Saturday 26 June 2021

Comprehensive Indo-Pacific alliance essential to meet 21st century threats (The Sunday Guardian)


Is President Biden returning to the path of Bill Clinton by pandering to the GHQ Rawalpindi and the PLA and putting pressure on India to act nice with those responsible for terror and bloodshed in what was the state of Jammu & Kashmir?

New Delhi: The importance given to what is termed the “Gupkar Alliance” in the 24 June 2021 talks held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the situation in the Union Territories of Kashmir, Ladakh and Jammu was an expression of the same Gandhian search for a mutually acceptable solution involving even intransigent sides that has been at the root of the conciliatory gestures made by Modi to elements opposed to him and his policies. Narendra Modi has made no secret of his reverence for the Mahatma, and is always willing to participate in functions abroad where a new statue of the Father of the Nation is being installed as a gesture of friendship to the people of India. It may be worthwhile for him to consider the installation (through private funding) of more statues of freedom warriors from across the world, such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King from the US, Ho Chi Minh from Vietnam and Nelson Mandela from South Africa. India led the rest of the world in the battle against colonial oppression during the previous century, and should now act as the spearhead of freedom and rights for all. The only exceptions are those who propagate and promote violence, and seek through such means to tear societies and even countries apart at the cost of human misery.
US President Bill Clinton was, from 1992 to 1998, a backer of the abortive secession of Jammu & Kashmir from the rest of India, as well as the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, backing his hand-picked Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel as she went about seeking to ensure both tasks. The US diplomat who has earned notoriety for being the Godmother of the Taliban in this role fortunately failed in Kashmir, but tragically for the region and finally the US as well, succeeded in installing the Taliban in Kabul in 1994 with the blessings of the White House and an oil company whose understanding of exactly what they were helping to gain power over Afghanistan did not reach even the kindergarten level. Amazingly, the same individual who was the company’s point person for promoting the Taliban’s interests during that period emerged in 2019 to take on the same role, this time arranging a US surrender to the Taliban in Doha the following year, when Donald J. Trump was still President of the US. Apparently, the capability of the US system to learn from the past has been overrated, given that (together with others such as Dr Anthony Fauci), such Trump-era officials were retained by the 46th President of the US, Joe Biden, in 2021, in tasks where they have substantially harmed US interests in the past.
Given that the Government of India is extremely parsimonious with the information it shares with the public, and that each participant in any meeting retails to others only the version that shows him or her in the best light, understanding what took place behind closed doors during the 24 June meeting on the former J&K is problematic. So far as the inner functioning of a government that requires the popular vote to retain its grip on power is concerned, the same remains in a lead box. Cynics have it that from the time it was brought into force, the Right to Information Act ought to have been called the Right to Withhold Information Act, but this seems an overreaction. The RTI has been better than nothing, although it is in need of improvements that do not seem likely to appear anytime soon. Those who have long ignored the fact that Article 370 was rooted in the false and pernicious Two Nation theory and that Article 35A was an impediment to the development of what was the state of Jammu & Kashmir before trifurcation claim that the 24 June meeting is the precursor to the reinstatement of both, an unlikely possibility. What is more likely is that Prime Minister Modi, with skill and sincerity, clearly explained to the invitees of the meeting what the future trajectory of the three Union Territories will be. This is the generation of double digit growth in an atmosphere free of violence.
Those few families in Kashmir that have risen from moderate circumstances to great wealth during the previous era may not be happy that the people of the new Union Territories are enjoying a period of relative calm despite efforts at bringing back the turbulent past by the Sino-Pakistan alliance. They may want to ensure that at least the Valley of Kashmir (which has the potential to be the Silicon Valley of India) should return to the days when the writ of the CBI, ED, Income-Tax and other agencies involved in the search for illicit incomes effectively did not operate. The rest of the population, including in the Valley, are happy that at least some of the corrupt are finally facing justice, a process that the Jammu, Kashmiri and Ladakhi public is united in asking for it to continue.

