Monday 29 December 2014

Don’t revive the ghosts of 1987 in Kashmir (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.

‘Going soft’ on AFSPA and omitting mention of Article 370 alienated the core support base of the BJP.
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti
he hollowing out of the middle class in the US and the fell impact on growth and macroeconomic stability of predatory speculation are consequences of a propensity to look at the future as merely a succession of short terms. Seeking to maximise returns in each short term period leads to strategies which forfeit the future, at least for those affected by such decisions. Statespersons often sidestep short term advantages and implement plans that make sense in the longer term, even if they seem sub-optimal in the present. This columnist has, for a decade, regarded Narendra Modi as a marathon runner, refusing the short bursts of speed that lead to future exhaustion, instead conserving his energy so as to finish the long race first. This is what he did while engaged in the steps which led to his becoming the BJP's declared Prime Ministerial candidate, and subsequently to fulfilling the forecast first made in The Sunday Guardian special supplement on Gujarat, that while his first job was that of a tea boy and the second, the Chief Ministership of Gujarat, the third would be the Prime Ministership of India. Now that he has become the lawful occupant of 7 Race Course Road, the sprawl of buildings which serves as the official residence of the PM, it is precisely such a longer-term view that Modi needs to insist on, even while his associates press for the adoption of strategies that may secure immediate benefits, but which could have toxic effects in the course of time.
This columnist was, from the start of the campaign, sceptical of the view of some in the BJP that the party could — this time around — crack the code in the Kashmir Valley, thereby enabling it to cobble together the 44 seats needed to form the elected government in Srinagar. Instead, the compromise made by the party of "going soft" on AFSPA and omitting mention of Article 370 in its poll manifesto for the state would, this columnist warned, alienate the core support base of the BJP, without any countervailing benefits in the Valley. And so it has proved, with the BJP getting at least five less seats in the Jammu and Ladakh regions than it would have, had the May 2014 message been reiterated rather than muffled.
Having lost its deposit in every seat in the Kashmir Valley, bar a single constituency, the BJP was able to attract a bare 1% of the vote there. This is the context in which the party needs to work out its post-poll strategy, given a context in which extremists are gaining ground in nearby Pakistan. Had the Valley given the BJP 15% or more votes, there would have been a stronger case for joining in a coalition which could govern J&K for the coming term.
Given its poor showing in the valley, it would be more prudent for the BJP to step aside and allow the NC and the PDP to cobble together an opportunistic alliance to run the state. Given the obvious disaffection in both Jammu and Ladakh with Srinagar and its Kashmir-centric policies, the BJP could emerge in Opposition as a force for justice to these neglected regions of the state, and as a check on the misgovernance which is endemic in Kashmir.
Conversely, should it insert itself into an alliance with either the PDP or the NC, the BJP would thereby present the ISI and its allies at GHQ in Rawalpindi with a window of opportunity too tempting to pass up. The BJP will get the blame for each terror attack, every civilian death in what will certainly be a storm of stone-pelting and agitation in the Valley, following the installation of a BJP-inclusive government at Srinagar.
The ghosts of 1987 and the forced cohabitation of the Congress party and the NC are not yet stilled, and could revive.
By seeking to control too many states in the very first year of its term, rather than working out and implementing a (much more feasible) plan of action, which would make the BJP the natural party of governance in India by 2019, the BJP is in danger of giving primacy to politics over economics, whereas the USP of Narendra Modi is economics. Ultimately, it is the functioning of the government rather than the party organisation which will decide the electoral future of the BJP.
Thus far, despite the fact that prices have abated both as a result of Modi's policies and international factors, voters at large are yet to see the Naya Soch and the Acchhe Din that has been promised to them. Getting rid of the obstacles to growth needs to be the priority, for only jobs, jobs and more jobs will give the BJP the 350 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 that would establish the party as the natural party of governance at the Centre. As for the states, a rainbow mix is part of the fabric of federalism, and for the BJP, watching an NC-PDP (and perhaps Congress as well) from its vantage perch in Delhi and in the Opposition benches in the Kashmir Assembly would be an option preferable to forming an alliance certain to re-ignite passions in the Valley. The time for a BJP government in Srinagar is the next time around, not this time, and the aim should be a majority on its own, exactly as was the case during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign.

