Sunday 28 February 2016

Ambassador Verma, don’t repeat Russia with India (Sunday Guardian)

By M.D. Nalapat | 27 February, 2016
Both Verma and his predecessor Nancy Powell have been known to make sounds which may be construed as directed against the incumbent government.
It is a surprise that several policymakers in Delhi believe that Hillary Clinton would be the best choice for India-US ties in the November 2016 Presidential elections. They look back with nostalgia at Bill Clinton, forgetting the reality. Which is that President Clinton worked obsessively at denuding the people of India of the security earned through the nuclear and missile programme. Not satisfied with this, Clinton ceaselessly worked at delinking Kashmir from the rest of India, going so far as to make a self-confessed votary of the Pakistan army the first ever Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia. In between, he nourished the Taliban, ensuring that these gentlemen were welcomed warmly during their frequent visits to Pakistan. 
Even after Osama bin Laden organised terror attacks during 1998 on US missions in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Bill Clinton did not give up his partiality towards the Taliban. 
It is another matter that after 9/11, both books as well as magazine accounts and interviews by US policymakers trod the make-believe track that it was the Northern Alliance that was the recipient of largesse from Washington, when in fact it was the Pakistan army and its Taliban associates that were being coddled and energised to try and destroy Ahmad Shah Massoud’s men in northwest Afghanistan.
In a display of proof that harmful policies are bipartisan in their application, President George W. Bush adopted the same approach towards the Taliban, whose representatives were welcomed in Washington even a few weeks before 11 September 2001. 
Later, obviously learning nothing from the campaign against the USSR in Afghanistan, President Bush handed over the sheriff’s badge to the very culprit who had provided a safe haven for Al Qaeda, the Pakistan army. Clinton and Bush made the error of ignoring Moscow’s interests while going about assisting in regime change in the Ukraine, expanding both the functions as well as the membership of NATO to unviable levels, and dissipating the pro-US mood of public opinion in Russia by battering Serbia into surrendering Kosovo. Although not as much as Yeltsin, who was in his own way as much of a pushover for the key member-states of NATO as Mikhail Gorbachev was while General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, for a time Vladimir Putin dallied with the idea of crafting an alliance with the US. That collapsed after it became obvious that it would not be a partnership of equals, but a relationship of master to vassal. 
It was around 2007 that Putin accepted that Russia was potentially too powerful a country to ever get accepted as friend and ally by the NATO alliance. To ensure good relations, it would have been needed for Putin to make Moscow as dependent on Washington as Seoul or Riyadh, something that the hyper-patriot from St Petersburg would not countenance, just as he refused to let pass repeated sermons from Washington on democracy and human rights, preachings that were avoided in the case of close US allies such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, both of which are transparent about being an autocracy. 
Is US envoy to India Richard Verma going the way of his predecessor, Nancy Powell? Both have been known by interlocutors to make sounds which may be construed as directed against the incumbent government. 
Verma is now repeatedly touting the virtues of “freedom of speech” in a context where opposition parties are daily alleging the snuffing out of that essentiality of democracy in India. Free speech is a right that is supported wholly by this columnist, who has not been reticent in pointing out the occasional lapses on the part of several members of Team Modi where it comes to civil liberties, including on matters of diet. But in a context where US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is visiting the country in a few weeks’ time and is expected (together with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar) to lift the India-US relationship to an entirely new orbit, one far higher than any experienced between Delhi and Moscow during the Cold War years, to play a tune similar to the cacophony against Team Modi seems a trifle undiplomatic. The Obama administration needs to avoid a repeat in India of the Clinton administration’s 1990s mistakes in dealing with Russia, when a very feasible Moscow-Washington alliance got subverted into what subsequently became a 21st century version of the US-USSR Cold War. 
In a world where the US administration is not universally seen as comprising wholly of saints, it may actually do damage to Narendra Modi detractors with the public rather than good to get—albeit in diplomatic language—the endorsement of the personable and persuasive US ambassador to India. 
The matrix of evolving India-US relations in the time of PM Modi is sensitive, complex and likely to be historic, and given the high chance of such an outcome and its desirability in the global geopolitical context, perhaps the temptation needs to be resisted of converting the US embassy in Delhi into an advocacy NGO for opposition groups in full cry against Narendra Modi, who, incidentally, was elected in May 2014 as the Prime Minister of India by the voters of this democracy.

Modi’s war on two fronts enters decisive phase (Sunday Guardian)

