trio of Obama, Hollande and Merkel, the newly-appointed Prime Minister of Crimes is “illegitimate”. At the same time, right-wing group that took power in Kiev by ousting Viktor Yanukovich not by the ballot but by street power is “legitimate”. As NATO definition of the global community comprises of itself and followers of NATO, they are claiming that the government in Kiev (although unelected) is legal while the elected (and bundled out) regime is not. The dilemma facing NATO is that Putin is only doing what the alliance itself has done so very often, the use of military force as a substitute for other means of persuasion.

Carrying the sanctions forward will drain confidence in the GCC, Russia and China that London, Frankfurt, Zurich and New York are safe repositories for their money. What is likely is a steady drain of funds away from these centres, because after the confiscation of so much wealth from Libya, it is clear that the NATO bloc regards everybody else’s cash as its own. Now that they have repeated Nehru’s 1962 mistake, Hollande and Merkel are on course to destroy the financial industry that is the foundation for the dominance of their alliance.

Dissent in BJP signifies health, not weakness (Sunday Guardian)

Narendra Modi along with Rajnath Singh, Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh during an election rally in Lucknow on 2 March. PTI
hose whose business it is to monitor the health of India's democracy — whether they be appointed officially or self-appointed — they clearly believe the Pyongyang model to be the closest approximation to a perfect democracy. The Election Commission would have us believe that the slightest move by an incumbent government that is of even peripheral benefit to citizens ought to be avoided, and the governance or the country left in a policy limbo for more than a month, as other "voters may get influenced". There are those who regard the influencing of voters as being among the core tasks of any political party, but clearly our Election Commissioners disagree. None of the worthies appointed thus far to the EC have been known to contest even a college union election, but this has not stopped them from seeking to so "sanitise" campaigns that no candidate should say anything even mildly derogatory of the other. The "Model Code Of Elections", a title that has more than a whiff of Orwellian doublespeak about it, belongs in the dustbin of a democracy rather than on the mantelpiece, as it so constrains candidates that they are prevented from venting the frustrations of their constituents or in asking for answers to the many questions about probity and competence that any candidate, especially one from a party likely to enter the portals of government, need to answer. In detail and incessantly.
The "Three Monkeys" approach of the EC to campaigning — see, hear and talk no evil about your electoral rivals — has been extended by editorial writers and television anchors to the functioning of political parties. These worthies would have us believe that the presence of dissent signifies ill-health and worse, incompetence. That a complete absence of dissent ought to characterise the working of a political party at all levels, rather than the play of differing views and blueprints. Perhaps it is this entrenched fealty on the part of the interpreters of public opinion, for what is essentially a colonial-era climate of conformity, which has led to the unanimous diagnosis of "crisis" within the BJP, because that party is having a very public playing-out of spats between its leaders. That L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj do not fancy Narendra Modi as their party's Prime Ministerial candidate (much less as the Prime Minister himself) is hardly a secret. Rather than be excoriated, both Advani and Swaraj need to be complimented for their honesty, for there exists more than a few BJP leaders with a similar distaste for Modi, although these have disguised such negativism with effusive displays of admiration and support.
There is little doubt that much more than half the top ten in the BJP would be less than devastated if the party's Lok Sabha tally dipped below the 200-seat level that would make a Narendra Modi-led government inevitable. A seat tally below 175 would almost certainly result in a chorus of regional voices offering support to the BJP, provided that someone other than Modi be made the PM.
While it is hypothetically possible that a BJP-led government can come into being in the third week of May that is led not by Modi but by another BJP leader, in fact, such an outcome would so enrage both voters as well as cadres as to make such a transition very rocky indeed. Verdict 2014 is in essence a referendum for or against Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India, and the BJP, if it wants any future at all, would be well advised to make it clear that it will be the Modi-led BJP or those parties in opposition to Modi which will occupy South and North Blocks, and not any government led by a BJP leader other than the man who has from relative obscurity occupied the centre-stage of domestic politics in a manner not seen since Indira Gandhi passed away.
However, this does not mean that the BJP needs to morph into a homogenous collection of NaMo bhaktas. The voluble presence of critics (and yes, rivals) of Narendra Modi will help to ensure that the checks and balances that are essential to a democracy operate in a strength that has been absent during the UPA years, where the Prime Minister's Office is clearly only a post office for missives from 10 Janpath. Rather than symptoms of disease, the sniping of L.K. Advani or Sushma Swaraj indicates that the state of democracy within the BJP is far more robust than in several other parties, and ought to be welcomed rather than excoriated.

