Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Restoring Rule of Law is the Need of the Hour

Dr M N Buch, 
Dean, Centre for Governance and Political Studies, VIF

In all the recent cases pertaining to high level corruption, whether be it the 2 G Spectrum allocation, the Commonwealth Games, the allocation of coal blocks, the appointment of a member of the Railway Board, etc., one common theme has been that decisions have been taken arbitrarily, contrary to rules and in violation of good administrative practices. In the case before the Supreme Court filed by Prakash Singh and others regarding police reforms, the allegation made is that government arbitrarily intervenes in the lawful working of the police and this is one of the main reasons why the police in India is ineffective, corrupt, politically biased and both people unfriendly and largely unaccountable. The prayer made before the Supreme Court is that the police should be insulated from unlawful pressures and influences and should be encouraged and in fact forced to function according to law. Thus, if corruption is to be stopped it becomes absolutely vital that arbitrariness in government must stop and instead we should return to reasoned rule of law.

In a society of laws, the first and foremost consideration is equality before law. This is enjoined by Article 14 of the Constitution. If there is equality before law then every citizen has equal rights and equal liabilities. A systematic violation of rights automatically proves that society no longer functions according to law. In a society of laws, no one, however powerful in politics, in government or in the economy, can deprive a person of his rights by misusing a government agency or by using the power of money to make officials act in favour of a person and with bias against some other person. In a society in which there is equality no one is the sovereign, suzerain or feudal lord of normal citizens, which means that whereas someone may enjoy authority and someone else may not, neither is the superior of the other and the person not having authority does not have to kowtow before a person having authority. The one in authority has still to function according to law and the rules, regulations, procedures and practices which emanate from it. Now it is a fact of which we can take notice that whereas equals do not pay tribute to each other, where there is a perception that someone is superior to others and can take decisions favouring someone and denying favours and rights to others, then an element of vassalage creeps in. When that happens, the one without authority becomes a vassal who tries to keep his overlord pleased, either by becoming his servant or paying him tribute which naturally would take the form of money or other valuables. A tribute is a token of submission and it is a well known fact that in India those who are in servitude do pay nazrana to those who are their superiors. Nazrana or tribute is the most humiliating form of a bribe because it recognises the superiority of someone else and the nazrana then becomes a means of ensuring that the superior is at least benign. It is only in a society of laws that everyone is equal and nazrana will not be necessary, nor will be paid.

India is not a society of equals and anyone who has even a little brief authority can become a target for payment of nazrana. If, however, the officer in question who is in a decision making position is unable because of the rules to do undue favours or to unduly deny justice to an applicant, then the nazrana become irrelevant and will not be paid. From this emerges the suggestion, which is that look at every point of contact between government and citizens, remove rough edges and simplify rules, procedures, etc., to such an extent that a person entitled to a decision gets the decision, there is no delay because the person delaying exposes himself and is liable to punishment and there is no relationship of superior –inferior in the whole transaction. If an official cannot harm through delay and cannot avoid decision making under fear of punishment, then there is no question of any nazrana being paid.

The absence of nazrana means that the applicant and the decision maker are both at the same level. Now it is no longer a superior talking down to serfs. If both are equal, how can the officials extort money, which can be called jabrana, from a person whose application relates to that to which he is genuinely entitled? Once again, it is rules, regulations and procedures which will determine whether there is an environment in which extortion is possible, or there is an environment in which one’s official position cannot be used to decide matters arbitrarily and through this extort money for giving a favourable decision.

To have a society of laws what we need first and foremost is the framing and formulation of laws in a manner which is compatible with the Constitution and with the general concept of parliamentary democracy. In India at the level of the Union it is Parliament which legislates and at the level of the States it is the State Legislature. The National Capital Territory of Delhi is not a State but as per the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi Act 1991, Delhi does have a Legislative Assembly. Mutatis mutandis this assembly has powers of legislation under the State List and the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. The least we can expect from our legislators is that they will ensure that legislative business is conducted strictly according to the Constitution of India and the tried and tested practices and procedures of Parliament and the State Legislatures in India. As stated earlier, it is only in a society of laws that we can have equality and it is only from equality that good government can flow which checks corruption , therefore, it is all the more important that the Legislature itself should be patently and actually seen to be functioning according to law. Articles 110 and 199 of the Constitution define a Money Bill and both state categorically that any Bill which requires appropriation of money out of the Consolidated Fund of India is a Money Bill. Under Article 117 a Money Bill, also deemed to be a Financial Bill, may not be introduced in the House of the People without the recommendation of the President in the case of the Union, with Article 207 having similar provisions relating to a Financial Bill being introduced in the Legislative Assembly, in which case, of course, the recommendation of the Governor is required. Section 22 of the NCT of Delhi Act takes exactly the same position, which means that a Bill which contains provisions whereby there would be expenditure from the Consolidated Fund of India would require the recommendation of the Lieutenant Governor before it can be introduced in the Legislative Assembly. Under section 22 (3) of the Act, the Legislative Assembly has no authority to pass such a Bill if the Lieutenant Governor has not given his recommendation. The Jan Lokpal Bill, which was introduced in the Delhi Legislature by the then government of Arvind Kejriwal, was automatically hit by the infirmity of not having been recommended by the Lieutenant Governor, despite the fact that the Jan Lokpal and his establishment would have required expenditure from the Consolidated Fund of Delhi by way of salaries, capital expenditure on the office and the myriad other expenses associated with a government organisation. To obstinately demand that the Bill be introduced and then enacted, despite this being in violation of specific provisions of the Government of NCT of Delhi Act and the Constitution of India, means that here was a government, wedded to removal of corruption and causes of corruption, including arbitrariness in decision making, insisting that so far as its sponsoring of legislation is concerned, the law did not apply. If this is not the height of lawlessness, of utter contempt for law, of arbitrariness unbound, what is it? Can such an attitude actually give us a government which promotes the rule of law and thereby brings corruption under control? Therefore, far from being a party which wants to eliminate arbitrariness from decision making and thus ensuring that one of the root causes of corruption is removed, AAP is in fact the major promoter of eliminating the rule of law and opening the flood gate for arbitrariness. It is totally unacceptable that my arbitrariness is good but your arbitrariness is bad. All arbitrariness is bad and if there is insistence on pushing only one point of view, then it is also undemocratic. The whole Delhi drama is based on creating an environment in which every other point of view is suppressed and eliminated, leaving only the single point programme of the Jan Lokpal in the field.

Any government worth its salt should systematically set its nose to the following things: Create an environment in which the feudal culture which pervades our society is eliminated. This would include not making one’s obeisance to the politically powerful so that the need to pay tribute or nazrana is eliminated. Even a beginning cannot be made to the elimination of corruption till we completely remove the very relationship which leads to the payment of nazrana.

Proceeding from this, the government has to systematically review all areas of contact between the citizen and government and its agencies and officials. The first objective should be to reduce these points of contact to a minimum and for that purpose all rules, procedures and practices would have to be painstakingly reviewed with the objective of making them so simple and so open that a person going before a government official knows that his work can be done only if it falls within the four corners of what is permissible by law. A shortcut is not available, which means that bribing an official would be a futile exercise because even with malice aforethought that official cannot give a favourable decision contrary to rules. This exercise should be followed by a detailed study of how files move. If movement is smooth, time bound and follows a defined trajectory, then government’s work will proceed apace. People can then expect just and timely decisions. If an automobile factory’s assembly line can be programmed and then monitored, why is this not possible in the case of the manner in which government functions? A major cause of corruption would disappear if government work proceeded smoothly. Permit delay and we invite corruption.

From procedures we have to come to people, that is, officials. If one is to provide good government, one has to ensure that government officials are properly trained and oriented both for the job they are required to do and the people whom they are required to serve. For government servants to be made to do their duty they have to be trained and continue to be trained, mentally attuned to being people friendly, professionally competent, assigned very specific duties, with their performance being quantified and systematically monitored. This would help in identifying those who are genuinely servants of the people, those who are slackers and those who deliberately use their office for personal gain. Therefore, accountability must also be fixed and, perhaps, it is at this stage that a Lokayukt, a Lokpal, or an Ombudsman would have a vital role. This is not to diminish the role of the person to whom one can go with a complaint or who has the authority to monitor and evaluate performance and thereafter take suitable remedial action. However, this would be the last link in the chain of government which ensures the smooth and efficient functioning of the Executive and the timely delivery of services of government to the people. If there is good government, there may not be any role for the external monitor, who seems to be the only panacea offered by Aam Aadmi Party. Had it been otherwise, the party would have gone about the business of restoring good government before launching into the next stage of legislation for an external monitor. Had the government functioned logically and step by step it would not have faced any difficulty in the matter of legislation introduced at the appropriate time. In a parliamentary democracy, there are no shortcuts and every shortcut drives one more nail into the coffin of democracy. I hope Kejriwal and those who surround him eventually wake up to the fact that it is decline of the rule of law which has brought us to such a sorry state and it is only by returning to the rule of law that India will get good government, a corruption free society and the promotion of the welfare of the people. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? There is a great deal to be said for hastening slowly.   

