Saturday 31 May 2014

Narendra Modi’s test begins now (Pakistan Observer)

Friday, May 30, 2014 - In 1984, Rajiv Ratan Birjees Gandhi secured for the Congress Party a huge majority of nearly four-fifths in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. Voters saw in the youthful PM the promise of change, but Rajiv continued with the policies of his mother Indira Gandhi, and formed a Union Cabinet dominated by those who had been a prominent part of previous cabinets.

In 1985, a frail Muslim divorcee named Shah Bano won a case in the Supreme Court of India that ensured alimony at the same level as that given to women of other faiths. The BJP, which has never concealed the fact that it represents mainly the perceived interests of the Hindu population in India, had just two seats in the Lok Sabha, and was widely seen as a spent force. While the overwhelming majority of India’s Muslims - who are as moderate as their Hindu brothers and sisters - welcomed the Supreme Court verdict ensuring equal alimony to the 62-year old divorcee, a small group of Wahabbi clerics were livid at what they said was “judicial interference in Muslim personal law”. They demanded that Muslims in India should be governed in matters such as marriage and divorce (initially) not by laws applicable to the entire population, but by laws specific to the Muslim community. These laws would be decided by the Wahabbis, who claimed to represent “true” Muslims and who considered all other groups of Believers as either heretic or at best, misinformed and misled in their beliefs.

Arif Mohammad Khan, who was at the time a close friend of Rajiv Gandhi and a Union Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet, took the lead in welcoming the Supreme Court verdict, pointing out that Muslim men were also “fathers of daughters, sons of mothers and brothers of sisters”, and hence should ensure that Muslim women should be given the same protection as afforded to those of other faiths. However, Rajiv Gandhi was of a different view. He saw the fundamentalists as representative of the Muslim Ummah, an error that has repeatedly been made across the world, thereby failing to appreciate that the Muslim community is exactly the same as Hindus, Buddhists, Christians or those of other faiths. While being devout followers of the Word of God, they are as concerned about matters such as housing, education, health and employment as those from other religions.

Had Rajiv Gandhi chosen to ignore the vociferous protests of a few Wahabbis, and instead stood by the Moderate Majority in the Muslim community, the history of India would have been different. Instead, he bowed to Wahabbi dictates and got passed a law in 1986 that placed Muslim women at the mercy of a personal law decided for them by the Wahabbi element in the clerical establishment. From the time that Muslim Womens Law got passed, the goodwill for Rajiv Gandhi began to disappear, and as a consequence of the perception that he had pandered to Wahabbi interests, the BJP began to rise rapidly in public esteem. By the time General Elections rolled by in 1989,Rajiv Gandhi was a vilified and discredited figure, whose policies were responsible for the sharp polarisation between different communities that has been a feature of political life in India since that year.

While Narendra Damodardas Modi has indeed won big in 2014,the fact remains that those who in their hundreds of millions supported him expect the new Prime Minister to fulfil the promises made in his campaign, of clean and transparent governance. The UPA under Sonia Gandhi was the “dukaan” (shop) of Big Business, and it is expected that Team Modi will be different, placing the Aam Aadmi over the Amir (rich) Aadmi. On May 26th,the day he was sworn in, several of his ministers were seen waiting in the anteroom of a pair of suites in one of Delhi’s 5-star hotels, waiting to be summoned in for a chat by a top businessman. Others were seen having dinner with other Big Business figures. All this was recorded by citizens who were in the vicinity when such meetings took place.

This columnist is an admirer of Narendra Modi and would like him to enjoy ten to fifteen years of uninterrupted rule. He is hopeful that Modi will ensure the kind of governance he has assured the people of India will be theirs, once they elect him. In such a context, seeing so many ministers waiting on Big Business figures was a trifle disconcerting, as is the fact that hardly a single individual among the handful who challenged Sonia Gandhi during the entire decade of her rule has been included in Team Modi at any level. Instead, the ranks of the new “power people” have got filled with those who believed in compromise with Sonia Gandhi, or in the “live and let live” philosophy which permeates Delhi and which has made the city a cesspool of corruption.

