Sunday, February 15, 2015

Decoding what U.S. wants from India

U.S. President Barack Obama will be the first American to be a chief guest at the Republic Day parade.He will also be the first U.S. President to have visited India twice in his presidency. There was a time when American presidential visits to India were few and far between. 
But since Bill Clinton came to India in 1999, signaling a grand reconciliation after harshly punishing India for the May 1998 nuclear tests, American presidential visits have been regular. 
In just seven months, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has met Obama three times — in the U.S. during the former’s official visit in September, at the East Asia Summit in Nay Pyi Taw and then later at the G-20 summit in Brisbane. 
Despite interaction in a range of areas, and providing crucial assistance to India in its times of troubles, no American leader was ever invited as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade; a Chinese marshal and even two Pakistani leaders have figured in the guest list. 
The Modi strategy is visible in the pattern of his foreign visits which has seen him develop strong ties with Japan and Australia, two key U.S. allies in East Asia. 
The Japan visit, the first outside the subcontinent after he became PM, was notable for the display of the good chemistry between Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzu Abe, besides being successful in attracting Japanese investment and laying out the basis for a strategic partnership. 

The Australian visit, too, clearly signalled a stepping up of the engagement between New Delhi and Canberra, an important U.S. military ally. 
Reading between the lines of officials’ statements and those of itinerant think tankers, it is clear what the U.S. wants of India.
First, they seek a clear articulation of how Modi views the place of the United States in his scheme of things. 
The Americans, for their part, have not hesitated to indicate that they are for an alliance with India. 
Short of this, and perhaps more realistically, they want the closest possible partnership. 
To this end, they say that they want to assist India to emerge as a major global power, a view first articulated by the Bush Administration in 2005. 
It does not take a genius to understand why the U.S. wants this — India is the only country of its size which has the potential to offset the enormous geopolitical pull of a rising China. 
And India is also a country with which the U.S. has no real conflict of interest, at least for the foreseeable future. 

U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle during a three-day visit to India in 2010
U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle during a three-day visit to India in 2010

Previous Indian leaders like Manmohan Singh have waxed eloquent on the need for close Indo-U.S. ties, but they never quite spelt out their longer-term vision beyond the diplomatic niceties. 
Of course, India wants technology, investment, people-to-people ties and so on. 
But how does it see its relationship with the U.S. in strategic terms? 
After all, it is not just the U.S. which wants to offset the Chinese pull, India, too faces the Chinese heat, even in its own South Asian region. 
Second, the U.S. is looking for a sound economic partnership with India. 
In today’s gloomy economic scenario, the only large economies that are managing to hold their head above water seem to be those of India, China and the U.S. 
But for the full potential of the India-U.S. relationship to be exploited, there is need for some homework. 
India needs to ease the terms of doing business in the country. 
Modi and Arun Jaitley have repeatedly emphasised their intention of doing the needful, but for the moment, the investors are waiting and watching. 
As it is, the Americans remain unhappy with issues relating to the nuclear liability act and intellectual property rights in India. 
Third, the U.S. wants to step up its defence partnership with India. 
During this visit, the two sides are likely to sign up for another 10 years on their framework agreement for the U.S.-India Defence relationship. 
The crown jewel of this has been the Defence Trade and Technology and Initiative through which the two sides are trying to identify high-tech items for co-development and co-production. 
Fourth, the Americans want India to come on board their push for a climate change treaty when the Climate Change Conference is held in Paris later this year.
After striking a deal with China, the Americans hope to pin down India in a bilateral deal. Obama is hoping to make this treaty the capstone of his administration. 
To this end, the U.S. will offer India agreements in clean energy technology, as well as hold out the promise of making India eligible for U.S. oil and natural gas exports.
This is just a quick sketch of what is, of course, a much more complex and layered relationship. 
Back in the year 2000, the then Prime Minister termed India and the U.S. as “natural allies”. 
This formulation was reiterated by Modi in an interview during the campaign for the general elections and subsequently, as PM, he restated it in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal where he called the U.S. “our natural global partner”. 
Through the Obama invitation, Modi has sent an important signal about the place of the U.S. in his scheme of things. 
Obama is now virtually a lame-duck President of a country whose Parliament is controlled by the Opposition. 
So Modi is viewing the visit on a longer perspective where he seeks to leverage the U.S. connection to attract technology and investment from the western world, as well as build ties to balance China. 

