Monday, April 30, 2012

UPA-II: Limping along with Uncertain Friends

A. Surya Prakash

The declining image of the United Progressive Alliance government in the context of mounting corruption charges, signs of non-governance and dramatic shifts in political allegiances have all added up to render the United Progressive Alliance Government headed by Mr. Manmohan Singh vulnerable and shaky at the resumption of the Budget Session of Parliament after a three-week recess.

In this milieu, the most worrying aspect is the growing backlog of legislation awaiting parliamentary clearance. Around 40 bills are pending consideration and passage in the two Houses of Parliament and another two dozen new bills are ready for introduction. Among the pending bills are the controversial Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill, 2011, the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill 2011, the Education Tribunals Bill, 2010, The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Amendment Bill, 2010 and The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Bill.

Although many important legislative measures are awaiting parliamentary approval, the ruling coalition is woefully short on confidence because of the poor showing of the Congress Party in the recent assembly elections in five states and the increasingly fractious nature of the coalition. In this atmosphere of uncertainty, the government should consider itself lucky if it can see through the budgetary process without a hitch. Although dozens of bills are pending parliamentary approval, law-making may become the biggest casualty in the current session and in the coming sessions of the present Lok Sabha, given the precarious numbers and the UPA’s woefully inadequate floor management. The Finance Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee will have to deploy all his PR skills to garner enough support in parliament to push through legislation critical to the continuance of the economic reform process. Among them are The Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill, 2011, The Insurance (Amendment) Bill and The Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2011. He has already extracted an assurance from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that it will support the pension bill, but this is small comfort for a government that is under attack from all sides.

As it turned out, the government was on tenterhooks even in the first part of the Budget Session from March 12 to 30, before the two Houses went into recess. During that phase, the government faced considerable embarrassment over the Railway Budget when Ms. Mamata Banerjee protested against the fare hike and forced the resignation of Mr. Dinesh Trivedi and the appointment of another MP from the Trinamul Congress as the Railway Minister. Although the Railway Budget had the approval of the Prime Minister and the entire cabinet, Dr. Manmohan Singh had to swallow his pride, sack Mr. Trivedi as per the dictates of Ms. Banerjee and roll back the marginal fare hikes announced by the Railway Minister in his budget speech. But all this happened before the state assembly election results came in on April 6. The humiliating performance of the Congress Party in Uttar Pradesh and Goa and its defeat in Punjab has rendered it much weaker.

Thus, when Parliament resumed last week, a weaker Congress Party had to face fresh threats and challenges from its coalition partners. Ms. Banerjee has already taken two initiatives which should be cause for worry for the UPA. The first of these is her willingness to enter into consultations with the Samajwadi Party in order to find a suitable candidate for the office of President. The Samajwadi Party has made it known that the two parties are thinking of Dr. Abdul Kalam for the office once again. This way the Trinamul Congress, which is inside the UPA and the Samajwadi Party, which is offering support from outside, have pre-empted the Congress and taken an initiative. Also joining them to give the Congress Party some anxious moments is Mr. Sharad Pawar, leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, who has been making some vague observations about the qualifications expected of the next President. Though the election of President is due in July, the politics surrounding this election is already begun and for the moment it has unsettled the Congress Party. As if this is not enough, Ms. Banerjee has also announced a 15-day deadline for a central “package” for West Bengal, failing which she may even threaten to unsettle the coalition.

Given the precarious strength of the ruling coalition in the Lok Sabha and the whimsical ways of some of its constituents, the UPA will have to go out of the way to appease the opposition in order to have its way in Parliament. The position of the ruling coalition in the Rajya Sabha is even more precarious. The Congress has 70 MPs in the 245-member House and the UPA is at least a dozen short of a majority. It can get bills passed in that House only if it reaches an honourable understanding with the opposition parties. Following the moves made by the Samajwadi Party and the Trinamul Congress vis-à-vis the election of President, there is even talk that the Congress Party may do the unthinkable - sound the BJP on a possible arrangement regarding election of President and Vice-President in July and August this year, is order to deal with its recalcitrant allies.

The government will also come under severe attack during the session on two counts. The first is the issue of establishing the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). The union government unilaterally decided to set up the centre and arm it with powers of search and seizure all over the country. Several state governments starting with Odisha, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and even West Bengal cried foul and said it violated the spirit of federalism. Under the Constitution, police and maintenance of law and order is the prerogative of the state governments and this is zealously guarded by the states. The states complain that the Union Home Ministry is trying to usurp some of these powers in the garb of fighting terrorism. The Centre’s stand is that the powers of the states have not been compromised. However, following widespread protests from states including those run by UPA constituents, the Centre had to beat a hasty retreat. A special meeting of chief Ministers has now been called in the first week of May to resolve this issue. The other issue on which the union government will be pilloried by all and sundry is the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill. Though the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha, it ran into rough weather in the Rajya Sabha. If the government wishes to redeem itself in the eyes of the people who want firm anti-corruption measures, it will have to convince its allies and other parties and get the bill passed in the Upper House. Otherwise, this will become yet another black mark as far as the UPA is concerned.

Finally, as if all this is not enough, things have begun to look gloomy on the economic front. The global ratings agency Standard & Poor's has revised the outlook on India's long term sovereign rating to 'negative' from 'stable'. The decline in the country’s growth figures, the high fiscal deficit, the slow down on the economic reforms front and the country’s growing debt burden are said to be reasons for the downgrade that could impact foreign direct investment and the general global view of India’s economic strength. While one section of the government is keeping up a brave front – like Mr. C. Rangarajan, Chairman, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council – that Standard and Poor’s will soon reverse and even “upgrade” India’s long term credit outlook, there are others who are less optimistic.

The government’s Chief Economic Advisor, for example, has virtually spilled the beans by talking about the difficulties in continuing economic reforms in the present political environment. Although he has sought to repair the damage done by initial reports about his speech at an academic institution in the U.S, the word has gone around that the UPA suffers from policy paralysis. In order to prove critics wrong, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee will go all out to secure parliamentary approval for the bills pertaining to pensions, insurance and banking. Further, the government will have to take a call on some controversial decisions like partial decontrol of diesel price, review of subsidies and FDI in retail, which has been put on hold because of opposition from coalition partners.

By any reckoning, it is clear that the UPA will only wobble along from now on until a fresh Lok Sabha election is held. Given the signals from West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh and from constituents like Mr. Sharad Pawar, this could well happen ahead of May 2014 when it is actually due. We will have to wait and see.
Author is Senior Fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation

Friday, April 27, 2012

Gilani’s Conviction: A Soft Constitutional Coup and The Crisis of State

Sushant Sareen

Even before the Supreme Court of Pakistan had pronounced the verdict against Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, the writing on the wall was very clear: the so-called ‘independent’ judiciary was hell bent on gaining the dubious distinction of breaking new constitutional ground by convicting a sitting Prime Minister on the charge of contempt of court, which is really short-hand for a soft constitutional coup. Anyone who has followed the proceedings in the said case knew that the judges had decided to convict Prime Minister Gilani even before the case started.

Only, they had to go through the motions – lawyers call it due process – to keep up the charade of being even-handed so that the charge of one-sided justice and witch-hunt against the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) could be watered down.