By MADHAV NALAPAT | NEW DELHI | 28 February, 2016
Pakistan GHQ is intensifying the efforts of its ‘non-terror front’.
Officials in India and in partner countries conducting the ongoing War on Terror on ISIS and similar elements warn that the concentration of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) effort on a few students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) may be making them lose sight of a far bigger challenge to national security. This is “the intensification of the Non-Terror Front (NTF) by the Pakistan army’s GHQ at Rawalpindi and its associated organisations”, such as the ISI and numerous NGOs spread across both India as well as in Europe and the United States. Earlier, The Sunday Guardian had drawn attention to a coming “Summer of Discontent” that would witness an artificially created public unrest on a scale designed to “distract and weaken the agencies of the state” and to “throw cold water on the ‘India Story’ showcased by Prime Minister Modi to global investors” (Multiple groups plan hot summer for Modi, 7 February, 2015). Officials are dismayed at, for example, the “seeming reluctance of the Haryana authorities to accept that the recent violence (in the name of reservation for a particular community) was not accidental but deliberate”, or that “the most deadly acts of violence were planned and funded by cash originating from the narcotics industry in Punjab and Rajasthan”. They add that “planning for the violence took place in Dubai and Mumbai”, and that “there is proof via intercepts and travel records to identify the ringleaders behind the violence”. 
However, “these are being protected from enquiry by hawala dealers laundering narcotics cash, and who are close to the officials going slow on action against the ringleaders responsible for the sabotage, arson, loot, rape indulged in by an anti-national clique that acted under cover of the caste agitation”. The Jat community has done yeoman service to India in wartime and their patriotism is stellar. The community, as a whole, would never act in a way designed to weaken India, a country they have served with distinction. Hence, these officials point out, “those few—including many non-Jats—who were responsible for planning and funding the planned acts of violence seen in Haryana and Rajasthan need to be booked rather than allowed a free pass”. Not taking action “would embolden GHQ Rawalpindi to intensify violent stirs across the country”. 
The national and international officials spoken to point to violent incidents that have taken place also in Rajasthan as well as through a stir by Kapu leaders in Andhra Pradesh. These “show evidence of the presence of infiltrators in the ISI’s Non-Terror Wing (NTW), who are using the cover of the agitation to create violence and mayhem across a state that has once again caught the attention of investors globally”. Experts in Counter-Terror Operations (CTOs) express dismay “at the swift conclusion by Maharashtra authorities that the recent fire at a Make in India show was an accident”. According to them, it was providential that “hundreds were not killed in the fire and indeed there were zero casualties” thanks to the absence of panic by the audience and the efficiency of the fire brigade, but “such an outcome seems to have prevented a comprehensive enquiry into what was a devastating incident and to take strong action against those guilty of causing the fire”, even if this were caused only through negligence and not by design. They point out that “whether it is deliberate or accidental can only be found out by a comprehensive enquiry of the depth and reach of a potential counter-terror operation, rather than treating it as a routine matter” simply because there were zero casualties.
According to an international source, GHQ has a ten-point plan to create economic and social chaos in India “soon after the Union Budget gets passed”, and when the economy gets poised for take-off because of investor interest and confidence in a government headed by Narendra Modi. These are: (1) speculative fever funded by operators close to the hawala and narcotics lobby, leading to high prices of essential items; (2) focus on decline in job creation caused by Chicago School economic policies; (3) uptick in the generation of unrest in Kashmir; (4) fanning of radicalism in Punjab on the 1980s Zia-ul-Haq model; (5) terror attacks by ISI-linked groups; (6) efforts at restarting NSCN(K) violence in the Northeast; (7) infiltrating workers’ groups to press for violent action on the lines of the Haryana agitation; (8) use of NGOs to give a negative picture of the government, thereby affecting its morale and possibly its response; (9) campus unrest on an all-India scale; and (10) a global campaign to label India as a country that is intolerant of women, children, the underprivileged and minorities. 
According to those tracking such developments, “the narcotics lobby in India has promised funding for such operations” as the distraction created by such tumult draws attention away from them as well as serves to enervate and, in some cases, even paralyse the working of security agencies, including the police and paramilitary forces. 
Taking a cue from the disruption caused during the August 1974 railway strike of two million workers of this priceless national asset, GHQ Rawalpindi, through its platforms in India, “is looking into ways of ensuring that violent and complete strikes take place” in railways, banking and road transport industries, “thereby burying the India Story for a long time to come”. Unfortunately, the ascendancy of Milton Friedman economic theories in North Block and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has led for over a decade to policies that inhibit growth in the name of battling inflation. The RBI’s substitution of the Consumer Price Index for the Wholesale Price Index (which has been in negative territory for more than a year) has resulted in an interest rate policy that has choked demand and therefore private investment. If newspaper reports are correct, the Economic Advisor to the Ministry of Finance considers 70% of the population of this country to be well-off, something that will be news to hundreds of millions within or close to the margins of poverty defined in any rational way. As a consequence, there has been an absence thus far of the tax cuts and other investment-boosting mechanisms needed to achieve Prime Minister Modi’s wholly achievable target of at least 10 million jobs each year. Some experts worry that in actual fact, jobs have actually declined over the past two years, thanks to UPA-era policies that are yet to be jettisoned by North Block. It is estimated that even more jobs, 12 million annually, are needed to ensure that the young entering the job market be each given gainful occupations. Some officials in the economic ministries appear to be assuming that India is similar to 1970s South America (where there were authoritarian governments able to suppress dissent) and that therefore the effect on tens of millions of potentially volatile citizens of deflationary policies can be ignored. They need to understand that Prime Minister Modi is fully committed to democratic values and practices in sync with his call for “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” and that therefore to create a policy matrix ignoring social impact is wrong. Such Chicago School types are ignoring even the factor of negative rural demand caused by two drought years and three drought seasons in their deflationary zeal. Such an approach is inadvertently feeding into GHQ’s plans to create unrest and chaos through its Non-Terror Wing. 
2016 is a year crucial for not simply the political fortunes of the BJP but the very future of India. This is a year where Prime Minister Modi will need to ensure the defeat of not only the Terror Front but the Non-terror front as well. This will require a close examination of existing personnel and policies and their replacement by those suited to the 21st century and to the human and security needs of the 1.26 billion people of India, whatever be their religion or state. Given the experience of Gujarat, where Year 3 and Year 4 of the Modi era saw remarkable improvements in the policy matrix, there is optimism that 2016 will witness the transformational change that voters in India have been anticipating since 2014.

Saturday 27 February 2016

Economics in Indian context (Pakistan Observer)

DESPITE several terror attacks worldwide, including in Mumbai, India’s growth story has not weakened. It will take a lot more than terror to slow them down. Faulty policy by both the Union Finance Ministry as well as the Reserve Bank of India are what is slowing down the economy of India, preventing the country from benefitting fully from the bounty presented by the steep fall in global commodity prices during the past year. In the case of most commodities, the benefits of the lower price has not been distributed to consumers, and has gone to either the government or to private conglomerates in the form of tax and profits. Not content with such a windfall, it is expected by economists that on February 29,the conservative, indeed hyer-cautious, officials in the Finance Ministry will ensure that tax rates not decline but actually increase, especially in the case of Service Tax. Throughout past two decades, it has been the service sector that has ensured greater levels of employment in the economy, thereby providing a safety valve to damp social unrest, especially amongst youth.

However, from the first years of the 2004-2014 Manmohan Singh government to the present Narendra Modi regime, the Golden Goose which is the Services sector is being taxed and regulated in such a way that growth within it is getting stifled. The Service Sector tax is implemented in so draconian a manner that it has to be paid immediately, despite situations where payment has not yet been received by the service provider, and in many cases may never be received at all. Very recently, senior managers of a travel portal faced imprisonment over a Service Tax dispute, thereby sending shivers across companies in India, a country that has almost as many regulations as it has people. Thus, the total tax paid at what is by global standards a moderate level of income comes to more than 45% of the income earned, clearly a disincentive to many and has become a cause for unaccounted payments rising in order to escape such an onerous tax burden.

The worst sufferers are honest taxpayers, who these days are wondering when the “Acche Din” (Good Days) promised by the BJP during the 2014 election campaign will arise. Of course, the overall economy is also the victim of a hyper-cautious and text bookish policy that has its intellectual roots in the economic theories of select universities in the United States, the country from which the present Economic Advisor to the Finance Ministry, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor and the head of Niti Aayog (which has replaced the Planning Commission in name and occupies the offices of the old agency). The BJP seems to have as profound a fascination for those who have spent decades in countries very different from India as the Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi dispensation had, and predictably, the performance of such individuals in terms of actual results is dismal, although of course the “Pink Press” in India goes gaga over them, besotted as it is with the assumption that what is good for New York or London must be even more so for Mumbai or Kolkatta. Certainly there are “birds of passage” in other countries as well, including China and Pakistan.

Here we have among others in sensitive posts RBI Governor Rajan, who is reasonably transparent about the fact that his present sojourn in India is a temporary one, before he returns to the US. Under his watch, Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) of banks have ballooned alarmingly, in large part because the high interest rate regimen he has inflicted on industry and trade in India is resulting the several companies and units falling “sick” ie financially unviable. At the same time, foreign financial entities do unobstructed in India what they pay billions of dollars in compensation to US and UK authorities, who find and fine such practices as unethical and often criminal The tragedy for the people of India is that this country is in a “sweet spot” where the global economy is concerned. It is much better off vis-a-vis Europe, Africa and South America than it was two decade ago, and indeed is attracting the attention of investors worldwide, along with smaller competitors such as Vietnam.

Both China as well as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are looking at making major investments in India, but are hesitating because of tax and regulatory problems that are still to be resolved. Even after a year, the BJP has still to get passed the Goods & Services tax in Parliament, nor has it succeeded in getting passed several other items of legislation important in creating a climate for massive investment, such as a Bankruptcy Law and a Land Bill to dilute some of the provisions of the law passed by Sonia-Manmohan (without opposition from the BJP), which has made the takeover of land for industrial or most other purposes by the state or central government close to impossible. Those who have studied the functioning of Narendra Modi in Gujarat say that there is a period of two years in which he adopts a “Wait and Study” approach to several issues before moving in decisively. They point to the fact that this period is coming to a close on May 25 this year, and are therefore expecting major changes in economic policy that would jump-start stalled platforms and sectors.