Another hypothesis is doing the rounds in the Lutyens Zone, which is that the US State Department is active in secret in efforts at getting individuals associated with the chaos of the 1990s and who nevertheless subsequently remained in top positions to regain their lost prominence. If true, the repetition of the policies of the Clinton presidency by the Biden White House would be music to the Sino-Russian alliance. The GHQ Rawalpindi-PLA alliance regards as a top priority the keeping apart of New Delhi and Washington, as does Moscow. Despite the Pentagon understanding the need to have India firmly in the Quad tent, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ventured into the field of human rights during his only visit to India. Before he lectures the world’s most populous democracy on human rights and values, Secretary Austin needs to examine the record of the US and other militaries of NATO in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iraq. There are countless more atrocities such as the My Lai massacre and many more Lieutenant Calleys who are yet unpunished. Since Defense Secretary Austin seems so concerned about human rights, finding out those within his own country who are guilty of such crimes against humanity and punishing them should be a priority rather than be ignored as they have been for so long. The manner in which the witch hunt against Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange has been carried out by successive US administrations, an approach that is continuing in the Biden administration, does not indicate that the White House or its Secretaries are in any rush to bring the perpetrators of suspected war crimes by troops within the NATO alliance to justice. Secretary Austin has presumably not read the adage about those in glass houses needing to avoid throwing stones, especially in the direction of a country that is essential to the US for the defence of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

In case it is a fact that President Biden is returning to the path of Bill Clinton by pandering to the GHQ Rawalpindi and the PLA in putting pressure on India to act nice with those responsible for terror and bloodshed in what was the state of Jammu & Kashmir, it is probably because of his desperation to secure a unanimous vote among 50 Democrats so that amendments to the filibuster and thereafter the Biden Recovery Act can be passed in the US Senate without the savage cuts demanded by the Republican Party. Given that Senator Mitch McConnell has made no secret of his efforts that would harm the interests of the US public in his effort to render the White House ineffective in matters of policy. It must be clear to the DINOs (Democrats in Name Only) within the US Senate that they are in effect sabotaging the prospects of their own party in 2022 by blocking the Voting Rights and Infrastructure legislation. This will cost them their Senate seats when they next face the electorate in their home states, either at the primary stage or in the subsequent election. There is no need for President Biden to pander overmuch to the unreal agenda of the Left DINOs (and the links of at least one with the Wahhabi International and through that association of worthies, to the Chinese Communist Party) or to the Right DINOs who at the moment seem determined to oppose legislation that most of their constituents favour. The best strategy for the US President would be to cease his futile search for a non-existent compromise and present the legislation he has in mind in full. In case this gets defeated, it will be clear to US voters that their only path towards rescue from a parlous economic situation is by ensuring that the Republican Party gets thrashed in the 2022 midterms. Rather than face electoral disaster in 2022 and two lame duck years through excessive legislative compromise that will ultimately end in failure, President Biden will have the wind in his sails after 2022 midterms through voters reacting to those who sabotaged the Voting Rights Act and the Infrastructure Act during the last two years of his term. This is almost always the decider at the polls rather than the first two. As for security in the Indo-Pacific, he needs to stop Secretary Austin and others from making self-goals during foreign visits that serve only the interests of the Sino-Russian (and the linked Sino-Pakistan) alliance not just in the Indo-Pacific, especially in theatres such as Afghanistan. Although Senator Sanders (as well as three out of four in the “Squad”) are motivated by idealism, this may have led them inadvertently to backing organisations linked to the Wahhabi International who press for policies against those who oppose them, such as PM Modi in India, President Al-Sisi in Egypt and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Such elements, mostly within the Clinton and Sanders factions, seek accommodation with individuals such as Erdogan, who have trampled on the principles of NATO while still remaining part of an alliance that is opposed to their actual allegiance, which is to the PRC-led bloc that is forming across the world. Among the top priorities of the Wahhabi infiltrators into the Biden administration is to use whatever lever is available to distance Washington from Delhi. In India, they are doing the same, working to widen often imaginary faultlines between the Modi and Biden administrations. The US and India partnering to secure the Indo-Pacific and battling the 21st century threat posed by the Sino-Wahhabi alliance would be a nightmare for Pakistan, China and Russia while being essential for the US and India. The Sino-Russian alliance and its satellite Pakistan gain traction with each policy error made by the major democracies, which unfortunately are too many to recount.

The years before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls will be crucial to the future of India. On the Info-Pacific, on Kashmir, on the economy, choices need to be taken that place India on the path towards long-term double-digit growth and the resultant societal stability. The Sino-Russian alliance (operating mainly through the Sino-Wahhabi alliance in India) is a formidable and often invisible opponent adept at dressing up policies that are toxic to the 21st century success of India but presented as essential to either adopt or to retain. There can be no compromise on fundamentals, whether on Kashmir or on the Sino-Indian boundary or on the need to recover PoK and Gilgit Baltistan. Nor on the essentiality of a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific. Any aggression, kinetic or otherwise, by the Sino-Pakistan alliance and the Sino-Russian alliance needs to be met by an Alliance of Democracies united against the threats posed by countries hostile to the very Idea of India or the US as inclusive and prospering democracies.

