Sunday, 22 May 2016

East Asia edges towards limited war (Sunday Guardian)

Despite several of its members being jailed or proceeded against on corruption charges, the group within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by former President and CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin is continuing its efforts at discrediting current Head of State and party chief Xi Jinping. For the Jiang group, whose members have collectively been estimated to be worth $380 billion in undeclared assets (mostly overseas), to unseat or at the minimum weaken into ineffectiveness Xi Jinping has become a matter of survival. Each month, more of its flock are falling into the anti-corruption nets spread across China by the present government, which has lately also been investigating assets held in locations such as Vancouver, Adelaide, San Francisco and London by nominees of members of the group, usually in the names of close family members, several of whom have during the previous 16 years acquired foreign passports. Of the top 200 members of the group, it is suspected within the relevant CCP agencies that more than half this list are also, secretly, citizens of foreign countries, exactly the same situation as in India, where undeclared foreign passports are held by several thousand high net worth individuals who are from the business, official and political streams. 
Among the most effective ways in which President Xi is being boxed in is through the influence of the Jiang group on People’s Republic of China (PRC) media, a field of activity in which there are numerous individuals who have become wealthy owing to the “envelope culture” encouraged during the tenure in office of Jiang Zemin, who dominated both the CCP as well as the government from 1989 to 2003, and who used his influence and affluence thereafter to ensure that the power of his successor, Hu Jintao, was diluted by Jiang’s powerful nominees in the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), the economic ministries, the military and the security services. None of these could get reformed during Hu’s ten years in office (2003-2013), although he himself was in favour of changes that would make China grow faster in the future. The Jiang group bears a resemblance to some of the 2004-2014 economic and political czars of the UPA in India, in that it favours imports over local goods and has strong links with the financial agencies headquartered in the US and the EU that are responsible for the 2008 global economic crash, besides the steady impoverishment of the lower and middle classes since the 1990s in every country where they have a dominant influence, especially the US. During the period in office of the UPA, much of India Inc morphed from international tigers taking over foreign enterprises to becoming agents of such enterprises in India, where during the previous decade, much of large industry is now in the control of foreign enterprises, sometimes openly but usually through well-tended routes such as Participatory Notes and the Mauritius channel. 
The Jiang group has promoted a jingoistic crescendo of noise in large sections of the Chinese media, including newly popular online entities. These play to the hyper-patriotic sentiments of several tens of millions of Chinese citizens by advocating a policy of force and dominance against other countries in Asia, even while challenging the US militarily in the continent. As a consequence of the misrepresentation of facts by analysts and commentators close to the big money interests within the group, an atmosphere of siege is getting created in China. The people of what will soon be the world’s largest economy are being repeatedly told that they are being “encircled” by neighbours such as Vietnam, the Philippines and India, and that “pre-emptive action” needs to be taken to ensure that such countries do not inflict damage on the PRC first. The creation of a hyper-patriotic spirit gets added on to unrealistic estimates of China’s present capability to change policies in other countries in order to constrain the diplomacy of President Xi. It will be recalled that the Jiang group had engineered border incursions into India at the precise time when the two most consequential leaders of Asia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping, were meeting on 17 September 2014 in a cordial atmosphere in Gujarat. It is not an accident that members of the Jiang group have extensive networks with influential individuals and institutions within the NATO bloc, and that the policies it clandestinely promotes are designed to sour relations with countries that are seeking to balance ties between Beijing and Washington. Indeed, President Barack Obama’s best card in much of Asia is the unease created by the muscle flexing indulged in by those party influentials backing the Jiang group, who are seeking to ensure that the policy of conciliation adopted by Deng Xiaoping to such beneficial effect over two decades be abandoned in favour of a policy of confrontation with neighbours and with others. 
The tinderbox that East Asia is becoming as a consequence of the hyper-patriotism and calls to war indulged in by Jiang group members under the guise of protecting national interest since Xi Jinping took office in 2013, is nowhere more exemplified than in the Taiwan straits. The geographically small but economically huge nation, whose 23 million people have just elected to office a brilliant and soft-spoken female leader, Tsai Ing-wen to the Presidency of the Republic of China (Taiwan), has been the focus of the Jiang group within Mainland China. A word of mouth campaign is raging across the PRC that the “soft” policies towards Taiwan of President Hu that have been continued by President Xi have “lessened into insignificance” Mainland China’s role in Taiwan. The reality is the opposite, with the Mainland accounting for nearly half of tourist arrivals and half of the island’s exports. During the period in office of Hu Jintao and his interlocutor in Taipei (former President Ma Ying-jeou), links between the Mainland and Taiwan have expanded exponentially, to the benefit of both sides. So deep has such context become that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has won both control of the Legislative Yuan as well as the Presidency in the just-concluded elections, has shifted its stance from a push towards formal independence into backing for the status quo. In her inaugural address when taking over the nation’s highest office on 20 May, Tsai Ing-wen went as far as to acknowledge and affirm support for the “1992 Consensus”, a theoretical construct invented by KMT strategist Su Chi that has become the foundation for relations between Taipei and Beijing ever since. This goes that “both sides will adhere to the One China principle, but differ from each other on the meaning of One China”. Breaking with DPP orthodoxy, which regards the “1992 Consensus” as the thin edge of a wedge unifying the RoC and the PRC, Tsai in her inaugural address made it clear that she accepts the formulation and will work within its confines. This was an act of political courage, given that several of her supporters reject the “1992 Consensus” in toto, and seek a Taiwanese unilateral Declaration of Independence, an action certain to lead to war with the PRC.
The Jiang group has been dismayed by Tsai’s pragmatism, as it had hoped that the anti-Mainland hawks would carry the day within the new DPP administration. Instead, Tsai has chosen a Cabinet where nearly half are independent of party, being domain experts. Of the other half, the proportion of KMT-leaning individuals is about the same as that of those that are tilted towards the DPP. This is in contrast to the previous KMT administration, that was almost entirely comprised of KMT loyalists with near-zero representation from those affiliated in any form with the DPP. Should Beijing respond to Tsai’s outstretched hand of peace in a conciliatory manner, the effect on Taiwanese society would be to boost feelings of kinship with the Mainland and to carry forward the process of linking the Taiwanese as well as the Mainland economies closer together, even while both sides trade extensively with other parts of the globe. It needs to be borne in mind that the coming to power of the DPP in 2000 was in large part because of the resentment of the Taiwanese voter towards the missile-flexing of Jiang Zemin across the Taiwan straits. This, combined with undiplomatic and bellicose official rhetoric from Beijing, created a sense of alienation with the Mainland that led several hundred-thousands of erstwhile KMT supporters to switch to the DPP. Its then leader Chen Shui-bian, after being sworn in as President, attempted a few conciliatory gestures towards the PRC, but each of this was rebuffed by Jiang. The consequence was a hardening of anti-Mainland sentiment within both the Taiwanese people as well as the administration, a situation which got reversed only after Hu Jintao took office and began the series of conciliatory steps that—together with matching policies by the successor KMT administration—have led to an unprecedented web of contacts between the two sides, something sought to be reversed by the Jiang group. Among other measures, the group is discouraging Mainland tourists from visiting Taiwan, hoping to create not just economic distress but the same alienation and lack of contact between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait as was the case when Jiang was in full charge in Beijing. 
Given their continuing support within the CCP, especially the military and the media, the jury is out on whether PRC President Xi Jinping will be able to grasp the hand of friendship proffered by Tsai Ing-wen and repeat his unprecedented gesture of actually meeting an RoC President, this time not in Singapore but in Mainland China itself. Both Xi and Ma met in November last year, the first time the top leaders of the KMT and the CCP met each other since 1945, the year when Japan was defeated, but the Chinese civil war began in earnest, ending in 1949 in the rout of the former and the coming to power in Beijing of Mao Zedong. Should Tsai and Xi meet, the war clouds that interested parties are encouraging over the Taiwan Strait will reduce considerably in size, while across both sides, the desire for conciliation and cooperation would grow, in contrast to the tensions that a return to the muscle-flexing of the Jiang period would create. Geopolitical currents have changed substantially in 2016 from what they were two decades ago, in large part because of the hyper-patriotic moves generated through propaganda instruments in the effective control of the Jiang group. Should Beijing fail to acknowledge and respond appropriately to Tsai’s courageous gesture of conciliation (made at the cost of elements of the fire of her party’s political theology), that would boost the power of hard-liners within the DPP, who look towards Tokyo and Washington in order to fashion strategy of a complete break with Beijing. That would play to those policymakers in Washington and Tokyo who are looking forward to a return of the frost between the two sides of the strait that was the situation under Jiang Zemin.
Tensions over the South China Sea that have been created by Jiang-style military assertiveness by the People’s Liberation Army have resulted in a greater strategic distance between ASEAN and China. This would ensure that Taipei would receive a much warmer welcome by the alliance than would have been the case had a Deng Xiaoping policy been followed by China in the South China Sea during 2014 and much of 2015, or until Xi Jinping was able to wrest control of the military from the influence of the Jiang Zemin faction. Should this group succeed in its ongoing effort at weakening the Chinese leader, thereby clearing the decks for an aggressive policy directed towards the PRC’s southern neighbours, the chances are increasing that there may be a naval or air shootout somewhere across the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea. This would plunge the region into a limited war, the effects of which would linger for decades. Such a conflict, or indeed the rising expectation of a limited war involving air and sea assets of China, the US and Japan, would result in a diversion of attention by Xi Jinping from domestic to external issues. Thereby, his drive on corruption would get slowed down, if not stopped altogether. In this way, by provoking tensions that could spill over into a shootout, the Jiang group hopes to halt the ongoing drive against its corrupt membership lists. 
The Jiang group is working together with some of its overseas backers (who have ensured a very negative press for Xi Jinping over the past 29 months) for precisely such a conflict. A sign of whether such a danger will move towards fulfilment will come in the reaction from Beijing to the inauguration of Tsai Ing-wen as the first female leader of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Should the errors in policy made during 1999 and 2003 by Jiang Zemin get repeated in 2016, East Asia will become a global flashpoint that would put any lingering tensions between India and Pakistan in the minor leagues. In contrast, should Xi Jinping be strong enough to fend off the hyper-patriots who are in actuality helping hostile forces through their attitudes and policies, and respond with calm and comradeship to Tsai Ing-wen the way he did so expertly with Ma Ying-jeou, efforts by the Jiang group to ensure geopolitical tensions that damage economic prospects in the region will get consigned to the dustbin. Now that Tsai has made her move through a conciliatory start to her term in office, it is over to Xi Jinping to carry forward the cross-straits that began under Hu and Ma, or to find himself made to go along with the Jiang Zemin strategy of rising tensions and an increase in prospects for a war in East Asia.

