Friday, January 6, 2017

Modi's Financial Gamble: Did Demonetization Succeed or was it a Failure

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

On November 8th 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi  announced a slew of measures which amounted to a drastic overhaul of the existing financial structure: The demonetization of the 500 and 1000 rupee notes. The legal basis for this policy is certainly questionable as macro economic policy comes squarely under the jurisdiction of the Reserve Bank of India and the RBI may have been consulted. However, the suddenness of the policy and effective manner in which it was implemented took everyone by surprise. What were the objectives of this measure:

First and foremost the unaccounted wealth, called Black Money in India, was becoming alarming huge. Some estimate that the parallel unaccounted economy was almost as large as the legitimate economy and was getting interfaced with high crime, political crime. Since unaccounted wealth was increasing and the tax paying population of India was extremely small, the Central Government had to find new sources of revenue. The upcoming Seventh Pay Commission would impose a huge financial burden on the economy and the One Rank One Pension introduced by the Modi Government would need a huge outlay. With tax revenue constant and expenditure increasing, the Government had necessarily to widen the tax net. The Finance Ministry under Arun Jaitley had imposed a number of measure, including amnesty for tax dodgers, but very little black money was disgorged. With one fell swoop the parallel economy was laid waste and this is a huge gain for India.

Second, the infrastructure projects needed investments and the flow of investment into India by way of foreign investment is not all that encouraging. A number of important projects like the High Speed Railway projects, the Sagar mala por project, the National Highway Scheme need funds and one way of freeing funds for infrastructural investment is to tap into the huge hordes of illegal wealth trapped within the country. It has been estimated that more than 250 lakh crores has now been freed and has flowed into the banking system. The Government wisely allowed hoarders of black money to deposit their illegal wealth in the banks and many did so thinking that once the banks have received the cash, black money is converted to white. Such financial alchemy was not on Modi's mind. The accounts in which monies have been deposited will now be investigated andit is hoped that with the GST rolling out from April this year, the tax base of the Government will also increase as the Government of India has to compensate the loss incurred by the states for a period of 5 years. Therefore, the objective of identifying potential tax payers has also been met.

There has been some criticism, especially the corrupt and criminal dynastic fascist party, the Congress about the demonetization policy. There was a major disruption in the financial sector in the wake of Modi's demonetization. The cash crunch caused a paralysis in the economy. Banks were restricted to a maximum payment of 2,000 rupees per individual. ATMs ran out of cash and many, nearly 59% of the cash machines have not been calibrated  to handle the new 500 and 2000 notes. Even till today cash withdrawal is restricted to 24,000 per account per week. This restriction was sold as an incentive to migrate to a digital economy with e payments and non material payments through credit/debit cards ect. However, the migration to a cashless economy is proving very difficult as internet access and literacy is limited.

The long queues at the banks did lead to needless suffering and at least 140 persons died while standing in bank queues. The opposition raised a hue and cry over this as though the corrupt dynastic fascists have ever been interested in the welfare of people. However, the situation ahs eased and now the queues in the banks is almost nonexistent.

Will this policy yield the desired political benefits. Though there was considerable difficulties, the ordinary India who is tired of the corruption and the venality have applauded the policy of Modi. It is no exaggeration to say that demonetization, though of limited economic success is a resounding political victory

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tamil Nadu after Jayalalitaa: Politcs of uncertainity and despair

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

December 6th 2016 witnessed a political funeral  in Chennai, the like of which remains unprecedented. Jayalalithaa was laid to rest on the sands of Marina Beach along aside her political mentor, M G Ramachandran. A Brahmin woman being buried and not being cremated raised eyebrows and the large presence of the Manargudi Mafia in the ceremonies pertaining to the funeral of the Chief Minister did not go down well with the public. However, the treatment given to Deepa, the daughter of the brother of Ms Jajalalithaa was deplorable. She was made to wait a few hours in the rain outside Apollo Hospital to catch a glimpse of her aunt and was turned away by the security. Funerals are very revealing. The present one has already shown that the ruling didpensation in the AIADMK does not want to share the space with the family of the late Chief Minister.