The goodwill for Narendra Modi grew exponentially and can decline equally rapidly, unless the new Prime Minister makes good on his promise to (a) enforce accountability for the misdeeds of the top figures in the previous government and (b) ensures that each of his ministers follow his example of working on behalf of the Aam Aadmi rather than the Amir Aadmi. Should any of them resume the old habit of seeing their ministries as milch cows waiting to get milked for cash, very soon Team Modi will come under scrutiny and attack. Both the Congress Party as well as the Aam Aadmi Party can be expected to launch an attack on the Prime Minister at the earliest. They are both aware that he is a man of formidable skills, and that if he settles down in Delhi the way he did in Gandhinagar after a few setbacks, then it will be Narendra Modi in 2019 and even 2024.

Modi’s admirers expect that the Prime Minister will in the weeks ahead ensure a better balance in his team, and will unveil policies and processes which bring India into the fast track of economic growth. Those who have for long years supported Narendra Damodardas Modi trust and pray that he will avoid going the way of Rajiv Gandhi in making compromises that will destroy his support among the people. Should Modi remain firm to the principles that have guided his life for nearly fifty years, he will emerge as the greatest PM that India has had.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Arvind Kejriwal should not be jailed (Pakistan Observer)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - FORMER President of the victorious BJP, Nitin Gadkari, will regret the criminal defamation case that he filed against Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal, who was Chief Minister of Delhi for 49 days. The AAP leader had called Gadkari among the most corrupt politicians in India, zeroing in on the fact that the former President of the BJP had built up a substantial business empire. While he has reportedly been given a clean chit in his income-tax dealings, senior officials claim that a former Union Finance Minister in the Manmohan Singh government was the individual who acted as the guardian angel of Gadkari, enabling him to escape prosecution for large amounts of money entering and leaving accounts controlled by companies known to be controlled by him.

Interestingly, Gadkari has made a chauffeur of his the Director of one of his companies, although this cannot be because of the fact that the gentleman in question is the primary witness in a case involving the finding of the dead body of a young girl in a car belonging to Gadkari Certainly it would be wrong to blame Gadkari for this tragedy. Of course, the family of the girl sought to ensure a comprehensive investigation into the tragedy. However, the Maharashtra police appear to have concluded that the girl either killed herself in some way or “suffocated to death” inside the car, despite the presence of bloodstains and much else which suggested a struggle. The reluctance of the Maharashtra police to enquire deeply into the death of the girl has been replicated in several other cases involving VIPs.

For example, HRD Minister of State ( till May 26) Shashi Tharoor lost his wife in circumstances that have yet to be revealed by the Delhi police. Some reports say that Sunanda Tharoor, who was apparently upset at the minister’s friendship with a charming Pakistani lady, had injuries all over her upper torso. Perhaps such reports are inaccurate. Unfortunately, the Delhi police, which functions for the present under Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, a faithful follower of Sonia Gandhi, is refusing to enlighten the public as to the exact circumstances of the passing away of Mrs Tharoor. Like Tharoor, Nitin Gadkari too is a genial individual who believes in the philosophy of “live and let live”, and consequently has friends across the political spectrum, including Congress Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde as well as each of the past three Congress Chief Ministers of Maharashtra.

Hence it is very unlikely that the full facts behind the death of a young girl in his car will ever emerge from the shadows Now that it is his complaint of criminal defamation that has resulted in sending their leader to prison, albeit for the brief time of two days, the AAP is unlikely to adopt the same lenient attitude towards Nitin Gadkari as the Maharashtra police or Income-tax authorities acting under the orders of the Finance Minister of the day. The AAP is likely to target him in Parliament and outside, especially if (as widely expected) Gadkari is given a plum portfolio in the Narendra Modi Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister-designate of India, Narendra Damodardas Modi, is himself completely free of any suspicion of corruption .

Indeed, unlike almost any other political leader, he has even refrained from ensuring that his close relatives benefitted in any way from the exalted post of Chief Minister of the business-rich state of Gujarat that he has held since 2001. His brothers and sister live simple lives, as does Modi himself, who uses just four of the many rooms in his official residence in Gandhinagar, including an office room, a small and simply furnished bedroom and a couple of rooms for key staff. However, the problem facing the new Prime Minister is that the upper reaches of his party are filled with individuals who have made considerable amounts of money for themselves as well as friends and family.

