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Thursday, 30 April 2020

Suspense Over Kim Jong Un May Soon End (The Daily Guardian)

Kim


During the just-concluded parliamentary elections in one of the world’s most dynamic economies, South Korea, the opposition parties sought to characterise the idealistic President Moon Jae-Inn as a puppet of the Supreme Commander of North Korea, Kim Jong Un. Their calculation was that South Korean voters would turn away from President Moon because of his efforts at reviving the Sunshine Policy of some past leaders towards North Korea. Instead, the ruling party was returned to power with a comfortable majority. This shows that most of the South Korean electorate are in favour of better rather than tense relations with North Korea and that country’s Supreme Commander. In North Korea as well, large sections of the populace are reported by sources to admire Kim, and are hoping to “see him re-appear in public at an early date.
They feel enthused by visual images of Kim Jong Un, and are becoming apprehensive in view of his long absence” from public view. Such an absence has led to a flurry of theories about the problem. North Korean defectors (many of whom have not gone near that country for decades) claimed that the Supreme Commander suffered either a stroke or a heart attack, and that he has had a surgical procedure that has left him battling for life. Credible sources say that there was an assassination attempt on him by individuals who were regarded as being his supporters. This assassination attempt may, in the view of these sources, have entailed the use of biochemical weapons such as was used to kill Kim’s brother Kim Jong Nam in Kuala Lumpur in 2017. It is known that North Korea has developed a sophisticated kit of such weapons in its underground laboratories, and there is speculation that Otto Warmbier was sent back to the US in June 2017 as a “living” (but soon to be dead) demonstration of North Korea’s bio-chemical weapon capabilities.
Whether Warmbier, who was captured a year ago while about to leave North Korea, was indeed the subject of such a still live demonstration of WMD prowess is unclear. What is obvious is that North Korea has a significant WMD stockpile that its leadership will not hesitate from using as and when deemed necessary. Another theory is that Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un is in seclusion in order to avoid getting infected with Covid-19. However, such a theory seems farfetched in view of the fact that he travelled to unfamiliar shores to meet with President Donald Trump, disregarding the views of some within the core leadership group that the Singapore meeting was a trap designed to cause him harm.
Lack of boldness has not been a characteristic of Kim Jong Un. If credible sources are to be believed, Kim has gone through some trauma but is under the care of his loving and capable sister and is expected to make a recovery such as would enable him to “appear in public and assuage the desire of those millions in the Korean peninsula who regard him as the hero” of a people that shares a part of its ancient traditions and lineage with India. A Bright Sunshine policy designed to improve the living standards of the North Korean people can bring stability to the peninsula. Weakened by the constant efforts at belittling him, President Trump seems unable to go ahead with such a policy, and is persisting with the Clinton-Obama policy of harsh sanctions. It may be remembered that President Clinton oversaw the deadly sanctions on Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of babies in that unfortunate country during the period when Saddam Hussein was left in charge.
This despot of Iraq was permitted to continue to rule by President George H.W. Bush (who even allowed him to massacre Shia and Kurds despite a socalled No Fly zone) and later despatched to the afterlife by President George W. Bush. In the case of North Korea, it is clear that the present policy of crippling sanctions has failed except in making the lives of millions in North Korea miserable. However, President Moon is not being permitted by the US side to go ahead with efforts at ensuring a peaceful future for the entire peninsula. If those sources who say that the situation with regard to Kim (whether he will or will not return to his tasks) are correct, the situation regarding the North Korean Head of Government will become clear in a short time. They add that a return to work by Kim would ensure that both he as well as President Moon of South Korea can resume the “task of ensuring a stable peace in the Korean peninsula such that both sides join hands for prosperity”.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Protect Afghanistan, World From Taliban (Sunday Guardian)

Trump apparently does not care that his newfound friends are going to once again imprison women in their homes, cut throats, and establish a Wahhabi code of law.
President Donald Trump has overall been an effective leader of the US, despite unceasing pressure on him that concluded in the abortive bid to remove him from office through impeachment. However, some of his decisions have shown a disregard for long-term US interests, such as the withdrawals from Kurdistan and Afghanistan. In both instances, after the US military had been getting substantial help from local allies, the latter were abandoned to their worst foes. It is doubtful that the Kurds (or indeed the greater region) will any longer trust in US promises, or in Washington’s willingness to show gratitude for favours received in the past that continue into the present. The sell-out of the Kurds appears to have been at the behest of Senator Lindsey Graham, whose “friendly ties” to the Emirate of Qatar are well known both in his home state as well as in Washington, although unlike “Moscow Mitch” McConnell, he has yet to be called “Doha Lindsey”. Trump’s embrace of R.T. Erdogan must have warmed the hearts of the Turkish strongman’s backers in Doha, while Graham and another US Senator, Chris Van Hollen, appear to have balked at introducing the Graham-Van Hollen bill in the US Senate. They were obviously afraid that it may get passed with a veto-proof majority and annoy Erdogan and the only US Representative who voted against the near-unanimous backing for a similar sanctions bill against Turkey in the House of Representatives, Ilhan Omar, another admirer of Erdogan, despite her claims of following a Left-Liberal ideology. The about turn by Van Hollen and Graham has been good news for Moscow, which can now safely go ahead with finding new markets for its expensive but effective S-400 air defence system. While going in for the S-400, the Narendra Modi government calculated that the sanctions threatened in public and private by several dozen US officials (including the Secretaries of State and Defense) would fail to materialise, and the wager seems to have paid off. US officials have been voluble that the Kurds are in the throes of ecstasy at having been forced by Trump to surrender their forward defence line and have their second-worst enemy, Erdogan (the first having been Abubakr Al-Baghdadi, now in his afterlife) gain the upper hand in his battle to eliminate them. This is as believable as the remark that the Taliban (to whom President Trump has surrendered after a lengthy and costly war in a formal treaty) would “fight Al Qaeda on steroids” as a consequence of such a surrender. Mike Pompeo, who made this statement, has thereby shown that he has a deeply ironic sense of humour, given that Al Qaeda, ISIS as well as the terror groups nurtured by GHQ Rawalpindi have always—repeat, always—found a refuge in those parts of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. And what of the elected government in Kabul? Washington has made outrageous demands, such as that it release the 5,000 Taliban desperadoes in its prisons so that these newfound US partners can return to cut the throats of the members of the Afghan government. US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad seems to have finalised the US draft of the agreement entirely out of notes handed over by the Taliban, for the latter make no promises at all for getting US forces out of the country and threaten the Afghan government with dire consequences unless they—in effect—hand Afghanistan back to the Taliban.
Judging by their published responses to the absurdly labelled “peace plan” between the US and themselves, the Taliban have not been coy in declaring that they are of the same mindset and with the same objectives as when President Bill Clinton helped to install them in power in Kabul in 1996. Now a US President who claims to find the Clintons toxic is following in the path of the 42nd President of the United States. Should the Ghani government release even a fraction of the 5,000 jailed terrorists as demanded by both the Taliban and the US administration, it would be a catastrophe for Afghanistan. The Afghan National Army (ANA) is already facing a determined campaign by the ISI, the Taliban and the financial backers of the latter in the GCC. This well-funded drive is intended to secretly win over commanders, so that what took place in Iraq (when commander after commander of the Iraqi army surrendered to ISIS without a fight in 2014, thereby gifting Al Baghdadi vast territories, terrified citizens and stores of weapons) gets repeated in Afghanistan once US forces almost entirely leave the ANA to its fate. Giving back even a few such prisoners to the Taliban would ensure that their drive to generate treachery within the ANA picks up speed, even as morale falls to sub-zero levels. It would also cause panic among the moderate majority within the Afghan population, as the danger of a Taliban takeover arrives at their doorstep courtesy President Donald J. Trump. While Barack Obama at least sought to discern elements of moderation within the Taliban (in a search similar to that of bleeding hearts everywhere for “good” terrorists), Trump apparently does not care that his newfound friends are going to once again imprison women inside their homes, cut the throats of the tens of thousands who refuse to become their slaves and establish a harsh Wahhabi code of law and behaviour in Afghanistan. Should they come to know what her husband and father’s newfound allies have in mind for the women of Afghanistan, hopefully Melania Trump and Ivanka Kushner will make their distaste clear of this sell-out of human rights and values by President Trump, if nothing else.