Jayalalithaa was a cinematic icon before she left the arc lights to join politics under the mentorship of MGR. In the Madurai Conference of the AIADMK in 1983, MGR symbolically handed the torch to Jayalalithaa there by indicating that after him the leadership would pass on to his leading lady. Both had acted in nearly 60 films together and the chemistry between them sizzled on the screen. In 1984, Jaylalithaa was elected to the Rajya Sabha and she spent a full term there. This exposure to National politics stood her in good stead as she acquired a national visibility even before she became the leader of the Party in Tamil Nadu after the death of MGR in December 1987.

Jayalalithaa became Chief Minister for the first time in 1991 when she swept into power on the wave created by the revulsion towards the DMK for its alleged proximity to the LTTE. The DMK has not been able to shke off the perception that it allowed the LTTE to take root in Tamil Nadu and the massacre in Kodambakkam only reinforced that opnion. The subsequent death of Durai who was the DGP at the time of the LTTE killings created an aura of suspicion. Her first term was marred by large scale corruption and disregard to the political consequences flowing from her decisions. The sacking of Government servants who participated in a strike was very unpopular and it ensured the total defeat of the AIADMK in the Lok Sabha elections. Being a consummate politician she made tactical alliances even with inveterate opponents like Vai Gopalaswami (Vai Ko) as he is known today, Vijay Kant and others.

In 2011 Jayalalithaa came back to power with a huge majority and in 2016 she was returned to power. And she in the only Tamil politician after MGR who has managed this feat. This term was marked by populist schemes like the AMMA branded schemes, AMMA Canteens, AMMA Cement, Amma Pharmacy, AMMA Water etc., These schemes were hugfely popular and cemented her alliance with the electorate in a manner that had not happened before. In 2014, she was convicted and I believe wrongly, in a dis  proportionate assets case in the trial court at Banglore and spent 21 days in jail. Her health strted taking a tailspin since then and Jayalalithaa never recovered for the treatment meted out to her in Bangalore Jail. It is likely that her health issues were deliberately neglected by the jail authorities at the behest of certain political lobbies. In any event having the Chief Minister of a State being prosecuted by another state government is hardly constitutional.

Jayalalithaa will be remembered as a politician who had a link with the elctorate a magical bond that transcended caste, religion and language.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Revolt of the "Deplorables": Trump's Electoral Victory Analysed

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Hilary Clinton famously describes Donald Trump's supporters as a "basket of deplorables". A few years back, in more politically incorrect and honest times the phrase may have been a lot more colourful" Poor White Trash. Surprisingly Trump's supporters took that label as a badge of honour and wore it on their bumper stickers and hats. Unfortunately the irony was lost on Hilary Clinton and her self righteous crew. Donal Trump triumphed not only against the Democratic Party nominee, Hilary Clinton but also against a whole slew of vested interests and institutions arrayed against him. He fought against his own party establishment which did not take kindly to an interloper gate crashing into the Nomination process. He fought against 16 other rivals and except for the elegant and honourable Dr Ben Carson, none of his rivals wholeheartedly endorse or support his candidature. Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, was constantly carping about the rise and rise of Donald J Trump. He fought against the White dominated corporate media which projected such a negative image of him, that Donal Trump appeared a caricature to the rest of the world. His statements were viciously torn apart and the debate was more on the language and rhetoric rather than the substance of what he said. The Media in the USA, both Print and Electronic, has not covered itself in glory as the rest of the world sees it as a handmaiden of American political and strategic interests. The complicity of the US media in the Iraq WMD scandal to a large extent dented the image of USA as having a free and fearless press. Negative propaganda, character assassination, innuendo, exaggerated and distorted projection of Donald Trump's alleged character flaws were all dished out and we were expected to lap this up as wisdom from the high table. And it is here that the Revolt of the Deprorables is important.

