Friday, 25 July 2014

Saarc peace & prosperity zone (PO)

M.D. Nalapat
Friday, July 25, 2014 - Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a clear indication of his priorities when he invited India’s SAARC neighbours to his swearing-in on May 26. Defying those from within his coalition who wanted to exclude Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa from the list, he was warmly welcomed to Delhi by the PM. Defying those in Pakistan who urged him to boycott the swearing-in ceremony, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made the visit, and the talk in the national capital is that he and his counterpart found that they have a chemistry that promoted mutual regard and friendship.

In order to underline the importance of SAARC, the first foreign visit made by the new Prime Minister was to Bhutan, a country with a vibrant cultural and historical tapestry. The attention paid to SAARC by Prime Minister Modi was in contrast to his predecessor, who devoted much more attention to more far away shores, so that the relationship between India and its SAARC neighbours became frayed. Peaceful borders is a significant factor in creating conditions for faster economic development, the goal of Narendra Modi, who recognizes that only double-digit growth for a generation has the potential to lift hundreds of millions from poverty. The reality is that a friendly atmosphere between India and its SAARC neighbours can be a “Win-Win” for both sides. Greater trade in goods and services will create all-round employment, thereby reducing the influence of extremists who prey on poverty in their recruitment drives. Across SAARC, the enemies are the same: Poverty and Intolerance, weak standards of health and sanitation, lack of education and lower quality of learning in schools and universities.

The rest of the world will not pause while the SAARC countries amble along slowly in an effort to ensure better coordination. The zone has to have double-digit growth if it is to collectively ensured that its demographic dividend not morph into a disaster, with hundreds of millions of young and discontented under-educated unemployed rampaging across cities in the fashion witnessed in some other parts of the globe, and indeed even within SAARC, notably in Bangla Desh. The fact is that the countries in SAARC (which should be expanded to include Myanmar, now that Afghanistan is being welcomed) have natural complementarities that it would be a shame to waste. Their land and air space can serve as corridors for all the member-states. Connectivity between SAARC members is abysmal, with flights being infrequent and sea, road and rail services almost non-existent. Elections will be fought and won not on the basis of jingoistic slogans but on the achievement of prosperity. Narendra Modi’s success in election after election in Gujarat was based not on any social philosophy - real or imagined - but on the reality of prosperity. Electric power is available the whole day, and everywhere in the state. Roads are properly maintained, while the delivery of government services is prompt and of reasonable quality. Hundreds of thousands of voters from across the country who for a time lived and worked in Gujarat during the years (2001-2014) when Modi was in charge were his most effective campaign agents. They spread reports of his drive and efficiency, thereby giving voters across India hope that he can pull off a similar feat in the whole of India, if made the PM.

It was no secret that it was from the time that Narendra Modi was declared the Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP in the closing months of 2013 that the BJP’s election campaign accelerated. Had the matter been kept vague, or had another person been seen as the PM in case the party won, the number of seats secured by the BJP would have been far less. Of course, even with Modi to campaign, about two dozen seats were lost because of poor selection of candidates by the BJP. SAARC needs to come out of the lack of ambition about its ambit that has marked the organisation since its inception. As a start, the restriction on discussion of “bilateral” issues within the forum needs to be removed. Good friends should be given the freedom to discuss every important matter, whether they fall into the “bilateral” or the “multilateral” box. Next, the proposal for a SAARC Development Bank needs to be worked out, now that the BRICS bank has finally taken shape. If prosperity is shared, so will peace be.

The two usually go together. A permanent SAARC headquarters needs to be established, and it would be a gesture towards the smaller members if this honour be made to go to one of them. The fact that the United Nations, the IMF and the World Bank are all located in the US has created skewness in the international architecture of governance that has distorted priorities and created dissonance. SAARC needs to spread its permanent institutions more widely, so as to avoid the Bretton Woods model of setting up global institutions that are dominated by a single country and its close allies. The world has changed since 1945 but the UN, the World Bank and the IMF have not. Incredibly, small European countries have the same voting rights in the IMF that China has, and indeed much bigger rights than another large economy, India. After waiting patiently since 1945 for good sense to dawn on the US and its close allies to bring into alignment the governance structure of the Bretton Woods institutions into sync with global reality, the BRICS powers have finally lost patience and have begun the process of setting up their own. So should SAARC.

