Sunday, 13 April 2014

India’s Nehruvian secularism is a one-way street (Sunday Guardian)



Mukhtar Ansari
t would appear to be obvious that secularism denotes the neutrality of the state as between the practitioners of different faiths. A secular country is where people belonging to different faiths get treated the same, as do their institutions of worship and other aspects of their existence. Contrast this with the form of "secularism" introduced into India by Jawaharlal Nehru after the demise of both Mahatma Gandhi as well as Vallabhbhai Patel. According to this definition, one which will not be found in any dictionary, "secularism" has been defined as a one-way street, where vastly different standards get adopted while dealing with different communities. This has come into relief once again, after Mukhtar Ansari announced his retirement from the electoral fray in Varanasi, in order ( so his admirers claim), "to strengthen secular forces", a claim that has been uncritically accepted and recycled by the media. Now, Ansari has never been bashful of the fact that he confines his appeal and his exhortations to a single community, his own. Nowhere is there even the hint of the multi-religious mosaic that is the mark of genuine secularism. However, because Ansari is not from the "majority community", his narrow appeal is greeted with acceptance and even acclaim by those dedicated to upholding what may be termed Nehruvian secularism.
If Jawaharlal Nehru followed a religion in practice, he kept that a secret not communicated to the general public. Such an individual ought to have ensured that the state whose government he headed for 17 years adopted a genuine policy of secularism, by acting in a neutral manner between people of different faiths and ensuring that the institutions of each were given the same treatment meted out to any of the others. However, this was not the case. So spooked does Nehru appear to have been about the catastrophe of Partition that he apparently decided that the way to prevent a second 1947-style vivisection of India, on the basis of religion, was to separate what got termed the "minorities" (or, in other words, non-Hindus) from the "majority" i.e. Hindus. Nehru further saw to it that the "minority" were given rights denied to the "majority", in the form of exceptions to issues such as "personal law".
Very recently, the Right to Education (RTE) bill passed by Parliament with the support of the BJP exempted those schools run by the "minority community" from its social inclusion provisions. Assuming that the legislation would help in the process of giving the socially and economically disadvantaged greater opportunity for pursuing a first-class education, why make it impossible for members of the "minority communities" to contribute towards this noble objective? Is it the assumption of the Congress Party, the BJP and the many other parties that voted in favour of the RTE that educators from the minority communities would be unwilling to shoulder their share of the burdens involved in giving a fairer chance to the poor in the field of school education? Why cast doubt on the desire of the minorities for the promotion of socially desirable causes, by refusing to allow them to participate in RTE?
Or take the example of places of worship. Atal Behari Vajpayee's adherence to Nehruvian ideology has been recognised by the Congress Party in its recent praise of his record as PM, encomiums that were somehow neglected to be paid during the six years that he was in that office. Perhaps because his ally, the TDP's Chandrababu Naidu, was unwilling to surrender control of Tirupati and other devasthanams, Vajpayee refused to free Hindu temples from state control, so as to give them equality of status with churches, gurudwaras and masjids. However, such discrimination is in perfect accordance with Nehruvian secularism, which has made India the only democracy where the majority community is subject to restrictions and to edicts in the manner that the minority communities suffer from in some other nations, such as Pakistan. If Mukhtar Ansari can be — and is by the media and his political allies — termed as a "secular" person, it needs to be reiterated that such a usage of the term results in its getting drained of all logic and meaning.
In Kerala, the Congress Party is in alliance with two parties that have, with refreshing candour, made no secret of the fact that their interest encompasses only a single community, Christians in the case of the Kerala Congress and Muslims in the case of the Muslim League, which is an offshoot of the same party once headed by M.A. Jinnah. It is because the people of India are getting a wee bit more sceptical of their politicians, and a bit more respectful towards dictionaries, that a reaction is setting in to the anti-secular logic of Nehruvian secularism. Nehru was, and not for the first time in his long career in public life, wrong. It is his policy of creating an artificial wall between the "majority" and the "minority", and the introduction of differential rights and duties for the two that creates the impetus for a second partition. What is needed in India is secularism where each faith is subject to the same rules as the rest. To claim otherwise is to be untrue to the idea of India as a united country.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

But who, what and where are members of Sonia Gandhi’s family? (niticentral)

MD Nalapat12 Apr 2014

But who, what and where are members of Sonia Gandhi's family?

