Saturday 26 January 2019

Protect Saarc minorities within their lands, not here (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

The offer of refuge in India could incentivise Wahhabi fanatics in Pakistan and Bangladesh to drive out Hindus, Sikhs and Christians from these two countries.

The 8 November 2016 demonetisation of 86% of the country’s currency was intended to (a) deliver a killer blow to black money, (b) choke off counterfeiting and terror funding, (c) ensure a transition from cash to plastic in payments, and (d) give a massive boost to the taxpayer base. However, the biggest demonetisation in world history had unforeseen effects on the small-scale and the farm sector, aftershocks that are still being felt. Another epochal economic step, the GST, had through the method of its rollout, the effect of sharply raising both the costs as well as the difficulties of compliance. Those operating across the country were made to file returns that were sometimes a hundred times more in number than in the past, given that each state necessitated a separate set of filings. Now that the GST has been simplified, instead of filing 900 returns, a businessman known to this columnist files a bit over 500. Pre-GST that number was less than a dozen, all of course yearly.
No wonder that issues of compliance are resulting in frayed tempers and lower than expected collections. The suggestion being made by the Government of India that religious minorities within SAARC countries need a fast track towards citizenship is laudable from the viewpoint of human rights. Protection of minorities is the mark of a civilised society, and countries across the world have opened their borders to those being persecuted because they belong to minority communities. Yazidis, Roma and Kurds are examples of minority groups that have undergone immense pain at the hands of other sections of society. Within SAARC, Hindus and Christians in Pakistan have been made almost extinct by a policy of suppression that has escaped those human rights warriors who daily berate India. The population of religious minorities in Pakistan has fallen from a third to a thirtieth since 1947. In Bangladesh, the Pakistan army launched a programme of genocide in 1970 that led to millions of Hindus fleeing across the border. Unfortunately, the Government of India refused to hold accountable any of the Pakistan army officers and men responsible for the massacre of Hindus and Awami League members. The 93,000 Pakistan army prisoners were sent back to Pakistan without any of them being held accountable in the slightest for acts of genocide. Many may have been given a farewell feast by Indian authorities before being sent back to Pakistan. In Bangladesh, the mistreatment of Hindus continues, and even after 1972, a steady flow of refugees (mainly Hindu, but soon afterwards Muslim as well) came across the border, mainly to Assam and to other parts of the Northeast. While there has been much talk about sending such infiltrators back, successive governments in the Lutyens’ Zone have forgotten these words once they came to office. And now there is a proposal to fast-track citizenship for Sikhs, Hindus and Christians coming to India from SAARC countries.
Just as in the case of GST or DeMo, there may lurk unintended consequences in such an altruistic move, apart from the fact that several Muslims as well suffer discrimination, especially the Shia or groups such as the Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan, who have been cruelly persecuted since the1970s. Among them is the fact that the offering of such a refuge in India could incentivise Wahhabi fanatics in Pakistan as well as in Bangladesh to drive out as many Hindus, Sikhs and Christians as possible from these two countries. Such an ethnic cleansing would be welcome to Wahhabis in the two countries, who seek a monochrome society in which divergence is regarded as a crime, and to many zealots, as a capital offence. Opening the doors to citizenship in a country that already has 1.27 billion lawful residents may create a refugee flood should more fanatic regimes come to power in Dhaka and Islamabad, a prospect that is impossible to rule out. Such regimes could be expected to make matters so intolerable for the Hindus, Sikhs and Christians living in our western and eastern neighbours that hundreds of thousands and possibly millions will cross over. Of course, such a flow of minorities away from their countries would be encouraged by any future Wahhabi regime taking office in either Bangladesh or Pakistan. Or the Pakistan army may decide that our move towards citizenship of minorities in Pakistan represents an opportunity to sweep away such elements across the border, and initiate steps that would make such a human flow take place. Of course, it must be added that the idealism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be noted. It is clear that the move proposed by him will put in jeopardy the hopes of the BJP for a sweep of the Lok Sabha seats in the Northeast, as seemed likely until the policy was announced. Now the party may find its tally even in Assam sharply reduced as a consequence of ire against what is widely perceived to be a red carpet for those infiltrating from Bangladesh, even if Hindu. At the same time, the move is unlikely to affect the TMC tally in West Bengal, as that party anyway welcomes all migrants, whether they be from the majority or minority population in Bangladesh. Despite the electoral cost, Prime Minister Modi has gone ahead with the plan to provide a refuge to members of the minority community within countries within parts of the SAARC zone that are facing persecution.
Prime Minister Modi has often acted out of idealism, as witness his alliance with the PDP in Jammu & Kashmir and the sudden visit to the country home of Nawaz Sharif. However, rather than an open door policy, what needs to be done is vigorous action by India to impose costs on countries that mistreat their minorities. Consistent pressure has to be brought upon them, and all available fora have to be taken advantage of to identify and shame policymakers in Pakistan or Bangladesh who ill-treat minorities. India fighting for the rights of religious minorities within their own countries may be preferable to giving fanatics in such countries an excuse to drive them out of their own territory by looking to India as a country willing to accept those targeted for persecution in neighbouring nations.

Saturday 19 January 2019

Shooting the truth teller is not ‘positivity’ (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
The undifferentiated hurrahs that Modi followers shower on every action of the government have led to complacency that course corrections were not needed.

