Saturday, 13 February 2021

Sasikala could be the decider in TN polls ( Sunday Guardian)


Will AMMK and AIADMK collide and make certain a DMK victory, or will they form an alliance?

The All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, together with its electoral ally the BJP, faces a moment of decision now that Vivekanandan Krishnaveni Sasikala is out of prison. There was indeed a period of estrangement between her and Jayalalithaa, although the friction was caused by the influence of Sasikala’s husband Natarajan, who is no more. It may be remembered that Natarajan was a favourite of Muthuvel Karunanidhi, the DMK leader who was—to put it mildly—no friend of Jayalalithaa. The AIADMK supremo wanted V.K. Sasikala as her life partner, and not Mrs Sasikala Natarajan, although understandably, the friend and confidante of the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu could not entirely sever the emotional bond that she had with her long-time husband. It must have been difficult to navigate between these two relationships, but it must be said that Sasikala remained almost the only emotional anchor that Jayalalithaa had for much of her life. It was Jayalalithaa herself, a remarkably charming and brilliant individual, who introduced this columnist to Sasikala in Poes Garden, saying that “the relationship between me and her is as close as the relationship between you and Lakshmi”, my wife. They were very close indeed, which is why it is going to be problematic if the AIADMK were to ignore her in the manner the DMK ignored M.G. Ramachandran, that most popular of Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers. Should the AIADMK-BJP alliance not effect a reconciliation with V.K. Sasikala, the path would be clear for DMK leader M.K. Stalin to be the next Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in alliance with the Congress Party. As for her lifestyle choices, those who found fault with Jayalalithaa about this exhibit a Victorian mentality that was out of place in the 20th century, leave alone the 21st. It was a victory for human dignity and rights when the Supreme Court decreed on 6 September 2018 that consensual same sex relationships cannot be treated as criminal the way India’s Victorian-era Section 377 made them out to be. That was among the finest judgements made by the Supreme Court of India, which should at all times play the role of guardian of the rights and freedoms of the citizen in our democracy.

Not having any children of her own, Sasikala has been a doting aunt to her nieces and nephews, among whom the most prominent is T.T.V Dhinakaran, who is the effective head of the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK). The family has in the past shown a propensity to acquire wealth and political power through their aunt, and this needs to be curbed in the future. Unless such an abstention from using their closeness to a VIP takes place in the manner that the family of PM Modi has shown, Sasikala is likely to again land in trouble, and for the same reason as formerly. Given that it is unlikely that E.P. Palaniswamy would agree to step down as Chief Minister were his party and its poll partners to carry the day in the forthcoming Assembly elections, for a reconciliation to take place, Sasikala would need to ensure that her nephew Dhinakaran places on hold his ambition to be the Chief Executive of this very consequential state. Whether there will be an alliance with the BJP-AIADMK or the AMMK will go its own way and give an unsurmountable advantage to the already bright prospects of the DMK is an open question. The BJP and its ally have not acquitted themselves well in the fiasco involving Rajinikanth, when it was assumed (including by this columnist) that the thespian had finally given up his habitual indecision and prevaricating ways and would soon join the AIADMK-BJP alliance. Those around Rajinikanth had been emphatic in private that this was what their hero was about to announce. It is not known whether it was dread of the DMK reaction to such a move should the party come back to power, or just cold feet about dipping into the rough and tumble of political life that motivated the sudden withdrawal from politics of an individual who has long been given far too much media attention than was merited. At least Kamal Haasan is staying the course, unlike Rajinikanth, who seems to differ in the degree of his courage from M.G. Ramachandran. This columnist met MGR more than once while much younger, and it must be said that the long-time CM of TN never lacked the spine to join in a fight, usually giving much harder than he got, especially to the DMK. Jayalalithaa was the same, bold and unafraid when challenged, even when she seemed to be on the ropes and close to getting a knockout blow from her opponents. Sasikala was with her throughout those days, spending years in prison as a consequence of that friendship.

