Prasannan en Fri Mar 19 14:04:46 IST 2021 r-prasannan-on-why-india-cant-count-on-the-us-on-laws-of-the-sea <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Better to have an enemy who slaps you in the face, than a friend who stabs you in the back—so goes an old saying.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi learnt this a year ago. Hardly had he sent back Donald Trump after feting him like a king-emperor in an Ahmedabad stadium, when the old boor turned around and asked Modi for shiploads of Covid-19 drug hydroxychloroquine. If you don’t send the stuff, he threatened mon ami Modi, “there may be retaliation”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now it appears, it is not just one ex-prez, but the US as a nation is like that—a boor who bullies buddies. The Pakistanis have known it for a while now and have been quietly unfriending the Americans. Now it is India’s turn to learn.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Yanks had been wooing us as a major non-NATO ally and celebrating us as the world’s largest democracy. A few weeks ago, their newly inaugurated president, Joe Biden, joined Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australia’s Scott Morrison, in a Gang of Four (pun intended) to teach the truant Chinese a few lessons in the laws of seafaring.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seafaring countries had been claiming coastal waters from three to 12 nautical miles (depending on the range of their coastal guns) since the 17th century. By the 20th century, countries found that technology enabled them to fish, mine and drill in deeper waters, and they began to claim more sea acres. Laws, pacts and treaties were slowly evolved—and concluded by the 1990s as the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)—by which it was agreed that a coastal state can claim 12 nautical miles as territorial sea, and another 24 miles as a contiguous zone where it can do some policing (such as chasing the Italian marines who shot Indian fishermen a few years ago). A 200-mile stretch was recognised as an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), where the coastal state has monopoly over fishing and mining rights, but is open to foreign merchantmen and men-of-war for free passage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, certain states made national laws which stipulate that though foreign ships may pass through their EEZ, the passers-by ought to inform the host state as to what they are up to. India has such a law which, in effect, is aimed at prohibiting the Pakistani or Chinese navy from playing wargames close to our coast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US refuses to recognise these national laws, be they China’s ownership claim over stretches of the South China Sea or India’s insistence on being informed prior to passage. To show that it means business, and to our deep embarrassment, the US sent a warship right across our Lakshadweep Sea on April 7. That was a cowboy way of showing the Chinese as to how they punish countries that encroach sea acres.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It appears, Delhi did not choose its friends wisely. When it comes to enforcing the law of the sea, the US is the last country that you can count on. For, the US is a self-declared outlaw, having refused to ratify the UNCLOS, which 168 countries, including India and China, swear by.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Simply put, Uncle Sam is an UNCLOS outlaw. China, legally put and in comparison, is only a violator. So, it is a case of the outlaw asking violators to follow the law!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Foreign ships had occasionally been spotted surveying Indian maritime zones on the sly. In 2001, THE WEEK had broken the story of how the Indian Navy had spotted the USNS Bowditch surveying the sea 30 miles east of Car Nicobar, and the HMS Scott snooping around 138 miles off Porbandar. India had lodged strong protests with the US and the British missions then, and warned that “such activities will not be permitted in the Indian EEZ”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Apr 15 15:37:47 IST 2021 amendments-to-nct-act-a-farce-r-prasannan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>History repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, said Karl Marx. Having witnessed tragedy for 20 years, the city-state of Delhi is now set to witness farce.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First, what’s Delhi—city, state or UT? It’s all three or, as they say, it is neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not a problem. That is how most capital cities are. The worst is the case of Washington DC. The folk there say, they are taxed without being represented—something that goes against the very grain of democracy, as we understood it since the days of the Magna Carta vaguely, and the American revolution clearly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhizens fare better. They are taxed in many ways, and represented in more ways. Delhi has 10 members in Parliament, 70 in the city-state’s legislative assembly, and 272 councillors in three municipal bodies. There are executive authorities who are answerable to them, and supposed to be ruling the people of Delhi—Narendra Modi’s Union council of ministers, Arvind Kejriwal’s state cabinet, and the three worshipful mayors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now a new law says the real government is none of the above, but the lieutenant-governor appointed by the Centre. Therein lies the farce.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So what was the tragedy? Hold on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi was part of the Punjab province during the 19th century, and made a chief commissioner’s province (much like our UT) after it became the capital in 1912. It was made a Part C state in 1951 with an elected legislature and a council of ministers, but with lesser powers than other state governments. However, a prolonged tiff with the Chief Commissioner A.D. Pandit and Union Home Minister G.B. Pant led to Chief Minister Brahm Parkash’s resignation in 1955.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The States Reorganisation Commission made Delhi a UT again in 1956, but with an autonomous municipal corporation. Delhi’s netas, particularly those in the Jan Sangh (later BJP), continued to seek full or partial statehood. In between, the Centre experimented with a metropolitan council of 56 elected and five nominated members, but with only recommendatory and no legislative powers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then the tragedy was enacted. In what looked like a repeat of the 1951 experiment, the Centre granted special statehood in the early 1990s. It created an elected legislature and a council of ministers with powers over all state subjects except police, public order and land—which were given to a Centre-appointed lieutenant-governor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like Parkash in the 1950s, most CMs found it tough to run the town affairs. Things came to a head under the AAP regime, with the L-G vetoing cabinet decisions almost every day, the cabinet sitting in dharna in the L-G’s parlour, a chief secretary being manhandled, and the Centre and the state slapping corruption cases on each other’s officers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Supreme Court sought to settle the matter in 2018. It asked the L-G to be bound by the aid and advice of the elected government, except on the three specially reserved subjects. The state regime moved with alacrity after that, cleaning the drains, cutting water rates, giving free power to the poor and free bus rides to women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, comes the second encore of history—as farce. The latest law defines the term ‘government’ to be the L-G and not the elected government, expands his powers by requiring the cabinet to seek his opinion on specific matters which he deems fit, and prohibits the assembly from making rules for its committees on day-to-day administration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, if this is not an encore of the dysfunctional ‘diarchy’, introduced through the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms in 1919, what else is?