Prasannan http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan.rss en Tue Aug 06 15:21:52 IST 2019 https://www.theweek.in/privacy-an-settlement.html tailor-made-for-atmanirbharta <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/10/29/tailor-made-for-atmanirbharta.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/10/29/65-atmanirbharta-new.jpg" /> <p>Narendra Modi seems to be hell-bent on stealing the Congress’s clothes. Literally so. He has become the brand ambassador of khadi which, Congressmen used to think, was their robe of honour.</p> <p>Once hailed as the fabric of freedom and the symbol of self-reliance, the coarse cloth had been tucked away for too long in the dusty shelves of khadi bhandars and the cobwebbed corners of the nation’s conscience, with the Congress claiming to be the keepers of both. With political corruption seeping through the fabric of governance over the decades, the cloth had come to be condemned in middle-class imagination as the costume of corrupted power.</p> <p>Virtuous Gandhians, who continued to wear it thinking that it was a spartan but non-violent battle wear for social and economic justice, were becoming an aberration. And the bleeding-heart NGO types—the ones who cooperate with Gandhians and co-habit with corporates—had long ago switched over to Fabian socialism and Fab-India kurtas.</p> <p>Now Modi is giving the soiled khadi a bleach-and-starch wash. Himself a khadi-draper bold, he has been spinning yarns about the hand-spun cloth since his first Mann ki Baat in October 2014. In his latest, he told the country how khadi is now being spun and sold in Mexico, thanks to the efforts of Mark Brown, an American. Brown became a Gandhian after watching Richard Attenborough’s <i>Gandhi</i>, lived in the Sabarmati Ashram, learnt to spin and weave, and has imparted the knowledge to about 400 families in Mexico’s Oaxaca (pronounced Oahaakaa).</p> <p>In India, the fabric has remained the same, but Modi has tailored it to suit the new-gen and non-Congress tastes and style. His catchline “khadi for nation and khadi for fashion” is perhaps the most glamorous thing that happened to the humble fabric after Mahatma Gandhi sent a self-spun lace as his wedding gift to Princess Elizabeth in November 1947. (Incidentally, the Queen ‘regifted’ it to Modi when he called on her at the Buckingham Palace two Aprils ago.) Now even catwalkers are wearing khadi, though their requirement is in inches and not yards.</p> <p>Anyway, Modi has set the spinning wheel on fire. Charkhas are spinning these days like power turbines across India. If khadi worth $1,066 crore was spun out in 2015-16, the production went up to $2,292.44 crore last year—a whopping 115 per cent growth. Sales shot up by 179 per cent from $1,510 crore in 2015-16 to $4,211.26 crore in 2019-20. And on this Gandhi Jayanti, “the khadi store in Connaught Place in Delhi witnessed purchases of over one crore rupees,” Modi claimed in his latest Mann ki Baat.</p> <p>The original icon of Gandhian self-reliance, khadi has also come in handy to promote Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat, and is also giving a shot in the arms that are fighting the coronavirus. The Khadi and Village Industries Commission is getting silk and cotton masks stitched in trendy colours, selling them to Central government offices including the president’s and the prime minister’s, and seeking markets in West Asia and Europe. The KVIC claims that these masks, made of double-twisted fabric, retains moisture while providing easy air passage.</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Princess Elizabeth was not the only one who received khadi cloth as a wedding gift from Gandhi. When Jawaharlal’s sister Vijaya Lakshmi was to be married to Ranjit Pandit, the Nehrus were worried that khadi silk could not be dyed in the right wedding colours. Bapu and Kasturba took up this as a challenge and gifted a sari, woven and dyed bright by them.</p> <p><b><a href="mailto:prasannan@theweek.in">prasannan@theweek.in</a></b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/10/29/tailor-made-for-atmanirbharta.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/10/29/tailor-made-for-atmanirbharta.html Thu Oct 29 14:54:46 IST 2020 an-ally-fo-all-reasons <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/10/15/an-ally-fo-all-reasons.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/10/15/ram-vilas-paswan-new.jpg" /> <p>Who is Ram? Where is Ram?</p> <p>There was stunned silence in the Lok Sabha as Ram Vilas Paswan hurled this rhetorical poser during a debate in the 1990s.</p> <p>As the house broke into pandemonium, Paswan delicately removed his spectacles, pointed its stem towards his heart, and said: “I am Ram—Ram Vilas Paswan.”</p> <p>Before the BJP benches could catch on to what he was trying to say, Paswan continued: “Not just the name. There is the spirit of Ram in me; there is Ram in you; there is Ram in every Indian’s heart. Ram dwells in the hearts of all Indians— not just in your temples.”</p> <p>There was desk-thumping from the left, the centre and even the mandir-right.</p> <p>That was Ram Vilas Paswan—a man who practised combative politics, but carried a rounded personality. He made enemies in politics, but befriended them in personal life.</p> <p>The country, the world and the Guinness Book took note of the young Lohia socialist when he, just out of an Emergency jail, won the largest majority from Hajipur. A decade later, Janata Dal’s V.P. Singh spotted a future prime minister in him, and gave him labour and welfare.</p> <p>In welfare, the dalit from Bihar had a brahmin secretary from Kerala who believed passionately in dalit and backward empowerment. P.S. Krishnan prepared the historic note for VP and Paswan to discuss in the cabinet on August 6, 1990. That note, envisaging job quotas for the backwards, would radically change Indian politics. A new political elite would rise in the Gangetic Plain.</p> <p>As Mandal shook the brahmin-thakur-dominated polity of the north, Paswan and Sharad Yadav stood like rocks behind VP. They went down fighting the BJP’s mandir with Mandal. However, as the Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh duo blunted the sting of Mandal by creating jobs in the non-Mandal economy, the Janata parivar fractured into pieces.</p> <p>Yet, prime ministers and party chiefs sought out Paswan (in 2004, his long-time neighbour Sonia Gandhi walked into his house seeking an alliance), not just for his political clout, but for his administrative acumen. He had a computer-like brain that could absorb facts and figures, and reel them out without having to check his notes. This columnist remembers his incredible performance at his first presser held a day after he took charge of fertilisers and steel. For two hours he briefed us, without checking a single file or consulting an officer even once, on the performance, plans, problems, promises, profits and losses of every PSU under the two ministries.</p> <p>Civil servants adored him. He addressed them with a ‘ji’, and rose to receive the seniors when they entered his chamber.</p> <p>However, Paswan could not become the messiah of the dalits and the backwards, as VP had hoped. As he got sucked into the coalition politics of the 1990s, he became a political weathercock, aligning with the BJP first, then with the Congress and again with the BJP.</p> <p>That was a problem with most caste-justice chieftains. As a political commentator said, none of them could ford the mighty stream of the Ganga. Most of them turned into warlords in their fiefs, and failed to cross the political Rubicon of the Ganga. If Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati stayed put on its left bank, Lalu Prasad, Paswan and Nitish Kumar were confined to the right.</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Paswan’s two bids to strike roots in Uttar Pradesh came a cropper. He lost the 1985 Bijnor by-poll, to the Congress’s Meira Kumar. In 1987, the Guinness record-holder lost his deposit in the Haridwar by-poll finishing behind Ram Singh of the Congress and Mayawati of the BSP.</p> <p>Sharad Yadav is perhaps the only Mandal neta who has won from several states—Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.</p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/10/15/an-ally-fo-all-reasons.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/10/15/an-ally-fo-all-reasons.html Thu Oct 15 21:42:45 IST 2020 a-minister-and-a-gentleman <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/10/01/a-minister-and-a-gentleman.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/10/1/JaswantSingh-new.jpg" /> <p>The president swears in all Union ministers to oaths of office and secrecy. But in 1998, the PM House witnessed a strange swearing-in, where the prime minister administered the oath of secrecy (not of office) to two men. One was Pramod Mahajan; the other was Jaswant Singh who passed away on Sunday.</p> <p>Jaswant had lost the 1998 polls. The RSS, which had many grouses against the anglicised aristocrat (including his temerity to walk into their sanctified premises with his shoes on), insisted that no poll-losers be taken into the cabinet. So Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who wanted to confide in Jaswant and Mahajan matters of governance and atom bomb tests, swore them to secrecy on the PM House lawns.</p> <p>When the world came down on bomb-maker India like a tonne of yellow cakes, Vajpayee sent Jaswant to Washington to ‘interlocute’ with deputy secretary Strobe Talbott. Soon, Vajpayee got Jaswant into the Rajya Sabha and made him de jure foreign minister. Talbott, who met Jaswant at 10 locations in seven countries, was so overwhelmed by Jaswant’s deft diplomacy as well as Victorian English, British manners, booming voice and military demeanour that he showed this specimen from the pre-World War era to his wife. She cooked a dinner for Jaswant.</p> <p>Jaswant had also sent Vajpayee on a bus to Lahore, apparently to tell Talbott and the world that the atom-armed neighbours could also make peace. Sadly, the bus mission got hijacked to Kargil heights by Pakistan’s commando-general Pervez Musharraf.</p> <p>That was the problem with Jaswant. He could not fathom diplomatic deception. He took everyone to be a gentleman like him who honoured a word given. So it was at Agra where he organised a Vajpayee-Musharraf summit with no agenda. The general came, and carpet-bombed the summit with Kashmir talk. Cabinet colleague Yashwant Sinha records in his memoirs that Jaswant had trusted the Pakistanis again and agreed to a draft joint statement that made no mention of the Shimla pact or cross-border terrorism. The summit crashed as L.K. Advani and Yashwant put their foot down, and the general took a midnight flight back home.</p> <p>Vajpayee still trusted him, investing even the defence job with Jaswant when George Fernandes had to briefly stay out of the cabinet following the Coffingate. “I wish I had these two departments,” a jealous US secretary of state Colin Powell quipped.</p> <p>Jaswant believed that Indians and India ought to carry their heads high. As finance minister later, he let every Indian carry up to $25,000 when flying abroad and spend in style, marking the beginning of capital account convertibility.</p> <p>He held his head high always. Though he left the Army as a major, its cavalry culture stayed with him. He wore shirts with shoulder flaps that looked like epaulettes. He chose his words carefully—whether in diplomacy, in Parliament or a private chat—to achieve what the Victorian virtuoso of literature Matthew Arnold would have conceded was a ‘grand style’. Rarely would he mention a fellow-MP by name, but by the constituency he or she represented. In the house he was particularly fond of “the honourable member from Bolpur,” the communist barrister Somnath Chatterjee.</p> <p>Once he used the style to put down Congress’s South Bombay MP Murli Deora, known for his ties with tycoons. He called Deora “the honourable member from Nariman Point,” much to the mirth of Deora himself.</p> <p>Tailpiece: Jaswant met his match in a backbencher. As he ended a long-winded speech in his clipped English, someone quipped aloud: “Can we have an English translation of the speech, please?”</p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/10/01/a-minister-and-a-gentleman.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/10/01/a-minister-and-a-gentleman.html Thu Oct 01 18:26:15 IST 2020 reaping-the-trade-wind <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/09/17/reaping-the-trade-wind.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/9/17/50-Reaping-the-trade-wind-new.jpg" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a singular fondness for oneness. Saying “one nation, one flag”, he got Jammu and Kashmir’s special status scrapped. Introducing the digital health mission, he prescribed, “one nation, one health card”. To streamline power distribution, he said, “one nation, one grid”. To sell the idea of GST, he quoted “one nation, one tax”. So far so good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Problems will arise if the zealots among his partymen go further and seek one language in one nation, or one faith in one nation. Such ideas may undo the oneness that we have achieved since Sardar Patel knitted India together under Pandit Nehru’s benign slogan “unity in diversity”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi, too, is on a knitting mission these days. Chanting “one nation, one market”, he is seeking to integrate India’s myriad mandis into one. “We are self-reliant in agriculture, and we export commodities.... [So now,] we are bringing laws to free the farm sector,” he said in his Independence Day address. The reference was to the three farm ordinances which had been issued during the Covid-19 lockdown, and are becoming acts of Parliament during this lotion-washed monsoon session.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has been food-short for centuries, and India’s rulers have been following the ant-and-the-grasshopper moral ever since Allauddin Khilji built granaries for storing harvests to feed the people during famines. Faced with food shortage and hoarding by greedy merchants, our rulers banned private hoarding, put curbs on prices, rationed the essentials, subsidised farm costs, levied harvests, built warehouses, and offered assured prices to farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All these were needed when we did not grow enough grain, and when farmers were cheated by moneylenders and middlemen. But the times have changed, and harvests have boomed. Now we need laws that free the farmer to reap what he sows, and to sell what he reaps to anyone, anywhere, any time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi thinks his three laws can do the trick: one, dilute the Essential Commodities Act; two, introduce a law for free trade in farm produce; three, bring another law to let farmers sell at the prices they can command.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus he is removing cereals, pulses, oil seeds, cooking oils, onion and potato from the list of essentials that cannot be hoarded. Once stocking is allowed, exports and food processing businesses will boom. Not that it is going to be a free run for hoarders. The state will reserve its right to put curbs in case of wars, famines, calamities and runaway rise in prices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The free trade law will end the first-buyer claim that agricultural produce market committees (APMCs) had over farm produce. Though set up to ensure that farmers are not cheated, the APMC mandis have become playgrounds of agent cartels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The old law had also prevented exporters, processors and retail chain operators from buying directly from farmers. Now on, the farmer will be free to sell to anyone he likes and anywhere. A Nagpur orange grower may sell his harvest directly to a jam-maker in Ongole or Oklahoma. Farmers may open trading channels with companies, partnership firms, or registered societies, the norms of whose conduct may be notified by the Centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The third law will allow contract farming by which firms may get the farmer to sow and reap what they want at prices they can negotiate. Such deals may be monitored and insured, but firms would not be allowed to acquire ownership of the farm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, is it all a win-win situation? By no means. Critics say, it will be a free run across the farms for millers, picklers, chips-makers and jam-makers. Two, who will pay the states which were getting crores from the APMC mandis?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/09/17/reaping-the-trade-wind.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/09/17/reaping-the-trade-wind.html Sat Sep 19 21:54:32 IST 2020 hark-hark-the-native-bark <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/09/03/hark-hark-the-native-bark.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/9/3/26-Hark-hark-the-native-bark-new.jpg" /> <p>Narendra Modi has been getting too close to animals of late. First he posted his photos with peacocks that strut around the vast lawns of the PM House. Then in his monthly Mann ki Baat, he urged dog-lovers to adopt native breeds. They would unleash an animal spirit into Atmanirbhar Bharat, he seems to think. Just what Manmohan Singh’s 1991 budget did to the stock market.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dog is supposed to be man’s best friend, but we in India have kept the beast in the doghouse of our imagination. Our puranas have no dog that can be likened to Kamadhenu among cows, Uchhaishravas among horses, or Airavat among elephants. Bhairava rides a dog; Dattatreya is associated with four dogs which symbolise the four Vedas; a dog follows Yudhistira on his final walk through a brief spell in hell, and into heaven.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elsewhere the dog appears as a pariah, literally. Sage Sankara’s supreme wisdom is tested by an untouchable crossing his path with four dogs. A mongrel steals Yudhistira’s sandals from outside Draupadi’s bedchamber causing the worst familial shame. With the result, Indian dog-lovers have been looking to Labrador, Alsace, Dalmatia and elsewhere to pick up dogs. The Pekinese, once a preserve of the Chinese imperial family, continues to be our most sought-after toy dog even when the Chinese are threatening to “cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now Modi has suggested that our kennel keepers look at Indian breeds that can also hunt with the hounds and cuddle up on your laps. No barking matter. He has cited how Army dogs Sophie and Vida won the service chief’s commendation cards, how dog Balram spotted explosives on the Amarnath pilgrims’ route, how the CRPF’s Cracker sniffed out an IED which blew up and killed it, how Rocky helped the police in Beed solve 300 cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To help out the country’s countless caninophiles, Modi reeled out a list of “fabulous Indian breeds”—Mudhol Hound, Himachali Hound, Rajapalayam, Kanni, Chippiparai and Kombai, all of which “cost less to raise”, and are better suited to our heat, dust, smell and stink than the Dalmatians, Alsatians, Pomeranians and Pekinese, all of which cost a pile and still pee on lamp-posts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, some of these Indian breeds have impeccable pedigree. The tall Mudhol Hounds, which hail from the Karnataka-Maharashtra border, had served in Shivaji’s army. Malojirao Ghorpade, the last prince of Mudhol, is said to have gifted a pair of these puppies to King George V who christened them Mudhol Hounds. Himachali Hounds, sheepdogs from the snow mountains, are massive mastiff-like dogs with thick fur which protects them from the cold. The lean and mean Rajapalayams, hailing from the town of the same name in Tamil country, had aided the Polygar heroes such as Veerapandiya Kattabomman against the British after Tipu of Mysore fell in 1799. “The next time you think of raising a pet dog, consider bringing home one of these Indian breeds,” Modi told his listeners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trust Modi to fill even a kennel with national spirit. “At a time when Atmanirbhar Bharat is becoming a mantra of the people, how can any domain be left untouched by its influence?” he asked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: As a prime minister whose tenure depended on outside support of the Congress, Deve Gowda often had to call on Sitaram Kesri who headed the party in 1996-98. Among the several grouses that Gowda had against Kesri, which led to their break-up, was that Kesri used to let his many Pomeranians roam free in the room even when the two were talking matters of state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/09/03/hark-hark-the-native-bark.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/09/03/hark-hark-the-native-bark.html Thu Sep 03 15:49:15 IST 2020 turbans-and-tailor-made-tales <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/08/20/turbans-and-tailor-made-tales.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/8/20/14-Turbans-and-tailor-made-tales-new.jpg" /> <p>The fans of neither of them would approve of this, but I am finding more in common between Jawaharlal Nehru and Narendra Modi. As this column discussed three fortnights ago, both have been practitioners of personal diplomacy. Here’s another. They share a love for good clothes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though his mentor wore only a loincloth and was called a half-naked fakir by Winston Churchill, Nehru loved to dress well. When fellow Congressmen faulted him for wearing a suit to Europe in the 1930s, he told them to imbibe Gandhian values and not imitate Gandhi’s garments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nehru looked dapper in his achkan with a rose in the buttonhole. In summer he wore a jacket to which he lent his name. Modi has cut it to his size and stuck his label; now it is called Modi jacket. Nothing wrong. Rulers should draw strength, sustenance and style from their predecessors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Gandhi lent his name to the khadi Congress cap, Nehru made it a politician’s trademark headgear. The association between neta jis and the khadi cap peaked during the Morarji Desai era, but it began to vanish from political pates in the Rajiv era. Probably, Rajiv’s outburst at the Bombay AICC centenary against power-brokers gave it the knockout punch. New-gen netas dumped it into the dustbins of history and confines of pocket cartoons. Today it is worn mainly by Congress Seva Dal volunteers in white khadi, Rashtriya Swayamsevaks in black woollen, Maharashtrian elders in general and Anna Hazare in particular.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dressing well seems to have been a family trait with the Nehrus. Motilal was quite a dandy; Indira and Rajiv dressed appropriately. She looked the Bharatiya naari with her sari over the head on political occasions in India, but charmed world leaders in sleeveless blouse and dapper hairdo when abroad. Rajiv proved that the heavens wouldn’t fall if an Indian PM wore a western suit or jeans and t-shirt. He wore kurta-pyjamas while politicking, bandhgalas while banqueting with statesmen, suit and tie to school reunion, and jeans and t-shirt on holidays.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like the Nehrus, Modi loves to be seen in good clothes. Once he took it too far, when he wore a monogrammed suit that earned him a Malvolio image. Rahul Gandhi called his government suit-boot ki sarkar and that cost Modi the Delhi elections a month later. His wardrobe has sobered down since.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi also loves jazzy headgear. His I-Day addresses are becoming the talk of the town from Toronto to Timbuktu, not only for what he says but also for what he wears on his head. For his first address, he wore a polka-dotted red turban; the next year it was an orange with shades of blue, red and green. In 2016 he donned a tie-and-dye turban in pink, red and yellow; 2017 saw him with a yellow and red headgear that had golden embroidery and a tail longer than Mandrake the Magician’s, but shorter than Lady Diana’s wedding gown. In 2018 he donned an orange-and-red one with a tail, and last year it was a red-and-orange leheriya turban with a tinge of green.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This year, Modi appeared in an orange-and-yellow Rajasthani safa with a tail, said to have been sent by one Sujansinh Parmar from Tapi in Gujarat. Parmar, a farmer, has made turban-rolling a hobby, and has gifted fancy headgear to Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and Rahul Gandhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Following the European custom, Congress leaders used to leave their caps in the hall before entering the viceroy’s room. Once Lady Irwin happened to pick up Motilal’s Gandhi cap which he had left in the hall while calling on Lord Irwin. It wore the label of a fashionable London hatter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/08/20/turbans-and-tailor-made-tales.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/08/20/turbans-and-tailor-made-tales.html Fri Aug 21 13:33:08 IST 2020 licence-to-make-licence-to-kill <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/08/06/licence-to-make-licence-to-kill.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/8/6/47-Licence-to-make-licence-to-kill-new.jpg" /> <p>No fighter plane has come in with a bigger bang than the Rafale. TV anchors and studio strategists spent hours waxing eloquent about its capabilities—a lot of it real, a lot more yet to come with India-specific enhancements, and still more imagined. Many called it a game-changer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the olden days, there were separate planes for separate jobs. There were heavy bombers, interdiction bombers, interceptors, air superiority planes, ground attackers, short-range fighters, long-range fighters, spy planes and so on. Each type was designed, built and armed for specific roles. The current trend is to have more multirole planes and a few specialist planes.</p> <p>The Rafale will be our first multirole bird. By all accounts, it is the most agile multirole fighter that money can buy—it can perform dogfights, drop bombs, and shoot missiles air-to-air or air-to-ground. The French know how to pack a first-class punch in every plane.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have been buying warplanes since the 1960s, and never ever have we bought a dud. Our tiny Gnats stunned the world when they shot down US-made Sabrejets in 1965; our MiG-21s shot holes through the roof of the governor’s house in Dacca in 1971 with more precision than what the Americans achieved when they shot a missile through the window of the Al Jazeera office in Kabul in 2001. The MiG-21, and its Biz (now Bison) version from which Abhinandan Varthaman shot down an F-16 last year, have proven to be the most enduring fighters ever made in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our MiG-23s and MiG-27s were neighbour’s envy and owner’s pride—airplanes that could fold their wings and turn around in mid-air like birds of prey! Our pilots became Scarlet Pimpernels of the skies when they flew half a squadron of the super-secret MiG-25, the fastest and most elusive airplane ever made, one that could not be reached by any known missile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We got the Jaguars, the meanest interdiction bombers which the Chinese think can still cut deep into the treeless Tibetan territory. Then came the MiG-29, the beastliest air superiority fighter which has bested F-16s in several NATO wargames. And there are the French Mirage 2000s, flying with their delta wings which look like pretty skirts but packing awesome power. And finally the Sukhoi-30MKIs that can stop dead mid-air, swoop up like a cobra, and also can deliver an atom bomb anywhere across the Eurasian landmass from Wales to Vladivostok.