Nehruvian secularism fells Congress (Sunday Guardian)

On 19 May, the Congress Party must have placed the champagne bottles back in the larder, given the scale of its setbacks. Two states that were among the handful that it still ruled, Assam and Kerala, went over to the opposition, while in the case of Tamil Nadu, its addition to the DMK fold was not sufficient to compensate for the hold that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa still has among voters in her state, especially women. Even Pondicherry has been much closer a race than in the past. 

Why has the party done so badly? An explanation vests within the system of Nehruvian secularism that the party has embraced since the 1950s. According to this construct, which has as little to do with secularism as Wahhabism has to do with genuine Islam, the most vicious and toxic variants of communalism are kosher, provided they emanate from religious minorities in India, principally Muslims, the community that got divided into two states in 1947. Mahatma Gandhi’s encouragement to the religious frenzy witnessed during the 1919-22 Khilafat agitation, of which the Mahatma was among the most enthusiastic supporters, was a historical blunder that unfortunately has been repeated all too often since then. This was to regard extremists as being the only representatives of Islam, which, in fact, is a religion not of conflict but of peace. The Khilafat movement resulted in such aftershocks as the Moplah massacres in Kerala and the deepening of divisive tendencies within the Muslim community in India, which subsequently allowed M.A. Jinnah to win millions of adherents (mostly in UP and Bihar) for Winston Churchill’s plan of vivisecting India. After the 1945 war, London ensured that Sri Lanka and Myanmar got separated from control by Delhi, and later on, that Pakistan was formed. Jawaharlal Nehru carried such a lessening of geographical boundaries further by allowing Pakistan to retain a third of Kashmir and rejecting the offer from Oman for Gwadar and from the Ranas for Nepal. But for Sardar Patel and V.P. Menon, there would have been half-a-dozen more independent states within the present boundaries of India, including Hyderabad and possibly Travancore. However, the Sardar soon passed away, and being insufficiently sugary in his praise of Nehru, V.P. Menon got sidelined in favour of more emollient officials, who were rewarded by Nehru by the retention of the entire structure of colonial laws and governance of the British raj by Nehru and, of course, his successors. 

The Manmohan Decade has been in many ways as toxic for the future of India as 1919-22 was, and for the same reason, which is the untrammelled encouragement given to minority communalism in the guise of promoting “secularism”. The Congress has not been alone in such a flawed strategy. In the past, Jyoti Basu used it in Bengal, facilitating a flood of immigrants from Bangladesh and integrating them into his state. Both Mulayam Singh as well as Lalu Yadav have been enthusiastic backers of Nehruvian secularism, ignoring the growth of communal passions within select communities while expressing surprise and displeasure at the reaction such events inevitably created within the Hindu majority. In the 2016 Assembly polls, Mamata Banerjee has succeeded with her Jyoti Basu strategy, but in the coming years, certainly before 2019, a Badruddin Ajmal will emerge in Bengal who will siphon off enough Muslim votes to ensure a stellar BJP performance in the Lok Sabha polls, which is the only election in India that really matters. In Kerala, the Hindus (who are still a majority) have almost entirely left the Congress, even while Muslims have gravitated to the Muslim League and Christians to the Kerala Congress, leaving Rahul Gandhi’s party with only a very thin layer of supporters. In Assam, the Muslims that Tarun Gogoi was relying upon to flock to his standard went over to Ajmal, while Hindus turned away from his party because of its adherence to Nehruvian secularism, in which Hindus have become the victims of discrimination (for example in the shape of control of temples by the state, or edicts such as the RTE), about the few countries in the world besides examples such as Bahrain where the majority community suffers in this manner. What the Mahatma omitted to consider in his enthusiasm for the Khilafat movement (which has interestingly been revived in the present time by Abubakr Al Baghdadi) was that it would open the way for extreme communal tendencies and organisations to emerge. Which is what has happened during the decade of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was open about the fact that for his government, only minorities were the focus, rather than the population as an entirety. The Congress is being outflanked by extreme communal groups such as those led by the Owaisis or the Ajmals, which is precisely what took place during the 1920s and later. 

