Saturday, 30 June 2018

Stop mothballing Priyanka and Varun (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat

Holding a new generation guilty or responsible for the sins actual and perceived of their ancestors makes no sense. We need leaders wedded to 21st century mindsets.

What decided the last Lok Sabha verdict was the 2009-2014 record of the Manmohan Singh government, along with the public perception of Congress president Sonia Gandhi as an individual more concerned with securing the future of her Italian relatives than the 1. 26 billion people of the country of her in-laws. The 2019 Lok Sabha result will hinge on the record of the Narendra Modi government during the previous five years, including its lack of success in prosecuting and sending to prison any central-level leader of the UPA, a formation that was relentlessly labelled as corrupt beyond imagination by Modi during the 2014 election campaign. Either the UPA leadership was not corrupt, and only falsely labelled as such by the BJP, or the new government is unable or unwilling to enforce accountability for past misdeeds. Add to that negativity a plunging rupee, a tax system still anchored to the colonial “squeeze the natives” model, and the continuing control by the state of most aspects of a citizen’s life. All these make it more and more likely that the next government will be a collection of parties united by their desire to send Modi into retirement, exactly as disparate groups came together in 1977 to ensure an “Indira Hatao”. Prime Minister Modi has asked the people to give him time till 2022 to fulfil the promises he has made, but to those who are at the lower end of the economic pyramid, even a week is too long a time to wait for succour to arrive. Modi will need to do more in the next six months than he has during the previous 49, not speaking on the stump but working in his office, or the BJP will go the way the Congress Party did in 1989.
Should Modi’s party return to the opposition benches in May 2019, it could make a comeback in 2024 if the new government retains the UPA policy of selective communalism and statism. Interestingly, younger leaders such as Akhilesh Yadav and Telangana CM KCR’s talented son and daughter seem to have understood the depth of the hunger for change of the electorate. Rahul Gandhi had given rise to expectation that he would adopt a course different from that of his predecessor, but lately seems to be reverting to his UPA-era role of being led by Sonia Gandhi, and thus not finding the energy or the inclination to move beyond her 1930s “Cambridge socialism” so as to lead the charge towards a 21st century makeover of his party. Rahul ought to lead campaigns such as the abolition of triple talaq or universalising the teaching of English in primary and secondary schools. He ought to press for lower taxes and an end to Babu Raj. Such a policy transformation would include an effort designed to do away with several colonial-era laws and practices, bringing back freedom of choice in diet, dress and lifestyle to all, and avoiding Sonia Gandhi’s indulgence towards Wahhabism. That Rahul Gandhi still declines to publicly back the abolition of triple talaq or the building of the Ram temple are signs that the policy clouds of the Congress past still hang over the present. Unless this changes, the Congress Party will not reach the 150 Lok Sabha seats the party can secure were it to walk away from the errors made during the UPA era. An example of how lost opportunities are hurting the party is the lack of a role given to Priyanka Gandhi, who would be an immense asset to her party, having as she does much of the charisma of her paternal grandmother. Thus far, Priyanka has scarcely been deployed by the Congress Party, although those who say that this is because Italian (and Indian) mothers prefer sons to daughters in positions of responsibility may be wrong. Certainly her husband is not a poster boy for Gandhian values, but even should the Modi government find the will in the short time it has left to make Robert Vadra accountable for past transactions, this will not damage Priyanka’s political potential, as she has a standing within her party and the country independent of her spouse. Perhaps Rahul needs to show that he is no Manmohan Singh, but the actual and not the notional leader of his party, by ensuring a role for Priyanka that matches her capabilities.
The Congress Party is not the only formation ignoring obvious talent. Varun Gandhi has shown his qualities through the systematic way in which he has joined in the public discourse on policy. Several of the points made in his writings and speeches are worthy of implementation, while the MP’s personality matches that of his father. Even during the worst period of his life (just after the 1977 defeat of his party), Sanjay Gandhi had a presence and a leadership style that awed his contemporaries. The history of his party would have been different if some unseen force had not filed away at the control wires on his aircraft so that they snapped after a few tugs of the joystick, sending the small aircraft into a death-dive. “Each One Teach One” or “Plant More Trees”, not to mention overpopulation or the abolition of Soviet economic models, remain as relevant in 2018 as they were in 1973 when Sanjay first expounded on his vision for India, although it must be added that several of the methods adopted by his acolytes were unpardonable. Varun has the zeal and magnetism of his father, and it is the BJP’s loss not to make much better use of such qualities in its youthful MP. For example, by ensuring a Rahul Gandhi-Varun Gandhi battle in Amethi during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, and in the interim, recognising rather than ignoring Varun’s potential within the party organisation. Holding a new generation guilty or responsible for the sins actual and perceived of their ancestors makes no sense, and hopefully both Varun and Priyanka (not to mention Rahul) will accept that past precedents need to be replaced with ideas relevant to the people and the times of the present. India has been searching since decades for leaders wedded to 21st century mindsets and methods, a quest that continues. 

China joins U.S. and India against Pak terror funding (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat

Turkey hosts leaders of many groups tethered to violent solutions to political problems. Indications are President Erdogan gave command to ‘stand by Pakistan come what may’.

The “Wuhan Spirit” ensured that China joined with India, the United States, Russia and the European Union in rejecting the bid of Turkey to take Pakistan off the “Grey List” of terror funding of the 37-nation Financial Action Task Force at its plenary meeting in Paris last week. The Pakistan delegation sought the support of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, China and Turkey to be taken off the Grey List of countries that have made unsatisfactory progress in stopping terror funding. Should Islamabad not show visible progress in stopping terror funding within 15 months, it will be placed on the terror Black List, which at present includes only Iran and North Korea. The Pakistan delegation argued that “Muslim nations should stand together” against any move by FATF to place “the world’s second largest Muslim country” on the Grey List, aware that it was only a short step from there to the Black List, which would make it mandatory for the world’s significant trading nations to impose financial sanctions on Pakistan. Inspired by the fight-back against Wahhabism by Saudi Arabia under the direction of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and the rejection of extremist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood by another important Muslim country, Egypt, the GCC rejected such lobbying and pointed out that Muslims themselves have been the worst victims of terrorism and therefore should unite in support of moves to choke off funding to terror groups.
Interestingly, Turkey has found itself on such a list on multiple occasions, and now hosts the leaders of several groups tethered to violent solutions to political problems. Soundings within Ankara indicate that President Erdogan himself gave the command to “stand by Pakistan come what may” out of worry that the same label may get affixed to Turkey. Under President Erdogan, as many as 15 armed extremist groups, active mostly in the Middle East, have substantial segments of their leadership resident in Turkey, including two groups associated with the Pakistan army’s ongoing campaign of terror against India.
Although several calls were made from Rawalpindi GHQ to the headquarters of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) in Beijing to ensure that China joined with Turkey in getting Pakistan dropped from the Grey List, now that President Xi Jinping has taken charge of the “India Account” (the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in the case of China), it was not possible for pro-Pakistan voices in the PLA to join hands with pro-Pakistan, India-phobic elements in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in Beijing to make the Chinese delegation at the FATF plenary side with Pakistan at the expense of those countries that were longstanding victims of Pakistan terror groups. Saudi Arabia in particular had been lobbied very hard by the Pakistan delegation at the plenary meeting, but that country stood behind India in the matter of ensuring that Pakistan was on the Grey List. Although as yet the pro-Pakistan lobby in the PLA is blocking UN action against certain leaders of Jaish as well as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, at the Paris meet, the Chinese delegation did not demur when these entities were all included in the list of organisations to which funds should be cut off totally, no matter the fake names they operate by. Although the Pakistan delegation swore, for example, that funds to Hafiz Saeed as well as his media access have been cut off, during 2015 and 2016 there were nearly 70 Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) public rallies in Pakistan, almost all of which was reported by the Pakistan media, which is known in its reporting to go by the wishes of the ISI. On average, there were nine violent incidents per month in Jammu & Kashmir that were caused by those sent across the border from the well-funded terror training camps in Pakistan. Of course, the JuD has now morphed into the Tehreek-e-Azaadi-e-Jammu & Kashmir (TAJK) from mid-January last year. And while Hafiz Saeed has been “detained” in 4-star comfort, both Abdul Rehman Makki and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi (both designated as terrorists by the US) remain free to roam across Pakistan and recruit impressionable youths to their terror outfits, the destructive purpose of which gets described by LeT and JuD leaders publicly in speeches every day. As for Saeed, while still technically in detention, he gave a live press conference outside the JuD headquarters to 11 media channels, in each of which he threatened violence and mass terror in India. Saeed continues to reside at 4 Chauburji, Lahore, and runs a network of colleges and hospitals that receive money from Pakistan and outside, especially the Middle East.
The LeT still operates not only in India but in Europe and Afghanistan, and there are reports that it is setting up a base in the US. Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FiF) has now spread to 13 countries, including Turkey, Indonesia, Myanmar, Somalia and Yemen. Terror groups active in Pakistan and from there to other countries include TAJK, FiF, HuNM, ISIS, HuD, JeD and the various strands of the Taliban. It is unlikely that GHQ Rawalpindi will stop funding such auxiliary organisations in the 15 months’ grace period FATF has given it. Thus far, the Pakistan army was confident that China would block action against it as a sponsor of terror, no matter what it did in every country except of course China. However, the Wuhan Spirit created by the Modi-Xi discussions has ensured that Beijing joined hands with India and other countries to hold Pakistan to account for its use of terror as a weapon of war. China being on the same page as India on the issue of terror factories and their funding during the Paris plenary, shows that Xi will no longer allow certain elements in the military to blindly back Islamabad at the expense of China’s reputation as a fighter against the terror factories of the world, many of which operate from Pakistan.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad creates history (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat

MOST analysts assume that the restrictive practices that had been the norm in Saudi Arabia until King Abdullah Al Saud and thereafter Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman took charge had been part of the country’s history from the beginning. In much the same way, they saw as “natural to the Afghan people” the societal mores enforced during the period when (with US support) the Taliban controlled 86% of Afghanistan. The fact is that Afghanistan was a modern, moderate country in line with the wise example set by Prophet Mohammad, who showed by example his respect for women as well as for those who belonged to faiths different from that which had been revealed to him. Only when he was engaged in a war (and this did not happen very often) was the Prophet constrained to adopt the practices needed to ensure victory over those seeking to destroy him and his rapidly expanding flock. There were Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists living peacefully among their Muslim neighbours, especially in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan.
The Pashtuns in particular were known for their liberal and tolerant spirit, changes taking place only after the CIA intervened in favour of Wahabbism the way the agency had in Saudi Arabia after Ayatollah Khomenei took over power in Teheran in 1979 and directed his fire at the US and Israel. Not even secretly, Saddam Hussein was encouraged to attack Iran soon afterwards, and supplied even with chemical weapons for the purpose by the US and the UK. Of course, after he invaded Kuwait, Saddam was a marked man, finally getting defeated in 2003 on the pretext that he had supplies of WMD that both London and Washington knew were not there, else they would not have dared to invade the country with hundreds of thousands of troops but confined their actions to the air. Nearer home, during the period when Zahir Shah was King of Afghanistan, women were wholly free to adopt the dress and lifestyle they chose.
It was only after the Soviet invasion that first the Carter and later the Reagan administration in Washington gave open backing to religious fanatics eager to rid the country not only of the Soviet invaders but of anyone else who did not subscribe to a restrictive interpretation of the faith that placed severe limits on human conduct and reduced the people to a lowly status when compared with the Taliban rulers, who even weeks before September 11,2001 were welcome visitors to the US State Department as well as,on occasion, the Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House. Most of the trips made by Taliban representatives to the US were funded either directly by the US administration or paid for by GCC states at the request of US officials. It was only after 1979 that Wahabbism grew deep roots within Saudi Arabia, a transformation that had the blessings of the US and the former ruling power, the UK. It was when King Abdullah took over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2005 that the lavish financial assistance given to Wahabbi institutions was slowed down and the rigid constructs of Wahabbi societal norms were slowly relaxed.
The King’s death ten years later gave rise to fears that the re-entry of Saudi Arabia into the comity of nations with a moderate ethos would get halted. However, the opposite has taken place. Almost as soon as he was appointed Crown Prince by King Salman (the successor to King Abdullah), Muhammad bin Salman accelerated the de-Wahabbization of Saudi Arabia. Initially, this met with opposition from those whose bank balances and lifestyles had prospered as a consequence of the annual flow of billions of dollars to Wahabbi institutions. However, the Crown Prince did not lose his nerve but took on the Wahabbi establishment with full force, backed by his father King Salman Al Saud, who saw in the youthful prince an individual with the qualities needed to ensure that Saudi Arabia smoothly enter into the 21st century from the 16th. Wahabbbis and their global backers have created a perception that the overwhelming majority of Muslims subscribe to their narrow – and wrong – interpretation of a faith based on the qualities of compassion, beneficence and mercy.
Analysts and commentators in the US and the UK in particular were at first dismissive of both the intentions as well as the degree of success of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman in his efforts at returning his country to the moderate values that were the norm before Wahabbism was given a cortisone boost by external agencies. However, it must be said that President Donald J Trump has from the start given the Saudi Crown Prince full backing, and this has been an important factor in his success. Hopefully the Crown Prince will extricate Saudi Arabia from its external conflicts (such as in Yemen) and concentrate on driving Wahabbism away from Saudi Arabia. Success in this task will change the history of not merely the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but the entire world.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

BJP top leaders holds Press conferences across India to highlight the darkest period 'Emergency' (NewsX)

The BJP today is observing a black day across the nation to mark the anniversary of emergency imposed in 1975 by the then PM Indira Gandhi. Prime Minister Modi launched a scathing attack on the congress and said that the emergency was imposed for one family's hunger for power. Other BJP top leaders will holds press conferences across the country to highlight how it was the darkest period of independent India. Meanwhile Vice President Venkaiah Naidu has said that the emergency must be taught as a part of school curriculum to sensitise youth towards the darkest phase of Indian history.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

NewsX Global Environmental Conclave begins; Professor Nalapat speaks on environment (Sunday Guardian)

NewsX in association with Sunday Guardian brings to you global environmental conclave today. Various issues like environmental sustainability, role of PSU's in environment and climate change, global impact of pollution will be taken up at the conclave. HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar, filmmaker Mike Pandey, MOS Jitender Singh are expected to attend.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Freedoms are essential for economic growth (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat

The many obstacles to freedom of speech and choice in India need to be dismantled.

Once the BJP secured a majority in the Lok Sabha on 16 May 2014, several thinkers from what gets described as the “saffron camp”, and who earlier had been dismissed as lightweights, found a new prominence. For decades, they had pointed out errors in the history books of the post-1947 period, which literature in essence is similar to those used during the period when it was the Union Jack and not the Tricolour flying above the top of Raisina Hill. However, they then exhibited the same error of seeing certain other historical events through rose-coloured lenses. For the “saffron” scholars, the period before the Muslim invasions and European conquests of the Indian subcontinent were a golden age. They were not. Several of the rulers of that period were venal, repressive and incompetent, while many had social views as regressive as those earlier held by Manu, whose edicts about women in particular were later adopted wholesale by Abdul Wahhab in his wanderings within the Nejd desert of what is now Saudi Arabia. More than 85% of the population of the land of our ancestors was disallowed by considerations of “caste by birth” from taking up arms to defend their territories against invasions. Once an individual’s caste got determined by birth rather than by occupation, the ossification of society commenced, rendering it easy prey for invaders from Persia, Central Asia, Afghanistan and the Arab world, not to mention later conquests by the European powers. If pre-Mughal India had been the paradise of justice and plenty described by those who simultaneously (and correctly) point to the atrocities committed on the people during the past millennium by outside invaders, it would never have collapsed to armies that were, culturally and materially, substantially below the levels reached by their domestic conquests.
After freedom was secured in 1947 (after the British lost confidence during 1944-46 that the “native military” would for much longer go against their own people to protect the colonial ruler), the Union of India was a shadow of what British India had been in terms of territory and influence. From the Arabian Sea to the Himalayas to the Arakan, the primacy of Delhi shrank and rapidly disappeared once those who had spent years leading the fight for Independence from British-era jails took charge. A factual history of the past millennium needs to replace the nursery tales created by Nehruvian historians, but a similar candour is needed in examining the faults in the society and politics of what came before, during what the nursery tales (this time of the “Right”) term as India’s Golden Age.
Wahhabis regard as blasphemy any deviation from the line taken by them on events and personalities, and so do those who have driven away the writings of A.K. Ramanujan from college shelves because he gave a version of the Ramayana different from that favoured by self-appointed “protectors” of the name of Lord Ram. By such actions, they are belittling the glory of one of the greatest figures in history, a life that ought to be taught in every school in India for the insights it offers. The historical reputation of Lord Ram does not need such epigones as its champions. Lord Ram’s glory can easily withstand critical assessments. Behaving the way Wahhabis do in seeking to stop differing interpretations of Lord Ram will only recreate the social faultiness which a millennium ago caused our land to succumb to invasions. Rather than strengthen it so as to enable India to take its place as the Third Superpower, after China and the US, censorship and intolerance to opposing views and lifestyles will weaken India. The only way policymakers in our country can ensure employment and income levels sufficient to move the economy into the Middle Income range within a generation is to generate a manifold expansion in the Knowledge Economy. This requires the abolition of the constrictive framework that has been created for education in India. But this would not be enough. It was its relatively liberal traditions that led to the success of Bangalore as an Information Technology hub, just as it is the relaxed societal atmosphere at NRI-filled Silicon Valley which helps ensure its dominance in the global Knowledge Economy table. Such should be the ruling ethos and ecosystem in India.
Rather than flex their muscles against helpless individuals, such imitators of Wahhabi mores need to concentrate on the forces that seek to break (or at the least severely weaken) India. Among them are groups which work through agitations and propaganda to prevent the mining of coal, iron ore, copper, uranium and rare earths within the country. It is very likely that the copper plant in Tuticorin that got shut down after protests was operating in a manner that added substantially to pollution. If so, the state government ought to have temporarily taken over the company and ensured cleaner processing of raw material rather than allowing it to be closed. Its shutdown means more copper has to be imported from outside the country, the way coal is in a country nature has endowed immense resources of the substance with. Madushree Mukherjee has written a book (Churchill’s Secret War) that ought to be taught in classes across the country rather than the fiction spewed out by Nehruvian historians. She shows how British rule changed India from a manufacturing hub into merely a producer of raw materials. Several shadowy groups operating in India seek with anti-industry rhetoric and activity to prevent even raw materials from being extracted in this country, much less manufacture.
Whether it be the effect on press freedom of the ease with which criminal defamation cases can get filed or the manner in which Saudi-model crackdowns occur on those adopting a diet or lifestyle different from those choices favoured by zealots, there are still too many obstacles to freedom of speech and choice in India. These need to be dismantled, not simply because that is the moral thing to do, but because such is the only way individual initiative can flourish in India the way it does in the countries to which Indians are forced to flee to ensure more productive lives than India’s colonial governance system makes possible.

