Monday, December 31, 2012

An Object Lesson in Government Incompetence

Dr M N Buch 
(Visiting Fellow, VIF)

When salmon swim against all odds to reach their spawning grounds no obstruction can stop them. The huge number of rape cases now being reported in India reminds me of this annual migration of salmon. Was India free of rape till fairly recently and has the crime become suddenly endemic? Is it a question of rape victims now becoming more vocal about the crime against them and more ready to come forward and report it? Have social mores and behaviour changed so much that suddenly there is an upsurge of rape against woman and is there both a qualitative and quantitative difference between the past and the present? Are women suddenly more unsafe than before? As a young D.C. and several years later, both in a senior capacity and after retirement while working in the rural areas, I often asked villagers why they insisted on marrying off their daughters as soon as they attained puberty. The universal answer I was given to my question was that the parents of girls felt that as their daughters approach puberty they become vulnerable to sexual assault and rural society was not organised to control this phenomenon. Therefore, parents tried their best to have prepubescent girls engaged and to be immediately married at puberty. The argument that the law prohibited the marriage of girls below the age of eighteen was not accepted by the villagers who countered that because the law was unable to protect the girl child, therefore, family honour demanded that the girl be given into legal matrimony. The fact that this virtually amounted to legalised rape of a young child who had not achieved full majority left most people cold. Here I might point out that the region where most child marriages took place was and is northern and central India. Kerala does not have this phenomenon at all. Considering how the northern mindset works, the khap panchayats of Haryana and the generally subordinate position of women in society, one is inclined to believe that there is a kernel of truth in the argument that as a girl matures she should be handed over to a husband through marriage, even if the girl was below the legal age of marriage. I would take this as a clear indication that India is not a society in which gender equality is the rule and that in fact there is a great deal of gender discrimination practiced both overtly and covertly in this country.

Can a country survive and prosper if half its population is discriminated against? As it is, the desire for a male child has already skewed the sex ratio adversely to women. When we look at different forms of discrimination within this country, including on account of caste, a social activist could argue that India is a highly exploitative society in which the fortunate few are able to build their own areas of influence by using those against whom they discriminate as stepping stones on to which they climb for their self-aggrandisement. This, however, is not an essay on equality equity and discrimination per se and I shall leave the argument here, but with the remark that the sexual exploitation of women is only one of the results of having a society which is not based on equality. This is a matter which should cause great concern to our politicians, administrators, academicians and social activists.

Let us take the recent rape in a moving bus in Delhi, which has left the victim at death’s doorstep and has virtually acted as the last straw on the camel’s back in that it has breached the bounds of tolerance of our people and united them in revulsion against such crimes. The ongoing protests in Delhi are evidence of the people at large being fed up with the deteriorating law and order situation and the sheer ineptitude of government in dealing with it. The fact that crime against women is on the increase and government has been unable to contain it is a major factor behind public anger. It expressed itself at a spontaneous gathering of the young at Vijay Chowk at India Gate and through virtual blockade of Raisina Hill, the seat of government. What the demonstrators were demanding is the quick arrest of the accused, swift trial and condign punishment. There was an element of lynch law in the demand of the demonstrators, but that is only to be expected when tempers are running high. That does not mean that government should succumb to pressure exerted in the streets, but certainly the government is expected to listen to what people are saying. Unfortunately that is not what is happening.
The sequence of events is that perhaps twenty-five thousand people gathered at Vijay Chowk and along Rajpath. This gathering was spontaneous and certainly it did not have a political organisation behind it. The police barricaded the streets and deployed a large number of policemen equipped with anti-riot gear. This included a number of Vajra Vans which are equipped with water cannon and tear gas launchers. This is the stage at which the President should have walked out of Rashtrapati Bhawan and down to Vijay Chowk. He should have invited the demonstrators to gather around him, he should have heard them and then assured them that he would persuade government to take swift action to apprehend the accused, bring them to trial and vigorously prosecute them so that they could be convicted and sentenced in the shortest possible time. The Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi should have assisted the President in this behalf. It should not have been left to Mrs, Sheila Dixit, Chief Minister of Delhi, to be virtually the only person to plead the case for quick justice. The young demonstrators would have been reassured if this had happened and I am absolutely confident that the agitation could have been contained there.

There is another area in which swift action was called for. I spoke to the Cabinet Secretary and the impression I gathered was that the movement of the bus in question had not gone altogether unnoticed. Apparently a police patrol vehicle had sighted the bus, but despite its erratic movements it had not been thought fit to stop and inspect the vehicle. The dark film on the windows of the bus and the drawn curtains both violated the rules in this behalf framed under the Motor Vehicles Act and that was sufficient ground to stop the bus and board it. Obviously there was gross dereliction of duty by Delhi Police personnel on the ground and this is inexcusable. An alert government should have called the District DCP, Sub-Divisional ACP and the Station Officers of the police stations through whose jurisdiction the bus passed to account and taken drastic action against them. Obviously the DCP had not instructed his officers properly on how to deal with violations of rules by bus owners, nor were members of the patrolling staff properly directed in the performance of duty. Unfortunately in India we only act against minions and not against the superiors under whom they function. Action against errant officers does not demoralise the police force if there is evenhanded justice. Inaction which leads to deterioration in police performance certainly demoralises people at large and in the ultimate analysis government is there for the people and not for some officials. The excuse that action against police officers demoralizes the Force is neither justified nor acceptable.

There was total political mishandling of the situation because no senior minister cared to communicate with people in the streets of Delhi. Its officials did not do so either. In 1966 I was District Magistrate of Ujjain when a serious bout of students’ unrest arose, which culminated in violence in which stern action was taken, resulting in twenty-three students and twenty-one policemen being admitted to hospital with fractures, etc. The Superintendent of Police had five fractured ribs and I had a dislocated knee and a head injury from stone throwing. There was great anger in the student community and amongst the police, but I walked into Madhav College, the epicenter of rioting, the very next day and in the canteen I asked the gathered students to get me a cup of tea. When the students reacted angrily I asked them how many more of them would like to join their colleagues in hospital and on this a sullen student brought me a cup of tea. I then gathered the students around me and allowed them to vent their anger. After they ran out of steam I told them that a week from that day I would take them on a picnic to an irrigation tank near Ujjain and would also have a hockey match with them. I said that whilst enjoying my hospitality they were free to heap abuse on the Superintendent of Police and on me. In due course the picnic took place, the students beat my hockey team by four goals, went through all the food that we had prepared and ultimately we all parted as very good friends. The moral of the story is not that I am a great guy but rather that if people who wield power interact with and listen to citizens almost every problem can be solved. Had our leaders and officers been more sensitive the Delhi situation could have been defused within one day. It is the sheer ineptitude and inability to govern of our present government that is responsible for its own woes.

The matter is now mired in filthy controversy. The angry Chief Minister of Delhi has openly criticised the police, especially because she has no control over it. The Police Commissioner, an IPS officer who should have kept his mouth shut, has chosen to go public. If a subordinate officer had done so, he would have been charged with violation of the Conduct Rules. Neeraj Kumar should know that the rules apply to him also and for any civil servant anonymity is of prime importance. There are charges and counter-charges, with a controversial statement by Neeraj Kumar that if sacking the Police Commissioner improves the situation he should be sacked every day. Does it mean that stringing him up by his thumbs would be an even better solution? The fact is that Delhi is perhaps the only city which has a police force adequate in number as a proportion of the total population. Obviously the police is not as sensitive to its duties as it should be, with the result that crime against women is not taken as seriously as it should. The police has to be very proactive in ensuring that the dignity of women is protected and proactive policing demands intervention by the police in every case in which there is any element of sexual harassment. The malady is an old one. I remember that in 1978 the daughter of Dr. Sneh Bhargava, who went on to become Director, AIIMS told me that when she went to college using a public bus she wore extra thick jeans or trousers, despite which her bottom was often black and blue because would be Romeos never hesitated to pinch it. I was head of the Delhi Development Authority and Delhi was a smaller city and we were still a conservative society. Today things are worse, which is all the more reason why the police must be proactive and society must insist on this.

