Sunday 30 August 2015

A Clinton-Sarkozy-Cameron human flood (Sunday Guardian)

The trio are at the root of the chain of events that led to the formation of ISIS, and as a result , the violence that followed soon after.
t must be difficult to escape from visions of grandeur, when one is the leader of a country which controlled a significant portion of the globe's land area less than a century ago. Each of us has known a compulsive do-gooder, who is never at ease unless he or she seeks to "make things better" through interventions, which usually end up making a bad situation worse. Having crammed the histories of France and the UK in their school years, it is obviously difficult to let go of the illusion that a similar degree of influence (of course, this time of the "soft" variety) can still be conjured up within former colonies. In 2011, there was a frenzy of do-gooding among the former colonial powers of Europe, joined by the US, whose foreign policy was being substantially shaped by an individual who from the start has been more European than American in her reflexes, Hillary Rodham Clinton. The cry to "make things better" was initiated by a French thinker, who passes off as a philosopher, who called on French President Nicolas Sarkozy to "save hundreds of thousands of innocent people at Benghazi". How was this very commendable task to be achieved? By unleashing bombs and missiles at clusters of human beings in Libya identified by secretive local agents as being "Gaddafi men" (and therefore not deserving of life). Sarkozy, eager to prove that rumours that he had received lavish gifts from Muammar Gaddafi were false, led a lynch mob joined by David Cameron and Hillary Clinton who finally got their man, who just years ago had turned over his WMD supplies and his military secrets to his future executioners.
Having rid Libyans of dictatorship and introduced "democracy" via rule by local warlords and terror gangs, the do-gooder trio turned to Syria, marking Bashar Assad for the same fate as the Libyan dictator. In Libya, about a fourth of the country's tribes — mostly located in the east and to a smaller extent, in the centre — wanted Gaddafi to go, mainly for tribal reasons, or because he was seen as an apostate by Wahhabis. Together with targeted attacks by NATO, such support proved sufficient to defeat Gaddafi. However, in Syria, the proportion of Wahhabis within the Sunni population is less than 15%, while this time around, Moscow growled in menace at the prospect of one of its closest allies being taken down and replaced by a hitherto nameless individual chosen by a half-dozen secret services for the single quality of docile obedience to their commands, which were often delivered in public, on the Iraq model. From the start, the fighting was done by the more fanatic amongst those who sought the ouster of Assad, mainly because he was an Alawite, a sect regarded with as much hatred amongst Wahhabis in Syria as Ahmadiyas are in Pakistan.
These were gifted cash, weapons and training under the supervision of Turkey, France, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and in a year, morphed into what is now termed ISIS. This transformation from ersatz moderate was predicted (for example, by this columnist), but the Clinton-Sarkozy-Cameron trio did not bother to check on the possibility that — as in Afghanistan — those given weapons may some day turn against their benefactors. Soon, Syria became as unsafe for non-fanatics as Libya had become after the do-gooders completed their work of ridding the globe of Gaddafi and much of his family and friends.
The forced removal from office of a dictator, who, by that time, posed zero threat to the security interests of the US, France and the UK, led to the effort to do likewise with Assad, beginning a chain of consequences that are these days ending up as corpses in refrigerator vans across the western part of Europe. Each such death is the direct consequence of decisions taken by Hillary Clinton, Nicolas Sarkozy (later followed by Francois Hollande) and David Cameron, but in obedience to the principle that members of the NATO alliance cannot by definition be guilty of human rights violations, blame is being placed on "people smugglers". These creatures are far down the chain of responsibility for the situation in Libya, Syria and now Iraq, and while they deserve jail and worse, what about those who took the decisions which led to the present chaos? Cameron has been re-elected, although he appears to have lost somewhat his appetite for missiles and bombs as instruments to promote human rights.
As for Hillary Clinton, her objective is to become the lawful occupant of the White House office once occupied by her husband. Thus far, there seems to be little talk of the way in which decisions taken by the former Secretary of State have led to misery and violence across huge swathes of territory. But of course, like Cameron and Sarkozy, Clinton has a "007" licence to take decisions which lead to a horrendous loss of lives without any visible consequences.
By 2017, more than three million people from the locations "improved" by the do-gooders in Paris, London and Washington are likely to reach some shore or the other of Europe, and practically all of them will over time become permanent residents of countries within the EU. Perhaps that was the intention of the trio, to reverse population decline in Europe and populate the continent with the young, this time from North Africa and West Asia.