Information is the lifeblood of the knowledge era, but not – as has become clear from the functioning of the UPA Government – for the Congress, which sees the giving of information as a crime. Hence, the fevered reaction to Narendra Modi’s declaring in his nomination form that he is married. Until the Supreme Court made the giving of such information mandatory, it was commonplace for many to leave that particular column blank, including the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, none of the others pose the existential threat to the Nehruvian system that has enabled the Congress to flourish in a context where its rule, and that of its clones and offshoots, has ensured that more than three hundred million citizens go to bed hungry each night, while less than 10 per cent of the population has a standard of life that any other than a UPA-appointed Planning Commission member would deem to be adequate. In Narendra Modi, the country is witnessing an individual who bids fair to change the very chemistry of governance and politics in the country, so that those who have for seven decades fattened off the Nehruvian colonial-model system would finally face oblivion. Small wonder that there is the whiff of panic in Lutyens Delhi, leading to a reaching out for any issue that could possibly derail the chances for this son of humble but determined parentage to be sworn in by the President Pranab Mukherjee as the next Prime Minister of India.

Those who read the Times of India in the 1990s would know that Sonia Gandhi has two sisters and a mother, for the same was mentioned in that venerable newspaper by this very columnist, together with details about the struggles of the three young ladies with higher education, of course at the school level. They would also have discovered that the two sisters were separated and then divorced from their husbands after the men came in possession of wealth through channels that are as unexplained as those which have propelled the entire Maino clan from penury to plenty in the twenty years since Indira Gandhi won back the Prime Ministership in 1980 and Sanjay Gandhi passed away. To trace the standard of life of Nadia and Annoushka or their surviving parent as its graph moved upwards at an accelerating clip in the middle of the 1980s (and, interestingly,in the middle of the first decade of this century as well, or around the time an “honest” Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was chosen by Sonia Gandhi to be what this columnist had described long before Sanjaya Baru’s brilliantly written expose as a ”virtual PM”) would be child’s play for our media, except that they have been very bashful about uncovering any of the details about Sonia Gandhi’s family, in contrast to the zeal with which they have commented on Narendra Modi’s spouse who, by all accounts, seems a remarkable individual who is as willing to sacrifice a normal life as her husband has shown himself to be.
Now that Narendra Modi has himself pulled away the curtains from the only aspect of his family life that was still largely obscure, it is time that Sonia Gandhi do likewise. It is time for her to reveal details about her own Italian family, especially because she almost never has contact with her Indian relatives, including the mother of her own son-in-law. Robert Vadra has received more than a smidgen of negative publicity for having been incautious enough to have deployed his investments in India rather than squirrel them abroad the way some of his relatives have, but by credible accounts, he is a loving and dutiful son. However, it is not Vadra about which there is silence from 10 Janpath but about Sonia’s sisters,mother and their other friends and relatives, many of whom live (and it is learnt, work, if such their activity can be called) in India. Sometimes at Number Ten itself, sometimes at miscellaneous farmhouses scattered in and around the national capital. Among the reasons why they are invisible to the naked eye is their penchant for flying by chartered aircraft both within this country and while travelling to and from India. The advantage of having influential relatives is that one’s luggage never gets checked, even if they contain works of art or antiques taken away from their habitat. Manmohan Singh is not a loquacious man, except when he converses with visitors from the NATO bloc, in whose presence he ceases to be robotic and can even pass off as friendly. Small wonder that he has thus far stonewalled every query about the foreign travels of Sonia, her sisters and her children, to Istanbul or to Dubai, or to destinations further away. As the media in India or abroad is unlikely to stir themselves sufficiently to pull away the unhealthy veil of secrecy which surrounds Sonia Gandhi’s own family, perhaps it is time for The Madame to do so herself, even while exhorting her son and heir to draw attention to Narendra Modi’s family.
The media, in its uppermost echelons, is very much a partner in the depredations of the Nehruvians, by whatever name they be called. Editors who once lacked the money to buy a bicycle now glide to work in BMWs and Audis from their farmhouses in Delhi.That is, when they are not in their Goa hideouts or in civilised locales such as London or
Miami. Small wonder that they are unwilling to ask of the Queen of the Nehruvian system that she be as transparent about her own affairs as her partypersons demand of others, albeit a demand sometimes expressed as shock that information gets given. That Narendra Modi is married is scarcely a secret,the fact for example having been mentioned in the Sunday Guardian some years ago, in an essay on Modi penned by this columnist. That he saw such a bond as a distraction from his tasks was again no secret, except for the illiterate, which presumably several peasant families in countries such as Italy must still be. Both the fact of his marriage, as well as details of his three brothers and sister are very much in the public domain, although a bit more publicity would have boosted Narendra Modi’s political ascent even more than is the case now. For the fact is that his being the Chief Minister of Gujarat has made almost no difference to their careers or to their pocketbooks. Modi’s family remains what they were thirteen years ago, in humble circumstances. Whether it be his family or his key officers, in their very simplicity, their rejection of the ersatz-European style of the society salons of Delhi, they exude an integrity that has long vanished under the onslaught of the Nehruvian system.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Outsourcing security to outsiders (PO)