Divided over Pak

Pakistan remains the one issue which divides U.S. and India. 
The American pullout from Afghanistan compounds the problem because of Indian fears that Pakistan could once again assume a dominant position in that country. 
But while Obama seems determined to pull out American forces from there, the U.S. is exerting a great deal of diplomatic pressure to get Pakistan committed to a smooth transition in Afghanistan. 
They do not want a chaotic Afghanistan to once again host terror groups like the al-Qaeda which target the U.S. 
The carefully floated reports that Islamabad planned to ban the Haqqani network and Jamaat-ud-Dawa followed the recent visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Pakistan.
This came in the aftermath of the horrific Peshawar massacre. 
Mail Today January 18, 2015

Sri Lanka is the key to India's interests

India's relief, if not joy, over the outcome of the Sri Lankan elections that saw the exit of Mahinda Rajpakse is barely concealed. In recent years, there was a sense in New Delhi that Sri Lanka was slipping out of Indian hands. But before the celebrations get too rowdy, we should be aware that the foreign policy of a mature democracy like Sri Lanka is not made by individuals, but is based on interests. 
 We should make no assumptions about the manner in which the incoming Maithripala Sirisena government will deal with areas of our concerns - the treatment of the Tamil minority and the growing Chinese influence in the island. 

Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena will improve ties with India
Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena will improve ties with India

India’s refusal to intervene in the civil war which pitted the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) versus the Sri Lankan Army, more or less decided the issue in favour of the latter. 
Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and the loss of over 1,000 Indian Army personnel in the 1987-1990 period ensured that India would remain out of the Sri Lankan equations till the LTTE was obliterated. 
The Sri Lankan victory over the Tigers in May 2009 had many consequences, none of them good for India. The land was devastated and the Sri Lankan Tamils, India’s “natural allies” left leaderless and disempowered. 
Second, the Rajpakse family consolidated itself politically in the island and a year later, in 2010, Mahinda won his second term as president. 
Third, China emerged as Sri Lanka’s “all time friend” by providing not just military aid to Colombo in its hour of need, but also help in deflecting global pressure on its leadership for accounting of the human rights violations that took place towards the end of the war with the LTTE. 
According to UN estimates as many as 40,000 civilians may have died in the final months of the civil war. 
Since the end of the civil war, Sri Lanka has received some $4 billion worth of loans and smaller amounts in grants and aid from China. In terms of aid and grants, Japan still remains the biggest donor to Sri Lanka and in terms of grants India is number one, having given an estimated $350 million in the last three years in terms of grants, but the Chinese connection is especially useful since it comes without strings. 
Chinese trade with Sri Lanka has grown sharply in recent years, doubling between 2008 and 2012 from $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion and is now second only to India, despite the fact that China and Sri Lanka do not yet have a FTA. China has emerged as a major investor in Sri Lanka, with some 70 per cent of Sri Lanka’s infrastructure projects being funded by Chinese banks. 

Their most famous is the Hambantota deep sea port, the new international airport in Mattala, and a cricket stadium being built in Rajpakse’s constituency. 
In Colombo, too, the Chinese are in a joint venture to expand the port. The government may also be considering a project for a Chinese company to establish an aircraft maintenance centre at Trincomalee.
The Chinese probably see Sri Lanka as an important port of call for its Maritime Silk Route idea of creating ports, highways and railroads to ferry trade from China to the far parts of the world. There is a historical resonance here in that Sri Lanka was an important port of call for the 15th century Chinese Admiral Zheng He, who visited it several times in his voyages between 1405-33 and is also reputed to have defeated and captured a Sri Lankan king. 
Sri Lanka is a sovereign country, and it must do what it views as best for its national interests. Promoting trade and receiving investment and aid from various countries, be they China, India, Japan or others, is unexceptional. Colombo is aware of the value of getting a powerful player like Beijing to offset the gravitational pull of New Delhi in the South Asian region. 
Given Sri Lanka’s proximity to us, we cannot help but worry about things that could have implications for our interests. Foremost among these are maritime interests, particularly sea lanes leading out of our east and west coasts, as it is Colombo, which is the largest transhipment port for Indian container cargos.