Saturday 29 August 2015

First Trans-Himalaya Development Forum (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Friday, August 28, 2015 - The first Trans-Himalaya Development Forum (THDF) was held in the picturesque town of Mangshi in the Yunnan province of China on August 25 and 26, with scholars and experts from nine countries participating. These were India, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Maldives, and the discussions focussed on ways of boosting the economic synergy between these countries, so as to lead to a higher overall growth rate for a region which has a population of 3 billion and a combined GDP more than that of the US. The conference was organized by the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) in collaboration with the Government of Dehong-Jingpo prefecture. This is a part of China where 48% of the population belong to ethnic minorities, each speaking their own language and having a distinct culture and tradition from the Han majority. Although there have been phases in the 65-year history of China as a Peoples Republic where local cultures were frowned upon by Communist Party officials, the period since 1983 has seen a relaxation in such measures. 

Connectivity is central to economic transformation. The effect of internet communications has been to create a web of linkages conducive to increased participation in growth activities. In India, because of online booking of tickets, corruption in the sale of railway tickets has come down substantially, and the same is happening in other sectors going online, such as the issue of visas and passports. However, while the information superhighway has reached almost every part of the globe, physical infrastructure has lagged behind, with the result that several regions are not able to leverage the advantages that their populations can bring, were there better road, rail and air connectivity. China has moved ahead at a very high rate of speed in improving physical infrastructure, and this experience would be useful to its neighbors, were it to be reproduced in countries with far lower levels of infrastructure. 

The recent setting up of an investment bank by the BRICS powers ( which should be expanded to BRIICS, so as to include Indonesia) provides a vehicle for funding such ventures. Together, India and China have the strengths to ensure fast and effective development of infrastructure across the trans-Himalayan region, and the conference represents a first step in such a process of cooperation between them as well as the other countries involved in the initiative. Fortunately, discussions at the meeting took place in an atmosphere free opt geopolitical tensions, with the Indian and Pakistani delegations having a cordial exchange of views. While the suggestions diverged on occasion,. there was a substantial amount of commonality between them, reflecting the fact that poverty is the most deadly foe confronting the two subcontinental neighbours.

President Xi Jinping’s concept of “One Belt One Road” is a bold plan, and to succeed, needs to be seen as an entity rather than regarded as two separate segments, one in the west and the other in the east. There has to be an integration of west and east, and for this to happen, there needs to be seamless connectivity across both sides. Thus, Pakistan would gain access through India for its land trade with Bangladesh and ASEAN, while India would gain access to Afghanistan and Central Asia for its commodity exports and imports from these important locations. Certainly there are questions of sovereignty still to get decided, but the fact is that access is at the core of such discussions, and if access gets given, talks about more difficult problems will take place in a more cordial and cooperative atmosphere. President Xi’s “One Belt One Road” is in truth “One Belt and One Road”, and needs to be implemented in a comprehensive and cooperative way for the countries of the region and beyond to gain the benefits possible from the plan. 

Interestingly, both the Indian and Pakistani delegations were broadly supportive of the suggestion for access through each country for the other. Such a move would be a game changer, creating jn the process several hundreds of thousands of new jobs in both India and Pakistan that are linked to trade and commerce with each other and through each other, rather than - as now - through trading ports such as Dubai. It was pointed out that after decades of differences of view, India and Bangladesh have agreed to use each other’s territory to ferry trade and people across each other country’s territory. Should a similar situation take place between Pakistan and India, both countries may be able to cool down the superheated rhetoric which often takes centre stage while discussions on mutual ties take place in each other’s country. The Trans-Himalaya Development Forum saw some very clear exposition of different points of view by the Indian and the Pakistani participants, but in an atmosphere of calm and friendliness. Alka Acharya from India began the dialogue on the question of Indian access to Central Asia and Afghanistan through Pakistan, a stance which found understanding among others.