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Apr 01 18:54:03 IST 2021 r-prasannan-will-the-coalition-against-china-in-indo-pacific-work <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is official—the Quad is born. The rulers of Australia, India, Japan and the US got together in cyberspace last week, and gave it spirit. In a joint statement, which they called ‘The Spirit of the Quad’, they swore to strive for an Indo-Pacific “that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No mention as to who was applying coercion, and making the region unfree, closed, exclusive, unhealthy and undemocratic. Diplomats don’t vilify the villains by name.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indo-Pacific is a term coined early this century to refer to the geostrategic space that stretches from Africa’s east coast till America’s west coast (don’t run your eye westward; you will lose your way in the African or Amazon forests). It encompasses the Indian and the Pacific Oceans through which most of the world’s metals, minerals, manufactured goods, guns, gas and oil are being traded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naturally, most of the world’s warships are going to be around these waters. Strategic rajgurus say, the power politics of the next few decades will be played around this region, just as it used to be played around the Baltic, the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean in the bygone centuries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Geostrategists come up with such theories and doctrines now and then which inspire statesmen to get visions (also daydreams) on how to shape the world. Didn’t we see how Xi Jinping, inspired by Genghis Khan’s Golden Horde, has been getting visions of building silk roads and golden belts?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Early last century Sir Halford Mackinder, regarded the father of geopolitics, came up with a theory that power and politics would flow from the heartland of Eurasia. Inspired by Alfred Mahan who had championed seapower, Nicholas Spykman pointed out that Mackinder’s heartland was peopled by peasants, and that the more industrialised and seagoing rimland of Europe had a higher potential to dominate global politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though neither of these theories was meant to be doctrines for global powercraft, Spykman’s vision is said to have inspired the US to encircle and contain ‘heartland’ Soviet Russia during the Cold War. A series of military pacts were signed, starting with the old rimland powers of the North Atlantic. Most of the pacts were dissolved in a few years, but the North Atlantic one survived the Cold War, and is still punching beyond its weight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia’s decline and China’s rise have shifted power politics further eastward. As the sun rose on the new century, the world found China asserting in the waters of the east and even reaching out to the south. Techno-smart Japan in the east, and resource-rich Australia deep south, both of which had been lying cosy under the US security umbrella during the Cold War, began to get nightmares.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was Japanese PM Shinzo Abe who first thought of a security dialogue among the Indo-Pacificans with India in it. He had seen how India had used its warships to reach succour to the tsunami-hit Indian Ocean littoral in 2004. He had also seen how the navies of the old rimland powers were queuing up to exercise with India. Soon Australia was interested, and so was the US which had got tired of being a global Lone Ranger.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Initially shy of getting into security pacts, Narendra Modi sought to mollify China with good words, trade pacts and Doklam deal. But the bully didn’t change his ways; his nasty push in Ladakh was the last straw on the Indian elephant’s back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Quad is only a security dialogue yet, and not a pact; but don’t be surprised if it becomes one in our lifetime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Mar 19 14:05:20 IST 2021 all-quiet-on-the-western-front <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Most of the world and its elder brothers in Washington believe that there is so much distrust between India and Pakistan that the two might go to war at the drop of a brass hat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi, Modi, quite contrary. Peace is easier to make between India and Pakistan than war. The two armies simply have to talk to each other and agree on certain protocols, and presto the Line of Control would turn as quiet as a graveyard (pun intended).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The beauty of the thing is that the generals do not have to labour hard to prepare those protocols. They simply have to take out one of the several templates from their office cupboards. It happened last week; they took out the deal of 2003, and agreed to follow it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For those who came in late.... The Kargil war of 1999 and the flopped Agra summit of 2001 had led to much distrust between India and Pakistan. Then the attack on Indian Parliament almost led to a shooting war. India declared ‘no talks’ till Pakistan stopped sending insurgents. Things came to such a pass that it appeared the Islamabad SAARC summit would flop without Indian participation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Backchannels got hyperactive, and the two armies agreed to a ceasefire on the LoC and in Siachen in 2003. The air of trust thus created led to diplomatic talks, a written commitment from Pakistan not to lend land under its control for fomenting terror against India, a successful visit by Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Islamabad for the 2004 SAARC summit, opening of new travel routes and a boom in mutual trade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Mumbai terror attack turned the air foul. The ceasefire deal began to be violated now and then. Then Modi got Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in and sent him back with a shawl for his mother. Next, Modi airdropped with gifts at Sharif’s granddaughter’s wedding. Firing resumed full force (except in Siachen, where the ceasefire has held for 18 years) after Sharif’s countrymen came with return gifts to Uri and Pathankot in 2016.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But two weeks ago, Sharif’s successor Imran Khan took a fancy for flying over India’s Lakshadweep islands on his way to Colombo and back. The mandarins in our South Block were only happy to oblige, forgetting that Khan’s airspace managers had said no when Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind wanted to fly over the Hindukush a few months ago. Well, to sin is human, but to forgive is divine, thought Modi’s mandarins.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To cut a long story—and a long flight—short, Khan had a pleasant trip over the isles. Probably he fell in love with the lagoons. Soon his generals, who Khan reportedly reports to, began smoking the peace pipe. Can we have a ceasefire, they asked India through backchannels. Finally, the brass hats talked over the hotline, and agreed to hold fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Making the deal was no big deal. Both armies simply took out the 2003 template, and agreed to follow it in letter, spirit and saltpetre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Come to think of it, it is a double saving for Pakistan. One, they saved a lot of turbine fuel by getting a shortcut to Colombo through Indian airspace. Two, they save a lot of money which they are otherwise wasting on bullets and shells while also reeling under the Financial Action Task Force sanctions. And who knows, perhaps they would also need a few million vials of the Covid-19 vaccines that we are making for most of the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What next? Diplomatic talks and then a Modi-Khan meeting? Too early to say. Khan has welcomed the ceasefire, but Modi has not tweeted a word yet. Perhaps he is waiting for the five assembly polls to get over. After all, you cannot breathe fire in campaign speeches while holding fire on the border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Mar 04 14:14:10 IST 2021 arjun-rides-again <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Arjun’s vishad yog has ended. He will ride to battle. The Mahabharat hero was seized by pangs of conscience, when he eyed the phalanx of kinsmen whom he may have to slay. Then Krishna delivered the Gita, and Arjun bucked up to perform his dharma. The rest is epic. Now, Narendra Modi has chanted atmanirbharta to the Army, and new India’s Arjun is battle ready.