There are those for whom Narendra Modi can do no wrong, and others for whom he can do no right. The first group justify their uncritical stance as being based on “positivity”, forgetting that telling truth to power is usually the most positive contribution an individual can make. The second regard themselves as soldiers in what they call a war against fascism, omitting to add that were the regime truly such, such critics would by now have been in prison. Given the profusion of reading matter (especially online) that comes hurtling at an individual these days, it is no surprise that many confuse possible post-poll leadership scenarios with a pre-poll leadership situation in the BJP. There is no doubt that Narendra Modi (who was identified in 2006 as the next Prime Minister of India by this columnist) will be the Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Should the BJP tally in the Lok Sabha cross 220, it is reasonably certain that Modi will continue to occupy 7 Lok Kalyan Marg for a fresh term. Should his party’s tally fall below 180, it will be difficult for the next government to have a BJP leader at its head. Between 180 and 220 seats, it is still feasible for the BJP to come back to office. However, in such a situation, prospective allies may prefer a less assertive leader than Modi, who since 26 May 2014 has run the government in his individualistic manner with the assistance of Arun Jaitley and Amit Shah. Let it be repeated that first among those within the BJP who would fit the leadership bill in a 180-220-seat context is Nitin Gadkari. The Maharashtra leader is known and liked for his easygoing spirit and his accessibility, although it must be said that Rajnath Singh too has both these qualities. Where Gadkari scores is that unlike Rajnath, who seems (outwardly at least) to have become almost a bystander in his ministry, Nitin Gadkari controls the departments he is tasked with, and has therefore done a much better job of generating results than his less autonomous ministerial colleagues. Stating the obvious is not the same as expressing a personal preference, although dedicated Modi followers may not bother with such differentiations in meaning. The undifferentiated hurrahs that they shower on every action of the government may have led to complacency that course corrections were not needed, when in fact they have been since 2015.
It bears repeating that lower taxes and regulations, coupled with—at long last—the beginning of work on the construction of a Ram Temple at Ayodhya, are needed to ensure that the NOTA column or voter abstentions do not snuff out the BJP’s chances for a majority, the way it happened in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections. It has become fashionable for commentators to say that that the Ram Temple is not a “big” issue. They forget the largely subliminal vein of Hindu victimhood that keeps swelling. Also, elections are won through energetic work by the party cadre and through the mobilisation into voting booths of supporters. If the timeline for the construction of the Ram Temple continues to get pushed to an uncertain future (as often takes place with judicial proceedings), energy among campaigners for PM Modi’s return to power will remain less than what it was in 2014. Few during those days forecast that work on the Ram Temple would remain at a standstill even by 2019, or that taxes would be higher now than they were during the Chidambaram period. Or that Manmohan Singh’s record of jailing alleged VVIP offenders would remain better than that of the NDA thus far. Or that both RTE as well as Article 370 would remain unchanged; or that temples would remain firmly in state control, the way they were placed by the British. Not to forget the pitiful level of social services provided by the state in India, which makes present tax rates way too high to attract the 90 million or so citizens whose incomes are above taxable limits, but who have yet to file a return. An annual rate of GDP growth of 11% is the minimum needed for societal stability, so current growth rates are much below what is needed to ensure a sufficiently wide dissemination of a feeling of “Achhe Din”. To ardent followers, the mere sight of Prime Minister Modi on television is sufficient to give an adrenaline high, but to other voters, more, much more, than inspirational and exhortative words is needed. Of course, emotion sometimes proves a vote getter the way it did in 1971 or 1984, when Indira Gandhi and later Rajiv Gandhi romped to massive victories on the back of emotional appeal. There are hints that PM Modi and FM Arun Jaitley will very soon unveil a Basic Income scheme to generate a swelling of support. Whether such a move will change lives sufficiently by April to alter voter preferences remains to be seen.
Any anti-corruption drive that fails to bring into its penal net the VVIPs (repeat, not only ordinary people, not just VIPs, but VVIPs) known to have amassed billion dollar fortunes through their grasp of power is similar to the bite of a toothless dog. Promises of future action will not compensate for disappointment among voters that not a single UPA-era VVIP has been incarcerated for loot since Manmohan Singh’s time. The post-election arithmetic of Lok Sabha seats will determine whether Saffron Supremo Narendra Modi continues as PM, or makes way for another BJP colleague, or hands over power to an Opposition candidate. Pressing the Modi government to ensure VVIP accountability, reduce tax rates and regulations to leave more spending power with consumers and create an atmosphere in industry and services for rapid expansion, and start work on the Ram Temple is not negativity but the most positive contribution that can be made by ordinary citizens. Doing such deeds within the next fifty days would make more likely a second term for Prime Minister Modi. Condemning those who point this out is not “positivity”, but the self-deception that has till recently generated complacency in followers of PM Modi about the 2019 result.

Xi Jinping challenges Donald Trump to battle over Taiwan (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
It is clear from President Xi’s New Year speech on Taiwan that he believes that PLA is battle ready to unify Taiwan with Mainland China by force.