M D Nalapat
Friday, April 11, 2014 - The top three english-language newspapers in India are the Times of India, the Hindustan Times and the Hindu. Ironically, despite its name, the last is the newspaper in India most opposed to what are lazily called “Hindu nationalists” by NATO media and academics, while the Hindustan Times has remained faithful to its earliest traditions of supporting the Congress Party, including during the difficult years pre-Independence when doing so invited the ire of the British raj. The Times of India was a loyal mouthpiece of the British till freedom arrived in 1947,after which it changed. For the past two decades, the newspaper has been open in its admission that the profit motive is what guides much of its content, having originated the concept of “Paid News”, in which politicians, business tycoons and socialites pay money in order to garner publicity in its extensively-read columns.

Because of having worked in that newspaper for a decade, and having dealt with its key people for longer, this columnist admits to a bias in its favour. However, this time around, it is a report in the Hindustan Times that deserves attention, and this is that a committee set up by the Prime Minister’s Office to work out ways to maximise internet security has among its members a senior executive of AT & T (American Telephone & Telegraph), one of the many entities in the US that cooperate with the US government to eavesdrop on citizens of countries across the world. In the course of AT & T handing over huge caches of data on global citizens to the US government and its spy agencies, the company broke several domestic laws, but was protected by the US Congress, which passed a law giving it retrospective immunity for its actions.

The fact is that AT & T cannot be blamed for having assisted the government of the country in which it is headquartered, as otherwise it would not have been possible for it to carry on business in the US. Whether it be AT & T or Microsoft or any of the many tech companies in the US that have made it a matter of routine to allow spy agencies in the world’s richest democracy to access the private emails and conversations of citizens across the globe, they would not have been able to ignore “requests” coming from the National Security Agency and even the CIA. The international community owes it to Edward Snowden for information on this practice.

Had democracies in Europe been true to their oft-professed claim of supporting the cause of liberty, they would not have turned their backs on the whistle-blower in the manner that they have done. Apart from them, China too ensured that it got rid of Snowden in a hurry, while India under Manmohan Singh has made it plain that the former NSA consultant is not welcome. This is a shame, as Snowden would have been an excellent source for input on the nature of current surveillance programs and how to safeguard citizens against such intrusions into their privacy Whether it be in the Reserve Bank of India or in other sensitive institutions, the Manmohan Singh government has followed a policy that in effect says that what is good for the US is good for India, when in fact the perceived national interests of both may on occasion diverge substantially.

The result has often been that policies get formulated which benefit US interests, often at the expense of domestic concerns. In the case of the supersensitive Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) of the Government of India, set up to assist the government in working out an agreed position on global internet governance and in protection against intrusion, the MAG has two senior officers of AT & T in its list of members, Virat Bhatia and Naveen Tandon. It would strain credulity to believe that these individuals - who are clearly looking for career advancement within their company - would place Indian national interests above that of the corporation they are working for, and the country in which AT & T is located. It will be remembered that it was this company through which President Richard Nixon and Nobel Peace Prizeman Henry A Kissinger ensured that chaos broke out in Chile in 1973 that resulted in the murder of President Salvador Allende.

An investigative reporter, Jack Anderson, secured tapes of conversations between AT & T executives of the level as the two MAG members and officials in the Nixon administration. These folks discussed elaborate plans to destabilise the elected government in Chile for the benefit of the CIA. So complete is the integration of US companies with the administration that in the Crimea, once that territory returned back to Russia through a referendum, even fast-food chains of US origin closed shop and left, out of solidarity with NATO policy towards the takeover of that territory by Moscow.