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the term was coined in his second term, Modi had been keen on self-reliance in defence from day one. On his first outing as PM in 2014, he had landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier and talked of India making and exporting arms. As was pointed out in this column then, if the Tajiks or the Turks were to buy Tejas, Modi ought to tell the Air Force and the Navy to fly it first. If he wanted the Argentines to buy Arjun tanks, he should ask our armoured corps to ride them first.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi has done that now. He rode an Arjun at Longewala in November. Last Sunday, he handed over an Arjun Mk-1A to Army chief Gen. M.M. Naravane, dedicating “to the country one more warrior to protect our frontiers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like Herbie in The Love Bug, Arjun never had any doubt about own capabilities. Its creators, the DRDO nerds who were building a complex battle tank in a country that had not built even its first motor car, had claimed it was the world’s best tank. If it was not, they could work further on it to make it the best.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the charioteers, the armymen who were to ride Arjun, who had doubts, despite every PM since Narasimha Rao asking them to try it out. Rao rode it in 1996 and ‘dedicated’ it to the nation. But the Army took only 120. Atal Bihari Vajpayee got it displayed in the R-Day parade. Manmohan Singh’s defence ministers Pranab Mukherjee and A.K. Antony tried to talk the generals into buying Arjuns in squadrons; Pranab even ‘handed over’ one to Gen. N.C. Vij in 2004.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On every one of these occasions, the users publicly praised the tank, talked of the virtues of indigenisation, spelt out the need for self-reliance, and got themselves photographed with the tank. But as soon as the VIP backs were turned, they returned the machines to the workshops, citing inaccuracy of the gun, overheating in the desert, erratic fire control system, poor suspension, unreliable gunner’s sight and so on. By the time the scientists got back after rectifying the flaws, import orders would have gone in hundreds for T-72s and T-90s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scientists got so frustrated that Arjun’s creator, DRDO chief M Natarajan, broke into tears in a ministry meeting where snooty generals rubbished the tank. Another time the scientists, alleging sabotage by vested import interests, threatened to insert black box-like bugs in the tank to monitor mischief during user trials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army, too, had its case. The early tanks were too heavy for rail rakes and border bridges to take them. And, while the scientists were taking too long in the labs, newer technologies were coming into the market making Arjun obsolete.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, all has ended well. And Natarajan, hopefully, is smiling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: In the 1930s, British PM Stanley Baldwin ordered the Royal Air Force to accept the Hampden, Wellington and Bristol Beaufort warplanes before the prototypes could be tested.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That paid off in the Battle of Britain. When the German bombers came like locusts to bomb Britain into stone age, the RAF pilots met them in more than 10,000 of these rookie planes. That created what Winston Churchill would call “their finest hour”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our bravehearts, too, will have their finest hour—when they trust our own wise minds of science.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Feb 19 14:15:00 IST 2021 cantt-have-it-their-way <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Cantonments, those vast stretches dotted with ‘grant bungalows’, Gothic churches and green meadows across which military men march in misty mornings or sweat it out in sultry afternoons, are in for some tremour. They may soon vanish.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PMO is learnt to have asked the defence ministry to get responses from all of India’s 62 cantonment boards—whether they would like to continue their colonial-style march, or close shop and make money by merging with the melee of modern municipal politics of nearby towns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Voices are getting louder in favour of the latter view. Girish Bapat, BJP’s MP from Pune, created a storm recently by asking for the scrapping of all cantonment boards in India. Virender Kashyap, BJP’s former MP from Shimla, has asked for scrapping of the cantonments of Sabathu, Kasauli, Dagshai and Jutogh in Himachal. Secunderabad Cantonment Board has for long been in turmoil, with its chief, a brigadier, being taken to court, though on a different matter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even otherwise, most of India’s 62 cantts, as they write on railway signboards, are on extended political life. The elected boards of 55 have run out of their statutory life, got two permitted extensions of six months each, and are due for a natural death this month. They will now be run on executive orders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We civvies often confuse cantonments with military stations. Military stations—there are more than 200—are secured areas where the armed forces run their establishments. You can be shot—and no questions asked—if you enter those places without a pass, permit or invitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cantonments are semi-civilian local bodies, much like our municipalities with regular politics, protests and polls. The first cantt was set up at Barrackpore near (now in) Kolkata from where the British started ruling us, and the next at Danapur in Bihar. As their sway expanded over the rest of India, more cantts mushroomed. The idea was to locate the troops away from major towns so that they didn’t get ‘polluted’ by local politics, but not too far so that they could quickly march in to quell unrests. Loyal local worthies were granted land to build bungalows—still known as ‘grant bungalows’—and provisions were made for ‘camp followers’ to set up shops and homes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Various cantonment acts gave them self-government status with boards to run them. The boards have equal number of politically elected members and military- or government-nominated members. But the ex officio head is the local station commander, and a civilian officer from the defence ministry’s estate office is always the chief executive and member secretary. Thus there is no way the elected reps can have their say or way, even when the military blocks roads or switches off lights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The civilian citizens say they are doubly discriminated. One, within the cantts, the military gets preference on scarce resources including right of way through roads. (Remember the hullabaloo when Nirmala Sitharaman as defence minister ordered a few cantt roads to be opened?) Two, since the boards don’t have norms to determine APL or BPL, cantt citizens are denied most central, state or municipal welfare schemes. Moreover, the cumbersome lease and ceiling laws lead to delays in land transfer, house building or opening businesses, leaving cantt denizens poorer than their town cousins.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But critics of the civilian drive have another point—if the boards go, land sharks will despoil the vast virgin lands and raise concrete jungles there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At stake are 1.57 lakh acres.