On the one hand is the victim of this particular rape who may or may not survive, which means the offence would be of murder if she dies. If this happens and the court convicts and sentences the accused to death, I suppose the blood thirst of the people would be assuaged, though it would not bring the victim back to life. On the other hand we have a government which even today is handling things in a highly ham-handed manner. The lathi charges, tear gassing, use of water cannon perhaps became inevitable once the crowd had become restive and, subsequently, violent and uncontrolled. However, what led up to the situation was the fact that no responsible person spoke to the crowd and this led to lumpen elements entering the fray. Now there is an unseemly fight between the Chief Minister of Delhi and the Police Commissioner and the allegations have rendered the air thick with an impure fog. What is going on? Do we have no government worth the name today? We need to take the following steps immediately.
  1. The Delhi Police should be transferred lock, stock and barrel to the National Capital Territory Government and the Chief Minister should be made directly responsible for law and order.
  2. Because Delhi is an Union Territory some powers may be reserved for the Lieutenant Governor in the matter of law and order just as it is in Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
  3. The Delhi Police Commissioner should be told that he is supposed to silently do his duty of administering the police force, maintaining law and order and controlling and prosecuting crime. He is not allowed to open his mouth in public.
  4. The Ministry of Home Affairs should restrict itself to general policy guidelines, but leave superintendence over the police to the Lieutenant Governor and the Chief Minister of Delhi.
  5. The entire police force should be sensitised to protecting the dignity of women and any officer of any rank who fails in his duty should be immediately subjected to severe disciplinary proceedings.
  6. Government must even now engage the people in dialogue, take strict action to ensure that the present case ends in successful prosecution and the situation is defused and normalcy restored.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Still Comrades after all these years

Kanwal Sibal 
(Member, VIF Advisory Board)

Russia was the first country with which India established a strategic partnership in 2000 when Vladimir Putin became President and reversed the drift in ties under Boris Yeltsin when Moscow veered westwards and lost interest in its Soviet-era friendships. The declaration of a strategic partnership with India was a pragmatic step, calculated to restore Russia’s role in international affairs by linking up with independent-minded, friendly, economically resurgent countries like India that could help promote multi-polarity and resist United States-led policies of regime change and intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign countries.

Since then, India has signed strategic partnership agreements with several countries, including the U.S. whose unilateralism was the motive for espousing multipolarity in the first place. The India-U.S. strategic partnership agreement shifts the balance in India’s foreign policy as its logic is both to deepen bilateral ties and build convergences in policies on regional and global issues. Because of the disparity of power between them, the U.S. has more capacity to influence India’s policies than the reverse, with the result that changes in India’s stance on some domestic and foreign issues is often attributed to U.S. influence, causing misgivings about India’s U.S. tilt.

Perceived westward tilt

If before 2000 it was Russia’s westward tilt that unsettled our bilateral relationship, it is now the perceived westward tilt of India that is causing some unease in Russian thinking.

To underline the claim that the India-Russia relationship is in fine fettle and distinguish it from India’s other strategic partnerships, the two countries declared last year that theirs was a “special and privileged” one. But such well meaning rhetoric does not match reality.

If the economic pillar of relationships is more important today than the political one, then the inability of India and Russia to build a strong bilateral economic relationship weakens the foundations of overall ties. At $10 billion currently, two-way trade, even with a 30 per cent increase over the previous year, is small, compared to $100 billion in economic exchanges with the U.S. and almost $73 billion of trade in goods with China. The target of $20 billion by 2015 appears optimistic. Many efforts at the government level to promote more business to business contacts have not galvanised the economic relationship because of the hangover of the state controlled trade arrangements of the past that blunt real entrepreneurship on both sides, the decline of the public sector in India and the state oriented structure of the Russian economy, and also because the most dynamic, technologically modernising sectors of our economy, especially knowledge-based, are west oriented. In this context, some agreements signed during the summit in IT and pharmaceutical sectors, as well as on satellite based navigation systems using GLONASS (the Russian GPS system), are encouraging.

In areas of obvious complementarities, as in the energy sector, achievements have remained modest despite several summit level discussions during the 12 years of strategic partnership. The joint statement issued at the end of the just concluded summit between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Putin devotes considerable attention to the subject, with some indication of progress. We have, as before, reiterated our interest in equity participation in new projects in Siberia, Russia’s Far East and the Arctic shelf, as well as in discovered/producing assets and proposed LNG projects in Russia. In return, Russia has always pitched for a share in downstream activities in India, to which we are agreeable. The LNG deal between GAIL and the Gazprom group for long-term supply of 2.5 mmt mentioned in the joint statement is to be welcomed. We are looking to Russia to ease the tax liability on Indian investment in Imperial Energy which is making the project unremunerative.

As against this, the atmosphere for Russian investment in India has been soured by the problems Sistema has been facing in the telecom sector with its licences revoked by the Supreme Court’s 2G judgment, putting in jeopardy its multi-billion dollar investment that includes $700 million of Russian debt funds. The issue has got complicated because Sistema contends rightly that it acted within the policy framework and committed no wrongdoing and the Russian government seeks resolution through executive fiat and is unpersuaded that the government of India cannot disregard the Supreme Court judgment. Some amicable solution seems to have been explored as the issue does not figure in the joint statement, while India’s problem with Russian tax laws in connection with Imperial Energy does.


Russia’s disappointment with the delay in signing the agreement on Kudankulam 3 and 4, despite the attractive financial terms offered, is understandable. Having agreed to set up nuclear plants in defiance of U.S.-led international restrictions on civilian nuclear cooperation with India and supply nuclear fuel for Tarapur, the Russians are resentful that India wants to treat them and the Americans and the French alike with regard to our nuclear liability law, especially as the inter-governmental agreement pertaining to these reactors preceded our liability legislation. However, with Fukushima and the public agitation against Kudankulam 1 and 2, not to mention the Supreme Court’s involvement in the matter, the issue has become politically difficult for the government. The answer may lie in increased cost of Russian reactors to cater for liability exposure. If Russia explored a practical solution within the rules framed under our liability law that provides considerable scope for limiting the financial liability of the supplier, Kudankulam 3 and 4 could be signed and Russia would dramatically increase its head start over others in India’s nuclear sector.

Similarly, on defence contracts, the Russians are unhappy at the negative publicity over the inordinate delay in delivering the aircraft carrier, now slated for November 2013, even as the Government of India has been extremely accommodating over the delay. Russia retains its privileged position as the largest source of defence supplies to India, but gets upset when it loses some tenders. Because the India-Russia relationship is excessively defence weighted, such losses are felt all the more acutely. India has to manage Russian expectations even as it is obliged to diversify its sources of supply as part of building strategic ties with other partners. The answer lies in diversifying the India-Russia relationship and giving it strong non-defence legs. On the positive side, the two countries are engaged in joint projects such as the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, Multi-Role Transport Aircraft and the BrahMos missile, while India has ordered an additional 12 MI-17v5 helicopters as well as technological kits for 42 additional Sukhoi 30-MKI aircraft. It is ironic that although India is the biggest user of Russian platforms which are used in exercises with the U.S. armed forces, military level contacts with the Russians, as compared to those with the U.S., are negligible. Beyond all this, it is a huge policy failure on our part that with so much access to advanced Russian equipment we have failed to establish an indigenous defence manufacturing base.