Although derided in international fora for what is seen as its lack of coherence and effectiveness, SAARC has the potential to emerge as a significant force in the architecture of governance that is taking shape in a world where economic weightage is shifting back to Asia. The leaders of the SAARC countries should build upon the “Spirit of May 26” and craft a structure that would fast-track the cooperation and partnership needed for every member of SAARC to prosper, thereby ensuring peace, both within borders and across them.

Monday, 21 July 2014

UN BECAME NATO’s PR ARM (Daily News, Sri Lanka)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 (All day)

Top UNESCO official states
Selective treatment of countries
President Rajapaksa’s independence has irked West
The United Nations Organisation has become an instrument of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), UNESCO Chair for the Promotion of the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence, Prof. Madhav Nalapat said yesterday.
Prof. Nalapat who is also Director Geopolitics and International Relations said the United Nations is in the habit of selecting certain countries to be ignored while another group of countries are selected for attack.
“To be very frank, the UN has become the public relations office of the NATO,” he said.
Prof. Nalapat is among the five member delegation led by BJP Committee on Strategic Action chairman Dr. Subramanian Swamy who participated yesterday in a panel discussion on ‘India under Modi: relevance for the Region and the World’ in Colombo.
The event was organised by the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies.
The UN is nothing but a wing of the NATO, he reiterated, adding the UN does what NATO wants it to do. He said India will take a correct stand on Sri Lanka in Geneva.
“India will take a correct stand in Geneva as the new government is pragmatic and a progressive one,” he said.
Prof. Nalapat said nobody should pay serious attention to the United Nations Human Rights Council as it has become an international joke.
“The UNHRC is in the practice of ignoring certain things and highlighting certain other things,” he said. He said that UNHRC selects its countries based on whether the particular government is dominated by the West or not.
Prof. Nalpat said that Sri Lanka would have not faced any resolution if President Mahinda Rajapaksa was servile to the Western countries.
He added that the UNHRC and Western nations are going after President Rajapaksa as the latter is independent and is defending the interests of Sri Lankans.
President Rajapaksa who is independent and a proud Sri Lankan defending Sri Lankan interests has irked the west. That is why they are going after him, he said.
Prof. Nalpat said the independent stand of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is appreciated by the global community.
“Other leaders will also follow the lead of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. They should not go with the begging bowl to the doorstep of different countries,” he said.

Audio: Panel on "India under Modi: Relevance for the Region and the World", 21st July 2014, Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, Sri Lanka

Panel Discussion on "India under Modi: Relevance for the Region and the World" on 21st July 2014, Organized by Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, Sri Lanka

1. Dr. Subramanian Swamy, Chairman, BJP Committee on Strategic Action & Former Union Minister
2. Dr Seshadri Chari, National Convenor, Foreign Policy Cell of the BJP
3. Dr. Suresh Prabhu, Former Union Minister
4. Dr. Swapan Dasgupta, Senior Journalist & Political Commentator
5. Prof. Madhav Nalapat, Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India.

Mr. H.M.G.S. Palihakkara.
Former Secretary,
Ministry of External Affairs & Sri Lanka Ambassador & Permanent Representative to the United Nations

