Was Modi assassination target?

The shooting down of the Malaysian airplane by a surface to air missile which killed 269 on board has sparked conspiracy theories. Russia is blaming the Ukrainians, Ukraine is blaming the Russians, and the separatist Russian rebels inside Ukraine are being blamed by others. The weapons system that shot down the plane was made in Russia. Russia, Ukraine and the rebels all had access to the weapons system. The actual shooting it is generally acknowledged could have been done only by the rebels who control territory where the plane was shot down. Conspiracy would exist if someone put up the rebels to commit the act. Did such a conspiracy exist? If so, who could be the conspirator? Speculation would be endless. But a few curious facts merit attention.

Was Modi assassination target?

A transcript of conversation purportedly between the rebels and the Russian army intelligence officer controlling them was released by the Ukrainian government. In the dialogue the rebel says that the wrong plane was shot by them. By error they shot down a civilian plane. How did this transcript reach the Ukrainians? Was it leaked by the Russian authorities, by the rebels, or was procured through interception by either the Ukrainian authorities of by a third party? The dialogue suggests that a different non-civilian plane was the intended target.

Subsequently for almost an entire day the state owned Russian TV propagated a theory that the intended victim was President Putin whose plane was on the same route. But at the end of the day this theory was abandoned after it transpired that President Putin took an altogether different route. There was reportedly an Air India flight close on the heels of the Malaysian plane. But that too was a civilian plane. The only non civilian plane that took the same route a little after the shootout was the plane carrying Prime Minister Modi.

Several questions need credible answers. Was the transcript between the rebels and Russian Army intelligence genuine? How was it procured? Why did Russia’s state owned TV tried to project that President Putin was the target when the possibility did not exist? Was Prime Minister Modi the real target?

There are widespread demands that there should be a credible investigation of the plane shootout by giving full access to investigators from different nations to examine the site of the fallen plane in order to probe the crash. However the Indian government should demand that there should be a full fledged investigation of the conspiracy angle under the aegis of the United Nations in which governments concerned should be compelled to fully cooperate. Security concerns in the light of events make such a probe imperative.

Mr. Vaidik’s exalted company!

There have been voiced strident demands that the journalist in spotlight, Mr. Ved Pratap Vaidik, should be arrested for committing sedition. What was his crime? He met with Pakistani terrorist mastermind Hafiz Saeed and made statements about the future of Kashmir while in Pakistan. What did he say about Kashmir? He said that both Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Indian held Kashmir should have a common assembly, should have free movement of peoples, and for all practical purpose unite so that they might enjoy a sense of freedom and peace as people in India do. I shall not comment on the practicality or otherwise of this proposal. It suffers from the same inadequacy that President Musharraf’s proposal did of joint management of the two Kashmir segments.

President Musharraf proposed free movement of goods and people across the Line of Control and joint management of Kashmir territories held by India and Pakistan. I pointed out then that this could not be implemented unless the armies of both nations ceased to be in contention and became fully cooperative. That in turn suggested a joint defence treaty that would enable both armies to wipe out terrorism. That in turn suggested a full fledged arrangement similar to a confederation or one similar to the European Union. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh endorsed the Musharraf formula and said that borders should be made irrelevant.

Superior to both suggestions was what Pandit Nehru proposed to President Ayub Khan in 1964 through the message conveyed by his emissary, Sheikh Abdullah. Nehru proposed an Indo-Pakistan confederation with Kashmir acting as the bridge between both nations. While the Sheikh was in Pakistan, Nehru died and the exercise was aborted. Nehru’s proposal went further than that of Musharraf and did not suffer from any inadequacy insofar as its feasibility was concerned.

Mr. Vaidik’s meeting with Hafiz Saeed has attracted severe criticism because the latter masterminded a terrorist attack against India on 26/11. But is not Hafiz Saeed indisputably supported either remotely or directly by the Pakistan government? Did not President Ayub Khan, the man Nehru reach out to, launch the 1965 war against India? Did not General Musharraf launch the Kargil engagement despite which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conducted peace parleys with him? Therefore my question is simple.