The joint statement has substantive paragraphs with positive formulations on several regional and global issues. Russia has expressed satisfaction with India’s cooperation as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and reiterated its strong support for its candidature for permanent membership. The formulation on terrorism is robust. Pakistan is not named, but the implication, including in the context of Afghanistan, is clear, easing doubts raised by Russia’s recent overtures to Pakistan. The Taliban is not named, but in the context of attempts to have a dialogue with it, both countries have recalled the redlines for this and have implicitly opposed the dilution of U.N. sanctions against the extremist elements.

The formulation on Syria reflects convergence in thinking on essentials, as also that on Iran where any military option is opposed. In the long paragraph on security in Asia, there is a call for inclusive regional security architecture. In the background of Chinese claims in South China Sea, the need for strengthening maritime security in accordance with the universally accepted principles of international law is stressed. The trilateral India-Russia-China mechanism gets a positive mention, with Russia conveying its support for India’s membership of SCO and APEC. The important role BRICS plays in a multi-polar order and collective decision making is noted. Both countries back a more representative and legitimate international financial architecture that includes an expeditious reform of the IMF.

Russia has extended support to India’s membership of the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) and Wassenar Arrangement as well as the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The Australia Group is a notable omission. In the joint statement, India has “underscored its determination to actively contribute to international efforts at strengthening nuclear non-proliferation regime,” which, apart from the clumsy language, is unclear about what is implied.

All in all, despite a truncated visit consistent with Mr. Putin’s matter-of-fact, businesslike style, the 13th summit was timely in providing an opportunity to the two sides to underline a shared understanding on several important issues and address some vexatious ones creating ripples across the smooth surface of the bilateral relationship.

Post - 2014 Afghan Security: Hope is not a Strategy

Brig (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal 
(Visiting Fellow, VIF)

Gradually but inexorably, Afghanistan is crawling towards anarchy due to its deteriorating security situation. The US-led forces in Afghanistan are on target to complete their drawdown by end-2014. In fact, many members of the US Congress are clamouring for an even earlier withdrawal. However, the preparedness of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF, army and police) to assume independent charge of security is highly suspect.

The present security environment is best described as a stalemate at both the strategic and tactical levels. While the Taliban are following a wait-and-watch strategy and keeping their powder dry, the NATO-ISAF forces are failing to make major gains against them. The ANSF operate with confidence during the day in conjunction with the NATO-ISAF forces, but the Taliban rule large swathes of the countryside by night, collect taxes or protection money and administer their peculiar brand of Sharia law.

The ANSF are reported to be on target to raise their force strength to the planned level of 352,000 personnel (195,000 army and 157,000 police), including 25,000 Special Forces. This large force level has been raised in the short span of a few years. The rapid raising of new combat battalions almost invariably results in a dilution in the quality of intake of recruits as the catchment area is limited and low standards of initial or basic training as the training period is reduced to six months or lesser. Newly raised battalions in the best of armies take three to five years to settle down and build internal unit cohesion and esprit de corps before they can be employed for military operations. Also, it is often forgotten that counter-insurgency operations against an unseen adversary who has the initiative, enjoys the luxury of choosing his time and place of attack, employs hit-and-run tactics and conveniently melts into the population, are far more complex than conventional operations against the enemy arrayed opposite one’s own force.

Counter-insurgency operations are small-team operations in which success is heavily dependent on very high quality junior leadership. The standards of junior leadership in the ANSF leave much to be desired. Not only are the ANSF ill-trained and badly led, they are also poorly equipped. The ANSF lack high mobility vehicles like the US ‘humvees’ and are incapable of launching quick reaction teams to either come to the aid of besieged patrols and ambush parties or to exploit fleeting opportunities. The Afghan army lacks firepower resources as it has not been given any artillery. It has to rely on US helicopter gunships and that involves high levels of coordination. The army lacks helicopters for logistics support and casualty evacuation. In fact, combat service support elements are almost completely non-existent.

Accurate and timely intelligence is the bedrock of successful counter-insurgency operations. The ANSF do not have an integral intelligence establishment and are dependent mainly on external sources. This is a major operational deficiency. The desertion rate is higher than average in similar circumstances; many cases of fratricide have been reported and the Taliban have infiltrated their men into some of the battalions. Under these circumstances, morale is bound to be low. Some ISAF Generals have praised the performance of a few ANSF battalions in recent operations, but most operations are still being supported by ISAF advisors and are not being conducted entirely independently.

On the other hand, the Taliban destroyed six US Marine Corps Harrier fighter jets and severely damaged two others in a daring attack on Camp Bastion in September 2012. The Taliban launched several such attacks on Coalition bases in 2012 though not with as much success as at Camp Bastion. Though the Afghan government has certainly come a long way towards ensuring that the country is soon free of foreign forces, the present state of the ANSF does not inspire much confidence in its ability to guarantee an acceptable level of security when the NATO-ISAF drawdown has been completed.

An objective military assessment would be that the ANSF need to be supplemented by an international stabilisation force. Such a force could be constituted under the aegis of the United Nations and could comprise troops from Afghanistan’s neighbours who have a major stake in the country. Such a force will not be easy to assemble as the Afghans themselves are wary of the presence of foreign troops and the neighbouring may not be so easily forthcoming. But, it is the best option under the circumstances; otherwise the probability of a major civil war will loom large on the horizon.

The NATO-ISAF planners are eager to wind up their decade-long operations and get their men home. They are pinning their hopes on the budding ANSF being able to hold its own against the Taliban who have demonstrated their capacity for resurgence. Hope can never be a substitute for strategy.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Method in The Madness

Kanwal Sibal 
(Member, VIF Advisory Board)

If it was wrong to invite Pakistan’s interior minister Rahman Malik to India because he prevaricates on investigations into the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and lets Hafiz Saeed make hate speeches against India unchecked, is it right to believe that the Pakistani president and PM are welcome because they want to genuinely bring to justice expeditiously those Pakistanis involved in the Mumbai carnage, including Saeed, its mastermind?

Those against Malik’s visit should say whether being tough with the minister personally but dealing with Pakistan, per se, with benevolence will satisy us on the terrorism issue. So far, despite many political concessions to Pakistan, such as breaking the link between dialogue and terrorism and recognizing it as a victim of terrorism, Islamabad has not taken decisive steps to curb the terrorist threat. The extremist groups are alive and Saeed continues his jihadi tirades.

If the heart of the Pakistani government is in the right place on terrorism but it is characters like Malik who are stalling condign handling of the 26/11 case, then he is not a loud-mouth political non-entity as some make him out to be, but a truer face of the Pakistani Deep State that seeks limited cooperation, not strategic reconciliation, with India.

We should understand that Malik, with roots in the system within which he functions, represents the pervasive thinking in Pakistan that as a victim of terrorism itself- even greater than India- it can hardly be involved in promoting terrorism outside. Our terrorism problem is thus seen as home grown.

According to this narrative, 26/11 was staged by non-State actors. If there is delay in trying those responsible, it is because legal procedures are dilatory not only in Pakistan but in India too, as the delay in providing information on the bombing of Samjhauta Express shows.

The dismay in New Delhi at Malik’s statements is hardly justified as they are consistent with those made in the past by Pakistan. During S.M.Krishna’s last visit, his counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar made no mention of terrorism in her remarks at the joint press meet. Indeed, in a separate interview she expressed surprise that the non-issue of terrorism was still being raised. Their erstwhile foreign secretary had dismissed our evidence on Saeed’s activity as “literature”. Their leaders have repeatedly said that proceeding against Saeed needs evidence that can stand scrutiny in court. They have repeatedly asserted that Pakistani authorities have had no role whatever in the 26/11 attacks. All these statements have not deterred us from continuing our comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan, relaxing the visa regime, expand trade links. and now, playing cricket.

Malik came here knowing that he could safely restate Pakistan’s standard position in response to our well-worn litany on terrorism and 26/11. He went further in ridiculing India’s case by equating the 26/11 to Babri Masjid, implying that the latter was a terror attack against Muslims by Hindu elements, a sort of precursor to the Samjhauta bombing. He did not mention the Gujarat riots probably because of elections there. By claiming Abu Jundal is an Indian national who was in contact with Indian intelligence, he imputed that Pakistan was an unwitting victim of a larger conspiracy.

That an Indian intelligence contact like Jundal should be in Pakistan begs the question why known Indian terrorists are residing in that country and their extradition is being steadfastly refused. Even more egregiously, Malik claimed that infiltrators into J&K are migrants, just like the Mexicans who migrate to US across the border. That he wanted to convey the truth to the Indian public, which our government is supposedly hiding, shows how warped Pakistani thinking is on the terror issue.

Pakistan has taken our measure and knows what it can get away with. Our position that we have no option but to have a dialogue reduces vastly our manoeuvrability. No wonder our foreign minister had to downplay Malik’s remarks, calling them “packaging” that covers a modicum of progress. We think being hard-headed with Pakistan would prevent us from dealing with it imaginatively- the so-called out-of-the-box thinking. We prefer being soft-hearted and then begin dreaming.

Vivekananda: Essence and Significance

Dr. Anirban Ganguly 
(Associate Fellow, VIF)

In a few days time Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary celebrations shall be launched all over the country. Behind the grandeur and colour of every commemorative celebration lies the deeper truth of the significance of the personality or the event. At times, amidst the clash of cymbals, the sound of trumpets, marches and speeches the essential symbolism of the occasion or the personality gets submerged, while it may not be the case on this occasion, the event nevertheless offers an opportunity to delve into the essence of Vivekananda’s life and action and to internalize its essential significance and message. The essence of such commemorations then must necessarily lie in that collective internalization.

At a time when cynicism gains periodic ascendancy and faith in the sublime receives repeated jolts, it is instructive to see that Vivekananda’s mission, against great prevailing odds, was that of ‘Man-making’ – it was ‘his own stern brief summary of the work that was worth doing.’ And in the span of a short and action packed life he did just that, ‘laboriously, unflaggingly, day after day…playing the part of Guru, of father, even of schoolmaster, by turns.’

In his renunciation – as the ‘archetype of the Sannyasin’ – Vivekananda exuded a cardinal difference from the norm. His renunciation had a dynamic dimension to it. While he often exclaimed, burning with renunciation, ‘Let me die a true Sannyasin as my Master did,’ he seemed to have equally embodied the spirit of the ‘ideal householder’ – ‘full of the yearning to protect and save, eager to learn and teach the use of materials, reaching out towards the reorganization and re-ordering of life.’ In his dynamic Sannyasa Vivekananda displayed an eagerness to ‘see the practicability of modern science developed among his own people’ with the ‘object of giving [them] a new and more direct habit of thought.’ Such eagerness, when communicated to some of the leading men of action of the day did have the desired catalyzing effect. Jamshedji Tata (1839-1904), for example, recalled the Swami’s suggestions given to him while on a journey to the West and, inspired, wrote back to him with a new vision of scientific research in India, asking the ‘cyclonic-monk’ to lead the movement:

I very much recall at this moment your views on the growth of the ascetic spirit in India, and the duty, not of destroying, but of diverting it into useful channels.

I recall these ideas in connection with my scheme of Research Institute of Science for India, of which you have doubtless heard or read. It seems to me that no better use can be made of the ascetic spirit than the establishment of monasteries or residential halls for men dominated by this spirit, where they should live with ordinary decency, and devote their lives to the cultivation of sciences – natural and humanistic… (23rd November, 1898)
Living at a time ‘when men were abandoning the old’ and unquestioningly turning their minds away from their civilisational fundamentals, Vivekananda, while being fearless of the new’, continued to remain an ‘ardent worshipper of the old.’ For him, it was the nation’s ‘own life, proper to her own background’ that would eventually act as the fountain of regeneration. ‘India must find herself in Asia, not in shoddy Europe’. She would find life in her ‘own life…not in imitation.’ It was from ‘her own proper past and environment that she would draw inspiration.’ While it was true that the ‘future would not be like the past, yet it could be only firmly established in a profound and living reverence for that past.’

Such a conviction led Vivekananda to ‘persistently, pertinaciously’ try and discover ‘the essentials of national consciousness.’ And in this quest of his, no ‘smallest anecdote, no trifling detail of person or custom, ever came amiss to his intellectual net’, he was certain that a ‘still greater future’ had to be ‘built upon the mighty past.’ The meaning of his Sannyasa then was to ‘reassert that which was India’s essential self, and leave the great stream of the national life, strong in a fresh self-confidence and vigour, to find its own way to the ocean.’

Faith and invincibility were the other keynotes of his life. When the Indian intellect stood subjugated, when her traditions stood denigrated and a sense of weakness and confusion overshadowed the national psyche, here was a man ‘who never dreamt of failure. Here was a man who spoke of naught but strength.’ To many a close observer he seemed ‘supremely free from sentimentality, supremely defiant of all authority’ refusing to ‘meet any foreigner save as the master’. To an ‘Englishman who knew him well’ the Swami’s ‘great genius’ lay ‘in his dignity’, it was ‘nothing short of royal.’ In an age when the prevailing perception of India was that of a perpetual receiver of Western enlightenment, the Swami was firm in his conviction that ‘the East must come to the West, not as a sycophant, not as a servant, but as Guru and teacher.’ His cry was always unsettling to conformists of the age: ‘We are under a Hypnotism! We think we are weak and this makes us weak! Let us think ourselves strong and we are invincible.’

The central deity of his adoration and spiritual identification, however, was India. To a generation of the Indian intelligentsia who grew up on and propounded the notion of an externally inspired and evolving Indian unity, Vivekananda came as a mighty nonconformist. To him the ‘idea that two pice postage, cheap travel, and a common language of affairs could create a national unity, was…childish and superficial.’ He laughed at such facile explanations of Indian unity and argued instead that ‘these things could only be made to serve old India’s turn if she already possessed a deep organic unity of which they might conveniently become an expression.’ His stand came, not from a mental assessment of that unity but rather from a profoundly empirical experience of it. For ‘something like eight years’ Vivekananda had ‘wandered about the land changing his name at every village, learning of every one he met, gaining a vision’ of the land that was at once ‘accurate and minute as it was profound and general.’ It had enabled him to firmly grasp and absorb the uniting dimensions of this vast land.