On the face of it, sentencing of the Prime Minister till ‘the rising of the court’ i.e. about 30 seconds, appeared to be a bit of an anti-climax because it belied expectations of a spectacle – the PM being taken to jail and/or the court disqualifying him as a Member of Parliament. But even this half-a-minute sentence was enough to do the damage and create an unprecedented constitutional and political crisis which the country can ill-afford at this juncture. With the conviction of a sitting Prime Minister, Pakistan has entered uncharted constitutional waters that hold the potential of sinking the ship of state. As things stand, the Pakistani judiciary has breached the limitations implicit in the constitution – the most appropriate term is the Hindi word ‘maryada’ – and created a situation which the framers of the constitution would have neither imagined, nor catered for.

If the reactions to the conviction are anything to go by, the portents are not good. The ruling PPP and at least some of its allies are gearing up for a bruising legal and political battle aimed at not only protecting the PM but also making hell of a noise to undermine the judges and their judgments. Prime Minister Gilani has already called the ruling ‘not appropriate’ and is showing no signs of putting in his papers. The leader of the main opposition party, Nawaz Sharif, has sounded the bugle by declaring that he and his party no longer acknowledge Gilani as the Prime Minister and has demanded his resignation and early general elections. The right-wing religious parties like Jamaat Islami and neo-Jamaat/Talibanesque parties like Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaaf have cast their lot with the judiciary and are going hammer and tongs at the Zardari-Gilani combine. In short, the stage is all set for political pandemonium, in the corridors of power, chambers of courts, the streets of the country, and of course, the ubiquitous TV studios. The powerful military establishment is meanwhile watching everything from the sidelines, biding its time but also calculating whether or not it will be required to step into the political slugfest.

The judgment against Gilani has not only sharpened the political polarization in the country but has also politicised the judicial processes. Sample this: on the eve of the judgment those supporting Gilani made it clear that the ruling would decide whether justice would be done (i.e. Gilani would be acquitted) or the PPP would once again be victimised; those baying for Gilani’s blood (actually, the real target is Asif Zardari) were waiting to see if rule of law would be upheld (i.e. Gilani would be sentenced) or if the judges would once again buckle under pressure! In such a deeply polarized environment, it is impossible to expect that judicial verdicts will be accepted ungrudgingly by either side.

In other words, every judicial decision in Pakistan today is something of a political minefield. To a great extent, it is the judges themselves who are responsible for the situation coming to such a pass. Right from the time this government took office in March 2008, the judiciary has been a mill-stone around its neck. The reluctance of Asif Zardari to restore the chief justice was only partly the result of his own personal grudge against Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry – he had humiliated Zardari and consistently denied him any relief during the Musharraf years. Partly, Zardari resisted the restoration because the suspended chief justice spooked the army which leaned on the PPP government to avoid restoring him. But after having been forced to restore the Chief Justice, it would have been ideal if all sides had decided to let bygones be bygones and started with a clean slate. After all, there was no one in Pakistan – not the judges, not the politicians, not the faujis, not the media mujahids and jihadis, no one really – who was not sullied.

While the sins of all others seemed to have been wiped clean, Asif Zardari remained a pet object of hate for the right-wing, Punjabi mafia that runs Pakistan which wanted to punish him for all his sins (more of commission than of omission) despite the fact that he had been jailed for over 11 years without having ever been convicted. Despite Zardari having become President and enjoying complete immunity under the constitution against any prosecution, the judges did not relent in trying to fix him. If only the judges, most of them with an Islamist proclivity – a favourite judge of the chief justice is now the chief legal counsel of the assassin on the former Punjab governor and the chief justice himself has made observations against secularism – had shown the same dogged determination against terrorists like Hafiz Saeed and others of his ilk as they have shown against Asif Zardari and Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan might well have been a happier place.

Forget about Islamist terrorists, these very same judges are very careful when it comes to throwing the book either at the generals or even their favoured politicians like Nawaz Sharif. The zealousness with which Gilani has been convicted is somehow completely absent when it comes to convicting top army generals and ISI officials for flouting court orders (for instance in the missing persons case). Gilani’s supporters also point out how the Supreme Court judges have acted against fellow judges for ignoring an order declaring the emergency imposed by Gen Pervez Musharraf in November 2007 but have refused to act against the officials (including the current army chief) who had also ignored the very same order. Even in the cases involving politicians of a certain persuasion, the judges seem to be very guarded in their approach. For instance, while the chief justice showed remarkable alacrity in taking suo moto notice against an actress who was caught with two bottles of liquor, the somnolence of the judiciary knows no bounds when it comes to a murder case against the former chief minister of Punjab, Dost Khosa, who was a stand-in for Shahbaz Sharif for a few months and is the son of a close associate of the Sharifs and who is believed to have killed his wife.
It is against such a backdrop that the judiciary is being judged by supporters of the PPP who also question the constitutionality of the judgment not just because the constitution provides immunity to the Prime Minister under article 248(1) for any action he takes (or as in this case, doesn’t take) in the discharge of his responsibilities but also because according to the Attorney General of Pakistan there is currently no law on contempt of court and the ordinance under which that the Supreme Court is prosecuting the Prime Minister had lapsed as a result of the judgment of this very Court. The game-plan of the PPP is going to be two-fold. At the political level, there is a slim possibility that the party decides to ask Yusuf Raza Gilani to resign and selects his replacement in the next couple of days, in which case the crisis over a convicted PM will be resolved but the issue of the controversial letter will remain open. Alternatively, and perhaps more likely is the possibility that the PPP will ask Gilani to continue in office and at the same time will use this conviction to play the victim and use the ‘political martyrdom’ card to try and cement its core support base in South Punjab and Sindh. The only problem is that given the rather poor performance of the government, it is unlikely if this ploy will find too much traction. Although the PPP might win sympathy from some quarters, whether it will also receive the votes, especially in the next general elections, cannot be said with any degree of certainty. At best what the PPP can hope for is that the political martyrdom at the hands of a vindictive judiciary might help it to reclaim lost ground after the next elections.

On the legal plane, chances are that the PPP will use every trick in the book to drag the matter and prevent the disqualification of the PM. But how long they can drag this case is again a matter of speculation: the PPP supporters believe that they can pull this thing for around four to six months and then if matters reach a head elect another PM and repeat the whole drama all over again; the PPP detractors are of the view that at best the ruling party can drag this for a two to three months after which it will have to choose another PM. As the latter see it, the appeal against the conviction could be set aside in a matter of weeks after which the disqualification reference will be moved before the Speaker who has to decide on the matter within 30 days. After this period, the case will automatically go before the Election Commission which is currently headed by a serving Supreme Court judge in a temporary capacity. He is unlikely to take too much time before disqualifying Gilani. This ruling will then be challenged before the High Court and then appealed before the Supreme Court. Given the mood of the Supreme Court, the odds are that this entire process could be decided without too much delay.