Water was an important focus, with Khalid Rehman of the Pakistan Institute of Policy Studies raising the matter initially, and being followed by this columnist, who pointed to the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan as a possible model for a water treaty between China and the lower riparian states, so that tensions related to the sharing of water would be reduced in future. Overall, the breadth and depth of the connectivity suggested in the “One Belt One Road” initiative has transformational potential, provided it is imll; emanated in a manner that is deemed to be equitable to all participating countries. For too long, arguments on geopolitics has held up trade and commerce in the Himalayan region, and this approach needs to get replaced by a series of measures that recognize the fact that cooperation for economic development is force multiplier for stability in the region. 

The expectation is that the suggestions made during the August 24-25 conference will be communicated to the governments involved, such that cooperation rather than conflict, And that the focus changes not on differences over geopolitics but on the need to expand the boundaries of growth. The internet has shown how boundaries have become less and less of an obstacle in the crafting of ties between the different countries of the globe. In present, links are getting established both west and east of the region,such as that between India and Myanmar and between China and Pakistan. Truly can it be said of the countries in the region that economic imperatives are driving forward the agenda of connectivity that was the subject of discussion at Mangshi.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

Sunday 23 August 2015

It’s jobs, and not sainthood, that count (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.
It’s jobs, and not sainthood, that count
It is time for Modi to show the same innovation in his economic principles that he has shown in foreign policy matters.
hose who have been tracking Narendra Damodardas Modi since 2001, and few even earlier, have mostly been surprised at the difference between his foreign policy initiatives and the manner in which the Prime Minister has been tackling the domestic problem of the economy. By 2022, India will have as many citizens as China, with barely a fifth of that country's gross output. Unemployment is an illness that works steadily and insidiously on the determination of an individual, with prolonged periods draining it away and often replacing effort with ennui. The jobless are fodder for extremist groups of all faiths, as witness what took place in Germany in the 1930s. A country that had gifted the world some of its finest musicians and philosophers, morphed into a nation run by thugs, with hundreds of thousands joining in the annihilation of the innocent. If we consider how many inventions useful to humankind were developed by Jewish minds, the scale of the loss becomes clear. Those six million Jews murdered by Hitler and his party could, had they been alive, created countless additional works of art, literature and science to enrich the world. The spiralling cost of bread was a key driver of the "Arab Spring", much more potent than any mass reach-out towards democracy, as otherwise organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood could not have been elected to office in an ancient country such as Egypt, of course, with a nudge from the United States and its NATO allies. For Prime Minister Modi, the first three items in any ten-point agenda needs to be jobs, jobs and more jobs. The top layer of decision makers in government, including politicians holding paid office in legislatures, Parliament and elsewhere, need to be intensively — and subtly — monitored, and wrongdoers punished rather than be allowed to continue in their posts. The IAS is an organisation having several who have the will to effect changes beneficial to the public. However, it needs to be changed from the present form, in which promotions have become a matter of ritual, and horizontal entry from elements of civil society barred. In foreign policy, it is apparent that Prime Minister Modi followed his own instincts rather than the diktat of officials, although on matters relating to fiscal and monetary issues, he seems to be going by the consensus evolved by officials, rather than following his instincts. Hence the paradox of a Modi government continuing with the high tax, regulation and interest rate regime of its predecessor. The best way to double and then again double the number of those in the formal tax net would be to lower rates, while an effective way to boost the service economy, on which so many jobs depend, would be to slash rates rather than boost them. Not only are high interest rates making the products of Indian businesses non-competitive, so are tax rates. Prime Minister Modi has not favoured any particular business house over others, as a look at balance sheets would reveal. However, he needs to do more, for example, by asking government banks to convert long-outstanding loans in selected companies into equity and disposing these of in the market in a fashion designed to avoid a slump in prices.
The top layer of decision makers in government, including politicians holding paid office in legislatures, Parliament and elsewhere, need to be monitored and wrongdoers punished rather than be allowed to continue in their posts. 
While the babus of the Finance Ministry still believe in the P. Chidambaram model, their counterparts in the Home Ministry seek to make this country even less welcoming of individual liberty than it was during the UPA period. How else to explain the focus on pornography at a time when attention ought to be on the multiplying websites attracting youths to ISIS and like ideologies? As for the Telecom Ministry, it was a shock to see its defence in the Supreme Court of 66A of the Information Technology Act, so to expect it to defend net neutrality in the absence of a public outcry against efforts to dilute it would be unrealistic. As for the Law Ministry, officials there need to read their Constitution of India, and try and reconcile the thrust of this with their UPA-style defence of colonial laws such as Criminal Defamation. What is one to make of BJP-ruled Maharashtra, where diet is regarded as being as much a responsibility of the state as it is in Somalia or Afghanistan and where even those who are married are made the subject of unwelcome attention by the police if they so much as hold hands in public? While zealots are welcome to seek — through peaceful and non-intrusive persuasion — to seek to convert the 1.26 billion people of India into saints, the Prime Minister and his party will be principally judged by the success or otherwise of his economic policies. It is, therefore, time for Narendra Modi to show in his core economic policies the same spirit of innovation that he has displayed in matters of foreign policy.

