R. Prasannan http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan.rss en Wed Nov 02 11:35:51 IST 2022 https://www.theweek.in/privacy-an-settlement.html assam-cm-himanta-biswa-sharma-bjp-northeast-campaigns <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/03/assam-cm-himanta-biswa-sharma-bjp-northeast-campaigns.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/2022/12/3/14-PM-Modi-and-Assam-CM-Sarma-new.jpg" /> <p>Himanta Biswa Sarma is credited with delivering not only Assam but most of the northeast to Narendra Modi. Great job, considering the BJP had never set foot in the northeast earlier. Since then he has helped capture Maharashtra; he gave Eknath Shinde's rebel MLAs a safe house. Critics say, his agents are active in Jharkhand and other opposition states spreading disaffection, currency and coup prospects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one knows how true these tales are, but he did execute a coup last week. He turned a centuries-old federal political narrative upside down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First a tale of emperors. The men who have sat on the Delhi throne have always coveted the distant marches—the Deccan, Rajputana, Kashmir, Punjab, Malwa, Saurashtra, Bengal and so on. Mediaeval Indian history is full of tales of how the fortunes of the sultans and padshahs of Delhi swelled and ebbed as they won and lost these regions. When it was a win, the campaign commander was invested with the satrapy. When satraps revolted, empires declined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sarma's walkout from the Congress, too, had an imperial setting. Once when he walked into Rahul Gandhi's court in 2016 to air his woes, he found the crown prince keener on feeding his dog. A perfect Mughal tale of a satrap's revolt after being insulted in the imperial court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political pundits in post-Independence India have been drawing on such tales when they had to describe the poll prospects of big parties in provinces. A victory or a loss for a national party (the Congress, most times) in a state poll was likened to an emperor (a Mughal, most times) winning or losing a province. Thus the eastern marches have been on Modi's look-out ever since he was elected to the Delhi throne.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sarma snatched Assam from the Congress and delivered it to Modi. Then as convener of the BJP-led Northeast Democratic Alliance, he delivered most of the region, including the communist redoubt of Tripura. Like a victorious commander being rewarded with a satrapy, Sarma was invested with the CMship of Assam, though after a one-term delay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, the imperial narrative did not suit the BJP's nationalistic mythology wherein the sultans and padshahs of Delhi are invaders with black beards. Last week, Sarma used the 400th birth anniversary of the Ahom hero Lachit Barphukan to turn the tale around into one of a provincial champion fending off the sultans with black beards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Barphukan saga is indeed a tale of grit, glory and gore of the Ahoms, a people who had never been conquered by any of the Delhi suzerains. (The British were ruling from Bengal when they annexed Assam in the 19th century.) Barphukan was the commander of the Ahom army that launched a surprise naval attack from the Brahmaputra on the Mughals at Saraighat in 1671 and routed them. To Sarma, “It was a victory that saved the identity and civilisation of Assam and northeast India from Mughal subjugation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Neutral historians may carp that the Mughal army was led by a Hindu, Barphukan was a follower of the Tai Ahom faith, the Ahom army had many Muslim commanders, and so on. But Sarma, undaunted, was in Delhi last week, painting the imperial capital in Ahom colours, complete with street posters and full-page ads in newspapers showing Barphukan's brilliant victory. There were songs, stage plays, a book release and a documentary screening in the Vigyan Bhavan where a three-day show wound down on November 24, with the prime minister and the home minister joining it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In between Sarma found time to join the BJP's star-studded roadshows in the city's municipal polls! I guess, there is no way stopping the man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/03/assam-cm-himanta-biswa-sharma-bjp-northeast-campaigns.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/03/assam-cm-himanta-biswa-sharma-bjp-northeast-campaigns.html Sun Dec 04 14:09:42 IST 2022 the-need-for-birth-control-in-india <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/25/the-need-for-birth-control-in-india.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/2022/11/25/13-People-people-everywhere-new.jpg" /> <p>The world's eight-billionth baby was born on November 15. There were two claimants—one born in the Philippines, the other in the Dominican Republic. Whoever is declared the winner, a grave in Bath Abbey in England would have shaken at the moment of their birth—the grave of Thomas Robert Malthus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malthus had said two centuries ago that humans multiply in geometric progression while resources multiply in arithmetic progression. If it were true, these two babies should have been born long ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Was Malthus wrong? No! He was right; his prediction went wrong because he predicted it. Confused?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Certain predictions in economics are like predictions in the quantum world. Quantum scientists say, when you measure a proton's position, the act of measuring affects its quantum state. Similarly, certain predictions in economics get disproved because they have been predicted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The worst happened to Karl Marx. He predicted that just as primitive communism gave way to slavery, slavery to feudalism, and feudalism to capitalism, capitalism will inevitably give way to communism because of the contradictions within the capitalist order. This prediction, and the forced arrival of Lenin's communism in Russia, alarmed western regimes. Britain, where Marx said the revolution would come first, quickly introduced minimum wages, fixed working hours, old-age pension, labour bureaus, workmen insurance, free schools and school meals for the poor. John Maynard Keynes theorised these into welfare economics; Franklin Roosevelt implemented these in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the proletariat began to get petit bourgeois comforts of life, they worked better, produced more, helped make more profits, got better wages and forgot Marx. In short, if Marx had not predicted it, who knows, the world would have been communist by now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similar has been the fate of Malthus's prophecy. In the days when Malthus lived, people made babies in dozens, and blessed newly weds in the way God blessed Noah and his sons: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Malthus' doomsday warning alarmed rulers and thinkers. Gradually, they found ways for farmers to grow more crops (dams, canals, better seeds, better manure, better weedkillers...) and for people to make fewer babies (vasectomy, tubectomy, the pill, condoms and more).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both were introduced in India during the Indira Gandhi regime. If Indira launched the green revolution by which crops multiplied geometrically, son Sanjay devised ways to make people multiply arithmetically. It is another matter that his forced cut measures backfired politically, and 'family planning' became a dirty term. Successor regimes adopted the term 'family welfare'.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, most people got the message. Mothers have since been bearing fewer babies. Better health care also helped. Today's mothers are surer about their babies' survival into teens than were mothers of yore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, India has not done enough. At the rate of 67,385 babies born every day, we will overtake China as the most populous nation next year. We ought to do something for people to make even fewer babies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem is that the moment we talk of birth control, the debate gets communal. Hindu rightists accuse Muslims of procreating faster; Muslim rightists counter that government data show sharper fall in Muslims' fertility rate than among Hindus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Good people, please note! The worry is not whether there will be too many Hindus or too many Muslims. The worry is that there will be too many Indians to be fed, schooled, housed, nursed, employed, paid, pensioned and cared for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/25/the-need-for-birth-control-in-india.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/25/the-need-for-birth-control-in-india.html Sun Nov 27 12:50:00 IST 2022 how-friends-turned-foes-and-foes-friends-after-rajiv-gandhis-assassination <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/17/how-friends-turned-foes-and-foes-friends-after-rajiv-gandhis-assassination.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/2022/11/17/18-A-mercy-lesson-from-Stalin-new.jpg" /> <p>Rajiv Gandhi's assassins are walking free, thanks to the Supreme Court that thinks justice is not revenge. The convicts have suffered enough; they have been studious and virtuous while in jail; so no need to keep them behind bars any longer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The DMK is overjoyed; the Congress is peeved; the Gandhis are silent; the BJP is watching the fun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No assassination has shaken Indian polity as rudely as Rajiv's. There was no ethnic bloodbath after it, as there had been after Indira Gandhi's, but there have been political blood feuds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coalitions of convenience were made and unmade in its aftermath. Friends traded charges over it and turned foes; foes forgot old feuds and turned friends. Every government that came after it—except Narendra Modi’s—paid some price for it. One, Inder Gujral's, fell in its aftershock.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Governance became impossible for P.V. Narasimha Rao after dissidents in the party accused him of undermining the M.K. Jain Commission that was probing the plot behind the murder. They got a shot in the arm after Sonia made a seven-minute speech at Amethi, and when Priyanka made quiet appearances on the audience benches during the commission hearings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Rao forged a pact with J. Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK in the 1996 polls, Congress elders in Tamil Nadu—P. Chidambaram, G.K. Moopanar, Vazhapady Ramamurthy et al—parted ways with him, and formed the Tamil Maanila Congress. They tied up with rival DMK, which had been sympathetic to the Tigers' cause, and made the Congress-AIADMK alliance bite dust. As they joined Deve Gowda's coalition along with the DMK, the Congress was forced to support them from outside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Jain's interim report hinted at the DMK's links to the Tigers, the Congress asked Gowda's successor Gujral to drop the DMK ministers. Gujral refused, the Congress pulled the rug, and Gujral fell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His successor, A.B. Vajpayee, had to quit after a year when ally Jayalalithaa withdrew support over his refusal to dismiss the DMK regime in Tamil Nadu. Vajpayee won the 1999 election, made friends with the DMK, and inducted DMK men into his cabinet. But when Vajpayee refused to repeal the anti-terror law POTA, the DMK quit the cabinet a few months before the 2004 polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By now the Gandhis had turned merciful. Priyanka visited convict Nalini in prison in a bid to “make peace with the violence and loss that I have experienced”. Sonia pleaded with president K.R. Narayanan to show mercy and spare the convicts from the gallows. In 2004, she reached out to the DMK, forgetting all the feuds. Their grand alliance with other parties scored a suprise victory over Vajpayee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The alliance stayed strong till 2013 when the DMK wanted the Congress-led regime to join a UN vote condemning the Lankan regime's “war crimes” against the Lankan Tigers. Manmohan Singh refused, the DMK pulled out of the coalition, but the government stayed. The next year, the Congress-led UPA lost the polls to Narendra Modi's BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The release has come at a time when the Congress and the DMK have become friends again. They fought the assembly polls together, and Stalin was there at the Cape to see off Rahul on his long march. Now the Congress has blotted the copybook. Its leaders jumped to condemn the release, even as most Tamils were celebrating.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Luckily for the Congress, the Gandhis and Stalin have been discreet. The former are keeping quiet. Stalin, instead of joining issue with his allies, has skilfully steered the issue to his own issues with the governor who had refused his plea to release the convicts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If that isn't statesmanship, what is?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/17/how-friends-turned-foes-and-foes-friends-after-rajiv-gandhis-assassination.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/17/how-friends-turned-foes-and-foes-friends-after-rajiv-gandhis-assassination.html Sun Nov 20 15:19:43 IST 2022 reservation-quota-in-india <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/11/reservation-quota-in-india.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/2022/11/11/16-One-step-forward-new.jpg" /> <p>There lived a poor Brahmin on the banks of the Ganga—so poor that he could not provide one square meal a day for his wife and children. One day a wealthy farmer who owned a thousand cows took pity on him, and...</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus go several Panchatantra stories. Mythology gives you better tales. Call the poor pundit Sudama, and the wealthy cow-owner Krishna. Presto! you get one of the finest stories of class reunion ever told, where two schoolmates meet in their middle age, and recall their innocent prank of stealing each other's lunch-box.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why am I telling fables here? Hold on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mythology so far: in the early days of our Constitution, there were job and seat quotas for the scheduled castes and tribes, who had been deprived of schools and jobs over centuries. The logic was: since their forefathers had been poor and deprived, they had not got the chance to go to school, and they could not compete with the guys coming from well-schooled and well-connected elite homes. It was only natural and historical justice that a few seats and jobs be kept for them so that they could get into positions of power, and join the power elite.