But his perception of this unity was not merely meant for articulation or verbal explication; he lived and was an embodiment of this ‘diversity in oneness’. Through his intimate interactions and ceaseless travels he had learnt, ‘not only the hopes and ideals of every sect and group of the Indian people, but their memories also.’ He held the entire land, her traditions, her people, their ways and their sense of the past, as it were, in his soul, and radiated that national unity, which the superficial eye of the curious Orientalist or ‘Anglicised native’ failed to see:
A child of the Hindu quarter of Calcutta returned to live by Ganges-side, one would have supposed from his [Vivekananda’s] enthusiasm that he had been born, now in the Punjab, again in the Himalayas, at a third moment in Rajputana, or elsewhere. The songs of Guru Nanak alternated with those of Mira Bai and Tanasena on his lips. Stories of Prithvi Raj and Delhi jostled against those of Chitore and Pratap Singh, Shiva and Uma, Radha and Krishna, Sita-Ram and Buddha. Each mighty drama lived in a marvellous actuality, when he was the player. His whole heart and soul was a burning epic of the country, touched to an overflow of mystic passion by her very name.
As an indefatigable defender of his land and his people, Vivekananda was perhaps second to none. Never did his zeal falter when it came to defending and presenting India to the world at large. Portrayed often as an uncompromising critic of a stagnant India, the Swami was equally one of her most ardent and articulate worshippers and standard bearers. When the national mind wallowed in a tendency of habitually issuing cringing-apologia, Vivekananda on the contrary firmly felt that ‘nothing Indian required apology.’ And if anything Indian seemed ‘barbarous or crude’ to the ‘pseudo-refinement of the alien’, he sprang to the defense and ‘without denying, without mimising anything his colossal energy was immediately concentrated on the vindication of that particular point, and the unfortunate critic was tossed backwards and forwards on the horns of his own argument.’ On such occasions there was ‘no friend that he would not sacrifice without mercy…in the name of national defence.’ To Vivekananda, ‘everything Indian was absolutely and equally sacred’, India for him, as he once said, was the land to which ‘must come all souls wending their way Godward!’

He demanded such an adherence to India from all those who came to him, especially the Westerners, ‘Remember’ he told them, ‘if you love India at all, you must love her as she is, not as you might wish her to become.’ It was this ‘firmness of his, standing like a rock for what actually was, that did more than any other single fact…to open the eyes’ of a vast multitude to ‘the beauty and strength of that ancient poem – the common life of the common Indian people.’

Singularly absent from Vivekananda’s nature was the denominational sense of exclusivity; he was at ease among adherents and practitioners of all faith. Being himself ‘the exponent of Hinduism’ he would stretch out whenever he found ‘another Indian religionist struggling with the difficulty of presenting his case’ and sitting down would write ‘his speech for him, making a better story for his friend’s faith than its own adherent could have done!’ Behind the denominational variation he clearly perceived standing ‘the great common facts of one soil; one beautiful old routine ancestral civilisation…’

But what attracted most, all those who saw and followed him closely was his ceaseless and immediate responsiveness to everything concerning India, and his supreme faith and confidence in the destiny of this land, ‘no hope but was spoken into his ear, - no woe but he knew it, and strove to comfort or to rouse.’ He seemed to hold in his ‘hands the thread of all that was fundamental, organic, and vital’; he seemed to know ‘the secret springs of life’ and to understand ‘with what word to touch the heart of millions’, and above all such knowledge gave him a ‘clear and certain hope’ when it came to India. He ‘never dreamt of failure for his people…to him India was young in all her parts’, to him the ‘country was young’ and the ‘India of his dreams was in the future.’ He was firm in his conviction that despite all passing appearances the ‘great deeps’ of India and of her people would forever remain ‘moral, austere and spiritual’, it could not be otherwise. And her ancient civilisation meant for him, simply, the ‘inbreeding of energy through many a millennium.’

Like the religio-cultural, the socio-political too strongly attracted and interested Vivekananda. In his expressions of concern for India, this aspect often distinctly flowed out through his talks, conversations and letters. The mighty urge to see India liberated, self-reliant and spiritually conscious and vibrant continuously occupied his being and he attempted to work this out not as a politician, but as a ‘nationalist.’ He ‘was no politician: he was [rather] the greatest of nationalists’ and therefore to him the ‘destiny of the people was in their own soil, and the destiny of the soil was no less in its own people.’

The essence and significance of Vivekananda lay in that: an unwavering nationalist who offered an epochal and liberating vision for his land and his people. 

The Undisputed vote ka Saudagar !

A Surya Prakash 
(Senior Fellow, VIF)

The resounding victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recent Gujarat Assembly election has once again reinforced the argument that with good governance and a strong development-oriented agenda, it is possible to buck the anti-incumbency trend in state elections. While the party has romped home for the fifth consecutive time since 1995, the Chief Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi has secured a renewed mandate for the third time. Interestingly, the Chief Minister has secured a fresh approval from the people with by and large the same proportion of votes and seats as in the past.

While a plethora of issues bombard voters during an election, Mr. Modi’s campaign revolved solely on his development plank and on his achievements over the last 11 years. Those who have seen elections being won and lost in many states in recent years on the triple issues of Bijli, Sadak and Pani (Electricity, Roads and Water), can easily discern why the Chief Minister secured a renewed mandate in such a convincing manner. The Modi government’s commitment to ensure power supply to every home in the state, has improved the quality of life of the people in many ways. Every homemaker in the state says that assured power supply has brought in three advantages: It is a boon for school and college-going children in the family. They are able to devote more time to their studies at home; it has helped many homemakers augment their family income with some cottage-industry kind of activity; and finally, it enables them to watch some of their favourite TV soaps. Guaranteed water supply to large parts of the state has also reduced the drudgery of women, who walk many miles to secure potable water for their families. The improvement in the quality of roads has meant better communication between towns and villages and consequently a better quality of life. These are three of the key factors which have contributed to what Mr. Modi calls the “pro-incumbency” vote in Gujarat.

All this is not to say that the other issues – specially the gnawing ones relating the post-Godhra riots of 2002 and the conflict between the state government and the union government on minority-related issues – did not matter in this election. They did, but only marginally. These issues have been flogged for an entire decade and although not irrelevant, has led to a kind of ennui among the people of the state. A study of the results from the 182 assembly constituencies in the state, is revealing in terms of how the public perceived these issues in this election. Here are some pointers:
For the BJP, barring this little set back of not reaching 117, the Modi-led campaign has been remarkable. The party was the winner or the runner-up in 180 of the 182 constituencies. BJP candidates fell to third place in just two seats. The party also won most of its seats rather convincingly, unlike the Congress, which just nudged ahead in a large number of constituencies. The party’s most spectacular win was in Ghatlodia where its candidate trounced his Congress rival by over 1,10,000 votes. Chief Minister Narendra Modi won his Maninagar seat by the second highest margin in the state (over 86,000). He secured over 75 per cent of the votes polled. Also significant from the point of view of the political debate that has been on in the state and all over the country over the post-Godhra riots of 2002 were the results in two other constituencies – Naroda and Naranpura. Ms. Maya Kodnani, a minister in the Modi government, who had won the Naroda seat in 2007 has since been convicted and jailed for life in a riots-related case.

She had won this seat by a record margin of 1.80 lakh votes in 2007. In 2012, the BJP candidate trounced his Congress rival by close to 70,000 votes. In Naranpura, the BJP fielded Amit Shah, another minister in the previous Modi government who is being prosecuted in a fake encounter case. Shah too won this seat by a huge margin of 63,000 votes this time. However, the voters firmly rejected Mr.Gordhan Zadaphia, a key minister in the Modi government at the time of the riots, who later deserted him. Mr.Zadaphia who contested on the GPP ticket from Gondal lost to his BJP rival by 45,000 votes. These results offer some clue in regard to the attitude of the voters to the riots of 2002, which were triggered by the gruesome incident at the Godhra Railway Station when 59 Hindu kar sevaks were burnt alive by a mob.

