Wednesday 28 June 2017

Interview with former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao

Pamulaparthy Venkata Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister of India from June 1991 to May 1996, a period that saw him lay the foundation for the transformation of the Indian economy and a shift in foreign policy from sentimentality and shibboleths towards realpolitik. The only Congress Prime Minister outside the Nehru clan to continue in office for a full term, Narasimha Rao stanched the insurgency in Punjab and cooled it in Jammu & Kashmir. However, his term in office ended in electoral defeat, in part caused by the continuing aftershocks of the December 6, 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid. This is the former Prime Minister’s first on-the-record interview about the fateful demolition, given to Prof. M D Nalapat:

Q: It is now nearly twelve years since the Babri Masjid was destroyed by a mob of kar sevaks. Looking back, would you have handled the situation differently?
A: On the basis of the information available to me then and the situation as was perceived at the time, there was no way I could have acted differently than what I did in the four months preceding December 6,1992.After all, the problem had not been created by me, but was bequeathed to my government. The idols of Ram Lalla were placed there in 1949 and worship conducted at the site since that time. From then, namaz stopped being conducted at the structure. These are facts. The gates of the structure were opened by a judicial order in 1986 and a shilanyas took place a couple of hundred metres from the disputed structure in 1989, when I was only a minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government. In 1990, during the time of the BJP-supported V P Singh government, a Rath Yatra full of religious imagery was begun by L K Advani that had the effect of inciting passions on the issue.

Q: Why was no effort made by you for a negotiated settlement of this a longstanding dispute?
A: The contrary is true. From the beginning of my term (as Prime Minister) I tried repeatedly to get the issue settled peacefully. At first there were successes. I was able to prevail on the sants to halt their ongoing kar seva on July 26, 1992, by pointing out to them that what they were doing was violative of court orders. After that, I met with religious leaders from the two communities to nudge them towards a solution. In the three months before December 6, 1992, in October, two meetings of both sides were held and the date for the next was set as November 8. The Hindu sants agreed at the second meeting to come to an agreement with the other side on a plan that would resolve the substantive issues ( of the dispute) by this coming meeting, failing which they had promised to back a reference to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the sants went back on this word and instead of trying to reach an accommodation with the other side, convened a meeting of the Dharam Sansad, which unilaterally decided to perform kar seva at the disputed site on December 6, 1992. When the November 8 meeting took place,the other side said that there was no point in holding further talks as the date for the seva had been decided upon in such a unilateral way. Thus the negotiations broke down.

Q: There is a perception that you never accepted the historical validity of the mosque, and that the negotiations conducted through you were merely a ploy to gain time for the other side to carry out the demolition.
A: Read the White Paper that was issued by my government after the demolition. On Page 1 itself (para 1.1) is written the words: “The structure commonly known as Ram Janambhoomi — Babri Masjid was erected as a mosque by one Mir Baqi in Ayodhya in 1528 AD. The White Paper was prepared under my instructions and presented views that I saw as accurate. How then can you argue that I did not “accept the historical validity” of the proposition that the structure was in fact a mosque? And as for the negotiations, I went into them with the intention of finding a settlement, or at the least making both sides agree to respect the verdict of the Supreme Court, in case a settlement by them proved elusive. As for me personally, I was in favour of the solution mentioned in the Congress Manifesto, which was to construct a temple without dismantling the mosque. This had been my view since 1987, when I was appointed by Rajivji to head the Committee of Ministers examining the Ayodhya dispute, an appointment that lasted till I was shifted from HRD to External Affairs two and a half months later.

