Prasannan en Thu Dec 09 15:16:09 IST 2021 modi-maybach-costs-much-less-than-rs-12-crore-despite-what-trolls-say-r-prasannan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi was seen being driven in a Mercedes-Maybach to Hyderabad House where he was to receive Vladimir Putin. That set India’s troll lines on fire. Keypad activists who keep the country’s socialistic conscience cited it as another instance of Modi’s splurge at tax-payers’ expense. Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut mocked at the fakir who drove a 12-crore limousine, or the monk who drove his Maybach.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the mature political class has kept away from the troll mob. Wisely so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s take a closer look at the car and the men who drive in it. PMs since Jawaharlal Nehru till Indira Gandhi had driven in home-made Ambassadors, mostly white. Much is being made these days about Lal Bahadur Shastri’s Fiat bought on a bank loan. It is still parked in the porch of the bungalow that Indira allotted to his widow, and is now a memorial. It was his personal car; as PM, Shastri had a few Ambys.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime ministerial vehicles became armoured cars after Indira was assassinated. After a sniper took a potshot at Rajiv Gandhi at Rajghat in 1986, King Hussein of Jordan, one of the world’s most threatened men at that time, gifted him two bullet-proof cars. Rajiv, who loved to drive as much as he loved to fly, used to take the wheel himself often, leaving his guards sit with their hearts in their mouths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was Vajpayee who threw out the credentials of the old Ambassadors after one of them broke down while carrying him, sending his guards into a tizzy. The attack on Parliament, and Vajpayee’s personal problem of needing to stretch his legs after a knee-cap surgery, made them ask for larger and better cars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus came four armoured BMW 740Li sedans, which let him stretch his legs, kept him safe from bullets, bombs and poison gases, and could drive at 80kmph even on a flat tyre. Only the US president’s Beast and the BMW 750iL that James Bond drove in Tomorrow Never Dies could claim to be fancier in gadgetry. With that, the old sarkari white also gave way to a mean black.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vajpayee reverted to an Ambassador after demitting office, but his successor Manmohan Singh graciously sent him one of the BMWs when he heard that Vajpayee once had to squeeze out after the Amby’s door jammed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manmohan and Modi continued to use the Vajpayee vintage BMW 740Li cars, but not necessarily the same vehicles, along with a few Range Rovers. Prime ministerial cars are changed every two to four years, though we never come to know because they are all the same make, the same black and bear no numbers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi had to look for another make and model after BMW stopped making armoured 740Li models. Thus came the Mercedes-Maybach S650 Guard, which can take steel bullet hits, grenade blasts and even a 15-kg TNT blast at two metres. It is no palace on wheels, and costs much less than the 12 crore being claimed on trolls, but probably a little more than what Vajpayee and Manmohan spent on theirs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does he need it? Of course, yes. Remember, the prime minister of India is still one of the world’s most threatened ones among the human species, in league with the presidents of the US, Russia, China, Turkey, and of Sri Lanka when Velupillai Prabhakaran was alive. His car ought to be a battle tank without gun and turret.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TAILPIECE:</b> After a woman missed two shots at US president Gerald Ford in 1975, his chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld (later George Bush Jr’s defence secretary) and the secret servicemen pushed him into his limousine and piled over him, as the car sped. Then Rumsfeld heard a muffled voice: “C’mon Rummy, you guys get off. You’re heavy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Jan 06 15:00:29 IST 2022 bhutan-has-been-a-friend-in-need-in-deed-and-indeed-r-prasannan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>All the dragon king’s subjects, the world’s happiest people, have been immunised against Covid-19. Every adult in Bhutan has got both the vaccine shots. Part of the credit goes to prime minister Narendra Modi. He had sent to Bhutan the very first consignment of India’s vaccine gifts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhutan is now giving the return gift, honouring Modi with their highest honour, Ngadag Pel gi Khorlo. The Buddhist country’s prime minister Lotay Tshering has described Modi as a “spiritual human being,” and tweeted that he looks forward to “celebrating the honour in person.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The prayer wheel is coming full circle. Modi, if you recall, had launched himself into the larger world with a visit to Bhutan in 2014. He has since been spinning around the world like Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days or MGR in Ulagam Sutrum Valiban, harvesting honours from governments and non-government bodies. Afghanistan’s Amir Abdulla Khan Award, Bahrain’s King Hamad Order of the Renaissance, the Maldives’ Rule of Nishan Izzuddeen, Palestine’s Grand Collar of the State, Russia’s Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Saudi Arabia’s Order of Abdulaziz Al Saud, and the UAE’s Order of Zayed—to list a few state medals that crown the ribbons on his self-acclaimed 56-inch chest. Now comes the one from Bhutan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhutan has been the neighbour with which India has had the least problems—a friend in need, in deed, and indeed. Look at others. China and Pakistan have waged wars with us; Myanmar is mostly behind a Burma teak curtain; Sri Lanka is overtly friendly, but knows how to tickle our feet and draw us out into self-defeating peace-keeping wars; Nepal sits on our head like a crown, but pulls at our ears at times; Bangladesh and the Maldives blow hot and cold depending on whom they had elected in the last election. The Afghans are good pals, but perennially in trouble. No wonder Modi exclaimed during his 2019 visit to Thimpu, “Who won’t want a friend and a neighbour like Bhutan?