After the fizzling out of that firecracker Rajinikant, the AIADMK-BJP alliance needs more allies if the coalition is to escape the effects of the less than spectacular performance of Chief Minister Edapaddi K. Palaniswamy and Deputy CM O. Paneerselvam. It is clear since her release that Sasikala still retains a hold over voters in view of her close association with Jayalalithaa. Will the AMMK and the AIADMK collide and make certain the victory of a DMK that has largely broken free of the corruption cases against some of its senior leaders, or will they form an alliance? The sticking point may be Dhinakaran, but it may be best for Sasikala’s nephew to prove his mettle as a minister should the AIADMK-led coalition emerge the winners in the TN Assembly polls. Rahul Gandhi was unwilling to take that test during 2004-14, and as a consequence has failed to emerge as anything of a challenge even to second rung leaders of the BJP, much less to that continuing national favourite of voters, Narendra Modi.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

How Modi's Vaccine Diplomacy is a Huge win for India as Canada requests vaccines| Prof M D Nalapat ( PGurus)

Overlooking the venom spewed by some in the Canadian Government, Prime Minister Modi and MEA S Jaishankar showed immense alacrity and generosity by responding positively to the request of the Canadian government for vaccines. A must watch on some more such initiatives of the Modi govt., as described by Prof Nalapat. #VaccineMaitri



Saturday, 6 February 2021

Melt- India external nexus using innocents as cover for operations ( Sunday Guardian)



Even though a small portion of the farming community appeared to be unhappy with the three farm laws, their agitation was labelled as a national farmers’ protest by media, both domestic and international. This has misled several influencers and policymakers in multiple countries into believing that the agitation taking place on the Delhi border is pan-Indian in scope.

New Delhi: Farmers are a community highly valued in India for their service and dedication to the national interest. The agitation launched in the final months of 2020 with the declared intention of making Prime Minister Narendra D. Modi scrap the three farm laws passed late last year involved only volunteers from a particular state before a trickle of support came in subsequent weeks from a few other states (including Tamil Nadu, where the Congress-aligned DMK is strong). Despite the fact that only a small portion of the farming community in the country appeared to be unhappy with the three farm laws passed last year, their agitation was labelled as a national “farmers’ protest” by media, both domestic as well as international. This has misled several influencers and policymakers in multiple countries into believing that the agitation taking place on the Delhi border is pan-Indian in scope. This mischaracterisation has remained uncorrected abroad, so far as the media is concerned. The other characteristic is that it is not only just food grain cultivators of a single state and a smaller number from a few other states who are active in fuelling the protests. A prominent role is getting played by the “aartiyas”, the trader-moneylenders who stand to lose once they lose the monopoly over produce that has been enjoyed by them till now. Another problem that vexes them is the need to register themselves under the Income-Tax and GST laws even where their grain business is concerned. Till now, the income stream of the “aartiyas” from handling farm produce went almost entirely unrecorded. Given the extreme nature of the punishments prescribed under these laws, combined with the manner in which laws and accompanying regulations have been used by corrupt officials to collect bribes, it is not surprising that the “aartiyas” are resisting coming under the tax scanner. However, a modern economy mandates that transactions get recorded fully and accurately, and it is to be hoped that the Ministry of Finance will, in the next round of tax proposals, give up the obstinate stand that the income-tax rates first introduced under the Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda in 1997 (and which were a substantial reduction from earlier rates) be retained. Instead, they have seen incremental increases over the years rather than brought down further. Rate reductions need to happen at least for those with incomes below Rs 1 crore annually.


