New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
Meet Aam Admi Party's prospecive candidate in Thiruvananthapuram
Police attack on woman lawyer: AHRC's urgent appeal
Between sensationalism and suppression
Muslim gitls break conservative barriers at youth festival

വായ
തൂക്കുകയർ എന്ന മിഥ്യാനീതിസങ്കല്പം
ശശി തരൂർ വീണ്ടും ജനങ്ങളെ നേരിടുമ്പോൾ
കേരള രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിലെ മുന്നാമിടം
മുന്നണികളെ വിറങ്ങലിപ്പിച്ച അഞ്ചു ദിനങ്ങൾ
കോൺഗ്രസ് രാഷ്ട്രീയത്തിലെ മാറ്റങ്ങൾ

15 April, 2014

A Kashmiri intervention

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of separatist groups in the Kashmir valley, has attempted an unprecedented intervention in the ongoing Indian parliamentary elections, provoking a lively debate.

In an Open Letter, released as voting began last week, APHC Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq made a fervent plea to the people of India to hold the new government accountable on the Kashmir issue.

“You must press the elected leadership to rise above domestic politics and work towards India’s strategic and moral interests,” he wrote.

Although the Kashmir problem has festered throughout all of India’s years as a republic, it has never figured as an issue in the national elections, mainly because most parties have gone along with the policy which evolved in prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s time.

The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which came into being shortly before the first general election of 1951-52, vehemently opposed the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution, even though its founder, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, was a minister in Nehru’s Cabinet when the decision in this regard was taken.

At that time, entry into Kashmir and some border areas of the northeast was regulated through a permit system. Mukherjee who disapproved of the system entered the state without a permit and was arrested. His death in custody cast him as a martyr, and repeal of Article 370 became a part of the Hindutva election plank, along with introduction of a uniform civil code. However, it did not become a major campaign issue.

The Jana Party, in which the Jana Sangh merged its identity, won the 1977 elections that brought Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime to an end. Jana Sangh leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Kishen Advani held important positions in the Janata government but did not pursue the Hindutva line on Article 370 and uniform civil code. When the Janata Party split on the issue of membership of the Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Jana Sangh re-emerged styled as the Bharatiya Janata Party. It not only revived the Hindutva plank but also expanded it to include the demand for the construction of a Ram temple at the Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya.

In 1998, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance came to power at the Centre. Vajpayee, who headed the government, put the Hindutva plank on hold in deference to the sentiments of the BJP’s secular allies. The National Conference, the ruling party of Jammu and Kashmir, was a partner of the NDA at that time.

In his Open Letter, Umar Farooq wrote, “Crushing the democratic right to protest and express political dissent, restricting free speech, persecuting entire sections of the population, foisting black laws and continuing to keep hundreds of thousands of military forces deployed for decades on end in Kashmir — surely this represents both a moral and political failure. There has to be an end to all of this.”

He said at various moments prime ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh had given reason to believe that an honourable and lasting solution to the Kashmir issue could be achieved. But the hopes did not materialise. Vajpayee had offered to hold unconditional talks under the ambit of Insaniyat (humanity).

Unlike Vajpayee, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is the BJP’s prime ministerial face in the current elections, is widely seen as a hardcore Hindutva exponent. However, in campaign speeches he has generally focused on issues of governance and development.

Article 370 figures in the party’s election manifesto. However, instead of demanding its abrogation, as in the past, the party promises to hold talks on the issue.

The Hindu, a leading newspaper, which published Umar Farooq’s letter in full, later carried the responses of a cross-section of its readers in different parts of the country. Some of them were upset by his reference to Kashmiris as “us” and Indians as “you” and criticised him for his silence on terrorism. However, others described the letter variously as timely, mature, sincere, pragmatic and very encouraging.

Umar Farooq’s letter may not make any difference to the outcome of the elections but it has helped people outside the state to understand the feelings of the Kashmiris. What’s more, many have said they share his desire for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 15, 2014.

08 April, 2014

Change is inevitable

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The process of choosing a new government has begun. On Monday, voters in six constituencies in the eastern states of Assam and Tripura, marched to polling booths to pick their parliamentary representatives. India has an electorate of 814 million spread over 543 constituencies. During the next five weeks, voters in the remaining constituencies will make their choice.

The electoral exercise is conducted in several phases to ensure security during polling. Counting of votes will begin only after polling concludes all over the country. The people’s verdict will not, therefore, be known until May 17.