TAIPEI: During the first five-year term of former Chinese President Hu Jintao, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) began its program of “Anti-Access Area Denial” (A2AD) against United States forces operating in the vicinity of Taiwan (otherwise known as the Republic of China). The helplessness of the PLA Navy to deter the two US Navy carrier fleets that sailed across the Taiwan Straits in 1996 resulted in the realisation within the Central Military Commission (CMC), then headed by Jiang Zemin, that the technological capability of the forces under its command was comprehensively inferior to those mobilised by Washington. After a careful study of needs and capabilities, plans were therefore begun to be implemented from 2004 onwards to (a) bolster anti-satellite capability, (b) build up anti-ship ballistic missile capacity, and (c) ramp up cyber and other offensive modes. The aim was to ensure that the PLA air, land, space, cyber and sea forces acting in unison had the capability to sink two carrier fleets, if called upon to do so. Once such a capacity got acquired, the generals in Beijing believed that Washington would not dare to intervene on the side of Taipei, should there be a cross-straits conflict. The growing confidence of PLA’s officer corps has been increased by the victory of the PRC-leaning Kuo Min Tang (KMT) in the just-concluded local body elections in Taiwan. The KMT inflicted major defeats on the US-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In the capital city of Taipei, the China-friendly physician, Ko Wen je retained his Mayoralty. This has given traction to the belief that the overwhelming majority of the Taiwanese people, including units of the armed forces, would be bystanders during a PLA attack on the island, rather than actively resist the force.
On New Year, President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) outed that confidence when he gave a speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act in the US Congress. The Act implies, but does not explicitly assure that the US would undertake active military measures to deter, or when necessary, defeat an armed attack by the PLA on Taiwan. In Xi’s speech, the most explicit of any made by a Chinese leader since the days of Mao Zedong, the President of the PRC gave notice that his patience was wearing out in the matter of the unification of the RoC (Taiwan) with the PRC, and that unless the political leadership in Taipei indicated an acceptance of an improved version of the One Country Two Systems model adopted in the case of the 1997 Hong Kong handover from Britain to China, military force would not, as in the past, be a last resort. Armed force would be brought forward as almost the first option to be considered and carried out by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership. Xi made it clear that the longstanding formula of the “92 Consensus” that had served as cover for the status quo across the straits needed to be reformulated. Instead of both sides having different interpretations of what “One China” meant, there was room only for a single interpretation, which is that Taiwan had to be incorporated into the PRC. The change in tone by Beijing met an immediate response from RoC President Tsai Ing-wen, who replied in Taipei that the only “consensus” accepted by her government was that both sides of the Taiwan Straits were separate entities and would remain so. It is clear from President Xi’s New Year speech on Taiwan that he, as Chairman of the CMC, believes that the PLA is battle ready to take on the responsibility of unifying Taiwan with Mainland China by force. It was also evident that he believes that the deterrence capability of the forces under his command was by now sufficient to deter the US from intervening on behalf of Taiwan, irrespective of the Taiwan Relations Act.
Since taking office as RoC President three years ago, Tsai Ing-wen has quietly been aligning Taiwan with the US in a military partnership, a coming together that got accelerated once Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the US in 2017. Given the topography of the island, which is mountainous on both sides, there are only eleven potential landing sites for attacking forces to come ashore, of which only Taichung and Taoyuan are convenient enough to meet PLA needs of territory suitable for amphibious and airborne landings and subsequent deployment. Even in these sites, control of the airport is essential, as air superiority is a must to counter the smaller but well trained and equipped Taiwanese defence forces. Given the Indo-Pacific strategy adopted by the US military and embraced by the Trump administration, control over Taiwan is essential to give Chinese forces unimpeded access to the waters of the Pacific Ocean. At present, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan block such access. The first three are military allies of Washington, while a second term for the DPP in the 2020 Presidential contest would almost certainly result in Taipei having almost as close a defence relationship with Washington as Manila, Seoul and Tokyo have enjoyed for long. Even should the KMT win in the next presidential elections, global business and financial currents may lead to a steady strengthening of a US-Taiwan security relationship, although the speed may be less than would be the case under the DPP. Should the “status quo” (i.e. no war situation) continue, this would, of course, also be accompanied by a continuation of the close business relationship between Taiwanese business and the PRC. However, President Xi has given notice that Taiwanese entities and personalities will now need to choose between the US and China.
The problem facing the PLA is that China may be on course to overtake the US as a technological and military power, but that level has not been reached yet. Meanwhile, President Trump is working hard to ensure that such a day does not arrive, at least not in the foreseeable future. As a result, the US still enjoys “escalation dominance” in the Taiwan Straits. The PLA has evidently been planning for a situation where there is “vertical escalation”, i.e., that military countermoves by the US to a Chinese attack remain confined to the area around Taiwan, but given the unpredictability of President Trump, it is possible that the US would launch a “horizontal escalation”, taking the fight to South-East Asia and Africa, besides the Indian Ocean Rim. Although the PLA seems confident of its deterrent capabilities, these may get tested were Trump to order a full carrier group (including destroyers and air defence frigates) or even more than one such flotilla to move into the Taiwan Straits. This would confront Beijing with a dilemma, as any effort to block such a movement is likely to—at the least—result in an expansion of the US-China Trade War, besides measures directed against PRC interests that are not exclusive to the military. Japan’s Self Defence Forces may join such moves. An advantage China enjoys is the Moscow-Beijing alliance that has been the result of pressure from the Atlanticist lobby in Washington to continue to prevent the replacement by policymakers of Moscow with Beijing as Threat Number One to US interests, a stance favoured by the Pentagon, but opposed by numerous business groups and their political hangers-on that are making substantial profits through unimpeded trade and technology transfers with China. There is tension in Beijing that Trump may brush aside opposition from pro-China members of the US Congress and the business community to give Taiwanese forces firepower designed to inflict significant damage on the metropolitan centres along the east coast that are the foundation for the economic prowess of the PRC.