PGurus with Prof Nalapat on US N Korea summit, US Trade sanctions on China and India (PGurus)

PGurus with Prof Nalapat on US N Korea summit, US Trade sanctions on China and India. Also discussed are the extent of Wahabism in the Pak Army and its consequences.

Trump and Xi lock horns over global primacy (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat

Trump knows that it is Beijing and not Moscow that needs undivided attention ‘if the US is to ensure that it remains the globe’s largest economy’.

Almost the entire mainstream media in the US dislikes Donald Trump, and it shows. Television news reports, talk shows and newspaper commentary are filled with a toxicity towards Trump that is reminiscent of the vitriol directed against Chief Minister Narendra Modi from 2002 to around 2012, the year when he became a serious prospect for the Prime Ministership of India. The abuse did little to damage Modi’s electoral prospects in his home state, and the constant level of negative commentary about Trump in the midst of an improved performance by the US economy is proving unable to reverse the steady rise in the approval rating of the 45th US President, which may soon cross the politically significant 50% mark. The Democratic Party has yet to recover from its folly of having been forced by the (still dominant) Clinton personal and political machine to reject Senator Bernie Sanders as the party’s nominee for the 2016 Presidential contest. Given the atmosphere in the US during that year, Hillary Clinton was certain to lose to Trump and Sanders to win. The US would have changed under a President Sanders in a manner as comprehensive as it is during the tenure of President Trump, but in a wholly different direction. However, on the issue of dealing with a rapidly nuclearising Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), it is likely that Sanders would have trod much the same conciliatory path that Trump has been taking, except that in the latter’s case, his actual objectives and strategy remain a secret to all except the President himself and a handful of his confidants, many of the closest of whom are outside government, and most of whom have to date remained outside media attention. Indeed, those who have been written about in the media as being “close” to Donald Trump have usually found their welcome significantly reduced once such flattering reports come out. Influenced by an overwhelmingly hostile media across both sides of the Atlantic, the global perception about President Trump is that he changes his mind often and lacks either vision or a well thought out plan of action that could fulfil his stated objectives. The reality is that Trump does indeed have both a vision as well as a plan designed to ensure its fruition, but covers up both through camouflaging them with tweets and statements that deliberately confuse and mislead his audience, including the countries or the interests that he is targeting. Those close to him say that he has a “laser focus” on objectives that are hidden from public view, and among the most consequential of these is to repeat what Ronald Reagan did with the USSR, this time in the case of the People’s Republic of China. With an eye on trendiness and potentialities, Trump “has been aware for over eighteen years” (in the words of an individual who has had contact with him even after 20 January 2017) that “the only threat to the continued primacy of the US in the global order is China”, especially now that Xi Jinping, a leader in the transformational mould of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, has established firm control over the Chinese Communist Party and through that, both the administration as well as the military in what is on track to soon being the world’s largest economy.
The ecosystem of the Washington Beltway consists of a dense matrix of think tanks, consultancies and state, as well as private agencies staffed by “experts” who have devoted decades of their lives to “understanding issues” from the 1940s perspective of the Atlantic Alliance. Although global geopolitics has reduced the significance of the European side of the Atlantic and at the same time steadily increased the importance of the Asian side of the Pacific, those with cosy sinecures within the Beltway remain moored to the 1940s worldview, exactly as do the international institutions set up during that period, such as the United Nations, the World Bank, NATO and the IMF. All four have at the core of their control systems the countries forming the Atlantic Alliance, an aberration that continues mainly because US policymakers continue to think and act as though the post-1945 world still exists, and not the world after the firebreak caused by the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China, the event which first gave a glimpse to the international community as to the identity of the Second Superpower.
Had India post-2014 adopted the “Minimum Government” model promised by Narendra Modi in his 2014 Lok Sabha electoral campaign, by now its annual rate of growth would have crossed the 12% mark and by 2019, it would have been obvious both that Modi would win a second term and that India would soon become the world’s Third Superpower. However, the economic policies and administrative practices of the BJP-led government have in practice been such as to throw both conclusions into doubt. In contrast, the US under Donald Trump and China under Xi Jinping are both transforming themselves at speed, with China outpacing the US in the extent of internal systemic changes. “Digital India” remains a digital colony of the US and China, while “Make Babies in India” seems more accurate a description of the present situation than Make Manufactures in India. Whether in the US or in China, the policy elites of both agree that the immense unlocked potential of India remains locked by a governance mechanism that stifles rather than creates value. The manner of rollout of GST has made Franz Kafka’s depictions of bureaucracy seem a model of simplicity and efficiency, while the less said about the way in which the RBI implemented the 8 November 2016 changeover from Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 notes as well as the change in size and colour of Rs 500 notes, the better for those who seek to keep their blood pressure under control. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been badly let down by important elements of his team, but being a large-hearted man, this has not resulted in any adverse impact on their careers. In fact, the reverse has taken place, with several of the “heroes in reverse” of demonetisation and the version of GST formulated by North Block moving on to higher responsibilities. Similarly, those responsible for missteps such as forcing through an alliance between the BJP and the PDP in Kashmir or who persisted even after 2014 with the Manmohan brain-free plan of an alliance of India with Japan, Brazil and Germany to help secure a permanent UN Security Council seat (in fact, the move has almost doomed India’s prospects) either remain at their posts or have moved on to better pastures, thanks to the generous and forgiving spirit that is the distinguishing characteristic of Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi.
“The Europeans are hanging on to the coattails of the US and are dragging us down while pushing themselves up. This must change”, a key confidant of Trumpworld revealed, adding that “the US should not always be giving to Europe but should be getting as well, and this is something US Presidents (before Trump) have not bothered to ensure”. An associate went on to add that “(German Chancellor) Merkel makes much of her surplus from trade from the US, but that does not stop her from constantly attacking US policies and even the President personally in (what she regards as) private gatherings”. At the same time, “to the President in person she (Merkel) is very respectful. This is hypocrisy”. Another serial offender is UK Prime Minister Theresa May, “who talks to her staff in disrespectful terms about the Administration and even the President despite the special relationship between the UK and the US”. A relationship, he added, which President Trump is fully committed to. He pointed out that Trump “early on promised the UK that it would be at the head of the queue in trade agreements”, and that “this is a promise he intends to keep”, although (Prime Minister) May’s often censorious tone has created a distance between the White House and 10 Downing Street. Those privy to the thinking of President Trump say that there exists substantial evidence that elements of the British establishment connived with Hillary Clinton in seeking to damage the Presidential prospects of Donald Trump. “The Clintons have maintained extensive and lucrative contacts, including with the GCC, Russia and China, but the US media and FBI just want to look at the Trump family, “whose own contacts are few in comparison to the Clintons or the Bush clan”, a senior insider complained, adding that “they cannot forgive the President for refusing to be led by the nose the way Obama was for almost all his term”.
If Trumpworld insiders are correct, Donald Trump has “for several years” known that it is Beijing and not Moscow that needs the undivided attention of US policymakers “if the US is to ensure that it remains the globe’s largest economy well even in the 21st century”. The US Head of State is “an old-fashioned patriot whose eyes still moisten when he sees Old Glory (the flag) being lifted”, and “it would be torture to him to watch the US economy take second place to that of China”. While a host of appointments (such as those of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson) were made “in a futile staff-directed effort to pacify the Beltway, increasingly Trump is forming around him a team that acknowledges that the primary challenger to US supremacy—in fact, the only serious challenger in exactly 99 years—is China. These include National Security Advisor John Bolton and Trade Advisor Peter Navarro, both of whom have been savaged by the pundits of the Beltway almost as viciously as Trump has been. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while Director of Central Intelligence, “paid particular attention to the systematic manner in which each and every member of the Trump team and family were sought to be approached by individuals linked to the PRC”. According to those in contact with the President, “Pompeo warned the President each time such an approach was made” and in the case of the Trump family at least, “whenever there was such a warning, those close to Trump immediately downsized or gave up entirely contacts identified as potential or actual agents of influence” or “useful idiots of the challenger country” i.e. the People’s Republic of China. Unlike his predecessors, “who allowed their (Atlanticist) prejudice against Russia to dilute their vigil on China”, Secretary of State Pompeo “is entirely on the same page as his boss as to which country needs to be the focus of attention and action”. It may be added that Team Trump “has developed considerable respect for (Chinese Communist Party General Secretary) Xi Jinping for his ruthless determination to ensure that China reaches the top of the global table during his tenure”. During his (by now several) interactions with President Trump, “it became clear that Xi was quick to understand the nuances of an issue and how it could be turned into an advantage for China” in a manner absent from his two previous predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. These Trumpworld fixtures add that “the Chinese leadership has become so confident (of the future ascendancy of their country) that they openly declare their intentions in both manufacturing as well as in technology in words that admit of no other meaning than global dominance for the Chinese”. At the same time, the “unprecedented scale of the Belt & Road Initiative has exposed Team Xi’s ambition to make China the hub of global commerce”, including through making the RMB (or Chinese currency) as ubiquitous in global financial transactions as the US dollar has been since 1945”.
“If the US had acted in the high-minded manner mouthed by President George H.W. Bush after (the events of) 1989 in China and followed a policy of constraining the development of that country rather than shrugging away 1989 as of little consequence, workers in the US would not have undergone the agony of the hollowing out of its manufacturing base to China, which took place during the Bush and Clinton period”, an insider within Trumpworld said. According to him, “Both Bill Clinton as well as the two Bushes (during their terms as President) were indulgent to China and cared not a hoot about the economic consequences of such generosity to US interests”. He added that “if the sources of some of the funds that were made available to the Bush library and private interests of family members, and to the Clinton Foundation, were to be seriously examined by the FBI, some missing dots and dashes in alien influence on US policy may get bridged”. However, “the FBI is desperate to protect the Clintons while forcing the removal of President Trump”. Why? Because of the “deep roots that the Clinton machine has within the agencies, especially the machine’s tactic of assisting in secretly providing jobs and other help to those close to agency personnel, including spouses, mistresses and children”, beneficence that often continued beyond an official’s retirement. “President Trump knows that this is the last chance for the US to reverse the seemingly inevitable climb of China towards global leadership (replacing the US), and he intends to take it, no matter how difficult the path”. Team Trump is aware that Xi Jinping is the most formidable competitor the US has had since the 1930s, and that “efforts will be made by the lobbies active on the East Asian giant’s behalf to scare and shock USG (US Government) away from seeking a less one-sided trading relationship with China”. Already, he added, “a cacophony has gone up of those arguing in defence of the longstanding policy of allowing China to race ahead through taking away our technologies”. However, he was emphatic that “the President will not be deterred, as he shrugs off abuse and always moves ahead doing what he knows has to be done”. The probability is, therefore, that the trade scuffles between Beijing and Washington will intensify.
Recent US policy towards the DPRK (North Korea) highlights the innovative approach of the 45th President of the US, who has thrown away (failed) past precedents in his search for a winning strategy. While there remains a steady drumbeat of demands that Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un denuclearise “completely and irreversibly” (a practical impossibility in the technological age), there may be a default strategy hidden away in the inventive mind of the unconventional businessperson who has been elected to lead his country by the US electorate. This may be to “co-opt Kim Jong Un into being a US ally”, exactly the way skilled diplomacy (initiated during the period in office of Barack Obama) has resulted in a de facto alliance between Hanoi and Washington. Kim is seen as a leader untethered to the ideologies of the past, and a steady warming of ties with the US may result in his modernising the DPRK economy the way Deng Xiaoping did in the 1980s. Such a transformation could come about even if the US were not to participate directly in the North Korean economy, leaving that to South Korea and to other powers such as India that may be eager to tap into the mineral and other resources of the northern part of the Korean peninsula. The calculation is that the more the Kim Jong Un regime gets integrated into the global economy, the less the possibility (or indeed the need) for him to adopt an aggressive line with his neighbours. Even Japan’s approach may change, with the hawkish Shinzo Abe being replaced with a more conciliatory politician in much the same way as Moon Jae-In took over from Park Gun-hye in Seoul. The “Surrender or War” option that Abe favours in dealing with Pyongyang could result in several hundred thousand Japanese citizens getting incinerated in the event of a conflict with North Korea, a reality that may persuade enough Japanese voters to move away from Abe to result in the defeat of the LDP. Because North Korea is treated as an outlaw (and has no other way of securing access to materiel and money than through clandestine and unwholesome methods), its weapons capability may be used as a threat as a consequence of the hostility against it. However, if Pyongyang gets integrated into the world economy (and not just China’s), Supreme Leader Kim’s incentive for hostile action would get considerably lowered. By giving Kim Jong Un unprecedented “face” through the personal meeting, and possibly even a visit to Washington, Present Donald Trump has (a) given Kim freedom of action in place of total reliance on Beijing and (b) shown him the benefits of adopting a benign rather than a threatening demeanour. The Shinzo Abe-John Bolton solution (which like the Iraq or Afghanistan campaigns has no Plan B) would result in a minimum of two million casualties (President Trump’s own estimate is 30 million). Tensions around and within the Korean peninsula have for the first time since the 1950s been brought substantially down by the personal diplomacy of President Moon of South Korea, Supreme Leader Kim of North Korea and, most consequential—indeed indispensable—of all, President Trump of the United States.
Although many of his tactics may be camouflaged in “red herring” rhetoric, his acolytes say that the objective of President Donald J. Trump is clear “in his own complex mind”. It is to retain the Numero Uno title of the US against all comers, most notably the formidable challenger that is Xi’s China. Ultimately, insiders within the Trump ecosystem say that a significant slowdown of the momentum of progress in China could get caused by “smart” policy. And that this will result in a fall in public support for the Chinese Communist Party sufficient to create a mass reaction within that vast country. Hence their confidence that President Trump will (especially if he gets a second term) be for China what Reagan turned out to be for the USSR.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Melania Trump shows up ‘Lucifer’ sessions (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat

ONCE again, travel from Delhi to the United States, this time to New York, was smooth, the flight arriving an hour early on a Saturday evening. The taxi service booked for transportation from Kennedy Airport to the hotel responded with equal speed, ensuring that an alternative vehicle was sent early enough to ensure zero wastage of time at the airport. Although CNN feeds its international viewers a daily (indeed, hourly) diet of horror stories about Donald Trump’s America, the officers at the immigration desk who cleared entry into the US were their usual polite and efficient selves. India has become a focus area for the US, now that the Indo-Pacific has displaced the Atlantic as the geopolitical plot of the globe, and presumably this may help explain the fact that US consular services in and to India remain at a high standard.
Hopefully, just as in a few airports elsewhere, the Modi government will go ahead with setting up pre-clearance facilities at some airports in India, so that the flights can land as a domestic flight, thereby avoiding immigration queues coming after a long flight. There are, of course, countries whose citizens are these days finding it much harder to get a US visa than was the case during the tenure in the White House of Barack Obama. Sometimes, a tougher policy may generate results. In 1994 New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani launched a series of police actions against crime in New York city and improved the law and order environment before demitting office eight years later. More than twenty years later, almost the entire city is still as safe as when Giuliani left it. However, although the program was a success, and Giuliani became a recognised name worldwide after the September 11,2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre, he was way behind most challengers in his efforts at winning the Republican Party nomination as well as in his efforts at becoming a US Senator.
There was something that was excessively harsh about Giuliani, a facet of his personality that seemed almost as abrasive as the personality of Josef Stalin rather than a politician in a democracy. However, he established a close relationship with Billionaire Trump, and after November 8,2016, President Trump ensured that the former New York Mayor got back into prominence, although he refused to make him either Secretary of State or Defence. However, Giuliani has been nominated by the President as his Attorney, and about the only benefit that Trump seems to have got from this symptom of loyalty is the fact that almost every day, Giuliani metaphorically puts both his feet into his mouth and in the resultant furore, less vitriol is expended on the President than would have been the case were the former New York Mayor not media fodder. Some of the appointments made by Trump have clearly been based on repaying loyalty to him, a propensity not uncommon in politics, where politicians need to reward loyalty or begin to lose the same among their followers.
A Trump appointment that is severely affecting the international image of the US , especially in countries other than members of the Atlantic Alliance, is that of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The former Senator’s home state of Alabama was known for the cruelty that was inflicted on slaves brought over from Africa to work on cotton plantations. Unfortunately, Sessions gives every indication of retaining residues of the psychological disturbances that characterise those who believe that skin pigment ( or its absence) is a reliable indicator of the kind of person a human being is. Slaveholder plantations in Alabama separated black children from parents the way Germany under Hitler did in the case of Jews and the Roma population, both of which he sought to exterminate, with regrettable success. As Attorney General, Sessions has put in place a process by which young children are being violently separated from their parents, if the latter have crossed illegally into the US.
According to Sessions, such measures have been sanctioned by the Christian scriptures, quoting passages from St Paul (Romans) to make this grotesque case. The fact is that Jeff Sessions is headed for hell, and by separating fathers and mothers from their (often very) young, he resembles Lucifer in a manner that brings discredit to the image of the US as the land of liberty. Citizens are horrified at the slave plantation techniques used by the US Border Patrol in the matter of wrenching apart even infant children from their parents, yet he persists with retaining Sessions as Attorney General out of a sense of personal loyalty.
However, an individual who is (together with daughter Ivanka Kushner) the closest to President Trump has spoken out in a manner that Ivanka has not, to the disappointment of millions in India whose affection for the First Daughter rose as a consequence of reports of her close relations with the Indian-American community in the US, and her brief but successful visit to Hyderabad in India, where she charmed all the individuals who came in touch with her. First Lady Melania Trump (or President Trump) has yet to visit India, yet many in the country have warmed to the subtle but firm rebuke she administered to the slaveholder attitude of Jeff Sessions in the matter of separating children from parents. Apart from Melania Trump, another individual who has reacted to such an atrocious move is Pope Francis, who has not disappointed those who expected him to make his voice heard on the issue.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

#TrumpKimSummit :Triumph for Trump (Organiser)

M D Nalapat

US President Donald Trump has followed his instincts while dealing with Kim Jong Un and not depended on the stale, failed advice of those under whose watch the North Korean issue was allowed to balloon into a deadly threat.

