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Author: Prakash Nanda

India-Pakistan ties: Modi’s birthday wishes to Sharif don’t signal policy change

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote a post in his Twitter account on Sunday:

His birthday wishes to his Pakistani counterpart have rekindled hopes that the stalled negotiations between India and Pakistan are about to resume. At least this, a section in the Pakistani press believes.

In fact, Pakistan’s Express Tribune has quoted an Indian diplomat in today’s edition saying that the Indian premier might review his current strategy towards Pakistan and offer another ‘olive branch’, possibly after state elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, scheduled to be held in March. The Indian diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Pakistani publication, said that although the current public sentiment was not in favour of talks with Pakistan unless the issue of alleged cross-border terrorism was addressed, Modi knew how to galvanise public opinion.

“Whenever he (Modi) makes any overture to Pakistan, rest assured it will not be half-hearted,” the diplomat is quoted to have said.

Incidentally, last Friday, India’s external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup had said that India was prepared for talks with Pakistan, provided the latter ensured a peaceful atmosphere. “We have never refused talks, but Pakistan has to ensure a peaceful atmosphere. Pakistan needs to stop supporting terrorism. Pakistan should create a healthy atmosphere for talks,” he had said. In other words, the spokesman had clearly pointed out preconditions that Pakistan must fulfill before the resumption of bilateral talks by the two countries’ diplomats.

Against this background, how does one view Modi offering an olive branch through his birthday wishes? First of all, was it an olive branch at all as the Pakistani press suggests? Any answer to this question should be viewed in a historical context.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. AFP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. AFP

India and Pakistan have fought four times, threatened each other many a time and quarrel most of the time. In between, they have talked of peace, negotiated some confidence building measures (CBMs) such as Liaqat-Nehru Pact (1950), Indus Water Treaty (1960), Simla Agreement (1972), Lahore Declaration (1999), Lahore-Delhi Bus Service, the “cricket diplomacy,” the resumption of the dialogue (Composite Bilateral Dialogue) between Pakistan and India in 2004. But then some crisis or other – in the form of war or a war-like situation – emerges. As a result, all the CBMs become null and void, the notable exceptions being the Indus water sharing treaty, the annual exchanges of the lists each other’s nuclear installations and notifying each other in advance in respect of ballistic missile flight tests.

And when the environment becomes little more manageable, mostly due to pressure from the civil society in both the countries and international demands, their leaders once again renegotiate, mainly to restore some of the CBMs that existed earlier. But again a new crisis in their bilateral relations invariably emerges. So the cycle goes on.

The above pattern has been noticed under the Modi regime too. Case in point: Remember how Modi had invited Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony. It was under his regime that last year (6 December) Indian and Pakistani officials, led by their respective national security advisers (Ajit Doval of India and Lt Gen (Retd) Nasser Khan Janjua of Pakistan) met at the neutral venue of Bangkok “secretly” to facilitate the foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Pakistan on 8 December (even though it was shown as attending the Heart of Asia Conference). The Bangkok parley, perhaps, was the first instance of Indian and Pakistan officials utilising a neutral venue.

Going by the joint press release of the Bangkok meeting, “Discussions covered peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, and other issues, including tranquility along the LoC.” In other words, the talks, which lasted about four hours dealt with all important issues pertaining to bilateral relations. And that explains why though led by the NSAs, the talks also included the two foreign secretaries – S Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary.

However, the biggest peace gesture on the part of Modi was his stop-over at Lahore and a visit to Pakistan Prime Minister’s House there on 25 December last year on his return journey to Delhi from Kabul. For this gesture, Modi was criticised vehemently by the opposition parties in the country. But all these “peace overtures” of the Modi regime did not lead to the intended results.

Maybe Nawaz Sharif was helpless in reciprocating Modi’s sentiments, given Pakistan’s peculiar decision-making structure in which, it is the Army, not the elected leadership, that dictates the country’s policy towards India. And the results were there to be seen – terrorist attacks in Pathankot, Uri, Nagrota; relentless ceasefire violations on the line of control by Pakistan; and the months-long civil uprisings in the Kashmir valley sponsored by the Pakistani establishment.

But then, all this has been only one part of the story.

The other part of the story has been that unlike his predecessors, Modi has brought about some significant changes in the nuances in his approach towards Pakistan in this atmosphere of “no-talks”.

Whereas all his predecessors, including his party’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had only stressed on “Pakistan’s international isolation” following every major terrorists attack on India, Modi has gone steps ahead and simultaneously pursued threats and retaliatory measures against Pakistan. He has talked openly about Pakistan’s vulnerabilities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan; exposed Pakistan’s misdeeds in Pak-occupied- Kashmir, including Gilgit-Baltistan; and suggested the possibility of relooking at Indus-Water sharing treaty, hitherto considered unimaginable. Above all, the Modi government took a strategic decision at the apex level to go across the “Line of Control” to strike at the multiple terrorist bases simultaneously(so-called surgical strikes), as distinct from the previous routine retaliatory raids on other sides , all tactical decisions taken at the local commanders’ levels.

In other words, Modi is pursuing, to borrow American scholar Sumit Ganguly’s phrase, a ‘strategy of deterrence by punishment’, which implies that “Any time Pakistan provokes, be prepared to exact a cost”. The idea here is that if Pakistan realises that its misadventure against India has a cost involved(which Modi’s predecessors were not firm enough to extract), then it may be deterred. Of course, Ganguly, who has authored the recently released book titled “Deadly Impasse: Indo-Pakistani Relations at the Dawn of a New Century”, cautions that there is always that uncertain threshold of nuclear blackmail by Pakistan in this approach, but then “the strategy of deterrence by punishment” is worth pursuing.

And finally, in my considered view the most important change that has marked India’s policy towards Pakistan under Modi is questioning the very formula that was evolved by the then I K Gujral regime – the formula of pursuing the so-called “composite dialogue” that is aimed at building confidence building measures (CBMs) and “simultaneously” solving the “core disputes”, which for Pakistan is the solution of the so-called Kashmir dispute and for India is ending cross-border terrorism.

This is a formula that has not been practiced by two contending powers anywhere in the diplomatic history of the world. The CBMs are first attained so as to make the atmosphere conducive for the solution of the dispute; they lead to the solution, not otherwise. If there is the solution of the dispute or there is no dispute, the CBMs are redundant. That is why India and China ( or any other rivals, say the USA and the then USSR during the Cold War) have always said that the eventual solution of the boundary dispute will follow improvement in bilateral relations pertaining to other areas. But in case of India-Pakistan impasse, one sees this ridiculous composite dialogue approach that talks of development of the CBMs and solution of the core disputes “simultaneously”.

Therefore, the Modi government is right when it demands that Pakistan must stop supporting terrorism before normalcy is restored in bilateral relations. The Kashmir issue should not cloud the resolution of other irritants and that the best way to resolve the Kashmir issue is creating a conducive environment, which, so goes its logic, is possible when these “other irritants” – cultural and economic interactions, combating terrorism and transparency in nuclear weapons related matters etc. – are resolved.

This being the reality, what about the question whether or not the Modi government going to resume talks with Pakistan? Talks or no talks, Islamabad cannot satisfy New Delhi’s concerns over terrorism – in fact, it will never say that “terrorists” in Kashmir are not “freedom fighters”. On India’s part, it cannot satisfy Pakistan’s expectations in Kashmir – No government in Delhi will ever have courage to say that Kashmir is not the “inseparable “ part of India. In other words, there is that problem of “trust deficit” between the two countries. And as long as this deficit is there, the two countries will continue to engage in diplomatic shadowboxing, the intensity of which may vary from time to time.

First Published On : Dec 26, 2016 18:39 IST

Lt Gen Bipin Rawat as army chief: Strategic vision, not tactical achievements may have swung decision

Predictably, the government’s decision of appointing Lt General Bipin Rawat as the next Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) by superseding the “senior-most eligible officers”, the Eastern Army Commander Lt General Praveen Bakshi, and Southern Army Commander Lt General PM Hariz, has now become a political issue, with the Opposition Congress, Janata Dal (U) and the two Communist parties (CPM and CPI) questioning the decision.

In fact, as I had written in this platform last week, it is this unfortunate politicisation of the military appointments that prevents the new and better norms from being encouraged for the much required military reforms in the country.

Lt Gen Bipin Rawat. File photo. Getty Images

Lt Gen Bipin Rawat. File photo. Getty Images

The issue of seniority in top appointments always raises the question: Which should prevail – the quantum of experience or the quality of experience? And, if one goes by the examples of leading military powers of the world, there has been a systematic endeavour to go by the quality, not the quantum, of experience. It is in this context that it is interesting to know the Narendra Modi government’s explanation behind its choice of General Rawat as the next army chief.

Apparently, the government sources have told The Times of India, that “General Rawat is the candidate best suited to deal with emerging challenges, and that his operational experience and ‘general dynamism’ tipped the scales in his favour.” It is said that General Rawat has “more than 10 years of experience in counter-insurgency operations and on the Line of Control, besides serving on the China border. He has the requisite experience considering the current situation.”

Incidentally, it is not the first time in India that a senior-most officer has been denied the topmost position in his or her service, whether it is a civilian, judicial or a military job. Indira Gandhi was the prime minister when Justice AN Ray superseded three senior judges of the Supreme Court to become the Chief Justice in 1973. Again it was Indira Gandhi whose government in 1983 appointed General AS Vaidya as the Army Chief in 1983 superseding General SK Sinha.

In 2004, the Manmohan Singh government appointed Shyam Saran as the foreign secretary by superseding four senior officials in the Indian Foreign Service. But what it did in 2006 was even more eye-raising. It appointed Shivshankar Menon as foreign secretary, although 16 serving officers were senior to him; this was a decision that triggered a virtual rebellion in the Ministry of External Affairs, with many of the superseded diplomats deciding to quit the service. In 2014, the same Manmohan Singh government appointed Admiral Robin Kumar Dhowan as the Navy Chief, bypassing Vice-Admiral Shekhar Sinha, the flag officer commander-in-chief of the Western Naval Command and the senior most Naval officer at that time.

Of course, it is always debatable whether the above choices were based on the factor of merits or otherwise. But the point is that it is not a sacrosanct norm to go by the factor of seniority in the top-level military appointments. In neither the United Kingdom nor the United States, the countries that India will like to be compared with, the chiefs of the armed services are necessarily the senior-most officers; indeed in many a case their appointments have been least anticipated.

The appointment of Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach as the Head of the UK armed forces early this year was announced at a time when the military circles were expecting either Army General Sir Richard Barrons, or First Sea Lord Admiral George Zambellas for the coveted position. One remembers in this context the famous remark of the then Prime Minister David Cameron, “You do the fighting and I’ll do the talking.” Similarly, in the United States in 2011, President Barack Obama nominated a relatively junior General Martin Dempsey as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But neither in Britain nor in the US, had these appointments become a political issue.

In fact, there is now an emerging school of thought in the military sphere that while efforts must be made to identify “tactical commanders” at battalion and brigade level, for higher posts officers with “strategic leadership” potentials should be rewarded. Strategic leadership includes attributes of being a “combat genius” (fighting beyond the plan, innovating as one fights, staying well ahead of the enemy in imaginative application of combat power); “political genius” ( wielding and melding the elements of military power with allies and politicians, mastering civil-military discourse); “institutional genius” ( managing a very large institution and making it relevant to the needs of the nation); and “anticipatory genius” (having the ability to think in time and imagine conceptually where the nature and character of war is headed).

Here, the “experience” suggests that those officers who had shown great tactical skill did not equal great strategic skill. Tactically talented officers can do a great job in making the convoys run on time, but they may not anticipate a battlefield that has yet to appear. On the other hand, those gifted with strategic foresights have often been found wanting in tactical maneuvers; they have been better at conceptualising warfare rather than practicing it.

As retired US Major General Robert H Scales says, “Tactically talented officers can move hundreds. Strategically talented officers can maneuver hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Tactically talented officers know how to fight enemies they know. Strategically talented officers are prepared to fight enemies yet unforeseen. The tactically talented read the manuals and put existing doctrine into practice. Strategically talented officers continually question doctrine and eventually seek to change it. Tacticians see what is; strategists conjure what might be.”

Viewed thus, let us hope that General Rawat has been rewarded by the Modi government for his “strategic” leadership (or its assessment that the new chief will provide such a leadership) attributes, not necessarily for his “tactical” achievements in Kashmir, the China-borders and dealing with counterinsurgencies.

First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 15:59 IST

India-US defence partnership: Industries, not governments, can make it a success

In a recently-held national seminar (14 December) on the status of defence industry in the country, which was attended by Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, some panelists did point out, cursorily though, the significance of India being granted the unique status by the United States as its ‘Major Defence Partner’ (MDP). The partnership, if pursued both in letter and spirit, will boost Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India” programme in the defence sector so that India could not only become self-reliant in arms but also emerge as a major exporter of arms. However there remains the question of big “if”, upon which this analysis focuses.

The MDP status to India needs to be seen against the backdrop of the development of the US military industrial complex (MIC). Incidentally, the term “military-industrial-complex” was coined in the US by then president Dwight Eisenhower during the Cold War to welcome the emergence of what is said “the second era” of the American MIC. During the first era, which lasted from 1787 to 1941, the defence sector in the United States consisted totally of the government-owned arsenals and shipyards. However, with the US participating in the Second World War, Franklin Roosevelt established the “War Production Board” by conscripting the major private industries, particularly those in the automobile sector, into wartime service. But after the war ended, not only did these private companies, such as Boeing and General Motors stay and consolidate their involvement in the military sector, they were also joined by others like AT&T, General Electric and IBM.

One of the important features of this second era was that the Pentagon financed the private sector, which, in turn, created world class technologies that were for use by not only the military but also by ordinary citizens. One can cite in this regard the examples of drone, night vision goggles, GPS in cars, and most important, the internet.

File image of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar with Defence Secretary Ash Carter at a joint news conference at the Pentagon. News18

File image of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar with Defence Secretary Ash Carter at a joint news conference at the Pentagon. News18

The end of the Cold War in the 1990s saw the emergence of the “third era” (and this prevails at the moment), whose important features are as follows.

First, the industry shifted from diversified conglomerates and was managed by defence-only firms.

Secondly, the contribution of the Pentagon, both financially and technologically, has been declining, thanks to the shrinking defence budgets. As a result, and this is the third feature, the American MICs are increasingly buying commercial technologies (either buying or giving these technology providers shares) such as cloud computing, cyber security, nanotechnology and even smart phones. Just see how Google acquired Boston Dynamics that had created BigDog, a four-legged robot that can support soldiers in rough terrain.

However, these features are increasingly proving insufficient to sustain the US defence industry. Although it is courting commercial companies, it prefers the American ones. It is not globalising itself properly, shunning the option of co-producing products abroad with allies and friends the way the Japanese and Koreans are developing their technologies and manufacturing brands in foreign countries, from where they are exporting them to various parts of the world. America’s F-35 example, by distributing the burden of the development cost of the fifth generation fighter plane with some Nato allies, is said to be insufficient.

No wonder William J Lynn III, a former US deputy secretary of defence argues for starting a new fourth era in which the Pentagon must take a more active role in recruiting outside companies, “keeping in mind that their futures are inextricably intertwined”. According to him, “The United States has the opportunity to look beyond its borders to turn this fourth era to its advantage. Since the Second World War, the country’s technological advantages have protected its national security. To maintain that advantage, the United States must adapt to — and ultimately embrace — the trends that will come to define its future”.

Can India fit into this scheme of things, particularly when Modi’s much-repeated calls to ‘Make in India’ continue to remain in the headlines? The US thinks that India can. The MDP status is a logical conclusion of this trend. In essence, it paves the way for India to be treated at par with America’s closest allies — Nato partners and countries with security treaties — such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea on defence-related trade and technology transfer.

In fact, the idea of the MDP was agreed upon during the summit meeting between Modi and President Barack Obama in June this year. “Noting that the US-India defense relationship can be an anchor of stability and given the increasingly strengthened cooperation in defense, the United States hereby recognises India as a Major Defence Partner,” the joint statement of the June meeting had stated.

However, this accorded status to India by Obama required the subsequent Congressional approval as per the American laws.

Although the House of Representatives endorsed the idea, the Senate sought more clarifications. It was not that the Senate was against granting the unique status to India; it was apparently not happy with “the definition of ‘major defence partner’ designation that had been left a little unclear and vague by the administration.” Accordingly, the differences were reconciled and a separate section on ‘Enhancing defense and security cooperation with India’ (Section 1292) was added in “The National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA) 2017 (the US military’s budget for next year), which was passed by the House of Representatives first and then in the Senate. The NDAA, likely to be signed by Obama within a week’s time for legal enforcement, ensures the continuity of the MDP status to India under the future governments as well.

Section 1292 of the NDAA asks the secretaries of defence and state to take steps necessary to recognise India as America’s major defence partner of the U.S. and asks the administration “to designate an individual within the executive branch who has experience in defence acquisition and technology to reinforce and ensure, through inter-agency policy coordination, the success of the Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship; and to help resolve remaining issues impeding US-India defence trade, security cooperation, and co-production and co-development opportunities.”

It also calls for “approval and facilitation of transfer of advanced technology, consistent with US conventional arms transfer policy, to support combined military planning with India’s military for missions such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counter-piracy, freedom of navigation, and maritime domain awareness missions, and to promote weapons systems interoperability.” Further, it seeks “collaboration with India to develop mutually agreeable mechanisms to verify the security of defence articles, defence services and related technology such as appropriate cyber security and end use monitoring arrangements consistent with US’ export control laws and policy.” In fact, it asks the secretaries of defence and state to submit within 180 days of the passage of the Act to the Congressional Defence Committees and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives “a report on how the US is supporting its defence relationship with India”.

File image of Narendra Modi and Barack Obama. AP

File image of Narendra Modi and Barack Obama. AP

It was against this background that US defence secretary Ashton Carter visited India last week to meet Parrikar (their seventh interaction in the past two years). They finalised India’s designation as a ‘Major Defence Partner’ of the US. As the joint statement issued after their meeting (8 December) said, “The designation as a ‘Major Defence Partner’ is a status unique to India and institutionalises the progress made to facilitate defense trade and technology sharing with India to a level at par with that of the United States’ closest allies and partners, and ensures enduring cooperation into the future.” In concrete terms what it means is that India now can get access to “99 percent of the US defence technologies” as the export hurdle of high-tech US military hardware and technology to India is removed. India will also receive licence-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies in conjunction with steps that India has committed to take to advance its export control objectives. The US government will inform the review of requests to export defence articles, defence services, or related technology to India under the Arms Export Control Act, and inform any regulatory and policy adjustments that may be appropriate.

American officials say that the MDP status is in support of India’s ‘Make in India’ initiative towards the development of robust defence industries and their integration into the global supply chain. The United States will facilitate the export of goods and technologies for these industries through joint ventures, meaning thereby that the US is now more than willing to transform its defence cooperation with India from “simply buying and selling” to “co-production, co-development, and freer exchange of technology”.

However, one has to become a little cautious with regard to actual progress of the India-US defence industrial partnership. When one talks of US investment in the Indian defence sector, it should be realised that the ability of the American government to be a source of investment is quite limited. It simply does not have enough investible reserves. Instead, the investible resources are in the US private sector, which, in turn, make their own judgments of where to invest, depending on the recipient country’s infrastructures, legal regime, administrative machinery, and above all broad political consensus on liberalisation of the economy. There is then another limiting factor of the present inabilities of India’s arms industries to absorb the technologies that foreign companies are prepared to transfer. It may be noted in this context that if India and France were not able to fructify the original Rafale MMRCA deal, it was due to as much monetary factor as the lack of absorptive capability for the licensed production of the Rafale.

Unfortunately, the Modi government has a lot to do on all these fronts.

First Published On : Dec 16, 2016 13:53 IST

Gen Suhag has under 3 weeks in office: Can India ever avoid political delays in naming service chiefs?

Come New Year, India will have a new Chief of Army Staff (COAS), as the incumbent, General Dalbir Singh, is due for retirement. The very fact that the central government is yet to announce his successor has already made news. In fact, the issue will only get further politicised, just the same way Dalbir Singh’s appointment was, two years ago. And it’s all because of a convention that the incoming COAS (or for that matter, the new chief of Indian Navy or Indian Air Force) be announced two months in advance, in order to make the transition smooth.

Invariably, the vice-chief of army staff, who in turn is the senior-most in the service after the COAS, is promoted to the chief’s post (normally a term of three years or the age of 62, whichever is earlier), provided he is not superannuated (turning 60) before the day of assumption (if he is made chief on his last day in office, then he automatically gets an additional two years as chief).

Dalbir Singh Suhag is due for retirement on 1 January, 2017. PTI file imageDalbir Singh Suhag is due for retirement on 1 January, 2017. PTI file image

Dalbir Singh Suhag is due for retirement on 1 January, 2017. PTI file image

This convention, it seems, has been broken by the government. Only a fortnight remains for the new COAS to take charge, but as The Indian Express reported, the Modi government has not yet appointed Lt Gen. Praveen Bakshi, who heads Kolkata-headquartered Eastern Command, and the senior most General to succeed Dalbir Singh as the vice-chief (that post had gone to a relatively junior officer). Nor has the government officially announced Bakshi as India’s next COAS. The newspaper speculates that Bakshi’s background as an armoured corps officer is being held against him, as the post of COAS usually goes to those coming from infantry. The only armored corps officer to have made COAS was General Krishnaswami Sunderji, more than two decades ago.

However, all this is not to suggest that General Bakshi will not be made COAS. The point is that the delay by the government in announcing a name is giving rise to all sorts of speculation. In case Bakshi is being ignored or superseded by a junior for the post of COAS, he will be the next such officer to suffer this fate, starting with General SK Sinha in 1983.

But, fact remains that the previous Manmohan Singh government had also raised many an eyebrow when it announced General Dalbir Singh as COAS in 2014. The then incumbent, General Bikram Singh, was to retire only on 31 July, 2014. But the outgoing government of Manmohan Singh announced the then vice-army chief, Lt Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag, as next Army Chief in March, 90 days ahead of schedule, well before the standard two months. Going by convention, the announcement on the next COAS should have been made on or around 31 May, by which time there would have been a new government at the Centre. So why did the Manmohan Singh government make an announcement that should have been made by the Modi government? Why was the outgoing government in such a hurry? There has been no answer to this question.

Of course, the Modi government has more or less followed convention, by announcing the appointment of Indian Navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba, 40 days ahead of schedule (it should have been 60 days). Incidentally, his predecessor, Admiral Robin Kumar Dhowan’s appointment by the previous UPA government in 2014, also didn’t stick to the norms; his appointment came after an unprecedented gap of almost two months, after the equally unprecedented and untimely resignation of Admiral    Devendra Kumar Joshi. For two months, India did not a have a navy chief.

Going by convention, a serving chief has to not only be the senior most officer, but he also needs to possess experience of being a commander. Not all Lt Generals, Vice-Admirals and Air Marshalls are “commanders”. Unfortunately, the UPA government was not consistent in sticking to these established norms. While it wanted General Suhag, the senior most in the Indian Army having command experience, to succeed General Bikram Singh, it conveniently overlooked these norms in appointing Admiral Dhowan, who was not the senior most Vice-Admiral, and nor did he have any command experience. The Indian Navy has two operational commands — the Western Naval Command in Mumbai and the Eastern Naval Command in Vishakhapatnam. There is also the Southern Naval Command headquartered in Kochi, but it is a training command without real operational jurisdiction on high seas.