However, there are many who say that this two-year wait for policies on the economy that are as innovative as Modi’s approach to foreign policy has been too long, and that such a pause will make the repair of the faltering growth story more difficult. Very few expect an innovative budget, such as would place growth above a British-style focus on collection of revenue from the natives. Tax rates are expected to remain high, and indeed go up, including in the stricken “Golden Goose” sector, services. In the US, in most of Europe, in China and Japan, a policy of low interest rates is being enforced to try and energize the economy. India is the outlier, with a central bank insistent on rates that are murderously high, thereby causing the same potential damage to the economy as similar policies caused in South America in the 1970s.

Those who voted for Prime Minister Modi in 2014 are waiting for him to assert his innovativeness in economic policy, and fashion measures that make sense in the Indian context rather than which are based on the foreign textbooks favoured by those who have been placed in charge of economic policy in India and who refuse to understand the ground reality : that unless more jobs get created, many more jobs, the road ahead will be filled with troubles. Of course, by then they will be safely back in their US and other foreign universities, giving lectures to students there on why the Indian economy is doing so badly despite their efforts at rescuing the country. It’s never their fault!

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

Sunday 21 February 2016

Erdogan seeks war between NATO and Russia (Sunday Guardian)

By M.D. Nalapat | 20 February, 2016
A second downing of a Russian military aircraft will certainly lead to a matching response from Moscow, something which Erdogan evidently looks forward to.
President R.T. Erdogan clearly believes in gambling. Aware that his own military is puny in comparison with that of the Russian Federation, Erdogan has been acting as bait, seeking to draw his partners in NATO into an armed conflict with Moscow. This is the logic of his call for a No Fly Zone across Turkey’s border with Syria, a plea endorsed by US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who during her tenure as Secretary of State made one disastrous decision after the other: for example, in Pakistan, by backing the military against then President A.A. Zardari, who in some respects resembles Bill Clinton but whose commitment to a moderate rather than an extremist course is undoubted; in Egypt, by backing the Muslim Brotherhood in taking over from Hosni Mubarak; in Libya, by being a cheerleader for the coalition which took out Gaddafi and handed over the country to extremist militias; and in Syria, where Hillary Clinton has backed the arming, training and funding of “moderate” fighters who are indistinguishable from the fanatics who flock to ISIS, Al Nusra and other ideological cousins of Al Qaeda. The Turkish supremo is going the way of Zia-ul-Haq, changing the chemistry of his country through his policies, in the process creating the conditions for civil war and civic unrest which are waiting to erupt within the coming year.
Given that the armaments industry is the only viable Russian export left standing after the collapse in oil prices, it is a high-risk strategy to taunt Vladimir Putin. A second downing of a Russian military aircraft will almost certainly lead to a matching response from Moscow, something which Erdogan evidently looks forward to, as he believes that the US and other NATO member-states will be treaty-bound to intervene in force, thereby getting into, at the least, an air war with Russia, which would result in several aircraft getting shot down. Such a spectacle would have the advantage to buyers of military equipment of demonstrating in actual combat the relative strengths of the types of aircraft used by the US, Russia and France. Despite its popularity with the Ministry of Defence in India, the Dassault Rafale does not appear to have distinguished itself in combat in Syria, as compared to the SU 35 and the SU 27, leaving some to wonder if India has made the right choice in the hyper-expensive deal to purchase fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force. Indeed, the effort by the US, the UK and France against ISIS in Syria has been puny, with that organisation suffering reverses only after Putin sent in his air force to ensure that Bashar Assad won back most of the territory ceded to extremist fights (otherwise known as the “moderate opposition”). This was fully three years after videos first began to surface which showed “moderates” in Syria slicing away the heads of Christians and others they saw as theological or other foes.
Given the cliff-hanger state of the global economy, with prospects for a global depression gaining momentum despite efforts by central banks in East Asia, Europe and North America to stimulate spending via low (and even negative) interest rates, it is unlikely that there exists any appetite in NATO headquarters in Brussels for joining hands with the Turkish military in taking on Russia. The Turkish head of state seeks to overcome such diffidence by creating a fait accompli. By goading and provoking Russia, he expects a response sufficiently robust enough to result in an activation of the joint defence clause of NATO, when Turkish and Russian aircraft go at each other in the skies above Syria, Iraq and possibly Turkey itself. To get enticed into combat would be to adopt the ISIS playbook, as Russia is for now the main threat faced by the extremist group. Unfortunately for his country, Erdogan has converted the Turkish Air Force into the air arm of the extremists, going after the Kurds when these are among the most potent forces challenging ISIS on the ground, of course separately from Assad’s military and its Iranian allies. Just as in the 1990s, the US seems to be leaving the Kurds to their fate after having received substantial assistance from them in the otherwise lacklustre military campaign being waged by the US against ISIS, a campaign in which the role of the UK and France is derisory.  Hopefully, the Sarajevo of 1914 will not get repeated in Diyarbakir in 2016. 
This columnist has long favoured closer military-to-military ties between the US and India, including signing the three “foundation agreements” which had been consigned to cold storage by Manmohan Singh that would enable closer interaction between the two sides. Rather than expend billions of dollars in the purchase of junk such as the Admiral Gorshkov, the Indian Navy needs many more vessels on the USS Trenton model if it is to ensure that it has a force sufficient for the need of this country and its partners for freedom of navigation across the seas. The US is the only partner that has the capacity to assist the Indian military into becoming a global force at a cost that does not bankrupt the exchequer. Leaving aside the occasions on which he has deferred to the Clintonites that he has filled his administration with, Barack Obama has had almost as clear an understanding of ground realities as Donald Trump has demonstrated on the campaign trail. Hopefully, Erdogan will lose his high-stakes gamble to tilt the world towards a war between the globe’s most deadly militaries, and be left to his fate in case he continues on a policy of provoking Moscow in a manner designed to assist the extremists nurtured by him since 2012.