BJP spokespersons claim on television that it was “development” which won them Assam, when the reason for much of their votes in the just concluded Assembly polls was the fact that this is the only party which—once Narendra Modi emerged as its undisputed leader in 2013—has repudiated Nehruvian secularism. Thus far, of course, it does not seem to have found the time to ensure that discriminatory and communal laws such as the RTE be replaced with legislation that is wholly secular i.e. religion neutral. Certainly there ought to be an RTE, but the sacrifices for such a step within the pool of private schools should be shared by all rather than (as Manmohan Singh decreed) only by Hindus. Hopefully, such abominations will end before the 2019 polls, as also such injustices as Hindu temples being under the state and hence the playthings of politicians, of course provided Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu agrees to cede control over Tirupati, something he was reluctant to do when A.B. Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. Narendra Modi is not Vajpayee. Had voters believed him to be so, they would not have given him the mandate they did in 2014. What is needed is to ensure genuine secularism on the scale of France, where religion and the state have been separated in a most wholesome manner. 

Those in the US or in the EU who receive Wahhabi funding from Qatar or Saudi Arabia may protest, but if India is to avoid fresh attempts at partition, it is crucial to the future to replace Nehruvian secularism with the genuine variety. As for the Congress, it dwindled from a party with the support of a majority of voters to a party relying on minority votes to the present situation. Rahul Gandhi needs to understand that in the 21st century, to continue to embrace the policies of his paternal great-grandfather and grandmother would be to ensure the fulfilment of Prime Minister Modi’s call for a Congress-mukt Bharat.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Lutyens’ Pyongyang reflex strikes again (Sunday Guardian)

In the proposed law for geospatial depictions, MHA has wrested the Most Colonial championship from Chidambaram, Sibal to its present worthies.
As often pointed out, London’s grip over India began to get reduced soon after the Raj headquarters moved from Calcutta to Delhi. The chemistry of a city known to visitors for tombs and memorials to the dead works its fetid hold on residents, ensuring the decay of both empires as well as administrations, because within its surrounds, underperformance became the norm. Among its citizens, a sportsman became a hero not by winning an Olympic medal but for failing to, while a policeman’s name is celebrated not for killing or capturing terrorists but for being ambushed fatally by them. It was fortunate for his political fortunes that Mahatma Gandhi spent so little time in the capital city, coming only off and on to meet a Viceroy and other British notables in the company of that favoured child of destiny, Jawaharlal Nehru. If there were a global contest for the father who did most for his son, Motilal Nehru would probably have won, for he was unceasing in his efforts at promoting his only son, including—with momentous success—to the Mahatma. In contrast, the Father of the Nation seemed barely conscious of his own offspring, making sure that they received none of the privileges which his acclaim would normally have given them, a trait he carried to such a degree that his eldest son Harilal ended up on the streets, dying a beggar in a public hospital in Mumbai. Although his own education in London seemed to have done him scant harm, the Mahatma denied his son the same route, unlike modern leaders in India, who encourage their offspring to learn English and even to study abroad while striving through anti-English policies to ensure that the nation’s poor be denied access to knowledge of that language.

Those who have visited Afghanistan during the period in office of the Taliban, or have managed to insert themselves into post-2011 Libya or Syria, are aware of how local bandits set up checkpoint after checkpoint on roads, create blockage upon blockage, in order to extort cash from travellers. This is the very principle followed in Lutyens Delhi: the creation of choke points, the crossing of each of which requires a bribe. The harder the ability to choke, the greater the bribes that it is possible to collect. Two modern champions in such a governance system are Kapil Sibal and P. Chidambaram, several of whose 2004-14 creations are still being continued and in some cases improved upon, if such be the proper word to use in describing policies that smother the initiative of citizens.

Freedom of speech on campus has become an occupation only a tad less risky than landing in a war zone, with JNU setting the example in this regard by enforcing a “Silence is Golden” rule with a zeal designed to ensure that a welter of opinions within its confines will now go underground rather than get expressed freely in the manner normal in those universities abroad, to which officials and politicians in India send their children. And now, following on from refusing to do away with Macaulay-era prohibition on some forms of personal behaviour, the Supreme Court has reiterated its backing for Macaulay’s criminalising of “defamatory” speech. Had London’s Hyde Park corner been in India, our jails would have been filled with the Kanhaiya-style cranks speechifying there.

And now, in the proposed law for geospatial depictions, the Ministry of Home Affairs has managed to wrest the Most Colonial championship from Chidambaram and Sibal to its present worthies. Rather than use a sniper’s rifle to go after the handful of depredators whose actions need to be checked, the proposed law is of the usual AK-47 variety that scatters bullets (punishments) across a ridiculously wide zone. Indeed, even Pyongyang has been bested by Lutyens Delhi, for the stated explanation for a law that would make what is left (after the hyper-colonial 2005 Information Technology law) of the internet illegal in India was that the Pathankot attack became “easier” because of maps shown on internet sites. Well, the attack was also made easier by roads and rail lines leading into Pathankot, so perhaps these ought to be outlawed as well.

The fact is that the attack was a partial success solely because of the carelessness of the authorities in ensuring a credible first line of defence into the airbase, including through proper monitoring of the periphery. Certainly those security parameters followed by global companies in their own domiciles should be adopted in India as well rather than ignored as they are, but this can be done by means other than repeating the UPA’s folly in seeking to control online content by the expedient of potentially criminalising much of it.

The bureaucratic maze in India needs to be altered into a policy highway rather than the obstacle course Nehru and most of his successors made it, and this means not more but less laws and fewer regulations. The British set out to choke to death innovation and enterprise in India, and practically all their attitudes and their control mechanisms remain functional in this second decade of the 21st century. Lenin said of Stalin that what was needed of the commissar was “better less, but better”. The same could be said of those ministries in the Lutyens Zone that are, despite the coming to office in 2014 of a Prime Minister publicly committed to Minimum Government, continuing with the legacy and practices of the British-era past that have been preserved so solicitously by Nehru and his successors.

Hillary prepares for war with Trump (Sunday Guardian)

Donald Trump’s character, business deals key to Clinton’s strategy.
According to close backers from New York, San Francisco and Chicago, former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is confident of becoming the 45th President of the United States, stepping into the job held for eight years by the 42nd, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton. They described in some detail the “war plans” of a campaign that has been “running with military efficiency for over two years”, in contrast to the rival (within the Democratic Party) Bernie Sanders’ campaign, “which is organised more as an NGO and shows it” and the Donald Trump effort at getting the Republican nomination and thereafter the Presidency. This, they claim, is run “more as an insurgency than as a presidential campaign”, with the candidate himself having to compensate for the shortcomings of his hastily put-together staff. They claim that “six years of research into voter perceptions and expectations” have been conducted, although “detailed studies of possible rivals have all had to go into the shredder”, as “none” within the Clinton machine was able to predict the rise of two outsiders to their own parties, Bernie Sanders within the Democratic Party and Donald J. Trump on the Republican side. According to them, it was only in September 2015 that “intense effort was put in (by the Clinton campaign) towards getting a fix on the two men and their vulnerabilities”. However, “a two-year long effort at winning over super (i.e. unelected in the party primaries) delegates was super successful”, with more than 90% of them now backing Clinton over Sanders.

