Thursday, July 01, 2004

FRAME IT IN GOLD

I FAIL to understand the way the Indian democracy works. Those who are rejected by the people are made MPs and even Ministers and then elected to the Upper House.... And now there is a demand within the BJP to dethrone Narendra Modi, a person duly elected by the people of Gujarat. Democracy has been distorted to such an extent that it no longer represents the rule of the people, by the people and for the people. It is an exercise in combinations and permutations by power-seekers, secured with the bolts and nuts of compromises and unholy alliances.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The Lamb State

Talleyrand, the illustrious foreign minister of Napoleon and the Bourbons, prescribed one basic rule for pragmatic foreign policy: by no means show too much zeal. In India's case, gushy expectations, self-deluding hype, and oozing zealousness have blighted foreign policy since Independence, constituting the most enduring aspect of the Nehruvian legacy, other than the hold of the Nehru family dynasty over the Congress party and the continued strength of Indian democracy.

Zeal is to Indian diplomacy what strategy is to major powers. India has rushed to believe what it wanted to believe. Consequently, India is the only known country in modern history to have repeatedly cried betrayal, not by friends but by adversaries in whom it had reposed trust.

Reflecting India's decline in its own eyes, however, while one 'betrayal' in 1962 hastened the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, another in 1999 kept Atal Bihari Vajpayee going as if it did not happen despite his public admission that his 'bus to Lahore got hijacked to Kargil.' It was finally the voters who decided they had had enough of Vajpayee.

Earlier, in 1972, even the strategist Indira Gandhi slipped up at Simla by trusting her opponent's word on Kashmir.


The strength of any nation's foreign policy depends on the health of its institutional processes of policy-making, on realistic goals, strategies, and tactics, and on the timely exploitation of opportunities thrown up by external conditions. Indian foreign policy, regrettably, has been characterised by too much ad hocism, risk aversion, and post facto rationalisations.

Institutional processes are operationally weak and there is no tradition of strategy papers to aid political decision-making. An uncritical media only encourages a political proclivity for off-the-cuff decisions.

In the absence of a set of clear, long-term goals backed by political resolve, Indian foreign policy has not been organised around a distinct strategic doctrine. Without realistic, goal-oriented statecraft, the propensity to act in haste and repent at leisure has run deep in Indian foreign policy ever since Nehru hurriedly took the Kashmir issue to the UN Security Council without realising that the Security Council, as the seat of international power politics, has little room for fair dealing.

The India-China territorial dispute is another problem bequeathed by Nehru to future generations of Indians. Nehru's first blunder was to shut his eyes to the impending fall of Tibet even when Sardar Patel had repeatedly cautioned him in 1949 that the Chinese Communists would annex that historical buffer as soon as they had installed themselves in power in Beijing. An overconfident Nehru, who ran foreign policy as if it were personal policy, went to the extent of telling Patel by letter that it would be a 'foolish adventure' for the Chinese Communists to try and gobble up Tibet -- a possibility that 'may not arise at all' as it was, he claimed, geographically impracticable!

In 1962, Nehru, however, had to admit he had been living in a fool's paradise. 'We were getting out of touch with reality in the modern world and we were living in an artificial atmosphere of our creation,' he said in a national address after the Chinese aggression.

Nehru had ignored India's military needs despite the Chinese surreptitiously occupying Indian areas on the basis of Tibet's putative historical ties with them and also establishing a land corridor with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir through Aksai Chin. Although Indian military commanders after the 1959 border clashes began saying that they lacked adequate manpower and weapons to fend off the People's Liberation Army, Nehru ordered the creation of forward posts to prevent the loss of further Indian territory without taking the required concomitant steps to beef up Indian military strength, including through arms imports. Nehru had convinced himself grievously that China only intended to carry out further furtive encroachments on Indian territory, not launch a full-fledged major aggression.

In fact, Nehru accepted the Chinese annexation of Tibet in a 1954 agreement without settling the Indo-Tibetan border. While Nehru thought he had bought peace with China by accepting Chinese rule over Tibet on the basis of the five principles of peaceful co-existence, Mao and his team read this as a sign of India's weakness and a licence to encroach on strategically important areas of Ladakh.