Friday 21 August 2015

UAE’s Sheikh Zayed leads the way (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Friday, August 21, 2015 - In warfare, what counts is less territory than minds. Capturing land without winning the loyalty of those resident in that area would be of little value, as was clear in Iraq after the 2003 defeat of Saddam Hussein’s conventional forces by the US. Almost every tenet of psychological operations was trampled underfoot by the George W Bush administration, which could not understand the pride of the people of Iraq, a land that has a recorded history of more than three thousand years. The people of Iraq are enthusiasts of argument, and it is not uncommon to see them debate issues with each other in a very loud voice. Unfortunately for them, this aspect of Iraqi behaviour was not communicated to the 20-year olds in the US army who were in charge of security in Baghdad and other locations. 

Some of the armed groups that have emerged in what is termed the Middle East owe the bulk of their recruitment to resentment at such disregard for life, although these cannot be compared to Daesh (ISIS) or Al Qaeda, which owe their origins to a sense of mission, however twisted the objectives of such an endeavour be Interestingly, some scholars seek to distinguish between Al Qaeda and Daesh , and even to claim that the former can be used to defeat the latter. It is true that in a formal way, ultimately Daesh - the way it is progressing in the permissive climate created by the US and its European and regional allies - will subsume Al Qaeda. The overwhelming majority of adherents of the latter will desert Al-Qaeda and head for Daesh. Indeed, the danger posed by the new organisation is far greater than that which had been present when earlier variants of this school of extremism flourished. 

While the Taliban were the least likely to attract adherents from outside a defined geographical and societal pool, what was termed Al Qaeda had more pulling power, and used social media much more expertly than Mullah Omar’s men. However, the latest version (which has morphed from the earlier variant) is potent enough to attract individuals from across the globe, including those with less than an elementary grounding in theology. Daesh can proliferate in cities across the globe, including in the most developed corners, and with minimal contact and ideological reinforcement, would be able to create cells which would operate as a complete unit, choosing from a basket of tasks from suicide bombing to bombing to seeking to join battle units in Syria and Iraq. 

Just as the AK-47 was deadly in its simplicity and its deadly effect, Daesh is the most potent threat to confront the globe since Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. Unlike that country, which fought a conventional war, Daesh would fight a war that was atomised, that was separated into small actions, such as the bombing in Bangkok, which appears to be its handiwork. The only remedy would be todeprive the organisation of the territory which gives it legitimacy, the way Afghanistan conferred status on Al Qaeda from 1996 to 2001.

Sheikh Zayed, the titular head of the UAE has shown the way in ensuring that modernity and moderation prevail over extremism and exclusivism. After all, as has been made clear in the past, the mind is the battlefield. In this context, it was of relevance to note that the United Arab Emirates has sanctioned the setting up of a Hindu temple in that country. It needs to be remembered that every human being is a child of the Almighty, and therefore we are brothers and sisters of each other, no matter what belief systems we hold to. 

The fact of every person in every part of the globe being brought to life under the wisdom and control of the Almighty is clear, and hence the reason why those who accept the mercy, compassion and beneficience repeatedly taught in the Word of God will show those qualities to other human beings. To do otherwise would be to go contrary to the foundational message revealed fifteen centuries ago. The people of the GCC, in common with Arab people everywhere, are tolerant and friendly, and have shown this by welcoming into their lands tens of millions from other countries, including those who profess a faith different from the regional norm. 

There are Christian churches in the GCC countries, as also Sikh gurudwaras, and these will be joined by a Hindu temple. By this single action, Sheikh Zayed has shown the falsity of the claims made by Islamophobes, that adherents of the faith are intolerant. Across India, those who thought that such a gesture was impossible in that part of the world are now re-evaluating their impressions, and this can be expected to have a very beneficial effect on relations between Hindus and Muslims in India. 