The sources, who are wary of their names getting revealed “as both Clintons place a heavy premium on secrecy”, say that “a soft approach has been adopted towards Bernie (Sanders)”, with the attack taking place “mostly through word of mouth and under the radar of the media”. Given the huge rolodex of names available with the Clinton campaign, such a tactic must be on an industrial scale. In such “under media radar” moves, emphasis was placed on (Sanders’) “lack of loyalty to the party and to his refusal to caucus with the Democratic side”. Such behaviour was in contrast to the Clintons, “who never strayed from the Democratic (Party) base and who ensured that their backers were promoted and detractors dealt with” each year since 1991, the year when “Bill Clinton decided that he had it in him to be President of the United States” and began the process of revitalising the Democratic Party by “throwing away useless ideas and boldly adopting Republican ideas which the electorate liked, such as being tough on crime and balancing budgets”. Hillary Clinton backers say that this approach holds to this day, “especially a determined effort to privately reach out to Republican donors and key players to convince them that Hillary Clinton rather than Donald Trump would best safeguard their core interests”. Their pitch is that “electing Trump will lead to civil war in the streets and chaos in the markets”, whereas Hillary would have the skills to “ensure that low income groups were looked after enough to avoid a strain on the budget while keeping them off protest pickets”. Off the record briefings by Clinton staff and surrogates (numbered in the hundreds by these sources) to Democratic Party fundraisers and key office-bearers stress a similar message about Bernie Sanders, that “the Senator from Vermont would (once elected) ignite a popular firestorm in cities and raise expectations to a level that would bankrupt the country if sought to be met”. In other words, the choice before voters will be presented as “Either Hillary or Chaos”.

These sources say that “every event of the Secretary (Mrs Clinton) is carefully rehearsed”, and usually, “a prominent African-American lady activist will be among the first to greet the candidate after a speech”, as this is a voting segment that is overwhelmingly in favour of another Clinton making it to the Oval Office. At the same time, “there will be a sprinkling of minority faces, including women, placed behind the candidate, so that television cameras document the rainbow quality of her support (base)”. The calculation is that “if 85% of African-Americans prefer the Secretary to Trump”, as also “70% of Latinos and 60% of women voters”, then “only 20% of the white male vote is needed” to win the Presidency, given the large proportion of minority voters in populous states such as New York and California. This strategy explains the effort to show that Donald Trump is anti-minority and anti-women, as large majorities in both constituencies is crucial to the objective of defeating Donald Trump. These sources laughed off suggestions that Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades may impede his wife, pointing out that “such facts are well known and discounted by now, and can be matched by still more colourful stories about Trump, who after all (unlike Bill Clinton) is a candidate”. They also claimed that the Clinton campaign “has privately been told that the email investigation will wrap up by early June” and that “nothing that is politically toxic has been found”. They say that “character-wise, Hillary Clinton is miles ahead of Donald Trump”, also affirming that character would be an issue in the campaign. About the Monica Lewinsky episode, the response was that “Hillary loves her husband and forgave him”. Interestingly, these sources claimed that Hillary Clinton has a lot of regard for Sonia Gandhi not only as woman but is “awed by the fact that she (Sonia) settled down in an entirely different culture and country and yet could emerge as the leader of her party and (for a decade) the country”. They claim that the two have “kept in touch on a regular basis”. About Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the response was that “the Secretary recognises the popularity of the Prime Minister and hopes to work closely with him in future”.

According to these sources, the Clinton campaign expects Senator Sanders to end his campaign “within six weeks” and not carry the battle to the Philadelphia convention floor as threatened by some of the supporters of the idealistic politician born of poor parents in New York. The reason? “By that time (including super delegates), the Secretary would have crossed the 2,388 of the 4,765 delegates needed for nomination”. They said that it was “unlikely” that Senator Sanders would be Hillary Clinton’s running mate, as she was looking more “towards the centre rather than to the left” to choose an individual who may himself or herself become President someday. According to them, an intense effort is on to repeat what took place in 2008, when Barack Obama was backed publicly by both Hillary Clinton and Bill at the Democratic Party convention and nominated by acclaim. They were confident that the Chair and other members of the Democratic National Committee would succeed in persuading Senator Sanders not to take his battle to the convention floor in Philadelphia. 

Overall, the mood within Team Hillary is that “Donald Trump will be toast in November as more details about the man come out during the preceding two months”. The sources also say that in debates, the Secretary, who has spent years preparing for this test, will “floor Donald Trump on issues and on foreign and economic policy in particular”. They also say that “records of some of his deals and transactions, especially in New York City”, are being collected and would be “quietly spread through the internet” in the weeks before the election. 

It is going to be a consequential election. Since the 2008 Wall Street meltdown that was reversed only after a trillion-dollar rescue effort by the US Government (USG), the confidence of the citizen in the form of governance that has been practised in the country since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 has faded. From that time onwards, the emphasis, overt or concealed, has been to take care of the interests of the wealthy in the expressed belief that this small segment of the population would then lift the fortunes of the rest. Instead, the lower and middle classes have given ground to the wealthy, with more of the middle slipping to the status of the lower economic classes. It was this perception of an unfair deal that ensured the election of Barack Obama to the White House on 20 January 2009. However, from the start, Obama continued the policy of rescuing the elite from the consequences of their own depredations, although in his second term, efforts have been made to repair a tattered social security net enough to prevent large-scale social unrest in the cities, an effort that thus far has had limited success because of the conservative majority (within both parties) in the US Congress. More than to the voters, those elected to the Senate and the House of Representatives are loyal to their financial backers, and these are averse to tax dollars getting expended on any other than themselves. As the US Supreme Court has decreed that a candidate can, through “Super PACs” (Political Action Committees), spend as much as she or he can mobilise, those who are wealthy or who are close to the wealthy have an immense advantage over the rest, among the few exceptions being Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. This has given an advantage to Hillary Clinton as it will to Trump. Unlike Sanders, who would bring genuine change, Hillary is comfortable with a status quo that has served her well. As for the result, it is not likely to be as easy for their candidate as the Hillary backers expect. Trump is a doughty fighter, as of course is Hillary Clinton, and US voters are in a sullen mood, not a comforting circumstance for a candidate who is the poster girl of the Establishment. While Bernie Sanders would be certain to defeat Donald Trump, the jury is out on whether there will be a First Gentleman for the first time in the White House.

Friday, 13 May 2016

US and India move closer on security (Pakistan Observer)

THE past few days have been spent by this columnist in the United States, in Washington DC, the nation’s capital. For at least a generation more, the US will remain the most consequential country in the world. After that, should China remain on a high growth trajectory, Beijing will replace Washington as the leading capital on the globe. And this is a factor that is gnawing at several minds in Washington. If there was only a scatter of negative voices on China twenty years ago, these days such a lack of empathy for the world’s most populous country is widespread within the policy elite. War gaming is almost a daily activity at the Pentagon, and scenarios where the military of China can pose a threat to its US counterpart are getting more frequent by the month.