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Feb 04 16:01:10 IST 2021 why-not-a-jawan-kisan-parade <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi missed a golden chance to reach out to the farmers. When they threatened to hold a tractor rally on the Republic Day, Modi should have said—aayiye mere kisan-bhaiyon; miliye aapke jawan beton se, Rajpath pe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rendered into plain Hinglish: most welcome, my farmer-brothers; join your soldier-sons on the Rajpath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That would have been an offer like ‘Godfather’ Vito Corleone’s—one that the other side can’t refuse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead, look at what the government’s babus and sleuths have done. They slapped sedition cases on the farmer leaders. The farmers had better sense. They said they wouldn’t spoil the state show on the Rajpath, but would hold their parade on Delhi’s Ring Road. Yet the state’s vakils went to court, asking the judges what to do. Ask the police, not us—said the judges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not that the farmers, who populate the other side of the political Rajpath, would have given up their struggle after a parade, and gone back to their homes, hearths and barns. They would still have sat in siege on Delhi’s borders, insisting on repeal of the farm laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, an invite to join on the Rajpath would have taken the sting out of the protest. Indeed, true-blue traditionalists would have said: Tut-tu-tut! Tractors riding alongside tanks? You can’t let a sacred ceremony of the state be soiled by a bunch of rustics riding tractors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But let us look at the plus side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As it is, R-Day 2021 is going to be remembered for all the wrong things. A pandemic overhang, smaller crowds, fewer contingents, shorter march and no chief guest. Boris Johnson of Great Britain had agreed to come, but backed off at the last minute citing more and severe covid cases at home. (Not that we haven’t had parades without chief guests. None turned up in 1952, 1953 and 1966 for varying reasons.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not that there is nothing new in this year’s parade. There will be Bangladeshi troops marching as a guest-contingent, and there will be the brand new Rafales showing stunts in the sky.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, an invite to the farmers would have made a bigger difference, and made this year’s parade the most cherished one. The charm of the Indian R-Day parade is not just the military and their marching contingents, but also the several tableaux depicting the cultural and ethnic mosaic of India that is Bharat. The sight of a convoy of well-painted tractors, driven by a few colourfully-clad and brightly-turbaned tillers (carefully picked by the parade commanders), would have added to the grandeur of the parade which is billed as the world’s grandest state show.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two, such a gesture on the government’s part would have been hailed as politically sagacious. As it is, there is much bitterness between the government and the protesters, especially with several ruling party elders calling them Khalistanis and Maoists, and the sleuths slapping sedition cases. An invitation to the farmers to join the parade would have broken the ice, watered down the bitterness, and the talks would have been more cordial.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wise men in the PMO, please rethink! There are still a few days left for the parade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Going by an RSS claim, Jawaharlal Nehru did something like this in 1963. Though his government had once banned the RSS, Nehru was so impressed with their social work in China-threatened Assam during the war of 1962 that he invited them to join the R-Day parade of 1963.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is another matter that this claim is still not confirmed. The defence ministry has responded to RTI queries on the matter that no record of the composition of the 1963 parade exists!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Jan 21 15:04:52 IST 2021 the-bull-in-paks-china-shop <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>An irreparable loss!” Narendra Modi tweeted on the death of Narendra Kumar who “served the nation with exceptional courage and diligence. His special bond with the mountains will be remembered.”</p> <p>It is rare that the PM condoles over a colonel’s death, but then Narendra Kumar was no ordinary colonel or climber. He was the only colonel who wore a PVSM (usually accorded to generals), a Padma Shri, a Kirti Chakra, an AVSM, an Arjuna Award, the Mountaineering Federation’s Gold Medal, and finally the MacGregor Medal (see Tailpiece) worn once by legends like Francis Younghusband who had hoofed it over the Himalayas and invaded Tibet.</p> <p>Kumar followed on Younghusband’s footsteps, literally. He climbed peak after snowy peak, and won Siachen for India.</p> <p>Kumar joined the military academy in 1950 where he charged at a six inch-taller, tougher and senior rival at his first boxing match. The rival, later army chief S.F. Rodrigues, won the match but Narendra came to be called Bull Kumar.</p> <p>Losing four toes to frostbite in 1961, the Bull charged up peaks in dozens, becoming the first Indian to scale Nanda Devi (1964), and Kanchenjunga from its northeast face (1976), which was tougher than Everest. He beat the Chinese to Barahoti and got patted on the back by Jawaharlal Nehru, skiied down the Trisul wearing polythene sheets as stockings, and scaled Everest 20 times.</p> <p>Bull was heading the mountain warfare school in Gulmarg in 1977 when an old German rafter-friend asked if he would help him raft down the Nubra. The US-printed map of northern Kashmir that the German unrolled made Bull’s blood freeze. It showed Siachen, the largest alpine glacier on earth, in Pak-held Kashmir. (The glacier lay between Pak-held Kashmir and China-held Aksai Chin, but had not been marked on ground or map, and was thought to be India’s.) From the German he learnt that Pakistan had been issuing climbing licences for the area.</p> <p>Bull grabbed the map and took it to the Army’s operations chief M.L. Chibber; Chibber got chief T.N. Raina to sanction a ‘training trek’ by Bull and team to the heart of Siachen. There they picked up tin cans, chocolate wrappers and cigarette packets left behind by Pak and Pak-licensed climbers, and were also threatened by a Pak Sabrejet, which fired warning smoke shots. After making one more Siachen recce during which he became the first Indian to climb the 24,350-foot Sia Kangri, Bull published an account of his explorations.</p> <p>That was to test the ice. The publication alerted the Pakistanis. Soon Indian spies in London learnt of Pak Army having ordered thousands of pairs of special mountain boots. The Siachen game was afoot, literally.</p> <p>Surmising that the Pak army was planning to occupy the glacier so as to get a link between the Pak-held Karakoram Pass and China-held Aksai Chin, Indira Gandhi sanctioned Operation Meghdoot in 1984, by which a brigade climbed up the Saltoro peaks that guard the glacier. They have been sitting there since, having named their main base ‘Kumar’. All the Pak cannons and all the Pak men haven’t been able to dislodge them since.</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Charles MacGregor was an Indian Army officer who fought in breaking the siege of Lucknow, in China, Bhutan, Abyssinia, Afghanistan, and the East Indies, and also headed the intelligence department. In 1870, he founded the United Service Institution of India, which is now Asia’s oldest military thinktank. The MacGregor Medal, instituted in his memory in 1888, is the highest honour for military reconnaissance.</p> Thu Jan 07 16:17:39 IST 2021 shaheen-bagh-to-rakabganj <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The year 2020 has been our annus horribilis.