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Ram Madhav, Harsh Vardhan are true Sanatanis (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.
Votaries of the freedom respecting spirit of Sanatan Dharma will welcome that the human rights of those of alternative sexuality should be respected.
ndia has the biggest population of young people of any country on the planet, with China far behind because of the "one child per couple" policy enforced there since the 1970s. Unfortunately, the young are only very sparsely represented in positions of authority or institutions of governance, in both of which greybeards function in profusion. Should such individuals accept that times have changed, and therefore so should attitudes, the fact that youth is under-represented at decision-making levels ought not to be a serious hindrance to results.
Unfortunately, several of more advanced vintage get locked into attitudes that are not simply 1970s but 1890s vintage. Given that the country is still functioning under a civil service structure that last saw major innovations in the 1890s (when Indians began to be gingerly accepted into at least its peripheral functions), this is no surprise. Given the fact that the mere fact and length of usage of customs and procedures that were archaic even when introduced more than a century back gets passed off as "tradition" in India, it comes as no surprise that for the past two decades, the best of the young have — with rare exceptions — stayed away from the administrative services. The antiquated modes of cadre selection, still extant, have resulted in the entry into the IAS and other elite services of many who focus less on public than on personal interest.
Now that he has vanquished his political rivals in the 2014 polls and secured for the BJP a majority in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's primary problem will come from within his own flock, exactly as was the case when he took charge of Gujarat in the closing months of 2001. Angered by the murder of 58 karsevaks trapped inside a train compartment off Godhra station, mobs indulged in violence, with the Chief Minister's request to the Centre to immediately call in the army going unanswered for two crucial days. As a consequence of the lessons learnt during that unhappy — and never repeated — episode, Modi took action against possible excesses of several organisations active in the mayhem, a fact which led the state units of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal to turn hostile to him for the remainder of his period as CM.
Given such a record for independent judgement, it is unlikely that Modi will pander to those in his party who would like to see state agencies enforce Victorian codes of conduct on the people of India, the way the Congress-NCP government is seeking to do in Mumbai by banning dancing in bars and the keeping open of restaurants till the early hours of the morning. The Wahhabi-Victorian mindset of the Maharashtra government is taking away whatever chance Mumbai has of becoming a global financial hub.
In any such location, late nights are the norm, while standards of behaviour are sometimes such as would get frowned upon by the Sri Ram Sene or by its behavioural twin, the Muttawa or religious police of Saudi Arabia, both of whom would applaud Maharashtra's Home Minister for his narrow-minded ways.
Narendra Modi represents a 21st century vision, hence it was a surprise to see some in his team call for a return to the 19th century, for example, by downgrading the teaching of English. The fact is that knowledge of the international link language in no way negates the syncretic and tolerant culture of Sanatan Dharma. The use of state power or law to enforce Wahhabi-Victorian codes on a population unwilling any more to accept the restraints of the Nehru-colonial model is wrong, and hopefully will not be attempted now that the effort is to tether India to the 21st century rather than drag the country back to the 19th.
Votaries of the freedom-respecting spirit of Sanatan Dharma will therefore welcome the recent remarks of both RSS spokesperson (and now BJP activist) Ram Madhav as well as Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, that the human rights of those of alternative sexuality should be respected.
Narendra Modi got votes from those seeking a 21st century India, and such citizens expect that the new government will ensure that India's Information Superhighway gets sharply expanded, so that modern languages and technology become accessible to even the poor, rather than remain the preserve of the well-off. They expect transparency in government, much more than has been seen in the past.
Such goals are more important than seeking to return Indian society to mores favoured — at least publicly — by Queen Victoria, and which still anachronistically permeate far too many laws of the land.