Q : But why didn’t you stop the December 6,1992 kar seva from taking place? It was no secret that the then chief minister Kalyan Singh and other BJP leaders had publicly called for the mosque to be replaced with a temple.
A : Politicians say many things in public. Are we to act on the basis of such statements? A solemn commitment was made not just to me but to the Supreme Court of India by the UP government that the structure would be protected and that the kar seva would be merely symbolic. Kalyan Singh’s government undertook before the Supreme Court that it would ensure that “no construction machinery or material would move into the acquired land and that no construction activity would be permitted to take place”. After getting such an assurance, the apex court permitted the kar seva to take place as scheduled on December 6, 1992. In its order, the Court refrained from prohibiting any individual from coming to Ayodhya to undertake the seva. In effect, the Court’s order dated November 28, 1992 told the Central Government to keep out while it and the lower courts considered the situation. In view of such an order, on what basis could I have imposed central rule, especially in a context when the Marg Darshak Mandal had announced on December 5, 1992 that a decision had been taken that the next day’s kar seva would be peaceful? On my part, I had earlier ordered 20,000 paramilitary personnel to go to Ayodhya and be available to the UP government to protect the structure. I contacted Chief Minister Kalyan Singh several times during those final weeks and emphasized that he was bound both by law as well as by his word of honour to ensure the safety of the structure. People, in whose word I trusted, such as Atal Behari Vajpayee and the Rajmata of Gwalior, assured me that the structure would not be harmed. If you expect me to have had foreknowledge of the future, then I am sorry. I did not. Neither did the Intelligence Bureau nor any other official agency, for I received no warning from any of them that there was any risk that the structure would be demolished on December 6.

Incidentally, my government gave a blank cheque to the Supreme Court to take whatever decision the learned justices saw fit. We undertook to fully implement them. This assurance was conveyed in writing to the Court on November 23, 1992. You should also remember that in July 1992 a situation very similar to December 6 took place, which was defused peacefully. Based on that precedent, the President of India was justified in expecting that the December 6 situation would similarly get resolved without the need for recourse to Article 356. It was after December 6, 1992, that President Sharma changed his view and went to the opposite pole, taking a very negative view even of the activities of the other three BJP-ruled states. He got them dismissed as well, an action that formed the backdrop for the Supreme Court’s Bommai judgement.

Q: Both AIR and Doordarshan gave extensive publicity to the proposed kar seva .This created an impression that it was taking place with the government’s blessings.
A : It was the Supreme Court which directed both the central as well as the state government to ensure that “extensive publicity” be given . Are you suggesting that I should have disobeyed the orders of the apex court?

Q: Why did you not take action even after being told by the Union Home Minister, Shri S B Chavan, that there were inadequacies in the security arrangements at Ayodhya?
A: The action was for him to take. I didn’t believe in micromanaging my Cabinet colleagues. Yes, tasks were assigned to them by me, but afterwards, full freedom was given to ministers to do their job. I did not think it necessary or desirable to interfere via a hyperactive or omnipotent PMO while they were presumably doing so. The Home Minister was given the freedom to act in the execution of his duties, and it was my presumption that he did.

Q: But you ordered the then HRD Minister, Sri Arjun Singh, who had reached Ayodhya on December 3,1992 ,to return to New Delhi the next day.
A: Arjun Singhji told me when I contacted him that he was in Ayodhya to participate in a “peace demonstration”. It was my view that the presence of a Central Minister in Ayodhya at that time would only inflame the situation and serve no beneficial purpose. So I requested Arjun Singhji to return.

Q: There were persistent rumours in New Delhi at the time that both the HRD Minister (Sri Arjun Singh) and the Union Home Minister (Sri S B Chavan) wanted to take action against the UP government, but that you stood in the way.
A: There were so many rumours! The fact is that I left during November 1992 for Senegal for a G-15 meeting and handed over charge to a colleague during that time, who was given full authority to convene Cabinet meetings and take decisions. I am told that informal meetings were indeed held by Arjun Singhji, Sri Sharad Pawar and Sri S B Chavan on November 20 and 21,1992. In case they were in favour of “firm” action, they could have taken it then, when the responsibility vested in their hands. They took several other decisions, and as is my way, I never questioned their right to do so. But not this one.

Q : You declined to implement the recommendation made by Union Home Secretary Madhav Godbole that central forces be sent in the night previous to the demolition to protect the structure and impose President’s Rule on Uttar Pradesh?
A: So did the three colleagues I referred to just now, when they were in charge. But speaking for myself, President’s Rule is not an option to be exercised casually. This belief is an article of faith with me. I myself was a victim of the use of Article 356 in Andhra Pradesh in 1973.This is a provision that should be used only in the rarest of rare cases. Till the morning of December 6, 1992, there was no serious law and order problem in Ayodhya. Assurances both written and verbal had been given to the central government and to the Supreme Court by the state government that it would protect the structure. The Governor of UP (Mr Satya Narayan Reddy) had warned in writing against imposing President’s Rule. In his report, the Governor mentioned that the state government had “assured full protection to the disputed structure and adequate arrangements have been made to protect the disputed structure”. He had gone on to add in his written report on the situation in Ayodhya that in his view,” the time is not right for taking any drastic steps like dismissal of the UP government or the imposition of President’s Rule in the State. If it is done, it may have far-reaching consequences. It may also lead to large-scale violence not only in the state but in other parts of the country”. This was categorical advice. Many of those who subsequently criticized the fact that President’s Rule was not imposed prior to December 6 were themselves against the use of Article 356 at the time. Even the President of India (Sri Shankar Dayal Sharma) would have been difficult to convince, had I gone to him before the demolition with a request that he sign an order imposing President’s Rule in UP.

