Monday 30 December 2019

How can India get PoK back and why it is important (PGurus)

In this must-watch video, Prof M D Nalapat explains why PoK is the last para in the Kashmir chapter.

Saturday 28 December 2019

Ideology, not votes, led Modi and Shah to CAA (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

CAA amid tension-filled period of economic slowdown proves their goodwill.

Judging by the energetic manner in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have defended the Citizenship Amendment Act, it seems that both feel deeply about the plight of religious minorities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. So substantial is their concern that they have together pushed through legislation intended to provide smooth and expeditious passage towards citizenship for millions of non-Muslims living in the three self-described “Islamic” countries. In effect, such individuals have been given the “Right of Return” to India as full citizens, much as those belonging to the Jewish faith have the automatic right to become citizens of Israel. This, after all, is a land where a 1971 cut-off point for acceptance of refugees morphs to 2014 and surely will later to an even more distant date. While the CAA is intended to confer fast-track citizenship on those individuals who are persecuted for belonging to minority faiths in the three Muslim-majority countries named, the only proof asked for that they are being persecuted and are not migrating to India for other reasons is their own word. This is in contrast to mostly Muslim asylum seekers in Europe or the US, who have to undergo a lengthy process designed to establish beyond any reasonable doubt that they are indeed being persecuted, and are not simply economic migrants. An exception, of course, was German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to admit an eventual two million such migrants into Germany. Both Prime Minister Modi as well as Home Minister Shah have a suite of IAS, IFS and IPS officers briefing them on various matters, and as in the case of the unanimous approval given within the ranks of high officials to the 2016 demonetisation and the 2017 rollout of the Indian version of GST, it is certain that opinion within this power-packed and talented fraternity must have been unanimously favourable on the immediate ensuring of citizenship to those from the minority communities in the three Muslim-majority countries mentioned. A few within the IFS or IPS may have pointed out that a section of the Buddhist community in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, both neighbours of India, have been less than friendly to Hindus, Muslims and Christians within these two countries, and that as a consequence, several non-Buddhists in these two countries have already made their way to India, and must be now disappointed that only nationals of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan have been assured of a citizenship fast track. Maybe an IFS official opined that a legislation explicitly singling out only three Muslim-majority countries by the CAA may create tensions in the relationship between India and not just the three countries enumerated in the legislation but other Muslim-majority states as well, in some of which several million citizens of India have for long found gainful work. Together, the panoply of skills within the IAS, IFS and IPS is enormous, and such matters would almost certainly have been considered and discussed at length before the decision of the PM and the HM to go forward with the CAB (turned CAA) was taken. When then Chief Minister Modi fought his first election (to the state Assembly from Rajkot in 2002), a substantial number of Muslims voted for him and more than a few continued to support him thereafter, despite a barrage of subsequent attacks in the media accusing Modi of being sectarian. His recently passed Triple Talaq law ought to have had a provision leaving it to the spouse as to decide whether or not to send an errant husband to jail, rather than leave such an immense power in the hands of the police. Despite the absence of such a condition, the measure was welcomed by many within the Muslim community. Likewise, the removal of the Two Nation caveat (Article 370) from the statute books ensured that Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh finally got treated the same as other states and union territories, rather than remain segregated the way they ware since the senseless ceasefire of 1 January 1949. But for the treachery of the British officers still dominating the Indian Army, the whole of Kashmir would have come under the control of India by the close of 1948, as most recently elucidated by Malhotra and Raza in their book on the subject.
The load placed on a human being that will be borne without complaint is a function of health. The healthier the individual, the greater the load that can cheerfully be borne. In India, only IAS officers are considered by the political class to understand domestic policy, only IPS officers matters of security, and only IFS officers the finer points of foreign policy. This is a tradition that has been continued even by Prime Minister Modi. The IAS, IPS and IAS officials who daily advise the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of India must be aware of the fact that tens of millions across the country are feeling the effects of a halving of the annual rate of GDP growth within a little over three years. There is a palpable fear within large swathes of the working population of soon being unemployed. Such fears are rife these days among those who work for enterprises that are being dragged towards closure because of the effects of over-regulation and over-taxation, and this is leading to a sharp fall in consumer spending. Were the economy to have been a bright spot rather than an area of concern, it is likely that the passage of the CAA may not have generated the kind of negative attention that it has among sections of the population. While Muslims are unhappy that their co-religionists in three neighbouring countries seem to have been singled out for exclusion by the enactment, those Hindu, Sikh and Christian citizens who are facing dismal economic headwinds may be pardoned for not feeling the same concern that the Prime Minister and the Home Minister have for those minorities who have been persecuted in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It is true that all three CAA target countries have been witnessing a steady shrinking of the proportion of the population that is non-Muslim, a fact ignored thus far by Arundhati Roy. However, it may be a bit fanciful to expect Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, whose economic conditions have worsened in recent years, to welcome as citizens millions who would immediately compete with them for the less than adequate jobs and resources of what is still a poor country. Also, the CAA will encourage Wahhabi fanatics in the three countries named in the legislation to intensify their efforts to expel whatever minorities are left in their respective countries. What would have been better welcomed by existing citizens of India would have been active measures taken by the Modi government to ensure that minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh be treated well, so that most of those who fled to India could return in safety to their own countries. Any spike in migration into a country where there is substantial unemployment and under-employment is unlikely to win votes, at least among those who are in economic distress. Encouragement of immigration into a country is seldom a vote getter, which is why the US and Europe have been so reluctant to open their borders even to the millions of Christians being persecuted in the Middle East and in parts of Africa, despite almost all European and US leaders wearing their fealty to the Christian faith on their sleeves.
Diplomatic blowback by Muslim-majority countries and on the countries in Europe and North America always looking to appear as champions of the Muslims; a sense of being singled out among the overwhelmingly moderate Muslim community in India; worry among Hindus, Christians and Sikhs that new CAA-enabled citizens will take away jobs and benefits from them. The IAS, IFS and IPS officials who together form both the Brains Trust as well as the Implementing Mechanism of Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Shah must have apprised the two most powerful men in India in detail about such realities. The fact that both Modi and Shah nevertheless went ahead with the CAB (later the CAA) in this tension-filled period of economic slowdown indicates that more than votes, what counts for PM Modi and HM Shah is ideology.

Saturday 21 December 2019

2020 should witness India’s Dream Budget (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Tax rates must be reduced and the taxpayer should be respected, not hounded.