Wednesday 23 June 2021

Counter to Xi Jinping’s Gamble (Chanakya Forum)

General Secretary Xi Jinping, the head of the Communist Party of China since 2012, is playing a game of poker with the leaders of the countries that the PRC believes are strategic rivals, principally the US, Japan, the UK and India. The reason why the US has to be brought into a defensive position on China vests in the fact that the country is still the world leader in the fields of technology, soft power, and the economy. In the military sphere, Washington has been tardy in understanding and adjusting to the new variants of war, that are the consequence of the overt weaponisation of China’s capabilities.

Xi has made this shift overt, even though it has been taking place since the early years of the 21st century. There are those who say that this was an error, and that the leader on which he most models himself, Mao Zedong, switched from bitter foe of the Atlantic Alliance into being its most effective partner against the USSR. What has been forgotten in the tumult of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution initiated by Mao, in 1966, and the ceaseless verbal and written vitriol that he heaped on the US in particular, is that Mao found a willing partner in President Richard Nixon, the architect of the Cold War 1.0 alliance between Beijing and Washington, against Moscow. Neither Nixon nor his successors, until Barack Obama towards the close of his second term of  Presidential power, understood that the PRC was a much more potent adversary than the long-moribund Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which collapsed during the period in office of CPSU General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev.

This realisation finally provided traction to the Pivot to the East initiated by Obama in the face of opposition from
the (still influential if no longer dominant) Atlanticist school of the US foreign policy establishment. Till then, Europeanists in the Obama administration (led by Hillary Clinton, who has always been a wannabe European) had ensured that the fixation on Moscow, as the top threat to global US interests, remained long after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992 had ended Cold War 1.0. They were encouraged in this by Berlin, Paris and London, who feared their loss of influence within the US, if Washington were to accept what had been evident to the Communist Party of China since the close of the 20th century, that a new Cold War, this time between the US and China, was an inevitability, and had begun preparing for it from that period onwards.

Of course, Chinese scholars and spokespersons deny to this day that a new Cold War is taking place, part of the arsenal of bluff that they have mastered in the global game of geopolitical poker between the major powers, and in particular, the two superpowers. During Cold War 1.0, they were the Soviet Union and the US. Now this exclusive list contains only the PRC and the US. India is a potential superpower, and has graduated since the close of the 1990s, to being a great power from a major power, in large part because of the reforms enacted by Narasimha Rao and continued under Vajpayee. However, India is yet to be anywhere near that final step. Mao was able to scrap, in the early 1970s, the matrix of global policy favoured by most of the CCP leaders of the time, which is the reason why he eliminated them through the Cultural Revolution from 1966.

As his new geopolitical strategy emerged almost unopposed, the Cultural Revolution was tapered off and ended by 1976. As for the economic transformation launched by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, this would not have been accepted by the Central Committee, much less the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, had not Mao destroyed the careers and, in many cases, took the lives of almost all of them in the years that the Cultural Revolution was ongoing. A survivor, Deng Xiaoping, who loved playing poker, finished off the remaining traditionalists in the Communist Party of China.

The genial face that Deng presented to Europe and the US, was part of the armoury of bluff used by the expert in poker, to convince them that China would never be a threat in the manner that they regarded the Soviet Union as being. He convinced them that all that the PRC sought was “respect” and “equality”, never hegemony or even primacy.  Even Deng’s response to the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing, failed to make them call the bluff, that the PRC was enroute to becoming a democracy. All that was needed, Chinese interlocuters claimed, was the prosperity essential to make such a system a reality for the Chinese people. In the rush to achieve this goal, Japan and the US in particular joined with Taiwan, in flooding the PRC with technology and investment.

Deng had removed Hu Yaobang from the General Secretaryship in 1987 because he was too accommodating of calls for democracy. General Secretary Zhao Ziyang was removed because of his soft stance towards the protestors active in the May-June 1989 tumult in Tiananmen. He found a replacement for Zhao in Jiang Zemin, who had proved that he was as much of a conservative as Deng, in retaining the monopoly of power over China, of the Communist Party, by whatever means necessary was concerned. In the way that Deng succeeded in doing during his global tours, Jiang posed as the affable pro-Western uncle, without in any way diluting his hardline stance within the PRC. Both Deng and Jiang succeeded in convincing the UK (and much of the rest of the world) that their commitment to ‘One Country Two Systems’ for the next fifty years was total.

In 1997, a handover took place at which actual authority was ceded by the UK, with nothing but a commitment in paper and in words, although that proved enough to convince even Margaret Thatcher, about the Chinese leadership’s sincerity. Given that Thatcher was among the many European leaders, who saw Moscow as the permanent threat to Atlanticist interests, the Deng-Jiang promise of democracy in Hong Kong worked superbly.