So betrayed was Nehru by the 1962 attack that he had this to say on the day the Chinese invaded: 'Perhaps there are not many instances in history where one country has gone out of her way to be friendly and co-operative with the government and people of another country and to plead their cause in the councils of the world, and then that country returns evil for good.'


Four decades after Nehru's death at the age of 74, the Nehruvian legacy in foreign policy continues to influence Indian policy-making. Much before the recent national election made Sonia Gandhi the most powerful political figure in India, the Nehruvian legacy was intact in Vajpayee's foreign policy. In fact, nothing pleased Vajpayee more than to be compared with Nehru.

Vajpayee's foreign policy was in reality an updated, post-Cold War version of Nehruvian diplomacy.

Nehru and Vajpayee mistook casuistry and word games for statecraft, with the latter addicted to parsing and spinning his words. Both valued speech as a substitute for action or camouflage to concession. Vajpayee's fascination with telling the world about the 'greatness' of Indian culture was his rendering of Nehru's moralistic lectures to the mighty and powerful. Like Nehru, he was so enthralled by his own illusions and desire for international goodwill that he could not deal with ill will from India's implacable adversaries. Even in war, Vajpayee declined -- unlike Lal Bahadur Shastri -- to take the fighting to the aggressor's territory, battling the enemy on the enemy's terms and relying on the United States to midwife a 'victory' in Kargil.


Except for a period under Indira Gandhi, India has found it difficult to kick its 'hug, then repent' proclivity. Take the case of the past decade. The 1990s began flamboyantly with the famous I K Gujral hug of Saddam Hussein and ended spectacularly with Jaswant Singh's hug of the thuggish Taliban, as the then foreign minister chaperoned three freed terrorists to Kandahar. In the midst of the IC-814 hijacking saga, Jaswant Singh fed to the media his hallucinations about driving a wedge between the Taliban and its sponsor, Pakistan.

Until India fully absorbs the fundamentals of international relations, it will continue to get 'evil for good.' The fundamentals include leverage, reciprocity, and negotiating strategies that do not give away the bottom line. For five decades, India has put itself on the defensive by publicly articulating its Kashmir bottom line as the starting line -- turning the LoC into the international border.

Some nations have a built-in craving for revision or hazardous gain, while others want only the status quo. Randall L Schweller, in his brilliant study Deadly Imbalances, labels the revisionist nations 'wolves' and 'jackals', while the status quo states are either 'lambs' or 'lions'. India certainly qualifies as a 'lamb,' surrounded by 'wolf' China and 'jackal' Pakistan. The 'lamb' status is in keeping with its intrinsic disposition and meek objectives. Although its borders have shrunk since Independence and it is a poor state, India is, lamb-like, content with the status quo.

Only a 'lamb' state will make unilateral concessions and deal with invaders and hostage-takers on their terms. Again, only a 'lamb' will accept the outside portrayal of Kashmir as a bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan, condoning the third-party role of China, in occupation of one-fifth of J&K. A 'lamb' state is wary of traditional friends, but wishes to cuddle up to elusive new buddies or even enemies. Its diffidence makes external affirmation and certification important for its policies. A 'lamb' also assumes that others change their beliefs and policies as rapidly as it meanders to a new course.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Beyond renunciation

Disinterested observers will allow that Sonia Gandhi’s act of renunciation has elevated the level of public discourse by returning to it the spirit of sacrifice, which has been as good as extinct for a very long time. It has naturally also raised the Congress leader’s stock immeasurably.

If the tone of humility set by Sonia in an hour of personal triumph is anything to go by, one may just have reason to hope that the coalition government that Manmohan Singh heads will be permitted by leaders of parties that make up the United Progressive Alliance to conduct itself with dignity.

Multi-party dispensations are known to have a precarious shelf-life. The tangles are at bottom nearly always related to power rivalries between individuals and between parties. Sonia Gandhi’s personal example and style may ordinarily be expected to have a soothing effect in this respect as far as government quarters go. Nevertheless, worries will remain until it seems to be going smoothly.