In such circumstances, to seed a sensitive committee with individuals whose organisations have loyalties entirely different from that needed in the committees set up would be to invite recommendations that meet the needs of such companies rather than the national interest of India. It would be naive to expect Bhatia or Tandon to do otherwise than ensure that the interests of their company get protected in any policy designed by the Government of India. Sadly, such outsourcing of security to outsiders takes place across the board, including in matters of sensitivity such as the approach to generically modified foods (where representatives of international companies have a big voice in the framing of policy) or even in telecom, where international companies dominate the telecom tower business despite the implications for national security of such a policy. Protecting India from outside threats is perhaps a more easier task than protecting the country from those who pellmell rush to hand over the keys to the security of 1.26 billion citizens to countries that - correctly and admirably - look after only their own interests.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Varanasi has always been a victim of neglect (Sunday Guardian)

Cleanliness has vanished from the Ganges in Varanasi
mong the many cities in India that this columnist never visited was Varanasi, which is why an invitation from the Benaras Hindu University (BHU) to give the Valedictory Address at a conference on foreign policy was accepted with alacrity. Visiting the city is akin to visiting a great-great-grandparent, for in a cultural sense that is what Varanasi is to every citizen. Had it been located in the UK or France or even China, the city would have been burnished and scrubbed so as to attract million more visitors from abroad than it does. However, Jawaharlal Nehru seems to have had a European disdain for "native" locales, and from his time in office, the city has remained neglected by a Central government that remains content to allow the surroundings of architectural jewels such as the Taj Mahal to be surrounded by filth and dust. Despite centuries of plunder and neglect, this country still has much more in the way of historical sites and architectural wonders than any other, and yet these are forced to exist on the borderline of destruction because of inadequacy of attention and funds. If Varanasi is indeed a great-great-grandmother, it is an ancestor that is sadly neglected. While the airport itself is passable, the road from there to the BHU is little more than a village track, with a medley of people and vehicles careening away in all directions. Because of the blessings of Kashi Viswanath, accidents are as rare as chaos is common.
Any sane national planner would have understood the potential of Varanasi not simply as a means of making the people aware of the timeless traditions of the city but as a way of ensuring that millions upon millions from across the world come to a city that despite decades of neglect still exudes the scent of tradition and nobility. Indira Gandhi put in train a cultural revolution in the 1970s no less severe in its effects than that started by Mao Zedong in China a few years earlier, but the incalculable effects on Indian culture, society and traditions of her rule have thus far gone unnoticed by historians scrambling for grants from the MHRD or from one of the myriad foundations devoted to keeping alive the mystique of the Nehru family. Part of the Indira Gandhi Cultural Revolution was to break the covenant that the Republic of India had entered into with princely India, through which instrumentality huge chunks of territory got transferred into the hands of the Central government. Certainly most of the princely families were in effect effete and incompetent, but nevertheless, retaining the sliver of privileges they were left with by Vapal Pangunni Menon and Sardar Vallabhai Patel (with the assent of Jawaharlal Nehru, secured after persuasion from Lord Louis Mountbatten) would have added to the colour and charm of India. Much is made of how India has followed the British example. The way in which princely India was done away with by the stroke of the pen of a speechwriter in 1969 was way different from the way in which the British have nurtured their own traditions.
Along the way, hideous skyscrapers afflict the eye, as also the usual collection of hovels with their sad-looking inhabitants. In its poverty, the city has not changed in three decades. The only structures that emit some scent of tradition are those that were built by royal families of the pre-Independence days, including many gifted by the raja of Benaras. The family of the former ruler now lives in obscurity, and one suspects, penury, such has been the fate of all those who were the social betters of the Nehrus in the 1920s and the 1930s. His successors must be weeping daily at the sight of what was once a glorious city, and still can be, if only the country had a government whose principals felt more at home in India than abroad, and who respected the culture and traditions of India rather than regard them as oddities and curiosities, the way some tourists to Varanasi clearly do. The Benaras Hindu University is itself a victim of such neglect of an important part of the core of what constitutes India. In its guest house, there is apparently no money to ensure that there are international (or indeed any English-language) channels on the television monitors set up in each room. The effect of budget cuts is visible in the furnishings and in the food, whereas the BHU ought to have been given much greater attention than has been the case for long.
And as for the Ganges, the less said about it the better. Any trace of cleanliness has vanished the same way as has the huge amount of money spent annually on its "cleansing". With leadership such as this, with governance of such a miserable quality, it is scant wonder that even Varanasi is marked by the filth and poverty that have become international metaphors for India.

Friday, 4 April 2014

India-centric approach on cards (PO)

M D Nalapat
Friday, April 04, 2014 - Although this columnist first met Narendra Damodardas Modi sixteen years ago in a dingy room at the residence of a BJP functionary, he does not claim to be a friend of the BJP’s Prime Minister nominee or even to know him well. Unlike other politicians, who very quickly seek to build a personal rapport with those who they regard as influential to their careers, the Chief Minister of Gujarat is a very private individual, and businesslike in his interactions. Although there is more than a whiff of humour in his words, small talk is almost totally absent. What came across in the few interactions this columnist had with Narendrabhai (as he is known) was a photographic memory, that refused to let go of any and every scrap of information about a subject, a gift that has stood Modi well in the quest for the country’s top job.

The man who is on course to become PM remembers previous interactions, and watches intently for any signs of a change in view or a resiling from previously-held positions, for Narendra Modi likes consistency and the will to hold on to a view, even if the same be unpopular. For those who seek to use their careers towards self-development, Modi would be a difficult boss to handle. He wants around him individuals who focus on their work, not on themselves, and that too for periods of time each day that no doctor or spouse would recommend.

When this correspondent first told Modi years ago at his modest residence in Gandhinagar that he would in a future election cycle emerge as the Prime Minister of India, the response was a modest smile, followed by a softly-spoken reiteration that he was only interested in serving his voters in Gujarat, and that he had no further ambition than that. This may indeed have been the case, for even in 2001,when Modi was made Chief Minister, it was not because he had lobbied for the post but because then PM Vajpayee saw him as the best man to retrieve the state from a crisis.

Today, it is the swelling tide of voters who desire a “Modi Sarkar” rather than his party leadership that has made it inevitable that he be the BJP’s PM nominee. Five years after the forecast was made, it was clear by 2011 that the 2014 election would (a) be held on time and (b) become a contest between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. Held on time rather than pre-poned (as several commentators predicted) because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wanted to serve out his full term, and Congress President Sonia Gandhi would not cut short the tenure of the second United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government so long as the PM wanted it to go on.

The view of this columnist, expressed in print and on television, was that by 2010,Manmohan Singh and his team had outlived the welcome of the people of India. The Prime Minister’s cautious, bureaucratic style of functioning melded with Sonia Gandhi’s reckless squandering of taxpayer revenue to ensure that the economy began to sputter by 2007. The fact that the UPA’s response to the 2008 global financial crisis was misdirected and inadequate brought down the rate of growth of the economy to less than half what it had been in the past. High taxation, high regulation, high interest rates (favoured by PM-picked Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governors who in effect killed domestic industry by constantly raising interest rates despite a faltering economy) and low levels of administrative efficiency ensured that by 2007,few were willing to bet on the India story.

There was a flight of capital out of the country. Combined with the play of a small group of speculators based out of Mumbai, Chennai, Singapore and Dubai who seemed to know exactly what the RBI and the Union Ministry of Finance would do (or, more accurately, not do) to strengthen the rupee ensured that the currency began a plunge that has brought it to a level less than half of what fundamentals would dictate, were there to be an effective government with an India First policy framework Sonia Gandhi, through her choice of Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister of India, and continuing him in office for a fresh 5-year term despite the obvious failures of his adiministration, clearly indicated that policy should follow the “Foreigner First” track that has been its motif in this country for centuries. While foreign companues were enabled to enter the domestic market, donestic companies were hobbled and handicapped, so as to prevent them from offering competition both domestically as well as externally.