Once Hong Kong lost its importance to the economy of the PRC, as a consequence by the close of the first decade of the 21st century, of the development of Shenzhen, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the imperative of  retaining until 2047, the quasi-democratic system that was the mode of governance in Hong Kong lessened sharply. This change in the ground situation was not apparent to several millions of Hong Kong residents, who believed in the sanctity of treaties, despite Beijing’s belief that only treaties that met their interests, needed to be respected. The waste paper basket was the receptacle of choice for the rest. If the PRC had not been gifted a permanent seat with veto power at the UNSC (including by errors in Indian diplomacy), its faith in the UNSC as the final court of appeal to humanity would be considerably less than it has been since India (which from the very start of the founding of the PRC pressed for Beijing to join the Permanent Five in the UNSC) succeeded in that mission, with the USSR unwilling to publicise the Beijing-Moscow schism in the communist world by blocking that change. Given that the PRC has veto power over such decisions, any chance of India being accommodated in that list is zero, at least with veto power.

Xi Jinping has been the subject of adverse comment even within China, for the transparent manner in which he has clear made the intent of the Communist Party, to replace the US with Beijing as the primary power in the international order. What may be looked askance could be the rapid manner in which the unveiling of this longstanding policy of the PRC was done once Xi became the CPC General Secretary in 2012.

During the term of Hu Jintao as well, the PRC was clearly embarked on a path, that was no longer focussed on even the G-2 trial balloon floated from Beijing since the time in office of President Clinton, but on being the sole superpower that the US thought had been achieved in 1992 with the fall of the Soviet Union. By the time Xi took charge, this was becoming difficult to conceal. By 2017, it had become impossible.

Most of those who hoped for the change in the Party’s attitude, that had been predicted for decades, became sceptics. The actions of the PRC made that clear in a manner that had no need for elaboration from the General Secretary, whose underlings nevertheless shed much of the reticence shown in the past of mentioning the final objective of global primacy. As a means perhaps of strengthening his emotional hold over the Chinese people, as well as the party he was the leader of, by 2019, Xi Jinping himself made little secret of the Communist Party’s intentions.

That there are still policymakers in the US, EU and even in India who believe that unequal concessions can succeed in buying goodwill and even postponing activity by the PRC that is designed to knock them out of the competitive sweepstakes reflects the triumph of hope over experience. The Indian Army was ordered to withdraw from the Kailash heights, because of the belief that the PLA would respond in a reciprocal manner in Gogra and Hot Springs. They did not and never will unless forced to do so. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar need to identify those in their entourage who were confident the PLA would. Those with such unreal expectations need to be kept far away from locations where they can fashion policy.

A few days ago, Armin Lascet, soon to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor of Germany, lisped about needing to win over the hearts and minds of the Communist Party of China’s leadership through a softer approach than that favoured by some of his colleagues. Good luck to him and to Germany.

That Nehru and Indira Gandhi chose the USSR, as the partner of choice rather than the US, may be explained by the reality of Washington having embraced Islamabad, in a manner that left no room for any alliance with India except through surrender to the dictates of GHQ Rawalpindi over Kashmir. The Iron Embrace between GHQ Rawalpindi and the Central Military Commission functioning under Xi Jinping has become so obvious, that those who argue that India anymore has a choice of walking away from the US to China (or to even remaining neutral between them) are living in an alternate reality that can be deadly, if translated into policy. This had been clear from 2013 onwards with the start of the CPEC, but remained unrecognized even to this columnist until well into 2017). The events of 2020 have been such a reality check, that those in India expecting a rapprochement with China in the Xi era, on terms other than surrender, are indulging in wishful thinking.

That SARS2 was created during 2019 in the Wuhan Institute of Virology has finally been acknowledged even by most apologists, who claimed that bats in a cave 1500 kilometres away were responsible. Research has begun to ascertain that the Alpha and Delta variants as well were brought into existence in facilities in the PRC similar to those at WIV. The SARS2 pandemic saw the defeat at the hustings of Donald J Trump, although his successor Joe Biden has not been as credulous as he seemed before taking office. The expectation is that the Delta variant and other weapons of irregular warfare (including economic and societal) by the GHQ Rawalpindi-PLA alliance will see the close of the Modi regime in 2024, if not sooner.