With the possible exception of Admiral Sushil Kumar, who was controversially made chief after the dismissal of Admiral V Bhagwat under the NDA regime in 1998, nobody heading the Southern Command has become chief. But in Admiral Dhowan’s case, this fundamental requirement of becoming a commander as perquisite for the consideration of the post of Naval chief was given a go by.

After the resignation of Admiral Joshi and Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, the flag officer commander-in-chief of the Western Naval Command was the senior most. As per established norms, he should have become the new navy chief. Predictably, however, he too resigned in protest, claiming being overlooked. The government reportedly overlooked him because quite a few naval accidents happened under his leadership of the Western Command, the reason for which Admiral Joshi had resigned earlier, under “moral grounds”.

This logic is dubious, to speak the least. First of all, as the armed forces in India are strictly under civilian control, any moral responsibility for the lapses should have been with the real leaders, which, in this case, was the defence minister. As Railways Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri once had resigned from the Union Cabinet after an accident; he did not ask the chairman of the Railway Board to quit. But then no Cabinet minister resigns under moral ground anymore.

So, could the government have turned down Admiral Joshi’s resignation, something Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had done in the case of General KS Thimayya, who had offered to quit following his souring of relations with the then Defence Minister Krishna Menon? Ships had sunk, aircraft had crashed and soldiers were killed in the past in peace time; but no chief had been punished. Nor for that matter do these mishaps affect the careers of the officers directly in charge, not adversely. So, why should these incidents have gone, first against Admiral Joshi and then Vice-Admiral Sinha?

It is this inconsistency on the part of the government of the day that unnecessarily makes senior military appointments a political issue. All the more so when confidential military matters are selectively leaked to the media from the South Block, as has been the norm in the last few years. See how documents regarding former Army Chief VK Singh’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir came to the political domain? There was nothing illegal on the part of VK Singh to launch “hearts and minds” campaigns in Kashmir to promote what he called “stability”, and another ex-army chief Shankar Roychowdhury called “sadbhavana”. But more importantly, General Singh’s actions had the complete approval of the then Defence Minister AK Antony. But Antony did not protest when his colleague, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, demanded a CBI inquiry against General Singh.

But for these partisan considerations, it’s anybody’s guess what the government of the day can do about the appointments. I, personally, do not believe the principle of seniority is a must in determining a service chief. When in December 2011, US President Barak Obama nominated General Martin Dempsey as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in place of Admiral Michael Glenn Mullen, he hadn’t even completed one year of his four-year term that had begun in April. In fact, Obama picked him as Admiral Mullen’s successor just one month after making him Army Chief. Besides, he was not the senior most four-star officer in the US when his new job was announced.

Now, could General Dempsey have achieved the top military position in India, had he been an Indian officer? Our system, and factors such as age and political considerations play a more decisive role in an officer’s career than his competence. I think India needs competent service chiefs irrespective of age. And when one talks of age, I do not necessarily buy the logic that one should give positions to those who are relatively young on a platter. General Martin Dempsey may have been young, but then the fact also remains that the United States recalled General Douglas MacArthur back to active duty three years after he had retired as the Chief of the US Army Staff in 1938. General Peter Jan Schoomaker, who had retired in December 2000, was recalled to head the US Army in August 2003. The point to be reiterated is that it is ability that alone should matter.

India is one of the few democratic countries in this part of the world where the armed forces are strictly under civilian control. We should be proud of our armed forces that they have always treated the principle of civilian control as sacrosanct. It is therefore unfortunate to see the appointments of the chiefs of our military services becoming partisan issues with political overtones.

First Published On : Dec 13, 2016 19:29 IST

AgustaWestland scam: Tyagi’s fate unknown, but defence deals highly prone to corruption

In what appears to be the rarest of a rare case, former Air Force Chief S P Tyagi has been arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for his alleged involvement in the scam of purchasing VVIP chopper deal worth Rs 3,700 crores with AgustaWestland in 2010(AW-101 deal). The CBI seems to believe that the retired Air Chief Marshal influenced the decision of procuring 12 choppers, meant for the use of the top leaders of the country, including the President and Prime Minister. In the process, he is believed to have received huge kickbacks along with his cousins, known middlemen in the arms-trade.

However, the former Air Chief has always denied his role to the CBI, ever since the investigating agency was entrusted the case to find out the truth by the then UPA government in 2013.

The whole episode, in my considered view , raises two important points — the record of the CBI in presenting a strong case in matters relating to defence procurements and the very procedure of procuring defence equipments, including the role of lobbying.

Let be it be noted straightaway that so far the record of the CBI in uncovering the defence scandals has been really pathetic, to say the least. One does not remember a single case that the CBI has solved in this regard.

We all know how the CBI was asked by the UPA government to investigate about half a score of, what it said were, corrupt defence deals under the NDA rule of Atal Bihari Vajpayee during which George Fernades was the Defence Minister. However, nothing came out of these investigations and the same CBI requested the court to close the investigations years later, but not before ruining the reputations of many officials and reputations for no fault of theirs. One hopes, the same will not be the case with the former Air Chief Tyagi. If he is proved guilty in the final analysis, nobody will shed a tear for him, but if he has been a convenient ploy to save the real guilty in the top political and bureaucratic establishments, then nothing can be more tragic.

Former IAF chief SP Tyagi. PTI

Former IAF chief SP Tyagi. PTI

It is strange that a retired Air Chief can play a role in signing a deal three years after his retirement. Tyagi retired in 2007 and the deal was signed in 2010. Let it be noted here that these helicopters, though bought by the Indian Air Force (IAF), were meant for the use of the VVIPs, these were not going to be used by the Air Force as such. That being the case, it is really a riddle for me that the IAF was asked to buy the helicopters. Those could have been bought and maintained by the civil aviation ministry.

Be that as it may, the exercise to procure VVIP helicopters began during the Vajpayee regime. The then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra wanted changes in the quality requirements (QRS), that, in turn, were agreed upon and signed later by the then defence minister Pranab Mukherjee (now our President). As the then Air Chief, Tyagi did not have any role in this; in fact, he did not have the authority to change the QRS. And that being the case, if at all Tyagi did play a role in the conclusion of the deal in 2010, then that must have been as a middle man after his retirement. But, was he a middleman? The inference that he was is because two of his cousin brothers are known middlemen and that the former Air Chief was seen along with his cousins in some social and family occasions.

In my humble opinion, to be seen with relatives cannot be construed as agreeing with or partnering with them. Can one be responsible for the deeds of his her own adult children? Can one be liable for what his or own brother or sister, let alone a cousin, does? In India, we have seen many political families whose members belong to different political parties. Can Rahul Gandhi be held answerable for what his first cousin Varun Gandhi says or does? Can Delhi minister Kapil Mishra be held accountable for the omissions and commissions, if any, by her mother, who is a leading BJP member and former mayor? The point that I am making is that we should not go hyper and kill the reputations of people just because they are accused of some wrong doings. In a country like India, accusing is the easiest of things done; but conviction of the accused is the most difficult job to do.

This bring me to the second point — revisiting our defence acquisition process. We must ask why is the present system is so highly prone to corruption. Is it really impractical, despite its goal being laudable? The basic point is very simple — we must have value for the money that we pay for buying right arms and ammunitions( the qualitative requirements, known as QRs) from abroad at right price (by floating tenders) and at right time( shortest possible time).  And  that presupposes that the QRs are formulated in such a manner that they truly reflect the country’s  requirement, that there is an objective system of technical evaluation and that there are oversight agencies such as the Central Vigilance Commission(CVC), Comptroller and Auditor  General (CAG) and Central Information Commission(CIC) to ensure the due diligence.

Theoretically speaking, we have such a system in place. Practically, however, things are not working. Our technical evaluation system takes too long a time to give the green signal. Our oversight agencies exceed their briefs more often than not by not sticking to the process and going into questioning the rationale of the very decision to procure things, a role they are not technically equipped to play. As a result, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is in a dilemma. If it strictly plays by the way the oversight agencies look at the system, the desired result may not be obtained in time.  On the other hand if it circumvents the procedure, it faces objections from the oversight agencies. And this confusion leads to unnecessary delays.

Over the last two decades, we have been witnessing more and more scams in defence procurements, it is mainly because we have made lobbying illegal.

Even otherwise, there is room for fine-tuning the system that requires clearances in every possible stage of acquisition. A study shows that from the initiation to the signing of the contract, a procurement case has to sequentially go through 7 distinct stages like “Acceptance of Necessity”, “Solicitation of Offers”, and “Trial Evaluation” etc. Each stage consists of 6 to 10 approval points with each approval point having at least 2 submission points. Therefore, any acquisition has to be processed at about 60 to 80 processing points, involving military personnel, civilian officials in the MoD, the Defence Minister, the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister. This being the case, if there is any corruption involved in the AW-101 deal, or for that matter any other deal, then the system as a whole is to blame. And when one talks of the whole system, the major responsibility for the lapses remains ultimately with the Ministers who give the final clearance.
In my considered view, when the procedure is so complicated and requires so many clearances, and all this is all in the name of transparency, the opposite just happens. Because, as we know, in any license-permit raj, corruption thrives. And this is exactly happening in the MoD.

Finally, there is the vital point of lobbying, a natural practice. In fact, if over the last two decades, we have been witnessing more and more scams in defence procurements, it is mainly because we have made lobbying illegal. In essence, a lobbyist is like a lawyer. It is a legitimate activity in established democracies such as the United States, Canada, Germany and France. In fact, by keeping lobbying illegal, we are making our decision-making process non-transparent, hence more prone to corruption. We need people from across the spectrum to present their views to the decision-makers. There will be greater transparency if the lobbyists register themselves and disclose their activities and expenditure as is the case in the US. And once these activities are transparent, we will know who are the elected officials and the administrative bureaucrats the lobbyists have met.

That way, we will be able to know better the rationale behind a particular policy-decision and be in a better position to evaluate it. Of course, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikkar has been on record to favour such a process. Sooner he implemets it, better it is.

First Published On : Dec 10, 2016 09:33 IST

Jayalalithaa’s legacy could help Panneerselvam prevent an AIADMK meltdown

Do leaders matter in politics? This is a question that plagues the minds whenever a powerful leader, having his or her distinct personalised (autocratic) style of functioning, dies while in office. It is only natural then, that many are interested in knowing the fate of Tamil Nadu politics, economy and social equations in the wake of the demise of its celebrated chief minister Jayalalithaa.

Jayalalithaa was not an ordinary leader. She was governing a state where the cult of personality politics has been an accepted phenomenon. It may be a little harsh to describe her as autocratic, but not many will dispute the fact that her style of governance was a little imperious. In that regard, speculations on the future of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) regime in the aftermath of the death of its topmost leader is perfectly understandable.

Of course, there cannot be any satisfactory answer to a question on the degree of relevance of leaders in human history. In itself, this question has always been ‘unsettled’. On one hand, we have thinkers like Karl Marx, who argued that leaders can merely choose from options that are strictly limited by factors far beyond their control and philosophers like Tolstoy, for whom leaders are merely artefacts to “explain events completely beyond their influence.”

Thousands attended the funeral of former Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa's funeral on Tuesday. PTIThousands attended the funeral of former Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa's funeral on Tuesday. PTI

Thousands attended the funeral of former Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa’s funeral on Tuesday. PTI

Whatever be the case, in genuine democracies, leadership transition is not a big issue as executive influence is typically moderated by independent legislative and judicial powers. On the other hand, however, there are stories of how leaders like Lenin, Roosevelt, Gandhi, Churchill, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Deng changed the history of mankind.

Be that as it may, there have been many scholarly works explaining what happens to a country when a strong leader dies. Of course, most of these studies deal with leaders who ruled a country; not a state or province as was the case with Jayalalithaa. However, lessons emerging from these studies are no less relevant in understanding the present scenario in Tamil Nadu in the aftermath of her death.

According to these studies, the consequences on the polity and economy depend on many related factors: The tenure of power of the departed leader and its stability (or lack of it); the manner of his or her coming to power (democratic elections, coup d’etat, or inherited position); the succession plan (or its absence); the resources (of the state or the country – rich or poor) and who controlled them (state-run interests, by oligarchs or by a small number of investors).

In their review of 79 authoritarian leaders (dictators) who have died in office from 1946 to 2014, Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantiz found that a majority of the regimes persisted after the autocrats’ death. Research by Benjamin F Jones and Benjamin A Olken – spanning 1,108 different leaders from 130 countries, covering essentially every nation from 1945 to 2000 (Cancers, heart attacks, strokes, and deaths by other natural causes took sixty-five of those leaders while in office. Another twelve died in accidents fiery, watery, and even equestrian) – also led to the same conclusion. Some features of their findings are worth noting.

If an autocratic or strong leader had been in power for long, he or she leaves behind a group of trusted colleagues or inner circle elites who enjoyed power along with the leader. These old guards have vested interests, in the aftermath of the death of the leader, to coalesce around a new successor rather than engage in political bickering and infighting. Failure to do so endangers their privileged access to power. In fact, since they were long used to run the system during the rule of the departed leader, they know how to maintain the status quo and add to the resilience of the regime.

On the other hand, whoever emerges as the new leader would not like to provoke resistance from the “old guard”, because these elements know how to maintain control over the levers of power and carry on the status quo or the legacy of the departed leader by distributing benefits to citizens (populist subsidies) and promoting the party’s ideology. All told, many personalised regimes rule with the aid of a political party. The new leader, therefore, is invariably encouraged by the old guard to co-opt people from the rival parties or groups by incentivising them to participate in the system.

In more senses than one, these features are very much visible in Tamil Nadu today. Belying all sorts of apprehension, there has been a smooth succession of power. New Chief Minister O Panneerselvam was one of the prominent inner-circle elites of Jayalalithaa and he is unlikely to disturb the “old guard” or deprive them of sharing the power in a state which is quite unlike Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. Tamil Nadu’s reputation is that of a state where populism, autocratic administrations and widespread corruption (common to both the DMK and AIDMK governments) have coexisted with economic growth and human development.

All told, Tamil Nadu is one of India’s richer and better-governed states, along with Maharashtra and Gujarat. So sharing power and privilege (inequitably though) along with the leader has never been an issue. Ironically, Tamil Nadu’s economic growth and development has been greatly facilitated by its autocratic or imperious leadership (in this DMK supremo Karunanidhi is not far behind the late MG Ramachandranor or Jayalalithaa).

The ‘near-deity’ status of the leader in Tamil Nadu has resulted in a streamlined decision-making process, leading to political stability and economic progress. And as has been consistent with a body of research, a country or state with political stability and growing economy rarely finds any problem or discontent during a leadership transition. Besides, as a constituent of democratic India, Tamil Nadu’s executive head is also under some limitations imposed by an independent judiciary, let alone a vibrant media.

The moral of the story is thus clear. The risk posed by a sudden vacancy in the leadership in Tamil Nadu does not mean that it is guaranteed to see a period of instability or that it won’t improve under new leadership. Therefore, various speculations suggesting that the AIADMK will disintegrate; that the opposition DMK will form a new government with one of the breakaway factions of the ruling party; that Sasikala, the departed leader’s long-standing friend, will not allow Panneerselvam smooth functioning; and that Panneerselvam can only survive through the Central government’s support by becoming a ‘yes-man’ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, may well prove to be premature.

First Published On : Dec 7, 2016 21:36 IST

Heart of Asia conference: Pakistan ’embarrassed’ on terrorism, but policy will continue

Rarely in a multilateral meeting or conference does a participating country become the principal target of attack by a country that is the “chair” or “co-chair”. But this was precisely what happened on Sunday at Amritsar during the Sixth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia — Istanbul Process (HoA-IP), attended by 14 partner countries and more than 30 supporting countries and international organisations. The ‘hapless’ country happened to be Pakistan — the target of a hard-hitting attack by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, whose country was the co-chair along with India of this edition of HoA-IP.

In fact, Afghanistan was just simply not the co-chair. It is the heart of the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference. This is because the principal goal of the HoA-IP, which was launched in November 2011 in Turkey, is to galvanise regional cooperation for peace, security and development in Afghanistan. That in the process it will also contribute to the stability and prosperity to Afghanistan’s extended neighbourhood in South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia is equally important, but Afghanistan remains the heart of the Istanbul process. And in this process of promoting peace and prosperity, the previous five Ministerial Conferences in Istanbul (2011), Kabul (2012), Almaty (2013), Beijing (2014), and Islamabad (2015) have facilitated both bilaterally and multilateral aid and developmental assistance worth billions of dollars.

However, peace and stability of Afghanistan remain elusive; the nascent Afghan democracy continues to be attacked by the religious extremists of various hues, Afghan soldiers continue to die on the battlefields and the Afghan people continue to be victims of terror attacks. And as long as this remains the state of affairs, there cannot be any secure development in Afghanistan. In other words, true realisation of the aid and economic assistance to Afghanistan depends most critically on the security of the Afghan people and the stability of the Afghan government. And that is not possible until and unless terrorists and sources of terror in Afghanistan are not taken care of.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, MoS for External Affairs VK Singh and other delegates, poses for a group photo before the inauguration of the 6th Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference, in Amritsar on Sunday. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, MoS for External Affairs VK Singh and other delegates, poses for a group photo before the inauguration of the 6th Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference, in Amritsar on Sunday. PTI

It is understandable therefore why the menace of terrorism dominated the Amritsar meet. While deliberating on this theme, various dimensions of terrorism came under discussion — identification of its source, base, networks, training and support. Terrorism is a multifaceted phenomenon; therefore, to tackle it requires a multifaceted approach. And in this endeavour, the Afghan president took the initiative in his inaugural speech at the Amritsar meet. He was at his candid best by saying that terrorism in this part of the world is a regional creation, the nerve centre being Pakistan.

Ghani was absolutely clear Pakistan has launched an “undeclared war” on his country by covertly supporting several terror networks including the Taliban. Pakistan is supporting the terror infrastructure and encouraging cross border terror attacks. In fact, he called for setting up of international mechanism to verify reality of such increasing attacks of late. “There should be an Asian or international regime, whatever is acceptable to Pakistan, in place to verify frontier activities and terrorist operations. We do not want blame games, we want verification,” he said.

But that was not all. He literally embarrassed Pakistan’s foreign policy advisor Sartaz Aziz, who was in the audience and who, as the representative of his country had already pledged $500 million for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

“We thank Pakistan for their pledges. This fund could very well be used to contain extremists because without peace any amount of assistance will not meet the needs of our people,” Ghani said, asserting that no amount of money can assist Afghanistan if there is support to terrorists by Pakistan.

In fact, 4 December must be considered a bad day for Pakistan’s diplomacy as its diplomats could not prevent the Amritsar Declaration from naming the terrorist organisations jeoparadising the security situation in Afghanistan. The declarations named Taliban, Islamic State/Daesh and its affiliates, the Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Jundullah and other foreign terrorist fighters. Almost all of them are based in Pakistan. And the whole world knows that organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad are the creations of the Pakistani Army.

We strongly call for concerted regional and international cooperation to ensure elimination of terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, including dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens in the Heart of Asia region, as well as disrupting all financial, tactical and logistical support for terrorism. In this regard, we call upon all states to take action against these terrorist entities in accordance with their respective national counter terrorism policies, their international obligations and the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy 2006,” the declaration said.

Importantly, the declaration has spoken of the dangers emanating from “the increase in production and cultivation of opium in Afghanistan, the volume of drug trafficking and demand in the HoA Region and beyond”. And here too, it is a common knowledge that the southern Afghanistan region bordering Pakistan is the main area where poppy is cultivated under the control of the Pakistan-based terrorists. When harvested, most of it is sent via Pakistan’s Balochistan province to the rest of the world (through land route to Iran and beyond) and water routes through Pakistan’s ports. In fact, poppy happens to be an important source of finance to the Pakistan-based terrorists, the other source being Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two countries in lead to promote Wahhabism (fundamentalist Islam) all over the world.

The sixth Ministerial Conference of the HoA-IP has wisely suggested that “a regional approach” to eliminate terrorism, a manifestation of radicalisation of the societies in the region, must:

“(U)tilise the capacities of men and women throughout the cross section of society of the region that includes political figures, religious leaders, educational institutions, opinion makers, youth, civil society, mass media and social networks. We undertake to develop such a regional approach to counter radicalisation by tasking our relevant experts from the fields of security, education and local governance to meet in the first half of 2017 to identify key areas to be addressed for developing this regional approach and provide recommendations to be presented to the Senior Officials Meeting of the HoA-IP in the first half of 2017 for further action on this critical issue.”

However, the key question is – will Pakistan listen? It is true that terrorism is also afflicting Pakistan, but then Pakistan cannot afford to do away with terror as an instrument of foreign policy against India and Afghanistan. Because, peace and stability in India and Afghanistan can never be the foreign policy goals of Pakistan in foreseeable future. We all know about India. But why so in the case of Afghanistan? There are many reasons for this, including the so-called strategic depth that Afghanistan provides to Pakistan in its war against India. But most important is the fact that once Afghanistan becomes strong, secure and stable, it will demand the return of its territories, particularly Waziristan (even Peshawar region). And this is something Pakistan will not easily allow.

Waziristan covers an area of 11,585 square kilometres (4,473 square miles) and is divided into what are defined as North and South Waziristan agencies. The total population today is estimated to be around a million. The region is one of the most inaccessible, has an extremely rugged terrain and has remained outside the direct control of the Pakistani government. The Wazir tribes, along with the Mehsuds and Dawars, inhabit the region and are fiercely independent. They did not bother the Pakistani government till the fall of the Taliban government in neighboring Afghanistan, when the region became a sanctuary for fleeing Al Qaeda and Taliban elements. In fact, they do not realise that the Durand Line, which marks the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, has made them Pakistanis.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani shake hands at 6th Heart of Asia Conference in Amritsar on Sunday. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani shake hands at 6th Heart of Asia Conference in Amritsar on Sunday. PTI

For them, the Durand Line is artificial in every sense of the term. The other side of the line, which is Afghan territory, is as much their land as the Pakistani side. They have never seen or accepted any restrictions on their movements or those of their “guests” across the Durand Line, nor are they in a mood to accept such restrictions.

In fact, going by history and ethnicity, they have more affinity with the people of present-day Afghanistan than those in Pakistan. And most importantly, no government in Afghanistan has formally accepted Waziristan as part of Pakistan. Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, who was foreign secretary in the colonial government of British India, signed a document with the king of Afghanistan Abdur Rahman Khan on 12 November, 1893, relating to the borders between Afghanistan and modern-day Pakistan, which was then India. The International Boundary was named the Durand Line. However, no legislative body in Afghanistan has ever ratified the document and the border issue is an ongoing contention between the two countries.

The Durand Line, which runs though areas inhabited by the Pashtuns, was never accepted by either the Afghan government — which signed it under duress — or the Pashtuns that sought to create their own homeland called Pashtunistan. In fact, in April 1919 during the Anglo-Afghan war, Afghan General Nadir Khan advanced to Thal in southern Waziristan to reclaim Afghan rights over the region. The area was recovered after a long fight where many were killed by the British Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer.

Besides, Afghanistan’s loya jirga or political meetings of 1949 had declared the Durand Line invalid as they saw it as ex parte on their side, since British India had ceased to exist in 1947. It proclaimed that the Afghan government did not recognise the Durand Line as a legal boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This being the situation, every government in Islamabad, military and non-military, has desperately tried to reach a bilateral agreement with successive regimes in Kabul to convert the Durand Line into an international border, but without success. Even when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Pakistan, which aided and abetted the Taliban during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and was one of the few countries to have recognised the Taliban government in Kabul and allowed it to have an embassy in Islamabad, expected, in vain, a favourable response.

This explains why Pakistan will always want a dependent government in Kabul, which is more likely to ensure the de facto preservation of the lapsed and abrogated Durand Line even if it cannot be converted into an international border. But this is something no Afghan government can afford to agree with.