As far as the Congress is concerned, the overall approach of the party to the assembly election in Gujarat came as a disappointment for all those who expected it to give Mr. Modi a stiff fight. Everyone knew that the Gujarat Assembly election was due at the end of 2012, but the Congress Party failed to get its act together in time for the big contest. It did not position a strong state leader to counter the Chief Minister, nor did it stitch up clever electoral alliances that could have meant an accretion to its vote share. The party’s failure to promote its state level leaders also led to the defeat of its state party president Mr. Modhwadia by over 17,000 votes in Porbandar and the Leader of the Congress Party in the State Assembly, Mr. Shaktisinh Govil in Bhavnagar Rural by 18,000 votes. For some inexplicable reason, the Congress campaign was marked by hesitation and a lack of purpose.

The 2012 results show that, although the Congress could not have defeated the BJP, it could surely have narrowed the margin of victory if it had galvanised the state unit ahead of the poll. For example, the Congress secured 38 per cent of the votes as against 49.12 per cent of the BJP in the 2007 assembly poll. This time around, the party has got 40 per cent of the vote (an increase of 2 per cent), while the BJP’s vote share is down by one per cent to 48. Thus the gap between the two parties has narrowed to 8 per cent. Mr. Keshubhai Patel managed to garner over 3 per cent of the vote. These figures show that with some clever electoral engineering, the Congress could have given Mr. Modi a credible fight. But the party was so dispirited that it chose to rest its guns on the shoulders of NGOs and social activists.

Even its national leaders – Ms.Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi - registered only a token presence in the state during the campaign. Although the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) of Keshubhai Patel got rather ambitious and put up candidates in most of the constituencies, the party put up a fairly decent fight is just about a dozen constituencies. Everywhere else, they got a severe drubbing and secured under 2000 votes – the kind of support that first –time independents manage to muster – in an election. Overall, the GPP got just over 3 per cent of the votes and upset the BJP’s calculations a wee bit. The results show that the BJP lost at least five constituencies because of the GPP. Thus, all that Keshubhai achieved was to prevent Modi from crossing the psychological barrier of 117 – the number of seats the party had won in 2007.

This election in Gujarat was unique for yet another reason – the enthusiasm of voters to exercise their franchise. Over the years the voting percentage in elections has been just about average in this state. In 2002, 61 per cent of the electors came out to vote. In 2007, the voting percentage touched 60 per cent. This slumped to just 48 per cent in the Lok Sabha election held in 2009. However, in 2012, over 71 per cent of the electors came out to vote. The turnout was heavy both in the rural and urban constituencies and across regions in the state and lent itself to much interpretation, the most popular of which was that it would hurt the prospects of the incumbent government. The results however showed that there was a proportionate distribution of the additional ten per cent votes between the main contenders.

As usual, there was the usual play of words after the election results came in. Although the BJP won the assembly election by a convincing margin and had a clear 8 per cent lead over the Congress in terms of vote share, the Congress has stubbornly refused to concede defeat and several of its leaders have advanced the most convoluted arguments to run down the winner and to deny him victory. For example, the Union Finance Minister Mr. P.Chidambaram has said that since the Congress had improved its tally in the Gujarat Assembly by 2 seats in this election and since the BJP had not crossed 117, the Congress Party was “a clear winner in Gujarat”. The results (BJP -115, Congress -61), showed how exaggerated the claims of the BJP were. Also, according to him, though the BJP had won the state, large sections of the population in Gujarat “felt left out”. The Congress Party has argued since the riots of 2002 that when the BJP is in power in Gujarat, the religious minorities get a raw deal. After On December 20, the Finance Minister claimed that many more communities felt disenfranchised - “Saurashtra feels left behind; the tribals feel left behind”. Saurashtra accounts for 54 seats and as many as 26 seats are reserved for Scheduled Tribes in Gujarat. Further, there are over 30 seats in which the Muslim vote counts for more than 20 per cent. How can a party bag 115 seats (constituting 62 per cent) in the 182-member assembly after excluding Saurashtra, the tribals and the minorities in a state like Gujarat?

Several other ministers and Congress Party spokespersons applied this skewed logic to the results. The Human Resource Development Minister, Mr. Kapil Sibal declared most ungraciously that though Modi ran a 3D campaign, he had secured only a 2D victory. These remarks stem from the Congress Party’s skewed sense of victory and defeat in Gujarat. It believes that since the BJP did not cross 117, it was “defeated”, although one needs just 92 seats for a clear majority in the Gujarat Assembly. Also, by the same token, since the Congress had 59 in the previous House, any increment would constitute a “victory”. The persistence with which so many union ministers kept using this yardstick to assess the electoral outcome in that state is indicative of the growing trepidation in the Congress about having Mr. Modi as its main opponent in 2014. They are already conceding that he is a formidable rival.

However, the results show that the BJP did well in every region of the state and secured support from every social segment. The BJP also picked up a majority of the 40 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, as also a majority in Central and South Gujarat and in both the rural and urban areas. Its overall vote share was around 48 per cent, a clear 8 per cent ahead of the Congress. Poll analysts found that the BJP had won most of the seats even in the 24 assembly constituencies that were the worst hit in the 2002 riots. In constituencies having a sizeable Muslim vote (over 20 per cent), the BJP bagged 70 per cent of the seats. The Congress was completely routed in urban constituencies and performed poorly even in constituencies dominated by scheduled tribes and Muslims. So, either the voters did not buy the Congress argument that it is more “inclusive” than the BJP, or they saw this line of argument as promoting divisiveness rather than harmony in their society.

Interestingly, although one of Mr. Modi’s ministers has been convicted in the riots case to life imprisonment and another is facing trial for an equally serious criminal offence, the Congress Party consciously avoided any reference to the riots or to issues relating to the rights of religious minorities, especially Muslims. The Congress Party’s studied silence on these issues made commentators wonder whether the party had kept aside its core ideological plank just to garner votes in a state that still carried the scars of 2002. Strangely, throughout the campaign the party never uttered the “M” word. Ms. Sonia Gandhi had described Narendra Modi as Maut ka Saudagar (Merchant of Death) in 2007, thereby holding him wholly responsible for the riots that broke out in 2002, however assiduously avoided any reference to him. Strangely, she chose not to put this label on him in 2012. In 2007, when Ms. Gandhi pinned this appellation on him, Mr. Modi returned with a thumping majority, prompting a national daily to declare that he was the Vote ka Saudagar (Merchant of Votes). In 2012, Mr. Modi has proved that probably, this is a more appropriate label.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

“Strategic” Relations Suit India

Kanwal Sibal 
(Member, VIF Advisory Board)

India has established strategic partnerships with several countries. What exactly “strategic partnership” means is not defined or explained officially. Foreign policy experts try to define the term, but there is no definitive version as the experts have their own views on what such partnerships actually signify.

There is agreement, however, on what a “strategic partnership” is not. It does not amount to an alliance, which is a relationship based on a formal document- a treaty- that carries legal obligations for the signatories. Some experts would prefer the word “entente”, but the term carries the historical odour of European balance of power politics and wars. “Entente” too is a kind of diplomatic understanding based on agreements, which a “strategic partnership” is not.