This when Modi himself uses only Indian cars, such as the Mahindra Scorpio. Thus it will be a difficult task for Modi to gather around him senior ministerial colleagues who are as honest as he himself is There is intense pressure on Modi to accommodate those who played important roles in the 1998-2004 Atal Behari Vajpayee NDA administration, despite the fact that swirling allegations of high living and corruption, including cases of massive rigging of the stock market, resulted in the defeat of the BJP in 2004. The taint was so pervasive that even in 2009 the BJP lost, and it was only when Modi was made the Prime Ministerial candidate nine months ago that the BJP’s fortunes revived. He now faces the task of ensuring that a Modi administration avoids the errors of the Vajpayee period in a situation where several key ministries are expected to go to holdovers from that period. Given his seniority, it is almost certain that Nitin Gadkari will be a senior Cabinet minister.

Indeed, he is trying for one of the four portfolios of Home, Defense, Finance and External Affairs that entitle the holder to be a member of the Cabinet Committee on Security and the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs, thereby gaining access to sensitive state secrets The action of a Delhi magistrate in sending Aam Aadmi Party supremo Arvind Kejriwal to jail for calling Gadkari corrupt has resulted in the media beating up on Kejriwal himself rather than his jailers. However, the fact is that such a precedent will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech in India. If the law is such that Kejriwal can be sent to jail for the remarks he made, such a colonial-era law needs to get scrapped. The media in India is missing out on the big picture, which is that the Kejriwal judgement is a significant threat to the freewheeling debate about the mores and foibles of politicians that a genuine democracy would welcome rather than prosecute. In jailing Kejriwal, what is at risk is freedom of speech.

Sunday 25 May 2014

New PM must put speculators in jail (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat

RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan presides over the meeting of Central Board of Directors near Shimla on Thursday. PTI
eserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan claims that he seeks to dampen "inflationary expectations" in the country, whatever that might mean. To an individual, who for all his adult life has been far away from meaningful contact with the everyday reality of life in India, what gets accepted as "fact" are the products of the imaginations of research assistants eager to demonstrate their skill in Power Point presentations. Under Palaniappan Chidambaram and Raghuram Rajan, the Ministry of Finance and the RBI have become laboratories for theories cooked up in US university labs to get experimented with in India. A side effect has been that both Chidambaram and Rajan have been very deferential to those actually responsible for higher and higher prices in India. These are the handful of individuals and institutions which indulge in hugely profitable (to themselves) speculation in both the Indian rupee as well as in commodities, including food grain. To call such individuals gamblers would be to insult that arcane occupation, for the reality is that the cartels behind the short selling and forward trading of the rupee as well as commodities have close links with SEBI, RBI, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Finance. Hence they operate on a "perfect knowledge" basis, making it inevitable that the rupee falls (as it did till the BJP secured a majority in the Lok Sabha on 16 May, thereby bringing the promise of change) and commodity prices rise, both to levels very different from that dictated by fundamentals.
It is testimony to Raghuram Rajan's contempt for the Indian people that he poses as an inflation fighter, while at the same time ignoring, when not actively facilitating, the kinds of speculation which would earn a jail term or a hefty fine in the United States, the country whose financial entities he seems determined to cosset. The very entities that have had billions of dollars of fines imposed on them in the UK and in the US have a red carpet welcome in the portals of economic governance in India, not to mention their hold on this country's clutch of "pink journalists", many of whom act as facilitators for the massive and one-way speculation (always the economy loses while the speculators and their backers in government gain) that has been the primary cause of the raging inflation in India. In 1992-96, it was Finance Minister Manmohan Singh and his foreigner-friendly but India-unfriendly tax policies which caused the downfall of the Congress party. In UPA II, much of the blame for that formation's execrable showing in the 2014 elections will go to Palaniappan Chidambaram and Sharad Pawar, who have presided over an administrative machine which ensured that speculators receive windfall profits while the consumer suffer.
Manmohan Singh has been deferential to speculators (and who can blame him, as this gets indulged in by the very foreign financial entities who have fawned over him for two decades). An example is the way in which the Intelligence Bureau was forced last year to discontinue its monthly review on specific instances of manipulation of shares as well as commodity prices by identified parties.
The reports, which hopefully have not been destroyed now that an honest Prime Minister is taking charge in South Block, detail numerous instances of insider trading in company shares. Often, such trades get done in collusion with selected economic journalists, whose job it is to write reports that will either boost or depress prices of selected shares. Although these reports were shown to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, each of them ignored the IB reports since they were first submitted in 2007, rather than taking action on the individuals identified by the IB as insider traders, share price fixers and commodity speculators acting on information illegally received from official channels. Unless speculation is halted and insider information made toxic, the way it is in the US, prices will continue to gallop in India.
The new PM will need an iron broom to get rid of the dirt that has accumulated in significant portals of government since the somnolent Manmohan Singh took over the title of Prime Minister in 2004.

