Saturday, 19 April 2014

Obama quietly reverses Hillary’s ‘get Modi’ policy (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 19th Apr 2014

Hillary Clinton
S President Barack Obama has quietly reversed a policy initiated by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to "get Narendra Modi" — ostensibly for the 2002 Gujarat riots, but in actuality "for taking stands that may be different from that favoured by the US administration" — in the words of a senior analyst in New York.
"Hillary Clinton likes to operate through NGOs, which are given funding through indirect channels, and which target individuals and countries seen as less than respectful to her views on foreign and domestic policy in the target countries," a retired US official now based in Atlanta said. He claimed that "rather than US NGOs, (the former) Secretary of State Clinton favoured operating through organisations based in the Netherlands, Denmark and the Scandinavian countries, especially Norway" as these were outside the radar of big power politics. These NGOs were active in the agitation against the Russian nuclear power plant at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, with "funding coming mainly from a religious organisation based in Europe that has close links with France".
Incidentally, French companies are in direct competition with Russian rivals in seeking to expand the market for nuclear reactors in India. The senior official, now on a visit to India, claimed that "your (i.e. the Manmohan Singh) government has full details of the religious organisation involved in funding the Kudankulam protests, but is keeping this secret as the organisation has high-level backers" in the UPA.
These present and retired officials claimed that "during the tenure in office of Secretary Clinton, several expert teams in the guise of NGOs were sent to Gujarat to try and find mass graves". The purpose was to then take the matter to the Office of the UN Commissioner of Human Rights in Geneva as an example of genocide. "In 2011, some bones were discovered in a Gujarat field by one of the search teams and there was much excitement, but these were later found to be buffalo bones", an official said. The official added that "no evidence whatsoever of mass graves was uncovered in Gujarat despite six years of clandestine searching for them" by undercover experts posing as representatives of NGOs. He added that "five politicians, three from the state and two in Delhi, assisted the search teams, but the information given by them proved unproductive".
Finally, "now that Secretary Clinton had stepped down from office, by end-2012 orders were given to stop wasting time on the search for mass graves in Gujarat, much to the dismay of those NGOs who were getting significant funding as a consequence of the search operations". Interestingly, the senior official claimed that because of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's inability to water down the Nuclear Liability Act and Defence Minister A.K. Antony's decision to prefer the French Rafale fighter to its US rival, "orders were given to activate the Khalistan file so as to create embarrassment for Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh".
Another official, now retired, claimed that "since 2011, several search teams have been active in Punjab, seeking human remains in suspected mass graves". According to them, "key politicians in Punjab have assisted these search teams and on occasion even provided logistical facilities for them".
These officials claim that the recent decision by the US Aviation Authority to ban extra flights into the US by Indian carriers was "directly linked to US displeasure over the strong Indian response to the Devyani Khobragade episode, especially as they had been privately assured by senior officials that the fallout of an arrest would be routine and perfunctory".
Another example of misuse of public interest bodies cited was the recent decision by the UK Automobile Safety Authority to classify five India-produced small car models as unsafe, "or exactly the same models that are offering competition to European and US vehicles in the European market". They said that such steps were "protectionism in the guise of safety" and that "the Manmohan Singh government's passivity in responding to such unilateral measures encouraged more of them to get slapped on India".
Coming back to the BJP's PM candidate Narendra Modi, these sources say that the Obama administration has dialled back on the hectic efforts by Hillary Clinton to paint the Gujarat CM as guilty of mass murder and even genocide. "This is clear from the latest report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has sharply scaled back its criticism of the Modi government as compared to earlier reports". According to a senior official, "President Obama does not share Hillary Clinton's confrontational approach and her preference for Sonia Gandhi, and is looking to establish a pragmatic partnership with India should Modi become the Prime Minister". Hence the search "for a US envoy who would be different from (former ambassador) Nancy Powell's Clinton-style hostile approach to Modi, and to find an individual who could be expected to bond with the new PM and his team". According to these sources, President Obama "is alarmed at the steep downslide in India-US ties caused by Hillary-style crusades, and wants the relationship to be even better than what it was under the Bush presidency".
Recent remarks by Narendra Modi indicate that the BJP's standard bearer is ready to reciprocate the hand of amity proffered by Team Obama to the BJP's PM nominee.

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Nehru family fight (PO)

M D Nalapat
Friday, April 18, 2014 - Every family is subject to its feuds and tensions, and the Nehru family is no exception. Because the husband of Jawaharlal Nehru’s only child, Indira Priyadarshini, was re-named “Feroze Gandhi” by Mahatma Gandhi himself, the Nehru family has usually (and inaccurately) been referred to as the “Gandhi family” when in fact there is no blood tie between any of them and any member of Mahatma Gandhi’s family. Indeed, the latter have been conspicuous in the way in which they have declined to take advantage of their world-famous ancestor.

Whether it be Gopal Gandhi, the soft-spoken diplomat who was also Governor of West Bengal, or any of the other descendants of the Mahatma, each has shown a modesty and a dignity that has remained immune to the lure of either power or money. In contrast, Sonia Gandhi has adopted a leading role in the country’s politics, and uses such perquisites of high office as corporate jets while staying in a huge mansion that would cost about $150 million if placed on the open market. Of course, she gets it virtually rent-free from the Government of India, which also takes care of much of the travel and other costs incurred by her and her family members. Interestingly, both son Rahul as well as daughter Priyanka have their own state-provided mansions in Delhi, even while there mother stays in a dwelling that is by any standard palatial, and which has more than enough room to accommodate the two children There has always been tension between Sonia Gandhi, the wife of elder son of Indira Gandhi Rajiv Gandhi, and Maneka Gandhi, the Sikh bride of younger son Sanjay. During the period from the Congress defeat at the 1977 polls to Indira Gandhi’s victory in the 1980 polls, it was Sanjay and Maneka who gave courage to Indira Gandhi, and who carelessly worked towards a political comeback. During this entire period, Rajiv And Sonia were abroad for extended lengths of time, or spending time away from Indira Gandhi and Sanjay.

Indeed, it was no secret that Rajiv and Sonia regarded Sanjay Gandhi as responsible for the downfall of Indira Gandhi, or that Sonia Gandhi had the same feelings towards the younger and attractive Maneka as have been immortalised in “Bahu versus Bahu” soap operas throughout the subcontinent, whether in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangla Desh. After the death of Sanjay Gandhi in 1980,which occurred soon after Indira Gandhi returned to power and Sanjay emerged as the second-most powerful person in the country, reports have it that Sonia worked ceaselessly to poison the mind of Indira Gandhi against the young widow, Maneka Gandhi, such that the latter was forced to leave the Prime Ministers House along with her infant son. Since then, Maneka has followed a political career entirely independent of the Nehru family, unlike family of Rajiv Gandhi, which has enjoyed the privileges of state patronage ever since.

How did Sanjay Gandhi die? It was in an air crash, when the small aircraft flown by him crashed. But Sanjay was an excellent pilot, and there is talk that the aileron wires were filed in such a way that a few hard tugs on the joystick would have resulted in their fraying and breaking away, thereby sending the aircraft into a fatal dive, which is exactly what happened. There have been whispers that the incident was arranged by local agents of the intelligence agency of a huge country that Sanjay was open in his dislike of. This was the USSR, now defunct. Moscow saw Delhi as its most important strategic partner in Asia, and was apprehensive that Sanjay Gandhi would persuade his mother to move away from the USSR to get closer to Washington, the way Anwar Sadat had in Egypt.

Certainly Sanjay Gandhi was an individual of firm views, and he was never afraid to express them. Such transparency may have been his undoing. Certainly, with the death of Sanjay Gandhi, all expectations of a geopolitical shift from Moscow to Washington disappeared. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were very respectful of the USSR and it needs to be mentioned that this loyalty by a Congress Party dominated by them continued to the very last hours of the USSR. Of course, much of the cause was the approach of Washington towards Delhi, with successive US administrations looking not for the crafting of a fair bargain but a surrender by India to the dictates of the US. Sonia Gandhi has several admirers in the Indian media, among which is Vir Sanghvi, who lost his temper at this columnist on a television show some days ago. This was because Vir (who is ordinarily very pleasant and well-mannered) mentioned that Sanjay Gandhi’s widow Maneka “was not a Gandhi”. Such a view is in sync with that of much of the media, which forgets that Indira Gandhi had two sons, and that both families have the same right to legacy of the family.Indeed, out of fear or respect for Sonia, a conscious effort has been made to airbrush Maneka and her son Varun (who is also an MP in the BJP) from any discussion of the Nehru family.

However, because of the fall in popularity of the Congress Party and a rise in popularity of the BJP, there seems to be rising panic within the ruling party’s ranks. In order to ensure that Maneka and Varun are not seen as what they are, full members of the Nehru family, a diatribe has been launched against them, including by Sonia and her two children. This is unfortunate. Family is family, and civilities need to be maintained untainted by politics.No more can the fiction be maintained that Indira Gandhi had in effect only a single son,Rajiv, and that other son, Sanjay (and his wife and son) are seen as unpersons. The more Sonia and her children rail against Maneka and her son,the faster will be the loss of their public support and popularity. The people of India respect family ties,and those that uphold them.

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.