Anecdotal evidence of growing prosperity in Gujarat ensured that Narendra Modi got enough Lok Sabha seats in 2014 to be the Prime Minister. In 2019, comparing him to his principal rival for the post, Rahul Gandhi, voters decided that they had a better chance of prosperity if Modi got a second term. They voted for him notwithstanding the fact that the annual growth rate had fallen from 8% in his first year to 5% during the fifth, hoping that the coming years would be different. And that just as a 2% rate of growth defined the tenure of Jawaharlal Nehru, an average growth rate of at least 10% would mark Modi 2.0. The Union Budget that the Finance Minister of India will be presenting in a couple of months will be an indicator of whether such hopes are realistic or not. It will follow six budgets that strayed very little from those presented during the UPA-era years. Those budgets based themselves exclusively on seeking to gouge out as much revenue as possible from existing revenue targets, rather than create a taxation matrix as would promote stable long-term growth in the economy. Tax rates were basically left unmodified, while the many penalties and prohibitions that were a staple of the Chidambaram years were added on to rather than reduced the way they ought to have been. It was taken as a given by the political leadership that officials armed with such powers and who were concerned with the raising of revenue were honest and efficient without exception. The distortions and injustices that would get created were such an assumption of official integrity to be incorrect were ignored. However, it was not merely the Chidambaramesque tables of taxation, regulations, and official practices, that caused the obstacles to growth the economy has been experiencing. The first blow came early in 2015 on the most marginal elements of the population, the landless and the holders of micro farmland. Their main wealth was the cattle they owned. The “gau rakshaks» saw to it that the usual methods for making full use of such stocks disappeared, in some cases on pain of death. Certainly the protection of cattle is a noble objective, but forcibly preventing their poverty-stricken owners from selling them to others created distress and dislocation on a significant scale in the rural economy. Using the force of law—and the bludgeon of the police baton to enforce the same—is a mechanism that needs to be used sparingly rather than promiscuously. Over time, the poorest of the rural poor (on whom fell the heaviest burden of compliance caused by post-2014 laws and administrative practices designed to protect cattle from slaughter) would have moved away from reliance on cattle. Till such a time, to suddenly change the economic rules that were applied to them only created a spike in poverty among the poor in the countryside, not to mention the dismal fate of myriad cattle that were left free to roam aimlessly in an increasingly desperate hunt for survival. A future assessment of this phase would be instructive to policymakers, in that it would serve to caution them against seeking to use administrative methods to tackle issues better left to the less kinetic ways of social reformers.
The next shock was the 2016 demonetisation of 86% of India›s stock of currency at for hours notice. Prime Minister Narendra Modi›s plan to switch to a different sort of currency (although not of a different size that created complications with ATM machines) was a bold stroke. However, those tasked with implementing the Prime Minister›s idea ought to have ensured that sufficient liquidity was ready at hand within the economy to ensure zero dislocation when the changeover was made. Instead, the Reserve Bank of India failed the nation in its solemn promise to redeem the banknotes it was printing, while the hundreds of alterations in the regulations governing the changeover made the country›s monetary authority a global laughing stock, and the cause of confusion that affected the business environment significantly. That a country such as India where 80% of those employed are in the informal sector cannot change over from currency to plastic overnight, or index through governmental edict, was hardly rocket science. Narendra Modi knows conditions in India well, and must surely have given instructions to ensure that there be no lack of liquidity caused by the demonetisation of existing banknotes and their replacement with new banknotes. However, in practice, those tasked with ensuring this failed in a fashion that wrought havoc on the small sector and its supply chains, thereby affecting the medium sector and very soon, the large industry sector as well. After that came the next textbook example of what happens when the bureaucracy rather than those familiar with operational realities is given charge of conceptualising a measure designed to promote ease of business. The high rates and impossibly complex structure of the 2017 GST, which was rolled out in such a majestic fashion at the stroke of midnight, made compliance a nightmare. There ought to have been a single 12% rate or a dual rate of 8% and 16% in a few items. Small units should have been exempt from compliance. Since its rollout, and despite the all too few modifications that have since taken place, GST has had a visible deflationary effect, including on those units connected with exports. The profusion of rates and their seemingly random applicability has caused confusion—indeed, panic—across much of the country›s productive segments, and this has led to restraints on growth that are the opposite of what is needed. Almost without exception, those officials involved in DeMo and GST have managed to snag promotions in their future careers rather than censure, so wide is the gap in the Indian bureaucracy between practical results of measures taken and career advancement. If the RBI leadership at the time of DeMo had bothered itself with studying the importance of cash in the country›s production and employment chains, it would not have allowed itself to fail so conspicuously in safeguarding liquidity during the process of replacement of some currency notes with other variants.
Rather than continue with the Modi 1.0 experience of diluting through inefficient conceptualising and implantation the effects of Prime Minister Modi’s reform moves, 2020 needs to be the year when policy matches Modi’s expectations rather than undershoots the same.  Not only must tax rates be reduced but the taxpayer should be respected and not hounded. Regulating the essentials ensures compliance and efficiency, while seeking to control every micro detail of activity only leads to chaos. The Finance Minister of India needs in the 2020 Union Budget to not only match any previous “Dream Budgets”, but through innovative and bold ideas, but excel them with miles to spare. Fiscal policy is about setting the stage for strong and sustained growth, not gouging out as much as possible in a year from an economy that is faltering as a consequence of the continuing prevalence of Sonia-Chidambaram approaches to revenue that were continued rather than discarded post-2014.

Breakthrough unlikely during Wang Yi visit despite Xi-Modi rapport (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

After just two Xi-Modi ‘personalised diplomacy’ summits, it seems clear that on the Chinese side at least, the India file continues to be handled at levels lower than Xi, with decisive input from the Central Military Commission and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