Saturday 17 May 2014

Needed, an undiluted Narendra Modi XI (Sunday Guardian)

BJP leaders Arun Jaitely and Sushma Swaraj at a function to felicitate Prime Minister designate Narendra Modi at the party headquarters in New Delhi on Saturday. PTI
n order to ensure that this time around, distance did not result in a denial of the privilege of voting, this columnist sought to switch his vote from Bangalore to Gurgaon. Forms were filled and presented, and assurances received that the voter identity card would arrive in time. It did not, and hence this columnist joined the tens of millions of other citizens deprived of the right to help choose their representatives, owing to the inefficiency and incompetence of the election machinery. Unlike in 2009, when the BJP was practically oblivious to voter fraud and to other malpractices, this time around both that party as well as the Aam Aadmi Party were more diligent in uncovering malpractice. Hence, the greater frequency of reports of EVM "malfunctions" (or rigging, in simpler language), as well as such interesting details as the elimination of hundreds of thousands of voters in constituencies across the country. The fact is that, just as in another two-month campaign, that which took place five years ago, the Election Commission has been negligent and therefore culpable in the crime of holding elections that are less than fully transparent and fair.
Just because an individual is among that huge list of worthies named as "constitutional authorities" by a fawning media, it does not mean that they do not share the taint which has by now spread across the entire spectrum of governance in India. Naveen Chawla, for instance, was perhaps a trifle less loyal to the Congress party and its first family than for example Ahmed Patel, but the difference was so slight as would have been ignored in any policymaker seeking to choose a genuinely neutral CEC. Despite the fact that there has been considerably more media attention to issues of corruption during the past few years than was the case before, even today posts such as the CVC, the CAG and even the Chief of Army Staff have been filled by individuals who in previous avatars have taken decisions in such matters as the Westland helicopter purchase, but who now preside over the very agencies that are supposed to be investigating such scams. Over the decades, a cosy camaraderie has developed between the leaders of parties ostensibly opposed to each other, with the result that accountability for the numerous criminal acts of successive governments has been thrown out of the window.
This cosy culture needs to get replaced with a Modi-led team of ministers and officials who are different from that seen during 1998-2004. In order to have a realistic chance of getting rid of the debris created by flawed policy and personnel, the incoming Prime Minister needs to have around him individuals of competence and integrity. It is these qualities which ought to guide the choice of X or Y, not archaic concepts such as "seniority". Indeed, the term has become shorthand for trying to put in place another Vajpayee government, the only difference being that Narendra Modi replaces Vajpayee at the top. Such a government would soon falter, despite the best efforts of Modi, and create a climate whereby the way would be clear for a clutch of regional parties (supported by the Congress Party) to take charge of the country after the 2019 polls. The fact is that India needs at least ten — and hopefully fifteen — years of good governance, so that the old mould of unsatisfactory progress gets replaced by a much more dynamic model. For this to happen, Narendra Modi needs a team where none of the ministers seek constantly to discredit or to slow him down. In other words, those who are clearly averse to his leadership need to be excluded. Next, those with even a whiff of scandal (such as, for example, visiting Dubai two or three dozen times every year, and being pally with known economic offenders) need to be kept out. Unless Team Modi reflects the character and competence of the man himself, the likelihood of failure to reverse the present decline in performance may be high. The new Prime Minister, and indeed the entire country, needs a Modi I Council of Ministers (followed perhaps by a Modi II and a Modi III in case he wins two more terms in office) rather than what is sought to be forced on him, a Vajpayee III ministry. New times need new people. The promise of change represented by Narendra Modi ought not to get subverted by adherence to "seniority" or to prior service, which in most instances would have been of a mediocre quality, else the BJP would not have crashed to defeat in 2004.

