Monday, May 20, 2013
A 20 member delegation from the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS) visited the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) on 14 May, 2013 for a Round Table Discussion that covered a wide range of issues. The RCDS delegation was led by Air Commodore (Retd) S Abbott. Welcoming the guests Lt Gen (Retd) Ravi Sawhney talked about his time spent in RCDS and how much he cherished the memories of his association with the RCDS. He noted the emergence of new threats, both traditional as well as non traditional, since his tenure at the RCDS in 1989, which he acknowledged was a watershed year in International Politics.
Mr Ajit Doval, Director VIF gave the Opening Remarks and his assessment about the enigmatic character of India, its strengths and weaknesses, role in global and regional affairs, its future trajectory etc. He highlighted India’s important geo-political location, size, rising economic power and demography, its pluralistic society as well as having a stable constitutional democracy with strong defence capabilities. He touched upon the problems and challenges faced by India that included environmental concerns, food and water security, the effect of global terrorism, the rise of Islamic radicalism and terrorism in Pakistan and changes in Afghanistan that would have an impact on the region. Whether the rise of China would be peaceful or could it become a destabilizing factor in the region was another important issue that was touched upon by him.
The need to develop strategic thinking was stressed by Air Commodore (Retd) S Abbott, leader of the RCDS delegation, in his opening remarks.
Amb PP Shukla presented a functional categorization of where India is and spoke at length about issues that were of priority for India. Essential constitutional requirements and commitments ensuring sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of the country required a strong defence sector, a strong economy, and an active diplomacy. Giving an overview of the defence sector, he highlighted the desire of self reliance related to defence equipment although acknowledging that there was huge import dependence. Issues such as technology transfers, offsets and end use monitoring that underlie India’s defence procurement were flagged by Amb Shukla. India’s impressive economic growth was traced by him, that moved from a socialist pattern to following a liberal economic order in the 1990’s. How far this growth has been inclusive was also discussed. Increased economic engagement of India post 1990’s with the world was highlighted. Pakistan and China were identified as a cause of concern for India. According to him, the fundamental problem with Pakistan is not Kashmir but the inability of Pakistan to find an identity for itself, except in a way to oppose India in every way it can. With respect to Afghanistan, the narrative that Al Qaeda is finished, Taliban and Pakistan have changed and therefore things would turn out well after 2014 were described as being far from the truth. Stressing the need for the current government to be financially and materially secure as being essential to be able to hold on their own in a similar manner as the Najibullah government was in 1989 when the Soviet’s withdrew due to the financial support given to them by the Soviets. As soon as financial support was withdrawn, Najibullah government fell.
Gen NC Vij gave his perception about Sino- Indian relations and the security aspects in the Asia Pacific region. Two issues that were identified by him as a cause of concern in terms of the security calculus of the region were the rapid rise of China and the spread of Islamic Fundamentalism and terrorism in the region. The Chinese providing nuclear capability to Pakistan, investment in the Port of Gwadar, the string of pearls around India, challenging India’s sovereignty by stapling visa’s, mentioning only 2000kms as the land boundary it shares with India as against the actual 4000kms, their claim over Arunachal Pradesh and the recent 15 day intrusion in Ladakh were some of the issues highlighted by Gen Vij that were of concern to India. The Indian response, however to these issues is largely dictated by it being a peace loving nation having other priorities like removing poverty rather than spending on defence. The Indian stance therefore has stressed on the co-existence of the two economic giants and co-operation to work towards the betterment of the world rather than confronting each other. In addition, the US China relationship, Japan China relations, the Taiwanese issue, the Korean Peninsula, South China Sea and Myanmar’s Sittwe Port were also discussed and identified as factors that affect the security scenario in the Asia Pacific Region.
Amb Satish Chandra spoke about India’s nuclear deterrent strategy and the reasoning behind their SSBN capability development vis-à-vis the risk of an arms race with Pakistan and China. In his talk Amb. Chandra demonstrated that India’s nuclearization and strategy has in fact not contributed to a regional arms race in the region. He wove his talk around three basic strands, firstly India’s aversion to nuclear weapons, the factors that have impelled India to go nuclear and the strategy itself. He spoke about the evolution of nuclear doctrine and presented its main features. Expanding on the concept of Credible Nuclear Deterrence which is the core of the document taken together with no first use and non use which clearly envisages that India views its nuclear weapons only as a deterrent for defensive purposes and not as a means to threaten others or build a huge arms arsenal or engage in arms race. He also highlighted that survivability of India’s nuclear forces that needs a combination of multiple redundant system viz. mobility, dispersion and deception, bringing out the importance of a triad and developing SSBN capability.
The presentations were followed by a vigourous questions and answers session which pertained to India’s security environment and the evolving scenario in Afghanistan. Leader of the RCDS in his closing remarks expressed his keen desire to further interact with the VIF Faculty in the future.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Brig (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal,
Visiting Fellow, VIF
The Defence Minister, Mr A K Antony, has repeatedly exhorted the armed forces to procure their weapons and equipment from indigenous sources in recent months. It is a well-established fact that no nation aspiring to great power status can expect to achieve it without being substantively self-reliant in defence production. However, it is not the armed forces that are the stumbling block. Unless the government drastically reorients its policies, the import content of defence acquisitions will continue to remain over 80 per cent.