Q: Was the Governor your appointee?
A: No, he was appointed during the term of Sri V P Singh in 1990.I had nothing to do with it.

Q: Coming back to what could have been done to protect the structure but was not, why didn't you, as the Prime Minister of India, order the central forces to go in and protect the structure even if the state government was not cooperating?
A: Please read the Constitution of India more carefully. The 42nd Amendment incorporated Article 257A, which provided that “The Government of India may deploy any armed forces or any other force subject to the control of the Union (not of the State) for dealing with any grave situation of law and order in any State”, which “shall not, subject to the superintendence or control of the State Government or any officer or authority subordinate to the State Government”. This provision would have given us the authority to act without needing to take recourse to the extreme measure of dismissing the state government. But, without assigning any reasons for such a drastic step, this provision was removed from the Constitution by the 44th Amendment. After the nullification of such a crucial provision, the remaining articles would have rendered any except the extreme action of dismissal (of the state government) ineffective except in case of a threat to the unity and integrity of India, such as insurgency aided by a foreign power. This was hardly the situation in Ayodhya. Also, at that point in time, even the Intelligence Bureau did not foresee what unfortunately took place on December 6, 1992. It is easy to pontificate after the fact, but the reality is that before the demolition there was hardly anyone in authority who was in favour of the use of Article 356 against the Kalyan Singh government. And barring such a step, there were — and still are — very few weapons in the Centre’s armoury to deal with a situation such as that which developed in Ayodhya. The law provides only that central forces can be stationed anywhere on the orders of the Union Government but that orders for their deployment have to come from the state government. We stationed forces for the convenience of the State authorities, who unfortunately did not use them even though they were camped just 15 minutes from the structure. The reality is that the state government held the rest of us hostage thanks to the constitutional barrier in taking swift action without their consent or without imposing Central rule. The effect of removing Article 257A was to render Article 355, Article 257 and Article 356 much less potent in a situation such as what was extant in Ayodhya. The only choices available to us was to ensure that enough forces were ready on standby for the state government to deploy or that President’s Rule be imposed even when there was no obvious sign of breakdown of the constitutional machinery. The question is: can Article 356 be used pre-emptively? I don’t think that such an option was the intention of the framers of the Constitution, nor would it be in the spirit of the Sarkaria Commission or the Bommai decision
However, please note that my mind was not closed on the question of the use of Article 356.In fact, I had asked the Home Secretary on November 28, 1992 to put up a Cabinet note on Article 356, just in case the situation called for that. However, the consensus view among those dealing with the issue was that it was not. That this was wrong became blindingly clear only when it was too late (to save the structure).

Q : To return to the contingency plan that had been drawn up by the Union Home Secretary ,why was it not not followed?
A : In the first place, the gentleman had kept his plan so secret that even the Prime Minister was not informed about its existence till the last minute. Further, it called for highly unorthodox measures, such as a “secret midnight meeting of the Union Cabinet” to take steps under Article 355 to be followed hours later by Article 356. The then Home Secretary was against even Cabinet ministers being given a Cabinet note about the subject of the meeting. Such opacity about the purpose of such an extraordinary “midnight” meeting would inevitably have generated wild speculation about the agenda, which would then rapidly have become public. This is no longer the India of the Raj, after all. We have a free press and we have ministers and officials who are not always averse to communicating privately with the media. The Home Secretary wanted central forces to enter the disputed area stealthily on the night of December 5 and take control of the structure, to be followed almost immediately by President’s Rule. My view was that such a decision could have inflamed the situation and did not appear to be warranted by the situation, especially in view of the assurances that had been given to the Supreme Court and to the Centre. As for a midnight Cabinet meeting, such a meeting — which to my knowledge has never taken place in India — could not have been kept secret for even an hour. The reality is that at that time, there was no consensus that the situation was so irretrievable that Article 356 was inevitable. On the contrary, the consensus was to try and ensure that a symbolic kar seva, which would be followed by a resumption of negotiations to settle the matter amicably, be permitted rather than forcibly halted. However, I realize that failure has no father while success sees many claimants.

