Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Some Imperatives of Government

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

The present government at the Centre has just completed four and a half months in office. This is too short time to judge the performance of any government and, therefore, an effort will be made to ensure that this paper is in no way judgemental. However, before proceeding any further in the matter one could start by considering one or two basic issues. One view is that the triumph of the ruling party, BJP and the Prime Minister is the evidence of disgust of the people with the Congress Party and greater acceptability of BJP. A more objective view is probably that for over thirty years in our Westminster type of democracy which mandates the rule of the party which enjoyed a majority in the House of the People and, therefore, its confidence, we have not had any party winning a majority of the seats in Parliament. Therefore, we have had coalition rule in which either BJP or the Congress has been the lead party but in which a number of regional parties have exercised a say disproportionate to the strength of the party concerned in Parliament. This has virtually led to the adoption of a news phrase in our parliamentary lexicon, “compulsions of coalition”. This has become a stock phrase for finding excuses for the ruling coalition to provide weak government, indecisive government or even downright bad government in which coalition members have been given a free hand to do virtually almost anything they like, including indulge in the worst kind of corrupt practices. This was a situation which was no longer acceptable to the people of India and, therefore, in the 2014 general elections the people decided to give a party an absolute majority in Parliament so that it would no longer offer compulsions of coalition as an excuse for bad government. The party in this case happens to be the BJP.

The country entered the 2014 elections under strange political conditions. The Left, after its crushing defeat in West Bengal and Kerala, was in disarray, a process that had begun even at the time of the 2009 election. In two major States in the Hindi speaking belt, U.P. and Bihar, the Congress had totally marginalised itself and the space occupied by it in what is called in popular political parlance as “secularism”, had been occupied by such regional political outfits as BSP, Samajwadi Party, JDU and RJD. The last three named parties claimed socialist origins of the Lohia model, but every government of these parties proved to be highly parochial, caste based and corrupt. In the South, especially in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, local regional parties dominated the political scene and in West Bengal the Trinamool Congress, whose origins might have been rooted in the Congress, set itself apart from both the Left Front and the Congress. All this considerably weakened the Congress which, under normal circumstances, should have been the only national level party that should have had all India ramifications. Organisationally the Congress had moved very far from it is grassroots based district, State and national structure and had become excessively centred in the persona of Indira Gandhi at first, with Sanjay Gandhi as the driving force, then Indira Gandhi supported by Rajiv Gandhi, followed by Rajiv Gandhi and on his assassination, by Sonia Gandhi and now her children, Rahul and Priyanka. A political party totally dependent on a single person or family loses its base in the field, has a weakened cadre of party workers, the State leadership becomes excessively dependent on central guidance and the Congress Working Committee, as a result of this, soon became a coterie of sycophants rather than a collective decision making body which took policy decisions and determined programmes on the basis of ideology, principles or a clear understanding of the ground situation. To that extent the Congress went into the hustings in an enfeebled state further aggravated by the fact that for ten years the United Progressive Alliance government over which the Congress presided was led by a Prime Minister who was personally shy and reticent, inadequately aggressive to control disparate coalition partners and, therefore, with a public image of indecisiveness in governance.

The BJP which joined fray with the Congress was a fighting outfit. Because of its RSS background BJP has always had a reasonably strong field cadre and in this it is somewhat similar to the Left Front. The spiritual guide of BJP is undoubtedly RSS which in the matter of politics enjoys the advantage of standing outside the political party and, therefore, not involved in its day-to-day management whilst, simultaneously, being in a position to give the party directives which would be difficult to reject. It is said that RSS advised BJP to retire its old leadership which suffered from the twin disadvantages of advanced age and a track record of an orthodoxy which failed to deliver electoral results. Despite resistance from the old guard, including LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, the party did sideline the old senior leadership and instead brought forward into the limelight a younger and more vigorous group. It also decided to project Narendra Modi as the potential candidate for appointment as Prime Minister and it highlighted him as a person who, because of his track record of government in Gujarat, could give purposive government to India if given a chance. Despite the horror of the neoliberals, self-proclaimed secularists and progressives, Luddite activist groups and the socialist fringe, Narendra Modi was able to project the party and himself as a definite alternative to UPA in general and Congress in particular. Throughout the election campaign he was focused, energetic and articulate and the Congress, by contrast, gave a fine imitation of Don Quixote on his spavined horse, Rosinante and with his clown of a squire, Sancho Panza. The contrast was so stark that the electorate gave an absolute majority to BJP and a thumping majority to the National Democratic Alliance. After thirty years India once again had a single party having an absolute majority in Parliament and great expectations have been aroused that we shall now have a government which will actually govern.

The paper started with a statement that it will not be judgemental because it too early to judge. Therefore, in case an element of judgement or criticism does creep in one apologises in advance. The idea is to make suggestions which could help government in providing what the people expect of it and certainly the objective is not to decry what government is doing. However, five years from now the electorate will certainly sit in judgement. Government will clearly have to come forward with an agenda of governance in practical chunks which address well ordered priorities because not everything can be delivered within five years. The programme has to be more long term than that. Looking at the failure of the previous government it would be safe to conclude that the failure is on three fronts. The first is the complete lack of a policy framework of governance within which government is expected to act and perform. UPA had no such framework and, therefore, as situations arose its reactions were spasmodic rather than designed and soon this degenerated into almost totally populism. The worst enemy of good government is populism. The second failure was in implementation in that no clear-cut policies were ever framed, laying down priorities and procedures whereby implementation of progammes was effective, properly monitored and, therefore, had an impact on the polity and ecology. The third failure was in the delivery systems, which had been weakened, politicised and browbeaten to a stage where civil servants had stopped taking decisions, dragged their feet in implementation and stopped giving advice or taking a stand where necessary One small example of this is that if the Secretary and senior officers of the Department of Communications had told the minister categorically that his orders would be implemented only after clearance by the Cabinet or an empowered group of ministers, there would have been no 2 G Spectrum scam. The policy relating to spectrum allocation was not in itself faulty but in changing norms of implementation the minister was in error, this led to subsequent audit objections and the government did not have satisfactory answers. The failure of the Secretary of the Ministry to insist on adherence to the Rules of Business of the executive government was as responsible for the scam as the alleged cupidity of the minister and the interested parties. A delivery system is only as good as the persons who man it and if the personnel are not correctly selected, are not motivated to work according to set rules and procedures, even though the orders are illegal or improper and are not protected for doing their work bona fide, civil service morale breaks and the delivery system becomes ineffective. Once again this is not a judgement on the UPA government but rather a caution for the present government about how it should function.

Government must be very clear about its priorities, especially because in a democracy any change would be evolutionary and not revolutionary. The old government also took decisions in a democratic environment and whereas these decisions can be changed over time, they cannot be suddenly abandoned. One example of this is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which is administered under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. NREGS is a purely populist scheme because it replaced the old programmes of either community asset creation or individual oriented development programmes by a scheme which aimed at muster roll based employment which would give every eligible villager a guarantee of one hundred days employment per year. Every muster based scheme is open to corruption and NREGS has not been an exception. Unlike the integrated watershed development and management programme which took up micro watersheds for development, brought barren areas under pasture and afforestation, treated all hill slopes for soil conservation and subjected all rivulets and nallahs to treatment which led to water conservation and harvesting, thus substantially raising the level of ground water and providing adequate fuel and fodder to villagers, NREGS only emphasised employment, regardless of how wasteful the expenditure be. However, through this programme government is pumping about rupees seventy thousand crores into the rural economy every year and if government were to suddenly abandon it this would lead to extreme rural unrest. Therefore, whereas government must bring the programme back to its original form of creating permanent village assets, this would have to be done by restructuring the programme rather than abandoning it. This example is specifically given both to highlight the problem of changing the old government’s policies overnight and at the same time showing how even the old programmes offer enormous opportunities for positive change.