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A 1910 treaty made Bhutan a protectorate of British India; Bhutan agreed in a 1949 treaty to be “guided” by independent India. That made Bhutan a protected state instead of a protectorate, as our diplomatic spin doctors put it. An Indian Army contingent is permanently posted there, though a 2007 treaty lets Thimpu buy arms from anyone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been hiccups, but natural between friends. Bhutan was miffed after Manmohan Singh withdrew cooking gas and kerosene subsidies in 2013, apparently to arm-twist them from reaching out to China. Modi’s 2014 visit repaired much of the damage, and Bhutan has since scrupulously toed the Indian line, keeping off Xi Jinping’s belt-and-road jamborees attended by most of the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the Chinese tried to build a road in 2017 through Bhutan’s land towards the Chumbi Valley from where they could threaten our chicken-neck link to the northeast, Bhutan let India put its booted foot down in Doklam. What more can a little neighbour give?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Happy New Year to all the happy people!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Jawaharlal Nehru rode a mule, a yak and a pony for five days through the Chumbi Valley in 1958 on his first state visit to Bhutan, which had no airfield.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhutan invited a media delegation two years later. Eminent journalist B.G. Verghese has recorded that when they crossed the Paro bridge, a welcome band played Auld Lang Syne. Forgetting that they were the guests, the journalists instinctively jumped off the mules to take photos of a state ceremony, leaving a string of mules to amble into the governor’s welcome party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Dec 23 15:26:05 IST 2021 a-pulse-protein-revolution-is-not-a-bad-idea-says-r-prasannan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The farm laws have been repealed, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has conceded most of the farmers’ remaining demands. The protesters are going home in their tractors and trolleys to cast seeds in their farms and votes in the polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The netas, too, will be out in the fields, after the winter session of Parliament ends. The Election Commission will declare polls to the Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur assemblies shortly. Before the end of spring, both harvests should be done—the agricultural and the electoral. As is said, they shall reap as they have sown. And we will all live happily in the new year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We all? Not really. The farmers of Telangana fear penury in the new year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before you think that there has been a drought, a blight or a locust attack in the peninsula, let me make matters clear. There has been no such calamity in Telangana. On the contrary, everything has been going hunky dory for them—plentiful rains, ample sunshine, plenty of power, water in the canals, supply of seeds, manure and able-bodied farmhands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Added to these was some good governance from Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao. Like all good kings with praja-kshema pangs in their hearts, Rao has been building dams, digging canals and launching welfare schemes so as to make his state the rice bowl of India. To give an example, his Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project is billed as one of the world’s largest, aimed at wetting 18.3 lakh acres.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In short, the farmers thought they never had it so good. But now they find that they have reaped a lot more than they had sown, can stock, mill, eat or trade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So what? Can’t Narendra Modi’s Food Corporation buy it all out? Therein lies the political problem that has pitched Rao against Modi. With its warehouses filled with enough grain to feed India for the next four years, the FCI cannot lift even last season’s rice. So much so, Modi’s food minister Piyush Goyal told a Telangana delegation to stop growing paddy and sow pulses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To the Telanganis, that sounded much like Mary Antoinette standing on her head. For more than a week since, Rao and his partymen have been ranting and raving against Modi and Co. Their farm minister Niranjan Reddy has even accused Goyal of lying. It is another matter that Rao, Reddy and their colleagues have been telling the farmers the same—that they should stop growing paddy and sow pulses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The grain of the matter is that it is not the growth of paddy but of the BJP that is worrying Rao and Co. The BJP had won just one seat in the 2018 assembly polls, but wrested the Dubbaka seat last winter, emerged as the second largest party in the Hyderabad town council polls, and recently won the Huzurabad bypoll by fielding a former TRS minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is all fine. Political rancour will swell like the Godavari and ebb like its tide, but the farmers’ plight needs to be addressed with policy measures. What Modi and Co need to address are two paradoxes. One, we have a few million people who are starved of food—mainly wheat or rice—while we also have another few million faced with surplus food. Two, we are the world’s largest producer of pulses (25 per cent); we are also the world’s largest consumers (27 per cent) and importers (15 per cent) of pulses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps our policy-planners can find ways to make these two paradoxes cancel out each other. As several of them have been saying, why not encourage growing of pulses in place of rice and wheat? After all, pulses supply much-needed protein to our largely vegetarian diet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A pulse-protein revolution! Not a bad idea, is it?