Modi-Jinping chemistry to bring India UNSC prize (Sunday Guardian)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping "bonded together" in their first meeting at the Fortaleza BRICS summit, say individuals cognizant of the thinking of the new Chinese administration. President Xi Jinping is also General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Chairperson of the Central Military Commission (CMC). They say that the new leader recognises that "India is not just a South Asian but a global power", and that China "will soon" publicly join the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council (France, UK, US and Russia) in backing India for this exclusive club, most likely during Xi's forthcoming visit to New Delhi this year. All this forms part of what is termed the "India Initiative" of the new Chinese leadership.
When asked about the delay in backing India when the other four permanent members of the UNSC had already expressed support, a senior observer said that "the US, France and UK are just giving lip service to wanting India as a permanent Security Council member". He asked why, if the three NATO powers were serious about India joining, they did not "ensure a vote in the Security Council and later the General Assembly on the issue?" He added that President Xi sees India as an equal.
An associate claimed that "the US has privately indicated that it will never schedule a UNSC vote on Indian membership so long as it knows that its proposal to include Japan as a permanent member will be subject to veto, while France is not comfortable sharing its privileged position in the UN with Germany but is hesitant to schedule a vote for Delhi ahead of one for Berlin". His colleague added that "the US perception is that for India, words are enough to keep them happy, and that actions are not needed". He said that in the case of China, "our actions will match our words, which is why Beijing welcomes Modi as PM, as he is super practical and appreciates others who are".
According to observers with access to policymaking, it was "at the request of President Xi" that India became the first country to be visited by Chinese Prime Minister Li Kequian soon after taking charge last year, and to the "unprecedented" flurry of completed and planned high-level visits from Beijing (since Xi took charge of the CCP). "In the past, Vietnam or Thailand received many more visits by high Chinese officials than India", said a key aide involved in working out policy options for the CCP. According to an associate, it is clear to the new leadership in China that "participation by India is vital for the commercial and diplomatic success of key initiatives" such as the New Silk Road, the Maritime Silk Road and the Trans-Himalayan Alliance. He noted that "Prime Minister Modi takes decisions looking only at India's self-interest and not the commands of other countries" (meaning the US). These experts welcomed the 30 June 2014 agreement in Beijing to set up industrial parks in India for Chinese companies, pointing out that "it makes more sense for India to manufacture Chinese equipment in India than to import entire kits from China because investment into your country from ours is banned".
When asked about the $35 billion trade gap in China's favour, an aide pointed out that "97 million Chinese tourists spent hundreds of billions last year, but India only welcomed 43,000 because of visa and infrastructure problems". He wondered why India was not following the example of the US and France in making it easier for Chinese tourists to enter the country. About other possibilities for reducing the trade deficit, he pointed out that "Indian teachers coming to China could use their English-language skills to meet the immense Chinese demand for learning a language mastered by tens of millions in India". Another point made was that "the Indian side has given a list of about 40 items that merit fast-track entry into the (Chinese) market, and this list is being considered. Expect good news by the time (President) Xi arrives in Delhi."
Key aides in the policymaking process said that on the border issue, the new leadership in Beijing favours a "full and final settlement" but that in between, "what is needed is to ensure mechanisms which prevent border incidents from taking place". They said that given a constant upgrade of ties between Beijing and Delhi, a mutually agreed settlement of the border issue is possible "even during the period in office of Modi and Xi", but for this to happen, "public opinion in both countries must see for themselves that partnership brings prosperity to both sides and that neither country is the enemy of the other".
Interestingly, the India Initiative launched by Beijing has its origin not in China's Foreign Ministry or in the economic ministries, but in the President's Secretariat itself. "President Xi wants to create better connectivity between India and China so as to boost trade, investment and visits," a senior observer mentioned. According to him, "The Chinese leadership is delighted by Narendra Modi taking over as PM because both Xi and Modi are strong, patriotic and practical leaders seeking for ways to make their countries recapture the high position both had centuries ago." He added that "this is possible only if both countries work together".
A senior interlocutor added that "while President Jiang never mentioned India in policy conversations, focusing almost always on the US and Europe, President Xi brings up India often, and stresses the need for close ties". He said that Beijing "was watching" India's plans for increasing connectivity between Delhi and Jakarta, Bangkok and Nyaypidaw and "welcomed such moves because (Beijing was) confident in the sincerity and independence of the new leadership" in Delhi. "Very soon India will be welcomed as a full member of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation)", he predicted.
According to these sources, the meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi during the BRICS summit in Brazil "went very well" and that "the Chinese side appreciated the (Indian) PM's agreeing to make Shanghai the headquarters of the BRICS Development Bank even though some (Indian) officials were against this". They added that "the PM's suggestion that India should get the Presidentship was accepted immediately" by the Chinese side, which also wants a "leading role" for India in the proposed Asian Infrastructure Development Bank (AIDB), while they would like the headquarters of the new entity to be Beijing, given China's massive financial contribution to the corpus of the bank. They added however that "pride of place will be given to Indian citizens in running the AIDB just like in the BRICS Bank". It was pointed out that in contrast, "in both the World Bank and the IMF, NATO alliance partners dominated although most of the funds now come from outside". They were agreed that "the goodwill and understanding towards China by Prime Minister Modi and the policy of President Xi for a close partnership with India are the two factors pushing the (Sino-Indian) relationship forward".
A senior interlocutor said that "the Prime Minister was direct and clear in his discussions with the BRICS leaders, focussing on win-win areas that all sides could agree on and making many practical suggestions". He added that "this straight talk made a big impression on the Chinese delegation", including apparently on President Xi himself, who, according to him, is looking forward to "closely working with Prime Minister Modi on global issues".
As another sign of the "principle of equality" between China and India embodied in the India Initiative, the sources pointed out that President Xi publicly invited Prime Minister Modi to attend the forthcoming APEC summit falling due in November. It was pointed out that APEC comprises the world's biggest economies and that this gesture (by Xi) shows his respect for the PM and his desire to "involve India in what is the fastest-developing region in the world".
The APEC invite was highlighted as an example of Beijing's "action-oriented" diplomacy towards India, in contrast to what was claimed to be Washington's "words-oriented" policy towards India.
"Will President Obama agree to schedule a vote this year on India becoming a permanent member of the UNSC? If so, China will not disappoint India", a source claimed, adding that "now it is for the US to match words with action".
If Prime Minister Modi is able to persuade US President Barack Obama to schedule an early vote in the UNSC and the General Assembly on permanent membership for India, he may succeed where all his predecessors have failed, in getting a confirmed seat for India at the highest table of international diplomacy.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Modi’s wisdom: Engage, don’t avoid (PO)