The new government has started well by the Prime Minister sending a direct message to civil servants that they must function effectively and that they will be fully supported by the government. This is not enough. Government is organised into ministries and departments in which the civil service head is the Secretary. There are too many of them and as a part of administrative restructuring there should be a drastic reduction in the number of secretaries. The ideal would be if we could reduce the number of secretaries to about twenty, but let us at least aim for the present at reducing them from the one hundred plus to about fifty. Each ministry should have a Secretary, if there are departments under it they can have an additional Secretary with wide ranging powers and there should be similar pruning at the level of Joint Secretary and below. Within a ministry or department there has to be maximum delegation of powers and the lowest competent functionary should be encouraged to take decisions at his level instead of passing every file upwards. The Secretary must be made directly responsible for the performance of all these officers and the ministry as a whole, whilst being told specifically that under the Rules of Business it is his responsibility to ensure that there is adherence to rules and that if there is an impropriety he must bring it to the notice of the minister and, if necessary, to that of the Cabinet Secretary who may then decide to brief the Prime Minister. Officers must be protected against political whimsicality. Each Secretary should be told that he is Secretary to Government and not merely to a Ministry and that for the purpose of his ministry he will be deemed to be the Civil Service Advisor of both the Minister and the Prime Minister. The head of the Civil Service is the Cabinet Secretary and he is responsible for coordinating the functioning of various ministries. This coordination function must be emphasised and strengthened and the office of the Cabinet Secretary must be cloaked with necessary authority to ensure that departments function effectively. He is the key functionary and, as is reported, the weakening of his authority by centralising the powers in the Prime Minister’s Office is reducing his effectiveness as a coordinator.

Narendra Modi is said to favour a very strong Prime Minister’s Office. The PMO is not a department of government, nor a coordinator of government, certainly not according to Rules of Business of the Executive Government. PMO is designed to provide secretarial assistance to the Prime Minister so that he can effectively discharge his duty as the head of government. The PMO cannot perform either a coordinating role or act as a super secretariat giving direct orders to departmental secretaries. Every Prime Minister starting from Indira Gandhi downwards, with the exception of Morarji Desai, has tried to create a larger than life PMO and the present Prime Minister is doing exactly that. One can but caution him that to the extent that this cuts across normal governmental practices and procedures it renders both the Cabinet Secretary and the Departmental Secretary ineffective and this is antithetical to good government. What we need is interlocking accountability, with every senior officer being accountable for the actions of his juniors and every Secretary being personally accountable for the performance of his Ministry. The ultimate accountability has to vest in the Cabinet Secretary and in order that interlocking accountability may actually function the officer in whom accountability vests must be armed with the authority to ensure compliance with his orders and directions. That is the direction in which the Prime Minister must move if he is to have a delivery mechanism which can actually deliver. Civil Service morale must be restored, civil servants rewarded for initiative and good work, lacks of performance or under performance must be penalised, but officers should be given the confidence that government will support them to the hilt for every bona fide action, including bona fide mistakes. In other words, accountability will be within the administrative hierarchy and not to a policeman, unless there is an act of criminality. It is only then that the Civil Service will begin to function as it once did.

The Prime Minister has very rightly stated that employment generation by strengthening the secondary, or manufacturing sector is absolutely essential if India is to progress. Very early after the revolution of 1949 China decided to take the secondary sector route to development and that has paid China rich dividends in terms of GDP growth, the development of a manpower which has industrial skills and discipline, transfer of technology and a huge range of industries which now manufacture almost everything consumed or used throughout the world. Our socialist inhibitions and deep suspicion of foreign investment has held us back and even today there is no shortage of protests against any form of modernisation, induction of foreign capital or location of foreign manufacturing units in India. The latest is the call by the trade unions of railway employees to protest against any foreign direct investment in the railways. Narendra Modi has stated that India welcomes the setting up of industry in the country through even hundred percent foreign investments and he has publicly welcomed manufacturing in India and then selling the product to the world. He must spell out in detail how he will tackle political opposition to this move whilst at the same time addressing certain questions which any foreign investor is bound to ask. Amongst these would be one relating to how a foreign company wanting to set up an industry in India will access land. The State will have to be both a facilitator and a provider in this behalf because no person who is not an Indian citizen, not even an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card holder, may purchase agricultural land, whereas the requirements of industry can only be met by large scale purchase or allotment of land. Then there would be the question of infrastructure, including guaranteed power supply, a transparent tariff system, support infrastructure such as water supply, sewerage, drainage, telecommunications, road and rail connectivity, as also social infrastructure such as health care, education, etc. A foreign investor would like to know what sort of a labour regime he would face and whether a trained labour force would be available which would be amenable, within legitimate trade union practices, to discipline. In China the availability of a disciplined labour force was a major factor in the location of industry by foreigners in that country. A foreign investor would also expect continuity in government policy and he would also like to be assured of a taxation policy which is rational and not liable to sudden change. One expects that government is already mulling over these issues, but if we are to expect fairly early decisions by potential investors government must come out with specific policy statements in this behalf, simultaneously setting up the organisational structures which would enable the policy to be translated into action. Great care will also have to be taken in our federal polity to ensure that the State Governments and Central Government are on the same grid so that a recalcitrant State Government does not, through State legislation or executive action, negate whatever the Centre is trying to do to encourage the “make in India” policy.

Agriculture is a very important part of our economy because it provides employment directly and indirectly to about seventy percent of our population. Because India is a largely ryotwari State in which the tiller of the soil has always been the owner of the land, bhoomiswami farming at a small scale has always been the backbone of our economy. It makes sense to try and build the village economy in a manner such that the basic equilibrium of settlements in India remains undisturbed and massive migration from rural India to urban India is prevented. A strong agricultural economy based on the small, individual farmer is as important to India as is the rapid development of the secondary sector. The primary sector needs investment in terms of power supply, irrigation, capital investment in land improvement, good seed and the technology which would substantially increase the per hectare yield of crops across the board. All weather village connectivity though good roads with mandi and service towns, the growth of a transportation system to move agricultural produce, a strong marketing infrastructure, storage facilities which would enable the farmer to get a good price for his crop because he is not compelled to sell when the harvest is in and the steady all round release of agricultural produce, including fruit and vegetables, into the market, thus bringing about price stabilisation, plus downstream processing for value addition, a well developed credit system, market intelligence, accurate weather forecasting and a very strong research and development base for agriculture are some of the means by which we can have a thriving agricultural sector. These are all matters which can be achieved because in many States, such as the Punjab, much of what has been said can actually be seen on ground. This is one area in which government can very quickly come out with a policy frame which is fairly easy of implementation, can have an immediate impact on the rural economy and can boost agricultural incomes to a level where rural poverty is eradicated.
An educated and skilled population is a sine qua non of development and not only does the Prime Minister appreciate this but has acknowledged it on several occasions. The present approach to human resource development as adopted by the HRD Ministry (one fails to understand why we have renamed the Education Ministry as HRD), with its antiquated thinking, its regulation oriented approach, its inability to take a holistic view of education from preschool to university, its rules and regulations whereby the autonomy of educational institutions is throttled, cannot possibly deliver on any promise that the Prime Minister might make about education and skill development. This ministry needs a leadership in which the minister does completely unorthodox thinking and he is supported by a Secretary and other personnel who are open to ideas and are prepared to make a complete break from the past. It is for the Prime Minister to judge whether the present HRD Minister is capable of doing this, but certainly that Ministry needs substantial review because immediately with the change of government the Minister, Secretary (Higher Education), Additional Secretary (Technical Education) and five Joint Secretaries either retired or were changed. In a way this is an opportunity to break away from the past and bring in people who have the capacity to do such unorthodox thinking that they can actually transform the entire educational scenario. With this, of course, will have to go a radical change in our mental approach to vocational education which we now view as being several degrees lower than normal education, almost as if skills have to be left to the lower strata of society. Actually craftsmanship is essential to the translation of ideas into a product and a master craftsman is a jewel to be preserved and honoured. Let us really honour the ‘ustaad’ because it is he who will transform our dreams to reality and an ITI certificate holder should not be considered less than a polytechnic diploma holder or an university graduate. Each has his own field of operation and skills and within that field each one is as valuable as the others. The Prime Minister must take a lead in this behalf.