Management of National Security: Agenda for the New Government

Brig (Retd) Gurmeet Kanwal, 
Visiting Fellow, VIF

The performance of the outgoing UPA-II government in managing India’s multiple external and internal security threats and challenges was often sub-optimal and given to knee jerk reactions. For example, the management of border violations on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China and cease-fire violations on the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan was marked by the lack of inter-ministerial and inter-departmental coordination. Long-term defence planning did not get the attention it needs. The defence budget fell to its lowest level since the 1962 debacle. Military modernisation stagnated as major procurement projects were delayed due to bureaucratic red tape and the black listing of a dozen defence MNCs.

There are several steps that the new government must take urgently to improve national security decision making and streamline the functioning of higher defence organisations so as to better manage national security, including planning for the neutralisation of emerging threats and challenges.

The first and foremost item on the new government’s defence and national security reforms agenda should be the formulation of a comprehensive National Security Strategy (NSS), including that for internal security. The NSS should be formulated after carrying out an inter-departmental, inter-agency, multi-disciplinary strategic defence review. Such a review must take the public into confidence and not be conducted behind closed doors. Like in most other democracies, the NSS should be signed by Prime Minister, who is the head of government, placed on the table of Parliament and released as a public document. Only then will various stakeholders take ownership of the strategy and work unitedly to achieve its aims and objectives.

The armed forces are now in the second year of the 12th Defence Plan (2012-17) and it has not yet been formally approved with full financial backing by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). The government has also not formally approved the long-term integrated perspective plan (LTIPP 2007-22) formulated by HQ Integrated Defence Staff. Without these essential approvals, defence procurement is being undertaken through ad hoc annual procurement plans, rather than being based on duly prioritised long-term plans that are designed to systematically enhance India’s combat potential. These are serious lacunae as effective defence planning cannot be undertaken in a policy void.

The government must commit itself to supporting long-term defence plans or else defence modernisation will continue to lag and the growing military capabilities gap with China’s People’s Liberation Army will assume ominous proportions. This can be done only by reviving the dormant National Security Council (NSC) as defence planning is in the domain of the NSC and not the CCS, which deals with current and near-term threats and challenges and reacts to emergent situations. The NSC must meet regularly and devote its time and energy to deliberate upon major issues in a holistic manner. It must be remembered that while intentions can change overnight, force structures take decades to create and stabilise. As a Naval Chief had famously told a Defence Secretary at the Raksha Mantri’s Weekly Meeting, it takes 10 to 15 years to build a ship.

The inability to speedily conclude major defence contracts to enhance national security preparedness in the face of growing threats and challenges, exemplifies the government’s challenges in grappling with systemic flaws in the procurement procedures and processes. Despite having formulated the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) and the Defence Production Policy (DPrP), the government has been unable to reduce bureaucratic red tape and defence modernisation continues to stagnate. It is difficult to understand why the budgetary allocations earmarked on the capital account for the modernisation of the armed forces should continue to be surrendered year after year with complete lack of accountability. The year FY 2010-11 had brought some encouraging news as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) managed to fully utilise all the funds that were allocated on the capital account. This should become the norm rather than the exception.

While internal security challenges are gradually gaining prominence, preparations for conventional conflict must not be neglected. Major defence procurement decisions must be made quickly. The Army is still without towed and self-propelled 155 mm howitzers for the plains and the mountains and urgently needs new utility helicopters, anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) as also to weapons and equipment for counter-insurgency operations. The navy waited for long for INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) aircraft carrier, which has been refurbished in a Russian shipyard at exorbitant cost and with operationally unacceptable time overruns. Construction of the indigenous air defence ship has also been delayed.

The plans of the air force to acquire 126 multi-mission, medium-range combat aircraft in order to maintain its edge over the regional air forces is stuck in the procurement quagmire, even as the indigenous LCA project continues to lag inordinately behind schedule. All three Services need a large number of light and medium lift helicopters. India’s nuclear forces require the Agni-III missile and nuclear-powered submarines with suitable ballistic missiles to acquire genuine deterrent capability. The armed forces do not have a truly integrated C4I2SR system for network-centric warfare, which will allow them to synergise their combat capabilities and defend against cyber-attacks. The approach followed is still a platform-centric one despite the demonstrated advantages of switching to a network-centric approach.

All of these high-priority acquisitions will require extensive budgetary support. With the defence budget languishing at less than 2.0 per cent of India’s GDP – the interim budget for 2014-15 is pegged at 1.74 per cent of the projected GDP – it will not be possible for the armed forces to undertake any meaningful modernisation. (China spends 3.5 per cent of its GDP on defence and Pakistan 4.5 per cent.) The funds available on the capital account at present are inadequate to suffice even for the replacement of obsolete weapons systems and obsolescent equipment that are still in service well beyond their useful life cycles. The Central armed police and para-military forces (CAPFs) also need to be modernised and better trained as they are facing increasingly greater threats while continuing to be equipped with obsolescent weapons.

Though the UPA-II government had appointed the Naresh Chandra Committee to take forward the process of long overdue defence reforms, it was unable to implement any of the recommendations of the committee. The incoming government must immediately appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee to provide single-point advice to the CCS on military matters and to synergise operational plans as well as capital acquisitions. The logical next step would be to constitute tri-Service integrated theatre commands to synergise the capabilities of individual Services.It is also necessary to sanction the raising of the Aerospace, Cyber and Special Forces commands to deal with emerging challenges.

Any further dithering on these key structural reforms in higher defence management on the grounds of the lack of political consensus and the inability of the armed forces to agree on the issue will be extremely detrimental to India’s national security interests in the light of the dangerous developments taking place in India’s neighbourhood. International experience shows that such reform has to be imposed from the top down and can never work if the government keeps waiting for it to come about from the bottom up.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Maoist Rebellion : Ground Realities

Lt Gen (Retd) Gautam Banerjee, 
Executive Council, VIF

Ground Situation

The end-of-year reports emanating from various Home Departments of the States affected by the Maoist rebellion indicates that the downtrend in violence, as seen during the preceding year, continues. Even if marred by the ambush at the Darbha Ghati (Valley) on the Chhattisgarh-Odisha Border on 25 May 2013, this is a hopeful sign. After all, de-escalatory trends in acts of anti-state insurrection offers the first hint of situational de-conflagration. If handled with sagaciously articulated strategy of hard and soft power, it paves the way for establishment of an environment of peace and stability in which the people may seek amelioration of their grievances, while the government may respond with due alacrity.

Signs, however, could also be misleading, particularly when these point towards what one optimistically wants to believe. Therefore, it would be wise to rely on first-hand ground survey of the situation while strategising for the coming phase of Counter-Maoist initiatives. This report is an attempt towards that end.

Build-up of State Capabilities

It was some time in the Year 2010, when pitted against vicious Maoist onslaught, the policy-makers had to turn their illusionary rhetoric into serious intent. Thus from the time the State Governments came around to accede to the Union Government’s counter-rebellion strategy, haltingly but inexorably, the state apparatus is being strengthened in grappling with the Maoist menace. Even if fraught with glaring slippages, leakages and inefficiency, the build up of the state’s internal security capability has been going up since then.

Build-up of Security Infrastructure

In enhancement of armed capability for the police forces, the elaborate schemes for expansion, training and modernisation continue to be exasperatingly slow in coming. The seven year old ‘Scheme for Fortified Police Stations’, which was necessitated by Maoists’ frequent mass-attacks and loot of weapons, and the public outcry against massacre of their own policemen-folks, proceeds at a languid pace, the constructions inspiring confidence neither in technical nor tactical terms. Between the threats of looming attacks, the commitment to reconstruct 400 of what are but ruins of British era police stations seems to be waxing and waning. As a result, the project has not crossed the half way stage; where construction has been executed, there remain parts left incomplete.

Security infrastructure is also being build-up under the Union Government aided ‘Security Related Expenditure’ and ‘Special Infrastructure Scheme’. The first one caters to expenditure on enhancement of administrative wherewithal, surrender and rehabilitation of rebels, formation of Village Defence Committees, community policing, publicity and motivation, and information gathering; while the second head funds security specific road building, preparation of camping grounds for police details in distant areas, construction of secure policing outposts in vulnerable locations, helipads, communication facilities etc. Progress of project implementation is however very slow, the reasons being as follows:-

a. There is an average time lag of two to three years between a political statement and commencement of the scheme at the point of execution. This lag is on account of budgetary tricks which the government must resort to in funding these schemes through re-prioritisation and re-appropriation from a budget that is already overburdened by the game of voter appeasement. Due to intermittent release of funds, it may take another two to three years before the schemes gather moderate pace, that is, if not diverted or relegated in favour of new expediencies.

b. The government departments, besides being culturally inefficient and unscrupulously corrupt, do not even have the necessary wherewithal to execute works across isolated areas with due fiscal and technical prudence. Public projects are viewed as licence to distribute what may be described as ‘percentage cuts’, compromise construction specifications and enrich politicians, contractors, state functionaries and cronies, even the intended beneficiaries of the works are weaned away from complaining.