BEIJING: Beginning in Wuhan last year and followed this year in Mamallapuram, both President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to take control of the troubled process of Sino-Indian rapprochement by holding informal meetings between them that could be used to articulate differences and work on solutions. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee sought to establish a substantively positive relationship with China, including by going the Jawaharlal Nehru way and making unilateral concessions on Tibet and agreeing without binding assurances on China’s entering the WTO. However, the bureaucratic establishment on both the Chinese as well as the Indian side proved unable or unwilling to follow the path set out by Vajpayee (and earlier by Rajiv Gandhi) to ensure that “breakthrough” solutions were found to bridge the lingering chasm between perceptions and policies, especially on the Chinese side. Despite the 2018 Wuhan summit, President Xi, apparently advised not to aim high during the coming interaction with Prime Minister Modi, consciously kept expectations in check for the Mamallapuram summit with Prime Minister Modi this year, curtailing his stay and flying back not to Beijing but (pointedly) to Nepal, a country that has long been of special interest to India. After just two Xi-Modi “personalised diplomacy” summits, it seems clear that on the Chinese side at least, the India file continues to be handled at levels lower than Xi, with decisive input from the Central Military Commission (CMC) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). Although routine meetings still take place to ostensibly find solutions to such issues as the boundary question and even as routine (but still unresolved) a matter as an agreement on the Line of Actual Control (LoAC), these have not succeeded in moving forward the process of reconciliation of differences even by an inch. Most recently, the abortive but vigorous effort by China to get the UN Security Council to re-open a discussion on Kashmir that had not taken place for half a century in that august body was followed by a push by Beijing to get Kashmir re-inserted among the collection of disputes pending attention by the UN, when the matter had been closed. The other four Permanent Members of the UN Security Council (Russia, the UK, France and Russia) opposed the Chinese demand, which was thereafter turned down. Kashmir is no longer listed as a dispute needing the attention of the UN, much to the dismay of both Islamabad as well as its “Iron Partner”, Beijing.
The absence of forward movement from the Chinese side on the political and security spheres of the Sino-Indian relationship has been grounded on the belief in Beijing that there is no way that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will make India a security and defence ally of the US, as was once feared. In particular, the stubborn insistence by the Indian side of going ahead with the purchase and installation of five Russian S-400 missile defence systems is seen as a killer blow to any prospects of an in-depth US-India military alliance. It is observed with relief in Beijing that Delhi still sees Russia through Soviet-era lenses, when Moscow was the foe of both Islamabad as well as Beijing. Today, President Vladimir Putin has engineered a close strategic embrace with China, a fallout of which has been the steady and accelerating rise in Russia-Pakistan military linkages, not just through the Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCO) mechanism, but in bilateral terms. The Indian armed forces, however, still continue with its longstanding policy of relying on Russian defence equipment to protect against the two declared foes of our country, which are explicitly designated by the same military as Pakistan and China. In contrast, while US-Pakistan relations have been in an effective deep freeze for years, the Pentagon has explicitly called out China as its principal adversary, and has favoured an alliance with India to counter a fast-growing and assertive China. The S-400 purchase will lock India into relying on Russian weapons platforms for a generation more, in a context where China, an explicitly designated “hostile” country, is the closest military ally of India’s primary supplier of critical defence equipment in a context where the closest military ally of the other explicitly named “hostile” country (Pakistan) is China. The China-Pakistan-Russia tango seems not to have come to the attention of the Defence Ministry at South Block, looking at its insistence on continuing with Russian weapons platforms rather than substituting these with other Russian collaborations, for example in hydrocarbons, so that overall trade between Moscow and Delhi continues to grow despite defence trade getting phased out in view of geopolitical changes. Were India to be a military ally of the US, even in a de facto rather than in a de jure sense, those in Beijing who are dismissive of the world’s largest democracy will find their minds concentrating very fast on what concessions need to be made to ensure that the Sino-Indian relationship moves on to an amicable rather than remain in the present troubled orbit. An equal and friendly relationship between India and China would be to the best advantage of both, and a strong US-India defence and security alliance would not retard such an indefinitely delayed process, but speed it up, given the practicality of the Chinese in adjusting policy to changing ground realities.
In 2001, the Vajpayee government withdrew Indian objections to China joining the WTO. In exchange for a move that ensured smooth entry into the WTO by Beijing, assurances were given by the Chinese side that 17 products would be given smooth access to the Chinese market. That was in 2001. Eighteen years later, only 9 of the 17 have received such access, some only recently. Issues relating to access for the other 8 products remain unaddressed by the Chinese side. Across China, patients suffering from diseases such as cancer are dying because cheap and effective medicines from India remain unavailable in China. The country still relies on expensive US and European brands, a reason being that the profit margin on these for Chinese distributors is much more than would be the case were pharma products from India to be made available, as demanded by millions of patients and their families in China. Out of a total spend of over $30 billion annually by Chinese entities on foreign pharmaceuticals, the share of items from India is $29 million, a negligible amount. Out of the total Information Technology exports of India in a year (around $180 billion), just around $90 million come from China. The only customers for Indian IT majors operating in China are foreign companies operating in the country. State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) persist in buying much more expensive European and US substitutes for Indian products, for reasons that have yet to be explained. Conservative estimates of pharma exports to China from India, if the path to the same were to be smoothened rather than obstructed, is $13 billion, while in the case of IT, China is a potential $20 billion market for India. Another potential market of at least $15 billion is tourism into India, provided this be given a boost from the present abysmal levels (less than 100,000 Chinese tourists came to India out of the 103 million citizens of the Peoples Republic of China who travelled abroad last year). A dismaying reality is that young people on both the Indian as well as the Chinese side know little about each other, despite the fact that both cultures are immensely congruent and attractive to each other. Whether it be in media exchange or in regular exhibitions of cultural items (including movies), the traffic between China and India is very low. This is despite a combined population of substantially over 2.6 billion that have had connections with each other across millennia.
The stalled process of Sino-Indian rapprochement despite the Wuhan and Mamallapuram Xi-Modi summits appears to have been an important factor behind the decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to pull India out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations some months back. As a consequence of India staying out, so did Japan. Thus two of the three biggest economies in Asia kept out of RCEP until matters get resolved to their satisfaction. The overall mood in Delhi where China was concerned had already been soured by Beijing’s efforts to get the UNSC to formally deliberate and adjudicate on Kashmir over the removal Article 370 from that part of the state that remained in India’s control after the ill-thought out ceasefire effective 1 January 1949 ordered by Jawaharlal Nehru, who persisted with allowing Louis Mountbatten and British officers commanded by London rather than by Delhi to determine the course of the battle to liberate Kashmir from invaders directed by British officers in Jinnah’s army. These officers wanted the whole of Kashmir to go to Pakistan, and so did the British officers still retained in control of the Indian armed forces by Nehru despite securing independence from the British on 15 August 1947. Thus far, efforts by Beijing to ensure the success of GHQ Rawalpindi’s objectives vis-a-vis India have not met with significant blowback from the Indian side. A test of whether such Indian forbearance will continue will come in the pending decision on whether or not to permit Huawei to bid for installation of 5G networks in India. While the company’s equipment and technology have cost and quality advantages over most if not all competitors, the meta data trove that Huawei will harvest from 5G operations in India will substantially assist in PRC efforts at becoming the most advanced country in the world where Artificial Intelligence systems are concerned. Should Beijing at the same time remain committed to furthering Islamabad’s goals at the expense of India, primacy in Artificial Intelligence by China would have implications for India in the matter of security, given that GHQ Rawalpindi is a continuing threat to stability and security in India. Some within the policy establishment in India would like to block Huawei from 5G in order to show China that there will in future be substantial costs to Beijing’s “all-weather” support for GHQ Rawalpindi vis-a-vis India. Others look only to the financial advantages that installation of Huawei systems bring to the table, and call for the company to be allowed to compete in the Indian market. It may be remembered that 69% of the mobile telephony market in India is already occupied by Chinese telecom companies, which together accounted for $55 billion in sales to India last year. In contrast to India, the mobile telephony market in China is dominated by domestic champions such as China Unicom and China Mobile. Nearly 96% of the domestic market in China is controlled by Chinese companies, despite the presence of global champions such as Nokia or Motorola. It may be instructive in understanding the single-minded dedication of the Chinese Communist Party leadership towards ensuring primacy for the PRC and its entities that the financial sector in China was kept away from external competition as long as it was profitable, but has been opened now (in what President Trump is claiming as a major concession) to foreign entities, at a time when the Chinese financial sector is under substantial strain, including on profitability, and would welcome an infusion of funds from almost any source.
As India already has free trade agreements with 12 of the 15 countries that are part of RCEP, in effect, signing on to the RCEP agreement would have meant a free trade agreement between India and China, a country with which it already has a $57 billion trade deficit, a shortfall that has expanded greatly since 2014. The Chinese side did not respond favourably to India’s requests for a liberalised schedule for duty reductions that reflected India’s less prepared position so far as its domestic industry was concerned. Neither were there affirmatives from the Chinese side to Indian requests for an extended date for liberalising import restrictions, or to a mechanism that would put in place speed brakes to sudden surges of goods into India, a phenomenon that has often been experienced by India so far as Chinese products are concerned. On instructions from Prime Minister Modi, negotiators on the Indian side were clear that measures had to be put in place that would protect small and micro enterprises in India across 200 lines of manufacture, but again, such a demand did not find approval from the other side, leaving India with no alternative but to exit the RCEP. Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China, who is trusted by President Xi, is going to be in Delhi for the 22d round of boundary talks that have gone round and round without making any progress all these years. Thus far, Chinese officials have relied on the silo mentality of their Indian counterparts, in which issues are dealt with in segments, with one segment of policymaking often taking decisions that impact negatively on another. Taking a 360-degree view of the situation and adopting a comprehensive policy that meets the overall national interest of India (rather than, as in the S-400 case, the immediate needs of a particular segment) has been absent for long in India, and this has given confidence to the Chinese side that unhelpful activity by them in one field will not impact decisions taken by the still influential Lutyens Zone elements within the Central government in other fields. Beijing is also increasingly confident that “Howdy Modi” style events notwithstanding, prospects for a military alliance between India and the US are almost nil under the present dispensation, a teaming up that they were earlier worried may be on a fast track towards such a partnership. The sudden withdrawal from RCEP surprised the Chinese side, and it is to be seen if more such moves will follow, so that the Government of India takes decisions that are in the overall long-term interests of the nation. As an example of wasted opportunities, passenger aircraft buys by Indian carriers are among the highest in the world, yet the Civil Aviation Ministry (especial in the UPA era) failed to secure any advantage for India from such a fact. Instead, domestic interests were repeatedly ignored to benefit foreign entities, as for example in the going up of slots in airports across the world. Selling off the national carrier Air India at a dismally low price to a foreign buyer will meet such pattern, if this be done. The value assigned to Air India by an external financial agency is suspiciously low, and hints at efforts by a section of the bureaucracy at taking over the carrier’s assets for a song. Unlike what happens in India, the Chinese are shrewd and tough negotiators, as shown in the way they have faced down Donald Trump in the ongoing trade war between the two sides. Where the Chinese appear to have miscalculated is the importance of good relations with India to their own future. As yet, there is little sign that this realisation has dawned in Beijing, despite Xi and Modi’s efforts at ensuring that Sino-Indian relations move into a positive track. Wang Yi’s visit should not be yet another exercise in symbolism designed to mitigate the hard feelings in Delhi caused by Beijing’s ongoing efforts to internationalise Kashmir for the benefit of GHQ Rawalpindi. Despite Wuhan and Mamallapuram, Sino-Indian relations remain mired in mutual mistrust and misperceptions. Instead, the Chinese foreign minister should build on the rapport between Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi to offer breakthrough solutions and initiatives so as to set Sino-Indian relations on to a healthy track.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Citizenship Amendment Act: Why is it so contentious and has Modi gone too far? (CGTN)

Uproar, protest and violence continue in India over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. The legislation would grant citizenship to those migrating to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan except for Muslims. Critics of Modi's Hindu nationalist policy say this is the first time India is attempting to use religion as a criterion for granting citizenship. Modi denies such claims. What are the controversies over the Citizenship Amendment Act?

Sunday 15 December 2019

Partition Deniers continue to divide and mislead (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Nehru ought to have obliterated differential treatment between Hindus, Muslims.