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All these planes were game-changers in their time. So will be the Rafales, provided that we get them in sufficient numbers of squadrons. As of now, we have got five planes and have contracted to get 36.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What the critics ask is: wouldn’t we have to knock at the doors of the French again when we need more? Indeed yes. The members of the Narendra Modi government’s defence acquisition council would have been reminded of this when they approved two fighter buys only a month ago. With the Chinese breathing fire across the Ladakh Himalayas, the council was, on July 2, constrained to order 21 more MiG-29s and 12 more Sukhoi-30MKIs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The order for the Sukhois has gone to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited thanks to the Narasimha Rao and the Deve Gowda governments. While negotiating the original Sukhoi deal, they had also got the technology and licence to make the planes in India. The order for the MiG-29s has gone to Moscow because, when the Soviets offered the technology and licence as well the planes in the 1980s, the Rajiv Gandhi regime said: No thanks; keep the licence, we will take only the planes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/08/06/licence-to-make-licence-to-kill.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/08/06/licence-to-make-licence-to-kill.html Thu Aug 06 18:05:43 IST 2020 work-from-home-or-the-house <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/07/23/work-from-home-or-the-house.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/7/23/8-Work-from-home-new.jpg" /> <p>Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu are caught in a dilemma. How they will solve it should tell us a lot about the success or otherwise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Don’t get me wrong. The lords of the two houses of Parliament are not being asked to pronounce judgements on issues of bandwidth, internet speed, mobile penetration or patronage to Mukesh Ambani’s Jio. Those are issues being handled by officials in the ministry of information technology who tell us that half of “we the people” of India are linked to the net. Jio Ho!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Birla and Naidu have a different task. The two gents have to decide how they will hold the monsoon session of Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With a Covid-19 lockdown, an economic breakdown, and a military drawdown being negotiated in Ladakh, the monsoon session is expected to be thunderstormy. Already, Congress non-president Rahul Gandhi has been tweeting fire and fury on Modi and his government, though most other opposition leaders are keeping their masked mouths shut.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How Modi will weather this monsoon storm is none of Birla’s or Naidu’s business. Their problem is how to hold the session itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a pandemic wreaking havoc in the country, and the virus is in no mood to vanish, vaccine or no vaccine. The Indian Council of Medical Research has given a deadline of August 15 to scientists to make a vaccine, ostensibly for Modi to announce it from the ramparts of the Red Fort. But wiser men of science say vaccines take their own sweet time to evolve, and that anything forced out from the test-tubes before time would end up like being Gandhari’s children.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the houses cannot wait till the cows and the cow-poxes (which made the first vaccine) come home. Article 85(1) of the Constitution says, “The President shall from time to time summon each house of Parliament to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit, but six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Six months is 180 days, give and take a few days. Now, the budget session ended on March 23, and so the monsoon session ought to start on or before September 19—that is not just parliament protocol but the law. The Covid-19 protocol has it that people have to be physically distanced from one another. With 543 honourable MPs in Birla’s house and 245 in Naidu’s, neither knows how to seat them even a metre apart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When they run out of laws, rules and norms, law courts and legislatures look to precedents. But neither Kaul &amp; Shakdhar, who are the Manus of Indian parliamentary practice, nor Erskine May, who is the master of Westminster practices, is of any help. When the Great Plague of 1665 killed a quarter of Londoners, the British Parliament adjourned to the safer environs of Oxford. Not possible for us, with the whole of India being unsafe. But the staff have checked the enormous halls of the Vigyan Bhavan as a possible venue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another option is to improve on what the US Congress did when the Spanish flu hit them a century ago. They closed the public galleries. Birla and Naidu are thinking of seating a few MPs in the galleries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A third option, being explored, is to have a webinar-style session. Several parliaments have already gone digital, partly or wholly. A few rules will have to be amended, which they can do in one sitting and then adjourn to their homes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But are our MPs ready? More importantly, is the National Informatics Centre, which runs the government’s digital ops, ready? Therein lies the test for Digital India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/07/23/work-from-home-or-the-house.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/07/23/work-from-home-or-the-house.html Thu Jul 23 15:09:25 IST 2020 perils-of-personal-diplomacy <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/07/09/perils-of-personal-diplomacy.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/7/9/27-Perils-of-personal-diplomacy-new.jpg" /> <p>The fans of neither of them would approve of me saying so, but Jawaharlal Nehru and Narendra Modi have certain things in common. Both have been practitioners of personal diplomacy, and both paid the price for being too trusting in their dealings with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First about personal diplomacy. It is that in which heads of states and governments not only meet and mingle in person, but also haggle over matters of bilateral trade and border truce. Left to diplomats, these issues would get entangled in red tape, locked up in round brackets and square brackets, and tripped over commas, colons and communique prose. Issues can be sorted out better, so say the champions of personal diplomacy, if the principals develop a personal chemistry between them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is generally held that Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated personal diplomacy in modern times. He got Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin to meet him a dozen times in less than four years during World War II, at times in such odd places as Malta, Yalta and Casablanca. In the pre-jet age, that must have been some summiteering! And we talk of Modi and Xi Jinping meeting 18 times in six years—in Wuhan, Mamallapuram and elsewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Europeans, who thought they were wiser to the world and its bad ways than the upstart Americans, had traditionally abhorred personal diplomacy. Their statesmen, save for oddballs like Lloyd George who had tried the personal touch and failed, used to scrupulously leave dealings with foreign powers to ministers and ambassadors. Even Lord Palmerston, who had achieved name and fame as one of the greatest diplomats of the 19th century, left deal-making with foreign powers to the foreign office when he became prime minister. So much so, British diplomat Sir Harold Nicolson wrote at the start of World War II, that frequent meetings between world leaders “should not be encouraged” and that “such visits arouse public expectations, lead to misunderstanding and create confusion”. Don’t we know how A.B. Vajpayee’s Agra summit with Pervez Musharraf had raised hopes and then flopped?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem with personal diplomacy is that the odium is greater if things go wrong. As Dean Acheson, who was secretary of state to Roosevelt’s successor Harry Truman, cautioned, “When a chief of state or head of government makes a fumble, the goal line is open behind him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is what happened to Nehru and Modi. Nehru had no foreign minister throughout his term, and handled much of the diplomacy by himself. He loved the company of world statesmen, and believed he could talk them into making a fairer world order that he had fondled in his idealistic mind. Modi has had foreign ministers, but he loves to handle much of the diplomacy himself, and bask in the glow of camera lights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both started with a deep admiration for China—Nehru for its civilisational greatness and for the historical struggles that its people had waged against conquerors, and Modi for China’s miraculous modernisation and material progress in the post-Mao era. Nehru saw in China a potential partner in his plan to rouse an Afro-Asian resurgence; Modi saw in China a partner to shape an Asian century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both made the cardinal mistake of believing in the terms of summit-level endearment—Nehru in Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai and Modi in the Wuhan and Mamallapuram bonding. The bottom line in diplomacy is: trust but verify. The comrades in China may profess communism, but their strategic instincts are as expansionist as those of the Songs, the Mings and the Qings who ruled the Middle Kingdom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/07/09/perils-of-personal-diplomacy.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/07/09/perils-of-personal-diplomacy.html Fri Jul 10 11:44:34 IST 2020 blunting-a-brahmastra <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/06/25/blunting-a-brahmastra.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/6/25/26-Blunting-a-brahmastra-new.jpg" /> <p>India is waiting for two brahmastras. Both have been on the anvil for long. One is a Bollywood multi-star fantasy. Its makers say it will be a blockbuster, and will give Baahubali a run for its money, muscle and magic, with some characters shooting fire from their hands. (No handshakes with them, corona or no corona.) The film, delayed by Covid-19, is set to hit the screens in December.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other is the Indian Army’s Brahmastra Corps, officially called XVII Corps. A corps, with two or more divisions under it, is an army’s largest fighting formation and is commanded by a lieutenant-general. Corps numbers are traditionally given in Roman numerals, unlike division, brigade and battalion numbers which are given in Arabic. Companies are numbered ABCD.</p> <p>But the numbering is never in order. After 1, 2 and 3 divisions, they may have 39 or 57. The generals will tell you that this is to respect the unit’s tradition and to confuse the enemy, but I guess they do it to confuse their own military accountants.</p> <p>Let us cut the numbering nonsense and talk about the corps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Corps are of two kinds, going by their tactical task—pivot corps and strike corps. Pivot corps are defensive in nature; they hold ground against the enemy. Strike corps are offensive in posture; they capture enemy land.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the corps that the Indian Army has deployed against China are pivot corps. The Brahmastra Corps, proposed when China began showing its fangs after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was supposed to have been India’s first mountain strike corps. The proposal was critically examined at the service headquarters, the chiefs of staff committee and the National Security Council.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, like General K.V. Krishna Rao persuaded Indira Gandhi to build border bridges and roads in the 1980s, General Bikram Singh used his persuasive powers and presentation skills to pester the peace-loving Manmohan Singh and A.K. Antony to sanction it. They yielded in 2013 (much to the envy of the Indian Navy which was asking for ships that could strike Shanghai), and also okayed two new mountain divisions under the two already-existing corps who are our guardians of the east against China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For once, the Chinese commies saw red. Two new divisions and a new strike corps of 90,000 men on the Indian mountains was worse than what they had ever war-gamed or bargained for. They protested loud, but all those remained cries in the mountain wilderness, as we quietly set up the corps headquarters at Panagarh in West Bengal, and raised its first division there itself. It got light guns and heavy-lift helicopters. Grounds were cleared on the hills for helicopters to land with cannons and troops. Plans were also laid out to raise the corps’ second division at Pathankot in Punjab, to scare the Chinese from Ladakh side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then something went wrong somewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, the Brahmastra Corps is as good as a phantom formation. No one knows whether it exists and in what shape, though we see its apparitions now and then. Like Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s capital shifts, its headquarters was shifted to Ranchi and then back to Panagarh. The Pathankot division, which was to come up in 2017-2018, is now on the backburner. Many say, shelved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three explanations are being proffered. One is that the Army is doing away with large formations and shifting to small battle groups in American style. Another is that raising a corps is too costly. A third is that there has been a rethink on the strike corps idea, and it has been put on the backburner in a bid to mend ties with Beijing post-Doklam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If that be the case, shouldn’t we have a rethink on the rethink, post-Galwan?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/06/25/blunting-a-brahmastra.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/06/25/blunting-a-brahmastra.html Thu Jun 25 16:56:50 IST 2020 vvip-flights-wings-commandeered <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/06/12/vvip-flights-wings-commandeered.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/6/12/48-VVIP-flights-new.jpg" /> <p>Our top three VVIPs—the president, the vice-president and the prime minister—have been flying around the world in Air India One for several years. The tickets issued to the VVIPs and to every person in their entourage mention the flight number as AI-1.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, they still issue printed ticket-books for VVIP overseas flights—those pretty little floral-print multi-pagers, complete with bright red carbon-copy sheets, which easily slide into a gentleman’s inner coat pocket or a lady’s little clutch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Actually, there is no single aircraft designated as Air India One or AI-1. Whenever any of the trimurtis wants to fly out, our flag carrier would convert two (one as standby) of its best Jumbos into executive jets, with prefabricated cabins, conference rooms, secretariat space, confidential communication consoles, working desks, lounge sofas, beds, curtains, carpets, magazine racks, metallic nameplates et al. There would be separate seating space for aides, delegation members, security men and for the media, too (not on Narendra Modi’s flights).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The flight, and not the aircraft, is given the call sign Air India One. The outfitted aircraft is ground-checked and flight-tested several times before it is stamped fit for taking the VVIP load. This whole mantling and dismantling would take Air India a few days, even if the actual VVIP trip is only a one-day dash to Thimpu or Timbuktu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All this is going to change. There will not be any need for outfitting the plane every time a VVIP wants to fly out. India is getting a special airplane for the prez, the vice and the premier. (No prize for guessing who among the three will be flying it more.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To be precise, it will not be one plane but identical two. Two machines, bought from Boeing, were given to Air India two years ago, but have since been sent back to the maker for outfitting them with missile protection suites. One of those, we are told, is a high-intensity laser suite that will misguide any man-portable missile flying towards the plane. Most of the missile-killing will be done automatically, without the pilot or the crew knowing anything about it. The gizmo will simply neutralise the incoming missile, and then tell the pilot, “Honey, I killed a missile.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The flight is slightly delayed. Boeing was scheduled to deliver the two outfitted 777s in June, but has now asked for time till September, citing Covid-19-caused delay in getting the work done.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No heartburn. In these physical distancing days, our VVIPs are sitting pretty at home. Narendra Modi has not done any globe-trotting since mid-November, after he came back from Brazil. Since February end, no Bharat yatra either (though domestic flying is on the Air Headquarters Communication Squadron’s Embraer executive jets), save a day trip to Kolkata and Bhubaneswar on May 22.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Diplomacy has gone digital. Modi had a digital pow-wow with Australia’s Scott Morrison last week. Politicking is physically distanced. Buddy Amit Shah has been addressing Bihar’s voters without stepping out of Delhi. “Do gaz doori bahut hai zaroori,” says Modi. That’s two yards away—more than an arm’s length at which he keeps Nehruvians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The loser in the bargain is Air India. Even before it loses the status of being the flag carrier, it will lose the honour of being the flag-bearer carrier. After the outfitted 777s arrive, they will be deregistered from Air India and registered with the IAF. Air Force pilots will fly them, but Air India Engineering Services Ltd will be looking after them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What would they call the flight? Not Air Force One, please. That’s Donald Trump’s. How about IAF-1?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/06/12/vvip-flights-wings-commandeered.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/06/12/vvip-flights-wings-commandeered.html Fri Jun 12 13:58:59 IST 2020 bayonets-from-lhasa-to-ladakh <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/05/28/bayonets-from-lhasa-to-ladakh.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/5/28/54-Bayonets-from-Lhasa-to-Ladakh-new.jpg" /> <p>Which is India’s southernmost point? Most people would say, Kanyakumari. Don’t we say, Kashmir to Kanyakumari?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Quiz buffs and trivia tyrants know it is not. The southernmost point, they will scream, is Indira Point in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>OK. Lock kar diya. Now, which is India’s northernmost point? Going by ‘Kashmir to Kanyakumari’, it must be in Kashmir.</p> <p>No longer. After the statutory coup executed by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah last August, the northernmost region over which the Union of India’s writ runs is Ladakh. Ladakh is now a Union Territory, not part of Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>OK. Ladakh ko lock kar diya. But where in Ladakh? Answer: Indira Col.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before anti-Nehruvians and WhatsApp historians take to troll, twitter and digital drivel, let me make it clear. Indira Col is not named after Indira Gandhi. The name was given in honour of Goddess Lakshmi, by Fanny Bullock-Workman, a doughty American who explored Siachen in 1911-12 along with her husband, long before Indira was born to Kamala and Jawaharlal Nehru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Col means mountain pass or la, as in Nathu La, Chorbat La and Bilafond La. There is even a Colonel’s Col, further west of Indira Col. Turkestan La is sometimes called Colonel’s Col, after the legendary Colonel Francis Younghusband who explored the region in 1889.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All our current strategic games with China started with Younghusband whom Lord Curzon sent with “bayonets to Lhasa” in 1904. Historians and strategic thinkers are still divided over the gains accrued from that mission, but the Chinese still get nightmares about it. They think that India can still invade Tibet as easily as Younghusband did a century ago with just about 3,000 troops. It is another matter that we, in India, don’t think so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest round of the Sino-Indian strategic game is being played in two places in Ladakh, on the banks of Pongong Lake and in the Galwan Valley. (Galwan is named after Gulam Rasool Galwan who guided Younghusband and several other explorers in the late 19th and early 20th century.) The stand-off at Pongong may well be a diversionary tactic; the real threat could be to Galwan Valley and beyond, up to Indira Col. If he gets it, Xi Jinping’s belt-road will roll around Siachen, which the Pakistanis are also coveting, and farther to central Asia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not the first time the Chinese have tried to take Galwan. It was here that Major Shaitan Singh and his 140 brave Kumaonis fell in the battle of Rezang La, the fiercest of 1962.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: In the last instalment of this column, we had met William Moorcroft, who had explored Kailas-Mansarovar and sent he-goats and she-goats separated in two ships to England. According to mountaineer-writer Harish Kapadia, Moorcroft was also the first to explore Siachen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1821 he passed near its snout and acknowledged its existence, writes Kapadia. In 1835, G.T. Vigne approached it from the west trying to reach Bilafond La, but never guessed the existence of a large glacier across the divide. In 1848 Henry Starchy ascended ‘Saichar’ for two miles. In the same year, Dr Thomas Thompson reached the glacier, followed by F. Drew in 1849-50. E.C. Ryall sketched the lower part in 1861.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1889, Younghusband approached the area over the Urdok valley, looking for a crossing into the Indian subcontinent. Following a side valley of the Urdok glacier, he reached the foot of Turkestan La. “He felt that this was the main axis of the Karakoram. His explorer’s instincts were correct but, in [the] absence of maps, he was not sure where he was standing. His belief was finally confirmed by Dr T.G. Longstaff in 1909.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/05/28/bayonets-from-lhasa-to-ladakh.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/05/28/bayonets-from-lhasa-to-ladakh.html Thu May 28 17:59:46 IST 2020 blundering-in-the-Himalayas <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/05/14/blundering-in-the-Himalayas.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/5/14/23-Blundering-in-the-Himalayas-new.jpg" /> <p>If there is one poem that all diplomats should be made to read, it is Robert Frost’s Mending Wall. It is about a wall that ran between the poet’s apple orchard and his neighbour’s pine farm. The rubble on the wall often came loose in winter, and the neighbour insisted on mending it every spring.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Frost may have inspired our first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru with his “miles to go” lines, but from Mending Wall, it appears he was as lazy as a toad. He just could not fathom why the wall had to be kept intact. After all, “my apple trees will never get across, and eat the cones under his pines.” Neither of them had cows that would stray into the other’s farm. Yet, the neighbour insisted and doggedly repaired the wall every year, always saying “good fences make good neighbours.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has been a bit like Frost—neglecting the work on our boundaries. And Nepal has been like the neighbour—insisting on mending them. Or so it seems from what Nepali diplomats say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India and Nepal have been good friends most of the time (except on rare occasions such as when Hrithik Roshan opens his mouth, or S. Jaishankar dictates articles of other people’s constitutions). Like all good neighbours all over the world, the two countries have been having minor border brawls on occasions—mainly over the Kalapani issue that is now more than two centuries old. But the feud rarely came in the way of trade, travel or even troop recruitment of Nepali Gorkhas into the Indian Army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his 2014 visit to Kathmandu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed with his counterpart Sushil Koirala that their foreign secretaries would “work on outstanding boundary issues, including Kalapani and Susta”. The Nepalis say they have since been asking for a date, but Indian diplomats have been dragging their feet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, our border road-builders, who work under the defence ministry, have been busy as bees. Wanting to do their bit for our pilgrims’ progress to Kailash-Mansarovar, they have been building a shortcut at 17,000ft from Dharchula in Uttarakhand to Lipulekh on the Tibet border. Not only did they build much of the road, but also got their minister Rajnath Singh to e-open it on May 8.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hardly had Rajnath signed out of the weblink when all hell broke loose in Kathmandu. The road has been built through our land, protested Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali. He summoned the new Indian ambassador, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, and gave him an earful. That was quite an affront, especially since some of Kwatra’s predecessors had behaved much like viceroys, as former foreign secretary Jagat Mehta had admitted once.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all we know, the Nepalis may be seeing ghosts where there are none. The road may actually be running through our apple orchard, and not their pine farm. Even so, should we not have, as a good neighbour and the bigger of the two, convinced the Nepalis of that?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now the South Block says, we will talk after the lockdown is lifted. But the Nepalis are not listening. They are thinking of sending armed guards to the disputed stretch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A minor crisis! But one that could have been avoided.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: The first European who explored Mansarovar, William Moorcroft, had also taken the Uttarakhand route. He travelled all across the Himalayas, often in disguise, in the early 1800s, seeking good horses for the East India Company and pashmina goats to be taken to England.