Monday, August 25, 2014

PM Must Choose his Words ..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/ August 24, 2014

PM Must Choose his Words and Weapons in Dealing with Pak and its Missionaries

Nawaz Sharif,Abdul Basit

For a while now, all Pakistan envoys posted in India have been nothing more than remote-controlled megaphones. Their mission is to blare out the bluster of their ventriloquists in Islamabad and they are rarely switched off. Conventionally, a diplomat is expected to convey even the nastiest news in the nicest manner. But Pakistani diplomats are trained to convey to India the meanest messages in the foulest fashion. Recently, when the elegantly balding, sharp-nosed Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, made a plea to include separatist leaders as stakeholders in the K-dispute, he gave an ugly face to diplomacy. His provocative contention was a direct intervention in India’s internal matters and violation of conventions. Despite a stern warning by India’s foreign office, he held meetings with self-styled Kashmiri leaders who have been rejected by the people of their own state. A section of Indian diplomacy firmly believes that most Pak high commissioners have been used to unintentionally sabotage dialogue between the two countries. Or was it an attempt to prevent the visit of Indian diplomats to Pakistan, who would have gathered first-hand information about its paralysed government? Opposition leaders like Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri are making it impossible for beleaguered PM Nawaz Sharif to function as head of the government. Hence it is a mystery as to who could have advised Pakistan’s foreign secretary to continue the dialogue with Indian delegation? Was it a move on Basit’s part to destroy India’s democratic milieu? After all, every Pak envoy is known for hosting parties replete with biryani and sufi concerts for Delhi’s cultural, social and political influencers who would then sing the same tune as the quarrelsome quwwals in Islamabad.

Otherwise what was the logic behind Basit’s move in invoking the right of those responsible for creating trouble in the Valley? By his action, Basit has defied Indian democracy. He has challenged the right of democratically established Indian institutions to decide on how to deal with hostile elements. Predictably, an envoy representing a failed state struggling to save its identity is trying to deflect international attention from the crisis at home. It is unclear whether he speaks on behalf of Pakistan’s elected government or some invisible parallel power centre. Democratically elected leaders hardly share the vocabulary exhibited by Basit. His speaking style resembled extremists like Hafiz Saeed and others better. While his symbolic political masters back home underplayed India’s decision to call off the Secretary-level talks on August 25, it was Basit who was painting India as a warmonger.
Basit and his predecessors have been liberally misusing diplomatic immunity by not only engaging with anti-India elements but also trying to infiltrate the capital’s high and mighty club. The Pakistani establishment always chooses suave high commissioners whose cosmopolitan charm makes them trophy guests in Delhi’s drawing rooms. During the past three decades, envoys like Abdul Sattar, Riaz Khokhar, Ashraf Jahangir Kazi and Salman Bashir were so effective at networking that none of those invited to the high commissioner’s residence would ever utter a word against their hosts’ direst diatribes. With huge funds at their disposal, the envoys were able to create pressure groups in India who would parrot the Pak point of view on cross-border dialogue. In the past 25 years, Pakistan’s top diplomats have directly or indirectly facilitated the participation of hundreds of powerful Indian opinion-makers in seminars, symposiums and similar fine-dining gabfests organised by think-tanks funded by unknown sources in Pakistan. It is possible that some of the frequent fliers to Islamabad and Karachi from India have strong feelings against the continuation of dialogue with the perfidious neighbour, but there are many others who refuse to find fault with terror activities sponsored by non-state actors from across the border. The Pak High Commission in Delhi has become the preferred rendezvous for all those who have either been convinced about or mesmerised into believing in Pakistan’s cause. Last week when Basit spoke about “stakeholders”, he found support from many internationalists from India, including corporate leaders, all of whom have been strongly building a case for enhanced cultural, economic and sports cooperation between the two countries. Surprisingly, none of the beneficiaries of Indian munificence—at home and in Pakistan—have ever spoken against terror camps in PoK and Pakistan. On the other hand, they were able to influence the Indian establishment to grant Pakistan ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status by ignoring the fact that border violations have been plenty in past two years. According to a latest report, over a dozen terrorist training camps are actively operating from PoK and other parts of Pakistan. What is worse is that there is no progress on India’s demand to hand over its known enemies like Saeed and Dawood hiding in Pakistan. In a widely televised press conference, however, Basit let it drop that his country is also a victim of terrorism and that over 1,500 civilians have been killed by terrorists. He conveniently forgot that the killers were Frankenstein’s monsters created by Pakistani agencies like ISI.
The response to Basit’s outburst only reflects that though the colour of the Central government has changed, its organs remain unwilling to strike or challenge the defiance of Pak diplomats. Knowing PM Narendra Modi’s style and intentions, he would have sent Basit packing, along with his team and taken the broom to pro-dialogue moles in his own establishment and the party. According to media reports, even External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was kept out of the loop regarding cancelling the dialogue. It is a fact that Swaraj has been pushing for a hardline approach against Pakistan, even when she was Leader of the Opposition. The new leadership, however, has realised that the primary reason behind the delay in the settlement of the Kashmir standoff emanates not from the political leadership but from diplomats and non-state actors who have a greater stake in the continuity of confrontation between the two countries. Even Western powers like the US allow that any settlement between a prosperous India and a peaceful Pakistan would end US machinations and destabilise its strategic interests in South Asia. Modi began well by inviting Sharif to his swearing-in. But Sharif and his establishment have returned the gesture with bullets and barbs. It is for the PM to choose his words and weapons in dealing with India’s nefarious neighbour and its missionaries and mercenaries in India.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, August 18, 2014

Outsider PM's success lies in ..... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/August 17, 2014

Outsider PM's Success Lies in How Fast He Demolishes Barriers Built by Insiders

It was a 63-minute speech which elitist India would abhor, even while adoring its deliverer. Flamboyant in royal Jodhpuri headgear, Prime Minister Narendra Modi comported himself like a man with a mandate. His maiden address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort was short on big words but long in outreach. The gifted orator used videshi idiom to unfold a swadeshi road map. He vowed to convert India’s primitive countryside into a digital paradise. But he also made it clear that wireless connectivity would be achieved only through instruments made in India. He said, “When I talk about Digital India, it is not just something meant for big people. It is an instrument of growth for the poor.” The PM adroitly chose the very issues used by the elitist India to stay relevant and connected with the establishment, both at home and abroad. Speaking on gender issues, safety of women and heinous crimes like rapes, he admonished parents, asking them to control their sons instead of shackling their daughters, something no NGO or chest-thumping activist has even had an epiphany about. It is for the first time that a leader made it the responsibility of parents to spend more time in making their sons accountable for their activities than monitoring their daughters with suspicion. He emphasised the need for a clean India, both in body and spirit. His predecessors would unfailingly bleat about reviving big business, but Modi’s intent is to create a phalanx of young entrepreneurs. Refraining from excessive name-dropping of past leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Modi touched upon almost every issue from communalism to consumerism. Perhaps, it is for the first time that a PM skipped commenting on cross-border threats. The central point of his address was exclusively domestic—ensuring a responsive civil service, engineering economic revival and containing caste and communal strife. Without defining the contours of the coming institutional changes in the government structure, he made his first visible move by announcing the disbanding of the Planning Commission, which had become a roadblock in faster development of states. It was a political message to the states that the PM would like to make all CMs equal stakeholders in the allocation of funds for progress. With a single stroke, Modi silenced his worst critics in the states. Thus the CM-turned-PM also became India’s Pradhan Mukhya Mantri (Prime Chief Minister) and Pradhan Sewak.