These ingrained debilitations are unlikely to go away anytime soon.

Build-up of Police Forces

While recruitment to fill up existing vacancies in State police ranks goes on, new raisings of specialised counter-insurgency forces have been undertaken at the State as well as Central level. State Governments have thus raised between two to four such specialist battalions manned by ex-servicemen, though the manner of their employment and control remains somewhat misdirected. Among the Central Armed Police forces (CAPF), the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has raised ten specialist battalions, referred to as the ‘Commando Battalion for Resolute Action’ (CoBRA) and recently renamed as the ‘Special Action Force’. Fit and well trained, these units have been deployed effectively. The concept of ‘India Reserve Battalions’ (IRB), manned by local levies, has been extended to raise 46 units in the nine affected States. Thirty three of these have been raised; some of these have even been designated as ‘specialist’ IRBs; the renaming appears to be aimed at finding higher emoluments rather than obtaining robust counter-insurgency ability.
The overall level of training, motivation and equipment of the police forces remains little more than basic. Training establishments being limited, training of recruits as well as serving policemen pose the biggest hurdle. Though 12 Counter-Insurgency & Counter-Terrorism Schools (CICTS) out of 15 sanctioned in various States have been raised, actually these are just add-ons to the existing State armed police battalion lines. Obviously, the training facilities are woefully inadequate in terms of quality as well as quantity. While announcing the intended measures to control the rebellion, realisation that it takes three years or so before a policeman may be considered to be adequately trained in counter-insurgency role, seems to be overlooked.

Issues which require attention in this regard are as follows:-

a. Recruitment drives in the States have been prone to malpractices and mired in party and caste manipulations. Thus scams, enquiries and court cases have put paid to the process.

b. Disconcertingly, it is found that there is a dearth of recruitable candidates, either on account of poor education or opportunistic mentality. The quality of policemen that these would make, is therefore questionable.

c. Establishment of regular CICT Schools is affected due to lack of competent trainers and hurdles, real or invented, posed against allotment of land.

Police Modernisation

The drive for police modernisation, funded under the ‘Scheme for Modernisation of State Police Forces’ has started to bear fruition. Protective and communication equipment, transport, vision devices, search equipment and light weaponry of modern variety are being procured at a brisk pace. Thus, even after diversion of these items to serve the multitude of VIPs, much of these are becoming available to the policemen deployed on ground. Quality control and in-service maintenance of these stocks however remains a major problem. Unless attended to with due alacrity, this deficiency would affect forces’ efficiency, besides leading to fiscal wastage.

Execution of Civic Schemes

The Integrated Action Plan (IAP), that is devised by the Planning Commission to ameliorate the root causes of people’s alignment with the Maoists, is sustained by nearly a dozen schemes. These schemes are mostly funded conjointly by the States and the Centre. Thus the nation-wide schemes – the ‘Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act’ (MGNERGA), ‘Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana’ (PMGSY), ‘National Rural Health Mission’ (NRHM), ‘Ashram Schools’, ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ (SSA), ‘National Rural Drinking Water Programme’ (NRDWP), ‘Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana’ (RGGVY), ‘Integrated Child Development Services’ (ICDS) and the ‘ Indira Awaas Yojana’ (IAY) - are being reinforced in 82 Maoist affected districts. Meanwhile, a ‘Road Requirement Plan – Part I’ (RRP-I) to develop access roads to the interiors of 34 worst Maoist affected districts is also under planning and pilot-execution stage.

Most of the above listed schemes remain at a nascent stage of implementation. The stumbling blocks are, as discussed earlier, the weak executive mechanism and erratic schedule of funding. Yet, the mere hint of development, combined with the prospects of managing individual and group benefits, has infused a remarkable degree of enthusiasm among the people; even the rebel cadres are attracted, much to the chagrin of Maoist ideologues. The ‘Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006’ has come to the point of reckoning in the local matters. Provisions of this Act, in conjunction with the food programmes for the poor which have been sponsored by almost all the States and the recently promulgated ‘National Food Security Act, 2013’, has caused the Maoist cause to be further marginalised. Maoists hope that this popular distraction from their cause is but temporary and soon the failure of what they claim to be a “morally degenerated and corrupt governing system” would strengthen the rebellion with increased vigour.

The Maoist’s Fare

The preceding years have not been particularly good for the Maoists. The problems they face may be summarised as follows:-

a. They have lost many of their iconic leaders, replacements against which have been found wanting in terms of skills and competence if not commitment to the cause.

b. They have grown to the limit of their fiscal sustainability. Therefore, to strengthen and up-stage the rebellion, they have to find additional sources of funds. Contrarily, with economic slowdown and rising pitch against ecological and social exploitation of natural assets, of which the Maoists themselves have been the leading crusaders, their ‘collections’ have been compromised. The endeavour to generate more funds has suffered a setback.

c. Their best efforts to strengthen influence over urban centres has failed to bear tangible fruition. Due to this failure, wider catchment for fund generation, manipulative propaganda and escalation to higher level of insurgency has stagnated.

d. Vulnerable posts and armouries having been either fortified or withdrawn, and forces better equipped, it is no more easy for the Maoists to attack police posts and loot weapons. Similarly, with infusion of some measures to control illegal trade of weapons and explosives, the free run of the rebels has been somewhat curtailed.

e. Maoists realise that it is a matter of time before the state gears up to stand up to their intransigence. It is therefore imperative for them to build up their armed strength to be able to confront a better prepared police force, and at the same time, sabotage the government’s efforts to engage with people through civic action. This they have to do without being branded as obstructionists in the eyes of the people and thus antagonising their supportive constituency.

The aforementioned situation has caused the Maoist rebels to take a preparatory pause – barring opportunistic strikes to keep the threat alive – and focus on building up for the imminent confrontation with the state. The thrust therefore is on looking out for collaboration with radical groups of the North-East and the West Coast, and invigorating the dormant cells among North India’s university students, faculties and urban societies. Interlocutors have also been trying to procure weapons and equipment through the North-Eastern conduits - with unknown degree of success.

Meanwhile, the build-up of the ‘People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army’ (PLGA) as well as the ‘People’s Militia’ proceeds undisturbed in deep jungles. Maoists continue to ‘govern’ their ‘liberated zones’ and continue to carry on with extortion, punishment, recruitment etc in areas under their ‘control’. Acting smart of late, they have hijacked the mantle of ‘monitoring’ or even remodelling the government’s development schemes to suit their or their local sympathiser’s preferences - diktats that the state’s executives would defy at their peril. ‘Safe areas’, where no incidents are to be perpetrated so as to avoid state’s reaction, have been designated in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, from where the rebellion is directed.

The Political Scene

Of late, Maoist rebellion has assumed the character of a profitable industry in which apart from the hard core rebels, there are beneficiaries of various hues. These beneficiaries range from part-time or pretending Maoist extortionists, profiteering traders, illegal miners, unlicensed transporters, shaming contractors and corrupt officials, who are in informal league with each other as they are with many of the Maoist leaders. As for the common man, he has little to lose; on the other hand he is relieved from the clutches of the arrogant and demanding revenue and police functionaries. At the ground level, no one seems to be complaining. Politics having become a game of voter appeasement, it would therefore be interesting to touch upon the attitude displayed by the State level political leaders with regard to the challenge of Maoist intransigence.

All the State Governments, particularly those of the six most Maoist affected Sates – Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal and Maharashtra - exude confident demeanour of being competent to tackle the situation. They firmly believe that they, rather than the distant functionaries of the Central Government, understand the situation the best. Alive to the socio-economic dimensions of the rebellion, they profess that the entrenched causes of the rebellion cannot really be rooted out, and that the answer lies in diluting and then subsuming the issues into the normative course of political process. Indeed, they have a strong point.

Presently, unable to exert due authority, State Governments have chosen to look the other way, if not endorse, the coalescence of a live-and-let-live arrangement among the local activists, officials, traders, contractors and industrial houses with the Maoist Area Commanders in order to maintain societal equilibrium, even if it is an skewed one. To avoid massacre and mayhem, all States have restrained their police from becoming too active during the transitory period of build up. Even then there are some contrasts in the policies adopted by different States. The Chhattisgarh Government is engaged in balanced police and socio-economic action; Jharkhand remains inert doing practically nothing at all for or against the state, the people or the rebels; Odisha focuses on quieter areas leaving the troubled ones out; Bihar is stoic while undertaking occasional police actions when the Maoists go too far in upsetting the nexus of ‘equilibrium’; in West Bengal political cadres have displaced the rebels so much so that it is difficult to tell them apart; and Maharashtra is surely and gradually gaining the Maoist’s turf.