M D Nalapat

Friday, July 18, 2014 - Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi is not a man in a hurry, nor is he wedded to short-term goals. Given that his party has a majority in the Lok Sabha (Lower House), he is clearly looking at at least a 60-month time horizon for his tasks,if not 120 months, on the assumption that the BJP will again prevail in the 2019 polls. Therefore, judging his record or predicting the future of his period in office by just the first two months would be wrong. Given his deliberative nature, it is likely that the contours of Team Modi will become clear only within the coming months, as he carefully chooses individuals to fill key positions in his administration.

The first two years will get expended largely in clearing away the debris caused by the decade of rule by the Sonia-Manmohan duo, a period that saw the replacement of the India Dream with the India Nightmare. A country which was once admired globally for its promise is now mocked for its abysmal safety record concerning women and a matchless penchant for missing opportunities. Low growth marches in step with high inflation, with the Reserve Bank of India refusing to accept that its policy of boosting interest rates has proved disastrous for the economy while being ineffective in holding back inflation. Private industry has lost confidence in the country, such that there is significant capital flight. Mafias control the prices of many staples of consumption, such as grains and vegetables, and in the financial industry, speculation based on insider trading has become the norm. It is going to be a difficult climb out of such a steep pit, and in between, it would be unrealistic to expect miracles.

Where Narendra Modi is expected to make a decisive change in a short time is in the improvement of relations with neighbours and friends. In the case of both Pakistan as well as China, the previous government largely followed a policy of keeping a distance. As a consequence, opportunities were missed. The fact is that in the case of both Pakistan and ( still more) with China, the opportunities for India as a consequence of engagement outweigh the risks inherent in outreach. The best policy would be to embrace the opportunities while securing the country against the risks to the extent possible. Given his practical bent of mind, this is what the new Prime Minister is likely to do.

In the case of Pakistan, should that country be in a situation where much prosperity comes from contact with India, and vice versa, the chances for military conflict would diminish. In the case of China as well, it would make sense to take advantage of the opportunities rather than avoid them out of fear of the risks of closer contact. An example is tourism. Out of 97 million Chinese who travelled abroad during the past year, less than 45,000 visited India, a minuscule number. Much of the problem relates to delays in getting a visa, and in poor infrastructure. Since the political situation changed in India, the Embassy of India in Beijing has significantly improved procedures, so much so that in all except a handful of cases, tourist or business visas take only 48 hours for processing, in place of the weeks which were the norm earlier.

And as for investment by China (again discouraged by the Sonia-Manmohan duo) ,it makes little sense to buy Chinese telecom and power equipment in the tens of billions of dollars while not allowing the companies concerned to set up production facilities in India. Given Modi’s pragmatism - something which comes naturally to the people of his home state, Gujarat - it is likely to be only a matter of a couple of years before large-scale Chinese investment begins to flow into India. Already, on June 30,the visit of Vice-President Hamid Ansari was utilised to sign an agreement for setting up Chinese Industrial Parks in locations across India, from Kerala in the south to Haryana in the north.

