Sunday, April 30, 2017

To Tackle Terror and Desperation in the Valley ..... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 30, 2017

To tackle terror and desperation in the Valley, Modi needs to think about bullet for stone

In democracy, the ballot and not the bullet is the wonder weapon best suited to resolve conflicts and replace governments. When those rejected by ballots resort to murder and mayhem to destabilise an elected establishment, the bullet becomes the most preferred means to erase the threat. The Narendra Modi government has to stand firm on a-bullet-for-a-stone policy to save Kashmir from dangerous demons disrupting democracy. Last week, the Supreme Court decided to step in where successive governments at the Centre and the state have failed in 27 years. It directed all stakeholders to visualise the roadmap for a meaningfully inclusive dialogue. It also asked the government to refrain from the pellet policy if the agitators stopped hurling stones at the security forces.  

Numerous dialogues, both formal and informal, have happened in the past to restore normalcy in Kashmir. Many free-and-fair elections have been held with record turnouts. European Parliament,  a symbol of pluralism and liberalism, sang paeans to Indian elections. Soon after the last J&K election, it issued a statement: “The high voter turnout figure proves that democracy is firmly rooted in India. The EU would like to congratulate India and its democratic system for conduct of fair elections, unmarred by violence, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The European Parliament also takes cognisance of the fact that a large number of Kashmiri voters turned out despite calls for the boycott of elections by certain separatist forces”.

Perhaps, stung by this endorsement and the rise of a first-time government with nationalist participation in J&K, saboteurs of the democratic process with lucrative side benefits are running amok in the state. Stone pelting is their bloody, money-spinning sport, where the prize is defeating the collective will of the people. In 2016, there were 2,690 incidents of stone pelting as against 1,157 in 2015—a rise of almost 250 per cent. Almost half of these occurred in North Kashmir, followed by 875 in South Kashmir and 567 in Central Kashmir. The year 2016 was also the bloodiest for the security forces since 2008—87 uniformed personnel martyred until last December compared to 51 in 2014. More than 20 have been killed since January. Last year, 165 terrorist scalps were taken—also the highest count in the past eight years.  

Local factors have less to do with the ominous surge in violence than the liberal financial and ideological support to separatists and their agent provocateurs from across the border. Ironically, New Delhi has given J&K the status of a most preferred state. According to official sources, between 2006 and 2016 it received per capita Central assistance of Rs 91,300 as against Rs 43,000 for Uttar Pradesh. This mega munificence has forced the percentage of people living below the poverty line in J&K to drop to a minimum of 3.48 per cent as against 25 per cent in 1980. Over 26 per cent live above the poverty line in the rest of India. Kashmir’s per capita income has been growing at about 12 per cent. Recently, the Centre allotted Rs 19,000 crore of the Rs 80,000 crore development packages announced by PM Narendra Modi to J&K. But Kashmir is also the valley of illusion. The unrestricted river of rupees flowing from Delhi to Srinagar has only helped fatten the assets of the double dealers who have made terrorism and extortion Kashmir’s cottage industry.

Their scruples are shallower than the Dal Lake in a summer of discontent. Since containing terror and protecting unarmed civilians pose a threat to economics, politics and crossborder detente, the sharks of separatism spread fear by attacking peacekeeping forces by using women as human shields and stones as weapons. For the past three years, Modi has kept his mantra for Kashmir close to his chest. He has maintained a significant silence on the Valley’s precarious state of affairs. With his predilection for springing surprises, he is expected to make a move, which will make or mar his image of leader with a mission and vision. Some of the proposals on his table are:

• Act on a second surgical strike to destroy all training camps. Modi is unlikely to face international hostility as most of the Western world is fighting terror.

• Appoint a strong governor to keep a check on the state government. The sell-by-date of current incumbent N N Vohra (81) is past. This member of the pro-dialogue cabal is instrumental in adopting a soft line. Modi is under pressure to send a younger person with an Army background to the Raj Bhavan.
• Treat unrest in the Valley as treason and a law and order issue. Use force to contain it at any cost by deploying the BSF in large numbers. Security experts are peeved with the state government for removing Army bunkers from strategic points. Militants and terrorists are scared of the power of India’s military, if it is given operational freedom and modern weapons.

• Create fully-trained armed women battalions to deal with misguided female stone pelters.
• Break the nexus of local cops, separatists and terrorists responsible for the spurt in attacks on uniformed forces by insulating the state police from ISI infiltration.