Sunday 28 December 2014

Economics, not politics, key to Modi’s future (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 27th Dec 2014
A labourer walks near a parked bulldozer at the construction site of a bridge being built over the river Yamuna for metro rail in New Delhi on 12 December. REUTERS
From 26 May 2014, Narendra Damodardas Modi began working towards an encore to the election victory of his party, a win for which he was solely responsible. Had the BJP gone to battle under any other leader, its tally would not have crossed 150, and India would now be ruled by a coalition made up of Mamata, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa and other regional party chieftains. ‎Prime Minister Modi was generous in victory, accommodating in the Union Cabinet in key slots even those who had worked hard to prevent him from leaving Gujarat. Prime Minister Modi followed the example of his friend Barack Obama, who reached out to Clinton favourites while choosing his team, leaving out those who had angered Bill and Hillary Clinton by backing Obama over them. By the mass inclusion of former L.K. Advani loyalists (including those who opposed him through much of 2013) in his ministry and core staff, and by adopting policy positions inherited from the past, rather than seeking radical change, Prime Minister Modi has given the lie to the assertion that he is autocratic or dogmatic.
Despite what appears to be a triumphal march towards making the BJP as dominant a fixture in the political landscape of India as the Congress party was during the 1950s and into the middle of the next decade, the reality is that the appeal of the party is still based on hope rather than performance, as will be the case after three years of Modi's rule. In Gujarat, a strong tailwind was given by the efficiency of the administration provided by Chief Minister Modi to the people of that state. Indeed, those from other states residing in or visiting Gujarat have been influential in convincing much of the rest of India to give a chance to Modi to deliver for India what he has done for his home state. Since 26 May, while goodwill for the Prime Minister is still strong, it may have ceased to accelerate. The Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir verdicts have been judged by a media newly-friendly to Modi as a triumph, when in fact the BJP drew a blank in the Kashmir valley despite intensive efforts at securing seats there. In Jharkhand, it failed to get a majority on its own, having to be content with a narrow margin of safety. These are not the best of omens for Delhi, for should Arvind Kejriwal emerge yet again as the CM of the city that is now Modi's headquarters, he would be a constant irritant and creator of a counter narrative to both Modi as well as to the BJP.
Although this has yet to get reflected in the mainstream media, for the past two months, a word-of-mouth campaign has been launched to weaken the electoral base of Prime Minister Modi. Among his strengths is the fact that he comes from a backward caste, the same group that is the mainstay of regional parties such as the SP or the RJD. This appeal is being sought to be diluted by pointing to the upper caste leaders represented in the upper echelons of Team Modi, the message of his detractors being that the Prime Minister is a backward caste leader in name only. To damage the narrative about his simple habits and that of his relatives, another word-of-mouth campaign has been unleashed, which portrays Modi as hobnobbing only with the super-rich while staying away from close contact with the poor. Both these charges are unfair to the PM, who is proud of the fact that he comes from a backward caste, and whose family has refused to follow the example of others who have used high political office to clamber to riches. Modi does not own either super-expensive cars or fancy houses. His needs remain modest. However, the BJP will need to be more attentive to the ongoing campaign to discredit Narendra Modi from being a man of the people to being seen as a man of the elite, rather than dismiss this accelerating campaign as being of little consequence. The effort to portray Modi as being both communalist and elitist can be expected to become much sharper during the Delhi Assembly poll campaign, which will kick off in a few weeks' time
The shield that can protect Modi from such barbs and which can ensure future success in the electoral arena is good performance on the economic front. It is Modi's superb management of the economy of Gujarat, which made voters in that state ignore the demonisation of the man by much of the media and the political class, including in countries such as the US and the UK where substantial numbers of Gujaratis reside. Prime Minister Modi will need to demonstrate that he is the leader who can breathe double-digit fire into the Indian economy, and create the over-hundred-million extra jobs that the country needs to accommodate its youth bulge. Relying on the prescriptions of the past or using the bureaucracy as a forum for evolving (rather than implementing) policy may not bring the results needed for Modi to fulfil his election pledge of "Minimum Government and Maximum Governance". What is needed is a regime of low taxes, low interest rates and less regulation, so that the natural entrepreneurial spirit of the citizens of India get unleashed. Domestic industry needs to be energised to compete both locally and abroad. It is because the Modi government as yet seems to have made insufficient headway on the jobs and investment front that controversies that are tiny in the scale of the nation's life are getting magnified because of the continuing lack of good news in the economic front. Modi needs to incentivise the bureaucracy into efficiency and probity, and to ensure that an Indian resident in India gets the policy framework needed to do as well in this country as he or she does in the US or the UK. It was the economy which ensured that Modi emerged as a global superstar, and it will be the economy which will decide his fate in the period ahead.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Mr Nadda, don’t forget the Daridra Narayan (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.