India’s approach to science and technology is very strange. We take great pride in our scientists going abroad and as citizens of a foreign country earning kudos for scientific research. Why is that research not possible within India? Is it our pay structure, our failure to give autonomy to scientific establishments, our bureaucratic hierarchical system which is responsible for this? Or is it our audit and vigilance system which is the guilty party? Research actually moves forward through failure, which means that more often than not the money that has been spent on research and experimentation is likely to be lost because the experiment fails. Audit would object to this and the vigilance machinery would look for criminality in the failure. Let us liberate our scientific establishment from the twin horrors of bookish audit and tyrannical vigilance because neither an auditor nor a policeman understands anything about science. Give the scientific establishment generous funding, total autonomy in working and an accountability only to itself, which means that if the head of the establishment certifies that money spent on a failed experiment has been properly spent, no further questions should be asked. It is the lessons learnt from failure and the desire to achieve success which are the twin spurs which drive scientific research and in this behalf the Prime Minister, Government, Parliament and the people must give complete autonomy to scientists. In combination with this we have also to ensure that our major institutes of technology such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Information Technology, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research are given full freedom about what and how they will teach, are given the laboratory space and equipment that they need, are encouraged to do the research, both fundamental and applied, which pushes forward the frontiers of science and technology and to motivate the students to work in India, teach in India, do research in India and manufacture in India. This is a major challenge for the Prime Minister, the Department of Science and Technology and the HRD Ministry.

A tropical country where, because of heat, humidity and a general environment in which every form of life is enabled to grow, including harmful pathogens, micro organisms, etc., will always tend to have potential health problems and it is the job of science and technology to use this as an opportunity for creating systems which negate what is harmful and promote that which is beneficial. That is how penicillin was invented and has proved such a potent fighter of disease. In India we can dramatically improve health care if we take care of drinking water so that water borne diseases are virtually eliminated, effectively ensure vector control so that insect borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, encephalitis, etc., are eradicated, and have a universal immunisation programme which eliminates those diseases which become endemic because the body immune system cannot handle them. We need to improve nutrition standards so that the diseases which attend upon malnutrition are controlled; we need proper sanitation, effective treatment of sewage and garbage collection and disposal which eliminates dirt from the streets. These measures alone will constitute an effective primary health care system. On top of this would be superimposed the formal system of preventive medicine, curative medicine and specialised health care. Where is the blueprint for achieving these objectives which would make India one of the healthiest countries in the world? Government must come out with specific programmes on how, within the foreseeable future, we can achieve a health care target by which there is massive disease control, infant and child mortality is drastically reduced and, therefore, life expectancy sharply rises. India can aim at achieving a life expectancy of at least eighty years and that, too, through the basic fundamental systems of preventive and curative health care. The Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Campaign is a move in the right direction, universalisation of toilets is welcome but now detailed programmes relating to cleanliness, sanitation, safe water supply, etc., must be placed before the people.

Defence is one area which has been neglected. In 1962 we were hammered by the Chinese despite the fact that the Chinese Army itself lacked the equipment and logistical support of a truly modern army. Our army was ill equipped, badly led and its morale had been bled white by political interference. If the Chinese had not given us a solid beating we might have continued in our old ways. 1962 led to a change of leadership in the army and greater professionalisation, together with re-equipment of the armed forces. However, after Rajiv Gandhi was embroiled in the controversy over purchase of the Bofors 155 mm howitzer which, incidentally, is a very fine piece of artillery, our armed forces have virtually not been modernised because every attempt at arms purchase runs into a wall of accusation about possible corruption. The Air Force desperately needs modern weapons platforms to replace its ageing fleet. The army needs modern infantry weapons, artillery and armour, the Strategic Forces need modern missiles and the Navy needs a totally new submarine fleet and a large number of surface craft. Nothing moves. The Prime Minister must announce a new procurement policy in which the Service concerned must make out a convincing case for a particular weapon system. The proposal has to be examined threadbare at the service level, inter-service level, Defence Ministry, Finance Ministry, etc. Once a decision is taken, then the entire budget must be placed at the disposal of the Service Chief concerned. Government should lay down the ground rules for acquisition, but within those rules the acquisition authority or committee, on which there may be representatives of the Defence and Finance Ministry also, should have complete powers to take every decision necessary for speedy acquisition of the system. If there are allegations of corruption, which are bound to be there because the amounts involved are huge and a party which does not achieve success in receiving an order will try and stymie it by making allegations, they should be inquired into separately, if there are guilty parties they must be punished but the process of acquisition should not be stopped because if the system meets the approval of the armed forces then it must be acquired. If we can trust our Service Chiefs to fight our wars and commit their officers and men to a venture which can cost them their lives, can we not trust them enough to buy a rifle, a gun, an aircraft or a ship? If they are that untrustworthy they should never have been made the Chiefs of the respective Services. Any reforms brought about by the Prime Minister to ensure that within given resources our armed forces are equipped to fight tomorrow’s wars would be most welcome.

The Prime Minister has emphasised Centre and State relations and the need for India to work harmoniously so that the Centre and the States pull together for the development of the country. One test of this could be how government handles the Ganga Purification Programme. Let it be remembered that the Ganga has a basin of over one million square kilometers in which forty percent of India’s population lives. By contrast the Thames River has a basin of about 12,500 square kilometers. It took the British more than sixty years to cleanse the Thames. We cannot afford to wait for sixty years to clean the Ganga but we must remember the enormity of the task before us. The matter has been written about separately and one need not elaborate here, but the fact is that largest part of the Ganga flows through U.P., Bihar and West Bengal. The States which contribute water to the Ganga include Madhya Pradesh which through Son, Chambal Betwa, etc., contributes a great deal of water either directly or through the Yamuna. The health of the Ganga in Uttarakhand is also very important because that is where the source of the river lies. Therefore, the Chief Ministers of the contributing States have to be partners with the Prime Minister, even though the Chief Ministers of U.P, Bihar and West Bengal are from parties others than that of the Prime Minister. Cleaning the Ganga cannot be left to the Centre alone and, therefore, the Prime Minister must immediately set up an apex, omnibus, omnipotent group which takes policy decisions relating to the Ganga. On board should be the Chief Ministers of all the States in the Ganga basin and, in particular, the Chief Ministers of U.P, Bihar and West Bengal, not on a proforma basis but as genuine partners who see a common good in the purification of the Ganga. The Prime Minister very rightly said that the Ganga does not have only a religious or emotional connotation. Because forty percent of India’s population lives in the Ganga basin a pure Ganga would have a major impact on the health of this huge population, improve agriculture and transform the economy because of new economic activities which a pure Ganga would encourage.

For actual planning, development, monitoring of work, superintendence, setting up micro structures for sector wise development and subsequent management and maintenance we need an overarching Ganga Development Authority headed by a renowned administrator or a technologist, with representatives of the participating States and with a competent technical and administrative team. It must also have a strong sociological unit which reaches out to people and develops a partnership in which the people are the main force in implementing the programmes for purification, participating long term in keeping the Ganga pure and educating people at large on the very simple steps needed to ensure cleanliness of the river. This has to be a matter of high priority for government because it will lead to time bound purification of the Ganga, improve the economy of the Ganga basin States and be an exercise in Central-State partnership which could be role model for all inter-state issues. It would also bring mutually hostile parties on to the same platform for achieving of common goals and that is the true essence of federalism.