The current general election is one of the most hotly contested, with the Congress, which headed two successive United Progressive Alliance governments during the past 10 years, facing tough challenges from the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition in the last two parliaments, and a host of smaller parties whose support base does not extend beyond a single state.

Under Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has been named its prime ministerial candidate, the BJP is making an all-out bid to wrest power. It did not have an election manifesto when polling began. A committee headed by former party president Murli Manohar Joshi had drafted a manifesto but its release was delayed as Modi wanted it to be shortened.

In Modi’s scheme, the manifesto is not important. In his long and vigorous campaign — he began electioneering long before anyone else — he has relied on catchy slogans designed to hold the BJP’s traditional Hindutva followers and to reach out to young, middle class voters rather than on well-articulated ideas on policy matters.

Money matter

India Inc. has endorsed Modi. Its enthusiasm for him generated strong bullish tendencies in the stock market as the campaign progressed.

Modi’s campaign may be the costliest in the country’s electoral history. He arranged special trains to transport people to rallies he held in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which send 120 members to the Lok Sabha.

Aam Admi Party President Arvind Kejriwal asked the BJP to reveal the source of its campaign funds. The party ignored the demand.

Large sections of the electronic media have made no secret of their preference for Modi. When Kejriwal accused them of bias, the broadcasters’ organisation held out a veiled threat to black him out. 

When the BJP named Modi its prime ministerial candidate, its largest ally in the National Democratic Alliance, the Janata Dal (United), pulled out invoking memories of the anti-Muslim riots that swept Gujarat soon after he became chief minister of the state. That left the party with only the sectarian Shiv Sena of Maharashtra and Akali Dal of Punjab as its allies.

As pollsters identified Modi as the front-runner in the prime ministerial stakes, the NDA was able to attract new allies in Bihar and the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Expert opinion
Most opinion polls put the BJP and the NDA way ahead of the Congress and the UPA, but short of the 272 seats needed for a simple majority in the Lok Sabha. Their forecasts need to be accepted with a measure of caution. For one, they were off the mark on the last two occasions. For another, a recent sting operation showed that many pollsters are willing to doctor the findings to suit the needs of clients.

Early in the campaign, Rahul Gandhi, who heads the Congress campaign, conceded his party is the underdog in this election. However, he and other Congress leaders later made conscious efforts to exude optimism.

The Congress derives satisfaction from the reports that the NDA will not secure a majority. In such a situation, the small national parties and the regional parties will have a say on the shape of the next government.

In 2004 and 2009, many of these parties backed the Congress. If the BJP emerges as the largest single party and the NDA as the largest pre-poll alliance, many of these parties may be inclined to go with them instead of the Congress and the UPA.

If the NDA’s shortfall is small, the BJP will be able to attract enough small parties to raise the strength of the alliance to 272 or more. If the shortfall is large, it may face demands from them to choose a more acceptable leader than Modi as the prime minister.

This general election is the 16th since Independence. The voters who chose rather wisely on the earlier occasions will hopefully do so again. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 8, 2014.

01 April, 2014

The Law's lengthening arm

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Years ago, on a Friday, two judges of the Supreme Court of India sat at the home of one of them after dinner to hear the bail application of an industrialist who had been given a jail term by the Delhi high court earlier in the day. They did so to avoid the tycoon having to remain in prison until Monday, the court’s next working day.

An urgent hearing by judges after working hours is not something an ordinary citizen can hope for. It is a privilege available only to a rich litigant with high-paid counsel. 

Against this background, the Supreme Court’s pursuit of the cases against N. Srinivasan, President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, and Subrata Roy, head of the Sahara Group, who modestly describes himself as its Managing Worker, comes as a refreshing change. Both are businessmen who are under scrutiny in connection with suspicious deals.

Srinivasan is Chairman of the India Cements Limited, owners of the Indian Premier League team Chennai Super Kings. His son-in-law and CSK official Gurunath Meiyappan was arrested by the Mumbai police last year in a betting and spot-fixing case. While police and a BCCI team were probing the scandal he got himself re-elected as BCCI president.

When the Cricket Association of Bihar brought the issue before the Supreme Court, it asked how the BCCI could conduct a proper inquiry with Srinivasan at the helm and gave him two days’ time to step down. Publicly he took the position that under the BCCI bylaws he could not be removed but in the court he offered not to perform the president’s functions until the case was disposed of.

Rejecting the offer, the court appointed former Indian cricket captain Sunil Gavaskar as interim president of BCCI and entrusted him with responsibility of conducting this year’s IPL matches. BCCI vice-president Shivlal Yadav was asked to look after other duties of the president.