There is no indication, as of now, that China intends to establish military facilities in Sri Lanka. These will not threaten India, because they are easily vulnerable to Indian interdiction, but they will certainly be an irritant. 
Communal peace in the island is no less important an element for us, seeing how we got sucked into the civil war in the mid-1980s. Events in Sri Lanka have an important resonance in Tamil Nadu, something which no government in New Delhi can ignore. 
Given India’s position in the Indian Ocean vis-à-vis China, the challenge is not military. For the foreseeable future, the Indian Navy will be more powerful than its Chinese counterpart, at least in the Indian Ocean. The challenge is economic. As the Chinese economy grows, so do its commercial interests in the Indian Ocean. 
But if India wants to be seen as a power in its region, it needs to sharply step up its game as a manufacturing and trading nation. In an article in July 2014, Sri Lankan scholar Saman Kelagama pointed out that India’s trade with its South Asian neighbours was $ 17 billion, while China’s amounted to $ 25 billion. Geography does favour us in our relations with out South Asian neighbours, but we need to sharply up the economic content we put in. 
The election of a new government in Colombo provides New Delhi a great opportunity to reset its relations with Sri Lanka. Both countries need to set aside the contentious past and see how they can construct a 21st century relationship based not only on economic ties and the awareness of the need to understand each other’s security concerns, but also of the fact that both countries are vibrant democracies where the people have the last word. 
Mail Today January 14, 2015

Identifying the REAL enemy: The problem is not Islam, but a civil war within the faith that has become a battle for the religion's very soul

In the past few days, terrorists have killed 17 people in Paris and 2,000 in Nigeria, while more than 30 have died in bomb blasts in Yemen and seven in Rawalpindi. In terms of geography, the incidents were as widely distributed across the globe, as they were in the ethnicity of the victims. But there is one thing in common in all the acts of violence—they were done in the name of Islam. 
A lazy person’s analysis would argue that there is something inherent in the faith that persuades its adherents to such acts of violence. But a closer analysis would suggest that this is no clash of civilisations pitting Islam against the rest, but a civil war within Islam, a battle for its soul. 

Most of the victims in the incidents cited above were probably Muslim, but obviously there was something different in the way they professed their faith that persuaded their more radical co-religionists to murder them. 
This is the story of the Islamic State militants of Iraq and Syria, whose major thrust is the ruthless and, indeed, mindless killing of other Muslims. 
In these circumstances, the worst option for us would be to vilify Islam, the faith, instead of trying to understand why a violent minority has managed to get so much traction across the Islamic world. 
The Islamists have successfully intimidated a large number of writers, artists, journalists, film-makers, many of whom live in exile. 
Within the borders of Muslim countries, they have used blasphemy laws to coerce
The terrorists may be an extreme minority, but they have successfully coerced the majority—or, to be more accurate, enthralled them—into sympathy for them. 
The battle is not something that began after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, or even 9/11. It has been going on since the beginning of the industrial revolution, which transformed the global power balance away from the great Muslim empires led by the Ottomans and the Mughals, in favour of the Christian west. 
But where Christianity itself evolved and modernised, within the citadel of Islam emerged a powerful school led by Muhammad Abdl ibn al-Wahhab, born in 1703, who wanted to return Islam to its original “pure” form, and for whom ‘bidaa’ or religious innovation was as big an enemy as shirk or polytheism. 
Modern Islamism and the direct challenge to western modernism has come from Egypt and the writings of Hassan al Banna and Sayyid Qutub. 
Their progeny exist in the subcontinent as the Jamaat-e-Islami. While the Indian one is quiescent, the Pakistani and Bangladeshi Jamaat are active in politics and attract followers who are educated and deeply committed to the project of spreading Islam across the world. 
They believe that modernisation, as understood by the West, is bankrupt and morally degraded. On the other hand, Islam offers a universal option, free from man-made laws and divisions of race, language and colour. 
In their view, what is needed was a world order whose guiding philosophy is based on Islam. The Jamaat and Brotherhood type Islamists accept that the fight can be peaceful and gradual, but many militant offshoots—the al- Qaeda, the Jamaat-ud Dawa, the Taliban, Hamas, the Boko Haram, the Islamic State or its rival, the Jabhat al Nusrah, and others—feel there is no other way but one of violence.
minorities and make any rational discussion of religion impossible. 