An advancing society remembers its failures and seeks to learn lessons that protect it from repeating past mistakes. Those that are stagnant go into denial mode about past errors, or else present these as triumphs. Mahatma Gandhi pledged that Partition would take place only over his dead body, but when the time came to reject Jinnah’s blackmail, the Congress Party went along with a vivisection of India that severely weakened the overall strength and resilience of the subcontinent. Surely a united India was worth fighting for, rather than the Congress Party surrendering to the Muslim League. Why the leaders of the Congress accepted Partition remains a mystery, as the British were plainly too exhausted to stay on for much longer, and any violence caused by the frustrating of the plans of those intent on dividing the country would have been much less than was the case after Partition took effect. Even the Muslim League’s murderous “Direct Action” during the months preceding Partition could have swiftly been brought under control, had the Congress Party not unilaterally disarmed itself (yet again) by resigning in 1939 from the many provincial governments that it had control over. A blanket denial that many such decisions were harmful rather than helpful to the people of India came in the form of admiring history books that were united in the view that each decision of the Congress Party leadership was correct. After Partition, a decision seems to have been taken by Nehru and his associates to act as though such a division never took place, and that Pakistan was simply another country on the frontiers of India rather than part of a once unified land that became separated because of the Two Nation theory, a formulation which holds that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together in the same country, as they are presumed to be “different nations”. Successive Prime Ministers have sought to pander to Pakistan, a country founded on the affinity of a section of the subcontinental polity for the absurd idea that Muslims could not live safely and happily in a country where Hindus were in the majority. The British had differentiated Hindus from Muslims every which way they could, but surprisingly, such a policy (of treating Hindus and Muslims differently) was continued even after 15 August 1947. The reality of Partition was ignored by the political leadership, as was the repression unleashed on Hindus, Christians and Sikhs in the new theocracy of Pakistan. When millions were forced to flee to India and hundreds of thousands of the minority in Pakistan were killed or forcibly converted, Jawaharlal Nehru remained unmoved, as did his successors.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill is not the best solution to the horrible conditions being faced by ever diminishing minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Instead, what is needed are active measures carried out by the Government of India to ensure that minority rights get protected across South Asia rather than simply give asylum to the persecuted. This should not mean privileged rights to a section, but equal treatment to all, no matter what their faith. In contrast, a policy framework was put in place in post-1947 India that may have been defensible had the country remained united, but which made little sense in a country vivisected on the explicit basis of faith. Had it held its nerve and kept the country united, the Congress Party could have promised minority rights as part of the measures taken to prevent the Muslim League from succeeding in gaining traction for Partition. However, once this catastrophe took place, what was needed was to quickly put in place a governance structure that no longer differentiated Hindus from Muslims, but treated both communities equally. Instead, the population of the truncated country was once again divided into “majority” and “minority”, two terms based on the implicit assumption of each of the pair being homogenous internally and different from the other, thus needing to be treated separately by law and the governance mechanism.
Separating the population of a country already vivisected on the basis of religion into “Majority” and “Minority” (again on a religious basis) only perpetuated the Two Nation mindset that assisted the Muslim League to partition India with Congress consent. The League claimed that Hindus and Muslims are substantially different from each other rather than parts of a composite land, and unfortunately many Muslims—especially in UP and Bihar—agreed. Since then, successive governments have perpetuated the colonial-era division between Hindus and Muslims. During 2004-14, Sonia Gandhi returned to the classic Nehruvian model, a construct that wholly ignored the lessons of Partition. There are many reasons why the Citizenship Amendment Bill is hardly the stroke of genius that its backers believe it to be, but the grounds on which it is being attacked by the Congress Party demonstrate that a mindset that regards Hindus and Muslims as substantively different remains embedded within the leadership of that still consequential political party. There is a difference between those persecuted on the grounds of faith and those unhappy with their country of residence for other reasons, and anyone ignoring this reality (the way the reality and the consequences of Partition have been ignored since 1947) will retard rather than promote national integration. Once the subcontinent became free but divided, the Nehru government in (what was left of) India ought to have obliterated differential treatment between Hindus and Muslims. In such a process, the right of Hindus to their three holy sites (at Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura) ought to have been accepted. Not doing so has empowered those within the Hindu community who seek the same superior status as Punjabi Sunnis have in Pakistan. There are Holocaust Deniers, who pretend that the mass murder of Jews by Hitler never took place. India’s “Partition Deniers” (and their foreign fellow travellers) ignore the (a) reality (b) the causes and (c) the effects of the 1947 Partition. They act as though the Republic of India was not truncated in 1947, and favour colonial era policies that are harmful to the future of a country that has lost much of its territory on the grounds of religion. There are politicians in India who seek to hold on to the “Muslim vote bank” by implementing policies that treat Muslims differently from Hindus. Mamata Banerjee is an example. Because of such policies, a time will come when her party gets tossed aside by elements harking back to the Two Nation theory in favour of exclusivist formations led by politicians such as the Owaisi brothers, who frame their appeal on the implicit ground that Muslims and Hindus are “The Other” to each other. The persistence—and indeed growth—of such a mindset is a legacy of the fact the post-1947 policy matrix has ignored the reality and aftershocks of Partition, and the consequent need to avoid any differentiation between Hindus and Muslims where domestic policy is concerned. In contrast to domestic policy, the CAB—whatever its merits or otherwise—deals with foreign nationals, not present citizens. To legislate or to agitate on matters of language, diet, lifestyle or dress is folly. Yet the electoral resonance that such moves are generating within the majority community is a reflection of the unease of Hindus at the post-1947 differential treatment for different faiths, rather than a secular policy applicable to all. Giving equal rights and respect to Hindus will not weaken a country that was divided on religious lines in 1947, but make it stronger.

Saturday 7 December 2019

Elizabeth Warren faces the Clinton machine (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

A Warren Presidency would clean up the US financial system of the privileged few who have squeezed hundreds of billions of dollars from it.

During the 2016 US Presidential polls, the Democratic Party machine was largely controlled by the Clintons, and they saw to it that Bernie Sanders lost in the primaries to Hillary. After his defeat, Senator Sanders uncharacteristically acted as a PR agent for the Clintons. Had the Vermont Senator shown more spine in taking on the Clinton machine, he would not have lost many of his followers. This time around, rather than continue to back Sanders as the Democratic Party nominee in the 2020 polls, many former “Sandersistas” have moved on to another fierce and idealistic candidate, Elizabeth Warren. In common with Sanders—and in contrast to the Clintons, who eagerly made their peace with Big Money—the Massachusetts Senator has fought Wall Street throughout her career in the higher reaches of US politics. She has refused to accept mega donations from the SuperPacs, the billionaire interests who have largely rallied behind former Vice-President Joe Biden, who is a Clinton loyalist through and through. It is because of such loyalty that the Clintons persuaded Barack Obama to make their surrogate (Biden) his Vice-Presidential pick in 2008, and which has created a groundswell of support for Biden within the substantial sections of the US media that still respond to the Clinton machine. This machine has moved to impeach President Donald Trump for the fact that he sought to get information on Hunter Biden, the pampered (since the death of his idealistic brother Beau in 2015) son of Joe Biden. The former Vice-President refuses to acknowledge the moral hazard in his offspring’s eagerness to make millions of dollars any which way he can. Had President Trump’s team been halfway competent, they would have quietly arranged for a team of private investigators to investigate the numerous money-making activities of Hunter Biden in countries such as Romania and the Ukraine, known to be infested with mafia groups that trade money for influence on a regular basis. It is a commentary on the power of the Clintons within the US media that no news report of any significance ever came out about the many business dealings that then Vice-President Joe Biden’s son was involved in. This had to wait till 2019. Efficient rather than incompetent teamwork would have seen to it that Donald Trump was kept far away from any activity that may be seen as ethically challenged. Instead, they allowed the 45th President of the US to himself ask the newly elected leader of Ukraine to assist in uncovering the presumed misdeeds of Hunter Biden. They watched silently as Trump asked his personal attorney to directly work on sensitive tasks that only a private detective with no visible links to the Trump Presidency ought to have done. The culture of fear and insecurity among Trump’s staff that has been engendered by the style of functioning of the 45th US President may result in his defeat in a year’s time.
The fallout from Ukrainegate has hit the Biden candidacy as well, leaving the Clintons scrambling to locate another surrogate whom they can seek to push into the White House, or for Hillary Clinton to run. Her entry would, of course, ensure that Trump gets re-elected. The sense of entitlement and disdain for others that is visible in the demeanour of Hillary Clinton has made her toxic to several million voters. A 2020 Clinton-Trump contest would be a battle between toxicities, as both have a large pool of detractors within the country. Despite the fact that she or her husband did nothing for them, African Americans love the Clintons and largely back whomsoever the Clinton machine favours. These days, that is Joe Biden. However, it is unlikely that the 78-year old will hold on to his front-runner position for much longer. He may be overtaken by Elizabeth Warren, who is the antithesis of Hillary Clinton. The fact that the incomes of the middle class have been stagnant over nearly three decades while those of the hyper-rich have skyrocketed has boosted the chances of a candidate not afraid to challenge Big Money. Neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama (both of whom poured huge amounts of taxpayer dollars into assisting Wall Street) did anything to lower the pain being felt by hundreds of thousands of young people, who are struggling to repay the debts they incurred to ensure their passage through college. Or to ensure that millions did not lose their homes during 2008-10. Many such unfortunates could rally behind Elizabeth Warren, who has shown that she is not among the majority of politicians who forget what they promised to voters as soon as they win an election. A Warren Presidency would clean up the US financial system of the privileged few who have squeezed hundreds of billions of dollars from it since the time Ronald Reagan entered his second term in office. Both Tulsi Gabbard as well as Kamala Harris are also imbued with ideals, but Tulsi will need to wait till 2024 to emerge into the topmost tier of US politics. In the case of Kamala Harris, the absence of her attractive foster family from the campaign trail cost her a lot of traction in a country that still reveres the family as a unit. Should she act a little more folksy rather than wonkish, Elizabeth Warren would steadily rise in the polls, and should the African-American community leadership accept that Joe Biden is not a reliable friend of a community that is both vibrant as well as disadvantaged and switch to Warren, her momentum would be unstoppable. Indeed, it is not just the Clintons but Trump who has provided oxygen to Biden, by using every method the US President could find (and that too, directly) to load the former Vice-President with the claimed misdeeds of his son.
In order to win the White House, Elizabeth Warren will need to overcome a substantial hurdle (besides winning her party’s nomination). The US economy is doing well under President Trump. Unemployment figures are at historic lows and more and more manufacturing jobs are migrating back to the US as a consequence of the corporate tax cuts that he made. Will the vast PR machinery of Big Money succeed in keeping Elizabeth Warren from the White House? They failed repeatedly in the1930s to block Franklin Roosevelt, and may with Warren as well in 2020.