</p> <p>The phrase, elegant in Latin but sounding foul in English even when not punned, became pop in modern times after Elizabeth Regina II used it for describing 1992. That was the year in which her elder son’s affairs became public knowledge, her second son separated from his wife, her daughter divorced, a daughter-in-law was snapped topless and getting her toe kissed, her nephew killed himself, and one of her many palaces caught fire.</p> <p>Those were mostly the Queen’s personal tragedies. For the public, those who read about these in British tabloids, 1992 was annus comicus.</p> <p>Now Narendra Modi too has had his horrible year. Look at 2020 from head to toe, or January to December. It started with street protests over the citizenship law, and is ending with protests over farm laws. In between we have had riots in Delhi, a sit-in at Shaheen Bagh, a pandemic which is still on the rage, a social lockdown, an economic slowdown, town workers fleeing, Sushant Rajput dead, Donald Trump in Delhi, Babri accused acquitted, 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—not even for our most frequent flier.</p> <p>Not that it was all mourning and melancholy. There were moments of mirth too. We watched Mickey Mouse and Donald Trump on home TV, banged plates and tumblers to remove viruses, listened to Rahul urging youth to dream of unemployment, and nodded our heads when told that the Chinese hadn’t broken in.</p> <p>But those moments of mirth were short-lived. We relapsed into melancholy most of the year, washing hands, tying masks, scrubbing surfaces and physically distancing. But the virus stayed on and spread to more, and is now mutating into a more virulent avatar.</p> <p>No wonder Modi has sought divine benediction. Without police escort, he went to pray at Gurdwara Rakabganj “where the pious body of Sri Guru Teg Bahadur Ji was cremated,” and tweeted that he “felt extremely blessed.”</p> <p>Critics would carp that he chose a gurdwara for prayer to mollify the farmers. Most of the protesting farmers are Sikhs, and they think that Modi’s new farm laws will let the Ambanis and Adanis reap their harvests.</p> <p>Anyway, the ruse, if it was one, hasn’t worked. Like the gritty guru before Aurangzeb, the farmers are sticking to their stance and sitting on a siege of Delhi, come winter cold, coronavirus or being called Khalistanis.</p> <p>Let’s hope better sense will prevail on both sides, and next year, during which the 400th Parkash Parv of Guru Teg Bahadur will be celebrated, will be an annus mirabilis.</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Ninth guru Teg Bahadur was beheaded in 1675 in Chandni Chowk on the orders of Aurangzeb who also forbade his cremation. However, the guru’s disciple Lakhi Shah Vanjara stole the body and cremated it by burning his house in Rakabganj village which had got its name from the local market of horse tack (rakab) patronised by Mughal noblemen. The severed head was taken to Anandpur Sahib by another disciple, Bhai Jaita, and cremated.</p> <p>The shrines built later at the spot of the execution in Chandni Chowk and cremation of the head in Anandpur Sahib are known as Gurdwara Sisganj (sis means head). The British had planned to demolish Gurdwara Rakabganj during the building of New Delhi so as to straighten the road to North Block. They even demolished its boundary wall, but gave up the idea in return for the Sikhs’ valuable service in World War I.</p> Thu Dec 24 18:44:01 IST 2020 the-wrath-of-the-sindhuputras <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi says his intentions behind bringing the farm laws were “as pure as the waters of Maa Ganga”. No quarrel. He might have genuinely believed that his three laws would free our farmers from the clutches of merchants, middlemen, mandi mafia and the mandarins who decree minimum support prices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the sons of Maa Sindhu have not taken kindly to the laws. Rightly or wrongly, they fear the new laws would leave their crops, which were once at the mercy of the monsoon (till Jawaharlal Nehru built Bhakra Nangal), to the mercy of the corporates. The laws have enraged them so much that they have been besieging Delhi, and muddying the waters of the Yamuna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mistake that Modi committed was in taking the Sindhuputras for granted. As had been discussed in this column on several occasions, laws made in haste will be regretted at leisure. Ideally, bills are put in the public domain weeks ahead for public debates from which law-drafters can draw informed opinion. Once a bill is introduced in the legislature, the wise men there should get time to discuss it, dissect it, debate it or damn it. They may even send it to a committee where members shed their party loyalties, bare their true minds, exercise their brains, consult outside experts, give their objective opinions, and help refine the bill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>None of these procedures was followed in the case of the farm bills. The government used its brute majority to reject the opposition’s demands for scrutiny by a committee, and got the bills passed in a few hours. Even the demand for a division, the procedure by which the votes are counted in the house, was overruled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, as the government claims, reforms of the kind that the laws will bring about had been demanded by several farmer bodies over the years. The Shetkari Sanghatana, the first post-Green Revolution farmer movement that took western India by storm in the early 1980s, had been seeking these reforms, and so have been several movements since. In that sense, the bills may be welcomed by most of India’s farmers, the millions who till the lands on the banks of the Ganga, the Brahmaputra, the Narmada, the Krishna, the Mahanadi, the Godavari, the Sharavati and the Cauvery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But that cannot be an excuse for ignoring the concerns of the ones who have been ploughing on the banks of the Sindhu’s tributaries. They have been feeding this land and its billions since decades, and ought to have been heard before laws that affect them were made. They may be a minority, but then democracy is not about imposing the will of the more over the fewer. That would be, as J.S. Mill had said, tyranny of the majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sindhuputras are not just any other minority either. They have been sending their sons in thousands as jawans in the Army. The kisans of Punjab and Haryana have not only been wielding the ploughshare to feed us since the age of the Harappan granaries, but also wielding the sword and the gun to guard the frontiers since the days of Porus and Alexander. Even when fighting the rulers of Delhi, they had been lending their might to fend off the Nadir Shahs and Ahmad Shah Abdalis who coveted the riches of India. Calling them Khalistanis, as a few in the BJP have done, is worse than biting the hand that feeds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Shiromani Akali Dal faction leader Sant Fateh Singh had announced a fast and even self-immolation to press for the Sikhs’ demand for a Punjabi Suba in August 1965. War with Pakistan broke out just then. The rebel sant promptly called off the agitation “in the larger interest of the nation” and sent money for the war effort.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Dec 10 15:06:55 IST 2020 all-that-is-greek-and-turkish <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Greek-Turkish conflict is the stuff of legends in the European imagination. It inspired poets like Lord Byron to take up arms (who said the pen is mightier than the sword?) and join the partisans. Their rivalry goes back to the Crusades or even earlier, turned intense in the age of maritime exploration, enveloped the classical and the romantic periods of European aesthetics, and continued into the age of world wars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We in India had remained insulated from it, save for having been ruled by the likes of Elgin and Lytton whose families had been part of that European lore (see Tailpiece), and our freedom struggle getting entwined with the Khilafat movement after World War I. In the modern period, we watched with splendid indifference as Greece and Turkey became reluctant allies within the NATO, and Turkey joined the CENTO alongside Pakistan. Otherwise, neither Greece nor Turkey has been a factor or actor in our subcontinental politics, and none of our rulers showed any special love for either, except perhaps independent India naming a road in Delhi’s diplomatic area after Kemal Ataturk.