Many of us, schooled in the ways of the globalised world, often think that the doctrines of an al Banna or Qutb are crackpot doctrines and need not to be taken too seriously. 
However, they are what provide the jehadists and radicals their raison de etre, and whether we like it or not, they spring from Islam, at least the interpretation of Islam that these radicals adhere to. 
Many of these ideas and movements have taken shape in countries which were ruled by prowestern regimes, whose repression bred alienation. Many felt the brunt of Cold War politics, especially, the twists and turns of American policy. 
Even today, the US links with Saudi Arabia underwrite the shenanigans of a family that claims to be the guardian of Islam. 
Another set of victims were from the colonial empires of the Europeans. This is where the difference between other places where large numbers of Muslims live—India, Indonesia, or Malaysia—is so striking and, indeed, proof that the problem is not so much with Islam, but with an assertive and violent minority which has left its silent majority bewildered. 
Even as the world must together fight the Islamic radicals, whether in the realm of ideas or in the battlefield, it is also clear Muslims alone can break the thralldom of anti-modernity and violence that is espoused in the name of their faith.

A word of caution
On New Year’s Day, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi made a powerful counter-attack on Islamist radicalism. 
Speaking to the ulema and religious scholars at Cairo’s world famous theological centre, the Al Azhar University, al Sisi said that he was mortified by the fact that “what we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.”
He bluntly spoke of the theological issue of bidaa when he noted that the “corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralised over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonising the entire world.” 
Pointing to the mindless violence of Islamists, he sarcastically noted that it was not possible that “1.6 billion [Muslim] people should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants— that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live.” 
He went on to tell his audience that there was need to get out of the old mindset and reflect on it from a more “enlightened perspective”. 
“We are in need of a religious revolution,” he added, “and the entire world is waiting for your [the ulema’s] next move” because the Muslim world was otherwise destroying itself.

The role of racism  
The Islamist challenge to Europe, especially countries like the UK, France and Netherlands, comes from the consequences of its colonial past. 
But economic needs and policies led to the rise of Muslim populations in Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Germany as well.
These migrants have come as workers and, in many instances, have been stratified as a less privileged and less educated underclass. 
The fault for this lies as much with them as their host countries, whose people tend to be insular and arrogant towards recent migrants. 
Layered upon alienation and deprivation are religious beliefs relayed by mullahs distrusting modernity and rejecting concepts of gender equality. 
This class has been enormously attracted by the doctrines of jehad and anti-westernism. While the distance from the Afghan conflict prevented many from going there, the European jihadists have travelled to Syria via Turkey and Jordan in significant numbers. 
It is estimated that there are some 250 fighters each from Australia and Belgium, 700 from France, 400 from the UK, 270 from Germany and so on.