It is not only the women of Afghanistan or the overwhelming majority of the Afghan population that are non-extremist who will suffer the consequences of a retaking of Kabul by the Taliban. In 1978-1986, first Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and later Reagan’s Director CIA, William J. Casey put Wahhabism on steroids in order to mobilise vast numbers into joining in the GHQ Rawalpindi-directed (and US funded) war against the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan. During his initial 31 months in office as the 45th President, Trump backed those who were challenging Wahhabism, but after that, began to make peace with the backers of that sect. The past few years have seen a determined fight-back by the global Muslim community against the Wahhabis, as they have sought to reclaim their essentially moderate faith from the Wahhabi International, especially once the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia became the first Al Saud to openly oppose a creed that had been intertwined with his family till then. The reclaiming of Afghanistan by the Taliban would weaken the global fight-back against Wahhabism, thereby accelerating radicalisation in the Muslim world. Thereafter, similar tendencies would deepen within other faiths, resulting in a world in danger of being torn apart by faith rather than brought together. This will be the legacy of Donald Trump, should he persist in his betrayal of the Afghan people to their extremist foes.

Friday, 24 April 2020

May Could Bring India Liberation From Covid-19 Tyranny ( The Daily Guardian)

Corona auto
In 2003, a few medical experts were of the view that SARS would not be a severe problem in India, unlike the crisis that was raging in neighbouring China. This was based on (a) their belief that those who had in the past been exposed to “Falciparum Malaria” (and hundreds of millions in India had) developed antibodies which were effective in overcoming the SARS virus, should that enter the human body of such an individual (b) that hotter weather crossing into the 30s range would assist in the virus getting rapidly degraded rather than remaining active and in a position to invade more victims.
Whether such a viewpoint was accurate or not is for medical experts to decide, but what is clear is that the effect of the SARS epidemic on India was very limited. In fact, then Defence Minister George Fernandes showed a high degree of personal courage by visiting China in the midst of the raging epidemic and returning unscathed. The then Raksha Mantri, who never made the mistake of many politicians by relying only on officials for information and policy suggestions, accepted the view of some outside the official machinery that the prospects for the virus, should it attack him, were dim. Whether it was on his pioneering visits to Siachen or in other ways, George Fernandes led from the front and was as oblivious to danger as our gallant women and men in uniform.
Now that Covid-19 has attacked India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown his devotion to the principle of respect for human life embodied in the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Not relying on Falciparum Malaria or on the weather to do the job of controlling a virus deadly and potentially fatal to millions, PM Modi acted fast in ordering a 40-day lockdown in two consecutive stages in India. This is designed to break the chain of human to human transmission of the novel coronavirus, and is more comprehensive than any other lockdown ordered by a government anywhere in the world in history.
India’s lockdown will certainly enter the authoritative Guinness book of records for establishing a new level in lockdowns, not to mention the fact that this has resulted to 1.29 billion people almost entirely—and willingly—subjecting themselves to severe “tyag” and “tapasya” for such a long time continuously. The extraordinary lockdown measures put in place on the personal direction and supervision of the Prime Minister are expected to show its efficacy by next month. Should the calculations made by the relevant authorities in India work out, the first two or three weeks of May 2020 will witness the visible rollback of the Covid-19 pandemic within India. This would hasten the process of re-establishing normalcy in everyday operations of the hundreds of millions in India who have seen their livelihoods affected because of the pandemic reaching the shores of India from outside during the initial days of this year. Such a transformation would be an immense achievement of Prime Minister Modi, and will receive international attention and applause. More and more people in India expect that the existing lacunae in the regulatory system and in matters of taxation and monetary policy will get the attention needed to ensure that the Indian economy will bound back from the pandemic with additional and not less energy.
The days ahead are expected to witness several more measures taken by the Finance Ministry, the Reserve Bank of India that are designed to protect the economy (and jobs in particular) from the bad effects of the present medical emergency. Once such steps get announced, the economy will witness a rebound in jobs and a decline in the losses caused by the need to take extraordinary measures to protect each and every life. Measures that have succeeded, judging by the low death count in India as compared to much smaller countries. It is also expected that production of pharmaceuticals and healthcare items such as masks will be placed on a scale that ensures that this country supplies the world.
The country is looking towards May 2020 to break out from the Covid-19 tunnel, light from which has already begun to appear in the way in which the numbers of those infected and those killed by the novel coronavirus are holding at levels that are still in a zone where the next month could bring relief from the pain being endured by the people of India in their effort to control the spread of Covid-19.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Modi Can Build a Viable Indo-Pacific Alliance (Sunday Guardian)

The Indo-Pacific has the highest chance of witnessing kinetic conflict between the US and China.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi understood from the start of his term in office that it was  the Indo-Pacific and no longer the Atlantic that was the centre of gravity of global geopolitics. He also factored in the importance of working with Washington, as is clear from the speed and warmth with which he extended the hand of friendship to the US leadership. This was despite two successive US administrations seeking to curry favour with Congress president Sonia Gandhi by revoking the  visa earlier given to him. This was an act of spite which represented a slap in the face of the world’s most populous democracy rather than be directed just at a single individual. However, within days of being sworn in, it was clear that the new Head of Government of the Republic of India had no subjective feelings about the move, and indeed made the US among his earliest foreign ports of call. First Barack Obama and subsequently Donald Trump in the White House have established warm personal bonds with Narendra Modi, ties that have resulted in substantial modifications of policy in both Washington as well as in New Delhi. Social distancing may be necessary in a world ravaged by Covid-19, but the distance between several policy decisions on major matters has been getting reduced each year since Modi took office to a degree much greater than what took place during the Sonia-Manmohan era, although irritants remain. Among these has been the relentless effort of the US Trade Representative (USTR) to neuter generic drug manufacturers in India to serve the interests of the billionaires he so transparently represents. Of course, the USTR professes to speak not just for the 300 richest men and women in the US, but for the 300 million people of what is still the world’s largest economic and military power, and who would find their health problems vastly more manageable were much cheaper generic products from India not blocked from sale in the US or the EU, where too Big Pharma exercises a similar degree of control over policy. Such leverage gets used in efforts at applying pressure on the Government of India to resort to measures that benefit large foreign drug companies at the expense of domestic pharma.