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No longer so. We may soon be wading into the Aegean waters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Turkey, whose state system was once hailed as the showpiece of extreme secularism, has been getting aggressively religious and nationalistic under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This is worrying the Greeks, who have quarrels with the Turks over the energy-rich waters of the eastern Mediterranean. Instead of seeking out Byrons to fight and Edgar Allan Poes to versify, the Greeks are romancing Narendra Modi’s India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their defence minister, Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, recently dropped in the Indian mission, met Ambassador Amrit Lugun and “discussed issues of further deepening our bilateral relations in the defence sector”. The diplomatic grapevine has it that they explored the possibility of a couple of joint naval drills in the Aegean or the eastern Mediterranean to scare off the Turks. Late last month, Modi’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar video-called his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias to chat about “a range of regional and multilateral issues.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why us? Well, who else when there are Pakistanis on the other side? Erdogan has been pretty cosy with Imran Khan of late, getting into arms deals, sharing military knowhow and even holding joint military drills. A year ago, Pakistan had sent its missile frigate PNS Alamgir and an Orion sea&nbsp;recce plane for an exercise with the Turkish Navy in the Mediterranean. Well, would the Indians not want to be there?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi too has been pretty miffed with Erdogan. The Turk raised the Kashmir issue in the United Nations last year; Modi countered him by meeting his enemies (the rulers of Cyprus, Armenia and Greece) on the UN sidelines, and cancelled a planned visit to Ankara. Then as Erdogan upped his military games with Pakistan, India signed a $40 million defence deal with Armenia and condemned Turkey’s military actions in northern Syria.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;The strategic picture is changing in the Islamic Eurasia. The Arabs are beginning to shake hands with the Israelis and cutting down funds for religious work. Iran and Turkey have spotted a chance and are vying with each other to fill the vacuum, with Erdogan even dreaming caliphate dreams.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well, who called Turkey the sick man of Europe?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Viceroy Elgin (1862-1863) was the son of Thomas Bruce, the 7th earl of Elgin who carted away the marbles from Acropolis to “save” them from the Turks. Lytton’s (1876-1880) father Edward Bulwer wrote&nbsp;The Last Days of Pompeii, a fictional account of the Greek city that was buried in the lava from Vesuvius.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Nov 26 16:51:44 IST 2020 too-many-ministers-spoil-the-show <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Old seadogs, those rum-soaked sods of bygone days, believed that renaming ships brought bad luck. “What a ship was christened, so let her stay,” said Long John Silver, that jolly villain of Treasure Island.</p> <p>Narendra Modi does not believe in such old wives’ tales. He thinks a curse on ships does not visit the men who chart their course from land. He has changed the name of the ministry of shipping to ministry of ports, shipping and waterways.</p> <p>For sure, Minister Mansukh Mandaviya and his officers have been “doing a lot of work related to ports and waterways” even earlier. The name change has not entailed any extra burden or budget for them.</p> <p>Modi thinks they had been sailing through uncharted waters. The new nomenclature should act like a lightship that warns merchantmen against running into reefs and rocks. “Clarity in name will bring about clarity in work,” says Modi.</p> <p>The ministry has for long been tossed around like a boat in a storm. Named ministry of transport and communications in 1957, it has been melded into, merged with and detached from road transport (sometimes surface transport and other times highways), civil aviation and even tourism.</p> <p>Shipping is the fourth ministry that Modi has renamed, without changing the content. Weeks ago, he restored the old ‘education’ signboard to the human resources development ministry. Earlier, he had declared that the water resources ministry shall henceforth be known as jal shakti ministry which, literally translated, should mean hydro power. Then there is the agriculture ministry which Modi has modified as ministry of agriculture and farmers’ welfare.</p> <p>Actually, do we have to list the entire charter of a ministry’s duties in its name, make them sound so prosaic, and waste space on their letterheads? Don’t our babus have the imagination to know that ships need ports to call at, unless they are pirates of the high seas? And think of the wastage that entails every name change. Thousands of signboards, tens of thousands of calling cards, and lakhs of pages of letterheads are simply thrown into the dustbin and new ones printed with every name change.</p> <p>Talking of wastage, are we not having too many ministries? Former NITI Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya’s student Vishnu Narasimhan tabulated that India had a total of 53 ministries (and several more ministers). Article 72 of the Constitution limits the size of the council of ministers to 15 per cent of the strength of the Lok Sabha. That is about 80; Manmohan Singh once had almost that many.</p> <p>One could understand when compulsions of coalition politics led to creation of jumbo ministries, but why today when we have a one-party majority? Most countries have lean and mean ministries, and they are ruled far better. The UK has 23, the US 22, France 16 and Germany 13.</p> <p>The Second Administrative Reforms Commission, and several bodies before it, had recommended that India have only 25 ministries. Closely related departments can be brought under one ministry, headed by a cabinet minister who would be aided by ministers of state. Thus, one transport ministry could take care of road, rail, sea and air transport. Rural development, housing, urban affairs, and panchayati raj can be under one; so can be power, petroleum and natural gas and non-conventional energy. And do we need ministries for statistics and steel? Well, we had a minister for drinking water. Thank God, they didn’t think of bathwater.</p> Fri Nov 13 14:41:26 IST 2020 tailor-made-for-atmanirbharta <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi seems to be hell-bent on stealing the Congress’s clothes. Literally so. He has become the brand ambassador of khadi which, Congressmen used to think, was their robe of honour.</p> <p>Once hailed as the fabric of freedom and the symbol of self-reliance, the coarse cloth had been tucked away for too long in the dusty shelves of khadi bhandars and the cobwebbed corners of the nation’s conscience, with the Congress claiming to be the keepers of both. With political corruption seeping through the fabric of governance over the decades, the cloth had come to be condemned in middle-class imagination as the costume of corrupted power.</p> <p>Virtuous Gandhians, who continued to wear it thinking that it was a spartan but non-violent battle wear for social and economic justice, were becoming an aberration. And the bleeding-heart NGO types—the ones who cooperate with Gandhians and co-habit with corporates—had long ago switched over to Fabian socialism and Fab-India kurtas.</p> <p>Now Modi is giving the soiled khadi a bleach-and-starch wash. Himself a khadi-draper bold, he has been spinning yarns about the hand-spun cloth since his first Mann ki Baat in October 2014. In his latest, he told the country how khadi is now being spun and sold in Mexico, thanks to the efforts of Mark Brown, an American. Brown became a Gandhian after watching Richard Attenborough’s <i>Gandhi</i>, lived in the Sabarmati Ashram, learnt to spin and weave, and has imparted the knowledge to about 400 families in Mexico’s Oaxaca (pronounced Oahaakaa).