India’s procurement of weapons platforms and other equipment as part of its plans for defence modernisation, must simultaneously lead to a transformative change in the country’s defence technology base and manufacturing prowess. Or else, defence procurement will remain mired in disadvantageous buyer-seller, patron-client relationships like that with the erstwhile Soviet Union and now Russia. While we manufactured Russian fighter aircraft and tanks under license, the Russians never actually transferred technology to India. Whatever India procures now must be procured with the transfer of technology being built into the contract even if it means having to pay a higher price. The aim should be to make India a design, development, manufacturing and export hub for defence equipment in two decades.
Though it seeks to encourage public-private partnerships, the government continues to retain its monopoly on defence production and R&D. The latest Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) was amended in April 2013 to reflect the current thinking on ‘buying Indian’. However, in effect it still favours the defence PSUs over the private sector. MNCs are allowed to bring in only up to 26 per cent FDI as against 74 per cent for non-defence sector joint ventures. Though the procurement of weapons and equipment worth more than Rs 300 crore from MNCs has been linked with 30-50 per cent offsets, it is doubtful whether the economy is ready to absorb such high levels of offsets.
The DRDO is in the process of implementing the report of the P Rama Rao committee that had asked it to identify 8 to 10 critical areas that best fit its existing human resource pool, technological threshold and established capacity to take up new projects. Since its inception in 1958, the DRDO has achieved some spectacular successes, but also has many failures to its name. However, to its credit, it worked under extremely restrictive technology denial regimes and with a rather low indigenous technology base.
The DRDO must now concentrate its efforts on developing critical cutting edge technologies that no strategic partner is likely to be willing to share; for example, ballistic missile defence (BMD) technology. Other future weapons platforms should be jointly developed, produced and marketed with India’s strategic partners in conjunction with the private sector. The development of technologies that are not critical should be outsourced completely to the private sector. Also, the armed forces should be given funding support to undertake research geared towards the improvement of in-service equipment with a view to enhancing operational performance and increasing service life. Gradually, the universities and the IITs should be involved in undertaking defence R&D. This five-pronged approach will help to raise India’s technological threshold over the next two decades by an order of magnitude.
The defence production process must provide a level playing field between defence PSUs and private Indian companies forming joint ventures with MNCs where necessary. The amount of FDI that MNCs can bring in must be raised to 49 per cent immediately and to 74 per cent in due course to make it attractive for MNCs. However, no MNC that is unable to provide transfer of technology – either due to the home country’s restrictive laws or due to proprietary considerations – should be considered for future defence acquisitions.
India cannot leap-frog to a higher defence technology trajectory virtually overnight. Transforming a low technology base to a higher plane will need time, patience and large-scale capital investment. It will also need strong support across the political spectrum. In the interim period, there will be a further dip in defence preparedness. This short-term weakness in capacity building will need to be carefully weighed against long-term gains that will be strategic in nature.
The immediate requirement is to think big in keeping with the country’s growing economic clout and to plan for the future with a level of confidence that policy planners have not dared to exhibit before. In 10 to 15 years India must begin to acquire most of its defence equipment needs from Indian companies—with or without a joint venture with an MNC. Only then will the era of self-reliance in defence acquisition truly dawn on the country. It will be a difficult quest, but not one that a great nation cannot realise.
Our statements on the recent India-China face-off in Ladakh continue to confound. One would have thought that we would have analysed the incident in depth, tried to figure out China’s motivations in staging it just before External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid’s visit to China and that of Chinese Premier Le Keqiang’s to India and examined if it was another instance of Beijing’s increased assertiveness on territorial issues rather than a reaction to any specific activity by India.
The several flag meetings with the Chinese military, the diplomatic demarches made at foreign secretary/ambassadorial level and the close consultations between diplomats in charge of the newly set up joint border management mechanism would have normally given us some clues. The preparatory work for our Minister’s Beijing visit should have involved a comprehensive internal analysis of why the Ladakh face-off occurred and produced a brief for frank discussions with the Chinese leadership on the subject.
But the government’s handling of the issue has been curiously different. On arrival at Beijing Shri Khurshid, astonishingly, told the Indian journalists that it was not clear why the incident happened and that the Chinese “were not offering us that background and we were not looking for (it)”, adding gratuitously that “actually, we are not even ready with our own analysis”, suggesting he came unprepared on this vital agenda point.
In talking to Chinese journalists he implied that the need was not to end such incidents altogether but resolve them “much quicker”. Oddly, he thought it was “not very helpful at this stage to apportion blame between them and us (as) it will only take away from the sense of relief and satisfaction that it was resolved in time”. According to him, the apple cart of what is going on with China is far more important and should not be upset, which suggests China had not done any upsetting with the Ladakh incident.
On return, Shri Khurshid has reaffirmed that “we did not do any post-mortem or apportion blame” on the Chinese intrusion and that he was satisfied that the mechanisms worked well to resolve the stand-off. This timidity towards China, to the point of fearing to raise a contentious issue and implicitly accepting part of the blame for the incident, seems more a pathology than an execise in diplomacy.
For the government, the Chinese action in Ladakh seems to be of secondary importance; what is “more important is that the issue got resolved in a timely manner and within the laid down mechanism”. Why this reluctance to address the root of the problem and easy satisfaction that the immediate problem has gone away? In the context of premier Le Keqiang’s visit the Minister has added that “ there are no prickly issues, issues of major differences which can be seen as obstacles”. Is the border issue no longer a “prickly issue” or a “major difference” between the two countries?