Congress Plans to put Priyanka where Rahul is (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 17th May 2014
here is a considerable body of middle and senior-rung Congress functionaries who are loyalists of Priyanka Vadra-Gandhi, people who have been quiet for the decade since Congress president Sonia Gandhi chose son Rahul over her daughter to be her political heir and the prospective replacement for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
After the rout of the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, these individuals are meeting with each other with increasing frequency in order to craft a road map for their chosen leader to emerge as the effective head of the Congress, in a context where Sonia Gandhi may make this her last stint as the Member of Parliament from Rae Bareli. "The plan is for Rahul to shift to Soniaji's constituency in the next poll, as this is safer, and for Priyanka to contest from Amethi in 2019," said a family loyalist who saw the Lok Sabha elections that year as a "winning proposition" for the Congress, "provided Modi was unable to satisfy voters who have such huge expectations of him". He expected the NDA to be replaced with a coalition government that would be led by the Congress.
Priyanka Vadra-Gandhi, according to a senior office-bearer of the Congress, reached out a few days ago to Minister of State Rajiv Shukla to "arrange a meeting of regional satraps of the party, including Chief Ministers, with her". Before doing so, Shukla is reported to have contacted political secretary to Congress president Ahmed Patel, who is reported to have called up Priyanka, presumably to enquire why he himself was not chosen as the channel to organise such a high-powered get-together. After that call, plans for the meeting were dropped, but not before Priyanka "rang up Rajiv Shukla and berated him for his indiscretion in talking to Ahmed Patel about her request".
Unlike Rahul Gandhi, who needs long stretches of time out of the country in order to recover from the hurly-burly of politics, and who left India on a sojourn abroad just after campaigning ended on 10 May, returning only after a controversy erupted over his absence from the farewell dinner for the PM, "Priyanka can be very hardworking, and she is not at all uneasy with the dust and dirt of politics in this country", according to an admirer who would like to see her as "the Prime Minister of a coalition government in 2019". Unrealistic as this may sound in the aftermath of a crushing victory by the BJP, Congress functionaries close to Priyanka Vadra-Gandhi say that she has told her closest aides "to draw up plans for doing well in the 2017 Assembly elections in UP, followed by a strong showing in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections". These individuals expect that after a cooling-off period of 18 months, during which the expectation is that Narendra Modi will fail to meet the sky-high expectations of his voters, the situation "will be favourable for Priyanka to take the centre stage of opposition politics in the country", according to a key adviser.
According to these sources, "Priyanka would like to show that she will fight back hard if they (i.e. Team Modi) target her husband Robert Vadra". Hence the aggressive attack on the BJP and specifically on incoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after both focused on specific business transactions of Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law. According to her supporters, Priyanka regards her tactic as successful, as "after her counter-attack, the references to her husband became much less". Team Priyanka wants to "re-create the magic of Indira Gandhi in Priyanka, so as to revive memories of Jawaharlal Nehru's daughter". The plan is to enter the political ring after disenchantment sets in with Modi, as Team Priyanka is sure will happen, given the scale of the problems facing the new PM. "She wants to establish contact first with key leaders in her own party, and then reach out to possible allies in the 2019 elections. The game plan is to speed up activity in 2016, in time for the UP Assembly polls the next year and the Lok Sabha polls two years later." According to a senior leader, "Priyanka has asked us to ensure in whatever way we can that Modi becomes a one-term PM."
And what of Rahul Gandhi? While outwardly respectful of Sonia Gandhi's choice as heir to her position as Congress supremo, the evolving Team Priyanka believes that their candidate is better suited to "both attract the voters as well as deliver on strong opposition and good government". They say that the "ideal situation" would be "Priyanka as PM and Rahul as Congress president" or even vice-versa, "as Priyanka is very close to her brother and would be happy to see him get the job".
To those sceptical of Priyanka Vadra-Gandhi's chances of wresting power back from a Modi-fied BJP in 2019, Team Priyanka points to Indira Gandhi after the 1977. "In 18 months after the defeat, she (Indira) was back in the reckoning, and in a further 18 months, back in power. This is what you will see with Priyanka," a confident, if somewhat optimistic adviser to the sister of the Congress' heir apparent told this correspondent.
Clearly, Priyanka Vadra-Gandhi is determined to ensure that the battle against Narendra Modi continues and is won, even after the 16 May Congress rout at the hands of the hard-driving follower of Sardar Patel.