Q: What exactly took place on December 6, 1992? When did you know the structure was being demolished, and what did you do to try and retrieve the situation?
A: Around noon I was told that far from being peaceful and doing a symbolic kar seva, a section of the mass suddenly began an attack on the structure. I thereupon instructed the concerned officers to do whatever was possible to save the situation. The Home Secretary told me that central forces had been sent from Faizabad after the first reports had been received of an attack on the structure, but that this force had been given a written order by the Magistrates to return to their barracks. There is no way of disobeying or circumventing these orders. Any suc disobedience would, in law, be tantamount to action without authority, therefore illegal. Every consequence of such action taken by the forces would be open to a criminal case and the central forces would be hled responsible. If there is firing and deaths, every such death would amount to murder. Obviously, the central forces would never act in such a way.

Q: What was your response?
A: To call a Cabinet meeting to immediately impose President’s Rule. It had become clear at that stage that there had been a breakdown of the constitutional process in the state that warranted the use of Article 356 .The Union Cabinet met at 6 pm and the recommendation (to impose President’s Rule) was sent to the President of India, who approved it at 9.05 pm. As soon as we were informed that President Sharma had signed the proclamation, the Advisors who had been designated earlier were dispatched to Lucknow. We were busy the entire evening with this exercise, and in monitoring the situation all over the country, to ensure that matters did not spiral further out of control.
Afterwards, I saw to it that the President of India sought the opinion of the Supreme Court of India on whether a Hindu temple had stood on the site of the Babri Masjid .Further, my government undertook to ensure that the Court’s orders got complied with, whatever the verdict. We also issued an ordinance (which was subsequently converted into law by an Act of Parliament: Act 33 of 1993) to acquire all the area in dispute (in the legal suits pending in the Allahabad High Court) as well as the adjacent area. The plan was to hand over the area thus acquired — barring the place where the disputed structure had stood — to two trusts, one that would build a mosque, and the other that would construct a temple. However, we undertook to respect the status quo till the Supreme Court had given its verdict.

Q: Why was there a delay of nearly a month after the demolition before the central government took custody of the site on January 7, 1993? Why could this not have been done earlier?
A: There were legal formalities to be completed. And anyway, the site was under the control of central forces since December 7, 1992, once it had been cleared of kar sevaks.

Q: What is your expectation about the future course of the dispute?
A : After the December 27,1992 Cabinet meeting that decided to issue the ordinance taking over the land, I publicly clarified that the demolished structure would be rebuilt. That was my promise and my intention, and I hope to see it take place during my lifetime.

(As told to the writer on 11th May, 2004 at 9, Motilal Nehru Marg, New Delhi)

Tuesday 27 June 2017

World Insight: How will the U.S.-India partnership affect the geopolitical balance in Asia? (CGTN)

Panel: M D Nalapat, Richard Rossow and Yang Xiyu

Sunday 25 June 2017

Trump-Modi meeting a game changer, despite Beltway sabotage (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
Those eager to ensure friction, want Trump to bring up issues that impinge on India’s sovereignty, aware that Modi would react strongly to any such efforts.