So, Pakistan will continue to perpetuate instability and chaos in Afghanistan.

First Published On : Dec 5, 2016 09:03 IST

SC verdict on National Anthem reinforces “pro-nationalist” winds of change blowing globally

The Supreme Court’s verdict directing cinema halls across the nation to play the National Anthem before a movie screening has elements that can also explain the success of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in recently concluded Assembly and Parliamentary bypolls in Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu, and civic/panchayat polls in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. These victories came despite the BJP’s image taking a beating following the Narendra Modi government’s demonetisation decision.

In fact, these common elements (of the Supreme Court order and the government’s demonitisation policy) add to the “global” discourse on liberalism and nationalism (including patriotism). I am using the word “global” because this debate is taking place all over the world, particularly in Europe and America.

The question of whether a man or woman should remain strictly an individual with all the “rights” of one, or do they become part of a group (as a social animal) that demands some “duties” (including loyalty).

Supreme Court of India. Reuters file imageSupreme Court of India. Reuters file image

Supreme Court of India. Reuters file image

In its order, the Supreme Court has said, “The directions are issued, for love and respect for the motherland is reflected when one shows respect to the National Anthem as well as to the National Flag. That apart, it would instill the feeling within one, a sense committed patriotism and nationalism.” According to the apex court, “A time has come, the citizens of the country must realise that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to National Anthem, which is the symbol of constitutional patriotism to inherent national quality.”

It referred in this context to Article 51(A) (a) of the Constitution, which states that “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem”.

It seems that the court isn’t impressed by arguments presented by Left-liberals that this particular article is part of the non-enforceable “directive principles” of the Indian Constitution. Inherent in the order is the notion that it is incumbent on every individual citizen to think beyond oneself and think about the greater good of the nation.

In my considered view, it’s in this same vein that Prime Minister Narendra Modi tells people to tolerate miseries and pain for some more time, as it’s a “bitter measure” that is good for the country as a whole in the long-term. It will bring unaccounted money into the national banking stream, reduce black money and curtail corruption, all of which will accelerate the national development, create jobs and reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. The point here is that individual sacrifices for collective good or national interests are needed at times. This fits into Modi’s slogans of “India First” and “Sab ke Saath, Sab ke Vikaas”.

And it appears that more and more Indians have bought the logic of Modi rather than that of his Left/liberal critics (including the opposition parties), who are highlighting only individual or sectional rights, particularly in ethnic terms. More and more Indians seem to be siding with the Prime Minister, as they dislike the prospect of balkanisation of India into identity groups, particularly when those groups dismiss the nation’s centuries-old history and culture as majoritarianism.

Accordingly, reactions of the Left liberals to the National Anthem verdict or about demonitisation have been very predictable: “Who are you to force me to display my patriotism?”, “Nationalism is a vital component of fascism, patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, and talking of “national interests is a manifestation of majoritarianism and xenophobia” etc.

They aren’t impressed by the argument that their agenda is essentially divisive, not inclusive. In fact, they have no problems when ethnic minorities talk of having their own civil laws and disrespect national symbols like the National Anthem, National Song or Yoga, saying that these are impositions of Hinduism. And they have no issues with illegal immigration from neighboring countries and slogans challenging the unity and integrity of India. They justify casteism in Indian politics as politicisation of caste and magnify separatist outlook as essential to “democratisation” of the polity. Such examples are only illustrative, not exhaustive.

It just so happens that at the intellectual level (level of the elites of the country), it has been an unequal battle between the “liberals” and “nationalists”, because the former has been overwhelmingly dominating the intellectual space (national media, educational establishments, think-tanks, NGOs, bureaucracy etc). Their influence on public policy has hitherto been inversely proportional to their number.

However, at the ground level, it’s the nationalists who’re gaining momentum and succeeding. This explains the Modi phenomenon in India and the Trump phenomenon in the US. As the noted weekly The Economist found out in one of its recent issues, “All around the world, nationalists are gaining ground.”

Examples it has cited include Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), who played an important role for Brexit; the Rightist National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen having a great chance to do well in the coming French elections; Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant Party for Freedom in the Netherlands; Egypt president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi legitimising his authoritarianism; and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan suppressing democracy for building a new Turkey. The magazine has also dealt with the phenomenon of Modi in India, Xi Jinping in China and Vladimir Putin in Russia.

Among the many reasons that the magazine cited, it said, “Communication tools have accelerated the spread of the new nationalism. Facebook and Twitter allow people to bypass the mainstream media’s cosmopolitan filter to talk to each other, swap news, meet and organise rallies.”

And, ironically, common men and the marginalised sections of the society (the blue-collar workers in particular) tend to repose their trust in the “nationalists”, who promise provide them jobs.

However, the above explanation is not fully satisfying given the fact that the Left liberals also talk of poor and jobs. In my considered view, therefore, Jonathan Haidt’s 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion makes a better sense. A social psychologist at the University of Virginia who, until 2009, considered himself a “partisan liberal”, Haidt explains human behaviour (including the choice of voting) through a catalog of six fundamental ideas: Care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity” (alongside these, he also found related themes that carry moral weight like divinity, community, hierarchy, tradition, sin and degradation).

Going by Haidt, the Left liberals go by only the first three in his catalogue: Care, fairness and liberty; whereas the nationalists deal with all six, including loyalty, authority and sanctity. The worldviews Haidt discusses start with the group, not with the individual. And the group here could be families, armies and nations that nationalists exalt. “They assume that people should be treated differently according to social role or status — elders should be honored, subordinates should be protected. They suppress forms of self-expression that might weaken the social fabric. They assume interdependence, not autonomy. They prize order, not equality,” Haidt argues. “They’re common in history and are so across the globe, because they fit human nature.”

Through research, he shows how people punish cheaters, accept hierarchies and do not support equal distribution of benefits when contributions are unequal.

These are the ideas that one finds the most in the parties and leaders believing in nationalism, and most of them happen to be conservative. “And those who vote for them are not fools,” aren’t fools. As Haidt says, drawing from the experience of blue collared workers voting for the Republican party in the US, “They are voting for their moral interests that include moral capital — norms, practices and institutions, like religion and family values, that facilitate cooperation by constraining individualism.”

However, all this does not suggest that liberalism is a lost cause. What it means is that they need to reexamine their thought processes. There are innate contradictions among the nationalists too. Trump’s “America First” implies relative isolation of the country in global affairs, as was the case between two World Wars, and hence a challenge to the phenomenon of globalisation. But Modi’s “India First” depends more and more on globalisation itself. Also, it is equally a paradox that at a higher level — Modi’s support for globalisation is something that the Left liberals will not find fault with. All told, globalisation does not go with distinctiveness and yearns for an across-the-board leveling in which everything is the same — be it in sexual conduct, values, morality or  religion.

In other words, there are meeting points between liberalism and nationalism. But unfortunately, it’s the liberals, as the recent events in India and the US show, who are not prepared for a debate. They are increasingly becoming uncompromising, dogmatic and often malicious, their slogans for “dissent” notwithstanding

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 16:32 IST

Nagrota attack: Qamar Bajwa or Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s India policy will not be any different

The dastardly terror-attack on the Nagrota army camp in Jammu and Kashmir took place on the same day that Pakistan got a new Chief of Army Staff in General Qamar Javed Bajwa. No wonder then that India’s former home secretary and now member of Parliament RK Singh said: “We need to take note of the fact that this is the (Pakistan) new army chief sending a message. His policy will be the same as followed by the predecessor.”

Whether Tuesday morning’s attack was Bajwa’s “opening stroke” or the “parting shot” of his predecessor in General Raheel Sharif is not exactly clear. As the attack, masterminded by the Pakistani Army and implemented by its ‘non-state’ agents, took place when Sharif was still in charge – he handed over the command to Bajwa on Tuesday afternoon.

Worse still, in his farewell speech, Sharif had virtually threatened India: “I want to warn India that considering Pakistan’s policy of patience and restraint as its weakness will be dangerous for India.” In contrast, in his interactions with the press soon after assuming office, Bajwa said: “Everything will be all right on the Line of Control (LoC) soon.”

The Nagrota attack took place on the same day that Pakistan got a new Chief of Army Staff in General Qamar Javed Bajwa. APThe Nagrota attack took place on the same day that Pakistan got a new Chief of Army Staff in General Qamar Javed Bajwa. AP

The Nagrota attack took place on the same day that Pakistan got a new Chief of Army Staff in General Qamar Javed Bajwa. AP

What did the new army chief mean when he said “all right”? This question assumes significance in context of the prevailing situation at the LoC, that is marked by high tensions between India and Pakistan, manifested in repeated outbreaks of cross-border firing, terrorists attacks in Uri and now Nagrota, unrest in Kashmir and India’s surgical strike in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Does this mean that peace will be restored? Or does it point to an escalation of the war-like situation that Sharif believes will be such that “India would not be able to forget it for generations to come and will be teaching its children about Pakistan’s surgical strike.”

It may be noted here that Sharif was quite hawkish towards India, the common perception being that his hostility stemmed from the 1971 war that Pakistan lost, in which two of his family members had died. On the other hand, Bajwa has a reputation of being a pragmatist. Though he has a rich experience of serving as Commander FCNA (Force Command Northern Areas) of Gilgit-Baltistan and as General Officer Commanding of 10 Corps (the Rawalpindi-based Pakistani Corps responsible for operations along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir), his tenure was a period of relative quiet following the 2003 ceasefire accord between India and Pakistan.

As it is, Bajwa was the proverbial dark horse for the post of army chief. And if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chose him for the most powerful office in Pakistan, superseding two officers in the process, it was mainly because he prefers to keep a low profile and is not known for his hawkish views on what Pakistan’s politics and foreign policy should be.

The choice of Bajwa, therefore, is based on political considerations; though one cannot doubt his professionalism and experience. Nawaz expects his new army chief to be less-interfering in areas that any elected prime minister would consider as his exclusive domain. He does not want any interference while determining and implementing the core policies for governing Pakistan and promoting its cause and image in rest of the world. In other words, Nawaz hopes that Bajwa will go along with him in restoring the delicate civil-military relationship in Pakistan.

It may be noted here that it was Nawaz who, as prime minister back in 1999, had chosen General Pervez Musharraf as the army chief. And it so happened that it was Musharraf who eventually toppled Nawaz in a military coup. It was Nawaz again in 2013 who chose General Sharif (no relative of his) as the army chief.

It is true that Sharif did not turn out to be a ‘Musharraf’ and peacefully handed over the command, but the fact remains that a hyperactive Sharif did gravely undermine the prime minister’s position. He literally took over the responsibility of internal law and order by establishing numerous military courts to deal with those indulging in acts of terror; brought television and other forums of media under control; and dealt directly with policies concerning India and Afghanistan. In effect, Pakistan was ruled by Sharif from Rawalpindi, and not by Nawaz from Islamabad.

Army personnel take position during encounter after militants attacked an Army camp in Nagrota on the outskirts of Jammu on Tuesday morning. PTIArmy personnel take position during encounter after militants attacked an Army camp in Nagrota on the outskirts of Jammu on Tuesday morning. PTI

Army personnel take position during encounter after militants attacked an Army camp in Nagrota on the outskirts of Jammu on Tuesday morning. PTI

It is also worth-noting that Sharif was a ‘popular’ army chief, in the sense that Pakistani people at large supported his policies in fighting terrorism emanating from the so-called Pakistani Taliban. Unlike politicians like Nawaz and Imran Khan, who talked of “good Taliban, bad Taliban” and favoured “negotiations” with the religious extremists and coexistence with their hatred against non-Sunnis, Sharif decided to take them on.

After all, Pakistan has also been a victim of religious fanaticism, having lost as many as 50,000 people since 2001, including 16,000 military personnel, at the hands of Pakistani extremists. Sharif wanted Pakistan to come out of this partially “self-created bloodbath of terrorism.”

In a way, Sharif was pursuing, though more vigorously, the thesis of his predecessor General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani that, “the war against extremism and terrorism is not only the army’s war, but that of the whole nation. We as a nation must stand united against this threat. The army’s success is dependent on the will and support of the people.”

In fact, it was under Kayani that the Pakistani Army had come out with a new doctrine that, for the first time, talked of Pakistan facing a “multifaceted threat” and not just the threat “from India”. Sharif took this doctrine further by forcing the civilian rulers to agree upon a “National Action Plan” to defeat terrorism, under which 20,000 registered and 40,000 unregistered madrasas, or religious schools (where three million children are enrolled), were regulated to impart education on ‘moderate Islam’.

In his fight against fundamentalist extremists in Pakistan’s frontier areas (North Waziristan and Khyber tribal regions bordering Afghanistan), Sharif also started curtailing the activities of extremist groups (including the Al Qaeda) coming from Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, China, Russia, Chechnya, and many Arab states. These groups, according to experts, have turned between one-quarter to one-third of Pakistan into “no-go” areas.

The only dichotomy in Sharif’s approach was that he did not pursue this with regard to groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and other Punjab-based Sunni extremist groups because they were targeting India, including Kashmir.

In fact, he allowed the ISI to train and finance them and used these terrorists groups as a potent weapons against India. Here, he differed with Nawaz who wanted to respond constructively to the peace gestures coming from the Narendra Modi government. But ‘hate India’ is such a unifying slogan in Pakistan that Sharif vetoing Nawaz’s India-policy did not dent the former’s popularity.

The other reason for Sharif’s growing popularity was the increasing incompetence and corruption of the elected government, whose politicians depended on patronage, bribes, and a backward feudal culture for their survival. Of course, this trend did not start with Nawaz, but he is now its signing symbol, particularly after the release of the so-called Panama papers that “established” money-laundering by his family in foreign banks.

In fact, the situation is such that with each passing year, Pakistani people are becoming more comfortable with the Pakistani Army running even the country’s economy. The army now runs the banks, industries, vast housing projects, and the largest transport and construction company in the country. The army’s economic muscle is already so strong that it does not allow Parliament to make a full disclosure of its annual military budget.

As Ayesha Siddiqa wrote in her book, Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy: “‘Milbus’ (military capital used for the personal benefit of military fraternity) operates in three areas: Agriculture, manufacturing and services and at three levels: Through direct involvement of the military, obtaining unfair economic advantage for its subsidiaries and obtaining direct favours for individual members of the military fraternity.”

Despite constraints to evaluation posed by the lack of transparency, which the author laments, she puts through her main argument that the commercial ventures of the military’s subsidiaries use the influence of the military to obtain business contracts and inputs, financial as well industrial, at subsidised rates. This puts these ventures ahead of their competitors in the private sector. Obviously, this profitable connection with the economy is the reason why the Pakistani Army is unwilling to yield to civilian power.

All told, Pakistan has already become “an army with a country” rather than “a country with an army”. It is well established that there are three lakshman rekhas (limiting lines) that the army has drawn for the civilian prime ministers and presidents: One, they would not interfere in any manner in the organisational and administrative work of the armed forces. Two, they would abide by the advice of the army chief on matters of foreign and defence policies. Three, they would not interfere with the army-controlled nuclear weaponisation and missile programmes.

Will Bajwa forgo this legacy and make himself a pliant army chief of the prime minister? It is highly unlikely. There is a remote possibility of any significant shift in the existing civil-military imbalance in Pakistan. And this means that there will be no radical change in the heightened tensions with India. RK Singh is right in saying that Bajwa’s policy will be the “same as followed by his predecessor.”

First Published On : Nov 30, 2016 17:34 IST

Manohar Parrikar has not changed our nuclear policy, he only stirred a storm in a teacup

Has India changed its nuclear doctrine? If one goes by the reactions of some political parties and a section of the press, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has jeoparadised India’s chances of joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the prospects of nuclear commerce with leading nuclear countries of the world. Because, while answering a question in a book-release function on 10 November, he counter-questioned why the country’s policy of “No First Use” of its nuclear weapons should not change.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTIDefence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

The problem with these reactions is the fact that they are based on a half-truth. The other half of the truth is that in the same answer, Parrikar made it absolutely clear what he was saying was his personal opinion and that it was not the viewpoint of the government of India. He reiterated that India’s nuclear policy remained unchanged under the Modi-government. Well, one could argue that being the defence minister, he should have avoided his private view at a public function, but to say that the rest of the world will take the minister’s private view as the government of India’s changed policy is preposterous. In fact, the pointlessness of such a logic was manifested on Friday (11 November) when Japan, arguably the world’s most sensitive country on nuclear issues, signed a formal nuclear agreement with India, an agreement that will greatly facilitate the nuclear commerce with the United States as well (since American nuclear companies have significant Japanese components that could not be transferred without Japan’s consent).

Global arrangements or regimes are based on the declared policies of the governments of the member-states, not on the individual pronouncements of the ministers and ruling party members. In fact, the in its manifesto for 2014 general elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had promised to review India’s nuclear doctrine. But has it prevented countries like Australia, Canada and now Japan entering nuclear pacts with the Modi-government?
Similarly, it is a highly faulty notion that gaining membership in the NSG is dependent on a country’s NFU policy. We are already a declared nuclear weapon power. We are building our case as a responsible nuclear power with an impeccable record of non-proliferation and a well-laid out nuclear command structure. The international community is now working towards no further nuclear tests and non-proliferation, which is as different from how to use one’s weapons as chalk from cheese.

In fact, in my considered view, the Modi government should go for a formal review of the country’s NFU policy. Let me explain why. In the strict sense of the term, India does not have a proper nuclear doctrine. I think that it is a part of our strategic culture to keep things and policies as ambiguous as possible, leaving them to many and different interpretations.

What we have actually is a “draft nuclear doctrine”, released on 17 August 1999, by the then national security advisor Brajesh Mishra. Some clarifications on this draft were “shared with the public” on 4 January 2003, through a press release by the then Cabinet Committee on Security. I do not think any major power will ever deal with such a sensitive issue in such a cavalier manner.

Be that as it may, India’s draft doctrine at the moment has the following key features:

• While committed to the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world through global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament, India, till the realisation of this goal, will possess nuclear weapons.

• India will build and maintain a credible minimum deterrent.

• India will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states.

• India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons. But if it is attacked by nuclear weapons in its territory or on Indian forces anywhere, then its nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage to the aggressor.

• In the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will also retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.

• India will continue strict controls on the export of nuclear and missile-related materials and technologies, participation in the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty negotiations, and continued observance of the moratorium on nuclear tests.

• India’s Nuclear Command Authority comprises a Political Council and an Executive Council. The Political Council is chaired by the Prime Minister. It is the sole body which can authorise the use of nuclear weapons. The Executive Council is chaired by the National Security Advisor. It provides inputs for decision making by the Nuclear Command Authority and executes the directives given to it by the Political Council.

It may be noted here that in the clarifications that were given in 2003, there were two important changes that were made to the draft doctrine of 1999. The draft doctrine had said: “Any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor.” The 2003 clarifications said: “Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage to the aggressor.” The emphasis here should be given to the addition of the word “massive”.

The second important change in the 2003 clarifications was that a new scenario was added under which India would retaliate with nuclear weapons, and that was the attack through biological or chemical weapons on India or on Indian forces anywhere.

What emerges from the above is that India’s nuclear weapons posture, after the country went officially nuclear in 1998, did undergo changes during the Vajpayee regime itself. The point is that beliefs and principles are not immutable. Nations and their leaderships change with the efflux of time. And circumstances require their national doctrines to be revisited, reviewed and recast if deemed necessary.

Our NFU policy really needs a healthy debate. The United States or for that matter other western nuclear powers such as Britain and France do not have the NFU policy. Russia, which initially had NFU pledge, has withdrawn it long ago. China, another country that professed NFU policy, is now silent on it. Its biannual defence white paper (2013) omitted for the first time a promise never to use its own nuclear weapons first. Even otherwise, China had asserted before that its NFU would not apply against countries that are in possession of the Chinese territory. That means that China’s NFU does not apply to India as it claims over our lands in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh.

That leaves Pakistan, our other major adversary. But Pakistan too does not believe in NFU. It has developed “Nasr” ballistic missiles with a range of 60 km that is capable of carrying nuclear warheads. These have been specifically built with the intention of targeting not only Indian cities but also Indian military formations on the battlefield.

The concept of NFU has other problems as well. For one, imagine that there is a conventional war between India and Pakistan (or for that matter China), and Indian forces target at military establishments within the enemy territory. They do not know which of these establishments are nuclear or nonnuclear and in the process of their operations, they hit at an enemy target that turns out to be a nuclear one and the consequent results are strategically horrible. Will it mean that India did not observe its NFU pledge?

For another, imagine also a situation when the Indian forces engaged in conventional wars simultaneously against China and Pakistan find it difficult to carry on. And here, as the situation challenges the very integrity of the country, should one not exercise the nuclear option? After all, we have already modified our nuclear posture in the events of chemical and biological attacks. Why should then we tie our hands with the NFU when faced with multi-fronted attacks on our territories or forces?

Thirdly, a review is also due on the concept of our “massive” nuclear retaliation when attacked by nuclear weapons, particularly when Pakistan is openly preparing to use what it says tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) through “Nasr” missiles against India’s superior conventional forces. Now, suppose, one of our Army’s tank columns is attacked by Pakistan’s TNW. Should then India go for a massive retaliation to destroy the whole of Karachi or Lahore? Will not that be highly disproportionate and unethical? If so, should India not go for a proportionate retaliation with its own TNW?

And if we really go with our TNWs, then there will be a new problem. By their very nature, the TNWs and their eventual uses are better determined on the spot, that is, on the battlefield itself, by the military commanders concerned. How then will that go with our strict provision that it is only the Prime Minister who will decide when and where to use our nuclear weapons?

All these are very tricky but vital questions. But answers to them cannot wait anymore. The future Indian government cannot sit on them.

First Published On : Nov 11, 2016 21:39 IST

US election: How Donald Trump, like Narendra Modi in 2014, won despite a hostile media

Donald Trump’s electoral victory on Wednesday, making him the 45th President of the United States, has many implications. But the one implication that should be noted in particular is the lesson that it provides to journalists or the media as a whole. This lesson is significant to Indian journalists as well, particularly the political pundits, now that they will be covering the upcoming Assembly elections in important states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

This lesson, however, is not exactly new. It was the takeaway from our last General elections in 2014, that resulted in Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s unprecedented victory. This lesson has now been re-validated by Trump’s ‘against all odds’ victory. In fact, there are many commonalities between Modi’s 2014 victory and Trump’s recent triumph.

The lesson is that the media should observe, report and analyse the polls as dispassionately as possible, and not become an active player in the polls by furthering the causes of a particular candidate (or party) – by demonising his or her rival.

File image of US president-elect Donald Trump. Reuters

This lesson is vitally important for the credibility of the media. Reuters

This lesson is vitally important for the credibility of the media itself, because the candidate it demonises eventually succeeds, as was the case with Trump. But this lesson also has a corollary; the standard tools used by most journalists (and academicians) in explaining such elections need a fine-tuning.

Almost all the major media houses in the United States (including the British magazine the Economist, that sells the most in America) had formally “endorsed” Hillary Clinton through their respective editorial boards. And their reporters had gone to every possible length to demonise Trump.

It has now come to light that a senior CNN analyst had leaked the questions of the Presidential debate to Hillary wee in advance. In fact, another analyst of the same channel cried live on television when Trump overtook Hillary during the vote count.

It is also noteworthy in this context how a well known Indian TV anchor, who was covering the US elections for her channel, had tweeted how “thrilled” she was about Hillary’s impending victory and how she was eager to hear her “D-Day” speech!

Invariably, the mainstream US media highlighted how Hillary had a distinguished service to the country as first lady, as a senator from New York, and as Secretary of State; thereby enforcing that she had “every right to be taken seriously as a White House contender.”