</p> <p>In India, the fabric has remained the same, but Modi has tailored it to suit the new-gen and non-Congress tastes and style. His catchline “khadi for nation and khadi for fashion” is perhaps the most glamorous thing that happened to the humble fabric after Mahatma Gandhi sent a self-spun lace as his wedding gift to Princess Elizabeth in November 1947. (Incidentally, the Queen ‘regifted’ it to Modi when he called on her at the Buckingham Palace two Aprils ago.) Now even catwalkers are wearing khadi, though their requirement is in inches and not yards.</p> <p>Anyway, Modi has set the spinning wheel on fire. Charkhas are spinning these days like power turbines across India. If khadi worth Rs 1,066 crore was spun out in 2015-16, the production went up to Rs 2,292.44 crore last year—a whopping 115 per cent growth. Sales shot up by 179 per cent from Rs 1,510 crore in 2015-16 to Rs 4,211.26 crore in 2019-20. And on this Gandhi Jayanti, “the khadi store in Connaught Place in Delhi witnessed purchases of over one crore rupees,” Modi claimed in his latest Mann ki Baat.</p> <p>The original icon of Gandhian self-reliance, khadi has also come in handy to promote Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat, and is also giving a shot in the arms that are fighting the coronavirus. The Khadi and Village Industries Commission is getting silk and cotton masks stitched in trendy colours, selling them to Central government offices including the president’s and the prime minister’s, and seeking markets in West Asia and Europe. The KVIC claims that these masks, made of double-twisted fabric, retains moisture while providing easy air passage.</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Princess Elizabeth was not the only one who received khadi cloth as a wedding gift from Gandhi. When Jawaharlal’s sister Vijaya Lakshmi was to be married to Ranjit Pandit, the Nehrus were worried that khadi silk could not be dyed in the right wedding colours. Bapu and Kasturba took up this as a challenge and gifted a sari, woven and dyed bright by them.</p> <p><b><a href=""></a></b></p> Fri Oct 30 19:12:50 IST 2020 an-ally-fo-all-reasons <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Who is Ram? Where is Ram?</p> <p>There was stunned silence in the Lok Sabha as Ram Vilas Paswan hurled this rhetorical poser during a debate in the 1990s.</p> <p>As the house broke into pandemonium, Paswan delicately removed his spectacles, pointed its stem towards his heart, and said: “I am Ram—Ram Vilas Paswan.”</p> <p>Before the BJP benches could catch on to what he was trying to say, Paswan continued: “Not just the name. There is the spirit of Ram in me; there is Ram in you; there is Ram in every Indian’s heart. Ram dwells in the hearts of all Indians— not just in your temples.”</p> <p>There was desk-thumping from the left, the centre and even the mandir-right.</p> <p>That was Ram Vilas Paswan—a man who practised combative politics, but carried a rounded personality. He made enemies in politics, but befriended them in personal life.</p> <p>The country, the world and the Guinness Book took note of the young Lohia socialist when he, just out of an Emergency jail, won the largest majority from Hajipur. A decade later, Janata Dal’s V.P. Singh spotted a future prime minister in him, and gave him labour and welfare.</p> <p>In welfare, the dalit from Bihar had a brahmin secretary from Kerala who believed passionately in dalit and backward empowerment. P.S. Krishnan prepared the historic note for VP and Paswan to discuss in the cabinet on August 6, 1990. That note, envisaging job quotas for the backwards, would radically change Indian politics. A new political elite would rise in the Gangetic Plain.</p> <p>As Mandal shook the brahmin-thakur-dominated polity of the north, Paswan and Sharad Yadav stood like rocks behind VP. They went down fighting the BJP’s mandir with Mandal. However, as the Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh duo blunted the sting of Mandal by creating jobs in the non-Mandal economy, the Janata parivar fractured into pieces.</p> <p>Yet, prime ministers and party chiefs sought out Paswan (in 2004, his long-time neighbour Sonia Gandhi walked into his house seeking an alliance), not just for his political clout, but for his administrative acumen. He had a computer-like brain that could absorb facts and figures, and reel them out without having to check his notes. This columnist remembers his incredible performance at his first presser held a day after he took charge of fertilisers and steel. For two hours he briefed us, without checking a single file or consulting an officer even once, on the performance, plans, problems, promises, profits and losses of every PSU under the two ministries.</p> <p>Civil servants adored him. He addressed them with a ‘ji’, and rose to receive the seniors when they entered his chamber.</p> <p>However, Paswan could not become the messiah of the dalits and the backwards, as VP had hoped. As he got sucked into the coalition politics of the 1990s, he became a political weathercock, aligning with the BJP first, then with the Congress and again with the BJP.</p> <p>That was a problem with most caste-justice chieftains. As a political commentator said, none of them could ford the mighty stream of the Ganga. Most of them turned into warlords in their fiefs, and failed to cross the political Rubicon of the Ganga. If Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati stayed put on its left bank, Lalu Prasad, Paswan and Nitish Kumar were confined to the right.</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Paswan’s two bids to strike roots in Uttar Pradesh came a cropper. He lost the 1985 Bijnor by-poll, to the Congress’s Meira Kumar. In 1987, the Guinness record-holder lost his deposit in the Haridwar by-poll finishing behind Ram Singh of the Congress and Mayawati of the BSP.</p> <p>Sharad Yadav is perhaps the only Mandal neta who has won from several states—Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.</p> Thu Oct 15 21:42:45 IST 2020 a-minister-and-a-gentleman <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The president swears in all Union ministers to oaths of office and secrecy. But in 1998, the PM House witnessed a strange swearing-in, where the prime minister administered the oath of secrecy (not of office) to two men. One was Pramod Mahajan; the other was Jaswant Singh who passed away on Sunday.</p> <p>Jaswant had lost the 1998 polls. The RSS, which had many grouses against the anglicised aristocrat (including his temerity to walk into their sanctified premises with his shoes on), insisted that no poll-losers be taken into the cabinet. So Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who wanted to confide in Jaswant and Mahajan matters of governance and atom bomb tests, swore them to secrecy on the PM House lawns.</p> <p>When the world came down on bomb-maker India like a tonne of yellow cakes, Vajpayee sent Jaswant to Washington to ‘interlocute’ with deputy secretary Strobe Talbott. Soon, Vajpayee got Jaswant into the Rajya Sabha and made him de jure foreign minister. Talbott, who met Jaswant at 10 locations in seven countries, was so overwhelmed by Jaswant’s deft diplomacy as well as Victorian English, British manners, booming voice and military demeanour that he showed this specimen from the pre-World War era to his wife. She cooked a dinner for Jaswant.</p> <p>Jaswant had also sent Vajpayee on a bus to Lahore, apparently to tell Talbott and the world that the atom-armed neighbours could also make peace. Sadly, the bus mission got hijacked to Kargil heights by Pakistan’s commando-general Pervez Musharraf.</p> <p>That was the problem with Jaswant. He could not fathom diplomatic deception. He took everyone to be a gentleman like him who honoured a word given. So it was at Agra where he organised a Vajpayee-Musharraf summit with no agenda. The general came, and carpet-bombed the summit with Kashmir talk. Cabinet colleague Yashwant Sinha records in his memoirs that Jaswant had trusted the Pakistanis again and agreed to a draft joint statement that made no mention of the Shimla pact or cross-border terrorism. The summit crashed as L.K. Advani and Yashwant put their foot down, and the general took a midnight flight back home.