One question remains. India is a huge country, its resources are limited and its problems are myriad. Does the Prime Minister take huge chunks which may be difficult to chew or should he nibble so that at least every bite can be swallowed? This is a difficult question to answer because the balance has to be found between how much to handle at one go so that results can be seen, or little things at a time and this will always be a dilemma. That is why specific priorities have to be laid down, goals and objectives prescribed together with a time limit for achieving them and then, according to these priorities, action being swiftly initiated and implemented so that within the time frame the work is finished. There has to be the mental discipline to stick to the priorities and the timetable and not to be tempted to wander into the desert sands of populism because ultimately populism sinks everything and leads to no results. This calls for extreme focus, a willingness to accept temporary setbacks because it is permanent improvement which is aimed for and the mind is not diverted because of some public outcry. Narendra Modi has shown himself to be a person who sets goals and achieves them. Can he do so in the next five years in the universe that is India? If he can he will be a Prime Minister to be remembered for long. If he cannot, then his picture will be put in a gallery together with the photographs of Manmohan Singh, Dev Gowda and Inder Gujral. Sardar Patel would have opted for the first option.

Published Date: 27th October 2014

The Rise of the Islamic Caliphate: New Threat to Stability in West Asia

Brig Gurmeet Kanwal, 
Visiting Fellow, VIF

New Crisis: Barbarians on the March

After having overrun Mosul and Tikrit in June 2014, the virulently radical Sunni militants of the new "caliphate" headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the so-called Islamic State, appear to be gradually closing in on Baghdad. The ISIS militia, numbering between 20,000 and 30,000, have seized key border crossings with Syria and Jordan and now control a large area straddling the Syria-Iraq border. After capturing Faluja in January 2014, ISIS fighters made rapid progress in advancing along the Euphrates River in Anbar province of Iraq. And, forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) that had captured oil-rich Kirkuk, regarded as the Kurd capital, have been fighting the ISIS for over a month in the Syrian border town of Kobani.

After vacillating for several months and admitting that he had no strategy, President Obama decided to join the fightagainst ISIS by launching air strikes against the militia. The United States has been joined in this endeavour by Australia, Britain, Canada and France and five Arab countries (Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates). So far the air strikes have been only partially effective in military terms, but have succeeded in buying time for the disorganised Iraqi forces to regroup to offer a more cohesive fight. Between 500,000 to one million refugees have been added to the large number of displaced persons already struggling to stay alive in the steaming hot cauldron that is West Asia today.

The newly proclaimed Islamic State, not recognised by any other state as yet, is also called ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria); ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham or Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant); and, Daesh. Its leadership’s ideology. Is so primitive and barbaric that Osama bin Laden is reported to have declined to have anything to do with them when they had approached him. The video-taped beheading of three innocent hostages has exemplified its brutality. Al-Baghdadi has openly proclaimed the intention of ISIS to expand eastwards to establish the Islamic state of Khorasan that will include Afghanistan, the Central Asian Republics, eastern Iran and Pakistan. The final battle, Ghazwa-e-Hind – a term from Islamic mythology – will be fought to extend the caliphate to India. An ISIS branch has already been established in the Indian Sub-continent. It is led by Muhsin al Fadhli and is based somewhere in Pakistan.Some factions of the TTP have already declared their allegiance to al-Baghdadi. Afghanistan's new National Security Adviser, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, has said that the presence of Daesh or the ISIS is growing and that the group poses a threat to Afghan security. And, some ISIS flags have appeared in Srinagar.

Weak Counter Strategy

By all accounts, the ISIS militia is slowly but surely gaining ground. It has proved itself adept at fighting simultaneously on multiple fronts. Not surprisingly, the ISIS has carried the war into cyberspace and is deftly exploiting the Internet as an effective propaganda tool to spread its message. It is using Facebook and bulletin boards to influence the minds of Muslim youth and gain recruits. The international community has not yet found an answer to this potent threat.

The triumphant forward march of ISIS has taken place despite the air strikes being launched by the United States and its allies and the help provided to the Shia-dominated government of Iraq by Iran and Russia. The ISIS has absorbed the air strikes well so far, much like the Vietnamese did half a century ago. A major lesson that has emerged from the recent conflicts, particularly those in Afghanistan and Iraq, is that a guerrilla force that operates from safe havens among the rural population cannot be defeated from the air alone. The US and its allies are unlikely to prevail over the ISIS militia without committing troops on the ground to fight a long-drawn counter-insurgency war against them. Alternatively, the US can prime the Iraqi forces to fight ISIS. This would be a better option.

The ISIS militia faces no serious opposition on the ground except from the Kurdish peshmerga.The Kurds are unlikely to be willing to fight beyond the land for which they seek autonomy. The Obama administration is banking on hope and the passage of time to prevail over the ISIS militia. The President is hopeful that in due course the air campaign will begin to become effective, the Iraqi forces will become a more cohesive fighting force, and the Kurds will exert meaningful pressure on the ISIS militia from the north.The probability of any of this happening is low.

The US has been arming the Syrian opposition led by the Free Syrian Army for several years to fight President Assad. It now hopes the Syrian opposition will join the fight against ISIS.The US President is aware that American troops are not welcome in Iraq and even less so in Syria, besides the lack of support at home for involvement in yet another unwinnable war in West Asia. A pragmatic move would be to support the rise of a militarily strong Kurdistan as a bulwark against further ISIS expansion, but Turkey will have to be convinced that such a course of action is necessary. Jordan needs to be given the support necessary to thwart the growth of ISIS to the west.

US officials have been dropping broad hints to the effect that India should join the US and its allies in fighting ISIS as it poses a long-term threat to India as well. India has a large diaspora in West Asia, which includes female workers. Some Indian nurses had been taken hostage by ISIS fighters, but were released unharmed. India also has a large Muslim population that has remained detached from the ultra-radical ISIS and its aims and objectives, except for a handful of misguided youth who are reported to have signed up to fight. This may change if India joins the US-led coalition to fight ISIS. However, India should cooperate closely by way of sharing information and intelligence.

Implications for India

Instability and superpower rivalry in West Asia does not augur well for India’s security and commercial interests. Combined with the escalation of force levels in the Indian Ocean, the heightened tensions in West Asia may ultimately lead to a spill-over of the conflicts to adjacent areas. India now imports almost 75 per cent of the oil required to fuel its growing economy and most of it comes from the Gulf. The long-drawn conflicts of the last two decades of the 20th century had forced India to buy oil at far greater cost from distant markets, with no assurance of guaranteed supplies. The 1991 oil shock had almost completely wrecked India’s foreign exchange reserves. The situation could again become critical. Oil prices had shot up to US$ 115 per barrel, but have since stabilised below US$ 100 per barrel.

Since the early 1970s, Indian companies have been winning a large number of contracts to execute turnkey projects in West Asia. The conflict in the region has virtually sealed the prospects of any new contracts. Also, payments for the ongoing projects are not being made on schedule, leading to un-absorbable losses for the Indian firms involved, and a dwindling foreign exchange income from the region. A large number of Indian workers are employed in West Asia and many of them have had to be evacuated.

Hisham Melhem, the Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya has written: “The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism — the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition — than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago.”The conflicts in Gaza, Iraq, Israel, Libya and Syria – a number of seemingly unrelated crises – have the potential to blend together to unleash a regional nightmare with much wider repercussions. The Arab world must collectively accept responsibility for the failures that have led the sorry state prevailing at present.

A concerted international effort is needed to first contain and then comprehensively defeat the ISIS, failing which the consequences will be disastrous not only for the region, but also for most of the rest of Asia and Europe. However, it is for the Arabs to find the resources necessary to seek and destroy ISIS fighters on the ground. As an emerging power sharing a littoral with the region, India has an important role to play in acting as a catalyst for West Asian stability through negotiations and dialogue rather than confrontation.