In this matter, while the PRC is working together with the Russian Federation in operations in the US, in India the partner is Pakistan and not Russia. The task given to Russia is to assist in ensuring that a US-India military alliance never takes place, something that the S-400 deal and others seems likely to accomplish. India has to be hollowed out from within, such that the indomitable armed forces and the people of India are not enabled to hold their own and even prevail against those intent on destroying the country’s future. The sooner the US, the EU, Japan, India, the UK, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Africa and the Philippines understand that Cold War 2.0 is not a myth, spun by the “military-industrial” complex but a fact of existence, the better. Unless they do, Xi Jinping will emerge the victor from the high-stakes poker game that he is conducting with Joe Biden, Narendra Modi and the other leaders of countries, in the direct line of fire of strategic planners in the Central Military Commission in Beijing.

The CMC works for a Chinese Communist Party General Secretary, who has placed the uniformed services at the spearhead of his internal and external policies. The hand that Xi is so transparently playing needs to be called out and soon, and the only way is to understand reality and unite to change that, in the manner that Churchill, Roosevelt (unlike their rivals and predecessors) and Stalin did from 1941 to 1945. The stakes in this game of poker could not be higher. They are the very future of the global order in the rest of this century. Will the Authoritarian states in alliance with the Wahabi International, and the proxies and partners of both, prevail over the democracies or not, is a question that will be answered within brief decades. 

Counter to Xi Jinping’s Gamble

Saturday 12 June 2021

All Eyes On G7 - What's The Strong Message? (NewsX)


Group of Nine wants Chidambaram as 2024 Opposition face for PM (The Sunday Guardian)


Despite the charges swirling over him, off and on there has been talk of his becoming a second edition of the Manmohan Singh phenomenon.

 New Delhi: P. Chidambaram, the urbane leader from Tamil Nadu of the Congress Party, has been in the headlines since the 1980s, during his steady rise that began from his stint translating Rajiv Gandhi’s speeches from English to Tamil. Thereafter, he went on to ministerial status in multiple administrations. Thrice Union Minister for Finance, Chidambaram has also been through 106 days of incarceration during NDA II, although the police officials responsible for this later appear to have been sidelined. Both in the INX case and in the Aircel Maxis matter, efforts have been made by his detractors to make him a “state guest” once again, this time for a longer period. Thus far, such efforts do not seem to have gained much traction. Chidambaram has in the meantime emerged as among the most prominent voices in the Opposition, excoriating the Narendra Modi government on its handling of the economy in particular. His relationship with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul appears to continue to be on strong foundations, as does his connect with many of those prominent in the Opposition. It needs to be added that Chidambaram shared a longstanding friendship with some of the top leaders of the BJP, although this list has shrunk, especially since Modi 2.0.

Despite the charges swirling over him and the reality of him not conforming to the backslapping, tactile type of politician in the manner that his party colleague Digvijaya Singh is, off and on there has been talk of his becoming a second edition of the Manmohan Singh phenomenon. The saga of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began in 2004, when the mild-mannered, scholarly economist was pitchforked into the most important job in the country by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Since the debacle of rival political formations at the hands of Modi and the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, there has been a lull in activity seeking to generate a second 2004 upset of a BJP-led government. Since the later months of 2020, the effects on lives and livelihoods caused by SARS2, especially the unexpected second wave in 2021, have lifted the expectations of key elements of the Opposition that a repeat of 2004 in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls is indeed possible. They see the key to this as the economy, buffeted as it has been by the turbulence caused by the pandemic.


A group of High Net Income individuals based in New York, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, London and Kuala Lumpur, along with associates in India, has begun work on promoting the prospects of Congress leader P. Chidambaram to emerge in 2023 as the consensus choice of the Opposition for the Prime Ministership in the 2024 polls. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party he leads, the BJP, continue to maintain a commanding national lead over any challenger in the electoral ring, this group (which may be termed the  Group of Nine, signifying the number of its key members) believes that the economic and societal shocks caused by the SARS2 pandemic on India will continue for two years more, if not more. In other words, that absence of significant recovery from the income and job losses caused by the pandemic will remain into the period just before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. This, they believe, will have a significant impact on PM Modi’s USP, which is that he is far and away the best hope for economic progress in India. The BJP has based its majority primarily on its electoral clout in the Hindi belt. The calculation of the Group of Nine is that the BJP will suffer major declines in the Hindi belt before 2024, falls caused by job and income losses that will override the party’s appeal on other issues. The economic and societal consequences of SARS2 would, in their view, cause a snowballing effect on national politics, leading to the assembling (by the close of 2023) and the formation after the 2024 polls of a coalition government led by Opposition parties.