• Move all the terrorists and stone pelters in Kashmir’s jails to faraway states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat etc. This prevents them from establishing contact with their local masters. Terrorists and their supporters in local prisons have access to modern communication equipment. 
• Withdraw or downsize the security cover of Hurriyat leaders who attend prayers with youngsters waving IS flags and raising pro-Pakistan slogans.

• Create special jobs for Kashmiri youth in BJP-ruled states to stop them from joining the burgeoning brigade of stone pelters.

To be the Samson of Srinagar, Modi has to flex his muscles against the devious doves who have infiltrated his system and are pushing for dialogue with Pakistan in private and in public. Even those retired officials, rewarded with insignificant sinecures, are writing articles pleading for engagement with Pakistan—the fount of terror. Modi can win the Kashmir war only if he takes the less-trodden path ignored by his predecessors. He has junked the old style politics and politicians. The time has come for him to also dump professional peaceniks, free junketers and Pak-friendly chatteratti and adopt disruptive diplomacy and a determined defence strategy to bring Kashmir back on track.

prabhuchawla@; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 24, 2017

Despite Green Light to turn off Red lights ...... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard /April 23, 2017

Despite green light to turn off red lights, threat to survival of sanity in governance lingers

For a while now, High Visibility with Low Acceptability sums up the incipient image of the Very Important Person (VIP) in India. Till a few decades ago, leaders and personalities with low visibility and high credibility were accepted as VIPs by society. But as the number of beacons (lal battis) on cars and pilot vehicles—signature symbols of today’s VIP—multiplied, the pompous personages invited the wrath and disdain of the common man from whom they demand respect and submission. As ever intuitive to the pulse of the people, Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned beacons from official vehicles of all ministers, civil servants and leaders last week.
In the past, a few leaders, including a couple of chief ministers, had made half-hearted attempts to downgrade VIPs to VOPs (Very Ordinary Persons). However, Hurricane Modi has swept away red light culture from the corridors of power. Within minutes of his diktat, Union ministers were observed rushing home or to work sans the customary red lights flashing on their swanky cars.

The colour red was not the only sign of a VIP. The paraphernalia, part of the retinue of a self-proclaimed sultan on steroids was the old normal—a lethal combination of a beacon-crowned car protected by either gun-toting commandoes or officious cops insulating VIPs from VOPs.  He hopes a leaner security detail will be the new normal.

The PM’s resolve to curtail or contain the VIP syndrome stems from an aversion to the rising craze among leaders of all persuasions—political, social, spiritual, Bollywood and business—for government branded security as opposed to the highly discreet private protection services available elsewhere in the world. Black Cat commandos, Greyhounds, security personnel from the CRPF, CISF and other special forces bestow a false sense of power and importance on the sub-ordinary and undeserving barnacles clinging to the keel of power. Normally, a protectee’s level of security is decided on the basis of the threat perception from unlawful elements or terrorists. But there are examples galore of individuals getting high security shield against threats emanating from their own rivals instead of genuine danger. Sometimes an uncivilised culture lies behind the sense of entitlement. Subsequently, VIPs are ridiculed as Very Insecure Persons.

According to unofficial estimates, India has one cop per 325 citizens. But over 20 security personnel guard one VIP. The number of VIPs basking under the high security umbrella has been zooming vertical at subsonic speed. As many as 500 people are listed as VIPs by the Central government and over 5,000 by the state governments. This laborious list includes lawmakers, bureaucrats, judges and important leaders of the civil society and corporate world. Even some media persons sport lal battis as a perk from obliging politicians who expect quid pro quo.

This ostentatious security culture began when some chief ministers, babus and senior police officials raised their own security level claiming “perceived” threat perception. For example, in states in the north and the east, over 1,000 lawmen are deputed to protect a chief minister. But the newly-elected Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s order to curtail the use of beacons and downgrade the security of numerous politicians came to naught. His predecessor Parkash Singh Badal had a security cover of 1,500, including NSG commandos.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 17, 2017

Modi Proves a Right Mix of Religion .... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 16, 2017

Modi proves a right mix of religion and economics is the new recipe for growth

Money multipliers survive by promoting the belief that good economics is bad politics. Now Lobbyists for Cuckoo Liberalism are hawking the slogan that good religion is bad economics and worse politics. They conveniently shy away from mentioning the negative aspects of those religions, which are pushing numerous countries back to the Stone Age and into the maw of terror. Stunned by the mass acceptability of nationalism and welfarism, status quoist illiberals are projecting the rise of Hindutva as a major threat to development. During the past three years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proved beyond doubt that the symbols, songs and syntax of faith make real Vikas Mantras. Saffron is no longer the colour of communalism.