The nation’s demand for economic development cannot be delinked with harness of natural resources that lie in the troubled plateau-lands. Therefore, an eventual state-insurgent showdown is only to be expected. Presently, while both sides girdle up for that inevitability, there seems to be no urge or urgency to disrupt what may be termed as an informally understood ‘equilibrium of stalemate’, barring, of course, occasional forays against the adversary to keep the business going.


The rebellion is sustained not by socialist ideals but by people’s disillusionment with an apathetical state, on which the fanatical Maoists feed. The state leadership is aware that the intransigence having grown all-profitable roots, it is banal to expect it to be defeated in short time and by force alone. The idea therefore is to deflate the rebellion by weaning away its support base of the local people. That end is sought to be achieved by addressing the people’s consternation with the governing system, or when full redress is impractical to find, proposing compensatory alternatives. That it will take a long time to do so, is well appreciated. However, it is expected that as signs of state-citizen understanding emerge, it would trigger a cascading effect in dilution of people’s grievances. Recalcitrance from hard core armed rebels are to be expected yet, which are to be dealt with duly strengthened police force. Finally, having been defanged, it is expected that the Maoist remnants would either be marginalised or assimilated into the political process, as indeed it has happened in the past with many similar groups of radicals.

In contrast, the Maoist leadership’s immediate aim is to prevent the state’s intrusion into their ‘liberated zones’ and so preserve their ‘rule’. They wish to ‘liberate’ more such areas over which they currently exercise control or influence, but to do so, armed cadres need to be strengthened. That calls for larger fund collection, which in turn is contingent upon spread of tentacles over financial and political hubs. Focus of the Maoists is therefore on fund collection and procurement of weapons. They realise that they have no more than two to three years to achieve that end before the police forces are sufficiently strengthened to deal with them while state sponsored socio-economic measures start divesting them of the people’s solidarity.

In the coming two years or so, barring disruption of development schemes for the purposes of extortion, and occasional confrontation between police forces and the rebels to keep the threat alive, the state as well as the Maoist rebels are likely to focus on their respective ‘build up’.

The current phase of relative quietude is but in preparation for an eventual escalation in armed confrontation. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Deconstructing the AAP Phenomenon

Dr M N Buch, 
Dean, Centre for Governance and Political Studies, VIF

“Never start a paper with the first person singular” was the advice that my English teacher gave me in the first standard in my school in Lahore, St. Anthony’s High School. On 10th February 2014, Barkha Dutt interviewed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal before a studio audience, which was broadcast, probably live, on the NDTV 24x7 channel. What one saw and heard was deeply disturbing. One is acutely aware of the fact that in metropolitan India, which represent six percent of our total population and in Delhi, where less than one percent of the population lives, there is a great deal of discontent because of lack of meaningful central, state or local government and the inefficiency and corruption which has grown out of this. This could easily be handled by firm, principled, honest government, but nowhere is there much evidence of the will to govern and provide good government to the people. In Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, the situation is better, but our so called liberals and activists have such loathing for BJP that neither Narendra Modi nor Shivraj Singh Chouhan is acceptable to them. It is from the miasma of political despair that Kejriwal and Aam Aadmi Party have been born and because they at least promise to be different large sections of society have been attracted to them. There can be no other reason for the rout of the Congress in the NCT of Delhi elections and the strong signature of Aam Aadmi Party in the Vidhan Sabha.

Those whom no one (including I) thought could make a strong showing not only managed to get 28 seats out of 70 in the Assembly, they also came to power with an ill advised Congress deciding to support a minority government. To madly mix metaphors, Congress now not only finds itself hoisted by its own petard, it is also on the horns of a dilemma. Withdraw support, let the government fall and enable Kejriwal to project himself as a martyr who has been sacrificed because he dared to innovate. Continue support, enabling Kejriwal to enact legislation which, while constitutionally unacceptable and, therefore, not to be signed into law by the Lt. Governor, would still project Kejriwal as the champion of the people. What Kejriwal hopes to get out of this is many more seats in the NCT of Delhi Assembly (he estimates 50 seats) and some in Parliament at the next election. What the Congress gets is a fear of extinction in Delhi. What BJP hopes to get is the entire bowl of cream as the two cats claw each other to shreds. What a scenario! Does one see shades of the last days of the Weimar Republic?

There was a corporal of Austrian origin in the German Army of the Kaisar during the First World War called Adolf Schikelgruber, who later attained great notoriety as Adolf Hitler. By profession he was a painter, not an artist but an actual painter of walls, doors and windows, etc. He took the defeat of Germany in the First World War almost as a personal affront and shared with the Junker class officers of the army the view that it is not Germany which had lost but rather that the moneybags, the unscrupulous businessmen, who had betrayed the nation. The Treaty of Versailles imposed severe reparations on Germany, transferred German speaking Alsace-Lorraine to France from which Prussia had wrested it at the end of the Franco Prussian War of 1869-70, allowed French and other allied occupation of the industrially important Ruhr, caused the Kaiser to abdicate, thus ending the monarchy and generally imposed on Germany humiliating conditions which patriotic Germans could not stomach. A republic was established under the Weimar Constitution, thus named because it was framed and finalised in the resort town of Weimar, but the largely Prussian led army, though considerably reduced in size, remained intact. The jingoistic military ethos of Prussia was kept alive by a band of dedicated Generals and other senior officers and whereas the republic soon went down the drain because of a weak government and a struggling economy, the army quietly tried to rebuild itself with the sole objective of restoring the dignity and power of Germany. Corporal Adolf Schikelgruber, initially an observer but soon to become not only the major but the sole player in the tragedy which engulfed Germany, tried to put together a new political philosophy and wrote a book on this called ‘Mein Kampf’ or My Struggle. This book should be compulsory reading for everyone, especially for students of political science and for those interested in politics, because from it emerged an ideology, party and government so tyrannical, so utterly brutal that by comparison Attila The Hun appears to be a nonviolent saint.

How else does one describe the government of a person which happily killed six million people because they happened to practise Judaism? Hitler’s creed was simple. Germany lost because its government was excessively mild and unfocussed. Therefore, it allowed the Jews and their money power to betray the country and that is why the country was meek and impoverished. Ergo, eliminate the Jews and paradise will return on earth. This he set about to do with single-minded ferocity and simultaneously built up the army and in doing so threw the French out of the Ruhr. He looked for a racially pure Germany in which the Aryans were the super race. Then there were the inferior races of Slav origin who inhabited the countries to the east of Germany, that is Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, etc. The Slavs were inferior to the Aryans and, therefore, Untermenschen, that is subhuman. To the west was France, racially acceptable but culturally decadent. Further west lay Britain, whose people were largely of Anglo Saxon origin and, therefore, Aryan, making them the natural allies of a pure Germany. Replace the decadent political system there by the far healthier Nazi philosophy and there would indeed be heaven on earth.

To achieve all this Hitler needed the power to legislate. When he became the Chancellor (Prime Minister) of Germany in 1933, he led a minority government which came to power because the socialists quarreled amongst themselves like the Congress does in India, the Left was in disarray and the people were looking for a saviour who would rescue them from the misery into which the Weimar government had cast them.

One sees an almost equal scenario with what happened in Delhi recently. People who were disgusted with the previous regime did vote in adequate numbers to give the Aam Aadmi Party a respectable minority status. The Congress, like the Opposition in Germany, felt that Kejriwal could be handled and, therefore, decided to support Kejriwal to form a government. Meanwhile, the BJP sat back to observe the unfolding drama. Like Hitler who persuaded President Hindenburg to invite him to form the government, with outside support, the Congress, too, decided to entice Kejriwal to form a government in Delhi with outside support of the Congress. The parties in Germany, like the Congress in Delhi, felt they could handle Hitler, just as Congress felt that they could handle Kejriwal. Hitler’s first act was to persuade Parliament to enact the “Gestz zur Behbung der Not von Volk und Reich” or “The Law For Removal of The Distress of The People and the Reich”. Under this, Hitler got sweeping powers on legislation through ordinance, surrendered voluntarily by Parliament. This happened on 5th March 1933. On 9th March 1933, just four days later, he abolished the States, thus converting the Federation into a Unitary State. In May 1933, he abolished the trade unions and in July 1933 all parties were abolished, except the Nazi Party. Using the Constitution and mandate of Parliament, Hitler not only destroyed the Weimar Republic, he abolished democracy and became the sole dictator and arbiter of Germany. The horrors which followed till Germany capitulated in May 1945 are well recorded by authors such as William Shirer, Allen Bullock, Trevor Roper, etc., and need not be repeated here. Schikelgruber, the painter, had now become Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer.