Since the close of 1939-45 intercontinental war, countries across both sides of the Atlantic fashioned international constructs designed to protect their privileges and advantages even after de-colonisation.
The Bretton Woods system does not even make a pretence at being even-handed. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde’s primary task is to rescue the euro from itself, while that of the World Bank is to ensure that US business continues to dominate global commerce. In the UN, a majority of three of the all-powerful Permanent Five members of the Security Council are from a single military alliance, NATO, while the ICJ, the WTO and other so-called “international” organisations in practice gravitate to the stands regarded by the Atlantic Alliance as favourable to itself. Unity across both sides of the North Atlantic has been the foundation of the reality of Europe enjoying a premium on its actual strength. This premium comes from the manner in which North America and West Europe control the post-1945 “international order” and bend it in directions favourable to themselves.
Worryingly for the Europeans, Asian economies are outpacing them by substantial margins, and are today far more important to the economic health of the US than Europe has been since the close of the 1990s. Thus far, the Atlantic Alliance has survived because of the fact that what is termed the Washington Beltway (the equivalent of India’s Lutyens Zone) continues to place the interests of the Europeans above those of the US. Had they done the latter, there would have been a faster and smoother transition from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific alliance than is the case at present. While Barack Obama talked of a “reset to Asia”, the Clinton machine sabotaged such a move. Only President Donald Trump has sought to actually implement such a necessary shift in US strategy Only if Russia is the Numero Uno rival of the US will it make sense to have France and Germany (indeed, the entire Atlantic Alliance) at the core of the US policy. However, from the earliest years of the present century, it is China that has assumed that role. The country has continued its upward trajectory in economic heft and has by now emerged as the Second Superpower, with a strong likelihood that it will be the primary superpower within 15 years. In the vast reaches of the Indo-Pacific (which from the start have been defined by this writer as the entirety of the Pacific and Indian oceans), the only way the US can remain ahead of China in power projection and influence is by a close military relationship with India. And if the security challenge presented by North Korea to the US is to be eliminated, Washington will need at the least a neutral Russia and a friendly Taiwan on its side. Only such a coming together of select Asian powers with the US can ensure that China does not intervene militarily (openly or otherwise) in the eventuality of a military decapitation strike on North Korea (the DPRK). While Bill Clinton and George W Bush (especially in his first term) could have taken out North Korea’s nuclear and missile assets without significant collateral damage, except to North Korea itself.
However, by now Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un has operationalised a war machine that has the capability to inflict around two million casualties in Japan, South Korea, US military assets in the Philippines and parts of the US such as Guam and very soon Seattle and Los Angeles. The hand bequeathed to President Trump by his predecessors is a weak one, and made still weaker by the sabotage (motivated by their desire to retain the primacy of the Atlantic Alliance over US policy) of Trump’s efforts at making Moscow an ally of Washington, something that was on offer throughout Bill Clinton's two terms but which was rejected by him out of the Arkansan’s consideration for European interests over those of the United States Donald Trump is accused of “frequently changing his mind” when the reality is that he sets an objective, keeps it secret except to his closest advisors, and then goes about altering tactics to meet changing circumstances. His objective in Asia is to isolate China by bringing as many significant powers as possible into the US rather than the Chinese camp. Were he to “do a Vietnam” with the DPRK and make that country a friend of the US the way Hanoi has become, it would be a coup that would immediately make East Asia a safer place. If the military option (and its casualty levels) is taken off the table, the only other option is to make North Korea a friend so that Pyongyang has no longer the need to provocatively flex its nuclear and missile muscle at the security alliance of Japan, the US and South Korea.
Rather than act in a “reckless” manner, the way he is described by Atlanticist media and analysts, President Trump has shown immense skills in “giving face” to Kim Jong Un in a way no other country has done with him, his father or his grandfather. A Kim visit to Washington (to howls of protest from the “Depose Trump” capitol gang) would deepen the process of engagement such that a start could be made on the de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. How do those who find fault with Trump’s astute diplomacy at Singapore expect Supreme Leader Kim to make moves towards downscaling confrontation if he continues to be regarded as an outcast? Ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons may take years, perhaps more than a decade. However, ensuring that North Korea converts itself into an opportunity (for business and other linkages) and not a threat to some of its neighbours could get accomplished even by the close of 2018, provided Donald Trump follows his instincts on the matter of dealing with Kim and not the stale, failed advice of those under whose watch the North Korean issue was allowed to balloon into a deadly threat to not just Japan and South Korea but the US itself.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Rahul should support, not oppose, reform (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat

The Congress Party is following the tradition first adopted by Nehru and Patel of placing the (colonial model) Civil Service above India’s Civil Society.

Some days ago, an unnamed worthy called and referred to the Karkardooma courts while informing this columnist that he would soon face prosecution and worse. What was the crime? Being tardy by a few days in clearing a bill of Rs 1,100 of Tata Indicom, a company that has gone out of business. It is sobering to read Arun Shourie’s book, Anita Gets Bail (and that too in the daytime and not late at night, the way it was granted to our fabled business and political leader, Karti Chidambaram). Bail ought certainly to be a routine right of any citizen not yet found guilty of a crime, but often is not. Given that the British-era (and centuries-old) laws of our democracy give a terrifying number of agencies the power to deprive a citizen of his or her liberty even for a sum as trifling as a rupee, the agent’s threat once more revealed the contempt of the post-1947 political class towards the rights of the ordinary citizen in “post-colonial” India. Elected politicians share with officials an attachment to British-era laws, for these give them immense power over citizens not well connected. That a company (or those acting as its agents) is emboldened enough to threaten to deprive a citizen of his or her liberty on a matter that would rank as a petty—and civil—dispute in any other democracy indicates why daily life in India remains a hazardous enterprise. Not leaping to attention when the National Anthem gets sung in the theatre, accidentally brushing against a member of the fair sex while walking, sending off a tweet that offends any of our 1.27 billion citizens. These are a few of the thousands of ways in which a citizen can find himself thrown into the quicksand that the legal system is in a country, where cases drag on for decades. And yet there is an entire army of individuals who thus far have almost totally escaped the clutches of the law, and these are the “unknown” but easily identifiable individuals in the banking system who have cost taxpayers more than Rs 600,000 crore of current value during the past decade and counting, by gifting loans to those who had zero intention of repaying the same.
Not all NPAs are caused by an intention to cheat the financial system. Some have their origin in business conditions gone bad as a consequence of factors beyond the borrower’s control. And there are those individuals who have refused to scurry away to London or Singapore, but who have worked hard at repaying their creditors, and succeeded. Such individuals need to be named, recognised and honoured by government rather than ignored the way they have been. Instead, it is often those who have—in effect—stolen huge sums who adorn VVIP anterooms and the society pages of newspapers. The Indian Express (which, let it be admitted, is the first newspaper this columnist picks up in the morning) has mentioned in its 15 June issue that a record Rs 1.44 lakh crore of “bad loans” were written off by India’s commercial banking system. While private banks wrote off Rs 79,940 crore during the past ten years, the State Bank of India alone accounted for Rs 123,137 crore of bad loans written off during the same period this year alone. Who were the sanctioning authorities during this period? Does anybody know or care? Some within a stock exchange have been reported to have given unfair access to select brokers, resulting in an “insider” windfall to a few HNIs. More than a few of those who were associated with this still enjoy positions of power and patronage, and have been appointed to their posts either by the government or with its blessings. This columnist has long said that an exhaustive inventory of current lifestyles of the top 500 public officials during the past decade may be instructive and easy to accomplish.
An administration needs to be judged by the median income of the inhabitants of the country in which it is operating, and by such a metric, India’s is among the worst in Asia. Despite this, there is a collective howl of protest when even the most minimal of administrative reforms gets carried out. The Congress Party, during its decade in office under Manmohan Singh, ignored the numerous very useful suggestions of the Veerappa Moily committee. Earlier, Arjun Singh and N.D. Tiwari had attacked Prime Minister Narasimha Rao when he carried out a few reforms during 1992-93, affecting his confidence so badly that the reform process visibly slowed in the final three years of his term. Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts at broad-basing—to a very limited extent—the pool of recruitment into the IAS is being met with fierce opposition from a party led by a relatively youthful leader who ought to be leading the charge towards altering the British-era system of the present in a manner that better meets the needs of the 21st century. By demanding a rollback of even a baby step towards reform, the Congress Party is following the tradition first adopted by Nehru and Patel of placing the (colonial model) Civil Service above India’s Civil Society. Rahul Gandhi in his earlier avatar of general secretary of his party correctly demanded the end of laws that criminalise defamation or send gay men to prison. It is not expected of a party under his leadership that it opposes even a wholly inadequate lateral entry of domain experts from Civil Society into the Civil Service.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Kim, Moon and Trump as peacemakers (Pakistan Observer)

Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat

MANY in Israel regard themselves as a European country rather than a part of Asia. Although it ought to have been made a member decades ago, the only reason why this small but dynamic country has not been admitted to NATO is perhaps because of a lingering prejudice in the minds of several Europeans who have yet to get over the hangover of 1936-45, the period when Adolf Hitler made it his primary mission to commit genocide against a people whose contributions to Germany were substantial. Bill Clinton and his successors presided over the eastward march of NATO.
Now that Donald Trump has been elected the President of the United States, the chances for Israel to be admitted to NATO are brighter than they ever were. Of course, while both culturally and largely ethnically Israelis are indeed European, the same cannot be said for Japan. which is the only Asian member of that Atlanticist club, the G-7. Although the Japanese justified their victories over the UK, France and the Netherlands in the South-east Asian theatre by painting themselves as liberators of the local inhabitants from European colonisation, their subsequent rule was at least as bad as that of the powers they replaced. In India, the Nicobar islands came under Japanese control during the 1939-45 war, and upon taking over, executions and other acts of cruelty became the norm against the peaceable community there, so much so that the earlier period of servitude (to the British raj) seemed much better than rule by the Japanese, who conjured up a racial theory similar to that peddled by their wartime allies, the Germans.
After their 1945 defeat by the US, Japan became a willing member of the US alliance network, and within the G-7, sought to act more “western” than the actual “westerners” ie the Europeans and the Europeanists elsewhere, for example in the US and Canada. Japanese aristocracy has often wandered the globe in top hat and tails, trying to look as much like their peers in Europe as possible, shedding the elegant dress of traditional Japan, a country with a long history and civilisation. In the 21st century, because Asia is becoming more consequential than Europe, Japan’s effective status as a “European country in Asia” is becoming not an advantage but a handicap, shutting it out of Asia Only solutions. In the Korea talks, for example, Tokyo is only a bystander and not a player. For a time, Russia was made a part of the “G-7” club, at least on the record.
However, the presence of this huge, brooding once superpower disconcerted France and Germany. Once Vladimir Putin threw off the obsequiousness towards the US and western Europe of Boris Yeltsin (and a similar eagerness to please the Atlantic alliance on the part of Dmitry Medvedev), an excuse was found to expel Russia from the club. Not that it mattered, for the centre of gravity of the world economy had moved from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific, and the discarding of the welcome mat to Russia by the EU resulted in Moscow becoming deeply involved in other parts of the world, including in the Middle East, where it has now become the second-most important outside power, after the US. When Moscow under Putin is being treated as an enemy, it is no surprise that on several issues, Russia is taking a stand in opposition to NATO, an alliance that was explicitly set up to battle it, a task that still seems its primary goal, despite the 1992 fall of the Soviet Union.
From Saudi Arabia to Turkey, countries in this fissile region are turning to Russia, usually at the expense of the NATO powers, specifically the UK and France (which country is not finding it easy to sell its expensive fighter aircraft to air forces beyond India). Although Trump pledged to voters in the US to work towards cooperation with Russia, he has been forced as President to continue with the Russophobic Atlanticist policies that have held sway within both sides of the North Atlantic. However, it would appear that despite such guided Trump-seeking missiles as Robert Mueller, the 45th President of the US is slowly regaining his confidence. The reaching out to Kim Jong Un is evidence of this. The best chance for a short, low cost (in human lives) war was during the Clinton and early Bush administrations.
A decapitation strike now would result in millions of casualties in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and parts of US territory. Neither Clinton nor Bush nor Obama would have had the self-confidence to reach out to North Korea and seek to convert an enemy into a friend. If the military option is off the table, only a “bright sunshine” policy of comprehensive engagement with North Korea can ensure that the feisty upper half of the Korean peninsula act like a good global citizen. This is clear to RoK President Moon and clearly to President Trump. If a Nobel Prize gets awarded for eliminating the risk of another Korean war, it should be shared by Kim, Moon and Trump.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

'Kill PM' plot to break India; EPS played into maoist hands? (NewsX)

This is a story that will leave you shocked and it should, time and again, we read about maoist attacks in India targeting our security forces. But the information we bring to you today will leave you startled. Sources have told NewsX that the tuticorin violence that took 12 lives in Tamil Nadu had a maoist hand. Our sources tell us that maoist agitations are gaining steam from Raipur to Tamil Nadu. An urban maoist organization Makkal Adhikaram organized agitations but it doesn't end there. The maoist threat has spread from Andhra Pradesh to Delhi. These shocking revelations come just days after the maoist threat to the Prime Minister surfaced as well as a red link to the Bhima Koregaon violence.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Putin’s visit to China and Medal of Friendship (CGTN)

Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a state visit to China in June and attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in the coastal Chinese city of Qingdao. Before this visit, Putin revealed in an interview conducted by China Media Group (CMG) that his relationship with President Xi is one of special closeness among world leaders. Will this have a bearing on furthering cooperation between China and Russia? At the same time, how can China’s Belt and Road Initiative be further integrated with Russia's Eurasian Economic Union? 

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Modi Doctrine: Balance in foreign policy (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat

PM Modi seems to have left economic policy to the ‘experts’, rather than his natural instincts. Blow upon blow has been landed by these worthies on the economy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems, from the start of his term in office, to have left economic policy to the “experts”, rather than his natural instincts, and the effects are clear. Blow upon blow has been landed by these worthies on the economy, the latest being the incomprehensible interest rate hike announced by the Reserve Bank of India on 6 June. Several RBI Governors, including the past trio of Reddy, Subba Rao and Rajan, have looked westwards for appreciation and have imposed punitive rates designed to cut growth (i.e. employment and income) in an economy where around 400 million people are hovering around the margin of subsistence, many close to starvation. Of course, the very central bankers of London, Frankfurt and Washington plus fund managers based in North America and Europe themselves have slashed interest rates to near-negative levels, even while they applaud every upward movement in interest rates in India. Their purpose is to reduce the holders of rupees to penury and the holders of dollars, pounds and euros (including the many in the country with illicit accounts in offshore banking centres) to the status of masters, able to pluck equity and other assets from their domestic owners cheaply. The latest RBI rate rise has further lowered the value of the rupee, a fact that will bring smiles to the faces of those with money abroad. This columnist is presently in China, whose currency is ten times the value of the rupee, and may possibly be on track to be 15 times more valuable. Not too long ago, the rupee and the Taiwan dollar were equal in value. Today, the rupee is half the value of the Taiwan dollar, and counting. It was expected that the Prime Ministerial term of Narendra Modi would result in the rupee being at the least Rs 30 to the US dollar, rather than an all-time low that could soon fall to Rs 70 per USD. Of course, basking in the smiles of their peers in London and New York, RBI officials must be delighted at such an outcome. Rather than India’s Main Street, what they are looking to protect is Wall Street, including the rating agencies that were blind to the 2008 market crash. Rather than wallow in servitude to such dodgy institutions, what was expected was India joining hands with a Coalition of the Willing in both East and West Asia that would trade by using their own currencies rather than those of countries that have cost investors in Asia, Africa and South America trillions of USD because of defective governmental policies and greedy moneymen.
In contrast to economic policy, Prime Minister Modi has led from the front in foreign policy, fashioning an innovative approach to relationships that could change long-held perceptions of India. His Singapore speech was among the finest the Shangri-La Dialogue has witnessed. Modi correctly defined the Indo-Pacific in the most expansive terms, as stretching from the eastern and southern coasts of Africa to the western shores of the Americas. In a silent rebuke to those who conflated the concept into a geopolitical weapon against China, Modi warned that the Indo-Pacific should be inclusive, not exclusive, its waters should be free and open, and the concept was emphatically not aimed at any country (i.e. China). At the same time, he made it clear that there should be freedom of navigation in sky and air, and that resort to military power was unwelcome. Earlier, Modi had shown his intention to have a balanced foreign policy by going to Wuhan for intensive confabulations with President Xi Jinping and later to Sochi for informal talks with President Vladimir Putin. It was a signal to both that the steady warming of relations between Delhi and Washington, including in the military sphere, would not impact existing relationships with old friends, a group that includes Iran, with which India has been carrying out several projects in an atmosphere of friendship unaffected by the close relationship that Prime Minister Modi has with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the close ties between India and Israel. Although Modi is being called a hawk by Mani Shankar Aiyar (who, let it be admitted, is among the most brilliant and witty of this columnist’s friends), the fact is that in August, for the first time since 1947 separate from UN missions, both the Indian as well as the Pakistan army will conduct exercises jointly in Russia under the SCO banner. Modi’s meetings not just with US President Donald Trump but Prime Minister Theresa May of the UK, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France demonstrate the importance the Prime Minister attaches to relations with established democracies, another strand in the foreign policy of delicate balance that has been crafted by him. So far as China and the US are concerned, Modi will need to “balance” ties with them, but in entirely different ways. With China, economic and commercial ties need to be given a quantum boost, so that the two countries can together race towards a combined trade volume of USD 300 billion. Investment from China would also help to reduce the net outflow of funds from India as a consequence of Chinese exports to India being much more than those in the other direction, while Chinese banks operating in India would have substantial opportunities. With the US, what is desirable would be to carry forward the defence and security relationship between Washington and Delhi by signing the other two Foundation Agreements consequent on one (that dealing with logistics) being already signed. Transferring the F-16 assembly line to India, combined with the supply of F-18s and later F-36 aircraft, would assist in ensuring that India’s domestic aviation manufacturing facilities reach at least the level of Brazil, if not higher. Following a punishing schedule of visits, Modi has succeeded in once again positioning India as a central force in global geopolitics.

Manmohan-era holdovers sabotage Modi’s anti-graft campaign (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

Several bureaucrats in prominent positions during the Manmohan decade were interested, post the UPA defeat, only in covering up evidence of their own active participation in UPA-era misdeeds.

