Sunday, August 31, 2014

Narendar Modi: Hundred Days and India is alredy feeling the change

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

In May 2014 when Narendar Modi was elected the Prime Minster of India the public mood was sullen, angry and despondent. Years of misgovernance,dynastic rule, and the loss of political authority by the then Prime Minister, Man Mohan Singh, had taken a heavy toll; there was utter lawlessness all around, there was a slide in investor confidence, the Indian Economy was melting and the public deficit was alarmingly high. It did not appear that things would improve. The Indian Electorate chose togive a decisive mandate to the BJP and Narendar Modi became the Prime Minister. Unlike his predecesors, Modi hit the ground running. Realizing that public perception was venmentlty against the shenanigans of politicians, he made his Ministers walk a tight rope. They were not given the private staff of thie choice and the Prime  Minister had a direct meeting with the senior officers and impressed upon them the mantra that the Government must perform and he will not accpt any excuse for non performance. This is the first time in post Independent India that the political executive has clearly spelled out the vision of governance. Corruptionhas already started declining and Government files which were pending clearnace were disposed off. Man Mohan Singh has limited authority over matters of State and he preferred to fragment his authority even further by creating what he called Tmpowered Groups of Ministers to take decisions on important and controversial issues like OIl Pricing, Fertilizer subsidies, Gas Subsidies etc. The net result no decion was taken and when on the rare ocassion a decion was taken as in the Ordiance making sovicted politicinas eligible for public office the dynastic mascot of the time, Rahul Gandhi famously opposed it and the matter was shelved.

On 100 days things have visible improved. Food inflation and prices have started coming down. Even the proce of petrol has come down. The Government of India, in spite of an anticipated drought, has predicted a 6% growth in the GDP. Environmental clearnaces which held up a large number of infrastructural projects have been given the green signal and in the defence sector Foreign Direct Investment to the tune of 49 % has been suggested which will push up the growth rate even further. The Judges Appontment Bill which was held up for a long time has been passed and the dismantling of the Collegium System which seems tro have been misused by a few Chief Justices has been abandoned. The passage of the insurance Bill will also ensure foreign equity in this sector of the economy. The Modi Government has taken a leaf straight out of the experience of China: economic growth is the only way out of the pivertuy trap. Generations of Indian economists who have had their trining in fashnionable western univeristies have always advocated a model of growth in which the govewrnment is the prime mover. Now the peidulum has swung toward the private sector and Government will facilitate enterpreneurship.

The Address delivered on Independence Day (we have given a write up on this blog) hgihlighted all the important issues confronting the Nation and Modi did not shy away from talking about them. He stunned the country by stating very boldly that the violence against women for which India has become nototious can be stopped only if boys are brought up properly within the family and I think his message has gone home. His financial inclusion scheme will be regarded as a milestone and the largest expansion of banking services ever undertaken. Modi has shown the will to deliver on his promises.

There are however areas that have not yet caught his attention. Education in India is nowhere near even Asian standards let alone global standards. He has to address this issue and I am not sure if his Minister, Smrithi Irani has the intellectual capability for such a task. There is need to increase power generation as India will need  ahuge ammount in the next 5 years. The agreement with Nepal will surely help. Modi has also outline the River Linking 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Is Obama fanning the Jehadi resurgence: ISIS and USA

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

Even as John Foley, the American journalist was being beheaded by the Syrian jehadi militants, the world woke up to the startling fact that several of the militants associates with the ISIS are white men from USA, UK, Scandinavia and even Russia. USA has been doing everything in its power to help the jehadi forces gather strength and move towards establishing their stranglehold  over Sunni Arab states. The refrain that is being heard from Washington that ISIS is beyond anything "we have ever seen" suggests that USA is aware of the dangers inherent in letting ISIS have a free run and yet Obama and John Kerry his Secretary of State were willing to use American air force against the Assad forces who have been fighting ISIS for the past two years. In parts of Syria and Iraq which have been overrun by ISIS, the level of brutality that has been unleashed is unspeakable: stoning of women, mutilation of limbs, mass executions and forced conversion of people like the Yazdis.

The ISIS emerged as a part of the Free Syrian Army which was encouraged, trained and funded by USA. The Arab states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are funding the jehadis in the hope that the radical Islamists would not encourage subversion of their own regimes which are intrinsically unislamic. USA did not understand the ground realities and started attacking al Assad and pursued the same policy that had led to the collapse of Iraq and the unravelling of the fabric of Iraqi society. Under Saddam Hussein women and other ethnic and religious minorities were safe and to a substantial degree acquired skills and education. By deliberately discounting the progressive nature of the baathist regimes, the US Administration successfully demonised secular and modernizing leaders like Saddam Hussein and Assad. In Afghanistan too the US followed the same policy when it encouraged the Mujahideen which later spawned the al-qaeda.   Ronal Reagan famously equated the warlords of the Northern Alliance with the founding fathers of the American Republic.