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Dec 09 15:15:00 IST 2021 people-ought-to-be-ruled-with-aws-they-think-are-good-says-r-prasannan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi greeted the nation on the morning of Guru Purab, and admitted to his pyare deshvasiyon that there might have been some flaw in his penance. The flaw in the penance is now paving the way for penitence in Parliament. He is taking back the three farm laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not to worry, prime minister! To err is human, to forgive is divine; to regret is political, to forget is democratic. Voters will forgive you and forget this, come Rahul, Mamta, MSP, GST, note ban or petrol price rise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, what was the flaw in the penance? The PM did not say that, but his speech gives us a clue. He said, “there was debate in Parliament following which these laws were introduced....” There was debate; but not enough.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In our constitutional trimurti scheme, parliament is Brahma (creates laws), the executive is Vishnu (executes laws and maintains order), and the judiciary is Maheswara (chucks out bad laws). But in the dynamics of a vibrant Westminster democracy, we cannot reduce Parliament into such a trinary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The term ‘parliament’ comes from the French parler which means ‘to talk’; from parler evolved the Anglo-Norman parliament meaning discussion. Thus, more than a law-making body, Parliament is a debating forum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ideally, bills are put in the public domain weeks ahead, for public debates—from which law-drafters draw informed opinion. Once a bill is introduced, the wise men of the houses should get time to discuss it, dissect it, debate it or damn it. After one house passes it, it is again discussed, dissected and debated in the other house. They may even send the bill to a committee where members shed their party loyalties, bare their true minds, exercise their brains, summon officials, consult experts, give their objective views, and polish the bill’s rough edges, if any.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even good laws, as the three farm laws are claimed to be, may carry sharp edges that hurt some people somewhere. Only the people’s representatives—the 780-odd men and women who are sitting, sleeping, speaking or shouting in the houses—can spot those edges and scrape them soft. Not even the “agricultural economists, scientists and progressive farmers” who, as the PM said, tried to explain the laws to the protesters. Experts may think the laws are good, but people ought to be ruled with the laws that they think are good—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 the ulema when he rejected their demand to impose Islamic laws on the Hindus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the case of the three bills, the MPs were not given time to even run their fingers through the edges. The debate over the two farm bills lasted just about five hours in the Lok Sabha and three hours in the Rajya Sabha. The bill to amend the essential goods law lasted two hours in the Lok Sabha and half an hour in the Rajya Sabha. Too little, considering the sweep of changes that the laws would bring about in the way we not only sow and reap, but also store and trade grain. The government used its brute majority to reject the opposition’s demands for scrutiny by a committee, and got the bills passed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Worse still, Parliament has no record of how many of its members supported the bill, and how many opposed it. The demand for a division, the procedure by which the votes are counted in the house, was rejected in the upper house.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In short, the laws were made in haste. As has been discussed in this column often, laws made in haste will be regretted at leisure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Nov 25 15:35:15 IST 2021 military-landscape-around-Afghanistan-is-changing-we-need-spiked-boots-to-play-it-r-prasannan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There was bad news for Afghanistan’s neighbours who gathered for a dialogue hosted by Narendra Modi’s security aide Ajit Doval on November 10. The Taliban, who currently rule over most of Afghanistan, want to have an air force. Wouldn’t that mean terror in the air, and terror through the air? After all, those guys had played host to the man who showed how terror could be launched through the air.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To India, that is a double whammy. For, among the Taliban’s flying machines will be a few India-gifted Mi-35 gunships and Cheetah light choppers. Modi and Doval had gifted them in good faith to the Ashraf Ghani regime in 2015 and 2019, thinking those would keep the Taliban away. But the Taliban, while blazing their way into Kabul last August, captured them from Kunduz.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The toys that we gifted are nothing compared to what the Americans had given. They gave the Afghans enough flying and firing machines to equip half an air force and army. Thank God, Afghanistan is landlocked; otherwise, the Yanks would have left behind a few gunboats, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the Americans, as also the Afghan military that fled with them, had left most of their guns spiked, powder wet, choppers without rotors, and airplanes with wings broken. All the same, a bunch of mechanics should be able to cannibalise the machines and hammer together a few flying machines (jugaad, as we call this machine art) to make a decent squadron or half.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Afghans are fast learners. Air Chief Marshal Dilbagh Singh, who had trained the Afghans to fly fighters in the 1960s, had written in his memoirs that it was like “teaching flying to those who had not ridden bicycles.” But the boys took to the skies in no time, like swallows to air.