                                  UP CM Yogi Adityanath with PM Narendra Modi

Ever since Modi anointed Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the Cassandras of communal connivance are on hyperdrive to eviscerate social and ideological concepts and configurations that remotely resemble Hindutva. They have chosen to be selectively vocal against religion. They prefer not to acknowledge that Yogi, during his three weeks in office, has taken many decisions empowering the minorities and women, enforced law and order, tamed corruption, improved infrastructure and ensured continuity rather than embarking on actions to embolden hard core communal outfits.
The distortion of the ban on illegal abattoirs and brutal attacks on meat shops by fringe elements did spread fear among the minorities. However, course correction by the unflappable Yogi has made it clear that inclusive administration and not political Hindutva is his raj dharma. It shows the sanguine sanyasi hasn’t deviated an inch from the Modi Model of governance and development. All the 13 BJP Chief Ministers, too, have tried to keep their distance from fringe elements.
Taking a dvaitik cue from Modi methodology, they wear religion on their sleeves while ensuring good governance. Most BJP-run states perform better on numerous economic parameters than their adversaries.

Despite the stressed international economic environment, India’s economic performance in many sectors has been better than the world’s best. Motivated by Moditva, many neo-believers are inspired by the epiphany that a nationalist makes a better ruler than a leader who follows radical religion or La-La Liberalism. Today, three heads of states—Xi Jinping, President of China, Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, and Modi—have placed their flag and country above all. Donald Trump won the presidency seeking a mandate for America.

In Europe, nationalism is the new liberalism. Many mass leaders have come to the conclusion that nationalism subtly tempered with religion ensures peace and prosperity, empowered by self-belief. This is a slap in the ugly face of Islamic fundamentalism in West Asia, which is infecting the civilized world through senseless lone wolf attacks and bombings.
Modi’s successful nationalism appears to be a heady mix of religion and economics. He feels Ram rajya represents the best model of economic growth where accountability, transparency and equality decide the contours and culture of governance. Modi has rescued many castaway icons of nationalism, social reforms and the Independence movement from abandoned islands of political partiality.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 10, 2017

Opposition parties seek grand unity ..... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 09, 2017

Opposition parties seek grand unity to be relevant in presidential election

They should have paid more attention to the proverb right at the beginning. But they refused to stand united and, so, divided they fell and got bruised, if not battered. Now, after the last Assembly elections, with political extinction staring them in the face, some Opposition leaders are trying to regroup and put together at least a symbolic challenge to a seemingly unstoppable-Modi machine. 
Indira Gandhi with V V Giri
Truth be told, there is no leader who can even pretend to be an alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in popularity and power at the moment. The geographical and ideological boundaries of the Modi-baiters don’t extend beyond the walls of the offices they occupy. But politics is an unpredictable game of impossibilities and dreams. And they say there’s victory where there’s unity. Which is probably why Rahul Gandhi, Congress President-in-waiting, has suddenly become accessible to those with whom he has rarely exchanged pleasantries in his 13 years of parliamentary politics. Last week, he invited Communist leaders to his office for coffee and discussed the possibility of forging an alliance against the NDA government in Parliament.
It’s time, you see, to choose the new President. 
Both the machinery and mathematics of elections are stacked in favour of the ruling dispensation. And Modi is keeping his choice of candidate close to his chest. He can afford to: he enjoys a legitimate monopoly over every administrative and political decision, and his political power exceeds that of even Indira Gandhi, who could make even a lamp-post win, they said. However, if the entire non-BJP political spectrum puts its resources together, it can perhaps bruise the Himalayan halo of the Prime Minister and set the tone for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. For, remember, despite enjoying a brute majority at the Centre and states, even India Gandhi couldn’t ensure an unopposed win for her candidate. In 1969, her candidate VV Giri defeated the official Congress candidate N Sanjiva Reddy. But in 1977, Gandhi (now in the opposition) couldn’t find a credible candidate to fight Reddy who was eventually elected unopposed. 
While Modi maintains a royal silence, the entire opposition has begun hunting for a credible Presidential candidate. Before the assembly elections, Modi was expected to go in for a consensus and force a hardcore Hindutva personality as his choice. But Modi hasn’t started consultations even within his own party so far, leave alone with any known or unknown foes. A few weeks ago, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar was considered to be the consensus choice as he was also honoured with India’s second-highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan. Pawar has strong credentials as a member of the Rajya Sabha and as former president of the Janata Dal (U). But after his unprecedented electoral gains in UP and elsewhere, Modi is unlikely to accept anyone from the opposition ranks as the next president. 
Nevertheless, structured and informal parleys on the matter have already begun in Lutyens’ Delhi. The idea among the Opposition leaders is to bring together some 35 political parties which have more than a 50 per cent share of the Electoral College. Since none of them enjoys a pan-India image or visibility, premium has been put on integrity, seniority and social background of a potential contestant.  While Pawar appears to still be in the forefront, the Opposition is also toying with the idea of asking President Pranab Mukherjee to run for a second term. By all indications, he is unlikely to agree, unless requested to do so by both sides.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sinking Congress awaits coronation...... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 02, 2017