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1990 V.P. Singh unleashed the Mandal revolution by which jobs and seats were reserved for backward castes, too. The Supreme Court upheld the move, but stipulated that caste quotas should not exceed half the seats available.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mandal provoked the forward castes to protest. Critics of caste quotas pointed to the “poor Brahmin” stories to demolish the argument that upper castes have always enjoyed entitlements. If they enjoyed entitlements since the age of Bhagavata Purana, Panchatantra and Manusmriti, how could those stories feature Brahmins who were poor, and Yadavs who went to school and prospered in life?—they asked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narasimha Rao defused what would have turned into a caste war by refusing quotas to the rich (creamy layer) among the backwards, and privatising the economy. In effect, he told the upper castes to leave the ill-paying sarkari jobs to the Mandalised masses, and make more money from the liberalised economy. It worked—as long as economies did well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But private economies are fickle. A run on a funding firm in the US, a meltdown in the far east, a pandemic, or a war in Ukraine would bring down stock prices, turn profits into losses, throw tycoons into penury, cut pay cheques, and chuck out millions from white- and blue-collar jobs. While such things happened off and on, the government, which had been getting richer with revenues, kept hiking staff wages all along.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That sent the socio-economic debate over job quotas back to square one. As private jobs became uncertain, and sarkari jobs stayed well-paid and stable, the upper castes turned restive again. Castes that were deemed forward—Marathas, Jats, Patidars et al—sought job quotas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, Parliament amended the Constitution reserving 10 per cent college seats and government jobs for the poor among the forwards. Most parties—the rightists, leftists and centrists—said aye. A few days back, the Supreme Court upheld the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most are celebrating, but few realise the paradigm shift that the judgment brings about. Quotas were for castes and classes till now, they will now be for individuals. Class, well-heeled or deprived, is no longer the central point of the quota discourse; the individual, rich or poor, is. Quotas will become dynamic. Entitlements will change with every rupee one earns. And the 10 per cent limit could be temporary. Is it good or bad? Let jurists, sociologists, economists, law-makers decide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/11/reservation-quota-in-india.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/11/reservation-quota-in-india.html Fri Nov 11 15:47:04 IST 2022 arvind-kejriwals-problem-is-not-money-he-wants-an-ideology <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/04/arvind-kejriwals-problem-is-not-money-he-wants-an-ideology.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/2022/11/4/14-Gods-on-currency-new.jpg" /> <p>Arvind Kejriwal has found a way to save the rupee—print images of Gods Ganesha or Lakshmi on the notes. If Islamic Indonesia can print a Ganesha image on their 20,000-rupee note, why can't Hindu-majority India? he asks. By Mammon and Kubera! So, the US dollar is staying strong not because of all the gold in Fort Knox, but because every bill or coin bears the words “In God we trust”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The divine dollar didn't give the million-rupee idea to Kejriwal. My guess is, the streetsmart CM got it from the well-swept streets of Delhi. Delhi's home-owners place pictures of gods on their street walls and in staircase corners so as to prevent them from being defiled with paan-spit and worse. The trick works better than statutory warnings and Swachch Bharat messages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what works for street walls and corridor corners need not work for currency notes. Any money-changer in Daryaganj would tell you that Indonesia's Ganesha-guarded 20,000 rupee is worth only 106 Gandhi-headed, RBI governor-guaranteed, Indian rupees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal may not know this, but his idea had been tried by a few mediaeval kings. Two were Muslim. Akbar minted coins that showed Ram and Sita. The other—now Kejriwal should be kicking himself—was Muhammad Ghori, that Afghan who defeated Delhi's last Hindu king Prithviraj and, going by Rajput folklore, gouged out his eyes. Before seating his ex-slave Qutbuddin Aibak on the throne of Delhi, Ghori issued coins showing Goddess Lakshmi. Pray, should Modi's mint of 2022 be doing what Ghori's mint did in 1192?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal's problem is not money. He wants an ideology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All parties have an ideology—left, right, centrist, sectarian, nationalistic, etc—or a regional identity. To that extent, the AAP has not been a 'political' party, but a 'civic' party. It practises not politics, but civics—especially the civics of what citizens ought to get from the state, and ought to give the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This worked in the middle-class civic polity of Delhi, where civic problems are more pronounced in electoral discourse than are political issues. Breaking out into Punjab and now Gujarat, Kejriwal needs an ideological identity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Which to choose? Not leftist. In the binary of society versus individual, the leftists lean towards society. The AAP is individual or citizen-oriented.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not rightist. With no economic philosophy, the AAP cannot be economic rightists like the British Tories, the US Republicans or the defunct Swatantra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there are the sectarian rightists who espouse identity nationalism—the BJP, the UK Independents, France's National Rally et al.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While not being any, the AAP carries elements of all. It believes in the left's welfare policies, by which the state distributes largesse to the citizens (not necessarily to society). The free power, water, schools, transport and clinics are all largesses given away by a left-leaning administration to its citizens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Flip the coin and you find elements of classical rightism in the AAP's inclination towards individual rights. Its espousal of the right to information demanded of a state that withholds it, and its campaign against the bribe-taking clerkdom have all been rightist causes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, Kejriwal is choosing the third. He is moving towards the identity or majoritarian right. He has sacked a god-defiling minister, openly recites Hanuman chalisa, claims to share his birthday with Lord Krishna, pays for pilgrims on progress, makes a replica Ram temple in Delhi, and is now seeking gods on dimes in dozens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The million-rupee question is: Will these work in Gujarat?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/04/arvind-kejriwals-problem-is-not-money-he-wants-an-ideology.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/04/arvind-kejriwals-problem-is-not-money-he-wants-an-ideology.html Sun Nov 06 13:15:15 IST 2022 britain-new-pm-rishi-sunak-challenges-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/28/britain-new-pm-rishi-sunak-challenges-r-prasannan.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/2022/10/28/11-Get-real-with-Rishi-folks-new.jpg" /> <p>David Cameron had foretold this, once in the presence of Narendra Modi—that there would soon be a day when the monarch calls a Singh or a Patel as “my prime minister”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The day has come. Rishi Sunak has been on his way to 10 Downing Street, since Liz Truss quit in 40-odd days. The old warhorse Boris Johnson tried a trot or two; he retired on Diwali. Since then, Bob's your uncle, Rishi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Record-keepers say, Truss's has been the shortest tenure, breaking the record of George Canning (father of the first viceroy of India) who lasted 119 days in 1827. Actually, no. Britain has had PMs with shorter tenures than 'little' Liz. Lord Bath was there for two days in 1746; he couldn't find anyone to join his cabinet. Lord Waldegrave was PM for four days in 1757.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even the celebrated Arthur Wellesley (later Lord Wellington), who had earned his spurs in India and defeated Bonaparte at Waterloo, falls in this group. In 1834 he wet-nursed a cabinet for 25 days till Robert Peel returned from Europe. Later, the Iron Duke did have an actual stint of two years, but didn't leave any mark. He was a bad prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since Robert Walpole left after a 20-year reign, most British cabinets have been short-lived. Britain proves that regime stability is not a prerequisite for economic progress. Even when they were ruling a third of the world, governments were being made and unmade in weeks and months in London. In fact, they got stabler governments after they began losing global dominance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let's leave those to the British voters, and look at what we think is an India story being made in London. Sunak will be the first PM of Indian origin; he swears by the Gita; worships the cow. Cut it out; Queen Anne is dead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The big news is—Sunak will be the richest PM that Great Britain has ever had. His net worth is about £730 million, nearly 300 million more than that of Lord Derby, the richest till date. Derby had a personal fortune of over £7 million, which is about £444 million in today's money.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But before we Indians toast with the finest scotches, let's drop some ice. Personal wealth need not make great prime ministers. Derby, who had three short stints in the 1850s and 1860s, was an average performer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the contrary, some of the greatest were poorer than a church mouse in the Westminster Abbey. William Pitt, the youngest (not even 25 when he kissed the king's hand) and one of the greatest, was the poorest. He had a debt of £40,000 (now over £1 million) when he formed his first government. He is remembered for keeping Britain out of the messy politics and Napoleonic wars of continental Europe, but blocking Bonaparte in the waters around Asia and Africa, ending corruption in the East India Company, and bringing parliamentary control over its rule in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Youth also need not make one great. Lord Palmerston was past 70 when he moved into 10 Downing Street. William Gladstone was 82 when he made it the fourth time. Both are counted among the greatest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let's not delude ourselves thinking that Sunak will be good to India because he has Indian blood in his veins or because his wife is an Indian citizen. Remember, he is a loyal subject of his king and will be as good or as bad to India as any beef-eating Anglo-Saxon would be. In the haggling over free trade, he may be a tougher nut than were Johnson or Truss.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For two reasons. One, he is a better economist than they. Two, with critics watching whether he is favouring the land of his wife, he will be constantly on his toes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bob is not your father-in-law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/28/britain-new-pm-rishi-sunak-challenges-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/28/britain-new-pm-rishi-sunak-challenges-r-prasannan.html Fri Oct 28 14:20:31 IST 2022 congress-tag-for-regional-political-parties-in-india-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/21/congress-tag-for-regional-political-parties-in-india-r-prasannan.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/2022/10/21/12-Got-a-name-now-for-tags-new.jpg" /> <p>What is in a name? wondered Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet; “a lot,” would be the reply of Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao. He has renamed his Telangana Rashtra Samithi as Bharat Rashtra Samithi. The new name, many believe, should take him places, and, perhaps, catapult him to the throne of Delhi in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leaders and voters in the north should not have a problem. Good people as they are, they had lived happily through the regimes of southern leaders P.V. Narasimha Rao and H.D. Deve Gowda, and may not object to another southerner ruling India. They may even like the new name of KCR's party, but not necessarily its spelling. Northerners spell samithi as samiti, just as they call the president 'rashtrapati' while southerners call her 'rashtrapathi'. That's a minor issue of the aspirate—pun intended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Come to think of it, shouldn't we be having a national spelling before we ask for a national language? (Hindi, many may not know, is not 'the national language of India'; under the Constitution, Hindi is 'the official language of the Union', a status it enjoys alongside English.) That is a point to ponder for Amit Shah and his home ministry mandarins, the guys who mind our tongues and often get a tongue-lashing from M.K. Stalin or Pinarayi Vijayan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stalin and Vijayan could take a page from good old E.K. Nayanar's language textbook. When UP CM Mulayam Singh Yadav sent him a letter in Hindi in 1990, the Kerala CM replied in Malayalam. Tongue in check!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KCR should have no issues with language. He is the one who got India's newest state carved out on a non-linguistic platform out of the first state that was carved out on a linguistic platform. He is fairly fluent in four tongues—Telugu, English, Hindi and Urdu. That is three less than fellow-Telangani Narasimha Rao who knew Sanskrit, Marathi and Spanish, too, but was silent in all seven.