“Strategic partnership” is merely declaratory. No formal document has been signed by India that defines the term and obligations that India and its strategic partner are accepting in terms of their bilateral relations or external action in general.


India has established strategic partnerships with numerous countries, some with obvious strategic importance because of their potent international role, while others are important for India bilaterally. Given the number of strategic partners India now has, making a sense of such partnerships has practical pertinence and is no longer an academic question.

For India, to underline a commitment to build a longer-term relationship with another country by deepening bilateral ties and promoting convergence in external policies on issues of mutual interest, the concept of a “strategic partnership” is politically convenient, given our traditional perspective on international relations.

India has been historically nonaligned. Whether it was an ideology or a strategy or both can be debated. It did not suit India’s national interest to get embroiled in Cold War rivalries. Its interest was to maintain good relations with countries from both blocs and get benefits from both, which it did.
It is still in India’s interest to be on friendly terms with all countries and create beneficial partnerships wherever it can. Earlier, it was more difficult because of Cold War antagonisms that put pressure on countries to choose sides. Today it is easier as such distortions in international politics have disappeared.

Our “strategic partnerships” with countries in all the continents, some great powers and others not, some highly advanced economically and others developing or emerging economies, some established democracies and others with authoritarian regimes, is compatible with our philosophy of engaging with countries with a variety of political and economic profiles, without any desire to get caught in rivalries or threaten peace and stability.

In a sense, this is an extension of “nonalignment” in the context of the new world of globalization, interdependence, connectivity and multi-polarity. Some call this “multi-alignment”, but this is not an accurate description as India is not entering into multiple alliances. Others, more accurately, call this “strategic autonomy” as the concept conveys independence of decision making in a flexible mode.

In this perspective, it is logical for India to have strategic partnerships with US, France, UK, Germany, the European Union, Japan and Australia on the one hand, and Russia, Brazil, Nigeria, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Iran, on the other, spanning countries with radically different world views and international and regional roles, with some amongst them having serious differences with each other that could even lead to a military conflict.


India and Russia were the first to establish a strategic partnership in 2000, signalling their mutual desire to put the bilateral relationship back on track after it drifted during the westward lurch of the Yeltsin presidency. This concept suited both countries, as neither wanted any treaty based special relationship, but both wanted to preserve aspects of a special relationship inherited from the Soviet period.

For India, Russia is important for obtaining assured access to advanced defence equipment. It is important too for maintaining a balance in India’s foreign policy, especially when, with the vast improvement of India’s relations with the US, the growing perception in Russia is that India has become too west-leaning. To negate such a perception India and Russia had declared at the last summit that theirs was a “special and privileged” strategic relationship. Since then, with Russian expectations that on nuclear and defence issues and on protection of Russian investments they will get special consideration, and India finding it increasingly difficult to oblige because of legal constraints, the huge diversification of its international ties and mounting mutual stakes in relations with other countries, those misconceptions have not been effaced. It appears from President Putin’s just concluded 13th summit meeting in Delhi has helped to clear the air.

For India, a strong Russia is also important for maintaining a balance in the global system. Neither a unipolar world nor one in which China is the biggest beneficiary of Russia’s declining status suits India.


France was the first western country with which India established a strategic partnership. The long-standing India-French defence ties and French willingness to engage us constructively after our nuclear tests provided the impetus for establishing such a partnership. Other major countries have followed suit so as not to be disadvantaged in relations with India, especially as the rise of India to global status is now widely accepted as a reality. The India-US strategic partnership attracts, of course, the greatest attention as it is expected to shape the strategic environment in Asia in the future, depending on how it develops.

The test of India’s “strategic partnerships” would be their contribution to India’s capacity to address its most difficult strategic challenges- those posed by China and Pakistan. Our other neighbouring countries are absent from our list of strategic partners, pointing to the concept’s deficiency in helping to secure our immediate strategic environment. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Interaction with CIISS on Political Change Over in China

A five-member delegation from the CIISS (China Institute for International Strategic Studies), a think tank with strong military background, visited the Foundation on December 19, 2012 for an exchange of views with a select panel of VIF scholars and experts focusing specifically on the political change over in China, but also going over the entire gamut of bilateral issues. The visiting delegation was led by Maj Gen Huang Baifu (Retd), Vice Chairman CIISS and comprised four other scholars - Mr Zhu Guorong, Senior Research Fellow, Maj Gen Miao Pengsheng (Retd), Senior Advisor, Mr Yu Hanmin, Senior Research Fellow, and Mr Zhu Jie. The delegation was also accompanied by the Deputy Defence Attaché of China in India.

The interaction encapsulated the broad strategic environment surrounding the bilateral ties, articulated briefly in the opening remarks by Mr. Ajit Doval, KC Director VIF. He opined that improved economic engagement between China and India, expectedly touching USD 100 billion mark by 2015, would be a major catalyst in improving the overall relationship – people to people contacts and creation of more employment opportunities, but more significantly, it would lead to a marked improvement in political and security relationship. China and India have evolved a greater understanding in recent years on a number of international issues – the latest example being Syria where both countries have, by and large, a similar approach favouring non-intervention. He also expressed his views that together China and India can contribute significantly to global peace and security, a view shared by Maj Gen Huang Baifu who also said that China and India, two emerging economies in Asia, can help each other in meeting common challenges for peace and prosperity of both the countries.
With the once-a-decade leadership change in China now generating lots of curiosity in India as elsewhere, the audiences were treated to a lively Chinese perspective on the future trajectory of China through 2020. China has a vision to double its GDP and the people’s income by 2020 while continuing with its policy of ‘peaceful development’. The challenge however lies in striking the right balance between the socialist and the scientific development. It also envisions more democratic rights for the people, allowing them a greater say in decision making. The new leader knows what the people think and what their aspirations are: better living conditions for the average Chinese, better health, education and housing facilities etc. The leader is pragmatic and people have faith in him. Corruption is a major issue in China and the leaders need to lead by example. The visiting scholars through their presentations and subsequent interactions with VIF scholars also underscored China’s core national interests underlying its foreign policies in the region and beyond.

The interaction also witnessed several contentious issues between the two countries being thrown up for discussion. The vexed border issue between China and India, South China disputes, the US’ re-balancing strategy in Asia, Af-Pak situation etc. were among the several issues which figured prominently during the discussion. While speakers on the VIF panel underscored the need for early delineation of the land boundary, the CIISS delegation held that frequent border stand-offs between the two countries were more of media creations in India. The Chinese urged the Indians to have patience in resolving the border dispute. Allaying Chinese concerns vis-à-vis the US’ re-balancing strategy in Asia, Mr. Doval stressed that India’s thrust on ‘Look East Policy’ predates the re-balancing strategy and is driven more by economic imperatives than strategic imperatives.

The Indian contingent of scholars and speakers comprised a much broader spectrum and included, among others, Mr. VK Kapoor, former Lieutenant Governor, Delhi, Ambassador P P Shukla Joint Director VIF, Ambassador T. C. A. Rangachari, General (retd) VN Sharma and General (retd) NC Vij, both former Chiefs of the Indian Army, Lieutenant General (retd) Ravi Sawhney, former DGMI, and Major General (retd) Dhruv C Katoch, Director Centre for Land and Warfare Studies, a Delhi-based think tank.   