Sinking Congress awaits coronation of inaccessible RaGa to survive and challenge Modi

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi (File | PTI)
Will he? Won’t he? Once, that million-dollar question used to be aimed at Prince Charles, heir-in-waiting to the British throne for the last 65 years. But with many more heirs now in line for what is largely a titular position, the old question has become largely academic. The more crucial question that begs an answer concerns India’s erstwhile ‘first family’, the Gandhis. What the nation really wants to know is when the 46-year-old Rahul Gandhi will formally take over the reins of the 132-year-old Congress party from his ailing mother Sonia.
Rahul’s uninformed spin doctors try and routinely spoon-feed the media with some titbits about his imminent coronation. But seeing is believing, and with the young Gandhi more conspicuous by his absence than his accomplishments, it’s difficult to take those pronouncements seriously. Because, truth be told, neither the active nor inactive members of the country’s second-largest political party know when they will get a fully functional chief. Only the occupants of 10, Janpath are privy to that secret.
It’s been seven years since the Congress last held formal elections to choose office-bearers at the central and state levels. Sonia took over as AICC president in 1998 after unceremoniously booting out Sita Ram Kesari in a mid-day coup. She was re-elected in 2001 and 2005. She became party president for the fourth time in 2010, and has remained boss since. Fresh elections were due in 2015, but didn’t happen. Last week, the  Election Commission served the Congress a final warning to hold organisational elections by July 15, 2017, or face the possibility of losing recognition.
Since the Congress has survived under a Gandhi banner for over four decades, this is perhaps the last opportunity for the family to prove its political utility and acceptability. Many fair-weather leaders are already hopping off the sinking ship, and the family is under tremendous pressure to stop the party spinning out of its control. Survival lies in forcing Rahul to pull it out of the dangerously choppy sea. But the question being asked by both old and new Congress leaders and elitist opinion makers is this: Forget capturing power from the Mighty Modi within the next decade, can a Gandhi (Rahul) even drum up a credible opposition to him?
Sonia pushed Rahul into politics and asked him to contest Lok Sabha elections in 2004. He has won from Amethi thrice since then. But the inheritor-in-waiting still needs to erase the public impression of him as a part-time, reluctant leader who performs more vanishing acts than Houdini. As the target of a powerful section of the ‘liberal and secular’ media who hold him responsible for the rise of Hindutva and its icons in India, Rahul also needs to prove that the Congress is not an ideology whose time has gone but, instead, an idea that can never die.
Rahul was appointed party vice-president in 2013 so that he could lead the party during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and eventually replace his ailing mother. He was billed as the youngest challenger to Narendra Modi’s bid for power, but the truth is his road shows and rallies delivered fewer seats than the public meetings that he addressed with his mother.
And that could be one of the reasons for delaying the transition from one Gandhi to another. If Sonia could be credited for bringing Congress back into power twice, Rahul has been held responsible for the party’s plummeting acceptability in various parts of the country. During the past decade, the Congress has shrunk from controlling two-thirds of the country to less than one-fourth. Even if Rahul does take charge of the organisation, it is going to be a daunting task to put life into an outfit that’s gasping for breath.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla