Prime Minister Modi, a Master Magician

An army of stags led by a lion could be more formidable than the army of lions led by a stag. This Latin proverb is applicable in every situation in every area of human activity in any part of the world.

A visionary and daredevil leader as “guidepost” can make the difference in and off the field. Of course, the question of political leadership is a complex phenomenon, especially in the Indian situation. The people here look for an ideal image – charismatic and forward-looking, but in the traditional mould.

Where does Prime Minister Narendra Modi fit in, in the complex Indian setting ? He surely roars like a lion. After three years of his rule, it is still too early to have an objective assessment of the controversial former Chief Minister of Gujarat. It can, however, be safely stated that he has proved himself to be a Master Magician who could generate thunderous applause by his rhetoric despite visible gaps between Promise and Performance.

Only a Master Magician can take out a rabbit from his “hat” to the delight of his audience. Prime Minister Modi has perfected the intricate art of image-building even against the backdrop of his controversial masterstroke of demonetisation. Knowledgeable persons have raised a number of inconvenient questions on Notes Ban.

I am not questioning the Prime Minister’s good intentions. He is a well-meaning and forward-looking leader. What his Notes Ban move lacked was thought inputs from the ground. I am sorry to say the Prime Minister failed to make an objective assessment of grassroots realities before his historic demonetization measure.

He and his close associates continue to be guided by their inflated ego, though hard economic facts give distress signals on this count. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) report tells us about the growth slowdown to 5.7 per cent in the last quarter, growing joblessness, stagnation on the farm front and in the manufacturing sector. Even the net effect of “good monsoon” is anyone’s guess.

Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan has stated that “if the decision such as this Notes Ban turns out as exposed, the country would want to ask what were the inputs that went into that decision”. This is a legitimate issue in a vibrant democratic country like ours.

The Prime Minister’s problem is his style of governance, which is highly personalized and secretive. He banks on a small coterie of bureaucrats and some invisible experts who, I am afraid, might be well versed with the country’s complex ground realities.

May I ask: whether the demonetization pain inflicted on ordinary citizens and suicide-prone farmers were worth it ? A shattering damage has already been done to small and medium- sized industries. Millions of youngsters are without jobs. The sufferings of the economically crippled ordinary masses have increased manifold because of high prices even of rice and pulses.

What happened to the promise of generating one crore jobs? What of new jobs? Lakhs of workers in the informal sectors are still on the streets? So is the plight of daily workers. No Master Magician on the earth can take out jobs from his hat. This will require high speed economic growth and right development priorities.

Be that as it may. Prime Minister Modi continues to be popular with the majority of people. They trust him, hoping against hope that he would be able to deliver on his promises.

Narendra Modi is indeed seen as the best bet vis-vis the poor quality of Opposition leadership, headed by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Nitish Kumar had some potentialities to emerge as an alternative to Modi. But he has been roped in by the BJP-led NDA outfit. Good luck to the Bihar Chief Minister. He has a tough task ahead in the face of the odd but evergreen Bihar phenomenon of Lalu Prasad Yadav. The new factor in this setting is Sharad Yadav.

With 18 months to go for the 2019 elections, the BJP leadership’s target is the magic figure of 350 seats for the Lok Sabha. The ball is in the people’s court and the Prime Minister continues to cast a spell on them. It must be acknowledged that the reason for Prime Minister Modi’s high popularity graph is due to his certain initiatives on electricity for villages, toilets for every home, empowerment of girls etc. Even signals from his cabinet shake-up at the BRICS summit have been his plus points.

The elevation of Nirmala Seetharaman as the first woman full-fledged Defence Minister has been widely welcomed. She also takes her place in a male-dominated Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) along with her colleague Sushma Swaraj. This is absolutely fine. It will, however, be wrong to see this symbolic act as empowerment of women. We know that the country has still a long way to go for the safety and empowerment of girls and women, both in rural and urban India.

Similarly, replacing Suresh Prabhu by Piyush Goyal will not solve the Railways’ basic problems of mordernisation and improved facilities for ordinary passengers unless priorities in the rail set-up are reoriented.

Prime Minister Modi has, of course, done well by inducting “outsiders” on the plea of professionalism. But, ironically, they have been placed outside their areas of expertise. Well, no one can take Modi for granted. He has a reservoir of surprises. But he has to constantly keep it in mind that the Indian electorate could swing either way to anyone’s surprise.

The cabinet reshuffle apart, the Prime Minister clicked at the BRICS summit at Xiamen in China. He successfully diffused the Doklam stand-off crisis after his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He played a key role in naming two Pakistan-based terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed in the Xiamen Declaration which expressed “concern” on the security situation in the region and violence caused by these terrorist groups.
This is for the first time that a BRICS declaration named the terrorist groups despite China’s known axis with Pakistan and its blocking of the UN moves to dub Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. This is the Prime Minister’s big diplomatic success.

However the main challenge to the Prime Minister comes from the home front. What matters here is the delivery of promises for faster economic growth and employment generation. For this, he has to create congenial business atmosphere to turn India into a land of opportunity.

It will be worthwhile to quote former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. He said:

“…India’s greatest strength as it makes its place in the global economy is ….an environment of openness, free speech and tolerance. And if we were to lose this, we would lose what is our greatest strength and in an economy going forward where innovation, human capital contribution of the highest order is going to be where value is added…..The fact that we have achieved this with a modest level of per capita income is the strength that would be really misguided to lose”. (Indian Express, Sept 6)

I wish to leave these thoughts for the Prime Minister to ponder over. He has surely been talking against intolerance, violence and even cow vigilantism. What matters is the firm action on the ground. He also must not lose the sight of the hard fact of growing inequality in India. A report by economists Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel shows how India has gone from British Raj to the Billionaire Raj, with 22 per cent income accruing to the top one per cent income earners.

Well, the Prime Minister needs to correct his priorities. Instead of creating a pro- rich image, he ought to identify himself fully with the sufferings and deprivations of the poor and have-nots who are still waiting for a place of honour in the Republic.

The question is not merely of poverty and faster development. At stake is the quality of governance which has to ensure an environment of openness, free speech, a place for voices of dissent, tolerance and mutual understanding.

The India today cannot be turned back. Extraordinary changes have occurred at several levels over the years and will continue to occur. All that is required in this changing scenario is an open mind so that new challenges are faced effectively and decisively.

Prime Minister Modi, a Master Magician

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Wages of ill-informed sick society

The sickening episode of self-styled “godman” and rape convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim throws up a number of critical social and political issues which ought to grip the attention of citizens who have reasons to be concerned about the country’s state of drift in recent years. I am not looking at these happenings through politico-religious angularities often indulged in by the Congress and its UPA allies or the BJP and its NDA partners.

Nor am I prompted by Hindutva-bashing which has been the standard practice of a section of “secular and progressive forces” in the polity. I wish to look at sensitive issues revolving around the head of Dera Sacha Sauda objectively and try to find out how and why socio-religious matters have been hijacked by fake holy- men in our society.

The Special CBI Court has pronounced 20 years’ sentence to the rape convict. All credit to the CBI for having come out of its old mindset of “protecting” the cult leader at the biding of his political mentors, from NDA-1 to UPA-1 and 2 and now NDA-2. Perhaps, we shall never know what exactly transpired under different establishments for 15 years after Sirsa’s local journalist, Ram Chander Chhatrapati who exposed Ram Rahim’s dubious activities, was shot dead in October 2002. No tears are being shed for Chhatrapati. What a shame!

Is this not the failure of Haryana’s leaders who, instead of looking at his shady acts, were guided by vote gains from the followers of high-profile Ram Rahim? The gravity of crimes of such political leaders is serious. They left the poor and Dalit of backward areas of Haryana and Punjab at the mercy of “godmen” who used the platform of satsang, kirtan and bhajan to build their own parallel empires.

How could the state authorities allow them to build a virtual state of their own within the State with all the luxuries of life and even private armies? This harsh reality tells us a lot about the poor quality of personalized governance. The file pictures of such “godmen” with leaders of different parties tell us how ill-informed and sick our society has become, notwithstanding the thundering rhetoric of Narendra Modi about the poor and Digital India.

Talking about Digital India is fine. But the moot point is: who will take care of disprivileged and deprived sections of society scattered across the country? What about the promised economic uplift of millions of people who are still struggling for two square meals, minimum healthcare for children and their right to education and good living conditions even after 71 years of independence?