All these statements imply that India can live with Chinese border intrusions, that they convey no political message to India, that the public anguish at home can be disregarded as exaggerated, and that such incursions will not be allowed to disrupt the growing relationship with China so long as they get resolved through established mechanisms in time for high level visits. Why we must bend so much before China is quite incomprehensible.
We forget that ever since it became our direct neighbour by militarily occupying Tibet, China poses an enormous strategic challenge to us. It already occupies large tracts of our territory. The issue is not any attempt by us to evict China from such territory, it is the legitimacy of our defensive measures to prevent China from advancing further south, either through additional territorial claims as in Arunachal Pradesh or by claiming control of terrain beyond its existing military positions over which India too claims control.
There is no actual agreed line of actual control (LAC) on the ground; each side has its own perception of where it lies. Such a situation is inherently unstable. China prefers agreements to maintain peace and tranquility on the border without formally settling it because such agreements allow it to maintain its territorial demands on India and improve the military infrastructure on its side, even as they impose restraints on India to actively challenge China and open it to accusations of a provocative “forward policy” if it seeks to belatedly improve its defensive positions on the ground. India is being constrained to adjust itself to the realities on the ground that are to its disadvantage. The talk of a new “defence cooperation agreement” on the border serves this Chinese objective that it has apparently sought to advance by the Ladakh intrusion.
While diplomatic niceties are part of political visits, one has to be careful about the import of statements and how they will be construed by our other partners. Shri Khurshid would have us believe that "Both in historical terms and in terms of potential that there is for collaboration between us, we cannot think of more important country at this point of time and we are pleased that this is recognised mutually". Really?
It seems China is no longer a strategic adversary. Even as China is raising the temperature of its relations with several of its other neighbours in the east, we seem to believe that China has altogether higher stakes in its relationship with us. This would explain why we believe that “China is willing to make concerted efforts with India... and promote the strategic cooperative partnership to a new level”. While cannot ignore China as a powerful reality that has to be engaged, we certainly can ignore such self-serving, empty Chinese rhetoric.
Recently Rahul Gandhi visited Bhopal for a day on purely Congress Party work. He did not come by a normal commercial flight, the fare of which he could have reimbursed as a Member of Parliament. He came by a special aircraft and for his personal protection a bullet proof armoured vehicle had been sent in advance from Delhi by train. Naturally he was accompanied by his SPG escort and more than one thousand policemen were deployed for his protection and general bandobast. He travelled in a convoy of several cars, piloted and escorted by the police and barricades were erected for crowd control. I cannot think of the Chairman of the Labour Party in Britain travelling in that country in such style and at such a great expense. In Delhi the Sonia Gandhi family maintains a life style which undoubtedly must cost a great deal of money, certainly more than can be afforded by the emoluments earned by her and Rahul Gandhi as Members of Parliament. The question which the people of India must ask is, “Where is all this money coming from?”
I am not targeting Rahul Gandhi or the Congress Party because every party and every leader does exactly the same thing. The BJP President Rajnath Singh travels by special aircraft and helicopters as do Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and leaders of the parties in the Southern States. The Congress Party is supposed to be the richest political party in India, followed by BJP and CPI (M). If we take the population of India as being 120 crores, including adults and minors, if a party were to collect five rupees per head that would still come to only Rs. 600 crores. Considering the life style of our leaders, the cost of their travel, the huge amounts spent during elections, it is obvious that parties and party leaders are accepting money from business houses, whereas their followers are extorting money from smaller businessmen. Why should a business house give any money to any politician unless he is convinced that this is a form of investment which can be encashed at huge profit, to the advantage of the politicians also for overlooking the malpractices of the business house? One is told that the House of Tata refuses to pay bribes and I am prepared to accept that the family of Jamnalal Bajaj, mainly Rahul Bajaj, would also be principled in this behalf. But that is not true of most of our business houses and, therefore, party funds are very largely dependent on contributions from black marketeers, people indulging in illegal business and business houses, some on the make but most who know that if they are to survive they have to please the politicians. This is the root cause of corruption and surely the question must be asked, “Why are parties and politicians sourcing funds from businessmen and why are businessmen doling out such huge amounts?’
In my family we three brothers were in the IAS (the middle one died when he was just 52 years) and my wife was also an IAS officer. She, my youngest brother and I are pensioners and no doubt after the Sixth Pay Commission the pension is enough for us to live reasonably comfortably. It is not enough to afford luxury, which is why my wife is unable to replace her eleven-year old car. In some ways we are fortunate because there is a huge escalation in land value and the house which I built in 1975-76 cost me just about rupees three lakhs, including the cost of land, which is now worth crores of rupees. However, I cannot think of acquiring more property at today’s prices. On the other hand most of our politicians have acquired assets for which there is no logical explanation in terms of what they earn. For example, a Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh once told me that his Industries and Excise Minister, who belonged to a particular tribe, came from a poverty stricken household but he now owns a hotel in Itanagar, properties in Guwahati, Delhi and Bombay and is an extremely wealthy man. I can give any number of examples from Madhya Pradesh of politicians who could not afford a bicycle now owning several cars, others who could not afford a one room tenement having luxurious bungalows and commercial properties, with their wives being loaded with jewels. Where does all this money come from? Elections cost huge sums of money and it is obvious that political parties cannot afford to give every candidate crores of rupees for an assembly or parliamentary election. A person who has spent rupees five to ten crores to win a parliamentary seat has obviously to collect money by illegal means in order to recoup what he has spent. He becomes corrupt, he corrupts the system by forcing his civil servants to assist in collecting money, the civil servants in turn find that it is lucrative to be corrupt on their own, unscrupulous contractors and businessmen take advantage of the corruption of the bureaucrats and the politicians and, therefore, spurious drugs and liquor are sold and kill innocent people, the roof of a hospital collapses with patients occupying the premises, a Dawood Ibrahim flourishes and scams occur on a national scale.