Published Date: 25th October 2014
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Enhancing Strategic Partnership with Vietnam

Maj Gen (Retd.) P K Chakravorty


India and Vietnam share a close bonding since the Geneva Accords of 1954 which brought about an end to the First Indochina War. India has been an impartial member of the International Military Commission and the Vietnamese respect India for its neutrality while performing its duties. The unification of Vietnam took place on April 1975. Ever since India has been a friend who stood by Vietnam’s needs in its new configuration. Not only did our Foreign Minister cancel his visit to China in 1979 as China had attacked Vietnam to teach a lesson but also openly stated that freedom of navigation must be respected in international waters. Recently both countries have exchanged a number of high level visits and both are looking for means to intensify their bilateral relationship. It is indeed noteworthy that the bilateral trade of both countries is planned to be increased to $ 15 billion by 2020. Further, air connectivity by Jet Airways to Ho Chi Minh City would commence on 05 November 2014 from Delhi and Mumbai. The road connectivity through Myanmar is also being developed and possibly in a few years time it would be possible to drive from Kolkata to Hanoi. Currently, there are 18 lines of credit and the biggest project would be Tata Power constructing a thermal power plant at Long Phu in Soc Trang province in the Southern portion of Vietnam. A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed and the project should commence once the clearances are obtained. Both countries are diversifying their trade and investments to further enhance their bilateral relationship.

Ties of Friendship

It was during 2nd Century B.C. when Indian traders sailed across to the regions of Indo China. These exchanges witnessed the proliferation of Indian culture particularly to the regions of Central and South Vietnam. Indian influence exists today in Vietnamese folklore, art and philosophy. The Champa temples in Central and South Vietnam demonstrate the close linkages between the two cultures. Dr Tridib Chakraborti an expert on International Relations traces the proximity in thought between the two countries due to their commonality in National Liberation Movements to gain independence. Further, during the Second World War, the leaders of both the countries came close to each other and laid the solid foundations of mutual relations of friendship, cooperation and understanding due to their common perceptions of anti colonialism and non alignment. India supported Vietnam in her nationalist struggle against the international powers. Large rallies were held in India to support Vietnam in her freedom movement. The famous slogan, “Amar Nam, Tomar Nam, Vietnam, Vietnam,” (My name, your name and all our names are Vietnam) was a popular slogan in the streets of Kolkata during Vietnam’s struggle for unification.

In the Cold War era India continued to have cordial relations with Vietnam. There was a convergence of strategic interests which resulted in mutual cooperation between the two countries. In June 1966, India openly called for an immediate cessation of bombings and the resolution of the conflict within the UN framework. After the unification of Vietnam in 1975, India backed Vietnam’s Cambodia initiative and extended support against China’s offensive of 1979. India economically assisted Vietnam and signed the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) agreement on 18 December 1982.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 impacted both the countries. The period that followed witnessed Vietnam becoming a part of ASEAN and India launched her Look East Policy which ushered in a new era of cooperation between India and South East Asian countries. During this period Economic relations further strengthened between India and Vietnam. The key areas included capacity building, technical assistance and information sharing to ensure the security of the vital sea lanes of communication including piracy and rescue at sea.

China in the India Vietnam relationship

The Chinese provided essential support to Vietnam in the war against France as also against the United States. However, prior to the unification of Vietnam, the Chinese PLA captured the Paracel islands in 1974. Further, Vietnam went to war against the Chinese supported Khmer Rouge Government in January 1978 overthrowing the dictatorial rulers and this hurt the Chinese interests. On 17 February 1979 China launched an offensive on the Northern borders of Vietnam to teach the Vietnamese a lesson. The conflict lasted up to 06 March 1979 with no major gains being made by the Chinese. It is pertinent to note that India’s External Affairs Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was visiting China when the attack was launched and had to terminate his visit prematurely. Later on, China started bilateral cooperation with all ASEAN countries and provided aid to Vietnam while improving trade relations.

China agreed to resolve border issues with Vietnam by peaceful means. This resulted in resolution of the land border and the maritime border in the Gulf of Tonkin. However, the dispute over the Paracel and Spratly islands remained unresolved. In 1988, there were major clashes between the Chinese and Vietnamese Navies resulting in heavy casualties. Both sides thereafter established troops in parts of these islands as protective forces. In 1995 China occupied Mischeef Reef claimed by the Philippines. In May 2011, the Chinese cut the cable of a Vietnamese oil exploration ship resulting in further tension between these two countries. India has been allotted two oil blocks by Vietnam in the South China Sea. China has cautioned India on the subject but India has taken a bold step in stating that commercial activity will continue in international waters.

The new Government under president Xi Jinping has become more assertive and moved a mobile oil rig in the South China Sea on May 2014. As is well known Paracel Islands were occupied by Chinese from the erstwhile South Vietnamese in 1974. Ever since China has been gradually spreading its influence over other islands in the South China Sea. It has built a small garrison town Sansha in the Woody Island of the Paracel Group. Sansha has an airport and a runway of 2700 metres which enable Chinese Air Force to operate in the area. Picture of the disputed oil rig is posted below.

The China National Offshore Oil Company’s decision to move oil rig HD-981 was a pre meditated move which has hurt Vietnam and other claimants of islands in the South China. The oil rig was escorted by about 80 ships of Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) as also the Chinese Coast Guard and moved into its drilling area on 02 May 2014. The rig remained in location up to 22 July 2014. The commencement of drilling was formally opposed by the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh who telephoned China’s State Councillor Yang Jiechi indicating violation of the Law of Seas. China listened to the Minister but continued the drilling process.

Vietnam sent 35 ships out of which 29 were armed and the rest were fishing vessels. On 04 May Chinese ships rammed two Vietnamese Sea Guard vessels injuring seven Vietnamese. Chinese ships with Air support were also used to intimidate six more Vietnamese ships. Further, water cannons were also used to threaten the Vietnamese. As of now not a single round has been fired. The standoff has created tremendous blow back in Vietnam with demonstrations in the urban areas. Though the rig has been removed the situation remains heated and there is a need to sit at the negotiating table and resolve issues peacefully.
The moot point is why did China despatch rig HD-981 to the Paracel islands? The rig has been positioned immediately after the visit of US President Obama to Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Malaysia. The Chinese military posturing with their Navy and Air Force was possibly to test the US response to such an eventuality. Chinese feel that the US is currently tied down with Iran, Syria, Nigeria Ukraine and Ebola. They neither have their forces nor the inclination to get involved to issues pertaining to the South China Sea. Possibly, Vietnam too would be seeking military partnerships to strategically balance China’s posturing.

It is a different matter that China-Vietnam trade is 30 billion dollars with China being Vietnam’s biggest trade partner. This figure is almost four times than India’s trade with Vietnam. However, strategic dissonance between Vietnam and China has forced Hanoi to seek partners to balance the rising aggressiveness of Beijing.

Current Strategic Perspective

India and Vietnam enjoy strong strategic relations which emerged with the First Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Defence being signed in 1994, the formal Defence Protocol in 2000 and the Strategic Partnership in 2007. Ever since then we have an annual Strategic Defence Dialogue with the Indian Defence Secretary representing India. Considering the intensity of our relations, the upgradation of these talks to the Ministerial levels would be more beneficial.
Cam Ranh Bay has been often described as one of the jewels of Vietnam. The long protective seaward peninsula, natural inner and outer harbours form what many believe to be possibly the best deep water port sea port facility in the entire world. There is also an Air Force base with excellent runways for state of the art aircraft. The usage of these facilities by the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force would help us to strengthen our strategic partnership and enable us to undertake actions to protect our assets in the South China Sea. The area is being quietly considered between the two countries.