With Prof M D Nalapat on China's plan to unseat dollar, Geo-Politics, Blockchain Technology and more (PGurus)

The latest US-China trade war has made China make several moves. Prof. M D Nalapat dissects the various pulls and pressures and the reason China is pushing Blockchain-based technologies in currency & buying up gold to try and unseat the US Dollar.

Kim Jong Un prepares ‘deadly deterrent’ against US first strike (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

In the calculation of military planners advising the DPRK leadership core, a second strike by North Korea that reaches Guam and Tokyo is enough to deter a US-Japan pre-emptive attack on North Korea, although ‘reaching the eastern shores of the continental US remains the objective’ of Kim’s missile program.

MUMBAI: Those in touch with the thinking of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) claim that he is now “at the end of his patience” with US President Donald J. Trump. They warn that a “breakout moment is close”, in which DPRK Supreme Leader Kim “will challenge the US and Japan to risk destruction on a World War scale or accept that Pyongyang will never consent to handing over responsibility for its security to Washington by forgoing the only effective defence against aggression by the US and Japan”, which is the dual possession of nuclear weapons and delivery capability. A fresh demonstration of such “deadly deterrent” capabilities is claimed by them to be “only a few weeks away”. In the calculation of military planners advising the DPRK leadership core, a second strike by North Korea that reaches Guam and Tokyo is enough to deter a US-Japan pre-emptive attack on the much-sanctioned country, although “reaching the eastern shores of the continental US remains the objective” of the DPRK missile program. Given the reality that the regime in Pyongyang is armed with nuclear devices capable of being delivered by missiles to targets up to 1,600 kilometres away, the window for a pre-emptive US military strike on North Korea seems to have been shut, unless President Trump is ready to engineer a situation in which there will be substantial collateral damage to Japanese cities as well as to Guam and possibly Hawaii. While President George W. Bush had a viable chance of ensuring through military means the permanent de-nuclearization of North Korea sans serious collateral damage, the obsession of the 43rd President of the US with a weakened and helpless Saddam Hussein in Iraq ensured that no serious attention got paid to the situation in North Korea. By mid-2018, collateral damage caused as a consequence of DPRK retaliation to a first strike by the US would be “incalculable but substantial”, in the view of military planners in Pyongyang. It was this fact that gave confidence to Supreme Leader Kim that the chances were bright for a reconciliation between Pyongyang and Washington, for which the Supreme Leader was “ready to accept limits on the strategic program but only such that the deterrence capability (of the DPRK) would continue to exist”. Instead, the sources say that what the US side sought was a “surrender” in exchange for which only “vague promises were made that depended entirely on blind trust in President Trump to keep his word about permanent non-interference” in DPRK matters.
An increasingly capable and confident Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un is not the most trusting of world leaders. After an exhaustive personal study of the experiences of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar Assad, after the three had surrendered their WMD stockpiles (in the case of the latter, partially), Kim Jong Un reached the conclusion that “the word of a US President was written on water and had no meaning”. Interestingly, according to those in the know of developments within the leadership core of North Korea, “detailed summaries of the impeachment move against Trump have been regularly supplied to Chairman Kim”, and the conclusion reached by his core team that “either President Trump will be too weak to make the US system faithfully implement any promise made by him, or Trump will be sent out in disgrace and his successor will repudiate all his actions”, including any accord between Pyongyang and Washington. The swift and easy manner in which signature initiatives of President Barack H. Obama such as the JCPOA with Iran have been torn up by Trump has only reinforced the scepticism in Pyongyang about the practical longevity of any deal entered into by the two leaders. By walking away from the Iran nuclear deal despite internationally verified compliance by Tehran of its many conditions, President Trump has weakened the hand of future US Presidents in negotiating biding treaties with other powers. In any case, the North Koreans say that “all the US side is offering are sweet words”. What is particularly rankling the North Koreans is that “even a partial rollback of the illegal and unjust sanctions (imposed on the DPRK) is presented (by the US side) as a big and historical compromise by them”. They are bemused that a mere visit to Washington is being presented by the US side as a major concession that requires substantial concessions and promises by Pyongyang to get cleared. Concessions by the US have been made conditional on North Korea “fully complying with longstanding US demands in a non-reversible manner on the unacceptable basis of losing control over security once the process demanded gets completed”. The North Korean side is seeking a peace agreement that would ensure a “permanent peace with national honour” in the Korean peninsula, while they regard what President Donald John Trump and his advisers want is “unconditional surrender first and discussion on details later”. As a consequence of the “unreal ambitions” of the US side, the North Korean leadership core is edging towards actuating a situation where “it will be demonstrated to the world that the costs of hurting (North Korea) will rise catastrophically for the other side”. Rather than succumb to US “blackmail”, a “better strategy (in their view) is to demonstrate that such pressure will only accelerate Pyongyang’s drive towards lethal capacity against the US and Japan”. In this context, work on a “deadly deterrent” to any US military first strike on the DPRK is proceeding apace.
According to the sources, Supreme Leader Kim wishes a peninsula that is “wholly peaceful but filled with honour”. Kim also wishes “normal trade and diplomatic relations with every country on the basis of equality” and “without surrendering the dignity and self-respect of the Great Korean Nation”. In this context, there is shock and anger in Pyongyang at the manner in which President Moon Jae-In of South Korea has recently been “following faithfully the footsteps” of the US side. The fact that such behaviour may have been made necessary by the need to protect the commercial interests of the much larger South Korean economy do not seem to have entered into the calculations and assessments being made in Pyongyang, a capital where all other considerations are subordinated to the need to ensure a rising level of deterrence against any effort at regime change. US envoy to North Korea, Stephen E. Biegun has failed to make much of an impression on the North Korean leadership core, as the envoy is “not in a position to make any changes in the existing John Bolton-style framework adopted by the US for secret talks” and equally clearly, “lacks needed access even to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, much less to President Trump”.
Given that a military solution to the Korean imbroglio absent high levels of collateral damage seems impossible, even while efforts at regime change by the US and its allies have not had any success thus far, only an innovative solution to the Korean crisis seems practicable. This would be a settlement on the “One Nation Two States” principle. Both North and South Korea would retain their distinctive identities and governance structures, but each would make themselves much more responsive and accessible to the other. This would enable either side to tap into the synergies offered by the other in a manner that is non-threatening to the structure of the existing regimes in Pyongyang and Seoul. Such a coming together of the two sides could take place either at the DMZ or in the presence of the US President at Camp David, assuming the US side shows “realistic flexibility” in its stance towards the DPRK. Among the consequences of such a “One Nation Two States” solution would be an agreement by both sides to rapidly de-escalate military tensions and an agreement to follow a path of peaceful reconciliation of differences that obviates resort to military force. Over time, such a “Bright Sunshine” policy between North and South Korea would lead to a phased effort at reducing nuclear weapons in the northern half of the peninsula, once Pyongyang is convinced that Regime Change is off the table where Tokyo and Washington are concerned. Incidentally, interlocutors say that the late-2017 discovery by the DPRK side of “continuing efforts” (by some South Korean agencies) to assist the US side in organising a decapitation strike within the DPRK has led to a “sharp fall in confidence that President Moon is sincerely committed to peace and not to helping US and Japanese hawks seek regime change while professing friendship on the outside”. Should Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un follow through on the move to publicly showcase recent additions to the offensive capabilities of the DPRK, President Trump will need to examine ground realities and adopt a policy that incrementally ensures lasting peace and harmony in a peninsula populated by the gifted and dynamic Korean people. The present “All or Nothing” approach by the Trump White House and NSC has led to nothing but tensions and trouble, besides misery through sanctions for innocent millions living in North Korea.