The countries of ASEAN are also likely to witness a fresh burst of engagement during the period in office of Prime Minister Modi. While China has put forward the idea of a Trans-Himalayan partnership as well as a revival of the Silk Road and the creation of a maritime Silk Road, India is likely to join in such plans, now that a government confider of the country’s capacities has taken office. Also, what is likely is that work is likely to accelerate on an India-ASEAN trade and transit treaty that world significantly enhance air, sea and land linkages between India and neighbours such as Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar, besides of course Vietnam. An effort is also likely to improve the functioning of ports in India, so that shippers do not need to use Dubai, Colombo and even Singapore for transit of containers because facilities in India are so abysmal. All this will be very good news for a region hungry for growth, and which hosts a young population needing jobs. Connectivity is key to growth, and this has been a problem in India, including in the sphere of the internet, where browsing speeds in India are the slowest in Asia, and where less than a quarter of the population has access to the World Wide Web, unlike countries where almost the entire population is routinely online. Use of the internet can promote efficiency in the delivery of services as well as transparency in its operations, and a big push needs to be given to the sector. The indications are that the new PM accepts this as a priority.

Within India, railway speeds are to be increased through partnership with Japan in the operationalising of high speed trains (the first being between Ahmedabad and Mumbai) and with China in ensuring that existing trains run much faster and more efficiently. Countries in Asia need high rates of growth to escape poverty and to ensure stability in a period of rising populations. Such rates can only come about through engagement and not avoidance. This is a fact that is expected to drive policy in the administration of a PM whose mantra is growth through good governance rather than Big Government.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

2014-15 Budget gives glimpses of ModiVision (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.
Arun Jaitley’s budget is much more than simply a collection of measures put together by bureaucrats and presented in the practiced prose of the FM.
PM Modi
n 1992, when what seemed a rickety government headed by Pamulaparthy Venkata Narasimha Rao came to power, India's economy was in crisis. Foreign exchange reserves were low, expenditure had gone out of control, and the delivery of government services was abysmal. The Prime Minister bypassed party satraps and chose a bureaucrat, Manmohan Singh, as his Finance Minister. Subsequently, he encouraged Singh to present in Parliament a union budget that represented a complete break from the philosophy of the past, that government and government alone was to be encouraged and nourished. Although Manmohan Singh revealed his temperamental aversion towards giving tax benefits to Indian citizens, reserving largesse to foreigners (such as the giving away of $12 billion to Russia by accepting a rupee-rouble exchange rate that was heavily and unrealistically skewed in Moscow's favour or by cutting duties on computers so that Indian companies in the field would find themselves at a disadvantage when pitted against foreign competitors). During his tenures as both Finance Minister as well as Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh refused to lower tax rates or to give any significant concessions to the middle class that is the true driver of innovation and growth in India.
However, despite his parsimony towards citizens of his own country (which resulted in policies that helped lead to the defeat of the Congress in the 1996 polls), it is a fact that Manmohan Singh was a trailblazer in crafting a budget, by seeking to return the country to the more business-friendly days of Finance Ministers such as John Mathai or Shanmukham Chetty, at least for foreign investors and companies even while these predecessors had sought to empower domestic private industry. This was, of course, before Nehru returned to the "socialism" of his college days and began a process of shrinking the Indian private sector.
Fortunately for the country, the minister in charge of the Industries portfolio, Narasimha Rao himself, slashed away at the licence-permit raj, cutting at the powers of the bureaucracy and thereby freeing domestic private industry in India from a few of the restrictions that had crippled it for decades.
In 1947, private industry in India was much bigger than that in Japan, while the large-scale private sector in South Korea was non-existent. By 1964, when Nehru passed away, both countries had overtaken India, and by the close of Indira Gandhi's reign in 1984, were so far ahead of India in per capita terms and in terms of the turnover of private enterprises that making a comparison between a minnow such as India and giants such as Japan and South Korea would be laughable.
Although the private sector improved its relative position somewhat during 1992-2004, when the UPA came to power, in a few years the Nehruvian tendency to enforce a stifling grip over non-governmental entities became manifest, thereby once again dampening the prospects for private industry in India.
This columnist has regarded Narendra Damodardas Modi as the fittest individual to be the PM of India since 2006, and therefore expected the first Modi-era Union Budget to be as much of a break from those of the previous ten years as the Manmohan Singh budget was in 1992 from its predecessors.
After all, the BJP had repeatedly told the country that the economy was in crisis, needing major surgery for recovery. In other words, a budget that either presented a much-simplified Direct Tax Code or set in train the process for generating one.
A budget which slashed income-tax rates to 30% only for those with an income above Rs 1 crore a year, and 20% for those with an income between Rs 1 crore and Rs 50 lakh and 15% for incomes from Rs 12 lakh per year to Rs 49 lakh, followed by a census on taxpayers and by mandatory confiscation of property valued at 300% of tax owed (rather than prison) for cheaters.
A budget which unleashed the "animal spirits" of both business as well as the entire working population of India through bold steps that may annoy Chidambaram's favourite, Wall Street, but which would make sense to Indian professionals and companies. This did not happen.
The first Union Budget of the Modi government leaves tax rates unchanged and leaves alone matters such as reforms in miscellaneous markets. However, while Arun Jaitley's budget is unlikely to get classed alongside Manmohan Singh's in 1992, or even P. Chidambaram's in 1997, it is much more than simply a collection of measures put together by bureaucrats and presented in the practiced prose of the Finance Minister.
There are tantalising elements of ModiVision in the budget, although admittedly hard to discern at a first reading.
Hopefully, the months and years ahead will witness the seeds of reform studded within the budget morphing into procedures and policies that unlock the creative and entrepreneurial energies of our citizens in ways that government overlordship have thus far made impossible.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