Let us carry the analysis further. There are two phenomena which one does not find in most developed economies which are also democracies. Newspapers such as Le Figaro, Washington Post, The Times do not carry several one-page advertisements celebrating the birthday of some leaders, highlighting by way of an advertisement the speeches of a Chief Minister or lauding appointment of some political leader to a post in government or in a government corporation. There are no hoardings and ceremonial gates put up all over the city because an office bearer of a political party is paying it a visit. There are no bill boards or hoardings at street corners and along public roads containing the portraits of politicians and celebrating something relating to them. That is the way of dictatorships. The Nazi Party rallies at Nueremburg, the portraits of the Great Leader adorning the streets of Pyongyang, the statues of Stalin and Lenin in the Soviet cities are all hallmarks of Fascist and authoritarian Communist societies. The situation in India far exceeds anything that was found in Nazi Berlin, Mussolini’s Rome, Franco’s Madrid or Kim Il Sung’s Pyongyang. It goes even further than Mao’s Beijing. The sycophancy and the prostration before the leaders is so sickening that one is sometimes ashamed to be an Indian. In a democracy the citizen is supreme, the system of politics is multi-party, the voter decides who governs us and the Constitution prescribes how we shall be governed. Party leaders individually count for nothing and even so powerful a person as Margaret Thatcher would have been laughed out of court if, for example, she were to visit Liverpool at the height of her power and her party tried to plaster the city with her portraits. Why, then, does India, which calls itself the world’s largest democracy, have a culture of what is nothing short of idolatry with regard to its political leaders? The media, the party workers, the bureaucrats, the political parties themselves and, sad to say, citizens at large are guilty of this miasma which has overtaken our society and our politics. We must ask the question why this has happened and we must root out this toadyism lock, stock and barrel.
Advertisements in the newspapers in favour of our politicians cost a great deal of money, may be about rupees two crores for a full page advertisement in a national newspaper. Where is the money coming from? Who pays for the banners, posters, ceremonial gates, the tonnes of flowers when a person like Advani, Rahul Gandhi, etc. visits a city? Quite apart from the waste there is also the case of the corruption which accompanies such expenditure, all of which is ultimately paid for by the common man. Why are we not asking for an immediate end to this practice? As a young District Magistrate I have had visits of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Jaiprakash Narain and others to my district headquarters. What we see today did not exist then and certainly politicians were much simpler in those days and more austere. We have to return to the days of sane politics and people must insist on this.
We can no longer hide behind the ‘purdah’ of democracy when dealing with corruption. I, as a citizen, would like know why the cases of disproportionate assets against Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, both in Uttar Pradesh, have been pending for so long. The allegations do not relate to some obscure tale of illegal funds passing through a confusing maze of transactions in Mauritius, a West Indian island, anonymous banks in Switzerland or Luxembourg. They relate to tangible immoveable assets in India, to cash payments, bank balances and jewelry. The allegations are false, in which the case should be closed, or they are correct, a prima facie case exists and the matter should be challaned before a court of competent jurisdiction. Instead the Delhi Police Special Establishment (popularly known as CBI) digs up or buries the cases from time to time according to the need for the support of the Samajwadi Party or Bahujana Samaj Party when things become dicey in Parliament. That CBI is professionally incompetent, its officers are not above corruption and its is extremely selective, depending on what government wants, in prosecuting offences, is well known. The Supreme Court bravely states that it will free CBI from political control. Why does the Supreme Court not ask the Inspector General of the Delhi Special Police Establishment, who is a legal entity, also known as the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is only a non statutory executive agency, to read Chapter XII of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973? In the matter of recording of FIR, investigating an offence, apprehending accused persons, collecting evidence, arriving at a conclusion whether a prima facie case does or does not exist against the accused person or persons and then deciding to either challan the accused in court or to submit a final report seeking permission to close the case, the police has complete and absolute legal autonomy. Only a superior police officer has the power to supervise a case under section 36 Cr.P.C. and section 158 Cr.P.C. However, even a superior police officer cannot direct that the investigating officer excludes from his investigation a person against whom there is a prima facie case, or include in the charge-sheet a person against whom there is no evidence of a prima facie case, challan a case in which there is no evidence that an offence is made out or submit a final report for closure in a case where there is enough evidence for a charge-sheet. No one, minister, civil servant or superior police officer can make an investigating officer delay an investigation or make a false investigation. That provision already exists under the present law. Even if the law does not specifically state that a Law Minister or an officer of government is debarred from interfering in an investigation, there are any number of decisions of the Privy Council, our High Courts and the Supreme Court which makes this amply clear. What other autonomy does the Supreme Court intend to confer on CBI? Will the greatest respect to our courts my submission to them is to use their judicial power to make officers, including police officers, function according to law instead of making statements about how they intend to liberate officers or organisations from the control of government.