Pak GHQ activates new front in India (Sunday Guardian)

Accompanying terror strikes will be ‘death by a thousand revolts’.
There has been widespread national attention at the manner in which a small group called for the breakup and even the Wahhabisation of India on 9 February at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. They did this repeatedly, without obvious objection from the much larger number of attendees during the event. However, the impact of such cries on public opinion, reminiscent as they were of the frenzied and ultimately successful cries for the partition of India in the 1930s, was lost afterwards by hooliganism indulged in by hyper-patriots. However, the 9 February JNU event, soon followed by a similar do at Jadavpur University in Kolkata is worrying senior officials battling radicalism and terrorism worldwide, who fear that such calls on campuses for the vivisection of India may spread.
The source of their worry is contained in information detailed by a group of sources within Pakistan, who reveal that the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) unit of the Pakistan military has, since November 2014, begun to implement a plan designed to activate a “non-terror” front in India, in addition to the long-running terror front. This second front is expected by GHQ Rawalpindi to have a destructive effect on public morale and the ability of the governance system to take decisive action against the terror front and its affiliates—the hawala and narcotics industry, which has been growing unhindered in India since the United Front government took over from the Congress Party in 1996 and oversaw the introduction of policy measures designed to boost domestic opium production, as well as encourage the manufacture of chemicals designed to process narcotics, especially in states bordering Pakistan.
Once the economic liberalisation carried out by P.V. Narasimha Rao in the1990s gave promise of faster growth in India, among GHQ Rawalpindi’s core objectives in this country has been a meltdown of economic and societal vitality. This economy-focused strategy got accelerated in early 2003, when it became obvious that Pakistan-directed terror attacks by themselves were not sufficient to bring India to a state of insecurity and lack of confidence sufficient to prevent an adequate response to the ISI’s covert terror mission in India. Hence, followed repeated attacks on major metropolitan centres, as well as efforts to assassinate scientists, who are a key element in the wide “Knowledge Gap” between India and Pakistan. GHQ Rawalpindi has been particularly disconcerted by the increasing warmth between Washington and Delhi, especially the two militaries. GHQ Rawalpindi watched with dismay as Manmohan Singh began to change the parameters of engagement with Washington after the 2005 nuclear understanding with President George W. Bush. 
There has been a sharp acceleration of the ISI policy of “death to India by a thousand revolts” since Narendra Modi became the prospective Prime Minister by mid-2013. Once he took charge as PM in May 2014, the new PM gave promise of ushering in a period of 21st-century reform of the governance structure, which would hopefully raise to double digits the “natural” rate of growth of the country from the historical level of 2%. This may otherwise be termed the Nehru Rate of Growth in honour of the Prime Minister whose policies made such a situation inevitable. Soon afterwards, the concept of a non-terror “second front” against India was developed within GHQ and communicated to the ISI for implementation through its proxies and dupes in India. 
Sources within Pakistan reveal that the budget for the “second front” was “expanded five times” during 2013-15 by General Raheel Sharif. The aim was to “deepen the demonisation of Narendra Modi abroad and in the big cities of India”, both locations crucial to increasing India’s rate of growth to double digits. According to those who have worked with General Sharif, the all-powerful and hugely popular Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in Pakistan is “determined to ensure that the global India story gets derailed in the era of Modi”. Keeping alive international perceptions that India and Pakistan were a trigger away from nuclear war is seen by GHQ as important in discouraging investment within India and into India. Hence, there has been a particular focus on actions designed to derail India-Pakistan dialogue and instead promote tension through terror attacks by ISI proxies. “To befool (sic) Obama, General Sharif regularly speaks of peace and good relations with India. However, his true intent gets communicated to his staff, who are told to work on plans for strengthening the covert First (terror) and Second (popular unrest and revolt) fronts.”
In a bid to derail dialogue, in Arnia, in 2014, on the anniversary of 26/11 (the Mumbai terror attacks), a terror attack took place at an Army camp. Not coincidentally, both the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan were in Kathmandu at the time, looking towards overcoming the stoppage of Foreign Secretary-level talks announced by India in August 2014.
Rawalpindi GHQ, according to well-informed sources, is “very concerned at the rise in public support within Pakistan for peace with India, even if this means freezing the Kashmir dispute by both sides”. Public support within the tortured country for the hugely expensive (relative to Gross National Product) Pakistan military hinges on an inflating of the “India threat”, an objective helped by periodic breakdowns of communication and rise in border tensions between Delhi and Islamabad. In an effort at derailing dialogue, three more attacks occurred in succession by terrorists trained in Peshawar and Muzaffarabad. These took place on Army camps in India, on 5 December 2014 near Uri, on 20 March 2015 at Samba (which hit police installations as well) and 27 May 2015 in Tangdhar, just a day after the first anniversary of the Modi government.
However, neither Prime Minister Modi nor National Security Advisor Ajit Doval (who is reputed to be as close to the PM as BJP president Amit Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley) fell into the GHQ trap by cutting off avenues for dialogue with the civilian establishment in Pakistan led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, “who knows that peace with India is essential for the growth and stability of Pakistan, but who has got no support from the international community for ensuring civil dominance over the military in Pakistan”, a source based in Karachi said.
Defying predictions that dialogue at such a level was stalled if not totally derailed by the terror attacks, both Nawaz Sharif and Modi met at Ufa in Russia on 10 July 2015 to the chagrin of the ISI, which was “pulled up” by GHQ for not doing enough to foul the atmosphere within both India and Pakistan for talks with each other. In order to goad India into precipitate action, such as would make Delhi look the aggressor rather than Rawalpindi, another ISI-linked terror attack got carried out on 27 July 2015 at Dina Nagar and another on 6 August on a BSF convoy in Udhampur. That same year, on the anniversary of 26/11, three terrorists fired on a Gorkha Rifles camp in Kupwara district, although their attempt to set on fire the oil depot was foiled by prompt action by the Gorkhas. 
Sources say that Prime Minister Modi has been getting detailed real time information from multiple sources about the goings-on in GHQ Rawalpindi and the intentions of General Sharif and his top advisors. Hence, despite pressure from those eager for a cutting off of contact between this country and Pakistan, the PM refused to be provoked. “Modi Sahab (sic) knows that decisive action against Pakistan needs coordinated action by India and the US”, hopefully with China adopting a neutral stance in its own interest. This can be assured “only after it becomes obvious that India has gone the extra mile to preserve peace, but has repeatedly been rebuffed by the Pakistan military through its proxies”. Hence the focus on diplomacy. To the dismay of the ISI, PM Modi met his counterpart Nawaz Sharif at Paris during the climate summit. This brief but intense interaction resulted in the NSAs of the two countries meeting at Bangkok on 6 December 2015 and working the modalities for External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to visit Pakistan on 8 December, ostensibly to attend the “Heart of Asia” security dialogue. This was followed by the unprecedented visit by Modi to Lahore on 25 December, Christmas Day, where the personal chemistry and bonhomie between him and Sharif was on display to the world. GHQ was not slow to react, igniting the Pathankot attack on 2 January 2016, which, fortunately, did not result in the mass casualties which had been planned for the operation by specially-selected “shock elements” of the terror groups nurtured by the ISI. However, even this attack did not result in the collapse of Prime Minister Modi’s innovative diplomacy towards the civilian leadership of Pakistan, nor goad him into copying the verbal aggression, which is a staple of television talk shows on both sides of the border.
Sources close to GHQ say that the failure to derail the India-Pakistan peace process resulted in an “intensification of the strategy of promoting unrest in India through agitations and violence directed against the security arms of the state”. The banking, railways and road transport industries are a particular focus of this campaign, and sources cognisant of the field situation say that the ISI is working to ensure that “soon after the Union Budget (for 2016-17) gets passed, strikes, go-slows and uncontrollable unrest will break out” in India, thereby damaging economic prospects. 
Since 2005, these sources claim that the ISI has been able to recruit across India over 16,000 (sixteen thousand) “volunteers and auxiliaries” (with the latter being unaware of the actual affiliation of the group they belong to). They add that “more than 80% of the new recruits are sleepers”, those who as yet have not participated in any covert activity and hence are under the police radar. Interestingly, according to these sources, such recruits belong “not only to Muslim organisations. Many are from the Sikh, Hindu and other communities, and are distributed across various professions and strata of society.” “Both the hawala networks, especially in the border states, and the narcotics industry work closely with the ISI to provide logistical support and protection for this expanding ‘non-terrorist’ network of the ISI.” A particular infowar focus “is to discredit those who point to the danger of GHQ intervention in the economics, sociology and politics of India as alarmist and paranoidal”, a ploy which seems to be working, judging by the number of those in the commentariat who refuse to accept that the country is facing a mortal threat from the Pakistan military, not just through non-conventional war but through other means.
The ISI has been getting help from individuals in foreign countries to paint a dismal picture of India, “many of whom are well-meaning and who do not realise that they are being manipulated in the name of women’s rights, child rights and minority freedoms by a Wahhabi organisation, whose core objective is the meltdown of the Indian state, thereby creating a vacuum which can be filled with radicals and result in chaos in a manner similar to what has happened in other countries where there has been a collapse of the governance mechanism”. Interestingly, they point out that several such meltdowns in governance and social cohesion in countries targeted by rival powers have been initiated by protest movements across college campuses that soon engulfed the streets. 
The 9 February 2016 rally in JNU appears to have been infiltrated by elements of the “non-terror” front of the ISI. However, it would be incorrect to state that the students’ union in the university knew of such a move, “as these take place covertly and under false flags”. Security experts fault the Delhi police for “using an AK 47 rather than a sniper rifle”, or in other words, widening the net of arrests and police action too broadly rather than zeroing in on the handful who have links with the ISI and its affiliates or dupes. 
Why were pro-separatist slogans relating to the terror campaign in Kashmir raised in the JNU and Jadavpur rallies? Why are such slogans getting repeated across several parts of India? According to sources within Pakistan, “the ISI is alarmed at the diminishing confidence even within Wahhabi segments in Kashmir of the prospect of separation from the Union of India”. “The ISI wishes to boost the confidence of pro-Pakistan elements in Kashmir (whom they wish to recruit in terror gangs that would be active across India). They try and do this by demonstrating that significant sections of the population in other parts of India support their struggle, and hence they ought not to give up.” Either by design or by coincidence, well-organised albeit theatrical shouts of “azaadi” by a few indoctrinated individuals were heard during the 9 February rally at JNU, which was attended without obvious protest at such slogans by some office-bearers of the JNU Students’ Union.
Contrary to selected media reports, it is extremely unlikely that any of the office-bearers of the students’ union at JNU are in sync with the slogans raised by pro-Pakistan elements on 9 February. Hence, security experts spoken to say that the arrest of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar was a “gross error”. They say the move “had the effect of uniting the students”, as well as shifting the spotlight from the 1930s Partition of India-style slogans raised by a handful of motivated protestors at the rally to the clumsy tactics of the Delhi police. Although the authorities were justified in their alarm at what took place in the rally held in JNU (and in Jadavpur), the steamroller action taken by the Delhi police may have the effect of driving such groups underground, where they will be more difficult to uncover and eliminate. In the JNU situation, it may have been preferable for the police to “wait and watch” till more Pakistan-oriented elements emerged into the sunlight—investigating them quietly and later on, arresting them singly in subsequent days—rather than acting “prematurely and indiscriminately”, thereby netting not the required core elements, but relative innocents who were simply caught up in the excitement of the rally. It will take painstaking investigation into the call and visit records of the ringleaders of the 9 February rally at JNU before the unseen handlers of the youths responsible for seditious sloganeering and partition-oriented indoctrination get identified.
GHQ Rawalpindi has opened a second front in India that is in some respects even deadlier than the terror operations conducted by the organisation. These are the “non-terror” groups recruited and motivated by them to stage uprisings designed to damage the potency of the governance mechanism in India, and with that, any expectation of the high growth promised by Narendra Modi while on the campaign trail in 2013-14. A strategy designed to deal with the “Terror Wing” (ISI-TW) of the ISI may not be effective against the “Non-Terror Wing” (ISI-NTW). Unless better methods get worked out and put into operation, what is taking place may be the start of a protracted “non-terror” campaign waged on different platforms by the ISI across India through its agents, dupes and dummies, even as GHQ ensures an acceleration in terror strikes, as well as unrest in key economic sectors within the country to derail both economic prospects and an India-Pakistan detente.
Battling such a twin strategy, implemented through a network that now has considerable depth and sophistication within India, requires scrutiny also of seeming hyper-patriots, such as those who indulged in hooliganism against the media. Are any of such individuals financially or socially linked to narcotics and hawala networks in Rajasthan and Punjab? It needs to be remembered that GHQ, through the ISI, seeds sleepers in both the ruling as well as opposition parties, fortified by the financial, political, official and logistics backing of the multi-billion dollar hawala and narcotics lobby in India. Those hooligan elements seen across television screens in India and abroad beating up JNU students, no matter what their affiliation, significantly assisted the ISI in its campaign against India, exactly as those few calling for a second partition of India did on campus.