‘Foreign Entities not letting India become food self sufficient’ (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 12th Jul 2014
ix foreign NGOs based in wealthy countries, many of which themselves permit such innovations, have thus far succeeded in blocking Genetically Modified Foods (GMF) from getting introduced in India, documents available with The Sunday Guardianshow. The entities are Greenpeace, Climate Works, Ford Foundation, Huvos, Cordaid and IDRC.
While some of the concerns expressed by the small but effective anti-GMF lobby in India (such as dependence on overseas sources for seeds) are real, others (such as that such foods are injurious to life) are not. The documents show that the expertly cultivated access enjoyed by foreign NGOs to media outlets has led to a drumbeat of reports that such foods are inherently disastrous to health, of course in an unspecified "long term". Diseases such as cancer and even dementia have been ascribed to "long term" ingestion of genetically modified foods, ignoring the fact that in the total global cropped area, 32% of maize and 74% of soybean, apart from 81% of cotton, are already based on genetically modified (GM) organisms, and that consumers in the world's largest economy, the US, have been ingesting GM foods for 15 years without any noticeable side effects. The till now effective infowar blocking GMF in India also ignores the fact that Indian biotechnologists working in 17 companies in Gujarat were able to develop their own varieties of BT cotton some years ago, and that the new strains have been embraced by cotton farmers across the country. There is no reason why genetically modified foods such as BT brinjal too cannot be locally developed and disseminated to farmers.
Documents available with the Ministry of Home Affairs say that foreign (or foreign-funded) NGOs have repeatedly claimed that there have been more than 800,000 "farmer suicides" across the country over the past 15 years. Apart from the fact that the figure relates to the total of reported suicides across the country, rather than just from the farming community, neither the NGOs nor the Indian activists taking up their war cries can explain what such suicides have to do with GMF, given that they have blocked the introduction of such foods across India. The only exception to such a blockade is cotton. A freeze got introduced in 2010 on field trials of both BT cotton as well as BT brinjal. However, in the case of BT cotton, Gujarat has quietly pioneered self-sufficiency in the new technology. The documents say that the consequence of Gujarat's success has been that "India is on the way to becoming the largest exporter of cotton goods in the world. Cotton yields have risen by 168% in ten years, while farmers have increased acreage by 29%", contrary to the view being spread that such innovations are deadly for the welfare of farmers.
Scientists say that a similar numerical boost can be given in the food sector, provided the ban on such foods gets removed. Interestingly, although US consumers extensively partake of such foods, much of the funding for the anti-GMF campaign in India comes from US entities such as the Ford Foundation and Climate Works, besides those perennial foreign blockers of (i) innovative technologies in foods and (ii) needed boost to power supplies in India. These include Greenpeace and Cordaid, besides the Canada-based IDRC and the Netherlands-based Huvos, all of whom have expended large sums on their campaigns in this country.
The documents say that "a well-funded and expertly orchestrated campaign designed to deny India self-sufficiency in farm products is being carried out" over the past decade. Interestingly, while several foreign backers of such agitations are religious fundamentalists opposed (in underdeveloped countries, though seldom their own) to "tinkering with God's design", in India, it is the opposite end of the political spectrum that provides oxygen to such movements. In their case, the motivation is antipathy to "development through corporates", even if in the process, no or very little development at all takes place, as was seen in Bengal for decades.