In contrast, the media lambasted Trump, saying that he was not a man of ideas and had no record in public service and no qualifications for the job. In an article published in The Atlantic, it was said that, “ His (Trump) affect is that of an infomercial huckster; he traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.”

In other words, for the mainstream American media, Trump’s major drawback was the fact that he was never a part of the ‘New York-Washington establishment’; he was a complete outsider having no political, electoral or intellectual experience.

The ‘New York-Washington establishment’ comprised seasoned Democrats as well as Republicans, media, think-tanks, bureaucrats and academic elites; much like our “Delhi establishment” that includes many veteran Congress, BJP leaders.

For the American media, Trump was a highly “divisive figure” based on his views on immigrants, Muslims and Women (see the way they tore into Trump for a private comment on women, way back in 2005). And here, Trump’s ‘disqualification’ was compounded by the fact that he was opposed by the top leadership in his own Republican party.

Did we not witness a similar trend in India in 2013 and 2014? No other prime ministerial candidate in India had ever been subjected to such rigorous public and judicial scrutiny as Modi was for his alleged role in the Gujarat riots in 2002.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Modi then and Trump now did end up winning, meaning that they fought the odds by evolving a campaigning style that negated conventions. PTI

Modi’s critics within the party, let alone his enemies outside, systematically fed the overwhelming sections of the national media to propagate the theory that Modi was a deeply divisive figure and that he would be a political disaster for the BJP outside Gujarat.

There was a similar vitriolic campaign suggesting that BJP would disintegrate if Modi became the prime ministerial candidate. It was also said that allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would desert if he was chosen.

In fact, certain anti-Modi elements in the BJP did misguide the Janata Dal (United) (one of the BJP’s longstanding allies) leader and now Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, to part ways with the party over Modi, thinking that by so doing his anointment as the prime ministerial candidate of the alliance would be stalled.

But Modi then and Trump now did end up winning, meaning that they fought the odds by evolving a campaigning style that negated conventions. They travelled to every nook and corner of their respective countries. They held massive rallies instead of focusing on door-knocking and get-out-the-vote operations.

Most importantly, they did not seek votes on the basis of people’s identities – they talked of “all”. That would explain why the standard or conventional analysis that Hillary would easily win because of the support of women, blacks, Muslims and Hispanics proved to be so off the mark.

And that also explains why in Modi’s case, the limitations of the often lauded identity politics of caste, creed and region were badly exposed. The results of the 2014 election proved beyond any shadow of doubt that people do not necessarily vote on the basis of caste lines.

In fact, this is the precise reason why the theory that in the forthcoming election in Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati will get all the Dalit votes or the BJP will not get any Muslim votes or all the Yadav votes will go to the ruling Samajwadi party, doesn’t necessarily hold true. Voting behaviours the world over are changing and this needs to be looked at afresh by the analysts, who, in turn, must look beyond the conventional theories.

There is another striking similarity between the 2014 elections in India and the just concluded elections in the United States. That the dominant sections within both the Indian and American intelligentsia, including the media, glorify identity politics. They talk of minorities and groups, and laud the phenomenon as consolidation for their respective rights. If somebody opposes this trend, he or she is branded as communal and racist. Viewed thus, voting for a Modi or a Trump, people at large seem to have rejected this phenomenon and its champions.

Though we all must be proud of our multi-cultural and pluralistic values and cherish them at all cost, you cannot afford to do that by degrading and insulting the majority community and concentrating all the time on the minorities and groups.

And that brings about an important point. Some American journalists seem to be quick learners and have started admitting to their mistakes. Margaret Sullivan, a columnist for The Washington Post, just wrote an article titled, “The media didn’t want to believe Trump could win. So they looked the other way.”

In her piece she said, “To put it bluntly, the media missed the story. In the end, a huge number of American voters wanted something different. And although these voters shouted and screamed it, most journalists just weren’t listening. They didn’t get it. They didn’t get that the huge, enthusiastic crowds at Donald Trump’s rallies would really translate into that many votes. They couldn’t believe that the America they knew could embrace someone who mocked a disabled man, bragged about sexually assaulting women, and spouted misogyny, racism and anti-Semitism.”

Journalists in India should take cues from their American counterparts, particularly those covering the upcoming Assembly elections.

Orop issue: Congress should note that the Modi govt did much more for veterans than UPA

With a section of the retired military personnel attacking the Modi government over pension anomalies vis a vis their civilian counterparts (this has seen the unfortunate incident of an alleged suicide by a retired soldier in Haryana) and with politicians starting to use them as weapons against their opponents, the issue of One Rank One Pension (Orop) is proving to be quite ominous from the point of view of the overall civilian-military relationship in the country. And this is an irony as the history of the Orop agitation suggests that the Modi government has been the most sympathetic to over 20 lakh ex-servicemen (ESM) and about six lakh war widows.

Of course, as defence minister Manohar Parrikar has told The Indian Express, the Orop process will take two more months to be fully completed. “Within 18 months, we resolved the 43-year-old OROP issue to high satisfaction levels, and all pending issues will be resolved shortly,” he said, adding, “Most of the pending issues have been inherited by this government. Barring the disability pension, most other issues have their origin in the Sixth Pay Commission, which we are committed to resolve. It is inappropriate to allow vested interest groups to deliberately build a narrative that is factually baseless and devoid of merit.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

And it seems the majority of the ESM community is satisfied with the Orop scheme announced by the Modi government, if one goes by a report of The Times of India. In fact, in his address on Thursday to Army veterans in Budgam, Jammu and Kashmir, Parrikar said, “Only one lakh ex-servicemen are not getting pensions as per the Orop scheme due to some technical difficulty or documentation problems. We will resolve them in the coming two months.”

It may be noted that the Modi government officially notified on 7 November, 2015 the implementation of the Orop scheme – equal pension for equal number of years in the service in the same rank. Orop was to be implemented with effect from 1 July, 2014, fixed on the basis of the calendar year 2013, though the veterans wanted the year to be 2014. Arrears will be paid in four half-yearly instalments, but all widows, including war widows, would be paid arrears in one instalment. The pension has been re-fixed for all pensioners as the average of minimum and maximum pension in 2013. Those drawing pensions above the average will be protected.

The annual expenditure on the Orop scheme has been estimated at around Rs 7, 500 crore. The arrears from 1 July, 2014 — the date of implementation as announced by the government — till 31 December, 2015, will be approximately Rs 10,900 crore. This has pushed the defence budget for pensions from Rs 54, 000 crore to around Rs 65, 000 crore. This is an increase of about 20 percent of the defence pension outlay.

Under the Orop scheme, the gap between the rate of pension of current pensioners and past pensioners will be bridged every 5 years. Although the veterans have been demanding equalisation of pension every year, the government went for a compromise of every five years, as against the present system of pay revisions for all the government servants every 10th year. It is said that this compromise is not for the monetary implications (which will not be much) but for administrative difficulties. Revising every year will prove very cumbersome and complicated.

However, the government’s Orop measures have failed to satisfy a section of the veterans, who are increasingly politicising what was once a genuine agitation by hobnobbing with opposition leaders like Derek O’Brian, Rahul Gandhi, Capt Amarinder Singh, Brinda Karat and Arvind Kejriwal. This is rather strange since the differences between the notification and demands are very minor. And here too, the government is open to rectify anomalies, if any, arising out of implementation of Orop, through a Judicial Committee, which, headed by a Supreme Court judge.

It may be noted that the veterans were receiving Orop until 1971, the year when the Indira Gandhi government cut down military pension from 70 percent of the last pay drawn to 50 percent of the last pay drawn and increased – simultaneously – the pension of the civil servants from 30 percent of the last pay to 50 percent. Since then, it has so happened that every central government has downgraded the military in pay, perks and status, compared to the civilian bureaucrats. One such principle has been the “non-functional upgradation” (NFU) for the bureaucracy. The NFU means that when an Indian Administrative Service or Indian Foreign Service officer (the topmost civil service in the country) is promoted to a certain rank (say joint secretary), all his or her batch mates from Group ‘A’ central services automatically start drawing the pay scale of joint secretary two years after his or her promotion. This continues all the way up the line.

The same does not apply to the military, which is a highly pyramidal structure, with 60 percent retiring by 40 years of age, another 20 percent retiring at the age of 54, 19 per cent retiring at the age of 60 and one percent (those who become Chiefs of their respective services) getting additional two years. In contrast, 99.9 percent civilian bureaucrats retire at the age of 60 only.

Of course, it is a huge myth that the Orop did not exist at all in our armed forces and that Orop existed for all civilians.

The Orop was there for all those, whether in civil service or in the military, who reached their super-time scales (the basic of Rs 80000 per month and above). The secretary rank in civil service, Lt Generals and their equivalents in commander ranks in the military do get the Orop after their retirement. But then, given the fact that most in the military retire much earlier than 60 years of age, the Orop demand was very much legitimate, particularly when it was abruptly ended by the then Congress government, that too after the military gave the country a splendid victory in the 1971 war. Since then, the veterans have been fighting for this injustice to be rectified.

When defence minister Manohar Parrikar announced the Orop scheme on 5 September, 2015, there was a little confusion over whether personnel who retire voluntarily will be covered under the Orop scheme. But subsequently, both the prime minister and defence minister clarified separately that everyone who retires early (because of injury, illness, lack of further promotions or family compulsion after serving the mandatory tenure – 15 years for Jawans, 20 years for officers) will get benefit of Orop.

Yes, there are still some little irritants, which the constituted judicial committee will look into. If still dissatisfied, the veterans can always to go higher courts. But these are not the issues over which one can continue to issue threats to the government and politicise the movement. All told, it is the Modi government that implemented its poll promise within 15 months of coming into office of implementing the Orop, something the agitators have not appreciated enough. Here, one may quote Independent Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a parliamentarian who has been at the forefront for the Orop demand, the day the government announced the OROP scheme.

According to him, “The announcement of One Rank, One Pension (Orop) by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is the culmination of 40 years of wait by the Veterans and Widows. It is our country’s thanksgiving to them for decades of service and sacrifice. This decision makes Orop the biggest and most significant welfare measure for veterans in Post-Independent India by any Government and for that I thank Prime Minister Modi, Defence Minister Parrikar and Finance Minister Jaitley and the Government for the fulfilling this important promise. For me personally, today’s announcement marks 9 years of struggle and perseverance on Orop — starting with the dark days of proud veterans giving up their medals in 2006. Orop was one of the first issues I took up after I joined active politics—and expectedly today is a big day for me personally and for my time in public service. Apart from raising it repeatedly in Parliament and media to the point that I was even called ‘Orop Rajeev’ by many political leaders. I have also had the honour of sitting with veterans in many protests in Bengaluru and Delhi, including at Jantar Mantar.”

Take another gentleman, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, former Uttarakhand chief minister. The very definition of the Orop was devised by a parliamentary committee that was headed by him in 2011. And what does he say about the ongoing agitation? “Maybe some in the agitation are thinking just because the government is listening to them, they should squeeze out as much as possible. Greed may be playing a part. I can’t rule out that there may be political motivations to this issue as well.” He wonders how one did not see any protests against a party that ruled for six decades almost but the protesters upped the ante when the Modi government was barely a year old.

It is worth seeing the record of the Manmohan Singh government with regard to the issue of Orop. Based on the Koshyari Committee’s report, the government arrived at a figure of Rs 1300 crore required to pay the arrears for Orop in 2011-12. In 2013-14, the government enhanced the amount to Rs 1573 crore. P Chidambaram, the then finance minister, in his interim budget speech on 17 February 2014, granted a measly Rs 500 crore (based on the estimate of Rs 1573 crore) for the year 2014-15.

It is obvious that the UPA government made a half-hearted attempt to woo the veterans, that too just on the eve of the 2014 elections. Otherwise, how can one explain the Manmohan Singh government’s calculation that the Orop would cost between Rs 1,000 to 1600 crore? Therefore, it is sheer dishonesty when Congress leaders like Rahul Gandhi and AK Antony say that it is “we who accepted the principle of Orop and NDA is only implementing it.”

Pakistan’s deep-rooted hostility will always come in the way of Indo-Pak relations

Pakistan has decided to enforce a complete ban on Indian TV and radio at a time when Bollywood is under increasing pressure from the distributors and exhibitors not to promote movies starring Pakistani actors. This is in addition to its earlier decision to ban the screening of Indian movies in Pakistani theaters.

Obviously, the Indian peaceniks, who are essentially for unilateral gestures by India without any reciprocity by Pakistan, are unhappy. For them, the villain is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is “promoting” a “nationalistic” and “jingoist” culture in the country. They are of the opinion that unrestricted flow of the people and their ideas through movies, music, art, literature will bring India and Pakistan together. Unfortunately, these unilateralist peaceniks are speaking the half-truth.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

First, they should realise that unlike in India, restrictions on people-to-people contacts in Pakistan are always from the side of the government. In India, as the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) explained on 20 October, “As far as the Government of India is concerned, there is no blanket ban on Pakistani artists. However, in view of the prevailing atmosphere and taking into account security considerations as well and the sentiments of local organisers, we will do so on a case-to-case basis, but there is certainly no blanket ban on Pakistani artists.” He, in fact, added in Hindi, when asked about Pakistan’s decision to impose ban on Indian TV channels, “Dekhiye hum logon ne to is tarh ka koi ban nahi lagaya hai. Abhi bhi aap Pakistani serials dekh sakte hain, Zindagi Channel ya aur kai channelon par. Main isko durbhagyapoorn kahunga aur mere khayaal se ye Pakistan ki taraf se, ek tarah se aatmvishwas ki kami darshata hai.”

It may be noted that this is not the first time that the Pakistan government is banning Indian films, TV, radio and artistes. In fact, these bans prevail most of the time; what the government agencies do in that country is to reassert or reiterate them periodically. Why is it that melody queen Lata Mangeshkar has never been allowed to have a concert in Pakistan? The legend once told an interviewer about how she was scheduled to tour Pakistan but it was cancelled just one day before departing to Pakistan. She was supposed to participate in a cultural festival in Karachi, but the then military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq called it off at the very last moment.

Secondly, it is worth finding out the composition of these unilateralist peaceniks. Almost all of them have remained largely confined to the quasi-official realm with a few retired government personnel and the so-called left-liberalist academicians, journalists and artists. There may have been some odd men here and there, but the overall composition has more or less remained the same. These people are essentially from Delhi and the adjoining states (Bollywood actors shedding tears for Pakistan are mostly from North India). And in many cases, they (at least their parents and grandparents) have been refugees from what is today Pakistan, following India’s partition in 1947.

This I really find bizarre. We are talking of people-to-people contacts, but essentially the tracks have remained an elitist preserve, and that too from a particular region of the country. Why should not we involve individuals and grass-root organisations from different parts of the country, while framing our policy towards Pakistan? Why are the views on Pakistan by people from the North East, Odisha and Tamil Nadu are ignored? Do they not constitute India? By not doing that, we are giving a wrong picture of India to a Pakistani that Delhi or North Indian-based people represent the whole of India and that they are the wisest.

My problem with the peaceniks becoming the representatives of people like me and you is not that they are the fifth columnists (they love India as much as you and I do); the problem is essentially the fact that while looking at Pakistan, they follow their hearts, not heads. And that is mostly due to their common ethnic background. Therefore, I have always argued that India’s Pakistan policy has a much better chance of success if handled by leaders and officials hailing from the south of the Vindhyas. Any day, I will prefer a Narasimha Rao and Narendra Modi to a Jawaharlal Nehru or IK Gujral or Atal Behari Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh on matters pertaining to Pakistan.

Even otherwise, if one goes by the history books written for students in Pakistan, the intensity of the anti-India venom and the ferocity with which it is being injected into young minds are mind-blowing

For the unilateralist peaceniks, let me demystify some vital aspects of Indo-Pak relations.

First, it is totally meaningless for India to talk to any civilian leader of Pakistan. The ultimate decision-maker in Pakistan as far as India is concerned happens to be the Army Chief. Therefore, if any breakthrough in the India-Pakistan impasse is to be made, New Delhi should insist that the Pakistani Army Chief Raheel Sharif or his nominees should be in the Pakistan delegation for negotiations. The hard reality is that Nawaz Sharif and his ministers and advisers are simply helpless in pursuing any meaningful negotiations with India. Let us not forget that Pakistan is essentially an “Army with a country”. It is the Pakistan Army that decides country’s policy towards India. There are three Lakshman Rekhas (limiting lines) that the Army has drawn for the civilian Prime Ministers and Presidents. One, they would not interfere in any manner in the organisational and administrative work of the armed forces. Two, they would abide by the advice of the Army Chief on matters of foreign and defence policies. Three, they would not interfere with the army-controlled nuclear weaponisation and missile programmes.

Secondly, unlike China, which is and can be India’s rival and partner simultaneously, Pakistan will always behave as India’s enemy. Come what may, it will continue to promote jihad in Kashmir and other parts of India. Indeed, it is a huge myth that Pakistan will shed its hostility to India if Kashmir issue is resolved on Islamabad’s terms. Even if Kashmir joins Pakistan, Islamabad will find out another issue to trouble India. Because, Pakistan’s antipathy towards India is deep-rooted. Pakistan’s very existence as an entity depends on hostility towards India. Take India away and Pakistan’s justification as a separate country in the map of the world will hold no water.

And this explains why the Pakistan Army promotes fundamentalist mullahs in the country and uses them in tirades against India trough terrorist organisations like the LeT. Their fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam negates the Sufi tradition that promoted Hindu-Muslim amity and coexistence in the subcontinent for centuries. So much so that many Pakistanis now suffer from some identity crisis — they are not sure whether they should retain their age-old cultural roots (that are obviously influenced by Hinduism) or develop totally new “Arab identities”.

Even otherwise, if one goes by the history books written for students in Pakistan, the intensity of the anti-India venom and the ferocity with which it is being injected into young minds are mind-blowing. This great historic discovery is taught: “Previously, India was part of Pakistan.” In these books, Muhammad-bin-Qasim, the first Muslim conqueror of the Hindu-dominated Sindh province in the 8th century, is declared the first Pakistani citizen.

Thirdly, erosion of Indian power, dismemberment of its territories and consolidation of an anti-India geostrategic nexus are Pakistan’s predominant foreign policy goals. Pakistan’s war against India is no longer confined to Kashmir. Pakistan wants to Balkanise India by cutting off the country’s northern, eastern (North-East) and southern (Kerala) wings. In fact, Mushahid Hussain, once a former information minister under Sharif, has argued that Pakistan should work towards the division of India into three or four independent countries. Simultaneously, Pakistan’s ISI machinery will concentrate on widening the Hindu-Muslim divide, spreading hatred and destroying India’s inherent ethos of communal harmony.

Unless the typical mindset of the Pakistanis is changed, India will remain their eternal enemy, whatever the Indian peaceniks may say to the contrary.

Talks of Russia ditching India for China is a case of over-exaggeration

A veteran journalist says that is “mad” at Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s failure in incorporating the name of Pakistan in the joint declaration of the just concluded Brics summit in Goa. Under normal circumstances one would not have taken the comment of this journalist (who also happens to be a habitual Modi-baiter) seriously, but one can’t ignore the fact that the inability of the Brics leaders in naming Pakistan as a source of global terror in the “Goa declaration” is being perceived by many in India as not only a failure of Modi’s foreign policy but also as a strong signal of Russia moving away from India, and towards China.

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinse President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a file photo. PTIIndia Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinse President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a file photo. PTI

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinse President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a file photo. PTI

But then perceptions are not necessarily true. As a student of international relations, I have rarely come across joint declarations of a multilateral summit mentioning any non-participating country specifically unless that country (in this case Pakistan) is at war or under some grave natural calamity. Therefore, in my considered view the perception that Russia is moving closer to China deserves more attention. It is a fact that Russia-China relations, particularly in the security sphere, have been in an upswing over the last few years. The two have been conducting many “provocative” joint military drills, including those in the disputed South China Sea. Russian arms sales to China have increased phenomenally.

However, this does not mean that Russia is contemplating to ignore India for the sake of China. On the other hand, Russia has been systematically trying to promote what is called a strategic triangle of Russia, India and China.

Though former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was the first Russian leader to use the words “trilateral cooperation” among Russia, India and China, the concept has been spearheaded by President Vladimir Putin. The pattern was set during his first term as president when Putin held summit meetings with Indian and Chinese heads of government, in short intervals. The idea of Russia-India-China initiative was talked about on the eve of eve of Putin’s visit to India in October 2000. It followed Russia-China summit (between Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin) in July that year at Moscow. In 2002, the idea was again talked about during Putin’s visit to Delhi, which took place immediately after his trip to Beijing; in fact Putin had combined his China and India visits together and landed in Delhi straight from Beijing.

It was at Putin’s behest that the first trilateral summit involving the three countries took place in St Petersburg in July 2006. It was argued that Beijing and New Delhi accepted Russia’s proposal to hold trilateral summit because “it was beneficial to boosting the cooperation among the three countries as well as maintaining multipolarity in the world”. Of course, it is to be remembered that the St Petersburg meeting took place on the sidelines of the G-8 summit, which Russia had hosted for the first time and former India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese president Hu Jintao had attended it as special invitees.

However, since then “Russia, India and China process” (RIC process) — that is how India “officially” describes the development — has also involved regular meetings of foreign ministers of the three countries, the last of which, incidentally the 14th in the series, was held in Moscow on April 18, 2016. The Moscow meet resolved that “Russia, India and China (RIC), as countries with important influence at international and regional levels and emerging market economies, need to further strengthen practical coordination on global and regional issues in the spirit of openness, solidarity, mutual understanding and trust. They (the foreign ministers) emphasised that cooperation between their countries is conducive to maintaining international and regional peace and stability, and promoting global economic growth and prosperity”.

In promoting the RIC process, Russia seems to have been guided by three developments. First, Russia’s inability to impede the eastward expansion of NATO. Its frustration over NATO’s unilateral military action in Kosovo forced Moscow to seek closer strategic understanding with China and India. Russia also found commonality with India and China in the perceived US bid for global hegemony, which was in direct conflict with their preference for a “multipolar world.”

The second reason from Russian point of view is that the three countries have problems with Islamic militants. India fights border problems everyday against radical Islamic fighters infiltrating from Pakistan into Kashmir. Besides Pakistan, India sees Afghanistan as a breeding ground for Islamic militants, a view fully shared by Russia. Moscow is concerned about the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the five Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union (which Russia still sees as its sphere of influence). China’s problem with Islamic guerrillas focuses on the Muslim Uighar separatists in Xinjiang, an area of China rich in mineral resources. Beijing suspected that outside forces emanating from Afghanistan were feeding the disturbances, and Russian help on the border was needed to cut off that aid. Besides, as multi-ethnic states, Russia, China and India are concerned about the prospects of growing ethnic nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism in the region.

The third common interest is the arms trade. China and India account for nearly 70 percent of Russia’s arms exports. As it is, one of the important features of the Russian strategic and military blueprint is that Moscow will continue to assign the country’s military-industrial complex the responsibility of ensuring a considered presence in the world market of high technology Russian products and services. And, one of the goals of the military-industrial complex is to improve the system of intergovernmental cooperation in the military field. In this scheme of things, both India and China are extremely important, since both buy billions of dollars worth arms from Russia.

But the problem is that at times both India and China demand the same weapon systems with the same features. Because of special circumstances, India has always enjoyed a special status as an importer of Russian arms. Russia sends weapons of more value and substance. These weapons are not only latest but also those which are not even commissioned into the Russian armed forces.