More than any other theatre, it is the Indo-Pacific which has the highest chance of witnessing kinetic conflict between the US and China, especially over Beijing’s efforts at securing control over Taiwan and the waters of the South China Sea. Should such a conflict take place and the PLA Army, Air Force and Navy succeed in overcoming US efforts at preventing the takeover of Taiwan, the effects on US credibility worldwide would be disastrous and irrecoverable. As for China, war planners in key countries believe that a PLA defeat in a naval and air battle in either the South China Sea or the Taiwan strait would reproduce what took place in Imperial Russia after the Japanese navy demolished the Russian fleet at Tsushima in 1905. The prestige of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after such a setback would, in the estimate of such planners, get reduced to such a level that there would be mass eruptions against the CCP on a scale and with a level of accompanying violence impossible to control. If the words of Prime Minister Modi at the 2018 Shangri La dialogue are to remain true, that differences between countries should not develop into conflicts, what is needed is an Indo-Pacific security mechanism in place that ensures an effective deterrent against the impulse for kinetic action designed to alter the status quo. During the period after President Xi took over the leadership of the CCP in 2012, the PLA, PLA Air Force and PLA Navy have become a force too large to launch a pre-emptive war against, even by the US and Japan acting together.

China is, therefore, safe from unprovoked attack. In similar fashion, a comprehensive defensive alliance including the US and India is called for. This would not be to launch a war with China, but to prevent military conflict from taking place. A meshing and sharing of manpower and materiel between the two biggest democracies would be a sufficient deterrent to maintain existing boundaries and deters effort at change, for example by an attempt to forcibly unite the two Koreas or to alter the status quo across the Taiwan Straits. For such an equilibrium state to happen, the US would need to ensure that India be given the same favoured attention that China got during the 1980s. Indian policymakers (most of whom are still romantic about Russia) would need to come to terms with the fact that a new Cold War with kinetic potential has begun in earnest, this time between Beijing and Washington. In such an era, at least in matters of security, non-alignment is not a viable option. India will have to join either the ever-strengthening alliance which is clustered around China (and which includes Russia and Pakistan) or the grouping that has begun to form around the US, now that the Indo-Pacific and not the Atlantic is at the heart of that country’s defence posture. Comprehensive exchange of resources and intelligence will need to take place between the new allies in order to ensure constant battle readiness, which is the only state of preparedness that would deter any country or combination of countries from initiating kinetic action as would provoke a conflict because of an effort to forcibly change the status quo.

Before 2027, the world may be nearing another 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis creating the risk of a war between superpowers. Hopefully this time too, war and its accompanying destruction will be avoided. Such a result would be exponentially more likely were India to become an active part of a security alliance designed to ensure continuation of the status quo in the Middle East and East Asia.

Citizens Call For a Modi-fied Economic Response to Covid-19 (Sunday Guardian)

Sectors such as pharma and IT can be expanded, using the global opportunities opened up by the pandemic.

New Delhi: In 2013, a few voices had warned of the need for UPA-era thinking to be swiftly eliminated from the next government, which was predicted by a few from 2010 onwards and by most from 2013 onwards to be led by Narendra Modi. The 2013 argument about avoiding the “UPA policy and personnel trap” was that only a comprehensive “Modi-fication” of processes, personnel and policies could lift India from the consistent undershooting of potential since the 1950s. This was a period heralded by the era of Soviet-style institutions, mindsets and policies. Groups of officials, businesspersons and politicians including the “PC Network” (whose influence has continued well beyond 2014) used inside information, fake news and skewed policy to grab riches at the expense of the broader society. The “PC Network” comprises individuals in each of the Four Estates, and works to ensure that its members get inserted into key positions even while those few who are opposed to this band of profiteers remain excluded. Officials who are part of the PC network are serenaded by a fawning chorus of praise from PC-oriented elements of the Fourth Estate, with their misdeeds either covered up or camouflaged as furthering the public good rather than vested interests. Over the decades, through gaming of the investigative agency, import-export, stock exchange and other key components of governance and the economy, members of this network have accumulated wealth to a degree as would raise envy in New York. With the advent of Modi 2.0, some of the key figures of the PC Network have begun coming into the spotlight of investigative agencies that were earlier either complicit in or complacent about the manner in which this network used insider power and information to convert vast tranches of the economy into a rigged casino guaranteeing wealth for them at the expense of the common citizen. Economic and financial policy in particular has been a favourite hunting ground of the PC Network, the shadow of which has now started to be removed under the alert and vigorous eyes of Modi 2.0.

Together with the 40-day lockdown, across the country, individuals and institutions, both public and private, are calling for a dynamic “Modi-fied” economic policy. Sectors such as pharma and IT can be expanded, using the global opportunities opened up by the pandemic. Such measures would enable India to emerge the winner from a pandemic that strong steps by PM Modi in the health sphere have thus far blocked from becoming an Italy-style typhoon. A similar active role by the Prime Minister in the framing and implementation—at the soonest—of the economic aspects of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic in India is needed. A few steps which would help ensure a double digit growth trajectory for India soon after the Covid-19 shadow passes are detailed:

(1) Automatic 100% FDI approvals across sectors, except for a few—repeat, few—specified exceptions where FDI proposals should be submitted in advance to the relevant authority. Unless a negative nod is given in 45 days, the proposals should be deemed as approved. In a few specific cases, the period for decision on approval may be explicitly extended within 15 days of submission of the proposal to 90 days, but not more. India is not a weak country any more to be unable to meet threats to its interests. Under Prime Minister Modi, the integrity of India is protected in such a manner that it is not possible for external actors to function inside the country in the manner they were used to in previous regimes. It may be remembered that Deng Xiaoping launched a similar reform, which enabled China to overtake India at speed since the 1980s. When Chief Minister Modi visited Beijing and Shanghai in 2011, this writer spoke of him becoming for India what Deng was for China, a transformational leader. Deng opened the doors of China to FDI, including from moneys accumulated abroad by overseas and other Chinese, and it was this bold policy that created the spark which ignited the massive growth engines of the Chinese economy. In the same way, 100% Foreign Direct Investment should be permitted to come to India by the automatic route. Any suspicious case involving significant threats to the security of India can be dealt with under an unobtrusive surveillance mechanism. Such a move on FDI would assist in sending the market value of assets in India higher at once, thereby preventing the distress selling of Indian assets that has been taking place since the period when Congress president Sonia Gandhi took full control of the government from a Prime Minister convalescing after massive heart surgery in 2009. The reputation of Manmohan Singh, among the finest human beings on the planet, would not be what it is today were he to have decided to decline a second term.