In response to the gauntlet flung across the straits by President Xi, the Taiwanese military conducted large-scale drills last week in a show of force designed to deter the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from launching an invasion across the Taiwan Straits. This follows the New Year statement by PRC President Xi Jinping (who is also Chairman of the Central Military Commission) days earlier that made clear that Beijing’s patience was wearing thin, and that the use of the military to speed up the process of unification of both sides of the Taiwan Straits was no longer improbable. Indeed, the indication given by Xi was that preparations for invasion were accelerating. The Chinese President, who is also General Secretary of the all-powerful Chinese Communist Party (CCP) further moved away from the status quo by declaring that the “1992 Consensus” embraced by both sides whenever the Kuomintang Party was in charge in Taipei, no longer represented the original formulation that “there is One China but that the RoC and the PRC have different interpretations of what the term means”. The strategic thinker Su Chi, who invented the term, defined the “1992 Consensus” as describing the status quo between the two sides, where Taipei has de facto independence from Beijing, with its own political and other institutions, including those in charge of the military and foreign policy. As mentioned, President Xi was emphatic that the “1992 Consensus” was based on the unification of the RoC with the PRC. The implication was that the status quo that has been the foundation of KMT policy towards the PRC was no longer acceptable to him. In response, RoC President Tsai Ing-wen countered that the only “consensus” among the people of Taiwan was that they would not merge their territory with that of the PRC. The battle lines have therefore been drawn between the two sides in a manner not seen since the 1950s, when the PRC made a few attempts to capture territory from the RoC (Taiwan).
Since Democratic Progressive Party leader Tsai Ing-wen took over as President of the RoC three years ago, she has followed a policy of linking Taiwan with the US on matters of security. Cooperation and consultation between Washington and Taipei on military and intelligence matters is higher than at any stage since the early 1970s, when US President Richard M. Nixon (assisted by National Security Advisor Henry A. Kissinger) broke off formal ties with Taipei and began a policy of relying on Beijing as one of the most important geopolitical allies of the US. Over the next two decades, the PRC gave invaluable assistance to the US in checkmating and in weakening the Soviet Union. Presidents Nixon, Carter and Reagan gave massive assistance to China both in terms of economic benefits as well as on security-related matters, making available technology and materiel on a scale not seen since the 1939-45 war, when the US helped Britain and later the Soviet Union to defeat Hitler-controlled Germany. President Bill Clinton ensured that such a flow of benefits remained abundant even after the USSR was dissolved in 1992, although as camouflage, he made occasional statements mildly critical of the Chinese Communist Party, a “support in private but oppose in public” line that was implemented subsequently by both President George W. Bush as well as Barack H. Obama. Each remained faithful to the Atlanticist theorem that China was an opportunity, while Russia remained the primary threat. Although President Donald J. Trump has sought to revise a clearly dated Atlanticist doctrine with a formulation giving precedence to the Indo-Pacific, this is being opposed by the Atlanticist lobby in the US. Aware that an actual change in the direction of US policy (as opposed to mere words during the Obama period calling for “a pivot to Asia”) represented an existential threat to the stifling control that they had over US security, mercantile and foreign policy, the Atlanticists have worked with increasing frenzy to remove Trump from office, or if that is not possible, to ensure that he be a single term President. Efforts by Trump to get close to Moscow so that a Moscow-Beijing alliance does not harden into a geopolitical nightmare for US interests have been diluted and deflected by a flurry of unproven and often fantastical allegations that the 45th President of the United States is an agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They are hopeful that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller (whose links with the Clinton machine go back three decades) will be able to justify their trust by concocting a report sufficiently damaging to force the exit of President Trump or at the least, end any hopes that he may have for a second term. Whether they succeed in their “Oust Trump” mission or not, Atlanticists in Washington have succeeded in forging an alliance between Beijing and Moscow that poses a challenge not only to the US but to the European Union, the borders of some of whose members abut a Russia made much more deadly by the alliance between Putin and Xi.
To anger from the numerous US business and other groups that have a direct and indirect fiduciary interest in continuing the longstanding Washington policy of (in practice, if not always in words) supporting China (to the accompaniment of substantial profits) while opposing Russia, in contrast, President Trump has gone against Chinese interests in a manner unprecedented for any occupant of the White House since Harry S. Truman. Aware that recent Chinese strides in advanced technology have the potential to overtake the US within a decade, Trump has brushed aside dovish advice from the Atlanticist establishment in favour of a policy designed to weaken the Chinese economy in a manner so severe that there will be an impact on the hold of the Chinese Communist Party over the world’s other superpower. The US-China Trade War begun by Trump is having a visible impact on the PRC economy, slowing down its expansion. At the same time, because the Atlanticist lobby within the US has prevented the partnership with Russia favoured by Trump, both Moscow as well as Beijing have drawn closer and have formed an alliance that has the capacity to dominate the Eurasian landmass, prising it away from US primacy. China’s new heft within the international community has led to confidence within the Xi-led policymaking matrix in Beijing that Taipei will have no option other than to come closer to Beijing in such a manner that the border between the two sides becomes operationally non-existent. Any drift towards such a situation is anathema to President Tsai and the rest of the DPP, as also to both the Trump as well as the Shinzo Abe dispensations in Washington and Tokyo.
Since President Xi came to power in 2012, the earlier policy of speaking softly and whittling a big stick only in secret has been given up in favour of a more open show of Chinese capabilities and plans. President Xi, who is the strongest leader the PRC has had since Mao Zedong, has drawn a Red Line on Taiwan by declaring that unification within a relatively short time period was his objective, and that if the military were needed to achieve this, so be it. Despite the tensions and dilution of Presidential power created by his Atlanticist foes, a combative President Trump is unlikely to walk away from such a contest, given that the Tsai government in Taipei would be on his side in the developing situation. Dense war clouds have appeared across the Taiwan Straits, while they have yet to disappear from the Korean peninsula.