The GCC and South Asia form a synergistic alliance, for the countries within both regions have multiple strengths, the impact of which could be magnified several times were they to cooperate. After 34 years of neglect, Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first PM to visit the UAE, a country far more important than many of the countries which Prime Ministers in India visit frequently. 

Hopefully, he will visit the GCC several times each year, for the Council is crucial to the success of his Make in India policy. Having lost trillions of dollars in the 2008 financial crash caused by Wall Street greed, and at risk of losing an equal sum because of the turmoil besieging the euro, India offers an investment opportunity with significant long-term potential. Prime Minister Modi has already cut through the knot of commercial links with China by overriding the security agencies and granting e-visas to Chinese nationals. He has also welcomed investment from China, in contrast to Manmohan Singh, who never failed to look to Europe and the US for guidance in the making of policy. Both East Asia (Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan) and West Asia (the GCC) are on course to become the biggest investors in India, with promise of overtaking the US and EU by a significant margin, and this has been factored in by Prime Minister Modi in his outreach to both regions. 

Meanwhile, those who used to go about complaining about the “narrow mindedness” of the GCC Sheikhs where it came to freedom of religion have been silenced by the noble gesture of Sheikh Zayed, of allowing a Hindu temple in his land, under the same sky and close to the same seas and breathing the same air which has been created by the Almighty for all living creations.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India. 

Sunday 16 August 2015

Modi must change Delhi to win Bihar (Sunday Guardian)

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

The fear of continuing blockage in the working of government were the UPA returned to a third term, was crucial in several tens of millions of voters entering the BJP corral, thereby giving the party a workable majority in the Lok Sabha. But after 16 May 2014, the excuse of "coalition compulsions" cannot be used to justify lapses in performance by the BJP. The skeletal presence of the Congress in the Lok Sabha will not be accepted by voters as reason enough for important legislative enactments to get put off session after session, including GST, the Land Bill, the Real Estate Bill, the Whistleblowers Act and several others. Contrary to the impression of paralysis, the reality is that several administrative initiatives have been taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in several ministries. However, perceptions differ. And the most common is the view that the change in the chemistry and mechanics of governance between the UPA and the NDA has been marginal. In reality, Prime Minister Modi has done much to ensure that the gears and sprockets of the administrative machinery operate at a much higher level of efficiency than was the case under his predecessor. However, few of these changes are visible to those outside the government, with the consequence that many who voted for the BJP last year feel disappointed.
The cautious approach of the BJP leadership towards making the transformational administrative changes expected of the new government has given rise to the view among his admirers that the Prime Minister is in the process of working out a Modi Model for all-India governance in the same way as he did within two years of his taking over the Gujarat administration, when a state-level model of governance was crafted that delivered enough to ensure the continuing loyalty of the electorate to him and to his party. In contrast, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao as Industry Minister downsized the powers of this and other ministries to kick-start the 1990s reform process, although the credit went to Manmohan Singh, whose image as a reformer was damaged somewhat by the damp performance of the gentle economist as PM. The excuse was that "Sonia would not allow it", as though a Prime Minister in India lacks the instruments to enforce his will.
Interestingly, despite a raft of criminal charges hurled in the direction of Sonia Gandhi and her closest collaborators in the two years leading up to the 2014 polls, thus far they have escaped legal retribution at the hands of Team Modi, thereby gifting the Congress a chance to turn the tables and accuse Prime Minister Modi himself of "not doing anything to battle corruption". Clearly, the reliance of the new government on the bureaucracy for not simply the implementation but even the formulation of policy has not helped the process of transformation in governance expected of Modi, for bureaucrats are known to be cautious to a double fault, and to shy away from change. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, with both of whom Modi has been compared, set about implementing their ideologies within a short time of assuming office. Although Prime Minister Modi is known to believe in low taxes, low regulation and reliance more on private than state initiative, thus far such a philosophy does not seem to have been reflected in the working of his government. It is time that this changed.
There is a focus on Bihar within the BJP, and it is a given that a defeat there would damage not simply the reputation but the ability of the Central government to effect change. Progress needs the system to work at a high level of motivation, and unless officials believe in the transformative will of Narendra Modi, they will not put in the extra effort needed to nudge the economy onto the double digit track. Thatcher or Reagan did not allow either traditionalist colleagues or change-resistant bureaucrats to slow them down, and neither should Modi.
For a start, a special session of Parliament should be called by month-end to pass key bills which have been stalled for more than a year, and these without the restrictive clauses (for example in the Whistleblowers Act) put in by a bureaucracy intent on retaining its colonial-style control over the citizen. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not elected to tweak the system, but to alter it, and the best way of achieving this would be to downsize the powers of several of the agencies of the state far more comprehensively than Narasimha Rao could.
Rather than seek to out-Lalu Lalu through the use of the caste card, the BJP must show that it is bringing about the change that voters sought when they gave the party their mandate. Not passing the Land Bill, for instance, would just confirm the impression that it was "anti-farmer", when in fact, it is pro-growth in a context where two hundred million now working on farms need to move to other occupations to escape poverty. Modi has to deliver on the ideology of "Minimum Government, Maximum Governance" that secured him the vote of tens of millions aspiring for a life freed from penury.
The voters of Bihar showed in 2014 that they could transcend caste and community in choosing a leader who promised to deliver. Now that PM Modi has a majority in the Lok Sabha, he needs to show that he can deliver results at the Centre, so that voters in Bihar give his party a mandate to rule. After all, it is his ministry's performance in Delhi that will count with the voter in a state with glorious roots in Indian history and traditions.