Subrata Roy’s troubles began when the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) started investigating a complaint that the Sahara Group committed various illegalities in raising over Rs240 billion from more than 30 million investors.

The group had filed a prospectus before Sebi in 2009 in preparation for an initial public offer of the shares of its real estate venture, Sahara Prime City. When Sebi sought some clarifications, the group sent to its office 127 truckloads of documents — more than 30 million applications and 20 million bond redemption vouchers the companies had received from investors.

Sebi’s scrutiny showed the two companies had resorted to large-scale fund-raising exercises without complying with the rules. It ordered refund of the money. The Securities Appellate Tribunal turned down the group’s appeal against the Sebi directive. So did the Supreme Court, which asked the two companies to deposit Rs 240 billion with Sebi for refund to the investors. It said payment could be made in three instalments. The group paid only one instalment of Rs 51.20 billion.

Roy who played truant was arrested four weeks ago on a non-bailable warrant issued by the apex court. He is still in custody, unable to meet the bail bond terms of a cash deposit of Rs 50 billion and a bank guarantee for an equal amount. The court rejected a scheme Roy submitted for refund of investors’ money, saying it was impractical.

The Sahara Group says it has raised funds to the tune of Rs 2,250 billion since its inception in 1978. It puts its net worth at Rs 681.74 billion and total assets at Rs 1,525.18 billion. Its employees are said to be working on a plan to contribute their mite and raise a Rs100 billion to secure Roy’s release. 

The Supreme Court has acted against Srinivasan and Roy without any adverse legal findings against them. Roy’s counsel told it last week that under the law a man cannot be jailed for not honouring a money decree without first establishing through inquiry that he had the capacity to pay but had defaulted.

The court is acting on the strength of the constitutional provision which gives it the authority to pass any order to do complete justice in a matter before it. Its readiness to invoke this omnibus provision to check exploitation of the unwary public by the rich and the powerful may serve as a warning to those who are inclined to take advantage of loopholes in the laws. -- Gulf Today, April 1, 2014.

26 March, 2014

A skeleton in the cupboard

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The humiliating rout India suffered in the brief border war with China still rankles half a century later. Little wonder, then, that the government was embarrassed by the appearance of a part of the officially classified report of Lt Gen TB Henderson Brooks and Brig PS Bhagat, who undertook an operational review of the conflict, in a foreign website. It got service providers to block access to the report from India.
This is not the first time that the contents of the report have come into the public domain. Neville Maxwell, who worked for The Times of London from New Delhi in the 1960s, had revealed parts of it in his dispatches. He provided more material from it in his 1970 book India’s China War. Now he has posted on his website 126 pages described as Part 1 of the report.

The Army justifies withholding of the report from the public, saying as a rule it does not publish reports of operational reviews. In fact, it claims, it does not even share them with the government. It is, however, known that the Army chief sent the Brooks-Bhagat report to the Defence Minister in July 1963 and that he in turn forwarded it to prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

It is believed that Congress governments have been unwilling to declassify the report as it shows the political leadership, more specifically Nehru and then Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon, in a poor light. That explanation raises the question why the non-Congress governments did not publish it. Even prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who, as leader of the Bharatiya Janata Sangh, was a trenchant critic of Nehru and Krishna Menon, did not publish the report.

The Army certainly does not want the report to be published. Answering a question in Parliament in 2010 Defence Minister AK Antony said it could not be declassified as its contents were not only extremely sensitive but were also of current operational value.

The plea of sensitivity is understandable. But if the claim that the report contains material of current operational value is correct, it reflects poorly on the lessons the Army learnt from the debacle and the measures it has taken to improve its capabilities.

The military and civil wings may have reasons for wanting to keep the report under the wraps. But they must realise that its contents have been discussed publicly and privately around the world for decades. The report is said to have figured in the 1972 talks between US president Richard Nixon and Chinese prime minister Zhou Enlai in Beijing.

Non-publication of the report appears to have caused some damage by giving it an air of authenticity which it probably does not deserve. Although it was meant to be an operational review, judging by material that is in the public domain, it sidesteps crucial operational issues and reduces the process to a blame game.

The Brooks-Bhagat finding that the Army erred in following a “forward policy”, against its own better judgment, at the instance of the political leadership, is not without merit. However, it cannot be taken as the whole truth, especially since the commission did not have access to the records of either the Defence Ministry or the Army headquarters.

The political leadership’s conduct cannot be judged in isolation. It must be viewed against the background of the jingoistic cries that reverberated in the country in the wake of large-scale Chinese incursions. There were misjudgments and miscalculations on both sides.