Hilary Clinton took American Exceptionalism as given. Her public utterances revolved around the messianic goal of USA to transform the whole world after its own image. It is less important to her that the rest of the world does not want to be a split image of USA. Her own incompetence in the chosen arena of foreign policy was apparent in the monumental mishandling of the Libyan Crisis. A prosperous, stable and fairly progressive state was brought to the brink of barbarism by USA and its surrogates operating under the shadow of the Arab League. Her use of the private E mail server even as she worked as Secretary of State violated American Law and in all probability Obama will protect her by issuing a Presidential pardon before he leaves office. Her association  with Clinton Foundation and the contribution raised from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Easter tyrant states shws that she was not above board as all the monies raised were when she was heading Foggy Bottom. a clear case of conflict of interest. Yet the media kept quiet and even when the FBI director told the Press that she was under investigation, the corporate media framed the issue as though the Secret Police was interfering with the democratic process. At the end of the day the "deplorables' saw trough all this and did not endorse her.

Donal Trump on the other hand was faced with an uphill task. He was caricatured from the very start. His business deals were paraded in public as though he had made money the wrong way and his reluctance to open his tax returns to scrutiny was made out as a sinister confirmation of fraud. The rather sad and unpleasant episode of Trump University was given a great deal of play. The Whitewate scandal and the large number of people who were killed investigating Hilary and Bill Clinton was not talked about. Even the sexual escapades of Bill, Clinton's husband, were ignored. Worse, the fact that WikiLeaks clearly exposed the underhand manner in which the candidature of Bernie Sanders was subverted, was not discussed in the press at all. It is now clear as daylight that had Bernie Sanders won the nomination, there was a possibility   of victory. Covert means were used to undermine the democratic process and Julian Assange had exposed the entire tranche of emails from the DNC.

All the problems afflicting the Clinton campaign were laid at the door step of Russia. Instead of asking Hilary Clinton why she was cheating, the Press went after Putin as if he was the cause of the problem. Shooting the messenger has always been the medicine of failed tyrants.

Why did Donald Trump win? The USA of today is tired of wars and foreign adventurism . US intervention in the Middle East has resulted in the destruction of an entire region and more than a million deaths can be attributed directly to US invasion of the region. Trump did address the issue of Islamic Terrorism and he wants to insulate USA from the backlash of American Invasion. Maybe his methods and strategies have not been articulated in a meaningful way but to brand his approach as Islamophobic is suicidal. Islamic Terrorism is a fact of life and USA cannot ignore the elephant in the room. And Hilary Clinon's astute use of Identity Politics also came a cropper. Dividing the entire population into demographic groups, ethnic groups, color coded groups may have been OK thirty years ago. But now with the decline in US economy and  the growing ill effects of globalization on the American Working class, the Economy is in shambles.

Donald Trump was able to connect with the American people because he had his finger on the pulse of America. Jobs, Security and Social Welfare were the main concerns.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Search for the Bones of Queen Ketevan

TheA look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The Ruins of the Agustinian Church

On September 22, 1624, Shah Abbas I, the Safavid ruler of Persia had Queen Ketevan killed and subjecting her to horrific unspeakable torture. She died firm in her belief in her faith, and she was canonized  by the Roman Catholic Church in 1824. Her life and, more importantly, her afterlife is stirring and evokes a sense of awe/ Was her apparent "martyrdom" a political act designed to strengthen her son.s tenuous hold on the throne of Kekhetia, one of the warring principalities of medieval Georgia. Or was it an act of supreme defiance a la Antigone: whose law is supreme--the Law of one Conscience or the Dictates of an earthly ruler. We will never know the answer and probably, the Queen herself may not have been able to answer this question. The fact is that several centuries after her terrible death,an apotheosis is underway and the Queen is emerging as a symbol of Georgian Nation and her death is now being appropriated to push forward a national identity.
The Belfry of the Church
The Tower
Medieval Georgia was a shimmering mirage of quarreling "little kings"and politically ambitious monks and priests. Ketevan herself seems to have been instrumental in using her family to have the reigning king of Kakhetia, Konstantine assasinated and this led to her son Teimuraz I ascending the throne. King Teimuraz I (1589-1663)wrote a poem on his mother.s martyrdom, ThePassion of Queen Ketevanwhich is generally regarded as a National Epic of Georgia. His turbulent reign saw the killing of his two sons at the hands of Shah Abbas I (1587-1629) and the execution of his mother and in a sudden unexpected efflorescence of poetic inspiration composed the poem which recounts in great detail and feeling the treatment meted out to his mother. Interestingly, the tone and persona adopted by the King-Poet was one of irony and he does not condemn either the Governor of Shiraz, theImam Quli Khan who carried out the order of the Shah or the Safavid ruler himself. And this absence of rancour has raised this poem to the ranks on one of the great poetical compositions of medieval world literature.