The MHA documents reveal that should an Indian citizen agree to be active in the anti GMF campaign in India, there are a plethora of foreign agencies willing to fund such efforts, provided that the activist (a) gains access to the media, and (b) is skilled in using the legal system to block or to slow down the introduction of the targeted new technologies in agricultural products. They are also enabled to (c) give talks and lectures across the country, so as to create scares in the public. An example the reports point out is the wholly imaginary claim that "hundreds of cattle and sheep died (in Warangal AP) after ingesting BT cotton leaves", or that "there were hundreds of recalls of genetically modified foods over the past decade", when the actual figure for such recalls is zero. Although the worry that foreign countries may secure monopolies in matters such as provision of seeds to farmers is justified, the BT cotton example shows that domestic companies are easily able to produce substitutes to the products of the foreign giants interested in entering and dominating the Indian market. However, as yet there is a ban on the field testing of such foods, thereby effectively blocking them from possible use in the future. The NGO-friendly UPA government made no effort to unblock such barriers to the use of foods that have the potential to boost farm production manifold in the country. Of course, this would mean lower food prices, something unwelcome to the mafias controlling key farm products, and whose sole interest is to boost consumer prices to as much as the market can bear. Such mafias are beneficiaries of the GMF and BT bans operational in India, stoppages which prevent other crops from gaining for farmers the advantages that new technology has brought to cotton cultivation in India.
The reports speak of four Indian activists who have "most assisted foreign NGOs succeed in their mission of denying selected new technologies in the domestic food sector". These are Aruna Rodrigues, Suman Sahai, Kavitha Karuganti and Vandana Shiva. It needs to be said that the integrity and dedication to the public interest of all four is beyond doubt. However, they have fully accepted the conclusions and tactics of global NGOs seeking to prevent India from accessing selected technologies that are already commonplace in the production of food consumed by 2 billion people across the globe, including in several high-income countries who would be expected to be solicitous of the health of their citizenry. The success of the lobbying conducted by the anti-GMF NGOs can be gauged from the fact that even a Parliamentary Committee and a Technical Expert Committee (which coincidentally was made up almost entirely of experts with a record of opposition to GMF) separately recommended a ban on even routine trials of such foods for an initial period of three years from 2012. Interestingly, two local NGOs active in the Block GMF movement, ASHA and IFSF (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture and India For Safe Foods), are headquartered in the company of four anti-nuclear power NGOs at the same address, a two-room flat in Katwaria Sarai, New Delhi. The anti-nuclear power NGOs are PEACE, CNDP, INSAF and JSSS. Interestingly, the foreign funds received by them come from the same international organisations bankrolling the anti-GMF movement, including Rs 7. 5 crore from German entities.
Interestingly, a media campaign seems to have started against agencies pointing to the agenda of foreign NGOs that openly seek to deny India the energy and food production needed to lift hundreds of millions of the desperately poor to levels adequate for an acceptable lifestyle. Given the success of such infowar efforts, it seems unlikely that the success of BT cotton (produced entirely by domestic companies) will soon get replicated by the introduction of BT brinjal and other GMF designed to boost farm production to levels which would end the stranglehold of agriculture mafias on markets and thereby lower farm prices across the country, while boosting farmer productivity and incomes. "We are lucky these NGOs were not around in the 1960s, or India would never have had a Green Revolution", an official remarked, adding that "this is a country that is easy to mislead and to panic, especially to those having deep pockets".