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KCR has been jetting around making friends, talking in four tongues, and influencing and instigating non-BJP chieftains to form a phalanx to take on the BJP Goliath in 2024. Though a believer in things occult, he is under no notion that a mere name change would catapult him to the Delhi throne in 2024. Earlier too, provincial parties had added national tags to their names, but had not gone much far politically. Soon after splitting from the DMK in 1972, M.G. Ramachandran added All India to his Anna DMK, but stayed put in his state. N.T. Rama Rao toyed with the idea of converting his Telugu Desam to Bharat Desam, but gave it up as he got caught in the vortex of the United Front politics of V.P. Singh. Though she parted ways with the Congress as Trinamool Congress, Mamata Banerjee attached an All India tag soon but has not gone much far from her Bangla grassroots. Two years ago she quietly shed the 'Congress' tag from her party's logo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To tag or not to tag the Congress is the issue that opposition leaders can't decide. Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar, Stalin, Lalu Yadav et al think that a Congress-less coalition would be pointless, since the Congress is the only non-BJP party that still has roots or branches in most states. On the other hand, Mamata and KCR believe that the Congress tag would prove to be a millstone around their necks, since their fight in their own states is as much with the Congress as it is with the BJP. The others are yet to make up their minds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Either way, the road ahead looks like what Saint Nizamuddin Auliya said when he heard that Sultan Ghiyazuddin Tughlaq was riding to Delhi with murder on his mind: Dilli hanoz duur ast (Delhi is still distant).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/21/congress-tag-for-regional-political-parties-in-india-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/21/congress-tag-for-regional-political-parties-in-india-r-prasannan.html Fri Oct 21 16:41:32 IST 2022 how-mulayam-singh-yadav-muted-an-air-force-mutiny-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/14/how-mulayam-singh-yadav-muted-an-air-force-mutiny-r-prasannan.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/2022/10/14/10-Mulayum-Singh-Yadav-new.jpg" /> <p>Those of us who walked into the Navy's Kota House mess for a quickly-called afternoon tea with the three military chiefs were shocked to see the defence minister, too, waiting for us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It had been a turbulent week. The IAF's transport pilots were upset that fighter pilots would be paid Rs10,000 more a month, as advised by the 5th pay panel. The reason: flying IAF's old fighters was risky.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fighters fly in safe skies, protested transport pilots. We fly risky missions every day, dropping stuff over peaks and jungles in rain, mist, sandstorm, and in airless Siachen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since soldiers cannot protest in public, their wives took to the streets, picketing air bases, blocking flag cars. The press reported it all, at times as 'mutiny'. It was then that media director Swagata Ghosh called us to tea with the chiefs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The chiefs briefed us in detail, admitting their failure to foresee the angst in an officer's mind when he sees a brother-officer getting 10,000 more in his pay cheque (a television set cost Rs5,000 then). A committee would review the matter, they told us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, Mulayam took over in his accented Hindi. “Friends, we are a free country. You can report anything if true. I have no authority to stop you. But I am making a request as one who knows most of you personally. The chiefs tell me that the English word 'mutiny' is a dangerous term in the context of the armed forces. I request you, please don't use that word.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Believe me, none of us used the term after that. Slowly, the issue got defused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was Mulayam Singh. No expert in matters military, yet he deftly ran a difficult ministry for two years with his abundant common sense. It helped him handle strategic issues. When prime minister I.K. Gujral came under pressure from the US to give up our missile programme on the ground that Pakistan posed no threat, Mulayam took an An-32 to Leh, landed in the Siachen base camp, and asked the troops who had been restrained: “What are you waiting for?” As guns opened up on the world's highest battlefield, not even Bill Clinton could ask Gujral to spike his missiles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Common sense and political deftness had enabled Mulayam to rise as the Janata Dal's chief minister in Uttar Pradesh against the wishes of V.P. Singh in 1989. Though initially cool, Mulayam picked up V.P.'s Mandal card, and paired it with his minorityism to take on the Ayodhya-charioteering L.K. Advani, and to shoot down the kar sevaks from atop the Babri mosque domes in 1990.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Great Gambler of the Gangetic Plain loved taking risks, but always under an insurance cover. His anti-BJP politics in the 1990s was covered with a secular-left insurance policy given by his friend, the communist grandmaster Harkishan Singh Surjeet who helped make and unmake anti-BJP coalitions. The two fell apart when Mulayam felt slighted after Surjeet took his aide Amar Singh uninvited to Sonia Gandhi's dinner, where he was given a cold-salad look.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mulayam's suppressed anger burst forth when Sonia, who was trying to make a government after bomb-maker A.B. Vajpayee's government fell for lack of one vote in 1999, slighted him again. Watching her on television referring to him as just “Mulayam Singh”, with neither a 'ji' nor a 'Shri', and not even a 'Mr', a seething Mulayam ranted and railed at Surjeet, and refused to support Sonia's bid to make a government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rest is history. With no one able to make a government, president K.R. Narayanan ordered polls, and Vajpayee returned with a bigger mandate. Later, Mulayam would have his revenge on the communists, by deftly supporting nuclear-dealer Manmohan Singh against the wishes of the left.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/14/how-mulayam-singh-yadav-muted-an-air-force-mutiny-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/14/how-mulayam-singh-yadav-muted-an-air-force-mutiny-r-prasannan.html Sun Oct 16 14:09:52 IST 2022 5g-hare-and-an-old-tortoise <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/08/5g-hare-and-an-old-tortoise.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/2022/10/8/14-5G-hare-and-an-old-tortoise-new.jpg" /> <p>It is transition time on this page, where Sachidananda Murthy has been engaging and enlightening you with his 'PowerPoint'. With his deep insight into national and global issues, spectacularly large perspective, and an uncanny ability to explain complex matters of statecraft in lucid language, he had made this one of the turn-to pages in THE WEEK. He has chosen to retire, take more care of his health, spend more time with his loving wife, read more books, watch more movies, listen to more music, and have more fun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now Philip Mathew, editor of THE WEEK, has tasked me, who has been going round the mulberry bush called 'PMO Beat', to take you on a cross-country 'PowerDrive'. We may stray overseas occasionally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The title, as you have guessed, has been chosen to signal continuity with change. The column will continue to be about power, the elixir of political life that charges up our elderly netas like Ashok Gehlot to drive faster than a young pilot. So hop in, ladies and gentlemen; let's go for a test drive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Come to think of it, this is the right time to start a column called PowerDrive, just after Narendra Modi has renamed India's driveway of power which India's most powerful men and women drive up and down every day, as Kartavyapath. That is part of his party's plan to construct a new narrative of nationalism where the 'shameful' legacies of colonial India would be erased, but where the memories of the ancient—real and imaginary—would be glorified. What about the medieval of the Khiljis, the Tughlaqs and the Mughals? Well, was there such an age?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi is on a shock-and-awe drive, not just down the Kartavyapath, but across India announcing, opening, and launching projects and programmes that should get him votes. At times, he is hitting even the rail tracks. Last week he rode a new fast train from Gandhinagar to Kalupur, and then travelled back on a metro. Sitting in Delhi in the weekend, he crossed over into 5G speed—can be up to 10gbps—test-driving a car parked in Sweden.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His party president, the genteel J.P. Nadda, is on a cross-country, exhorting party leaders to get the BJP lotus a mud-hold in 144 seats which it had narrowly missed winning in 2019. His partymen are said to have told him about 1.1 lakh booths which need special attention. Nadda told them to make route maps into a few thousand of those booths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nadda's first term as party president is ending in January, but no one in the BJP is talking about a succession issue. Clearly, the good gent is assured of a second term, which party rules permit. That lets him have the peace of mind to address 1.1 lakh problems at the same time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem is a bit paradoxical in the Congress, which seems to be driving without a GPS device or even a compass. It has a designated Prince of Wales, or Yuvaraj as we in India that is Bharat would like to say, but he doesn't want the crown. He is on a slow power-march from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and beyond to Ladakh. That, he hopes, should energise the party's foot soldiers and well-wishers into a power drive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But then, the Congress's problem is not a lack of cadre or well-wishers. The latter are there in millions, and the cadre will come back if the warlords stop fighting among themselves and focus on people's issues. Rahul ought to address this on his long walk, which otherwise may look more like Chandra Sekhar's futile foot march than Mao Zedong's long march to power. And by the time the walker reaches what he thinks is his path of duty or Kartavyapath, he may miss the bus too. Voters may say, take a walk.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/08/5g-hare-and-an-old-tortoise.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/08/5g-hare-and-an-old-tortoise.html Sun Oct 09 15:15:25 IST 2022 how-diplomats-and-statesmen-read-too-much-between-the-lines <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/09/30/how-diplomats-and-statesmen-read-too-much-between-the-lines.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/2022/9/30/17-Peace-Putin-Please-new.jpg" /> <p>These westerners are crazy. Through the last seven months of the war in Ukraine, they had been putting Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the dock. Now they are patting him on the back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, Modi didn't do any of the things that Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron or Liz Truss had been wanting him to do. He didn't condemn Vladimir Putin, didn't send guns for Volodimir Zelenskyy, continued to buy oil from Russia, and went on with business as usual with Moscow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What then has Modi done that has made him a dear to the west? Little. He uttered a few words of estrangement to Putin in front of television cameras. He told Putin, when they met for the Shanghai gang's conclave in Samarkand, that “today's era is not of war”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one would quarrel. Indeed, what Modi said is true, but isn't it also a truism? After all, even if he thought to the contrary, would Modi have said that this is a time for war? In short, Modi didn't say anything that would have set the Dnieper, the Danube or the Volga on fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But these diplomats and statesmen are like that—they read too much between the lines, look for meanings in greetings, toast over sweet nothings, and trip over commas in the wrong place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So did the western world. “Modi is right,” cried Macron of France. In Washington, Biden's national security aide Jake Sullivan hailed Modi's words as “a statement of principle on behalf of what he believes is right and just,” (what's that again?) and that “this is a message that every country should be sending”. British foreign secretary James Cleverly said Modi had “a powerful and influential voice on the world stage” and hoped that “Vladimir Putin listens...”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Did Putin listen? In the melee, they all missed that one crucial point—that Putin didn't say da or nyet to Modi. Worse, what the guy did next was more than enough to signal that he had other plans. He flew back to Moscow, and called out the reservists. If that isn't an all-hands-on-deck call, what else is?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin's writings on the blood-splattered walls of Mariupol are fairly clear: the boys won't be home for Christmas—even for Russian Christmas. Russia's Orthodox Church, if you don't know, hasn't yet recognised Pope Gregory XIII's calendar, and celebrates Christmas on January 7.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, the point is that the nasty war will go on. Or, would it? On second thoughts, was Putin actually listening to Modi's words? Optimists point to the referendums that Putin has ordered in Luhansk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk, the regions that his troops have occupied. The folks who live there are being asked whether they want to secede to Russia with their homes, hearths and scorched earth. If they say da, Putin will take the territory, declare victory, and end his force march much before even the December Christmas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact is that the folks who live on and off those lands don't need a gun on their back to say da to Putin. Most of them are Russian settlers or their progeny, and would like to be ruled by Moscow rather than Kiev.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem is that the west has denounced the vote as a sham. They would say the folk had voted with guns pointed at their heads, refuse to uphold the outcome, and continue to get guns for 'San' Zelenskyy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What would Modi do then? Tell Biden, Macron and Truss, too, that this is not an era for war? Would they listen?