The accretion of power the Congress leader has now come to enjoy — on account of the stunning election results and her demonstration of forbearance — cannot but make her the most critical command node in the system. Indeed, she can hardly help that. But a locus of inordinate influence can either strive to eat into the legitimate authority of the prime minister and his government, or consciously choose to be a benign guiding hand whose very presence is seen by all concerned as being reassuring. Much depends on the person wielding the charismatic authority.

Sonia’s repudiation of the highest office in the land should serve to enthuse those who will soon be operating the government. Frankly, her waving the big prize away is a revolutionary act, and not only a gesture of renunciation. By choosing ia to be prime minister when it was being thrust upon her, Sonia has cut at the roots of the ‘dynasty’ argument as concerns the Congress party. If a Nehru-Gandhi is available, it is inevitable that he or she will be prime minister, runs the over-stretched logic. Sonia’s stance is a refutation of the thesis.

The circumstances of her self-denial are certainly uncommon: it came when more than 300 newly-elected MPs, including those who had once opposed her on the ‘foreign origin’ issue, were pushing Sonia Gandhi hard to become prime minister, and the president had invited her to commence the formalities by tendering letters of
support. It is also appropriate to note that by turning down prime ministership, Sonia has not made it any easier for her son, Rahul, to occupy that position some day.
If that were to happen, he will have to earn it just like his mother had to, though she was to decline it. It is too hackneyed a thing to say — the ‘argument’ is certainly doing the rounds- that Manmohan Singh’s job is essentially to keep the seat warm for Sonia or for Rahul. This is an affront to the high personage who is now prime minister. In real life, there is no such thing, and politics is known to take surprising turns, as it has just done for example.

At any rate, Manmohan Singh is known to be imbued with a high sense of principle and is not expected to do the wrong thing knowingly, or to flinch from performing his constitutional obligations. Besides, no Indian prime minister has been a rubber stamp, even if they appeared to be stop-gap, as in the UF era. Sonia has been around long enough to understand this. She has seen loyalists and friends melt away when the going got hard on account of political adversity. She should certainly know that a quid pro quo of a certain order is simply out of the question in public life. There are far too many imponderables at work.

Sonia Gandhi’s far-reaching decision has certainly put paid to the plans of the RSS/BJP to try and create strife on the ‘foreign origin’ issue so that the UPA’s innings is made to start on the unpleasant note of possibly having to battle organised elements on the streets. But the Congress leader will need to recognise the depths of disappointment of many who had voted for her party because she led its election campaign.
She will need to address this issue when she focuses on reviving her party organisation in the states. Remember, this was, after all, an election in which ordinary voters did the leading. That is why the BJP was in for the shock of its life. If people had not taken matters in their own hand and had elected to be misguided by the official propaganda, an ‘upset’ might not have occurred.

Regimes in this country have never changed in a ‘normal’ election, ie. one not driven by the emotion quotient, as in the case of the Emergency, Bofors, Mandal Commission or the Babri destruction. The remarkable thing about General Election 2004 is the electoral disgracing of an entrenched party and its top leaders when times were perfectly ordinary.
Therefore, the Sonia Congress and the Manmohan government will need to be particularly solicitous of the popular mood and expectations. This means, above all, having to work hard at making the government work.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Turning it down

Whichever way you looked at Election-2004, it belonged to only one person: Sonia Gandhi. The Congress president fought the most daunting odds to give her party the kind of victory no one ever imagined. The Congress came back from behind to emerge with the highest vote share and the largest number of seats. But more remarkably, she won the unanimous support of over 300 legislators, among them men who had earlier opposed her on grounds of her foreign origin. Sonia had a mandate way beyond anything the outgoing government enjoyed in its five years in office. By all canons of democracy — and decency — she ought to have been sworn in as India ’s next prime minister. That things have turned out differently is an adverse comment, not on the democratic credentials of this wonderful country and the large masses of its people, but on the behaviour of a handful of men and women who, through sheer political blackmail, have sought to reverse the electoral mandate. It is a sad day for India . And yet, even if regretfully, the nation must accept her decision. By stepping aside to make way for another candidate, Sonia has emulated a tradition of renunciation that, ironically, has long been held to be the pinnacle of Indian civilisational thought.