There is a real fear that, for example, the immense space capabilities of the US military are becoming vulnerable to the Chinese. Senior figures even spoke of Beijing soon using the moon to set up offensive capabilities that could neutralize US assets. Over the past decade, the domestic technological capability of Chinese military has developed at speed, and unlike India, which still needs to import more than 80% of its core defence needs, by now China is more than 80% self sufficient in such systems. In India, there are powerful lobbies that ensure snuffing out of indigenous capabilities. An example is HF-24 Marut, an excellent aircraft that was not allowed to proceed to a Stage II level.

Lobbies working to import the UK’s Jaguar ensured that the HF-24 program was abandoned. Had such anti-national elements not prevailed within the decision making levels of the defence establishment in India, by now India would have been exporting several billions of dollars of military aircraft to friendly countries, the way China is doing despite the fact that twenty years ago, the Chinese were technologically behind India in the aeronautics field. Not just the Marut but a whole range of weapons systems that were designed within the country were either slowed down (through deliberate tweaking of specifications, often several times within a year) or stopped altogether.

A few weeks ago, the High Court in Milan found several employees of an Italian company guilty of having paid bribes to secure an order for twelve aircraft to India for use in the VVIP squadron. The height ceiling requirement was brought down from 18,000 feet to 15,000 feet to ensure that the Italian company (Agusta Westland) got the deal, of course at a bloated price. At that time, an Indian helicopter, Dhruva, was capable of reaching 20,000 feet but was never considered for the order. A VVIP (according to press reports at the time) said that she would not fly in an Indian chopper.

In contrast to India, where foreign items were preferred over domestic substitutes of similar quality, China ensured that its own producers were given priority. Should Beijing continue at the speed it has been moving the past decade, within another ten years, there will be a Chinese civilian aircraft as good as Airbus or Boeing, and almost certainly much cheaper. It is this that is motivating manufacturers in the US and in parts of Europe to look at India as an alternative production platform. Despite its shoddy infrastructure and its nightmarish regulations, the country has thousands of qualified aeronautical engineers. Also, the risk of India copying such products the way some other countries are known for is very low. The relentless pride in country that drives such activity in some other countries such as Japan and China are missing in India.

Of course, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is aware of this, and unlike his predecessors, is rectifying the situation. However, this is proving to be a slow process. There are hundreds of brilliant young minds in India who come up with major breakthroughs in technology, but few of them are allowed to succeed in an environment where arms lobbyists control the decisions of several policymakers. What takes place is that the frustrated inventor finally migrates to the US or to another foreign country ( a nearby option being Singapore). In the much better ecosystem of those countries, he or she completes work on invention and in time, product returns to India as a foreign (and high priced) import. There are examples where state agencies have forced domestic manufacturers to accept very low and unremunerative prices for items made by them.

The intention is to drive them out of business so that foreign companies and foreign countries retain their monopoly, selling items at prices much above what the destroyed Indian start-up charged. Being practical, Modi has focussed on the option of getting foreign companies to invest in India on the scale that they did in China during the latter part of the 1980s and throughout the 1990s. Start Up India and Stand Up India are his exhortations, and very slowky, changes are taking place that may make both a reality. As a consequence, the odds are high that over the coming years, a larger and larger share of total US production of military assets will get made in India If China is looked upon as a threat, India is seen as an opportunity.

On the other side, Modi has been seeking to tame those in the bureaucracy who have for decades been blocking closer defence production relations with the US out of fear that this would impact the sales by countries such as France and Russia to India. Unlike during the time of the Cold War, when Delhi was seen as too close to Moscow, these days there is a willingness to work closely even on sensitive matters. Unlike during the 1990s when Bill Clinton was in charge, these days the exceptionalism of a country of 1.26 billion is becoming accepted by the bureaucracy in the US, which is as rigid and impervious to change as its counterparts in India. Prime Minister Modi arrives next month for a summit with President Obama, and during the trip, he will address a Joint Session of the US Congress.

The visit is expected to announce some major initiatives that would highlight the fact that slowly, the US and India are becoming partners in matters of security, the way India and China are coming together in matters of commerce. In both Washington and Delhi, the mood is for a closer relationship, as it seems obvious that such a situation would lower the prospect of any other country going to war with some other countries, especially in East Asia, a zone where it is essential that there be peace.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Wahhabism Should Be Criminalized and Excommunicated (Fars News Agency) [Interview]

The ISIL terrorists, misleadingly calling themselves the representatives of Muslims worldwide, have killed innumerable civilians, beheaded people of various nationalities and raped hundreds of innocent Muslim and non-Muslim girls, especially the Izadi women living in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Noted Muslim scholars, both Sunni and Shiite, and the majority of Muslim world leaders, have denounced the felonies of ISIL and made it clear that this faction doesn't have anything to do with Islam and its edicts.

In an interview with Fars News Agency, an Indian economist and author asserted that the ISIL terrorists belong to a Wahhabi lineage and are backed by the powers that propped up Wahhabi ideology since the Soviet war on Afghanistan.

“Since the 1980s, there has developed within the member states of NATO a cult of Wahhabi Jihadism, which has been celebrated ever since such individuals were armed, trained and funded by NATO powers to do battle against the USSR in Afghanistan,” said Prof. Madhav Das Nalapat, the editorial director of The Sunday Guardian newspaper.

“Textbooks inculcating hatred and a predisposition towards violence were designed in US universities to ensure that young minds globally turned towards Wahhabism. Since the 1980s, an estimated $380 billion has been expended by individuals, agencies and countries to build up the Wahhabi international,” he added.

Mr. Nalapat warns that a global coalition, including Iran, should be framed to roll back and eliminate ISIL, otherwise, this terrorist sect has a capacity to expand globally.

“Should a global coalition not get formed against ISIL and other components of the Wahhabi international, a coalition which includes Iran, will this evil spread within populations... The potential of ISIL to spread its cells across entire countries rises with each month that the organization continues to have a safe haven carved out of parts of Iraq and Syria,” he cautioned.

Prof. Madhav Nalapat is a recognized academician in India, and recently attended the International Congress on 17,000 Iranian Terror Victims in Tehran. Aside from his editorial role at The Sunday Guardian, Nalapat is currently the Vice-Chair of Manipal University’s Advanced Research Group. He has been a Professor of Geopolitics and UNESCO Peace Chair at the same university. His writings have appeared on The Pakistan Observer and Organizer. Prof. Nalapat is a distinguished fellow at the University of Georgia’s Center for International Trade and Security and comments on the Middle East and Indian subcontinent issues.

Prof. Nalapat shared his views with FNA on the roots of ISIL, its prompt growth in the recent months and the strategies that need to be adopted in dealing with it.

Q: ISIL terrorists, and their ideological mentors, claim to be representing Islam and continually make the assertion that their pseudo-government is an “Islamic Caliphate.” At the same time, all the major Muslim scholars, both Sunni and Shiite, and the majority of Muslim world politicians, have condemned ISIL, and called it a deviant current. Has the global public believed the mantra that ISIL is really an Islamic state? What could be done to preclude the reinforcement of this conviction that ISIL carries out actions that are sanctioned by Islam, including the beheading of Christians and raping the women?