As a consequence, many have partnered with foreign companies and allowed the latter to access the potential within India, serving as their assistants rather than as their masters or even equals. Such a “Foreigner First” policy has dragged down growth to low levels, in a country where a 15% rate of growth can be sustained for a generation, given its location and human resources. But for this to happen, an “India First” policy needs to get formulated and implemented. It is because voters in India are distressed about Manmohan Singh’s “Foreigner First” policy, and seek its replacement with an “India First” policy, that Narendra Modi may be only weeks away from fulfilling the prophecy made by this correspondent, that in a coming election cycle, he would emerge as the Prime Minister.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

This is 21st century, not 19th, Mr Rajnath Singh (Sunday Guardian)

BJP president Rajnath Singh with party MP Lalji Tandon at the party office in Lucknow on Wednesday. PTI
ince 2006, this columnist has been convinced that Narendra Damodardas Modi is on track to become the Prime Minister of India, and has refused to join the ostrich band of fellow secularists and liberals in their wishing away of the prospect. Making nonsense of their presumed commitment to free speech and to honest and independent inquiry, some have tagged such a forecast as evidence of a "communal" spirit, pointing as evidence several columns written for Organiser, a journal that has yet to hide its affinity with the RSS. Unfortunately for such critics, this columnist is equally a contributor to Radiance, the magazine of the Jamaat-i-Islami Hind, an organisation in which he has more than a few friends, and which he regards with respect, especially for its work in promoting education among women.
During the infrequent occasions that this columnist has met Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat has come across as a political administrator firmly set on bringing his state and perhaps the country to the 21st century. He has often expressed his commitment towards internet freedom, despite the fact that he has received a fair (or, depending on the way one looks at politics in India, unfair) volume of criticism, often in language that would shame a merchant mariner. He has accepted the importance of ensuring that the poor be given access to fluency in the English language, a benefit that has been denied to them since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors in preventing the spread of English education among the poor, Jyoti Basu and Lalu Yadav. Unlike many in his party, he has recognised the need to face external commercial competition rather than wall in what would subsequently be a shrinking market.
The question is: will Modi's acceptance of the 21st century rub off on his party colleagues, specifically on BJP president Rajnath Singh? We know the BJP chief's views on English. The language ought to be banned, no matter that such a step — in contrast to accelerating the spread of the world's link language in the internet age — would consign the whole of India to the level found in the poorest corners of Uttar Pradesh, his home state. Rajnath has been equally forthright in his opinion of homosexuality. While some of us (though not, unfortunately, the Supreme Court of India) believe that what takes place in the bedroom between consenting adults is their own business, the BJP president clearly looks forward to setting up a cadre of Moral Police on the lines of the Saudi muttawa, which would pry into homes and prise loose same-sex couples in parks before dragging them to jail. Indeed, the BJP's complicity in the raft of intrusive and undemocratic laws passed by the UPA is near 100%. Whatever the measure entrenching the state in a position of dominance over the ordinary citizen, the two Leaders of the Opposition (both colleagues of Rajnath Singh) have either stepped aside or joined in their passing. Which is why the prospect of an NDA government with them as the two Deputy Prime Ministers would create some unease among voters eager to shed the baggage of past errors and move forward to future triumphs.
Given that three of the four top leaders of the BJP are clearly functioning and thinking within the mind space of the 20th and even the 19th century, leaving only Narendra Modi as an outlier, the question comes as to whether he can convince his three senior colleagues to follow his lead, or whether he will be made to follow theirs, as seems to have happened in the case of selection of BJP candidates for the ensuing polls. Hopefully, Rajnath Singh will be eager to ensure that he does not repeat his earlier failures, as Chief Minister of UP watching his party plummet in the standing of the voters, and as BJP president (in his first avatar in the job) of seeing his party be denied of a hat-trick in 2004, losing to a Congress Party that the BJP had bested in 1998 and 1999. The BJP president needs to be a bit more contemporary in his thinking, else his views may rub off on subordinates. Witness the Karnataka BJP welcoming Pramod Muthalik into the party fold, a man who has the same views on almost all social issues as Mullah Omar. Rather than pandering to those eager to ensure that India remain poor and sluggish in growth, Rajnath Singh needs to work harder to convince voters, especially the young, that he has adapted to the 21st century and will not seek to ape the UPA in strengthening the grip of the 19th and the 20th on the people of a country that has been let down by its leaders for most of its life as a free nation.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Al Qaeda finds base in India, Modi is on its radar (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 29th Mar 2014
Ayman al Zawahiri
l Qaeda al Hind (AQAH), the Indian arm of Osama bin Laden's terrorist organisation, has achieved viability, more than a decade after Laden included India in the list of priority targets for Al Qaeda, and after his successor Ayman al Zawahiri called for the setting up of a base in this country.