In the case of Syria the ISIS is able to inflict heavy loses on the forces of Assad because the fighters affiliated with the ISIS have modern equipment which they seized from the retreating Iraqi Army. In many instances the Iraqi Army, trained and equipped by uSDA just abandoned their weapons and deserted. The few who stood their ground as in Mosul were caught and executed by the victorious ISIS. Under these circumstances Obama has no choice but to seek the support of al-Assad and Iran. Unfortunately USA is still pursuing a self defeating policy of non engagement with these two powerful regional forces. In libya, the French succeeded in arming a group that overthrew Col Qadaffi and the mildly progressive Libya has now descended into civil war  and inter tribal conflict. One of the many victims of the Libya conflict wa of course the US Ambassador at Benghazi.

The leader of the Syrian dominated ISIS the self proclaimed Caliph, Abu- Bakr al Baghdadi was once a prisoner of the uSA, a subject of the many illegal acts of kidnapping done by CIA under the label, extraordinary rendition. The whole of northern Syria has fallen to ISIS and unless Iran, USA and Syria act in concert ISIS will soon reach the Mediterranean Sea.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


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

Horror stories emanating from USA do not shock us anymore. We have come to expect drive by shootings, mall massacres, school yard killings and the like. In India we have our own share of horrors so there is no comparison. However, the Police in India in spite of the occasional instance of violence is much better behaved than in USA. The cases of "fake encounters"that spring up from time to time are due to the inherent flaws in the judicial  system with its dependence on procedure and witnesses, that sometime the Law and Order Machinery takes recourse to eliminating the violent criminals. It stands to reason that no one would like to give evidence in a court of law about the violent acts committed by a dreaded gangster. The police in India are now armed only with a fiberglass truncheons and are issued weapons only on the direct order of the Superintendent of Police and he too can issue weapons only on the instructions of the District Collector. I am not saying that the police are totally under the control of the civil district administration, but I can state with some authority that it would be impossible for the Police to getaway with the kind of violence which was visited upon the town of Ferguson, Missouri, USA.

Darren Wilson, a white policeman shot and killed Michael Brown a young black man who was apparently walking with his friend Johnson. The attack seems to have been unprovoked as Michael Brown raised his hand the moment Darren Wilson asked him to surrender. The police officer kept firing at the young unarmed youth and he died after being hit by 3 bullets on his chest. It is surprising that the policeman shot the youth on his chest when in most parts of the world the police are asked to shoot at the lege to prevent the fugitive from escaping. In this particular instance, the young man was not a fugitive and was unarmed.

The pictures that I have placed on the side of this blog may appear to be a picture from a war zone. Men in body armour,. armed with 5.56 mm short barreled rifles which are both automatic and semi automatic depending on the configuration used, and with a few pouched of ammunition around their waist.

We can also see a sniper armed with  a telescope keeping an eye from a building. All these men have the authority to kill and the American establishment does not order judicial probes as do our government. I remember that a great scholar of South east Asian Archaeology, Dr Roxanne Brown was killed in prison solely on the unfounded suspicion of being involved in a art case. I am giving these examples only to show that in spite of the situation in India with its crude theatrics and corrupt officialdom, something like what happened in Ferguson, USA is well near impossible.

Arming the police with military equipment is against any principle of civilian governance. The police can carry weapons but its use must be strictly controlled. In USA the police carry arms and can open fire in self defence. And if self defence is claimed, there is no argument because it is assumed that everyone is armed and dangerous. The police are expected to open fire first and then engage. This kind of training has led to the unavoidable tragedy in Missouri.

Like their counterparts in India, the US police are not above inventing a "narrative" to justify the deed. In the case of the killing of Michael Brown, the Ferguson Police Department has released video footage to suggest that Brown was involved in a hold up in a convenience store. What did he allegedly steal, : a few cigars. In any even, the Officer Wilson was unaware of the hold up when he shot the young man dead.

It is time for USA to make its police force a civilian force and not use it as a Military auxiliary unit.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


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

August 15th is India's Independence Day and the speech of the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi is a huge political statement. Successive Prime Ministers have used the grand backdrop of the Mughal splendour to bolster their political image and reinvent themselves as "leaders" by making rhetorical gestures that border on theatrics in order to pump up their sagging political fortunes and score points against real and imagined enemies. Narendar Modi's Independence Day speech was markedly different. It was delivered with passion and honesty and he used the "bully pulpit" offered to him to flag issues of real social and economic concern. There was  no Sabre rattling, tilting against the proverbial windmills in the form of Pakistan or any other hostile neighbour. The Prime Minister made a speech which emphasized inclusive governance within the framework of real and meaningful federalism. There was no attempt at throwing freebies to the people. On the contrary, the Prime Minister emphasized the importance of delivering good governance through a disciplined and honest bureaucracy. There is no doubt in my mind that this speech has touched all the right chords in a complex society like India and Modi's message of hope will not be dismissed with the usual cynicism with which Indians usually treat politi cal rhetoric.