Haryana has been in focus for the past several years because of two holy men – Gurmeet Ram Rahim and earlier in 2014 Rampal Singh Jatin. Also, in the headlines recently has been Haryana’s BJP Chief Minister Ram Lal Khattar who has a fairly good RSS background. He was pulled up by the judiciary for his failure to maintain law and order in Panchkula.

I had a good impression about RSS persons because of their disciplined approach to personal and social matters and dedication to the causes they believe in. However, Chief Minister Khattar has exposed himself at least on three occasions as a non-performer. It is a different matter that he has publicly expressed happiness at his performance! Knowledgeable persons, however, think it otherwise. He is certainly going to survive as chief minister as long as he enjoys the backing of Prime Minister Modi. Who cares for ground realities?

My point is simple: how could the BJP high command tolerate inefficient persons in key positions? The BJP leadership’s tragedy is that it is following the footsteps of the Congress for petty gains. May I, therefore, legitimately ask: in what way is the BJP a party with a difference? BJP chief Amit Shah and Prime Minister Modi have a lot to answer on this count.

The people understand what is what. It hardly matters if the glass is half empty or half full. What is important in public perception is how deep is our leaders’ understanding of socio-economic and political complexities of India, that is, Bharat ?

In this grim setting, what is disquieting is the absence of social reformers. Some high-profile swamis have either got themselves commercialized or politicized under the canopy of yoga power. Nothing wrong with this, provided they draw a lakshman rekha between minting money and commitment to social causes.

The right sort of political dharma actually holds the key to the country’s turbulence-free order and all-round improvement in the quality of public life. The phenomena of Rampal Singh Jatin and Gurmeet Ram Rahim are aberrations in our socio-economic and political functioning. This must not be used as a tool for decrying Hinduism and the rich legacy of our great sages and rishis who have given this nation the basic greatness and vibrance of Indian spirit of tolerance and mutual understanding.

Rampal Singh Jatin’s Satlok Ashram and Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s Dera Sacha Sauda are, in a way, wages of the state’s failures to empower the poor, the have-nots and tribals of our society. The poor system of governance at the grassroots has created a fertile ground for self-styled godmen to grow in style under the patronage of the powers-that-be.

The poor and the illiterate are apparently taken for a ride by custodians of these deras and ashrams since they meet their daily needs for food, shelter and healthcare. True, some of these deras in the Punjab-Haryana region are genuine as they work at the grassroots to help the poor to come up in life. Some deras stood up boldly against the militancy in Punjab. This, however, does not absolve the ruling establishments of their failures to
uplift the lives of the downtrodden section of our society.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court has shown rare guts by speaking out boldly on the Chief Minister’s failure to maintain law and order in Panchkula. Apart from reprimanding the Haryana government, it has reminded Narendra Modi that “he is the Prime Minister not of the BJP, but of India”. Be that as it may. The issues raised by recent disturbing events have wider dimensions which must be seen in a larger national framework for creating a just, humane and egalitarian society that the country badly needs.

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India’s ailing health system

Who cares for children ?

A year back, a 10-year-old tribal boy Umesh Medhi made a frantic appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit his villages in Malkangiri in Odisha where 73 of his fellow children had lost their lives in the outbreak of Japanese encephalitis.

“Sir. Save our lives. Many of my friends have died of Japanese fever . You are roaming around the globe. Cannot you come over to our villages and see how are children dying here ?”

Medhi, a student of class IV of Polkanda Primary School under Sikapali gram panchayat, described the ordeal of parents who lost their children in the Japanese encephalitis. What prompted the tribal boy to write to Narendra Modi was Malkangiri villagers’ belief that the
Prime Minister could be their last hope !

This is understandable since nothing moves the Indian system of democracy unless a heavyweight leader or the Prime Minister himself takes personal interest in matters of public concern. I have no clue whether the Prime Minister responded to Medhi’s pleas since Modi’s priorities then were global rather than the sufferings of Malkangiri children or grieving families of debt-ridden farmers who committed suicide !

What can anyone do if ordinary people’s distress signals do not touch the hearts of our leaders ? Mercifully, the Prime Minister at least expressed his grief at the latest Gorakhpur tragedy during his Independence Day speech from the Red Fort. However, passing references can hardly help solve a deep-rooted rot in the country’s terribly sick medical system.

Public health care has never been a priority of our leaders in the States or at the Centre who have presided over the country’s destiny over 70 years of Independence. The poor, the have-nots, the tribals and the backwards hardly figure in our VVIP-oriented society. Our leaders sell them “dreams” of promises and people are left with no option but look heavenwards with dying children in their arms ! This is the India we all have learnt to live with, whether high-profile persons at the helm happen to be BJP-led NDA Prime Minister Modi or CM Yogi or CM Akhilesh Yadav or CM Mayawati or Sonia Gandhi’s UPA power bandwagon of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh !

Unfortunately, we see more of politics than serious efforts to go deep into the issues of children’s mental or physical health and work out concrete plans of action to make the life somewhat easier for the deprived and disprivileged sections of our society. No wonder, we continue to see replay of the same old stories of bunglings, malpractices and horrible working conditions in hospitals from Odisha to Bihar to Chhattisgarh to West Bengal and now in Gorakhpur in UP.

In Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi does hold out some promise since he has also represented Gorakhpur for five terms in the Lok Sabha. However, ironically, politics has already taken charge of the Gorakhpur tragedy. Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav and other opposition leaders are already at their old political games. Even CM Yogi’s Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh plays his own brand counter-politics on the shortage of life-saving oxygen cylinders at the Baba Raghav Das hospital.

Be that as it may. The District Magistrate’s report on the Gorakhpur tragedy is bound to open a can of worms. Even the Chief Secretary’s report submitted to CM Yogi is quite revealing.

Anomalies in cylinders’ record log book show serious financial bungling. This is the same old story of how persons at the helm cash in on the people’s sufferings. So do several government doctors with their flourishing private practices !

India’s medical system is indeed terribly sick. The country has one of the poorest health records in the world. Public expenditure on health is 1.58 per cent of GDP – far lower than the global median of 5 per cent.

According to the UN’s Millenium Development Goals (MDG) programme, 270 million or 21.9 per cent of people out of 1.2 billion Indians lived below the poverty line of $ 1.25 in 2011-12. Moreover, 84 per cent of all health care expenditure in India is out of pocket. This means a large number of families are constantly at the risk of falling into poverty on account of high health expenses !

According to UNICEF India, over two million children die every year from preventable diseases. The worst situation is faced by rural areas residents living below the poverty line.
Small wonder that every third child in India is malnourished . But, who cares ? What is particularly disquieting is that we do not have proper services or programme for children with mental health issues. In fact, the mental health budget remains just one per cent of the existing highly inadequate total health budget. In U.P., the latest report suggests that the Yogi government has slashed medical education budget by 50 per cent. What a shame !

Uttar Pradesh has actually the worst record on child care, with 46 per cent of the children being underdeveloped, including Muslim boys and girls ! My point is simple. Why can’t our Ministers, MPs, MLAs, bureaucrats cut down their hefty pay packets and perks to improve the lot of our poverty-stricken youngsters ? But the VVIPs hardly care for children !

What is needed urgently is a “total overhaul “ of the health system in the country with a view to promoting what Prof Rajni Kothari once put it, new concepts of public management and accountability. Apart from rational restructuring of public health ministeries and departments, the lower levels of administration in hospitals and primary health centres are critical areas for health care. They require special attention since “a million points of contact” are established at low operational levels every day.

In this context, I wish to quote S. Banerjee from his study titled “Some Reflections on Administrative Reforms” (Management in government, Vol 1 April June 1969). He says :

“If administrative reforms are to catch the imagination of the people of this country, our thinking and action will have to descend at the ground level. Our ingenuity and imagination will have to leave aside for a while the lofty “Manuals” which guide the path of our policy-makers in government headquarters, sitting in secure ivory-towers far from the maddening crowd ! They will have to be directed towards simplifying the maddening procedures, the multicity of terms and the vexatious rules to which the counter-clerk is asked to adhere. No high-powered commission is required to do this task. The answers lie in the much-neglected ‘obvious steps’.”

Over three years back, Prime Minister Modi had promised to bring about good governance at all levels of administration. But, where is good governance in critical areas affecting the life of the country’s ordinary citizens and the poor in our high-profile hospitals and health centres ?

Will the Prime Minister and State Chief Ministers, including Adityanath Yogi, learn from simple thoughts and work for eliminating the existing hiatus between the hospital authorities and the millions of people and their children ?

I hope that something something good would come out of the Gorakhpur and Malkangiri tragedies !

To ward off negative traits in the polity, we need to spread the message that “power does not reside in objects, it resides in systems”, which are meant to serve the greater good of society – and not individual interest. We cannot afford anarchy parading as democracy in any area of public functioning. We have to move beyond personalities and think of common interest of ordinary citizens and the future of millions of our suffering children. George Eliot has beautifully conveyed the idea in the following passage :

Our deeds still travel with us from afar,
And what we have been makes us what we are.

Over to our Prime Minister Modi. It is high time he took stock of his numerous promises and tested them on the touchstone of ground realities !


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Beijing-Islamabad axis A big challenge ahead

Whither Pakistan ? Even the Almighty might not have a straight answer to this question. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, to use a Churchillian idiom, is an enigma wrapped in a riddle as it is constantly subjected to pulls and counterpulls of various Islamic forces, some known and some unknown.

There are brands and sub-brands of terrorist and fundamentalist Islamic groups who play with guns to impose their writ not only within Pakistan’s fragile civilian society but also across the borders in Afghanistan and India, Kashmir in particular.

The deadly Islamic terrorist outfits apart, the all-powerful GHO Rawalpindi calls the shots in security and foreign policy affairs. Major terrorist groups operate on its dicates through operational hands of ISI. In this setting, the Civilian authority is nothing but a symbolic mask in the name of democracy. The strings of power are controlled by generals and their hangers-on. Pakistan’s is indeed a classic example of how “democracy” could be controlled by military generals. This is how a number of elected prime ministers were dethroned in coups, including Nawaz Sharif in 1997.

Of couse, Nawaz Sharif lost his coveted position as Prime Minister by a “judicial coup”. The Pakistan Supreme court acted against him on charges of corruption against his family members as revealed by the Panama Papers. In a way, this is somewhat ironic since the whole system of Pakistan is soaked in corruption. Even the military establishment thrives on corrupt practices.

Ordinary Pakistanis talked about the greed and vulnerability of army personnel in hush-hush voices during my visit to that country in 1997. How Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted by General Pervez Musharraf then is part of Pakistan’s turbulent history.

Once bitten twice shy. This time Sharif was very cautious and guarded. He avoided direct confrontation with the military establishment and that is how he could manage to survive for quite some time.

I understand General Rabeel Sharif has had own ideas on conducting Pakistan’s foreign and defence affairs, keeping in view changing American strategies under the unpredictable presidency of Donald Trump and China’s emergence as an assertive power under President Xi Jinping in the Asia-Pacific region, especially vis-a vis India.

The multi-dimensional Beijing-Islamabad axis does pose a big challenge to the Modi leadership. Is New Delhi ready for the onerous task ahead ? The Doklam stand-off does show that India is not going to be bullied by Beijing’s tactics and war-mongering hysteria .

India certainly wants to sort out the Doklam crisis peacefully through quiet diplomacy. At the same time, it is clear about not letting the Chinese construct a motorable road to Jampheri, which goes against India’s strategic interest in the North-East and beyond.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is right in saying that “war” is not the answer. I believe that President Xi Jinping, too, understands this basic reality. But then he seems to be suffering from arrogance of power and personal ambition to outclass Mao as an undisputed supremo, both internally and globally.

China’s imperialistic ambition cannot be taken lightly. We have suffered a lot at the Chinese hands right from 1962 simply because we have failed to learn from China’s expansionist policy.

Whether one admits it not, Pakistan is trapped in a mess of its own making. This includes its special love and axis with un-Islamic President Xi’s China. After decades of US military alliance, Islamabad has drawn itself closer to Beijing.

In fact, Nawaz Sharif’s ouster as Prime Minister is viewed in certain quarters as a move prompted by Pakistan’s military establishment since it decided to opt for its strategic shift from Washington to Beijing. Pakistan’s strategic shift in global tie-ups has wider implications, specially for India. GHQ Rawalpindi sees China’s hostile postures towards India as its big advantage. This explains why Islamabad has opened up its doors to the Chinese economic corridor moves passing through PoK.

Be that as it may. Fanaticism in conduct of foreign affairs is a deadly game. When unleashed for grabbing powers, it acquires sinister overtones. A more pragmatic understanding of geopolitical realities can help Islamabad to rationalize things. Pakistan today is in a no-win situation and it will continue to be so unless it changes its course of hostility and confrontation, in concert with China, with India.

What is needed now is a two-way communication for peace, development and stability in the subcontinent without the China factor. Perhaps this is a tall order for the military commanders of Islamabad. They have a fixed anti-India mindset which suits even China.

As for India, it is certainly in a decisive stage of transformation under the Modi government. It can no longer afford to remain isolated from the regional dynamics. New realities in the neighbourhood and beyond ought to prod us to think on unconventional lines in the pursuit of our foreign policy and security objectives. Viewed in this light, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new economic and military ties-up with Israel is highly significant. This should help us in giving dynamic thrust to tackle the obnoxious Beijing-Islamabad axis.

The history of world affairs teaches us that things do not change sharply or fundamentally as newspaper headlines and political rhetoric claim they do. The onerous challenge before the South Block is how to manage Talibanised Pakistan and Afghanistan along with horrifying faces of terror activities in Kashmir as well as evil designs of communist China in our border areas.

Let me leave aside Sushma Swaraj’s impressive explanations in the Rajya Sabha. Operationally, what is needed is fresh thinking and total clarity in our security and economic goals and targets to neutralize the fallout the Beijing-Islamabad axis. Otherwise, we shall continue to suffer as we did for several decades in the past. I expect Prime Minister Modi to check the drift both at home and abroad, address the basic issues on the ground and lead the nation on to the right course. India must not be pass off as a soft power nation.

Is Prime Minister Modi ready for this onerous task? I keep my fingers crossed. The Pakistani hate-India campaign led by the likes of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and China’s anti-India hysteria over the Doklam face-off have vitiated the atmosphere in the sub-continent. What Pakistan and China are preaching and practising does not fit in the 21st century world. We cannot generate peace and stability in the region with Pakistan-style fanaticism and Imperialist China’s sweet and sour tactics.

Enough is enough. We have already paid a heavy price for goody-goody diplomacy. If the leadership has a vision for tomorrow and shows sufficient guts to translate national objectives into action, solutions of even very complex issues can be explored. To meet the formidable challenge of the Beijing-Islamabad axis, New Delhi has to be firm where firmness is needed most. It cannot opt for soft options in an area where the very edifice of India as a nation rests.

Writing in Foreign Affairs (Spring 2000) a former US Deputy Secretary of State argues that “We should not plan to redraw borders with blood.” The emphasis hereafter should be our democracy, good governance, federalism and the protection of human rights, and not only breaking up states. This exactly is the Indian position that ought to be conveyed to Pakistan’s military regime and Beijing’s one-party imperialist tantrums in our border areas.

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Lest we repeat mistakes !

Mao’s popular dictum used to be: “Signal Right, Turn Left.” With his unstated ambition to emerge a Mao –probably larger than him–, President Xi Jinping is toeing the helmsman dictum in conducting Chinese affairs, especially with India.

Just recall the euphoria built up in the country around a full-throated slogan of “Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai” in the fifties . Jawaharlal Nehru then was at the helm of India’s destiny. He was taken for ride on the “bhai-bhai” path by the Mao-Chou duo. He signed the Panchsheel agreement, hoping that Communist China would take to the peaceful co-existence path and honour the promised autonomy for Tibet. What happened subsequently is part of the tragic happenings in Tibet and the Dalai Lama and his people’s exodus from their home land and the blood-soaked 1962 chapter of Indian history.

History is not “ a pack of tricks we play upon the dead”, Voltaire once opined. It holds out a mirror as a guide to the future on the premise that mistakes committed in the past are not “played upon the dead.”