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rowdy Rehman

Sushant Sareen 
(Senior Fellow, VIF)

If ever there was any delusion among Indian policy makers of Pakistan’s changed policy towards India, or any expectation of receiving satisfaction on bringing the planners and perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks to justice, the visit of rowdy Rehman Malik to India last week should have rudely awakened them out of their self-created fantasy world . Ironically, Malik insists that his visit has removed whatever trust deficit existed between India and Pakistan! Clearly, Mr Rowdy Rehman is either so thick-headed that he just doesn’t get it that he has effectively blown apart the elaborate charade of his country being serious and sincere in improving relations with India; or else he was deliberately shooting his mouth off in India to play to the gallery back home and appease the militant-military alliance with his straight-from-the-shoulder remarks in India – a repeat of Agra 2001.

That Malik is known for making the most ridiculous statements is hardly a secret. Sample this: at a time when Pakistan's commercial and business capital Karachi has been reeling under the phenomenon of politically and religiously motivated target killings – hundreds of people have fallen victim to this phenomenon – Malik came out with a gem blaming most of the killings on ‘wives and girlfriends’. His bizarre utterances, which includes calling the terrorists who attacked the PNS Mehran naval base as being dressed in black like characters from Star Wars ’, have made him a figure of ridicule and the only reason he survives in his job is because he is a crony of President Asif Zardari.

Ostensibly, Malik was keen to come to India to ratify the new visa agreement between India and Pakistan. For some inexplicable reason, he considers this to be such a great achievement that he wanted to take credit for it. While the new agreement does relax the visa regime between the two countries marginally, it is hardly something that will prove to be a game-changer. Far from throwing open the Radcliffe line for the peoples of the two countries, the new visa regime will affect only a very small number of people, if at all. What great political capital Malik wanted to squeeze from putting his personal stamp on this agreement therefore remains something of a mystery, especially since the visa agreement is unlikely to sway any voter in Pakistan in the forthcoming general elections in Pakistan. What is more, Malik has absolutely no political constituency of his own that he could impress with this ‘achievement’. Perhaps the only rational explanation for his desperation to visit India was that he sees this visa agreement, which incidentally could have been signed just as well by some obscure bureaucrat, as his legacy to his country. But this begs the question: who, if anyone, remembers the name of the persons who negotiated or even signed the last visa agreement between India and Pakistan?

Be that as it may, Malik’s desperation for visiting India was also motivated by two other factors which left a very small window of opportunity open for him to come to India. One, there are reports that he might well be on the verge of losing his job because Asif Zardari is cut up with him and is looking for a suitable replacement. With the axe expected to fall, Malik could not afford to wait for much longer and hence forced himself on his somewhat reluctant hosts. Two, there is a lot of speculation in Pakistan that the dates for the next election would be announced by middle of January and a caretaker government would take office by around the same time. Thus, if Malik wanted to visit India, he could only do it during this time.

Fortunately for him, there was no longer any Chidambaram in New Delhi who kept him at an arm’s length and treated him with thinly disguised contempt that any self-respecting Home Minister reserves for a SHO/DSP level police officer, which is what Malik really is. With Sushil Shinde as the new Home Minister, Malik probably felt he could force his way into India and get away with saying the sort of things he said on Indian soil without any fear of being put in his place. And as it turns out, he proved correct in his assessment of his Indian counterpart who against good advice of officials, and probably to curry favour with the Prime Minister, decided to provide Malik a stage from which he could abuse India.

If anything, Shinde’s mealy-mouthed response to Malik’s provocations are even more jarring than the message Malik was delivering. Malik has effectively signalled that India should forget about any satisfaction on 26/11 trials and other issues related to terrorism directed against India. While a lot is being made about the judicial commission that will once again visit India from Pakistan to collect evidence from Indian officials, Malik has already let it be known that the judicial commission’s proceedings are not going to make any difference because Kasab’s testimony isn’t enough to prosecute the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed or any of the others whom Kasab had named. In essence, Malik has told the Indian government that regardless of the evidence that is given to Pakistan, it will never be enough and that if India doesn’t like this it can lump it, which the incumbent government in Delhi seems more than willing to do.

Malik not only dismissed the testimony of David Headley but also was brazen enough to wash his hands off Abu Jundal calling him an Indian agent. Of course no one on the Indian side bothered to ask him what this ‘Indian agent’ was doing in Pakistan for so many years, why he was present in the ‘control room’ guiding the monsters of Mumbai to carry out their grisly task, or why the Pakistani intelligence agencies were trying so hard to dissuade the Saudis from deporting him to India. On Lt. Saurav Kalia’s torture, murder and the mutilation of his body, Malik responded with typical disingenuousness by blaming it on the weather. But if anything the weather on the LoC in Kargil sector should preserve bodies rather than lead to their decomposition. In any case, bad weather doesn’t gouge out eyes, chop off genitals, place marks of cigarette burns or leave torture marks on bodies.

While Malik did what was entirely in his character, the big question is why the government of India refuses to learn from past experience. What has changed in Pakistan’s attitude towards India that makes the Indian Prime Minister so keen on pushing for normalised relations with Pakistan? Except for a whole lot of sweet-talk, in tangible terms what has Pakistan done to indicate that it is serious and sincere in cultivating good relations with India? None of the metrics which would indicate a paradigm change on part of Pakistan – shutting down terror training camps, effectively curbing the activities of terror groups operating against India, ending the recruitment of Indian Muslims to carry out subversive activities inside India, clamping down on infiltration across the border, ending the export of counterfeit currency, stopping the flow of narcotics into India (despite Rahul Gandhi correctly pointing out that an entire generation of young people in Punjab is being destroyed by drugs, his party’s government continues to insist on embracing Pakistan), putting the Khalistani terrorists out of business, ceasing hostile anti-India propaganda on the issue of Balochistan, Afghanistan and water, getting off the Kashmir hobby-horse, it’s an endless list – have been met.

And yet, the turn-the-other-cheek liberals and professional track-II activists are unquestioningly lapping up the Pakistani line and pressing the government of India to make concessions on issues like Sir Creek and Siachen to reach out to the Pakistanis. In their defence, these characters point to the opening up of trade by Pakistan as a sign of change. But since when has opening trade become a concession? Trade by definition is something that benefits both parties. Pakistan is no US or EU that can give trade concessions to India. If anything Pakistan needs trade with India more than India needs it with Pakistan. After all, India’s trade with Pakistan will be less than 1% of our total foreign trade of around $ 600 billion. What is more, for Pakistan to grant India MFN status is no favour; rather it is an obligation under WTO rules. And even this status remains elusive because politicians in Pakistan are afraid that if Pakistan lives up to its commitment to grant India MFN status by the end of the year, they could lose votes in the forthcoming general elections. If indeed this is the case, then it begs the question as to how opening visas is politically popular but opening trade is not?

Quite frankly, the only sensible thing that this government has so far done on Pakistan is refuse the PMs visit to that country. For Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan on the Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary would have been rather unseemly not just because the dates corresponded to the fourth anniversary of the 26/11 attacks but also because it would have been deeply embarrassing for Dr Singh to be seen in company of Khalistani terrorists who are always present at the Gurdwaras to abuse India, incite the Sikh pilgrims and if possible recruit them for carrying out terrorist acts inside India. And after Malik’s bull-in-a-China-shop performance in India, which has left the Manmohan Singh government cringing with embarrassment, chances are that the Prime Ministerial visit is for all practical purposes off. What this does to Dr Singh’s expressed desire that he will think he has done a good job if India-Pakistan ties normalise is altogether another matter. One only wishes that instead of wanting to normalise relations with Pakistan, Dr Singh was to consider removing crony capitalism and rampant corruption in which his government is deeply immersed, improving the state of the Indian economy, providing quality education and health services to the people of India as part of his job.