The first point worth noting is that he packaged himself as the first servant of the people. In India where politicians claim to be above the law and are used to lording over the people at large and being treated with reverence, this statement of the Prime Minister  will certainly have the necessary effect. Further, he emphasized the fact that both the Central Government and the State governments must work in harmony to improve the quality of life in the country. He made the point that India is not known to be a clean country and he urged the people to keep their surroundings clean. Indians are not used to sermons like this from their political leaders and Prime Minister, Narendar Modi did not shy away from stating the pressing problems of the day. Such controversial issues that touch the very core of the Indian identity are generally avoided by political leaders. Narendar Modi has shown the courage to speak the truth from the most important platform available to a public figure in India

Narendar Modi bodly spoke of the declining sex ratio in India particularly in the under 10 years of age age and boldly said what no Indian Prime Minister has ever admitted in public: the skewed sex ratio was the result of sex selective feoticide, the consequence of western inspired notion that women must control their own bodies.I am sure that this will be followed with stringent measures to ensure that medical and scanning facilities are not used for sex determination tests. Modi also spoke of the violence against women and said that we in India have to hang our heads in shame due to the violence that women experience in India. I do not remember any politician making such a grim admission in public. He exhorted the parents to bring up their sons with the same diligence that they display toward their daughters. He has said in as many words that the solution to the problem of violence is to be found in ways in which boys are socialized in their domestic situations. A great solution to a pressing social danger.

The other points worth reporting are (1) the trimming of the role of the planning commission in India (2) the encouragement of entrepreneurship and (3) making Indian invstment friendly.

Narendar Modi delivered a  great speech and if he delivers on them during the course of the next 5 years he will remain the PM for anotherr twerm.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Natwar Singh's autobiography. One Life is Not Enough: A Courtier's rant

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

Natwar Singh has an unlikely admirer, another Sonia Gandhi loyalist, Mani Shankar Iyer. Knowing very well that the Natwar Singh has fallen out of favor in the Gandhi household, Mani Shankar Iyer has given a very laudatory account of Natwar Singh in the current issue of India Today. Probably both studied in Cambridge and were part of the elite IFS unities both men in a common miasma of mutual admiration. Mani Shankar Iyer is known to possess an acerbic tongue which can be hired by the Gandhi dynasty and unleashed against anyone daring to ask the dynasty inconvenient questions. Yet Man Shankar is very reverential when he engages with Natwar Singh and his work. Probably another courtier waiting for the opportune time.

Natwar Singh's so called revelations do not add anything of substance to what we already know about the regime of Sonia-ManMohan Singh, the duo that had dominated the power structure during UPA I and UPA II. Man Mohan Singh's pussinanity was too well known and it did not require Natwar Singh's laboured history to confirm what we all knew. Sanjay Baru in his book the Accidental Prime Minister  had alerted the Nation to the dyarchy that prevailed in the UPA regime.  Even his explosive revelation that Rahul Gandhi prevented his mother from taking up the Prime Ministership is hardly an expose. Being a shrewd politician, Sonia Gandhi knew that her public acceptance  was very limited and she could not have been an effective PM. Holding the Remote Control in her hand ensured that she held the sinews of power. Natwar paints himself as a victim of a ruthless woman. Natwar Singh is really the quintessential courtier whose entire life was spent in the personal service of the rich and the powerful. He thinks that he is doing great acts of State when he is  asked to carry messages to and fro people who matter. Message carriers cannot deceive themselves into believing that they are confidants of their handlers. This is the truth of Natwar Singh's petty existence. he a mere factotum carrying messages between Indira and her Ministers and later between Sonia Gandhi and her extended court. Butlers and Factotums like Natwar Singh are expected to maintain discreet silence. I remember that Princess Dianna's butler also came out with a salacious book on the Princess.

Natwar Singh does not say anything about the Vocker Report and he was dismissed from the Government because of his involvement in the Food for Oil Scandal. It is true that the name of his son, his friend and Natwar Singh's own name appear in the list of beneficiaries of Saddam Hussein's largess. He had the opportunity to say his side of the story and Natwar Singh is quiet about the whole issue except to say that he was implicated in the scandal at the behest of the Americans. This line of reasoning is suspect because the Vocker Commission was set up by the UN Secretary General and there are documents to prove the involvement of Natwar Singh in the scandal. It is unfortunate that Natwar Singh chooses to obfuscate the entire affair instead of bringing out the truth. And there is not a word about the mysterious death of his daughter in law who was killed after falling from the roof of a hotel in New Delhi and her cell phone did not even have a scratch. Natwar Singh and his great admirer Mani Shankar do not raise these inconvenient facts because public memory in India is only as long as the days' headlines.

Natwar Singh, a jat from Bharatpur packages himself as royalty and I recall Mahavir Singh a man who claimed to be his nephew always addressing Natwar as Kuwar, a feudal title of respect. Men like Natwar Singh are mere courtiers and their lives are not enriched either by reflection or refinement. An unworthy man has written a sly book which evades all the real questions and the hard controversies. Raising questions over Sonia Gandhi will not make us forget Natwar Singh's involvement in the Iraq Scandal. Yes, in one way this man is right. One life is not enough for a corrupt predatory courtier like Natwar all ofn 83 years of age.