The results are for all to see 
Just around the time of Egypt’s Muhammad Abdl ibn al-Wahhab, Indian theologian Shah Waliullah was laying the foundations of a religious revival movement in Delhi. 
He believed that the Muslim downfall in India had come because they had strayed from the “pure faith”.
Subsequently, his ideas led to the growth of the seminary in Deoband. However, unlike the Wahhabists, the Deobandis operated in an environment where Muslims were a minority and where the dominant power were the Christian British. 
So, their emphasis was more on personal change, rather than one enforced by society. However, their world view was conservative and has been a factor for their backwardness. 
On the other hand, it was this conservatism that led the Deobandis to oppose Partition. It was the modernisers who called for Pakistan, and thereafter cynically used the religion to maintain their rule in the country. 
Unlike the Muslim experience in Pakistan where the state meddled with religious ideas, or Europe, where Muslims are often alienated migrants, in India, the government took the road of letting Muslims undertake change at their own pace and within the ambit of their own religion and traditions. The results are for all to see. 
In Pakistan, the gates of radicalism are wide open and there are few signs yet that the society will be able to prevent the further growth of radicalism.
Mail Today January 11, 2015

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

India’s response to the Pakistani ‘terrorist’ vessel has been mysterious and deserves some answers

By now there is no middle ground left. Either you believe the government version of what happened when an Indian Coast Guard ship met a mysterious Pakistani fishing vessel over New Year's Eve. Or you don't.
The government version of events has finally taken shape. A meeting on Tuesday now ensures that everyone is on the same page. Unfortunately, in the previous five days the pages were flying in all directions.
The final version goes something like this: Around two weeks ago, the National Technical Research Office (NTRO) picked up encrypted communication between Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists, the Pakistani maritime agency, their ISI handlers and some elements in Thailand. The terrorists, following the track of the Mumbai attack boat, would target Porbandar on January 12, when the Indian Navy was inaugurating a new installation there.
A counter-operation led by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval himself was launched and it involved the navy, the Coast Guard (CG), the R&AW, and the Intelligence Bureau (IB).
The boat was tracked by a CG Dornier 228 aircraft and later shadowed by a CG ship. At midnight on December 31, when it was 365 km West-South West of Porbandar, the CG ordered the unlit ship to stop for investigation. The suspect boat tried to get away and warning shots were fired across its bow. The four people on board went down to the compartment below the deck and set fire to the boat, leading to an explosion and its sinking. Because it was dark and stormy, nothing could be recovered and all we have in the public domain are two pictures. In one, the boat is burning in the dark.
The headline of the Ministry of Defence press release on January 2 spoke of a boat "carrying explosives in the Arabian Sea". Then the word 'explosive' vanished from the release. The t-word — terrorist — was not uttered. All that the release acknowledged was that the intelligence related to "some illicit transaction".
A full two days later on January 5, defence minister Manohar Parrikar amended his ministry's statement observing that "circumstantial evidence" suggested that the people in the boat were terrorists — after all they had committed suicide, whereas smugglers would have simply surrendered. He also noted that they were in touch with Pakistani maritime and army officials.
On January 6, a ministry of defence press release said that the Indian Navy "denies reports... that it had not reacted to intelligence provided by the NTRO (National Technical Research Organisation)," adding that the navy and the Coast Guard responded as per their standard operating procedures. This was to answer queries as to whether the navy, the nodal agency for coastal security in India, was in the loop on the incident.
The questions are obvious and compelling. The NTRO is not supposed to do retail snooping. Its job is to deploy hi-tech assets like satellites and interception equipment to collect raw information and pass them on to field agencies. There have been earlier complaints that the NTRO, which has not been fulfilling its somewhat exacting mandate in hi-tech intelligence-gathering and cryptography, had been taking recourse to doing low-level telecom surveillance and sending intercepts directly to consumers like state police forces.
Intercepts and bits of information need to be analysed before they are acted upon. That is why the Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) has been set up. Yet, the MAC seems to have played no role in this operation.
The navy was in the loop, as it claims, as well as a target. Yet, it allowed a subordinate agency to take the lead in protecting it. This is the equivalent of the army using the Border Security Force (BSF) to protect itself. Equally strange, the Maharashtra and Gujarat police were not kept in the loop. So confident were the counter-terrorism team that it did not for a minute think that this could be a ruse and that the target could be elsewhere.
It is also strange that the operation took place on the edge of India's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), 365 km from Porbandar. Surely, it would have made more sense to have allowed the suspect boat to come into our territorial waters — 12 nautical miles or 22 kms or less from the shore, where we could have legally boarded it forcibly? Even if it was sunk, you could have then recovered the evidence in the shallower waters, or, if you were lucky, captured one of the terrorists.
The government says it has more evidence, presumably the intercepts of the conversations. If so, they can be released, just as the Pervez Musharraf-Mohammad Aziz conversations were released during the Kargil War. One can also wonder just why more than a week has elapsed and India has still not issued a demarche or a protest to Pakistan on this attempted terrorist operation in which New Delhi forcefully says it has evidence of official complicity.
There are periodic claims of the government of destroying this terrorist module or that. But none of these is justiciable in that no one is tried and convicted. This is in contrast to, say, the counter-terrorist operations that, say, Britain has carried out in recent years where the bad guys have been trapped, tried and convicted. This has its own credibility.
Accepting the government version here will, therefore, have to be an act of faith, not facts leading to certainty.
Economic Times January 10, 2015