Obviously, India will not like China to get the same features and facilities from the Russians. It is all the more so when there is a chance of some of those weapons finding their way to Pakistan. In that sense, by suggesting the concept of a Russia-China-India triangle, Moscow wants to appease the Indian sensitivities, with the hope that the idea will remove mutual suspicions between Delhi and Beijing.

But will this Russian policy succeed? It is extremely doubtful that it will, and that, in turn, is the reason why one does not see great virtues in India showing enthusiasm about the “triangle”. From Indian point of view, for any triangular relationship, China has to vacate the countervailing strategic space in favour of Pakistan. Since China is part of the strategic nexus with Pakistan aimed at India, how can India be part of a coalition in which two of its potential antagonists are inter-twined?

Secondly, given the anti-American overtone of the “triangle” concept, India may find it difficult to be associated with it, particularly when over the last few years Indo-US relations have witnessed unprecedented improvements, the Pakistan-factor notwithstanding. In fact, even China will not like any ganging up against the US for similar reasons. All told, the Chinese economy is crucially dependent on the American market. Whatever the ideologically oriented pro-China experts may say, the fact remains that China is excessively dependent on the international market both for resources and revenue generation. Just imagine what will happen if the Americans, particularly American-Chinese, stop investing in China and the US refuses to open its markets for Chinese goods.

Even otherwise, though Moscow advocates a durable and long-term framework of shared interests with India and China, unlike Indo-Russian relationship, the Sino-Russian link is controversial among influential Russian policymaking elites. Russia shares a long border with China and a long history of often bitter and complex relations. Besieged with a growing problem of demographic decline, many Russian analysts fear that Siberia and its far east would soon be over-run by migrant Chinese labour. This fear is genuine as anybody familiar with Chinese history will admit that Chinese territorial claims all over Asia often followed its emigrants. Likewise, the Russians are not comfortable with the growing Chinese activities in Central Asia, which Moscow always considers to be falling under its sphere of vital interests. Besides, it is also felt in Russian strategic circles that China, with ex-Soviet Union scientists and engineers working in its defence facilities, is producing weapons by reverse-engineering the Russian products and exporting them in the international market, particularly in Pakistan and North Korea.

Viewed thus, the RIC process, though a grand idea, has its obvious limitations. The conditions under which it was initiated are not exactly the same now for its real blossoming. Therefore, strategic partnerships among Russia , China and India are likely to remain strictly bilateral, that is, Russia-India, Russia-China and India-China. And when one comes to bilateral relations between India and Russia, the potentials are immense, to speak the least.

Brics Goa Summit: Real test lies in meeting goals, not treat them as rhetoric

The eighth Brics Summit (attended by the heads of the governments of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) has just concluded in Goa.

Going by the news coverage (both print and television), one got an impression as if the summit’s sole focus was to evolve a mechanism to fight the menace of terrorism in the world. That there was no consensus on the subject among the five leaders – Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma — particularly in naming some leading terrorists of the world and their supporters, has been highlighted in the media the most. But then the fact remains that combating “global terror” was only one item of the lengthy agenda at the summit.

What about the rest?

The summit concluded with a 109-point Goa Declaration. It has emphasised: “The importance of further strengthening Brics solidarity and cooperation based on our common interests and key priorities to further strengthen our strategic partnership in the spirit of openness, solidarity, equality, mutual understanding, inclusiveness and mutually beneficial cooperation. We agree that emerging challenges to global peace and security and to sustainable development require further enhancing of our collective efforts.” In other words, what the five leaders, representing nearly 2/3rd of the world’s population, deliberated on the identification of many major global challenges and how to meet these challenges. Obviously, these challenges related to three major areas — global politics, security and economy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Brics leaders in Goa. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Brics leaders in Goa. PTI

And, as in the past summits, the one in Goa turned out to be a platform to express dissatisfaction with the shortcomings in the system of global governance, but it did not project itself as “a vehicle to overturn the system itself”. This point needs to be emphasised, for there is a wrong notion that Brics is meant to be an alternative to the global institutions such as the United Nations (UN) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In fact, the Goa Declaration said, “We reaffirm our commitment to contribute to safeguarding a fair and equitable international order based on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations including through consistent and universal respect and adherence to the principles and rules of international law in their inter-relation and integrity, compliance by all states with their international legal obligations.”

They further added, “We reaffirm the need for a comprehensive reform of the UN, including its Security Council, with a view to making it more representative, effective and efficient, and to increase the representation of the developing countries so that it can adequately respond to global challenges. China and Russia reiterate the importance they attach to the status and role of Brazil, India and South Africa in international affairs and support their aspiration to play a greater role in the UN.”

On the economic challenges, the Brics leaders at Goa “welcome(ed) the adoption of landmark 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals during the UN Summit on Sustainable Development on 25 September, 2015 and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development.” They talked of “the G20 Action Plan on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted during G20 Hangzhou Summit and commit to its implementation by taking bold transformative steps through both collective and individual concrete actions.”

Importantly, they reiterated their “determination to use all policy tools – monetary, fiscal, and structural, individually and collectively, to achieve the goal of strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth. Monetary policy will continue to support economic activity and ensure price stability, consistent with central bank’s mandates. Monetary policy alone, though, cannot lead to balanced and sustainable growth. We, in this regard, underscore the essential role of structural reforms. We emphasise that our fiscal policies are equally important to support our common growth objectives. We also take note that the spill-over effects of certain policy measures in some systemically important advanced economies can have adverse impact on growth prospects of emerging economies.”

Few can find faults with goalposts set by the Brics leaders in Goa. However, the real test lies in the cooperative endeavours at realising the goals by not treating them as rhetoric. And on this front, the report card of the Brics has not been very impressive. The Goa summit proved that China was not exactly in tune with India’s concerns over terrorism. Though the Goa Declaration did talk of the need for reforms in the United Nations, the fact remains that China has a completely different view from the rest four on the expansion of the UN Security Council.

On the economic front, while they all may agree on the better functioning of the World Bank, greater transparency of the IMF, non-discriminatory global trade and the developed countries “honouring” their ODA (Official Development Assistance) commitments to achieve 0.7% of Gross National Income commitment for the developing countries; the bitter truth is that the five Brics are not in a position to fulfill their own commitments for the structural reforms of their respective economies. Each one of them has its own peculiar domestic and regional challenges. China and Russia have essentially authoritarian systems of governance, whereas India, South Africa and Brazil are democracies where taking hard decisions are, more often than not, slow and politically risky.

This is particularly true of South Africa and Brazil. South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party has suffered its worst election result in the recent local elections since it came to power in 1994, threatening its rule in several of the country’s biggest cities. Its vote share has sunk to 55 percent, which is humiliating for President Jacob Zuma, who is surrounded by a number of scandals and been blamed by many for overseeing a corrupt administration. And this is no good news for the South African economy.

According to The The Economist magazine, with the weakening of President Zuma’s position, “economic growth will remain subdued in 2016, at 0.5%, held back by power shortages” and “growth will edge up to average 1.8% a year in 2017-20 as constraints ease gradually. The current-account deficit will be a source of concern, leaving the country reliant on foreign capital to plug the hole.”

Similarly, with the recent impeachment of the elected President Dilma Roussseff, Brazil is at a crossroad. Vice-President Temer has ascended to the Presidency at a time when Brazil continues under a period of turmoil. The country has been under recession, with Brazil’s economy contracting by 3.8 percent in 2015, and that figure could be matched in 2016. Inflation hit 10 percent by the end of 2015, and the fiscal deficit has also reached double digits. These economic challenges could have been addressed with decisive policy reforms, but the ongoing political crisis has led to a complete government gridlock.

Even Russia’s economy is not in the best of shape these days. Russia is also in some sort of recession as oil prices tailspin and Western sanctions following its takeover of Crimea really pinch. That leaves only China and India that are witnessing still respectable annual growth rates. But then, the fact remains that from around more than 10 percent annual rate of growth, China has come down now to less than 7 percent. India’s growth rate at 7.6 percent is the highest among all the Brics countries. But seen overall, the growth rate of Brics is really a disappointment compared to what it was estimated at originally.

It may be noted that in 2001, Goldman Sachs analyst Jim O’Neill had coined the term “Bric” (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to encapsulate what he predicted would be the four most dynamic emerging market economies of the new century. For him then, these countries (he saw their grouping to be a purely economic entity) would have extraordinary growth rates and there would be tremendous investment opportunities. Then the Bric liked the idea so much that they formed an official club (2009). Later they invited South Africa and became Brics (South Africa joined their ranks in 2011.) But the irony is that rating agencies like the Goldman Sachs are highly disappointed today with the Brics’ uneven economic performance in recent years (in fact, following the years of losses, Goldman Sachs closed its “Bric fund” in November 2015). So much so that the Brics has doubted their objectivity and is thinking of creating a ‘Brics credit rating agency’ (Modi is a big advocate of this idea), an idea on which the five heads of government could not reach a consensus in Goa.

Of course, to its credit, the Brics has created the New Development Bank (NDB), a $100 billion lending platform that will finance infrastructure projects in the Brics and other developing countries, and a $100 billion currency pool known as the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA), which will aim to cushion the Brics economies from global financial pressures. The bank, which went operational last year, with leading Indian banker KV Kamath as its first head, has already done $900 million lending for renewable energy projects in Brics countries and is targeting at $2.5 billion lending for the coming calendar year. However, consensus eluded in Goa on establishing the connectivity between the NDB and the export-import banks of the member countries to facilitate trade among them. All told, the intra-Brics trade is not that healthy. For instance, in 2015, China had more trade with the United States alone than with its Brics partners combined. It earned $482 billion in exports to the US last year against a modest $244 billion to “the Brics family”.

This is not to suggest that Brics is nothing but “a fairytale”, a term that some Western critics use to describe the grouping. Brics might not have achieved much; but its very existence does signify that there is much to improve on the front of global governance.

In that sense, Daniel Chardell, a research associate in the International Institutions and Global Governance Programme at the Council on Foreign Relations, says, “The Brics may just be a symbol, but they are also a symptom of the world’s impatience with business as usual.”

Brics Summit: India must note Russia is still its most important strategic partner

Russian President Vladimir Putin is commencing his four-day visit to India on Friday (14-17 October). His visit assumes significance since serious doubts have clouded, of late, on the nature of Indo-Russian relations, particularly in the wake of growing ties between Moscow and Islamabad.

Putin’s visit is two-pronged. He is attending the 8th Brics summit that is being held in Goa, from 15 to 16 October. But earlier on Saturday, at Goa, Putin will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in what is going to be the 17th India-Russia Annual Summit. Annual India-Russia summits are held alternatively in India and Russia, thanks to the declaration of “the India Russia Strategic Partnership”, signed in October 2000. It was the brainchild of none other than Putin, who sincerely tried to restore the traditional warmth and vibrancy to the bilateral relationship that was lost during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

PM Narendra Modi (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin. PTI

PM Narendra Modi (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin. PTI

Of course, it is unusual that the India-Russia annual summit, an important bilateral feature, is being formally held on the sidelines of an international summit. But then, we have witnessed some other unusual developments on the Indo-Russian front. The other day, India’s Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran had publicly aired his concerns over the adverse impact on the bilateral relations if Moscow continued to expand military relations with Islamabad. “We have conveyed our views to the Russian side that military cooperation with Pakistan, which is a state that sponsors and practices terrorism as a matter of state policy, is a wrong approach. It will only create further problems,” Saran told Ria Novosti, the Russian official news agency.

And it was another unusual event when Russia and Pakistan held their “first-ever” joint military exercises from 24 September to 10 October, in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. It was code-named “Druzhba-2016” (Friendship-2016). The Russian military contingent consisted of more than 70 servicemen of the 34th mountain motorised rifle brigade of its “Southern Military District”. Pakistan has gone to the town in projecting the military exercise as a “historic development”. Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif’s special envoy on Kashmir Mushahid Hussain Syed has boasted at the Atlantic Council, one of the top American think-tanks, that as the United States was no longer a global power, Pakistan would be closer to China and Russia. “There has been slow and steady building of relationship between Moscow and Islamabad,” he said, referring to the joint military exercise between Pakistan and Russia, and then adding “the Russian government has for the first time agreed to sell arms to Pakistan.”

However, now is the time for a reality check. The “first-ever” description, used by Russian and Pakistani officials regarding these military exercises, is not correct in the strict sense of the term. Russia and Pakistan had already conducted two naval exercises — “Arabian Monsoon – 2014” and “Arabian Monsoon – 2015.” Though unlike “Druzhba-2016” (a proper military exercise), these two exercises focused on combating crime groups and blocking drug traffic, the fact remains that the navies of the two countries were involved. Secondly, notwithstanding all talks about Russia-Pakistan defence cooperation, there have not been major arms purchases as yet by Pakistan from Russia; the two have only “finished talks” on four transport helicopters that Russia will sell to Pakistan.

Thirdly, and this is the most important, when Russia was conducting joint military exercise with Pakistan, it was also carrying out a far more sophisticated joint military exercise with India. Called “INDRA-2016”, this exercise took place in the Ussiriysk district in Vladivostok from 23 September to 2 October. Over 500 servicemen, 50 units of equipment, a group of UAVs, and assault and army aviation took part in the drills. 250 soldiers of the Kumaon Regiment represented the Indian contingent. The Russian Armed Forces were represented by 250 soldiers from the 59th Motorised Infantry Brigade. Main focus of this joint exercise was on counter-terrorism operations in semi-mountainous and jungle terrains.

If this is the reality, then how does one explain the Russian policy at present towards Pakistan? Going by the Russian officials, there are two reasons behind Moscow’s behaviour. First, and here I am quoting Russia’s Ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, Russia’s military cooperation with Pakistan will teach the “Pakistani army not to use itself for terror attacks against India.” This will also help to fight “terrorism and drug traffic coming from Afghanistan” (as Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defence, had said in 2015). That the joint military exercise was not against India has been stressed by the Russians. They say that because of India’s sensitivities, Russia did not agree with Pakistan to conduct it in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), including Gilgit and Baltistan.

Secondly, the Russians argue that with the end of the Cold War in general and gradual withdrawal of the American troops from Afghanistan in particular, Pakistan should be viewed as a normal country with which Moscow can do normal business. And since it is normal interaction any sovereign country will do with another normal sovereign country, there is nothing anti-Indian about it. Russians dismiss the theory that by coming closer to Pakistan, they are reacting adversely to India’s growing proximity with the United States in recent years.

However, one may not agree with the Russians on this score. All told, the United States has replaced Russia as India’s largest military supplier, causing a lot of consternations to Moscow, whose substantial export items happen to be the military products (other than oil and gas). But, it will be an exaggeration to cite the Pakistan-factor in undermining the importance of the strategic dimensions in Indo-Russian relations in general and the military component in this relationship in particular.

Even today, Russia provides India around 70 percent of its defence needs. And importantly, the defence cooperation is not exactly restricted to a buyer-seller relationship; it includes now joint design, research and development, joint production, training, and service-to-service contacts. Russia is always prepared to share its most sensitive and newest developments in technology to India that the United States and other Western nations have been reticent to do. Brahmos missile system is a shining example of this type of collaboration. Presently, several similar joint development projects in areas of cutting edge and frontier technologies are being pursued, the most important being the joint development of a fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA).

In fact, when Modi and Putin meet on Saturday, they are expected to clinch the deal worth a billion dollar deal to manufacture 200 Kamov-226 T helicopters under the ‘Make in India’ programme. Besides, they will negotiate over the possibility of India acquiring five S-400 ‘Triumf’ long-range air defense missile systems and upgraded models of the Sukhoi 30-MKI elite fighter jet. These possible deals could fetch Russia at $6 billion. The S-400 missile system, it may be noted, is capable of destroying missiles, drones, and incoming fighter jets within a range of 250 miles (400 km).

Even otherwise, Russia will continue to remain India’s most valued ally for many more years to come. As strategic partners, India and Russia share the same global outlook that the existing architecture of global security, including its mechanisms based on international law, does not ensure the equal security of all nations. This has been emphasised by Russia’s “military doctrine” (February 2010) and “security strategy” (May 2009). The essential features of these two highlight clearly that Russia is not happy with the eastward expansion of Nato, proposed Europe-based missile defence systems, secessionist insurgencies in its territory supported by external elements, rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the neighbouring regions such as Central Asia and South Asia, and the spread of global terrorism fuelled by religion and drugs etc. Needless to point out that almost all these features are also matters of great concern when India plans its overall security within the framework of a multipolar world that shuns unilateralism.

Besides, the fact remains that though Russia may have lost its position as a superpower in Cold War equations, it is still a big power if one goes by any possible definition of the elements that constitute power. It is huge and possesses the largest landmass of the earth as a single country. It strategically abuts on Central Asia, China and Iran, an area of political, security and economic interests to India. Russia is endowed with enormous natural resources, technological capacities and trade potential. It still is the most important military power in the world after the United States. Most significantly, Russia, perhaps, gives a higher priority to India in its foreign policy and strategic calculations than the United States or other power centres of the world, their acknowledgment of India’s rising importance notwithstanding.

All told, Russia never hesitates to transfer its most sophisticated technology to India. It is Russia, which gives its nuclear submarines on lease to India. It is Russia, which has unhesitatingly cooperated with India in its march towards becoming a major space power. It is Russia, which has unhesitatingly established nuclear power stations in India, something that cannot be said of the United States even after the conclusion of civilian nuclear deal. And it is Russia, which has provided the most vocal support for India becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

India has invested heavily in Russia’s hydrocarbon sector. One of India’s most significant overseas investments (2.8 billion dollars) has been in Sakhalin—I (Siberia) for extracting oil. But this is not all. India has also invested more in that region through ONGC Videsh Limited—2.1 billion dollars was the investment for buying a British company called Imperial Energy in the Tomsk region in Siberia. India has been discussing with the Russian side on several more investments where ONGC Videsh Limited is willing to go along with Russian oil and gas majors like Gazprom and Rosneft to invest in different regions of Siberia and even North Russia. In Siberia the regions are Sakhalin-III and there is a region on Timan Pechora, as also there is an interest on the Indian side in the Yamal peninsula, which is a gas-rich area in Northern Russia.

Of course, in today’s world nothing is free and Russia has its own reasons to ensure that India remains its close ally as well. Russia, of late, might have increased its ties manifold with China, India’s principal strategic competitor. It might also open more for Pakistan in days to come. But then the fact remains that Russia needs India as much as it needs China. Likewise, India might have improved its equations with the United States, of late. But then the fact also remains that India needs Russia as much as it needs the United States. Modi-Putin summit on Saturday will reflect this reality.

JNU hypocrisy: No room for courses on Hinduism at premier university

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is in the news again, but this time the national media has treated the news scantily. It has not paid enough attention to the fact that those who were agitating early this year to protect their right to dissent in JNU are now the suppressors of ideas coming from others who are not their “own”. For them, the university will do or practice what they want. It is they who will decide what is to be taught and how the university should be administered. Needless to say that these “dissenters” are mostly the so-called leftists and secularists; dissent for them means that they have the exclusive right to oppose things they do not like, but they deny the same right to those who disagree with them.

Anita Singh, a JNU professor, has told DNA that she was abused and attacked inside the university campus by a group of students, instigated by the Left-dominated students union and teachers association, while she stepped out of the meeting of the university’s statutory decision-making body, the academic council (AC), late on 7 October. Abused as a “sanghi”, Singh, who is the dean, School of Law and Governance, told the paper that she earned the students’ ire because, “I had presented the proposal for introducing a disaster research programme in the university for a trans-disciplinary programme, the talks for which have been going on since 2011, and that has already been passed by five standing committees. But the JNUSU thinks that any new innovation is ‘bhagwakaran‘(saffronisation) and I was attacked as soon as I stepped out.”

File image of the JNU campus. JNU website

File image of the JNU campus. JNU website

Singh has spoken about the events that took place outside the AC meeting. But what happened inside the AC meeting was equally gratuitous. Here, in the name of “secularism”, the majority rejected a proposal of the University Grants Commission (UGC) of introducing three short-term courses in Indian culture and yoga. According to the UGC’s proposed draft, the course on Indian culture aimed at expounding the importance of the country’s culture as well as exploring the etymological, social, spiritual, cultural and mythological aspects and establishing Indian values in the world. “The course will contain the texts, thoughts and traditions of different cultures and include things like religious systems in Indian culture among others. Besides, it will have portions from Vedas and selections from epics and Jatakas and suggestions on readings of Hindu epics like the Ramayana,” the draft read. It was argued in the draft that Indian culture cannot be understood without the help of “Indian literature, which is generally written by sages”.

Now, if JNU, one of India’s foremost universities, refuses to teach Indian culture and yoga with the logic that it would lead to promotion of Hinduism in a secular country, then where else can one study Hinduism in India, where 80 percent of the population happens to be Hindus? And here, I came across a report in the Hindu, dated 13 July, 2013, that said that one Subadra Muthuswami, who had a Master’s degree in public health from Columbia University, hoped to pursue her interest in Hinduism when she returned to India. “Since I am in India, I decided to do research to understand why we practice rituals and rites in Hinduism. But I understand that no university offers a comprehensive course in Hinduism studies,” she told the paper.

Subadra discovered that the University of Madras had programmes in Vaishnavism and Indian philosophy, but not on “Sanatan Dharma” (Hinduism) as a whole, even though the university “has separate departments for Christian and Islamic studies”. She was told by senior professors that “universities are secular places where Hinduism as a religion cannot be taught. Sources in the university said when the department wanted to offer a paper in yoga (which is also a shastra) last year, the move was opposed on the grounds that it was endorsed by a political party.”

One fails to understand that how a university that has departments on Christian and Islamic Studies considers offering a paper on yoga, let alone Hinduism, will tarnish its secular character. As a result, in India one can study Hinduism — and this was what Subadra discovered — only in private or spiritual organisations like Swami Shivananda Institute, Chinmaya Mission, Iskcon and Vedanta Academy (Mumbai).

In contrast, let us the situation abroad. I just did a Google search to find western universities offering courses on Hinduism and Indian culture. And this was what I found. The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies is a recognised “Independent Centre” of Oxford University. The principal aim of the Centre is “the study of Hindu culture, religion, languages, literature, philosophy, history, arts and society, in all periods and in all parts of the world.” Cambridge University teaches Vedanta, Vyakarana and Sanskrit philosophy along with Buddhism. London’s School of Oriental and African Studies offers courses on “Indian philosophy, especially Vyākaraṇa and Mīmāṃsā, Sanskrit philology, Sanskrit scientific literature.” In fact, many British universities such as Sussex, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh have departments on Theology and Religious Studies that teach, among others, “Sāṅkhya and Pātañjala Yoga.” Sweden’s Stockholm university has courses on Indian Philosophy, especially “Nyāya and Buddhism.” In Brussels (Belgium), “Vrije Universiteit” (Antwerp FVG, Faculty for Comparative Study of Religions) teaches Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Indian Philosophy, especially “Vedānta schools and Kaśmīr Śaivism.” University of Vienna (Institute of South Asian, Tibetology and Buddhist Studies) has programmes on “Sanskrit philosophy, Āyurveda and Sanskrit philology.” There are many universities and institutes in Germany that give special emphasis to Sanskrit, Indian philosophical texts and Indian religions, including “Veda, Pāli and Epics”.

Coming to the US, Concordia University States has a chair in Hindu Studies that is dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of Hinduism. There is the J Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University that studies Hinduism. Case Western Reserve University has a department on South Asian religions. So has also Emory University. Then there are famous professors like Wendy Doniger at the University of Chicago who has written many books on Hinduism, some of them controversial though.