Sunday 1 December 2019

Fadnavis inaction on Ajit Pawar recoils (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Had Fadnavis shown greater diligence in bringing Ajit Pawar to book during 2014-19, the NCP would not have secured the Assembly seats it has.

After having spent years excoriating Ajit Pawar for his activities as the Irrigation Minister of Maharashtra, it was a surprise when Devendra Fadnavis ended his 5-year term as Chief Minister without taking any significant action against Pawar. Given the scale of the irregularities within the Irrigation Department, it was as though Ajit Pawar was being protected by Fadnavis. Cynics will say that the banding together of the two men in an attempted power grab last week showed why the former CM of Maharashtra had been so deliberately ineffective in ensuring accountability for a politician whom the former has many times promised to send to prison. In the 2019 polls, that claim sounded hollow, given that Fadnavis spent five years without inflicting even a legal scratch on the resourceful Ajit Pawar. Given the circumstances, it is understandable why the individual who aspires to seize total control of the NCP sought to bring over 36 MLAs from his party to the BJP-led alliance. Once he is fully rehabilitated within his party by a forgiving uncle and made the Deputy Chief Minister of the new combination, as is expected by the media and by others, Ajit Pawar will bide his time and once again strike, this time after being certain that he will be able to bypass his uncle and carry the NCP MLAs to the BJP. There was in hindsight political logic, in the manner in which Devendra Fadnavis protected Ajit Pawar during his term in office as CM. The prodigal who has now returned to the embrace of his uncle can use his formidable political skills to ensure that Supriya Sule be eliminated from the leadership of the NCP. Once he regains high office, Ajit Pawar will use his recovered clout to try and remain protected, this time from the Centre. Both NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray will have to be alert about the possibility of a repeat performance by Ajit Pawar, whose continued escape from going the Chidambaram way hinges on his utility to Devendra Fadnavis, who remains by far the most popular BJP leader in Maharashtra. Ajit Pawar is an ace for the BJP, as is Sonia Gandhi, who tried but failed to prevent the Shiv Sena from forming a government with the support of the Congress Party, but who is sure to direct barbs at the new CM through a constant flow of demands and sniper fire that may be couched in a more sophisticated manner than the darts now raining on Uddhav by the BJP’s social media warriors, but are nevertheless intended to damage the government led by the soft-spoken, under-estimated, Uddhav.
Had Fadnavis shown greater diligence in bringing Ajit Pawar to book during 2014-19, the NCP would not have secured the Assembly seats it has. Several of those would have gone to the Shiv San and the BJP. In hindsight, the BJP leadership may be wishing that it had accepted the Shiv Sena’s demand that there be a rotational process for the Chief Ministership, with Fadnavis accommodated in the Union Cabinet after a tenure in office of 30 months. But who could have expected that Congress president Sonia Gandhi would fail to prevent her party in Maharashtra from teaming up with the Sena? Ajit Pawar and Sonia Gandhi are the two aces of the BJP, one to someday assist the BJP in forming a government, while the other ensures that Congress walks out on the Sena, so that no government can be formed other than a coalition led by the BJP. Both cards failed this time to deliver, but given the hold that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has over the voters of India, the BJP remains by far the most potent political force in Maharashtra. Public backing would rise were the state unit to move away from the Fadnavis line of protecting corrupt political rivals rather than holding them to account. Should the BJP move away from the state unit’s cynical cultivation of Ajit Pawar as a Trojan horse and sincerely take up the allegations against him, the party would gain not only in the state but across the country. This would be especially pronounced were PM Modi to succeed in his mission of ensuring that other VVIP wrongdoers go the way of P. Chidambaram. Although they account for less than 1% of the top 1% of policymakers, VVIP depredators account for 90% of the problem caused to the people by corruption in India. A clean-up at the top will ensure that others tempted by avenues for graft derive the proper lessons and abstain from such behaviour. Even if roads get cleaned and there be a toilet in every home, as hopefully will be the case when Modi seeks a third term in 2024, India will never be wholly “swachh” until VVIP corruption gets punished. If even six more VVIP wrongdoers follow Chidambaram in having to pay a price for past misdeeds, governance will shine. Other mega scams (such as the co-location imbroglio at NSE) will no longer go largely unexamined by SEBI, CBI and the ED. If the top six of about two dozen VVIP depredators get taken down, followed by the forcing of full refunds by the top six of the crony capitalist looters who hollowed out the banking system by borrowing funds that they had no intention of repaying, the economy of India will once again be on the path towards sustained high growth. The Sonia-Chidambaram system ensures through a complex web of punitive laws and opaque regulations that any person indulging in any form of economic activity can be persecuted and prosecuted through even technical breaches of the rules. Their system was set up to give officials (and their political masters) control over the citizen in a manner that damages the climate for enterprise. Welcome steps such as the removal of criminal penalties for alleged CSR breaches should be followed by further de-criminalisation of vast swathes of activity that are essential to encourage in a modern economy. Activity needs to be carried out without the constant threat of punitive action by officials hunting for bribes. The Centre must go after the top and allow lower levels freedom to invest and to spend, rather than continue the Sonia-Chidambaram system of sparing the top while viciously going after those below. Such a reform of the system was not undertaken by North Block during Modi 1.0. It is imperative that it be done during Modi 2.0, so as to pave the way for the high growth needed to ensure Modi 3.0. The cynical and self-defeating example of the Fadnavis government towards Ajit Pawar should be discarded in favour of enforcing accountability at the very top, the level that is the fountainhead of either our country’s downward slide or its salvation.

Saturday 23 November 2019

AIMPLB should learn from Jehangir, not Aurangzeb (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Restoration of the three holy sites of Hindus would ensure communal harmony.