Pak boat op has left intel agencies red-faced

The incident involving the sinking of a fishing vessel off the coast of Gujarat on New Year’s Day has raised more questions than it has answered. To start with, the Ministry of Defence press release announcing the event was itself less than categorical. While its headline noted that the Coast Guard had intercepted a “suspect boat carrying explosives”, the text of the release did not thereafter mention “explosives”, though it did say eventually that the crew set the boat on fire “which resulted in an explosion”. All it said was that as per intelligence inputs on December 31, a fishing boat from Keti Bandar, a small port near Karachi, “was planning some illicit transaction in Arabian Sea (sic)”. It did not mention the word “terrorist” or “terrorism” either.

This photograph, released by the Defence Ministry on January 2, shows the Pakistani boat that blew up and sank during a high-speed chase at sea. File picThis photograph, released by the Defence Ministry on January 2, shows the Pakistani boat that blew up and sank during a high-speed chase at sea. File pic

To make up for it, as it were, the Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar spoke up two days later, on Monday morning, when he declared that the men in the boat “were suspected terrorists… mainly because they committed suicide”; smugglers would have simply surrendered. Since the Coast Guard has not managed to pick up any body or any other debris, the minister’s claim is on the basis of circumstantial evidence.
There are several problems with the story as it has been put out and many of these have been listed in the internet or in newspapers. But what the incident does seem to bring out is the continuing dysfunction of our intelligence system and the high levels of incompetence in matters of national security. First, the National Technical Research Organisation had no business to directly provide the intercept to the Coast Guard, along with the Navy. Second, since the Navy is the lead agency in coastal security, the Coast Guard should have taken action after consulting with the Navy brass.
The NTRO is supposed to deal with collecting information through high-tech means. But even if they got the intercept, they should have given it to the Multi-Agency Centre (MAC), which has been specially created to coordinate and analyse inputs relating to terrorism from different sources. The fishing vessel drama was relatively slow moving. The intercept happened a day or two earlier and there was more than enough time for the MAC to have assessed and analysed it. In the world of intelligence, one bit of information is not particularly useful, unless it is put together with other pieces and put through an analytical process. In the case of the Mumbai attack of 2008, the key failure was not in the information received there was information about the Pakistani plan and even the movement of the terrorist vessel the problem was in our inability to effectively analyse the information and understand how events would unfold on the ground.
In this case, too, in an alternative scenario, the boat could have been allowed to make its way to the shore, shadowed by the Coast Guard, or, better still, the marine commandos of the Navy who are trained in stealthy operations. The terrorists could have been quickly rounded up when they landed and India would have had a coup of sorts in exposing Pakistan once again. On the other hand, if the aim of the boat was to transfer weapons or explosives to another vessel, too, the Coast Guard could have waited and caught both the terrorists and their contacts red handed. Instead action took place at the very edge of India’s disputed maritime boundary with Pakistan, making pursuit difficult.
Unfortunately, all we have now is a lot of red faces. People are not sure as to what exactly happened. Defence Minister Parrikar says that the fact that they committed suicide indicates that they were terrorists. On the other hand, the LeT terrorists have consistently preferred to fight and die, rather than simply commit hara-kiri. In that scenario, the alleged terrorists in the boat would have allowed the Coast Guard to approach their boat and then opened fire and died in the process. The idea that the four people simply went down into the hold of the boat and set it on fire does not quite jell.
The government claims would be more credible if they released the pictures of terrorists on the boat. According to some reports citing the Coast Guard, the people in the boat were not dressed like fishermen. Then, how were they dressed? Surely if the boat was being tracked and then approached by the Coast Guard ship, we should have more and better pictures of how the action proceeded.