India was the first non-communist country to recognise the People’s Republic and it fully backed Beijing’s claim to China’s UN seat. Also, overlooking the objections of some influential leaders of his own party, Nehru accepted China’s sovereignty over Tibet, which the colonial regime had turned into a buffer state. In the event, he viewed the Chinese incursions as an act of perfidy.

China, on its part, believed Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was encouraging India to move forward. Zhou was peeved that Nehru, with whom he had built a rapport, did not respond to three urgent messages he sent him when the border came alive.

As hordes of Chinese soldiers poured in through the Himalayan passes, the newly raised and totally unprepared Indian corps scattered in disarray. Before the Indian troops could regroup, Beijing announced a unilateral withdrawal, obviating the need to maintain long supply lines. Now that the trauma is over, India must be ready to face the skeleton in the cupboard squarely.-- Gulf Today, March 25, 2014

11 March, 2014

Modi in ‘now or never’ battle

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India’s voters, numbering more than 814 million, have been called upon to choose 543 members of Parliament as a first step towards the formation a new government in place of the Manmohan Singh administration, which completes its current term in May.

The schedule prepared by the Election Commission provides for polling in nine phases spread over five weeks, from April 7. That leaves the political parties with little time to complete the selection of candidates.

The Congress, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the rival National Democratic Alliance, have more at stake in this election than any other party. Both are expected to contest between 400 and 450 seats. So far they have not finalised candidates for even half of the seats.

The election presents the first real test for Rahul Gandhi who is in the process of taking over the stewardship of the Congress party from his mother, Sonia Gandhi, and is almost sure to be the prime minister if it is in a position to form a new government. He faces an uphill task as the party, which has been continuously in power for 10 years, enters the fray with its burden of double incumbency compounded by a spate of corruption scandals.

He picked up the reins too late to be able to project himself as a credible agent of change capable of redeeming the party. He could stop the government from going ahead with some unpopular ideas but he could not push through legislative measures which he claimed were important tools needed to fight corruption.

In the event, few credit Rahul Gandhi with the ability to avert the electoral reverse that awaits the party. However, a poor poll performance is unlikely to pose any serious threat to his leadership of the party since he has inherited it as the heir of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

The BJP, which lost two successive elections under the leadership of former deputy prime minister Lal Kishen Advani, is making an all-out bid for power this time under three-time Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

An indefatigable campaigner, Modi has created tremendous enthusiasm not only among the party’s Hindutva clientele but also among large sections of urban youth who have responded enthusiastically to his call to put divisive issues behind and unite for development.

The Janata Dal (United), Bihar’s ruling party and a long-time ally of the BJP, broke away from the NDA the moment the party named Modi its prime ministerial candidature, citing his alleged role in facilitating the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat. That left the NDA without any constituent with secular credentials.

However, the BJP later improved its image somewhat by forging an alliance with another Bihar party, Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party.

Paswan had resigned from the NDA government in 2002 to vote against it in Parliament on the issue of the Gujarat riots. His return to the NDA indicates readiness to work under Modi if he becomes the Prime Minister, forgetting the 2002 carnage. 

The Telugu Desam party of Andhra Pradesh, which, too, is a former NDA constituent, is also in talks with the BJP and ready to make up with Modi.

However, two other parties which were NDA partners when it was in power, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, appear determined to pursue an independent course.

West Bengal, with 42 seats in the Lok Sabha, and Tamil Nadu, with 39 seats, are comparatively big players and the two chief ministers are seeking to maximise their parties’ parliamentary strength with a view to enhancing their role in national affairs.

Mamata Banerjee recently said that she was ready to accept Jayalalithaa or Bahujan Samaj Party leader and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati as the prime minister. 

These developments must worry Narendra Modi, for whom this is a ‘now or never’ battle. The BJP named him as its prime ministerial candidate under pressure from the Hindutva powerhouse, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, overruling the objections of Advani and other national level leaders. If he fails to land the top job, critics within the party are sure to attribute his rejection by the electorate to the odium of the Gujarat riots and the RSS may not be able to persuade the party to nominate him again. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 11, 2014.

04 March, 2014

Accidents revelatory

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Chief of Naval Staff Admiral DK Joshi’s resignation last week, assuming moral responsibility for a series of accidents under his watch, has raised a host of issues about the goings-on in India’s defence establishment.

Joshi put in his papers within hours of a fire outbreak aboard the Sindhuratna, a recently refitted Russian-built submarine, in which two officers were killed and seven others injured. It was the tenth accident since an explosion in another submarine, the Sindhurakshak, killed all 18 crewmembers on board, seven months ago.