Greta Thunberg perhaps unwittingly revealed a few details of what had been obvious to a few observers of the situation at least from November 2020. This was that no concession short of full and immediate withdrawal of the farm three laws is acceptable to those who appear to be functioning behind the cover of a noble and patriotic community. Many of those taking part in the protests are patriotic citizens, who genuinely believe that their futures are being threatened by the new laws. Unfortunately, it takes a single drop of ink to make inedible a glass of milk, and the nature of the mindset behind just such a drop was revealed by Ms Thunberg before those who briefed her the first time around got her to delete her earlier tweet and replace it with an anodyne substitute. Meena Harris or Rihanna too may be unaware of the mayhem that was caused in the national capital of the world’s most populous democracy on 26 January, when an army of tractors entered and forced their entry, including into zones close to where diplomats from across the world reside. It may be remembered that several tens of thousands of farmers died not by accident (as was the case in the 26 January incident) but by committing suicide. These occurred during the decade when AICC supremo Sonia Gandhi remote-controlled the Central government. Finally, after all these years of silence at suicides and privation at the hands of middlemen in league with politicians, the death of a farmer so touched the heart of the admittedly charismatic and telegenic daughter of the “CP” (Congress President) that she rushed to his home village in UP to console the bereaved family.


The bigger the aartiya, the greater his motivation to ensure freedom from the tax net through mandatory registration under the Income-Tax or GST provisions as prescribed by the farm laws. Several of the bigger aartiyas are involved not only in grain procurement but in distribution of FMCG fertiliser, farm machinery and equipment, building materials, cement, hardware and in real estate. So far, none of the suppliers of such business have interceded with their aartiya  distributors to ask them to concentrate on business rather than mobilise groups of protestors to go to the Delhi border or involve themselves with the protest in multiple other ways. Several of the farmers are in debt to the aartiyas and it needs to be checked if the interest rates being charged are beyond the legal limit. For those who are outside the comforts of the Lutyens Zone, it is inexplicable why thus far no discernible effort has been made by the government to identify and persuade the aartiyas to focus on business rather than street protests. This seems not to have been attempted by either the government or multiple entities that are giving them other business. Since 1947, farmers in a few of the northern states have been under the yoke of the aartiya system, and have fallen into debt through various ways. Once those aartiyas behind the turmoil understand that not only the economy of the entire country but their own incomes will be affected by it, enough of them will come around to the view that getting involved in protests at the cost of business is unwise. Under the new laws, farmers will have the right to sell their produce through multiple platforms, including APMC. They can also use digital platforms, E-NAM or physical aggregation of supply chains, as pointed out by agricultural experts concerned about the future of farmers in India, a country where the producer and the consumer often get short-changed by the middleman, who till now seems to have escaped the attention of the revenue authorities.


Several among those taking part in the protests are Sikhs, a noble and patriotic community. Religious figures and other influencers (such as Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, an acknowledged expert on the military) need to be briefed on the efforts of aliens to derail the future of the youth of India through generating tumult. Not just Sikhs but North India’s Jat community are intensely patriotic, and those within the Jat community who are genuine community leaders should be contacted and given the facts, so that the context becomes clear. Diplomacy needs to be carried out not only in conference rooms or through the mass media but individually as well. Sarpanches of villages active in the protest as well as panchayat BDOs are others who need to be individually contacted in order to get the facts across rather than leave them to the messages suggested in manuals such as the toolkit disclosed by the Swedish activist.  Laws ensuring continuance of Minimum Support Price and APMC need to be introduced, while legislation removing such features of the laws already passed as absence of judicial involvement or freedom to hoard without limit needs to be initiated. The present move of having a hiatus for 18 months while an expert committee goes through the clauses is another example of the manner in which the football of reform is constantly being kicked outside the field. Another tweak to the farm laws should be to place responsibility for their implementation on state governments rather than impose an omnibus “one size fits all” Central edict. Should such changes be made, it is difficult to see why the farmers’ agitation on the Delhi border should continue, at least in the case of the overwhelming majority. Only the few external actors and their agents would be upset at the protest cooling down, as they seek to use the cover of the farmers to create a situation designed to lead to a meltdown in the credibility and therefore the efficacy of the Central government as an instrument of reform. It needs to be emphasised that while the number of those who have been involved in the “Melt India” operation are very few, several of them were given OCI cards and visas by the present government, as a Gandhian gesture of reconciliation. The bitter fruits of the policy error of the NDA scrapping the earlier Khalistan blacklist have started pouring down in some locations. The need is to bring an “all hands on deck” approach by reaching out to the state governments and opposition parties involved. An innovative idea suggested by concerned agricultural experts is to set up an independent Agricultural Tribunal that would look into matters relating to exploitation of farmers from any quarter, including predatory corporates. The few (almost entirely external) rotten apples need to have their OCI cards and visas revoked immediately. Care should be taken to avoid giving such documents to those with a history of support for secession in India who live in countries such as Canada, the US and the UK. Their activities end up pleasing the GHQ Rawalpindi-PLA partnership at the expense of the people of India. They are particularly active in seeking to poison ties between India and other major democracies. To give a religious tag to the present protest is erroneous, as this only helps the Melt India operators. Whether the citizen of the world’s most populous democracy be Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian or Hindu, the believers on each of these faiths are committed to the integrity and progress of India and have demonstrated their loyalty to the tricolour numerous times.