The Health Minister needs to set about ensuring that India become the world’s manufactory for affordable medication.
Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda
ahatma Gandhi constantly spoke of the "Daridra Narayan" — the poor and the disadvantaged. However, successive "followers" of his have favoured policies that ignore the interests of the poor in favour of promoting the cause of the wealthy. In practice, policymakers framing policies appear to have focused their attention not on the poorest individual they have met, but the richest, ensuring that the latter get more goodies, usually at the expense of the former. Now news reports have emerged that the Ministry of Health is refusing to act on a plea by Cipla, a domestic drug company known for its generic products, to waive patent rights in five drugs for which the patent is held by a multinational company known for the unaffordable prices it charges for several of its products. Indeed, the Ministry of Health has in the past as well been very stingy in the use of the powers granted to it to ensure that medication be made available at prices affordable to those who are not millionaires. Section 66 of the Patents Act, which seeks to empower the state to override efforts by companies to use the excuse of patents to charge predatory pricing for life-saving medication, has been used only twice during the past two decades, even when the situation facing millions of patients is desperate. While the US and its allies across the Atlantic constantly talk of "human rights", they have ensured the often painful death or continued suffering of millions of the underprivileged by the way in which they have protected the profits of a handful of drug companies at the expense of the general welfare. Indeed, Cipla and other generic drug manufacturers from India have over the years faced considerable harassment from governments which claim superiority over others in their adherence to human values. Killing poor patients by depriving them of affordable medication is clearly not in their list of desirable values.
Now that J.P. Nadda has become the Union Minister for Health, it is expected of him that he will place the interests of the "Daridra Narayan" above that of billionaires while taking decisions. What is needed is to ensure that more action get taken on the lines of that done by the Manmohan Singh government in 2012, which sharply brought down the price of a cancer drug by allowing a domestic manufacturer to make the medication and sell it at a small fraction of what was being charged by the multinational corporation, which till then had a monopoly over manufacture. Hopefully, now that President Barack Obama appears in the final two years of his term in office, to be closer to the idealist he seemed to be while first campaigning for the job, he will reverse his administration's policy of blocking rather than encouraging generic medicines from India into competing with higher-priced alternatives. Unless universal healthcare in the US is made affordable, it will never have the welfare benefits sought by supporters, and for healthcare to be affordable, the Indian generic drug industry needs to be encouraged and not suppressed.Already, India has become a haven for the poor across the globe who have thus far been denied medication at affordable prices. Health Minister Nadda needs to set about ensuring that this country becomes the world's manufactory for affordable medication, but for this to happen, he has to reverse the mindset of those in government who have succumbed to the lobbying of multinational companies and their army of supportive NGOs. The Supreme Court of India is the fountain of justice to which the people of this country can turn to, should multinational companies and their well-funded lobbies attempt to use the legal system in order to delay or even block efforts by the Health Ministry to ensure affordable medicine for all, rather than continue with a situation in which multinational monopolies charge prices which 95% of the people of India would be unable to afford. Rather than concede defeat before the battle has even been joined, the Ministry of Health should examine the need for the medications sought to be manufactured by domestic companies and act wherever the public interest is involved. An international campaign needs to be launched by India on the shameful way in which millions of seriously ill poor are being condemned to death and suffering because of the obstinacy of governments that should know better. Certainly patent protection needs to be given, but this ought not to get tweaked into indefinite extension of monopolies. Also, while the costs of research do need to be met, such discoveries ought not to become an excuse for price gouging. We are not talking of lipstick or haute couture, but medicines. We are talking of the difference between life and death, between illness and health.
It is expected of the government that it will stand by the poor in the matter of licensing drugs for domestic manufacture rather than succumb to the siren call of lobbyists. The Health Minister needs to be made aware that already such monopoly interests appear to have made deep inroads into the decision-making levels in his department. Instead, what is needed is a policy designed to ensure that India becomes the global laboratory and producer of affordable medicines, a development which would benefit even those countries now standing in the way of such policies.

India unprepared to counter cyber warfare (Sunday Guardian)

‘India suffered two power grid blackouts in 2012, which were assumed to be routine overdrawing of power. Possibility of a cyber attack was never examined.’
MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 20th Dec 2014
Military experts warn that the cyber sphere will be the means through which future wars, espionage, economic destruction, creation of paralysis through mass eruptions and social tensions through misinformation get waged. As yet, however, official focus is on conventional warfare, although even that will increasingly have a cyber dimension. Regarding information security, although more than $100 million was spent two years ago in procuring RAX telephones to ensure security of communications within the Government of India, officials warn that several of the units are as yet unused, and that "each day, crucial information on decisions impacting national security get intercepted because of cell phone conversations by senior officials". A senior official pointed out that "RAX phones are allocated only to officers of Joint Secretary level and above, when the fact is that it is junior officers who make the initial file notings guiding decision-making". He warned that intelligence agencies of foreign countries, as well as corporate conglomerates "focus their attention on junior officials, knowing that even the most sensitive files either originate from them or finally get back to their level from higher echelons". It may be mentioned that the RAX system got introduced 35 years ago, but has yet to be improved in order to take account of changes in technology and in the nature of threats. An official pointed out that international service providers routinely allow intelligence agencies in their home countries full access to the conversations routed through them in the countries where they are located.