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TAILPIECE:</b> Though she stayed neutral publicly, Indira Gandhi privately pulled up Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin for invading Afghanistan. “You brought the Cold War to our doorsteps,” she told him, records I.K. Gujral in his memoirs. Later, when Leonid Brezhnev asked her how he could get out of Afghanistan, she bluntly told him: “The same way you went in.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/09/30/how-diplomats-and-statesmen-read-too-much-between-the-lines.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/09/30/how-diplomats-and-statesmen-read-too-much-between-the-lines.html Fri Sep 30 11:42:48 IST 2022 why-the-greatest-legacy-of-monarchical-britain-is-parliamentary-democracy <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/09/17/why-the-greatest-legacy-of-monarchical-britain-is-parliamentary-democracy.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/2022/9/17/54-Elizabeth-new.jpg" /> <p>Elizabeth Regina Secunda missed a letter by four years. Had she lived till 100, she would have had to write to herself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her grandfather, George V, the guy whose statue used to stand near India Gate (where Netaji Bose stands now), started a practice of the monarch greeting the subject on his or her 100th birthday with a telegram or a letter, and then one on every birthday after 105. With about 700 people in the UK turning 105 every year, and several more 100, the old girl used to write about 14,000 birthday greeting letters every year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is such traditions that keep the British royalty linked to the people, have helped their monarchy to outlive their empire, and also survive the nasty scandals in the tabloid-ruled modern world. Elizabeth followed those with élan. As Narendra Modi tweeted, “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will be remembered as a stalwart of our times.... She personified dignity and decency in public life.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In England they say, the king is dead, long live the king. In the days of decolonisation, many had predicted that monarchy would not survive the 20th century. Farouk, the last king of Egypt, predicted differently. He said five kings would survive into the 21st—the kings of hearts, spades, clubs, diamonds and England.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both predictions have been off the mark. There still are a few monarchs hanging around in Europe, but none who is as envied as the British whose empire rose in an Elizabethan age and ended in another. It was Elizabeth I who gave the charter to the East India Company to trade with and profit from the east. By then she had built a powerful navy, some of its fleets led by buccaneer-admirals, that would soon rule the world's waters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the British left India during George VI's reign, it was during his daughter Elizabeth's reign that the sun really set on the empire. No tears. New suns of liberty rose in the old colonies, where people began to rule themselves with liberal laws. Ironic it may sound, but the greatest legacy of monarchical Britain has been the ideas of parliamentary democracy and liberal law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, a few did not last long as democracies. Among those that did, India turned out to be the finest, where people continue to vote in good governments and vote out the bad. We, too, have a bicameral parliament like in England, one of them seating popularly elected members, a Prime Minister-led executive that is accountable to the house, a head of state aided and advised by that executive, a legal system that accords parity between the mighty state and the common man when they are engaged in adversarial jousts, and a common law system that respects decrees made by similar courts earlier and elsewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A whole lot of our parliamentary practices, especially concerning the relationship between the head of state, the executive and the legislature, have evolved from British practices. The president addressing the joint houses, the lower house having primacy in deciding on money bills, quaint practices such as the leader of the house and the opposition escorting a new speaker to the chair (in England, they drag him, a custom that began after 17th century kings vented their anger on speakers for Parliament's hostile decisions), voice votes being taken as 'ayes' and 'nays'—these and several more have evolved from the days of the Magna Carta, through the English civil war, their brief fling with Oliver Cromwell's republicanism, the Glorious Revolution, and the age of Georgian lethargy when kings resigned themselves to reigning, and prime ministers started ruling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/09/17/why-the-greatest-legacy-of-monarchical-britain-is-parliamentary-democracy.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/09/17/why-the-greatest-legacy-of-monarchical-britain-is-parliamentary-democracy.html Sat Sep 17 10:48:35 IST 2022 blaming-an-sp-for-leaving-pm-stranded-on-highway-wont-resolve-vvip-security-issues <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/09/03/blaming-an-sp-for-leaving-pm-stranded-on-highway-wont-resolve-vvip-security-issues.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/2022/9/3/17-A-fouled-up-road-show-new.jpg" /> <p>Finally they have found the fall guy in the Ferozepur fiasco—a superintendent of police. His ineptitude had led to the prime minister having had to spend 20 nail-biting minutes sitting in a car on a highway on a cold day, while angry farmers were blocking the road in Ferozepur district last winter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was no trivial matter. The prime minister of India is one of the most threatened—therefore most protected—persons in the world. His safety and security are of prime importance to the country. Taking it lightly was a serious lapse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But did it need the judicial majesty of the Supreme Court to find the fall guy?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, there was a blame game between the Congress-ruled Punjab and the BJP-ruled Centre, but neither the Centre nor the state had gone to court to get the dispute settled. The court acted upon a public interest petition, took the consent of both parties, appointed a probe committee headed by a retired judge and ordered both governments to shut up and part with every shred of paper and every bit of digital byte relating to the matter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The committee submitted its report last week in a sealed cover. The court opened it, read out parts of the report, put it back in the cover, resealed the cover and asked the registry to tell the Centre about it. The government can take it, read it, accept or reject the suggestions and perhaps amend or update the blue book.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pray, what great constitutional or statutory issue was involved in this so as to agitate the wisest judicial minds of India? Such lapses have occurred often, and the home ministry and the Special Protection Group have taken corrective measures. The worst was in 2006 when a pilot vehicle guided former prime minister Manmohan Singh's carcade into a bylane with a dead end in Thiruvananthapuram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court could at least have used the chance to clear up the federal fog in the Constitution, and lay down as to whose way shall prevail in case such Centre-state disputes occur again. But what the court has done now is what could have been done by the home ministry. After all, they write, erase, score out and overwrite on the pages of the blue book.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The blue book, if you don't know, lays down the details about the security given to the president, vice president and the prime minister, while the yellow book details the security given to other VIPs. It even stipulates the drill to be followed when VVIPs are in their offices, out on the street, addressing meetings, attending events, driving, walking, flying, eating, and even fasting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book says the SPG, who guard the person of the prime minister through thick and thin, day and night, rain and shine, should have a meeting with everyone who is involved in securing a PM event three days prior. Everything is finalised at the meeting—which route the PM will take, which alternate routes would be available, would he drive or fly, who all will meet him where and when.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All this was done at Ferozepur, too. It had been fixed that the prime minister would take a chopper from Bhatinda to Hussainiwala in Ferozepur district, where he was to visit a martyrs' memorial. But the weather turned bad for choppers to fly and the PM took the road. The fiasco, apparently, was that the SP hadn't secured the road as he was bound to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TAILPIECE:</b> The only time when the SPG is reported to have fired was in 2000 when a few students mobbed former prime minister Chandra Shekhar at a railway station in Ghazipur, UP. When the mob pushed its way into the coach, the guards had to fire, killing one and injuring another.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/09/03/blaming-an-sp-for-leaving-pm-stranded-on-highway-wont-resolve-vvip-security-issues.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/09/03/blaming-an-sp-for-leaving-pm-stranded-on-highway-wont-resolve-vvip-security-issues.html Sat Sep 03 10:58:49 IST 2022 count-the-gurkhas-in-for-agnipath <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/08/05/count-the-gurkhas-in-for-agnipath.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/2022/8/5/40-Agnipath-Count-the-Gurkhas-in-new.jpg" /> <p>The fiery protests against Agnipath have died down. Prospective Agniveers are no longer torching rail locos and buses, but filling up recruitment forms and doing push-ups for physical prowess tests. Once recruited, each one will try to outdo three of his buddies so that, after the fourth year, he will be among the one-fourth who will serve for a decade and half more, and retire with a lifelong pension and perks. All the very best!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What would the three losers do? They would go home with a purse of nearly Rs12 lakh each, plus all of what they would have saved from their monthly pay. They also have the promise of preference in police and PSU jobs, and of bank loans to start garages, gadget repair shops, or small factories. All the best!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Old fauji families that have been sending their sons in thousands for naam, namak and nishan are miffed, but have accepted fait accompli. After all, a job for four years is better than no job for many years. Hope for the best.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, a new worry has come up in the strategic circles. What will the Gurkhas from Nepal do? Sending their sons to serve in the Indian Army is a 200-year-old tradition for the Gurkhas. The Anglo-Gurkha wars of 1814 and 1816 ended with the antagonists turning admirers of each other's gallantry and sense of honour. The winners refused to accept the losers' flags and guns in customary surrender. Together, they built memorials for the fallen on both sides. They did not part as friends, but stayed together as friends. The British took the Gurkhas into the Indian Army, the Indians welcomed their brothers from the hills, and the Gurkhas joined for good pay, promises of honour and prospects of adventure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At partition, most Gurkhas opted for India; a few to continue to serve the British crown. The British still take 200 Gurkhas every year for their own army and the Singapore Police. India takes about 1,300 (60 per cent of them from Nepal, the rest from India) to fill the vacancies in the 40-odd battalions who have given lives in thousands and taken lives in thousands for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All this will continue, assures the government. The Gurkhas will continue to be recruited as they used to be. One-fourth of them will be allowed to stay back and serve, and three-fourths will get the Rs12 lakh purse after four years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The worry is on three counts. One, with fewer job slots and business prospects than in India, what would the Nepal-native Gurkhas do with the Rs12 lakh? Will they, too, get bank loans, police and PSU jobs in India?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two, Nepal is earning about Rs4,200 crore a year from the pay and pension of the serving and retired Nepal-domicile Gurkhas. That is little less than Nepal's defence budget. What would Nepal do once the pension remittances dry up?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three, the 17 lakh Indian Army veteran and dependent population form a large constituency among the Nepal populace that has kept the country India-friendly, even rejecting the tempting apples being offered by China. Are we ready to risk this goodwill from Nepal, a country that Narendra Modi visited five times in eight years?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: The Gurkhas fight without rancour. The British learnt it in the first Gurkha war. While cannonading the Gurkha fort of Kallunga, they were surprised to see a door opening slightly. A man emerged waving a white flag. The commander, thinking it as the first surrender, ordered to hold fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The man walked into the British camp and asked the surgeon to repair his broken jaw. The job done, he gave a grin of gratitude and walked back saying, Let me join my buddies; they wouldn't like it if I hold up the battle for long.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/08/05/count-the-gurkhas-in-for-agnipath.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/08/05/count-the-gurkhas-in-for-agnipath.html Sun Aug 07 14:57:27 IST 2022 legacy-of-the-president-from-irwin-to-murmu <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/07/23/legacy-of-the-president-from-irwin-to-murmu.