Based on Vietnam’s requirements India could provide Dornier surveillance aircrafts, mini Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), upgraded T-72 tanks and indigenously manufactured Artillery equipment once the same has proved trials and few of our old ships of the Indian Navy. Vietnam has been provided a US $ 100 million Line of Credit to possibly purchase four Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) from Goa Shipyard Limited. Vietnam is impressed with our missile development and is keen to purchase our Supersonic Cruise Missile BrahMos which could be used on land and sea. The issue merits serious consideration as there are no objections from the foreign joint developer. Vietnam is also keen that opportunity be accorded to train their scientists.

Vietnam admires the professional training of our Armed Forces and looks forward to assistance in training in the following areas:-
  • Conversion training for SU-30 pilots of the Peoples Vietnam Air Force by the Indian Air Force.
  • Submarine crew training of the Peoples Vietnam Navy by the Indian Navy.
  • Training in Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare with the Indian Army.
  • Training in English language.
The Vietnamese President as also the General Secretary of the Communist Party visited India and were frank in strengthening defence relations with India. Vietnam would like to cooperate in the field of training as also gaining knowledge in the field of rocketry and missiles. It would be in our interest to cultivate Vietnam and cooperate in strategic aspects.

Vietnam is also looking for cooperation in areas of outer space with India. They have already launched two satellites and are planning their own navigation satellites. Cooperation with India would be mutually beneficial to both countries. All these were discussed during the recent high level visits conducted by our President and Foreign Minister to Vietnam.

Recent Visits

Our External Affairs Minister Smt Sushma Swaraj recently completed a visit to Vietnam from 24 August to 26 August 2014. During the visit she interacted with the top leaders of the country and candidly stated that our ‘Look East Policy’ should soon become ‘Act East Policy’. The visit witnessed discussions on the exploration of oil in the South China Sea and measures to deepen defence ties. As is known Vietnam has offered us five new blocks for exploration in the South China Sea. India has to decide how she could exploit these assets as also assist Vietnam in freedom of navigation, maritime safety and security in the disputed South China Sea. During her visit the Honourable Minister also chaired a brainstorming session with 15 Indian Heads of Missions in South East Asia and East Asia in Hanoi to chart out foreign policy initiatives to be undertaken in the strategically important region by the Indian Government. Further, the President of India Shri Pranab Mukherjee visited Vietnam in mid September and announced a Line of Credit for $ 100 million to enable Vietnam to buy defence equipment from India. Both countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in the strategic field during the visit.

Visit of Vietnamese Prime Minister to India

The Vietnamese Prime Minister Mr Nguyen Tan Dung will pay a two days visit to India on 27 and 28 October 2014. The newly appointed Vietnamese Ambassador Ton Sinh Thanh said that both countries are keen to expand the strategic cooperation to a higher level besides giving a new momentum to economic ties. The Prime Minister will be accompanied by 50 top businessmen who will assist in increasing the current bilateral trade of $ 8 billion to $ 15 billion by 2020. It is expected that a dozen pacts will be signed to boost cooperation in sectors like energy, infrastructure, trade and tourism during the Prime Minister’s visit.

The visit is extremely significant as it would enhance the strategic trust between the two countries. The Vietnamese Prime Minister is no stranger to India but this will be his first interaction with India’s new Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi. The visit is bound to put relations between the two countries on a higher trajectory.


Vietnam is a trusted friend who has the capability to stand up against the assertiveness of China. Strategically, India needs to intensify its relations with Vietnam to ensure that both these countries along with Japan cooperate in order to contribute towards establishing a degree of equilibrium in the emerging strategic order in the Asia Pacific region.

Published Date: 24th October 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Need to Define Smart City Before Jumping Headlong

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

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that India will set up 100 Smart Cities in the near future. Many arguments are offered in favour of smart cities, one of which is that there is a demographic shift from village to town, this trend will accelerate and we need to create the urban infrastructure which will gainfully employ the new migrants. Whilst it is a fact that between 1901 and 2011 there was a fivefold increase in the total population of India, the increase in the urban population was seventeen-fold. However, as a proportion of the total population of India, in 110 years the increase of urban population was only three-fold. This is not by itself alarming and is not indicative of skewing of the settlement pattern. Successive censuses have shown that the highest growth is taking place in the middle level towns. If we take the fifty-three metropolitan cities, they contain 19.24 percent of the total urban population of India, but as a proportion of the total population, they account for a little more than six percent. This does not suggest the kind of mass movement from rural areas to urban settlements as has been experienced, for example, in China. When we again fine slice the urban population, we find that about 7.5 percent live in class-six to class-four towns, having a population of between 3000 and 20,000 and this represents 2.5 percent of the total population. The nature of such towns in terms of employment is more akin to rural settlements and if we deduct their population from the total urban population then in fact India that is truly urban accounts for only a little more than twenty-eight percent of our total population.

There is a certain basic equilibrium of our settlement pattern, ranging from village to mega metropolis and this is one factor that our planners must take into account. This equilibrium require macro level planning which is aimed at maintaining the equilibrium, thus encouraging such economic activities in rural and small town India which helps to retain people in these settlements, where they find gainful employment. This would be an exact antithesis of the smart city concept.

I became associated with urban planning and development in early 1971 and have since then worked in this field, environmental and forest management and issues relating to watershed development. I was also Vice Chairman of the National Commission on Urbanisation and I like to at least pretend that I know something about urban planning and development. I have not been able to understand what exactly we mean by a smart city. I spoke to high officials in the Ministry of Urban Development and they told me that even they are not very clear about what is meant by smart city and they are trying to work out the parameters of such a city. About seven or eight years ago, Gujarat started work on what is termed as a global financial city. It follows the model of such a city in Shanghai. In effect it is not a new city but is a sub-city which is self contained and has the entire infrastructure of a city which provides financial services of a high order. Would La Defense in Paris be considered a smart city, or would it count as an ultra modern sub-city located in Paris? Are the new towns like Evry in the Loire Valley a smart city, or are they a new town like Milton Keynes? I suppose one could call a city which is totally technology driven as a smart city, but technology has drawbacks because human interaction eventually introduces so many elements of unpredictability and the city remains smart only in part.
India is not inexperienced in building new cities. If we take Delhi, our national capital, starting with Hastinapur there have been layers of new cities built in and around Delhi. Alauddin Khilji built the city of Siri, Feroz Tuglak built Tuglakabad, Shahjahan built the walled city, Lutyen’s built New Delhi, the Punjabi refugees built their portion of the city, there is Jagmohan’s city of DDA, there are Sanjay Gandhi’s J.J. Colonies and there is the whole National Capital Region with its own pace of urbanisation. In its own time every new city was a smart city in that if it fulfilled a particular imperial function. However, each layer impinged on the one below it and was, in turn, altered by the layer above it. None of the new cities remained in isolation and were ultimately subsumed by new development or by the countryside in which they were located.