Friday 16 May 2014

BRICS coming of age (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat

Friday, May 16, 2014 - SHOULD the opinion polls prove accurate, Narendra Damodardas Modi will take over as Prime Minister of India within a week. The 2014 campaign ought to have been conducted as a battle between Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Ministerial nominee Narendra Modi, except for the fact that Rahul Gandhi has largely been Missing in Action (MIA). At a farewell dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted by his own mother, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the 43-year old heir to the Congress leadership showed his contempt for Manmohan Singh by staying away. Some reports say that he was in Bangkok with three friends, two foreigners and a citizen of India. Others claim that he was in Istanbul, which seems to be among his most favourite cities, also in the company of a close friend.

According to friends, Rahul Gandhi left the same night that campaigning for the elections ended on May 10, to “rest and recuperate after a gruelling election schedule”. While he is certainly entitled to some rest, it seems a bit unfortunate that he has chosen to further humiliate a man who has served his mother with loyalty and with dedication for two decades. Coming to the incoming Prime Minister, an important item on his agenda will be the forthcoming BRICS summit in Brazil, which begins on June 15. The Manmohan Singh government, for reasons that are not clear, sought to postpone the conference by a month, that too at this late stage, but this request has been turned down as the leaders of Russia, China, South Africa and Brazil have already finalised their programs, and cannot be expected to change them for unexplained reasons simply because the External Affairs Ministry in South Block has asked them to.

Indeed, the very request is discourteous, to say the least, and ought to have been avoided. The External Affairs Ministry rationale is that the summit will take place when the monsoon session of Parliament of India is going on, but there have been multiple instances in the past when Prime Ministers travelled abroad despite Parliament being in session. Certainly the BRICS summit will provide an opportunity for the new Prime Minister to meet his counterparts from some of the world’s most consequential countries, and despite what the Ministry of External Affairs believes, it would be unwise to pass up such an opportunity to forge links with important world leaders En route, there is a possibility that the new PM will make a stopover. The chances are that this will be in Germany, which has emerged as the most consequential country in Europe.

The Angela Merkel administration has signalled clearly that it welcomes the chance to work with the new Prime Minister of India, especially in the fields of partnering in manufacturing and in vocational education. During the Nehru era, it was the UK that was the centre of gravity in Europe for India. When Atal Behari Vajpayee was the PM, that locus shifted to France, largely because of that country’s pragmatic acceptance of India’s nuclear weapons status after the 1998 Pokhran-II blasts, in contrast to the US, Austrialia and Canada, each of which sought to outdo the other in abuse of Delhi for its effrontery in carrying out the blasts. Should Narendra Modi become the PM, it is likely that Germany will be the main focus of attention in Europe, and not only because of the friendly gestures made by Berlin to him. It needs to be remembered that it was the German envoy to India, Michael Steiner, who hosted a five-hour long tea for Mr Modi with the other EU envoys.

Only the Ambassador of France stayed away from that meeting, to demonstrate the solidarity of Paris with Sonia Gandhi, who belongs to the same faith that most of the population of France subscribe to, which is Catholicism. At the BRICS summit, it is important that India put forward specific proposals that would take forward the development of BRICS into a full-fledged alliance system. The proposed BRICS bank needs to get speedily set up, as also a BRICS secretariat, perhaps in Durban, South Africa, being in a way geographically in between the other member-states.