A: Unfortunately, several individuals, especially in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have accepted the view that ISIL represents the “conqueror and fighting” phase of Islam, in which the Word of God got disseminated and accepted by vast territories and myriad peoples. Wahhabi thought explicitly posits that an equally sharp acceleration of dissemination of the faith i.e. Wahhabism is feasible, and ISIL is feeding on this thought and this desire. Money comes from those who have in their personal lives been dissolute and believe that they can escape hellfire in the afterlife by helping ISIL – a view intelligently spread by the protagonists of this terrible creed, while recruitment takes place among the young already exposed to Wahhabi ideology, who regard it as feasible to engineer a second “conqueror and fighting” phase of Islam. The only way to prevent this is to return to the true meaning of the Word of God and get accepted the fact that the core qualities of a believer are compassion, mercy and beneficence and not resort to violence and cruelty under any pretext. We must [first] separate the core qualities from the others seeking to ensure that these be universally accepted, excommunicate and not tolerate or pamper Wahhabis as being betrayers of the Word of God and [then] take strong action to eliminate any manifestations of this ideology, by military means wherever needed; otherwise, mere statements against ISIL will not prevent the ideology from spreading.

Q: The data and figures on the foreign fighters that have joined ISIL over the past 3 years are mind-boggling and unthinkable. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on January 29 that as many as 1,200 French citizens, 600 Britons, 250-300 Swedish nationals, 150 Austrians and more than 1,000 Germans have been fighting in the ranks of ISIL. Even the Australian government has reported that 100+ citizens of this Oceanic country have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight for the ISIL terrorists. Why have so many Westerners embarked on this risky journey of joining such a ruthless terrorist cult? Some commentators claim that they’re all immigrants and offspring of Muslim families in these countries. Is it really so?

A: A few are from the indigenous population but the overwhelming majority is from the immigrant population. Since the 1980s, there has developed within the member states of NATO a cult of Wahhabi Jihadism, which has been celebrated ever since such individuals were armed, trained and funded by NATO powers to do battle against the USSR in Afghanistan. Certainly the Soviet invasion needed to be reversed, but this job should have been left to Pashtun nationalists, who are religious moderates. Instead, such healthy elements in Afghan society were ignored in favor of Wahhabi fanatics, who were empowered to fight not only the USSR forces but also those Afghans who did not accept their toxic ideology. Textbooks inculcating hatred and a predisposition towards violence were designed in US universities to ensure that young minds globally turned towards Wahhabism. Since the 1980s, an estimated $380 billion has been expended by individuals, agencies and countries to build up the Wahhabi international. It should not therefore be a surprise that many of the youths coming from Muslim countries where this indoctrination took place are turning to ISIL, which is after all from the same ideological matrix as other Wahhabi extremist groups. The USSR having collapsed in 1991, this “demon” has been replaced by the entire non-Wahhabi population of the globe, all of whom are seen as “devils” by Wahhabi ideologists. Even a casual look at Wahhabi literature would demonstrate this fact, hence the need to criminalize Wahhabism worldwide and roll back the Wahhabi international network, including by removing Wahhabi literature from educational curricula.

Q: In one of your pieces, you wrote that 1936-37 was the period when the Nazis could have been overpowered and eliminated efficiently. But the world didn’t take appropriate action, the Nazis rose to prominence and exterminated thousands of people. As you wrote, today is the best time for forming a global coalition against ISIL and defeating it. However, again it seems the international community is not sufficiently determined to fight ISIL and that’s why they’ve been able to grow their power and become stronger. How do you see the whole picture?

A: The Wahhabi international has been active in throwing money at scholars and policy-makers within the NATO bloc, so that they repeat Wahhabi doctrines and seek to discredit those fighting this enemy of civilization. For more than a century, countries in Europe and later North America have assisted Wahhabis, first against the Turkish caliphate – which is why it is ironic that Turkey now has a Wahhabi as head of state, who is systematically destroying the Kemalist base of that country. Later, in the 1950s and the 1960s, they used Wahhabis to wage a “thought battle” against Arab nationalists such as Nasser, who were challenging former European colonial powers unlike Wahhabi establishments, who have always talked tough but acted in a slavish manner towards former colonial powers. In the 1980s, the creed was used to fuel the war against the USSR in Afghanistan. It was only after September 11, 2001 that the NATO bloc understood the danger posed by Wahhabism to themselves, a danger pointed out by me in 1987 and in 1992 in the US, at a period when the Clinton administration was funding and assisting Wahhabis worldwide, especially in Afghanistan.

Even after 9/11, the US and some of its partners focused not on eliminating Wahhabi terror groups in Afghanistan but in removing Saddam Hussein, an enemy of the Wahhabi-influenced [P]GCC regimes, in 2003. In 2011, they sided with the same regimes to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power and life in Libya and are now seeking to repeat that in Syria with President Bashar Assad.
Because of the well-funded influence of Wahhabi doctrines within strategic community in the key NATO allies, they regard the Wahhabi international as a far lesser threat than they do Iran. This is similar to those in France and the UK who saw Hitler under Germany as being a lesser threat than the USSR under Stalin. Such people caused the deaths of tens of millions of innocents because of such an error of perception, and these days, that same blinkered vision is causing the spread of ISIL. Hopefully, sense will dawn before it is too late and a global rather than a limited war against the Wahhabi menace becomes inevitable, in my view by around 2019. This is why I call this the “Rhineland Moment”, the period in 1936 when Hitler could have been humiliated by the French armies and sent off to prison, where his capacity for damage would be much reduced. Instead, he was allowed to once again get away with conquest in 1938 in Czechoslovakia, thereby making the 1939-45 war inevitable.

Should a global coalition not get formed against ISIL and other components of the Wahhabi international, a coalition which includes Iran, will this evil spread within populations. This will be an “atomized” war, in which small groups of individuals such as suicide  bombers and suicide automatic weapons carriers create havoc through technology which ensures severe destruction at a relatively low cost, and will take place across the globe, including the heart of the US and Europe. Such a war could ultimately be as destructive to life and property as the conventional wars which took place in the past.

The potential of ISIL to spread its cells across entire countries rises with each month that the organization continues to have a safe haven carved out of parts of Iraq and Syria. My sense is that President Obama realizes this, but not yet his Secretary of State John Kerry, who has lately been seeking to assist ISIL by preventing Moscow from giving President Assad the military means to defeat its gangs, or the UK or French leadership. David Cameron was a principal architect of the Libya disaster, which is the seed from which ISIL has grown, and the man still seems oblivious of reality, living in a Lawrence of Arabia world.

Q: In a meeting at the European Council on Foreign Relations, the former NATO Secretary General and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana suggested that Iran is the only country capable of fighting the ISIL terrorists. There are many others who think likewise. If we accept this premise, then why doesn’t the United States ask for Iran’s help to address the concern of ISIL and eradicate it?

A: My view is that Barack Obama and possibly Angela Merkel understand this, which is why they prevailed over Hollande and others who sought to derail the nuclear agreement with Iran. Hopefully, the next President of the US will be a realist and not a fantasist in the mould of Dick Cheney.

Q: There are worrying reports of some Western and Arab governments still providing ISIL with financial and military aid, even though all of these governments have been trying to absolve themselves of the charge. The Guardian associate editor Seumas Milne has boldly claimed in an editorial that ISIL is a by-product of Western powers’ regional operations, and this sectarian terror group “won’t be defeated by the western states that incubated it in the first place”. Do you agree with this assertion? At any rate, is ISIL going to be beaten while it can sell massive amounts of oil and receive financial and arms assistance?