Both during the 2016 Presidential campaign trail and in his previous avatar as a billionaire businessperson, President Donald John Trump had integrated India as a core component of the global order in his policies and actions. However, since his inauguration on 20 January and subsequently, very little mention has been made of India in the statements made by spokespersons for the Trump administration, while, as yet, several posts relevant to relations with India (such as that of Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia) remain unfilled.
However, the incoming US Ambassador to India, Ken Juster, was informed two months ago that he was the White House choice for the post, and his nomination has been made official days before the 26 June first-ever meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Trump. The chemistry between the two will play an important role in ensuring that the India-US alliance, which was first initiated by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, becomes a reality during the terms in office of Trump and Modi. This may already have occurred during the first two years of NDA-II, which began in 2014, but for foot-dragging by those loyal to Bill and Hillary Clinton, who were disproportionately influential during the Barack Obama administration, relative to the Obama loyalists, although less so in the 44th US President’s second term (2013-17). It was known within the Washington Beltway—the US equivalent of India’s Lutyens Zone—that (former) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held the view that the benefits of a close alliance with India were “oversold” by Condoleezza Rice and others in the Bush team, and that far greater emphasis needed to be paid on ensuring improved relations with China, her rhetoric to the contrary. Although Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, in particular, sought to speed up the process of partnering with India in matters of security, he met a stone wall on the Indian side with Defence Minister A.K. Antony, whose view of the world seems to have been unaffected since the 1960s’ heyday of the Soviet Union. While President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saw the advantages, to both, of much closer India-US ties, the former was slowed down by the Clintonites in his administration and the latter by the leadership of the Congress Party, which went largely by the views of Antony in such matters, despite the close personal friendship between Sonia Gandhi and Hillary Clinton. 
Once Prime Minister Modi came to power on 26 May 2014, he adopted a careful approach towards transforming the chemistry and approach of the Central higher bureaucracy, even inducting several into his team who were charter members of the Lutyens’ Zone. President Trump had (in the start of his administration) a different approach, looking for a speedy transition from the traditional Beltway policies and practices to a construct more in tune with current realities. However, the blowback that Trump has been receiving from the Beltway shows that Modi was correct in his caution, as overall the Prime Minister of India has in three years had a far more peaceful innings than the US President in just six months of his term. However, as a consequence of the high initial level of representation of the Lutyens’ Zone in the NDA II government, progress has been slower than expected on some fronts, including that of US-India relations. This despite the warmth and commitment of both President Obama as well as Prime Minister Modi to each other, and to much closer ties. Prime Minister Modi, now that he has mastered the intricacies of Central administration, rather than that of a state, may be expected to accelerate towards a much more transformative structure of governance, in this sense matching the attempted speeds of President Trump in his own administration. The bureaucratic speed-breakers to a much more rapid overall congruence and in several respects convergence of Washington-Delhi policies and actions are getting weaker on the Indian side. However, in Washington, the “Beltway” establishment (both Republican as well as Democrat) is still powerful enough to have a high degree of success in blocking many of President Trump’s initiatives.
In the US, the higher layers of the federal bureaucracy are composed of what may be termed “political bureaucrats”, i.e., officials chosen by politicians and usually on political considerations. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, apparently, still considers himself to be beholden to the entire leadership of the Republican Party, which he was while Chair of the Republican National Committee, forgetting that from 20 January onwards, his loyalty needed to be directed solely in the direction of President Trump. Over the past months, Priebus has instituted a quota system in the US administration, trying to select candidates for high positions that are a mix of those loyal to George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, John McCain and other Republican Party heavyweights. The problem is that these party grandees would be (not so secretly) delighted were Trump to be made to step down as early as possible. Hence, some of those appointed to high office by the Trump team see as their primary interest the failure of the 45th President of the United States to implement the agenda for which he was elected. Should the 26 June Trump-Modi meeting go well, it would redound to the credit of President Trump and lead substantially towards the long-cherished objective of an India-US alliance for security and prosperity that would in its effects span the globe. Hence, they are seeking to ensure that the meeting goes badly, by seeking to ensure that President Trump brings up issues that impinge on the sovereignty and self-respect of India, aware that Prime Minister Modi is 100% a nationalist, who would react strongly to any such efforts.
Among the issues they would like Trump to bring forward for discussion are issues relating to some NGOs operating in India that have been reported as having indulged in activities that have the potential to cause mayhem and violence. Other issues sought to be introduced into the conversation relate to some of the matters that have been exciting both foreign and domestic media during the past weeks, including matters of diet. Another googly being suggested is to bring up the cordial relations that Delhi has with both Teheran and Moscow, of course for valid geopolitical reasons. The expectation of those in the Trump administration who are eager to ensure friction, and not understanding, during the Modi-Trump summit is that the introduction of such issues into the Modi-Trump dialogue would visibly set relations back, thereby slowing down the momentum already generated by previous heads of government in both Delhi and Washington. However, the few within the Trump administration who are genuine loyalists of the 45th US President (and not of his Republican traducers) say that Trump is fully aware of such moves and will ensure that they are not given a chance to work. They say that while such issues may figure in some conversations, these would be at a lower level and privately. 
From the very first days of his ascension to office, Prime Minister Modi showed his goodwill for the US by casting aside years of hostility manifested in the denial of a US visa to him and making thus far four successful visits to the US. Those familiar with President Trump say that he is in sync with Modi on the need for the US and India to work closely together, and can be expected to ensure that the Prime Minister’s potentially very consequential visit to Washington ends up as productive and ground-breaking. On the Indian side, although there are issues relating to US policy that are of concern, such as recent changes in visa rules in some categories or climate-related matters, these are expected to be dealt with at a lower level and mostly in closed-door sessions, so that the overall atmospheric remain cordial, an important consideration in a democracy. Prime Minister Modi is going the extra mile to ensure this, for example, by refusing to accept the invite by some organisations in cities across the US to address mass rallies of Indian-Americans during his latest US visit. Such meetings may give rise to anti-immigrant feelings in a section of Trump supporters about Indian-Americans, despite this group being the most law-abiding and high (average) tax-paying of any ethnic community settled in the US. Hence the expectations on the part of both Modi as well as Trump loyalists are that there would be a Trump-Modi breakthrough in US-India relations on 26 June. This would ensure that the two democracies move largely onto the same page in confronting threats and taking advantage of opportunities in the Indo-Pacific century.