Sunday 9 August 2015

Rahul strategy is to damage economy to weaken PM Modi (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 8th Aug 2015
The Congress party has deliberately embarked on a "scorched earth" strategy of blocking legislative avenues for faster growth in order to discredit Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reputation as a leader who can create jobs and raise incomes overall. This is the reason why that party's functionaries say, there is no room for compromise with the BJP even on issues such as the GST, which was initially backed by the former ruling party.
Scenting success after engineering the chaos in Parliament, where the monsoon session has thus far been wholly unproductive, strategists close to Rahul Gandhi say that the de facto leader of the Congress party "is refining a strategy of seeking to discredit in the voter's mind the Narendra Modi government on four fronts". These are: (a) the economy; (b) interests of the majority community; (c) corruption; and (d) inability to stop acts of terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Aware that passage of the GST and Land Bills may result in large volumes of external investment speedily moving into India, the focus of the Congress is to ensure that their passage gets stalled at least till elections in Bihar are over, so that the BJP's plank of effective governance can be damaged. On this account, BJP floor managers seem helpless in ensuring passage of key legislation, despite they and their allies having an overall majority in both Houses of Parliament. The two NDA budgets appear to have failed to enthuse the alliance's voting base, as they seem similar to UPA-era measures. The rise in service tax and the very small reduction in income-taxes are distancing the BJP from a constituency that had voted overwhelmingly for Narendra Modi in 2014, the middle classes. These segments have been further put off by the "Angrezi Hatao" and other regionalistic moves of a government expected to adopt 21st century values and systems, rather than continue with the harsh regulations and laws favoured by the Sibal-Chidambaram duo during the Manmohan decade.
Aware that the only ace in the BJP pack is the Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi has instructed his party leaders to concentrate on Modi, seeking to portray him as "unwilling to take action against scam-tainted ministers and Chief Ministers". In reality, the Prime Minister has yet to indicate his mind on the matter, and may well be awaiting an opportune moment before acting against those judged to be less than straightforward in their dealings. The Congress is "hoping that such action will come only after the Bihar Assembly polls, if it comes at all", a key associate of the Congress leadership revealed.
Strategists close to Rahul Gandhi say that the BJP's continuing "defence of Pankaja Munde, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje and Sushma Swaraj is assisting Rahul Gandhi to make the point that there is nothing to choose from between RJD and BJP in the matter of corruption". At present, Lalu Yadav (although certified as ethically fit by former CBI director Ranjit Sinha) is damaging the "good governance" record of Nitish Kumar, whose eagerness to consolidate the minority and Yadav vote banks led to the alliance with Lalu, despite the damage this has caused to his overall image. The strategy of the Congress is to "change the focus of attention away from Lalu to Sushma Swaraj and other BJP leaders accused of improper conduct" by the time the Bihar Assembly elections fall due in two months' time. The Congress has been assisted in its battle by the fact that the Modi government — in the face of promises made during the election campaign — has yet to file even a preliminary enquiry against the central UPA leaders accused of corruption by the present ruling party. Also, the many improvements in public administration made by the PMO have yet to be properly showcased, and several of the new measures are still unknown to the public, although apparent to those dealing with government agencies.