I think a question must also be asked of the Executive as to why it has abandoned its executive functions. Despite what some police officers like to believe, the police is part of the executive arm of government, whose existence is determined by laws enacted by the Legislature, whose authority and functions are prescribed by such laws and whose accountability and subordination are both determined by law. Let me give one example. The Supreme Court is insisting that the police should not function under the control of government. Superintendence over the police vests in government and must continue to do so. The power of superintendence does not mean micro management of the police, but it does mean that the framework of policing, the objectives of policing and the broad policy relating to the methods of policing will be laid down and prescribed by government through rules, regulations, manuals and standing orders. In the ultimate analysis the Minister in charge of Home is accountable to the Legislature for the manner in which the police functions and neither the Supreme Court nor any other authority can dilute this accountability of the Ministers. Suppose the police exceeds its powers, misuse its authority, harasses citizens, indulges in excessive force in dealing with a law and order situation, fails to deal with crime because it is corrupt or incompetent and questions are raised about this in the Legislature. Can the Home Minister turn around and say, “I have no control over the police, I cannot shift an officer, I cannot punish him until some prescribed authority permits me to do so?” The legislators will then demand a change in the law and if this demand is supported by the majority, the law will be changed.
What we need is a balance between the authority of the Executive, the role of the Judiciary in ensuring that all executive arms, including the police, function according to law and for the police to be operationally autonomous so that it can fulfill its task of maintaining order, preventing crime and quickly detecting and prosecuting offenders. This calls for restraint, rational thinking, proper legislation, competent executive functioning and vigilance on the part of the Judiciary which, in the present surcharged environment, is no where visible. The question which people must ask is “Why is this so?”
Good government is a function of a proper balance between the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. It is equally a function of integrity, honesty in the matter of working and efficiency and competence on the part of the constituents of the State. I consider the role of the Legislature and the legislators pivotal because it is this body and these persons who, because they are constituted by the freely cast vote of the citizens, are the key components of a representative democracy. Legislators have a constitutionally defined role and that consists of enactment of laws which are in the public interests, approval of the annual budget and individual items of expenditure and grants to meet such expenditure and then maintaining a watch over government to ensure that it functions in a manner such that the funds allotted to it by popular will, expressed through the representatives of the people, are properly utilised. This is done through questions, resolutions, debates, call attention motions, adjournment motions and through functioning of the Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee and the various standing committees for different departments, which all call government to account. At every step the Executive is accountable to the Legislature and if legislators were to do their duty the end result would be good government. But the fact is that the legislators do not do their duty, most sessions of parliament are heavily interrupted by agitations, there is very little meaningful debate in State Legislatures or in Parliament and most legislators are more interested in getting executive posts or in interfering in the day-to-day working of the Executive by demanding postings and transfers, insisting on work being done according to their whims and fancies and using the bureaucracy as a means of making money rather than in attending to legislative business. Should not a question be asked why the legislators do not perform their legitimate function and instead make it impossible for the bureaucracy to function? Should we also not ask why the bureaucracy has become so used to this situation that it has now become a willing partner in what ultimately leads to wholesale corruption?
We have been silent too long and an Anna Hazare fasting to end corruption, an Arvind Kejriwal jumping around and agitating, a Prashant Bhushan filing public interest writ petitions do not even scratch at the problem. We need a massive upsurge of public anger which would tear down the posters of our leaders, dog their footsteps when they talk nonsense in public and insist on an austere style of living and functioning of the politicians and the civil servants. That will bring us back to the early days of independence, when India looked to the future with hope, the politicians still imbued with a sense of Gandhian morality and the civil servants enthused by and proud of their role in building a new and prosperous nation.
Monday, May 13, 2013
This is the lesson from Ladakh — when cracks are papered over, they reappear several conclusions can be drawn from The India-China Stand-off in Ladakh. One, China can create an incident on the unsettled border at a time and place of its choosing, irrespective of positive developments in other aspects of the bilateral relationship. We should not believe that expanded political and trade ties will dissuade China from asserting its unreasonable territorial claims. It treats territorial issues as a core interest, separating them from even massive advantages it can obtain from a bilateral relationship, as in the case of China-Japan ties.
Two, we have no effective political answer to such provocations. In what can be termed as political whimpering , we downplayed the Chinese action, characterising it as acne on an otherwise beautiful face, advising against losing sleep over it, calling it localised and even an occurrence in no man’s land.
We seemed reluctant to point a political finger at the Chinese leadership for the provocation. Our extraordinarily re- strained reaction showed greater concern than that of China itself about not disturbing the dynamic of our improving relationship. Risk-averse and believing that we lacked good options, we calculated that a conciliatory posture and stress on dialogue offered the least damaging way out of the crisis.
We wanted the forthcoming visits of Foreign minister Salman Khurshid to China and that of Chinese premier Li Keqiang to India to proceed as planned, as if we had more stakes than China had in their success. Such high-level visits are intended to bolster ties, not to paper over militarily provocative acts to the advantage of the stronger country. By treating the Chinese incursion as incidental, with little political import, capable of being resolved at the local level and preferring, meanwhile, business as usual to continue with China, we gave the latter considerable room to defuse the issue as opportune.
Three, we lack confidence in a military option. Our armed forces believe that they could have forced the Chinese intruders to withdraw without a fight, but our political leadership is excessively cautious. Apparently, it took the Cabinet Committee on Security 17 days to seek a briefing directly from our army chief, indicating that we preferred dealing with the PLA intrusion as a diplomatic issue, not a military one.