While the legal processes will follow their own course, the issue of writing the controversial letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen the cases against Asif Zardari will continue to hang like a sword over the head of the government. If the government continues to defy the Supreme Court, there is a possibility that the court might ask the army to intervene. This would pretty much mean an end of the democratic order for the foreseeable future. If however the army refuses to follow the ‘illegal’ orders of the Supreme Court, then the Court will become a lame-duck. There is a possibility that the Court might not push very hard on the letter issue and wait for the next government (likely in March 2013) to write the letter against the President whose term expires in August 2013. But even before this happens, a caretaker government is likely to be in place by around November/December this year and this government could also write the controversial letter. In other words, the letter will ultimately be written and written even while Zardari is in office. Therefore, the question is what the PPP and Zardari hope to gain by holding out on the letter for another few months.

There is of course another possibility: the government might plead immunity for the president, something that the Supreme Court has already asked it to do. This is however a risky strategy because if the immunity plea is rejected then the government will have to write the letter. On the other hand, if the court accepts the immunity plea, then questions will be raised and fingers will be pointed against the judiciary for creating such a massive constitutional and political crisis for the last two and half years even though it was clearly laid down in the constitution that the President enjoyed immunity. After all, if the case against Zardari hasn’t been decided in the last 16 years, heavens would not fall if it continues to remain undecided for another year or so.

The big problem for the Pakistani state is that all this political and constitutional tumult is taking place at a time of monumental, even existential, challenges and threats. The economy is on the verge of collapse and requires some very tough decisions if it has to survive; at the strategic level, relations with the US and the West are very precariously placed and need bold decisions from the government; the situation in Afghanistan is threatening to go out of control and the Taliban, both the Afghan and Pakistani, could wreck havoc in the region; the internal security situation is abysmal with an insurgency in Balochistan and deep disaffection in Sindh (exacerbated by the alleged murder of the Sindhi nationalist leader Bashir Qureshi), rising sectarian violence and what have you. The spectre of serious instability that was already hanging over the country has only become more ominous after the Supreme Court judgment and cemented the impression of the state sliding towards failure because how can a government that is only engaged in unending fire-fighting to survive and is being constantly hauled over the coals, provide even a modicum of governance. Ultimately, in the name of rule of law the Pakistani judiciary has ensured that there is neither any law nor any rule in Pakistan.

Author is Senior Fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Talk on ‘Sufism and Indian Islam’

A talk on ‘Sufism and Indian Islam’ by Hazrat Maulana Syed Mohammad Ashraf Sahab Kichhouchhawi, General Secretary, All India Ulama & Mashikh Board was held at Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) on 23 Apr 2012. The event, which was organized by the VIF in collaboration with the Global Foundation for Civilizational Harmony (GFCH), aimed at understanding and projecting the Sufi legacy in India of tolerance. It was opposed to the more extreme ideologies, which promoted terrorism, thus strengthening India’s social and religious harmony. The evening session, presided by Mr. Subhash Chandra, the founding Chairman GFCH and ZEE Television networks, was attended by a large number of people including social activists and religious enthusiasts, among others. Mr. Ajit Doval, KC, Director VIF welcomed the guests while Dr. Khawaja Ikram, Associate Professor at JNU's Centre of Indian Languages briefed the audience on the evolution of Sufism in India.

Mr Doval’s initial remarks, part of his welcome speech, stressed the global need to develop a greater understanding among all human beings, regardless of caste, creed or religion. He also underscored that Sufism, the inner, mystical dimension of Islam had contributed significantly to India’s rich cultural and religious legacy. Dr. Khawaja Ikram noted that while the tradition of Sufism preceded Islam, the major trends of Sufism could be found in many religions across the world.

Hazrat Maulana Mohammad Ashraf, the renowned scholar of Sufism, identified love for the entire humanity and unconditional devotion to the Almighty among the basic tenets of Sufism. Sufism stresses that purging of all base thoughts from the soul is a prerequisite for the attainment of higher spiritual goals. The self becomes complete only when Ilm (Knowledge) is fused with Isque (devotion). He however said that the primary reason for Sufism not being very popular is that it dwells more upon practice, less on theory. "The notion of heaven and hell doesn't affect a Sufi practitioner because fear of hell and greed for a place in heaven are trivial for a Sufi", the noted scholar observed. He further said, "In our society, people are segregated into different classes based on their religion, caste, and region. A place like India where language changes virtually every 50 kms, it is imperative that people live in harmony and respect and appreciate the diversity". Rejecting the notion that Jihad means offence, Hazrat Maulana asserted that it is essentially a form of defence, especially against the evil which is present within all of us. Mr Subhash Chandra wrapped up the proceedings and said that he felt personally motivated by the thoughts expressed by Hazrat Maulana and extended all possible cooperation in spreading the teachings of tolerance and harmony across the entire nation.

Report prepared by Sanjay Kumar

A Tale of Two Abductions in Odisha

Dr. N. Manoharan

Abductions or hostage-taking are not new to CPI (Maoists). To take recent statistics, between 2005 and April 2012, nearly 1000 incidents of abductions by the Indian Maoists have been recorded.

But, this is for the first time that two separate groups of Maoists have resorted to simultaneous, though uncoordinated, kidnappings, that too from a single state (Odisha). Odisha has now joined Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand as top three states of India with maximum number of abductions by Maoists.

On 14 March 2012, Paulo Bosusco, a 51-year old Italian tour operator was kidnapped by the Odisha State Organising Committee (OSOC) of the CPI (Maoists) led by Sabyasachi Panda from the Daringbadi area of tribal-dominated Kandhamal district along with an Italian tourist, Claudio Colangelo, while they were trekking. While Colangelo was freed on 25 March as a “goodwill gesture”, Bosusco continued to remain in Maoist captivity. Meanwhile, on 24 March, Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) of the Maoists led by Ramakrishna kidnapped Jhina Hikaka, a 37-year old tribal leader and a first time member of the state legislative assembly from the Laxmipur constituency, in Koraput district of Odisha. Interestingly, one group did not know the plans of the other. However, analyzing the demands of the two groups, it is clear that than anything else they wanted release of their ‘comrades’ who have been languishing in various jails.

Maoists have found hostage-taking of high-profile people the best bet, especially to free their colleagues. Earlier they used to indulge in jail breaks. But, with the increase in security measures, jail-breaking has been found difficult, risky and uncertain. This apart, such tactics are capable of motivating cadres, especially when the chips are down. Although the OSOC placed 13-point charter of demands1 to release Bosusco, they relented as soon as Subashree Panda was released. The kidnappers of Hikaka were more direct; they placed just one demand: release of 30 prisoners. They insisted that the release had to be in the form of instant swap of prisoners with the legislator led by Hikaka’s wife accompanied by lawyer Nihar Ranjan Patnaik in the Narayanpatna area. The list of 30 prisoners includes 15 members of Naxal-backed Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) and a Naxal leader Chenda Bhusanam alias Ghasi, who is accused in the killing of at least 55 security personnel and carrying Rs 10 lakh reward on his head. They also want the state government to drop all charges against the prisoners.

When the Odisha Police Association and Odisha Constable, Havildar and Sepoy Manasangh threatened to boycott counter-insurgency operations if hardcore Maoists like Bhusanam were released, the government finally agreed to “facilitate” release of 23 prisoners. “Facilitate” here meant that Maoist groups had to move bail pleas for release of jailed rebels instead of seeking their immediate release and physical presence for executing the prisoner-hostage swap. The Maoists later climbed down to leave Ghasi from the list, but stuck to 29 and gave a deadline of 18 April. In the bargain, the government has moved its numbers to 25 including 17 members of CMAS, but has glued to its earlier position of “release only through bail”. However, as the 18 April deadline ended and as the Maoists refused to extend the deadline any further, the government of Odisha agreed to drop charges against 13 (eight CMAS members and five Maoists). Rejecting the offer, the AOBSZC has conveyed its decision to “try” MLA Hikaka at a “Praja Court” (“People’s Court”) on 25 April 2012.