When Jawaharlal Nehru built steel plants in the middle of nowhere, whole new cities such as Bhilai, Durgapur and Rourkela came up almost overnight. An earlier example of a city built to serve a particular technology was Jamshedpur, built by the Tatas. Each of these was designed to serve a particular industrial technology and, therefore, in terms of form and function they also performed the role of a smart city. Then we have the new capital cities such as Chandigarh, Islamabad and Brasilia. Chandigarh was designed as a standalone capital by Le Corbusier, Brasilia by Otto Konigsberger and Islamabad by Doxiades. Brasilia is remote and located in the midst of a very sparsely populated countryside and so far it has been able to retain the stark physiognomy of a city whose sole function is government located in a country whose real soul resides in Rio de Janerio and Sao Paulo. Canberra, the capital of Australia, is also remote in its location and, perhaps, it has so far been able to retain its monofunctional form. Whereas the core of Chandigarh is still green and open, Chandigarh is now part of much larger urban complex which has all the diversity and heterogeneity of any Indian city, especially because Punjab has built Mohali and Haryana has built Panchkula adjacent to Chandigarh. This is true of New Delhi also. The experience of our planned cities is that they start as oases of planned prosperity located in desert of poverty and the very inequality of settlements draws the poor to the relatively richer city in search of livelihood. The planned city acts as a magnet, the poor are like iron filings which are drawn towards the magnet and soon the magnet wears an untidy beard of iron filings. The new city now becomes a relatively prosperous island which is planned and surrounded by a mass of unplanned settlements which grow spontaneously. Every city in India, bar none, now consists of a planned city and an unplanned non-city in close juxtaposition in which very often the unplanned city thrusts into the planned portion, thus negating whatever principles on which the planned city was constructed. The question is whether this can be avoided in the new one hundred smart cities.
I have already stated earlier, we are still not clear about the definition of a smart city. In this behalf, three different views are submitted below, that of Caragliu, Gildo Seisdedos Domínguez and Komninos. The quotation below explains three definitions
  1. A city can be defined as ‘smart’ when investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory action and engagement. (Caragliu et al. 2009). To Gildo Seisdedos Domínguez, the smart city concept essentially means efficiency. But efficiency based on the intelligent management and integrated ICTs, and active citizen participation. Then implies a new kind of governance, genuine citizen involvement in public policy.
  2. Smart cities can be identified (and ranked) along six main axes or dimensions. These six axes connect with traditional regional and neoclassical theories of urban growth and development. In particular, the axes are based - respectively - on theories of regional competitiveness, transport and ICT economics, natural resources, human and social capital, quality of life, and participation of citizens in the governance of cities.
  3. It insists that smart cities are defined by their innovation and their ability to solve problems and use of ICTs to improve this capacity. The intelligence lies in the ability to solve problems of these communities is linked to technology transfer for when a problem is solved. In this sense, intelligence is an inner quality of any territory, any place, city or region where innovation processes are facilitated by information and communication technologies. What varies is the degree of intelligence, depending on the person, the system of cooperation, and digital infrastructure and tools that a community offers its residents (Komninos 2002).”
Whether we follow the European Union view of the smart city or the Intelligent Community Forum views, smart and ICT seem to be almost interchangeable terms. However, what is a smart city is best summed up by the quotation below: - “The label smart city is still quite a fuzzy concept and is used in ways that are not always consistent”. Nothing could sum up the Indian view of what is a smart city better than this quotation. One could be excused for feeling that no one really has a clue of what is meant by a smart city.

Obviously these smart cities will be green field ventures, unless we follow the European Union model of smart urban growth within existing metropolitan city regions. The three immediately planned cities at Dholera in Gujarat, one in the State of Maharashtra and in Ujjain District of Madhya Pradesh do not give any indication of these cities being a continuation of a metropolitan region. In fact, the present philosophy seems to be to locate the smart cities as growth nodes along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. Is there a land pool available already for the proposed smart city or will land have to be acquired? Will the land acquisition policy be uniform, cutting across political changes in the future, or will there be a stop-go situation as we have at present? Where will the smart cities get the required water for city supply? What about power, sewerage systems, waste disposal, transportation linkages, communication facilities, including IT and ICT connectivity? What other measures would be adopted to ensure that these smart cities do not become oases of prosperity within a poverty stricken hinterland whose unskilled population is drawn to the cities in search of low paid jobs? Please remember the example of Ranthambore, a tiger reserve which, because of protection, is well wooded, has vast quantities of fodder and where the water sources don’t run dry, but which is located in Bharatpur District where the countryside is parched. Whilst the reserve is green for the sake of a few tigers and their prey base, the cattle of the surrounding villages are virtually starved and are thirsty. It is but natural that the villagers should try and illegally enter Ranthambore for grazing their cattle and this leads to constant conflict between forest officials and the villagers. Will the smart cities be able to isolate themselves from the pressures exerted on them by their hinterland? Will smart cities lead to equity?

India is not only a very old civilisation but its cities go back to antiquity, with Ujjain and Varanasi being the world’s two oldest continuously inhabited cities. As already stated, the cities are multi-layered, with the medieval overlaid by the imperial, the imperial by post independence settlements and these in turn heavily inter-layered by slums, unplanned or unauthorised colonies and new colonies developed by builders which have neither character nor aesthetics. Almost every city has a major problem of physical infrastructure such as roads, water supply, sewerage and drainage, power, communication networks and transport infrastructure. In them extreme poverty impinges on extreme wealth. Let us take the case of Gurgaon, existing next to Delhi and now considered a major business hub. It has almost no urban plan, no centralised water supply system or sewerage system, with crippling power shortages. Can new smart cities in Haryana fare any better? Our existing cities need considerable investment to upgrade infrastructure, improve housing to ameliorate slums and function efficiently as centres of gainful employment. At the same time, we have very limited physical and financial resources. Do we allow the existing cities to rot because all available resources are diverted to constructing the new smart cities? My submission would be that we should not be taken in by the vision of an India consisting of smart cities without first conceptualising what such a city would be like. Would it address a dominant function and then design itself to fulfil that function? Would it create a new paradigm of city planning in which technology drives its planning, its construction and its subsequent management? Would it be smart on account of infrastructure and would it be smart on account of the skill level of its inhabitants? These are issues which need to be sorted out and the planning process itself restructured to address these questions before we jump straight into diverting capital into cities which in terms of jargon we may call smart but which, in fact, are still half baked. Right now we seem to be groping in the dark.

Published Date: 21st October 2014, Image source: http://computer.financialexpress.com
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

War on Terrorism – Role for 'Modi-fied' India

Col (Retd) Karan Kharb

The horrific video clips showing masked killers from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) killing hordes of unarmed civilians and beheading humans have shocked but convinced the civilised world about the gruesome design and expanding outreach of terrorism in the world today. Joint military operations undertaken by the coalition forces led by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere have no doubt uprooted and transplanted governments but more terrorist outfits have sprouted from every assumed victory. The menace of terrorism has only multiplied in size and potential like the mythological character of demon Raktabeej. Every time Raktabeej was wounded, hordes of his clones would rise from the drops of his blood falling on the ground until he was finally vanquished and killed by Goddess Mahakali. The Goddess had adopted a unique strategy of pointed and precise lethal strikes taking due care ('Khappar') not to allow a drop of the demon's blood fall on the ground.

Today, the worsening security scenario of the world warrants a review of the terror climate so that pragmatic strategic options can be explored and found to not only chase and kill terrorists but also to address the problem in a holistic manner. It is not enough to locate and destroy the frontline pawns of terror. Roots of terror have not yet been touched. The strategy must encompass ways and means that would discourage, suppress and finally reverse the trend of violence through multi-pronged intervention including the roots.

West Asia – the Cradle of Terrorism

It is now clear to everyone in the world how mass uprisings against the autocratic regimes in West Asia and North Africa in the recent years have only precipitated the inevitable. The cascading course of these uprisings had markings of a revolution, people's quest for liberty and democratic and people-powered regimes. The tumultuous movement, however, has gone awry giving way to forces of anarchy and ultra-violent extremism in the name of Islam. Whereas people had aspired for peace and prosperity and looked for freedom from self-serving despotic rulers, they found themselves in utter chaos and bedlam. It is a case of the proverbial fall from the frying pan into the fire – and the fire has continued to rage from Libya to Syria, Afghanistan to Ukraine and beyond.

While most of the Arab world continues to squirm under turmoil, organisations like Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab and Boko Haram have already established their physical control over territories in Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria respectively. The ISIS has grown rather fast and even more menacingly ceasing territories and publically executing innocent civilians en-masse. They have not shied from posting on the social media horrific video clips of hapless journalists and social workers being savagely beheaded by masked killers. Display of gore, gloom and horror seems to be a design to induce shock and panic in the public, horrify media viewers and kill resistance achieving thereby instant and absolute surrender of the terrified masses.

