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.

India-Taiwan (IT) era has finally arrived (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Interest and investment of Taiwanese companies in India have accelerated.

There has long been talk (albeit less action) about “IT” (India-Taiwan), a potential partnering of two sides, the first of which has established global leadership in computer software, while the other is a world beater in computer hardware. If the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is rapidly catching up with the US in advanced technologies, substantial credit goes to Taiwan. Since 1989, thousands of technology companies from that dynamic island have moved operations across the Taiwan Straits, generating within the PRC hundreds of billions of dollars in turnover and millions in jobs. Deng Xiaoping ensured that China provided a welcoming regulatory field for such a transmission of industrial power from across the straits, setting up free trade zones that had minimal regulatory requirements that combined with generous avenues for repatriation of profits and for recruitment of personnel from different locations. The close fit between Taiwanese technology companies and facilities located within the PRC has been predicated on a congruence of geopolitical interests between Washington and Beijing, a situation that ceased to exist more than a decade ago. Since 2018, all pretence of conciliatory cooperation (and indeed cohabitation) between the US and the PRC ended with the declaration of the trade war between the two economies, a conflict that has such deep roots within the societies and economies of the two countries that a genuine reconciliation of interests in a manner that satisfies both sides is a distant objective. Taiwanese tech companies are, for the first time, having to choose between China and the US. Those closely networked to the former are unlikely to be welcome to operate freely in the latter. An increasing number will therefore have to relocate to countries other than the PRC, locations that are deemed to be friendly to the US rather than those that are designated as rivals or worse by the US Department of Defence in its published estimates and reports. Given changes in the regulatory and tax structure, as well as a level of efficiency that has eluded the bureaucracy in India for long, India in 2019 would be a far more attractive destination for relocation of Taiwanese technology companies than nearby competitors for investment such as Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. The human material available in India is on a scale and of a quality that any global company would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. For the first time, there has been a sharp acceleration in the interest and investment of Taiwanese companies in India, with the levels of both in 2018 being greater than the total of the previous 51 years. Excellent leadership at both the India mission in Taipei as well as the Taiwan mission in Delhi has played a keystone role in such a development, as has the momentum given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Make in India process. Building on this, a quantum leap needs to get made, such that Taiwanese investment in India gets across the $20 billion mark within two years and $50 billion by 2024.
In common with entrepreneurs in several other countries, Taiwanese companies tend to follow the leaders in their field, and hence the convincing of such elements that India is the ideal location for them to move production and research facilities from China to India becomes a primary task. A substantial and systematic effort needs to be launched to connect with hundreds of technology companies in Taiwan, so that they may be incentivised to relocate to India. A visit to the technology parks in Hsinchu or a stroll around the Taipei tech park would illustrate what manner of facilities need to be set up in different locations in India. An advanced Research & Development facility could be set up in Haryana within driving distance of the international airport. Production facilities by Original Equipment Manufacturers would need to be set up near ports, in view of the economies in costs of shipping finished products rather than getting ferried by air. While an R&D facility may be smaller, parks designed for production of components need to be on a substantial scale, as close to 10,000 acres as is feasible in Indian conditions. Such parks would be able to outbid substitute locations in Vietnam and elsewhere, were there to be a tax holiday for three years, with a taper period of two additional years before taxes on a regular scale get levied. Power and water need to be available on a 24/7 basis, as also the treatment of waste water. Prime Minister Modi has frequently emphasised the advantages of hygiene and cleanliness in a manner that none of his predecessors attempted, and the proposed, technology parks set aside for Taiwanese units need to have high standards of cleanliness and maintenance of facilities. Given the problems faced by citizens in dealing with government agencies, investors in such facilities need to have access to a 24/7 helpline that would not simply be a PR exercise but would genuinely act as a channel through which issues cropping up can get resolved in a speedy manner. Over the years, Taiwanese companies have developed an ecosystem suited to their needs in the PRC, and an integrated ecosystem needs to be created in India that ensures a high level of acceptance of the shift from China to India.
While the 1980s were a period where it was difficult to locate a resident of Taiwan who could speak English, these days most educated youth are familiar with the language. Hence the “language advantage” that China once had for Taiwanese companies is much reduced in scale. However, the good news is that the number of Indian students in Taiwan is growing, assisted by the fact that the degrees of one side is recognised by the other. Additionally, what is needed is for young Taiwanese to form a “Peace through Language Corps” and come to India for a year or two to teach Mandarin. Should the Taiwanese government encourage companies to treat such sojourns as unpaid leave, or accept such activities as the equivalent of mandatory military service, people-to-people linkages would grow through such a program. High-tech companies in Taiwan are increasingly having to choose between traditional markets such as the US and the EU and continuing the practice of concentrating production facilities in China. Such units may soon need to choose an alternative location, and it would be well within the capability of the Modi government to ensure through a suitable plan of action that this be India.