In a situation like this, it is unlikely that we will learn the whole truth. But the government needs to urgently examine the sequence of events and ask the NTRO as to why it has gotten into the business of directly supplying intercepts to field agencies. This is simply not its mandate. The NTRO is supposed to provide raw intelligence to the various agencies who are then supposed to analyse it. In the case of terrorist-related information, the MAC has been set up to prevent anything falling through the cracks. In this case, clearly something has.
Second, the government needs to find out just why the Navy was bypassed. According to the government decision in the wake of the Mumbai attack, the responsibility for coastal security has been given to the Indian Navy. In other words, if the Coast Guard is launching a major operation, it needs to do so with the permission of the Navy chain of command, especially since, according to reports, the Navy had also been given the same information and had assessed that it did not involve any threat to national security. There seems to be a facile assumption in our security establishment that the next terrorist attack, when it comes, will be like the last one. Hence the scenarios of seaborne Mumbai attack or the Kandahar hijack are being mooted. The reality probably will be a twisted surprise. The agencies should worry about the outlier scenarios, rather than obsessing about their past failures.
Mid Day January 6, 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The year of the 'chaiwallah': How Modi scripted India's future in 2014

The year 2014 could well have been an exceptional year for modern India’s political history. This is the year when Narendra Modi, a rank outsider and a political outcast in 2002, stormed his way to power as the prime minister of the country, at the head of the first government since 1989 to have a majority of its own. 
By the end of the year, through significant victories in Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, and the impressive showing in Jammu & Kashmir, the Modi phenomenon had steamrollered the Opposition. 
The question in all minds is whether the Modi effect will continue to operate in 2015. Will the party, which today has 1,058 members of the Legislative Assembly in the various states of the country, as compared to 949 of the Congress, score in Delhi and Bihar Assembly polls? 
But equally important is the question of whether Modi will be able to initiate his development agenda, or be derailed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and assorted Right-wing radicals whose goals are nothing short of converting this huge and diverse country into the homogenous politico-religious entity of their twisted imagination. 
Unlike the shell-shocked Congress, which seems set to decline, the BJP’s Bihar opponents - bitter rivals Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad - have actually reunited. 
Further, the election will be conducted at a time when the effect of the Modi bulldozer will be wearing off. If the BJP wins Bihar, it will target West Bengal and Assam in 2016 and, then the biggest prize of them all - the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. 
Notwithstanding the Bihar combination, Modi’s biggest challenge seems to be from within. The struggle is between those who believe that Modi’s mandate is to bring a governance revolution in the country which would lead to a clean, corruption-free and prosperous - and others, who think that the mandate was to assert the primacy of the country's majority community by reconverting minorities and reforming and restructuring education.
But as 2014 ended, it was clear that the message of good governance was being drowned out by the cacophony of the Hindu right-wing. To that end, they have launched a guerrilla war challenging conversion of Hindus, even while attacking Bible study classes, harassing Christian congregations and preventing interfaith marriages.
Modi himself has given ambiguous signals by derailing Christmas Day through his call to celebrate it as Good Governance Day. 
Modi’s dilemma is palpable. Emotionally and intellectually, he is very much part of the Sangh Parivar. But as the chief minister of Gujarat he has grown and outgrown the narrow confines of ideology and understands the virtues and compulsions of pragmatism. 
At one level, he understands the importance of the Parivar elements in his victory. It is clear that he understands the dangers posed by the monofocal agenda of the Sangh. Whenever the RSS and its Parivar has obsessed on conversion or reconversion, Modi has sought to take the high ground and promote “secular issues” - cleanliness through the Swachh Bharat campaign, ‘Make in India’ to promote manufacturing, and so on. 
In his radio talks, he has spoken on a variety of issues such as drug addiction, and in his Independence Day address, he also took up the theme of women’s empowerment. 
In 2015, Modi and the BJP have to show that it is not enough to arouse expectations; they also need to go the distance in meeting them. 