Saturday 20 February 2016

India’s next mega scandal: Bad bank loans (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical notes from India
M D Nalapat
Friday, February 19, 2016 – The “Indian Express” was a newspaper known throughout India for its feisty reportage, even standing up to Indira Gandhi during the 1974-76 Emergency period, when almost all the freedoms enjoyed by the people of India got extinguished. However, subsequently the newspaper took on a new avatar, with outsize influence reportedly being wielded in its columns by individuals high up in the power elite such as Palaniappan Chdambaram, the Finance Minister of India during much of the period when Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister (2004-2014). Chidambaram is best known as the father of one of the most successful businesspersons in India, Karthi Chidambaram, who within a decade has joined the ranks of the super rich, being exceptionally proficient in discovering and making lucrative investments across the globe. The many trades of Karthi and the punters and brokers close to him need to be exhaustively studied by students of finance so as to discover the secrets behind the phenomenal success of the group in its trading activities, especially on the National Stock Exchange (NSE).
His unprecedented success has made the youthful Karthi talked about in hushed reverence by stockbrokers in Mumbai and Delhi, in particular for the unerring way in which he appears to have chosen winning positions on the spot market. His influence in Singapore, Dubai and Mauritius is known to be substantial. Of course, any link to his success and the fact that his father was Finance Minister must be taken as mere coincidence, and admirers of Karthi say that his success would have been on the same scale even if his father had been in a lesser position. Returning to the Indian Express, it would appear from its columns that the newspaper has recovered much of the √©lan of the past, with investigative reports appearing regularly, most recently on the writing off of loans amounting to Rs 1.14 lakh crores (2013-15) by public sector banks. Fortunately for the Union Ministry of Finance, the steep fall in oil prices from $ 140 to $ 28 a barrel has given the cushion needed to underwrite such massive write-offs, as less than a tenth of the benefit of the lower oil prices has thus far been passed on to the consumer, even though petrol and diesel prices were supposed to have been decontrolled and reflect market conditions.
There has been much tough talk about bank defaulters from Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan, who is building up his resume by indulging in monetary experiments which will undoubtedly form the staple of classroom lectures when he returns to the US in a few years time. However, actual steps to punish the guilty within both corporatesas well as the banking system seems to be modest. Instead, the RBI has thus far succeeded in keeping secret details of just who the big defaulters are, and the extent to which such depredators are still getting access to massive bank loans even while defaulting on old loans. Certainly there are companies that have had loans go sour because of factors beyond their control, but there are also companies whose managements have systematically siphoned off (shareholder and bank) funds by over-invoicing imports and under-invoicing exports.
Under a brilliant jurist, Chief Justice T S Thakur, the Supreme Court of India has ordered the Reserve Bank do reveal the names of the top defaulters,. and it is hoped that this order will be complied with, as the public have a right to know just who the individuals and corporates are who have denuded them of so much wealth, without any visible efforts by the RBI at holding them or the bank executives who are their accomplices accountable. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has several times talked of his determination to stamp out corruption, and it is expected that he will order the Union Finance Ministry to ensure that the assets of the principal defaulters be seized and sold rather than follow the traditional practice of having the taxpayer pick up the tab.
Fortunately for the major defaulters, they have as many friends in the Opposition benches as they have in the Ruling side, which is why there has been so little political blowback to the reportage of the massive write-off of bank loans in just a few years. However, these days Civil Society is slowly emerging as a force for change, and it is inevitable that the bank write-offs will become a staple of the public discourse in the coming months. Prime Minister Modi, who won millions of votes because of his reputation for honesty, will need to move swiftly and decisively in the matter, including taking action against those who have given too long a rope to the mega defaulters, as otherwise his government will get scalded by the heat over the Rs 1.14 lakh crore bank loan write-offs to individuals who live the lifestyles of maharajahs, mostly abroad, with personal yachts, ets and villas where they entertain VVIPs with the cash they have borrowed and never intend to repay. For the moment, the spotlight is on the RBI, especially its tough-talking Governor. Will Raghuram Rajan match his words with action or will he follow the example of so many of his predecessors and try and give a free pass to those who have looted public funds?
Under Rajan, bad debts of India’s banks has grown significantly even while manufacturing has slowed because of his tight money policy, a series of measures suited to the US (the country in which he has spent almost all his adult life and to which he is expected to return after his stint in India). The RBI needs to take the lead in ensuring that the taxpayer not be made to pay for the follies of the public sector banks, which have made loans that are demonstrably bad and continue to do so. Raghuram Rajan has to ensure that the assets of the big defaulters be taken over and sold to cover the immense liabilities they have piled up, and which are silently being written off by bank managements that need to be brought to account for this in the years to come.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