The Tower that I have illustrated on the left is the only standing structure of the Augustinian Church which was constructed in the early seventeenth century in Goa. The last few years of her life, Queen Ketevan  had tqo Augustinian friars who acted as her confessors. It is certain that after her execution these two priests smuggled her relics to Goa and had them interred in the transept next to the Altar on what was referred to as the Epistle side of the Altar.
Goa State and Central Library

The Augustinan Church and its associated complex of buildings were regarded asthe most magnificent buildings in Goa. They were constructed atop the Holy Hill, close to the Office of the Grand Inquisitor who carried out his nefarious work from the Se Cathedral. After the religious orders were disbanded in Goa, the building was abandoned and by 1850 it lay in ruin. The Altar was overlaid with vegetation and the whole building covered with bushes, rubble and fallen masonry. Locating the Altar, the Transept and the Window to the right of the Altar was not easy as there was no plan of the structure. The original building plan and other documents were destroyed in the Great Fire of Lisbon in 1755 after the Earthquake which devastated the Kingdom.

Fortunately a historian called Antonio da Silva Rego had made detailed record of the tombstones in the Cathedral based on two earlier chronicles of the Augustinian Church. The complete set of documents are preserved with great care in the Goa State and Central Library. The Curator of the Portuguese Collection, Dr Carlos Fernandes is a man of great erudition and dedication and he shared the collection with me. In volume XII pg 92, this chronicler of the Salarzarist regime has faiffully recorded that the bones of "Reino Ghatiavanda" were located on the second window to the right of the Altar.

In 1998 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and when Georgia became independent, the then Government approached the Government of India for help in locating the bones of Queen Ketevan. The Archaelogical Survey of India, Goa Circle, under Mohammad Taher conducted the excavations and close to the exact spot mentioned in the records of Sila Rego were found the bones of a woman. A long femur wasuncovered and DNA analysis has shown that the bones belonged to a woman from Central Asia. The exact DNA is shared by less than one percent of the Indian population and more than 35% of the Georgian Population. Of course there can be no 100% identication unless the DNA is matched with that of a living descendant of the Queen.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Twenty Fourth Convocation of Pondicherry University, October 4th 2016

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Dr Kiran Bedi Delivering the Convocation Address, 4th Oct 2016
 Pondicherry University celebrated in a grand manner the 24th Convocation on 4th October 2016. Dr Kiran Bedi, the Lt Governor of Pondicherry and the Chief Rector of the University, was invited to deliver the Convocation Address. The Vice Chancellor Dr Anisa Basheer Khan, had made all the arrangements for this spectacular event. Since there had been no commencement ceremony in the UNiversity for the past three years, there was ahuge back log of degrees to be awarded and the University had create a special space for the Convocation to be held. The R G Cricket Stadium was converted into the Convocation Hall by erecting a pandal. Fortunately the rain gods were kind and there was no rain.
The venue of the Convocation caption

The pandal had a seating capacity for over three thousand guests and the Hall was packed with parents, students and faculty. On the whole it was a great success. I was rather apprehensive about the whole affair as the event took the whole day. Dr Kiran Bedi was at the venue right on time and she was her charming best. She spoke to the graduates who received their degree certificates from her and smiled for the photograph. This gesture on the part of the Lt Governor was noted and appreciated by the people.