Much water has flowed down the Brahmaputra since the 1962 betrayal of Nehru’s India by China. I do not wish to sit in judgement on a series of recent events which have revived the bitter memories of the past amidst Beijing’s war hysteria and claims on the Bhutanese Doklam plateau at the trijunction. India is bound by the treaty to protect the territorial integrity of Bhutan. Indian trops had earlier blocked Chinese road works in Doklam and have since been in a faceoff with PLA troops.

Defence Minister Arun Jaitely is on a firm wicket when he said recently that the “2017 India is not the India of 1962.” Still, it cannot be claimed with certainty whether India can fully match China’s economic and military power, especially keeping in view the Beijing-Islamabad dubious axis which adds to India’s problems of terrorism and related issues in Kashmir and beyond. What is equally worrisome is China’s belligerent postures on India’s long-drawn out border which hides China’s hidden agenda of expansionism, colonialism and military adventure. Beijing’s recent moves on the economic corridor passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) speaks a lot on its evil designs on this country.

President Xi Jinping is obviously back to the old Chinese games of expansionism and brinkmanship. History tells us that whenever China grows economically and militarily strong, it pursues its colonial policy to grab the neighbouring territories. We have had our problems with China on this count from 1962 onward. Our problem is that we are poor learners of history. That is why there were hush-hush murmurings in knowledgeable quarters when Prime Minister Modi played Jhula (Swing) Diplomacy during President Xi Jinping visited India in September 2014.

Narendra Modi’s was well-intentioned move since peace in the region alone can ensure economic development as visualized by the Prime Minister. All the same, it is in our national interests that we should never allow China’s real face erased from our memory !

The latest Chinese postures are but natural as Beijing seems to be conducting itself like imperialist Britain’s East India Company. Will NSA Ajit Doval have some sobering effect on the Chinese leadership ? I keep my fingers crossed.

Mercifully, the Modi government has been quietly bracing up India’s critical military gaps and has even started thinking on new strategic and defence lines, keeping in view today’s changing global realities. The recent defence ties-ups with Israel by Prime Minister Modi is a clear indication that New Delhi is very much alive to twin threats posed to this country by sinister games of the two neighbours.

Well, more than vigil, we have to be constantly on guard and bridge the vital gaps both on defence and economic fronts. The Doklam stand-off looks like the war of nerves being played by the PLA troops. In such a setting, I expect the Prime Minister to play his diplomatic and strategic cards tactfully to neutralize China’s brinkmanship.

Let us not be carried away by Sushma Swaraj’s remark that “all nations are behind us.” Nothing of the sort. War is, of course, not the answer in today’s Nuclear Globe. What India needs is not a policy of reaction but a pro-active dynamic diplomacy in the neighbourhood and beyond.

One thing, however must not be lost sight of. That is a nation’s power flows from its economic strength and military muscle and not by big talks. It will be better if Prime Minister Modi attends to ground realities and strengthen India’s grassroots, development-wise and add to the people’s power that ultimately holds the key to India’s destiny as a democratic power vis-à-vis an egoist one-party regime that China is. It now aspires to become a super power a la Imperial China.

As scholar Suisheng Zhao of University of Denver has put it : “Following the policy of fusion and expansion, whenever Imperial China was powerful, it tried to expand frontiers by claiming suzerainty over smaller neighbours. The expansion, however, often met with resistance. Chinese empire was not shy about military conquest.”

President Xi Jinping has apparantely used the legacy of Imperial China to pursue his political ambition. Fine. But it is high time world leaders looked behind the Chinese “peace” mask !

Perhaps, President Xi would learn a lesson or two from the Indian civilisational strength when rubbed in the wrong ! This is not a matter of Hindu nationalism. At stake is India’s civilisational roots and strength which bank on ethics and the message of peace to win the hearts and minds of people at home and abroad.

Added to these norms are the instruments of modern statecraft to stand up to dubious Chinese designs of President Xi. We failed to fathom Mao’s mind in 1962. We must not repeat the mistake and see to it that the India of 2017 is in reality different, both diplomatically and strategically, Mr Prime Minister.


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Changing global realities

Importance of “strategic relationship” with Israel

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s warm hug picture with 11-year-old boy Heltzberg Moshe in Jerusalem symbolically signifies India Israel new ‘strategic- relationship with a human touch. Moshe’s Jewish parents in Mumbai were killed during the Pakistan-sponsored 26/11 terror attack in India’s commercial capital. Having survived miraculously the terror attack, Moshe, then just two years old, thereafter traveled with his grandparents to Afula where he now lives.

More than the warmth and courtesies extended to our Prime Minister by Israeli leaders and people, young Moshe holds out a mirror of the 26/11 bloody chapter of Indian history and related geopolitical realities of Pakistan and China woven around it. Indian developments since Independence remind us of the bitter truth that we as a people are poor learners of history.

Small wonder that India’s has been a saga of tragic stories from the Oct 1947-48 Pakistani tribal invasion in Kashmir to the 1962 Chinese betrayal of the Panchsheel principle in NEFA to Beijing’s suppression of Tibetans and their mass exodus from their beloved country to Pak-sponsored Mumbai terror strikes and beyond. We have had to pay a heavy price for being a ‘soft state’. It is time we come out of this ‘goody goody’ mindset if we mean to take India forward.

Narendra Modi has visited 60 countries in three years of premiership. But for the first time he has given a definite swing to the conduct of India’s diplomacy by breaking the old mental barriers of foreign policy in tune with our national interest. He has walked on a new path to reach out to Tel Aviv, which the old political stalwarts dared not tread. Here is the Prime Minister’s pragmatic foreign policy at its best. A major achievement of this visit is the de-hyphenation of India’s relations with Israel and Palestine. This has been criticized in India as abandoning the Palestinian case. But the evidence on the ground suggests otherwise. India’s traditional commitment to the Palestinian cause remains undiluted. And rightfully so, India must honour this age-old commitment.

Looking around the neighborhood and changing global realities we cannot ignore the security implications of changing trends in the world. What matters today is the right perspective that takes into account all facets of internal and external threats so that the country could evolve a credible medium and long term views of its goals and objectives in its pursuit of strategic security and economic policies.

Narendra Modi’s three-day trip to Tel Aviv was a major departure from status quo pursuit of India’s foreign policy during the past 70 years. Of course, P. V. Narasimha Rao gets the credit for establishing diplomatic ties with Israel 25 yeas ago. Still, South Block was invariably extra cautious in striking a balance act between Israel and the Arab world, especially with regard to Palestine. Narendra Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to go to Tel Aviv without visiting Palestine while broadly sticking to the same policy. He has thereby given a powerful signal to the global community of India’s special relationship with the Jewish state that has survived amidst a hostile atmosphere of the oil-rich West Asian countries. How could Israel do it has often tickled the curiosity of several thinking Indians both within the establishment and outside of it.

The Jewish brains are known for their innovative technical and scientific spirit and skills. They have made their water-starved arid land bloom with new water techniques in the farm and horticulture sector. They have quenched the thirst of the majority of people by the desalination technology of the seawater. They have evolved a unique military strategy with the backup of very powerful weaponry system on the land, in the air and the sea. Small wonder that no enemy state encircling dare touch it, whatever might be its wealth and military muscle.

Prime Minister Modi has been well focused in correcting some of the basic weaknesses India suffered for decades in critical areas of security, water and agriculture. He has signed 17 wide-ranging MOUs with the Israeli government. These include industrial R&D and technological innovation, drinking water, sanitation, water conservation, energy, agriculture, space and atomic cooperation, GEO-LEO optical links. Tel Aviv will also help New Delhi to conserve water and clean up the Ganga.

To boost bi-lateral trade from $5 billion to $20 billion in five years, Indian and Israeli companies have signed strategic pacts worth $4.3 billion. Even $40 million innovation fund has been set up, the area where India lags behind. In fact, we ought to make special efforts to create congenial professional working atmosphere to get the best out of India’s indigenous talent.

There is too much of political interference in every sphere of public life. Will Prime Minister Modi give a serious thought to this matter, if he means to learn from the Israeli and Western success story? My point is simple: if the Indians overseas could become a big hit, why can’t they be a success in their own land? The answer is simple: the country continues to suffer from politico-bureaucratic control mechanism, which kills the people’s innovative skills and initiatives.