A: My view is that the US, UK and other NATO allies did not understand the damage which could get caused globally to themselves and to the rest of the world by the Wahhabi international, which is the ideological root of ISIL. Just as a combination of the US, the UK and the USSR defeated Germany in the 1939-45 war, the world needs NATO to ally with India, Iran, Russia and China to wipe out ISIL. Certainly it is correct that NATO cannot do it alone, but its involvement would be crucial in any anti-ISIL coalition.

However, time is running out. The embracing of Wahhabi-supporting regimes by NATO needs to end, and Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia need to be warned that any further assistance to ISIL through giving help to so-called “moderate” fighters who switch to extremist in the battlefield should end. The world is running out of time, as it did during the 1930s in Europe.

Q: A group of right-wing commentators and pundits, including Will McCants, being cited as an authority on ISIL and “militant Islam”, have been striving to forge connections between ISIL and the Islamic theology. They untruthfully claim that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is a descendant of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and is a pure Muslim trying to establish an Islamic state as part of his historic, religious mission. Does it sound feasible?

A: In the past as well, there have been multiple individuals calling Wahhabism the purest form of Islam when in fact it is the opposite. Why take such “experts” seriously? Better to try and deduce philosophical insights from monkeys chattering on treetops.

India needs pragmatism, not populism (Sunday Guardian)

Those searching for explanations of the present banking crisis need to remember that some of the economic toxicity generated by the Manmohan Decade owed its origins to the transformation during the A.B. Vajpayee period of the large banks from lenders to large pools of entrepreneurs to creditors of a handful of influential businesses. India’s banking sector is in crisis, in part caused by the high interest rate policies of RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan and its impact on overall growth, but also because since around 2001, an increasing share of the loot illegally made by businesspersons, politicians and officials has been transferred abroad rather than used up at home. What V.S. Naipaul calls “the craze for foreign” reached a high point during the UPA period, when imports were encouraged not just of high technology items but sanitary fittings and even toiletries. Airports in India are a testament to this waste of an opportunity to grow the domestic economy, filled as they are with imports, mainly from Europe, a continent much favoured also by 1998-2004 Principal Secretary to Prime Minister and National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra (who through his daughter incidentally had almost as many relatives in and from Italy as Sonia Gandhi does, but whose connection with that lovely and timeless country has never been mentioned by those who publicly look askance at the Milan-Maino connection of the Congress Party ruling family). The tsunami of unneeded imports that washed across India in those years were a prime factor in the subsequent economic pain that this country has suffered, especially since Manmohan Singh (this time free of the liberalising influence of Narasimha Rao) indulged in his bureaucratic instincts from 2006 onwards and tightened controls on domestic sectors while loosening them on aliens.

Raghuram Rajan may look the other way, but it may not only be Subrata Roy who should be a guest of the government. Several of the financial conglomerates headquartered in London or New York commit in India the same economic crimes for which they are made to pay billions of dollars as fines in the countries of their origin. Money laundering has become a science in India, and in sheer volume the humble “hawaladar” is being dwarfed by the cleverly masked money laundering taking place through distinguished portals every day in India, with Singapore and Dubai in particular becoming transit points for such cash. During the UPA period, it was a known fact that a small group of officials close to a politician from Tamil Nadu regularly transmitted insider information from within North Block to a group of punters, who then made a killing via a particular exchange. Two years after the change of guard in Delhi, these officials still hop around from one influential perch to the other, along the way snuffing out any effort at uncovering the harm done by their actions in earlier avatars. Insider trading should be treated in India the way it is in the US, as being unacceptable. However, in this country, a few with access to decision-makers become billionaires at the expense of millions who lose their savings as a consequence of rigging of share prices.

Some estimates place the volume of non-performing assets (dodgy loans) in the banking system as close to Rs 550,000 crore. Much of this is owed by a handful of companies, and it is here that attention needs to be paid, not in a populist but in a pragmatic way. Statements such as “every penny will be recovered” belong to the realm of fantasy at a time when global debt recovery agencies are paying only 30 cents to the dollar to buy up Indian corporate debt from lenders, as took place recently in the case of a large entity involved in infrastructure. Should a Vijay Mallya repay 75% of what he owes (including interest and penal interest), he should be given his passport back. Other wilful defaulters paying a similar amount or more on principal and interest should be given the same lenient treatment. Those paying less should face disqualification and blacklisting, while those who repay below 60% and are guilty of wilful i.e. commercially avoidable defaults should go to jail, with this being for an extended period for those paying back 50% or less, all this apart from fines of amounts parallel to those levied in the US or the UK or if they are abroad, a public campaign in those countries to get them back to face justice.

Those who have significant loan volumes outstanding should be dealt with in a pragmatic way, in a context where the populist option of throwing the Indian Penal Code at all comers—with television anchors in full cry—merely leads to Malta or Luxembourg getting new additions to their list of citizens and the taxpayer losing out. Of course, there needs to be accountability for the past. Such as, who recommended the large loans that went bad? Were they bank managers or even bank directors? If there is any evidence of a quid pro quo for such telephone calls and recommendatory letters, those guilty need to be given both prison terms as well as cash fines.

Finally, in an age where technology has raced forward, it would be a simple matter to ensure that the office cabins of each public official dealing with money (such as in the banks or in commerce-related departments) be monitored, and the feed go to a central point where any suspicious exchange can be identified for investigation. Indeed, the sooner not just sensitive offices being monitored by designated points but all commissions of enquiry and all courtrooms be live streamed, the better. Transparency is core to a clean system, and it is to be hoped that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Justice T.S. Thakur will separately address this need in the months ahead. The people are angry and are close to the boiling point.

They seek the results only pragmatism on the Gujarat model and courage on the scale so often shown by the Supreme Court of India can ensure.

Friday, 6 May 2016

The bribe-takers (Pakistan Observer)

Whether a politician is amassing wealth or not can often be gauged by the lifestyles of his or her family members. For those with access to the internet, it is no secret that this columnist is not an admirer of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, although he retains an open mind on her son and heir, Rahul Gandhi. The reason for the negativity is twofold: several of the closest political associates of the lady who dominated politics in India till the emergence of Narendra Modi to the centre stage of national politics in 2013 are individuals who may reasonably be termed as “fixers” and “dealers”. Their families have, without exception, progressed at speed up the income ladder, with expensive cars and luxurious residences replacing more modest transport and accommodation. Even in their income tax returns, they have shown incredible skill in increasing their net wealth, often setting up businesses that make huge profits. To cite a particular instance, a minister who was very powerful by being a confidante of the Congress Party leader has an offspring who has made money in incredible amounts.

In the case of Sonia Gandhi, her two sisters live in luxury despite considerable ambiguity about their occupations. India’s incurious media has not regarded it as important to report on the lives and lifestyles of not only Sonia Gandhi’s sisters but the children and other relatives of others who are or were hyper-powerful. For example, it is unknown in India that an individual placed at the core of the security apparatus by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had as foreign citizens his wife and all his children. In the US, there are clear lines drawn between “No Forn” documents and briefings that are off limits to foreign nationals, and others that are allowed to be accessed by foreign nationals.