Linked to the global organisation via couriers and sympathisers, AQAH has, in the estimate of intelligence professionals, more than 300 members scattered across the country, including in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kozhikode, Jaipur, Patna and Delhi. These are usually professionals below 40, some educated abroad. The number excludes AQAH volunteers presently working in other countries.
"AQAH members are dispersed across a range of organisations, some illegal such as the Indian Mujahideen but many operate legally in the guise of NGOs and businesses such as recruitment agencies and travel bureaus." AQAH members function as the backbone of a cluster of extremist organisations, forming a network at the top that ensures the coordination necessary for operations and surveillance to get carried out.
"Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), out of deference to the need to keep fooling the United States, provides assistance in the form of sophisticated communications equipment, training and the funnelling of money from private sources in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to groups infiltrated by AQAH, rather than to the organisation directly," a senior police officer revealed.
A high-level source, now retired, warned that "the Intelligence Bureau has not been able to pay the establishment of Al Qaeda in India the attention it deserves", because "Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has ordered the IB to focus primarily on uncovering what he calls Hindu terror networks". A considerable degree of IB attention and resources have since 2007 gone into "seeking to locate 'Hindu terror' cells, and to monitoring the activities of Hindu organisations across the country, to the neglect of focus on international terror organisations, including those spawned by the ISI", according to a senior intelligence analyst.
However, a colleague disagreed, saying that "IB director Asif Ibrahim has been paying increasing attention to Al Qaeda and ISI, and this is why there has been so much success in rolling up several Indian Mujahideen networks".
The IM was given strong covert backing by the ISI after the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, so as to ensure deniability between future attacks and itself. The "reluctance of the authorities to pry into local support networks of the ISI in Mumbai after 26/11, including sympathisers within the state police at different levels, encouraged such groups to intensify their recruitment and to expand their safe houses", a senior intelligence professional claimed. "While Pakistan is the epicentre of Al Qaeda, the organisation has by now got secure bases in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan," he added.
"Eliminating Narendra Modi is the key aim of AQAH," the source said, the calculation being that "taking out Modi would unleash a violent reaction across the country similar to that which took place in Gujarat after the 2002 Godhra train firebombing by a mob assembled close to the station." Such a calamity would poison communal relations in India for decades to come, and make it easier for Al Qaeda to fulfil the objective of their Pakistan Army allies, "which is to reverse India's economic gains and bring India to zero growth," an individual tracking the ISI pointed out.
Apart from Modi, another focus of AQAH is Syria. "The war in that country between Wahhabis and the Assad administration requires tens of thousands of volunteers, and India has been targeted as a source for hundreds and eventually thousands of recruits for Al Qaeda operations in Syria," a country where the ongoing conflict has resulted in the creation of multiple safe zones for terror operatives to train and recuperate in.
According to a senior intelligence operative, a section of Syrian and Yemeni students in universities in India are trying to recruit Indians to go to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to join the brigades being formed there. "While most Syrian students are apolitical, there are a few in Delhi and in Hyderabad who have been recruited by Qatari and Saudi sympathisers of the Syrian armed opposition to try and persuade other Arab students and also Indians to join in the fighting," a technical analyst claimed. He added that in his estimate, "more than 200 Indian citizens are already active in the Syrian conflict". These function from Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia "and an estimated 40 in Syria". He was worried about the fact that "these recruits will have the capability to take on armed military formations after their training and experience, and these skills may get used on the side of insurgent groups" in India. According to a Syrian expert, there are more than 130,000 foreign fighters in various Qaeda-linked formations in Syria, including more than 6,000 from European Union states and about 400 from the US. The largest Arab contingent is from Libya (22,000), followed by Saudi Arabia (16,000) and Tunisia (13,000). There are also about 2,000 fighters from Chechnya in the Russian Federation.
According to an official, "Thus far, Indian intelligence agencies have not paid much attention to the ongoing recruitment of their nationals for operations in Syria." This is unlike Germany, which has sent intelligence professionals several times to Damascus to get details of EU nationals killed or captured by the Syrian army and air force. He warned that "there is recruitment for operations in Syria in the guise of mobilising financial support for the groups fighting there".
This, according to him, "is even taking place at centres in Delhi", including in a prominent university, besides Pune, Hyderabad, Kozhikode and Chennai. "The new government will have a major problem on its hands, as there will be a determined effort by AQAH to create chaos in India after the polls," adding that "tracking and neutralising this network has to become the priority for the IB."