Be that as it may. The catch phrase for Modi, as Indian Ambassador to Israel Pawan Kapoor put it, was defence development and “strategic partnership” in areas of innovation, science, technology and space. While the relationship in these fields have already been upswing for the past several years, the new deals and commercial agreements are set to ramp up and upgrade the already strong bi-lateral ties.

The Modi regime has worked quietly in giving twists and turns to Indian diplomacy, keeping in view the need for bridging India’s gaps in defense and security needs. As it is, India is faced with a barbaric face of Pak-sponsored militancy in J&K and beyond, for which this country has to find new answers. Tel Aviv has the expertise and target-based technology, which can do wonders in curbing the on-going menace of terrorism from across the border.

Viewed in a larger framework, the existing Indian system has to be jolted out of its business-as-usual syndrome. We have to look at our security needs afresh against the backdrop of the changing regional and global environment, especially in the light of the growing Beijing-Islamabad axis and China’s hostile postures at the borders and the Indian Ocean. We have also to constantly keep in mind the tactics and strategies being adopted by the Islamic fundamentalist groups as part of Pakistan’s gameplan.

Our strategic doctrine vis-à-vis Pakistan and China needs drastic revision. To think that any future conflict would be mere extrapolation of our past experience could be wrong. A long-term perspective demands resilient diplomacy backed up by sound economy and the ability of our administrative structure and political processes to command loyalty of the people belonging to all sections of society, Muslims included.

Ironically, China today talks about Panchsheel, forgetting that it killed this principle not only on the question of Tibetan autonomy but also by its 1962 conflict. The problem with the Indian leadership has been it has invariably overlooked certain harsh facts of Chinese history and its expansionist policies whenever it happens to be strong.

Prime Minister Modi has rightly picked up the threads and made serious efforts to put the country’s defence in order. In this context, what is needed, is a broad based national institutions, which should draw the best available talent and expertise in specified areas of foreign policy, geopolitics, economics and security priorities with the objective of evolving an integrated foreign policy within the framework of global realities. The country can no longer afford to go by ad hoc reaction of its leaders who, as past experience shows, often get influenced by short-term political considerations.

Besides, our thinking on security must not be trapped in rigidity. It needs to change with the changing security needs.

In his book, “The Open Society and its Enemies”, Paul Popper writes:
“The future depends on ourselves and we do not depend on any historical necessity”
It is indeed for us what we want ourselves to be, keeping in view the nation’s march forward. There are no shortcuts to the country’s greatness and our march forward mainly depends on the political will of our leaders at the helm. The CPM’s assertion that “the BJP led government’s alliance with Israel is a reflection of its pro-imperialist, Hindutva-oriented foreign policy” is totally misplaced. We know the CPM mind-set: What PM Modi has done is in India’s national security interest, which has to be the primary responsibility of any democratic government.

Israel is a shining example of how a nation could keep its flag high even in a highly hostile neighbourhood – the sort of unfriendly atmosphere we are faced with vis-à-vis Pakistan and China. Apparently, South Block has to correctly measure China’s real intentions and Pakistan’s dubious goal of grabbing Jammu & Kashmir by hook or by crook. Here I wish to say in all humility that in today’s global complexities and sophisticated technological needs for our defence and our economic strength, New Delhi needs Tel Aviv more than what Israel seeks from India as a ‘Dost’.

Changing global realities

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Looking beyond GST

In economic swaraj lies India’s future

The launch of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) at the stroke of midnight on June 30 – July 1, 2017 at the Central Hall of Parliament is undoubtedly a landmark event in transforming Federal India into a common market – a radical step forward in the country’s economic reforms for an all inclusive faster development. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minster Arun Jaitley deserve all credit and praise for taking considerable pains to firm up the historic concept, the foundation of which was formally laid by Dr. Manmohan Singh in the 90s.

It is a different matter that the Congress today suffers from a death wish. It boycotted the midnight event along with the Left Front, the DMK and few other parties on the plea that the GST concept in its present form is “full of flaws”.

Flaws, if any, could have been corrected at a later stage after assessing the GST working on the ground. Regrettably, logic and reasoning do not work with the Congress leadership these days. It invariably pursues the politics of negativism, little realizing that such a course of thinking ultimately becomes counter productive.

Prime Minister Modi has rightly observed, “GST is an example cooperative federalism which will always give us more strength to move forward together”. In fact, looking at India’s manifold economic and security challenges today, the country has no choice but to move forward together. This will require better communication and active consultation mechanism between the Centre and the States, irrespective of ideological and political differences, if any.

The Prime Minister has hailded GST as a “good and simple tax” which, according to him, should help business persons and put an end to “Tax Terrorism” and “Inspector Raj”, while contributing to the welfare of the people and fight against corruption and black money. Going by the experience of the operational system in the country during the past 70 years, the Prime Minster’s words, though reassuring, right now appear too good to be true.

As it is, leaders and babus at the local and state levels lack a sense of commitment to national goals and objectives. Instead of working for the welfare of the public, they work for themselves. To bring about a change in this mindset involves transitional pain and adjustment. For this purpose, the ruling elite has to set the right pace for social and economic justice on secular and egalitarian principles.

In his popular book “Revolution in the Revolution”, French philosopher – journalist, Regis Debray wrote:

“History advances in disguise; it appears on the stage wearing the mask of the passing of the preceding scene and we tend to lose the meaning of the play. Each time the curtain rises, the continuity has to be reestablished. The blame, of course, is not history’s, but lies in our vision, encumbered with memory and images learnt in the past. We see the past superimposed on the present even when the present is a revolution”.

I am sure the Prime Minister will get the message so beautifully narrated by Regis Debray. We are probably not yet cut out for a revolution, as was once passionately talked about by our former Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju in an interview with a media person.

On the ground, there are signs of socio-economic unrest, which are generally overlooked by the ruling elite as a matter of convenience. Then, what is to be done if the leadership vision happens to be terribly blurred and even the mask loses the shine of the “preceding scene”. As, it is, the twin pillars of governance of India – the civil service and education institutions – are showing signs of cracks.

It is quite disquieting that the road ahead is littered with fanaticism and all forms of distortions. Even the concept of secularism and democratic values are being twisted and tattered by opportunistic politicians, spineless bureaucrats and their collaborators.

Should we give in? Certainly not, Mr. Prime Minister. We ought to keep our head high and not lose sight of principles and values while pursuing the desired changes in a determined manner. However, even for the success of GST, Prime Minster Modi has to create the right atmosphere by ensuring firm checks and controls of the fringe elements who take the law in their hands or talk loose on communal lines. These are matters of good governance and faster economic progress of all sections of society. In this regard, it may be worthwhile to make a fresh beginning with a reoriented civil service and police force. They can set the pace for good governance and all inclusive development process.

We need to realize that Indian politics does not follow straight line even in matters of economic reforms and ushering in the dream concept of economic swaraj (economic freedom).

Looking beyond the magic of common market of the three words of GST, we have to simultaneously and actively think of millions of poor people and the have-nots who are still groaning under the weight of denial and deprivation. The poor and the weaker sections of society have to be taken along on the path of economic freedom with a human face.

There are 60 million households that come under the poverty line. Their growth with social justice has to be tackled frontally by focusing on productive employment opportunities and other social and economic amenities both for the rural and urban poor. It is necessary for this purpose to change “Investment priorities and policies” and bring about institutional reforms with an infrastructural backup.

The ongoing policies of sanctions, grants, subsidies, free services, loan waivers, etc are aggressive because it stunts initiatives, self-dependence and sense of responsibilities. It encourages “Ma-Bap-ism”, the concept of the colonial era.

Here, it will be worth recalling the words of Rabindranath Tagore. He said :

“Swaraj” is the kind of liberation in which our people discover their truth, the truth of India. Freedom means not just political independence, but the freedom of each individual to become himself, only within the stream of communion of people with people”.

I believe that economic swaraj – economic freedom – can help us restore and recreate the fabric of an integrated and forward-looking national society as we all dream about. Mr. Prime Minister, if we are serious about making the GST system “the most relevant for the poor” and their welfare as you believe in, what is vital is to put the nation before the party and individual interest without using the poor and caste factors as part of vote bank politics!