Modi also made the shocking revelation that Delhi has many governments within the government. By giving the example of one Union ministry fighting a legal battle against another, he was revealing the nature of the various pressure groups that use their influence to stall government decisions through their contacts with ministers and bureaucrats. Calling himself an outsider, Modi made it clear that he was determined to dismantle the parallel establishment inside and outside the government. As his vocabulary revealed, now that he has taken charge, the PM would start the process of putting in place a genuine Modi Sarkar soon. According to insiders, he has been spending long hours understanding the rules of governance and the hidden multi-layer processes within decision-making. He has successfully aborted the moves of numerous powerbrokers to find their way into his inner circle of advisors. As one of his aides said, “Modiji moved from Gujarat to Delhi without a kitchen. Now many are in the line to join his kitchen cabinet. They don’t forget that he is a much better cook and manager of his own kitchen.” As is evident from the past 75 days of his tenure, Modi welcomes ideas and not individuals with personal agendas.
NaMo has once again asserted that he will follow his own vision and mission. Proving various pundits claiming proximity to him wrong, the PM’s message to the nation was not written by a menagerie of mandarins. As is the usual practice, all ministries were asked to send directly to Modi proposals they would like to be included in the PM’s speech. Since most of these presentations were near-Xeroxes of the ones sent to previous PMs, they went into Modi’s trash can. He avoided announcing new schemes, elaborating only on subjects he was vocal about during his election campaign. All the new initiatives he announced bore the Modi stamp. He didn’t make any promises. It was obvious that he realised over 90 per cent of the new schemes announced by his predecessors were forgotten as soon as they returned to Race Course.
Two most important takeaways from Modi’s address were accountability and delivery. Announcing the launch of Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojna, he advised all MPs and MLAs to use their discretionary funds to develop a model village each in their constituency every year. So far, lawmakers were using taxpayers’ money to oblige their supporters by constructing barat ghars, installing streetlights near their houses or splurging money on projects which were already being funded by other agencies. Modi’s objective was to force legislators to deliver visible assets in their respective areas. Basically, he was telling them to spend less time at cocktail parties and more working in the villages. Modi has realised that it is the growing promiscuity between lawmakers and lawbreakers in big cities that has marred the nation’s growth.
His indigenous narrative was also meant to make India self-reliant by making her a destination for capital creation. His pitch for foreign investment did not come without a rider. He made it clear that foreigners are welcome to establish manufacturing units and not just to invest in financial instruments. None would be encouraged to bring in hot money either. They could come only to make things in India and sell them outside India. He offered investors a range of choices from paper manufacturing to submarine building to minimise India’s dependence on imports.
Modi’s call for change from the heights of the Red Fort has shaken the foundation of the class and caste-ridden establishment. His success would lie in how fast and how soon an outsider like him would be able to demolish the 68-year-old hitherto unbreakable barrier built and protected by greedy insiders and take India to its true destiny.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, August 11, 2014

Modi Faces Bigger Threat .... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ 10.08.2014

Modi Faces Bigger Threat from Wily Civil Servants Than Political Opponents

It was a missive, totally un-Modi like, since Narendra Modi has won India and taken full control of BJP through trusted and tested aide Amit Shah. But the citadel that awaits to be stormed is the Delhi-based phalanx of babus, who he is yet to Modify. Last weekend, when the PMO issued a 19-point code of conduct after almost 30 years for India’s steel-framed bureaucracy, it was seen as a warning. Modi is perhaps the first PM who has refrained from mass-scale transfers of senior officials. He surprised his colleagues by deciding to give a six-month extension to Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, whose only virtue is his invisibility. Modi has retained all key secretaries in finance, defence, HRD, home and external affairs. He enforced the principle of continuity in the bureaucracy even though some mandarins were UPA loyalists. It is clear that Modi wants to govern through bureaucracy. He has taken over from Manmohan but the Modi government is yet to acquire a shape.