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Believe me, the Afghans are good at jugaad, too. I have flown in one such welded-together military Antonov-28 over the Hindukush, sitting on a wooden bench and hanging on for dear life with my feet thrown over the luggage pile, way back in 2001. The plane even had a tyre-burst at full-throttle speed, seconds before it was to get airborne.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for pilots and mechanics, well, there are close to 150 of them from the old Afghan Air Force hiding in Tajikistan since August, some with their flying machines, cursing the Yanks who had let them down. The Taliban only have to offer them amnesty, and most would fly home to embrace their wives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The military landscape around Afghanistan is also changing. China, which has a paramilitary station near the Wakhan Corridor in Tajik territory, ostensibly to check on Uighur terror, is said to be seeking a full military base. Beijing has denied the reports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India had a military base in Farkhor in Tajikistan, which now hosts only a military hospital (where Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masood was brought after he was shot by al Qaida assassins), and stakes in an air base at Ayni, the latter thanks to the efforts of A.B. Vajpayee’s defence minister George Fernandes. Though the IAF and Border Roads engineers have since upgraded Ayni to take Sukhoi-30s and MiG-29s, neither the Manmohan Singh nor the Narendra Modi regime has sent any. About 150 IAF personnel are reportedly posted there, taking care of the runway and the control tower for the Tajiks. The base recently hosted a few Air India planes that had gone to lift Indians from Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether China actually builds a base in Tajik territory or not, it is clear that another round of the Great Game is afoot. We can’t play it with bare feet. We need spiked boots, unless we are willing to be trampled upon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sun Nov 14 13:20:20 IST 2021 at-glasgow-they-must-promise-more-or-perish-says-r-prasannan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Several of the rulers of the universe, including our own Narendra Modi but excluding Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, are gathering in Glasgow next week. There they will try to save the earth, or at least postpone its end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is poetic and providential justice; it was from Glasgow that the doomsday count began.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mystified? Fogged? ‘Smogged’? Hold on, we will clear the air.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two centuries and half ago, a Glaswegian played God. James Watt said let there be steam engines, and there was the industrial revolution. The world changed for the better with factories producing the good things of life, but the earth changed for the worse. The air got foul, rivers got poisoned, and soil got toxic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Scientists call this foul air ‘greenhouse gases’. Like in a greenhouse, they trap heat in the atmosphere, causing the earth to heat up. When the earth heats up, the snows at the poles and on the mountains will melt, the seas will rise, isles and coasts will sink. Deeper inland, farms will parch, plants will wilt, men and beasts will die, the world will end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fault is not with Watt or with the factories; they have made life on earth better, longer, pleasanter and pleasurable. The problem is with us. We lost our balance in our pursuit of better, longer, pleasanter and pleasurable lives. We ignored the happiness of the other beings on the earth—beasts, birds, bugs and plants. We failed to keep nature happy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, nature is asking for its pounds of flesh. At Glasgow, the globe’s rulers will be haggling over who will give nature how many pounds of flesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Till about the 1990s, it was an argument between the countries to the north of the 30 degree north latitude who were richer, and those to its south who were poorer, with Australia and New Zealand as exceptions. (This global poverty line was drawn by Willy Brandt who ruled West Germany in the north but had his socialist heart in the south.) The people of the north argued that we are all in the same ark, the ark is sinking into the rising seas, and so we ought to save it together. We should pollute less, and the polluter should pay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The polluter should pay, agreed the south. But since the guilt is not equal, the penalty too should not be. It was Watt’s children in the wealthier north who had been enjoying good lives for two and half centuries and fouling up the air. They should pay more. And now, when we are creating wealth and growing, do not come to us preaching ecological ethics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The north then said, they know of cleaner ways to grow, but asked for a price to tell the south how. That is all there is about clean technology transfer. Finally, at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, they all agreed to reduce emissions, but left the quantum of cuts to be fixed later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since then the world has changed; so have its power equations and class divides. Old rich Europe found itself mined out; big Russia found itself poor; cleaner fuels became cheaper; India, China, Brazil and South Africa began growing into the big league. The old Brandt line got blurred, old groups got scattered, new power alignments took shape. Slowly, the talk became less about the earth and more about business.