Modi, pictured during his time as BJP nominee, receives a rapturous reception in Varanasi
Modi, pictured during his time as BJP nominee, receives a rapturous reception in Varanasi

Contrary to what the Sangh Parivar believes, these are not about the identity of Indians - Hindu or otherwise - but about their everyday life - roti, kapda, makaan, education, job opportunities and a sense of well-being. 
Any effort to side-track this agenda will result in a blow-back which will hurt the BJP politically. One important test that is already upon the government is to deal with the fractured outcome of the J&K elections. Modi must address it not just as the leader of a party that has done very well in the polls, but as the PM who has to deal with a complex state which is teetering on the brink. 
In the process, he can also send a signal of the BJP’s willingness to engage with and come up with constructive solutions with parties representing minorities. 
In proportion to our population, the minorities may not appear significant in India - Muslims 13.4 per cent, Christians 2.3 per cent and Sikhs 1.9 per cent. But in terms of numbers, the picture looks very different - Muslims 162 million, Christians 28 million and Sikhs 23 million - all spread out across the country. 
But remember that in 1991, the disaffection of a small number of the 16 million Sikhs became a major national security challenge to the country. What would be the consequences of the radicalisation of even a fraction of the minority population today? 
There should be no doubts that the key consequence of polarising communities and increasing their insecurity will be the derailing of the government’s development agenda. 

PM Modi gives a speech during his Australia trip  
PM Modi gives a speech during his Australia trip  

So, the Modi government will have to decide what its priorities are in 2015. As it is, the first two sessions of Parliament under the new government have been less than stellar. 
Modi may have major political challenges, but his governance tasks are no less daunting. There are short-term issues of passing key legislation to promote economic growth. And then, there are equally compelling requirements to restructure and reform the government itself. 
Since the governance cannot be put on hold, the processes must be a continuing exercise. If on one hand, he is confronted by the lack of numbers in the Rajya Sabha, on the other, he has a serious shortage of personnel - ministerial and expert - to undertake restructuring and reform needed to overcome the structural constraints to sustained high growth of the Indian economy. 
More than that, he needs to be free from the distractions of the Hindutva agenda. In Gujarat, he had successfully kept the VHP and the Bajrang Dal at bay and maintained an uneasy relationship with the RSS. 
So far, ties between the RSS and Modi have been good. They know that if Modi needs them to fulfil his political ambitions, they, too, need Modi’s abilities to remain in a position to influence policy. 
Modi has closely consulted with the RSS and even inducted their personnel into the BJP. 
In the coming year, we will see this dynamic being played out in greater detail. There is an element of cynical calculation in both Modi and the Sangh’s attitudes. Modi seeks to yoke the Parivar to his goals, while the RSS is using the Parivar to keep Modi on the straight and narrow path it envisages for the country. 
The tension between the two could well be the big political story of 2015. But both need to realise that they hold in their hands the key to India’s future. With external factors like oil prices favouring India, what it needs is a stable political environment to create a prosperous India. 
The Sangh Parivar’s overreach could create circumstances that could destroy the promise of the Modi election in one short year. 
Mail Today December 31, 2014