It can be safely assumed that the Chinese, adamant about not withdrawing despite several flag meetings and diplomatic demarches, would not have agreed to restore the status quo ante without some Indian concession. To force India to cease its defensive activity in other parts of Ladakh, China ignored the existing border mechanisms to resolve differences and relied on an act of force in the Depsang Valley. We have been cautioned about what to expect if we persist in objectionable activities in areas where actual control is disputed in their reckoning. Our failure to respond militarily will cost us in the future. It would be naive to believe that Khurshid’s toughened tone in describing the Chinese response to our demarches as “unsatisfactory” and PM Manmohan Singh’s decision to extend his stay in Japan by a day persuaded the Chinese to end the stand-off. They might have decided that their limited objective had been served.
Four, the incursion clearly caught us unawares as we had begun to believe that China, pre-occupied with tensions with its eastern neighbours, was genuinely reaching out to us, and that by imaginatively using this opportunity we could lay the foundation of a new bilateral relationship. While it is true that a stable relationship with China serves our foreign policy interests well, it can- not be a one-sided affair. Underneath the rhetoric of wanting improved ties with India, China is steadily undermining our interests in our neighbourhood by wanting equal treatment with India in Nepal, courting the Sri Lankan government with economic and military aid, wooing the maldives government, strengthening ties with Bangladesh and continuing to strategically instrumentalise pakistan with nuclear cooperation and the takeover of Gwadar port.
Our unduly positive projections at the official level of our developing ties with China are in conflict with reality. When cracks are papered over, they reappear — that is the lesson to be drawn from the recent drama in Ladakh.
Friday, May 10, 2013
Apart from being the first elections to be conducted by a legitimately constituted civilian set-up on completion of a full term by a democratically elected government, Pakistan’s upcoming elections scheduled for May 11, 2013, are notable in more than one way.
Firstly, this will be the bloodiest election in Pakistan’s history. From April 21 to 28 alone, there were as many as 20 attacks on political parties, resulting in 40 deaths and 190 wounded.
Secondly, there is no single overwhelming factor to influence voting like the sympathy wave that brought the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to power in 1988 and 2008.
Thirdly, a relatively unknown factor will influence the outcome, in terms of the youth vote with 31 per cent of the voters aged between 18 and 29.
These elections, like the ones held earlier, will not be free and fair as the heavy hand of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been evident right from the scrutiny of candidates to election rallies. Electoral officers have been influenced by it, with a wink and a nod from the army and the judiciary, to rigidly interpret Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution to disqualify “undesirables” from the elections. For instance, doubts about the absence of anyone’s Islamic credentials have been invoked to disqualify many a candidate. Inevitably, this has most hurt left of centre parties like the PPP, Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP). These parties have also been specifically targeted by the TTP through physical intimidation because of their “secular” leanings and endeavours to take on militancy. As a result, they have not been able to campaign effectively and their election rallies have been few and far between. Thus, the election scene is skewed in favour of Islamist candidates and right of centre parties like Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League (N) and a slew of Islamic parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami and the JUI (F).
This, coupled with the anti incumbency factor generated by years of massive misrule, will result in a sharp decline of seats won by the PPP and its allies, notably the MQM, ANP and PML (Q).
The PPP, hitherto was the largest party in Pakistan with 126 seats in a house of 342, is likely to get no more than 60-70 seats on account of the reasons cited above, extreme demoralisation and the absence of any star campaigner like Benazir or the sympathy factor. It will take massive losses in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan where the increasingly radicalised electorate will be much more supportive of right of centre and Islamic parties. It is likely to get only five or six seats as against the 19 in the previous elections. In Punjab, too, from where it obtained 63 seats in the last elections, it will possibly witness major losses as it is clearly unpopular in urban Punjab and may be expected to obtain around 30 seats mainly from Southern Punjab. In Sind, it will retain its core support but as against the 40 seats it secured in the last elections it is likely to only get around 30.
Nawaz Sharif’s PML(N), the second largest party in the last elections with 91 seats, of which as many as 81 were from Punjab, is widely expected to emerge as the largest party with a projected 110 to 120 seats in the upcoming elections. This will, however, not enable it to form a government on its own even if it is able to win over many independents. The party’s somewhat improved showing will result from the absence of any anti-incumbency factor as its rule in Punjab had provided acceptable levels of governance and had certainly not been disastrous. The decimation of the PPP vote bank and that of the latter’s ally PML(Q), which in the last elections got as many as 35 seats in the Punjab, and PML(N)’s own conservative Islamic affiliations will naturally stand it in good stead in a steadily radicalising Pakistan. As in the previous elections, the bulk of PML(N)’s seats will come from Punjab, mainly at the cost of the PPP and PML(Q), and will most likely increase from 81 to little over 100. It may also be expected to get an additional 15 seats from the other three provinces as against only five in the last elections, giving it a total strength of 110 to 120 seats.
The third largest party is likely to be the PTI. Estimates about the seats likely to be secured by this party are the most variable, ranging from 10 to 100. The uncertainty of its showing stems from the fact that it is a new party with a fragile organisational structure which is, of course, compensated to an extent by Imran Khan’s name, recognition and popularity, particularly among the youth. Whether his popularity will translate into votes is a question mark. The bulk of the party’s support will come from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. In the former, it could get around 15-20 seats out of a total of 43 and in the latter it could get around 30 by eating into the PML (N), PML (Q), and PPP.
In Sindh the MQM, which has hitherto been the predominant party, will likely see some decline in strength with its seats falling from 25 to 15. Similarly, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which was the stronghold of the ANP, will see a dramatic decline in the fortunes of that party with its seats declining from 13 to three or four. Islamic parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami and JUI (F) will be the main beneficiaries of these developments in both provinces, apart from the PML (N) to a less extent.
An election outcome with a fractured mandate as projected above in which no party will be able to form a government on its own even with the support of independents will be unfortunate for Pakistan. More so, because none of the three largest parties notably — PML(N), PPP and PTI — will find it easy to link up with either of the other two due to their differing ethos and backgrounds, and as far as the PPP is concerned even ideology.
Should political expediency drive any two to form a coalition government, this is likely to be riven by dissent and an inability to effectively address the many pressing economic, security and foreign policy issues facing the country. Indeed, this could ultimately lead to a reversion to military rule.
As far as India is concerned, while all the three major parties profess to want good relations with the neighbour, each is also focused on Kashmir. The PTI refers to the resolution of the Kashmir “dispute” as a core issue, while the other two stress the need to take into account the UN resolutions for its closure. But above all, we should be concerned by the increasingly radicalised nature of Pakistani polity which does not bode well for us.
Education is a multi-layered cake in which the icing and decoration is on the top, in which the base is the foundation on which the whole system rests. Obviously the base of every education system has to be the entry point nursery, kindergarten, primary, middle level, high and higher secondary schools. If the schools, by and large, are of a certain standard in which the objective is to impart education rather than just teach literacy, the general standard of all students, regardless of caste, creed, social or economic status will be of at least a minimum acceptable level. The strength of the American Public School System (in India that would be the Government School System) is that in the matter of funding in the public domain there is a degree of equality, though richer communities are free, through the School District Board, to raise additional funds to upgrade the school infrastructure. The principle of bussing or using school buses to transport school children to even distant schools where they might have been admitted, is a great leveller because through this that country has been able to substantially reduce racial discrimination by admitting and transporting white children to black majority schools and vice versa. This is not to state that the American school system is ideal, but because the vast majority of children study in schools in the public domain, the average American child has access to a fairly good quality school from the earliest age.
The situation is totally different in India. The Right to Education Act notwithstanding, the standard of government, panchayat and municipal schools is abysmal and the difference between rural schools and urban schools is a veritable chasm. The infrastructure in terms of buildings, furniture, teaching aids and laboratories is disgraceful, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan notwithstanding. In rural areas in many places teachers are more often absent than present, a number of schools are single teacher, learning is by rote and it is a rare and unusual village teacher or teacher in a government school in the towns who looks upon it as his duty to arouse the curiosity of children and make them partners in the learning process. Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was fortunate in that in his village in Rameshwaram he had a teacher whose dedication ultimately produced a great scientist who went on to become the President of India. I had the fortune to run across Pannalal Pawar in Neempani Village of Betul District who, in the Tribal Welfare Department, ran with great imagination a primary school. He made children partners in the process of learning, fish keeping, raising poultry and cultivating a vegetable garden. Apart from reading and writing he taught them the skills which would make them better farmers and he imbued in the children a desire for education.
In the bleak landscape of school education we have the refreshing oasis of about 560 Navodaya Schools located in rural areas, admitting only rural children, with a decent physical and educational infrastructure, reasonably good teachers, complete residential facilities in which all the children are educated, fed and looked after free of cost. For some years now the children from these schools have put in the best performance of all schools in CBSE examinations. We need thousands of such schools and whereas the Prime Minister sanctioned 6000 of them, our then HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, virtually torpedoed the scheme by introducing the red herring of the PPP mode. With such policy makers how can India educate itself?
I have dwelt on schools at length because with the public sector failing to provide that number of schools which can give us universal education of a reasonable standard, schools in the private sector have proliferated. There are high fee charging so-called public schools and a very large number of high fee charging schools which are not a part of the Headmasters Conference, that is, they are not residential public schools on the model of the British public schools such as Eton and Harrow. Though these schools charge a high fee and their infrastructure is better than that of government schools, the standard of education imparted is very patchy. There are some very good schools but the vast majority of them are just commercial ventures which mint money because of the general hunger for education, impart a degree of literacy which can lead to a higher secondary certificate, but do not educate in the sense of developing the young minds. Our good schools are better than anything that the rest of the world offers. Our average schools are mediocre in the extreme and the average government or private school is the pits. On this huge, unstable, unanchored foundation of schools, which is shaky and liable to collapse, we are trying to build a multi tiered cake or a pyramid in which the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, the Indian Institutes of Management, the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Information Technology, the National Institutes of Technology and Central Universities are at the apex.
A mountain top is only as stable as the base of the mountain and if that base is flawed the mountain can topple any time. The base, the foundation, is not only the school; it is also a mofussil college and the state university. Both are extremely poor examples of an education system, which form the ground floor of the structure. For example, Bhopal has more than one hundred so-called colleges of science and technology in the private sector. The Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Information Technology have a faculty shortage of approximately 45 percent. The National Institutes of Technology are no better. Where will all these private colleges of technology get teachers? We need 8000 Ph.D. in technology every year if we are to feed both the research sector and the education sector. We produce only 800 per year. The private colleges, therefore, use fresh graduates to become teachers on contract and these people, who are hardly educated themselves, can certainly not educate the children whose fate is put in their hands. The Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Gwalior is running a very successful Training for Professionals (TFP) course of three months duration and now this has been upgraded to an advanced course. The objective is to bring in graduates from lower level institutes of technology and engineering and through intensive training teach them both soft and hard skills. It is amazing how much has to be taught to students who have been exposed to four years of so-called technical education. IIITM, Gwalior is only scratching at the surface because the maximum intake of a course is fifty, three courses are run every year and one hundred and fifty persons acquire the skills necessary for them to become employable. The number of so-called engineering graduates runs into lakhs. Incidentally, TFP was introduced in many Indian Institutes of Technology and National Institutes of Technology but IIITM, Gwalior is the only one which has successfully run the programme. The point being made is that the vast majority of our so-called colleges of technology are producing a product which has actually not been educated at all.