The Indian Civil Services is one of the country’s most powerful institutions. A relic of the Raj, it ensured that politicians would never take any initiative without making babus either partners in power or beneficiaries of the system. The over 20,000-member club of All India Services officers comprising IAS, IFS, IRS, IR&AS, IPS etc. are the unelected rulers of India. They get automatic promotions, perks and salaries and create lucrative post-retirement facilities, which even politicians have failed to do for themselves. When Modi advised bureaucrats to be neutral, efficient and honest, it was like telling a tiger to stop hunting. Insiders say there are enough checks on the civil services in place, without the need for new directives. Even the official code of conduct provides summary dismissal of officials found engaging in political activity. They can be sent to jail if guilty of corruption. In one instance, Yashpal Kapoor, the then private secretary to PM Indira Gandhi, acted as an election agent for her. Mrs Gandhi lost her poll petition because she used a government official for election purposes. Rarely is a senior official transferred due to his or her inability to perform duties correctly, because the steel frame hasn’t allowed any accountability matrix for the bureaucracy. Babus can only be moved out if they fail to do the bidding of their political masters.
Modi, however, added a significant provision to his proclamation, which, if taken to the logical end, would break the civil service-corporate nexus. One directive is that all conflict of interest situations must be avoided and resolved. It is evident the PM has placed a premium on the character of a civil servant. It is, in fact, the conflict of interest—or creation of future interest—which has been the guiding principle for taking official decisions so far. Post-retirement, most civil servants joined the very corporations they used to deal with in their official capacity. A study of retired babus reveals that over 80 per cent of senior officials took up highly paid jobs after superannuation in the same sectors they had been handling, all which benefited by their decisions. One of the most dangerous fallouts of economic reform has been mandarins playing the markets. Either through relatives or on their own, bureaucrats have been making a killing buying and selling scrips. It is the cleverest legal way of making illegal money because babus know in advance which future policies of the government would positively or negatively affect various sectors. There is suspicion in some quarters that it is the politician-babu-corporate nexus that has prevented the government from imposing the capital gains tax so far. India is perhaps the only democracy where promoters and relatives in politics and civil services make crores without paying a paisa as income tax. The power of bureaucracy was evident when two decades ago, it prevented the finance minister from revealing the names of babus who were allotted promoters’ shares by companies at concessional rates. Some officials holding the shares joined the same companies as directors or consultants. Even now, there are officials who have mastered the art of writing pro-private sector documents for PPP and demand royalty for it.
Piercing the steel frame has been a big challenge for all leaders for it’s the apparatchik who makes the apparatus. Modi should remember that the “bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies and cowards”. Therefore, his agenda should have been to replace pygmies with giants. If a party needs a strongman with verve and vision, the bureaucracy needs an equally towering personality to lead it. For past three decades, fearless and innovative officers have lost the battle to sycophants and incompetents. India has seen impressive Cabinet Secretaries and principal secretaries like A N Verma, Brajesh Mishra, B G Deshmukh, Vinod Pandey and Naresh Chandra. They led from the front and were au courant with the mind and mission of their PMs. Since they were first-raters, they also chose first-raters to assist in running the government. Now second-raters have taken over and they look for third-raters so that they do not outshine their bosses.
For a change, the steel frame showed signs of cracks after Modi took over. Initially, they cowered perspiring in their AC rooms for the call from South Block, informing them about their transfers. They were relieved they were not relieved of their jobs. Modi preaches and practises delivery. As Gujarat CM, he successfully rode the bureaucracy tiger. He neither set nor amended any rules of conduct for them. Yet his babus exceeded his expectations.
So, when he walked into 7 RCR, the bureaucracy was expecting its achche din of doing no work about to end. It is used to conjuring up new ideas for the new leader, to generate fresh jobs for themselves and escape scrutiny. Babus understood the real message behind Modi’s slogan ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’ well. It meant he would demolish many departments and secretaries to create a lean, mean establishment. Before Modi could implement his vision, they counselled him to embark on the path of ‘advice first, act later’. The bureaucracy abhors initiative and innovation. It despises any exercise which ensures better results. Modi faces a bigger threat from the wily civil servant than from any political opponent. He must keep it in mind that “powers once acquired are never relinquished easily, just as bureaucracies once created never die or vanish”.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, August 4, 2014

Books by Has-beens is More about... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/03.08.2014