It has become very difficult for the government to negotiate with the kidnappers of MLA Hikaka because of AOBSZC’s refusal to engage any mediators. The communication has thus far been through the media. But, in the case of Italian hostage-taking the presence of mediators acceptable to both parties – Dandpani Mohany, convenor of Jan Adhikar Manch and B. D. Sharma, former IAS officer and tribal rights activist – made the job of negotiation easier for the government and in bringing down the trust deficit. The government’s negotiating team, consisting of Odisha Home Secretary U. N. Behera, Panchayati Raj Secretary P. K. Jena and Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste Welfare Secretary S. K. Sarangi, though not specialised on hostage negotiations, handled those subjects that fell under the charter of demands placed by OSOC.

Of the two groups, OSOC seems more concerned about the local public opinion. Hence, it did not lay hands on any local official or leader who is more popular. The OSOC in fact slammed kidnapping of Hikaka, who remains popular among the people of his constituency. OSOC leader Panda remarked, “We condemn the Maoist violence in the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border region. There was no reason to abduct the MLA when the talks between the Naxals and the government were going on in a cordial manner.” The groups operating from other states, like for instance AOBSZC, seem more hardline and do not bother much about public opinion in Odisha. So they target high-profile people from border districts of Odisha as they did in the case of Vineel Krishna, the then district magistrate of Malkangiri district, last year.

The spate of abductions clearly shows that Maoists have become desperate. They have lost key leaders like Kishanji and Azad; some of the important Naxal leaders like Kobad Ghandy are in prisons of various states; although not highly successful, ‘Operation Green Hunt’ has been keeping the Maoists on their toes; their numbers are depleted; they are not even in a position to convene its Party Congress that is overdue. It is, therefore, crucial not to bend to any of Maoists’ demands. History of hostage-taking in India teaches an important lesson: ‘do not be penny wise and pound foolish’. Conceding to Maoists demands will be a big blunder in the long run. It is nothing wrong to negotiate, but not on their terms.

End Note:
    The Charter of demands included: release of five Maoist leaders including Sabyasachi Panda’s wife, Subhashree Panda; actions be taken against police officers who are charged with rape, custodial deaths and violence against tribals and villagers; access to potable water; provision of primary education, and health facilities; irrigation cover for land in every village; lifting of the ban imposed on ‘mass organisations’; complete halt of “Operation Green Hunt”; withdrawal of the Central forces from the tribal regions of the state of Odisha; ban on the visit of tourists to tribal areas; withdrawal of cases against tribal people lodged in jails ‘in the name of Maoists’; implementation of the ‘agreement’ with the rebels for the release of the then collector of Malkangiri district in February last year; cancel all MoUs with MNCs; ensure the Forest Conservation Act, the PESA and other laws are adhered to and minimum displacement of tribals takes place.
Author is Senior Fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Agni V: A Positive Step on Security

Kanwal Sibal

India has taken a substantial step forward in acquiring a credible nuclear deterrent capability with its successful Agni V test on April 19. The security threats to India are almost unique in that we have two nuclear neighbours who have had military conflicts with us in the past, who even now lay claims to our territory, whose seek to corner us strategically and who have long colluded in nuclear and missile matters.

Despite the acuteness of our security challenges our response has lacked a sense of urgency. While aware of their source and nature, we have not been able to make up our minds on the size and scope of our response and the manpower and funds to be allocated to develop the technologies and capacities to meet these threats.


We have tended to discount any large scale military threat from either adversary. We have felt confident about coping with any Pakistani military adventurism with the strength we possess. In China’s case, our assessment has been that with the existing border agreements on peace and tranquillity and sundry CBMs that reflect the desire of both countries to avoid military tensions on the border, coupled with political level efforts to set up a mechanism for border negotiations, the danger from China was more long term than immediate. China, in our thinking, would also want to preserve the myth of its peaceful rise and would therefore avoid an unnecessary military conflict with us, particularly as India poses no military threat to its control over Tibet.

We have also been able to dodge taking hard national security decisions by avoiding a military response to Pakistani provocations and a robust poitical response to those from China. We have not allowed tensions to escalate, preferring dialogue and engagement instead. If Pakistan does a Mumbai our answer is dialogue; if China questions our sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh or Kashmir, far from picking up the challenge, we look for a compromise formula to resume military contacts and gratuitously bolster the image of Sinkiang’s political head by inviting him to India despite the public upheavel there against Chinese rule. Even as we are concerned about Chinese strategic inroads into the Indian Ocean, we endorse maritime cooperation with them in these waters.

Thus, we reinforce our proclivity not to take hard decisions by making believe that our security dilemmas can be managed through diplomatic engagement rather than accelerating our strategic military programmes. In reality, while self-restraint and attachment to peace mark do our policies, we choose soft options also because we are conscious of our weakness and lack of military preparedness.


The Agni V test needs to be seen in this broad context. Our Integrated Missile Development Programme began in 1983 but it is only now that we have successfully tested a real strategic delivery capability. Compared to China, our progress has been slow, either because of technical hurdles or inadequate committment of resources to the task. If the Chinese needed to develop capabilities to counter the exercise of US power in their neighbourhood, we needed to counter the exercise of combined Chinese and Pakistani power against us, without entering into an arms race with China just as the latter has not entered into one with the US.

The delay in developing our strategic delivery capability compounds our political difficulties. China is now a mature missile power with ICBM capability. Its new ballistic missile capable of hitting US naval assets at a long distance has attracted attention, but otherwise the upgradation of its long range missiles proceeds quietly. Russia too is developing a powerful new missile but this too hardly makes news. India’s missile programme will take some more years to mature and will therefore continue to be in the public eye, making India, that wants to project the image of a peaceful and responsible power, look like pursuing threatening and regionally destabilizing capabilities of the kind North Korea and Iran are accused of. We have repeated the mistake we made in acquiring nuclear capability much later than we could and should have.


While the China dimension of Agni V will not escape expert commentary, the way our media has played this up reflects our immaturity as a society in handling sensitive strategic matters. If the Chinese media were to graphically report how Chinese missile deployments in Tibet are intended to bring major north Indian cities into their destructive range, the outcry in India will be huge. Because of our lack of discretion we have provoked unnecessary polemics against us in the Chinese media, though the Chinese government, to its credit, has reacted with maturity.

In actual fact Agni V should have caused no surprise to the Chinese as India has been transparent about its Agni missile programme and the planned range of 5000 kilometers. China, in any case, possesses missiles with even longer range. Earlier it was India that was vulnerable to Chinese missiles and now the reverse will be true, creating a better balance in deterrence.