Sunday 14 February 2016

India needs a Modi budget, not another ‘babu budget’ (Sunday Guardian)

By M.D. Nalapat | 13 February, 2016
Prime Minister Modi must step in to ensure that the budget that will get presented on 29 February is of a post-colonial mould with lower taxes.
A few feeble efforts were made in the early years of Independence to ensure that Union Budgets reflected the economic imperatives of a free society rather than the colonial objective of squeezing out as much revenue as possible from the people within a matrix of control that made citizen advancement difficult if not impossible. Genuine experts in the unlocking of synergies within the fiscal system (so as to ensure high levels of per capita income growth) were appointed: Shanmukham Chetty, John Mathai and Chintaman D. Deshmukh among them. However, such men soon proved the exceptions, as in serial mode, Prime Ministers ensured that standard-issue politicians were placed in that role who were subservient in the formulation of policy towards officials. Because there is no separate Indian Finance Service, officials in the Ministry of Finance continue to view the budgetary exercise as a means of raising revenue rather than as an instrument of rapid progress in industry, agriculture and services. While preparing the budget, attention gets overwhelmingly focused on estimates of expenditure on schemes and personnel. Thereafter, a pairing takes place of such expenditure segments with possible revenue sources, which get taxed at the level needed to meet the budgeted expenses. Such an approach does away with the considerations of efficiency and productivity, which ought to have been uppermost in their calculation and approach. While the actual budget proposals are unknown, it is easy to predict the contours of any budget where the colonial officer cadre will be in the driver’s cabin so far as preparation in concerned.
They would, for example, oppose significant relief in income tax rates to Indian nationals, even in the instances when they themselves graduate to become Finance Ministers, as Manmohan Singh did in 1992. They would even seek an increase (perhaps from 14% to 16%) in Service Tax, another of the monstrosities introduced into the tax system by Palaniappan Chidambaram during the UPA days. Why an individual, who already pays Income Tax and the many other imposts levied on the productive in this country, should pay an additional burden of a third or more of his total direct tax burden simply for doing a paid service is a mystery, except if we posit that colonial-minded officials dislike citizens who perform services for others. Had there been no service tax, the sector would have continued to grow as exponentially as it did before Chidambaram stepped in, thereby creating tens of millions more jobs and a similar number of Income Tax payers. However, Services, a sector vital to the fulfilment of the generation of a million and more extra jobs a month has lost its momentum after being hit by an irrational tax. And after the recent imprisonment of the CFO of an online travel agency and the likely incarceration of his CEO as well, the number of those courageous enough to invest in creating growth in India will plummet further. In matters of finance, getting back the moneys lost — with interest — is more important than sending people to jail. Had North Block the good sense to design a scheme with lower penalties for money returning from foreign havens, it would not have got back a paltry amount less than a thousandth of the estimated funds parked abroad by Indian nationals since the 1990s. 
North Block babus will oppose extra investment in growth creators such as the Railways, although they will look kindly on the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission and schemes such as NREGA, which keep people poor and dependent on handouts rather than endow them with the skills needed to generate income rather than absorb it, of course even collectively not on the scale of those robber baron favourites of officials and politicians who get their bank loans written off in the thousands of crores each year. And to help fund such expenditures, they may even press for raising imposts such as a long term capital gains tax, ignoring the fact that the “gains” caused by inflation are not, in reality, benefits at all. Of course, the babus will fight equally hard to affix within the budget such freebies as a zero income tax on dividends, whatever the amount disbursed to individuals fortunate enough to get tens and even hundreds of crores of rupees in such a form even as their cooks and gardeners pay taxes on the paltry salaries they earn.
And rather than ensure that public sector enterprises such as Coal India, NTPC or NMDC use the cash reserves accumulated by them to expand product and employment, the colonial mind will gravitate towards taking away such surpluses through forcing them to buy back their own shares from the government. What little appetite has remained within the managements of these public enterprises to ensure a level of efficiency enough to generate surpluses would vanish under such a regressive policy, but officials who know they will soon be moving on to higher charges in other departments or agencies will not care. In the colonial mind, the people do not count. Which is why it is imperative that Prime Minister Narendra Modi step in to ensure that the budget that will get presented on 29 February be of a post-colonial mould, with lower taxes and more incentives for innovation rather than Chidambaram’s growth-deadening focus on raising of revenue to pay for inflated costs and salaries that reversed the direction of growth in India, a malaise that is now visible in full view, and which only the intervention of Narendra Modi can ensure.‘babu-budget’

Friday 12 February 2016

Mark Zuckerberg scores a zero in India (Pakistan Observer)

Friday, February 12, 2016 - WHEN a politician in India meets a businessperson in the open, the odds are that nothing illegal will take place. Deals are done behind thick curtains, and preferably in London or Dubai rather than Mumbai and Delhi. That Narendra Damodardas Modi, the Prime Minister of India, meets billionaire businesspersons is no secret, as many of such meetings get reported in the newspapers, complete with photographs. What he promises is that he will not allow such personal interaction to cloud his judgment, a vow that was kept in the case of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, whose personal fortune is valued at $ 30 billion. 