If Mr. Vaidik deserves to be arrested for sedition and unpatriotic activity due to his views on Kashmir, would all those baying for his blood have demanded similar arrest of Pandit Nehru if he was alive, or of Mr. Manmohan Singh who can still be arrested? Question and condemn the actions of Mr. Vaidik by all means, but should critics lose all sense of proportion?

Party with a difference? President on bail, MPs for jail…

While the general election campaign was in full swing this writer pointed out several glaring errors of strategy that were being committed by the BJP. For a party with a declared objective of gaining single party majority – which it has obtained – it made no sense to seek pre-poll alliances with leaders exerting little impact on voters. What was worse, some of the defections engineered by the party were opportunistic and made nonsense of the party’s claim of being principled and committed against corruption and crime. I shall not reiterate some of those decisions that brought about no significant gain to the party’s final tally. But one decision criticized earlier is now inflicting the anticipated damage to the party’s reputation.

Mr. Amit Shah who was in charge of the campaign in Uttar Pradesh did everything he could to maximize the BJP seat tally. But did he not go overboard by engineering defections of thoroughly unsuitable entrants? Mr. Brij Bhushan Saran Singh’s past was no secret. He was the BJP leader who led the biggest contingent of kar sewaks from his constituency in Gonda which demolished the Babri Masjid. Later he defected to the Samajwadi Party.

He was convicted by a TADA court for criminal activity. In the TADA court Mr. Brij Bhushan admitted that he previously had links with Dawood Ibrahim. And this was the leader that the BJP thought fit to admit back into its fold in order to gain one more seat in parliament. Mr. Brij Bhushan defected from the Samajwadi Party and rejoined the BJP which welcomed him with open arms. The undesirability of this move was pointed out by this writer in these columns at some length. It was to no avail. Not only was this former Dawood link admitted to the BJP but he was welcomed with honour in a function graced by Mr. Narendra Modi himself.

On March 25, 2014 it was written: “Some of Mr. Modi’s decisions up till now have been disastrous. Sharing the dais to welcome…Mr. Brij Bhushan Saran Singh, a self confessed associate of Dawood Ibrahim and former convicted prisoner of a TADA court was (one).” Mr. Brij Bhushan won the election and became a BJP MP. Now along with another BJP MP who was his accomplice he has been issued a non-bailable arrest warrant for his criminal role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Could not such a contingency have been foreseen?

Perhaps Mr. Amit Shah who has spent time in jail, faces charges in murder cases, and is presently on bail, thought Mr. Brij Bhushan’s past record a trivial affair. Perhaps he thinks that a sitting BJP MP being arrested for crime also to be a trivial affair. But do all the supporters and fans of the Modi government, who look forward to “Achhe din”, share this view?

Reactions to Hafiz Saeed!

Veteran journalist Mr. Ved Prakash Vedic as member of a Track-2 team visiting Pakistan broke away from his colleagues to interview the head of the pro-terrorist organization, Jamaat-u-Dawa, Hafiz Saeed. When this came to light there was uproar in parliament and on TV channels. The reactions to this event are amusing.

Mr. Vedic justified his conduct by asserting that as a professional journalist he met Hafiz Saeed in order to better understand the mind of this terrorist mastermind. There was nothing unexceptionable about that. Evaluation of his conduct may be withheld until the contents of his interview become public. There is nothing wrong in aggressively debating with an enemy. After all, when Pakistan journalist Hamid Mir obtained an interview with Osama bin Laden it was considered a journalistic coup of sorts.

The reactions of the Congress and other opposition leaders were predictable. They highlighted Mr. Vedic’s links with the BJP government, with Baba Ramdev and the RSS. They tried to corner the government by asserting that Mr. Vedic’s meeting could not have been held without sanction by the government. This too may be dismissed as part of politics and the attempt to embarrass the government and score debating points. This is understandable political activity. The BJP responded by recalling the comparatively muted response when Kashmir separatist leader Mr. Yasin Malik jointly fasted with Hafiz Saeed. The BJP also asked if the Track-2 team led by Congress leader Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyer which included former Foreign Minister Mr. Salman Khurshid was oblivious of team colleague Mr. Vedic’s activities in Pakistan and could therefore be absolved of responsibility.