Can we? I keep my fingers crossed. The message is, however, clear: while welcoming the GST reform, restless audience in the Indian political theatre today want their leaders to act firmly and decisively and fulfill hosts of promises of a government that works faster for the good of the people in the streets as well as for the uplift of farmers left behind in the economic march.

Indeed we have to move beyond the competitive politics of negativism and work for people’s common interest in a revived India. George Eliot has beautifully conveyed the idea in the following passage:

“Our deeds still travel with us from a far,
and what we have been makes us what we are”.

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Don’t muzzle the media !

Whether we like it or not, the credibility of the Central Bureau of Investigation continues to be of a “caged parrot” of the ruling establishment. It was so during ex-CBI Director Ranjit Sinha’s tenure under the Congress-led UPA regime. The change of political masters at the Centre in 2014 does not seem to have made any difference to the style and functioning of India’s premir investigative agency despite all big talks of democracy and transparency of the system. No wonder, every move by the CBI on the plea of wrongful or corrupt practices smacks of being a politically motivated exercise as is the case of its sudden raids on the residence of the NDTV’s co-founders Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy.

The raids relate to an alleged loan default of Rs 375 crore from the ICICI Bank by the news channel in 2010 during the UPA rule. This in itself raises a simple question; how come the CBI became “wiser” after a lapse of seven years, and that too, under the BJP-led NDA regime ? Doesn’t this smell a rat in fixing up the popular TV channel for not being so convenient to the masters of the day? Apparently, this seems to be the motive which led to widespread protest by the media personnel. The warning signal from the large assembly of journalists at the Press Club of India on June 9 is sharp and clear. The authorities ought to have learnt from some of the past events, especially Indira Gandhi’s ill-advised move on the Bihar Press Bill and Rajiv Gandhi’s Defamation Bill which were quietly buried in the face of massive protests by journalists against playing with freedom of the press in India’s vibrant democracy.

Freedom of the media is non-negotiable. We in Power Politics are fully committed to the independence of the press. We care for the voices of dissent which logically question policies and programmes of the ruling elite. Even otherwise, the entire handling of the NDTV matter puts the CBI in a zone of suspicion. It could have at least done its homework properly and objectively and not gone about its business in an amateur manner. The CBI has accused the NDTV group and ICICI executives of “ conspiracy and cheating .”

Legal pundits point out : “Though lakhs and crores of rupees have not been paid by several industrialists, no criminal case has yet been registered against any one of them by the CBI. In the NDTV matter, the CBI has not only chosen to register an FIR, but also conducted a search for a loan which had already been duly paid by the NDTV management to the ICICI Bank, a private bank.” Presumably, the CBI has acted arbitrarily under pressure from the powers-that-be to fix up the news channel and forewarn all electronic and print media : behave or otherwise….. !

Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu says there is “no political interference” in the agency’s action, stressing that the law has to take its course. Of course, the law must take its course in all matters of defaults, frauds and wrong-doings. No one disputes this basic principle of law. However, an element of suspicion creeps in when the law enforcement agency becomes selective in action, and that too, after a gap of seven years of alleged default which, the NDTV management says “has been paid seven years ago.” Curiously enough, the ICICI bank is not the complainant. The CBI has reportedly acted on the basis of an FIR filed by Sanjay Dutt, whom the NDTV authorities describe as “a disgruntled former consultant” with the news channel.

Minister Naidu says : “If somebody does something wrong, simply because they belong to media, you cannot expect the government to keep quiet.” We welcome Naidu’s statement. The media is surely not above the law of the land. But the moot point is : Is the CBI not being partisan? Has it ever tried to look beyond in a wider perspective the goings-on in business-cum-political-cum criminal nexus which has cost the public exchequer crores and crores ? Instead of being selective, the authorities need to reform the system to make every business activity, the media included, transparent and accountable.

The authorities must appreciate the media’s job is to thoroughly examine facts and events and report them accurately without any prejudice or biases. This is very much needed in a dynamic democratic society like India. The media must take special care that facts, ideas and information are not distorted to leave the reading or viewing public confused or blinded.

A democratically elected government cannot and must not conduct itself in a partisan or motivated a manner which leaves people with a defective understanding of men, matters and issues.

The freedom of press is not an ornament but the very soul of a democracy. Every establishment needs to appreciate this elementary fact.

We are totally against any form of censorship or a controlling mechanism to muzzle the media. We do not wish to indulge in any blame game. We can only say that the time has come for honest soul-searching by all right-thinking persons in the Government, the Opposition and the media as well.

We want all organs of democracy – the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary as well as the Fourth Estate to function correctly, objectively and justly in the interests of the people. We also take this opportunity to tell our fraternity that we need to be equally concerned and agitated about the plight of fellow journalists working in small towns and mofusil areas who often have to bear the brunt of wrath of the State or local authorities for speaking the truth. In Bastar and other places, many of our media persons have had to pay a heavy price for pursuing journalism of courage. They, too, deserve our salute, attention and support.

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Triple challenge in Kashmir

New thinking, new strategies called for

  •  Barbaric acts of the Pakistan army and their jihadi operators across the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir.
  •  The on-going proxy war of terror within the Valley and beyond by the Islamabad establishment, the ISI and its collaborators.
  • The abuduction of a young unarmed Kashmiri Army officer Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz, on leave to attend a family wedding, and his brutal killing by three to four militants, aided, abelted and funded by the Pakistan Army-ISI combine, in Shopian district of South Kashmir in the night of May 9 (Tuesday) is an inhuman and outrageous act, to say the least. This is a desparate attempt by separatist kingpin Syed Ali Shah Geelani and other Hurriat leaders, including Shabir Shah and Yasin Malik, Naeem Khan, Gazi Javed Baba to shatter the social fabric in J&K. It is obviously meant “to intimidate Kashmiri youths into not joining police or security forces,” as a senior Army officer put it.
  • For years and years hawala and narcotics networks have been playing a major role
    in Pakistan’s proxy war in Kashmir. The Kashmiri mafia of Lahore has fostered and sustained militancy with its massive funding of separatist Hurriat and mujahideen leaders. The smugglers and narcotic trafficers have generally sought safety through marriage, gifts, business deals or by providing services to these clans. I have talked about these links and other related facts in my book Kashmir : A Tale of Shame published by UBS in 2002.
  • The tragedy of India is that our intelligence agencies and government authorities have overlooked the facts and played their own petty games. Let us see how the Narendra Modi establishment and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) prove to be different this time. I keep my fingers crossed.
  • The stone-pelting students and trouble-makers targeting the security forces and the police, meanwhile, show not only break-down of law and order but also the marginalisation of the Mahbooba Mufti government’s authority and local and mainstream parties’ leaders.

The ground realities in the Valley are grim and explosive. The political vacuum on the ground has left the field open for Pakistani agents, separatists and azadi slogan-mongers to take the local youth on to a confrontanist path of violence, thereby ruining the State’s fragile economy of tourism, allied services and employment generation.

Against this complex backdrop, history has turned full circle in the Valley as we find the silken threads of Sufism getting snapped, courtesy Saudi Arabia-groomed and Pakistan-sponsored Wahhabi separatists and azadi elements. They seem to have got a fresh lease of life under the three years of the PDP-BJP regime in Srinagar.

The BJP leadership remains as directionless and confused as ever. The saffron party hardly enjoys any presence in the Valley. Ironically, the call by BJP president Amit Shah to its Ministers in the State to reach out to the people in the Valley is nothing but laughable. It shows to what extent the saffron party leadership is out of tune with the ground realities.

This is typical of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s lopsided approach to Jammu and Kashmir. It was a grave mistake on the part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy-makers and the party’s “activists” headed by Ram Madhav and Jitendra Singh to have gone in for an alliance with the PDP in the first place without giving serious thoughts to Kashmiri leaders’ track record, their shifting loyalties and ever changing realities on the ground. At best, the party could have given outside support to the Mehbooba Mufti government.

There is no point in crying over spilled milk. What matters today is to come to the grip of multi-dimensional complexities in Kashmir both at operational, policy and decision-making levels.

Hard, harsh and unpleasant decisions cannot be taken in ivory towers of South Block and North Block. Decisions have to be realistic and relate to ground realities. No purpose can be served by half-baked propositions in the absence of well-focused political will to break the stalemate on various fronts by informally discussing issues with various stake-holders in the State, including the Kashmiri Pandits. It is a very painstaking exercise which can’t be sustained by half-hearted policies and adhocism.