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But he blundered in his pashmina venture. Having bought hundreds of goats, he shipped the he-goats in one ship and the she-goats in another. Sadly, the ship with the she-goats sank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/05/14/blundering-in-the-Himalayas.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/05/14/blundering-in-the-Himalayas.html Thu May 14 17:44:41 IST 2020 siren-salute-to-a-divine-act <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/04/30/siren-salute-to-a-divine-act.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/4/30/54-Siren-salute-to-a-divine-act-new.jpg" /> <p>When he took a siren-blaring cavalcade of 35 cars and 60 motorcycles around Gurdwara Bangla Saheb, Delhi Police Deputy Commissioner Eish Singhal did not know that the Prime Minister was watching. A few hours later, Narendra Modi tweeted a video clip of the show with the words: “Good gesture by the Delhi Police. Our gurdwaras have been doing exceptional work in serving people. Their compassion is appreciable.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Didn’t get the drift? Hang on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bangla Saheb is a principal gurdwara located in the heart of Delhi, just an arrow-shot away from the Parliament House in the south and Connaught Place in the north. When the gurdwara managers heard that thousands of destitutes were going without food because of the lockdown, they called them to the vast premises of the shrine and offered free food. They have since been feeding about 75,000 people every day. The shrine has also given away its guest houses and inns for the doctors and nurses in nearby hospitals to stay. The motorcade was just a gesture by the Delhi Police to honour the shrine and the spirit of philanthropy that inspired the devotees who fund the free food programme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not that other shrines are all shut up. Indeed they are shut for worship, but several temples, mosques and churches across the country have discovered that manav seva is madhav seva, and have been feeding the poor or lending their sacred spaces to run quarantine quarters, isolation centres, and treatment wards. The cash-rich few are donating funds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But not as universally as the Sikhs are doing. As the Prime Minister tweeted, the Sikh shrines “have been doing exceptional work in serving people”. While the Bangla Saheb is leading the way, other Delhi gurdwaras, too, are running langars or free kitchens for about 1.25 lakh people every day. So have been the gurdwaras across Punjab and most of north India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Free kitchens have been there in several Indian shrines, but it was Guru Amar Das, the third guru, who institutionalised it as part of the Sikh faith. Not only did he want the community to take care of the needy, but he believed interdining would break caste, class and communal barriers among devotees. Impressed, Emperor Akbar once sat cross-legged in a langar to dine with the soiled and toiling folk during Amar Das’s guruship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With all shrines being Covid-closed to worshippers, perhaps it is time other faiths followed suit. As Gandhi said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: The Bangla Saheb owes its origin to a similar act of kindness during an epidemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before he passed away in 1661, Guru Har Rai, the seventh guru, had ordained his five-year-old younger son Harkishen as his successor. Elder son Ram Rai contested this, and sought the intervention of Emperor Aurangazeb. Knowing that the Sikhs would refuse the summons, the ace diplomat Raja Jai Singh offered to mediate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jai Singh persuaded the guru to travel to Delhi as his guest, and stay in his bungalow in Jaisinghpura, then a suburb of Delhi near Raisina village, which was his fief. The adulation that the guru received on the way and in Delhi convinced the emperor that the Sikhs preferred him to Ram Rai. When a smallpox epidemic hit the city, the guru and his men began tending and feeding the sick populace. Soon the guru himself fell victim to the disease and died in 1664.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jai Singh donated the bungalow to the Sikhs, which they converted into a gurdwara. Folk history has it that the name Bangla Saheb is derived from the word bungalow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b><a href="mailto:prasannan@theweek.in">prasannan@theweek.in</a></b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/04/30/siren-salute-to-a-divine-act.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/04/30/siren-salute-to-a-divine-act.html Thu Apr 30 18:54:28 IST 2020 boor-on-silken-pillow <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/04/17/boor-on-silken-pillow.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/4/17/9trump.jpg" /> <p>Some people are better kept as enemies. They make more trouble for you as friends. Donald Trump is one such.</p> <p>Only one and a half months ago, he had been feted in India much like a king-emperor, complete with a durbar in an Ahmedabad stadium. Now he has got buddy Narendra Modi in quite a spot over the export of hydroxychloroquine—an anti-malarial drug which is given as prophylactic to health workers handling Covid-19 patients.</p> <p>When Covid-19 broke out in China, India was among the first countries that took precautions. Modi banned flights from China even before the World Health Organization told him to. Most of Europe and America, apparently thinking this was another of the dirty diseases of the exotic east, went on with business as usual, singing away in the spring like the grasshopper in the Aesop fable.</p> <p>Not that we did not have choruses. Modi did make us play a few balcony scenes. Probably a few played Romeo-Juliets, too, in the candlelight shadows. Through all his sound-and-light pantomimes, Modi really worried that there was a reasonable chance of the disease spreading in India, too. With 130 crore people to look after, he thought he would hoard, much like the ant in the fable, a few million strips of hydroxychloroquine. After all, India produces two-thirds of the world’s stock, and no harm if we kept the bulk of it once.</p> <p>Europe woke up only after their princes, prime ministers and a few parliamentary worthies hit the sick bed, and a few thousand of the lesser mortals dropped dead. Even then Trump continued with his China-myna games, even calling the virus a Chinese virus.</p> <p>Only after the bug bit the Big Apple, and began killing thousands across the New World, did Trump cut the comedy. First he banned export of US-made masks to Canada and Latin America. Then he began what European buccaneers did in the age of the Spanish gold—hijack ships headed for other shores and take them to his own ports.</p> <p>French politicians accused the US of outbidding a consignment of face masks that had been ordered by France and loaded on cargo planes from China. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked his ministers to probe whether medical supplies meant for Canada had been diverted to the US. A German politico alleged that 2,00,000 masks meant for the German police were diverted to the US during a cargo transfer in Thailand.</p> <p>Then Trump heard that buddy Modi had banned export of hydroxychloroquine. In a Sunday morning call, he told Modi that he would “appreciate your allowing our supply to come out,” and that if Modi “does not allow it to come out, that would be OK, but of course, there may be retaliation.” That sounded much like Don Vito Corleone speaking, though one is not clear how much of it was what Trump actually told Modi.</p> <p>Poor Modi obliged. It is another matter that he would have, even if Trump had made a polite request through diplomatic channels. India has always gone to the aid of friends, and even foes, in need. When our coasts were reeling under the knockout punch delivered by the 2004 tsunami, our ships were sailing to Colombo and Male with food, clothing and tentage. When hurricane Katrina laid waste much of the American southeast in 2005, Manmohan Singh sent a gift cheque of $5 million and 25 tonnes of blankets, bedsheets, gloves, masks and lotions. When an earthquake hit Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in October 2005, we sent the Indian Air Force’s Ilyushin to Islamabad with blankets, tents, foods, and drugs.</p> <p>All those were given without asking, let alone threatening. But then, as a Danish proverb goes, a boor remains a boor even if sleeping on silken pillows.</p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/04/17/boor-on-silken-pillow.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/04/17/boor-on-silken-pillow.html Sat Apr 18 10:17:00 IST 2020 sorry-sir-they-want-some-more <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/04/04/sorry-sir-they-want-some-more.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/4/4/12-migrants.jpg" /> <p>In his month-end Sunday Mann ki Baat, Narendra Modi apologised to the people for putting them all into this three-week lockdown. Those who have jobs and salaries didn’t need an apology. For many, it is a paid holiday spent watching TV, posting WhatsApp videos, playing board games, reading books or fighting with spouses.</p> <p>The apology was to the poor. “I specially apologise to the poor and financially weaker sections who would be probably thinking what kind of a prime minister is Modi,” he said. “It is possible that the poor would be angry with me for taking such steps.”</p> <p>Tendering apology, or seeking pardon, is not an Indian trait. Not Modi’s, anyway, as his critics would say. Most Indian languages have no folk phrase for ‘sorry’ or ‘excuse me’. Khed hain and kshama kijiye are there, but those are too artificial, urban and, as most people think, used only by TV news readers after their tongues slip. The first phrase in Hindi that many in the south learnt was rukawat ke liye khed hain. That was in the early days of Doordarshan when transmission used to be interrupted as frequently as we have commercial breaks these days.</p> <p>The terms may be there in our tongues, but not on our tongues—not in our popular culture, lingo, or native phraseology. Not that we are any less refined in manners than the westerners. In the west they drop these phrases at the drop of a hat, a teaspoon, or a hundred-dollar crystal vase. When they say sorry, it is not that they are really sorrowful, but only mean, ‘well, it happened; but don’t hold it against me.’ When they say ‘excuse me’, they are not seeking your pardon, but only asking you to stop what you are doing and listen to them.</p> <p>Why am I saying all this in these Covid times? Hold on.</p> <p>Modi tendered an apology because he sinned. Not only the prime minister but most of our rulers sinned—Central and state ministers, secretaries, department heads, MPs, mayors, city fathers, town councillors, and we, the middle class, too. With few exceptions, of course. We all went into a shutdown without sparing a thought for those who can’t shut themselves down.</p> <p>Not that India didn’t know of them. This column had listed a few and discussed their plight—cleaners, caterers, cooks, coolies, chaiwallas, cabbies, drivers, mechanics, sweepers, janitors, waiters, shop boys, sales girls, porters, parking hands, kitchen maids, parlour maids, paanwallas, peanut-sellers, ice-cream vendors, doormen, ushers, security guards, rickshaw-pullers.</p> <p>Many had come from distant hamlets that exist beyond the horizons of our imagination—Bengalis who cook for Kerala, Purvanchalis who scrub-clean Delhi and Mumbai, Oriyas who polish Surat’s diamonds….</p> <p>Soon after Modi called for a three-week lockdown, they began running away in hunger and away from hunger—some walking hundred and more miles and a few falling dead on the road. Indeed, Delhi’s city government promised them free rations and double rations, and UP offered money in their accounts.</p> <p>Where the regimes failed was in reaching out. Teams of teachers, municipal staff, policemen, health workers and NGO busybodies could have been sent around in jeeps announcing free rations, and where to get them. Camps could have been set up in schools, temple premises, gurdwara langars, churchyards, community halls, medieval forts (Delhi’s Old Fort was one such huge camp during Partition) and food courts of shopping malls. Vehicles could have been sent out offering them free rides to the camps.</p> <p>India has managed the Covid contagion fairly well. But is India failing its poor?</p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/04/04/sorry-sir-they-want-some-more.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/04/04/sorry-sir-they-want-some-more.html Sat Apr 04 14:37:28 IST 2020 care-in-the-time-of-covid-19 <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/03/19/care-in-the-time-of-covid-19.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/3/19/25-Care-in-the-time-of-Covid-19-new.jpg" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided that Parliament will not be prorogued prematurely. The houses were scheduled to sit till April 3, and they shall sit till April 3, come hell, high water or coronavirus. “MPs should be seen doing their work when the country is facing a health scare,” he told his party MPs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Critics may say, Modi had Madhya Pradesh in mind. There his party is seeking an early floor test, whereas the Congress is putting it off citing coronavirus. Be that as it may, the message that has gone out is, our leaders will not be cowed down by coronavirus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not that they should rush in where doctors fear to tread. Reasonable precautions ought to be taken—the halls may be fumigated, the seats sanitised, the floors phenyl-wiped, members’ health monitored, lotions provided; no handshakes but only hand washes, no backslaps, and no lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So be it in society, too. Reasonable lockdowns may be necessary to combat infection. Work more from home, commute less; mail-order more, shop less; cook at home, eat out less; fly less, drive less. But in the long run, lockdowns may backfire, unless we can put social safety nets in place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Covid-19 may not kill even a fraction of what the Black Death did —it killed half of the people in medieval Europe. Or the Spanish flu a century ago which infected a third of the people in India. Modern science has found, or will find, ways to combat coronavirus. Vaccines are already on their way, though they may take at least a year to be developed, tested, proven and produced. But science already knows how to prevent—it is already saving millions and keeping them alive. Science will find ways to cure, too. Unlike what John Maynard Keynes said, in the long run we will not all be dead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But long-drawn lockdowns, and not coronavirus, may kill many more millions who live by serving us—drivers, conductors, mechanics, cleaners, caterers, cooks, coolies, chaiwallas, cabbies, sweepers, janitors, waiters, shop boys, sales girls, air-hostesses, pilots, porters, parking hands, parlour maids, paanwallas, peanut-sellers, ice-cream vendors, technicians, doormen, receptionists, ushers, security guards, rickshaw-pullers—the list is endless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you and I stop commuting to work, visiting restaurants, going to parks, sunning on beaches, taking cabs, going on holidays, visiting cinemas and attending concerts, they will lose their jobs. Their families will starve, or many may be forced into crime, suicide or revolt. They would be there not just as an industrial reserve army as Karl Marx called them in his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, but also as mobs of starving men who could join revolutions, ignite strifes, run riots or turn mobsters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Too alarmist? Perhaps. But already American gun stores are reporting a surge in sales—many of the well-off are buying guns fearing a spurt in burglaries and robberies in the age of corona penury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Europe and America tottered on the verge of a revolution in the 1930s, when the Great Depression threw millions out of jobs. Fortunately, there emerged two messiahs—an economist and a statesman. If Keynes professed economics of the welfare state, Franklin Delano Roosevelt handed out the New Deal by which governments spent money just to create jobs. The two men saved not only the capitalist order but also the western civilisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Till now in corona-panicking India, only Uttar Pradesh has thought of this. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has promised to put money in the Jan-Dhan accounts of all unorganised workers. Will other governments follow suit?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/03/19/care-in-the-time-of-covid-19.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/03/19/care-in-the-time-of-covid-19.html Sat Mar 21 17:24:34 IST 2020 drop-the-party-gowns-m-lords <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/03/06/drop-the-party-gowns-m-lords.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/3/6/12-Justice-Arun-Mishra-new.jpg" /> <p>American judges wear political labels on the sleeves of their robes. They make no bones about whether they are Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, creationists or Darwinians, pro-rifle or anti-rifle, gay or grim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet when in 2016 Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg called presidential candidate Donald Trump “a faker” and a man with “no consistency about him,” there was so much criticism that one wondered whether the heads on the Rushmore Memorial too would give her a sermon from the mount on judicial restraint.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India too, some judges are crossing the lakshman rekha of judicial dignity. They are praising politicians so much as to give them the blushes. A few months ago, Justice M.R. Shah, then of the Patna High Court and now the Supreme Court, praised Narendra Modi as a model and a hero. Now, Justice Arun Mishra has courted controversy by singing paeans of the prime minister at a conference of judges and jurists from 20 countries, calling him a “versatile genius who thinks globally and acts locally”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PM may be all that and more. But should a sitting judge be talking like a political partyman? Judicial decorum expects judges to refrain from airing their political preferences. Naturally, several bar bodies and judicial busybodies came down on Mishra like tonnes of bricks and briefs, though the bar council asked them not to be so harsh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mishra is known to be a harsh judge. Critics say, he follows the law to its last letter, but in the process misses its spirit. The gavel of justice often turns into a sledgehammer in his hands. Literally so in his Maradu flats demolition order, and figuratively so in several other cases such as the one over telecom firms’ dues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nor is he new to controversies. When four senior most judges held an unprecedented presser in 2018, one of their grievances was that several politically sensitive cases were being sent to Mishra’s bench over the heads of his seniors. Next, he refused to recuse himself from a constitution bench that was re-examining his own judgment on land acquisition. A few weeks ago, he lost his cool in the court and threatened a senior advocate with contempt of court. Following criticism from the bar, he offered to “apologise a hundred times” with “folded hands”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Judges praising politicians is not a new phenomenon. P.N. Bhagwati, one of the champions of PIL, wrote to Indira Gandhi on her “triumphant return as prime minister” in 1980, that she had “become the symbol of the hopes and aspirations of the poor, hungry millions of Indians who had so far nothing to hope for and nothing to live for....” We do not know how many of his brothers squirmed on the bench.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One who did was Justice V.D. Tulzapurkar. “If judges start sending bouquets or congratulatory letters to a political leader on his political victory, eulogising him on assumption of high office in adulatory terms, the people’s confidence in the judiciary will be shaken,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the way, Bhagwati was one of the judges who had authored the infamous ADM Jabalpur judgment, which said that in times of Emergency, the state could take away a citizen’s fundamental rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Judges recuse themselves from cases which they had decided earlier judicially. But one judge had to recuse himself for having given legislative assent to a law that was being challenged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the Bank Nationalisation Act was being heard by an 11-judge bench in 1970, Chief Justice M. Hidayatullah recused himself because he had assented to the act when he was acting president. The bench headed by J.C. Shah struck down the act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/03/06/drop-the-party-gowns-m-lords.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/03/06/drop-the-party-gowns-m-lords.html Fri Mar 06 14:31:39 IST 2020 in-trump-suit-warships-walmart-walnuts <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/02/22/in-trump-suit-warships-walmart-walnuts.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/2/22/29-In-Trump-suit-new.jpg" /> <p>Our foreign office mandarins say, Narendra Modi invests a lot of energy in personal diplomacy. Don’t we know? He almost plucked out poor Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo De Sousa’s arm in a long and almost violent handshake last week. Britain’s Prince Harry had his hand held in such a grip that one could see marks on the back of the princely palm long after Modi let him go.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, Modi’s handshakes and hugs have an energy of their own, and they are going viral. The world is now waiting with bated, and virus-masked, breath to see how Modi will greet Donald Trump. Will he shake the POTUS’s hand for a longer while than he shook De Sousa’s? Or would it be a bear-hug, known in ancient India as Dhritarashtra’s embrace? After all, getting the US prez in a bear-hug isn’t such a bad idea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Handshakes and hugs are hot currencies in diplomacy. The world remembers several such—the minute-long handshake with which Deng Xiaoping received the young Rajiv Gandhi, commando-general Pervez Musharraf’s lunge-and-grab handshake with a demurring A.B. Vajpayee at the Kathmandu SAARC, Neville Chamberlain’s handshake of appeasement at Munich with Adolf Hitler, Harry Truman’s threesome handshake with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin at Potsdam, Elizabeth Regina’s gloved handshake with Martin McGuinness whose IRA had killed her favourite cousin Lord Mountbatten, and Trump’s own 13-second handshake with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Diplomacy is as much about such camera moments as about in-camera talks—about trade treaties, tariff walls and tank deals. It is when they have nothing to tell us about the in-camera stuff that our South Block worthies wax eloquent on symbolism of visits, significance of gestures, commonality of interests, time-tested ties, personal chemistry between the principals and so on. Imagine what would have happened if phrases like personal chemistry were used in the era of Leonid Brezhnev and Indira Gandhi. A few cluster bombs would have gone off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Take it from me, we will hear a lot about personal chemistry, body language and time-tested ties during the Trump visit. Because Team Trump is talking tough on a lot of trade-and-tariff stuff in-camera.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Calvin Coolidge famously said that America’s business is business. That was in the 1920s. But the presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama forgot it and have been leading America into global minefields— waging world wars and cold wars, brokering peace deals, containing the commies, balancing the Europeans, bankrolling the NATO, foisting tinpot tyrants, exporting democracy and policing the globe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three things hurt Trump and Co. One, all these are at the cost of Americans’ tax money. Two, America has been giving up much of its business to the Japanese, Chinese, East Asians and Indians for gaining strategic leverage in their regions. Three, many of the beneficiaries, claiming to be developing countries, have been getting away with higher tariff walls against American goods. All of them sell more to America but buy little from America. If they have the bucks to buy American warjets and warships, why can’t they also let in Walmarts, and buy walnuts, almonds, cheese and butter from America?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Trump declared in Davos two winters ago, “America is open for business.” For both guns and butter. Will Modi take both?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Not just hugs and handshakes, the world has also seen statesmen patting the hosts’ cheeks. Ayub Khan did it to Lyndon Johnson once. So did Dr S. Radhakrishnan when introduced to Mao in Beijing. Then he put Mao at ease saying, “Mr Chairman, don’t be alarmed. I did the same thing to Stalin and the Pope.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/02/22/in-trump-suit-warships-walmart-walnuts.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/02/22/in-trump-suit-warships-walmart-walnuts.html Sat Feb 22 11:33:09 IST 2020 a-xanadu-in-new-new-delhi <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/02/07/a-xanadu-in-new-new-delhi.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/2/7/25-A-Xanadu-in-new-New-Delhi-new.jpg" /> <p>Like Kubla Khan who decreed a pleasure dome in Xanadu, Narendra Modi is decreeing a power dome in Delhi—a brand new capital complex inspired, in all probability, by ancient Indian architecture. Coleridge’s Xanadu was in an opium-induced daydream; Modi’s will be in optimum-spaced Delhi—a steel-and-concrete capital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let me get you into the picture. We have this Sir Edwin Lutyens-built Rashtrapati Bhavan atop the Raisina Hill, with North Block and South Block which house the prime minister’s office and the home, finance, defence and foreign ministries standing in attendance. Grand, stately, majestic, and imperial with an imposing equilibrium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Down the hill, on both sides of the Boat Club lawns, we have these pairs of buildings—Rail Bhavan-Vayu Bhavan, Krishi Bhavan-Udyog Bhavan, Shastri Bhavan-Nirman Bhavan and so on, which house myriad ministries and offices. They, too, add to the equilibrium of Lutyens’ grand plan, much like the salabhanjikas who stood on the sides of Vikramaditya’s throne steps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem is that these buildings, built by the central public works department during our post-Independence penury, are as much of eyesores as they would have been if those salabhanjikas had been vandalised by an iconoclastic Tamerlane. They look more like gargoyles than salabhanjikas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi wants to pull them all down. The Parliament House will stay, but as a museum. The prime minister’s house will move closer to Raisina. Newer buildings will house Parliament and the ministries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We Indians seem to be obsessed with pulling down and building anew. Other peoples found cities and expand them. Rome was not built in a day; once it was built it was never rebuilt lock, stock, and stone. The Greeks built a new Athens only after the Acropolis got ruined. Moscow, Paris, Vienna and all expanded naturally. London has remained where it is for two millennia, rebuilt once after the Great Fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi has been rebuilt, vacated and reoccupied often. No one has the exact count. The Delhi government website lists seven cities— Qila Rai Pithora, Mehrauli, Siri, Tughlakabad, Ferozabad, Shergarh and Shahjehanabad. Delhi Tourism lists eight including New Delhi. Hey, did someone say Indraprastha?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ask me, I would count more—the Tomaras’ Lal Kot, the Chauhans’ Qila Rai Pithora, the Slaves’ Qutb Complex, Alauddin Khilji’s Siri, Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq’s Tughlakabad, Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s Jahanpanah, Feroz Shah’s Ferozabad, Humayun-Sher Shah’s Dinpanah or Shergarh, Shahjehan’s Shahjehanabad, the Civil Lines from where the British ruled from 1912 to 1929, and New Delhi. There are more, if you count forts like Adilabad where, too, sultans lived. And we have not counted Indraprastha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi has also been abandoned and reoccupied. Muhammad bin Tughlaq force-moved the capital to Daulatabad, Bahlul Lodi to Agra, and Akbar to Fatehpur Sikri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi, thankfully, is not shifting out, but building anew. He wants his Xanadu to be more Indian than any other predecessor cities, but one cannot fathom why Parliament House has to be triangular. The circle is more Indian—Krishna’s discus and Asoka’s dhamma chakra were round.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Two buildings mar New Delhi’s equilibrium. The Parliament House, standing in the northwest corner of Rajpath, has no pair in the southwest. That is because a legislature was planned only after the 1919 Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms by which time the city plan had been frozen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other is Zabta Ganj Masjid on the south of Rajpath, built by the ruthless 18th century Rohilla chief Zabta Khan. (The area where the India Gate stands used to be called Zabta Ganj.) Even while insisting on equilibrium in his design, Lutyens did not want to hurt sentiments by pulling it down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/02/07/a-xanadu-in-new-new-delhi.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/02/07/a-xanadu-in-new-new-delhi.html Fri Feb 07 14:43:54 IST 2020 an-overworking-president <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/01/24/an-overworking-president.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/1/24/30-An-overworking-president-new.jpg" /> <p>Older man succeeding younger man? Yes, that is what has happened in the BJP’s presidency. Jagat Prakash Nadda, who was working president and is 59, has succeeded Home Minister Amit Shah who is 55 and certainly was not a non-working president. Shah, if at all, would have been an overworking president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Age is a non-issue in politics. When it comes to older persons succeeding younger ones, you cannot beat the Congress. The presidency of the grand old party has been passed on from a youthful son to an ailing and ageing mother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no provision for a working president in the BJP’s, or the Congress’s, constitution. It was a “working” arrangement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The term “working president” suited Nadda well. His ability to slog is known even to his opponents. A month before his final law exam in Himachal Pradesh University, he had gone to jail for having road-blocked chief minister Virbhadra Singh who was ignoring the demand of a Bilaspur village for a secondary school. From the prison he appeared for 16 of his 20 papers and cleared them all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nadda’s anointment on January 20 was a tame affair. No fanfare. There was no other contestant, just like in the Congress most of the time. On the appointed day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah came to the party office, and spoke nice words about good old Nadda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even otherwise, you can rarely get a bad word from anyone in the party about Nadda. He is a nice man to know—learned, well-read and a good gent with no pretensions. Not overwhelming like Shah or Modi. More in the Kushabhau Thakre or Jana Krishnamurthi mould in terms of temper and demeanour, but with a better sense of humour than the two. He can mimic people, and make you laugh as Vice President Venkaiah Naidu does with his alliteration —that is, if he is in a good mood, which he always is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, few would be envying Nadda on his elevation as the 11th president of the world’s largest party. He does have a tough job ahead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An immediate challenge would be the Delhi assembly polls. The game was already afoot; he was anointed president on the day before the last date for nomination. Winning Delhi may be a tough call, but Nadda would have to improve on the party’s miserable 2015 tally of three seats in a house of 70. Having engineered the BJP’s Lok Sabha campaign in Uttar Pradesh, he may meet that challenge. Next would be the polls in Bihar, his birth state, where the alliance with the Janata Dal (United) is getting strained.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nadda’s biggest challenge would be the legacy of his predecessor. Shah had acquired such a larger-than-life image as a modern-day Chanakya that Nadda would find himself dwarfed in comparison.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Nadda has one great asset. He knows how to keep his mouth shut. Especially about himself. Modi judges you by what you have done; not by what you claim to have done—he once told a colleague of mine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His long-term challenge would be to ensure that the party remains the largest. Its legislative strength is intact, but its liberal parliamentarianism of the A.B. Vajpayee-L.K. Advani era is giving way to a politics of shock-and-awe and confront-and-combat. The economic downturn and the pursuit of policies of social strife may in the long run dent the party’s appeal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> The Congress, too, had a working president. When she felt bereft of political aides after the death of son Sanjay Gandhi in a plane crash, Indira Gandhi made veteran Kamalapati Tripathi the working president, but gave him no work. THE WEEK carried a mocking cover story on the arrangement, with a cover picture of the working president relaxing on a sofa with his feet up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/01/24/an-overworking-president.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/01/24/an-overworking-president.html Fri Jan 24 19:52:53 IST 2020 first-among-unequals <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/01/10/first-among-unequals.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2020/1/10/22-General-Bipin-Rawat-new.jpg" /> <p>War is too important a matter to be left to the military, said prime minister Georges Clemenceau, who led France to victory in World War I.</p> <p>A handy quote that can buttress the case for civil supremacy over the military, but the line has been quoted out of shape by babus for keeping the brass hats out of government. By Jove! These mandarins who cannot tell a mortar from a machine-gun have been advising ministers on all matters military!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now Narendra Modi has restored the brass hats some shine. He has got them a chief of defence staff who will play four roles—give single-point military advice to the government, administer (not command) the nuclear forces, coordinate among the services and prioritise their plans, and ensure jointness in their planning, training and operation. No troops for him to command.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He will hold a four-star rank as the three chiefs do, and chair their meetings as first among equals. He will wear his parent service uniform, but his buttons, belt buckle and peak cap will bear the triservice crest which depicts the Army’s sword, the Navy’s anchor and the Air Force’s eagle. The shoulder patch will be maroon, and it will sport the Asoka lion and a triservice crest instead of the star and sword-and-baton badge. He will be driven in a car bearing four stars and a maroon triservice flag. He will work in South Block, live in 3 Kamaraj Marg, which very likely will be christened Defence House, and leave in three years with a good pension.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jolly good, but it looks like more thought has gone into matters of pay, perks, patches and paraphernalia than into how he will work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government says he will enjoy a first-among-equals status among the chiefs, almost at par with the cabinet secretary and above the defence secretary, who is below the three chiefs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Till now the defence ministry had four departments, each one lorded over by a secretary—the defence department under the defence secretary, defence production under another secretary, ex-servicemen’s welfare under a third secretary, and R&amp;D under the DRDO chief. Now, a fifth department, called military affairs, has been decreed for the CDS to lord over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Therein lies the anomaly. Among the secretaries, the defence secretary had been notionally a notch above the others, and he had been giving holistic advice, whatever its worth, to the ministry on all defence matters. He will continue to do that, and the CDS will confine himself to matters military. But then, if military comes under defence, wouldn’t the military adviser come under the defence adviser?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Capital acquisition (read big arms buys) will continue to be under defence, but revenue acquisition (small pieces including ammunition) under military affairs. Which means, the defence secretary will buy the cannons; the big chief will buy the shells. Ha!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wasn’t there a simple way out? Couldn’t they have made the chief of integrated staff, a three-star officer who has been in place for the last two decades, the head of military affairs?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps the babus, who make the rules, didn’t want it that way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: When the Anglo-Sikh war broke out in 1845, governor-general Henry Hardinge, still an enlisted soldier, couldn’t resist the temptation of being in the field. But commander-in-chief Sir Hugh Gough said having him around would create problems of command since Hardinge was his senior in army rank and in the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hardinge happily waived his right to the supreme command, and served as second-in-command under Gough. Needless to say, the duo won the war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/01/10/first-among-unequals.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2020/01/10/first-among-unequals.html Sat Jan 11 17:25:54 IST 2020 know-the-will-and-make-the-bill <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/12/28/know-the-will-and-make-the-bill.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/12/28/48-Know-the-will-and-make-the-bill-new.jpg" /> <p>Will there be a citizens register or won’t there be? Amit Shah said in Parliament that there will be; Narendra Modi said on Sunday that he hasn’t thought of one. Looks like the protests have given the government second thoughts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No issue. This is the way things should be. When rulers feel that people don’t like a law, they should not enforce it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People ought to be ruled by people’s laws, not by the king’s laws—that is the sacred doctrine of law-making enshrined in the mandate of the Magna Carta. That was also the doctrine that the illustrious Iltutmish, the slave-turned first sultan of Delhi, conveyed to a fanatical ulema when he rejected its demand to impose Islamic laws on the Hindus. Yes, the seeds of the secular state were sown 800 years ago by a sultan in this sacred land of the Vedas and the Upanishads that professed the cosmic worldview, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How do rulers and lawmakers get to know what laws their people want? Indeed, a large and diverse country like India cannot hold Swiss-style referendums on every law. Referendums can also be sure shots for secession, or prescriptions for balkanisation, as the British learnt the Brexit way. As Benjamin Disraeli said a century and a half ago, “what we call public opinion is generally public sentiment”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What then is public opinion or public will? Political pundits preceding Disraeli had thought of it. Jean-Jacques Rousseau had said there was something called ‘general will’ which was not necessarily the majority will. When the majority will is imposed on society or on its minorities, it is not democracy but tyranny of the majority, said J.S. Mill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How does one get to know the general will, if it is not the majority will? In a liberal democracy, the general will is evolved in the form of a consensus obtained through informed debates and discussions. That is where Modi and Co erred. They did not get the citizenship bill or the NRC idea discussed or debated. Ideally, bills are put in the public domain weeks ahead for public debates from which law-drafters can draw informed opinion. Once a bill is introduced in the legislature, the wise men there should get time to discuss it, debate it or damn it. They may even send it to a committee where members shed their party loyalties, bare their true minds, exercise their brains, consult outside experts, give their objective opinions, and help refine the bill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>None of these procedures was followed while amending the Citizenship Act. The government used its majority to reject the opposition demands for scrutiny by a committee, and got the bill passed in a few hours. That was the fate of most bills passed in the last session. In 20 sittings spread over 26 days, the Lok Sabha passed 14 bills, the Rajya Sabha 15 and both houses 15. Fast work, but how much of legislative mind was applied?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One man who is worried is Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu. Can we institutionalise a system of legislative impact assessment? he has asked. They have in Britain, Finland and European Parliament, by which every major law is studied by law-drafters, lawmakers and others before it is introduced. Any takers?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Citizenship registers have always caused problems. Remember how one such register was forced by Augustus Caesar upon the Jewish minority who inhabited Judea. That exercise witnessed the birth of a messiah who gave up his life on the cross, but whose legacy changed Judea and Rome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Merry Christmas, dear readers! And a Happy New Year, as reckoned from the year of his birth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/12/28/know-the-will-and-make-the-bill.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/12/28/know-the-will-and-make-the-bill.html Sat Dec 28 12:29:49 IST 2019 a-kilo-splash-in-the-eastern-seas <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/12/13/a-kilo-splash-in-the-eastern-seas.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/12/13/25-A-Kilo-splash-in-the-eastern-seas-new.jpg" /> <p>Narendra Modi is credited with turning India’s Look East into Act East. One of his latest acts in the east has been to give an old Kilo-class submarine, Sindhuvir, to Myanmar. The boat was repaired and refitted recently at Vizag, and the Burmese are commissioning it on Christmas eve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The submarine has gone down well into the depths of the Burmese waters, but the transfer has not gone down well with others. The Thais, particularly, are pretty peeved, especially since this transfer happens close on the heels of another deal by which Myanmar got a few Shyena torpedoes. We will monitor the use of the submarine, said the Thai Navy’s deputy chief.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Easier said than done. On the surface, literally, the Sindhuvir may look like a gift horse. It is a 31-year-old Soviet-era machine, powered by a diesel engine. Two or three of her sister ships, all Sindhus, have met with accidents; one sank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But appearances are deceptive. Though scoffed at for her huge size, which is a giveaway for a stealth machine, the Kilo is too quiet a creature. In the depths, this pigboat stays as quiet as a church mouse. Newer technologies have come in, but the Kilo remains a mean machine in the depths. In a 2017 hide-and-seek game with the US nuclear sub Corpus Christi, Indian Kilo Sindhudhwaj fooled all US sensors, picked up the US boat on her Indian-made Ushus sonar first, and mock-sank the latter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Myanmarese, who have no submarine in service currently, will train on the old sub with the Indian Navy’s help, and then buy a couple of new Kilos from Russia. With those boats, they will “guard their maritime interests.” That is what has foxed the Thais, and maybe even the Banglas. Both have sea borders with Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All three are India’s good friends, and often send their ships to exercise with our Navy. Yet, the fact remains that there is a lot of churning happening under the eastern waters, with or without India acting east. All our friends are worried about the ripples that the Chinese are causing in the eastern waters, but none is willing to drop all her strategic anchors with India alone. Virtually everyone is doing strategic business with both India and China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at the Banglas, our closest and friendliest neighbours. They bought two ageing Ming-class subs from China three years ago, and four corvettes since then. Now they are building a submarine base at Cox’s Bazar with Chinese help, and another at Rabnabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Thais have many things going with us, but they are also building an underwater fleet with three Chinese-made subs. One boat is already with them; a second has been ordered and a third is planned. The Thais are also talking to the Chinese to buy a 20,000-tonne amphibious ship, and are counting on China’s help to build the 120-km Kra Canal which will make it smooth sailing for Chinese warships from the Gulf of Thailand into the Andaman Sea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In short, Act East is not going to be smooth sailing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Once in the 1990s, the US Navy showed interest in exercising with India’s Kilos. Within hours I.K. Gujral’s PMO was flooded with calls from Moscow and Teheran, pleading “please don’t”. Both were worried that the Americans would read the sound signature of the Kilos, and track the movement of their subs in the Black Sea and the Persian Gulf.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gujral understood, and told the Navy to keep the Kilos a hundred nautical miles away from the Americans. Miffed, the US cancelled that exercise. It took more than another decade for India to send Kilos for an exercise with the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/12/13/a-kilo-splash-in-the-eastern-seas.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/12/13/a-kilo-splash-in-the-eastern-seas.html Fri Dec 13 12:20:22 IST 2019 poll-bonds-in-pandora-suitcase <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/11/29/poll-bonds-in-pandora-suitcase.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/11/29/51-Poll-bonds-in-Pandora-suitcase-new.jpg" /> <p>British press baron Alfred Harmsworth famously said, “When I want a peerage I shall buy one like an honest man.” In 1905, he did get a peerage and thus a seat in the House of Lords as Lord Northcliffe, but we do not know if it was purchased.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seats in the Indian Parliament cannot be purchased with money, but it helps if you have lots of it. How else did Vijay Mallya get in? Leave it. We should be asking, how did he get out?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Corporates donate funds to parties and candidates who would serve their interests. Payments have been made in various ways and hues—cash and cheque, white and black, clean and dirty, over the counter and under the table, electronic transfer and manual hawala, secured in suitcases and tied in red tape. And now, the electoral bond.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Use or abuse of money power had always been the bane of Indian politics. Rich traders made and unmade kings and kingdoms in mediaeval India. Banker Jagat Seth bankrolled the Battle of Plassey. For the next one century, we were ruled by or in the name of a company. The freedom movement was bankrolled by native corporates. Post-independence, corporates funded parties that served their interests. When she found more cheques being issued in favour of the rightist Swatantra, Jan Sangh and Congress (O), Indira Gandhi banned corporate funding to parties. Funding went underground, or under the table.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The licence-permit raj thrived on the strength of suitcase gratification. Campaign cash began to be carried in huge chests in chartered jets and express trains. The lefties, too, did not lag behind. Trade union barons collected cash for them from workers, petty contractors, brokers, merchants and even factory-owners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajiv Gandhi lifted the ban on corporate donation to parties in 1985, but the cash chest culture continued. Several venerable political figures were ‘caught’ with suitcases of currency, the most infamous being the claim by big bull Harshad Mehta that he had carried crisp currency worth ₹1 crore in a suitcase into Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As corporate profits soared in liberalised India, poll costs, too, soared. Then came the hawala scam which singed several reputations. As a few leaders declared they would take money only in cheques, corporates like the Tatas floated electoral trusts. The Manmohan Singh regime gave legal sanctity to this in 2013 by amending the Companies Act so as to allow corporates to donate up to 7.5 per cent of the average of their previous three years’ profit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Campaign costs soared in the Modi era of laser dazzle and data analytics. Finally, Arun Jaitley’s 2017 budget unveiled a scheme by which anyone could buy a bond from State Bank during specific 10-day windows before elections, and donate it to any party. Having come through the bank, the money would be white, but companies do not have to tell who they are donating to, and parties do not have to reveal who had given them the bond.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government went ahead with the scheme overruling the objections of Election Commission and the Reserve Bank. As it was implemented, the 10-day window rule was waived, as also the rule that only profitable companies could buy the bonds. Shell companies, foreign firms and even those with dubious links are said to have bought the bonds and donated them to the ruling party. With neither the public nor the auditors coming to know of who donated how much to whom, the scheme has turned out to be as opaque as the old treasure chests and suitcases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What next? State funding of elections? Hon’ble members, please say aye.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/11/29/poll-bonds-in-pandora-suitcase.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/11/29/poll-bonds-in-pandora-suitcase.html Sat Nov 30 18:13:07 IST 2019 no-ghosts-at-the-breakfast-table <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/11/09/no-ghosts-at-the-breakfast-table.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/11/9/31-modi-rcep.jpg" /> <p>India will not join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) because neither Mahatma Gandhi’s talisman nor Narendra Modi’s conscience would permit the latter to sign it. Bless both. If only Modi had applied the same tests before the note-ban three winters ago!</p> <p>Gandhi’s talisman, if you do not know, was a simple one. “Whenever you are in doubt (rarely with Modi), or when the self becomes too much with you (often with Modi), apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him.”</p> <p>We do not know which poor wretch’s face Modi recalled in Bangkok. It would have been tough, particularly in the company of suited-booted diplomats who had been haggling with the ten ASEAN tigers and cubs and five Pacific sharks. All the same, Modi did it, and that calls for a few rounds of applause.</p> <p>Proffered as the mother of all free-trade deals, with low or no tariff walls among the ten ASEANS and the rich Pacific five, the RCEP made great geopolitical and geoeconomic sense. A few partners are rich in resources, some in human skills, most in knowhow, and all in enterprise. Had India joined, it would have been the world’s largest trading block, consisting of half of the world’s population and a third of the world’s riches.</p> <p>Well, that sounds much like what Lord Amherst, that forgotten governor-general of India, claimed two centuries ago. That “the emperor of China and I govern half of the human race and yet we find time for breakfast”.</p> <p>The fact is, Modi would not have found time for breakfast if he had signed the RCEP. Chinese gadgets, New Zealand cheese and southeast Asian auto parts would have flooded the Indian market, sending tens of thousands of small businessmen into bankruptcy and many more farmers and cowherds to suicide. Not the faces of the poorest, but the ghosts of the poorest would have haunted the breakfast tables of Delhi’s rulers, much like Banquo’s ghost at Macbeth’s banquet.</p> <p>Many may wonder, why then did we engage in talks for full seven years if we knew it was gonna be a bad deal? The Congress and the BJP are having a free trade of charges over that. We have been telling Modi not to go for the deal, says the Congress. It was the Congress-led regime that started the talks, counters the BJP.</p> <p>Both are right and wrong. There is no harm in engaging in talks and trying your best to snatch a fair bargain out of a bad deal. It was right on the part of Manmohan Singh to have explored the deal; it is also right on Modi’s part to have backed out when he found it was going to be a China-heavy gang-up.