That brings us to the apex institutions. The feeders of these institutes, the schools, generally do not produce the students who can imbibe higher education. Though a larger number of people from rural areas are now beginning to compete, by and large it is the same group of elitist schools which produce students who are admitted to universities such as Delhi University, to the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Information Technology, the Indian Institutes of Science, Education and Research and the Indian Institutes of Management. These students are the cream of the cream but all come from a limited collection. To these one can add the students who have come through crammers as represented by coaching classes in places such as Kota, but whereas they have learnt the ability to pass an entrance examination it is doubtful whether their minds have been developed by the coaching classes to a level where they can both assimilate the education given in our apex institutions and to grasp the relevance of research and then set their minds in a research mode. With the brightest students in India neither the IIsT nor the IIsM have a research record which comes anywhere near such universities as Cambridge, Oxford Sorbonne, the Berlin Technical University, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, MIT, the University of California, Berkley or Leyland Stanford.
The infrastructure in our institutes is adequate for research, the teachers are highly qualified, the students are very bright but the environment for research is not there, with the result that these top institutions are looked upon more as training grounds for increasing one’s employability, finding a job which gives a very high salary and in moving into the corporate world here and abroad. To my mind if these institutes become only employment centres then they can hardly be called educational institutions.
For our top level institutes of technology to achieve both their potential and their objective we need to strengthen our entire system of technical education in which the average engineering college is given the infrastructure and the faculty which can impart good undergraduate education. It is these students who on graduation will either move to employment, mainly in the public sector, or will pursue higher studies in an NIT, IIIT or IIT. These apex institutes could then become vibrant centres of academic activity and research. The removal of the present imbalance is the responsibility of government. Unfortunately government in the Ministry of Human Resource Development is far too busy using education as a political tool than in addressing basic questions of education at school and college level and, therefore, the reforms we need are not only on the back burner—they are in deep cold storage.
There is another form of imbalance which escapes our notice on which we must focus. Before I proceed to discuss this let me add that the imbalance in the field of technology and science is reflected in other fields also, such as medical education and agriculture education and research. That, however, calls for a separate paper. To return to the subject in hand, education is not a function of Science and Technology alone. Equally important are the Humanities, Social Sciences and Liberal Arts. When I joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1957 engineers and doctors of medicine were prohibited from appearing in the UPSC examination for Civil Services. This was because it was felt that since the nation has invested so much in teaching a student to be an engineer or doctor, both professions which are extremely valuable to the nation, it would be a complete waste of money and effort to divert this talent to the mundane task of administration. Therefore, students who had studied Economics, History, Physics and Chemistry, English Literature, Sociology and allied subjects dominated the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Foreign Service. When, however, the doors were thrown open to doctors and engineers and the format of the examination changed so that objective tests replaced the more analytical narrative form of questions and answers the balance tilted in favour of people from the technology stream.
What students study largely depends on what lies at the end of the course of studies. If a student of technology has a better chance of getting a job in government, in the public sector or in the corporate world, why should a student study History, Literature, Arts or Economic? Therefore, gradually the status and level of Humanities, Liberal Arts and Social Sciences declined, not only in India but in most parts of the world and now there is a very real fear that whereas education which narrows the focus of a student on to a particular subject is gaining ground, the more widely focused education which develops a student’s mind all-round and his liberal outlook is declining. This has had a cascading effect on value systems, administration, environment awareness and the decline of a class of citizens that is concerned with good government, national integration, integrity and personal honesty.
We need to do a great deal of thinking on the interaction between the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Liberal Arts, Management, Technology and Sciences. We need a very solid injection of Humanities and Social Science education in our Institutes of Technology and Management so that these disciplines act as the pivot around which the more specific disciplines evolve and develop and the student himself becomes a much more well-rounded person. We also need to encourage students to go in for liberal education because it is this which will evolve a sense of values, morality, of liberal thoughts and, therefore, develop a liberal, democratic, honest and decent society. Has the Ministry of Human Resource Development even thought of these ideas, much less articulated them? If India is to continue to be a civilisation to be proud of then a Panini will have to be put on the same pedestal as an Aryabhat because if a great scientist is of importance to India, a Kabir with his down-to-earth philosophy is equally important. The civilisational base of India needs this. If technology is the servant of man, if untamed technology can alter the physical, climatic and environmental contours of earth, then the man using technology has to be more than a scientist, a technologist, and a person expert in physical things. He has to be sentient and sensitive, liberal in thought and action, attuned to nature, synchronised with people, personally honest and, in short, what we called civilized. To quote Rousseau, “The noblest work in education is to make a reasoning man …” Even to know that Rousseau existed calls for more than technical education. It needs a far ranging mind that spans the whole universe. Of course, the wonder of technology is that helps us to locate Rousseau, the wonder of the mind is that it helps us to understand him. We need both.
Labels: American Public School System, Cambridge, CBSE, Indian Institutes of Management, Indian Institutes of Science, Indian Institutes of Technology, Navodaya Schools, Oxford Sorbonne, Right to Education Act, SSA