Sonia can rest assured, though, that her stock will go up — as much here as internationally. By the same token, those in the BJP and the RSS who have spearheaded a hate campaign against her, must know that they have come out of this sordid drama looking like street bullies: The display of shakti by Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharti did little for the famed maryada of the Hindutva parivar. This is all the more unfortunate considering the nature of the electoral verdict which was unambiguously against this kind of xenophobia. However, such is the politics of blackmail that it spares no one. It won’t be long before these hoodlum tactics rebound on the political class and the country. We have seen a manifestation of this in the behaviour of the stock market in the last few days. Clearly, the record fall of the Sensex by 564 points on Monday and its instant recovery within minutes of information that Sonia will be stepping down, cannot be explained in purely market terms. That markets should play such a role, by design or default, in the formation of government bodes ill both for our democracy and the future of free enterprise. This is a travesty of the larger ideals that capitalism, globalisation and democracy represent.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Elections in India

Miracles never cease to happen in India.
After a decade-long lay-off, the Congress, synonymous with the Nehru-Gandhi family, rode back to a position where it may be asked to steer the destinies of a billion people. In a convincing verdict, the world"s largest electorate inflicted a massive defeat on the country"s longest-lasting coalition of disparate political parties, the National Democratic Alliance headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party. It was an outcome that upset all calculations of pollsters and media pundits and one that went beyond Congress"s own expectations. It is now expected that Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, as leader of the party that won most seats in Parliament, would become India"s second woman prime minister. She will also be the fourth member of the Nehru family to occupy that office.

The results have brought doubtful relief to President Abdul Kalam whose task it will be, in the face of a hung parliament, to determine the tenability of clashing claims emanating from a welter of political formations welded on the spur of the moment to add up to the magical figure of 272 MPs in a house of 543 members. A day before the results, several scribes worked overtime to remind the President of his constitutional obligations in the event of a badly fractured verdict. Their recommendations ranged from calling the leader of the largest single party to inviting the leader of the largest single coalition of parties forged before the elections. But that has not worked in 1996 when President Shankar Dayal Sharma invited the Bharatiya Janata Party to form government. That government lasted only 13 days.

If media experts are to be believed, it is what they call the anti-incumbency factor that brought back the mothballed Congress warhorse into reckoning. This logic does not, however, adequately explain how the Marxists have managed to remain in office for nearly a quarter century in West Bengal or how the Congress Party itself headed by Jawaharlal Nehru and after him his daughter had an uninterrupted run of power at the center from 1947 to 1977. Even the man and wife duo of Laloo Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi in the state of Bihar have kept anti-incumbency at bay for the last 13 years. Voters are not children who get tired of the same toy and howl for a new one.

The BJP blamed the exit polls for its debacle. Whether exit polls are ethical or not, they have caused havoc at the stock exchanges. On the day the state government of Chandrababu Naidu fell in Andhra Pradesh, sensex dropped by 229 points wiping out a capitalization of 55 billion rupees, damaging mostly the share base of the state-owned companies. However, the sensex recovered by 227 points within the first ten minutes of trading on Thursday, the day of the release of Parliament results. The Congress, if it is able to form a ministry, is unlikely to make drastic changes in economic policies because the party is sure to nominate Manmohan Singh as the finance minister. Singh was the author of economic reforms in 1991 under Rajiv Gandhi. The Congress returned to power in Andhra Pradesh promising free power to the farmer, a promise unrealizable without throwing the economy totally out of gear. If the party chooses to embrace the same populism at the center, the voters will surely shift their loyalties in another election.