US’s reaction to Agni V is noteworthy as it reflects the new quality of India-US bilateral relations even in areas that were highly problematic in the past. In the 90s and early 2000s, the US was pressing india to curb its missile programme because it was seen as destabilizing. Even ISRO had been sanctioned because of US missile-related concerns. The thinking today is entirely different. While avoiding any specific disapproval of India’s step, the US has lauded India’s non-proliferation credentials and underlined its no-first use policy, whch would suggest that India’s missile advance is actually seen as serving US interests too in creating a better Sino-Indian strategic balance in the years ahead.

Author is Member Advisory Board at Vivekananda International Foundation and Former Foreign Secretary

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pakistanitis Bug Bites Yet Again

Sushant Sareen

For over six decades now, there is one issue on which successive Indian Prime Ministers have insisted on committing the same mistake again and again, refusing to learn anything from the bitter experiences of their predecessors. This peculiar Indian syndrome is called ‘Pakistanitis’. It is essentially an ailment which involves an inexplicable desire on the part of every Indian Prime Minister to be the one to settle all problems and disputes with Pakistan and usher in an era of peace, stability, friendship and prosperity in the region. The quest for this chimerical peace deal is always in utter disregard of the ground realities and flies in the face of information and intelligence inputs which militate against the possibility of any major breakthrough in relations with Pakistan.

Some Indian Prime Ministers have reached out to Pakistan after losing a war and under pressure from Pakistan's Western patrons (Jawaharlal Nehru after the 1962 debacle); others after winning wars and then frittering away the gains on the negotiating table in the fond hope of achieving lasting peace (Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent after 1965 war, Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1999 after the Kargil war when he invited Gen Pervez Musharraf to Agra and again when he entered into a peace process in 2004 following the military stand-off after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, and even Indira Gandhi at Shimla after the 1971 war); still others who not only succumb to the delusion of Pakistan's changed attitude towards India, but are also influenced by the utterly false notion sold to them by some aides, analysts and officials (people whose analysis and opinions always change according to what the man they seek to ingratiate desires) that the time was ripe to enter into a ‘Grand Bargain’ (read appeasement) to sort out issues with the hostile neighbouring country (Morarji Desai in the late 1970s, Rajiv Gandhi in 1989, IK Gujral with his ‘Gujral Doctrine’ in the 1990s and now Manmohan Singh since 2004 and even more since the 26/11 attacks in 2008). Needless to say, they have all had to bite the dust with nothing to really show for their labours. And yet, this obsession – actually more of a psychological ailment – persists with no cure in sight.

It is not just Indian Prime Ministers who tend to go overboard on the issue of Pakistan; the Indian public as well as the intellectual class, think-tankers, media personnel and what have you, is not much better. There are some common fallacies and fantasies that invariably guide the Indian public’s thinking process on Pakistan. These are as follows:
a) Personal friendships and relationships are often extrapolated to the political and the national level and it is imagined that the two states can share a relationship similar to that between individuals.

b) Social courtesies and overwhelming hospitality extended by Pakistanis (more a cultural characteristic rather than a sign of a desire for good relations) is often misinterpreted as a genuine change of heart.

c) A tendency to take things at face value. For instance, some senior Pakistani official (serving or retired) will always be quoted to buttress the case for reaching out to Pakistan. That the Pakistani interlocutor being quoted might not be telling the truth or may be telling a half-truth is something that is blithely ignored. Despite deception being one of the oldest tricks in the book, the Indians refuse to believe that they are being led up the garden path.

d) Greater value seems to be attached to words and optics rather than to actions on the ground that would actually prove the genuineness of the words.

e) Policy analysis and recommendations are made not on the basis of reality on the ground as it is but as it is imagined to be. Worse, these recommendations are based on interactions with the ‘usual suspects’ (many of them very decent, upright and genuine people who are nothing more than a fringe group, or if you will, an endangered species). What is more, Pakistan's window to the world is a bunch of around 500 extremely articulate people who interface with the rest of the world and are reasonableness personified. In the process, the grim, and often ugly reality, of what Pakistan is really up to tends to get brushed under the carpet.

f) Finally, there is the old and by now done-to-death ‘saviour complex’ suffered by Indians who are always ready to try and save Pakistan from itself. The way this works is that sometimes the threat of a military takeover and at other times the threat of a mullah takeover is waved frantically to present a case for making concessions to Pakistan. It is argued that India needs to seize the opportunity (short-hand for a compromise by India) to reach out to a beleaguered Pakistani regime (and/or Pakistani state) which in turn will eagerly and gratefully accept the Indian gesture and pave the way for ‘peace for all times’. It is of course quite another matter that every time India has done this, it has ended with the worst of both worlds: it has conceded ground to Pakistan without being able to save the regime for whose sake the concessions were made in the first place.

All these elements have once again come into play. India is being told that Pakistan has realised the folly of its ways and was now genuinely interested in peace and normalisation of relations with its eastern neighbour. The economic crunch coupled with the threat of Talibanisation and the deterioration of relations with the West have left Pakistan with no choice but to seek a peace deal with India, which should seize the moment. In order to strengthen the hands of the beleaguered Pakistani regime and convince the Pakistani public of the efficacy of the dialogue process, India should ‘pluck the low hanging fruit’ i.e. settle the Siachen and Sir Creek issues, which will give a fillip to the peace process. Interactions with Pakistani interlocutors, especially retired military officials, on the track-II circuit are offered as evidence of the changed mindset in Pakistan. The clincher is that India must strengthen the hands of moderate forces in Pakistan to isolate the radical Islamists who could otherwise takeover the Pakistani state.

There is however complete silence – both from within the Indian establishment and without – on the question of what Pakistan has done in tangible terms to convince India that a paradigm shift has been affected in Pakistan's strategic perception of India. Indeed, none of the metrics – to name just a few, stopping the export of terrorism and dismantling the infrastructure of terror directed against India, ending the inimical actions against India in Afghanistan, giving up their irredentist claims over the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, altering the school curriculum that portrays Hindus as Untermensch, stopping hostile propaganda (including the ISI-sponsored Difa-e-Pakistan Council which is whipping up anti-India sentiment and inciting people to violence against India) – that would conclusively indicate that the changes in Pakistan’s attitude towards India are not merely a tactical adjustment aimed at keeping the Eastern border settled at a time when the economy is tanking, tumultuous developments are unfolding on the Western front, and relations with the NATO/ISAF countries are on the downswing, are anywhere to be seen. The only thing on offer is the forward movement on the trade front – Pakistan has shifted from a positive list to a negative list of trading items pending grant of MFN status to India by the end of the 2012 – which is being sold as a huge concession on the part of Pakistan.

Bluntly put, liberalising the trading regime with India would have been a concession only if one side (India) stood to gain from it. The fact, however, is that Pakistan hopes to benefit as much from trade with India as India expects to profit from it and as such normalising trade relations cannot be called a concession on the part of Pakistan. True, opening trade with India would not have been possible for the civilian government in Pakistan without the concurrence of the top military brass. But this is less out of a change of heart and more out of economic compulsions and the need to protect the corporate interests of the Pakistan military. In any case, while normalisation of trade between India and Pakistan needs to be celebrated for its intrinsic value, it would be a delusional to treat trade as some sort of a magic bullet or a game-changer which will develop such strong vested interests in both countries making conflict and hostility a thing of the past. Quite simply, the level of mutual interdependence that could bring about such a state of affairs is years, if not decades, away. And even then, there is no guarantee that burgeoning trading relations will drastically reduce tensions between the two countries and help in resolving outstanding issues between them – remember the 1965 war when despite sharing close economic relationship and enjoying a very healthy trade surplus, Pakistan imposed war on India?