The questions that emerge from the illustrated list (not exhaustive) above are this: Are these western educational institutions having departments of theology and offering courses on comparative religions communal? If not, how can the Indian institutions offering courses on Hinduism or related subjects like yoga be branded communal, that too in a country where 80 percent of the people happen to be Hindus? And thirdly, if our “secularists” consider the book on Hinduism (which has shown the religion in negative manner) by American Indologist Wendy Doniger, a Professor of “Religions” in an American university, a great scholarly work, why cannot they promote similar scholarly works in Indian universities? Is it not double standards to applaud work on Hinduism by foreign scholars in foreign universities but deny the Indian scholars to work on the same subject in Indian universities?

File image of JNU students protesting on campus earlier this year. PTI

File image of JNU students protesting on campus earlier this year. PTI

In fact, as the recent development in JNU has proved once again, our so-called liberals and seculars, who dominate the country’s education system, will leave no stone unturned to foil any attempt by any university in India to introduce courses on “Religions”. They will have nothing to do with the promotion of a “dead language” such as Sanskrit. Even any elective, repeat elective, course on “Vastu Sashtra” will be dismissed (as it happened in a Madhya Pradesh University some years ago) as attempts towards “saffronisation”. But minorities can pursue studies on their respective religions. As a result, what we see today is that the Muslims children learn about Islam and the Quran in Madrasas and the Christian children learn the essence of Christianity and the Bible in educational institutions founded and managed by them. Under the Indian Constitution, the minorities are allowed to have their own educational institutions and the certificates or degrees thereof are recognised legally.

In contrast, the children of the majority of the Hindu community do not have such facilities. Even at the school-level, whenever there are attempts to teach the children about the Ramayana, the Mahabharata or the Gita, the “secular brigade” makes a lot of hue and cry. And ironically, all these elements, who dominate the Indian academia and media, will want books critical of Hinduism to flourish in India but they will advise against the circulation of anything that is critical of other religions.

Such are their double standards!

Surgical strikes: Political involvement is what separates the latest operation from the others

Away from the increasing politicisation of the recent surgical strikes that the Indian armed forces conducted across the Line of Control (LoC), one aspect that is not properly highlighted in our discourse on the subject is the fact that it was a “strategic decision” — a decision taken at the highest level of the political leadership of the country (involving the Prime Minister of India). Such strikes, as the Congress rightly points out, were carried out in the past (it claims that there were three such strikes in between 2011 and 2014). But the difference between the strikes conducted when Manmohan Singh was the prime minister and the ones conducted last fortnight is that unlike the recent ones, the past strikes were “tactical” in nature. And this is something both the former army chief General Bikram Singh, and his DGMO Lieutenant-General Vinod Bhatia, have confirmed.

Though attempts have been made in a section of the media to portray that General Bikram Singh and General Bhatia have said differently (presumably because of their differing political preferences) on the subject, any dispassionate analysis will reveal that in essence, they were talking the same language. Both of them have said that the strikes across the LoC in the past were “a routine matter” and “tactical” in nature, which the previous governments were keeping secret.

PM Narendra Modi. Reuters

PM Narendra Modi. Reuters

In fact, General Singh has repeated what he had said on 31 July, 2014, the day he retired. While talking to the press on his last day in office, he informed how India gave a befitting reply to Pakistan, whose Army, on 8 January, 2013, had beheaded Lance Naik Hemraj and mutilated the body of Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh along the LoC in Poonch sector of J&K. “It (retaliation) has been done. Please understand that when we use force, that use is from tactical to operational to strategic levels…It has been done at the tactical level by local commanders… chiefs don’t get involved in it.”

It is worth emphasising what General Singh had said. The force is used “from tactical to operational to strategic levels”. Strategic level decisions are made by the political leadership, operational level decisions are taken by the senior military commanders in coordination with or permission from the Army Headquarters in Delhi, and tactical decisions are the preserve of the local commanders, where “chiefs don’t get involved in it.”

General Bhatia, in his interview to a TV channel, has also said the same thing. Though political twists have been given to his statement as he challenged the Congress thesis that under the UPA regime, the three surgical strikes were similar in nature to the latest strikes under the Modi-government, the former DGMO had a point when he said, “We never carried out such strikes earlier. They were not strikes, but actions carried out at very very local level. When you are firefighting, you may go across the LoC a few meters, but then you cannot call them cross border strikes.”

What exactly then are the differences? The surgical strikes this time were conducted simultaneously at multiple spots, a first of its kind. “The current strikes are a class apart, they are perfect. They are a well thought out action done at a national level, with strategic and tactical planning. They have yielded the desired results and more importantly, they have displayed India’s strategic resolve and strong political will,” General Bhatia said.

Not only has the Modi government gone to town on these strikes, which have been video-graphed (but not released), but, according to some reports, the Prime Minister and Defence Minister were seeing the live-actions throughout the night (like US President Barack Obama who, with his team, witnessed in 2011 the live-actions of his Special Forces, Navy Seal, killing Osama bin Laden in Abottabad). Secondly, the follow-ups of the strikes have been well-coordinated with the Ministry of External Affairs; the Indian diplomacy has been pretty active in explaining to the international community only why the strikes took place but also its limited nature (of fighting the terror outfits in Pakistani soil, not waging a limited war against Pakistan).

Of course, it is a legitimate question whether it was a proper decision to conduct surgical strikes of this intensity (at the strategic level) that has got every possibility of counter-strikes from Pakistan, resulting in an unavoidable war between the two countries. Would not it have been better to conduct a tactical-level strike following the Uri-attack?

Answer to this question has to be “political” in the sense that the Modi government has taken a political risk by what it has done. It can justify its actions by arguing that these are difficult times that the country is undergoing. The national morale was very low following the terror strikes at the Uri military camp, and that too at a time when the Kashmir valley is under turbulence and Pakistan is leaving no stone unturned to internationalise the Kashmir problem. In such a situation, it is incumbent on the Prime Minister of the day to intervene and restore the national confidence by creating situations whose symbolic value is immense for the nation and the rest of the world to take note of. But this does not necessarily mean that the Prime Minister will always be involved in matters that are best left to the local commanders. The surgical strikes in question should, therefore, be treated as a rare or one-time case.

But now the more important questions are: how did the Prime Minister take this one-time decision? Was it a collective decision of the Cabinet Committee on Security that he heads and comprises the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Home Affairs, and the Minister of External Affairs? Did the National Security Council (NSC) provide some inputs to the decision-making? Or, was it essentially a decision taken in an ad hoc manner by the Prime Minister with a select group of officials, including the National Security Adviser (NSA), involved in the process? All these are very important questions that, surprisingly, have not figured properly in our national discourse following the latest surgical strikes.

Let us face the sad reality that India’s national security decision-making processes so far have been archaic and anarchic. We have a got an NSC about whose functioning nobody knows. The NSC is supposed to be a three-tiered organisation that operates within the office of the Prime Minister, “liaising between the government’s executive branch and the intelligence services, advising leadership on intelligence and security issues”. It comprises the Strategic Policy Group (headed by the Cabinet Secretary, it is responsible for inter-ministerial coordination and involves three Service Chiefs and secretaries of core ministries like foreign affairs, defence, interior, finance, atomic energy and space beside the heads of the Intelligence agencies and the Governor of Reserve Bank), the National Security Advisory Board(consisting of retired officials and strategic analysts from the media, think-tanks and universities), a secretariat from the Joint Intelligence Committee and the NSA.

However, nobody knows how exactly the NSC functions. There is a complete dearth of information on the functioning of the NSC. In fact, many doubt whether it functions at all. Former Deputy NSA Satish Chandra has described the performance of the NSC as far from satisfactory. The SPG (Strategic Policy Group) hardly meets. In strict sense of the term, there is no National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) at the moment. The NSAB’s two-year tenure ended in January 2015, but the Modi government has not constituted a new one in its place as yet. In fact, there have been reports that the government wants to do away with the NSAB as a body altogether.

Even otherwise, the Modi government has not undertaken any major reforms in the arena of national security in the last two-and-a-half years of its tenure. The military leadership of the country is highly disgruntled that its voice is not being heard in the civilian-controlled Ministry of Defence. A long standing demand for having a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or any other equivalent post to be a single-source of interactions between the military and the political leadership has not been made. The country’s intelligence-gathering system is highly fragmented.

All these things are really surprising since many expected that if any government could vitalise India’s national security structure, it was the Modi government. In fact, the BJP’s elections manifesto in 2014 had promised that the Modi government will “reform the National Security Council to make it the hub of all sector-related assessments”, “completely revamp the intelligence gathering system by modernising the intelligence department”, and “ensure greater participation of Armed Forces in the decision-making process of the Ministry of Defence”. Regrettably, there have been no signs of implementation of such promises, although the present government has competed half of its term.

And that means that behind all the bravado surrounding the latest surgical strikes, India’s national security decisions continue to be ad hoc in nature, a sad scenario for a rising global power.

Pakistan is a terror state: Sanctions won’t work as long as it enjoys support from China

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s address to the United Nations on Monday was candid and categorical about Pakistan belonging to a group of nations “that still speak the language of terrorism, that nurture it, peddle it, and export it.” However, many in India, including the principal opposition Congress party, are disappointed that she, or for that matter the Modi government, has not been brave enough to declare Pakistan “a terrorist state”. In fact, the Congress now demands a special session of parliament to discuss the security situation, minimise interactions with Pakistan and declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

Meanwhile, parliamentarian Rajeev Chandrashekhar has written to Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari giving notice to introduce a Bill to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. The Bill – titled Declaration of States as Sponsor of Terrorism Bill, 2016 – aims at withdrawing economic and trade relations with Pakistan, imposing economic and travel sanctions on Pakistani citizens and punishing any resident or citizen of India if he or she violates the new law on Pakistan with imprisonment for a term extending to five years in prison, or fine, or both.

What is equally notable is that fact that it is not only India where law makers want Pakistan to be declared a terrorist state. Last week in the United States (22 September), two lawmakers, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism Ted Poe and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, moved a bill in Congress seeking designation of Pakistan as a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’. Terming Pakistan as an “untrustworthy ally” that “has also aided and abetted enemies of the US for years”, they want President Barack Obama to issue a report within 90 days of passage of the bill detailing whether or not Pakistan has provided support for ‘international terrorism’, thirty days after which “the Secretary of State must issue a follow-up report containing either a determination that Pakistan is state sponsor of terrorism or a detailed justification as to why Pakistan does not meet the legal criteria for designation.”

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

There is even a petition on the White House website asking for Pakistan to be declared as a state sponsor of terrorism. It is gathering massive support from netizens. According to The Times of India, created with a goal of 100,000 signatures on 21 September, there have been over 82,000 signatories in less than five days. The petition states that declaring Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism is “important to the people of United States of America, India and many other countries which are continuously affected by Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.”

Incidentally, this was not the first time that there are voices in the US demanding punishment to Pakistan. There have been occasions when the US lawmakers have curtailed and suspended economic and military aid to Pakistan for its duplicity on the front of fighting terrorism. In fact, in 1993, there was an equally powerful move in the US to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. Once designated a terrorist state, Pakistan or for that matter any other country, the designation triggers unilateral sanctions by the US that include “a ban on weapons exports and sales; the imposition of financial and other curbs, as well as a ban on economic assistance; and restrictions on the exports of items that can be used by the country to enhance its military capability or its ability to support terrorism.”

With the removal of Cuba from the list in April this year, North Korea in 2008, Libya in 2006 and Iraq in 1982 (that time the US was supporting Sadam Hussain), there are at present three countries designated as terrorist states under US laws : Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Coming back to Pakistan, the pertinent question is: Does Pakistan really deserve to be a terrorist state? If so, then why has it not been so designated so far?

None other than a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, has written in his book, Magnificent Delusions, about how his government, through its army and intelligence agencies (ISI in particular), aids and abets the murder of civilians by terrorist organisations. Carlotta Gall , a journalist with the The New York Times and the author of The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014, has described in details how Pakistan facilitated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda offensives and gave shelter and protection to Osama bin Laden till his death in 2011. So much so that in 2012, a Pakistani court brought down a guilty verdict against the Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, who helped the CIA locate bin Laden in May 2011 for “treason” and convicted him of 33-year prison sentence.

In fact, though a Western ally in the war on terrorism, Pakistan does more to enable the jihadis than fight them. As has been pointed out by a former US diplomat, Peter Tomsen, who served in the region, Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, has actively supported militant groups in Kashmir (and the rest of India and Afghanistan). Though three of those groups — Harakat ul Mujahidin, Lashkar-e Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-I Mohammad — are on the US State Department’s list of terrorist organisations, Pakistan supports them. On the Afghanistan front, the ISI assists on the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and the Hekmatyar outfit (which has just reached a compromise with the Afghan government). “It becomes plain that Pakistani spooks effectively are co-coordinating a horizontally diversified terrorist empire spanning three nations (India, Pakistan and Afghanistan)”, writes Tomsen.

Incidentally, the LeT and its leader Hafiz Saeed are proscribed by the United Nations under UNSC Resolution 1267 that requires member-states to impose asset freezes, travel bans and arms embargos. But for Pakistani ISI, Saeed is its most treasured asset against India. So is Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar, the mastermind behind the recent Uri-attack. Similarly, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, moves freely around Pakistan and regularly visits the Pakistani intelligence headquarters of the Afghan campaign in Rawalpindi. Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the new leader of the Taliban, guides his military campaign from his base in near the Pakistani town of Quetta. And, Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, enjoys sanctuary in Pakistan in the southwestern corner of Baluchistan.

In his book Deadly Connections: States That Sponsor Terrorism, Daniel Byman points out how Pakistan’s funding, arming, training and diplomatic support of varied terrorist groups active in Kashmir have emboldened the terrorists all over the world. So close is the tie between the Pakistani state and these outfits that its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) “selects targets, including civilian ones and knows about major attacks in advance”, writes Byman. And what is worse, it is the Pakistani Army that is “Islamicising” Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba. “Pakistan also inserted foreign fighters from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to boost the sagging fortunes of these movements from time to time”, Byman adds.

In fact, Pakistani territory is now being used to nurture global terror, particularly in Europe and the United States. All major terror incidents have invariably some Pakistani link or the other. The bombings that injured 29 people in New York early this month was done by one Ahmad Khan Rahami, a 28-year-old naturalised US citizen born in Afghanistan, who was trained in Pakistan in 2014. Similarly, the aborted bomb attempt at New York’s Times Square in May 2010 was by Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old Pakistani-American, who had close links with the Jaish-e Muhammad (JeM) and LeT.

Pakistan has produced the CIA shooter Mir Aimal Kasi; the 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef (born in Kuwait to Pakistani parents); 11 September attacks (9/11) mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s kidnapper, Omar Saeed Sheikh; and three of the four men behind the July 2005 train and bus bombings in London. And as the Wall Street Journal columnist Sadanand Dhume points out, “the list of jihadists not from Pakistan themselves — but whose passage to jihadism passes through that country — is even longer. Among them are Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mohamed Atta, shoe bomber Richard Reid, and John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban. Over the past decade, Pakistani fingerprints have shown up on terrorist plots in, among other places, Germany, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands.”

As I have invariably argued, since its establishment as a separate country based on religious ideology in 1947, Pakistan has attempted to use religious extremism and terrorism as tools, in addition to its military forces, to ensure its continued existence. Pakistan has established more madrassas than schools with the objective to empower, train and recruit people for the jihad in various parts of the world. A recent study says that it has more than 150,000 religious schools (madrassas), most of whom are training recruits in extremism and violence under the name of Islam.

Despite all these clinching evidences, if Pakistan has not been declared a terrorist state by the countries that matter in the world, it is essentially because of geopolitical imperatives. Pakistan is exploiting its geographic location of connectivity to West Asia, Central Asia and South Asia to the fullest. The US has been dependent on Pakistan for logistical support in its Afghan war. Secondly, Pakistan is successfully blackmailing the rest of the world for more indulgence, lest it will be active in nuclear and missile proliferations. Thirdly, it enjoys the support of China, which behaves now as the ultimate super power of the world. No sanctions against Pakistan will work as long as it, like North Korea, enjoys the Chinese military and economic support. On the other hand, with sanctions, one will lose whatever leverage one has with Pakistan and thus will be entirely at the mercy of China (as is the case now with North Korea) to control the Pakistani misdemeanors, a highly dangerous proposition.

India set to sign Rafale deal on Friday further cementing Indo-French strategic ties

The decade-long saga will bear “some” fruits when India ultimately signs tomorrow a deal with France for 36 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) Dassault Rafale fighter jets. Note the deliberate use of the word “some”, as the original intention was to procure 126 of such aircraft to begin with and possibly 63 additional aircraft at a later date.

The deal that is to be signed will cost India about Rs 58,000 crore or so (7.8 billion Euros) for 36 off-the-shelf Dassault Rafale twin-engine fourth generation multi-role fighter aircraft, 15 percent of which will be paid in advance. The MBDA Missile Systems of France will supply the weapons package, and that country’s Thales Group will be responsible for the fighter jet’s avionics. It is also understood that the first Rafale warplanes are slated to be delivered roughly within 18 months of the signing of the final contract, during which suggestions of the Indian Air Force (IAF) for any customised version of the aircraft, including modifications and reconfigurations, to allow the installation of Indian-made and commercial off-the-shelf systems and weapons will be taken into account.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

The deal also envisages the conclusion of an accompanying offset clause, according to which France will invest 30 percent of the 7.8 billion Euros in India’s military aeronautics-related research programmes and 20 percent into local production of Rafale components. Besides, French defence contractors will supply radar and thrust vectoring for missiles technologies.

In addition, the French are believed to be willing to invest one billion Euros to revive the Kaveri engine project, according to media reports. They are also ready to share engine technology keeping in mind Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ mission. If true, this will help enormously our indigenous LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) Tejas project. Media reports also suggest that Dassault, the manufacturer of Rafale, has shown its willingness to partner with a private Indian company to manufacture structural parts for its Falcon executive jets.

The IAF has got every reason to be happy now. Given India’s geopolitical challenges, the IAF would love to have 45 squadrons (each squadron usually has 12 to 18 aircraft); at least 42 squadrons. Presently, the IAF has 35 squadrons (this is what Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha had told me not long ago), though, according to a latest Parliamentary Standing Committee news on defence, a tangible strength ( implying fighting conditions) might be down to 25 squadrons. As a result, the IAF has been heavily banking on the MMRCA deal, along with the indigenous production of Tejas – both Mark 1 and Mark 2 – in the Light Combat Category (LAC) and the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), to be co-developed with Russia. The IAF, at the moment, is excessively dependent on Su-30 MKI (from Russia) for any exigencies.

It may be noted that the deal for 36 aircraft was initiated by Modi in France last year after the mega 126 MMRCA deal was scrapped, following complications in the negotiations between India and France over the tender and the procurement procedure.

The Rafale saga started in August 2007 when India floated its Request for Proposals (RFP) for the MMRCA. Over the next two years, six companies entered the race — the American Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper, the French Dassault Aviation Rafale, the Russian RSK MiGs MiG-35, the European Eurofighter Consortium’s Typhoon, and the Swedish Saab Gripen NG (Next Generation). In between 2009 and 2010, the IAF supervised trials and demonstrations in the home countries of these manufacturers as well as in Indian locations such as Bengaluru, Jaisalmer and Leh.

It is said that the IAF tested these aircraft on 660 technical benchmarks. It also took into account the RFP’s requirement that 60 percent of the aircraft’s technology be transferred to India in four phases. Of the 126 aircraft, the first 18 were to be delivered in a flyaway form by the original equipment manufacturer, with the remaining 108 to be assembled in India through a combination of kits supplied by the foreign seller and indigenous Indian production. The idea was to ensure that 50 percent of the foreign exchange component of the purchase costs was defrayed through direct of sets within the Indian aerospace sector.

On the basis of the IAF’s feedback, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) opted for Rafale in 2012 for about $10 billion, but the price subsequently was hiked by Dassult to $22 billion. Meanwhile, dirty campaigns were made by many, who had argued for other bidders that quality-wise Rafale was inferior to Eurofighter Typhoon, or for that matter to Boeing’s F-18 and Lockheed’s F-16. A Russian Ambassador to India claimed that Chinese Sukhoi Flankers (sold by Russia) “will swat the Rafale like mosquitoes”. A senior member of the ruling BJP has said that, but for the kickbacks received by senior functionaries of the then Congress-led government under Manmohan Singh, Typhoon, not Rafale, would have been the choice.

These charges against Rafale may not hold water. All told, the IAF was deeply impressed with it during the trials for the bid. The Rafale’s greatest strength, especially in the air combat arena, is its ability to acquire, process and fuse information from multiple sensors and present it to the pilot in a single tactical display. During its trials, the IAF pilots were said to be greatly impressed by the aircraft’s remarkable cockpit ergonomics and human-factors engineering as manifested in its sensors, controls, interfaces, and displays. In fact, Rafale performed, and this factor might have tilted the scale in its favour, much better than the Eurofighter during the Nato-operations in Libya and Afghanistan. The second great advantage that it had over its rival was that it could be very well mastered by the pilots of the French Mirage 2000, which India already has. A pilot of a Mirage can very easily be trained to fly a Rafale.

Another factor in favour of the Rafale is that it could be the best platform for India in near future for delivering nuclear weapons against its enemies. Of course, our nuclear doctrine (if at all there is one) is based on the concept of a triad – delivering weapons from air (aircraft), ground (missiles such as Prthivi and Agni) and water (submarines such as Arihant). Arihant, however, is not fully functional as yet. Our land-based launchers still need much more rigorous testing regimens to be 100 percent reliable. Therefore, it is an open secret that at the moment the best delivery platform for nuclear weapons happens to be the French Mirages, which were modified by the Dassault (also manufacturer of Mirage) in the 1990s at India’s request by keeping nuclear weapons in mind.

It is in this context that while choosing Rafale over other five contenders, the Indian government had taken in to account not only the factors of technology transfer, prices and performance but also the importance of France as India’s strategic partner. It is true of every major country that geopolitical factor plays an important role in big-ticket purchases. As it is, the IAF was a satisfied user of the long standing French fighters, going back to the 1950s. It was also particularly appreciative of the performance of French Mirages during the 1999 Kargil campaign against Pakistan, and of the support it then obtained from France. It is important to note that during that time India obtained French clearance – and possibly more – to urgently adapt Israeli and Russian-supplied laser-guided bombs to the Mirages, which were thus able to successfully engage high-altitude targets that Indian MiG-23s and MiG-27s had been unable to reach.

It is noteworthy that France’s steadfastness as a military ally contrasts strongly with that of the United States, which has not a good reputation of being a reliable supplier of military items and technologies. It vetoed or slowed components for the LCA that India is developing. It had imposed otherwise arms embargo on India following its nuclear tests in 1998. Similar geopolitical reasons went against the Eurofighter, jointly made by Germany, Italy, Britain and Spain. Not only these countries had reservations on the technology transfer, the fact also remained that their reliability during a war was a suspect. After all, if there is a war, German laws prohibit delivery of weapons and spares. Italian and Spanish laws are not clear on the issue. France, on the other hand, is the only major Western nation (other than Russia) not to impose sanctions on India.

When the Rafale deal is concluded tomorrow, it will further cement the growing Indo-French strategic relations. All told, France has been the first Western power to have supported India’s claim for a permanent membership of the UN Security Council. France, unlike its other partners in the Western Alliance, did not impose any sanctions on India after the latter went nuclear in 1998; in fact, it did not even “condemn” the nuclear tests. Besides, France was the first country with which India conducted a joint naval exercise called ‘Varun’ after the 1998 nuclear tests; this exercise has become quite frequent over years. Similarly, the IAF’s first bilateral exercise in 2003 with a foreign counterpart—’the Garuda I’— was again with the French Air Force.