Is Arvind Kejriwal a potential Hitler? The answer is a categorical NO. Is he a demagogue? The answer is an emphatic Yes. Does he want to create a dictatorship? The answer is a somewhat reluctant No because there is a long way to go between being the Chief Minister of a Union Territory and the undisputed leader of India, not a Hitler but certainly a potential Indira Gandhi of the days of the Emergency. Even that is bad enough, because Barkha Dutt’s interview did give glimpses of the innate megalomania and extent of low cunning of Arvind Kejriwal. One is unable to resist the temptation of referring to Kejriwal’s early years as an officer of the Indian Revenue Service who did his best to stay on in Delhi or its vicinity while his colleagues were shunted out to distant places. One is aware of the fact that he took two years study leave and did not fulfill his obligation of serving the government for at least three years on return from study leave. He also sat on the notice given to him in this behalf by government and almost a year later he suddenly took out the paper and flourished it in a public meeting addressed by Anna Hazare, stating that Government was trying to pressurise him not to participate in Anna’s movement. It is for the reader to decide whether this conduct is ethical.

It is a fact that people in India have increasingly found that in their interface with government, they have become the prey and government functionaries have become predators. This has manifested itself in all pervading corruption with which the average citizen had to contend in even petty matters. This has begun to hurt to an extent where it has almost become life threatening. Gradually public anger is mounting and this factor was clearly identified by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. Where they pioneered a new path was in using public agitation as a means of focusing public anger and thus concentrating the energy which flowed from it. The highly individualistic, personal experience based anger against corruption, switched from the anecdotal and the personal to a public anger which focused on corruption per se. This was all to the good because the hydra-headed monster of corruption had to be killed.

What causes corruption? Corruption of the type one gets in India is a hallmark of, a necessary corollary to, the inevitably natural outcome of a situation in which the executive government has become weak to the point of impotence and the act of governing itself has almost disappeared. In an executive government driven by a complete lack of ideology, a political system in which immediate expediency overtakes principled government, in which power becomes the sole objective instead of being an instrument for promotion of public welfare, the entire system is bound to become corrupt. The purchase of power itself is an act of corruption and in order to do the act one has to use corruption in order to earn money to buy power. This corruption can only be curbed and destroyed if we first make politics itself more principled. Power must no longer remain the end objective, nor should power be used to buy power the next time round. Public welfare must replace personal aggrandisement as the guiding star of politics. If the Aam Aadmi Party is able to achieve this then, of course, it would be a genuine servant of the people and a saviour of the republic. Is that happening?

Instead of looking at systems, both Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal have found the ultimate remedy for corruption, an institution called the Jan Lokpal. The Scandinavian countries thought of on Ombudsman as early as the eighteenth century, but the objective of the Swedish Ombudsman, for example, is to push government towards genuine, people friendly, open governance and not go around punishing persons guilty of corruption. From good government has flowed a corruption free society. China, on the other hand, has a harsh political system in which those who are corrupt face the grave danger of judicial execution. China has probably executed more persons charged with corruption than any other country has even jailed. The emphasis there is on using the penalty of the law as a deterrent, without trying to find out the flaws in the system which permit or even encourage corruption. Therefore, despite a high level of law enforcement, China is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Whom does Kejriwal want to emulate, China or Sweden? The Jan Lokpal looks very Chinese to me.

The way the Delhi Government is functioning there is no attempt to even conceptualise systemic reforms which would reduce the citizen-government interface, make laws, rules and procedures so simple that anyone can understand them, eliminate all delay in administration so that delay cannot be a weapon for extorting money and then trying to ensure that in a time bound, people friendly manner government work flows smoothly and the people who have contact with government are able to get decisions without any delay and, therefore, without harassment and the need to pay a bribe. This needs very systematic analysis of every rule, every procedure, even of the manner in which the official manning a desk works and then setting in place monitoring systems which ensure that the citizen gets quick remedy from a government office. I am not speaking in the air because thirty-six years earlier as the head of Delhi Development Authority (DDA), I practised precisely what I have preached and though everyone likes to view his own work with rosy tinted glasses, I think the jury did decide that in the short period that I was with DDA, the organisation had certainly become more people friendly, more effective and, therefore, less corrupt. For Kejriwal none of these count because it is either the Jan Lokpal or nothing.

To return to Barkha Dutt’s programme, one was disturbed not because there was anything argumentative or hot tempered about it, but rather because the arguments put forward by Arvind Kejriwal to justify himself appeared prima facie unexceptional, the audience reaction was favourable and the manner in which Barkha herself seemed to hang on to every word uttered by Kejriwal signalled agreement. In trying to justify subsidies, Kejriwal explains that it is about Rs. 250 crores which constitutes the power and water subsidy in a budget of Rs. 40,000 crores. Very convincing, till one disaggregates the subsidy from the Delhi budget and adds it to the budget of the power distribution companies. Their budget is not Rs. 40,000 crores, from their earnings has to be deducted the cost of power supply and the amount mentioned by Kejriwal then becomes a very substantial portion of the net available to the power distribution companies. That fact was hidden by Kejriwal from the audience and naturally out of ignorance people applauded him. He mentioned that the Delhi Golf Club only pays a ground rent of Rs. 15 lakh per year, whereas the property is worth thousands of crores. According to Kejriwal, this gives a subsidy of Rs. 1.5 cores per year to each member. The members do not get a share of the capital cost of the land, which had been allotted by the British when New Delhi was under creation and whose value then was only a few thousand rupees. To extrapolate thereon today’s value of land which is very high if the land could be sold and zero if it cannot is unfair and then to claim that each member is being given a subsidy of Rs. 1.5 crores is a not only a jugglery with figures, it is downright deceit in order to win a point. It is like talking about Coalgate and estimating losses of lakhs of crores of rupees without at the same time stating that in many cases if coal had not been allotted, thermal power plants would either come to a halt or new power stations could not be built. When this sort of argument is expanded to a national scale then what comes to mind is the argument given by Hitler about the Jews and the lies told by Goebbels. This is the stuff of which dictatorships are born.

In the ultimate analysis, only that government is good for this country which has the will to govern, creates systems which are people friendly and builds an environment in which people find gainful employment, wealth increases and equity rules the distribution of wealth. Such a society has no place for corruption and corruption will soon end. One suspects that the Jan Lokpal will only be one more agency that the corrupt will have to appease and, therefore, like every other such agency in India, will become a source of corruption. What an irony if a movement which started as a means of ridding society of corruption becomes an agent for creation of an organisation which adds to corruption.

Friday, February 14, 2014

US Reach Out to Modi: Political Insult Should Not be Overlooked

Kanwal Sibal, 
Dean, Centre for International Relations and Diplomacy, VIF

US diplomacy is a cynical mixture of principle and expediency. The world’s foremost power needs to project internationally that its policies are based on certain high principles so that its global hegemony is not seen as resting on raw power alone but has a moral basis. Hence its crusade for democracy, rule of law, human rights and individual enterprise, on which rests its “soft power”. Juggling moral posturing and hard-headed pursuit of national interest often lands the US into contradictions from which opportunism is the only way out.

An immediate illustration of this is the US decision to reach out to BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Since 2005, Modi is not eligible for a US visa under its domestic law for “severe violation of religious freedom”. For the US to unilaterally hold Modi guilty of violating religious freedom, without the Indian legal system concluding that smacks of the usual US imperiousness. The Europeans ended their boycott of Modi months ago, but the US has stubbornly refused to do so until now. If the UK with its respect for rule of law, its large population of Indian origin and conflicting pressures from diverse India-connected lobbies could see the absurdity of ostracising Modi despite the latter being wrung through domestic political and legal processes without proof of guilt, the US has obviously believed their superior legal and moral bench-marks precluded equally sane thinking.

Now that Modi appears to be coasting towards political success in the coming elections, the US ambassador has received the green light to engage him. If the US believes in the democratic process legitimising a political leader, why has it disregarded the fact that Modi has won two legislative elections after 2002? If despite sustained enquiries, police investigations and court proceedings Modi has not been found guilty of the acts of commission and omission imputed to him in the 2002 riots, why has the US treated him as a political pariah for the last eight years? So much for US championship of democracy and the rule of law internationally.

The US obstinacy on Modi has also constituted an interference in India’s internal political affairs, as it took, in effect, sides in the bitter internal debate in India about his conduct during the Gujarat riots. Sections of our own political class have tried to exploit the visa denial as a moral indictment, if nothing else, of the Gujarat Chief Minister. That this class should judge a foreign government’s position on an internal matter more worthy than the political judgment rendered in elections in Gujarat and the legal outcome of our own investigative and judicial instances is unworthy in itself.