Saturday 12 January 2019

BJP’s tally will depend on promises kept, not made (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Subtext of 2019 mandate will be the same as for 2014: Not continuity but change.

While voters pay attention to the promises of an Opposition party, they factor in only the achievements of the ruling side. India expected Prime Minister Narendra Modi to leap to a flying start. After all, in 1992, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao (as Minister for Industry), within his first hundred days in office, dismantled several of the hurdles on expansion and investment placed by successive governments till then. His Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh, went the other way and retained most of the existing taxes on citizens of India and domestic companies, even while slashing them on foreign enterprises. Had Singh given tariff cover to Information Technology hardware units owned by his fellow citizens, this country may not have witnessed the flood of imports of IT hardware that has characterised external trade in India since then, including expenditure on mobile handsets by a country where Nokia shut down a giant handset plant in Tamil Nadu owing to issues relating to taxation. In India, it is much easier to shut down a plant than to construct one. Most such growth-dampeners have yet to get cleared. Cultural values, national security, protection of the weaker sections; these are a few of the excuses offered by those who operate from (im)purely commercial motives as they block competition through ministries or the courts preventing fresh capacity. Surprisingly, the incoming government gave a passing grade to its predecessor in the first Economic Survey of the Modi government. Instead, what ought to have been done was to use the atmosphere of goodwill and cooperation created by the BJP’s poll victory in holding a Joint Session of Parliament to rectify several of the blockages to growth and social justice that have long lingered within the governance system. For starters, there needed to be much more transparency and accountability in the civil service than has been the case since Sardar Patel transplanted the Imperial Civil Service practically unchanged into the post-Independence era. The Central government’s power to sanction projects needed to get reduced and much of such residual powers moved downwards to state and even municipal level. A more equitable allocation of revenue than at present needed to get created as would give greater spending power to the lowest units of administration, rather than having vast sums coagulate at the Central level. A Joint Session of Parliament in 2014 or early 2015 to steer through systemic changes would have had an effect even greater than P.V. Narasimha Rao’s reforms during his initial months in office.
Instead of using the Joint Parliamentary Session method sanctioned by the Constitution of India to get through essential business, the Modi government decided to seek a Rajya Sabha super majority by making every state election as important to the BJP government as the national polls. Given their zeal over the next three years to take over political space to a degree not seen since the period when Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and personally handpicked BJP president Amit Shah made a coming together of the Opposition all but inevitable before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Even the CBI or the ED, those immensely useful tools of practical statecraft, will find it a tough slog to separate Mayawati from Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, or to break up the Rahul-Lalu combo in Bihar, the two states responsible for the present BJP Lok Sabha majority. Had the BJP not sought to continue a “Naamdar” as the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, and had the just passed Constitution amendment bill on reservation to “forward” castes been introduced before the Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls, the BJP may have prevailed over the Congress Party in both states. As matters stand, while Chhattisgarh is likely to see a strong Lok Sabha showing by the Congress Party, the BJP is likely to get less than half the seats it had won in 2014 from MP and Rajasthan. Should the Shiv Sena separate from the BJP in Maharashtra, and the Vijay Rupani government keep its present form in Gujarat, the Opposition is likely to get more parliamentary seats than the BJP in both states. The more Rahul Gandhi has been able to fashion Congress policy and tactics different from those witnessed during the UPA era, the tougher it will prove for the BJP to hold the Congress Party to a double digit Lok Sabha tally. Going by present trends, the difference between the Congress and BJP Lok Sabha tally is likely to be below 50 seats, in a context where it would be far easier for Rahul Gandhi than for Modi-Shah-Jaitley (the triumvirate that has dominated politics and the economy since 26 May 2014) to persuade a sufficient number of others to join them in the formation of a majority government. It needs to be added that Nitin Gadkari, were the BJP tally to fall below 220, would be able to move about 60 Opposition MPs more to the BJP corner than the party’s ruling triumvirate. If the BJP’s tally falls below 220, its MPs may have to choose between sitting in the opposition under Modi or returning to government under Nitin Gadkari.
The BJP must have calculated that the Congress Party and others such as the BSP and the SP would follow a reflexive policy of opposition and vote against the Constitution amendment bill in the Rajya Sabha. Instead, Rahul, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav showed dexterity in backing the government’s move, thereby substantially reducing the political benefits of the legislation to the BJP. Had Modi-Shah-Jaitley used the Joint Session route to get passed other measures (such as a ban on Triple Talaq or the construction of the Ram Temple), the BJP may have been able to better convince voters that it was capable of actually fulfilling the promises made to the electorate. Instead, by acting since 2014 as though little could be done until the party had a substantial majority in both Houses of Parliament as well as three-fourths of state Assemblies, the BJP has disappointed those who expected results and not excuses in performance. Should the coming Budget Session get creatively used to ensure a more rational taxation and regulatory regime than the present toxic mishmash, such moves too are likely to see not obstruction but support from much of the Opposition, but overall can slow down a BJP slide. The subtext of the 2019 mandate will be the same as for 2014: Not continuity but change. The more voters believe change is real under the party’s regime, the higher the BJP tally will be. Promises will no longer work, unlike the way they did in the previous election.

Saturday 5 January 2019

PAK GHQ happy at Imran’s bouncers against India (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

The Trump administration is mixing harsh words in public with significant concessions to Islamabad in private. Moscow is giving top of the line offensive military equipment to Pakistan. China too remains a generous armourer of GHQ Rawalpindi.