Sunday 10 November 2019

Warning: PC Network is striking back (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

North Block and the babus have armed themselves with punitive powers.

The single biggest impediment to growth in India is the battery of prosecutable violations of the statute and the regulations, both of which have been made so opaque and complex by North Block that strict adherence to the same is practically impossible for most enterprises operating in India, thereby ensuring that officials on the hunt for bribes have a plentiful field of victims. Some weeks ago, this columnist had in a front page article yet again pointed to the depth and toxicity of the “PC network” within the portals of the present administration. This is a web of corrupt officials, bankers and businesspersons that have relentlessly skewed economic performance for personal gain. It had been mentioned in the report that some names of influential citizens with illicit foreign accounts in the list that had been furnished by Germany to India went missing when the list was handed over to authorities outside North Block. The long-term closeness in both word and deed of a senior ED official to a very senior Congress politician was mentioned, as also the efforts of the daughter of a now deceased politician to secure for herself some of the multiple benami assets of the departed leader. Days after the report got published, this columnist was warned by a well-wisher in the system that “unpleasant consequences were being planned» by members of the PC network holding high positions within the government.They sought to punish him for his effrontery in exposing patches of rot. Perhaps by coincidence ,  on 1 November, on his return from a visit to the US, a missive from the Central GST Deputy Commissioner of the jurisdiction where this columnist resides was awaiting perusal. Dated 14 October, the communication carried a warning that a reply needed to be sent “within 10 days”, although the missive had not been received by 20 October, the date this columnist left for Washington. The letter claimed that there “appears to be a short payment of taxes paid during 2015-16”, and that “Copy of Balance Sheet, Profit & Loss Account, ST 3, 26AS and ITR for that year be furnished”. All such records are of course easily accessible within government to the department in question, as would be details of bank accounts and a host of other matters involving citizens, especially in the smartphone era. Why citizens are asked over and over to give information that is already accessible within government is yet another sign that the time of the citizen is regarded as being wholly at the disposal of government agencies to expend, as indeed are most of their incomes. Balance sheets and other records were demanded, but names not being mentioned, it was left to the columnist to figure out what was meant. North Block and others across the bureaucracy have armed themselves with punitive powers far in excess of those given to officials in the days when the Union Jack flew over the then Viceregal Palace. Even technical and harmless transgressions (even when not proven) have been made subject to prosecution and imprisonment, making  rational individuals hesitate before undertaking any activity in India other than joining politics or the gazetted services. It is child’s play for India’s babus to conjure up some technical issue that can be used as an excuse for harassment and worse. In India, the bold and the innovative usually fall foul of some greedy official, and succeed only after moving to a more hospitable overseas location. Investors and entrepreneurs remain bound hand, foot and mouth by the all-powerful official machinery in India.