All these reactions do not merit much attention. What intrigued this writer was the intense passion that the mere mention of Hafiz Saeed aroused among both politicians and several TV anchors. He was described as the epitome of villainy, responsible for the 26/11 terror attack, and any association with him was deemed to be an unforgivable lapse. This writer sympathizes with the passion displayed by politicians and TV journalists. The rage against Hafiz Saeed is understandable. What cannot be understood is the curious lapse of memory and attention regarding other aspects involving Hafiz Saeed which are blissfully ignored by India’s thinking class.

The case against Hafiz Saeed for masterminding the 26/11 terror attack was substantially aided and strengthened by inputs made available by the US FBI to Indian authorities. The evidence offered by FBI was accepted because of its high professional reputation as an investigative agency. What greatly puzzles this writer is the total absence of passion or even interest displayed by the same politicians and TV journalists after the FBI investigated the role of Hafiz Saeed in the Samjhauta Train terror attack. Based on its investigation the US government nailed Hafiz Saeed as a terrorist mastermind, identifying his five accomplices carrying out his orders for the attack, and even moved the United Nations to designate Saeed as an international terrorist and imposed UN sanctions against him.

In contrast India’s National Investigative Agency (NIA) ignored the FBI findings and the UN sanctions to charge Hindu terrorists led by Swami Aseemanand for the Samjhauta Train blast. One has no sympathies for the politics of Swami Aseemanand or an interest in rebutting allegations by Indian sleuths regarding the Swami’s role in other terror attacks such as the Malegaon blast. But how on earth can both the Hindu terrorists and Hafiz Saeed be responsible for the same terror attack on the Samjhauta Express? One is intrigued therefore not by the passion displayed by politicians and media against Hafiz Saeed related to 26/11, but its complete absence with regard to the train blast.

That is not all. It may be noted that both Indian politicians and media quite rightly never fail to castigate the Pakistan army and ISI for supporting Hafiz Saeed. But the same politicians and media hacks maintain deafening silence when it comes to holding China responsible for exercising its UN veto to prevent the world body from imposing international sanctions against Hafiz Saeed. How is Beijing’s conduct any different from Pakistan in protecting Hafiz Saeed? Attacking the actions of Hafiz Saeed is understandable. Doing it selectively and opportunistically is not.

BJP same as Congress?

Two distinguished lawyers, Mr. Arun Jaitley and Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad, as senior cabinet ministers acted as spokesmen for the government and justified its decisions. The result was pathetic. The BJP stand on various issues that emerges from their views is one of evasion and obfuscation, ignoring the real criticism being voiced. Consider the justification offered by these worthies for some of the questions raised about the government’s decisions.

BJP same as Congress?

With regard to the appointment of Mr. Nripendra Misra as Secretary in the PMO Mr. Jaitley argues that the Prime Minister has the right to choose his officers. He further argues that the law that prevented Mr. Misra from assuming the post was flawed and needed to be changed. Conceded. But the issue was that the PM should have changed the law and then appointed Mr. Misra. He violated the law by appointing him and is now in the process of changing the law. This brazen act sets the tone of this government regarding observance of procedures and norms. How will it influence officials lower down the line?

With regard to blocking appointment of Mr. Gopal Subramaniam as a Supreme Court Judge the BJP points out his unsuitability for the post. Again, that is not the issue. The government had no business in violating procedure and directly approaching the President to cut off his name from the list of judges recommended by the Supreme Court instead of first informing the Supreme Court Collegium about its decision and its reasons for reaching it. Mr. Subramaniam’s suitability or otherwise was irrelevant.

BJP leaders, after appointing Mr. Amit Shah as the party president even as he faces court cases pertaining to murder and is presently on bail, justify his elevation by stating that there is no merit in the charges and these were orchestrated by a motivated opposition. How stupid can BJP leaders get? Is it for them to pass judgment on the cases or the courts that are hearing the cases? What kind of credibility will the judgment have in the eyes of the public if the courts in these circumstances find Mr. Shah innocent? Either way, whatever the final judgment, the damage inflicted to governance is irreparable.