In the US, when meetings take place between billionaire businessmen and Senators or other VVIP politicians, such trysts are usually accompanied by donations to the politician in question. The US is regarded as less corrupt than India, a position it has secured by legalising what in India is considered by the Indian Penal Code as criminal. The legal limits for campaign financing in India are so ridiculously low that they are often crossed in the first few hours of an election campaign. An abundance of hypocrisy infects both the chattering classes as well as politicians in India, so they balk from removing limits to election expenditure, thereby making more transparent election funding in the country. The result is that almost all legislators break the law on entering office, by swearing on oath that the expenses they incur during a campaign are much lower than the actuals. Both the US as well as India are democracies, sharing the common factor that the richer a candidate is, the greater the chance of success in the political arena. Mark Zuckerberg forgot that the chemistry of politics in India is different from that of the US, so he would have calculated that the jamboree he organized for Modi at his international headquarters, combined with strategic partnerships with businessmen of the immense reach of the Mittals and the Ambanis, would ensure that he got his way with “Free Basics”.

This is a scheme in which a wall is created within the Internet, and only those sites which are within this wall enjoy a privileged position. Others are kept out, so that finally Facebook will become almost a supra government in India, collecting data on hundreds of millions of citizens that would give insights into how to lead them into actions such as the storming of Tahrir Square in 2011. It is hardly a secret that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worked hard to leverage the technological dominance of the US into a means of control of the political process in countries with low per capita incomes. If Zuckerberg had succeeded in persuading the Government of India to go ahead with its Free Basics program, within a decade, it would have become the most powerful agency in India, reaching into hundreds of millions of homes and transferring data on the most intimate and personal habits of citizens of the Republic of India. 

Of course, such a danger did not stop at least two Cabinet ministers in the Modi government into becoming - outside the public view - apologists for Zuckerberg. Not so Prime Minister Modi, who ensured that his government refused permission to Facebook to go ahead with the plan to create a two-speed internet, the faster and free version to be those platforms Facebook admitted into its fold, while the rest would limp along and in several instances, get burdened with high prices for its services, thereby driving ever more customers towards Facebook. It is an inexcusable fact that India does not have its own platforms for services such as those provided by Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. In contrast, China has developed substitutes for all three, although it has made the mistake of banning the US versions rather than allowing them to compete with homegrown substitutes. India is run not by elected politicians but by a cadre of officials called the Indian Administrative Service (IAS),the successor of the British-era Imperial Civil Service (ICS). 

From the day of their induction into the portals of government, IAS officers are taught to regard their political “masters” with the same supercilious scorn shown by Humphrey Appleby towards his minister Jim Hacker. They are also made expert in fending off any threat to their complete domination of the key levers of government, and are coached in how to ensure that every major function of governance be run by an IAS officer. Hopefully the day will come when Prime Minister Modi ensures a level playing field not only between the IAS and other central government services, but between career bureaucrats and members of civil society drafted to undertake key tasks. 

The IAS has created a web of governance far more irksome than what was the case under the British. What they seek is that every activity by the citizen or another non-governmental entity be banned unless given permission by the IAS. The more roadblocks that are created, the more the points at which bribes can be collected. There has been talk about Prime Minister Modi ensuring that the up and down movement of files that creates hideous delays in the taking of decisions be shortened, ad hopefully such an innovation will take effect in the third year of his term, overcoming opposition from bureaucrats. 

The decision on Facebook leaves room for optimism about the third year of Modi’s 5-year term being different from the first two, for key civil servants wanted Facebook to be allowed to segment the internet through its cleverly thought out plan, but failed because Modi refused to allow the effective formation of a monopoly by an organisation with a record of creating chaos in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bangladesh and Ukraine with the help of the NGOs nurtured by Hillary Clinton in order for the US to gain levers into civil society. Mark Zuckerberg scoring a duck means that the internet remains free for thousands of young innovators to create another Yahoo! Microsoft or Google, not to mention Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

That is, if a culture of freedom gets established in India over the next few years, rather than a continuance of the colonial model of governance in which the state has all the power and the people are at its mercy. Banning Free Basics is not enough. For India to leap forward, there has to be administrative and legal reform, as well as a culture of free speech, goals that seem far distant at the present 

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

Sunday 7 February 2016

Bill Gates prescribes costly foreign drugs for India’s poor (Sunday Guardian)