New Delhi: When GHQ Rawalpindi placed its bets on Imran Khan as the Prime Minister, most likely to carry forward its regional and international agenda in 2015, there were several sceptics among the Corps Commanders who collectively form the Politburo of the ruling power in Pakistan, the army. The former cricketing sensation was known to be “difficult to handle”, given his ego-centric personality and mercurial temperament. However, over the previous six years that he was being carefully studied by the military top brass, Imran Khan had shown himself to be attentive to the needs of the army and attuned to their wavelength, both domestically and externally, if only because of his ambition to head the civilian government in Pakistan. After testing him in informal and quasi-diplomatic missions in Europe, the Middle East, the US and China (which in ascending order are the most important theatres for Pakistan’s military-linked diplomacy), it was decided by the generals that an Imran Khan Prime Ministership would give a misleading and internationally acceptable civilian face to GHQ Rawalpindi’s policies. Thereby, enough camouflage netting could get drawn over military policies concerning terror auxiliaries. Imran was clearly capable of charming sceptical establishments in Washington, London and Delhi into making concessions today on the promise of good behaviour by Pakistan tomorrow. Although Imran Khan saw himself almost as much Brit as he was a native Pakistani (while remaining a nominal Pashtun), such a cultural anchor did not prevent him from accepting the military’s views on how to deal with China, the country that is now seen by GHQ Rawalpindi as central to the future of the troubled and vivisected state. On Afghanistan and India, a Prime Minister Khan would do what the Chief of Army Staff “advised”. Towards mid-2015, the operation to remove Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif through use of the judiciary, which historically has been as dismissive of civilian governments in Pakistan as it has been fawning towards the men in uniform, went into high gear, and was reported in The Sunday Guardian. It may be remembered that Sharif himself was similarly discovered and promoted by the military towards the close of the 1980s, falling foul of GHQ only after he developed unreal views about his actual power by the close of the 1990s and even committed lese majesty by throwing out an army chief and publicly humiliating his successor. The final straw was the attempted exile and replacement of COAS Pervez Musharraf with a known toady in1999, a step too far which led to the Corps Commanders’ coup and the subsequent assumption of authority by the new “CEO of Pakistan”, General Musharraf, who was soon internationally rehabilitated by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s generous and forgiving gesture of recognising the legitimacy of the coup beneficiary’s government and inviting the leading coup beneficiary to Agra in 2001 despite Commando Musharraf being responsible for the Kargil adventure hardly a year back.
In the 2018 national elections, where management of the final outcome by the military was only thinly veiled, the PTI’s Imran Khan followed the GHQ script by squeaking through. A more impressive victory would, it was calculated by the analysts at the ISI, have made the headstrong sportsman “less manageable”. When sworn in as Prime Minister in August 2018, the first task handed over to Khan was to rescue Pakistan from economic collapse through securing an immediate loan of at least $15 billion. This would be on top of the $20 billion already owed to China because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Although the IMF was tapped in the expectation of getting a long-term facility of $8 billion, this stalled because of the insistence of the IMF Managing Director that full details of the moneys received from China needed to be given before the loan application of Pakistan could be considered. Such transparency would have revealed both the rate of interest (known to be on commercial lines) of the Chinese loan, as well as made clear that there was no way Islamabad would be able to repay this loan (the full complement of CPEC moneys from China, once completed, being estimated at $57 billion) without restructuring the debt, an outcome unacceptable to Beijing, which thus far has held back from fresh loans to Pakistan. After this rebuff, Prime Minister Khan turned to friends in the UK, who turned to friends in the US, who in turn contacted Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Tokyo. The consequence was that Saudi Arabia gave $6 billion, the (US and Japan-dominated) Asian Development Bank $7.5 billion and the United Arab Emirates $3 billion and counting. This has rescued Pakistan’s finances from imminent bankruptcy. The utility of Imran Khan as the face of Pakistan’s civilian government in the essential matter of once again enjoying the patronage of Washington has become obvious to the policymakers in Delhi who have been cultivating Washington since 2014.
The Trump administration mixed harsh words in public (which they knew would fall like honey on Indian ears) with significant concessions to Islamabad in private. Apart from rescuing Pakistan from economic collapse after Beijing declined to write another large cheque for the country, the US has taken care of three of the top five non-conventional enemies of GHQ Rawalpindi. While Ehsanullah Ehsan was turned and has now become an ISI asset from his former role as an enemy of the Pakistan army, two other leading commanders of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan have recently been “droned to death” by the US military, which has thus far refrained from similarly acting against India’s foes Hafiz Saeed or Masood Azhar. Of course, verbal and written denunciations of the two come frequently from Trump administration officials, who in this respect behave in a manner very similar to their counterparts in India, where officials are known to mix a drop of action with a ton of verbiage.
President Trump is well on the way to fulfilling another of the demands of GHQ Rawalpindi, this time by withdrawing at least half of the 13,800 US troops still stationed in Afghanistan. This is the residue of a force of 200,000 US troops that began fighting the Taliban in 2001, but which has now tacitly acknowledged defeat against that foe the way the Soviet Union did against the Mujahideen in 1988. The Taliban, whose Pakistan-based supply lines are no secret, now control nearly 54% of the land area of Afghanistan, up from the 29% they had control over less than three years ago. Most of the opium production in Afghanistan takes place within territory controlled by the Taliban, and in which staff of the Pakistan military have free access, although almost always under civilian cover. It is not a coincidence that the situation in Kashmir has been getting exacerbated together with the advance of the Pakistan-backed Taliban forces within Afghanistan. For political reasons related to the 2020 US elections, President Trump needs to declare victory and get his forces almost entirely out of Afghanistan by the close of 2019, and the National Security Council selected by him seems to have decided that the best path to this goal is to replicate the Bush-Cheney decision post-9/11 in 2001 of appointing the lead arsonist (GHQ Rawalpindi) as the firefighter-in-chief. The calculation in Washington is that this time around, any disaster from such a decision will not hit the US, although it will almost certainly impact its strategic ally in the Indo-Pacific, the Republic of India, which too has lately been singing the same US-backed tune of “Let’s talk to the boys from the Taliban”, to the delight of GHQ Rawalpindi. US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is replicating the Bush-Cheney policies during the Trump era, not a surprise in view of his being a lead points man for the same during the disastrous Bush period. Since his appointment in 2014, President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan has zealously followed the line marked for him by the US administration of the day, but appears now to be edging closer to the Hamid Karzai view, which is that obedience to US dictates will inevitably doom Afghanistan into another long night of rule by the Taliban.
The problem facing Ghani is that Russia (a Great Power with the will and the capacity to battle the Taliban) has fallen in step behind China in cosying up to the Taliban’s patron, GHQ Rawalpindi. For the first time ever, joint military exercises between Russia and Pakistan are now regularly taking place in both countries. T-90 tanks and Mi-35 helicopters at least as good as those supplied to India have found their way from Russia to Pakistan. This is the first time that Moscow is giving “top of the line” offensive military equipment to Pakistan, the country with which another war with India is most likely. Of course, just as US military hardware was intended to “fight not India but the Communists”, the increasing supply of military stores flowing in profusion from Moscow to GHQ Rawalpindi is (or so Delhi has been assured) “exclusively for use on the western border” of Pakistan. This tectonic shift in Russia’s policy is taking place despite vigorous Indian diplomacy with the Putin administration, and after massive purchases of Russian equipment, including four new nuclear reactors and the S-400 missile defence system. As a consequence of the last purchase, it is less likely that the US will any more offer such advanced airborne platforms as the F-35, or even that the earlier offer of relocating the F-16 production lines to India from the US still stands. Much more than the purchase of crude oil from Iran, which is an entirely commercial decision, the purchase and installation of the S-400 system from Russia may become a game changer in India-US military relations, and for the worse, unless the fallout gets contained through countervailing measures. It may be added that China remains a generous armourer of GHQ Rawalpindi, and is going ahead with the setting up of assembly lines in Pakistan for the manufacture of advanced Chinese military aircraft, not to mention assistance in the domestic manufacture of aircraft radar and avionics systems, facilities that none of India’s defence partners have thus far offered to host within our country. While Hindustan Aeronautics Limited appears to be slowing down, its equivalent in Pakistan is gathering speed and capability.
While relations between Delhi and Moscow have become cooler in recent years, as evidenced by the warmth of Moscow-Islamabad ties, that with China are still “idling on the runway” as it were, perpetually revving up without a takeoff that could see a shift in emphasis from Pakistan to India on the part of the world’s second biggest economy. Commerce is the top card in Delhi’s hands, but as yet neither has Huawei been permitted to set up 5G networks in India (the way the company has begun doing in the UK) nor has work on either of the proposed China-centric industrial and technology parks agreed upon in India. And given the official constraints holding back such possible revenue earners as million-strong tourist flow from the Peoples Republic of China or relocation of several Chinese enterprises to lower-wage India, the trade deficit between the two countries remains uncomfortably high. In the case of the US, apart from the S-400 shock, other irritants include the oft-declared refusal by Delhi to station troops in either Iraq or Afghanistan, even for the purpose of training local militaries. Not a single sortie has thus far been flown by the immensely capable Indian Air Force against ISIS targets, nor has there been any operation by the well-regarded Indian Navy to assist the US and other powers in the ongoing war against ISIS in the Middle East. Neither has the core India-US defence agreement BECA been signed as yet, nor has there been any serious response to President Trump’s offer to set up advanced military platforms and production capacity in India the way China (and possibly soon Russia) will be doing in Pakistan. Managing the relationship with the globe’s two superpowers (China and the US) as well as our historically closest Great Power (Russia) remains a work in progress so far as the Government of India is concerned.
GHQ Rawalpindi is readying to deliver a blow on India at the coming Financial Action Task Force meeting by accusing it of funding terror groups in Pakistan, and producing manufactured evidence in support of such an allegation. Kulbhushan Jadhav languishes in custody while a doctored case gets created around him about his being a willing catspaw for the highest echelons of India’s national security system. Hectic efforts are ongoing to relight the Khalistan fire, such as through using the Kartarpur corridor to net more recruits to the cause, although the jailing of Sajjan Kumar has impacted such moves. Moves are intensifying through friendly NGOs to get the UN Human Rights Commission to launch a probe on alleged human rights violations in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. In this context, the (often ISI-inspired) attacks in some parts of India on innocent individuals eating or transporting cattle meat have come in handy. The agitation against the Supreme Court-cleared entry of women between 15 and 50 in the Sabarimala temple is being used globally to present Hindus as being patriarchal in their ways. Overall, the ISI’s objective, for which GHQ Rawapindi has given generous support, is to portray India as a cesspool of hate and fanaticism, and Hindus (known globally for ahimsa) as intolerant and violent. Such efforts are likely to intensify ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
The good news is that the internal situation in Pakistan is much more fragile than appears on the surface. The economy, thanks to the chokehold of the military, is faltering, a fact apparently noticed by the Chinese, who are reluctant to throw in good money after bad in a losing bid to keep the Pakistan economy afloat. The US has directed assistance to Pakistan through its allies and not directly, President Trump having been astonished at the vast sums spent by George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama in Afghanistan. Despite some missteps, India is still seen by many within the Trump administration as an indispensable security partner for the US, and by the Chinese Politburo as an essential commercial partner. Before or after the next Lok Sabha elections, the government in place will need to ensure that a policy matrix gets designed that avoids the snares which GHQ Rawalpindi is designing. Steps need to get taken that can ensure the hitherto elusive level of double digit growth, without which it will not be possible to lift hundreds of millions of citizens from poverty within a generation.