Ms Smriti Irani had filed wrong information regarding her educational qualifications in an affidavit which is a criminal offence. In her defence Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad pointed out her abilities as a minister. Can an argument for justification be sillier? The lawyer who represented big firms in the ongoing 2G corruption court case, Mr. Mukhul Rohtagi, has been appointed as the Attorney General. Many more examples can be summoned to indicate how the government junks procedure and norms in the pursuit of expedient decisions. Strict observance of procedure is the very foundation of good governance. Both Mr. Jaitley and Mr. Prasad are too knowledgeable to be unaware of this. Yet with cynical expediency they merrily proceed with evading criticism and confusing the truth. This cynicism will cost their government dear.

This contempt for procedure is accompanied by inexplicable political decisions. Despite the party’s avowed pledge to eradicate corruption the government is doing everything possible to protect Mrs. Sheila Dikshit from appearance in court. The party may respond favourably to high profile Congress leader Mrs. Margaret Alva’s offer to switch loyalties. She wants another term as Governor. If BJP responds positively, it will doubtless hail it as a feather in its cap. The party has absolute majority with a large number of members who toiled for its success, and yet wait to be suitably accommodated. The Modi government is establishing a political culture no better than that of the Congress. Without immediate course correction, it will destroy governance. For all the starry eyed supporters of the Prime Minister who eagerly await “achhe din’, welcome to the real world!

Underestimating ISIS?

Deservedly Foreign Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, our Intelligence agencies and diplomats have earned praise for their handling of the Iraq crisis. Nurses from Kerala and a substantial number of workers have been brought back safely into the country. However an aspect of greater significance related to events has escaped attention. The nurses were well treated and allowed to exit safely. This is not how terrorists normally behave. This was more like the conduct of a disciplined army. This induces serious reappraisal of the ISIS movement and what it might foretell. Today ISIS presents mainly a territorial threat. But if it stabilizes into one Sunni state encompassing a part of Iraq and Syria, what might be the long term challenge it could present in the distant future? The ISIS leader looks like a long distance runner.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who heads ISIS reportedly hails from a family of preachers. He joined the Al Qaeda and served in several operations. When the formation of ISIS was announced in April 2013, al-Baghdadi sought the merger of the Syrian jihadist faction with ISIS. But the leader of that faction demurred. Al Qaeda’s effective leader Ayman al-Zawahiri opposed ISIS and ordered it to be disbanded. Thereupon Baghdadi revolted against Al Qaeda and took control of the Syrian outfit killing hundreds in the factional clashes.

In February 2014 Al-Qaeda formally severed relations with ISIS. Subsequently the fighting in Iraq has intensified and ISIS continues to make military gains. It is this outfit led by al-Baghdadi which uncharacteristically treated Indian nurses kindly and allowed them to leave. What does this tell us about al-Baghdadi and his movement?

Media analysts in India and abroad continue to describe ISIS in terms similar to what they used for Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Taliban jihadists. Could they be underestimating ISIS? On a TV discussion security analyst Major General Ashok Mehta stated that ISIS presented two challenges, one territorial and the other ideological. He considered the territorial challenge more serious but averred that hemmed in by other powers there was little military prospect of ISIS exercising control beyond Syria and northern Iraq. But what if the ideological challenge is more, much more, serious than the territorial challenge? A few aspects of al-Baghdadi’s approach merit attention and induce this writer to invite speculation about the potential of the long term ISIS challenge.

The ISIS handling of the Indian nurses crisis resulted in what may be described as a diplomatic gesture by al-Baghdadi. The most significant step by the ISIS leader has been to declare the revival of the Caliphate and of himself as the Caliph. The developments of the Iraq war suggest an emerging scenario in the region that will not be very different from what the US envisaged in 2006 when Secretary of State Rice talked about a New Middle East for which even a map of redrawn boundaries was prepared. Therefore if eventually a Sunni block and a Shiite bloc emerge in the Middle East, with al-Baghdadi ruling the Islamic state of Syria plus northern Iraq, how might the self appointed Caliph proceed subsequently? He may utilize the jihadi groups drawn to him in all parts of the world by deploying them to pressure governments and public opinion. The most immediate threat could be to Arab rulers. Their western contacts and permissive lifestyles could be targeted.