The cold-shouldering of Modi also points to the distorting influence on US diplomacy of agenda-driven civil society and religious lobbies. The US Congress is especially vulnerable to them, and because of separation of powers in the US, the administration often acts erratically and arbitrarily under Congressional influence. This places a burden on the international system because the US extends the domestic pressures within its territory to its external relations, pushing others to subscribe to the US world view, its solutions to problems and often its laws.

Naturally, the US reach-out to Modi will be interpreted as signifying that the US now expects a change of government in Delhi and acknowledging his possible ascension to power. The US is belatedly trying to extricate itself from an untenable position; its step should not be given any undue importance as its political impact is highly marginal. Exaggerating its importance will only play into US hands, persuading the Americans that they can take objectionable decisions and retract from them at a moment of their choosing, without paying any price because they are too important to be ignored or penalised. The US ambassador need not be rebuffed, but the political insult administered to Modi should not be overlooked easily or too soon.

Lok Sabha Polls 2014: Why the Congress Vice-President Failed to Bite the Bullet?

Dr. A Surya Prakash, 
Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s interview to Times Now is certainly the most talked about interview broadcast by an Indian television channel in recent times, but the general consensus appears to be that Gandhi botched up the best opportunity that came his way to relate to millions of voters in the run-up to the Lok Sabha poll, which is due in May.

It may take many months and many more interviews for Gandhi to undo the damage, if ever that is possible, but that will put him clearly out of the reckoning for the mega electoral battle of 2014, although the Congress Party remains firmly committed to the idea of projecting him as its candidate for Prime Ministership.

It is indeed unprecedented for a news channel to devote close to 90 minutes for an interview. Few media platforms around the world would offer such time and space to a political leader and this is all the more reason for the disappointment among his supporters for having blown the chance to connect with the people. Thus, far from emerging as the worthy challenger to the formidable Bharatiya Janata Party nominee for Prime Ministership, most commentators agree that Gandhi appeared to be clumsy, lacking in confidence, unprepared, repetitive and out-of-depth on current political issues. Gandhi seemed to display his inadequacies for the top job and signaling his eagerness to run away from the battle. In short, what came through in his much publicized first television interview was his unwillingness to confront the truth (on the anti-Sikh riots and on issues of corruption), his lack of commitment to the idea of ushering in a moral and ethical framework for politics (when asked about cleaning up the system of party funding) and the lack of courage to change the rotten system, although he perpetually offers lip sympathy to this idea.

This interview comes within weeks of the All India Congress Committee session in New Delhi in which he declined to pick up the gauntlet and allow his party to anoint him its Prime Ministerial candidate.

Ever since the BJP anointed Narendra Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate last September, Congress leaders have tied themselves in knots whenever they were confronted with the question as to whether Rahul Gandhi would be their candidate for the top office. Since every opinion poll put Modi way ahead of Gandhi or anybody else in the Congress Party, Congress leaders were afraid of pitting their Vice-President against Modi and therefore began offering unconvincing explanations for the same. They argued that India did not have a presidential form of government and therefore a Lok Sabha election cannot be a contest between individuals. They said the Congress was opposed to the personality cult and that it did not ride on the shoulders of one individual. This argument seemed laughable, coming from a party that sought votes initially in the name of Jawaharlal Nehru and thereafter in the name of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and even today remains solely anchored to the Nehru-Gandhi family. Therefore, nobody was willing to buy the argument that it did not encourage personality cult and that it banked on its long history and collective leadership.

Party leaders also offered the spurious argument that in the Congress party, the Prime Ministerial candidate was never announced ahead of the polls and that the Prime Ministerial was elected by the Congress parliamentary party. This may be technically correct but has no merit. Indira Gandhi was the incumbent Prime Minister when she opted for early Lok Sabha elections in 1971 and Rajiv Gandhi was the incumbent Prime Minister when parliament elections were held after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. Therefore, on both occasions there was never any need to state the obvious – that they would head the government after elections. Similarly, Indira Gandhi was the unchallenged leader of her party at the time of the Lok Sabha election in December, 1980.

However, strangely, after the Congress party received a big drubbing in the recent state assembly elections, members of the Congress Party changed their tune and began demanding that Mr. Gandhi be anointed the Prime Ministerial candidate. This clamour for Rahul as PM reverberated often during the AICC session at Talkatora Stadium a fortnight ago. Surprisingly, leaders of the Congress Party who were promoting such sycophancy forget all the arguments they were advancing some time ago against making Rahul Gandhi the PM candidate.

The change in tune was prompted by the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party and the attraction that it holds for urban youth in the country. Congress members feel that Gandhi is projected as the PM candidate, it will be a major attraction for the youth and the young and new voters will flock to the party.
Members of the Congress Party want to make this tactical change because 2014 is unlike 1971, 1980 or 1984. This Lok Sabha election is a different ball game. The incumbent Prime Minister has declared that he will not seek office again. The BJP has fielded Narendra Modi, a man who is seen as a decisive leader, for Prime Ministership and even the Aam Aadmi Party is projecting Arvind Kejriwal for that office.

A majority of Congress workers believe that in the changed circumstances, Rahul Gandhi must accept the challenge. However, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty thinks differently. They know that the Congress Party will be routed in the coming election and members of this family never want to accept responsibilities that will expose their limitations. Senior leaders of the party who form a kind of security ring around members of this family, also try to shield the Nehru-Gandhis from criticism when the party performs poorly. That is why, although Rahul Gandhi lead the campaign in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in the last round of assembly elections, Congress leaders were quick to blame the party’s dismal performance on other factors and state leaders and even claim that Gandhi’s engagement with the elections was only minimal.

Rahul Gandhi’s electoral record is dismal. He has failed to enthuse voters across the country. The party has failed miserably despite his vigorous campaign in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The biggest blow has been in the Nehru-Gandhi family’s pocket borough – the Lok Sabha constituencies of Amethi, Rae Bareli and Sultanpur. The party won just two assembly seats in the last assembly election. In the few states where the party has done well, the reasons lie elsewhere. In the Karnataka assembly election, the Congress won a majority last year because of the split in the BJP.

All this has only added to Rahul Gandhi’s woes. He continues to have a poor rating among the electorate because of a variety of reasons. The first reason is his lack of courage to take a strong line on any issue, be it corruption, women’s safety or national security. Following the Nirbhaya incident in December, 2012 when the entire country was demanding a strong anti-rape law, Gandhi virtually went underground. Nobody knew where he was and what his views were. Similarly, when Uttarakhand was struck by flash floods, he was holidaying in Europe. His reluctance to take a strong stand against corruption is now well-known. Although there has been a clamour for a strong anti-corruption law since April, 2011, Rahul Gandhi has generally ducked the issue or come up with silly actions or comments. He was ridiculed by people for the absurd manner in which he tore up the ordinance proposed by the Manmohan Singh government to give relief to tainted MPs and MLAs.

Another reason why Rahul Gandhi’s ratings are low is because of his inconsistency on every major issue. He once declared that corruption was a very complex issue and that there were no easy solutions. He is also given to making inane statements. He once told an interviewer that he could have become Prime Minister at the age of 25, but he declined because he “did not want to shout at his seniors”! On another occasion he claimed that the Babri structure would never have come down if a member of his family was the Prime Minister. He however could not explain how close to 3000 Sikhs were killed in a barbaric pogrom when his father was Prime Minister. Last year, when he was appointed Vice-President of his party, he said his mother told him power was like poison. If that be so, why do the Nehru-Gandhis take copious doses of it? Also, if that be so, why did he accept the office of party Vice-President? Prior to that, while addressing the youth in Mumbai, he claimed that most politicians came from privileged political families, like himself, and that he would like to change that. But, today, he is the one calling the shots in the Congress Party and recently, he has appointed Sachin Pilot as President of the Rajasthan Congress Party. Similarly, it was Jyotiraditya Scindia who led the party’s campaign in Madhya Pradesh in the recent assembly election. All this only betrays a confused mind which does not know which way to go.

After hearing these statements, the people have realized that the words uttered by him have no meaning whatsoever. It is just vacuous prose meant to evoke praise from sycophants in the party. Also, people have realized that he is maladjusted to the democratic process and he often speaks like the scion of a royal family and this has put off a lot of people. Rahul’s failure to bring in the votes has resulted in growing pressure within the party to bring Priyanka Vadra into the campaign. She is seen as having much more charisma and the ability to put up a good fight.