With the move by Pakistan towards granting MFN status to India being falsely projected as a big concession, the turn-the-other-cheek liberals in India have now started mounting pressure on the government to return the ‘favour’ by settling the Siachen and Sir Creek disputes more or less on Pakistani terms. Quite asides the fact that there is an astounding amount of ignorance about the nature of these disputes and the correctness of the Indian position, there is also a cavalier disregard for the strategic and tactical implications of settling these disputes on Pakistan's terms. Unfortunately, this attitude is also to be found in sections of the government who are very keen to push forward with the peace process with Pakistan regardless of the costs it entails. So much so that some top government officials (close to retirement and desperately eyeing a cushy post-retirement job) are stoutly defending the proposal to export 5000 mw of electricity to Pakistan as a goodwill gesture despite large parts of India is reeling under massive power shortages!

Notwithstanding the breakthrough of sorts on the trade front, the inherent limitations of what the revived peace process can achieve should be staring India in the face. Even though President Asif Zardari has always been interested in normalising relations with India, and in the first few months of his government he did try to break the logjam, his efforts were effectively stymied by the military establishment. Today, the limits of how far he can go in resolving issues with India is circumscribed not just by the Pakistan army but also by his own dwindling political capital. With Pakistan practically in an election mode, Zardari is hardly in a position to deliver anything tangible on any of India’s important metrics. If anything, he will be seeking to extract something substantial from India which he could then capitalise on to improve his party’s political prospects. Unfortunately for him, even if India did give him something, it won’t be of much help to him at the hustings. The problem is also that the weak and increasingly unpopular government of Dr Manmohan Singh is today in no position to make the grand gesture that Zardari might be seeking. Neither the Congress party, nor the opposition, is likely to support such a measure by the Manmohan Singh government.

Chances are, therefore, that while both India and Pakistan will for the foreseeable future continue with the process of engagement, no big breakthrough can be expected. The relationship will remain transactional with perhaps some incremental progress on the issues that are on the table. Come to think of it, until and unless the ‘mother of all problems’ between India and Pakistan is addressed – Pakistan’s pernicious Islamofascist ideology that renders it incapable of living in peace with India – it is practically impossible to have normal, let alone friendly, relations between the two countries.

Tail-piece: There is a lot of talk that the Zardari visit was part of a ‘Made in China’ peace process. If so, then all the more reason for scepticism because the odds are that like most Chinese made products, this peace process won’t be very durable!

Author is Senior Fellow in Vivekananda International Foundation

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Need for An Indian Aerospace Command; Now and Here

Radhakrishna Rao

Deteriorating security environment in South Asia region along with a massive beef up in defence preparedness by the People’s Liberation Army(PLA) of China, have underpinned the need, as never before for India, to bolster its military might in all its manifestations to blunt the edge of the emerging multi-dimensional security threat.

Moreover, in the context of India’s declared national policy of no first use of nuclear weapons, the country should be extra vigilant in guarding against any threat to its territorial integrity. And looking beyond the possibility of the security threat, India in keeping with its status as an emerging technological power, should showcase its military muscle encasing the technological prowess that is immune to the threats of technology denial regime. Clearly and apparently, India cannot afford to lose the opportunity of positioning itself as a military power of global standing.

Indeed, in the context of the growing need to take care of Indian interests across the world, the need for a heightened situational awareness and quick mobility has become all the more pronounced. Only a well - equipped aerospace command supported by a range of advanced technology satellites could help India meet its emerging strategic challenges and security threats with courage and confidence. Of course, to begin with, India has the expertise, infrastructure and technology to create the nucleus for the proposed tri service aerospace command .But the only stumbling block is the green signal from the ruling dispensation in New Delhi. There is no denying the fact that an Indian tri service aerospace command would be a big morale booster for the Indian defence forces. As such, Government of India should seriously work towards giving a final go ahead for the proposed tri service aerospace command. For the creation of an aerospace command is a dynamic and continuously evolving process focussed on absorbing technological developments as it mainfests.

Indian Air Force (IAF), which has been vigorously advocating the need for an aerospace command for well over five years now, has already made a detailed study of the issues related to the structure and functions of aerospace commands in other countries. But then the type of the aerospace command India would need to set up—of course after getting clearance from the political leadership of the country—would reflect the needs specific to the Indian situation, extent of funds available as well as technology and expertise that could be pressed into service for the purpose. The objectives, however, of the proposed Indian tri service aerospace command, would be similar to aerospace commands in other countries: enhancing situational awareness in all its manifestations, a homogeneous platform for seamless integration of the capabilities of all the three wings of the services and ensuring free access to space while denying the adversary the opportunity to use space platforms in the event of a war. Other well identified objectives of the Indian aerospace command would include setting up a system to give out missile launch warnings and monitoring the launch of enemy satellites. The missile defence shield being put in place by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) could very well become an important component of the aerospace command. And so are the unmanned drones for surveillance and reconnaissance, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAVs), AWACS(Advanced Warning and Control System) aircraft, a range of missiles meant for a variety of end uses and a constellation of satellites high up in space. Indeed, the whole exercise of creating a multi layered aerospace command should ultimately be aimed at ensuring that in a fast changing battlefield scenario, all the available tools should be harnessed to stay at the winning edge of the war.

Perhaps the biggest trump card in the endeavour to set up an Indian aerospace command lies in the expertise that ISRO has built up in the area of designing and developing state of the art satellites for wide ranging applications. Incidentally, ISRO has so far built and launched more than fifty satellites for uses such as scientific research, earth observation, weather watch as well as communications, broadcasting and navigation. As things stand now, India does not yet have a dedicated defence satellite even as all the three wings of services have been clamouring for exclusive satellite capability to boost their preparedness and fighting fitness. Not long back, DRDO chief V.K. Saraswat had pointed out to the well-conceived plan to build and launch a series of home grown defence spacecraft systems with surveillance, imaging and navigation capabilities that would not only help keep an eye on “hostile developments in the neighbourhood” but also help guide the cruise missiles and high precision weapons to hit targets with a high degree of accuracy.

“There will be a series of defence satellites. Each year, you will find one or two satellites going up. I cannot reveal you the numbers because they are classified,” noted Saraswat. However, he made it clear that each of these satellites would be equipped for a specific mission and would carry payloads for a variety of end uses including surveillance and reconnaissance, imaging, navigation and communications. Going ahead, Saraswat stated that “the army, the navy and IAF each have their own requirements and it would not be appropriate to say how many each of them would need.” According to Saraswat, with these satellites in orbit, Indian defence forces would be in a position to get a holistic picture of the movement of troops and such other things in the immediate neighbourhood. Saraswat also made a point that satellite systems hold the key to the successful operationalization of India’s ballistic missile defence shield.