That the economy has been the focus of several opposition attacks on the BJP has been evident since the close of 2017, with former Congress president Rahul Gandhi being the most vociferous. While there seemed to be a substantial impact of the economic factor in 2018 on BJP fortunes, as seen in the byelection results of that year, the Balakot strike in February 2019 and the announcement that Rahul Gandhi would be the Congress candidate for the Prime Ministership gave sufficient oxygen to the BJP to enable that party to secure an even bigger Lok Sabha majority than in 2014. In the public mind, images of Balakot and the belief that Narendra Modi was a far more reliable pair of hands at the helm of the nation than Rahul Gandhi swung the tide in favour of the BJP. Next time around, given that the economic situation in 2020-21 is far worse than it was in 2018-19 (and it is expected by Modi’s detractors that this situation will continue), they believe that a similar turnaround in the public mood through the factor of emotion in favour of the BJP is unlikely.


The Group of Nine regards it as mandatory that an individual gets anointed in 2023 itself as a safe pair of hands, and who would therefore be the consensus choice of the Opposition for the Prime Ministership. Given the hold that the party retains despite its reverses, they believe that (1) the Congress must lead such a coalition at the national level, and (2) the candidate for the Prime Ministership must not be from the Nehru family. The Group of Nine believes that the Congress Party leadership as an entirety understands the risk in once again promoting Rahul Gandhi as the party’s face in the 2024 polls. In their view, the best option would be to showcase three-time Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram as the Prime Ministerial face of the Congress Party and work to get him accepted so as to form a joint opposition front to take on the BJP.

Apart from what may be their personal connect with Chidambaram or some of those close to him, this calculation is based on:

(a) Chidambaram not being a threat to any regional leader, including Stalin in Tamil Nadu, given his hands-off approach towards the building up of the backslapping camaraderie required for the purpose.

(b) The South is likely to be an important determinant in which combination next gets a Lok Sabha majority in what is expected to be a close contest in 2024. Hence the need to choose a leader from that region, especially in a context where the BJP has been gaining ground in each of the southern states, to the shock of those who have long dismissed the party as a “Hindi-belt” outfit. It may be pointed out that Hindi-speaking states are very accepting and moderate in their approach to other languages, with several Hindi-speaking citizens eager for example to learn English, a language that successive governments have since 1947 effectively kept out of the reach of the poor and those in rural areas. Bollywood has disseminated a knowledge and love of Hindi in a manner far more effective than numerous attempts by successive Central governments to spread Hindi among states speaking other languages, through making it obligatory in schools and in other ways. While Chidambaram makes no secret of his lack of skill in speaking Hindi, he has for decades worked smoothly with Hindi-belt politicians, unlike other leaders from Tamil Nadu.

(c) The economy looms large in the public mind as a consequences of SARS2 ravaging tens of millions of individuals. In the view of the Group of Nine, Chidambaram is the politician best placed in the Opposition space to campaign on what they expect will be an economy still feeling the aftershocks of the pandemic. His party has made him the spokesman for talking about the economic effects of the pandemic (which the Congress Party places entirely on the shoulders of PM Modi), and his barbs at the Central government have increased over the years. At the same time, they believe that neither Mamata Banerjee nor Arvind Kejriwal carries the potential public benefit of the experience of Chidambaram in handling economic matters. This is so despite the skills exhibited by them in besting the BJP electorally in their home states.

(d) Chidambaram has built extensive linkages within SE Asia, China, the US and Europe thanks to his tenure as Finance Minister, and these are to be showcased to offer an alternative to Modi, a leader who has not been seriously challenged since 2013. Whether in London, Hong Kong, Singapore or Dubai, Chidambaram has an extensive network of friends and contacts. As indeed is the case in the bureaucracy as well, and not just among retired officials. Such contacts can be used to present the narrative of him as a viable alternative to Prime Minister Modi in a way that others in the opposition space may not be able to.


The Group of Nine is aware of other charges hurled at Chidambaram. These include the fact that the chimera of “Hindu terror” was artificially created during his 2008-13 tenure as the Union Home Minister. The excuse they offer is that he was made to do this by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. The latter is reported as being on record that “Hindu radicals are a bigger threat than LeT”. The leakage of his conversation and the comparison made in it with US ambassador Timothy Roemer has yet to be contradicted by Rahul Gandhi. That ministers had to bend to the will of the “High Command” or lose their jobs was no secret, and it is such a defence that supporters of the “Chidambaram for PM” move aim to use when he comes under attack for highlighting the concept of “Hindu terror”. A month after Rahul Gandhi’s comments to Roemer, in August 2010, at a conference of police officials, Home Minister Chidambaram claimed that “Hindu terrorists” were behind many of the bomb blasts taking place at the time. Both former Home Secretary G.K. Pillai and Under-Secretary R.V.S. Mani have spoken of how “the focus of Chidambaram during his tenure as Home Minister was to strengthen the non-existent Hindu terror threat by any means possible”. Those behind the smear on a community in excess of a billion people worked overtime to churn out variants of the “Hindu terror” disinformation virus, but the spread of the virus within the general population was almost non-existent, to the disappointment of its originators. A counter that is being put up by backers of Chidambaram is to point out that both G.K. Pillai as well as R.V.S. Mani have been ignored by the present government, even though several officials known to be close to the UPA have been given attractive postings since 2014. If what R.V.S. Mani and G.K. Pillai said about the then Home Minister had been correct, the Group of Nine argues, surely the present government, no friend of the Congress Party First Family or Chidambaram, would have recognized them better for speaking out in the manner they did.


Another set of charges relate to allegations of financial impropriety by Chidambaram while he served as the Finance Minister during the two terms of the UPA. The claim of his detractors is that there are a collection of bankers, security market analysts, officials and corporates said to be closely associated with Chidambaram who protected his interests. Details of such a hypothesis have been provided in “Market Mafia”, a book by business journalist Palak Shah. This outlines a chain of market manipulations that the author claims took place in plain sight of regulatory agencies. Another set of revelations has come from a book by the globally renowned team of Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu, “Absolute Power”, which is mainly about the National Stock Exchange. This has long been alleged to have had the patronage of the UPA-era Finance Minister. It has been claimed that his decisions and even live broadcast of parliamentary speeches during market hours had an immediate impact on the market, from which several lost while a few gained. The Colo (co-location) imbroglio has been cited in theirs and in several other reports. The Dalal-Basu book has been having record sales. The Group of Nine however points out that, as with Palak Shah’s book, no significant action on the part of the government seems to have been initiated on the basis of the conclusions of Dalal, Basu and Shah. According to the Group of Nine, given the public reputation for integrity of the Modi government, such lack of governmental follow-up will be a sign to the voters that the charges made in the two books and in multiple other reports are not accepted as actionable by the official machinery.


Sources known to be credible have warned that the “market mafia” is looking to engineer a stock exchange meltdown close to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Their intention is to blight the chances of a hat-trick by Prime Minister Modi through his winning the 2024 elections. Should such a stock exchange crisis occur in the manner of the earlier Rao-era Harshad Mehta or Vajpayee-era LIC imbroglios, Chidambaram’s voter appeal as a crisis manager would rise. Such a development would be ironic in the eyes of those who believe those close to the former Finance Minister are at the heart of much of the market manipulations. The Group of Nine points to the fact that both the governments that were in office during the Harshad Mehta and LIC scams got defeated in the subsequent Lok Sabha polls. This is the “hat-trick” that they are planning to achieve in 2024, given the electoral importance of the tens of millions of retail investors in both urban as well as in rural areas, not to mention deposits in various non-banking finance companies, which too would be affected as a consequence of stock market manipulations caused by insufficient accountability and oversight.

The Group of Nine points out that the charges made of facilitating insider trades by Chidambaram while he was Finance Minister would have been extensively investigated by investigative and regulatory agencies since 2014. In case conclusive evidence had been found against Chidambaram and others named in accounts such as those presented in the books mentioned earlier, those guilty would have been proceeded against in view of PM Modi’s policy of Zero Tolerance for corruption, especially at the higher levels. Neither SEBI nor the RBI nor North Block has, it is pointed out, thus far found that the charges made against Chidambaram and others presumed to be connected to him warrant more than relatively small fines and penalties on a few who have been discovered as being involved. If the charges were truly as significant as detractors of Chidambaram claim, by now several existing and retired top officials would be facing prosecution as a consequence of action by the Government of India, they point out. The Group of Nine points to the fact that several of the office-holders repeatedly named by detractors of Chidambaram have not only been retained but promoted. This, in their view, carries its own message to voters as to the truth or otherwise of such charges. Prime Minister Modi is known for his attention to detail and his administrative skills, not to mention commitment towards establishing a corruption-free governance system.


“Dilli door ast”, as are the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Whether Sonia Gandhi or powerful state leaders such as Stalin, Mamata or Kejriwal would accept Chidambaram as the Prime Ministerial face of the Opposition remains unproven. The Group of Nine acknowledges this, but say that they will press ahead with their mission of positioning P. Chidambaram as the Prime Ministerial face of the opposition in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. He can then go head to head against the formidable appeal of Narendra Modi as an administrator and manager of the economy. What is clear is that planning for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls has begun in earnest in more than one location, and in more than one country. And that as of now, the odds-on favourite to win a hat-trick in 2024 remains PM Modi.

Tuesday 1 June 2021

A GANDHIAN QUAD (The Daily Guardian)

Chief of Army Staff General M.M. Naravane is an outstanding choice for the job. His professionalism and knowledge of warfare made him the most suitable candidate for the very consequential responsibility that has been placed on his shoulders by the Government of India. The Indian Army, which he has the honour to lead, is a formidable fighting force. The Indian soldier has been steeled in a battle for over a century. Neither the First nor the Second World War would have been won by the Allies but for the bravery and sacrifices of millions of volunteers from India who ensured success against the enemy. It is a shadow on their impartiality that some countries whose troops participated in these ways arrange anniversary celebrations of the close of both these conflicts without inviting the participation of the Indian armed forces in such events. Instead, countries that deployed far fewer numbers of troops and auxiliary staff than the millions who came from India have not merely hosted such events but excluded India from the list of countries that have contributed to the victory of allied forces over those of despotism. An exception has been the Russian Federation, which has given India an amply deserved pride of place in such commemorations. Of course, it must be remembered that at the same time as some of these countries were battling Germany and Japan in the name of freedom and democracy, both were denied to hundreds of millions of those who lived in Asia and Africa, not to mention South America. There have been dozens of military explanations trotted out as to why Japanese forces were able to slice through the resistance put up by colonial powers in Southeast Asia, even while they found themselves in a quagmire in China. The explanation was that in almost all those parts of Southeast Asia that were overrun by the Japanese, the local people had been enslaved and could not be expected to exert themselves on behalf of their European oppressors. In contrast, apart from the concessions given to foreign countries on the east coast, China was free of colonial occupation and put up a resistance stiff enough to tire out Japanese forces sufficiently to ensure that their overreach into India proved a disaster. In those battles as well, once again it was troops from India who made the difference, aware (as was becoming evident in the 1914-18 war as well) that it was only a matter of years before the British flag got lowered from what since 1947 is Rashtrapati Bhavan. During the 1939-45 war, Subhas Chandra Bose ignited the imagination of the people of the subcontinent with a call to arms against colonial rule. A call that refused to accept the ridiculous thesis put forward by M.A. Jinnah and his mentor Winston Churchill that Hindus and Muslims were separate nations. The passing of Bose in circumstances yet to be made public removed the only individual who would have ensured a united subcontinent. It was only when Whitehall understood that the Indian soldier, sailor, and air force officer was no longer willing to wait for the freedoms promised in the Atlantic Charter that preparations were made to “Divide and Quit” India.

General Naravane has joined the voices from those holding high official positions in India that the Quadrilateral Alliance between India, the US, Japan, and Australia is merely” a plurilateral grouping delving into issues specific to the Indo-Pacific region”. The Chief of Army Staff sought to quieten nerves in particular capitals by adding that the Quad “neither intends nor attempts to be a military alliance”. Such statements and the language in which they are couched are not those usually associated with the military. They seem to belong to the world of diplomacy, although it must be said that it is entirely possible that General Naravane is as fluent in diplomacy as he certainly is in military technique. Some countries have indeed portrayed the Quad as a military alliance, he said. This list includes Pakistan, China, and Russia, the last two of whom have been particularly outspoken about their distaste for the Quad and their dislike of the very concept of the Indo-Pacific. They would prefer a return to “Asia Pacific”, a term that became dated in the final years of the 20th century. It is not just unlikely but impossible that any among those guiding policy in Rawalpindi, Moscow, or Beijing will have their attitude towards the Quad changed as a consequence of the comments made by the Chief of Army Staff. What they seek is the disbandment of the Quad and acrimony amongst its four members as to its future. Until such a development takes place (with their help), they will continue to oppose the Quad. Even External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has been reported that talk of any new Cold War (presumably between the US and the Peoples Republic of China) is the imagining of conspiracy theorists. Unfortunately for those still believing in such an optimistic perspective on the world, every day more and more policymakers in capitals across the world are coming around to accepting the “inconvenient truth” that Beijing and Washington are engaged in an existential battle of systems that defines the geopolitics of the present as much as Cold War 1.0 between the USSR and the US did while the former lasted. Despite their public comments, certainly, those at the top in Moscow and Beijing do.

A comprehensive and effective policy to deal with the evolving international situation needs to be based on reality. In the 1950s much of such policy was based on illusions, such as that “China would never attack India”, or that “the Non-Aligned world will rally to the support of India”. In the 1962 and 1971 wars, neither of which turned out to be accurate. There is no harm except confusion within the public when top policymaker after top policymaker make soothing noises about a Quad based on Gandhian principles. What is expected is that in the privacy of the portals of policymaking, care will be taken to ensure that the realities confronting India are factored in and steps taken to face up to them. This is what the people of India have the right to expect from their government.