India’s choice of Rafale has come at the top of three existing defence projects with France — the Rs 50,000-crore for six Scorpene submarines, nearly Rs 15,000-crore upgrade for 51 Mirage-2000s and about Rs 10000-crore acquisition of 490 MICA missile systems. Additionally, France is all set to provide nuclear reactors for power generation. In short, the going is pretty good as far as the Indo-French friendship is concerned.

Avenging Uri terror attack isn’t that simple for India: We need our very own Navy Seals

India is unlikely to resort to any military action, whether direct or indirect, against Pakistan to avenge the Uri terror attack in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed.

It seems that the military commanders have advised the Modi government against any “rash military action”. Their rationale, it is understood, is that Pakistan at the moment is fully prepared to negate any such actions. The military commanders seem to suggest therefore that it is better to wait for a more opportune time to strike at the terrorists (including their top leaders) and terrorist camps in Pakistani or Pakistan-controlled territories. The standard phrase thus is “at a time of our choosing” for conducting such strikes or raids in a “graded, sequenced and synchronized” way.

In other words, the “hybrid wars” that Pakistan has imposed on India, of late, will remain unchallenged for some more time. “Hybrid war”, a term popularised by the American strategic analyst Frank Hoffman, means multiple types of warfare being used simultaneously by the adversary. Here, it will engage in irregular warfare, often taking the help of the non-state actors in its territory, apart from preparing for the conventional war to serve its ends. And when one talks of the irregular war, it involves terrorist mercenaries, deadly criminals, drug-traffickers and insurgents etc. in the enemy country.

The idea here is to unleash indiscriminate violence (often communal), coercion and criminal disorder. At the strategic levels, hybrid wars ensure that there is a clear linkage between the regular and irregular (the so-called non-state actors); in fact, in many a case the distinction between them gets blurred. They are operationally integrated and tactically fused. In fact, under hybrid war, the warfare becomes quite unrestricted. Multiple means – military but more non-military – are used against the enemy. Hacking into websites, targeting financial institutions, terrorism, using the media, and conducting urban warfare are among the methods championed. There are no rules or norms of war; in fact nothing is forbidden.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

These elements of hybrid war perfectly match Pakistan’s policies towards India. No wonder Pakistan did not find any role of Hafiz Saeed in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. It does not find anything wrong in Saeed’s relentless hate-speeches against India. Similarly this time too, it will not find any role of Masood Azhar, chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, in the Uri attack.

Why is it that India is not able to wage such hybrid wars against Pakistan? What is it that India is lagging behind Pakistan in “sub-conventional war” capability (also called strategic asymmetry)? These are the questions the Modi government should mull over.

One often comes across India developing ‘Special Forces’ for carrying out surgical strikes in the neighbouring region if its national interests so dictate. But then the fact remains that we have too many of such ‘Special Forces’. The first in the series came with the Special Frontier Force (SFF) or Establishment 22, a force raised post the 1962 Sino-Indian War with US help and manned by exiled Tibetans for “behind-enemy-lines activities” if the Chinese were to launch another invasion of India. Then, we had the “Meghdoot Force” raised in Army’s Western Command during the 1965 Indo-Pak War. The Army today has its “Para” (Special Forces). In course of time, the Navy and Air Force have built their respective special forces – Marine Commandos (MARCOS) of the Navy and Garud of the Air Force. Then, we have raised the National Security Guard (NSG).

However, the fact remains that despite having so many Special Forces, the only time they have been used outside the country (other than the United Nations operations) was in 1987 as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka, where all the then three Para (Commando) battalions in conjunction with MARCOS gave a good account of themselves. One is told that following 26/11 attacks on Mumbai in 2008, the then Air Force Chief Fali Homi Major had told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he was prepared to strike inside Pakistan; but he could not do so because the intelligence services could not provide adequate digital data on Lashkar camps. Then Army chief Deepak Kapoor also demurred, saying the Army was not prepared for a brief surgical war. Remarkably, the Army speaks the same language even now.

Be that as it may, India is perhaps the only country whose Special Forces have no centralised command structure. We have a variety of Special Forces under varied chains of command ranging from Services Headquarters for Military Special Forces, NSG under the Ministry of Home Affairs, SFF under the Cabinet Secretariat. In early 1990s, the then Chief of Naval Staff had put up a proposal to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for integrating the Special Forces of the Services; but in vein. Proposals to put the NSG, particularly its Special Action Group (SAG), under the command the Army have also remained on paper. As a result, the variety of Indian Special Forces have little synergy, thereby failing to optimize their potent combat capabilities. And this is all the more surprising, given the fact that one of the reasons India bought six C-130 Hercules transport aircraft was for special-forces operations.

There have been speculations that the Modi government is about to give the green signal for the setting up a Special Operations Command (SOC) to counter terrorism and conduct unconventional warfare and covert operations in the country and the neighbourhood. The MoD has apparently approved the SOC in principle and the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), chaired by the Prime Minister, is likely to give the final approval. Headed by a Lieutenant-General, the proposed command will report to the National Security Advisor (NSA) and work closely with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) as the commandos may have to carry out strategic strikes outside Indian boundaries.

In fact, this proposal predates to the UPA government which had set up the 14-member Naresh Chandra Taskforce on National Security. The Taskforce in its recommendations submitted to the Prime Minister in 2012 had suggested setting up three commands, including Special Operations, Cyber and Aerospace, to keep abreast with the fast changing nature of war fighting. The Cyber command is supposed to be headed by a Vice Admiral and the Aerospace command will be managed by an Air Marshall. Once put in shape, the Special Operations Command will see the integration of the commandos of Special Forces of the Army, MARCOS of the Navy and Garud of IAF. They will deal with “out of area” contingencies.

While, personally, I am in favour of the creation of the SOC, it will be little unrealistic to expect that it will deliver results in near future. In my considered view, the SOC will have teething problems and it will take years for becoming effective. All said, if the US Navy Seals succeeded in conducting an Abottabad type operation that killed Osama bin Laden, it was because the CIA provided adequate intelligence inputs for the operation. In contrast, India’s intelligence capabilities are quite limited, the contrary claims of the Research Analysis wing (RAW) notwithstanding. Another thing we should be realistic about is that we simply do not have the technological assets that the US has for these operations. We have then huge political constraints in the sense that our political class is not reputed for taking hard decisions, particularly when it pertains to launching cross-border commando raids.

Here one would like to quote novelist Aravind Adiga, who is really apt in describing what our leaders say regarding New Delhi’s response to the next major terrorist strike: “The government will immediately threaten to attack Pakistan, then realise that it cannot do so without risking nuclear war, and finally beg the US to do something. Once it is clear that the government has failed on every front – military, tactical and diplomatic – against the terrorists, senior ministers will appear on television and promise that, next time, they will be prepared and teach Pakistan a lesson.”

This being the case, the only thing India can do effectively, and it seems to be doing so, is to isolate Pakistan internationally by launching a series of diplomatic offensives. The very fact that Russia has called off its joint military exercise with Pakistan is a victory for Indian diplomacy.

Uri terror attack: Three lessons for India from one of the worst strikes this century

The deadliest terror attack on the Indian Army since the Kaluchak tragedy on 14 May, 2002 (taking the lives of 12 civilians and 22 security personnel) took place at Uri on the Black Sunday of 18 September, 2016, in which 17 soldiers were martyred. Of course in the process, all the four attackers, who happened to be suicide bombers or fidayeen, were killed. But the gruesome incident provides three lessons.

First, whatever the critics may say, the fact was that there was no intelligence failure this time about such an attack. In fact, it was widely reported last week that there would be “spectacular terror attacks’ on India’s military bases, though, in the context of the attacks on the Pathankot Airbase in January this year, airbases were under greater alert.

In that sense, if the attacks did take place, then one has to admit that there were serious security lapses in Uri, which had undergone a similar attack in December 2014 when nine soldiers were killed. Uri is 19 km inside the Line of Control (LoC) and 40 km from Baramula, a town that is in the news because of the stone-throwing protestors. As General Raj Mehta, one of our perceptive military veterans, says, it is really worrisome how and where breaches in security occurred to allow unchallenged access to the fidayeen to the base or camp for so many kilometres inside the Indian territory.

An Army man stand guards near Army Brigade camp during a terror attack in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday. PTIAn Army man stand guards near Army Brigade camp during a terror attack in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday. PTI

An Army man stand guards near Army Brigade camp during a terror attack in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday. PTI

Therefore, the immediate need of the hour is to identify and plug these breaches. Besides, it is quite possible that there are sleeper cells in the area, which the local Police are unable to deal with. The very facts that the terrorists were well-acquainted with the area and its topography, that they knew that the camp at Uri was undergoing a change-over (a new batch of soldiers replacing the existing one), that they attacked the rear of the camp, not its heavily–guarded front facing the LoC, and that they knew about the arrangements inside the camp (their goal was to go up to the officers’ mess and blow it up for deadlier fire. As it is, more soldiers who were sleeping died after being trapped in the fire caused by the explosion, and not by the bullets of the suicide bombers) make it obvious that they were fully trained for the occasion. And for this occasion, the security forces were far from being prepared.

Of course, the Army can say that it is difficult to identify the fidayeen in “our uniforms” in the rear areas early in the morning when it is a fact that soldiers at the camps often use the open space while responding to “the call of nature”. All told, and this is the second lesson of Uri, that ever since the phenomenon of using fidayeen or suicide-terrorists began in Lebanon in 1983, there has been no concrete remedial measures. And that is due to the fact that unlike other terrorists, the fidayeen are indoctrinated for months to lay down their lives (in case of the Islamic terrorists, as was the case in Uri, they are told how after death they will go to the paradise where they will be provided with the choicest virgins to sleep with), not save their lives during a fight. And that is why, they, according to Rand Corporation’s study, kill on average four times as many people as other terrorists do.

Besides, earlier suicide terrorists were relatively easier to detect – “they carried bombs in nylon backpacks or duffel bags rather than in belts or vests concealed beneath their clothing, as they do now.” They were mostly unmarried males, uneducated and in the age group of 17 and 23. And attacks were by one suicide terrorist at a time. However, now suicide bombers are middle-aged and young, married and unmarried; some of them have even children. And they attack now in a group, not alone. Their attacks are preceded by long logistical trails.

Therefore, it is a vital necessity now to understand the terrorists’ operational environment, know their modus operandi and targeting patterns. There must be concerted efforts to gather intelligence from places where terrorists conceal themselves and seek to establish and hide their infrastructure. Though it is necessarily not valid in anti-terrorism measures in Kashmir (where terrorists come from across the border with all their material and training), it is vital elsewhere to encourage businessmen from whom terrorists purchase bomb-making components (ammonium nitrate fertiliser; pipes, batteries, and wires) to alert the authorities in case of large purchases. The law-enforcement agencies should be aware of places such as schools, colleges and religious institutions where bombers are recruited. This aspect has now become relevant even in Kashmir, where the youth, as the current agitation proves, is being polarised on religious lines and is increasingly getting “Islamised”.

It does not need any elaboration that the Uri-attack, like any standard terrorist attack, was aimed at undermining the public confidence in the ability of the authorities to protect and defend citizens, thereby creating a climate of fear and intimidation amenable to terrorist exploitation. It is obvious that Pakistan is trying its best to exploit the disturbances in the Kashmir valley, undermine the effectiveness of the government led by Mehbooba Mufti, spread fear by contagion, immobilise and subjugate those living under the threats.

But will Pakistan succeed in its game-plan? “No” is the answer, and this is the third lesson of Uri-attack. The crude attack was meant to give a severe psychological blow to the Modi government and isolate it from the rest of India’s top political parties. In fact, every terror incident in a liberal democracy soon gets politicised, with the opposition and opponents of the ruling party taking the government to task. The terrorists’ main job here is to create disunity, demoralise the government of the day and divide the nation on how to tackle the situation. Viewed thus, the Uri attack has failed in its goal. There has been a remarkable solidarity amongst India’s political class; almost all the parties and leaders have responded with responsible remarks ( the singular exception, according to me, is the former Chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah, who, in fact, is playing the most notorious role these days in adding fuel to the fire in Kashmir) that Pakistan’s nefarious designs will not succeed, that India will not fall to its knees and that Kashmir shall remain an integral part of India.

Pakistan should realise that the recent history of the world shows political objectives such secession and independence have never been realised through terrorism. In his recent book, Does Terrorism Work? A History, Richard English has shown how Al-Qaida, the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland, Hamas (it wants the elimination of Israel) and the Basque separatist group ETA in Spain, and a score of others have all failed in realising their objectives. Similarly, Kashmir cannot be separated from India through terrorism or violence.

But then English suggests that if a terrorist campaign has no real chance of achieving its grandiose aims, the State should not overreact to it. This is particularly important for the Modi government to mull over. While the prevention of terrorist atrocities is an essential part of public security, “it is a mistake to exaggerate the threat terrorists pose, beyond the atrocities themselves. It only leads to action that makes the situation worse”. English proves this point by giving the example of the post-9/11 “War on Terror” that witnessed an increase in the number both of terrorist actions and of terrorist-generated fatalities.

Instead, English favours a ‘calm, measured, patient reaction’ that focuses on prevention rather than “wars to end evil”. Though English’s suggestion seems reasonable, then the fact remains that it has to contend with the emotions aroused by terrorist acts and their inflammatory political effect in countries where they occur, given the acute problems that democracies like France, the United States and India face today. Is there a way out?

How about trying out a “calm, measured and patient” strike inside Pakistani territory, eliminating one Hafiz Saeed, the co-founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba or one Masood Azhar, chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed , the so-called non-sate actors who master the terror campaigns against India and whom Pakistan uses as instruments of its state- policy?

Were it not for Nehru, India would have been a UNSC member, global power already

If their recent records in office are any indication, the BJP and the Congress, despite their serious differences on many issues, agree on three important foreign policy goals.

1) India becoming a permanent power in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC),
2) India gaining global legitimacy as a nuclear power even if it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
3) India emerging as a major global power, particularly in what is now called the Indo-Pacific region.

In fact, Indian diplomats, whether under Manmohan Singh or under Narendra Modi, have been striving very hard towards the realisation of these three goals.

However, it is great irony that all these three goals were eminently realisable in the past. In fact, all the three exalted statuses that India wants to have (rather, deserves to have) were offered to India on a platter by the then-powerful nations of the world soon after the country’s Independence; but then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru refused them on what appears in retrospect, dubious grounds.

Representational image. AP

Representational image. AP

The Nehruvian thoughts that overwhelmingly dominate our intelligentsia and political class never questioned Nehru’s foreign policy decisions; but now things are changing. It is not that Nehru’s decisions on those three issues were not known before. What happened in the past was that whenever and whoever tried to bring them into public parlance, the dominant Nehruvites ridiculed them and justified Nehru’s decisions. As a result, a majority of Indians do not know that but for Nehru, India would have been a permanent member of the UNSC, a legitimate nuclear power and a leading global power in the 1950s.

It is against this background that former foreign secretary MK Rasgotra’s assertion while releasing his new book “A Life in Diplomacy” at Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF) early this week that former US president John F Kennedy offered India all the help to detonate a nuclear device much before China did it in 1964, assumes significance. According to Rasgotra, had Nehru accepted Kennedy’s offer, it “would have deterred China from launching its war of 1962 and even imparted a note of caution to (Pakistan’s) Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s plans for war in 1965”.

Rasgotra said, “Kennedy, who was an admirer of India’s democracy and held its leader Nehru in very high esteem, felt that democratic India, not Communist China, should be the first Asian country to conduct a nuclear test”. However, Nehru turned down Kennedy’s handwritten letter in which the offer was made. In fact, had India exploded the device in the early 1960s with American help, it would have easily become an original signatory to the NPT that legitimises nuclear weapons in the hands of those countries which went nuclear before 1968. And as a member of the NPT, we would have effortlessly entered the nuclear associations like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Similarly, take the case of the permanent membership in the UNSC. In 1950, none other than the US wanted to see India joining the Security Council in the place of the nationalist China. After the Communist takeover of mainland China in 1949, the then Chinese president Chiang kai Shek had fled to the island of Taiwan. The Communist China was not recognised as a UN member and Chiang’s government was deemed to be representing the whole of China (this status continued till 1971 when following the normalisation of relations between the US and Communist China, thanks to the then US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Beijing entered the UN and Taipei was pushed out). Chiang kai Shek was also agreeable to this proposition.

In fact, Anton Harder, whose PhD thesis in London School of Economics was on “Sino-Indian relations from 1949-1962,” has revealed the then Indian ambassador to the US Vijaylaxmi Pandit’s letter to her brother Nehru. She wrote:  “One matter that is being cooked up in the State Department should be known to you. This is the unseating of China as a permanent member in the Security Council and of India being put in her place. I have just seen Reuters‘ report of your answer to the same question. Last week I had interviews with (John Foster) Dulles and (Philip) Jessup, reports of which I have sent to (Girija Shankar) Bajpai (the then foreign secretary). Both brought up this question and Dulles seemed particularly anxious that a move in this direction should be started. Last night I heard from Marquis Childs, an influential columnist of Washington, that Dulles (US secretary of state) has asked him on behalf of the State Department to build up public opinion along these lines”.

Nehru’s response within the week was unequivocal: “In your letter you mention that the State Department is trying to unseat China as a permanent member of the Security Council and to put India in her place. So far as we are concerned, we are not going to countenance it. That would be bad from every point of view. It would be a clear affront to China and it would mean some kind of a break between us and China. I suppose the State Department would not like that, but we have no intention of following that course. We shall go on pressing for China’s admission in the UN and the Security Council. “

In other words, rather than India’s case, Nehru, in his zeal for “Asian unity”, went out of way to espouse the cause of China’s entry in to the United Nations. So much so that he rejected in 1955 a similar offer, this time from the Soviet Union. Soviet premier Nikolai Bulganin had suggested to Nehru that Moscow would propose India as the sixth permanent member of the Security Council, and thus not at the cost of China. But as Sarvepalli Gopal in his biography of Nehru (1979) has mentioned, “He (Nehru) rejected the Soviet offer to propose India as the sixth permanent member of the Security Council and insisted that priority be given to China’s admission”.

In fact, Nehru has been quoted to have said: “Perhaps Bulganin knows that some people in the US have suggested that India should replace China in the Security Council. This is to create trouble between us and China. We are, of course, wholly opposed to it. Further, we are opposed to pushing ourselves forward to occupy certain positions because that may itself create difficulties and India might itself become a subject to controversy. If India is to be admitted to the Security Council, it raises the question of the revision of the Charter of the UN. We feel that this should not be done till the question of China’s admission and possibly of others is first solved. I feel that we should first concentrate on getting China admitted.”

Just imagine what Nehru did for China and how China has responded to Indian gestures — border war in 1962 and now diplomatic war to prevent India getting in the NSG!

That brings me now to the last point: India’s deserved position as a great power in the Indo-Pacific region.

It may be noted here that given India’s civilisational links in Southeast Asia and its moral and material contributions towards the decolonisation movements in the region including China and Korea, countries like the Philippines and Malaysia had openly suggested in the 1950s that New Delhi should play the leadership role in the region. Following the Baguio (in the Philippines) Conference in 1949, which was attended by India, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Ceylon, Carlos Romulo, the trusted lieutenant of the Pilipino President Quirino, who was in charge of organising the Conference, had said in New York that “I want India to realise that the proposed (Pacific) Union is only a continuation of the Asian Conference and nothing more. The Philippines was taking up where India had left off and the Asian Union, according to Romulo, was supposed to work under the Indian leadership, for ‘India was the strongest and most enlightened nation of Asia today’.”

Many Southeast Asian countries thought that Indian influence, in combination with Japan and Australia, would prove reassuring to small and vulnerable states, especially when the western powers, particularly Great Britain, had indicated their withdrawal from the region. They perceived India as an alternative to the entanglements with major powers, such as the traditional Cold War powers of Russia and the US or the resurgent powers of China and Japan. This is because, India, unlike other powers, had not sought a military base in the region; nor had it attempted ideological or physical invasions of the region. In addition, Southeast Asian countries did not have any outstanding territorial disputes with India as opposed to those over the Spratly Islands with China.

But all this did not impress Nehru.

And it so happened during the subsequent years when the Cold War was intensified, India lost the war with China and India inched towards the Soviet bloc, these very countries — Asean nations, Australia, Japan, and the US — started seeing India negatively.  It was only after the end of the Cold War and advent of the PV Narasimha Rao government in the 1990s that things started changing and some basic features of Nehruvianism were challenged.

Better late than never!

Imparting ‘core values’ through Gita, Mahabharata is no saffronisation of education

A 200-page report containing close to 90 suggestions recommend by a five-member committee – headed by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian – towards educational reforms has been handed over to the Modi government, and is likely to generate intense debates in the days to come.

Though the report is not yet officially out, one does not need to be an astrologer to predict that the debates will be highly partisan, once the report is made public. Instead of focussing on the merits and demerits of the proposed measures – such as creation of an all-India service like the Indian Education Service, allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in India, and overhauling the educational regulatory bodies, the tone and tenors of the discussions in the op-ed pages of the newspapers, evening ‘news hours’ in televisions, press conferences of the political parties and the legislatures are likely to be dominated by the theme of saffronisation of education under Modi.

Why? Because, one of the 90 suggestions is to have “a strong focus on value education”. In this context, the Indian Express has quoted a senior official, saying, “Every student should be proud to be an Indian and schools have a vital role in inculcating that (value education).”

If experience in recent years is any indication, talking of Indian values and its traditional knowledge is a taboo in our intellectual circles, overwhelmingly dominated, as these generally are, by the so-called liberals/seculars. Their invariable argument is that the values of a country are determined by its majority community and hence prejudicial to the interests of its minorities.

Safffronisation of education. Representational image. AFPSafffronisation of education. Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Those against value-education argue that teachers of values do not teach; they “moralise”, “preach”, “indoctrinate”, “manipulate”, and so forth. These teachers are also said to be “rigid”, as a result of which “the idea of free inquiry, thoughtfulness and reason” seems to be lost on a student; “he or she is thus unable to examine and weigh his or her own values.”

Incidentally, similar arguments were made by the intellectual elites of United States during 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. But ideas changed when during these three decades the US saw a 560 percent increase in violent crimes, a cent increase in illegitimate births, and a quadrupling in divorce rates, not to speak of the rising teen-pregnancies and incidents of AIDS. Compared to other developed countries, the US had the highest divorce rate and the highest percentage of violent deaths among the youth.

Against this background, the results of the 1994 Gallup Poll of the public’s attitude towards value education in America were instructive. A majority of the residents talked of the importance of teaching values and ethical behaviour in schools. More than 90 percent of those surveyed favoured the teaching of “core values”. Two-thirds of the subjects also favoured non-devotional instruction about world religions.

“Core values” have been defined as values that are universally accepted by all religions. These include compassion, courage, courtesy, fairness, honesty, kindness, loyalty, perseverance, respect and responsibility. It is in this sense that more and more Americans are now talking of the importance of learning the fundamentals of all religions so that they can promote the legitimacy of the values and character traits that they are emphasising to the students.

In fact, some are even arguing that although rooted in world religions, core values are essentially secular values, which come from man rather than from God. Learning them goes a big way in building one’s character, not otherwise as our so called secularists in India apprehend.

As a matter of fact, what we see in India today is that the Muslim children learn about Islam and the Quran in madrasas and the Christian children learn the essence of Christianity and the Bible in educational institutions founded and managed by them. Under the Indian Constitution, the minorities are allowed to have their own educational institutions, and certificates or degrees thereof are recognised legally.

In contrast, the children of a majority of the Hindu community do not have such facilities. Whenever there are attempts to teach them about the Ramayana, the Mahabharata or the Gita in normal schools, the secular brigade makes a lot of hue and cry.