Saraswat also revealed that the road map of the series of satellites required by the Indian defence forces has been handed over to the Indian Space Research Organisation(ISRO).But then with its current infrastructure and support level, ISRO is having tough time meeting its own requirements. With a single operational launch vehicle in the form of the four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and a single launch complex spread across Sriharikota island on India’s eastern coast, ISRO is not in a position to accomplish more than 3-4 orbital missions a year. There is no denying the fact that India would need to build a second launch pad which is very critical to boosting the launch missions by a substantial extent. In the context of India’s plan to offer its launch services to international customers, ISRO would need to boost its launch frequencies to at least six a year. China, which has three landlocked launch complexes, is now building an ultra-modern costal orbital complex at Wenchang in Hainan Island which happens to be the epicentre of a massive Chinese naval build up.On its part, ISRO has hinted at a plan for a second launch complex. But whether it would assume a practical shape within a foreseeable future no one is sure as yet.

Similarly, the glaring failure of the Indian space agency to qualify the home grown cryogenic engine stage required to operationalize the three stage Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) well on time could jeopardise many of the high profile projects lined up by ISRO in the near future. To meet the growing needs of Indian defence forces, ISRO would need to not only build multiple launch centres and a variety of launch vehicles equipped for varying orbital missions but also involve the Indian industry in a big way in the task of building and delivering satellites and launch vehicles in a ready to use condition. Clearly and apparently, India lacks the “industrial culture “ fine-tuned for building spacecraft and space vehicles on a turnkey basis.

Perhaps a major hindrance in the way of setting up the Indian aerospace command is involving ISRO, a civilian space agency committed to the “peaceful use of space,” in the entire exercise. As such, the ruling dispensation in New Delhi should factor the possibility of such a step attracting international censure including the US technology embargo and trade sanction. In fact, in early 1990s, USA had prevented Russia from transferring the cryogenic engine technology to India, by citing the potential for the diversion of such a technology for military build up. In late 1990s, USA had pressurized India into dropping its Agni surface to surface missile programme with the observation that the Agni series of missiles developed under India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme(IGMDP had drawn from the solid fuel technology developed for India’s first civilian basic launcher SLV-3 which had its successful debut flight in 1980.As it is,SLV-3 was developed under the leadership of the former Indian President Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam during his stint with ISRO. Incidentally, Dr.Kalam who subsequently moved to DRDO, spearheaded the IGMDP which served as a launching pad for developing a range of Indian missiles.

Indeed, satellites serve as the “ears and eyes” of a well equipped aerospace command. The stunning success with which US led allied forces were able to pull off their intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq has highlighted the vital importance of the space based assets in realizing the strategic goals in a cost effective and timely manner. Meteorological satellites forecasting weather for facilitating bombing raids and missile launches, navigation satellites guiding lethal weapons to designated locations, reconnaissance satellites locating the exact geographic position of military targets, electronic ferret satellites gathering data on radar frequencies, communications satellites providing real time secure links between defence forces scattered over a vast geographical stretch for a coordinated strategy and ocean watch satellites snooping on the naval movement of adversaries which have all become a puppet in the string of the modern day warfare. Not surprisingly then, the massive intelligence failure suffered by the Indian army before and during the short lived Kargil skirmish of 1999 has been attributed to the lack of access to satellite resources.

On its part IAF is confident that a full fledged tri service aerospace command would go a long way towards ensuring the safety of Indian space assets and guarding the Indian air space with heightened vigil. The IAF’s defence “space vision 2020” outlines the need to evolve a strategy for the optimum utilization of space assets for sharpening its combat preparedness. By all means, for IAF uninterrupted access to dedicated constellation of military satellites is critically important to sustain its strategic superiority through the concept of “see, reach, hit and protect”. Satellites hold the key for the coordinated and synchronized functioning of the aerospace command by seamlessly integrating weapons systems, missiles, radars and sensor suites, unmanned aerial vehicles, weaponzied drones, electronics and communications network , fighter jets, transport aircraft, logistics and support systems, defence forces spread across a vast geographical swath for sustaining “strategic superiority” from the word go.

The clamour for setting up an Indian tri service aerospace command assumed strident dimensions following the early 2007 anti satellite test carried out by China. This exercise meant to refine Chinese space warfare techniques involved the destruction of an aging weather watch satellite positioned at an altitude of 537 kms above the earth by firing a ground based medium range ballistic missile. And while addressing the United Commanders Conference in New Delhi in mid-2008, Antony did not mince his words while underscoring Indian angst over the “emergence of anti satellite weaponry, a new class of heavy lift off boosters and improved array of military space devices in our neighbourhood.”

Of course, Saraswat has been stressing on the need to develop technological elements of anti satellite systems to prevent the rogue satellite systems from immobilizing the Indian space assets. He has also hinted at developing space laser sensor to monitor and track space based killer devices. To support the Indian aerospace command, DRDO has also a plan up its sleeve to develop and launch electronics intelligence and communications intelligence satellites as exclusive defence space platforms.

Space capability also constitutes a key element of the network centric system to integrate the resources of all the three wings of the services. Air Force Network (AFNET), inducted into IAF in 2010, on which an integrated air control and command is being built, will be allotted a slew of transponders on-board Indian satellites in INSAT constellation being operated by ISRO. The fibre optic technology based AFNET grid which will help link IAF’s command bases, radars, missiles, batteries and airborne fighters would ultimately pave the way for the complete situational awareness of the area that IAF wants to secure and dominate. In the ultimate analysis, the success of the aerospace command depends on the smartness with which the information super highways and communications channels are exploited for real time coordination of the “strategic moves” of the defence forces spread across a vast geographical swath.

Equally critical to the successful operation of an aerospace command is a versatile and well endowed C4ISR system. While the C 4 components of the system—computers, command , communications and control—constitute the backend, ISR(intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) make up for the front end. The ISR made up of orbital, airborne, maritime and fixed or mobile, ground based sensor systems help find, fix and track hostile targets and evaluate the damage to enemy targets. On the other hand, with an increasing number of smart weapons including missiles rapidly becoming autonomous, they would need to be controlled and manipulated through a network enabled command and control structure supported by a constellation of satellites.

Meanwhile, with the Indian Space Research Organisation(ISRO) preparing for the launch of India’s fully home-grown microwave earth observation satellite RISAT-1 sometime towards the end of April, Indian defence forces will have the reason to cheer. For they can look forward to fall back on a “smart eye in the sky” to enhance their situational awareness and surveillance capability along India’s borders with China and Pakistan.

Significantly, it is the all weather and day and night imaging capability of RISAT-1 that is particularly relevant to Indian defence forces from the point of view of strategic planning. For the high performance Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) payload of RISAT-1 is capable of functioning even under conditions of cloud, dust and haze. Right now, Indian defence forces have limited access to the IRS constellation of earth observation spacecraft being operated by ISRO. But then these satellites being passive systems can function only under the conditions of brightness.

In April 2009, India’s four stage PSLV had orbited RISAT-II microwave imaging spacecraft that ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) had realized in tie up with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) on a fast track mode. The launch of 300-kg.RISAT-II featuring an X-band SAR payload was widely perceived as a response to the insecurity complex generated by the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. The all weather RISAT-II has been described by strategic analysts as a high tech space platform meant to keep a tab on terrorist movements along India’s international borders with Pakistan.