(2) A FEMA for income tax, i.e. reduction and simplification of income-tax. Lower rates generate more revenue. In 1997, this writer had asked in the Times of India for tax rates to be slashed to 30%, 20% and 10%. These were the rates in the 1997 budget, and the effect on revenue was profound. P. Chidambaram as Finance Minister, when his effective boss was Sonia Gandhi, was a disaster, moving away from the gentle touch of the Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee past to UPA-era Police Constable ( PC) methods that have been allowed to linger within the portals of North Block for too long. Tax rates should be reduced, slabs brought in line with inflation. Importantly, just as FEMA replaced FERA, tax codes should be reformed in such a way that the emphasis is on getting additional revenue rather than clogging the courts and jails at the expense of revenue settlements even more than is already the case. Income-tax laws need a FEMA in the manner this was introduced under Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, and Prime Minister Modi is strong enough to ensure a change from “police constable” methods to a system and processes that accept the Indian citizen as being responsible and honest unless (in rare instances) being proved otherwise. In such cases, the penalties should be financial rather than penal. The country needs money, not more expenditure on the prison system, the few exceptions being income from occupations such as extortion or narcotics.

Another way of promoting employment would be to introduce a GST and income-tax write-off for units employing more than a given unit of labour per Rs 1 lakh of capital invested. Those with a higher labour slab (as compared to capital slab) would enjoy tax benefits. The present tax system permitting depreciation benefits companies seeking to replace labour with machinery.
(3) The Goods and Services Tax needs to truly be a “Good and Simple Tax”. This is possible by:
(a) slashing slabs to 5% and 15%;
(b) eliminating those businesses with an annual turnover below Rs 10 crore or individuals with annual income below Rs 15 lakh;
(c) exempting items of common consumption such as food items from GST;
(d) making the filing of returns quarterly in the case of payees with a turnover above Rs 1,500 crore, twice yearly for those with a turnover in the Rs 100 crore-Rs 1,500 crore range and annually for those with an annual turnover of less than Rs 100 crore and above Rs 10 crore.

(4) Using corrupt officials to harass rivals is a practice which needs to be eliminated, and for this, the ED, CBI and DRI should concentrate on a much smaller caseload, leaving smaller cases to more routine investigation. Officials should be protected from harassment for taking decisions, including for some that may go wrong, unless collateral motive gets clearly established in advance. Much more transparency and broader accountability is needed in the functioning of agencies with vast power, which itself needs to be whittled down to levels more suited to a democracy.

Punitive powers need a relook, and ombudsperson systems need to be created on a decentralised level. Having a single Lok Pal to fight corruption in India is a measure that seems more than usually optimistic. The investigative agencies and safeguards to their misuse need to be accessible in multiple places rather than citizens having to go to the national capital or to state capitals for needs that ought to be settled at most at the district level. Online resolution of problems should be multiplied and finally made the norm. Constant monitoring is needed to ensure that undue influence is not brought to bear on the investigating officer. Overall, once a situation gets created in which they can function in a transparent and professional manner, several of the IPS, IAS and IFS officers in India (together with the other services) are—on a person to person basis—among the finest in the world. Administrative reform is a needed supplement to economic reform, and now that adequate knowledge of the processes of governance at the Central level has been picked up, Modi 2.0 can proceed to design and put in place a 21st century administrative structure for India that replaces the 19th century model (with a few elements of the 20th century thrown in) which comprises the governance mechanism of a country that has the potential to be the next superpower, after China and the US. In particular, an overall climate free from the fear of arbitrary action is essential for rapid growth.

Among the pitfalls to promoting investment in India is the manner in which agencies such as the National Green Tribunal have blocked the setting up of enterprises on multiple occasions. Each decision of theirs needs to be concluded only through a public hearing and need to be accompanied by a fact sheet showing the cost to the economy if a decision gets taken to stop a unit from coming up. Certainly plants have rights, but so do human beings in India to a decent life, something that environmentalists seldom seem to consider in their prescriptions. Of course, it needs to be repeated that the day needs to soon arrive when a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will change the way the judiciary functions in the comprehensive manner in how CJI J.S. Verma created the Collegium system and walled off the higher judiciary from external interference in processes of selection. Courts need not only more judges and staff but far less cases that each takes up, many of which may not be entirely worthy of the court’s time. Timelines need to be fixed such that the maximum period for a case to be finally decided does not exceed five years, while the median time should be a year or less. The Supreme Court and the Law Ministry need to work together on such an overhaul of a system that has some of the finest juristic talent in the world.

(5) If India is to seriously compete with China in becoming a global manufacturing hub, what is needed is to establish pre-fabricated housing complexes for temporary workers around manufacturing complexes. Such housing is an essential part of infrastructure and need to be developed at speed, so that the next pandemic (and there will be more) does not cause the problems seen in Mumbai and Delhi during the Covid-19 outbreak. Such housing will also incentivise migrant labour to return to locations where they are needed.

(6) Expansion of the education sector needs special attention, especially the use of online methods. Educational and entertainment programs designed for migrant labourers could also be developed under the Skill India rubric. The use of online systems for teaching needs to be encouraged. A way to garner jobs and resources would be to assist in setting up individuals with language skills to launch online courses in the English language for those in other parts of the world seeking to learn the international link language. India could be the world champion in the teaching of English as a second language across the world. Other centres could train teachers in Portuguese to enable them to go to Brazil and others in Russian to enable migration to another country needing an influx from outside that is compatible with the culture and disposition of the Russian people, who are among the most admirable in the world. India lost the chance under Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi to send millions to countries such as the UK that at the time welcomed immigration. Given the immense goodwill President Jair Bolsanaro and President Vladimir Putin have for Prime Minister Modi, certainly hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens from this country could be welcomed in giant states that have immense gaps in their existing manpower, including in schools, farms and health facilities.