It seems unlikely that al-Baghdadi seriously contemplates physical conquest beyond the state he is presently trying to carve. As the Caliph he might attempt to spread Islamic values across the world through diplomatic and political measures. Former Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Mr. Talmiz Ahmed, wrote in a newspaper article: “Throughout the period of colonialism, there were sentimental references to the Caliphate as an office that would free the Muslims from western domination and give them the possibility of rejuvenation and victory, as it had done in Islam’s early history.” If al-Baghdadi as Caliph were to attempt propitiating this sentiment, what might he do?

Undoubtedly political events in the world today are influenced most decisively by big business finance capital with its tentacles spread across the globe. In recent years the permissive approach by big bankers to cut corners and their greed for profit plunged the world into crisis. The reputation and goodwill for bankers has never been lower. By assaulting their control an effective attack against the west would begin. How could al-Baghdadi attempt that? In the last century Hitler and the fascists attempted before the start of World War Two to challenge global finance capital by scrapping the gold standard and by entering into barter trade between nations. ISIS need not do that. Quite possibly it may take recourse to a more potent alternative.

A fundamental tenet of Islam is that taking interest is disallowed. Prophet Mohammed spoke against interest. What if from the billions of dollars at his disposal al-Baghdadi spends a portion to propagate Islamic banking across the world? No interest would be paid but only profits earned from investments made either by the depositor or by the bank would be earned. Given the present public disenchantment with big bankers and the fact that even Jesus, Guru Nanak and other spiritual leaders had spoken against acceptance of interest, might the idea spread? And if it does, how might it affect the power and control of the present finance capital czars over global economy and politics? Does this aspect not deserve the world’s attention?

Responding to Jaitley’s budget!

Now that Mr. Arun Jaitley has presented his first budget you are confronted with the biggest challenge. After all the TV channels and newspapers are bursting with views and comments by experts on all aspects of the budget, you have to give your own original and informed comment before the gathering at the evening’s dinner or cocktail party. Since you are totally ignorant about the economy –otherwise you would not be reading this article – but have conned people into believing that you are knowledgeable, post budget parties can be very tricky. However as a veteran intellectual con I can offer some very sound advice that should help you sail through with flying colours.

Responding to Jaitley’s budget!

My most important advice is to speak only in one-liners that mean nothing to you but could mean anything to your listener. These have to be spoken with a distant look as if you are lost in a deep reverie. Remember, to succeed you have to be the deep thinker whose thought process the listener is hesitant to interrupt. The rest depends on your choice of one-liner, your ability to appear the deep thinker and your skill in drifting from the group without completing or explaining your thoughts.

For one-liners that have never failed me I recommend the following. Stroke your jaw and say: “Tax exemptions and cheaper footwear are okay, but where is the big picture?” Where, indeed? What in heck is the big picture anyway? Only you, the deep thinker know. Let your listener make guesses.

Another one of my favourites is to shake your head doubtfully and say: “All this sounds very well, but what about the fiscal deficit?” Well, what about it? What the hell is the fiscal deficit anyway? As you sink into a glass and edge away let your listener wrestle with that! The fiscal deficit is permanent, it never fails me.

It is good strategy to sometimes inject a little politics into the budget. You can say for instance, shaking your head regretfully: “But isn’t it too late? If only Chidambaram had done some of these things…” Done what for heaven’s sake? Only you, Chidambaram and Jaitley know, leaving your listener in awe.

And the clincher which is a winner is to hold up your hand in a gesture and say with a slightly sneering smile: “Don’t ask me about this budget now. Wait for six months and then ask me! Heh, heh!” Don’t worry, after six months it will be a different party with different people and a different topic.

But I would like to caution aspiring con intellectuals. One practitioner was so skillful at a party that a group implored him to deliver a lecture on the budget on the following day. The party got disrupted. The chap fainted.