 The Vice Chancellor, Professor Anisa Khan, who took charge of the University at a very critical time steered the UNivesity through a very challenging time and she brought the Academic Calendar back on track. She gave the Report Card of the University and informed us that the University had risen to the eleventh position in the all India ranking established by the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Dr Kiran Bedi was at her eloquent best. She stressed the need to create a Clean Pondicherry and used the occasion to drive home the point that the student community and the UNiversity must strike to make Pondicherry or Puducherry as she insisted on calling it, OD free fromOctober 2nd 2017. She extracted the pledge from the assembled graduating
DR Raju, Dr Reddy and Dr Shetty dressed in the Academic Robes
DR Anisha Khan, the VC delivering the welcome Address

Thursday, September 29, 2016


A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The attack on the Indian Army Base at URI in Kashmir on the night of 25th- 26 September 2016 was a blatant violation of the international border and an aggressive act of provocation. India was shocked and this came at the heels of the attack on Pathankot Army Base and a marked escalation in terrorist related violence in Kashmir. The fact is that Kashmir is careening out of control and with the killing of Byrhan Wani the youth in the valley seem to be completely alienated. It will be quite a challenge to bring the youth, if not to the mainstrean, at least to lower the hostility they bear toward India. Professor Rattan Lal Hangloo who gave a Lecture in Pondicherry University stated clearly that the Government of India had ignored infrastructure and its development in Kashmir since Independence and that was one of the main reasons contributing to the problem. Further he stated that as the Cold War receded, the Pakistani establishment started directing the demobilized jehadis towards Kashmir and the growing Islamic terrorism in Pakistan created a climate conducive for militancy. He seemed to agree with Narendra Modi's call for the liberation of Baluchistan and India taking a lead in raising the "atrocities" perpetrated by the Pakistani Army before the court of global opinion.

The attack was meticulously planned. Satellite imagery of the entire area was obtained and the topography studied with the help of local guides. The soldiers from the Special Operations Unit were made aware of the lay of the land and the launch pads for terrorist activity across the lice of control were identified: Bhimber, Hotspring, Kel and Kepa sectors were the main targets. Around 12:30 the paratroopers were ari dropped over the area and they launched attacks with laser guided missiles on the terrorist training camps. Seven camps were totally destroyed and it is believed that 38 terrorists were killed. The entire operation was over in a couple of hours and the unit returned to base.

What will the the fallout. The strikes were aimed at the domestic audience which was baying for blood and Narendra Modi has shown himself before the people of India that he is decisive aan will not be taken in by nuclear blackmail. He shored up domestic support and obviously like Obama's raid on Bin Laden which gave him the second term, this strike will have an impact on the upcoming elections. All the major powers of the world, including China did not utter a word against the strike as they are all aware of the fact thta Pakistan has become notorious for the export of violence. This mid night attack signals a decisive change in the Rules of Engagement.

India has said quite clearly that it is willing to discard the frail framework of SAARC and deal with its neighbors on bilateral terms.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Kiran Bedi launches the Swachch Pakwada in Pondicherry University

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Kiran Bedi, VC and Chief Secretary
The Lt Governor returned to Pondicherry University on the afternoon of September 26thwith the Chief Secretary of the state in tow. This time the agenda was to work out the modalities of the Swachch Pakwada and the strategies through which the student community can be linked to the overall Government achene to create awareness about ODF. After reviewing the minutes of the earlier meeting the Lt Governor Dr Kiran Bedi quickly got down to business. She is delivering the Convocation Address in Pondicherry University on October 4th and has decided to use the occasion to speak of the hazards of OD in Pondicherry. In Kalapet, there is a slum near the beach called Thidir Nagar and here the residents use the beach as one large open air toilet.Changing the habits of people is not easy and it would require all the skills of an energetic Lt Governor and a whole army of students to change the entrenched mind set.

The Lt Governor has created an large number of BGOs and her association with India Against Corruption which had our revered Baba Ramdev as its leading light in recent history. She insisted on the creation of a Whatts App group with the Dean School of Communication as the Administrator. We had given the telephone numbers of all the participants and we hope that a reasonable number will join the group. The students of Pondicherry University will be provided transport by the Government and taken to the place where they will work.

The idea is good and I hope that it succeeds.