The strong action in the health field taken by Prime Minister Modi appears to be ensuring that India escapes the worst of the Covid-19 disaster, and will soon be on the road to the pre-Covid-19 situation in terms of health. What is needed is a similar set of actions, this time designed to ensure that the economy emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic in even better shape than when it entered it. This may seem a big ask, but “Modi hai to mumkin hai”.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Prof M D Nalapat on US Economy, US Elections and India Opening for Business (PGurus)


Prof M D Nalapat and Sree Iyer discuss the US stimulus package, the Vice Presidential candidate that Biden ought to choose, and Modi's plans for India.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7J4MhVzPpg 

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Xi Jinping Has a Plan. Does Donald Trump? (Sunday Guardian)

Xi will work to ensure that China emerges as the centrepoint of the global  economy, the way the US has been since 1943.

After US President Donald J. Trump, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping is the most discussed world leader these days. The two others who qualify in the top four spots are not Angela Merkel or Boris Johnson, but Vladimir Putin and Narendra D. Modi. Love them or hate them, these are four individuals who are impossible for the world to ignore. In this group, China and the US are in a class of their own where the size of their economies are concerned, with India a considerable distance behind, but ahead of Russia. While the first two are already superpowers, India hopefully will qualify within a decade (given smart policy) and Russia after that. Neither rapid growth nor the retardation of growth through bypassing possible synergies happens by accident. Both outcomes are the result of policy. Smart policy promotes growth, while dysfunctional ones slow it down. Now that the world economy is wrestling with the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is unlikely that China will soon regain the fighter jet speed that its economy achieved for a generation. However, it is clearly the intention of Xi to once again place China at the top of the growth tables despite for some years, his country being overtaken by India. The Sonia-Chidambaram effect on the Indian economy has been profound, and while many ministries (and the PMO) have shaken off that legacy, a few have not. It is to be seen whether this year it will be China or India that has the higher rate of growth. The Covid shock has opened the door for opportunities for India if the country avoids the community transmission stage to a substantial degree because of Prime Minister Modi’s decisive step of first barring the world from India and later making the entire country stay at home for a 21-day period. After that period, there will, hopefully, not be a total lockdown but a hybrid scheme that ensures a restart to the economy and its transformation and renewal besides relief from the virus.

General Secretary Xi, meanwhile, will be working to ensure that China emerges as the Middle Kingdom once again, the centrepoint of the global economy, the way the US has been since 1943. In such a plan, ensuring that the Chinese currency gains acceptance as the reserve and trading currency of choice will play a lead role. Xi knows that the US dollar being the reserve currency of the globe is both the cause as well as the effect of US predominance in the global order. Xi is part of a trio of “Red Emperors”—Communist Party supremos who were as powerful as predecessors in the Han or Tang dynasties. The other two in the trio are Mao Zedong, followed by Deng Xiaoping. The first, Mao Zedong, systematically consolidated China into a unified country bigger in area than that ruled by past dynasties such as the Qing or the Tang. Once such a unification took place and got stabilised, Deng Xiaoping used smart policy to make China a global economic force, with the aim of eventually making it the biggest. Deng was able to succeed in this because Mao had demolished the entire top crust of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during the Cultural Revolution. The pre-Cultural Revolution CCP leadership, had they remained, would never have allowed Deng Xiaoping to introduce capitalism with CCP Characteristics, a form of economic system that prevails in the country to this day. While Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao oversaw substantial changes, these were nowhere near the scale contemplated by Xi, which is designed to displace the US at the apex of the global economic and security pyramid before he demits office.

In this task, Xi needs to end the role of the dollar as the global reserve currency. Together with steps being taken by him, the General Secretary is banking on the headwinds faced by the US that get created through bad policy, just as President Ronald Reagan made bold and brilliant use of the atrophy of the USSR that began during the 18 years of stagnation and decline under Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982). Without this advantage and the additional impetus for collapse created by the Tughlaq policies of Mikhail Gorbachev, the USSR may still have survived, provided that the economic system got a makeover. Gorbachev believed that the key to salvation of the USSR lay in making concessions to get bounty from the very countries that were impatiently waiting for the USSR to collapse. He was surprised and petulant when such assistance failed to materialize.

Now that the US is no longer the biggest consumer of but the biggest competitor to Middle Eastern crude, with China replacing it in the first role, the task of breaking the link between international oil trade and the dollar has been made easier. And given the way the US has proved to be a fickle partner, most recently to the Afghans and the Kurds by Trump suddenly joining hands with their bitterest foes, several of its allies are reconsidering the reliability of their reliance on the US for security. Such US behaviour is in contrast to the Sino-Russian alliance, which has stood by its traditional friends even when doing so is against their own national interests, as is the case of China with Pakistan.

Jiang Zemin focused on growth, and did not much care that China’s technology and plant was almost entirely imported. Hu Jintao aimed for self-sufficiency, and ramped up domestic design and production of higher-end items such as automobiles and even aircraft. Xi Jinping is looking to China establishing frontrunner status and advantage in the Knowledge Economy. He is ensuring that the country go digital, and is spending vast sums on innovation and hi-tech startups. Xi has a plan. Does Trump have another to ensure that the US-dominated status quo continues well into this century? The jury is out on this question, the answer to which will define 21st century geopolitics.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Modi Can Ensure the Post-Covid Era Belongs to India (Sunday Guardian)

The Prime Minister has the opportunity to convert the Covid-19 disaster into the success story of the epoch for India, much bigger than the 1992-93 Narasimha Rao reforms.
Among the Big Four of world leaders (the others being Trump, Xi and Putin), only Prime Minister Narendra Modi correctly divided world history into the Pre-Covid and post-Covid eras. The steps that have needed to be taken by governments to protect their citizens from the Novel Coronavirus pandemic will transform the nature of both society as well as the world economy. The change could work to India’s advantage, once policies are drawn up by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in accordance with the lessons learnt during the ongoing crisis, which in its overall effects is heading towards the scale of a world war, especially if the more dismal predictions of casualties come true. But while the expenditure of Allied powers on the 1939-45 war between them and the Axis powers was less than $5 trillion in present value, as of date, the G-20 member states have committed nearly $10 trillion of additional funding to battle the “invisible enemy”, with more cash on the way. The US accounts for more than $6 trillion of such Covid-linked resources, in contrast to the $800 billion spent under President Barack Obama during 2009 to mitigate the effects of the 2008 financial crash. Bank interest rates have gone down almost to zero in several advanced economies, while India with its high interest rate structure continues to be an outlier. As does the country’s conservative fiscal and monetary response even to the Covid-19 economic shock. Despite efforts by some central banks including the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to roll back the tide, cryptocurrency is on the rise, prompting leaders such as Xi Jinping to embrace the inevitable and work towards making China a global digital currency hub including with the early use of Blockchain. At present, London, Frankfurt, New York and Zurich are the global hubs of traditional currency trading, with Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore lagging behind. If Xi has his way, the top centres for such trades will mostly be in China, just as the country already dominates the list of the top ten global banks, having replaced the US.
SEPARATION OF CENTRAL BANKS FROM MONEY
Church and State began to be separated in some of the countries of Europe seven centuries back. The coming years are likely to witness the separation of money supply from central banks and into the hands of diverse entities, several almost entirely beyond official control. Even now, the traditional instruments of control by central banks, including the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve Board, are increasingly becoming ineffective despite their resort to desperate measures such as zero interest rates. The 1918 Spanish Flu tipped the world into the global economic depression of 1920-21. Conservative monetary policies by the Federal Reserve Board, added to manipulation of the stock market by insider trader cabals, and were followed by the reversal of the growth curve and the Great Depression of the 1930s. The astonishing (if the generosity of donors to political campaigns is ignored) repeal and replacement of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act and its replacement by the Wall Street-friendly Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act under President Bill Clinton in 1999 led directly to the 2008 financial meltdown, once incoming President George W. Bush doubled down on its greed-enhancing provisions rather than watering them down as he should have, had his administration (and that of his successor Barack Obama in the 44th US President’s “Clinton Lite” first term) not been dominated by Wall Street apologists. As a consequence of Thatcher-Clinton-Bush policies and their adoption in countries across the globe, the upper crust of society in several countries has been gaining at the expense of the middle class since the 1980s. Since that time, the American Dream has been out of reach of almost all US citizens, unless they are born of millionaire fathers, the exception being those in the technology sector. However, now that a handful tech giants have emerged, these individuals are using their financial muscle to retain their monopolies and their bloated prices rather than permit fair competition. In India, use has long been made by overseas business interests of corrupt elements in the different branches of government to exterminate (or buy off cheaply) the many innovators this country possesses. As a consequence, those who could have left for less inhospitable shores, including the majority of unicorns.