Whatever be the reason for the Deputy Commissioner’s demand, which followed the expose on the PC network, he as well as those much below him in the pecking order have wide punitive powers, including that of prosecution and the right to repeatedly ask a citizen for more and more tranches of information (all readily available to the authorities) that would be impossible to procure even after spending 18 hours each day for an indeterminate period by the target individual. An income-tax raid would mean forced confinement in a room of the entire family, sometimes for days and weeks. It would mean the seizing of any bit of paper or electronic equipment found in the location, and the freezing of bank accounts, leaving those affected to beg for charity from friends who have somehow escaped a similar fate. Its continuing colonial culture has meant that India is among the easiest of countries for any of a widening pool of officials to send any citizen to jail. Despite being certain that all taxes due have been paid, a copy of the 14 October missive was sent by this columnist to his chartered accountant, who has the task of ensuring that all taxes due get paid out of actual income. Anecdotal evidence suggests that similar and indeed harsher notices are raining like confetti across India, as our bureaucracy strives to do what it has been taught by the British colonial masters to do, which is to grab as much from the pockets of taxpayers as possible, now that the coercive and intrusive powers of so many layers of officials have been vastly expanded from the already excessive levels present in pre-1947 India. A lack of respect for, and confidence in, the citizen has been a characteristic of the bureaucracy even after 1947, and has manifested itself through the many coercive powers that politicians have bestowed on it.  For India to grow, North Block has to have faith in the citizen, in the manner Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed at the very start of his tenure, when he replaced with self-verification of documents the previously mandatory signature of a gazetted officer. The plethora of repressive and regressive rules (and their accompanying punishments) in a presumed democracy is the principal cause of the difference in performance of Indian nationals within the country and in locations such as the US, Europe or other places where per capita incomes are far higher than the meagre levels achieved by India even 72 years after 1947. The more restrictive the regulations, the more corruption grew, and the less the appetite to invest in India. Although our politicians point to the economic growth of the country, this is half what it could be, if North Block moved away from its colonial ways.
Ministers and officials need to take the cue from Prime Minister Modi’s 15 August speech and make the doing of business in India a pleasure rather than a risk-laden enterprise for those not having influential officials and politicians in their pockets. Nirmala Sitharaman has made welcome moves to reverse some of the Chidambaram-style ways that ought to have disappeared in May 2014 rather continue into 2019.More is needed. Extraordinary powers need to be used only in exceptional cases rather than indiscriminately. They should get used on the few dozen involved in huge losses to the exchequer caused by under or over invoicing, or on the handful of PC network operators manipulating stock exchanges the way this toxic cabal has done for many years. Scams that destroy confidence in the market (such as co-location) need to be prosecuted US-style with massive fines and in some exemplary cases with prison terms, rather than ignored because babus act to protect their own. Vultures who have siphoned off huge amounts from banks should either pay up or lose their liberty. It is wrong to use to indiscriminate effect an AK47 whose fire gets directed at masses of citizens, rather than employ a sniper rifle that is focused on India’s mega depredators. The AK 47s so plentifully handed over by trusting politicians to the babus clustered around them are often wielded by corrupt elements angered by any attempt at exposure of systemic rot. The continuance of such a situation is not acceptable in a country where Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister.