</p> <p>Now what? Having found that we have little economic heft, our eastern neighbours will be lukewarm towards our Look East and Act East initiatives. Our diplomats will have to find newer ways of engaging them politically and strategically.</p> <p>Tailpiece: Lord Amherst was the first modern Indian ruler who acted east. He annexed Assam and waged the first Anglo-Burmese war.</p> <p>Amherst too had refused to kowtow to the Chinese. Earlier, as Britain’s envoy to China, he had refused to kowtow before the emperor, a ceremony which he considered degrading. His mission failed, but he returned with his country’s prestige intact.</p> <p>On his return, he called on Napoleon, then living in British-forced exile in St Helena. There, Napoleon gave him a line which is still quoted by strategic pundits: “Let China sleep; when she wakes she will shake the world.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/11/09/no-ghosts-at-the-breakfast-table.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/11/09/no-ghosts-at-the-breakfast-table.html Sat Nov 09 12:31:55 IST 2019 to-siachen-with-selfie-sticks <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/10/25/to-siachen-with-selfie-sticks.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/10/25/52-To-Siachen-with-selfie-sticks-new.jpg" /> <p>Soldiers in Siachen may soon get company. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has plans to open the stretch from Base Camp to Kumar Post for tourists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Think of this. Soldiers, freezing in the cold and feeling lonely at the top, being asked to pose for selfies with tourists. Cool!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Looks like the Siachen story is coming full circle twice over. The story started with Pakistan issuing mountaineering permits in the 1980s; is it ending with India issuing tourism permits in the 2020s? It started with a Col Kumar finding Pakistani litter on the hilltops; is it ending with tourists littering a post named after him?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For those who ascended late...</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siachen had been unchartered territory till the 1980s. The icy heights had been left unmarked in the Line of Control maps agreed between India and Pakistan after the 1971 war. We had assumed that the lands further to the north, along with all the ice on the rocks, would be ours. Cheers!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One day in the early 1980s, climber Col Narendra (Bull) Kumar came across a few US-made maps in the hands of a European climber. The maps showed Siachen as Pakistani territory, and Kumar learnt that Pakistan had been issuing climbing permits to the glacier. Then came a spy report that Pakistan had ordered a few thousand snow boots from an Austrian company. A scout by Kumar and co found Pakistani cigarette butts and other litter on the hills, suggesting that Pakistanis had been frequenting the place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alarms bells rang in the Army HQ and in the PMO when the jigsaw pieces of the maps, boots and butts were put in place: Pakistan could be planning to annex the glacier. Indira Gandhi ordered a preemptive operation, and a full brigade with hardly any snow gear landed on the Saltoro Heights which overlook the glacier. The boys have since been sitting there like a Humpty Dumpty who doesn’t fall off the wall. All the Pak cannons and all the Pak men have not yet knocked them down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pretty peeved, the Pakistanis fretted, fumed, frothed and fired. The firing stopped with a deal in 2003. Today, there is no enemy to worry about but winter and rough weather, both of which, too, used to kill troopers till George Fernandes and A.K. Antony sent them snow-scooters, better tents, jackets, boots, pumped-up kerosine, hot meals and even chocolates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Peaceniks in both countries and elsewhere think that Siachen is the lowest-hanging fruit among the issues between the two neighbours. There is no historical baggage, no emotional dimension, no civilians involved, no political issue, no resources—so goes the argument.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are deluding themselves. The issue has been talked over several times, but the talks have got nowhere. Pakistan wants India to vacate the heights; India says it will if Pakistan recognises the positions where India has been sitting. Neither is willing to budge an inch. What the peaceniks ignore is a basic fact of military history: No country gives up territory willingly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, Siachen is not just a barren land with a glacier. The region and its nearabouts are the headwaters of several subcontinental rivers. And the whole territory, sandwiched between Pakistan-held Baltistan and Chinese-occupied Shaksgam Valley, is of great strategic value.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tourism idea also may trigger an avalanche of protests from the green lobby. As it is, the glaciers are melting with the globe getting warmer. Secondly, Siachen and its nearabouts are already getting filthy with more than 30,000 soldiers living there. Wouldn’t tourists, however few, add to the litter?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/10/25/to-siachen-with-selfie-sticks.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/10/25/to-siachen-with-selfie-sticks.html Fri Oct 25 11:36:00 IST 2019 writing-on-the-toilet-wall <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/10/12/writing-on-the-toilet-wall.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/10/12/30-Writing-on-the-toilet-wall-new.jpg" /> <p>Tenali Rama, the fabled jester in Krishnadeva Raya’s court, would have been a happy man, had he been alive this October 2. That day, India became open defecation-free. Or so spake Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p>What is the connection? One may ask. Hold on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rama or Ramudu, actually a wise man as all jesters in the courts of the orient and the plays of Shakespeare were, once told his king that the act of defecation was the most pleasurable of all physical activities. The king and his courtiers, who had cited everything from eating favourite food to fornication as the most pleasurable act, burst out laughing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One day Ramudu gave the king a hearty meal in his home and then locked him up, not letting him visit the toilet. His Highness literally went down on his knees begging to be freed. The royal ordeal went on for nearly an hour, at the end of which Ramudu let him visit the washroom. Then, after relieving himself to his heart’s and bowel’s content, the king conceded—yes, there is no greater physical pleasure than in relieving oneself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, for the act to be one of pleasure, it ought to be performed in private, and done with dignity. We all enjoy it every morning or sometimes more often depending on what we had eaten for the previous meal. But millions of Indians had remained deprived of this pleasure, this privacy and this dignity since millennia, forcing them to perform the act in public. When performed in public, there is no act that is more disgusting and more shameful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bluntly out, shitting had been a shameful act for several thousand Indians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is this shame that made us, the prude among the privileged and the toileted classes, invent newer and newer euphemisms for the act, the product and for the place where the act is performed. There are few words in the English language that have as many euphemisms as poop and latrine. For poop we have crap, shit, discharge, dung, excrement, excreta, faecal matter, faeces, manure, potty, stool, human waste, number two and many more. The shame of latrine has been covered up with toilet, water closet, WC, lavatory, outhouse, comfort station, privy, bathroom, washroom, restroom, gentlemen’s room, ladies’ room, men’s room, women’s room, and even powder room and cloakroom!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Think of the gross social injustice! Think of the millions who have to perform in public an act that we are ashamed of speaking about even in private. Gandhi discovered this pain and shame, and the gross injustice associated with it, long ago. He named and shamed India over faecal matter. His sanitation drive preceded his political movement. In South Africa he cleaned the toilets of his clerks; in India he often lived with scavengers. Saying “sanitation is more important than political independence,” he tried to toilet-train the masses, while also politicising them for the freedom struggle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the curse of open defecation continued even after the dawn of political freedom, constitutional end to untouchability and statutory end to scavenging. It is this curse that is now being sought to be lifted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s claim, made on the Gandhi’s sesquicentennial, may be premature. Critics may carp at it citing squatters on Mumbai’s train tracks or behind the bush in Bastar hamlets. Several thousand villagers may still have miles to go to answer the morning call; and India may have several more miles to go to claim its public spaces poop-free. All the same, there is no denying the fact that the Swachch Bharat Mission, despite its imperfections, has been one of the noblest welfare acts of the Indian state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/10/12/writing-on-the-toilet-wall.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/10/12/writing-on-the-toilet-wall.html Sat Oct 12 11:18:11 IST 2019 cakes-wines-and-birthday-ladoos <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/09/26/cakes-wines-and-birthday-ladoos.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/9/26/54-Cakes-wines-new.jpg" /> <p>On September 17, Narendra Modi took a chopper to the Sardar Sarovar dam which was filled to the brim for the first time, prayed on the Narmada banks, visited the colossal Sardar Patel statue, worshipped at a village shrine, watched butterflies in an eco-tourism park, and declared the saffron-hued ‘tiger butterfly’ as Gujarat’s state butterfly. Relax he did finally, over a meal with his mother in Gandhinagar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Happy birthday, Prime Minister, though belated!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi has been celebrating every birthday differently. His first as prime minister, in 2014, was celebrated with a visit to his mother (she gave him 05,001; he donated it to Kashmir flood relief) and hosting a meal for Xi Jinping on the Sabarmati banks. The next was marked with a visit to an exhibition mounted in Delhi to mark the jubilee of the 1965 war. In 2016, he met his mother, and then went to Navsari where 989 lamps were lit as he distributed aid to differently-abled people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2017 birthday was also spent in Gujarat where he dedicated the Sardar Sarovar Dam to the nation, and then flew to Delhi where he called at the home of Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, the 1965 war hero who had died a day earlier. He celebrated his 68th with a visit to his Varanasi seat where he watched a film with children in a primary school, and worshipped at the Kasi Vishwanath shrine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manmohan Singh had quiet birthdays, but quite often he was on cloud nine. He was born on a September 26, and that is usually the date around which the UN holds its general assembly. More than thrice he was caught mid-air, flying to or from New York. His aides got him to cut a cake. We in the press (a media team accompanied the PM those days), too, used to partake of the cake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of the satvik elders of the sangh parivar view cake-cutting as a mlechcha western custom. They prefer the more Indian practice of offering ladoos. Yet lesser party mortals still cut and eat cakes in morsels. Delhi BJP boss Manoj Tiwari cut a cake for party workers at the India Gate on Modi’s birthday; Lok Sabha MP Meenakshi Lekhi cut a 370-kg cake in a Delhi suburb to celebrate Modi’s birthday and the scrapping of Article 370. The Madhya Pradesh Sindhu Sena cut a 69-foot-long cake in a Bhopal temple on Modi’s birthday. A Surat baker baked a 700-foot long cake of 7,000 kilos which he got cut by 700 ‘honest people’. One does not know which was tougher—baking the giant cake or getting 700 honest people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was seized by vishada yoga when he took a knife to cut a Modi birthday cake. The baker had moulded a Modi picture on the cake, and Sarma could not think of cutting it up. A case of having the cake, but not getting to eat it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not all PM birthdays are celebrated. Nehru’s became Children’s Day; Indira’s was declared National Integration Day but has since been forgotten. Vajpayee had it easy; he was born on a Christmas Day. Morarji Desai, who lived to 101, had the fewest birthdays. He was born on a February 29.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: This columnist once celebrated his birthday visiting three countries in prime ministerial company. I was in the press team of A.B. Vajpayee on a European tour. We left St Petersburg, Russia, after breakfast, and landed in Geneva, Switzerland, where the hotel staff had noted it was my birthday and had organised a strawberry cake. We crossed Lake Geneva in the evening to Evian in France, the venue of the G-8 summit where Jacques Chirac was treating all delegates to the best wines and cheese from every province of France.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No harm if I imagined it was all for me, and indulged, right?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/09/26/cakes-wines-and-birthday-ladoos.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/09/26/cakes-wines-and-birthday-ladoos.html Thu Sep 26 16:46:58 IST 2019 carpetbaggers-in-the-cold <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/09/12/carpetbaggers-in-the-cold.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/9/12/35-Carpetbaggers-in-the-cold-new.jpg" /> <p>President Andrew Johnson purchased Alaska from Russia as real estate for the US in 1867. The deal was derided then, and called Seward’s Folly after Secretary of State William Seward who had negotiated it. But the gold-and oil-rich Alaska soon proved to be a wise buy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Donald Trump—wise guy!—thought he could clinch a similar deal over Greenland. But the Danes, who own the island, told him to go take a walk in the Arctic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all you know, the Arctic may soon be walkable. With the globe warming fast, the Arctic and neighbouring Siberia are losing about 13 per cent of the ice cover every decade, revealing metals, minerals, and possible routes to cart the stuff away. They are already talking of a polar route, far shorter than the Trans-Siberian Railway, between Europe and the Asian far east.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narendra Modi knows this, as do Trump, Putin and several world leaders. But Modi has been wiser than Trump. When he met Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, Modi did not offer to buy the Russian far east which borders the Frigid Zone of the north. He asked Putin, pretty politely, if he could lend a hand in digging and building in the wilderness. By all means, said Putin, without looking over the shoulder to see how Xi Jinping was taking it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Xi may be peeved, but Putin is pleased as Punch. Too many Chinese have been checking into his Far East, and poor Putin does not have enough Russians to populate the ‘icy wastes’. He ought to worry. The Chinese have a bad habit of debunking old sale deeds and cede deals, calling them colonially-imposed, and laying claims on neighbours’ lands as they have been doing across the MacMahon Line. Indeed, parts of the Russian Far East had once been ruled by the Yuans, the Mings and the Qings till the Chinese, miserably defeated by the British in the Opium Wars, ceded these lands to Russia in 1860.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new Russian owners threw out most Chinese who had been mining gold, diamond, nickel, lead, coal, gypsum, silver, zinc and later oil. The tsars—both the Romanov variety and the Stalinist set—had since been guarding and building the Siberian wilderness using gulag labour of slaves, prisoners and exiles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin has no such luxury of slavery. His people, free but few, have no interest in slogging in the Siberian snows. Vast tracts of eastern and northeastern Asiatic Russia are getting depopulated with mass migration to European Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So the Chinese have been coming again as coal-miners, gold-diggers and oil-drillers, but Putin would like to have a few others too, especially Indians and Japanese who too have skills and are willing to slog. That is where Modi walked in with a chequebook and asked him if he could lend a hand and a few billions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No different is the case of the icy wastes to the north. Unlike the Antarctic, there is no global treaty regime that guards the northern ice. Not that it is a free for all around the North Pole. The first claimants are the eight Arctic Council members—Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US—which have borders in the Frigid Zone. Then there are observers to the council, including India and China, who also have tremendous greed for resources and possess the skills to mine them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the way, India already has a foothold in both the east and the north—in the Sakhalin energy project in the east which is just a leap-frog away from Vladivostok, and in Himadri research station, opened in 2008, in the Arctic. And last year, we quietly renamed our Antarctic research house as polar research centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cold christening, right?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/09/12/carpetbaggers-in-the-cold.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/09/12/carpetbaggers-in-the-cold.html Sat Sep 14 18:46:34 IST 2019 off-with-the-guard-and--other-spg-tales <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/08/30/off-with-the-guard-and--other-spg-tales.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/8/30/21-Off-with-the-guard-new.jpg" /> <p>The Special Protection Group will now have one VVIP less to guard. The home ministry has cut Manmohan Singh off the SPG’s charge. He will now be guarded by the CRPF in Z+ category, much like Mukesh Ambani but with one difference. The tycoon pays for his security; the taxpayer pays for Manmohan’s and other VIPs’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Z-plus security, with 55 guards including ten Black Cats, is given to those VIPs (except prime ministers and their close kin who are SPG-covered) facing the gravest threat. Next comes the Z category with 22 guards including five Black Cats. Y category worthies get 11 guards including two Black Cats; X category have two armed guards and no commando.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narendra Modi’s security czars have been scaling down the security cover associated with our VIP culture. They have banned beacons from most car-roofs, and cut the number of cops on guard duty. Manmohan, quiet soul, has no complaints. His daughters had themselves cut the SPG tail long ago. He had never asked for security for prestige, nor asked it to be withdrawn for publicity. V.P. Singh used to make a hue and cry in the 1990s, seeking to be “freed” from SPG cover. The law then was that you had to be guarded, tailed, covered and secured by the SPG for ten years after ceasing to be prime minister; no way you could shake them off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The SPG was raised following Indira Gandhi’s assassination through an executive order (statutory status came in 1988) during the Rajiv Gandhi era, originally for guarding incumbent prime ministers and their kin. Thus Rajiv, though facing threat from Lankan Tigers, had no SPG cover after he demitted office. He roamed the badlands with just two cops; sadly, one was killed with him in the blast at Sriperumbudur where he was campaigning in the 1991 polls. Ironically, the election itself was caused by two constables. Read the tailpiece.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>P.V. Narasimha Rao got the law amended so as to cover former prime ministers and their close kin for ten years from the day they quit office. That saved him, in less than five months of demitting office, from the embarrassment of walking into Delhi’s trial courts as an accused in a cheating case. On a plea by the Delhi Police that they could not secure the crowded court complex which was teeming with criminals, constables, clients, court clerks, and lawyers, the Supreme Court ordered that the trial be moved to Vigyan Bhavan, a stately venue for international events.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That order, by Justices M.M. Punchhi and K.T. Thomas, had some interesting observations about the relationship between a guard and his charge under the SPG Act. The SPG, the court said, would have to guard him, even if he were sent to prison. Though the order did not say so, it was interpreted that if a protectee were to be sent to the gallows, the SPG would have to guard him till the hangman’s knot tightens on him. “...[T]he protectee is a protectee all the time, as long as he keeps breathing...,” said the court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A.B. Vajpayee got the Act amended again. He scaled down ex-prime ministers’ cover to one year, but renewable every year if intelligence agencies saw danger. With that went the SPG cover of H.D. Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral and their kin. But the home ministry continues to see threat to Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi enough to warrant SPG cover.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: In 1990-1991 Chandra Shekhar was reigning as prime minister with outside support of the Congress, after V.P. Singh had resigned. One day, Congress workers caught two strangers lurking around Rajiv’s home. They claimed to be Haryana cops sent to guard him, but the Congress alleged that they were the regime’s spies snooping into their leader’s home, and pulled down the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/08/30/off-with-the-guard-and--other-spg-tales.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/08/30/off-with-the-guard-and--other-spg-tales.html Fri Aug 30 11:49:56 IST 2019 a-tale-with-a-stink <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/08/17/a-tale-with-a-stink.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/8/17/37-A-tale-with-a-stink-new.jpg" /> <p>Winston Churchill once compared Neville Chamberlain to a “town councillor who looks at national affairs through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe.” The quote has been attributed to several other British prime ministers and their critics including Lloyd George, Anthony Eden and Harold Wilson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, PMs ought to do just that—be like a town councillor and look into municipal drainpipes, from the right end and the wrong end. Narendra Modi’s PMO is doing just that, and rightly so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Didn’t get it? Wait. There is a stink in this tale.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s Swachh Bharat will be five years old this October 2. In the last five years, mountains of muck have been removed, covered or brushed under the carpet in India that is Swachh Bharat. Ten lakh village homes and six lakh town houses are said to have got their first toilets; five lakh common latrines have been built in slums and shanties. The folk in six lakh villages claim to have none amid them who walks into the great outdoors with a mug in the morning, so claim 4,000-odd towns and cities. Three out of five villages have some means of removing waste, and 76,000 town wards have 100 per cent door-to-door collection of waste bags.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But where does all the muck go? Therein lies a sordid tale, a tale with a stink. Yes, we are getting our homes, hamlets and towns cleaner, but neither Mother Earth nor Mother India is actually getting any cleaner. We are not even sweeping the dirt under the carpet, but moving it from our homes to our neighbour’s backyards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at Delhi. The capital city is getting scrubbed and cleaned better these days than it was five years ago, but more waste is now getting dumped in the Ghazipur landfill in the city’s backyard, a stone’s throw from the Uttar Pradesh border. So much so that the dump has grown into a mound almost as tall as the Qutab, Delhi’s iconic monument, and is growing far faster than Everest to become the tallest monument in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Think of it, good people of Delhi! This monument of stink will still be there, centuries after the forts, towers, palaces, citadels and condominiums built by the Tomars and the Tughlaqs, the Mamluks and the Mughals, the Lodis and Lutyens, and the DDA and DLF have gone to dust like the city built by Ozymandias. This vast heap of waste would outlast everything that man has built. Even after “the whole world turn[s] to coal,” this toxic dump would “chiefly live”, as George Herbert wrote about virtue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, the evil that men do lives long after them—so would plastic, paper, PET and polythene. A plastic shopping bag we throw away may take 20 to 50 years to rot, a plastic cup 50, an aluminium can 200, a glass bottle 500, and a plastic bottle 700.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indians are said to be generating 62 million tonnes of waste a year, of which 15 lakh tonnes is e-waste, 5.6 million tonnes are plastic, 0.17 million biomedical waste, and 7.90 million tonnes hazardous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now the PMO has asked the government’s principal scientific adviser K. VijayRaghavan to get to the root of the stinking problem, and find out how the existing muck can be removed and recycled, and how the everyday waste can be treated. The ambitious idea is to achieve zero landfill. There will be an 18-month pilot project, and then land and funds will be allotted to the selected companies for testing their tech solutions. They could do anything with the rot—biomine (using microbes to extract metals), build roads, generate gas or power. Just make clean wealth from waste.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s quite a clean sweep. Cheers!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/08/17/a-tale-with-a-stink.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/08/17/a-tale-with-a-stink.html Sat Aug 17 12:12:16 IST 2019 idioms-and-phrases-a-reddy-reckoner <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/08/02/idioms-and-phrases-a-reddy-reckoner.