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No harm. Pulls of business seem to work better than pleas for benevolence. At Kyoto and Paris, the north admitted old guilts and everyone—except the US—promised little cuts according to his capacity, so as to keep the earth at a fever level of 2 degrees more than what it was before Watt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Paris promises are now found to be too little to ward off doomsday. At Glasgow they must promise more, or perish.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Oct 28 14:59:10 IST 2021 modis-treasures-from-the-us-are-real-worth-30-million-to-40-million-r-prasannan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi’s US visit this year was a tame affair. At the UN, he made a so-so speech. Most seats were empty; the applause was muted. Worse, that smart young foreign service lady stole the Pak-bashing show, which India conducts every autumn in New York. Cheek!</p> <p>In the US proper, it was still worse. Old Joe—a big bore—was no match for dandy Donald or buddy Barack as a host. He did not organise a Madison Square Garden show, a Howdy Modi, or even an address to the Congress. Poor <i>bhakts</i> in India had to post old videos of Modi’s address to the Congress, and claim that Modi had set fire to the Potomac this year, too.</p> <p>The problem with the <i>bhakts</i> is that they do not have the patience or punditry to read the fine print. If they had, they would have known that Modi came back with the richest treasure haul that any Indian PM has ever brought back—157 artefacts that had been smuggled out from this sacred land of terracotta Bodhisatvas and bronze Natarajas.</p> <p>The fine print on their labels would give any antiquarian as much high as if he had drunk straight from the Holy Grail—a 4,000-year-old copper anthropomorphic object, a second century terracotta vase, a 10th century bas-relief panel of Revanta in sandstone, a 12th century Nataraja, several mediaeval Buddha, Vishnu, Siva Parvati, and Jain Tirthankara sculptures, an 18th century sword-and-sheath on which Guru Hargovind’s name is inscribed in Persian, and more. All genuine stuff; no-nonsense, non-Monson.</p> <p>Non-Monson? Yes, Monson Mavunkal, if you do not know, is an ‘antiquarian’ who surfaced recently in Kerala, claiming to have in his possession Moses’s staff, Krishna’s broken butter pot, two of the 30 pieces of silver that Judas got for betraying Jesus, and more. Believe me, many in India’s most literate state believed him! The state police mounted a vigil around his treasure cave. Old comics buffs, like this columnist, were waiting for him to show up with King Arthur’s lost sword, Alexander’s diamond cup, and Cleopatra’s mummified asp from the Phantom’s skull cave, when the police, struck by enlightenment, spoiled our fun.</p> <p>Modi’s treasures are real, worth $30 million to 40 million, according to S. Vijay Kumar, an India-born Singapore-based treasure-hunter who helped trace 145 of the 157 objects.</p> <p>India has been on a treasure hunt for a while now, and Vijay Kumar has often been its Jim Hawkins, that brave lad who got the Treasure Island map from a dead pirate’s sea chest. It was in 2014, about the time when Modi came to power, that Kumar launched his India Pride project, a global network of antique-enthusiasts who have since been spending their spare blogging time tracing India’s stolen treasures.</p> <p>Together they have hit a few pots of gold. If only 18 stolen artefacts could be recovered since 1976 (when India’s Antiquities and Art Treasures Act came into force) till 2014, more than 80 have been brought back since then, and now 154 from the US. Another 120 are being readied for return from Britain; Australia has promised to ship back stolen stuff worth $2.2 million.</p> <p><b>Tailpiece: </b>Return of artefacts can also backfire. To save face after the defeat in the first Afghan war, governor-general Lord Ellenborough ordered that the city gates of Ghazni, which were believed to have been the sandalwood gates of Somnath temple stolen by Mahmud Ghazni, be brought back. When the gates arrived in India, they were found to be of cheaper wood and recent origin. The abandoned gates can still be seen, dumped in a lumber room in Agra Fort.</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;"></b><br> </p> Fri Oct 15 11:24:29 IST 2021 our-poor-diplomats-are-in-a-tizzy-because-of-aukus-shock-r-prasannan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Edward Behr heard a fellow scribe shout across a refugee camp in war-torn Congo in 1960: “Anyone here been raped and speaks English?” That became the title of his 1978 memoir, an account of crass war reporting in English.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Joe Biden’s AUKUS venture seems to be the outcome of some such shout across the Indo-Pacific—anyone here been bullied by China and speaks English? How else do you explain his strange rendezvous with Australia, a country that makes most of its money by trading with the Chinese, and with Britain who had been missing from these parts since 1972 and is coming back with an aircraft carrier to fish in the troubled eastern waters? The threesome have sailed into the Indo-Pacific and tied their huge AUKUS nuclear submarine to the starboard side of the jolly boat called Quad. Now the Quad, with Narendra Modi and Yoshihide Suga also on board, finds itself boxed in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only explanation for the strange behaviour is that the old man in the White House may be suffering from some sort of Afghan withdrawal syndrome. He is showing what clinicians call delirium tremens, a rapid onset of confusion. In the process, he is spreading confusion all around.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Forget the French. They are enraged over losing a good submarine deal with the Aussies. Biden has left even the sober Modi’s diplomats confounded. Look at our poor foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla. He got tied up in knots when asked how the AUKUS sub got anchored on the side of the QUAD. The QUAD, he said, is a plurilateral grouping (a term invented during the early days of the WTO and quickly forgotten) “of countries that have a shared vision of their attributes and values” and “a shared vision of the Indo-Pacific... as a free, open, transparent [and] inclusive [region].” The QUAD does everything from “dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic” and “supply[ing]...vaccines” to “working on new and emerging technologies” and dealing with “climate change, infrastructure, maritime security, education, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In short, the foursome will do everything except what we had supposed they would do—take on China. Pray, are the chaps in Beijing getting cheesed off with these boy-scouts who are running around with vaccines, getting kids to schools and distributing food and blankets in refugee camps?