The Congress has been assisted — coincidentally — by RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, an appointee of Manmohan Singh who has surprisingly been embraced by the new government, with Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha being his primary cheerleader within the National Democratic Alliance. The high interest rate regime implemented by Rajan has led to a slackening of industrial investment and consumer demand, including in such employment-generating sectors as construction. Capacity utilisation is at a meagre 60%, while the IMF predicts that the earnings of 4,800 Indian companies surveyed would see a fall of 20%, at a time when the costs of borrowing would go up by 30%. The IMF has also predicted a further sharp depreciation in the Indian rupee. Incidentally, the significant fall in the value of the rupee under Rajan's watch has not led to a rise in exports, which have instead fallen by 16% in the first quarter of FY 2015-16, compared to the same period in the previous year. Despite the sharp fall in oil and other commodities leading to a reduction in the import bill of $40 billion in FY 2014-15, the external debt coverage ratio has risen to 7.5% of GDP in FY 2014-15, as against 6% during the previous three years. This is despite the collapse in oil prices and a good monsoon. As yet, the new government has not been able to implement a comprehensive house-cleaning of key slots that would remove tainted officers and replace them with better substitutes, although each month, progress is being made in this direction because of pressure from the PMO. Congress strategists are using economic data to discredit the BJP claim that it can boost economic prospects. Low rural demand and absence of job creation are other points being taken up by Rahul Gandhi, who is in the happy position of impacting growth prospects by preventing key legislation from getting passed, and then using this fact to his party's advantage. "We will oppose GST, the Land Bill and easing of labour laws," a key strategist warned. It is not accidental that the three are essential if India is to attract the external and internal investment needed to raise growth to double digits.
Growth has been affected substantially by an RBI Governor who is following the philosophy of former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. Raghuram Rajan is aware that the US and India are in different trajectories, yet he may refuse to avoid such errors as substituting the Consumer Price Index for the Wholesale Price Index, a measure more suited to a developed economy than a country such as India with severe bottlenecks between wholesale and retail. The CPI has been used by the RBI Governor to keep interest rates high, to the delight of the Congress party, and this despite the fact that wholesale prices have been in negative territory throughout 2015.
Congress strategists say that a task force is at work seeking to discover corruption charges against members of Team Modi and that the weeks before the Bihar election will see a blizzard of allegations against senior BJP leaders to "showcase the party as being corrupt from top to bottom". At the same time, matters such as "neglect of Hindus from Pakistan who are asking for help but getting nowhere" are being brought up by the Congress to seek to chip away at the saffron support base of Prime Minister Modi.
Thus far, the BJP response to the evolving strategy of Rahul Gandhi and his new team of advisers has been to stonewall all accusations and wait the Congress campaign out. Should Rahul Gandhi succeed in ensuring that key bills do not get passed during the monsoon session of Parliament, as seems likely, it will be an uphill task even for a leader as capable as Prime Minister Modi to show the people of India (specifically the Bihar voter) that his government can actually deliver on the high growth and watertight security promised during the last Lok Sabha campaign. However, those tracking the career of Prime Minister Modi point out that adversity brings out the best in him, and are therefore expecting both personnel and policy changes designed to weed out non-performers and replace them with efficient implementers. Should such steps get taken by Modi before the Bihar elections, Rahul Gandhi's expectation of a sweep for the Congress-JDU-RJD alliance may prove to be a false prophesy.

Saturday 8 August 2015

Modi's 21st Century Vision Sabotaged (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat

Friday, August 07, 2015 - The digital world is presumed to be free, or at the least much more independent than either print or broadcast media. In India, however, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad seems intent on ensuring state control over the internet, despite protestations to the contrary.The latest move is to use his powers to set up a “Morality Police” on the lines of the Saudi Arabian Muttawa or what was in vogue in Afghanistan. During this entire period, the Taliban were welcome guests in Washington and in capitals such as London, where high officials would set apart large chunks of time for them, besides on occasion ensuring funding and logistics for their activities. 