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/8/2/34-Jaipal-Reddy-new.jpg" /> <p>An astrology magazine from the south sent a scribe during the 1998 polls to collect horoscopes of leading Delhi politicians for preparing articles on their electoral fortunes. Most leaders gave theirs happily, some slyly, but “Jaipal Reddy threw me out of his house,” the reporter told me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaipal was a quintessential liberal, a leftover from the age of reason. His politics was centrist, his worldview eclectic, his vision catholic, his temper scientific, his beliefs secular, his bearing benign, his mind intellectual, his speech scholarly, his diction Deccani.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaipal lived by his principles, but never imposed them on others. India had a few like him who were active in the 1990s—V.N. Gadgil, Surendra Mohan, Madhu Dandavate et al—all men of principles, but not dyed-in-the-wool idealists. They played pragmatic politics, yet held their personal principles high.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They kept their honesty to themselves and survived. As oil minister, Jaipal had the temerity to resist the Ambanis’ unreasonable gas share demands and rising stakes in Bharat Petroleum, but kept quiet when Manmohan Singh moved him to science and technology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Survival instinct made him return to the Congress two decades after he left it during Emergency, and having been India’s most formidable anti-Congress spokesman of the 1980s and 90s. There was no way he could compromise with the right, even though it was led by the affable Atal B. Vajpayee whom Jaipal described, in a brilliant Parliament debate, as a softliner compared to L.K. Advani, who was a softliner compared to Murli Manohar Joshi, who in turn was softliner compared to Uma Bharti, who in turn was...</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By then, the Janata clan was splitting with its warlords pulling in different directions. Jaipal stayed on for a while after everyone left, as a spokesman without a party, as a voice without a body.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I wasn’t close to Jaipal; he knew me only as one of the several scribes who were covering the Janata crises of the 1990s. Yet, when I likened, in a 1999 article in THE WEEK, his staying-on in the fading Janata Dal to the grin that remained after the Cheshire Cat vanished in Wonderland, he called me to convey his compliments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was Jaipal. He loved language and literature, especially figures of speech—idioms, phrases, proverbs, alliteration, oxymorons et al. He lived as an oxymoron—an ‘honest politician’. His “humungous fraud’’ charge against Vajpayee led to much heartburn among the BJP benches, and disruption of the house once.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaipal loved to brief the media—once or twice sitting on a sentry’s stool, placed under a tree on the roadside in front of the PM House, to brief us about the crises that had engulfed the Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral regimes after the Congress withdrew support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaipal was a political reporter’s delight. He would take our calls at any hour unless he was asleep, in his bath or was digging into the thesaurus, a copy of which was kept in his every room. If he was asked for a comment, he would ask: “Off the record, or on record?” Off the record he would give news; on record he would give a good quote. If he didn’t want to comment at all, he would give a new phrase coined by him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Once Sushma Swaraj, peeved at Jaipal’s strong words against the BJP, got even with him. “I went to a bookshop and came across a book titled A Thousand Insults,” she said. “When I went to the bookshop next, I found the book updated to A Thousand More Insults. I don’t know who wrote the book, but I know who reads it—Jaipal Reddy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/08/02/idioms-and-phrases-a-reddy-reckoner.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/08/02/idioms-and-phrases-a-reddy-reckoner.html Fri Aug 02 15:45:16 IST 2019 yoga-a-fashion-statement-now-thanks-to-health-icon-pm-modi <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/07/20/yoga-a-fashion-statement-now-thanks-to-health-icon-pm-modi.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/7/20/55-Raj-of-the-yogi-new.jpg" /> <p>Who is India’s topmost health icon? No, none of those surgeons with golden knives who bill you a million for a gall-bladder removal. Nor any of those YouTube fitness gurus who tell you to eat red onions in one video, and would be eating their own words in the next.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s topmost health icon, says the leading preventive healthcare platform GOQii, is Narendra Modi. In GOQii’s annual listing of ‘health influencers’, Modi has beaten yogi-turned-tycoon Ramdev for the second time in a row. Actor Akshay Kumar, who has a black belt in taekwondo and pretensions of being the Bruce Lee of Bollywood, is placed second, followed by Ramdev. Then there are a host of film stars, cricketers, starlets and sportspersons, most of who have been brand-ambassadoring for health products.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Modi was instrumental in instituting the International Day of Yoga 2015, which is now observed globally,” says the GOQii report. “He is not only keen on improving India but keen on improving the health and fitness of Indians as well. Despite all the tasks at hand, the 68-year-old still manages to stay fit.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Don’t we know? At 68, the gent is fit as a fiddle, and flies a few thousand airmiles every now and then, beats the jet-lag, speaks into radios, poses for photos, reads files, holds meetings, addresses rallies, cracks jokes, coins acronyms, performs yoga, promotes yoga videos, contests polls, pounds Pakistan, mollifies China, talks to Trump, thumps a 56-inch chest, rules over a sixth of the human race and yet finds time for breakfast and to fast for Navratri. Hats, caps, turbans and topis off to you, sir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yogis in India have been performing asanas since the days of Patanjali, and yoga has had several illustrious practitioners in the modern times from Vivekananda and his mentor Ramakrishna to B.K.S Iyengar. Theories abound about Jesus Christ having come to India and learnt hathayoga, but we have not heard of anyone here who walked on water like the Nazarene did. Remember, Lord Ram hired the services of ferryman Guha to cross the Ganga, and contracted an army of Vanaras to build a bridge across the sea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have also had prime ministers who practised yoga. Nehru did it every day but kept it all to himself; except getting photographed upside down once or twice. Indira had a yoga guru in Dhirendra Brahmachari, but it was his non-yogic activities that attracted attention. Morarji Desai is said to have practised yoga, but it was an another health fad, an abominable one, that he promoted more. Incidentally, the yoga institute that the Brahmachari set up in Delhi has since been named after Desai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yoga has had hundreds of such illustrious and not-so-illustrious practitioners, but none had promoted it like Modi has. Modi got the UN to declare June 21 as the International Day of Yoga, and has been galvanising Guinness gatherings of yogis on the Rajpath ever since. As had been written in this column earlier, Modi’s asanas on the Rajpath have caught the imagination of the masses in mother India, and the fancy of foreigners in vasudhaiva kutumbakam. Yoga is now a fashion statement among India’s new-gen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece: </b>What Modi is to yoga, Rajiv Gandhi was to jogging. Rajiv made jogging a fad among India’s youth, and organised mass marathons down the Rajpath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajiv’s run, too, had its element of nationalism. ‘Running for the country’ became a fashion statement in the 1980s, especially with the slogan ‘Mera Bharat Mahaan’. Patriotism was merchandised into jogging shoes and branded wrist-bands in Rajiv’s India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/07/20/yoga-a-fashion-statement-now-thanks-to-health-icon-pm-modi.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/07/20/yoga-a-fashion-statement-now-thanks-to-health-icon-pm-modi.html Sat Jul 20 13:01:32 IST 2019 of-common-man-and-vip-brats <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/07/05/of-common-man-and-vip-brats.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/7/5/23-other-VIP-boors-new.jpg" /> <p>Who coined ‘aam aadmi’ as a political phrase? Arvind Kejriwal may claim political patent but, strictly speaking, Sonia Gandhi should have got the political copyright. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was going to town, as also to the polls in 2004, claiming to have made India shining, she cocked a snook at him and asked: “Aam aadmi ko kya mila?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It became the catchphrase of the 2004 election, and the Congress romped home. But later, when Sonia asked her partymen to fly economy class, Shashi Tharoor scoffed at the suggestion as having to fly cattle class. It was much later that Kejriwal filed a patent with the Election Commission and appropriated the phrase for his party. Smart Alec!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, give the devil his due. Even as a chief minister, the guy has been trying not to behave like a VIP. He still dresses like a clerk, and drives a Wagon-R with no red beacon on its roof. Can you believe, the car almost got stolen once?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The aam aadmi or the common man had been there much earlier, too. The British had put him on a London bus and got him accepted as a legal phrase across the Common Law countries. They call their aam aadmi the Man on the Clapham Omnibus. R.K. Laxman portrayed him as an elderly clerk in a government office who sees everything but never speaks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now Narendra Modi is beginning to speak and act for him. Four years ago, Modi had got Nitin Gadkari remove beacon lights from most VIP cars and, in a Mann Ki Baat address, called for an end to the VIP culture. The problem was that he came up with some other funny acronym in place of VIP, and no one took it seriously.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now Modi is walking the talk. In his first address to the NDA leaders in the Central Hall of Parliament after his re-election, Modi asked fellow-politicians to learn to stand in queues like the common man and Manohar Parrikar. (To be fair, Modi should have mentioned Gadkari, too, who has often been caught standing in queues.) “The country hates VIP culture,” Modi told fellow-politicians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, prime minister! If there is one thing that the Indian middle class resents more than having to pay income-tax, it is having to suffer the VIP culture. People resent being stopped on the roads for VIPs to pass, and hate to see them jump queues, delay flights, and behave boorish in public places as did the brat of an MLA in Indore recently. The guy, son of one of BJP’s topmost leaders in Madhya Pradesh, was caught assaulting a civic officer with a cricket bat and obstructing a lawful demolition of a building. Obstructing an officer from doing his duty itself is an offence. Assault compounds it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What compounded the sin was that the guy has since been bragging about it, and so has been his father. Then, when he was released from custody, his chelas organised a gun-salute for him. Cheek!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That really got Modi’s goat. He came down heavily on the MLA, as also on his indulgent father and his gangsters. “Don’t care whose son he is,” Modi fumed at a parliamentary party meeting, and even called for such brats, their patrons and their lumpen cheerleaders to be thrown out of the party. Way to go, prime minister!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But beware of the contrary, too. The PM’s gesture shouldn’t be seen as empowering the bureaucrats vis-a-vis the elected reps. After all, babus can be worse boors than netas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Roads in Communist Moscow were said to have had separate lanes for VIPs to drive hassle-free. The apparatchiks justified them as intended for keeping the common man’s lanes free from VIP roadblocks!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Can you fault the logic?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/07/05/of-common-man-and-vip-brats.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/07/05/of-common-man-and-vip-brats.html Fri Jul 05 15:01:20 IST 2019 modi-approach-towards-china-appears-to-be-matured-now <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/06/21/modi-approach-towards-china-appears-to-be-matured-now.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/6/21/90-MODI-new.jpg" /> <p>Narendra Modi-2 seems more moderate and mellowed than Narendra Modi-1. He is waving more white flags these days, than red rags.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Listen to what he told the opposition: Your words will matter more than your numbers. Pretty Nehruvian! As Rajni Kothari once observed, Nehru gave the opposition more respect than their numbers commanded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s foreign policy, too, is getting circumspect. The rough edges are getting polished. In 2014, he had got the Tibetan ‘prime minister’ and Taiwan’s mission head to his swearing-in. The sight of the two T-chiefs was red rags to the Chinese. Ties with China swung like a pendulum, from a dhokla lunch with Xi Jinping on the Sabarmati banks to a military standoff on the Doklam plateau. It needed much delicate diplomacy at Wuhan to avert a showdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi does not look inclined to taking such risks this time. His approach appears to have matured. With a former career diplomat as his foreign minister—an old China hand to boot—we may now see quite a lot of nimble-footing with the Chinese.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We had a glimpse of it at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Modi met the rest of the Shanghai gang there, who were all praise for the Second Belt and Road Forum that Xi had hosted in April. Not Modi. He agreed with Xi and the rest on other issues—ending the dollar reign, denial of market access, and such other, but kept away from the chorus of praise over the Belt and the Road.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi also did a bit of diplomatic plainspeak (pardon the oxymoron; diplomats cannot speak plain English). Connectivity projects, he told Xi, should be “transparent” and “inclusive”, and should respect the “territorial integrity” of others. He meant two things. One, Xi should not get his poorer neighbours, who live on the sides of the Belt and the Road, into debt traps by making them sign contracts whose terms and conditions are in small print. Two, Xi should not build roads, bridges, factories and power lines for Pakistan on territory that is India’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese, too, seem to be getting off the high Mongol horse which they have been riding down the Belt and the Road. ‘Inclusive growth’, they are finding out, cannot happen if it excludes India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘Inclusive growth’ was the overarching theme of the Second China-South Asia Cooperation Forum held last week in Yuxi City in Yunnan Province, where this columnist, too, was invited to speak. Once a hub of the southern Silk Route, Yunnan is emerging as the hub of the Belt and the Road to south and southeast Asia. It is linked, or getting linked, by road to Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and even Kolkata, by rail to the entire Eurasian landmass, by waterways to Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, with gas pipelines to Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, and through data lines to India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Xi has four sub-projects for South Asia—a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor, a maritime Silk Road across China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, a trans-Himalayan corridor linking China, Nepal, Bhutan, India and into the Indian Ocean, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Which ones have a chance for getting India’s nod? No prizes for guessing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Fiction-writers often borrow real place names for their work. But Yunnan province has a place which has borrowed its name from fiction. Claiming that James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon, which talked of an imaginary land called Shangri-La, was inspired by Zhongdian in Yunnan, the Chinese have renamed the county as Shangri-La, just to attract tourists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is like naming a real town in Karnataka as Malgudi. Any ideas, Kumaraswamy?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/06/21/modi-approach-towards-china-appears-to-be-matured-now.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/06/21/modi-approach-towards-china-appears-to-be-matured-now.html Sat Jun 22 18:17:14 IST 2019 punch-in-a-shrunken-pack <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/06/07/punch-in-a-shrunken-pack.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/6/7/40-NARENDRA-MODI-new.jpg" /> <p>When it came to campus selection, Narendra Modi was most fair. He picked up two of his top four cabinet hands from Jawaharlal Nehru University, the campus that has been reviled by many of his party colleagues as a breeding ground of dissenters, seditionists, traitors, anarchists and communists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By Kannagi and Tiruvalluvar! Both the JNU ‘selectees’, Nirmala Sitharaman and S. Jaishankar, are of Tamil origin. Tamil Nadu didn’t give the BJP a single seat, yet Modi picked two Tamil-speakers for his cabinet. Bravo, prime minister, that’s being fair, twice over!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fairness has already paid dividends. The first controversy that the government got into was over the proposed new education policy that would have given primacy to Hindi, a language that many in the north wrongly claim to be the national language of India. (It is not; it is only the official language of the Union, a status it enjoys along with English for all purposes.) As Tamil Nadu politicians and public breathed fire and brimstone, the two ministers tweeted truce terms in Tamil. That doused the fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ministries are myriad in the Union council, and all the cabinet ministers are considered equal. But as in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, some are considered more equal—the ministers of home, finance, foreign affairs and defence, who have their offices on Raisina Hill. Along with the prime minister, who is the first among equals, this foursome form the cabinet committee on security. Two of the four in this cabinet are Tamil, and are JNU alumni.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi has not only tried to be fair, but has also given more political ballast to the council. If he had packed his old team with 19 members from the Rajya Sabha and given 12 of them cabinet rank, this time the entire ministry has only 11 upper housies of whom six—Nirmala, Piyush Goyal, Prakash Javadekar, Dharmendra Pradhan, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Thaawarchand Gehlot—are in the cabinet. Jaishankar, and Ram Vilas Paswan, who has served in the cabinets of six prime ministers, may join them in the upper house. After eight wins, some of them with record margins, and two defeats from his Hajipur, Paswan has ended his long Lok Sabha run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi has also put more of his cabinet colleagues through the electoral wringer. Ravi Shankar Prasad and Smriti Irani, who were upper housies, have come into the Lok Sabha this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi talked of minimum government and maximum governance last time, but ended up with a jumbo council of 75 ministers, 27 of them in the cabinet. This time, he has shrunken the kids to just 57, two dozen of them in the cabinet. Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj were kept out for not being well; Uma Bharti and Radha Mohan Singh for not having done well; Suresh Prabhu, Maneka Gandhi and others, who are well and did well, for reasons known to Modi alone. A bird from Deendayal Upadhyaya Marg says J.P. Nadda and Rajyavardhan Rathore may get top party jobs—one in Delhi and the other in Jaipur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PMO, too, has been given more ballast. The national security adviser has been invested with a cabinet rank, for the first time after Vajpayee’s man Brajesh Mishra left. But Ajit Doval is still one feather minus. Brajesh had also held the post of principal secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: All eyes now are on two men in the PMO. Principal Secretary Nripendra Misra is 74, and if Modi applies the age cut-off of 75 years to the bureaucracy, too, he may be succeeded by Additional Principal Secretary Pramod Kumar Mishra next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That will be continuity with change—literally, nominally, and nomenclaturally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/06/07/punch-in-a-shrunken-pack.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/06/07/punch-in-a-shrunken-pack.html Sat Jun 08 18:28:16 IST 2019 when-world-rulers-take-a-break-from-work <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/05/25/when-world-rulers-take-a-break-from-work.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/5/25/23-Tales-from-the-cave-new.jpg" /> <p>When cares of governance wear them down, most world rulers take a break. They go caving or climbing, biking or for beach fun, fishing or freaking out. Narendra Modi has added another—meditation on the mount.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem is that the gent cannot do a thing in silence and solemnity. Not even meditation. On the day his Varanasi seat was going to the polls, he took a chopper to Kedarnath, where he went round the shrine clad in a gown with a train and treading on a red carpet. Then he crawled into a cave, and slipped into a brahma-dhyaanam with his spectacles on and cameras flashing. Admirers called it a spiritual retreat; critics called it an electoral drama; sceptics dismissed it as tomfoolery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several of the world leaders have fixed retreats and holiday homes. The Brits have the mediaeval Chequers, a “house of peace and ancient memories” gifted by Lord Lee of Fareham “to England as a thank-offering for her deliverance in the Great War of 1914-1918 as a place of rest and recreation for her Prime Ministers for ever”. That reads more like the writing on a tombstone than on the wall of a weekend home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>US presidents have their Camp David in Maryland. The Clintons and Obamas went also to Martha’s Vineyard for sunning and beach-biking. Russian presidents have dachas on the Black Sea. Even the Pakistanis have hideouts in the mountains of Murree.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Often, work also gets done at these getaways. Theresa May got her cabinet to Chequers where she made them agree to her Brexit plan. It is another matter that the plan remains a chequered one a year later. Jimmy Carter brokered peace between Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin in 1977 at Camp David, and got them a Nobel Peace Prize. Bill Clinton made a similar bid in vain with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in 2000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vacationing can be politically costly, too, as Mikhail Gorbachev found out. The glasnosting Soviet supremo was holidaying at a Black Sea resort when conservative Commies staged a coup in the Kremlin. Boris Yeltsin kicked them out and got him his presidency back, but forced him to sign away the Soviet Union.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s rulers do take breaks, but have been wary of public gaze. Nehru got himself snapped in swimsuits a couple of times; his legatees are paying the price for the ‘indecent exposure’ now. Anti-Nehruvians are faking those photos to show him as a Lothario.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indira loved to get away, often to look at flowers and catch up with her reading. A day before she fell to assassins’ bullets, she had flown to Srinagar to see the chinars in bloom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajiv broke the stigma that politicians had been associating with personal vacations. He flew to the northeast in jeans and T-shirt, a camera in one arm and Sonia on the other. He took her and the kids snorkelling in the Andamans and lagooning in Lakshadweep. Modi has labelled these, uncharitably, as vacationing on warships.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vajpayee loved his retreats and getaways. He spent a New Year’s Eve on the lakeside at Kumarakom musing over Kashmir, Ayodhya and other issues. From Manali, he reflected over the legacy he was leaving behind. On overseas trips, he used to spend a day without work, resting, reading or sightseeing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Only Manmohan packed his 365 days with work. His aides don’t recall him having taken a break, except when down with a cough, cold or flu. His idea of a break from work was to ask for a cup of tea with biscuits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Morarji Desai was one who boldly posed for cameras half-naked. Once he posed in swimming trunks at a poolside. On a visit to Kovalam, he was caught swimming in the sea wearing beach clothes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/05/25/when-world-rulers-take-a-break-from-work.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/05/25/when-world-rulers-take-a-break-from-work.html Sat May 25 15:41:45 IST 2019 chor-vs-bhrashtachari <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/05/10/chor-vs-bhrashtachari.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/5/10/30-Chor-vs-bhrashtachari-new.jpg" /> <p>Rahul Gandhi is miffed that Narendra Modi called his father, the dear departed Rajiv, Corrupt No. 1. “Your father’s courtiers called him ‘Mr Clean’, but his life ended as Bhrashtachari No. 1,” Modi said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tauba-tauba! Shantam paapam, cried Congress leaders. The Mahabharat says those who speak ill of the dead are demons—so posted a secular swami (not an oxymoron) on his Facebook page. Neither did he cite the quote, nor did he recite the sloka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem with quotes from epics, classics and fables is that there is little that is sacred in them. In one story they tell you one thing, in the next story they tell you something to the contrary. Look at the Panchatantra. If the first tantra is about mitrabheda or breaking friendship, the next one is about mitrasamprapti which is making friends. The stories are supposed to teach you morals, but they are all about adulterers, seductresses, prostitutes, enchanters and cheating spouses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About quotes, the less said the better. Classics, fables, and philosophers of yore will give you any quote to suit any occasion. Take the adage “do not speak ill of the dead”. The line has been traced to philosopher Chilon of Sparta who lived around 600 BCE, and was quoted by the third century CE biographer Diogenes Laërtius. (Not to be confused with that cynic thinker Diogenes who many in Athens thought of as the looney with the lantern.