Books by Has-beens is More About Rediscovering Their Imaginary Legacies

G K Chesterton, known for his adept turn of phrase, wisecracked, “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero, but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.” Former Gandhi loyalist-turned-Brutus Natwar Singh’s new book is not a novel, but fiction stranger than fact. His only claim to fame is the close access he once enjoyed to the Nehru-Gandhi family and its accompanying advantages. He doesn’t lose any opportunity to boast about his encounters with world leaders and how Indira Gandhi trusted him more than any other where diplomatic ventures were concerned. Predictably, his book reveals more about himself than his former benefactor, mentor and promoter, Sonia Gandhi. But for Gandhi Parivar’s indulgence and munificence, Singh would be spending his sunset days in some village of Rajasthan like many of his former colleagues. I haven’t read the book, but have read enough and heard his utterances regarding his interpretation of events, which is aimed at demolishing the already marginalised Sonia.
Natwar is a herald of hindsight; he has expounded anything and everything about Sonia’s style and substance, which he now finds dictatorial. The acolyte who revolted against former PM P V Narasimha Rao for Sonia’s sake, has now become her worst enemy. Modesty has never been Natwar’s virtue. Like many retired, tired and fired civil servants and politicians, he has followed the formula of hawking wisdom by writing selective memoirs. During the past decade, many retired babus and advisers have penned experiences, receiving much media space. All of them, perhaps, believe that public memory is short. It isn’t. Natwar, like many other authors before him, has been uncharitable with the truth. While some, like former President Venkatraman and BG Deshmukh, former principal secretary to Rajiv Gandhi, refrained from making political statements or embarrassing disclosures, others like T N Seshan and P C Alexander used privileged information to seek publicity or favour from the new establishment. 
Natwar has the advantage of both degree and pedigree. His ‘damning revelations’ would have made sense if he had dealt with Volcker Commission’s Report on Oil-for-Food scam. His close aide implicated him. It was only after massive protests in Parliament that he lost his job as foreign minister. When India Today carried it as a cover story and followed up with a series of debates on Headlines Today, Sonia was forced to jettison Natwar. To be fair to her, she resisted all pressure to act hastily after the story hit the headlines. First she divested Natwar of his portfolio and asked him to resign only later. But Natwar seems to have glossed over this chapter, which marked the end of his relationship with the Congress and Gandhi Parivar. Trained in the bureaucratic and political tradition of compromise, he cleverly evades his and the Congress’ association or role in the scam.
Both Natwar and Congress were listed in the report as “non-contractual beneficiaries” of Iraqi oil sales in 2001. Natwar was mentioned as the non-contractual “beneficiary” in connection with four million barrels of oil routed through Masefield AG, named as the contracting company. The report also claimed that Congress also benefitted through the same company, a charge denied by both Natwar and the party. Surprisingly, after his disgraceful ouster, Natwar kept schtum for almost six years. He even let his son Jagat contest an Assembly poll on a BJP ticket.
The irony is that even after writing highly sensational prose, Natwar admits he hasn’t revealed all he knows. It is evident that the predominant objective is to establish his honesty and give a bad name to his former mentor. His attempt appears to expose as myth Sonia’s decision not to become PM by heeding her “inner voice, and that she did so because Rahul felt that she, too, would be assassinated like his father and grandmother”. Such rumours did appear in the media in 2004. Natwar’s details about the events tell more about the quality of the author’s wisdom than the heroine or villain of his labours. Evidence is scarcer than truth: like, an ex-adviser of a former PM, Natwar also mentions that official files were sent to Sonia for approval, but doesn’t offer any proof. I am positive that Natwar himself was sharing much sensitive information about his ministry with Sonia, but wasn’t significant enough to be appreciated by the Congress president.
If Natwar decided to give vent to his anger against the Gandhis, others have churned out volumes only to enshrine their virtues. For example, when Seshan, former Cabinet Secretary and later Chief Election Commissioner, wrote A Heart Full of Burden, he simply forgot to disclose his relationship with former PM V P Singh and the reasons that led to his removal. He also abjured any explanations for his decision to postpone the second phase of Lok Sabha polls after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Seshan, in fact, claimed that he consulted former PM Chandrashekhar before taking the decision, who flatly refuted this. Even Alexander never revealed the real reason for his ouster from Indira Gandhi’s office in his three tomes. He was asked to leave after the discovery of a functionary in his office embroiled in an espionage scandal.
A great example of a sunshine memoir is My Presidential Years by former President R Venkatraman. Contrary to general perception about his cloudy relations with Rajiv Gandhi, he revealed a few disagreeable facts. In one of my meetings with him, Venkatraman mentioned his problems with Rajiv, who he claimed came to meet him only to discuss the colour of Rashtrapati Bhavan curtains. Based on my interaction, I wrote a story in India Today. Soon after it hit the stands, he cancelled my scheduled meeting with him.
It is evident that the competitive urge to write books by has-beens and forgotten time-servers about their official roles seems to have more to do with positioning themselves as advisers-on-call and rediscovering their imaginary legacies. As a powerful personage in the current dispensation puts it, how come wisdom and truth dawns on babus and leaders only after they are sacked or retired? To paraphrase Sonia’s literary promise, I will disclose the truth when I write my encounters with untruth.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla