Saturday 29 April 2023

Elite capture behind the chaos in Sudan (The Sunday Guardian)


The competing power elites have long made money, and expect to make more with the prolonging of the conflict.

In days past, colonialism paraded in plain sight. Even then, elites were groomed to take on the responsibilities that those belonging to the colonising country did not want to themselves do. The flag of the colonising country and the emblems of its authority were everywhere, reminding local populations which country it was that they had been colonised by. While textbooks in those parts of the world that were the most proficient in capturing other countries and ruling them talk of how civilisation and other attributes considered desirable were brought over to the countries that were colonised, the reality was that it was the hunger, the greed, for securing control of human and other resources that was behind the colonial project. Elites that were favoured (or in many situations expressly created) to act as the accomplices of the colonisers saw to it that the country that ruled over them was able to transfer resources of multiple kinds from the colonised to the colonising country. Even as the countries that were conquered saw their populations descend into hellish conditions, the conquerors witnessed a renaissance of the arts and the clambering up from poverty to relative prosperity of several citizens. The colonies provided a destination to which young people could go and build their careers. Large fortunes were made in inverse proportion to the suffering of those enslaved in that process. As for the elites whose task it was to facilitate such exploitation, their riches grew as well, but not to a level that could pose a challenge to enterprises in the colonising power. The riches came out of serving as middlemen funnelling in human and other resources for the benefit of the conquering power. All that was of course in the big, bad past. Fast forward to the present, only to discover that “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. There are parts of the world where populations have been kept away from quality education and occupation, where the bulk of the population is on the borders of subsistence and focused obsessively only on survival, Interestingly, these are often the very parts that have plentiful mineral and other natural resources, the benefit of which remains either unexploited or unavailable to the vast majority of the local citizenry.
Keeping hopes alive in Ukraine that the central government may be able to get back the territory that was lost to it in 2014 and afterwards will not result in such an outcome, although it does have the consequence of the country being enmeshed in a war that appears to be unwinnable unless one of two miracles takes place. Either NATO enters the war directly on the side of the Kiev regime, or the Russian Federation falls apart and its soldiers flee the territory of Ukraine in the manner that Soviet troops fled Afghanistan in 1988 or US forces abandoned their weapons and positions in 2021. This was done by President Biden for much the same reason that his predecessor had consented to a surrender agreement at Doha the previous year, which was to ensure his re-election. The complete US pullout from Afghanistan was the first indication that Joe Biden had made up his mind to be a two-term President, defying age and other issues. In the case of Afghanistan, it was the Afghan people, especially moderates and women, who have suffered as a consequence of the Trump-Biden pullout. In Ukraine, citizens in the US are themselves feeling the aftershocks of the turbocharging of the war against Russia by Biden. The US President joined his European counterparts in misreading the effects of their flooding of weapons into Ukraine and imposing sanctions that have caused much of the non-Atlanticist world to re-examine their traditional policy of seeing the US dollar as a safe asset to buy and keep. The US dollar, the euro, the British pound and the Swiss franc are safe only as long as the governments controlling these currencies act sensibly. Confiscatory sanctions and the disappearance of the treasure troves of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and many other targets of western kinetic action have convinced many outside the West that trusting in these countries or their currencies is the mark of a fool. It is akin to the trust of Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi in the promises of the US and its European allies that they would be safe from retaliation once they handed over their WMD, when in fact, it was that very decision which later cost them their lives, as it almost did that of Bashar Assad, once he let go of his small stockpile of chemical weapons. As trust gets lost in western currencies, the desire to hold gold becomes more pronounced. And it is because parts of Sudan are awash in gold deposits and other minerals that Russia (with China operating behind Moscow’s shadow) is backing the Rapid Action Force in Sudan against the regular army. Russia and China do not want that gold to go to countries that may be at war with the duo in a few years’ time, and are making sure that the more West-friendly Sudanese military government is on the receiving end of the attacks of the other side. As in Ukraine, as in so many other countries that are being torn apart by more powerful geopolitical rivals assisting rival sides, the natural riches of Sudan are what is causing an intensification of the ongoing contest between two generals (each in a different geopolitical camp) to gain control of the entire country.
As in the other countries ravaged by such proxy battles, all but a few of the Sudanese people will be the losers in this conflict. The competing power elites have long made money, and expect to make more with the prolonging of the conflict. Peace clearly does not generate the profits that accrue in wartime. Check with the oil producers and weapons manufacturers in the US, who will be expected by the backers of a second term for President Biden to make sure that his electoral coffers overflow by the time the Presidential polls come by.

Saturday 22 April 2023

Caste by birth should not spread but disappear (The Sunday Guardian)


It is a matter of surprise that some born into faiths whose scriptures make no mention of caste are seeking to bring caste into their theologies.

The caste system now still practised in India differs from the practices that were followed in the ancient past. In essence, the caste system divides society into four equally important branches of activity. The dissemination of knowledge and the conduct of rituals in places of worship was held to be the responsibility of Brahmins. The acquiring of wealth through individual enterprise was the dominion of the Vaisyas, while the protection of the state and its people was the duty of the Kshatriyas. Other work was the province of the Shudras. It was not at birth that caste identity had been formed, no matter who the parents were, or the family that a child was born into. Caste denotes occupation and expertise. It is illogical therefore to affix caste at birth. After all, simply because a child is born to a doctor or an engineer couple does not endow the infant with the skills needed in those professions. It is only later that skills are picked up and mastered. While in many cases, a child would in later years follow the profession of his or her parents, that was not necessarily the case. As the tradition set in ancient India went, the child of a Shudra could in the course of years, evolve into a practitioner of medicine or engineering, or get immersed in the acquisition and expansion of knowledge, including those relating to places of worship. In Kerala, the present writer, who edited a mass circulation newspaper at the time, was among the protagonists who ensured that an academy of priesthood was set up. Irrespective of birth, young minds could study in the academy and master spiritual philosophy and rituals, ultimately becoming priests in a temple. It was in Kerala that Sri Narayana Guru was born. The Guru consecrated a Shiva temple but met with opposition from hereditary priests, who said that they alone had the right to consecrate temples. Sri Narayana Guru smiled and replied that they were welcome to go to any temple they wished, and that he would be satisfied with those who came and prayed at the temple consecrated by him. Initially, almost all the worshippers were from the “backward class” Ezhava community that the Guru was born into, but soon afterwards, all manner of devotees began visiting the temple consecrated by him. In ancient times, before the mist of wars and conquests clouded the belief systems and practices that had been in vogue for millennia, the Guru would have instantly been accepted as a Brahmin, given the philosophical and priestly qualities he acquired.
Judged not by the accidental yardstick of birth but the standard of subsequent attainment, there is no doubt that one of the founding fathers of the Republic, Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, was a scholar from an early age, a fact that his writings subsequently confirmed. Consequently, he too could be said to acquire the characteristics of the scholar caste. Subsequently, he became a fighter for causes dear to his heart and mind, thereby moving into the fighter caste whose duty is to protect our country and its citizens. It remains a matter of regret in many that Dr Ambedkar was not chosen as the first Prime Minister of India, for had he been given that responsibility, the country would have evolved in a manner very different from the way it did. Caste ought not to come from birth but from experience and study. Unfortunately, the notion of caste by birth within a particular faith has become embedded in our society, with as yet no sign of the actual system staging a revival. In a context where caste by birth needs to be replaced by caste through learning and experience, it is a matter of surprise that some born into faiths whose scriptures make no mention of caste are seeking to bring caste into their theologies. Those who seek to bring hierarchy by birth into theologies that acknowledge all humanity to be born equal in merit need to ask themselves whether they are being true to the Founders and the Revealers of such faiths by seeking to bring into them a concept alien to the foundational principles of such faiths. The doctrines of Sanatan Dharma, the Bible and the Quran teach about the equality of humankind. As was said during a period of the history of India that appears to have been forgotten, Janmana Jayate Shudra, Karmana Jayate Bahuda. Each is born into the same “caste”, and only subsequently moves on to another. It is said that man and woman do not live by bread alone, so it could be affirmed that society cannot function through just one, any one, of the four castes. Each is needed, each is equal in importance to the others. The “caste” (profession) of an individual, if defined solely by the accident of birth, is akin to the children of a doctor being assumed to be doctors, irrespective of whether they are trained and proficient in that discipline or not. Rather than the doctrine of caste by birth being spread to other faiths, what is needed in the faith where caste still remains is to return to the system of affixing an individual’s caste through his or her learning and experience.

Saturday 15 April 2023

A Karnataka win is key to Rahul’s 2024 dreams (The Sunday Guardian)


A BJP defeat in Karnataka would echo around the world, for the state is the southern fortress of the BJP, and losing it would convey an impression of vulnerability in 2024.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a much loved Prime Minister, and overall growth rates during his tenure were good. Even the Opposition was resigned to another five years of the NDA government. And then, in 2004 the voting figures resulted in a Congress-led coalition forming the Union Government. As things stand, it seems an impossibility for the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be bested in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, but memories of 2004 are driving Rahul’s efforts at an encore through a united front against the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. A still disunited Opposition is raising their poll planks of economic hardship and Chinese belligerence on the border. In order to wipe away memories of the corruption associated with past governments, the Congress Party in particular has been trying to tar the BJP with the same charge of corruption that was so successfully brought against the UPA in 2014. Congress rule implies that once again it will be the writ of 10 Janpath that prevails in South Block. After all, in effect the Congress high command comprises just Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka, although their hold has been weakened by the post-2014 lack of access to power at the Centre. In Rajasthan, most Congress MLAs had refused to obey the apparent desire of the party high command to replace Gehlot with Sachin Pilot. The Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka triumvirate had then accepted that if nominated Chief Minister, Pilot would lack the numbers needed to get anywhere near a majority within the state Congress Legislature Party. However, the soft corner that Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka have for Pilot remains, which is why he has once again been tacitly permitted to rebel against Gehlot, despite the harm that such a reopening of wounds not yet healed would do to the party’s prospects for a repeat victory in Rajasthan.
The focus of the triumvirate is less on Jaipur than on Bangalore. Inserting himself into a position of leadership over the other parties opposed to the BJP is a priority for Rahul Gandhi. In such a task, defeating the BJP in next month’s Assembly polls in Karnataka is essential. The calculation is that a victory in Karnataka would diminish the view within anti-BJP voters in several states that a vote for the Congress would be wasted, as it was considered too weak in all but a very few states to seriously challenge the BJP. A win in Karnataka, those around the triumvirate believe, would once again tempt the minorities into the Congress basket and away from the attraction of regional or sectarian parties.
After Gehlot’s “closet revolt”, were the Congress to secure a majority in Karnataka, there is speculation that AICC president Mallikarjun Kharge may become the Chief Minister of Karnataka, leaving Siddaramaiah to decide whether he should serve under Kharge or remain outside what A.K. Antony calls “the cool shades of power”. D.K. Shivakumar, who heads the state unit of the Congress, has already gone on record that he would be happy to serve under Kharge. Rather than say that a shift by him from central to state politics was out of the question, Kharge has remained silent, as has the Congress high command. In a party which Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka dominate, being the AICC president is to have responsibility without power. Meanwhile, although the hold of Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains strong over the national electorate, the Opposition is calculating that economic conditions will worsen as the Lok Sabha elections approach, and that the dagger thrusts from China on the border would multiply. In the meantime, they plan to intensify their efforts at pinning corruption charges on the BJP leadership.
Whether corruption charges gain traction or the economy and the China factor follow the dismal trajectory mapped out by the Opposition, only the future will tell. Rahul, Mamata and Kejriwal are each looking to the economic situation to unlock votes for themselves. In Karnataka, the BJP leadership gave an unexpected promotion to Basavaraj Bommai, and the present Chief Minister’s political fortunes depend on what voters decide in a month. A BJP defeat in Karnataka would echo around the world, for the state is the southern fortress of the BJP, and losing it would convey an impression of vulnerability in 2024. The same international newspapers and television channels that for years have claimed that “democracy is dead” in India will forget having ever said so, and celebrate the defeat of the BJP in its southern citadel as a triumph of the very same democracy that they have so often declared to be extinct. A Congress victory in Karnataka would assist Rahul Gandhi in his efforts at overtaking Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal as the acknowledged leader of an anti-BJP opposition alliance during the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Not so much for the Prime Minister, but for the ex-MP from Kalpetta, a lot rides on the May 2023 Karnataka Assembly results. Rahul clearly shares the view of Jairam Ramesh that the Congress Party ought to be the leader of the opposition alliance, and is looking to a win in Karnataka to make the leaders of other anti-BJP parties accept that logic. Were he to face a disaster in the form of a BJP victory in Karnataka, or a googly in the shape of the AAP seat tally nearing double digits, Rahul’s quest for leadership of the opposition space may continue to be an impossible

Saturday 8 April 2023

Not prosecution but persecution of Trump (The Sunday Guardian)


Before District Attorney Bragg stepped into the frame, it would have been easier for a competitor to defeat Trump.

New York has slipped several notches down the safety ladder since Rudy Giuliani was Mayor during 1994-2001. Although a well-regarded former police officer is now holding Giuliani’s old job, robberies and murders have shot up in New York despite his efforts. New York, once an iconic city, is sliding to the depths reached by Los Angeles, a city that has become unlivable for those not wealthy. Indeed, New York is closing in on the title of the most crime-prone metropolis in the US, if the many crimes that are by custom ignored by the police get added on to the tally. Given such a situation, it would have been reasonable to assume that District Attorney (DA) Alvin Bragg should have been spending much time on the waves of crime that are visible in New York, but the DA’s attention is instead on former President Donald J. Trump. He has thrown almost three dozen indictments against Trump. One, details of which was leaked with the ferocity of a thunderstorm, was a payment made to an adult movie star to remain silent about her relationship with Trump during the 2016 Presidential election. Incidentally, President Biden, is still seething that Hillary Clinton lost the sprint to the Oval Office to Trump, an individual both consider to be a buffoon. For this, Biden pinned the responsibility on Vladimir Putin, and in 2022, he finally got what he thought was a chance to humiliate the Russian leader. With the same emotionalism and lack of foresight that made President George W. Bush go after “Sad-Dam” Hussein in Iraq in 2003, Biden has turbocharged NATO’s military offensive against Putin, especially since the President of the Russian Federation launched a war against Ukraine on 24 February 2022.
Only the most gullible would believe that Putin kept information about his impending attack from Xi Jinping when the two embraced each other in Beijing just days before the Russian attack began. That list seemingly includes many of the leaders of Europe, who have been queuing up since the war started to implore Xi to get Putin to reverse course. This when the CCP supremo is the major, some would say the only, beneficiary of Putin’s war on Ukraine. The latest pair of European leaders to make the pilgrimage to Beijing for the honour of the privilege of being ushered into the presence of Xi were Emmanuel Macron and Ursula von der Leyen. It had been assumed within the councils of NATO that the economic havoc caused by the prolonging of the Ukraine war would affect not the West but only the poorer countries, as also Russia itself. Instead, the way the war has developed has also hit consumers in the US and Europe.
Interestingly, China is visibly ensuring that Russia continues to be able to fight a long war that drains NATO of weapons, armaments the alliance may need in a future conflict in the Indo-Pacific. During World War II, the US ensured that the USSR was enabled to fight on until the German Wehrmacht got drained and defeated. Now China is assisting Russia to continue the war until NATO gets exhausted. This would give the PLA the respite it needs to launch its plan of taking control of Taiwan. Given that Biden is paying vastly more attention to Ukraine than he is to Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya and the South China Sea put together, the calculation within the CMC is that the point when NATO is exhausted as a consequence of the Russia-Ukraine war will come during the third term of CCP General Secretary Xi, thereby enabling him to forcibly occupy Taiwan.
District Attorney Bragg’s team seems to have leaked information copiously about Trump and Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress. Given the conservative nature of several Republicans, it may have been assumed by Democrats that a financial transaction of the sort that the 45th President’s then lawyer Michael Cohen had with Stormy Daniels may turn several voters away from Trump and into the Biden camp. The problem behind such reasoning is that almost nobody in Trump’s support base believes their hero to be anything other than what he has openly been all his adult life, a playboy. The Stormy Daniels indictment has instead ensured that Trump has gained on his competitors. As the Republican nominee, Trump may even choose a feisty lady of colour as his Vice-Presidential candidate, such as Nikki Haley. The DA’s indictment has forced all his Republican competitors to revert to their pre-2021 stance of abasing themselves before Trump, a list that includes a man Trump’s backers had marked out for the hangman’s noose on 6 January 2021, Mike Pence. Over the decades, Trump had evaded prosecution for the many actions that his subordinates carried out, and it is improbable that Bragg would be able to prove in court the felony charges that he has flung at Trump . Even if the ex-President were to be sent to prison for a while on charges that a neutral jury would be hard put to unanimously endorse beyond reasonable doubt, such travail could assure Trump’s victory in the 2024 Presidential polls. Meanwhile, his appeals would wend their way through a legal system that has been transformed in its chemistry during his four years in the White House. Before District Attorney Bragg stepped into the frame, it would have been easier for a competitor to defeat Trump. But that was before the halo of victimhood descended atop his scowling countenance.

Saturday 1 April 2023

India needs greater VVIP accountability, not less (The Sunday Guardian)


How many colonial-era laws will the present critics of such laws discard if they return to high office, when in the past, they held on to each such law and used (or rather, misused) them with zest?

Pratap Bhanu Mehta is a greatly respected thinker. He has (in the Indian Express) penned an op ed to the effect that there are traces of vindictiveness within the high echelons of the BJP. An example cited is the manner in which the colonial-era law relating to criminal defamation was used by a little-known complainant to allege that an entire backward caste community was defamed by a remark made by Rahul Gandhi. The Congress leader’s subsequent ouster from Parliament has come in handy for foes of Prime Minister Modi, as they have been touring the world warning that democracy is being made extinct in India. Their argument is that the Prime Minister, assisted by his closest associates, has systematically drained the governance system in India of the effectiveness of the checks and balances designed within the constitutional framework to ensure the absence of authoritarian tendencies within the executive branch. That the BJP has lost several state Assembly elections since 2014 and is looking at an uphill Assembly contest in the party’s southern citadel of Karnataka seem at odds with the picturisation of a rampaging ruling party that subdues all other parties by whatever means that comes to hand.
The maximum sentence the Surat court passed on the criminal defamation suit brought against Rahul Gandhi was a surprise. The complainant portrayed remarks made about the likes of Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi as an attack on OBCs, which implies that both are from that politically consequential segment of Indian society. Neither Lalit nor Nirav Modi are OBCs. For another, such complaints fail to take account of the fact that parliamentary democracy as a process is usually noisy, sometimes even rising to the level of cacophony, yet is infinitely preferable to the absence of jousting narratives in an authoritarian state. Given the Surat precedent, a blizzard of similar cases can be expected against a multitude of politicians, including several in the BJP.
Although triggered by a court verdict that in turn was based on the laws of the land (much of which continues to date back to the British era), Rahul Gandhi’s removal from the rolls of the Lok Sabha has only added abundant fuel to the multiplying number of claims being made that India is no longer a democracy. The most affected by the perception of such an extreme view of the state of Indian democracy is Narendra Modi himself. Despite this being the case, it has been assumed without any substantiation that the events preceding the removal of Rahul from the Lok Sabha’s list of MPs were choreographed by the Prime Minister himself. It is illogical to place responsibility for the Surat complaint and its after-effects on the shoulders of the very individual who is at the greatest risk of reputational damage from the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi. It has become the fashion for critics of Modi to have everything that goes right in India pass unmentioned by them, but to assert that anything going wrong is because of PM Modi. All the blame for problems real and imagined are pinned on a single individual. The Prime Ministers of the UK or India, or the President of the US, does not have the overarching power within a country that a genuinely authoritarian leader such as CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping has. India is a democracy that has numerous elected authorities, many competing against and opposing the BJP itself. Witness the astringent manner being resorted to by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal when he talks about PM Modi. Which is the authoritarian state where such public criticisms are a commonplace against the Head of Government? Calling India and its contentious, clamorous democracy “fascist” is to be unfair to the people of our country, who have kept the flame of democracy alight for 75 years and counting.