The recent AICC session must be viewed in this background. The message from the AICC session is loud and clear – that Rahul Gandhi is firmly in the saddle as the leader of the party. But, he is reluctant to be anointed the Prime Ministerial candidate. Mr. Gandhi delivered a hard hitting speech at the AICC to enthuse party workers. Much effort went into that speech, but his reluctance to be named the PM candidate, citing constitutional reasons was unconvincing. Since Rahul Gandhi has his own team and he will be spearheading the party’s campaign in 2014, his opposition to his projection as the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate despite such a loud clamour by members of his party, will be seen as cowardice. His reluctance to pick up the gauntlet reminds one of Uttara Kumara, that character in the Mahabharata who keeps threatening the enemy verbally within his palace precincts, but runs away from the battle field when he sees the strong line-up of the enemy.
He obviously wants to duck this election so that he is not blamed for the party’s debacle and await better days, may be in 2019. The talk that Rahul is looking at 2019 and not 2014 was started by sycophants in the party soon after Narendra Modi’s anointment as the BJP’s PM candidate. Actually, these sycophants began working towards non-projection of Rahul Gandhi as PM candidate last September itself.

Gandhi has offered many explanations at the AICC as to why he is unready for the challenge. He offered similar reasons in the television interview as well. He claimed that MPs elect the PM and the Constitution demands this. But, none of this will wash. The people are wise enough to know the truth. Gandhi’s decision to shy away from a direct contest with Narendra Modi is only the latest example of his lack of courage. This will remain his single biggest failing and prevent him from emerging as a popular leader.

Disarrayed Dialogue: Moderate Taliban reach out to Real Taliban in Pakistan

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

After months of to-ing and fro-ing on a clear, cogent and coherent policy and strategy to combat the ‘Mother of all Problems” in Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pulled yet another surprise on his countrymen by announcing a last ditch attempt to hold a dialogue with the Taliban. Two earlier behind-the-scene attempts by the Nawaz Sharif government to bring the Taliban to the talks table – the first through Major Amir and Harkatul Mujahideen chief Fazlur Rehman Khalil and the second through some clerics – had never really got off the ground. Meanwhile, a sudden spike in Taliban attacks seemed to stiffen the back of the Pakistan army which carried out retaliatory attacks against suspected ‘bad’ Taliban targets in North Waziristan (NWA) using helicopter gunships and jet fighter aircraft. The general impression that was gaining ground was that the Pakistani state, especially the Army, was gearing up to take the fight to the Taliban and perhaps even launch either a full scale or a targeted operation in ‘Terror Central’ i.e. North Waziristan.

The Taliban sympathisers in Pakistan had been put on the back-foot by the growing public opinion in favour of a military operation against Taliban safe havens in NWA. The elusive political consensus for launching such an operation seemed finally at hand with even Taliban sympathisers like Imran Khan declaring that his party would stand with the army if an operation was launched. Even the Taliban were convinced about an impending military assault and in order to forestall it they suddenly started sending signals that they were open to holding talks with the government. In the days leading up to Nawaz Sharif’s much anticipated policy statement in Parliament on tackling Taliban terrorism, a series of statements were issued by the Taliban spokesmen expressing their willingness to hold ‘meaningful talks’ with the government.

But with ministers engaging in tough talk in public, it was expected that Nawaz Sharif would end his government’s dithering and go on the offensive against the Taliban. Alas, that wasn’t to be. Making a sharp about-turn, Nawaz Sharif once again opted for the talks tack and announced a four man committee to hold negotiations with the Taliban. With Nawaz Sharif having played into their hands, the Taliban were quick to grab the opportunity offered to them on a platter. They let a couple of days pass just so as to not betray their delight at the turn of events and then magnanimously announced their own five-man negotiating team and also a 10 man committee to oversee, supervise, guide and monitor the dialogue with the government.

The decision to give talks another chance has come as a shot in the arm for the Taliban supporters who have capitalised on this opportunity to push their sinister agenda and grotesquely morph the public discourse and debate from one centred on countering terrorism to one focussed on enforcing Shariah (Islamic law) in the country. Suddenly, those demanding action against the Taliban have been put on the defensive. With the depredations of the Taliban being explained away as the struggle for transforming Pakistan into an Islamic utopia with Shariah as supreme law, those opposing the Taliban can mount only a muted opposition to the Taliban tactics, not to their objectives. Whether or not they agree with Shariah, everybody has to pay lip service to it because not doing so is like giving an open invitation to murder.

Regardless of who the government nominated as its negotiators, once the negotiation gets centred around Shariah, as they are likely to because the Taliban have proclaimed this to be their ultimate goal, the table will tilt in favour of the Taliban. Although this is bad enough, what has added to the sense of disquiet is the fact that the negotiations will not be taking place between those who take a more nuanced and moderate view of what is Shariah, and those who want to stuff a literal and stone-age version of Shariah down the throats of the people; the negotiations will actually be taking place between a set of moderate Taliban (i.e. the government nominated committee) and hard-line or real Taliban (i.e. the Taliban nominated committee).

Out of the four members on the government committee, three – Major Amir, Irfan Siddiqui and Rustam Shah Mohmand – are known to be either closet Taliban or have publicly taken positions that represent, or at least favour, the Taliban and jihadist cause. The fourth – Rahimullah Yusufzai – has never really come out unequivocally against the Taliban in a way that he could be labelled as someone opposed to them. In short, they all have Islamist leanings. As far as the Taliban nominees are concerned, it gets even worse. Maulana Samiul Haq not only openly claims to be the father of the Taliban but also has ‘swung both ways’ (pun intended) because before he became the Taliban representative he was approached by the government to intercede on its behalf with the Taliban. Maulana Abdul Aziz of the Lal Masjid fame has known Al Qaeda links and has issued fatwas against reading funeral prayers for soldiers who died fighting the Taliban. Prof Ibrahim is a Jamaat Islami leader which has openly advocated and defended the Taliban and functioned as the political face of Al Qaeda. Imran Khan and Kifayatullah, who have begged off from the Taliban committee have also been espousing the Taliban cause. Incidentally, five out of the seven negotiators from both sides are Pashtuns, one (Irfan Siddiqui) is a Punjabi and one, (Abdul Aziz) is from a Baloch tribe settled in Punjab.

The ideological predilection, orientation and affinity of the negotiators from both sides have practically put the Taliban in the driving seat as far as the dialogue is concerned. More than the Pakistani state’s narrative, it is the Taliban narrative and demands that are dominating the discourse. Already, by appearing to go on its knees in the quest for a dialogue with the Taliban, the government had conceded valuable space to the adversary. Compounding the mistake, it appointed negotiators who tend to speak the language of the other side instead of that of the home side. Members of the government team have already weakened their sides negotiating position by providing an alibi to the Taliban on one of the implicit but critical red-lines laid down by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his parliament speech i.e. talks and terror cannot happen together.

Instead of holding the Taliban feet to fire on the issue of terror attacks, the government team members have been holding forth on why such attacks might continue to happen because groups opposed to the negotiations might try to sabotage the dialogue by launching terror strikes. Quite asides the fact that this is exactly the sort of alibi Pakistanis use with India when they conveniently wash their hands off terrorist outrages in India by blaming them on ‘non-state actors’, buying into this sort of explanation amounts to allowing the Taliban ‘plausible deniability’ even before the formal start of negotiations. In other words, the Taliban can use shadowy groups to continue with their grisly task. This is exactly what has happened in the case of the suicide attack on a Peshawar restaurant frequented by Shias. The Taliban denied any responsibility for the attack and distanced themselves from the Jundullah which first claimed responsibility. Incidentally, Jundullah is a known affiliate of the Taliban. A day later, a group claiming to be TTP (Peshawar) claimed responsibility, but not a peep has come from either the government team, or the Taliban or even the Taliban committee members who were busy blaming India and US for the Peshawar attack.

One of the government’s primary objectives behind holding a dialogue was that it would bring a halt to the wave of terror attacks and this would in turn create space for some sort of a political settlement. Although the whole premise of a political settlement with a group like the Taliban with millenarian objectives is rather far-fetched, there is the attendant problem of who to negotiate with to usher in peace. This acquires even more salience in light of the alibi, or if you will ‘deniability’, that has been granted to the TTP, which is the umbrella organisation of most of the 60 odd terror groups operating in Pakistan. The point is that if the TTP cannot ensure that there won’t be any terror strike during the negotiations then what purpose will be served by talking to it. In essence, if the TTP can’t stop the violence then it is just one of the groups and not the only group with which talks will have to be held. This is where the confusion gets further confounded. In principle, the government has declared it is ready to talk to any of the groups that is interested in holding a dialogue with the state. And yet, the entire focus has been on holding a dialogue with just the TTP. In fact, in order to woo the TTP to the negotiating table, the government is reported to have shelved the tentative dialogue it was purportedly holding with some smaller groups. But if the TTP cannot, or as the case may be, will not, deliver on a cessation of terror attacks then the entire exercise is quite futile.