Recent byelections showed that many pro-Narendra Modi voters stayed home rather than come out to vote for the BJP. While the party is seeking to improve its organisational efforts in a bid to rectify such a trend, the responsibility for the abstentions vests more with the functioning of parts of the Government of India, specifically the slow pace of the agencies involved in the anti-corruption drive launched amidst a volley of promises by Prime Minister Narendra D. Modi on 26 May 2014. Although much was made by the new government of the Special Investigating Team (SIT) speedily set up by the incoming government, while several sittings of the SIT have indeed taken place, its overall success in curbing or uncovering graft has been negligible. Following on from his practice as Chief Minister of Gujarat, once he became Prime Minister, Narendra Modi seems to have placed his faith and confidence fully in the existing rungs of the bureaucratic ladder to carry out both a policy of economic growth and a much-anticipated cleansing of the administrative stables, the tasks for which his party had been given a Lok Sabha majority. Unfortunately for the BJP, several of the bureaucrats in prominent positions during the Manmohan Decade (2004-2014) were interested, post the UPA defeat, only in covering up evidence of their own active and pervasive participation in UPA-era misdeeds. The result has been the conversion of the policy of Zero Tolerance for Corruption announced by Modi to close to Zero Results in his campaign against VVIP corruption. Thus far, the truly big names have remained untouched even while a small number of lesser fry, especially in some state governments, have been booked. At the same time, disclosures under RTI have been heading sharply downwards because of the lack of response to queries made to the bureaucrats manning RTI boards, thereby severely impacting the anti-corruption drive. The lack of tangible action against VVIP corruption by agencies under the Modi government has resulted in the Congress party confidently claiming that BJP allegations of large-scale corruption during the UPA days were just a “chunavi jumla” of the rival party Thus far, even biggies such as P. Chidambaram, Praful Patel and Robert Vadra remain free to globetrot, while the only extant case against the First Family of the Congress is a private proceeding of Subramanian Swamy, who at the time he initiated action was not even a member of the BJP.
The public perception of lack of success in dealing with high level political and bureaucratic corruption has become the Achilles heel of the Modi government. To this must be added the fact that doubtful officers still in high positions appear to have slowed down progress in reform, so that the rate of economic growth under NDA-II is less than that under the UPA, especially if the changes in accounting introduced in the recent past (and which boost growth estimates) get taken into consideration. Given the Lok Sabha election calendar, Prime Minister Modi has less than seven months to turn matters around, a task that needs to be fulfilled if the BJP is to cross the safe boundary of 240 seats in the next Lok Sabha. It cannot be forgotten that from around 2011 onwards, a growing number of individuals and associations who regarded UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s approach to governance and society to be toxic for the future of India gravitated to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the answer to their quest for a leader who would take on and vanquish Sonia electorally and the “Sonia System” subsequently. Given the pre-election rhetoric of Narendra Modi about the circle around Sonia Gandhi, it was considered a certainty that his government would take immediate action to ensure accountability for the misdeeds committed by those close to the de facto Head of Government during 2004-2014. Forty-nine months after Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister, such early supporters of Modi are still waiting for their expectations to be fulfilled. Thus far, while there have been several—and severe—verbal sallies against the 10 Janpath coterie, actual moves against UPA grandees have been difficult to discern. In the case of both D. Raja and even Dayanidhi Maran, both are globetrotting sans any fear of legal action, with the only steps initiated against them having been made not by the present but by the previous Manmohan Singh government.
There was a flurry of credible pre-Lok Sabha election reports about inter alia (1) the systematic manner in which Air India and other public enterprises were crippled, some clearly terminally; (2) the way purchases of petroproducts and defence equipment got negotiated and payments made; (3) the reckless manner in which agricultural commodities were subject to deep-pocketed speculators who caused immense spikes in prices without benefitting the farmer; (4) stock exchanges got systematically converted into illicit money-making and money-laundering devices; (5) land and resources were handed over to cronies for derisory sums and in an opaque manner; and (6) crony capitalists were assisted in defrauding the banking system and who later transferred such loans to overseas destinations. Thus far, action on such matters has been infrequent, and often of a transient and token nature that allows the depredators to escape justice, as seems to be the recent case of Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, and earlier of Lalit Modi. In the case of Vijay Mallya, action seems to have been more vigorous, although it is too early to judge the result of the moves by the ED, CBDT, DRI and CBI to claw back from the fugitive businessman the wealth he took away from the banking system. At great political cost to itself, the Modi government has written off billions of dollars of bad bank debts while channelling a huge amount of the profits made by enhanced taxes during 2014-2018 on petroproducts to banks stressed by acts of negligence on the part of those entrusted with their management, actions that have almost wholly escaped punishment.
Those who regarded the Modi government as being a reliable enforcer of accountability towards the misdeeds of the previous government have reason to be disappointed but not surprised. From May-June 2014 onwards, when the composition of the Modi government became known, it was obvious that action on previous decisions would be both few and slow to be actualised. Much of the top tier of the UPA official structure got transplanted into the bureaucratic team chosen by Prime Minister Modi, because of the faith that officials who had assisted UPA ministers in questionable actions would atone for their previous conduct by energetically working for the public weal under his leadership. The risk that they would instead work hardest at covering up evidence of their own involvement in UPA-era misdeeds was apparently not taken seriously by the new government. To the surprise of those who had backed Narendra Modi consistently and in difficult circumstances over several years in the belief that he was the only individual certain to enforce accountability for the past, several of the officials close to UPA-era VVIPs were chosen to hold positions of high responsibility in the Modi government. Action against UPA grandees would entail the risk of discovery of the extensive personal and business linkages between such entrants into the Modi government. Fortunately for them, the investigating agencies have lived up to the public expectation that they are better at covering up rather than uncovering graft, and even in major cases, action taken has been at a level far below that which was expected of the new government. It is therefore no surprise that many of those who worked hard for the success of the BJP in 2014 are likely in 2019 to sit at home rather than vote again for a party that seems to have done so little in fulfilling its campaign pledge to bring the guilty to book in cases of VVIP corruption. Ancient cases against Lalu Yadav or such political minnows as Chhagan Bhujbal have not succeeded in compensating for the fact that even in the much-reported case of former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, thus far action has been on a microscopic scale, while against his son Karti, known across four continents as a high flyer, the only case being pursued is a matter involving the (for him) derisory sum of $1 million. And although BJP spokespersons talk long and loudly about the National Herald case, they omit to mention that this is being pursued not by the government but by Subramanian Swamy, an individual who at the time of filing the case was not even a member of the BJP. Even Robert Vadra seems to have remained unscathed despite 49 months of the Modi government. The many investigative agencies of the Union Government as well as several BJP-controlled state governments seemingly have yet to discover material against Vadra sufficient for prosecution. The BJP’s talk of VVIP UPA-era corruption, including during the 2010 Commonwealth Games or cricket shenanigans looks to many voters in 2018 to be just that, talk.
It would take a book to examine in any detail the web of contacts that 10 Janpath (in the hugely influential person of Sonia Gandhi) has within the bureaucracy, including with several of those given important responsibilities by Prime Minister Modi. It is a simpler task to examine the situation concerning P. Chidambaram, a UPA grandee who was discussed in Washington and London as a possible Prime Minister in 2011, and who may yet assume either that office or get his previous job back in the Central government were the Congress to secure 150-plus Lok Sabha seats in 2019. This is not an impossibility if a viable alliance system gets worked out by Congress president Rahul Gandhi and the team he is assembling around himself and his charismatic sister Priyanka. The star of the UPA, Palaniappan Chidambaram, for four decades, has held frontline positions in successive Central governments. Chidambaram is a brilliant navigator of the Lutyens maze, who uses the media, officers and businesspersons through “shaam, daam, dand and bhed”. The foreign financial entities that are given so much respect and credibility with the Modi government regard Chidambaram very highly, although the allegation that this is because of tens of billions of dollars parked within them is as yet unproven, at least on record by the investigative agencies. It must be admitted, though, that several of those agencies are riddled with officers who are admirers of Chidambaram and beneficiaries of his beneficence in the past. During the period that the UPA was in power (2004-2014), Finance (and later Home) Minister Chidambaram succeeded in getting officers of his choice posted inter alia within ED (DG Investigation), Member Investigation—CBDT, JS TRU and JS TPL, Chairman SEBI and IRDA, while he was an acquaintance of RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, a nominee of Manmohan Singh.
The clout that Chidambaram exercised can be gauged from the fact that C. Bhave was made SEBI chief during his tenure as Finance Minister, even when there was a probe going on against his actions. Bhave was in constant touch with K.P. Krishnan, an officer exceptionally close to Chidambaram and also promoted by the present government. That several officers close to Chidambaram are still in sensitive positions may explain the unusual tardiness in investigation of the National Stock Exchange (NSE) colocation matter, in which the names of Chidambaram’s friends Ravi Narayanan, Chitra Ramakrishna, Ajay Shah, Sunitha Thomas and Suprabhat Lalla figure in the discourses about the subject. Brokers whose names are known, yet ignored by the agencies, managed to locate their servers besides NSE servers that were reportedly even linked to BSE servers through dark fibre. Those involved claim that the same dark fibre was used to link the servers of unscrupulous brokers with that of the NSE, thereby allowing huge insider profits to be made, besides gaining an ability to manipulate markets by taking positions based on secret knowledge. They made a multi-billion dollar killing at the expense of retail investors. After more than four years of a Zero Tolerance Prime Minister coming to power, those guilty in the NSE colocation imbroglio are still free and thereby able to ensure that the investigative agencies falter and fumble in probes against such a massive breach of trust of the investing public in the very institutions responsible for ensuring that the share markets run in an honest manner. Given the way in which SEBI has been functioning in such matters, it may need to change its name to SSEBI (for Sleeping SEBI). Insider trading is a poison that was rampant under the UPA, but yet remains unpunished even under the NDA. Stock market effects can devastate the BJP in 2019, the way the UTI scam affected the Vajpayee government in urban areas in 2004. However, this far, action against insider traders and scamsters, especially suspect brokers, has been derisory.