IAS-plus: Aligning intent with delivery (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Whoever wins in 2019 will need to bring reforms in the governance mechanism.

Good intentions and ideas on the part of policymakers are useful to the public only to the extent to which they get translated into reality. It is no accident that those beneficial concepts that most effectively became standard practice are the few where subsequent involvement of the official machinery is low, as for example the booking of air and rail tickets online,  or the direct long-distance calling techniques introduced during the 1980s. In the early 1990s, much of the reforms carried out by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao consisted of taking an axe to regulations so that they no longer stood in the way of progress. However, institutional coagulation within the governance mechanism in India has meant that the chokehold of the bureaucracy over much of the activity field of the citizen continues. Given the statements made by Narendra Modi in the years prior to his assuming the responsibilities of the Prime Ministership of India, it was assumed that substantive administrative reform would be among the tasks begun during the very first days in office of the new PM. However, his focus (together with BJP president Amit Shah) has instead been on seeking to ensure that the BJP as a political party gain as dominant a position in both the Centre as well as the states as was the situation for the Congress Party during the tenure in South Block of Jawaharlal Nehru. It is therefore clear that administrative reform is a subject that is intended to be tackled only during the second of what is hoped will be a two-term Modi sarkar. Whoever takes charge of the Government of India in May 2019 will need to make reform of the governance mechanism an immediate priority. For too long, policy passing through the bureaucratic sieve has got diluted and deformed in such a way that its intended benefits get negated by harmful side-effects caused through obvious maladministration.
In the task of placing a satellite into space, every stage of the rocket needs to work with precision. Likewise, every stage of the selection, placement and career progression of individual officers needs to be carried out in a scientific manner. In the case of the selection of the 450-odd members of the higher rungs of the civil service each year, even should the Union Public Service Commission (an institution that has these days escaped the obloquy heaped on other wings of the administration) may indeed select individuals who have within them the characteristics of energy, innovation and integrity needed to be good administrators. However, once the choice gets made, the allocation of the selected individuals within the bureaucracy is a much less orderly exercise. The first twenty or so appointees in the Merit List  are usually assigned departments of their choice, which may or may not be what they are best suited for by training and temperament. The others are frequently placed helter-skelter within the vast machinery of government, often in roles remote from their work experience, educational training or aptitude. Instead, during the period of training, the areas of strength of each appointee should become clear, and these ought to be used to decide placement. The present system is more like an auction, in which different streams and cadres “bid” for a given number of appointees, who once chosen are usually pushed into whatever slot is available at that point in time. In the complexity which marks the 21st century, the “generalist” is as outdated as the dinosaur. Home, Defence, Industry, Finance, Health, Education and other key fields need to get seeded with probationers who are made aware of the special traits that have resulted in such placement, and who are told to focus on gaining proficiency in a field where they may spend almost their entire careers rather than just a few years. Only in (hopefully rare) cases where the initial placement is clearly faulty should such streams get changed so far as the individual officer is concerned. Apart from the UPSC, a statutory body with the same level of protection from outside interference needs to get established. Such a Union Service Monitoring Commission (USMC) would evaluate every officer after 10 years of service (or Director level) and subsequently after every 20 years of service (Joint Secretary level). Each official needs to be judged from the viewpoint of results, integrity and ability to anticipate and act on evolving trends and methods, and those found wanting need to be dismissed immediately (in egregious cases) or quietly given up to three years time in which to locate careers outside the services and move out. The confidential review system is in practice either  a joke or inaccurate because subjective, with almost every candidate scoring high values despite visible (to the civil society at least) lapses in the officer’s performance or in integrity. The option of removal of an IAS-plus officer ( IAS,IPS,IFS,IRS etc) needs to be made real through much more frequent use than has been the case since 1947. There should also be a one-way revolving door while in service, where an official has the option of leaving for private service within his term, but never re-entering save under exceptional circumstances of compelling national interest.
Thanks to a temporary dip in the number of IAS officers available to fill slots that have opened up recently, a larger proportion of those from other services have begun entering this elite service. There exists a case for selecting 25% of IAS officers from among the most deserving candidates in other services (the choosing of whom needs to be through a joint UPSC-USMC mechanism). Another 15% (over ten years going up to 25%) of officers in every service need to be chosen at both Director and Joint Secretary level from outside the civil services, so that their domain knowledge and competence within civil society get utilised rather than ignored. Such appointments should not be on contract, but be based on the same conditions as “direct recruit” officers. There should not, for example, be a “Second Class  IAS” or a “Second Class IRS”, the latter formed through horizontal recruitment on a fixed-term contract. The status, powers and privileges should be the same for all officers. Should any such recruit from outside return to the private sector, he or she will be permanently excluded from any public post. Such a system would foster more competition as well as refresh mindsets.
Much of the problems faced by the Modi government relate to less than wholly satisfactory implementation of ideas, not to mention some less than optimal ideas which are the consequence of too narrow a base of substantive consultation. System-altering administrative reforms need to be at the top of the agenda of the first hundred days of the government that will assume office in five months’ time. India cannot afford to wait another five years for this essential requisite of progress to get done.