The Lutyens Zone had been warned in advance about the Melt India plan, facets of which were most recently revealed in the detailed toolkit fortuitously revealed by Greta Thunberg. The campaigner for a clean planet seems to have acted in good faith without being aware of the provenance of the information that was fed to her. The same can be said of Meena Harris, Rihanna or many others who joined in the Twitter war. After the failure of the 26 January ruckus to get the government to repeal the laws, the global Twitter storm was, it was hoped, force the hand of Prime Minister Modi into withdrawing the three farm laws. Once this got done, next would follow agitations on other pretexts, such as the removal of Article 370, and this particular movement was planned to gather pace by mid-May. Rather than the passive-reactive policy favoured in the Lutyens Zone, what is needed is to identify the handful of individuals who are hiding behind the farmers and carrying out their “Melt India” operations. In this task, the innocent farmers and others who have temporarily been led into being part of actions that in effect go against their own interests need to be treated as friends and not as adversaries. We are all Indians together, and in case an all-out effort is made by the authorities to make clear, especially to local influencers, the dimensions of what is taking place, even Rakesh Tikait may come to favour a reasonable solution. A few foreign nationals have been allowed to freely enter India since 2015 despite working in sync with GHQ Rawalpindi-PLA and their game plan of weakening the country from inside preparatory to invading it from the outside. The sooner the present situation is rectified through reasoned dialogue, behind the scenes diplomacy and intercession, as well as substantive gestures of accommodation, the better. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will in time understand the importance of India, the US and other major democracies that form the G-10 working together in furtherance of the common security of the group. G-10 leaders need to avoid gladdening the hearts of those no longer secret capitals that seek to replace secular and liberal democracy with extremism and authoritarianism as the dominant ideology of the times.

Beijing looks to Biden going the Nixon-Kissinger way ( Sunday Guardian)



China’s offer in effect is cooperation on climate and trade matters in exchange for recognition of Beijing’s overlordship of the Himalayan massif, the South China Sea and both sides of the Taiwan straits.

Richard Milhous Nixon, the 37th President of the US, left office prematurely after winning a second term. There was considerable heartburn within the White House during much of his 1969-75 stay there because it was Henry A. Kissinger, rather than his boss, who was appearing on magazine covers. Kissinger was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to prolong the Vietnam War uselessly for four more years rather than end it by 1971 on the same terms as were enforced by Hanoi in 1975. Another contributory factor securing him the prize may have been the carpet bombing recommended by Kissinger of not just Vietnam but Laos and Cambodia as well. The deaths of millions in the latter country have been laid at the door of Pol Pot, who was backed by the PRC. The reality is that much of the carnage was caused by bombing. Kissinger followed the example of Winston Spencer Churchill in himself writing the history of his years in power. In both cases, these were presented as a triumph of genius over the shoddy thinking of others, when in fact Churchill and Kissinger erred more often than not. Kissinger spent a considerable amount of time chatting up journalists and historians, and it was therefore no surprise that the credit for the opening out to the PRC was given to him rather than to Nixon, whose idea it actually was. A similar situation took place in India later, when it was Finance Minister Manmohan Singh who was given almost all the credit for economic reform rather than the actual architect, the unassuming, Pamulaparthy Venkata Narasimha Rao. The somewhat less spectacular performance of Manmohan Singh the “reformer” in his far more consequential post of Prime Minister during 2004-2014 indicates the manner in which, like a good civil servant, the gentle and intellectually gifted but unassertive economist adjusted his performance to the wishes of the  boss. Sonia Gandhi was a world apart from Narasimha Rao, and it showed in the quality of rule during 1992-96 as compared to the UPA period. Returning to Kissinger, it is a wonder that a statue of the man has not been erected in any Chinese city, for he gave away the store to Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou, so charmed was he by the titans who led the PRC during its initial decades. Concession after concession was offered by the US and generously pocketed by the secretly surprised CCP negotiating team, who of course constantly complained that the giveaways were too little, always too little even when they were excessive.