Shakespeare asked “What’s in a name?” According to those objecting to his remarks, the implication made by Rahul Gandhi was that those having a particular surname shared the same proven traits (including presumably the ability to charm bank managers into handing over unsecured loans worth hundreds of crores of rupees) of Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi. There may be a few citizens in India having “Gandhi” as a surname, and yet whose moral character may be the opposite of the saintly example set by the Mahatma. Would it be correct to assume that because of his surname, Rahul Gandhi exhibits the same behavioral patterns as any other individual who has the same surname? Obviously not. Rahul’s quip about the Modi surname must have caused some of the members of his own party to wince.
There is the charge of “persecution of political opponents” that is repeatedly levied against PM Modi. Nine years after Modi became PM, the only charge of criminal conduct brought against Rahul related to him and his mother acquiring controlling shares in the company owning the National Herald. And this charge was initiated not by the Government of India but by Subramanian Swamy, who had nothing to do with the BJP when he first brought the National Herald matter to court. Whether it be in the case of the National Herald matter or in the very few cases lodged by the present government against VVIPs who held prominent governmental positions during the UPA period, these have not even been fast-tracked. The cases linger on and on, in the way usual in this country. Several matters that took place during 2004-14, such as manipulations in price of essential commodities and equity stocks, or in the running and ruining of several PSUs, have yet to witness punishment of the actual VVIP perpetrators. These were those who during the UPA era bore responsibility for departments that exhibited several examples of misgovernance. During the UPA decade, among many other matters of concern, there was the data co-location scam in the NSE, the sudden death of reports of petroleum discoveries in Indian coastal waters, and the way in which Air India and other PSUs became basket cases. Yet who are the UPA-era VVIPs directly or indirectly responsible for such situations that have been punished for such actions? None. A strange definition of “vindictiveness”, indeed.
This may come as a surprise to the New York Times, the Manchester Guardian or other media outlets that claim that all was brightness in India until 2014 but became dark thereafter, but there are many among Modi’s admirers who believe not that the Prime Minister has been excessively harsh with his principal political opponents, but who instead wish that the broomstick of accountability be wielded more vigorously by him. Those who have bulldozed into the dust and dirt of poverty and death countless citizens through wilful misfeasance, those who have terrorized many for decades through goons and guns, need to be held to account, and watch their ill-gotten gains vanish in a cloud of bulldozer-created dust. Their ill-gotten constructions need to either be transferred to public use or face the consequences of the breaking of the law by their owners.
How many colonial-era laws will the present critics of such laws discard if they return to high office, when in the past, they held on to each such law and used (or rather, misused) them with zest?