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chilon line, originally in Greek, has since been condensed and latinised as de mortuis nil nisi bonum. But the world of Latin, more familiar to the Congress than to the BJP, offers a counter-quote which Modi can cite: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” So be it with Rajiv, as it was with Caesar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Classical quotes are the least of the BJP leaders’ worries. They say, they speak ill of the dead because they are fed up with the vice of sujana-apavaad (maligning of the virtuous) that Rahul has been indulging in. He has been calling Modi a chor day in and day out, and even committing contempt of court. Compared to that, Modi’s statement sounds like a line from the psalms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact is that both sides have been sinning—sinning woefully to damnation and defamation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, no need to say tut-tut. Old-timers would tell you that standards of electoral rhetoric have fallen. Banana oil! Electoral rhetoric has always been nasty. Acid tongue has been an asset to politicians ever since man became a political animal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, why are we agitated over Modi’s and Rahul’s diatribe? Because of two reasons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One: In the olden days, a bad word uttered would appear at the most once in the next day’s newspapers. Today, a bad word uttered once is reported a hundred times on TV, and posted a million times on social media. It is not the utterance but the echoing of the utterance that is making us sick.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two: In the olden days, big leaders refrained from foul-mouthing. They let their factotums and handymen do the loose talk, while they themselves stayed distant, decent and dignified (see the Tailpiece). Today, it is the leader of the nation and the leader of the national opposition who are letting their tongues loose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hold your tongues, gentlemen. The world is listening, and judging you—not by your deeds alone, but by your words, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> In an election rally in Gandhinagar in 1991, L.K. Advani unleashed a diatribe against the Congress chief minister Chimanbhai Patel “whom you call by another name”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The crowd responded with a thunderous “Chiman-chor”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/05/10/chor-vs-bhrashtachari.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/05/10/chor-vs-bhrashtachari.html Fri May 10 13:14:29 IST 2019 lok-sabha-elections-will-the-aspirational-middle-class-decide-the-winner-or-the-silent-poor <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/04/26/lok-sabha-elections-will-the-aspirational-middle-class-decide-the-winner-or-the-silent-poor.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/4/26/43-Dreamers-and-poor-cousins-new.jpg" /> <p>Like him or hate him, elect him or trounce him, hail him or curse him, but Narendra Modi cannot be denied credit on one count. He has re-politicised India that is Bharat, especially its middle classes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not those middle classes whom the Marxians and the classical economists called the bourgeoisie—the ones who were loaded with money, only wanted political power which the landed gentry had denied them, and guillotined whoever stood in their way. We are talking of the modern middle classes—those nice people who run small businesses, become doctors, lawyers or accountants, or work in offices holding any post from clerk to cabinet secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Politics, to them, was the last resort of the scoundrel—a line which they quoted far too often, and attributed to George Bernard Shaw though none of them knew where he said it, when he said it, and whether he actually said it. The original line, they did not know, was of Dr Samuel Johnson who said “patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel,” a line which no one would agree with, especially in these days of hypernationalism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, this class had been political animals during the freedom movement and immediately thereafter. They developed a disdain, especially towards the politics of poverty that came to be practised since the 1970s and 1980s. They distanced themselves as politics became more and more mass-based, and began to envelop the lesser, the meeker and the unwashed mortals. The politics of poverty, in their view, amounted to empowering the lumpen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is another matter that they still sought political sifarish to get college admissions, get telephone connections when those were hard to come by, and manage transfer-postings for themselves or their kin. But they kept discreetly quiet about those occasional political pollutions, or justified those deeds as done through the good offices of certain ‘’good” political friends. As Jeffrey Archer put it in one of his novels, their attitude was: every politician is bad, except the one I know.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the late 1990s, this class too defined their politics—the politics of aspiration. The BJP quietly appropriated it, though at times the Congress too did so. Thus, an aspirational middle class voted nuclear-armed Atal B. Vajpayee in 1999; but politics of poverty triumphed in 2004 when Sonia Gandhi rebutted his ambitious ‘India Shining’ with “Aam aadmi ko kya mila?”. The Congress played aspirational politics in 2009 to get a nuke-snooking Manmohan Singh re-elected. In 2014, Modi snatched and triumphed on the aspirational platform with the promise of achche din.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Modi did not rest there. If Vajpayee and Sonia let the middle classes withdraw to their sanitised drawing rooms in 1999 and 2009, Modi did not let them after 2014. He tweeted politics into their drawing rooms and dinner tables. Politics is today the topic of discussion, debate and diatribe over breakfast and dinner in decent households. It is another matter that the debate has been reduced to a binary—for Modi or against Modi. Even the wives and mothers stopped watching saas-bahu soaps and started watching prime time news channel pravachaks. They chat, post and tweet matters political, aspirational, triumphalist and even toxic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How does the Congress counter it? Simple! Get back to the good old politics of poverty. What else is young Rahul Gandhi’s NYAY, if it is not politics of poverty? He is promising to end poverty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Who will carry the day on May 23? The aspirational middle class or the silent poor?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/04/26/lok-sabha-elections-will-the-aspirational-middle-class-decide-the-winner-or-the-silent-poor.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/04/26/lok-sabha-elections-will-the-aspirational-middle-class-decide-the-winner-or-the-silent-poor.html Sat Apr 27 16:56:21 IST 2019 whose-army-is-it-anyway <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/04/12/whose-army-is-it-anyway.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/4/12/44-Whose-Army-new.jpg" /> <p>Yogi Adityanath called the Indian Army ‘Modi’s Sena’. Many in the uniform were outraged, as were many more who had been in the uniform, and still many more who have never worn a uniform—virtually everyone who loves India’s democracy, and loves its Army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The foremost among the first category was the Election Commission. Do not say that again, the commission told the yogi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most outraged among the latter was Union minister V.K. Singh. He said anyone who said so is an anti-national! That is the new swearword in Indian English.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>VK’s love for the Army, which he had commanded, is well known. So much did he love it that he wanted to stay in uniform more than his age and the rules permitted. Sadly, the government and the Supreme Court saw through the camouflage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If anyone can claim the Army as his, it is the President. He is its supreme commander, though the actual command is wielded by the cabinet headed by the prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Notionally, the prime minister too has an army. If the regular Army parades itself before the President on the Republic Day, the Territorial Army parades before the prime minister every year on October 9.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of Modi’s men have been wearing their love for the Army on their sleeves. One minister spent a Diwali with the troops, another asked turnpike men to salute every passing trooper, one factotum was recently caught seeking votes wearing an army-style uniform, and a few put Abhinandan Varthaman’s picture on their election hoardings. Those who questioned these acts were called anti-national.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally the Election Commission issued a stern order—no military motif on poll posters. That ended what was turning out to be the charge of a phantom brigade of partisan patriots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi has been professing love for the military but doing little, ceremonially or substantially. He has been extremely irregular, unlike any of his predecessors, at the Army day, Navy day and Air Force day receptions which the chiefs host in their homes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi has been tightfisted too. Much is being claimed about having given three lakh crore rupees this fiscal for defence. The claim cleverly camouflages the fact that it was a less-than-seven per cent hike from last fiscal’s. The hike does not cushion the effect of military inflation which is always more than 10 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One-third of this three lakh crore goes for pay and perks, and another third for the regular running of the units and establishments. Only the remaining third—one lakh crore—goes for buying modern weapons. As a vice-chief, who has since joined the BJP, told a parliamentary panel last year, only eight per cent of the Army’s weapons are modern; 24 per cent are current and 68 per cent are old and vintage, whereas most armies have one-third old, one-third current and one-third futuristic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Purchases have become mostly off-the-shelf buys, like the Rafales and Chinooks, with hardly any transfer of technology, rendering Make in India a poor joke.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece: </b>In feudal Europe, the king and the barons owned armies. Loyal barons lent them to the king in war, and rebel barons led them against the king. Once feudalism ended and national monarchies came into being, these armies morphed into regiments, but continued their feudal nomenclature. Thus there still are royal and non-royal regiments in the British Army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the arrival of the artillery, sea-going armed vessels and finally air power, the crown or the state claimed monopoly on them. Thus they have Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. But the army remains plain British Army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/04/12/whose-army-is-it-anyway.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/04/12/whose-army-is-it-anyway.html Fri Apr 12 15:32:09 IST 2019 l-k-advani-iron-man-to-shadow-man <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/03/29/l-k-advani-iron-man-to-shadow-man.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/3/29/24-Iron-man-to-shadow-man-new.jpg" /> <p>Five years ago, Narendra Modi scuttled 86-year-old L.K. Advani’s chances of becoming India’s oldest prime minister. That honour remains with Morarji Desai, who was 81 when he entered office and 83 when he left it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, Modi and Amit Shah have denied 91-year-old Advani the honour of becoming the oldest member of the next Lok Sabha. Shah has appropriated the Gandhinagar seat which has been with Advani since his second Lok Sabha bid in 1991. He had entered the Lok Sabha first in 1989 from New Delhi after two decades in the Rajya Sabha, and was a permanent fixture in the house save for a three-year gap when he stayed away to clear his name in the Jain hawala case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hopefully, Modi-Shah will soon send him to the Rajya Sabha, and Advani will live long enough to be the oldest ever MP. The oldest in the Lok Sabha till date has been Ram Sundar Das of the Janata Dal (United). He was 93 when he left the house in 2014. The oldest in the Rajya Sabha, and in Parliament, is dear old Ram Jethmalani who is 95 and fighting fit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We inherited the parliamentary form of government from the British, but not their concept of a shadow prime minister. (Shadow PM and shadow cabinet work only in two-party polities where you are certain about who will be the successor if the incumbent falls.) Had it been there, Advani would have fitted the bill perfectly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one has remained in the prime ministerial shadow longer than he. As the leader of the opposition in the lower house, he has been shadowing every prime minister since Chandra Sekhar till the end of Manmohan Singh’s first term, save for the three-year self-enforced gap over the hawala case, and his own stints in the Vajpayee cabinets. He gave up the leadership of opposition finally in 2009, leaving the job to Sushma Swaraj.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As opposition leader, he was more natural than Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Vajpayee was a greater orator, but he had to be listened to without interruption. Advani showed superior housecraft, and was more adept in debating. He would thrust and parry, raise points of order, quote rules, cite precedents and at times subtly aid the speaker and the treasury benches in running the house, though from the opposition. When the left members blocked the presentation of Manmohan Singh’s second budget, alleging that tax proposals had been shown to the World Bank, it was Advani, then leader of the opposition, who saved the government. He said the house would be satisfied if the government could give a solemn assurance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As party leader, too, he was superior to Vajpayee. Vajpayee’s party presidency, lasting six years, ended in the BJP getting two seats in the Lok Sabha and Vajpayee himself getting defeated, though in the sympathy wave over Indira Gandhi’s assassination. It was Advani who built up the party since, cashing in on the Bofors scandal, forming a tactical tie-up with V.P. Singh, sensing the Mandal danger and launching the mandir movement, and finally making the BJP a party of governance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He erred when ambition got the better of his conscience. He sensed a prime ministerial moment for him in the 2009 elections, and the hindutva hardliner suddenly espoused secularism so as to rally allies, visited Pakistan and praised Jinnah. Soon, it became a habit. The man whom we had seen riding a chariot and leading the Ayodhya movement suddenly claimed that he was crying in a corner when the masjid domes were falling! The man who is said to have sat quiet in the cabinet when it decided to free Maulana Masood Azhar in lieu of the lives of the Kandahar hostages, later claimed that he had opposed the deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was disowning himself, a sin that even the worst critics wouldn’t accuse Narendra Modi of.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/03/29/l-k-advani-iron-man-to-shadow-man.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/03/29/l-k-advani-iron-man-to-shadow-man.html Sat Mar 30 11:39:42 IST 2019 balakot-a-hit-and-no-tell-story <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/03/15/balakot-a-hit-and-no-tell-story.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/3/15/27-Balakot-new.jpg" /> <p>Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “Everything you add to the truth subtracts from the truth.” That is what happened to the Balakot strike story wherein the Indian Air Force struck at an academy of assassins, run by a kinsman of the murderous Maulana Masood Azhar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The IAF had claimed, and most of us had willingly believed, that a flight of Mirage fighters had screamed into the Pakistani airspace in the early hours of February 26, rained fire and laser-guided brimstone as the Old Testament God had on the sin-cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed a Jaish-e-Mohammad camp till their jihadi kingdom come, and that the pilots had come home before breakfast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There never had been any doubt about the IAF’s capabilities. Our pilots had perfected precision-strikes on targets when the US Air Force whizz-kids, who did not know a rifle from a ploughshare, were “daisy-cutting” in the paddies of Vietnam. A score and half decades before the Americans laser-shot missiles into the Chinese mission in Bosnia and into the Al Jazeera office in Kabul, IAF pilots had shot a row of holes through the roof of the governor’s house in Dhaka. Boy! That was an incredible feat by our first squadron of MiG-21 supersonics in the pre-electronic and pre-laser age!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If anyone still had any doubt about Balakot, there was the Pakistani military spokesman admitting that IAF planes had flown into the PAF parlour without an invitation, and that the jets had left a few pieces of ordnance. Wasn’t that the cleverest line of understatement that we have heard after the British left?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even that much—the non-statements from the IAF and the understatements from their Pakistani counterparts—would have carried the day. The rest, we thought, would come later with proof.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poof! Nothing came. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale read out a sombre statement, just like Harry Truman had after hitting Hiroshima, Barack Obama after getting Osama bin Laden, or A.B. Vajpayee after the nuclear test. A pretty presidential sight—or prime ministerial, if you please—with tricolour on the flanks and in the backdrop. High on visual effect; low on facts. No questions, please.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The script changed, and the drama turned a farce, when those in authority clammed up, and blabbermouths took the stage adding to the truth. Neither the defence minister nor the foreign minister, neither the IAF chief nor the western air command chief, neither the government spokesman nor the IAF spokesman came out to tell the world the what, the when, or the how of the Balakot story. A far cry from the long-drawn-out Kargil war or the solitary Atlantique downing, when the foreign minister, the defence minister, the national security adviser, the army chief, the air chief, the western C-in-C, the southwestern C-in-C, plus the military and foreign office spokesmen were briefing the press with maps, facts, figures, and even body counts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now? A top gun in the defence ministry, on condition of hush-hush, gave a death toll of 200-plus, adduced from the number of cellphones that had been active on the Balakot campus prior to the strike. But party boss Amit Shah took 200 to be too few and added 50, making it “more than 250”. Then came Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh with another 150 bodies to be buried. A disgusted IAF chief said his job was to kill the enemies and not count bodies. As doubts rose with the death toll, the law minister damned doubters as traitors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sad! Now it is our word against their word; their sat-photo against our no-photo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, we know that terror took a hit at Balakot. Bravo, IAF! But truth took a hit in India that swears by satyameva jayate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/03/15/balakot-a-hit-and-no-tell-story.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/03/15/balakot-a-hit-and-no-tell-story.html Fri Mar 15 13:08:42 IST 2019 corbett-to-balakot-cool-cat <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/03/02/corbett-to-balakot-cool-cat.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/3/2/54-Corbett-to-Balakot-cool-cat-new.jpg" /> <p>His followers may not like me saying so, but Narendra Modi has been drawing much from Christian scriptures and mythology of late. At Allahabad that is now Prayagraj, he did a messianic act. He had a holy dip in the Ganga, and then went on to wash and wipe the feet of six Kumbh Mela cleaners. That looked much like Jesus Christ washing the feet of his 12 disciples at the Passover feast. God bless!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Critics in the Congress say, Modi was shooting for Discovery Channel at Jim Corbett Park even after being told that terrorists had struck at Pulwama killing a busload of CRPF troopers. In their view, the prime ministership of India has fallen in scholarly standards—from Nehru’s Discovery of India to Modi’s Discovery documentary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So what? Come to think of it, Modi staying on to shoot at Corbett was verily what Ignatius of Loyola would have done. Loyola is said to have been asked while playing a game of football, as to what he would do if he were told that the world would end in an hour. While his playmates, probably all seminarians, said they would rush to the chapel and pray, the would-be saint said he would finish his game. The story is being told about several others, too, and is often cited as an illustration of single-minded dedication to the task at hand, however minor or trivial it may appear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gandhi was much like that. On the eve of a crucial meeting that was to decide on the course of the freedom movement, he is said to have been perturbed over the loss of a piece of pencil gifted to him by a child a few days earlier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Loyola and Gandhi are saintly personages. Saints preach, but it is lesser mortals, some of them scoundrels, who practise. What Loyola preached, Sir Francis Drake practised. Drake continued with his game of bowls at Plymouth Hoe, even after a ship captain rushed in with the news of having sighted the mighty Spanish Armada sailing up the English Channel to invade England. The great admiral, originally a pirate, went on with his game, finished it, and then called out his ships and mates to battle stations. In the end he destroyed the Armada. Cool dude!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now Modi has done much the same. He went ahead with his tasks at hand, quietly called his aides upon reaching Delhi, and has now delivered a strike at Balakot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crises call for cool heads; not bleeding hearts or panicking minds. A good leader is one who is dedicated to his purpose and delegates his powers, so that things would work even if he is not there. Robert Clive is said to have gone to sleep in the afternoon, after positioning his guns and men at Plassey. When the enemy charged, his second-in-command, Eyre Coote, did not have to wake him up. Everything went off, including the English guns, as Clive had intended and ordered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Problems arise if leaders fail to delegate. George Anson, who was commander-in-chief of India in 1857, was shooting partridges in Shimla when sepoys mutinied in Meerut. As things unfolded, it became clear that he had not delegated authority. The British paid a heavy price for that neglect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A leader can be anywhere when a crisis hits. But he should have his crisis managers in place to tackle the situation, even if he is not there. When intruders were spotted in Kargil, Army chief V.P. Malik was in Poland on an official visit, and corps commander Kishen Pal in Delhi at the bedside of his wife who had undergone a surgery. But the system moved on its own without much of a hitch or a glitch, till the two leaders arrived on the scene and took charge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Systems in place are more important than leaders in place. Now Modi, too, has proven the adage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/03/02/corbett-to-balakot-cool-cat.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/03/02/corbett-to-balakot-cool-cat.html Sat Mar 02 11:49:52 IST 2019 clearance-sale-for-clean-ganga <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/02/16/clearance-sale-for-clean-ganga.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/2/16/20-Clearance-sale-for-clean-Ganga-new.jpg" /> <p>The prime minister would verily be the most gifted personality in our land. Topping the list would be his gift of the gab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there are the gifts that he receives every day—from foreign dignitaries when he visits them or they visit him, and from lesser worthies within India. Mostly things of little use, except on the mantelpiece or in the showcase—enamelled tea-sets, embroidered shawls, encrusted watches, engraved bracelets, encased replicas, enlarged insignia, reprints of old books and records, paintings, carpets, wall-hangings, coasters, tea-cosies, salvers, salwars, turbans, jackets, cravats, cuff-links, tie-pins, lapel-pins, perfumes, plaques, mementos, monogrammed towels and such other bric-à-brac.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there could also be a few gems thrown in between. Like the embroidered suit that gained much infamy after Narendra Modi wore it to tea with Barack Obama. That earned him a Malvolio-like image, and his government the sobriquet “suit-boot ki sarkar” from Rahul Gandhi. The suit, said to have cost a few crores to the donor, proved costlier for Modi. Many in the BJP believe that it cost him the 2015 Delhi Assembly polls that took place a few days later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some gifts are of emotional value. Like his old school attendance sheet that Manmohan Singh received from Pervez Musharraf. It stumped not only poor Manmohan but even the protocol vultures in the foreign office. They just did not know what to gift the general in return. They had already given him a copy of the old photo of the Neherwali Haveli in Old Delhi where Musharraf had spent his childhood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some gifts cannot be brought home. Kanthakha, the wiry Mongol horse that Modi received on a visit to Ulan Bator, had to be left behind because India had banned exchange of zoo animals as gifts since 2005.