ReMo ESSENTIAL FOR HEALTHY ECONOMY
Liquidity is the grease enabling the economic machine to function efficiently and at high speed. The Reserve Bank of India needs to overcome the credibility deficit caused by the manner in which DeMo 2016 was implemented by the institution. The steps taken to operationalise DeMo were carried out in such a manner that farmers, SMEs and MSMEs in particular got drained of liquidity for a considerable period. Several never recovered from that liquidity famine, and rather than the increase in annual growth needed to create jobs for those rendered out of work during that period, the economy has slowed down since then. The fuel that powers growth, consumer demand, has not recovered since many years. What is urgently needed is a remonetisation (ReMo) of the economy, and in such an effort, monetary measures on the necessary scale rather than in dribs and drabs by the RBI are as important as fiscal and regulatory steps. India, which has 1/6th of the global population, needs to spend a total sum amounting to 1/6th of its GDP over three years specifically in order to ensure that the economy recovers and rapidly strengthens after the novel coronavirus outbreak is contained. This could be from deficit financing as well as from sale of government assets including land, purchase by the RBI from the public of gold and realistic rather than punitive (and self-defeating) amnesty schemes from North Block. These need credible guarantees of absence of future harassment. Continuing with conservative measures, the way central banks and governments did in the late 1920s, would be disastrous.

INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS ESSENTIAL
The Covid-19 crisis needs solutions that are innovative, and among them may be included a scheme to persuade bank depositors to give 10% of their deposits to the banks in which they are placed. This would be in exchange for future tax relief amounting to 125% of the amount surrendered. Each year, until the entire value plus a quarter of the 10% of bank deposits surrendered gets reached, tax collections from them (both income) as well as GST will remain zero until the limit of 125% of the bank deposits voluntarily surrendered gets breached. In the event of death before such a limit gets reached, the next of kin should be permitted to avail of the remaining benefit. A substantial part of the purpose of taxes being the funding of bank recapitalisation, this scheme would be an effective manner of doing so. Commercial banks need to be brought back to health, so that yet another Yes Bank meltdown (which itself could have been dealt with by the RBI in 2015 rather than 2020) does not repeat itself with other banks. Persisting NBFC and commercial bank stresses need to be diagnosed and treated in time, rather than (hyper expensively) at the terminal stage, which many of them reached as a consequence of policies put in place during the Sonia-Chidambaram years, the toxicity of which seems to have escaped the attention of North Block till very recently. Once Sonia Gandhi established full dominance over Manmohan Singh (which was after his return from hospital for heart surgery), policies and decisions came one after the other that had the effect of severely stressing several sectors of the economy, including telecom, coal, the national airline and banking. It seems to have taken years for the Finance Ministry to understand what had been going on, but the good news is that Modi 2.0 has seen some of the steps needed to clear the economy of the toxicity injected during Manmohan Singh 2.0 through complicit ministers and officials.

RBI SHOULD MOVE DECISIVELY
The RBI needs to move away from baby steps, including the recent ridiculously low reductions in interest rates during a period of vastly enhanced risk of an economic free fall. This is especially because the economy is already suffering from the pre-existing conditions created majorly during Manmohan 2.0. Just as pre-existing conditions increase the risk of succumbing to Covid-19, pre-existing stresses in several parts of the economy substantially increase the risk of economic damage. Hence the need for fiscal and monetary steps as bold as Prime Minster Modi’s cutting off India from the rest of the world (hopefully from Nepal as well) in time and his unprecedented action of ordering a 21-day lockdown that may need to be continued at least for 15 days more. The RBI merely deferring payment of interest and principal by three months beginning 1 March 2020 gives scant relief in a context where many business and individual incomes are zero or close to zero because of the present 21-day lockdown. The RBI should use its printing presses to give interest subsidies to core sector lending by the commercial banks. Funds should be provided for special windows that can get opened for SMEs and MSMEs, which need term loans with low interest rates. The sharks who give gold and other loans at exorbitant rates of interest have to be driven out of business rather than continuing with the long-standing official practice of looking the other way while they prey on vulnerable individuals and businesses. A way out is to offer an alternative via lending programs initiated by the RBI. Every minute that the RBI hesitates to do this, jobs are lost, and many will never come back. In particular, it needs to be kept in mind that the population within the 20-40 age band is fissile and should not through neglect of their need for gainful work be allowed to turn febrile. Sharp declines in employment could lead to law and order outcomes difficult to manage. Continuing conservative fiscal and monetary policies raise the risk of outcomes wholly contrary to the objective of Prime Minister Modi to protect every citizen. Besides, as is being seen both by central as well as state authorities over the past month, declines in business translate into lower revenues, while high growth brings in higher revenues despite the low rates that stimulate growth. Another reason why several growth-killing rates in the GST as first rolled out need a relook if revenues curves are to rise in a manner reflecting growth rather than Chidambaramesque “police constable” or PC methods.