Friday 4 January 2019

The bill for property loss must be paid (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Proportionate financial punishment must be carried out in cases of loss of property.

Whether because the colonial structure of governance was retained almost in its entirety after 15 August 1947 or that the Mahatma’s pre-1947 exhortations in civil disobedience have entered into the very marrow of the thought processes of citizens of the Republic of India, there is still a disconnect between public property and the public where much of the population is concerned. Hence the lack of care that is shown to public property, despite it—technically at least—belonging to the people. It is undeniable that the relative few who man the higher rungs of the governance machinery enjoy privileges involving public property that the overwhelming majority of citizens lack. One has only to look at the extra privileges given to VIPs and VVIPs in public (and often private) transport and services, or the speedy takeover post-Independence of luxurious official bungalows in various cities. The luxury bungalows in the capital’s Lutyens Zone need to be auctioned off and their ministerial and official residents shifted to apartment blocks set up for the purpose. Given the poverty of India, those in charge of government or dominating its politics enjoy a lifestyle far in excess of that experienced by their peers in much richer countries such as Singapore or the Netherlands. India’s post-1947 rulers enjoy a lifestyle and privileges in excess of even what British colonial overseers of this country enjoyed. From villas and aircraft at their disposal to never-ending convoys of vehicles or battalions of servile retainers feeding their vanity, our own self-proclaimed followers of Mahatma Gandhi—and their families—lead lives very different from that of the Mahatma and his family. Watching such neo-Maharajas sail past, surrounded by guards and serenaded by flunkeys, citizens may be excused for believing that democracy has not prevented the governors from belonging to an entirely separate planet from the governed. However, now that it is the Tricolour and not the Union Jack that flies above Rashtrapati Bhavan, the high life indulged in by pretend followers of Mahatma Gandhi are not reason enough to destroy property through the carrying out of agitational activity. Those indulging in such activities need to be held to account financially, and there are signs that finally, this may actually be made the norm. Hopefully, there will not be a judicial or other obstacle to efforts being made by the UP government and the Indian Railways to recover at least some of the moneys lost during the CAA agitation as a consequence of deliberate violence against property.
Handheld devices for facial recognition technology need to be distributed for use by those tasked with the protection of law and order so as to identify those guilty of vandalism. Crowd-spotting drones need to be extensively developed and used. Should the perpetrators of violence lack the means to make restitution immediately, a lien needs to be placed on their future income and assets so that the amount due gets paid off over time. Rather than incurring even more public expense through incarceration, what is needed in cases of destruction of property unaccompanied by loss of life is financial restitution. The Indian Railways estimates that the Eastern Railway suffered a loss of $10 million as a consequence of anti-CAA riots, while the damage to the Northeast Frontier Railway was about $1.3 million. Thus far the UP police have yet to give an estimate of the losses that the state has suffered as a consequence of the damage to property caused as a consequence of anti-CAA agitators. It needs to be remembered that private property (such as vehicles or shops) that is damaged should also be compensated from the moneys collected by the authorities from the rioters. Apart from those directly involved in acts of violence to property and the public, those proved through audio and video evidence of having directly instigated the rioters should also be held accountable, and to a greater degree than mere foot soldiers. Proportionate financial punishment needs to get carried out in all cases of loss of property (while loss of life needs to be met by prison, besides financial restitution). In states where the BJP is in opposition and carries out similar acts of vandalism, elements in that party too should be presented with a bill that they need to pay. The BJP leadership needs to move away from its longstanding habit of regarding its own cadres as automatically free from guilt, whether it be in matters of corruption or the causing of loss of property. A party seeking a uniform civil code needs to apply uniform standards to all elements, whether these be rivals or supporters. Those citizens who in India break laws and despoil public property at whim change within hours on landing in countries such as Australia or Singapore, where such behaviour is frowned upon socially and censured, in the latter case, by law. BJP-ruled states have not implemented Nitin Gadkari’s move to make those flouting traffic rules bear a significant rather than derisory cost. This continuing immunity provided to traffic violators does not speak well of a party that claims to be different, but several of whose leaders and cadres continue to follow the same dismal track trod by the political class of the country since India became the first country to free itself of the modern colonial yoke in 1947.
The policy of making those who destroyed public (and private) property pay should initially be implemented in situations where there is clear evidence against specific individuals. As mentioned, methods for collecting such evidence need to be made available not just to regular members of the police force, but to selected members of volunteer groups who work alongside the regular police to ensure that those responsible for violations of the law get identified. Such volunteers should not themselves intervene in situations (save in self-defence or to prevent bodily harm to another), but should confine themselves to collecting proof of wrongdoing of perpetrators of violence. For too long, the destruction of property in the name of freedom to agitate has taken place without any financial blowback. Moves by the Indian Railways and the UP administration to impose costs on genuine—repeat, genuine—depredators need to become the norm, so that a citizen resident in India adopts the same respect for civic behaviour that he or she demonstrates in countries that do not witness the daily paroxysms of violence and destruction that are commonplace in India.