It is worth remembering that some people succeed because they are destined but most because they are determined. Narendra Modi, no doubt, has all elements of luck behind his spectacular electoral successes. But, in defusing the Kashmir crisis, he has to properly understand the Valley’s historic and political background, past mistakes and blunders, accordingly formulate a policy and plans of action. He has to rise above personal or party considerations and look at the Kashmiri issue in a new national perspective and against the backdrop of global setting.

Kashmir is the Number One National Problem. The Prime Minister needs to be actively involved for consultations with all leaders at the national and state levels and work towards a consensus on tackling Kashmir’s internal problems, Pak-sponsored terrorism and its army’s barbaric conduct across the LoC. It is not an easy task. This requires serious and sincere efforts. The security forces leaders and experts too have to be kept in the loop.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team need to work out short, medium and long-term strategies for the management of Kashmir affairs, possible plans of action for dealing with Pakistan as a terror-cum-rogue nuclear State and China’s dubious role.

Certain realities are crystal clear. First, The PDP-BJP alliance under Chief Minister Mahbooba Mufti has so far failed miserably to govern and manage messy Kashmir affairs. The survival of the rickety alliance need not be made a prestige issue. It was a blunder, born out of adhoc desire for power-share on the part of over-ambitious custodians of the saffron party’s interests!

Can the hands of the state government be strengthened to make it perform better ? Or, will the Governor’s Rule be a better option ? New Delhi needs to examine these issues dispassionately and firm up its thoughts.

Second, central agencies need to work out fresh assessment of changing ground realities in the Valley and identify new class of mischief-makers and separatist leaders, apart from the known Hurriat persons headed by Syed Ali Shah Gheelani.

Three, it is equally important to identify newly inducted Pakistani agents who have of late been operating freely in the Valley.

Four, it is also necessary to pinpoint new sources and means of funding to various segments of trouble-makers in the Valley. The latest intelligence papers reveal how anti-India activities by Hurriat and others are funded through a known ISI conduit named Mahboob Ahmed Sagar(TOI report).

I don’t think the PM’s demonetisation has helped much to stop the flow of outside funding from Islamabad and other Islamic funds outlets in West Asia. Relevant here is fresh identification of channels of drug trafficking which is known to be a rich source of illicit money flow for terrorism.

A wide network of drug trafficking does exist in the State. It must be identified and destroyed. I expect India’s intelligence agencies to give a better account of their performance than has been the case so far.

Five, it is absolutely essential for the security forces to evolve new tactics and strategies to deal with stone-pelting civilians. We must not forget that they are our own people. They have to be handled with care.

A civilian death resulting from the cross-fire of an anti-terrorist operation becomes an explosive issue. India’s military commanders must think of alternative methods to avoid civilian casualties, howsoever provocative might be the situation. I am sure our military leadership is capable of working out new methodology to deal with stone-pelting youngsters with utmost care and caution. Here, even the social media needs special attention to counter fake information and Pak propaganda.

The sole objective should be to avoid direct confrontation with the civilian crowd since a resultant death creates its own chain reaction to the embarrassment of Srinagar and New Delhi authorities.

Finally, what is needed urgently is a healing touch for aggrieved sections of the population. We need to appreciate that ordinary Kashmiri’s want peace, harmony and congenial atmosphere to earn their livelihood with honour and dignity.

Young Kashmiris want opportunities for jobs. In fact, adequate employment generation holds the key to wean them away from the wrong track of terror and stone pelting for money. The very fact that 1.18 lakh J&K youths have applied for 5,362 police jobs show how employment generation could make a difference to our fight against terrorism.

Thousands of new jobs can be created for young men and women by the authorities in Srinagar and New Delhi.

Of course, most Kashmiri politicians as a class, like chameleons, keep changing colours. They have different languages for different occasions. When in power, they swear by India and seek favours from the Centre to keep their show going. When out of power, they strike anti-India postures.

Power and terrorism today has become a big business in the Valley. The latest glaring example in this regard has come from no other than former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah.

There was a time when Farooq Abdullah symbolised all that India believes in and stands for at international fora. Today, he looks like a double agent as he bluntly speaks the language of Pakistan and separatists. I wonder which of the two Farooq Abdullahs is the real one.

Looking back, it is clear that our entire Kashmir policy has been full of loopholes. It has mostly been one personality-oriented rather than people-oriented, with the result we invariably get trapped in shadows of our own making.

This is not a new phenomenon. Its starting point could be traced to the days of Sheikh Abdullah. It did not take him long to reveal his true colours. It is actually a long story of the Sheikh’s duplicity, and his hidden agenda. I have discussed this in details in the chapter “The mind and moods of Sheikh Abdullah” in my book “Kashmir: a tale of Shame” (UBS Publication).

Take the Sheikh’s ethnic policy pursued by him. It helped to create the most favourable conditions for Islamic fundamentalism to grow in the Valley.

Communalism, for that matter, was injected into the Valley by the Jamaat-i-Islami and its front organisations. The Jammat presents Islam as a political ideology. Where does the Indian concept of secularism fit in here?

Arab money helped the Jammat to organise madrasas in large numbers, which spawned a semi-educated new generation of communalised young men. It is these young persons who are providing grist to the militants’ mill. They have been responsible for the flight of the Kashmir Pandits from the Valley. The international community did not even shed crocodile tears for the terrible plight of the Pandits? Where is its much-talked about humanism and liberalism?

True, Jawaharlal Nehru did build up Sheikh Abdullah to grow larger than life. It is a kind of poetic justice that Nehru denounced the Sheikh before his death.

According to B.N. Mullik (My years with Nehru), “Pandit Nehru said all the trouble in Kashmir was due to the Sheikh’s communal outlook and it was he who was not allowing the State to settle down to peace and stability”.

Sheikh Adbullah died in 1982. But before his death, he made his son, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, the president of the National Conference and asked the Kashmiris to place their faith in him, for, he said, his son would accomplish what he had not been able to? And what was the Sheikh’s unaccomplished dream? Independence? He had actually been nursing this idea for long and for this purpose he played communal and Islamic fundamentalist cards.

Should we say that there was nothing secular about the Sheikh? Well, we have to reassess him and his successors in right perspective. We must not allow ourselves to be carried away in political games of what is secularism and what is communalism which are shamelessly played by India’s different political leaders.

The Sheikh was out and out pro-Sunni. He had a hand in shaping the ethnic identity of the Kashmiris, now referred to as Kashmiriat. This identity has little to do with their ancient culture. His objective was to isolate the Kashmiri Muslims from other Muslims.

It also must be stated that the Sheikh was not favourably disposed towards the Kashmiri Pandits. He very much resented secularisation of the Kashmir Muslim society.

The Sheikh’s communal mind can be inferred from the fact that he was ready to rehabilitate Muslims from Central Asia in the Valley, but not the Hindu refugees from Punjab.

Again, the early 1950s, Sheikh Abdullah invited 5000 Kazakh Muslims to settle in the Valley.

In the late 1950s, when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet, the Sheikh invited the Tibetan Muslims to come and settle in Kashmir. But he refused to allow a single Buddhist refugee to settle in the Valley, not even in Ladakh, a predominately Buddhists-inhabitated area.

I am recalling some of these harsh facts of the past so that our leaders have a better perspective of the challenge which lies ahead in Kashmir. No new policy can work in the Valley if it does not take into account the mistakes and blunders of our earlier leaders while dealing with the complex mindset of the Valley leaders.

The problems of terrorism and militancy have to be dealt with firmly. The sponsors of militancy must know that they are living in an era in which few have faith in “new saviours”– religious, political, economic or social. Their cause carries no conviction. So, we must bring the militants to their knees through the process of attrition, however slow its progress.

The real problem here is Pakistan, its wayward Generals and ISI. They are calling the shots and setting their own agenda to destablise India and grab Kashmir. China has been helping it in its evil designs. Has Prime Minister Modi any effective answer to the growing Pakistan-China axis ?

Ironically, on China’s home front, Muslim and Islamic ideology are dirty words. Still, Islamabad is working in concert with China. Where is Pakistan’s so-called Islamic face?

All these bitter facts pose a big challenge to the Modi establishment, which cannot be faced by a straight-line approach. Complexities in the Valley and across its border have put Prime Minister Modi before the people’s court of judgement!

Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s proxy war has gone on for decades. The time has now came for taking risks. We must be ready to punish Pakistan, short of war, and bring about radical changes in the State of Jammu and Kashmir to stop the insurgency and sponsorsed terror acts.

Will dividing J&K into three states of the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh help? This question may be examined by the Centre.

There is a variety of ethnic groups in the Valley. A thorough understanding of the ethnic differentiation is very important to work out any possible solution to the Kashmir crisis. Apart from the division between Sunni and Shia among the Kashmiri Muslims, there are caste-like groups, though less rigid than among the Hindus.

I believe that if peaceful solutions have to be evolved to silence the guns of the militants, then there has to be a precise and determined approach to men, matters and issues in the context.

Finally, a genuine people’s democracy is the only answer to Kashmir’s complex problems. It fits very well into the rest of India’s political milieu.
Over to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


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Emergence of Yogi as people’s CM

In Adityanath Yogi, Uttar Pradesh has at long last found a leader who is clear-headed, well-focused, action and result oriented, without being driven by the usual power ingredients of avarice and parivarwad as we have seen in most of the post-colonial rulers.

Within weeks of his installation as Chief Minister of India’s largest State, he has proved himself to be a person of character, substance and guts. He has put the people’s problems at the centrestage of his policies, postures and governance in close concert with his ministerial, bureaucratic and police teams. He has already built his reputation as a role model people’s CM whose promises and performance go hand in hand. This is a landmark development in Indian politics.

In Yogi, UP has a leader with a difference. His saffron attire might smack of his Hindutva flavour which is generally not relished by India’s brown sahibs and “secular custodians” of the Republic. I do not wish to go into the question of what is wrong where and who is right or who is in the wrong. In the absence of credible idealism, ideological moorings and principles, Indian politics has been running on divisive lines of caste, religion and money-cum-muscle power. Most political games are played to grab power for making money for the self and parivar at the cost of the public exchequer.

Yogi as CM is a class apart. In his first public pronouncement, he made it clear that “the government would not differentiate on the basis of caste, religion or gender. Development would be for everyone. There will be no differentiation.”

“Saab ka Sath, Saab ka Vikas” is not a mere talking point with Yogi Adityanath. This mantra seems to be his article of faith.

Of course, his installation as Chief Minister did create a frisson of fears and apprehension among the minorities. The secularists too had a field day forecasting Doomsday for Uttar Pradesh as the newly-minted Chief Minister was known for his fire-brand politics and inflammatory speeches.

But, the balanced and highly measured speeches and actions of Yogi Adityanath have flummoxed many of his detractors. The forward-looking CM has apparently belied the public perception about him. He has even declared that English would be taught at the nursery stage itself instead of class VI as was the case so far.

Yogi says that “tradition and modernity should blend.” A keen observer of the political scene summed up the surprising transformation of Yogi by quoting the old adage: “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future”.

Much of tirade against Yogi is politically motivated and hence misplaced. As a head-priest of Gorakhnath Math, he has had an excellent rapport with the Muslims working in his bastion of Gorakhpur. For example, Yasin Ansari, a Muslim, suprivises all construction work inside the Math for the past 35 years. He also keeps an account of the temple’s expenses.

Says Azizunnisa , “I have cordial relations with Chhote Maharaj”, as Yogi is popularly referred to….” I have never felt any disrespect or discrimination… He is a real saint.” Azizunnisa runs a shop.

Mohammed, chief caretaker of the temple gaushala, says, “I wake up at 3 am, milk the cows and serve them fodder. Chhote Maharaja takes care of all of us.”

Can we have a better example of a secular Hindu ? In fact, Hindus as a class and community are liberal and secular by birth, tradition and conviction. The rest is all part of dirty politics which our leaders more often than not practise for their note and vote purposes !

Just in a few weeks the Chief Minister has acted promptly on promises held out to the people during the election. He has already announced the government’s decision to waive loans of Rs 36,359 crore taken by about 94 lakh small and marginal farmers in the State.

This will surely not mitigate the manifold sufferings of UP farmers. The loan waiving off is just is a small step which should help the Chief Minister to attend himself to larger issues of deeprooted in the State’s farming sector. I understand Yogi has a comprehensive plan to revive the State’s agriculture and put its growth on healthy lines. His government has also announced 18-hour power supply to the villages. It will also ensure power supply to all villages before 2019.

True, some of Yogi’s moves have become controversial. For instance, his anti-Romeo squads in action which was promised in the BJP’s vision document. The basic idea here is to check eve-teasing crimes against women.

We all are familiar with UP’s track record on crimes against girls under the previous regimes. We also remember certain shocking statements of some of the State’s socialist leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Azam Khan in this regard.

The anti-Romeo squads are simply meant to prevent “harassment of young women students.” These squads are not part of Yogi’s earlier “love jihad” campaign in cases of Muslim men marrying Hindu girls. The Chief Minister has made it clear that those sitting in a park or are moving together “are committing no crime.”

He has also clarified that “police excesses”, if any, in this regard would not be allowed. The Chief Minister has stated emphatically that “harassment of girls is a serious matter and added, “because of this girls of all communities are forced to discontinue studies. This can’t go on.” (TOI).

Yogi is right. All the same, the going will be tough for the Chief Minister. UP is not an easy state to govern. He has to be extra cautious about his moves and public pronouncements.

It is necessary for the Chief Minister not to get lost in symbolic issues like singing of Vande mataram and people’s food habits. In this context, it will be worthwhile for him to listen to the sane advice from the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court on the people’s right to life and choice of food.

It is equally crucial for Yogi to firmly check the rowdy and criminal elements who are enrolling themselves in the Hindu Youth Vahini. They are playing with the people’s personal life and privacy under the cover of moral policing.

Well, the Youth Vahini persons have no business to take the law in their hands. The Chief Minister must draw a lakshman rekha on their conduct in the public arena. Otherwise, they would only tarnish his image in public eyes !

Yogi has done well to assure that “those who abide by the law have no reason to worry. But those do not believe in the rule of law ought to be worried.” The rule of law principle would be equally applied to “illegal slaughter houses.” This issue has become controversial because certain vested interests have tried to give a communal cum political twist to the move.

In this context, it will be interesting to look at some unknown facts which prompted the BJP to include the axe on illegal cow slaughter houses in UP. I have at my disposal certain ground realities of rural UP coming from Alok Verma, a veteran of both the print and electronic media. He felt that something was missing in the explanations ladled out by the media in post-election results. He visited some of the backwaters of Uttar Pradesh looking out for some missing vital gaps. To the surprise of Alok, who is presently Chief Editor of Newzstreet Media Group, the poor bovine creature’s stellar role in the elections was either ignored or underplayed by the media.

According to him, the promised ban on illegal slaughter houses in the BJP’s election manifesto played an electrifying role– an issue that remained under the radar of both the media and the political opponents of the BJP.

After talking to a large number of people in the State, Verma found that the cattle theft was an endemic menace in the rural areas. Be a farmer or landless villager, cattle is the most prized or probably only property for them. And theft of animals was a common source of resentment in the villages. The stolen cattle used to be slaughtered by in the mushrooming illegal abattoirs which more often than not were in private homes and which acted as sales outlets as well.

For the owners there was no way to recover their cattle. “The system operated like the theft of brand new cars in the city which are dismantled and the parts sold in the market. In the case of automobiles, thefts leave some tell-proofs if the police can act fast. But once the stolen animal is killed and eaten there is nothing to prove the guilt,” says Alok.

If any victim of the animal theft approached the police, it was rather impossible to get a case registered for a variety of reasons ranging from inefficiency, reluctance of the police to admit crimes in their area and of course politics. No wonder, there a groundswell of resentment had built up against the Samajwadi Government known for its kid glove approach to crime.

Alok says that the last straw on the back of the camel was the incident related to the theft of buffalos belonging to Azam Khan, the most famous Muslim mascot of the Samajwadi Party. That the huge posse of police force was deployed to search the animals became a major media event. And obviously the incident added fuel to fire as the common man watched in anger and jealousy the egregious bovine discrimination.

These hard facts should silence all those communal and self-styled secular forces who have been beating their chest at Yogi’s move on “illegal slaughter houses” !


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