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And AUKUS? Well, that, according to Shringla, “is a security alliance between three countries. We are not party to this alliance.” Of course, sir. If we were a party, it would have been called AUKIUS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us spare our poor diplomats. They are in a tizzy because the AUKUS shock was delivered only a week prior to the Quad’s first in-person meeting for which they had been getting their English composition (as Pervez Musharraf once mocked at meaningless diplomatic joint statements) ready. The poor souls had to rework it all and save four faces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karl Marx—it is a fashion to denounce him these days—said, history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Dead right! Dealing with America was a farce when it was ruled by Donald Trump. Dealing with America is becoming a tragedy when it is being ruled by Biden, a guy who naively surrendered Afghanistan back to the Taliban when he was winning the war. Are we counting on him to take the lead in keeping the dragon behind the Great Wall?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Good people, we are on our own! America’s business, as Calvin Coolidge said, is business. Biden will do it with Beijing too, if the bucks are good. Even with the Taliban, for thirty or more silvers. Don’t take my word; ask Ashraf Ghani.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Sep 30 15:08:45 IST 2021 forget-two-misses-grab-this-third-chance-to-woo-pashtuns-writes-r-prasannan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Do you still get the books of Olaf Caroe, C.E. Yate and Frank Martin in Delhi?”—a bookseller whispered in my ear while I was rummaging through a second-hand bookshop in Kabul in the winter of 2001. He was afraid of being overheard by the Taliban who had fled the city three days earlier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was puzzled. Why was a Kabuli kitabwala at the turn of the 21st century asking for books on Afghanistan and the frontier people written by British colonial officers?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An Indian diplomat explained to me later. Hundreds of copies of those books, reprinted in Delhi’s Daryaganj allegedly on the R&amp;AW’s orders (some say, the KGB’s), had been dumped in Afghanistan on the eve of the Soviet exit in the late 1980s. The sight made Pakistan’s ISI see red not just over the Durand Line, but all over the snows of the Hindukush.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The books contained no state secrets, but only some history, anthropology, sociology and ethnology of the 30-odd major Pashtun (Pathan or Pakhtun, if you please) tribes who straddle the Af-Pak border, which was once the frontier of British India. A few had references to the line that Sir Mortimer Durand (see Tailpiece) had drawn in 1893 on a map that he had attached to a one-page deed between British India and Amir Abdul Rahman Khan of Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Durand Line is said to have been drawn arbitrarily, only to indicate a convenient limit up to which the mutually suspicious British Indian and Afghan regimes may extend their strategic reach, and not as a border of sovereignty. Both regimes left the frontier tribes on both sides to themselves, their laws, customs and practices, letting them cross the line wherever they wanted as long as they didn’t let the armies of the other side pass.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s book assault, launched a hundred years later, just when the Afghans were kicking out the Russian invaders, was said to have been okayed by Rajiv Gandhi. It was meant to remind the Afghans, who were rebuilding their nation-state, that they had claims to large swathes of Pashtun territory to the east of the Durand Line. But before the Pashtun tribal-nationalist spirits could be kindled, Pakistan’s ISI, already having ‘mujahideened’ the Pashtun minds against the Soviets, inflamed their clannish passions with religious bigotry. The cocktail of religion and tribalism, stirred with the barrels of Kalashnikov, proved lethal not only to Afghanistan and to India’s Kashmir, but to the world itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was the second chance India missed to befriend the Pashtuns. The first was at the time of Partition when Mahatma Gandhi’s friend Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan led an incredibly non-violent movement among the feud-loving Pashtuns against merging their land with Islamist Pakistan. India-loving Pashtuns in Kabul, including Hamid Karzai, still swear that they were let down by India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, a third chance has come up. The Afghans are rebuilding their state for the umpteenth time. There are again stirrings of pan-Pashtunism among sections of the frontier tribes. Will the Narendra Modi regime reach out to them, as India had reached out to the Tajiks, the Uzbeks and the Hazaras all these years, and kindle their values of Pashtunwali in place of religious bigotry?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Apart from the famous border line, Mortimer Durand, who was India’s foreign secretary, lent his name to Asia’s oldest (and the world’s third oldest) football tournament, too. Conscious of the value of sport in a healthy life while recovering from an illness, he started the Durand Cup at Shimla in 1888. Its 130th edition is on currently in Kolkata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Sep 16 15:04:38 IST 2021 false-claims-by-fans-bring-ridicule-on-pm-says-r-prasannan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi chaired a UN Security Council debate last week. That was the first by an Indian PM, and Modi did a decent job. He steered a debate on maritime security with the finesse of a veteran seaman, spoke like an old sea lord, and gave ideas like a statesman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi proposed a maritime panchsheel—remove all barriers to legitimate sea trade; settle maritime disputes peacefully on the basis of international law; encourage responsible maritime connectivity; combat sea threats posed by non-state actors and natural calamities collectively; and preserve maritime environment and resources. Most of the world applauded; the Chinese, pioneers of panchsheel diplomacy and violators of maritime laws, listened in silence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our official spin doctors did not make too much of it—neither the PM himself nor his PMO, neither the foreign office nor the information ministry. All were restrained and dignified in their PR spins and claims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That did not restrain Modi’s social media bhakts. They have since been setting the seas on fire making such claims as—this is the first time India is heading the security council; the command of the world is in India’s hands; Turkey and Pakistan are furious; blah, blah, blah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nothing of the kind, ladies and gentlemen, he-bhakts and she-bhakts! India is still a non-permanent member of the UNSC with no veto power, and elected last year for a two-year term like ten others. We have been elected thus seven times in the past. Every one of the 15 members (5 permanent, 10 elected) gets a chance to chair the council meetings for a month. The rotation is in alphabetic order. July was France’s turn; August is India’s; and September will be Ireland’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Usually, the country’s permanent representative chairs sessions during the turn month. Thus, Benegal Narsing Rau, Rikhi Jaipal, Chinmaya Gharekhan, and the current civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri have presided at the famous horseshoe table. Gharekhan has even titled his memoirs as The Horseshoe Table.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is unprecedented is that the PM chose to preside over one debate during India’s presidency. It was a welcome departure. When a PM speaks, the world listens more intently than it would when a T.S. Tirumurti (the current permanent rep) or a Puri speaks. (No disrespect to the two men; both are diplomats nonpareil.) At a time when securing the seas is the biggest challenge after terrorism, Modi’s move gave political ballast to the debate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s problem is not the Chinese, but his own bhakts. With false claims being made in his name, they are making him look like an ek din ka sultan (see tailpiece) in the eyes of the world. They have done it earlier too. When Turkey issued postal stamps depicting every one of the 35-odd PMs and presidents who attended a G-25 meeting, they posted on social media that Modi alone was thus honoured. They waxed eloquently about Modi being “uniquely honoured” with a statue in Madame Tussauds, not knowing that several Indian PMs, and even Pakistani rulers, had been similarly wax-cast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With fans like these, Modi does not need foes like Rahul Gandhi or Mamata Banerjee. They will bring him more ridicule than the entire opposition and legions of left liberals together can.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: A water carrier helped Humayun, who was fleeing after losing the battle of Chausa, cross the Ganga on an air-filled waterbag. The grateful emperor thanked him by letting him sit on the throne for a day. The man nearly emptied the treasury by sunset. The incident gave rise to the phrase ek din ka sultan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Aug 19 15:11:28 IST 2021 if-modi-hasnt-pegassussed-critics-did-china-or-pakistan-do-it-asks-r-prasannan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Phone tapping and bugging used to be dirty games. Snoopers used to leave bugs in target offices, and cover them up with chewing-gum blobs. Janitors in high offices often spotted disgusting gum blobs over grooves and cavities on chairs, tables, shelves, sides of air-conditioners, corners of skeleton-containing cupboards, and over dead ‘flies on the walls’. Governments spent huge sums to get offices ‘swept’, phones debugged, floors scrubbed, furniture replaced, and walls painted periodically.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Spy lore has it that the IB’s debuggers found blobs on a phone cradle in the PMO when they were ‘sweeping’ the place for V.P. Singh to take over in 1989. We don’t know whether predecessor Rajiv Gandhi had been a gum-chewer, but there had been scandals—unconfirmed, of course—about spies in his PMO.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pranab Mukherjee once spotted 16 gum blobs in his finance ministry office (poor Pranab must have puked that whole night), and asked to get the room ‘swept’. Either he was being ‘tap-goofy’, as the Americans call those who are paranoid about being tapped, or his ministry, which was demanding retro-tax from overseas companies, was getting nightly visits from habitual gum-chewers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All these are old spies’ tales now, after Pegasus winged its way into our smartphones and made a clean sweep. No more of those yukky gum blobs in the nooks and crannies of office rooms. Snoopers will no longer be scraping your phone wires to make parallel connections; there won’t be any whirring sound when you make calls, no call drops or strange clicks. You don’t have to take even a missed call to get bugged. If you are a target, Pegasus will do it on you as if you had been under general anaesthesia—no pain, no stitches. You won’t know that you are being bugged, or whether you had ever been bugged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Made by