The continuation of violence is only one part of the conundrum. Even though peace in itself is a laudable objective, there is no clarity on the terms on which peace will be achieved. Except for a pro forma reference to holding the talks within the parameters of the constitution (which means nothing if Samiul Haq is to be taken seriously when he says that the Taliban are fighting for upholding and implementation of the constitution which according to him is being violated by the government!), everything else is up in the air. Even the negotiators of both sides are not clear on what they are going to talk about. Not only are the negotiators speaking in different voices on what they think their mandate is, they are also having their own take on the issues that will be coming up for discussion. For instance, Samiul Haq and Ibrahim have been saying that their role will be that of mediators. In fact, Samiul Haq has said that his committee represents neither the Taliban nor the government and will protect the interests of both sides. Abdul Aziz, on the other hand, has been waxing eloquent about how the main issue will be imposition of Shariah, which even Samiul Haq and Ibrahim agree will be the bottom-line of the Taliban.

On the government side, the negotiators have already defined what according to them will be the central points that the Taliban will raise – among other things, release of prisoners, withdrawal of army from FATA, reparations and compensation for damage caused by military operations, general amnesty (including for the foreign fighters). Rustam Shah Mohmand has even gone to the extent of saying that Shariah was not an issue for the Tribals, as though they will be negotiating not with the Taliban but with the Tribals. Yusufzai has also listed these same items around which negotiations will take place. In a sense, by anticipating what the tactical or transactional demands of the Taliban will be, the government negotiators seem to be creating a climate for conceding them, more so because they have also pointed out the likely objections from the army to accepting these demands. By making public what they think will be the initial demands of the Taliban (which they suggest will have to be conceded if the peace process has to progress) they have confronted the Pakistani state – both the government and the military – with a grave dilemma. If these demands are conceded, it will embolden and strengthen the Islamist insurgents; if they are not, then the whole process will collapse. What is more, these demands could drive a wedge between the civilian government and the military if the former is inclined to concede these demands and the latter is opposed to them.

There are also serious doubts harboured on both sides about the mandate and authority that the nominated committees exercise. Although the government has declared that its committee is fully empowered to negotiate with the Taliban, the negotiators on the other side have raised questions how empowered the government committee really is. Similar questions have been raised by the government committee about its Taliban counterpart. While the Taliban have ‘reposed’ their confidence in the people they have nominated, they have also announced a 10 member committee comprising top members of the Taliban Shura to oversee, supervise, monitor and issue directions to the people who will be directly negotiating with the government. If anything, this is a clear message (if one was needed) of the subservient and subordinate nature of the committee that will negotiate with the government.

Although people like Samiul Haq and Abdul Aziz might pretend to be ideologues of the Taliban and the Jamaat Islami may behave as the political face and over-ground spokesperson of the Al Qaeda/Taliban combine, the TTP has really shown them their place. Not only have these stalwarts, who assumed that they would be riding on Taliban shoulders into power which has otherwise eluded them, been disabused of these foolish notions, their stature and status has been reduced to that of mere errand boys. The same was the message for Imran Khan and Maulana Fazlur Rehman (through his party man, Kifayatullah), who probably understood it and did not become part of the Taliban committee. But people like Samiul Haq, Abdul Aziz and the Jamaat Islami, in their desperation to regain some relevance have ended up as useful fools in the hands of the Taliban who will dispense them in the rubbish bin of history once they have served their purpose.

Clearly then, this dialogue is going nowhere. This begs the question why Nawaz Sharif decided to try this tack when even he would have known the minefield he was walking into. There are probably three or four explanations behind this decision. The first reason is purely personal. Initiating hostilities would make him and his family a target of attack. He has already backed off from the execution of a couple of Taliban prisoners after he was warned that it would make the Sharif family fair game for the Taliban. The second reason was that any operation would result in retaliation in Punjab. This he wants to avoid at all costs. After all, if the ‘controlling authority’ of the state of Pakistan becomes unsafe, all of Sharif’s plans to resurrect the economy and cement his political base would come a cropper. Third, he did not want to alienate his core right-wing and conservative constituency that has an ambivalent attitude towards the Taliban and other sundry Islamists.

Although before the dialogue started, even his core constituency was leaning on the side of a military operation, Sharif knows how fickle this sentiment is. The moment the bombs would start going off in Lahore, Faisalabad and other parts of Punjab, a clamour would start to talk to the Taliban. What is more, if things went wrong during the operation (as they inevitably would) and civilian casualties started mounting, the Taliban supporters would start beating the drums to stop the operation. Nawaz Sharif would also keep the Lal Masjid crisis in mind where first the media shouted itself hoarse demanding an operation, and after the operation was launched it switched sides and started breast beating about the casualties caused by the operation. Fourth, Nawaz Sharif is somewhat chary of using the army in a big way because of the fear that it might tilt the civil-military balance in favour of the latter. Finally, Nawaz Sharif cannot afford to ignore the impact that such an operation would have on Pakistan's game-plan in Afghanistan where the situation is already in a flux what with the withdrawal of ISAF looming large on the horizon. The last thing he would want is to precipitate matters and create a situation that sucks the Pakistan army even deeper into the quagmire by making the Taliban of all hues close ranks and turn their guns against Pakistan. It is another matter that this is exactly what would happen once the US and ISAF troops withdraw, but that is something that is still some months away.

As far as the Taliban are concerned, the dialogue works to their advantage every which way and the longer they can carry on with this charade, the more they stand to gain. The way the Taliban see it, as the US drawdown takes place in Afghanistan, their allies (some would say principals, i.e. the Afghan Taliban) are expected to start controlling large swathes of territory. Neither the Afghan nor the Pakistani Taliban would therefore like to get bogged down in a scrap with the Pakistani forces at this stage. In other words, the Taliban don’t want to muddy the waters just yet. The closer the TTP can push the possible military operation to the withdrawal date of the Americans, the more difficult and complicated it will become for Pakistani forces to move against them. What is more, the TTP would be better placed to retreat into sanctuaries under Afghan Taliban control inside Afghanistan with the foreign forces withdrawing. Of course, the Pakistanis who have put a lot in the store of their ‘strategic allies’ – the Afghan Taliban – believe that once these people start operating openly inside Afghanistan, they will squeeze the TTP and not just deny them any safe haven but push them back into Pakistan where the Pakistani forces can eliminate them. It is another matter that the Pakistanis have a inherent quality for miscalculating and misreading situations and then regretting at leisure.

By entering into negotiations, not only have the Taliban delayed the military operation (and in the process retained their safe havens in not just North Waziristan but also other areas in the Tribal Areas), they have also demolished the consensus that was developing in favour of exercising the military option. Just when the Pakistani state and society appeared to be closing ranks against the Taliban, the talks have once again widened the cleavages within the society and between the civilian leadership and the military. As mentioned earlier, they have managed to twist the debate from terrorism to Islam and sowed ideological confusion among their opponents. What is worse, the dialogue would certainly have an impact on the morale of the troops who will bristle at the spectacle of the Taliban negotiating with the Pakistani state not just as equals but also from a position of strength. The fact that the Pakistan army was all keyed up to move into NWA and had to stand down at the last moment is unlikely to go down well among the rank and file. Motivating troops for an operation that is likely to be somewhat long drawn out takes a little doing. The task becomes even more complicated when there are confused signals that are being sent about the adversary the troops are supposed to fight.

Nawaz Sharif would of course be seeing things differently. According to his calculation, if the talks collapse, it would provide a valid justification to launch military operations. But then the question arises that if 50000 casualties are not enough of a justification, how will public opinion crystallise in favour of the military option just because the dialogue breaks down. Chances are therefore that Nawaz Sharif will end up with the worst of both worlds. Not only will the talks will fail but Nawaz Sharif will also be accused of engaging the Taliban in bad faith and not doing enough to ensure the success of the dialogue. Far from public opinion consolidating in favour of use of force, it will not just remain divided but might even fragment more than it already is.

All this presumes that the Taliban version of Shariah will not be acceptable to the Pakistani state. But given Nawaz Sharif’s Islamist proclivities, it is entirely possible that he might toy with the idea of conceding many if not all of the Islamist demands. This way he can anoint himself Amir-ul-Momineen. Not that this will end the violence. On the contrary, this will lead to a new round of conflict with the Taliban who swear loyalty to Mullah Omar – after all, it isn’t possible to have two Amir-ul-Momineens. Even if Nawaz Sharif resists the temptation of becoming Amir-ul-Momineen, he will satisfy his Islamist urges by further Islamising the laws in Pakistan. He could then use this to mobilise the public behind him by taking the stand that he has done what was being demanded and yet the Taliban remain recalcitrant. In other words, the war will however still have to be fought because at the end of the day it is all about a power grab. But then this will be a war between two groups of Taliban – the faux version led by Nawaz Sharif and the real version fighting under Mullah Omar’s banner.