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/2022/7/23/46-From-Irwin-to-Murmu-new.jpg" /> <p>On Monday the 25th, India will get its 15th president. Counting from Lord Irwin who nauseated Winston Churchill by receiving a half-naked fakir on its steps, she will be the 21st occupant of the magnificent mansion on Raisina Hill. Droupadi Murmu's climb up those majestic steps will be another of the giant strides that India has been making towards an inclusive polity. Since its formation, the republic has been presided over by freedom fighters, politicians, educationists, three Muslims, two Dalits, a Sikh, a diplomat, a labour leader, a scientist, a philosopher, a woman, and more. Now we get a learned lady from the marginalised tribes to head the republic, to protect its Constitution, and to command its armed forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The presidency is largely symbolic, but not totally. The real power lies with the council of ministers and, in effect, with the prime minister. On most occasions she is bound by their advice. The land is ruled in her name; the laws are made in her name; the armed forces are commanded in her name. Yet, unlike the queen of England, she is not the sovereign even in name; in India, the people are. The president's real power and skills are tested when the sovereign fails to decide as to who should rule them—when they fail to give clear majority to anyone. Then the first citizen—the term and concept are American—decides for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three successive presidents faced that challenge, and all three rose to the challenge. When no one could command half the house after the 1989 polls, R. Venkataraman summoned leaders of the parliamentary parties in descending order of their strength—leader of the largest first, second largest next and so on. The first, Rajiv Gandhi, begged off from forming government; the next, V.P. Singh of Janata Dal, said yes. Take charge and prove numbers in the house, Venkataraman told him. That led to the first ever vote of confidence in the lower house. S.D. Sharma improved on it in 1996. He stacked the alliances in descending order of their size, and summoned the leader of each. Thus, A.B. Vajpayee was sworn in as PM, but quit in 13 days when he failed to show the numbers. Next came Deve Gowda; he ruled for a year. K.R. Narayanan further improved on it. Instead of looking at parties by their strength in the house, he looked at the strength of their pre-poll alliances, and also asked the claimants to show him the letters of support they had received. That led to the dramatic moment in 1998 in which Vajpayee, waiting on his toes for Jayalalithaa's letter, exclaimed: “Chitti mil gayee.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Presidents usually sign on the dotted line on bills passed by the houses, but can send them back (except money bills) for reconsideration. If the bill is passed again, she ought to sign on the line. Zail Singh found a way out of this. When he received the draconian postal bill that Rajiv Gandhi got passed by the houses, he kept it in his pocket, doing nothing. The statute does not give any time frame for the president to sign or return a bill!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Can a PM who resigned stake claim to form another government with the same house? A king of England and a president of India decided differently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Labour's Ramsay MacDonald resigned in 1931 when he feared losing majority in the house, but King George V allowed him to form another government with a Labour rump and a few from others. In 1979 Morarji Desai cited the British precedent and asked for a chance to form another government after losing the no-trust vote. An assertive N. Sanjeeva Reddy said he was not bound by the advice of a PM who had lost majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/07/23/legacy-of-the-president-from-irwin-to-murmu.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/07/23/legacy-of-the-president-from-irwin-to-murmu.html Sun Jul 24 18:34:08 IST 2022 what-better-food-than-grandmothers-millets <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/07/08/what-better-food-than-grandmothers-millets.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/2022/7/8/37-Millet-men-in-the-PMO-new.jpg" /> <p>2018 was officially India's year of millets. I bet most people didn't know about it. They didn't miss much. That year, our millet production fell to 10.24 million tonnes from 11.64 million in 2017. Bad luck; it happens in farming.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next year our production shot up to 12.49 million tonnes. Even that was not enough for feeding Indians, let alone for export. So Narendra Modi asked the UN to declare 2023 as the global year of millets, and labelled them nutri-cereals. With 72 countries giving thumbs up to the idea, it was okayed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last month Modi pitched it again. He used his few minutes at the G7 jamboree in Germany to remind the world about it. “Millets,” Modi told them, “can make a valuable contribution to ensuring food security in the world.” He also offered to share India's farming practices with other countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, millets have been part of India's folk cuisine. Grandmothers tell us that they used to eat more millets in the olden days. They had sorghum (aka jowar, jonna), finger millet (mundua in Hindi, ragi in Kannada, ragulu in Telugu, kelvaragu in Tamil, koovarugu in Malayalam), pearl millet (bajra in Hindi, sajje in Kannada, sajjalu in Telugu, kambu in Tamil and kambam in Malayalam), barnyard millet (sanwa, oodhalu, odalu, kuthiravali, kavadapullu), foxtail millet (kangni, navane, kirra, thinai, thina), little millet (kutki, same, sama, samai, chama), and proso millet (barri, baragu, varigalu, panivaragu).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But olden days were not necessarily golden. Those days people used to get little to eat, or few people got enough to eat. That is why Indira Gandhi, having been rebuffed by US president Lyndon Johnson who offered wheat in lieu of a military alliance, launched the Green Revolution with the help of C. Subramaniam, Norman Borlaug, M.S. Swaminathan et al. They focused on wheat and rice which were easier to be 'revolutionised' than coarse grains and millets. Thanks to them, India today reaps more than what Indians can eat, and even export.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having grown enough food, it is time to grow healthier food, thinks Modi. And what better food than grandmothers’ millets?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The good thing about millets is that they grow fast (most millets can be reaped two months after sowing); flourish in dry land or rainy region, grow in the plains, on the hills or slopes; need less water and fertiliser; don't emit greenhouse gases; and resist pests better. Most millets are also healthier foods than rice or wheat—richer in protein, fibre, minerals, iron and calcium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under the National Food Security Mission, millets are being promoted using new technology, better seeds (eight bio-fortified bajra varieties have been given to farmers since 2018), minimum support price, inclusion in the ration kit, and served in free lunches in schools. Agro-processors are being asked to develop new millet foods, and chefs to cook up new millet dishes. With the result, millet production has swollen to almost 18 million tonnes last year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TAILPIECE: </b>Deve Gowda's favourite meal is a plate of ragi balls dipped in sambar. During his prime ministership, Delhi's iconic ITDC Asoka Hotel included ragi balls in its menu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once, two of THE WEEK's editors went to interview Gowda in his South Block office around lunch time. The PM graciously shared his lunch with them. Halfway through the luncheon, he had to attend an urgent meeting with Kashmir leaders. He left, asking the interviewers to finish the meal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The joke in our office is that two senior editors and one photographer together couldn't finish one prime minister's ragi lunch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/07/08/what-better-food-than-grandmothers-millets.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/07/08/what-better-food-than-grandmothers-millets.html Sun Jul 10 11:36:41 IST 2022 spokespersons-in-the-old-days-had-no-face-name-but-only-voice-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/06/10/spokespersons-in-the-old-days-had-no-face-name-but-only-voice-r-prasannan.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/2022/6/10/30-Venom-from-the-mouthpiece-new.jpg" /> <p>The Cheshire Cat in Alice's Wonderland had no face or body, but only a smile. Spokesmen in the olden days were like that. They had no face, and often no name either, but only a voice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All political parties, ministries, companies and institutions had spokesmen, mostly senior functionaries of the organisation who were part of the decision-making upper crest. They knew the organisation's policy, because they had helped make that policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The politically tumultuous 1990s thus had veterans like V.N. Gadgil, Pranab Mukherjee, Margaret Alva, Najma Heptulla, Ambika Soni and Kapil Sibal speaking for the Congress. The BJP had the likes of K.L. Sharma, Govindacharya, Sushma Swaraj, and even Narendra Modi as spokespersons. The Janata parivar had the inimitable Jaipal Reddy as its permanent spokesman. Their English was provincial; their Hindi pan-Indian, their vision universal, and their statements measured.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From their long experience in government and politics they knew the various sensitivities that people and communities had. So careful were they in naming people and places that one foreign office spokesman, who combined diplomatic caution with British understatement, once described a VVIP visit to Pakistan as a “flight in the westerly direction”. That might have been taking caution behind a purdah, but that was how things were run in government and politics. If they erred, they erred on the side of extreme caution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not so in this television age of bytes, bites and barks. Motormouth news anchors want glib talkers in their studios, preferably ones with the right accent, and ones who can make quicker repartees than Winston Churchill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now two of the BJP's such spokespersons, Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal, have landed India and the Narendra Modi government in trouble. Their comments about the Prophet have so outraged the Muslim world that the Modi regime's Gulf diplomacy, carefully crafted over eight years, is at the risk of being sunk. Envoys are being summoned; expats threatened; exports blocked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the Arab world had always been kind to India since the days of Nehru, Shastri and Indira. So when Modi came to power riding on the crest of a majoritarian wave, many were worried how he would steer his diplomatic vessel through the choppy waters of the Persian Gulf. But Modi has since been working magic in the Arab world—prevailing on them into dumping terror-breeder Pakistan; persuading them to look the other way even as he openly engaged their worst enemy, Israel; using his good offices to make the Arabs talk to the Jews; engaging the Sunni Arabs even while maintaining India's age-old ties with the Shia Iran; and even getting Hindu temples built in Islamic sheikhdoms. In all, Modi has been projecting an India that is growing, powerful, peaceful, prosperous and modern, despite the shrill anti-Muslim cries that have been emanating from his domestic political backyard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All that is in danger of being lost because of an intemperate remark. Calls for boycott of Indian goods are being heard, threatening to wreck the many trade deals that Modi has been crafting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But let us not blame the two spokespersons alone. Inexperienced as they are, they got carried away by the rhetoric that has been emanating from a political constituency that is being fertilised with fake history, falsified ideas of moral rectitude, fanciful visitations of past glory, and fabricated notions of historical wrongs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>End this trend, prime minister! As the RSS chief said, let us not look for a shivling under every mosque.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/06/10/spokespersons-in-the-old-days-had-no-face-name-but-only-voice-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/06/10/spokespersons-in-the-old-days-had-no-face-name-but-only-voice-r-prasannan.html Fri Jun 10 11:03:23 IST 2022 r-prasannan-on-indias-aid-to-sri-lanka-and-the-visible-difference-this-time-around <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/05/27/r-prasannan-on-indias-aid-to-sri-lanka-and-the-visible-difference-this-time-around.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/2022/5/27/62-Big-brother-and-elder-brother-new.jpg" /> <p>Former Sri Lankan minister Namal Rajapaksa, son of the ousted prime minister Mahinda, called India a big brother in a tweet last week. No eyebrows were raised in the Indian foreign office, no protests heard on social media, no feathers ruffled anywhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Young Namal meant well. Read the full text of his tweet: "Grateful to PM Narendra Modi, Hon CM MK Stalin &amp; the people of India for the aid &amp; essential items sent to LKA. India certainly has been a big brother &amp; a good friend to LKA throughout the years, something that we will never forget! Thank you."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, linguists would wish he had opted for a better phrase than big brother. Big brother, for them, is a bully. A loving and caring senior sibling, whom we call bada bhai or anna, is elder brother or older brother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Blame Eric Blair, that India-born British author better known as George Orwell, for giving big brother a bad name in popular semantics. In his dystopian classic, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell used the phrase to portray a totalitarian state. He composed the famous line “Big brother is watching you” to talk about a state where the citizens are under constant surveillance, as they are said to be in these Pegasus days. In geopolitics, the term denotes a regional hegemon, or a local bully. Let's admit, several Lankan leaders have been using it in that sense against India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not this time. Namal meant that India has been like a loving and caring older brother to Lanka, in need, in deed and indeed. We have seen this in action several times—when Indira Gandhi sent troops to help Sirimavo Bandaranaike hunt down the communist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna insurrectionists in 1971; when Rajiv Gandhi dropped food and medicines from IAF planes for the besieged Jaffna residents in 1987; when he sent the Indian Army a few weeks later to keep peace between the Lankan troops and the Tigers, but ended up waging a war; when Manmohan Singh sent food, medicines, clothes and tents to the tsunami-hit Lankan shores in 2004; and now when Modi is giving food, fuel and credit worth about $4 billion to the bankrupted country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there has been a difference in these reachouts. The aid given in the earlier Indira-Rajiv era was big brotherly; the aid being given now in the Manmohan Singh-Narendra Modi era has been elder brotherly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The difference is not just in the nature of the aid and the manner in which it is given, but also in the recipients of the aid. Indira and Rajiv gave military aid. Indeed the troops landed on invitation from the legitimate regimes in Colombo, but the fact remains that their two interventions were muscular. Rajiv's food drop on the northern peninsula (Op Poomalai), though a humanitarian gesture towards the Vanni people who were besieged in the civil war, was also a muscular act. He was defying the regime in Colombo. In all those interventions, India was playing the big brother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not so in the recent aid despatches. As Lanka and the entire Indian Ocean littoral lay reeling under the tsunami waves in 2004, Manmohan Singh's India stood up saying, “Main hoon, na?” and sent planeloads and shiploads of aid. Now when Lanka has become bankrupt and its millions are crying for food, funds and fuel, Modi has opened up India's granaries, coffers and fuel reserves to them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The recipients are also different. The beneficiaries of the big brother's interventions in the 20th century were the rulers of Lanka, or their challengers. The beneficiaries of the elder brother's largesse in the 21st century are the good people of Sri Lanka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/05/27/r-prasannan-on-indias-aid-to-sri-lanka-and-the-visible-difference-this-time-around.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/05/27/r-prasannan-on-indias-aid-to-sri-lanka-and-the-visible-difference-this-time-around.html Fri May 27 11:15:45 IST 2022 should-khalistani-graffiti-on-himachal-legislature-worry-us-asks-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/05/15/should-khalistani-graffiti-on-himachal-legislature-worry-us-asks-r-prasannan.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/2022/5/15/10-Writing-on-the-wall-Ignore-it-new.jpg" /> <p>A mysterious hand, with no body attached, appears at the feast of King Belshazzar in an Old Testament story in the Book of Daniel. It writes three or four code words on the walls of the banquet hall. Wise man Daniel interprets the words as a prophesy about the downfall of the Babylonian empire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is logical to believe that Belshazzar ran an ancient Bletchely Park, and that Daniel was its head. Bletchley Park in London, if you don't know, was the world's most secretive hub of code-breakers who were employed by the British war office for breaking German submarine codes during the Second World War—geniuses who played the greatest ever games in cipher mathematics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mathematics is all about logic. What defies logic here is why God used coded language if He wanted to warn the wayward Belshazzar about the impending doom. That is the problem with God in all religions. He does not talk straight—in any religion or any language. We have to read his mind through omens and oracles! But then, who are we mortals to question the wisdom of God? If He loves theatrics, or leela as we call it, so be it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, ever since this eerie biblical incident, rulers have dreaded writings on the wall. And dissidents, secessionists and anarchists have been resorting to them to spread their message and to warn rulers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One such graffiti appeared on the Himachal legislature's summer assembly building a few nights ago. The writing, in Gurumukhi, read the dreaded word 'Khalistan'. As if to provide a clue to sleuths who cannot read Gurumukhi, the writers had also planted a few Khalistani flags on the building's gate. Sweet of them, don't you think? Sending a coded message and providing the key to the code?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sight of the graffiti and the flags sent our sleuths and spies on a tizzy. Rightly so. It is their job to find out whether the old Khalistan movement is raising its head again, or whether the graffiti was just some pranksters' job. It could very well be the latter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sleuths are quietly on their job, but several of our politicos have jumped the gun. They have concluded that there is a serious threat from secessionists, and have accused each other of being soft to secessionists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This tendency to see the Khalistan bogey has been on the rise of late. When Sikh farmers protested, many in the BJP called them Khalistanis. When a few protesters raised a Khalsa flag on a pole in the Red Fort, it was misread as a Khalistani flag.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ladies and gentlemen, rest assured. Every graffiti is not sedition rendered in script. After all, we are a country that has more writings on toilet walls and monument stones than on classroom blackboards. The Khalistan cause is dead and buried long ago. Its ghost may be kept alive by fringe groups like the Sikhs for Justice, but today it is more of a bogey than a menace. A graffiti here or a flag there cannot bring the ghost back to life. But loose political talk can. Name-calling can hurt sentiments, and fringe groups are waiting for feelings of hurt to accumulate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps it is time for the Prime Minister to intervene and cut the talk. He has been reaching out to the Sikhs by withdrawing the farm laws that hurt them, celebrating the parkash purabs of Sikh gurus, hosting Sikh delegations in his home, and even getting the names of several Sikhs deleted from the blacklists of Khalistani suspects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now it is time for a political effort. How about calling a meeting of party leaders, and making a fervent appeal not to utter the K-word for a while?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/05/15/should-khalistani-graffiti-on-himachal-legislature-worry-us-asks-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/05/15/should-khalistani-graffiti-on-himachal-legislature-worry-us-asks-r-prasannan.html Sun May 15 12:44:17 IST 2022 r-prasannan-on-modi-guru-dakshina-from-the-red-fort <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/04/29/r-prasannan-on-modi-guru-dakshina-from-the-red-fort.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/2022/4/29/47-Guru-dakshina-from-the-Red-Fort-new.jpg" /> <p>Narendra Modi has done something that has gratified the writer and readers of this column. He paid homage to the ninth Sikh guru, Tegh Bahadur, on his 400th birth anniversary. A gesture of this kind was suggested in this column in end 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, when Modi did it, he did it with a flourish and style that was beyond the wildest fancy of a poor columnist. He made a speech honouring the guru, well after nightfall last Thursday from the Red Fort.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the choice of time and venue that tickled most observers. Officials claimed that this is the first time that a PM gave a speech from the Red Fort after nightfall (true); and that it is the first time that a PM spoke from the Red Fort premises on a day that is not the I-Day (false).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More about the trivia later. Let us first examine when and why this column had suggested such a gesture of gurutva.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The year 2020, if you recall, had been an annus horribilis for Modi, and for the millions of us who inhabit India that is Bharat. The year had started with street protests over the citizenship law, and ended with protests against the farm laws. In between there were riots in Delhi, a raging pandemic, a social lockdown, an economic slowdown, town workers fleeing, Sushant Rajput dead, two typhoons, two assembly elections, one flood, a few fires, the Chinese in Galwan and a lot more to mourn over. No cinemas, no fat weddings, no dining out, no foreign tours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adversity brought out the worst in several of Modi's partymen. In their anxiety to show their loyalty, they called the protesting Sikh farmers Khalistanis, non-Sikh protesters Maoists, and other dissenters urban Naxals, and even got the police to slap sedition cases on them. The Sikh psyche, which had long ago recovered from the Blue Star wounds, was hurt again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi tried to make amends with a year-end prayer at Gurdwara Rakabganj “where the pious body of Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji was cremated”, but even that failed to mollify the Sikhs. This column then expressed a fond hope—that better sense would prevail on all, and that the year of the 400th Parkash Parv of Guru Tegh Bahadur would be an annus mirabilis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now let us look at the trivia that are tickling most people. Modi addressing the nation after nightfall is nothing new. Remember, he woke us up one night from television screens and told us that some of our hard-earned rupees didn't count? But as the officials claim, this is indeed the first time that a PM has addressed the people after nightfall from the Red Fort. But then, Modi didn't climb the ramparts of the fort, as PMs do every I-Day, to make this speech. This one was rendered from a makeshift stage on the fort's lawns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another claim is that this is the first time a PM addressed the nation from the fort on a day that is not the I-Day. Not true. When confronted with crises and cornered by dissidents, Narasimha Rao once called a meeting of his partymen on the Red Fort lawns, and gave a torrid speech one hot summer afternoon. The speech earned him more enemies. Who would like to be made to sit on a treeless lawn in the scorching summer sun, and listen to an hour-long lecture on cares of governance?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Jawaharlal Nehru did not make his first address to the nation from the Red Fort ramparts on August 15, 1947. The August 15 morning was spent on swearing-in of the governor-general and the ministers, and a meeting of the Constituent Assembly. Nehru made the first Red Fort speech on August 16, 1947. Since 1948, PMs have been making the Red Fort address on August 15.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/04/29/r-prasannan-on-modi-guru-dakshina-from-the-red-fort.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/04/29/r-prasannan-on-modi-guru-dakshina-from-the-red-fort.html Fri Apr 29 14:20:34 IST 2022 r-prasannan-on-leaders-experimenting-with-their-facial-hair <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/04/16/r-prasannan-on-leaders-experimenting-with-their-facial-hair.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/2022/4/16/28-A-few-hair-raising-tales-new.jpg" /> <p>Has the Covid run ended? Not yet, thinks the prime minister. “It may have taken a pause,” he said last week. “We never know when it will resurface.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The public is in no mood to listen. Most Indians are throwing caution to the wind, and behaving as if the pandemic had just been a bad dream that has ended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at the way we behave! Hand washes are out, handshakes are back; work from home is ending, loafing at office is back; malls are crowded; crime is back; cars are running; smog is in the air. There is no sign of any new normal that sociologists and behaviour psychologists had been talking about.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the mask? Isn't it too early discard it? After all, it being there on the face would serve as a reminder that all is still not well with our virus-hit world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi himself has shed his mask. Most of his public appearances these days are sans the mask. The sight of his face may reassure the public, but shouldn't our leaders be wearing the mask for a while longer, especially if “we never know when [the virus] will resurface”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, that is just a thought. There are wiser men, hired as image consultants, who would be advising the PM and our other netas—both ruling and opposing—on how to appear in public, what to wear, what to speak, when to shave or when to sport a stubble or beard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talking of stubble and beard, Modi has been experimenting with his quite often. He has changed the style of his beard at least four times in the last seven-odd years. He came into the PM House with a smart designer beard, and grew it a little long a year later. Last year, he let it grow like that of Santa Claus. Critics—confound them—said he was trying to look like Gurudev Tagore with an eye on the Bengali vote. Hogwash! Had he gone for a clean shave, they would have said he was trying to look like Vivekananda or Vidyasagar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi's experiments with the beard was one of the hot topics of public discussion during the lazy lockdown months. So much was written and spoken about the style and length of his beard that one wondered whether we may have a new branch of study called prime ministerial pogonology. Pogonology, if you don't know, is the study of beards. A bored gent even filed an RTI plea seeking to know how many times Modi got his hair cut and beard trimmed during each of the lockdowns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, Modi's Tagore look did not last much long. In September he got his beard trimmed, and flew off to the US where most politicians keep their faces free of the fungus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi is the first Indian PM who has been experimenting with his facial hair. Others have been mostly playing safe and shaving clean. The few exceptions were V.P. Singh who sported a matchstick-like moustache, Chandra Sekhar who wore a tired-looking stubble, Gujral who flaunted a socialite French beard, and Manmohan who stuck to a faith-dictated beard. The rest and most—Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Deve Gowda, and A.B. Vajpayee—kept their face fungus removed every morning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TAILPIECE:</b> Abraham Lincoln's Islamic style beard is rare in the western world. The story goes that an 11-year-old girl by name Grace Bedell wrote to him suggesting that sporting a beard might improve his chances of getting elected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Till the end of the 19th century, most politicians and aristocrats in the west sported beards or sideburns. The clean-shaven look is said to have caught on after scientific papers at the turn of the 20th century suggested that facial hair could be infected with tuberculosis germs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/04/16/r-prasannan-on-leaders-experimenting-with-their-facial-hair.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/04/16/r-prasannan-on-leaders-experimenting-with-their-facial-hair.html Sat Apr 16 11:35:21 IST 2022 madeline-albright-was-the-mother-of-all-sanctions-writes-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/04/02/madeline-albright-was-the-mother-of-all-sanctions-writes-r-prasannan.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/2022/4/2/47-Madeline-Albright-new.jpg" /> <p>Madeline Albright passed away, unmourned in India. No surprise. No American has hurt us more than she did, save Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger who sent nuclear warships to threaten us in 1971.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Albright, America's first female secretary of state, fretted, fumed and fulminated when Atal Bihari Vajpayee tested the atom bomb in 1998; she called it “a felony against the future”. Dubbing us “reckless, rash, unjustified, wrong-headed, unwise”, she imposed sanctions, and warned the other rulers of the universe against “walking away with contracts” with India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Albright's antipathy was not a fallout of our bomb test, which shocked the Bill Clinton regime and shamed its CIA spies no end. It was inherited. Her father Josef Korbel, a Czech diplomat, had failed as head of a UN mission sent to broker peace between India and Pakistan soon after the first Kashmir war. Nehru was so outraged by his Pakistan bias that he called Korbel's approach to Kashmir as treating “the thief and owner of the house as equals”. Later Korbel wrote a book, Danger in Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The daughter started her secretaryship by asking Inder Kumar Gujral to sign the test ban treaty. But where is your signature, asked good man Gujral, knowing well that it was a treaty which the US had refused to ratify! In effect she was telling us—the treaty is not good for America, but it is good for lesser people like you. Gujral ignored her gospels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then Vajpayee tested the bomb. Caught off her CIA guard, Madeline turned into the high priestess of non-proliferation, cursed us with bell, book, candle and sanctions, and asked us to sign the non-proliferation treaty as a non-weapon state. Take a walk, we told her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leaving south Asia to the milder deputy secretary Strobe Talbott, Madeline walked around the Balkans and eastern Europe. The world is paying the price for it today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As discussed in this column a month ago, the Russians thought they had done a good thing to Europe by disbanding the Warsaw Pact, the military alliance they had had with the East Europeans during the Cold War. In return, they expected the west to disband the NATO, going by the gentleman's word that George Bush Sr's secretary of state James Baker had given Mikhail Gorbachev. But urged by Albright, and much against the advice of even Kissinger and her own mentor Zbigniew Brzezinski, the NATO cheated. They not only refused to disband, but roped in Russia's old allies Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, took troops and tanks to Russia's doorstep, and then launched the NATO's first war by bombing Belgrade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cold War legend has it that Russia's prime minister Yevgeny Primakov heard of the bombing while flying to Washington for talks with Clinton and Albright. Feeling cheated, he ordered his pilot to turn back. Since known as the Primakov loop, it is considered the moment when east-west detente broke down and Cold War II began.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following in Primakov's footsteps, Vladimir Putin has been warning the NATO against further expansion. Ukraine's application for membership was the last straw on the Russian bear's back. The rest is last month's history, a tragic fallout of Madeline's follies.</p> <p>TAILPIECE: ASEAN foreign ministers' meetings end with a fun night. At the 1998 Manila meeting, Albright teamed up with Primakov, then foreign minister, in an East-West love story skit. Wearing an embroidered barong blouse and a big flower on her hair, Madeline sang, “I want to know what you think of me.” Primakov, wearing a sailor's shirt and cap, crooned back, “Look in your file at the KGB.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/04/02/madeline-albright-was-the-mother-of-all-sanctions-writes-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/04/02/madeline-albright-was-the-mother-of-all-sanctions-writes-r-prasannan.html Wed Apr 06 10:55:22 IST 2022 modi-is-acting-like-nehru-says-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/03/06/modi-is-acting-like-nehru-says-r-prasannan.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/2022/3/6/46-modi-russia-new.jpg" /> <p>The fans of neither of them would approve of me saying so, but Narendra Modi is acting more and more like Jawaharlal Nehru. More so in the way he deals with the big bad world. As discussed in this column once, both have been practitioners of personal diplomacy, and both paid the price for trusting China too much.</p> <p>Now Modi has taken not a leaf but an entire chapter from Nehru's foreign policy book. He is practising non-alignment, the <i>moolmantra</i> of Nehruvian foreign policy. But why pick on Modi? The world is looking increasingly similar to the way it used to be in Nehru's time when Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev were dividing the world into hemispheres of hate. Even the language the diplomats speak today is a hark-back to the classic Cold War phraseology used by bullies like John Foster Dulles.</p> <p>Dulles, if you don't know, was Eisenhower's secretary of state who damned non-alignment as “immoral” and asked every country—Hey, you there! Are you with us or against us? No different was how Joe Biden's envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, spoke after moving a damn-Russia resolution in the Security Council last week: “Vote yes, if you believe in upholding the UN Charter. Vote no or abstain, if you don't uphold the Charter.” Cheek!</p> <p>Modi's India did not fall for that, just as Nehru's India had not. T.S. Tirumurti, India's current envoy at the UN, did exactly what Nehru's and Indira Gandhi's envoys did when Khrushchev's tanks rolled into Hungary (1956), Brezhnev's troops swooped down on Czechoslovakia (1968) and Afghanistan (1979), and Putin annexed Crimea (2014). He stayed neutral in Russia's war on Ukraine, aware that it is not at all “immoral” to stay neutral when you are asked to choose between scoundrels. Rather, it is virtuous to be neutral, as Nehru showed the world with his golden non-aligned mean.</p> <p>Indeed, the west is painting Vladmir Putin as the sinner in this war where he invaded a weak neighbour. But the west has been sinning against him and his Russia for the last three post-Cold War decades, breaking every promise they had made, cheating on every deal, and damning every covenant.</p> <p>The Russians believe they did a good thing to Europe by disbanding the Warsaw Pact, the military alliance they had with the east Europeans during the Cold War. In return, they expected the west to disband NATO. But NATO cheated. They not only refused to disband, but expanded towards Russia, roping in Russia's ex-allies and placing troops, tanks and atomic arms at Russia's doorstep.</p> <p>Even the little kind deeds of the past were now proving to be Russia's curses. Back in 1954, Krushchev had gifted Crimea—which had been coveted by the west since the days of Lord Aberdeen and Tsar Nicholas I and where Russia had berthed its Black Sea fleet—to Ukraine. But when Ukraine&nbsp;threatened to join NATO, and sell its soul and Russia's leased southern ports to the west, Putin sent his troops and annexed Crimea in 2014.</p> <p>Ukraine&nbsp;is at the nasty NATO game again. So is Putin. Only saner counsel like India's can push both back from the Black Sea brink. Worth a try, prime minister! Nothing to lose if you fail. A world to gain if you prevail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Though she stayed neutral publicly, Indira Gandhi privately pulled up Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin for invading Afghanistan. “You brought the Cold War to our doorsteps,” she told him, records I.K. Gujral in his memoirs. Later when buddy Brezhnev asked her how he could get out of Afghanistan, she bluntly told him: “The same way you went in.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/03/06/modi-is-acting-like-nehru-says-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/03/06/modi-is-acting-like-nehru-says-r-prasannan.html Sun Mar 06 15:40:02 IST 2022 ukraine-war-and-and-our-pakora-worries-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/02/19/ukraine-war-and-and-our-pakora-worries-r-prasannan.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/2022/2/19/35-Ukraine-war-and-our-pakora-worries-new.jpg" /> <p>Europe worries that a war in Ukraine will make fuel oil costlier. India worries that it will make fry oil costlier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the oil and gas that fuel Europe is pumped from Russia in pipelines that run through Ukraine. So European rulers, anxious about disruption in supply, are pleading restraint with Vladimir Putin. The big bear, worried about the NATO getting to his doorstep, is telling them—go, fry an egg; I have bigger fish to fry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Therein lies Narendra Modi's worry—the fry! A war in Ukraine could make our fries costlier. Not just tea-pakoras, but every dish that is cooked in oil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indians consume a lot more cooking oil than any other folk— gross, net, cumulative or per capita. Don't ask me if it is good or bad. Our grandmas gave us ghee- and oil-rich dishes blessing us ayushman bhava, but our nutritionists tell us to cut the fat. Most of us live by the wisdom of our grandmothers, and eat by the taste buds oiled by our mothers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To cut fat or not is a matter of personal taste. Modi's problem is that we do not mill enough oil to cook three months' meals for every Indian in a year. So, he has to import 70 per cent of our cooking oils, which account for half of his food import bill. Most of it is spent on palm oil from Malaysia, soya oil from South America and sunflower oil from Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ukraine is the world's largest supplier of sunflower oil, which 10 to 15 per cent of Indians use—not just for frying pakoras and puris but also in their pulaos, pulisseris, pao bhajis and paneer masalas. The oil has been capturing the taste buds of more and more of our middle-class townsfolk, giving palm and mustard oils a run for their fat. So much so, if A.B. Vajpayee imported just 3.1 lakh tonnes of sunflower oil in 2001-02, Modi had to order 20 lakh tonnes last year. Three quarters of this came from Ukraine; most of the rest from Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at the cleft stick which we are caught in. The second largest supplier of our sunflower oil is going to war with the largest!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aren't there substitutes, like palm oil which is more popular, and comes from Malaysia where there is no war? Indeed, sunflower oil-users can switch to palm, soya, mustard or groundnut. But our economists tell us that scarcity of one good makes its substitutes dearer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nothing to worry for now. We have got a few thousand extra tonnes from Russia and Brazil to see us through a quick war. But isn't it time to think of long-term solutions?A few weeks ago this column had discussed a pulses revolution, on the lines of the Green Revolution that had made food-short India food-surplus. Now, how about a kitchen oil revolution?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Easily done. There is already an oilseed and oil palm mission running since the early 1990s. Last August Modi okayed a new mission to grow palms in 6.5 lakh hectares more. Bring all these stray missions under one banner, get the Niti Aayog to make a roadmap, offer incentives, stick an atmanirbharta label, give it a few Modi-style slogans, and presto! You will see more farmers growing oilseeds and kindling a kitchen oil revolution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TAILPIECE:</b> Kitchen oil import has been a hot potato fry. An unproven charge of favouring a company with a palm oil import deal in the early 1990s hounded former Kerala CM K. Karunakaran till his death. A bigger one was the Jain Shudh Vanaspati scandal of the 1980s in which popular vegetable oil brands were found adulterated with imported beef tallow. It hit Parliament; the National Security Act and Official Secrets Act were invoked; big businessmen were arrested. The cases dragged on and have been forgotten.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/02/19/ukraine-war-and-and-our-pakora-worries-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/02/19/ukraine-war-and-and-our-pakora-worries-r-prasannan.html Sun Feb 20 12:36:01 IST 2022 restore-the-hymn-prime-minister-and-heal-injured-hearts-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/02/05/restore-the-hymn-prime-minister-and-heal-injured-hearts-r-prasannan.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/2022/2/5/51-Abide-with-their-sentiments-new.jpg" /> <p>A soldier in uniform drinking a toast to the president sitting down? Tauba, tauba; height of disloyalty! But they do it on board our naval ships, because a king of England had permitted them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maroon may look a girlish colour, but our macho paracommandos would not trade their maroon caps even for a crown jewel. They got the cap as a gift from novelist Daphne du Maurier, wife of Frederick Browning who raised the first airborne division. She stitched the caps to boost their morale, after they suffered a setback in North Africa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rajaputana Rifles have the Maltese Cross on the crest. It came to them through a British regiment that had links to the knights of Malta. The Madras Regiment sports the elephant crest gifted by Arthur Wellesley after defeating the Marathas at Assaye.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Grenadiers’ badge bears the White Horse of Hanover. The naval ensign keeps the red cross of England’s patron saint, St George, as a symbol of association with other Commonwealth navies. Madras Sappers wear a dupata which reminds them of their valour under Charles Napier, that rascal who sent the famous ‘Peccavi’ or ‘I have sinned’ message after conquering Sindh.