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rule is that our dignitaries—prime ministers, ministers and officers—can keep only inexpensive gifts with them after they leave office. Anything costlier than Rs5,000 has to be deposited in the toshakhana. If a dignitary takes a fancy for an item, he can pay the market price and keep it. Manmohan thus took five tea-sets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rest of the stuff are kept or auctioned by the toshakhana, or given over to museums. Former president Pratibha Patil packed them off to a museum that she had built in her hometown. A few of the gifts that Nehru received are on show at the Teen Murti Museum. If Modi has his way, the serene museum complex could soon turn into a dumping ground of prime ministerial bric-à-brac. He is converting the place into a museum for all prime ministers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of our prime ministers have been handing over the costlier stuff to the toshakhana and leaving quietly. Not Modi, the ace merchandiser. He is putting the stuff to better use. Three weeks ago he put up for auction, in the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, some 1,800 such gifts that he had received in the last less than five years (that works out to five gifts or more received every day), and pledged the proceeds for cleaning the Ganga. Bless the thought.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The hype fetched the moolah. A Rs4,000 mini-Ashok Stambh fetched Rs13 lakh; a Rs5,000 Shiva statue Rs10 lakh; a memento from the Sikhs in Amritsar Rs10.1 lakh, a Buddha statue Rs7 lakh, a brass lion gifted by the Nepal prime minister Rs5.2 lakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TAILPIECE:</b> When they met in Harare on the independence of Zimbabwe, Pakistan president Zia-ul-Haq gifted Indira Gandhi with a coffee-table book on Pakistan. Later she found that it carried maps which showed the whole of Kashmir as Pakistan’s. She asked Natwar Singh, who was posted in Harare, to quietly return the book to the Pak foreign office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/02/16/clearance-sale-for-clean-ganga.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/02/16/clearance-sale-for-clean-ganga.html Sat Feb 16 12:39:32 IST 2019 george-an-unguided-missile-inducted-by-fire <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/01/30/george-an-unguided-missile-inducted-by-fire.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/1/30/24-George-mathew-Fernandes.jpg" /> <p><b>GEORGE MATHEW FERNANDES (1930-2019)</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That pacifist who kept Tibetan refugees and Burmese spies in his home? That was how many of us on the military beat reacted when A.B. Vajpayee ‘inducted’ George Fernandes as his defence minister in 1998. He will slash the defence budget and, given his sympathy for the Burmese rebels, may reverse the previous three regimes’ outreach to Myanmar, we concluded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>George had had a stormy petrel reputation—the socialist who had humbled Indira Gandhi’s fund-raiser S.K. Patil in his South Bombay redoubt; brought every train to halt in the great Indian Railways strike; had gone to jail for plotting to dynamite the rail tracks and offices in Baroda; won the 1977 Emergency polls from jail with a brute majority; used to self-drive his rickety Fiat to office as minister in the Janata government; had kicked out giants Coca-Cola and IBM from India; had travelled in the guard’s cabin of a goods train to reach a public event on time; had performed the most shameful Aaya Ram-Gaya Ram feat when he defected to Charan Singh minutes after putting up a stellar defence of the Morarji Desai government in a no-confidence motion; had given the blushes to every ace lawyer in India with his brilliant debate in the Lok Sabha over the impeachment of Justice Ramaswamy; and had links with every rebel with or without a cause. He would prove to be a thorn on the Vajpayee regime’s side, we thought.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At his first presser two days after the ‘induction’, we grilled the pacifist on every matter military. My! the man answered as if he had been born in a uniform. Then a question was thrown: “What is the status of Prithvi [missile]?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Prithvi? I am told they have been deployed near Jalandhar.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our eyes popped out. We looked at each other. Mantriji had blurted out what was then (no longer) a secret; but who will bell the cat? Knowing his temper, no officer would.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The quick-thinking information director Swagata Ghosh nudged us. As the presser ended, we quietly told the minister: “Sir, you should not have said that about Prithvi.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Why? I thought it was known to you guys.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Yes, but it is different when the minister says it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We worked out a deal. TV cameras would delete the Prithvi byte, and we would not print. Instead, a line was drafted for all of us to use: “Prithvi has been ‘inducted’”. It was not headline news, but we did not mind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then on, we had the finest relationship that a bunch of mediamen can ever have with a defence minister. He had been known to keep an open house (see tailpiece); now on, he kept an open office too, so to speak. He joined us often for fireside chats at Delhi’s myriad military messes where generals, joint secretaries and DRDO nerds drank whiskey with us, as he sipped red wine or fruit juice. No state secrets were revealed, but a lot of information was given. He taught the military to trust the press; and he made the press have faith in the military.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet we mauled him when we thought he was wrong. When he sacked Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat (the first ever firing of a chief), many of us wrote against it. THE WEEK ran a cover story that was critical of George. When he ordered a sweeping probe into defence purchases of the previous 15 years, I wrote against it in THE WEEK. Yet he had no rancour. He still welcomed all of us into his office, home and the messes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That helped him in running the ministry. During Kargil, he let the generals fight and the diplomats speak. He ran a good ministry, and kept his counsel even when he disagreed with foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who broadcast the secretly-recorded phone chat between Gen Parvez Musharraf and his chief of general staff over how the two had plotted Kargil. The broadcast helped India build its case in the world’s eyes, but “that wasn’t wise,” George told some of us off the record. He proved to be right; as a R&amp;AW officer would reveal later, the broadcast had compromised a R&amp;AW source.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When we walked into his South Block office past nine in the night wanting to know why and how a Pak Navy Atlantique was shot down over the Kutch marshes in August 1999, he gave us coffee and a lot of dope on the terrain, about the radars, the combat air patrol drills, ground deployment and what exactly had happened. The next morning, he arranged for 40 of us to be airlifted to Kutch to see for ourselves whether the spy plane had indeed fallen in Indian territory. We even had our share of ‘combat’ thrill when our helicopter was fired at from the Pakistan side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Convinced, the media made the case for India in the next days’ newspapers and TV channels. No wonder, India won the case at the International Court of Justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Tehelka sting and the coffin scam hurt him badly. He stayed out for a while from the government, and an overcautious ministry sat on purchase decisions. When he returned to the ministry, he declared bluntly: “I will stick my neck out.” And he did. From the frequent travels he made to the front positions including his bimonthly trips to Siachen, and the deep attention he paid to military briefings, he learnt of the military’s needs. For the Siachen trooper, he got fibreglass shelters, pipe-pumped kerosine, better boots and coats, phone lines, home-like meals and even chocolate bars. When two joint secretaries sat on a file for purchase of snow-scooters, he sent them packing to Siachen for a week’s stay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the 9/11-outraged George W. Bush and his secretary of state Colin Powell took Musharraf into confidence and began pounding the Taliban-held Afghanistan, George scoffed at the bombs that could do nothing more than “melt the snow” on the Hindukush. With the campaign going nowhere, Bush sent his defence secretary Don Rumsfeld to talk to Putin. From Moscow, Rumsfeld flew to Delhi and met George. George is said to have impressed on him, as had Putin, the need for taking the Moscow-Delhi-friendly Northern Alliance into confidence. One does not know how the deal was worked out, but the world soon saw the Northern Alliance walking into the Taliban-freed Kabul, leaving Musharraf seething in Islamabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By George! we don’t have many like him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TAILPIECE:</b> The outhouse of George’s MP’s bungalow on Krishna Menon Marg sheltered several Burmese and Tibetan activists. This worried the security men who were guarding the bungalow of Narasimha Rao’s home minister S.B. Chavan, who lived across the road. As they made a practice of shutting George’s bungalow gates whenever the minister drove out, an irked George got his bungalow gates removed. Then on, he ran an open house, literally.</p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/01/30/george-an-unguided-missile-inducted-by-fire.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/01/30/george-an-unguided-missile-inducted-by-fire.html Wed Jan 30 18:23:17 IST 2019 cbi-comedies-courted-compounded <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/01/18/cbi-comedies-courted-compounded.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/1/18/32-cbi-Comedies-courted-compounded-new.jpg" /> <p>Asked why he was not firing FBI chief Edgar Hoover, President Lyndon Johnson said, “I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in.” Hoover ran the FBI for 48 years as its boss, from 1924 when it was called the Bureau of Investigation, till his death in 1972.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several presidents found Hoover useful; several others were scared of him. They knew, or they feared, that he had files on virtually everybody who was somebody in the US, especially about their sexual indiscretions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Johnson’s successor Richard Nixon was lucky. Hoover died towards the end of Nixon’s term. Soon the Congress made a law that no FBI boss shall serve more than 10 years. Only the Yanks would do that—trust a guy, a paranoid and a blackmailer at that, to run their premier crime-detection agency for half a century. And then, give every successor of his a maximum of 10 years. Even their presidents get only eight years at the most.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Compare that with our CBI chiefs. Only two of its 28 bosses lasted five years. Some lasted a fortnight; one or two had only a few days; three were ‘acting’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Truth be told, it was not the rogue Hoover that Americans trusted, but the robust institution he was running. They knew that the Hoovers would come and go, but the institution would go on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We in India are the other way round. We place our trust in men, and ignore the institution. When the men fail, we do not mend or mind the men, but amend the laws, and make a mess of the institution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is what happened to the CBI. Like every institution on terra firma Indica, it had been scoring sometimes, and flopping sometimes. But every time it flopped, we took the institution to task, changed the laws that governed it and made a mess of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All three organs of the state share the blame. The original sin was the executive’s. As is their wont, our rulers have been using the CBI to raid political foes, and to close cases against friends. So much so that a chief justice called it a caged parrot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what have the judges been doing? When they found the agency was not chasing the hawala-moneyed politicians in the 1990s, they took it upon themselves, through the Vineet Narain judgment, to monitor the case. In the end, they could not convict even one among the dirty dozens. Yet the judges gave a host of directives on how to run the CBI and get it watched by the vigilance commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And the legislature? They have been making laws at the drop of a judgment. They gave statutory status to the vigilance commission, with its chief being selected by the prime minister, the home minister and the leader of the opposition. When they tried to reform the CBI as the judges advised, they included the chief justice in the selection committee—thus giving the go-by to the sanctified principle of separation of powers. Imagine, a judge selecting the police chief who is an arm of the executive. Incredibly, the judges concurred! As if the touch of the court would turn a rogue into a saint.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a protocol anachronism too. The CBI chief is selected by the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the chief justice or his nominee. But the vigilance chief, who is notionally superior to the CBI chief, is selected by the prime minister, and two lesser mortals, inferior to the chief justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the end, one is left to wonder: have the judge-selected CBI chiefs been any holier than their predecessors? Were Ranjit Sinha and Alok Verma not selected with the concurrence of the judges?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/01/18/cbi-comedies-courted-compounded.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/01/18/cbi-comedies-courted-compounded.html Fri Jan 18 14:38:47 IST 2019 fouling-up-the-poll-air <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/01/04/fouling-up-the-poll-air.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2019/1/4/33-Fouling-up-the-poll-air-new.jpg" /> <p>Campaigning in the 2007 Gujarat assembly polls, Sonia Gandhi described Narendra Modi as maut ki saudagar, or merchant of death. Tut, tut, tut, exclaimed the genteel people of India. That was quite unladylike.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi used the below-the-belt hit to the hilt. He went around with a look of injured innocence, and asked his people, “kya mein maut ka saudagar hoon?” (Do I look like a merchant of death?) And then postured to Sonia, “Sonia-behen, mein toh mat ka saudagar hoon.” (Sister Sonia, I am a merchant of ideas).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at the phraseology. Even when being maligned, Modi showed mellowed restraint. Verily gentlemanly, especially to a lady! He called her “behen”, a term used by good and decent Gujaratis when they address or speak of any woman of good repute.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi won that election. Positivity won that election. Genteelness won that election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2014, the two sides began being evenly matched in malice, but soon the Congress took a lead in being low. If Modi mocked at Manmohan’s “love letters” to Nawaz Sharif, Mani Shankar Aiyar mocked at Modi’s teaboy teenhood. Modi again played the injured innocent, launched a shrewd chai-pe-charcha (teatime talk) campaign, and went on to win the polls hands down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonia seems to have learnt her lesson. Her electoral discourse has since been dignified, and her political conduct restrained—much like a quiet Calpurnia if she were in the middle of a Roman mob.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The shoe is now on the other foot. Modi, quite contrary, has since been ranting and raging. Sonia is no longer behen to him, but one to be mocked at as ‘Madam-ji’. In one election speech in Rajasthan he even made fun of her widowhood. Her son is pappu (simpleton), shahzada (crown prince), or naamdaar (dynast)—terms that draw laughter from the lumpen, but will not draw votes from the decent folk.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, one statement or an odd foul phrase would not win or lose an election. But the amount of vitriol that is pumped into the air can make or unmake a campaign. In 1989, Rajiv Gandhi called the opposition limpets and traitors (Raja Jaichands and Mir Jaffer), and painted them in advertisements as serpents and scorpions. He roundly lost the polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s campaign managers are making the same mistake. As THE WEEK reported two weeks ago, the entire tone of Modi and company in the just-concluded polls to the three assemblies in Madhya Bharat had been one of political arrogance and rhetorical sarcasm, directed not just against the withering-and-ageing Congress and its immature pretender of a crown prince, but even at the revered national icons of India that is Bharat. A sarcasm that outraged many a voting Indian soul, steeped in ancient Indian values of humility and self-denial. Pride and hate, they told their netas through their vote, are not values cherished by this ancient civilisation.</p> <p>Yet no one seems to have learnt any lesson. The tone for the 2019 round is now being set, and it seems to be laden with the lead of vitriol. The Congress continues on its chowkidar chor hai line without showing proof of any chori by Modi. From the BJP front, Modi and Amit Shah are leading the war of viciousness. Having nabbed alleged arms dealer Christian Michel, Modi is calling him the Gandhi family’s raazdaar (confidant), and dropping innuendos about Quattrocchi “mama” and Christian Michel “uncle” whose diary, he says, contains Sonia’s name. Shah has discovered that Michel’s notes from custody to his lawyer were meant for Sonia, when even his interrogators have not found how.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Netas, ladies and gentlemen, the Indian voter is a decent soul. He abhors vitriol.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/01/04/fouling-up-the-poll-air.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2019/01/04/fouling-up-the-poll-air.html Sat Jan 05 19:20:46 IST 2019 not-for-your-eyes-only <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2018/12/21/not-for-your-eyes-only.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2018/12/21/152-Not-for-your-eyes-only-new.jpg" /> <p>Rarely has the Supreme Court been brought into such ridicule as in the judgment over the petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the Rafale deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the court was not wrong in dismissing the petitions. Deciding which war-jets to buy, and how to buy them, are political decisions, not judicial. On these things, the guys in the cabinet are better judges. They get the best advice from the brass hats and the babus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the court got into problem where the judges cited the reasons for throwing out the petitions. They said the comptroller and auditor-general had probed the matter, and that a redacted version of his report had been given to Parliament, and that the public accounts committee was seized of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sorry, m’lords! Nothing of the kind had happened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CAG is indeed seized of the matter. But he is yet to submit his report—always a full one, never a redacted one—to Parliament. Only then would the PAC, which is a body of Parliament, be seized of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition says that the judges have been misled by the government—that the sealed cover that the government submitted to the judges had contained this silly stuff. They have issued a breach of privilege notice on the prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That does not give much credit to the court. For, the question then is: should not the judges have known better? Don’t they know how other constitutional entities such as the CAG and Parliament, and parliamentary entities like the PAC, work?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government’s defence puts the court in a poorer light. They say, they had explained the procedure in the present tense, but the judges took them as past tense. Would they next seek to submit copies of Wren &amp; Martin?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Courts are not used to secrets. Court proceedings are open, and the principle in common law is that all parties in a litigation must disclose all evidence to the other party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, at times litigants can seek not to disclose certain things in public interest. Governments seek this privilege in sensitive matters. They seek to submit the evidence in a sealed cover with a James Bond-style ‘for your eyes only’ stamp (not literally), if they are convinced that disclosure of the evidence could damage public interest. The Americans call it executive privilege; the British used to call it Crown privilege. Lord Reid called it public interest immunity, and now both the British and we call it so. In our law, Section 123 of the Evidence Act provides for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the olden days this privilege had only to be asked, and it was granted. In the Duncan v. Cammell, Laird &amp; Cocase about the loss of a submarine, the plaintiff asked for certain documents, and the Crown claimed privilege. The House of Lords held that the court must accept the plea, hook, line and sinker. But in Conway v. Rimmer, the Lords decided that the court could also reject a privilege claim by the Crown. They held that it was the duty of the court to examine the documents thoroughly and decide whether the privilege claim was justified.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our courts too have been expanding the liberal scope of the law. In Punjab v. S.S. Singh, the court laid down the rules for seeking and granting privilege. In Amar Chand Butail v. Union of India, the court rejected the privilege plea saying that the minister who certified the need for privilege had not applied his mind. The famous S.P. Gupta case (first judges case) leaned further in favour of openness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The principle is: trust, but verify. If only the court had asked the government for the CAG report, it would not have found itself in this spot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The papers were not for your eyes only; they were for your minds too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2018/12/21/not-for-your-eyes-only.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2018/12/21/not-for-your-eyes-only.html Fri Dec 21 18:09:52 IST 2018 he-who-drew-a-line-in-the-sand <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2018/12/07/he-who-drew-a-line-in-the-sand.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2018/12/7/16-George-Bush-new.jpg" /> <p>Narendra Modi’s tweet team would have struggled to compose a condolence message over the death of George Bush Sr. “George H.W. Bush was passionate about strong relations between India and USA,” they tweeted finally. “His presence will be sorely missed.” Prim and perfunctory. Hardly passionate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Blame them not. There wasn’t much for any Indian to say anything about the elder Bush. He was neither our foe like Richard Nixon, nor our friend like Bill Clinton or George Bush Jr. He had dropped in Delhi once as Ron Reagan’s veep, and had to spend his four days sorting out the abduction of an American couple in Sri Lanka by Tamil militants. Indira Gandhi got them alive, and he was grateful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As president, he did not bother India, nor did he bother about India. In his memoirs co-authored with Brent Scowcroft, India figures only once—in a remark from Mikhail Gorbachev. He used to say those sweet nothings—India and Pakistan should improve ties, live in peace, blah, blah, blah—the kind of goody-goody statements that diplomats have coined as protocol pastimes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India was plagued by political chaos and economic bankruptcy during his presidency. During those four years in the White House, we had four PMs in 7 Race Course Road, and we were staying alive by pawning our reserve gold in the Bank of England.</p> <p>Bush’s splendid indifference helped us. It gave us the time and confidence to sort out our problems on our own. By the time he had sorted out the Middle East, ended the Cold War, and taken charge of the unipolar world, we had learnt to live without socialist ideas or Soviet aid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like Winston Churchill, Bush won a war, but lost the next polls. The likeness ends there. Churchill was flamboyant, exuberant and had a vision about everything. Bush was quiet, restrained and was at a loss about “that thing called vision”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps he did have a vision, but didn’t know how to put it in poetic prose. Look at his conduct during his finest hour. After liberating Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, he could have sent his tanks racing into Iraq, and effected a regime change in Baghdad. He didn’t. He had drawn “a line in the sand”, and he would respect it, as would others. He knew where to end the victory run, a rare quality seen among war heroes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps he was restrained by history. Three quarters of a century earlier, a British commander from India had landed at Basra with a limited war aim, but was tempted by Arabian nightly dreams about Baghdad. That adventure ended in the messiest ‘mespot’ that the British Empire had ever got into, and the horrible slaughter of thousands of Indian troops. The India Gate in Delhi stands as a testimony to that tragedy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Baghdad was tempting; Bush knew to resist it. But his brat of a son made the mistake that he had avoided. Two presidential terms later, the younger Bush sent thousands of Connecticut Yankees into Haroun al Rashid’s court, effected a regime change, and left the Middle East more chaotic than it ever was since the Crusades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Bush’s self-restraint was evident early into the Reagan regime. He was in Texas when Reagan was shot and wounded in Washington. When Bush’s plane landed in Washington, his aides advised him to take a helicopter to the White House to show the world that everything, including the nuclear button, was under control. Bush rejected the idea, saying, “Only the President lands on the South Lawn.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was in contrast with how Secretary of State Alexander Haig had behaved. As the President was being carried to hospital, Haig declared: “I am in control here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A year later he lost the job.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2018/12/07/he-who-drew-a-line-in-the-sand.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2018/12/07/he-who-drew-a-line-in-the-sand.html Fri Dec 07 12:12:46 IST 2018