Israel’s NSO Group and named after the mythical Greek winged horse that was tamed by Bellerophon, Pegasus is the world’s most advanced phone-tapping programme. It sneaks into the target’s smartphone, infects any app in the device, listens to the target’s calls and posts, picks up all his data, transmits all that to its controller, and yet remains invisible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So far so smart. But just like the winged horse was spotted by a village lad who guided Bellerophon to seize and tame it, a poor rights activist in the UAE got an anonymous phone message examined by Citizen Lab, a digital rights watchdog, and discovered Pegasus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A media consortium has now stumbled on a database that lists more than 50,000 people across the world as possibly being pegasussed. Much to the distress of the Narendra Modi government, several of its critics in the opposition, the media and civil society, as also some of the suspect ministers, civil servants and a lady who had accused a former top judge of harassing her for sex, figure in it. The opposition is now crying hoarse over the horse, and seeking a Parliament discussion and a probe, but Modi’s ministers ask: where’s proof?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Therein lies the opposition’s problem: how can one dig out proof about an entity whose USP is that it leaves no proof?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But they have a counter: the NSO has sworn on all that is holy that it sells the spyware only to governments. If it is not the Indian government that has pegassussed its critics, then who? China, Pakistan, or any other? In that case, isn’t it all the more incumbent on the government to order a probe?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, why should Xi Jinping or Imran Khan spend millions to spy on a poor court clerk in India who had accused a chief justice of sexual harassment?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Aug 06 17:47:45 IST 2021 under-modi-2-0-goms-are-back-in-debating-more-issues-r-prasannan0 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The more things change, the more they stay the same, wrote French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in 1849. Rings true of the Narendra Modi government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi came to power deriding the Manmohan Singh team that was a bloated behemoth with 79 ministers, and promising maximum governance with minimum government. Now, seven years later, we are not sure whether governance has been getting maximum under Modi, but his ministry is getting maximal and mammoth-like with 77 ministers—the third largest in 30 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi also came in mocking at Manmohan’s committee governance, which was blamed for the UPA’s policy paralysis. Manmohan, if you recall, used to form committees and groups of ministers (some empowered to take decisions, the rest recommendatory) at every drop of the Sensex. Apart from the about ten standing committees of the cabinet, such as political affairs, economic affairs, parliamentary affairs and security, which had existed under various names since Nehru’s time, he used to form GoMs and empowered GoMs for tackling ticklish issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>UPA-2 had a total 68 GoMs and 14 EGoMs, which reviewed fertiliser policy, sought ways to help Bhopal gas victims, monitored Commonwealth Games preparations, debated whether hijackers should be put to death, wondered how to settle the dues of the long-extinct Delhi Electricity Supply Undertaking, looked for a spot to erect a war memorial, and checked whether petrol and ethanol made good auto-cocktail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within a week of becoming PM, Modi abolished all the GoMs—empowered and enfeebled—so as to “expedite the process of decision-making... The ministries and departments will now process the issues pending before the EGoMs and GoMs, and take appropriate decisions at the level of ministries and departments itself (sic)”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within a fortnight he went for the big kill, abolishing four of the cabinet committees, rejigging the remaining five, and going for what we thought would be a lean, mean, clean and fast government. It was also thought that the move would restore the authority of the cabinet in decision-making.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Easier said than decided or done. As the cares of governance gathered into crises, Modi too looked for committees. Informal groups were formed initially; soon they were formalised and even notified as ‘alternative mechanisms’—one to sell minority stakes in sarkari companies, one to oversee bank mergers, one to examine the juvenile justice Act, one to monitor Ganga cleaning, and so on. It is another matter that Arun Jaitley, who headed most of them, could not once tell us as to what they were ‘alternatives’ to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Modi-2 the ‘alternative’ camouflage, too, is off. The GoMs are back in sitting, debating more issues, minuting more notes, drinking more tea, and making more recommendations. One group in 2019 got the Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation to import onions, another looked at how water pipes could be laid to all homes, a third worried how to stop mob lynching and so on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cabinet committees, too, are alive, expanded and talking, with more members in most of them after the recent reshuffle. By the last count on July 20, Modi has eight cab-coms—political affairs, economic affairs, security, investment, and employment and skills headed by himself, parliamentary affairs (Rajnath Singh) and accommodation (Amit Shah).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The eighth is the committee on appointments with only the PM and Amit Shah in it. This committee, which decides on appointments of joint secretary and above, does not meet physically. Decisions are taken by passing the files.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Jul 22 19:27:38 IST 2021