Saturday 24 June 2017

The Roundtable: When Modi meets Trump (NewsX)

This week on the Roundtable, we take a look at the momentous meeting between the United States President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that is slated for 26 June this month. Till now the two have had two telephonic conversations but how would it be when two leaders of the two powerful democracies meet. Will it begin with a handshake or with a hug?

Well discussing this on The Roundtable, we have Pramit Pal Chauduri, Foreign Editor of Hindustan Times; Suhasini Haidar, Deputy Resident Editor of The Hindu; Prof Brahma Chellaney, Geostrategic Expert and Madhav Das Nalapat, Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian in conversation with our Senior Executive Editor, Priya Sahgal.

A People’s President needs a People’s House (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
The Rashtrapati Bhawan complex ought to house the offices and residences of the Prime Minister and Ministers of Home, Finance, External Affairs and Defence. 
It is doubtful that Mahatma Gandhi would have approved of the first President of India and his successors taking up residence in what had been christened by its builders as the Viceregal Palace. The colonial masters of India wished to overawe the natives, hence the magnificence of the Viceregal abode. However, a post-colonial Head of State ought to reside in quarters that are more congruent with the reality of India being among the poorest countries of the globe in per capita terms. This columnist welcomes the naming of Bihar Governor R.N. Kovind as the NDA candidate for President of India. The only stone thrown at him is that he was reported as opposing the effort by some within those communities to allow “Christian Backwards and Dalits” as also “Muslim Dalits and Backwards” to compete for the quota reserved for Backward Classes and Dalits. Such protagonists insult the Christian and Muslim faiths, neither of which stands for the scientifically unsound notion of “caste due to the accident of birth” within their theologies. Governor Kovind must not be faulted for pointing this out.
However, choosing a proper successor to Pranab Mukherjee is not enough. What needs to also get done, and indeed what ought to have been done on 15 August 1947 was to ensure that the Head of State of free India make as his or her official residence a complex of structures, other than what was till then the hub of Government of India. It is incorrect to say that the Viceregal Palace was the residence of the Head of State, for that role belonged to the British monarch. If the native successors to the British colonial authorities wanted the incoming Head of State to reside in the same accommodations as used by their predecessors in the UK, they ought to have put in a bid for Buckingham Palace. The fact is that the present Rashtrapati Bhawan was the seat of the Government of India, and in a democracy, this is led by an authority elected by the people, rather than chosen in an indirect manner the way the President of India has been and will be. The function of the complex of structures known collectively as Rashtrapati Bhawan should, therefore, be to serve as the hub of governance in the country. This implies that the complex ought to house the offices and the residences of the Prime Minister as well as the Ministers of Home, Finance, External Affairs and Defence. The Big Five of the Government of India should live and work in the present Rashtrapati Bhawan complex, so that it functions 24/7 as the vortex of the administration. This would be on the lines of Zhongnanhai in Beijing and the Kremlin in Moscow. Another sprawling government-owned mansion could be set aside for the President of India. Whether by design or by the tendency of the bureaucracy to abhor change, the former Viceregal Palace has continued to be occupied by this country’s Heads of State after the Mountbattens left, when its role ought to have been to house the core of the administration in India, i.e., the Prime Minister and his or her five key ministers.
"Rashtrapati Bhawan should function on the lines of Zhongnanhai and Kremlin. Another sprawling mansion could be set aside for President of India."
Such a move would of course be opposed by the denizens of the Lutyens Zone, who would be concerned that their own nests of privilege may be at risk, were such a change to get effected. They have ignored the poverty of India in, for example, the conversion into memorials of state-provided residences after the passing of those residing in them. Certainly Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri merit memorials and even museums. However, these should not be in their places of stay while in high office. There is no logic in freezing the utilisation of pricey state assets in a manner reminiscent of the Mughal fetish of dotting Delhi with tombs. Instead, what needs to be done is for the memorials and museums to be located elsewhere, and funded, not out of the exchequer, but from private pockets. In the US, successive Presidents have established libraries in their name, but these have overwhelmingly been privately funded. When some VVIPs passed on, their official residences got converted into memorials. Were that to be standard practice at the Vatican after the demise of a pontiff, by now the whole of Rome would have been covered with former papal residences. As in the US or the UK, the official residences of the highest officials should be marked with permanence rather than be as subject to change as they have been in India.
The Rashtrapati Bhawan complex could be renamed Lok Kalyan Bhawan once it houses the Big Five in the Union Council of Ministers, while the present residence of the Prime Minister (7 Racecourse Road, now 7 Lok Kalyan Marg) could be converted into a residential complex for other Cabinet-level individuals, while the Prime Minister (for reasons of administrative convenience and security) and his four key ministers stay and work within the present Rashtrapati Bhawan complex, which needs to return to its original role of housing the highest decision-making levels within the Central government. The fiction that it is the President of India, rather than the Union Cabinet, who takes the decisions issued in the name of the Head of State is similar to the practice followed by Westminster. The beating heart of the Government of India comprises the Prime Minister and his key Cabinet colleagues, and it is they who ought to reside in the complex of structures atop Raisina Hill that would once again form the core of governance in India rather than remain a ceremonial abode.

Friday 23 June 2017

America Must Let Trump be Trump (The Conservative)

THE CONSERVATIVE| June 2017| Issue 4| Pages: 31-35

by Madhav Das Nalapat

“Treat me as an outsider and I’ll behave as one,” was Rupert Murdoch’s warning to editors who behaved as if their publication belonged to them and not to the proprietor. It also sums up President Trump’s attitude to the media. His administration has sought to box journalists into harmlessness through denial of access and serial invective. Even the sacred Beltway ritual of the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner was boycotted by the 45th President of the United States, who owes much of his fame to artful management of the media. 

As a businessman, Donald Trump was generous in the time he gave journalists, including those who were far from being admirers. There were, of course, threats, legal notices and even lawsuits, but such shadows quickly passed. The Donald bestowed so much of his undoubted charm on reporters that even supposedly negative reports contained anecdotes designed to make readers like him. It helped that Trump was a compulsive reader of newspapers and viewer of television channels, his favourite topic being a certain New York billionaire with a glamorous wife and an unusual hairstyle. He didn’t need to be told that the media were outside the gravitational force of the Trump corporate empire, and therefore needed to be handled more delicately than his employees. 

However, a career incorporate life – or, for that matter, the military – may not be the best way of adapting to the scrum of a political career. Businessmen and generals understand hierarchy and its attendant order, but they are less familiar with the pathways and limitations of politics. Now that he is in the White House, we can see that Trump spent too little time thinking about what needed to get done the morning after the election, including picking his staff. Brave words notwithstanding, it seems that Team Trump was less than certain of defeating Hillary Clinton, whose machine was supremely confident of victory.
"Trump becomes
Trump and places
his stamp over policy
the way that FDR or
Lincoln did."

On November 9, journalists who had wasted so much effort cultivating the Clintons began to work out their anger on Trump. This was predictable – almost none of them had voted for him – but Trump made things worse. This was the day on which he needed to forget past dust-ups. Instead, he seemed to think that his business had expanded to cover the entire country, including the media. He behaved as though he had no further need of them, tweeting his contempt to the world.

Interestingly, doling out tough love to the media has worked for the leader of an even larger democracy. The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has barred most journalists   from   travelling  with  him  on  visits  abroad,  while  traditional  press  conferences  no  longer  happen. Yet  the  press  in  India  is  largely  adulatory    perhaps  influenced  by  the  fact  that  it  is  owned  by  individuals  who depend on government goodwill  for  their  profits.  If   Modi’s   winning   streak comes to an end, the fawning pack is likely to turn on him.

Had President Trump followed the same playbook with the Washington media as Businessman  Trump  in  New  York,  he  could  have  avoided much of the vitriol now  being  directed  at  him.  Approaching journalists in  small  batches,  or  singly, he  could  have  demonstrated  the  warmth  that  is  natural to the man, rather than the faux-disdain affected by him  and  the  entire  top tier of his team.

Newspaper columns have been viciously critical of the new president, going out of their way to represent him as a dangerous break with the past.  The result – despite his disdain for the press    is  that  he  seems  to have  decided  not  to  break with the past. In  that  sense,  the  media are winning: their incessant criticism  is  turning  Trump into a president who – certainly  in  the  area  of  foreign  affairs    pursues  far more    conventional    policies than expected. Policies, in other words, with which  many media  commentators are comfortable, even if their tribal dislike of Trump means  they  are  reluctant  to admit it.

For example, both Trump’s national security advisor H R McMaster and defence   secretary James Mattis are more conventional in their approach to Nato, Afghanistan- Pakistan and the Middle East than Donald Rumsfeld was 16 years ago. Mattis, for example, wants to persuade the Taliban to surrender their weapons    and    behave as good citizens.  This gravely misunderstands  the  jihadist psyche,  but  the  Washington  establishment  is  comfortable  with  delusions  of “de-radicalisation”.

As for McMaster, after more than a decade of steadily de-hyphenating India from   Pakistan, he has pushed US policy back to the Bill Clinton era by flying into Delhi   directly from Islamabad with a roomful of suggestions for better relations between the two neighbours, one of which was born as a consequence of hatred of the other.   This   has   kindled Indian anxiety about future Arabia, Turkey and other backers of Wahabbism. It is extraordinary   that   Whitehall  does  not  ask  itself  why Christians, Druze, Shia and even  moderate  Sunnis  flee from  zones  taken  over  by Western allies; perhaps it is the  threat  of  being  beheaded by these “moderates”.
"Newspaper columns
have been viciously
critical of the new
president, going
out of their way to
represent him as a
dangerous break
with the past. The
result – despite his
disdain for the press
– is that he seems to
have decided not to
break with the past."
In  short,  if  the  media war   on   Trump   was   designed  to  ensure  that  he would  revert  to  the  Clinton-Bush policy course and abandon  the  unorthodoxy promised  on  the  campaign trail,  it  is  succeeding.  Bear in mind, too, that members of  Trump’s  inner  circle  are above all determine to save him  from  future  impeachment     and     prosecution: they  apparently  think  that embracing   familiar   policies  will  help  achieve  that  result. They are wrong. The more President     Trump moves away from Candidate Trump – who pushed aside more than a dozen Republican worthies in his fight for the nomination – the faster his approval rating  will  fall to  the  low  20s,  a  level  at which  it  will  be  safe  to  call for   his   impeachment   or worse. All that is preventing such a descent are the flashes of the real Trump occasionally visible from the White House, the most important of which is the greater freedom he has given to the military to meet its objectives.

Unlike  the  closet  pacifist Barack Obama, Donald Trump  has  deferred  to  the generals,  so  much  so  that there is finally a chance that the kinetic   force   needed to ensure  the  safety  of  the US, Japan and South Korea from  Pyongyang  will  actually be unleashed. However, to ensure victory in Korea, Trump will need the neutrality of Russia and the participation of Taiwan. Recent policy reversals make both those things unlikely. Unless,  that  is,  Trump becomes  Trump  and  places his stamp  over  policy  the way  that  FDR  or  Lincoln did.   In   their   desperation to “save” the president, his intimates are creating the conditions for his downfall, by diluting him with liberal doses of Clinton and Bush. After his first 100 days of waffling, it is time for the real Donald Trump to stand up. A good first step would be make sure that his administration understands that we are now living in the Indo-Pacific    century, and that the foundations of American policy no longer lie  on  the  other  side  of  the Atlantic.