</p> <p><br> Impressed by their valour against the Baluchis, a British regiment gifted their shakos which the Thambis adopted as their headgear and called them dupatas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Spotting a piper playing loud to boost the troops’ morale, Eyre Coote cried in the heat of a battle against Hyder Ali in 1781: “My brave fellow, you shall have silver pipes when the battle is over.” An armoured regiment still carries those silver pipes, gifted to them by Coote who had been Robert Clive’s deputy at Plassey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Colonial vestiges? Maybe to us, who are untutored in military history. For the soldier, however, those are but prized possessions and sacred traditions, fondly polished and proudly preserved over centuries. There are hundreds like these (THE WEEK had compiled them <a href="https://www.theweek.in/leisure/lifestyle/2022/02/07/archives-outdated-customs-of-the-armed-forces-that-refuse-to-die.html">in a cover story in 2001</a>). It is these customs and traditions, strange to the civilian but solemn to the soldier, that fires the regimental spirit in him and sends him charging in the face of the enemy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s admit it—the soldier in the battlefield fights for himself, his buddies, his company, his paltan, his regiment. The honour of these abstractions are ideogrammed on every inch of his ceremonial uniform, and etched in his mind through the little rituals of ceremonies, the steps of his march (rifle and light regiments have brisker paces of march) and the varying notes of music.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One such sacred note has now been jarred in the name of severance from colonial ties. 'Abide with Me', a hymn that appealed even to the great soul who sent the empire packing, shall no longer be played at Beating Retreat, the world’s most splendid military music show.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several thousand bravehearts are hurt. Restore the hymn, prime minister; and heal the injured hearts. They have loyally served and saluted the supreme commander, sitting or standing, and whether the supreme commander was a king or a president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: There are three stories about the origin of the naval toast. Once King George IV was treated to dinner on board. As the officers rose to call the toast, the king said: “Gentlemen, pray be seated. Your loyalty is beyond suspicion.” Another is that King William IV hit his head against the low ceiling on board, and decreed sitting toasts. A third tale has its origin in the Glorious Revolution. Officers loyal to the dethroned James II used to take their pistols to the mess and sit on them to prevent them from being snatched by the loyalists of Mary and William of Orange.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/02/05/restore-the-hymn-prime-minister-and-heal-injured-hearts-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/02/05/restore-the-hymn-prime-minister-and-heal-injured-hearts-r-prasannan.html Mon Feb 07 18:58:27 IST 2022 india-got-a-brahmos-order-from-philippines-is-vietnam-next-asks-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/01/20/india-got-a-brahmos-order-from-philippines-is-vietnam-next-asks-r-prasannan.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/2022/1/20/49-Breakfast-order-at-BrahMos-Arms-new.jpg" /> <p>Writing about Delhi’s crazy cocktail circuit once, I described an arty-farty party where I had seen a lanky wine-drunk lady lighting a huge Havana. “She lit a miniature Tomahawk,” I wrote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A day later, I got a call from India’s second-most famous missile scientist (after you-know-who) Dr A. Sivathanu Pillai. “I liked your article. But why did you compare the cigar to a Tomahawk?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Why not?” I countered. “It looked ludicrous.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To my Hollywood-dulled mind, it had looked even grotesque. As grotesque as it would have been, if Audrey Hepburn had been shown in that iconic poster of Breakfast at Tiffany’s holding a huge Havana, instead of a cigarette in an elegantly slim holder. But since I did not want to discuss Hollywood posters with a missile scientist, I said sheepishly: “Isn’t Tomahawk the most famous cruise missile?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is, because people like you make it famous. You should have likened the cigar to BrahMos.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coming from the father of BrahMos, it struck me like a homing missile. I had known enough about BrahMos as the fastest, smartest and the only supersonic cruise missile in the world, before which the Tomahawk was like an Ambassador before a Maybach. I had known that unlike the MiGs or the Jaguars, BrahMos was not a designed-abroad and made-in-India product.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It had been developed by the finest missile minds of India and Russia, who had joined hands, formed a consortium, compared notes, exchanged ideas, built teams, met challenges, faced failures, shared blames, and toasted successes together. I had also known that BrahMos was the only cruise missile in the world that could be launched from land to land, land to ship, ship to ship, ship to land, submarine to land, submarine to ship, airplane to land, and airplane to ship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet why did it not come to my dull mind when I was looking for a missile metaphor? Simple: I was suffering from a mind block from which India’s political class, military brass, diplomatic corps, bureaucratic babus and media hacks had been suffering—a mulish refusal to look at India as a builder of big arms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest success of BrahMos over the last two decades has been in breaking this mind block. Not only have Pillai and his successors Sudhir Mishra and Atul Rane built the world’s most versatile missile, but also convinced the netas, the babus, the brass hats and the hacks that BrahMos packs the most precise and powerful punch ever packed into a cruise missile; and that any general, admiral or air marshal in the world would give his right arm to lay his hands (pardon the mixed metaphor) on a battery of BrahMos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An early convert to their line of thinking was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In his first outing as PM in 2014, Modi had landed on the deck of INS Vikramaditya, and told the commanders of the three services about the need for arms-buying India to sell arms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We may be the world’s most valued arms buyer, but as a seller we are small fry hawking nothing more lethal than pistols, rifles, radar parts, avionics consoles, airplane doors, and at the most a few unarmed Dhruv helicopters and an offshore patrol vessel once in a while. From all these we earned Rs10,000 crore last year—small change in the big bad market of military arms! In the sellers’ market we are like a street hawker sitting outside Harrods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All that may be changing. Last week, India received an order from the Philippines for three batteries of BrahMos—the first order that India has ever received for a big-ticket weapon. Next may be from Vietnam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Time to knock at the doors of Harrods?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/01/20/india-got-a-brahmos-order-from-philippines-is-vietnam-next-asks-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/01/20/india-got-a-brahmos-order-from-philippines-is-vietnam-next-asks-r-prasannan.html Thu Jan 20 14:45:46 IST 2022 modi-maybach-costs-much-less-than-rs-12-crore-despite-what-trolls-say-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/01/06/modi-maybach-costs-much-less-than-rs-12-crore-despite-what-trolls-say-r-prasannan.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/2022/1/6/55-Modimobile-bang-bang-new.jpg" /> <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>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/01/06/modi-maybach-costs-much-less-than-rs-12-crore-despite-what-trolls-say-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/01/06/modi-maybach-costs-much-less-than-rs-12-crore-despite-what-trolls-say-r-prasannan.html Thu Jan 06 15:00:29 IST 2022 bhutan-has-been-a-friend-in-need-in-deed-and-indeed-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/12/23/bhutan-has-been-a-friend-in-need-in-deed-and-indeed-r-prasannan.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/2021/12/23/29-A-cheer-breathing-dragon-new.jpg" /> <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>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/12/23/bhutan-has-been-a-friend-in-need-in-deed-and-indeed-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/12/23/bhutan-has-been-a-friend-in-need-in-deed-and-indeed-r-prasannan.html Thu Dec 23 15:26:05 IST 2021 a-pulse-protein-revolution-is-not-a-bad-idea-says-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/12/09/a-pulse-protein-revolution-is-not-a-bad-idea-says-r-prasannan.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/2021/12/9/54-A-few-hands-for-pulse-please-new.jpg" /> <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>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/12/09/a-pulse-protein-revolution-is-not-a-bad-idea-says-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/12/09/a-pulse-protein-revolution-is-not-a-bad-idea-says-r-prasannan.html Thu Dec 09 15:15:00 IST 2021 people-ought-to-be-ruled-with-aws-they-think-are-good-says-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/11/25/people-ought-to-be-ruled-with-aws-they-think-are-good-says-r-prasannan.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/2021/11/25/23-Make-law-do-it-slow-new.jpg" /> <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>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/11/25/people-ought-to-be-ruled-with-aws-they-think-are-good-says-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/11/25/people-ought-to-be-ruled-with-aws-they-think-are-good-says-r-prasannan.html 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="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/11/11/military-landscape-around-Afghanistan-is-changing-we-need-spiked-boots-to-play-it-r-prasannan.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/2021/11/11/33-Spikes-on-A-Great-Game-is-afoot-new.jpg" /> <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>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/11/11/military-landscape-around-Afghanistan-is-changing-we-need-spiked-boots-to-play-it-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/11/11/military-landscape-around-Afghanistan-is-changing-we-need-spiked-boots-to-play-it-r-prasannan.html Sun Nov 14 13:20:20 IST 2021 at-glasgow-they-must-promise-more-or-perish-says-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/10/28/at-glasgow-they-must-promise-more-or-perish-says-r-prasannan.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/2021/10/28/31-Watt-up-at-Glasgow-new.jpg" /> <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>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/10/28/at-glasgow-they-must-promise-more-or-perish-says-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/10/28/at-glasgow-they-must-promise-more-or-perish-says-r-prasannan.html 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="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/10/14/modis-treasures-from-the-us-are-real-worth-30-million-to-40-million-r-prasannan.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/2021/10/14/icons-new.jpg" /> <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;">prasannan@theweek.in</b><br> </p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/10/14/modis-treasures-from-the-us-are-real-worth-30-million-to-40-million-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/10/14/modis-treasures-from-the-us-are-real-worth-30-million-to-40-million-r-prasannan.html Fri Oct 15 11:24:29 IST 2021 our-poor-diplomats-are-in-a-tizzy-because-of-aukus-shock-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/09/30/our-poor-diplomats-are-in-a-tizzy-because-of-aukus-shock-r-prasannan.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/2021/9/30/21-Quad-and-the-AUKUS-pocus-new.jpg" /> <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>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/09/30/our-poor-diplomats-are-in-a-tizzy-because-of-aukus-shock-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/09/30/our-poor-diplomats-are-in-a-tizzy-because-of-aukus-shock-r-prasannan.html Thu Sep 30 15:08:45 IST 2021 forget-two-misses-grab-this-third-chance-to-woo-pashtuns-writes-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/09/16/forget-two-misses-grab-this-third-chance-to-woo-pashtuns-writes-r-prasannan.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/2021/9/16/26-Tale-from-a-Kabuli-kitabwala-new.jpg" /> <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>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/09/16/forget-two-misses-grab-this-third-chance-to-woo-pashtuns-writes-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/09/16/forget-two-misses-grab-this-third-chance-to-woo-pashtuns-writes-r-prasannan.html Thu Sep 16 15:04:38 IST 2021 false-claims-by-fans-bring-ridicule-on-pm-says-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/08/19/false-claims-by-fans-bring-ridicule-on-pm-says-r-prasannan.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/2021/8/19/22-Fans-worse-than-foes-new.jpg" /> <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>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/08/19/false-claims-by-fans-bring-ridicule-on-pm-says-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/08/19/false-claims-by-fans-bring-ridicule-on-pm-says-r-prasannan.html Thu Aug 19 15:11:28 IST 2021 if-modi-hasnt-pegassussed-critics-did-china-or-pakistan-do-it-asks-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/08/05/if-modi-hasnt-pegassussed-critics-did-china-or-pakistan-do-it-asks-r-prasannan.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/2021/8/5/63-Bitten-by-the-spy-bug-new.jpg" /> <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>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/08/05/if-modi-hasnt-pegassussed-critics-did-china-or-pakistan-do-it-asks-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/08/05/if-modi-hasnt-pegassussed-critics-did-china-or-pakistan-do-it-asks-r-prasannan.html Fri Aug 06 17:47:45 IST 2021 under-modi-2-0-goms-are-back-in-debating-more-issues-r-prasannan0 <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/07/22/under-modi-2-0-goms-are-back-in-debating-more-issues-r-prasannan0.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/2021/7/22/23-Back-to-committee-room-one-new.jpg" /> <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>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/07/22/under-modi-2-0-goms-are-back-in-debating-more-issues-r-prasannan0.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2021/07/22/under-modi-2-0-goms-are-back-in-debating-more-issues-r-prasannan0.html Thu Jul 22 19:27:38 IST 2021