21ST CENTURY REGULATIONS NEEDED
The good news for India is that the ongoing 21st century Financial Wave is ideally suited to the rapid growth of the domestic economy, both in absolute terms as well as relatively to the rest of the world. The country’s politicians have long shown a propensity to select either civil servants or “experts” pining for retirement homes and sinecures in the US or the UK to man key posts in both North Block as well as Mint Road. These prisoners of procedure and birds of passage have focused on ways of helping foreign investors to make money at the expense of the domestic sector, including by a sustained—indeed, systematic—reduction in the value of the rupee. Hence the manner in which the impossible was attempted such as the banning of crypto currency, or the missteps during the design and rollout of signature initiatives of Prime Minister Modi, such as the 2016 DeMo and the 2017 GST. The Prime Minister leads the way, but the team must follow him at the same pace for the goal to be reached in time, including the reaching of a GDP of $5 trillion during Modi 2.0. What is needed is for future policies and their implementation to reflect 21st century needs rather than 19th century mindsets, or solutions which at their most modern reflect the needs of the 1980s rather than the present.

INDIA’S UNIQUE ADVANTAGES
Prime Minister Modi has the opportunity to convert the Covid-19 disaster into the success story of the epoch for India, much bigger than the 1992-93 Narasimha Rao reforms and their effect on the economy, effects that UPA rule almost totally wiped out. This is because the inherent advantages of India are greater than that found in any other major economy. These include:

(a) Close to 60% of the population being below 30. Given a proper education, including in social attitudes and in vocations, this human resource could with “smart” policy become a magnet capable of drawing investment from across the globe. Many hundreds of Indians have migrated to other countries for better prospects, but for tens—indeed, hundreds—of millions, that is not an option. They remain, and need to be put to work in a host of industries, including in those relocating from China once India’s 18th century Land and Labour laws get modified to meet contemporary needs rather than continue the way the 1897 Epidemic Diseases Act continues in its pristine form even during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

(b) Exact estimates are impossible to come by, but a credible estimate is that more than a third of the world’s total stock (as distinct from deposits) of gold is in the possession of citizens of India. There may be those amongst the country’s policymakers who would favour expropriation of much of this stock, of course in the “national interest”, which term is usually used as shorthand for the interests of a handful of individuals. Such a move would not simply be unethical and destructive of the country’s future, but would be met with resistance from the public on a scale not seen since the days when mass civil disobedience erupted in pre-1947 times. The “Peoples Prime Minister”, Narendra Modi, can be expected to not only reject any plan for confiscation of gold held by citizens, but to ensure that the remainder of the term of the official who suggested it gets spent on doing a census of the bat population of the Andaman islands.

India’s private gold stocks therefore represent a golden opportunity. Willing consent is always preferable to coercion, and the holding of substantial gold stocks by the RBI in the future may be an important factor in the health of the rupee, a currency battered by speculators who trade as though having inside information about the approach of policymakers in North Block and Mint Road. On the outside, there seems to be a complete lack of interest in, as well as steps for, ensuring that such speculators are driven away from repeatedly shorting the rupee. The investigative agencies do not seem to have looked into past personal digital, cellphone and conversations of known and active currency and stock market speculators with key officials directly connected with policies affecting the value of specific stocks and the rupee. Lack of such insider trading investigations except in stray instances needs to be corrected, while SEBI needs to function with the efficiency found in the Securities & Exchange Commission in the US. Favouritism and opacity need to be avoided by regulatory agencies.

(d) While the recently announced reduction in salaries of elected officials is a praiseworthy sacrifice, its impact on public expenditure will be small, given that the overwhelming proportion of spending by the exchequer on elected officials is due to the perquisites availed of by them rather than salaries that are modest by international standards. Instead, using the benchmark of a total of one-sixth of GDP spent over three years as the additional amount to ensure a smooth and not a hard landing for the economy after the Covid-19 crisis abates (or to ensure a rapid takeoff into high growth rather than the economy remaining stalled in the runway), part of that needs to be spent on paying back the moneys owed to private units and state governments by the central government. The Income-Tax Department has begun such payments, but the amount involved is tiny in comparison to what is needed to remonetize an economy that was already suffering from pre-existing distress in several sectors, including banking, telecom and construction. Sectors such as health services and media, both of which are in the list of essential services during the present lockdown, could also be given full reimbursement of dues, such as for Ayushman Bharat patients and advertisements. Full and immediate repayment of central dues needs to be matched by the giving of assistance to the states in the form of long-term loans on concessional interest specifically to enable them to pay debts incurred. Such a move would bring back to health several sectors of the economy. Just as the infusion of funds ( in the form of the transfer of 10% of bank deposits in exchange for future tax write-offs) would protect vulnerable parts of the banking system from the danger of depositors having to take a much bigger collective haircut later on, this time without any compensation apart from the limited amounts guaranteed under law. Congress President Sonia Gandhi appears to believe that the press is not needed in a democracy, given that she has asked for the advertising which keeps it going to be cut off with immediate effect. Presumably, the intention behind such a recommendation is to force citizens to look only at foreign media for their news requirements.

A study of the trajectory of central banking shows that gold stocks have long been an important component in public trust. The RBI needs to print currency and exchange paper for gold at a premium from citizens who hold stocks of the metal, no questions asked. In case an individual wants to retain a lien on the gold, he or she may be offered a cash loan against the gold, repayable at 6% annual interest after 5 years, and get back the gold. In such cases, money paid for the gold will go to the individual’s bank account. There is evidence that several desperate citizens are going to loan sharks to pledge gold, and are getting cheated in the process. The RBI should stop such loot of the people by launching its own gold purchase or loan scheme, which could be implemented through its own branches as also through the banking system. And rather than seeking to stave off the inevitable, such as banning cryptocurrency, the RBI needs to nudge the Ministry of Finance into working out sensible and enabling (rather than stifling) regulations which ensure that India becomes a world leader in cryptocurrency and through a natural process becomes a frontrunner in digital currency. Of course, this will need substantial booster shots to the telecom industry, which UPA-era corruption and subsequent legal activism has reduced to a pathetic level far below what is needed by a country needing its immense population to go online and “smart”.

(d) India is weak in both physical as well as in virtual infrastructure, and this creates an opportunity for the future. Rather than spend more money in handout schemes that merely “dig holes into the ground and fill them up”, what is needed is to go in for a large-scale public works programme that includes infrastructure. Housing, health and education need to be part of such a plan. External investors could be invited to participate in select projects. Investors across the world are looking at India and its advantages, but are nervous about the immense discretionary power of the bureaucracy and the unpredictable timeframes in the settlement of judicial disputes. Besides Land and Labour, these too are matters deserving of a special Joint Session of Parliament. The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha need to come together in this crisis of both lives and livelihoods to get passed legislation that will protect both and place India on a stable path to double digit growth.

Such a Joint Session could also enact a scheme for giving government employees the option of retiring at 55, with the full salary between then and 60 being paid in the form of bank deposits earning 6% interest and subject only to a flat 15% income tax rate, should such income breach the tax threshold. The scheme could also extend to the private sector, making it voluntary in both public and private units. Substituting laws that have been out of date, sometimes for close to a century, with laws relevant to present requirements is essential.