Monday 17 March 2014

For Narendra Modi, enemies can be more useful than friends (Sunday Guardian)


Narendra Modi, with B.S. Yeddyurappa and other BJP members, waves to supporters at a rally in Karnataka’s Davangere on 18 February. PTI
ow that Narendra Modi seems close to entering South Block as the occupant of its most prized office, those who have made a career out of belittling and badmouthing him seem to be undergoing an epiphany. They have begun to blanket Modi with advice, if not in person, then through newspaper columns and television appearances. The most common refrain is that he should morph into another Vajpayee.
During the time in office of the NDA, a very powerful Brajesh Mishra saw to it that those close to the Congress continued to enjoy privileged access to the corridors of power, and indeed were preferred to those who were on the other side (i.e. the BJP's side) during the tough times when non-BJP regimes were occupying North and South Blocks. Indeed, so potent was the brew of political correctness during 1998-2004 that a particular journalist (now turned academic), who made a few unflattering references to Pervez Musharraf, abruptly found himself exiled from the Doordarshan studio because the PMO was apprehensive that seeing him on screen would offend the tender sensibilities of the man whom Vajpayee gave respectability to by inviting him to Agra soon after Musharraf's military coup against the elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.
Should Modi become the Prime Minister and not succeed in ensuring that team Modi be very different from what team Vajpayee was, disillusion will set in very quickly among those who have flocked to his banner. The reported presence of some unusual (albeit well known) names within the list of BJP candidates indicates that this is a lesson that Modi has imbibed well.
However, apart from asking Modi to adopt a Brajesh Mishra policy of condoning and indeed rewarding those who back the Congress Party, the other suggestion being made to the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate is that he should pick up more allies, if necessary from bus stands and from railway platforms. On the contrary, the strength of Narendra Modi has been that he is unwilling to compromise, and that he does not look at temporary advantage but remains wedded to a long-term vision and strategy. However, some of the recent alliances made by the BJP go entirely counter to such a Weltanschauung. For example, by inducting the PMK and the MDMK into the NDA, the BJP is annoying several key voting blocs for whom the two are anathema.
The PMK and the MDMK will insist on contesting seats where they have influence, hoping to win them because of the extra boost given by an alliance with a leader who has become as well known throughout Tamil Nadu as Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. As for the other seats, which the BJP will be left with, there will be precious little help from the MDMK or the PMK because these parties are toxic to voters there. In the same way, the LJP may turn away more voters in Bihar than it brings to the NDA.
In Andhra Pradesh as well, tagging along with the TDP will be disastrous in Telengana, as well as dilute what may be called the "Modi Magic" in Seemandhra. Quite apart, of course, from the fact that both the TRS as well as the YSR Congress will be very reluctant to join in an alliance that includes Chandrababu Naidu.
Indeed, what can give the BJP 50-odd seats in UP and 25-odd seats in Bihar will be voters from rival parties who in the final stretch will switch their votes to the BJP to prevent their regional rival from winning a seat.
In constituencies in UP and Bihar where the fight is between the BJP and with one of the regional parties (the other being way behind as the campaign enters its final week), such a transfer of "secular" votes to Narendra Modi may take place.
Thus, in constituencies where the SP is trailing behind the BSP, its supporters may silently switch to the BJP to prevent the BSP from winning. In Bihar, seats where the RJD is way behind the JDU may see many of Lalu's voters move to the NDA in order to reduce the JDU tally, and vice versa.
It is precisely because the supporters of several regional parties dislike their "secular" rivals more than they do Modi that the BJP is likely to get about 75 seats from the two most-densely populated states of the country.
The negative impact of "allies" on the image of the BJP and the backing given in the voting booth by "rivals" intent less on defeating not Modi than their regional foes ought to ensure victory for the BJP. The hard part will, of course, come after the polls, as team Modi fights to ensure that it avoids becoming a repeat of 1998-2004.