It was Emperor Jehangir who permitted the building of a magnificent temple at the Mathura birthplace of Lord Krishna. The previous structure had been razed by over-zealous warriors in the past, and the Mughal Emperor noticed that the denuded site was hurting the feelings of his Hindu subjects. Around 1626, a temple was built, atop which a lamp was lit every evening, and which became a place of pilgrimage for Hindus. Jehangir’s successor Shahjehan had no problem with the Krishna Janmasthan temple, but the Emperor’s son Aurangzeb did. Although the history books favoured by Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors do not deign to notice such details, Aurangzeb was angered by the sight of the magnificent temple so close to his Agra palace, and ordered in 1670 that it be razed once again. This time, a mosque was built on the site rather than keeping it empty. Although Aurangzeb must have been certain that this act of wanton destruction earned him the keys to Paradise, the gentle spirit of the Holy Quran makes it unlikely that the soul of the Mughal Emperor, who ensured the collapse of the empire by his brutality, would be in that blessed location. Despite—or because of—mass murder and the destruction of house upon house of worship, every year of the latter part of his reign saw Aurangzeb’s kingdom shrink in area, while in the territories still within its boundaries, unrest festered. Fast forward to the 1930s, when the wise words of the leadership of the Jamaat-i-Islami Hind, that the unity of India be maintained, was disregarded by tens of millions of Muslims, who were influenced by the Churchill-Jinnah canard that the Muslim community would not be safe in a country where the majority of the population was Hindu. The biggest loser from the tragedy of the 1947 Partition of India was the Muslim community, which would have reached more than 500 million by now, had India remained united. Given such a huge population, close to half of the Prime Ministers of India would have been Muslim, rather than the present score of zero. Fast forward again to 2019, when the AIMPLB—the All India Muslim Personal Law Board—may file a review petition against the Supreme Court’s verdict in the matter of the Ram Temple. Meanwhile, Asaduddin Owaisi has magically divined that the award of five acres of land decreed for a mosque by the apex court will be rejected by a 200 million strong community. Others want that this land should be within the Ram Janmabhumi complex, as though that site is of spiritual value to Muslims as well, which it is not. The Babri Masjid was no Jama Masjid or Ajmer-e-Sharif Dargah, and neither are the mosques at the site of the Krishna Janmasthan at Mathura and the Gyan Vapi complex in Varanasi. The Gyan Vapi complex in Varanasi and the Ayodhya and Mathura birthplaces respectively of Lord Ram and Sri Krishna are the three holy sites of the Hindus, the way Mecca and Medina are for Muslims. The peaceful restoration of these three sites, and these three sites only and alone, would ensure communal harmony thanks to the calming effect on Hindu sentiment.
In 1951, thanks to the insistence of then President of India, Rajendra Prasad and Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Shiva “jyotirlinga”, the temple at Somnath, was restored. Both Prasad and Patel had also wished that the Ram Janmabhumi, the Krishna Janmasthan and the Gyan Vapi complex get restored to pre Aurangzeb days. During that period, which was just a few years after India was vivisected on the basis of the Two Nation theory (which runs that Muslims and Hindus can never co-exist peaceably with each other), it would have been a simple matter to have restored these three sites, thereby stilling latent feelings within the Hindu community aghast at the division of a subcontinent that is the common home of people of multiple faiths, but which was torn apart because of the machinations of Churchill and Jinnah. Instead, India’s first Prime Minister continued with the colonial pedagogy of deliberately downsizing the pre-British cultural heritage of the country, especially the Vedic part. Regular eruptions of communal violence even after the British have left show the folly of Nehru’s refusal to acknowledge that the world’s Hindus had as much right to their holy sites as did Muslims and Christians to their own holy sites. The historians, who since 1947 have stuck with the colonial recitation of India’s history, do not talk about efforts to persuade Nehru to ensure that Hindus be restored their three holy sites, and whether Maulana Abul Kalam Azad joined with Nehru in opposing this request. What we do know is that the learned Maulana was as unsuccessful as Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru in persuading Muslims in the United Provinces and Bihar not to hop onto the Jinnah bandwagon. Many Muslims in these parts were even more set on the partition of India than their co-religionists in Punjab, Bengal and Sindh. The Muslims of Pashtunistan and Balochistan remained backers of joining with India, but found their wishes stymied by the new Government of India, which left the Pashtuns, the Baloch as well as the Sindhis to the tender mercies of what rapidly became a Punjabi-dominated state. A state from which non-Muslim minorities were driven out and non-Punjabis reduced to second-class status, even the Sunni Muslims. Shias like Jinnah were also reduced to that situation. The Partition of India is a cautionary tale for the Muslims of the subcontinent, who today are much less better off overall than they would have been, had the subcontinent remained united.
As the examples of Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, Syria and now Pakistan have shown, there is only a slim veneer separating tranquility between communities from the chaos of civil conflict. In India, it is imperative that the (still few) violent elements within the Hindu community (such as the terrorists who kill innocent citizens for consuming certain types of meat) do not proliferate but diminish. The Supreme Court has closed the chapter on Ayodhya, except that a sum of Rs 100 crore and a hundred lorry-loads of the best marble in India should also be handed over by the state along with 5 acres in a different location to representatives of the Muslim community who truly embody the nobility of that great faith. A grand gesture of peace, beneficence and compassion on the part of the nearly 200 million Muslims of India of peacefully and joyously returning the whole of the Gyan Vapi complex in Varanasi and the entirety of the Krishna Janmasthan in Mathura would ensure the failure of ongoing GHQ Rawalpindi efforts at resurrecting the Two Nation theory within the Republic of India. The AIMPLB needs to reflect on the contrasting examples of Emperors Jehangir and Aurangzeb, and reflect on the effect of the latter on the Mughal Empire.

Saturday 16 November 2019

Warzones heat up as US-China conflict continues (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

A conflict may erupt in a range of theatres, most likely the Taiwan Straits, the South China Seas and, because of the China-Pakistan alliance, South Asia. There could also be multiple proxy conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and South America.

TAIPEI: Weeks from a Presidential election that could decide its future for generations, Taiwan is at Ground Zero in the escalating battle for primacy between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Viewed narrowly, the contest in Taiwan is between two rivals, the KMT’s Han and the DPP’s Tsai. The 11 January 2020 verdict will determine whether the latter will win a second four-year term in office. Looked at from a wider perspective, the political contest now taking place is in reality a proxy battle between Washington and Beijing. While President Tsai would further deepen the security linkages to the United States that she has quietly established during her term, KMT standard bearer Han as President would once again open wide the doors for the PRC to various segments of Taiwanese society and to sectors of the economy. He would open such doors even wider than was the case under the last KMT President, Ma Ying-jeou. During the eight years (2008-2016) that Ma occupied the office of the President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in the stolid building housing the Office of the President, business, transport and cultural links between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits expanded phenomenally, getting rolled back substantially only after DPP Presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen defeated the KMT’s Eric Chu in 2016. Much of the rollback has been caused by the decision taken by Beijing to constrict the Taiwanese economy by sharply reducing tourist and investor arrivals from the PRC to Taiwan, in the expectation that the resulting economic pain would persuade enough Taiwanese voters to change sides so as to ensure a KMT victory. President Tsai, to discontent among the firebrands within her party, has been careful to avoid the provocative verbal challenges to China that were a staple during the years in power of the first Republic of China (RoC) President belonging to the DPP, Chen Shui-bian. However, steadily albeit silently, Tsai has multiplied links between Taiwan and the major democracies, including India and Japan. Most importantly, the level of security cooperation between Taipei and Washington is rising to levels not seen since the decisions taken during the 1970s and afterwards (especially by Presidents Nixon, Carter and Clinton) to downgrade ties with Taipei so as to better meet the requirements of Beijing. During the three years of the Trump administration, the US has substantially ramped up its engagement with Taiwan. The symbolism of the newly opened massive presence of the US mission in Taipei is not lost on passers-by, although security and defence cooperation between the two sides remains mostly under the radar.
Russia having settled into the role of being the most reliable security partner of a rapidly rising China, under a decisive leader Beijing has replaced Moscow at the apex of the security calculus being developed within the Pentagon. In an actual contest, there will be only one winner. The game being played between the US and China is not Win-Win but Zero Sum, no matter how hard Donald Trump and Xi Jinping talk in the manner of best friends. It is no secret in Taipei that the DPP would like to see the US prevail, while the KMT has long been rooting for the PRC. Needless to say, it is among the world’s historical ironies that the KMT, which under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek fought (and lost) a bloody civil war with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) fighting under the leadership of Mao Zedong, has evolved into an ally and admirer of the CCP. As President of the RoC, the KMT’s popular and populist Han Kuo-you would be welcoming of a close embrace of the PRC. However, aware of the sensitivities of the Taiwanese electorate about safeguarding their freedoms, the CCP has adopted a low key approach to the 11 January 2020 Presidential election in Taiwan, and has even been silent when Han has intelligently made occasional anti-CCP noises so as to win over voters who may otherwise side with Tsai because of her consistently independent approach vis-a-vis Beijing. However, such tactics scarcely conceal the fact that the KMT candidate is the favourite of the superpower next door, while Tsai is preferred by the more distant superpower across the waters of the Indo-Pacific. The 2020 Presidential elections in Taiwan clearly represent an important front in the war between China and the US, a struggle over which of the two countries will dominate the geopolitics of the coming era. It is, therefore, a good location to meet specialists and planners studying both sides of the divide.
Planners eager for a US victory are relying on factors including (1) the demographics of China to ensure such an outcome. They point out that the proportion of the Chinese population that is of working age has begun declining since 2015, and that this downward trajectory will continue at least until 2040. In contrast is India, which will experience substantial increases in the working age population for decades to come. The bulge in India would more than compensate for the decline in Japan, Germany and other traditional US security partners, of course assuming that Washington and Delhi overcome hesitations in both capitals and become defence and security allies. The Lutyens Zone is known for its impeccable record of “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, and would like to keep India away from such an alliance, no matter what the economic and strategic gains for India would be from such a pairing. The impact of the decline in the working age population in China is expected to slow down growth in the PRC economy, a situation that seems to have begun in 2015 itself (the year when the Chinese working age population began to decline).
(2) Gender imbalance. War planners point out that the One Child policy implemented since the 1970s by the PRC has led to a growing gender imbalance, that has even in the present resulted in nearly 40 million Chinese males being unable to find spouses of the opposite sex. Studies show that the gender imbalance in China crossed the level of criticality in 2010 and is expected to peak around 2035. Historical analyses demonstrate that a lack of available partners of the opposite sex results in a rise in the propensity for violence and crime among affected men, trends that are already becoming manifest within China. An analyst of US-China tensions based in Hong Kong pointed to the “Nien Rebellion” in China of the mid-1800s, in which more than 15 million people were killed, and which cost the Qing dynasty rulers six times more to subdue than the Opium Wars. Changes in male behavioural patterns as a consequence of gender imbalance within the population is presumably behind the reluctance of the CCP to do away with the houkou system, a set of regulations that constrict migration from rural areas (where the gender imbalance is particularly severe) to the cities. The worry is presumably that uncontrolled migration would lead to law and order problems of almost unmanageable proportions, something inevitable (in the view of this planner) once the male:female ratio reaches 115:100, as it already has in several parts of China. The Chinese leadership is seeking to create palliatives for the gender imbalance through expanding the scale of availability and operations of online videos and online gaming, which they hope will occupy males deprived of the calming and healing effects of female companionship. However, the overall assessment of US-China battle planners is that this factor will ensure spikes in violence and mob behaviour by PRC citizens in the future. The present situation in Hong Kong has shown that even relatively high-income urban populations are vulnerable to such tendencies, and the forecast of some war planners is that what is taking place in Hong Kong could before much longer get replicated in other Chinese cities having the same problem of a handful of very rich individuals connected to the CCP cornering land, thereby making adequate housing unaffordable even to the middle and professional classes. This leaves President Xi with a difficult choice: annoy CCP tycoons by bringing down land prices to make housing units affordable to lower and mid-level income groups or risk street violence caused by those who regard it as a hopeless hope that they can ever enjoy a better lifestyle in a country where every month new billionaires get created.
(3) Household debt in China is another factor that is factored in as a causative agent for a significant acceleration in PRC economic woes in the coming period. An analyst pointed to the fact that 60% of the additional global debt created since 2008 originates in China. They add that the current PRC debt ratio of 250% of GDP is unsustainable. The fact that Chinese household debt is higher than even US household debt means, in their view, that any “domestic consumption based model” of Chinese economic expansion is a mirage, as “households carrying such a substantial debt burden would not add much to consumption expenditure”, except for basic necessities. Most of the debt is in the real estate sector, which appears to be on the path to a sizeable downward reset in prices, given the locking out of the housing market of tens of millions of eager buyers as a consequence of inflated prices. At the same time, money locked in hyper expensive housing means that there is less available for other items of expenditure, spending that is necessary if investment in creating fresh output is to grow. And if investment fails to take off, so will job creation, thereby leading to aggravated societal tensions, as are presently being witnessed even in the economically advanced territory of Hong Kong. Money supply in China is at 200% of GDP, as compared to the “high” figure of 100% of GDP in the US, another factor that is expected to impact economic performance even under a powerful and resourceful leader such as Xi Jinping.
A consideration motivating much of the activity tasked with ensuring both the primacy of the US into the 21st century is the conclusion that kinetic conflict between the two sides may be the only way to divert growing social aggression and tensions away from the domestic leadership to an external enemy. Such a conflict may (in the view of those involved in planning and analysis of the US-China battle for primacy in the 21st century) erupt in a range of theatres, “most likely the Taiwan Straits, the South China Seas and (because of the China-Pakistan alliance) South Asia”. There could also be multiple proxy conflicts elsewhere, especially in the Middle East, Africa and South America.
Those warning of a possible Chinese victory in that country’s contest with the US pin much of their calculations on the danger of a collapse of the US dollar as the global reserve currency and the surrender of the Numero Uno position of the US economy to China within a decade. They point to the “unsustainable” level of US$260 billion that was printed by the Federal Reserve in just a 45-day period, which is more than twice as much as was printed during the period of Quantitative Easing III. The US Treasury under Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been increasing expenditure with cutbacks rather than increases in tax revenues. Such increases are funded through the printing of money by the Federal Reserve, cash that is then directed back to the Treasury, incentivising it to incur still more expenditure. Planners fearing a US defeat (and there are several more such voices in 2019 than was the case in 2015) at the hands of China say that from August 2018, US tax receipts barely cover social security, medicare and interest on debt, leaving zero balance for other expenses, including the ballooning cost of defence. This would not have been a problem in a situation where the US dollar rules the financial markets, except that external demand for US dollars has been going down since 2015, while even domestic buyers appear to have begun the process of bailing out of US dollar holdings during the final months of 2018. The 2013 and 2017 “weaponizing” of the US dollar against Iran (when that country was deemed to be compliant in the obligations Teheran undertook in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) has had the collateral effect of sharply lowering confidence in the US dollar as a global reserve currency, for fear that such weaponization of the currency for political reasons may impact other countries as well. The expectation of those pessimistic about the US side prevailing in the contest with the PRC is that there will be a substantial depreciation of the US dollar within the next term in office of the President of the US, whether this be Trump or another individual.
Under President Xi Jinping, China has quietly been making moves to prepare for just such a reset in the value of the US dollar, and for the subsequent toppling of the currency from its post-1971 position of global reserve currency of choice for the world. Since President Xi took office in 2012, the PRC has bought gold on an unprecedented scale, purchasing about 30-50 tonnes each month, while at the same time producing more gold domestically than any other country, none of which is allowed to be exported. The present gold reserves within the control of the authorities in China are estimated to be as high as 15,000 tonnes, with some estimates breaching the 20,000 tonne mark. Combined with the move by Xi Jinping to install Blockchain technology within the monetary system, the opinion of war planners and forecasters is that China is positioning itself to make an RMB “backed by gold and verifiable by Blockchain the safest reserve currency in the world once the US dollar gets toppled”, according to a war planner who studies developments in the PRC from his home base. Asked about the problems created by the enormous debt burden in China, the response of planners pessimistic about US prospects for victory (especially in the context of India adopting a non-aligned policy during the conflict) was that “the communist state owns all the land in the country”, and that such a holding provides a reserve to sustain even so large a debt. “So long as its citizens have confidence in the longevity of the rule of the CCP, the leadership core will have the means to ensure that a meltdown in the economy does not take place”, an analyst temporarily based in Hong Kong stated. Of course, a prime objective of war planners hostile to the notion of China replacing the US as the global Numero Uno is to ensure that conditions get created that would substantially erode such a trust in the CCP among citizens of the PRC. Meanwhile, the Chinese leadership has not been complacent of the dangers facing its continued control. In a sign that he recognises that the 21st century requires a paradigm change in economic and financial policy, President Xi Jinping declared on 22 October that adoption of Blockchain technology would form part of the core of state policy. Meanwhile, the Peoples Bank of China has unveiled a Digital Currency Electronics Payment system that has been reinforced by the PRC’s new cryptocurrency law. Together with advances in Artificial Intelligence (which relies less on innovation than on continuous and massive inputs of data) and bio-technology, Xi Jinping is seeking to convert China into a global technological powerhouse that will far outstrip the US. In such a context, taking over control of Taiwan with its advanced computing and tech skills is a priority for the PRC. Not surprisingly, preventing this from taking place has become a core US interest.
According to the war planners spoken to, the Belt & Road Initiative “has become a method for China to exchange soon-to-depreciate US dollars into physical assets” in a range of countries. Countries involved in the BRI incur debts to China that finally get repaid by transfer of assets to PRC entities, as has recently happened for example in Sri Lanka. Thus, US dollars (the currency mostly used for BRI financial computations) are being exchanged for physical assets that can collectively add to China’s ability to replace US-controlled global supply chains with their own. At the same time, China has become a key holder of Bitcoin, even while Indian monetary authorities seek to roll back the waves in the manner of Canute by passing an impossible to enforce law banning bitcoin. China sought to do the same in 2017 and quickly reversed course once the CCP leadership understood both the impossibility of such a prohibition as well as the advantages of being a world leader in a currency of the future attuned to internet-enabled systems and processes.
About the role of India in the US-China contest, little is known about the views of the establishment, and the less said about what little is known the better. Lutyens Zone Thought still appears to permeate some sections of the establishment, with the consequence that India is at risk of becoming a bystander rather than a major player in the Global Great Game being played out on the geostrategic chessboard. Chidambaram-era policies that have been continued by North Block are extinguishing the widespread expectation of sustained double digit growth that got formed when Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014. “Either policymakers in India are unaware of the situation, or are not bold enough to make the moves needed to take advantage of it”, pointed out an analyst, adding that “the existing window of opportunity for India to leverage geopolitical conditions to substantial advantage will close once the US-China contest is on a clear path to a decisive verdict, and such an outcome will happen within the next US Presidential term”. Citizens with faith in Narendra Modi look forward to Modi 2.0 getting supercharged in the period ahead, thereby avoiding Jawaharlal Nehru’s mistake of frittering away several opportunities that were open to India during the 1950s. That period witnessed dismal economic growth and increased rather than reduced state control over the lives of citizens and private institutions.