TOWARDS AN INDIAN EPOCH
Given such a makeover of the regulatory structure (which would be much more comprehensive than the 1992-93 Narasimha Rao reforms) and ReMo, the era after Covid-19 could well belong to India. Investors would flock to a country that has largely dodged the coronavirus bullet (unlike China, which has been hit repeatedly with it) and which will have a youthful population when the EU, Japan and China will be showing the effects of an ageing population. India has a Prime Minister known for his favouring of “smart” solutions. This is exactly what is needed in the economic sphere as well. Any extension of the current lockdown needs to have both an economic as well as a health component. The economy’s “heart” and “lungs” need to function while the “brain” does its work in South Block. These consist of irreducible elements of sectors such as transport, finance, commerce, telecom, agriculture, industry and services. Ways have to be found to keep such sectors in operation while infusing closed job-creating units with the assistance needed to keep employment in them going in these times of stoppage of much of normal life. Should such a plan be put in place, the post-Covid-19 period will see the beginning of the rise of Superpower India.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Team Modi Must Follow PM's Example for India's Success (Sunday Guardian)

Country is looking towards steps to ensure that the blockages caused by administrative processes get cleared away.
Immediately after Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed his video message to 1.29 billion fellow citizens on the morning of 3 April, there was the expected overflow of negative comments via social media. The fact is that such a message was crucial to ensure mass future compliance as the nation neared the halfway mark of the three-week lockdown. This has overall been adhered to by the citizenry. Not that the personal abuse of critics of the PM was a surprise. This was, after all, a Prime Minister who did not pontify on re-ordering the world in the imperious manner of Jawaharlal Nehru, but talked instead of the importance of building a toilet for each household, something that was not a priority for either the architect of the First Amendment to the Constitution of India or to his successors. Unlike the Maino family of Orbassano, which since the 1980s has joined the elite of Italy rather than, as previously, eking out a humble living, the Modi family of Vadnagar was, and remains, in straitened circumstances. The Rs 25,000 that was contributed to the Prime Minister’s Covid fund by his mother represented a goodly chunk of her life savings. But this is the exception. In common with the Mainos, there are innumerable political families dotted across India whose fortunes skyrocketed after one of their number ascended to a high position. In common with the family of Mahatma Gandhi, Modi’s family has refused to take advantage of the fact that they come from the same family as their illustrious relative. Not for them the example of Morarji Desai, who would call up businesspersons and sternly warn them not to do anything for Kanti “just because he is my son”. Needless to say, most of those called in this manner by Morarji took the hint and saw in Kanti Desai qualities that assured substantial recompense to him. Of course, this was not because his father was then the Union Finance Minister, among whose disastrous decisions had been a Gold Control Order, which wiped out more than a million “unorganised” jobs—held by those who did not dress in suits or walk around in boots—at the stroke of a pen. It must be said to the credit of Jawaharlal Nehru that neither he nor his only child profited from his 17 years at the apex of the machinery of governance in the country. It was only some years after Rajiv Gandhi married Sonia Maino that his family (and hers) began to climb up the economic ladder, a change in fortunes that began during the period when Indira Gandhi was occupying the South Block office once used by her father. In 1989, Rajiv expected the Congress Party to return to power with a reduced majority. After all, every Congress candidate during that election had been given a generous quota of vehicles, campaign materials and money. The Janata Dal had very little of such advantages in comparison. However, as had earlier been demonstrated in 1977, even a cash flood does not work in a situation where voters believe that their government has let them down even more than has long been usual in a country that policymakers have long kept from fulfilling its potential. The Chinese speak of the Mandate of Heaven, and say that when this is withdrawn, a ruler falls. Modi’s emergence to national leadership has prevented such a situation in India. If the countless millions of unemployed and underemployed youth in India are not rampaging on the streets the way they have been in some other countries, it is because they still have hope that Prime Minister Modi will fulfil his promise of “Achhe Din”. This is something that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and others in the Council of Ministers need to keep in mind as they work on the many more tranches of assistance that are needed to ensure that the economy recover from the Covid shock within the year. Thus far, what has been served does not qualify even as a first course, but only as an aperitif.


Given the population and complexity of India, the three-week lockdown instituted by the Prime Minister has worked exceptionally well, barring incidents such as the Nizamuddin fiasco, which follows in the footsteps of the capital’s anti-CAA riots as a failure of an impprtant part of the administrative machinery. Who was responsible for the official turning of a blind eye to a gathering of radical preachers in the heart of the Lutyens Zone that included more than 2,000 foreigners who ought never to have been given visas to enter India? Earlier, a similar mistake had been made, when several unrepentant financial backers of the Khalistan movement were allowed to come to India and try and poison Punjab once again, a task in which they failed, thanks to the good sense and patriotism of the Sikh community. Given the underperformance and errors made by some who hold key positions in the Modi dispensation, it is clear that the only reason why the 21-day all-India lockdown has worked so well is because of the trust that people still have in the Prime Minister. His video address on April 3 will help ensure future obedience to the lockdown. Staying at home is not normal behaviour, which is why an individual with the moral authority of Narendra Modi needed to remind the people why this was essential. The Prime Minister’s entire team needs to understand the imperative of handling their responsibilities in the manner expected by the PM. The goodwill that Modi has brought to his ministerial and higher administrative team needs to be matched by actions by each of them as would assist the people in getting through the additional pain that is being endured by hundreds of millions as a consequence of the measures being followed by them because of their faith in the Prime Minister. The country is looking towards steps to ensure that the blockages caused by administrative processes long in need of replacement get cleared away. Had every agency functioned with the efficiency expected of them by both the people as well as the Prime Minister, serious lapses such as preventing the panic movement of casual labourers at Anand Vihar in Delhi or the inability of the system to have acted in time to prevent the Nizamuddin get-together from being a Covid multiplier would  have been avoided. Both were problems hiding in plain sight, and both were ignored until it was too late to prevent substantial damage, especially the “Covid Conference”.

Narendra Modi is a veritable Goodwill Bank that has been stocked with the trust of the people and the respect of the world. It is this stock that has enabled his government to ensure that India continues to prove wrong the many across the globe who routinely mock its leadership and its people. Each individual who has been entrusted with a key responsibility by PM Modi needs to work in a manner that adds to public goodwill for the government rather than subtracts from it. The history of past regimes shows how quickly the mistakes of a few can affect the overall performance and standing of a government. Hence the need for every link in the ministerial and higher administrative chain chosen by the Prime Minister to perform in the manner expected of Team Modi by both him as well as the people of India.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Prof M D Nalapat on China’s secret plan to unseat the US Dollar (PGurus)

Buy Gold and promote Digital currency for transparency - China is using these two tactics to dislodge the US Dollar. What about India? How should it react? Important pointers.