There had been no need for Kissinger to have been so generous, including in his throwing Taiwan under the bus, besides seeking to instigate war between his new ally, the PRC, and India. Mao and Zhou had for years understood that there was no option but to move against the USSR, and needed very little prodding or concessions to continue do so. In much the same way as they had used the period of struggle against Japanese occupation to build up the PLA, the CCP leadership used the concessions offered by Washington (and soon by the allies of that superpower) to begin the process of making then backward China into a superpower itself, a task which their successors achieved a little over a decade ago. By the time General Secretary Xi Jinping took charge of the CCP and CMC and through the party and its military the PRC, the country he now led was well on the way to becoming the predominant power on the planet. Small wonder that Xi discarded the camouflage of several of the CCP objectives favoured by his predecessors and adopted an unmistakable transparency about the direction in which the country was moving. From the early period of his rule, the General Secretary placed the PLA at the centre of PRC diplomacy , using the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the facilitator of the PLA’s moves and where needed, as a lubricant smoothening the path to them. Mao ensured that the regime that he installed in 1949 developed the characteristics of permanency, and it is the intention of Xi to ensure that the ascent of Beijing to the top of the table, displacing Washington, takes place during his tenure. As this may take longer than the two terms allocated by convention to PRC leaders since Jiang Zemin, that convention was put aside.

Xi Jinping has surrounded himself with a competent team of advisors, the “best and the brightest” that this country of 1.3 billion people with its ancient civilisation has to offer. They know that for at least five or six years more, they need to prevent stoppage of the concessions they are getting from entities in the US or linked to that country in alliances. Mao and Zhou offered Nixon and the smitten Henry Kissinger the offer of collaboration in bringing down the Soviet Union, a task that they were anyway committed to. In return for the faux favour, they demanded substantive concessions, which Henry Kissinger was only too willing to recommend to his boss be given. As in the case of Shimla in 1972, one side walked away with the goodies, while the other side was left holding the bill for the bag of concessions that it had handed over. Now Xi Jinping, through the able Yang Jiechi, has offered a similar bargain to President Biden and Vice President Harris. Both Xi and Yang appear certain that there are enough friends of the Beijing nomenklatura (a charter member of which served in the Trump cabinet) in Washington, New York and San Francisco to ensure acceptance of their offer of cooperation on climate and trade matters in exchange for recognition of Beijing’s overlordship of the Himalayan massif, the South China Sea and both sides of the Taiwan straits. Of course, all that is asked for is acceptance in practice of such overlordship. The US would be at liberty to profess opposition to such moves by the PRC, as long as the opposition was verbal or comprised of media pyrotechnics without effect on the ground situation. The reality is that there is no option for the CCP leadership but to push ahead with both climate mitigation as well as trade simplification, as both are in the PRC interest. Getting any concession from Washington (much less the Kissingerian ones explicitly asked for by Yang Jiechi) would be a bonus to the plans of the CCP General Secretary. Is there a Henry Kissinger within the Biden administration who will once again play Santa Claus in the manner that Nixon’s emissary did in the past? That would depend on whether Biden and Harris understand the nature of the one-sided bargain that is being dangled before them, or get taken in and make concessions that are wholly unnecessary to secure China’s compliance on trade and climate.