Now the world’s largest democracy is in the process of establishing its own “morality police”, with the call for an “anti-pornography Ombudsman” who would scan internet sites and those active on them to identify “wrong-doers”. Amazingly, the inspiration for such a move has - according to the government - come from H L Dattu, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, an institution which is supposed to protect freedoms rather than restrict them even further in a country weighed down by a colonial-era legal system. Thanks to such regressive laws, there is no lack of laws for punishing those found guilty by India’s version of the Muttawa. The Information Technology Act is grotesquely vast in its scope and in its penal provisions, despite the removal (through a Supreme Court order of Section 66A,which gave license for any policeman to arrest any individual found surfing the internet on mere suspicion). 

On August 2,the Department of Telecom (which has been responsible for the slow strangulation of the information technology industry in India since its inception) blocked 857 sites on the grounds that they were “pornographic”. Several of the sites contained no porn at all, while most would be classified as “vanilla” in the context of global standards. The reason given for blocking the sites is that they offend “morality” and “decency”, terms so subjective and so diffuse as to lack any meaning except as a means towards censorship and harassment. This action, which has made the Department of Telecom even more of a laughing stock than it has been over the years, was apparently sparked off by a “fighter against pornography”. 

Kamlesh Vaswani, who wanted each of the several million porn sites available worldwide to be banned in India. The only way to achieve such a goal would be to ban internet usage in India, a country with low coverage relative to population size and excruciatingly slow speeds, as it is a simple matter to gain access to blocked sites through proxy servers. Mr Vaswani is apparently a saint who wishes the 1.26 billion people of India to follow his ascetic example, and wishes such a transformation to take place through the bludgeon of law. Minister Prasad clearly is on his side rather than backing the internet freedom needed for the country to modernise itself.

In the 1990s,the growth of software companies such as TCS, Infosys and Wipro gave promise of India becoming the location of choice for future challengers of Microsoft or Google. Instead, the country has become a wasteland thanks to a torrent of legislation since 2000 designed to enhance the power of the authorities in order to favour specific entities. Indeed, the fall in prospects for India to evolve into the leader in internet-related businesses began when the Vajpayee government appointed a minister for the industry. This individual, Pramod Mahajan, was known as a political operator rather a visionary, and his focus was on seeing how the software industry could benefit the political class and its friends. 

In 2005, the legal duo of Palaniappan Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal sharply increased the applicability of the 2000 Information Technology Act, and from then onwards, the journey has been downhill. To operate on the internet is a hazardous task in India, so easy is it to arrest individuals under the many draconian provisions of the Information Technology Act. Unfortunately, rather than remove such impediments to India becoming a Knowledge Economy, the BJP government has continued the Sibal-Chidambaram laws, as indeed it has with other colonial-era laws which ought to have been placed in the dustbin on August 15,1947 itself, when the Union Jack was replaced with the Tricolour over the Viceragal Palace. Of course, because he was begged by Jawaharlal Nehru to stay on in the country’s highest office together with his wife Edwina, Lord Louis Mountbatten continued as its occupant as a symbol of the lack of confidence of India’s leaders in themselves, a view vindicated by subsequent events. There is Divine Law and there is human law, and it is wrong to utilise the latter to enforce the former. Indeed, it is useless trying to do so. Enforcing Prohibition for example only gives rise to smuggled liquor, not to mention bootleg versions that kill. Certainly such deeds as child molestation are horribly evil and sites dealing with them should be discouraged. Those using proxy servers to access such sites should be identified and tracked, lest they harm children. However, it is foolish to try and block other sites, for where will such a crusade for Victorian morality (and hypocrisy) stop? Will the government now ban visitors from going to locations such as Khajuraho, where some of statues are explicit in what is being done? 

PM Modi won international support as a 21st century leader. Some of his ministers are instead seeking to keep India in the 19th century, opposing even necessary moves such as removal of the criminalisation sections of the colonial-era defamation laws. It is time that the 21st century Narendra Modi stood up before his agenda for change gets subverted by some of his less than stellar choices for key positions. Only the Almighty can control human morality, not laws passed by mere mortals, and the use of human law to regulate conduct should apply only in exceptional situations such as murder or physical violence. Seeking to convert a country into a nation of saints is an act of folly that even donkeys would stay away from, but not it seems some of the ministers in the central govt, who are proving an embarassment to PM Modi and his mission of change.