Saturday 2 November 2019

Donald Trump and Ilhan Omar unite for Erdogan (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

The same Trump who had headed the global campaign against Wahhabism has joined forces with the only Wahhabi ever elected to the US Congress.

WASHINGTON: The first warning sign that US President Donald J. Trump had thawed towards the Wahhabi International came when he appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as his envoy in Afghanistan. “Zal” had worked there as a representative of Unocal in the 1990s. President Bill Clinton’s role in building up the assets of the Wahhabi International prior to 9/11 has never been seriously investigated, nor of course have the actual sources of much of the funding received by the Clinton Foundation during the period when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Before “Zal” could ensure that the Taliban march into Kabul in 2019 the way he helped them to do in 1996, saner voices managed to persuade Trump to reverse Khalilzad’s policy of surrender to the Taliban, although the steady weakening of the US military footprint in Afghanistan continues. Should US forces abandon Afghanistan the way Soviet troops did in 1988, India will need to ensure that the Afghan National Army prevail against the Taliban, by assisting the ANA in a much more robust manner than the limited assistance given to the Northern Alliance in the 1990s. In another abject surrender to the dictates of the Wahhabi International, President Trump has now betrayed the Kurdish forces that had helped destroy much of ISIS. He first forced the Kurdish militia to abandon their forward defences on the Turkish border, promising them that R T Erdogan’s forces would not thereafter walk in, which is exactly what the Wahhabi leader of Turkey did. History will record Trump’s 2019 sacrifice of the Kurds as similar to the Franco-British betrayal of Czechoslovakia in 1938. The Czechs were made to give up their forward fortifications on the promise by Paris and London that Adolf Hitler would not invade the weakened Slav republic, a promise that Hitler broke within days of the Czech pullout. The same Trump who had headed the global campaign against Wahhabism has morphed into an apologist for that 300-year-old creed, joining forces with the only Wahhabi ever elected to the US Congress, Representative Ilhan Omar, on issues such as blocking the effort by the US Congress to impose sanctions on Erdogan. Shamefully, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is assisting President Trump and Representative Omar in their joint efforts at preventing sanctions legislation against Turkey from being passed. Despite Trump and Omar, HR 4695 passed in the House of Representatives by 403 votes to 16 on October 16. A panicky Mitch McConnell is now working to ensure that the US Senate not pass the same legislation. Interestingly, just when President Trump has embraced the Wahhabis, Senator Lindsey Graham has redeemed his honour by moving away from them, working together with Senator Christopher Van Hollen to try and get passed the same sanctions legislation that was passed by the House of Representatives.
Senator Graham has ignored calls from the Trump-Omar duo to protect Erdogan, and has tabled that the same “Protect Against Conflict by Turkey” Act passed by the House of Representatives be brought forward for adoption by the US Senate. This move is being opposed by Erdogan backer  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The argument used by him is that Turkey is a NATO member and hence should not be sanctioned, even when acting in a manner hostile to NATO, as Erdogan has been doing for the past six years. This includes his backing of elements in the Middle East that are indistinguishable from ISIS. The only way for Turkey to de facto (rather than merely de jure) return to NATO and to act in congruence with US security interests (rather than against them as now) is for Erdogan to be removed from office. This will happen once the Turkish economy goes into free fall as a consequence of sanctions. At present, Trump (to the relief of Omar) is refusing to impose even sanctions mandated by US law, such as those needing to be applied now that Russian S-400 missile batteries have been installed in Turkey and are being manned by Russian crew. The departure of Erdogan from power is the only method of returning Turkey to the Kemalist path and away from the adventurism and support for extremism that Erdogan has steered his  country into. As for the fear that Erdogan may walk out of NATO should sanctions be imposed, the country is already in effect linked to the China-led military alliance that now rivals the US. The reality is that the sanctions listed in HR 4695 are essential to return Turkey to its anti-Wahhabi past. Should Mitch McConnell have his way and the US Senate avoid backing HR 4695 expeditiously, the US alliance system in Asia would begin to unravel, with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar installing S-400 units and thereby moving away from  21st century high-tech defence cooperation with the US. It is, therefore, essential for the US Senate to overcome the obstacles created by Trump in the passage of sanctions legislation against Turkey.
Erdogan and some ill-intentioned billionaire interests in the Middle East are working at speed to assist the Muslim Brotherhood to retake power in Egypt and to remove the royal houses of the UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and finally Qatar (although the Al Thanis seem to have forgotten the warning that assisting Wahhabis will ultimately result in their replacement with the very same Wahabbi elements they are so generously assisting). This would be a strategic disaster not only for the US but for India. The leader of the ongoing Wahhabi counter-attack on the growing list of those who seek their emasculation is Erdogan, and the way to ensure his downfall is to send the economy of Turkey into a downward spiral through the imposition of US-EU sanctions. In this contest, the unnatural alliance of Donald J. Trump and Ilhan Omar must not prevail. The US Senate needs to immediately approve HR 4695 with as overwhelming a majority as secured in the House of Representatives a few days ago. Hopefully, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not allow his name to emit a rancid odour in history by continuing to block sanctions on Turkey at the behest of the Wahhabi International.