Honest officials within North Block (and there are many) speak with disgust of how Public Sector Banks were made to sell their loans at deep discounts to private banks controlled by those close to the Finance Minister of the time. These private banks soon resold the loans at a huge profit. A Joint Secretary (DFS) of the period, Amitabh Varma, is reported to have been instrumental in ensuring that selected bank officers were given charge of public sector banks. Officials claim that many such nominations were made as a consequence of collateral consideration. However, the Modi government has yet to investigate the processes by which appointments to banks and their boards were made, despite massive NPAs accumulating as a consequence of decisions taken by the bank boards and managements of that period. While accusations against UPA—especially Congress party—grandees are freely resorted to by BJP leaders (especially during elections), ensuring accountability for past misdeeds seems to be in short supply even in this fifth year of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s term.
Many believed that Modi by November 2014 would do what Mahathir Mohammad did recently in the very first days since his swearing in as Prime Minister of Malaysia, which was to take action against those VVIPs who had been credibly accused of corruption on an industrial scale. Such scams could not have taken place without the connivance of elements of the higher bureaucracy. However, thus far, so far as top officials are concerned, only a handful have had their careers interrupted. A senior official pointed out that Arvind Mayaram, a Chidambaram favourite, was reported to have postponed the inclusion of security features in high denomination currency notes for three years. Mayaram was also held by colleagues in the Home and Finance Ministries of having given permission to De LaRue, a company whose security clearance was revoked by the Home Ministry, to supply possibly compromised security thread unhindered for that period. The only “punishment” he suffered was an abrupt ending of his tenure rather than a comprehensive investigation followed by prosecution, as was expected of the Modi government by its backers. Hassan Ali was raided and thereafter placed in jail, but none of the VVIPs associated with him have thus far been prosecuted. Another case is that of Vodafone, especially the buying of Hutchison shares as part of the deal from 2000 onwards. Neither this nor some peculiar features of the subsequent sale of shares by major holders (at hugely different prices although conducted at the same time) to Vodafone UK seems to have been investigated, including by SEBI and the ED. Whose was the hidden hand that assisted Li Ka Shing to escape paying taxes on the huge profits he made on the sale of Hutchison shares to Vodafone? In particular, did Chidambaram have a Hong Kong connection that was instrumental in getting policies changed from 2004 onwards that facilitated the purchase by Vodafone UK of shares of the Indian company? Or indeed, what was the reason for the Finance Ministry to first impose export tax on iron ore when Sesa Goa was going to be sold, only to withdraw the tax once it was purchased by Vedanta? Who were those who made massive purchases of jewellery immediately after Nirav Modi made windfall profits after Chidambaram introduced the 80:20 scheme? Who were the officials who backed the scheme on paper and who were able to hold back its scrapping for months after “Zero Tolerance to Corruption” PM Modi took over? Or why Spicejet (once of Maran fame) was allowed by SEBI to do away with listing requirements and take in without any regulatory oversight Rs 600 crore from a tax haven? Whose was that cash? Chairman U.K. Sinha and his predecessors were never questioned about actions of SEBI that were contrary to the rules and practices of the institution. Such forbearance by the agencies has been despite PM Modi’s warning to them that all suspicious decisions should be rigorously examined. Several anomalies seem to have been ignored by investigating agencies despite Prime Minister Modi’s frequent exhortations to bring all suspicious transactions to light. Clearly, elements in the official machinery have ignored Modi’s orders, but without suffering the slightest blowback as a result. On the contrary, several officers involved in UPA-era shenanigans, and whose record in uncovering the guilty of that period has been zero, have repeatedly been promoted since 26 May 2014, to the surprise and stock of those who expected action against them. Zero Tolerance against the corrupt was in practice replaced with Zero Action against such depredators as a consequence of the stealthy assistance given by UPA favourites still holding important positions.
This has happened despite Prime Minister Modi being aware that success in fulfilling his vow of bringing to book VVIP depredators will be an important factor in the next Lok Sabha polls. A simple exercise of looking into the residences in Delhi built by retired (and some serving) officials will demonstrate their past, as for example a former Finance Ministry official now in a comfortable private sector job who has built a palatial house in Saket. Others have chosen other super-expensive locations for their own retirement homes, including the Vasant Vihar house built by former Principal Secretary to PM, Brajesh Mishra, whose fortunes rose dramatically after 1998 and remained high even after the UPA came to power in 2004. An official who was known in Chennai (a city where he operated in for years and which knows him well) to have tipped certain Tamil Nadu politicians about the impending demonetisation was recently given yet another promotion in an already highflying career. Chennai contacts say that a leading resident of that metropolis, Om Shakti Ramachandran, could be a fount of information about many matters that may be of interest to a Zero Tolerance regime, but as yet such a discussion has not taken place.
An example of how the honest get harassed is the experience of former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar regarding his efforts at actualising the PM’s promise of ensuring One Rank One Pension (OROP) to ex-servicemen. Inspired by Prime Minister Modi, Parrikar sought to ensure that the same types of privileges were made available to a cadre prepared to sacrifice life for the nation, as was enjoyed by the civil service. Despite the importance of the issue, the fact that Parrikar was standing in the way of lucrative defence deals favoured by key arms merchants operating from London, Delhi and Dubai made the officials fed by them erect hurdle upon hurdle to Parrikar’s efforts to roll out of One Rank One Pension in the armed forces. The military and those associated with this noble institution had overwhelmingly voted for Narendra Modi in 2014. The intention of the dodgy officials was to damage the standing and credibility of the Defence Minister, but in the process, an important constituency (the armed forces serving and retired) started to become alienated from the BJP. Some of the officials who connived at creating hurdles to the implementation of OROP on the lines favoured by Defence Minister Parrikar were subsequently promoted on the recommendation of officials favourable to them. A senior official, on being told that a favourite of his should not be placed in a key slot in the Finance Ministry (because of suspicions regarding his role in questionable land deals in Chennai) argued that “just because dodgy activities were carried on in Chennai was no proof that the same would happen in Delhi”. Several cases of over-invoicing of hyper-expensive equipment indulged in by crony capitalists who were close to the UPA were dealt with by since 2014 by the newly promoted official, at immense cost to the exchequer. However, as yet a systematic audit of over-invoicing and subsequent interference (including by the high official in question) in the functioning of DRI investigations into multiple instances of over and under invoicing by crony capitalists very close to UPA VVIPs has yet to take place. Such lack of tangible action is contrary to Prime Minister Modi’s orders exhorting that every person guilty of cheating the exchequer of huge amounts of money get sent to jail. Such lack of punitive action is having political consequences for the BJP, whose primary attraction to voters is the image of incorruptibility and efficiency of Narendra Modi, an image that the Congress party and its allies have thus far failed to dent.
Several officials involved in tasks during the UPA days were given the same tasks once the new dispensation took office, an example being Vinod Rai. As Secretary DFS, Rai is regarded as having played a key role in bank appointments during the period when Chidambaram was Finance Minister, a task he was handed over even during the period when the NDA government was functioning. It must be added that Vinod Rai is an exception, in that as CAG, he released reports on 2G and Coal that seriously damaged the image of the UPA, thereby showing his independence of mind so far as political linkages are concerned. Another upwardly mobile official, Ramesh Abhishek, was placed in charge of the Forward Markets Commission while Chidambaram was running the Finance Ministry and was instrumental in ensuring that a competitor to NSE, the NSEL, was choked to death through executive action. He remains powerful in the new dispensation, which seems not to have investigated the contacts Abhishek had in the past with Kanti Singh, who is known to be known to former Union Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav. Another favourite of Chidambaram was T.S. Vijayan, former Chairman of LIC and Chairman of IRDA, who was mysteriously given a clean chit by the CBI. The LIC made extensive share purchases during his tenure in office, the prices of which subsequently (and predictably to those following the market and the speculative forces operating freely there) nosedived. Insider and illegal speculation in share markets has almost totally remained unexamined even by a government committed to transparency and honesty, even while the ED and other agencies fumble and stumble in efforts at ensuring that Chidambaram and his son Karti (whose record in success of business should be mandatory reading in business schools) face legal consequences for actions carried out during 2004-2014. Because of an apparent absence of serious intent on the part of agencies, courts have over and over again given Chidambaram the benefit of the doubt, thereby keeping alive his ambition of making a comeback in 2019, given the immense trust Sonia Gandhi has in him.
Now that Rahul Gandhi is hitting stride as the effective commander of the anti-Modi forces, the level of attack on the Zero Tolerance to Corruption Prime Minister is getting much fiercer. The effort is to strip the Teflon from Modi, who is the only electoral master card that the BJP has, as has been shown multiple times since 2014. A high success ratio in bringing to book VVIPs guilty of amassing wealth during 2004-2014 would have been of immense benefit to the BJP, just as the allegations of large-scale graft made by Modi during the last Lok Sabha campaign were. Although the Prime Minister has been working 16 hours a day in the enforcing of accountability, results have not been commensurate, because of the continued presence and prominence of several officials whose role during the UPA period bears investigation. In the short period that Prime Minister Modi has left before election season begins in earnest, he will need to make up lost ground at speed. This will be an uphill task in the face of what is likely to be an invigorated and ceaseless attack on his government by a Congress party that has been given a second chance at power by the lack of success of the Modi government in holding UPA VVIPs (rather than minnows) accountable for the multiple actions described in detail by BJP leaders themselves as corrupt during the 2014 election campaign. Retelling those UPA-era charges against the Congress party during the 2019 campaign will have little effect, given that the present government has been unable to take discernible action against perpetrators of such offences as serious as handing over billions of dollars of bank cash to crony capitalists, who promptly transferred such funds overseas, and who cheated the country in other ways as well, such as through over and under invoicing and in rigging share prices. What ought to be clear as sheer glass to the investigating agencies has thus far been largely ignored by them.