The currencies of the BRICS countries need to be made freely convertible in each other’s territory, so as to carry forward the process of freeing these currencies from the dollar and the euro. The excessive dependence of the globe on these two currencies has exposed several major economies to huge risks, caused by defective economic policies in the US and the EU. There needs to be much more interaction between the BRICS powers, and a start would be to ensure visa-free access to each country within the group, so that millions from within the bloc could visit other states and thereby forge links and understanding. Education and healthcare, as also services, are other fields where greater coordination would boost each of the five member-states. The Brazil meeting of BRICS needs to initiate the start of a process of bringing the grouping into the 21st century and making it not simply a talking shop or an international photo opportunity, but a means towards faster growth for each of its members. BRICS needs to come of age, and the 2014 meeting needs to be the location where this takes effect.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Needed, a Trillion Dollar Special Envoy (Sunday Guardian)

The new PM will have to be as ready for the job as Churchill (above) was in 1940.
The leadership of a country ought not to get decided on the basis of a historical accident, as the experience of the past decade has shown, unless the incoming Prime Minister of India is primed and as ready for the job as Winston Spencer Churchill was in 1940, after a decade of predicting the war that made him a historical figure, India is in trouble. Execrable leadership has reduced the country to an international cautionary tale, a country where executives of alien multinationals proliferate in governmental and semi-governmental committees, each eager to boost their own career prospects by selling out this country's interests for the benefit of the entity that employs them. A Prime Minister needs to be free of pressure from outside, which means, from entities which get used by foreign governments and corporates to press policies favourable to them at the expense of those which are beneficial to the people of India.
Sadly, several so-called "Indian" companies are themselves happy to function as the water-carriers of alien entities, and such businesspersons often get used by foreign companies and countries to pressure the Government of India into doing their bidding. A Prime Minister has to be answerable only to his or her oath of office, and such reality is possible only when he is free of the toils of corporates and politicians with an agenda that is different from what the country needs. India is about six years away from being either a failed state or a country entering takeoff into superpower state. The factor which will determine whether it enters the first or the second trajectory will be the character and competence of the new Prime Minister.
Hopefully, despite Electronic Voting Machine "malfunctions" (read fraud), the presence of millions of (Aadhar-compliant) fraudulent voters on electoral lists and the absence of many more millions of genuine voters, such a person will emerge on 16 May.
Should that happen, among the choices he or she will need to make will be that of a Special Envoy for Development Diplomacy, whose task will be to generate a trillion dollars of additional foreign direct investment into India during five years. The core objective of policy in a country where 300 million citizens are desperately poor and a further, 400 million poor has to be a 15% rate of growth. Given the immense juan wealth of India, this is very doable.
Unfortunately, Jawaharlal Nehru embraced colonial structures, procedures and laws in a death-grip that is still choking much of the life out of Indian initiative and enterprise. Raising at least $300 billion through amnesty-cum-nationalisation schemes, targeting deposits held abroad by Indian citizens and their close relatives is feasible, as is the raising of a fresh $ 1 trillion investment from abroad. That is, of course, once we get a Prime Minister who inspires confidence in the international community in place of ridicule.
Such an envoy should not be a former or present official, whether these be Election Commissioners, who have never stood in even a college union contest or Comptroller and Auditor General of India, with zero knowledge of accounting or Chief Vigilance Commissioners, with no expertise in unearthing frauds. Even worse, the Central Information Commissioners, indeed the entire Right To Information machinery, is riddled with former officials, despite the very purpose of such a measure being a check against the very system that has spawned corrupt officials in their thousands.
The Special Envoy for Development Diplomacy needs to be a non-official with experience both in interacting with corporates as well as with countries. The best places to look for such investment are the Gulf Cooperation Council states, as well as East Asia, China and Japan which can together generate $550 billion in investment, with the GCC putting in $300 billion, thereby, leaving only $150 billion to be prised out of the rest of the globe. The Trillion Dollar envoy needs to have the confidence of the Prime Minister and be of Cabinet rank, so that he can attend meetings when needed, and push for measures designed to enhance the flow of FDI.
While the Union Cabinet needs to be small — else a meeting would resemble a railway platform during rush hour — there needs to be a scatter of Cabinet-rank appointees reporting direct to the PM, and given specific tasks where progress can be subjected to scrutiny and measurement. Before "Yes, we can", we need to hear and to see "Yes, we can change."