Another example of official obtuseness in cyber communications is that lower level officials seeking an "nic" (government) email account still have to go through a cumbersome procedure of applying for the same and getting it approved, a process which can take weeks. "Instead, what is needed is to make an 'nic' account automatic for all officials", a senior official pointed out, adding that "nic email is cumbersome and lacks several of the features of Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail", with the result that the latter get preferred even for communications involving official matters. Worse, "hacking into nic mails has become commonplace". Another official pointed out that despite multiple warnings by the Ministry of Home Affairs, "most official computers are still connected to the internet" and therefore vulnerable to hacking and interception from locations across the globe. A senior official claimed that "none of the data with government is secure".
This is in a context where cyber threats are multiplying across the globe. In 2013, more than 60% of the data passing through undersea cables in the Pacific Ocean got routed through servers in China for nearly 20 minutes. Three years ago, US authorities discovered "worms" in its power grid software that — if activated — could shut off electric supply across much of the country.

"India suffered two huge power grid blackouts in 2012, which were assumed to be routine overdrawing of power. The possibility of a cyber attack was never examined", a senior official warned, adding that "to the Indian establishment, the cyber world is something of interest only to their children".

Given the country's talent, developing cutting-edge cyber capability would be possible for the government. At present, small cyber task forces exist within DRDO, NTRO, R&AW, IB and the armed forces, but as yet, according to senior officials, none of these is approaching the standards needed to keep India secure from cyber threats. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken of Digital India, as yet concrete action to translate his wish into reality appears to be missing even after 26 May 2014. Instead of seeking to assist in the development of homegrown versions of Yahoo!, Google, WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, "all that the government is doing is continuing the Manmohan Singh policy of facilitating their monopoly in the Indian market", an official claimed. He added that "domestic competitors such as Flipkart find themselves enmeshed in trouble from mysterious quarters when they seek to challenge global competitors even in the domestic market". It may be pointed out that as yet, Government of India does not require information on how, for example, the overseas travel and study of dependents of senior officials and policymakers is being funded, in contrast to countries such as the US or (since Xi Jinping took charge) China, where such information is routinely docketed.

In contrast to India, its northern neighbour (China) has developed homegrown alternatives to each of these platforms, with names such as WeChat, Sina Weibo and Baidu, so that the vulnerability created by platforms over which state agencies in India have no control gets eliminated. In contrast, successive governments in India have ignored such a need, indeed with several top policymakers becoming avid users of foreign platforms. "They forget that the Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur riots were fanned through social media platforms, which were also used to create fear within the northeastern community in Bangalore", an official pointed out, adding that "for a country of India's size and complexity, it is criminal that as yet, cyber platforms and much of telecom is outside the control of government agencies". He warned that "street violence fuelled via social media platforms is very possible in mid-2015, especially if economic growth fails to rise".

Another official pointed out that @shamiwitness and @elsaltador were uncovered by a foreign newspaper rather than by authorities in India. He added that "this is just a single example of a pattern of inattention to the threat posed online". This is a threat that blunderbuss laws restricting freedom of speech such as the Information Technology Act are ill-equipped to deal with.

North Korea's cyber attack on Sony, which caused the corporation to freeze distribution of a film on President Kim Jong Un, is only the latest in a lengthening chain of cyber-attacks, including the 2011 US-Israel Stuxnet attack on Iran's nuclear programme, which almost caused a nuclear accident at Bushehr. In India, although 10% of the Union Budget gets allocated to defence, of this, less than 0.5% is spent on cyber protection and offensive capabilities. Experts within the system warn that "lack of attention to what has become a country-paralysing weapon of mass destruction has resulted in India having very poor defences against a determined cyber attack". They warn that daily, cyber attacks take place, including on domestic companies, that leach secrets or slow down processing, and that awareness of such threats is still very low within decision-makers across the board in India. "Prime Minister Modi has drawn attention to drug addiction in his radio talks. The PM should now talk of cyber threats and the need for vigilance", an expert pointed out, adding that "much more work needs to be done by his own government if the PM's desire for a secure Information Superhighway is to get realised".