In the case of India, several key officials have progressed in their careers despite their close family members exchanging their Indian passports for that of a foreign country. Indeed, such a fact is regarded as too trivial to document. Another fact seen as outside the ambit of government is educating children in foreign countries, with few superiors curious about how an officer can educate his or her children abroad at a cost much above his or her salary.

Usually, some unknown institution steps up with a scholarship to the offspring of a senior official, and shuts down soon after the education of the lucky youngster concludes. Snd of course there is the fact that several international financial companies (who make fortunes out of insider information) hire the children of top decision-makers. Interestingly, the head of the Reserve Bank of India retains his lien on the University of Chicago job he temporarily took leave of to become the czar of monetary policy in India, as well as the option to become a US citizen at will. Similar is the case with the head of the erstwhile Planning Commission ( now renamed Niti Aayog) and the Economic Advisor to the Finance Ministry, each of whom appear to regard their current jobs as stopgap employment before returning to the US, a prospect they are reported to discuss with friends off and on. In the two years that he has devoted to his current job, Narendra Modi has followed the same example he set in Gujarat, of not making changes in the composition of officials inherited from the previous regime. While overall this is a good idea, yet an exception needs to be made in the case of that small number of officials who were accomplices to corrupt ministers and politicians. Such individuals need to be investigated, and it needs to be ensured that they be removed from sensitive positions that are susceptible to misuse. Such a spring cleaning has yet to take place.

Hence, although corruption in Delhi has been dramatically reduced since Modi took over, the pace of investigation and accountability has been glacial in its pace. A few days ago, a higher court in Italy convicted some individuals of having paid bribes to Indians to purchase some helicopters for the Air Force in its VIP squadron. It would have been a simple matter to track the money flow from Europe to Mauritius to India, but this was apparently not done even after the new government took charge. Contrary to the charges being made by some that such inaction shows the “complicity” of the Modi government in such scams, the fact is that it reveals the opposite.

The Prime Minister has left the bureaucracy alone, and has ensured that his ministers follow the same discipline (of refusing to intervene). However, such a rule needs exceptions, especially in the case of those instances which involve corruption of a level of tens of millions of dollars. In the case of the helicopter deal, several senior officials were involved, and some are still in very high positions.These have clearly used their influence to ensure that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) slept at the wheel. Although two years have gone by since the BJP government took charge, neither the CBI nor the ED have bothered to uncover the money trail. So the public in India is witness to the shameful spectacle of an Italian court convicting Italian bribe-givers, but Indian agencies inactive against the Indian bribe-takers, many of whom have influential friends across the political spectrum.

The Italian court relied on 181 boxes of evidence about the bribes paid by Agusta Westland, the helicopter company, but thus far, no agency from India has shown any interest in examining the data revealed there, even though they relate to bribes paid in India to Indian citizens. Neither has any anti-corruption agency in India sought to assist the Italian court with evidence that was relevant to the case, despite the desirability of doing so Prime Minister Modi will need to revise his Hands Off policy towards the bureaucracy, for in some departments, freedom from political influence is leading to greater misuse of authority. The system of democracy mandates control by elected politicians over unelected officials, and the Prime Minister and his ministers need to exercise that control rather than refrain from it.Of course, concurrently there needs to be much greater transparency in government, so that online tracking takes place of decisions such that laggards get identified.

As also much more accountability. For a start, Modi needs to identify and punish each of those (politicians, officials and military) guilty in the Agusta Westland helicopter scandal, no matter how high the post held or which party the wrongdoer belongs to. Unless he does so, from now onwards, politically it will all be downhill for the BJP.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Make honesty in governance the new normal (Sunday Guardian)

The Nehruvian-Lutyens system that has clogged the arteries of India needs to be replaced with a system of governance that meets the test of transparency.
In an effort to dispel any doubts about whether or not he was a favourite of the Congress Party, MPs in the Rajya Sabha moved in lockstep to ensure that Subramanian Swamy got silenced within a minute of attempting to speak. The nation now has become aware that an MP from the Rajya Sabha should not mention in the House the name of any MP from the Lok Sabha. Presumably, the reverse holds as well. He or she should also avoid naming countries, clearly because such a mention would inflame relations between that country and India. It is doubtful that any other democracy has imposed such limits on the freedom of speech of its MPs, a group of individuals, who, in other countries, are expected to speak with even more verve and colour than the average sailor. Over the coming days, more and more reasons are certain to get used up to ensure that Swamy not use Parliament the way he has prime time on television to make his point, especially against Sonia Gandhi, who crossed a red line with the economist when she switched in 1999 from a promise of support to a coalition government backed by the Congress Party to a Congress government headed by herself that would be backed by other parties. After the 2004 polls, the Congress president decided against taking over as Prime Minister, handing the post over to Manmohan Singh despite an outcry from MPs belonging to the party.
The Modi government needs to ensure that each and every link in the decision-making chain involving the Agusta Westland helicopter purchase be examined in detail. An examination of the tax records abroad of close relatives of top politicians, officials needs to be carried out.
Sonia Gandhi’s success in remaining at the core of the political and policy process from the time she took over as AICC president in 1998 shows her skill in managing both the Nehruvian processes of governance as well as the “Lutyens Lok” she has effortlessly charmed since the 1960s. The National Herald case is among the few where there is an actual signature of hers on a decision. For the rest, there is merely conjecture about her involvement. For the reality is that at no stage during 2004-2014 did Sonia Gandhi hold any formal position inside the portals of government, besides the “advisory” duties of the National Advisory Council. Incidentally, the Narendra Modi government would do well to set up an NAC of its own, and populate the body with individuals having views that are not at all the same as those held by senior members of the government. But for the UPA-era NAC, there would probably not have been a strengthened RTI or an MNREGA, at least the second of which is being run far more effectively by the NDA than it was during the decade in office of the UPA, while the first will hopefully be further expanded, so as to create the transparency needed to reduce graft.
A court in Italy has drawn attention to the muck that swirls around governance in India, and the Modi government needs to ensure that each and every link in the decision-making chain involving the Agusta Westland helicopter purchase be examined in detail. There would be less than a dozen individuals (political, official and military) needing such attention, and their lifestyles as well as that of family members needs investigation. Several who have made huge amounts of illicit money have sent relatives abroad, who have adopted the citizenship of the country they are living in. An examination of the tax records abroad of close relatives of top politicians, officials as well as the higher echelons of the uniformed services needs to be carried out, to locate possible parking of black money with such individuals. The Ministry of Defence has constituted a committee of babus to examine the Agusta file. It was expected of Manohar Parrikar that he would show more imagination, as by constituting a committee that has members from outside the bureaucracy. The hearings of such a hybrid (with civil service and civil society participation) committee need to be conducted publicly, with hearings getting live streamed online. The Nehruvian-Lutyens system that has clogged the arteries of India with dirt needs to be replaced with a system of governance that meets the test of transparency and accountability. 
Freer speech, more revelations, and perhaps some inadvertent false charges as well, are the future in an India whose young seeks to be heard and wants to know the same facts that Lutyens Lok keep to themselves in the manner of the British. As he enters Year 3 of his term, Prime Minister Modi will hopefully ensure that the guilty in major defence and other scams be punished, whether they be in the Congress, in the BJP or elsewhere. “Make honestly in India”, rather than—as for the past four decades— “import dishonestly into India”, needs to be the new normal.