The new government will have to live with the nagging problem of its allies holding it to ransom on crucial issues. Since principle is not the basic adhesive of a coalition it will not stand in the way of horse-trading. More than anything, the Congress has to evolve a minimum programme agreeable to all the parties that are its allies. Probable allies like Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party or the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam are too powerful in their home bases for the Congress to handle. The left also, with new accretion to its strength in Parliament, is likely to push its agenda with greater confidence, something the non-Left allies in the coalition will resist. To evolve a common minimum policy acceptable to the motley is not going to be a cakewalk.
In foreign policy area, the BJP took significant initiatives in restructuring relations with China and Pakistan. A memorable gain is the Chinese recognition of Sikkim as part of India. Vajpayee took personal interest in sending a cricket team to Pakistan that brought the diplomatic dialogue to the peoples" level. It now becomes difficult to either government to employ the old rhetoric to keep the people of the two countries apart. Congress President Sonia Gandhi said that the new government would continue the peace process with Pakistan initiated by outgoing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Congress party is committed to nurturing good neighborly relations with Pakistan and to discussing all issues with it under the framework of the Simla Agreement, according to Natwar Singh, chairman of the Congress foreign affairs department. As a matter fact, changes of guard have never seen shifts in foreign policy that remained nearly the same since 1947. It is mostly a flexible portfolio of diplomatic perceptions.
Of significance is the BJP entry into south that remained impregnable for a long time. At the time of writing, the BJP is vying with the depleted Congress party to form government in Karnataka with support from a Janata Dal splinter group. The BJP continues to govern such big states as Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan besides the much smaller Chattisgarh. It is a partner in the government that rules Orissa in the east. This is the first time since independence that the Congress has no MP from Kerala. The Left, like the Congress, made additional gains apart from winning a seat in Kolkata after 18 years. Adding to BJP"s debacle are the poor returns made by three of its major allies, the AIADMK of Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh and the Trinamul Congress of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal.
Instead of resting on questionable theoretical crutches, both polity and media will do well to accept the most convincing reason for the rapidly changing inclinations of the electorate, that is, illiteracy. More than two-thirds of the Indian electorate is illiterate, a factor that substitutes emotion for information. It is appalling that political parties can arouse people"s passions, even in the third millennium, in the name of religion and caste and heroes and heroines of a bygone age. The greatest priority of the present government should therefore be to take education to every village and hamlet, a priority next only to food. The Congress must not delude itself that the people have voted for secularism of the skewed kind that imparted legitimacy to communalism.

Water continues to be as crucial to the lives of the people as it is for the political class to win votes. Development should now reach areas where it is just a campaigning slogan. Water is necessary both for agriculture and for the thirsty millions living in the countryside. Village roads and electrification are no less important. The BJP lost because it lost touch with rural realities. The result must make all parties realize how crucial is the rural vote. The spectacle of shining expressways running parallel to mud tracks in villages cannot showcase development. It ought to begin at the grassroots.

Nobody in a democracy can question the judgment of the people. Yet it must be said to the credit of Atal Behari Vajpayee that the country had not seen a prime minister of that stature after Nehru. He is the only non-Congress prime minister to win three successive terms. A man of great vision he wanted that India should shine. Shine it did in select sectors. Once he became the Prime Minister, he belonged to India and not to any party. India above all was his motto. He headed the first coalition to complete five years in office. Governance and development were his slogans that unfortunately did not appeal to the masses whose needs were different. As Vir Sanghvi of the Hindustan Times says, "History will remember Atal Bihari Vajpayee as one of India"s finest prime ministers." More than anything, he elevated the much maligned coalition politics to the highest levels of substance and respectability

Monday, March 15, 2004

Daisy Cutters

The name Daisy Cutters conjures up images of flowers falling from the sky. Far from it, They are the most powerful conventional bombs in the US arsenal.

They weigh 15,000 pounds each and, according to the Federation of American Scientist when detonated 'produces an overpressure of 1000 psi (pounds per square inch) near ground zero, tapering off as distance increases.'

15,000 pounds. That is exactly 6,803 kilogrammes of solid mass.

An average Indian male, I found, weighs approximately 60 kilogrammes. An average WWF wrestler tips the scale at 110 kilogrammes and the all-time great Sumo wrestler Konishiki was two short of 300 kilogrammes when he retired.