Significantly, ISIS already has raised an 'army' of its own from the remnants of Saddam Hussein loyalists. It also has some armoured and artillery units of the previous Iraqi regime. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the ISIS chief and self-appointed Caliph has under his control large swathes of Syrian and Iraqi territory as his Caliphate - an Islamic State (IS). His express dreams are "to capture and convert the entire world into an Islamic State". The end result of the air strikes being currently undertaken by the coalition forces will be known only after the operations are over. Nevertheless, going by the precedents it would be reasonable to assume that the ISIS will regroup and re-emerge in a refurbished form here or elsewhere in due course.

India – the Next Chapter of Jehad!

India figures among the top priority targets of most of these outfits. Charge sheets filed by NIA in New Delhi against five jehadis captured recently reveal existence of an AfPak based outfit called 'Ansar ul Tawhid fi Bilad al Hind' (AuT). AuT has been hobnobbing with ISIS and planning to unleash an Iraq-Syria like jehad in India, a threat that draws credence from ISIS Chief Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's video call for jehad in India. Obviously, India is the designated next chapter of Jehad. Socio-political environment within the country provides inherent protection for incubating and raising dedicated terrorists. The recent spurt in Hindu girls being induced or blackmailed to marry Muslim boys and reports of their forced conversions reveal how campaigns like 'Love Jehad' are being pursued in an organised way. Whenever terrorists are arrested or killed in encounter, politicians waste no time in raising an accusing finger at the police and security forces rather than appreciating their efficiency in pre-empting and defusing what could be devastating terror attacks. Further, even in the face of clinching evidence, Qazis and Imams have been unwilling to come together jointly to denounce and condemn violence and killings. Political parties also have been selective and subjective in their response. Positions thus adopted by vote-bank hungry politicians and community chieftains portend more serious challenges ahead.

The Looming Nuclear Arm of Terror

The Information Age technology has made it affordable even for the not-so-advanced states and terrorist outfits to steal, smuggle or devise material that can be put to devastating use. There are many non-nuclear states that have chemical weapon facilities of their own. Investigations carried out by the UN Mission in Syria confirmed that the rebels had used chemical weapons against soldiers and civilians in Syria in August 2013. Already there is enough evidence of illegal and covert transfer of nuclear technology and weapon grade fuels among nations. Incidents of smuggling weapon grade enriched uranium have often surfaced in the media. The name of Pakistani scientist AQ Khan was linked with covert and illegal transfer of centrifuge enrichment designs and components including some carbon-fibre rotors to Iraq and Libya. Concerns have also been expressed in the recent past about North Korea's undue interest in extending 'military cooperation' to Myanmar.

From time to time, there have also been reports and scientific conjectures that some of the non-nuclear states like Iran have acquired 'breakout capability' to quickly convert their low-enriched uranium available for civil nuclear facilities into enriched weapon grade uranium if and when needed. The nuclear safeguards regime has remained inadequate. There are apprehensions that illegal nuclear activities might be covertly in progress in various parts of the world despite IAEA oversight because the Agency itself is handicapped in its scope and capacity. Fabricating and detonating 'dirty bombs' require neither elaborate manufacturing plants nor sophisticated delivery means. The menace of mushrooming terrorist outfits, their expanding potential and success in gaining control of towns, villages, facilities, oil wells and other installations should convince the world that evil forces like ISIS, Taliban or Al Qaeda have already crept very close to grabbing control of nuclear facilities and weapons in nuclear weapon states like Pakistan. Once there with the nuclear weapons and crews under command, these very outfits shall deter coalition military operations against terrorism and dictate terms to the world.

It is well known that terror groups have been using communication networks including satellite communication to their advantage for quite some time. What is not as well known is their enhanced capability and potential in cyberspace. Al Qaeda and its affiliates have their threshold domains that would enable them to maximise use and misuse of cyberspace ranging from spying, hacking and hijacking communication and guidance systems of satellites, missiles, drones. This capability renders nuke safeguards even more vulnerable.

Need for New Vision, New Strategy

Military operations by coalition forces led by the US against rogue states and terrorist strongholds in the past have been vigorously conducted in different areas during the last two decades. Unfriendly regimes were wiped out and friendlier governments were installed. However, in all cases the new regimes have proved to be even more unstable and chaotic. Iraq, Afghanistan. Libya et al are live examples. More terrorist outfits, each stronger than their earlier siblings, have mushroomed after each phase of assumed victories over rogue terror states and organisations. Terrorism is no longer faceless or invisible today. The new phase of Islamic terror now stares and dares the world frontally from physically held territories. This phenomenon should convince strategists and planners of counter-terrorist operations that military action alone cannot be the final solution to the world's most vexing problem. Military operations are only one among the potent tools to discourage and suppress violence in a limited area for a limited time.

Today, while President Obama and Prime Minister Modi discuss the problem and resolve to address it unitedly, we need to look at it from another standpoint that is universally understood but persistently kept un-expressed in deference to religious sensitivities of followers of Islam. No one can deny that Muslims are largely a law abiding, peace loving and humanitarian lot full of compassion and care for others. Yet, no one can deny that the largest number of terrorists in the world today belong to this community. The painful truth is that not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists making news today are Muslims. In spite of this stark reality, all jehadis combined do not make even a noticeable fraction of the total Muslim population of the world. Yet, they are the darkest blot on their community and the worst threat to human civilisation and progress. Unabated growth of this evil is harming the Muslims themselves in return. Wary and suspicious under the circumstances, people all over the world are increasingly becoming reluctant to share opportunities, jobs, accommodation and relationships with Muslims in every country and society. Quite a few Muslim intellectuals believe Islam is already going through renaissance and the forces of violence are convulsions of labour pains of a new order.

The current strategy is a display of awesome military power that is unwittingly projected as anti-Muslim by the cynics and pro-terror lobbies. The propaganda makes the terrorists appear as victims in an attempt to garner undeserved empathy for them from the peoples where modern communication networks are controlled and not freely available even today. Thanks to the obscurantists in Islam, a Fatwa for Jehad from the fundamentalist clerics still galvanises people to support the evil under the cover of ethnic solidarity. Thankfully, however, more and more Muslim leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs and people are getting averse to militancy growing at the behest of a few in Islam. Therefore, any strategy that ignores Islamic role in combating terrorism will remain inadequate in the War against Terrorism. Ideally, the onslaught against fundamentalist violence and terror must be led by the forces of modern, awakened Islam rather than powers that are spitefully projected by the perpetrators as un-Islamic and anti-Islamic.

India has a greater responsibility in the war against terrorism for two reasons. One, having suffered from the malaise for decades, India is the prime victim of terror. Two, India's Muslim population is more than the total population of Pakistan from where terrorism continues to flow in. Therefore, it is India's right as well as responsibility to assume a bigger and more direct role in the global effort against terrorism.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown early signs of a statesman who has vision and resolve. Also, his team of advisors has some of India's outstanding brains with rich experience and proven abilities to devise and implement strategic options of far reaching consequences that could catapult India to its aspired high position in the comity of nations. Enjoying the backing of a clear and thumping mandate of the people, the Modi Government can do it. In his address to the UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister actually sought to introduce a paradigm shift when he exhorted nations to shun fragmentary tendencies – "G-7, G-20…." – and called for "G-All" – a unity of all nations to serve all humanity under the aegis of the United Nations. It is time to translate this call into an action plan: "G-All – Be all together to rid the world terror and save human civilisation."

(The writer is a military veteran, author and social activist)

Published Date: 14th October 2014, Image source: http://media2.s-nbcnews.com
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)