By MADHAV NALAPAT | NEW DELHI | 6 February, 2016

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been accused of promoting interests of US-EU Big Pharma.
Once close to the UPA, but now cosy with the NDA, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), an exceptionally well-endowed private foreign entity, operates in India as a “liaison office”. Thus far, it has not reported to the Ministry of Home Affairs under FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) 2010 provisions, even though it has given nearly Rs 1,000 crore to Indian NGOs since 2007, with Rs 178 crore being given to NGOs in India during 2013-14 alone. Records show that the BMGF does not pay any taxes in India, nor is it registered as a society, trust, NGO or company in the country. However, unlike in a similar case, that of the Ford Foundation, the Ministry of Home Affairs has ignored this. Indeed, Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, according to an official working in his ministry, is “appreciative” of the BMGF. This may, of course, be because the organisation has done appreciable work in several areas of public health in India. The Gates Foundation has spent heavily in India, and according to a well-wisher, “has made a considerable difference in matters relating to public health”. A negative point is that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been accused of promoting the interests of US-EU Big Pharma to the detriment of the pharmaceutical industry in India, which, despite scant assistance from the UPA and its predecessors—all of whom have been in thrall to foreign drug manufacturing entities—has nevertheless emerged as a major factor in the provision of affordable drugs to the underprivileged in all the locations where US-EU pharma giants have been unable to block market access to Indian products.
The expectation of the domestic pharma industry is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will break the mould of support to videshi giants, rather than their swaseshi competitors and ensure that the machinations of US-EU pharma giants fail, so that Indian pharma products get a level playing field both in India and outside, rather than be discriminated against in the rush to embrace the hyper-expensive products of giant MNCs headquartered in the United States and Europe.
Despite government agencies in both the Centre as well as several states showing utmost consideration to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation by facilitating its numerous activities in India, and despite that organisation’s close links with top policymakers in the United States, including reputedly Bill and Hillary Clinton, both that country as well as the EU continue to discriminate repeatedly and unfairly against Indian pharmaceutical products, using fudged assessments of quality as well as multiple other means to ensure that much cheaper (but equally effective) Indian drugs do not find their way to pharmacy shelves in the US and the EU, despite the fact that these have been tested and found effective in India, and would benefit tens of millions of poorer patients. Worse, both the US and the EU aggressively block even the flow of drugs from India to Africa and South America, thereby condemning millions on both continents to death and incapacitation owing to Big Pharma drugs being unaffordable for them.
The BMGF Board has just three people and each is a billionaire: Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Both as a foundation as well as individually, each of these three hyper-rich individuals has invested substantially in US-EU Big Pharma stocks, thereby creating an apparent conflict of interest, while deciding which medication their foundation will champion. As a private foundation, the BMGF is only obliged to report its financial figures to the US government (so as to retain its tax-exempt status) and its functioning is, therefore, opaque in several respects. Each year, tens of millions of dollars get spent in publicity, the money flowing from numerous entities linked to the foundation.
Interestingly, groups funded by the BMGF are being directly embedded within key ministries in the Government of India, as well as in several state governments, notably Bihar, where Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been in contact with Bill Gates himself. In other words, much of government policy in the field of health is getting outsourced to foreign agencies linked to the very drug multinationals who are working overtime to choke or to control India’s domestic drug industry.
However, it bears repeating that several useful campaigns have been launched by the BMGF. A source in the US described Melinda Gates as “the inspiration behind the foundation”. He added that she was “fully committed to improving public health in poor countries, especially among women and children” and that India was “a special concern to her”.
Almost always, US-EU Big Pharma products seem to be preferred over Indian alternatives when suggestions for vaccines and other drugs are made to governments by the BMGF, including for programmes in this country. This is despite the benefit to human life and welfare of the generics industry in India, which has become a special target of Big Pharma and their faithful cohort of regulators in both the US as well as the EU. This despite a growing clamour in both countries for abandoning the present path of giving the profit margins of huge pharmaceutical conglomerates in the US and the EU preference over the right of citizens to affordable medicine. Lobbying in the US by pharma companies (including those with manufacturing facilities in India) ensured that India was placed, on 30 April 2015, on the Priority Watch List in order to dilute its patent protection against attempts to create a Big Pharma monopoly in India. Surprisingly, a source in New York claimed that Economic Advisor to the Ministry of Finance, Arvind Subramanian had, in an earlier incarnation, “lobbied fiercely within the US Congress to impose sanctions on cheaper Indian drugs, thereby demonstrating the reach of Big Pharma in policymaking circles in India”. As part of its efforts at shutting down pharma production in India, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued notices to all the Indian facilities of Novartis, while the EU banned as many as 700 GVK products from its “open and free” market.
The BGMF funds international NGOs such as GAVI and PATH, which follow its policy of favouring the brands produced by US-EU companies such as Ely Lilly, Pfizer, GSK, Merck, Novartis and other such companies known for the high price of several of the medicines marketed by them. Although exact figures are difficult to come by, a health expert claimed that the “intolerably high prices of critical drugs produced by Big Pharma have resulted in as many as 38 million premature deaths in underdeveloped countries during the past decade”, and that this figure would have been “much more in case civil society groups in Europe had not agitated successfully for entry to cheaper substitutes from India for several extortionately priced drugs for killer diseases produced by pharma conglomerates in the developed world”. Because of the immense reach of Big Pharma as well as the BMGF, sources preferred to remain anonymous. This is in contrast to countries such as the UK, where whistleblowers have proliferated openly. Last month, the well-regarded UK based “Global Justice Now” brought out a report which detailed the awesome power of the BMGF, which in less than a decade has spent more than a billion US dollars on “advocacy”. In India, according to a health activist, “almost every health correspondent is being bombarded with favourable information about the BMGF”, and perhaps as a consequence, both in television as well as in print, negative comment on the giant organisation is almost zero”. However, it must be said that the foundation has several well-wishers, each of whom testifies to its immense pool of good work in India, and its generosity in funding health programmes and health professionals.
Interestingly, the Global Health Strategies (GHS) PR company, which is active in promoting goodwill for the BMGF, has been active in global campaigns designed to show that India is a country where violence against women and children is on the rise. Such negativism about the country has not dimmed its support within the political class in India, which extends across the political spectrum, with P. Chidambaram, Nitish Kumar and Kapil Sibal known to have a favourable view of the BMGF. In the case of Sibal especially, his personal contacts with the foundation are described as “frequent and close”. The foundation is also a member of the Global Investing Impact Network (GIIN), established in 2007 at a meeting chaired by the Rockefeller Foundation, and which contains such entities as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, known for their predatory search for profits from underdeveloped countries. It needs to be remembered that several such investors are active in the commodity speculation that has boosted prices of food staples in India. Recently, a small group of speculators based in Mumbai boosted the price of arhar dal, causing mass distress before the government finally moved. Speculation by cartels has been responsible for much of the rise in prices of several essential commodities during the Manmohan decade as well.
Another US-based organisation associated with BMGF is PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health). This was involved in a vaccine trial, which caused deaths and illnesses among young girls. From 2009 onwards, 23,500 girls aged 9-15 were given vaccines which were intended to prevent cervical cancer. The trials were conducted in Vadodara in Gujarat and Khammam in Andhra Pradesh, both states in which the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had extensive influence. A vaccine (Gardasil) was produced by Merck and another (Cervarix) by Glaxo Smith Kline. By 2010, there were at least five deaths within the group of young girls in Andhra Pradesh and two in Gujarat. Had these taken place in the US, both companies would have had to pay billions of dollars in damages rather than escape with a much smaller financial liability. Also, unlike the US, in India the legal system means that suits and verdicts get delayed for decades. The PATH fiasco in both states is still winding its way through the courts and seems unlikely to get settled anytime soon.
Such comparatively derisory costs and penalties when compared to mishaps in trials conducted in the US or the EU are the reason why so many vaccine trials are being carried out by multinationals in India, thereby saving billions of dollars in expenses for pharma MNCs. Other NGOs linked to BMGF are GAVI and PHFI (Public Health Foundation of India), the latter being a wing of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW), which works closely with operatives from PATH and GAVI. The potential ill-effects of mixing together multiple vaccines in the human body has not been given due attention in the pell-mell rush to approve vaccines for mass testing or usage in India, warn health professionals.
According to press reports in the UK, over half the consent forms used for the Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat vaccine trials had only thumbprints, as most of the parents and guardians were illiterate. The Daily Mail claims that many of the young girls interviewed were unaware that they were being subject to drug trials and that several suffered debilitating side effects. Interestingly, during the period when the trials took place, the BMGF held equity shares in Merck. Had the tests been a success, the vaccines produced by the two multinationals would have been included in the Universal Immunization Programmes of different countries across the globe, thereby generating huge profits for them.
In particular, foreign-made injectable vaccines are a favourite of the BMGF, which—according to a senior Health Ministry official—is seeking to introduce such vaccines into India without a local bridge trial. According to a senior official, the BMGF and its associated NGOs are working to ensure prime position for US-EU pharma products in the Family Planning 2020 and the Universal Immunization Programme. However, another said that such fears are unjustified, and that the foundation “has been of immense benefit to India, especially in the field of women and child welfare”.
Although the BMGF has influence even within the Union Cabinet, in India its reach has not penetrated as far as the Prime Minister’s Office. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) are known to have refused to intervene on behalf of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the matter of government decisions, thereby giving hope to domestic drug manufacturers that PM Modi will not allow foreign pharma giants to establish a monopoly over the domestic market. They regard it as imperative that the PMO point out to the BMGF the lower cost and equal medical effectiveness of Indian drugs over those produced by US and EU companies promoted by the foundation, so that Melinda Gates can fulfil her dream of better conditions for women and children. In the words of a senior official, “there is no way the global movement for better health launched by Bill and Melinda Gates can succeed without ensuring that a level playing field be given to Indian producers rather than relying only on the offerings of mega MNCs known for price gouging even in medicines essential for life”. 
Hopefully, the acknowledged idealism of Melinda Gates will prevail over the commercial instincts of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, so that lower-cost options from India are given their due in the substantial work conducted globally by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.’s-poor