A casual web search reveals that the DTC bus that I take every day to office weighs about 6,000 kilogrammes.

I weigh 75 kgs. A daisy cutter is 800 odd kgs heavier than the bus I take every day. Imagine a bus like that being dropped on a mass of men. The sheer weight is bound kill many. The resulting explosion of a cutter, says the FAS, is not expected to leave any trace of life within a radius of one kilometre.

While daisy cutters are the mother of all bombs, the US forces in Iraq also used missiles, laser guided bunker busters and unguided bombs. Much of it in civilian areas, ostensibly, hiding military installations.

Exact figures are not available, but the responsibility for the deaths of at least 100 Iraqis to a more credible 35,000 can be pinned on to the United States and United Kingdom. More precisely at the doors of Mr George W Bush, president of the US, and his chief lackey Mr Tony Blair, prime minister of Britain.

By American military admission itself more than half of the 30,000-strong Republican Guards, which incidentally was 250,000-strong at the beginning of Gulf War I, were wiped out in the Daisy Cutter attacks.

Unofficial and unconfirmed estimates peg the casualty figures at close to 200,000.

While exact figures again do the disappearing act for the amount of bombs and explosives used in this edition of the Gulf war, the proud statement of USAF General Merrill 'Tony' McPeak made at the end of the first edition ought to provide an indication.

'Probably the first time in history that a field army has been defeated by air power. Some 88,500 tonnes of bombs have been dropped in over 109,000 sorties flown by a total of 2,800 fixed-wing aircraft... of the actual bombing missions, about 20,000 sorties were flown against a select list of 300 strategic targets in Iraq and Kuwait; about 5,000 were flown against SCUD missile launchers, and some 30,000 to 50,000 against Iraqi forces in southern Iraq and Kuwait. In all, more than 3,000 bombs (including sea-launched cruise missiles) were dropped on metropolitan Baghdad. The total number of bombs dropped by allied forces in the war comes to about 250,000.'

That is 88,500,000 kilogrammes of bombs dropped on hapless Iraqis. Or approximately the weight of 14,750 DTC buses.

Even after gifting Bush Jr and Blair the luxury of deducting more than a couple of zeros from the above figures, it still doesn't distract one from the massive pogrom both masterminded in Iraq. And I am not even touching Afghanistan, lest overzealous defenders of the New World Order call me Osama bin Laden's Ayman al Zawahari.

Nor am I moved by explanations of how evil and dictatorial Saddam Hussein or Mullah Omar was. Dictatorial they were, and evil too, but then why does the globocop in Bush turn a blind eye to Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, king of Saudi Arabia or our friendly neighbourhood Pervez Musharraf?

I am also not going into explanations that have been wrung dry on why the US is so interested in West Asia or the tattered imperialist doctrine.

All explanations aside, reasonable logic still says if you kill someone you should end up behind bars.

Except, it seems, for the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which has set new standards in bucking the trend.

How else can one explain Bush and Blair getting nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Committee accepting it? The Committee, of course, can hide behind the technicality that anyone can nominate anyone else for the Prize and their acceptance does not mean endorsement of the duo's activities. But it is also true that the Committee has the power to reject nominations.

Imagine the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela. Now imagine George W Bush and Tony Blair. Essentially what the wise men of the committee, who have accepted the nominations, are saying goes something like this: 'All factors being equal, both sets of people are the same and deserve the best in the world.'

Forget if weapons of mass destruction have turned out to be thin air, intelligence reports have been proved to be weapons of mass deception and guerilla attacks are on the upswing. The deadly duo, say the Nobelwallahs, have contributed to world peace. Duh?!

Media reports I have read till now indicate that the chances of the two finally making it to the podium are slim. Thank god for small mercies.

It still escapes me though how the duo even made it to the list in the first place. But then surprises, especially the nasty ones, pop up when you expect them the least.

And just to even out the surprises, may I suggest the names of Idi Amin and Pol Pot for lifetime achievement awards?