Clearly and apparently, Indian defence forces can easily exploit the potentials of RISAT-II to boost the intelligence gathering capability of Indian armed forces in big way. For earth observation and surveillance are considered the two faces of the same coin. RISAT-II’s revisit capability of four to five days is considered advantageous factor in the dynamic monitoring of the developments of strategic importance. Added to that the highly agile RISAT-II can be manoeuvred to change its viewing angle as per the requirements of the users.

At the moment, Indian defence forces don’t have a dedicated satellite systems meant for surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering .Of course, the ISRO built GSAT-7 satellite which is expected to be launched during 2012-13 will serve as Indian navy’s exclusive space platform for reliable , robust and fool proof communications.

While India has a robust level of technological infrastructure and human expertise required to create a tri service aerospace command in a phased manner, the political leadership of the country should shed its “complacency and indifference” to give a go ahead to the setting up of the tri service aerospace command. For in the context of growing, multi-dimensional threat to India’s national security and taking into account the need to position India as a military power of global standing, the setting up of a tri service Indian aerospace command cannot be delayed under any circumstance. For the Indian defence forces, an aerospace command could very well be a force multiplier and game changer. And for India, it would be a hedge against the forces bent upon challenging the territorial integrity of the country.

Author is Research Fellow in Vivekananda International Foundation

Some Bold Ideas from Mr. Purno Sangma

A. Surya Prakash

The former Lok Sabha Speaker Mr. Purno Sangma has recently flagged some weighty issues which are extremely pertinent in the context of the crisis of governance in India, the declining influence of national parties, the decay of institutions, the fractious nature of coalitions and the precipitous fall in the prestige of the office of prime minister.

Some of these issues figure in his book A Life in Politics, which was released by the Vice-President Mr. Hamid Ansari on April 10. They have also been dealt with in a more elaborate manner in a lecture he delivered a fortnight ago at the VIF on ‘The Functioning of Parliamentary Democracy in India’. All these issues are inter-related. With the people opting for diverse political choices across the country, the two national parties that are at the core of the two main coalitions have got weakened. They are now facing greater pressure from regional players within their coalitions and outside. This in turn has injected instability into the coalitions and produced a crisis of governance. The ruling United Progressive Alliance at the Centre is now a pale shadow of the sturdy coalition that ruled this country between 2004-09 and the prime minister no longer exercises the power and authority that he did some years ago. For a politician like Mr. Sangma who has a strong nationalist streak and a desire to pool political and intellectual resources available in the country to try and stem the rot, this is the time to speak up and to press for action. He also offers some out-of-the-box prescriptions that could, especially in a deteriorating social and political environment, gain ground.

The weakening of the office of prime minister is on top of Mr. Sangma’s agenda. He is very clear that the prime minister must be a member of the Lok Sabha – a person who is directly elected by the people to the House. He does not favour Rajya Sabha members becoming prime ministers, because when that happens the authority and legitimacy of the office stands weakened and the prime minister remains beholden either to the leader of his party or to the leaders of a coalition who have together chosen to install him. Mr. Sangma says that under the Constitution, the Union Cabinet headed by the prime minister can survive in office only so long as it commands the support of the majority in the Lok Sabha. Therefore, it makes sense to have a prime minister who is a member of that House. Also, is it not absurd to have a prime minister who cannot vote on behalf of his government in the Lok Sabha!

In the preface to his book A Life in Politics, which is a collection of his speeches, Mr. Sangma dwells on the decline of institutions. He says: “Our institutions are in a state of decay. I am particularly worried about the institution of prime minister. I strongly feel that the prime minister being subjugated by an extra-constitutional `super’ authority is a dangerous precedent. Without any personal bias, I also feel that since India is the largest democracy, it would be in the fitness of things if the prime minister is elected by the House from members of the Lok Sabha. We should also start thinking and debating the desirability and possibility of electing the prime minister directly by the people. With a population of more than 1.2 billion people, India is capable enough of producing an able prime minister”.

Mr. Sangma elaborated on this theme at the VIF lecture on March 31. Over the last 16 years, there have been several instances when the Lok Sabha has failed to throw up a prime minister, he said. In 1996, a chief minister (Mr. Deve Gowda) was chosen for that office. In 1997, it was a member of the Upper House (Mr. Gurjal) and again from 2004 onwards (Mr. Manmohan Singh). During these periods, no member of the Lok Sabha was considered to be qualified for the job. He feels so strongly about it that he says the Constitution should be amended to achieve this objective.

As regards no-confidence motions, Mr. Sangma suggests that we adopt the German system of a constructive vote of no-confidence, meaning that the Lok Sabha can vote out a prime minister only when it has a successor in place. “We can perhaps consider the feasibility of adopting the German model of constitutional/legal provisions for constructive Votes of No Confidence. Under this model, the parliament may express its lack of confidence in the head of government only by electing a successor by the vote of a majority of Members and requesting the President for the appointment of the successor”.

Next, Mr .Sangma talks of coalition politics and federalism. In his view, the functional efficiency of a coalition government will largely depend on whether or not the coalition has put in place coordination mechanisms to “manage” contradictions. He says governance through coalition arrangements has more or less become the order of the day in the multi party system. “In the current (15th) Lok Sabha, forty political parties have their presence. As of now, the present UPA II coalition consists of 11 parties and is supported from outside by 9 parties. Running the government by coalition formations like this is like running a handicapped race. The government gets to be hamstrung in taking effective policy/reform measures”.

Mr. Sangma says coalition partners have their regional, local and ideological agendas which they are often unable to harmonize with the overall coalition programme. While the Government tries to ventilate its helplessness by referring to "coalition compulsions," the constituent partners complain of violation of "coalition dharma" by the government. The success of a coalition will therefore depend on what late Prime Minister V.P. Singh characterized as "management of contradictions". This is feasible only if coordination mechanisms are perfected and made functional within a ruling coalition.

Following the recent elections to five state assemblies, which saw a further fall in the vote share of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, especially in Uttar Pradesh, the regional parties have got further emboldened. The mushroom growth of regional parties has inflicted considerable damage on governance and encouraged the politics of blackmail. How does one resolve this? Mr. Sangma says that the idea that only national political parties should be allowed to contest parliamentary elections, could be explored.

Even more significant is his view on what the national parties should do in the present circumstances. The biggest problem right now is that there is a crisis of leadership. India no longer has an acceptable national leader and the two main national parties are on the decline. The plight of the Congress and the BJP is a matter of concern from a national point of view; he says and hopes that they will become stronger. Meanwhile, there could be a “temporary solution” – the Congress and BJP agreeing to share power and to provide a national government.

Mr. Sangma also focuses on two other issues which are generic in nature. The present electoral system – the-First-Past-the-Post system - has its flaws. In many instances, because of the multiplicity of parties and low voting, candidates who have polled the highest votes but have lost their deposits are declared elected. This system needs a fresh look. Compulsory voting may resolve this problem, but this must be implemented alongside the demand for voters to have the right to reject all candidates, if they wish to.

A clutch of bold ideas from a former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, among them: a power sharing arrangement between the Congress and the BJP to shake off “political blackmailers” and whimsical coalition partners; a prime minister who is directly elected by the Lok Sabha or the people; a constructive vote of no-confidence; institutionalised arrangements for coalition management; compulsory voting alongside the right to reject all candidates. Any takers?

Author is Senior Fellow in Vivekananda International Foundation