New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

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.