Take also the case of Supreme Court Justice Anil R Dave’s suggestion sometime ago. He had made a point why the Gita and the Mahabharata should to be taught to school children.

“Our old tradition, such as guru-shishya parampara (teacher-student tradition) is lost; if it had been there, we would not have had all these problems in our country,” he had said, referring to the growing problems of violence and terrorism.

“Now we see terrorism in countries. Most of the countries are democratic. If everybody in a democratic country is good, then they would naturally elect somebody who is very good. And that person will never think of damaging anybody else,” he had said.

Predictably, the secular brigade got wild over Justice Dave’s “Hindutva remarks”. Now the question is: where will the children of the Hindus — who constitute an overwhelming majority in India — learn from the Indian classics, if not in schools?

Secondly, is it correct to see the classics or epics of a country through religious prisms? In fact, in January 2012, the Madhya Pradesh High Court had dismissed a petition challenging introduction of ‘Gita Sar’ (essence of Gita) in the school curriculum. When the Catholic Bishop’s Council filed a PIL in August 2011, the court gave the petitioner’s counsel two months to read the holy book in its entirety and make up his mind. The court finally held that the Bhagavad-Gita was essentially Indian philosophy and not a religion.

Of course, a case can be made that in our educational institutions, essence or fundamental values of all religions should be taught. But the more germane point is that our so-called secularists should realise that reading religions is not being communal or promoting communalism.

In fact, the core values of every religion are similar. Learning them goes a big way in building one’s character and the country’s overall value system.

Notably, there are many scholarly works that prove that a nation’s rise or fall is determined by its value system. It is argued that former world leaders such as Egypt, Iran, Spain, Portugal and Great Britain declined as much for their economic failures as for their failures in human and spiritual aspects.

Even India under the great Mughals, as Paul Kennedy has explained in his classic – The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, had to fall because of the then prevailing “retarding factors in Indian life” — a Muslim elite whose conspicuous consumption (servants and hangers-on, extravagant clothes and jewels, harems and menageries) amidst the ocean of penury; and the sheer rigidity of the Hindu taboos such as the oppressive caste system which throttled initiative and instilled rituals of not killing even rodents and insects, leading not only to the loss of vast amounts of food but also the bubonic plagues.

In this ‘Information Age’, the values of truthfulness, honesty, integrity, humility, justice, steadfastness and dependability continue to be as relevant as ever. It is important for the educators to define expected skills for being successful in family work, social and other environments, and to include those aspects of character and moral development that are deemed important.

Gone are the days of the rivalry between the advocates of ‘Asian value system’ (responsibility towards the family, state and society) and the ‘Western value system’ (individualistic culture and modernity). Now is the time of synergy between the two, something countries like Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong have achieved with great success. In a sense, these Asian countries have accepted the “secular” culture of the west — capitalism, liberalism and democracy—to a considerable extent.

The moral of the story is thus clear. It is time to re-examine the unnecessary politicisation of the question of value education through the fundamentals of all religions, including Hinduism, in India.

If through the Gita and the Mahabharata we can better realise the values of truth, peace and righteous conduct (this implies respect for fundamental duties of the Constitution) which, among other things, talk of patriotism, love and awareness of the basics of all religions — it can hardly be viewed as an “attempt” towards the so-called saffronisation of the Indian education system.

In fact, it is through value education that one will be able to get rid of the racial prejudice and insularity among our youth that is reflected unfortunately in the recurring attacks on the African students in our national capital.

Narendra Modi continues Vajpayee’s legacy of appeasement of China

There is something seriously wrong with the way the Modi government is appeasing China. After the avoidable ignominy over the issue of repealing visa to the Uyghur activist Dolkun Isa, the government has committed another faux pas by first accepting the invitation and then backtracking from sending two parliamentarians to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Taiwanese president-elect Tsai Ing-wen. The first female president of the island nation was sworn in on 20 May.

In fact, the government had already announced the names of DP Tripathi (of the Nationalist Congress Party) and Meenakshi Lekhi (of the Bharatiya Janata Party) for the event. But subsequently, it changed its mind and disallowed the two MPs from visiting Taipei.
One does not need to become a Nobel laureate to understand that it is the fear of China that has done the trick. As in the case of Dolkun Isa, this time too the Modi government realised its “folly” of antagonising Beijing particularly when President Pranab Mukherjee is all set to visit China on 24 May. The question thus is: If the government is so scared of China, then why does it unnecessarily initiate an action that displeases Beijing?

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Strange it may seem, but it is true that the BJP, a supposedly nationalist party, whenever in power in Delhi, has always disgraced the country while dealing with China. For instance, until 2003, India’s standard position on Tibet was that it is an autonomous region of China, meaning that India’s view on Tibet could change if Beijing takes away Tibet’s autonomy. But Atal Behari Vajpayee, during his visit to China in 2003, agreed unconditionally that “Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)”. And what is more important, such an agreement on Tibet was signed for the first time at the prime ministerial level.

It seems that this sordid history is being repeated under the second Prime Minister from the BJP, Narendra Modi. It is true that India follows the ‘One China’ policy and does not recognise Taiwan as a country. In the absence of formal diplomatic relations, India and Taiwan coordinate their relations through their respective Economic and Cultural Centers in each other’s capital. But within these broad parameters, it is to the credit of the previous Manmohan Singh government that New Delhi was successfully de-hyphenating its policy towards Taipei from its China-policy. In March 2011, India had announced to forge a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Taiwan, while denying the same to China. And ignoring China’s protest, India approved in December 2012 the opening of a branch office of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre in Chennai.

In fact, this process of de-hyphenation was supposed to gain further momentum under Modi. But that does not seem to be happening. And that too at a time when for the first time a Taiwanese president on her inauguration day has specifically mentioned India in what will be her priority of developing a “South-bound policy” (towards Southeast Asia and India) to restructure the island nation’s economy by “bidding farewell to the single market phenomenon (meaning China)”.

Incidentally, it was again the Vajpayee government that had belittled Taiwan when, in 2001, the then Taiwanese vice-president Annette Lu was disallowed to visit the earthquake-affected people of Gujarat with relief material worth more than $ 1 million. And this was apparently due to the fear that the communist China would not like her visit to India. This was rather strange, considering the fact that China’s total relief-help for Gujarat was $60, 000, whereas the $1 million worth relief material that the Taiwanese vice-president was sending in her “personal capacity” was the gesture of a single voluntary organisation called ‘Love and Care’ whose chairperson happened to be Ms. Lu.

The small-sized island of Taiwan, with 23 million people, has emerged as a formidable economic powerhouse in the Asia-Pacific region. Taiwan is the world’s 16th largest economy and fifth largest economy in Asia (after China, Japan, India and South Korea). It has the world’s third largest foreign exchange reserves with more than $255 billion. It is the world’s fourth largest IC maker globally, and the second after the United States in IC design. Taiwan leads the world in market share output of 23 IT items, with the result that every 8 out of 10 computers in the world use some Taiwanese system or the other. Above all, Taiwan is one of the largest investors all over the world. Its per capita income of $15,000 is among the world’s highest.

It may be noted that Taiwan’s leading businessmen constitute the largest source of investments in China, the unofficial figure amounting to as much as $ 300 billion. Ironically, these huge investments by the Taiwanese in China have made them Beijing’s potential hostages. Naturally, Taiwanese policy makers want to diversify their economic interests. Besides, Taiwan is aware that technological and innovative edge is key to long-term sustained growth in an age of global economic interdependence. It risks losing its edge as its businessmen deepen their ties with a communist China that is weak in innovation and strong on cheap labour. So, Taiwanese businessmen want to establish strategic R&D alliances with global innovation centers.

And here, the prospect of collaboration between Taiwan’s computer hardware industry and India’s world-class software industry is said to be extremely promising. In fact, India’s Nascom and Taiwanese counterpart, named III, have been planning to collaborate in producing cheap computers in Tamil Nadu, which, incidentally, has emerged as the focal point of the Taiwanese business in the last few years, with many Taiwanese companies establishing their offices in the southern coastal state of India.

Of late, Taiwanese exports to India have been growing. For the first five months of May 2015, they stood at over $2 billion. The annual trade between the two countries is about $8 billion. This figure as well as the Taiwanese investments in India are expected to expand significantly upon the conclusion of an FTA between the two governments. In fact, Taiwan can be an important partner in strengthening the ‘Make in India’ programme. Taiwanese Foxconn has decided to manufacture Xiaomi mobile phones in Andhra Pradesh, and is also going to invest $5 billion over a period of three years in a manufacturing unit in Maharashtra. With a focus on make in India, the demand for Taiwan’s machine tools is also likely to increase.
India and Taiwan complement each other in terms of demographics. The latter has been experiencing below replacement rate fertility levels of around 1.6 (and declining) for many years. The average life expectancy is 77 years and is increasing. The elderly will make up 20 percent of the total population of Taiwan by 2020, and this will imply an increase in median age and a reduction in working age persons to total population ratio. In contrast, India is in a demographic gift phase, with rising working age to total population ratio till 2045. Even after that, its ratio will decline quite slowly, and the ratio will remain higher than for Taiwan.

Against this background, Taiwan can extend its economic space and cope with population ageing by taking advantage of India’s relatively young manpower through outsourcing and off-shoring of many activities. These may range from routine Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) types to those involving such KPO activities as research, and design. Many MNCs, including those from China, are basing their research and design centres in India. Taiwan’s participation in selected areas of research and design could provide with win-win opportunities. It is said in this context how a portion of Taiwan’s pension assets, which are estimated to be $150 billion, can be invested in India to obtain high returns. These in turn can assist in achieving financial security for the aged in Taiwan.

Secondly, there can be mutually beneficial exchanges of information between the intelligence agencies and militaries of India and Taiwan on a range of issues such as terrorism, cyber-hacking, navigation security and sea piracy. Similar exchanges take place between the Taiwanese agencies and their counterparts in the US, South Korea and Japan, to name a few. Even if one treats the interactions between Taiwan and the US as unique and quite complex, the fact that Tokyo and Seoul share strategic information with Taipei is interesting in the sense that they have much more at stake than New Delhi in maintaining friendly relations with Beijing, considering their quantum of trade with and investments in the mainland China, let alone their geopolitical links.

Beijing may not like such interactions, but then the overall national interests of a country in cultivating relations with another must not be made hostage to the Beijing factor. The point is if Japan and South Korea can do it, why not India?

In sum, despite being the world’s largest democracy, India has neglected Taiwan, the first Chinese society to reject authoritarianism in favour of democracy. India under the BJP is so sensitive to China’s reaction that it has always compromised both principles and pragmatism in its relations with Taiwan. It does not realise that developing a healthy relationship with Taiwan will not only further India’s strategic and economic interests but also checkmate China’s expansionist designs in the region.

The Congress must introspect over Tehelka scandal, ‘coffin-gate’ and now saffron terror

Predictably, the Congress party has questioned the way in which the National Investigating Agency (whose Director was appointed during the UPA regime) has dropped charges against Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and recommended the non-use of the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit. But the fact remains that it has been more than seven years since Purohit and Sadhvi have been incarcerated in prison without chargesheets. And what is more important to note is that if the NIA did finally prepare the charge-sheet on 13 May, it was after the Supreme Court of India had questioned the very basis of continued detention of Purohit and Pragya under the MCOCA, as they had no criminal record. The apex court had also observed that there was “considerable doubt” about their involvement in Malegaon blasts. In fact, the Supreme Court had directed that their bail plea should be examined by a special trial court.

It is also worth noting that on its part, the Indian Army had conducted its Court of Inquiry and some 50 witnesses, officers and men had given their testimony in favour of Purohit. They had hailed Purohit as a dedicated professional who had infiltrated into organisations like SIMI and the Indian Mujahideen and some right-wing outfits like Abhinav Bharat, “with full knowledge and concurrence of his seniors.”

File photo of Sadhvi Pragya Singh. PTIFile photo of Sadhvi Pragya Singh. PTI

File photo of Sadhvi Pragya Singh. PTI

The Malegaon bombings were a series of bomb blasts that took place on 8 September, 2006. The Maharashtra police initially suspected Bajrang Dal, the Lashkar-e-Toiba or the Jaish-e-Mohammed of involvement in the attacks. Investigators then said that the explosives contained in these bombings were “a cocktail of RDX, ammonium nitrate and fuel oil — the same mixture used in 7/11”, referring to the 11 July 2006 Mumbai train bombings. In fact, on that basis, the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) of Maharashtra prima facie ruled out the involvement of Hindu Nationalist groups like the Bajrang Dal in the Malegaon blasts; it cited two reasons: one, RDX is only available to Islamist outfits; two, Bajrang Dal activists so far had only used crude bombs, nothing as sophisticated as the ones in Malegaon. Accordingly, the Police arrested members of the Students Islamic Movement of India and their promoters. In fact, on 28 November, 2006, the Mumbai police stated that two Pakistani nationals were involved in the explosions. “We have successfully detected the Malegaon blasts case. We are, however, on the lookout for eight more suspects in the case,” said DGP PS Pasricha.

However, the contours of the investigation by the ATS underwent radical changes once Hemant Karkare succeeded KP Raghuvanshi as its chief in January 2008 (eventually he was succeeded by Raghuvanshi after he was killed during the attack in Mumbai on 26 November, 2008). It is an open secret that Karkare had excellent relations with senior Congress leaders, particularly Digvijay Singh. Karkare started the process of highlighting “saffron terror” with the arrest of Purohit and Sadhvi.

I do not want to go into details, as in these pages I have written earlier that the theory of “saffron terror” was popularised by the UPA regime to neutralise the adverse impacts of the 26/11 tragedy, particularly during the electioneering for the 2009 general elections. This strategy went into full swing soon after the Congress party won the 2009 general elections and the assembly elections in Rajasthan and Haryana. At the time, not only at the Centre but also in Rajasthan, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra there were Congress governments. “Re-investigations” of the blasts in Samjhauta Express, Malegaon, Ajmer Sharif and Mecca Masjid (Hyderabad) were reopened simultaneously to implicate “Hindu fundamentalists”.

After seven years, it is becoming increasingly difficult to legally prove the charges of “saffron terror”. That explains why the NIA is reconsidering its previous positions. And that explains why the Congress is getting upset. In fact, the so-called saffron terror is the third major issue raised by the Congress against its opponents that like the other two – Tehelka Scandal and Coffin Gate – has been a case of more sound but less substance. The Coffin scam was a result of the faulty approach adopted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s (CAG) report which alleged corruptions in the purchase of coffins for the dead soldiers during the Kargil war that took place in 1999 between India and Pakistan.

According to the CAG, the Vajpayee government incurred a heavy loss of 1, 87,000 US dollars in the entire transaction. I have always argued that the CAG is prone to make blunders when it deals with military matters – for instance, once it said that the Indian Air Force was wasting money by buying fighter planes from abroad at a much higher price than what the country’s Defence Research and Development Organisations (DRDO) could spend for making these planes at home. Nothing could be more perverse than this logic, but then the CAG has made similar observations about the Indian Navy and Army as well. In this specific case, the caskets were purchased from Buitron and Baiza, a company based in United States of America, rendering funeral services.

The Vajpayee government had bought 500 caskets worth $2500 each, which the CAG presumed to be 13 times the original amount. However, the Ambassadors from both the countries–India and the US–had declared in writing that those caskets had a cost worth $ 2,768 each. But, when the issue was made a scam, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) investigated the case and filed a chargesheet against three Indian Army officers in August 2009. However, in December 2013, a special CBI court found no evidence and discharged all the accused. The case was closed. And this happened during the UPA regime itself.

The Tehelka scam has been the most ludicrous in India’s history of scandals. A highly partisan and controversial journalist, claiming to be the representative of a non-existent defence firm, traps some officials in the name of procuring a non-existent weapon system and then generalizes that the then defence minister George Fernades and his staff are indulging in corruption, indicating that the proposed deal to buy Barak missiles for the Navy from Israel is one such incident that had witnessed kickbacks. In fact, such heat was generated in the process that the Congress party made the life of the then Vajpayee government miserable and boycotted Fernandes in Parliament. They, along with the partisan journalists, boycotted two commissions of inquiry that the Vajpayee government set up under two respected retired Supreme Court judges – Justice S N Phukan and Justice Venkataswami. So much so that to a great extent the Congress under Sonia Gandhi won the elections in 2004 on the basis of the two scandals of Coffin-gate and Tehelka by successfully building the public perception over misleading and fabricated evidences against the government of the day.

When the Congress-led UPA came to power in 2004, the two judicial commissions were dismissed by the government and everything was handed over for investigations to the CBI, which, in turn, filed a First Information Report (FIR) on 10 October, 2006. But again, nothing concrete emerged. On 24 December, 2013, after investigating for more than seven years, the CBI decided to close the matter as it did not find any evidence on the allegations. And the UPA government was very much there then.

Viewed thus, one is sure that even if the UPA were in power today, the NIA would not have acted differently.

Quota conundrum: Nitish Kumar’s demand on increasing reservations may not lead to empowerment

After becoming the JD (U) President last Saturday, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has demanded not only raising the limits of reservations beyond the 50 percent limit for the SC, ST and Other Backward Classes (OBC) in education and the government jobs, but also extending these provisions to the private sector jobs. It is not surprising that Nitish Kumar, a product of OBC politics, is making this demand. This is a demand which has been periodically made by all the OBC leaders. Their point has been that the quantum of reservations should be dependent on the number of the people to be benefited; that means that if the combined population of the SC, ST and OBC in the country is 75 percent, then reservations for them should be of 75 percent. That the OBC for them has nothing to do with backward “classes” but everything to do with intermediate “castes” is a different matter altogether.

In a sense, this demand is the logical outcome of the recent recommendation of National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) that legislation be passed under which private entities, including businesses, hospitals, schools, trusts, etc. will have to reserve 27 per cent of jobs for OBCs. It is important to note that this recommendation has not been opposed by any political party that matters in India today. The Communists have wholeheartedly supported it. The ruling BJP and the principal opposition Congress party want a national debate over the issue, but there is a difference between the two. While the Congress has not indicated its thoughts on the issue, the BJP sees a “valid ground” for reservation in private sector “only after creating a conducive atmosphere” as it “should not be imposed.” A BJP spokesman is on record to have said that “there is valid ground for working towards making a conducive atmosphere as private sector gets many government concessions, including tax rebates and infrastructure like land and water at a concessional rate”.

Nitish Kumar. File photo. PTINitish Kumar. File photo. PTI

Nitish Kumar. File photo. PTI

With the idea of furthering reservations becoming a “holy cow” for Indian politicians, it is no wonder that many communities want to be “desanskritised”. “Sanskritisation”, a term espoused by the great Indian sociologist M N Srinivas, denoted the process by which castes considered lower in the hierarchy seek upward mobility by emulating the rituals and practices of the upper or dominant castes. But now ‘upper’ castes want to come ‘lower’ to become SCs, STs and OBCs. Gurjars in Rajasthan demand reservations as part of the ST quota, and Jats in Haryana, Rajputs in Uttar Pradesh, Patels in Gujarat and Kapus in Andhra Pradesh want OBC privileges.

Where has this quota politics taken us? Quality and efficiency have become big casualties. So much so that I came across this story recently—a leading champion of quota politics, who is a member of Parliament, went to a hospital for a checkup, but insisted that he should not be checked up by a doctor who has got a job through quotas! In fact, the day is not far off when people will avoid doctors and engineers and students will not opt for courses taught by professors if they have come through quotas.

Secondly, the implications of the demands that every community must have reservations in proportion to its actual number are that those who opt for smaller families are punished, not rewarded. It will also mean that talent and hard work are useless and those who have it need to be taken to task. Kumar’s thesis means that people should produce as many children as they can, not educate them properly, but demand that the State gives them jobs even if they are not competent enough. If this thesis is taken to its logical conclusion, it will be the beginning of the end of modern India.

Thirdly, there have been many instances of reverse discrimination because of quota politics. Genuinely talented people, many of whom are economically much poorer than their counterparts under quotas, are denied admissions in schools and colleges and are virtually out of the race for jobs. Because, all told, in a developing country like India it is the “State” that is the biggest provider of jobs and the most important source of education (schools and colleges that are funded by the government). And here, more than half of the seats and jobs that are available go to those who enjoy reservation facilities. Naturally, there are widespread resentments. In fact, the new phenomenon that is represented by Hardik Patel comes from this resentment. As a prominent supporter of Patel told the press recently, “unless we come under reservation, our children will not get admission into the schools and thus be deprived of education.”

Thomas Sowell, a scholar at the Hoover Institute of the US, has proved that affirmative actions, which begin as means to help the less fortunate, end up, in practice, helping the more fortunate. Sowell, an American Black, whose community has been the main target of the affirmative actions in the US, says that his conclusion is based on hard facts that he collected in India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the United States, among others. The time is long overdue to start looking at what actually happens under this programme (affirmative actions), as distinguished from what people hope or fear will happen, he advises.

In Malaysia, the quota raj started under the notion that ethnic Malays held relatively little economic power because of a colonial legacy under which the country’s more urbanised Chinese inhabitants tended to prosper. In reality, however, under the British colonial rule, there was free education to the majority Malays but the Chinese minority had to provide their own. The Chinese still completely outperformed the Malays, both in educational institutions and in the economy. But that is a different story. The point is that three decades of the quota system produced more Malay university graduates and professionals than the Chinese; but it did not produce performers or quality workforce. As a result, the Malaysian government announced in 2003 that admissions to the universities would now be by academic records, with computers determining who gets in and who does not, without regard to ethnicity.

According to Sowell, there is now increasing evidence that “students who receive large preferences of any kind—whether based on race, athletic ability, alumni connections or other considerations—experience some clear negative effects: Students end up with poor grades (usually in the bottom fifth of their class), lower graduation rates, extremely high attrition rates from science and engineering majors, substantial self-segregation on campus, lower self-esteem and far greater difficulty passing licensing tests (such as Bar exams for lawyers)”. In contrast, studies have shown in America that these same students have dramatically better outcomes if they go to schools where their level of academic preparation is much closer to that of the median student. That is, Black and Hispanic students—as well as the smaller numbers of preferentially admitted athletes and children of donors—excel when they avoid the problem of what has come to be called ‘mismatch.’

Unfortunately, in India, we really do not have quality data to judge the effectiveness (mostly, the lack of it) of the reservation policy. But the fact that reservations have been there for the SC and ST categories since 1950, and yet there has been no perceptible change in their overall conditions speaks poorly of the efficacy of the idea. Whether it is the SCs/STs or the OBCs, most fruits of the reservation have been eaten by what is called the creamy layers within these groups, but even here most of those who have become famous are not because of their work and competence.

We must be clear that the quota raj in India has nothing to do with affirmative actions and social justice. Social justice is really the capacity to organise with others to accomplish ends that benefit the country as a whole; but reservations aim at uplifting one section of the society at the cost of the other. In the rest of the world, affirmative actions aim at creating equality; but in India, reservations are encouraged to create and legitimise, rather glorify, inequalities, as long as they fetch our political parties’ votes.

It is no wonder that none other than Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in his letter to the chief ministers on 27 June, 1961, had emphasised on the need for empowering backward groups by giving them access to good and technical education, and not by reserving jobs based on caste and creed. “If we go in for reservations on communal and caste basis, we swamp the bright and able people and remain second-rate or third-rate. I am grieved to learn of how far this business of reservation has gone based on communal considerations. It has amazed me to learn that even promotions are based sometimes on communal and caste considerations. This way lies not only folly, but disaster. Let’s help the backward groups by all means, but never at the cost of efficiency. How are we going to build our public sector or indeed any sector with second-rate people?”

Should we not listen to Nehru?

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