Defence experts have questioned the government’s swift acceptance of Joshi’s resignation without making any effort to persuade him to stay on. Some of them squarely blame the civilian administration for the sad state of affairs revealed by the accidents.

AK Antony, India’s longest serving Defence Minister, has been at the post since 2007. He was given charge of the department, which was mired in scandals over kickbacks in procurements, mainly because of his reputation as a politician with a clean image. His extremely cautious approach, stemming from a desire to avoid wrongdoing, has inordinately delayed decision-making and slowed down modernisation of the defence forces. Antony has blacklisted several companies which reportedly paid bribes to get Indian orders. Recent revelations in an Italian court about kickbacks in a helicopter deal suggest that corruption in defence purchases has not come to an end.

The names mentioned in the Italian proceedings include those of former Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi, and three of his cousins. Antony cancelled the order for helicopters as soon as the kickback report surfaced. He can derive some comfort from the fact that the name of no politician has come up.

The chopper deal illustrates how tardy the decision-making process is. It was in 1999 that the government decided to buy 12 helicopters for the squadron that handles flights of high dignitaries. An order worth $570 million was finally placed with Augusta Westland of the UK, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica of Italy, in 2010.

It has been alleged that the helicopter specifications were revised mid-way to make the Italian-British conglomerate eligible to compete. Following the Italian court revelations, the Central Bureau of Investigation registered a case and initiated steps to prevent the Tyagis and other Indian suspects from leaving the country. But there has been little progress in the Indian investigation.

The first major defence scandal to hit the headlines related to the 1986 deal with AB Bofors of Sweden for the supply of 410 howitzers for $285 million. The following year the Swedish radio reported that the company had paid bribes to win the order. Media reports mentioned the names of prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and some of his friends in this connection.

The CBI, which took up investigation, filed a charge-sheet in which Gandhi, his family friend and Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi and Bofors CEO Martin Ardbo were among the accused. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated and the other accused died natural deaths as the investigations went on interminably.

In a book published last year, former CBI Director AP Mukherjee, says Rajiv Gandhi told him that middlemen were being excluded from defence deals in order to raise funds for the Congress party. Assuming that he is telling the truth, he also appears to have unwittingly revealed why the corrupt are able to get away. India has no Deep Throat who wants to save the system even if it calls for sacrifice of a political executive. Instead, there are careerists ready to hold on to information until they are of no material use.

Several defence analysts have pointed out that delays in defence procurement are leaving the forces ill-equipped at a time of changes in the strategic environment. They attribute the delays primarily to the bureaucrats.

They have also voiced concern at the growth in trust deficit between the military and defence bureaucracy under Antony. Some troop movements which took place near the capital when Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh moved the Supreme Court against the government on the issue of his age had led to suspicions of a coup attempt.

The issues the experts have pointed out demand urgent resolution but the Manmohan Singh government which is at the fag end of its term cannot be expected to address them. They must wait until after the parliamentary elections in May.-- Gulf Today, Sharjat, March 4, 2014

01 March, 2014

A gift offer and customer care



This is about a gift which did not arrive.
On November 2013 I placed a gift subscription with Reader’s Digest for my grand-daughter. In terms of the company’s offer I was entitled to a 2014 Diary as gift. When it did not arrive till December 30 I sent an e-mail to the RD Customer Care unit (rdcare@intoday.com). The next day I received a reply from Rajesh, Executive, Customer Care, saying the gifts had been dispatched to eligible persons and it seemed probable mine was lost or pilfered in postal transit. He said a Diary ’14 was being sent to me through courier and asked me to allow them seven working days time.
After seven working days passed with no sign of the couriered Diary, I wrote again on January 11. On January 13 I received a reply from another Customer Care Executive, Mamta Pandey, who offered a totally different explanation for the non-delivery of the Diary. “The consignment got delayed from our end and dispatches will start within 1-2 weeks,” she wrote. 
When two more weeks passed and there was still no sign of the Diary, I sent a third mail on January 28, and received a response on January 31 from a third Customer Care Executive, Bharti Bhatija, who again said they were arranging a replacement through courier and asked me to allow seven working days for delivery. A month later, there is still no sign of the Diary or the courier.
Since Reader’s Digest is part of the India Today Group I sent an e-mail to the Customer Care unit of that group (wecare@intoday.com), and followed it up with a snail mail to the company. Neither communication has fetched a response.
So much for offers and customer care.