</p> <p>Vajpayee still trusted him, investing even the defence job with Jaswant when George Fernandes had to briefly stay out of the cabinet following the Coffingate. “I wish I had these two departments,” a jealous US secretary of state Colin Powell quipped.</p> <p>Jaswant believed that Indians and India ought to carry their heads high. As finance minister later, he let every Indian carry up to $25,000 when flying abroad and spend in style, marking the beginning of capital account convertibility.</p> <p>He held his head high always. Though he left the Army as a major, its cavalry culture stayed with him. He wore shirts with shoulder flaps that looked like epaulettes. He chose his words carefully—whether in diplomacy, in Parliament or a private chat—to achieve what the Victorian virtuoso of literature Matthew Arnold would have conceded was a ‘grand style’. Rarely would he mention a fellow-MP by name, but by the constituency he or she represented. In the house he was particularly fond of “the honourable member from Bolpur,” the communist barrister Somnath Chatterjee.</p> <p>Once he used the style to put down Congress’s South Bombay MP Murli Deora, known for his ties with tycoons. He called Deora “the honourable member from Nariman Point,” much to the mirth of Deora himself.</p> <p>Tailpiece: Jaswant met his match in a backbencher. As he ended a long-winded speech in his clipped English, someone quipped aloud: “Can we have an English translation of the speech, please?”</p> Thu Oct 01 18:26:15 IST 2020 reaping-the-trade-wind <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a singular fondness for oneness. Saying “one nation, one flag”, he got Jammu and Kashmir’s special status scrapped. Introducing the digital health mission, he prescribed, “one nation, one health card”. To streamline power distribution, he said, “one nation, one grid”. To sell the idea of GST, he quoted “one nation, one tax”. So far so good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Problems will arise if the zealots among his partymen go further and seek one language in one nation, or one faith in one nation. Such ideas may undo the oneness that we have achieved since Sardar Patel knitted India together under Pandit Nehru’s benign slogan “unity in diversity”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi, too, is on a knitting mission these days. Chanting “one nation, one market”, he is seeking to integrate India’s myriad mandis into one. “We are self-reliant in agriculture, and we export commodities.... [So now,] we are bringing laws to free the farm sector,” he said in his Independence Day address. The reference was to the three farm ordinances which had been issued during the Covid-19 lockdown, and are becoming acts of Parliament during this lotion-washed monsoon session.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has been food-short for centuries, and India’s rulers have been following the ant-and-the-grasshopper moral ever since Allauddin Khilji built granaries for storing harvests to feed the people during famines. Faced with food shortage and hoarding by greedy merchants, our rulers banned private hoarding, put curbs on prices, rationed the essentials, subsidised farm costs, levied harvests, built warehouses, and offered assured prices to farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All these were needed when we did not grow enough grain, and when farmers were cheated by moneylenders and middlemen. But the times have changed, and harvests have boomed. Now we need laws that free the farmer to reap what he sows, and to sell what he reaps to anyone, anywhere, any time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi thinks his three laws can do the trick: one, dilute the Essential Commodities Act; two, introduce a law for free trade in farm produce; three, bring another law to let farmers sell at the prices they can command.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus he is removing cereals, pulses, oil seeds, cooking oils, onion and potato from the list of essentials that cannot be hoarded. Once stocking is allowed, exports and food processing businesses will boom. Not that it is going to be a free run for hoarders. The state will reserve its right to put curbs in case of wars, famines, calamities and runaway rise in prices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The free trade law will end the first-buyer claim that agricultural produce market committees (APMCs) had over farm produce. Though set up to ensure that farmers are not cheated, the APMC mandis have become playgrounds of agent cartels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The old law had also prevented exporters, processors and retail chain operators from buying directly from farmers. Now on, the farmer will be free to sell to anyone he likes and anywhere. A Nagpur orange grower may sell his harvest directly to a jam-maker in Ongole or Oklahoma. Farmers may open trading channels with companies, partnership firms, or registered societies, the norms of whose conduct may be notified by the Centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The third law will allow contract farming by which firms may get the farmer to sow and reap what they want at prices they can negotiate. Such deals may be monitored and insured, but firms would not be allowed to acquire ownership of the farm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, is it all a win-win situation? By no means. Critics say, it will be a free run across the farms for millers, picklers, chips-makers and jam-makers. Two, who will pay the states which were getting crores from the APMC mandis?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Sep 19 21:54:32 IST 2020 hark-hark-the-native-bark <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi has been getting too close to animals of late. First he posted his photos with peacocks that strut around the vast lawns of the PM House. Then in his monthly Mann ki Baat, he urged dog-lovers to adopt native breeds. They would unleash an animal spirit into Atmanirbhar Bharat, he seems to think. Just what Manmohan Singh’s 1991 budget did to the stock market.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dog is supposed to be man’s best friend, but we in India have kept the beast in the doghouse of our imagination. Our puranas have no dog that can be likened to Kamadhenu among cows, Uchhaishravas among horses, or Airavat among elephants. Bhairava rides a dog; Dattatreya is associated with four dogs which symbolise the four Vedas; a dog follows Yudhistira on his final walk through a brief spell in hell, and into heaven.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elsewhere the dog appears as a pariah, literally. Sage Sankara’s supreme wisdom is tested by an untouchable crossing his path with four dogs. A mongrel steals Yudhistira’s sandals from outside Draupadi’s bedchamber causing the worst familial shame. With the result, Indian dog-lovers have been looking to Labrador, Alsace, Dalmatia and elsewhere to pick up dogs. The Pekinese, once a preserve of the Chinese imperial family, continues to be our most sought-after toy dog even when the Chinese are threatening to “cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now Modi has suggested that our kennel keepers look at Indian breeds that can also hunt with the hounds and cuddle up on your laps. No barking matter. He has cited how Army dogs Sophie and Vida won the service chief’s commendation cards, how dog Balram spotted explosives on the Amarnath pilgrims’ route, how the CRPF’s Cracker sniffed out an IED which blew up and killed it, how Rocky helped the police in Beed solve 300 cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To help out the country’s countless caninophiles, Modi reeled out a list of “fabulous Indian breeds”—Mudhol Hound, Himachali Hound, Rajapalayam, Kanni, Chippiparai and Kombai, all of which “cost less to raise”, and are better suited to our heat, dust, smell and stink than the Dalmatians, Alsatians, Pomeranians and Pekinese, all of which cost a pile and still pee on lamp-posts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, some of these Indian breeds have impeccable pedigree. The tall Mudhol Hounds, which hail from the Karnataka-Maharashtra border, had served in Shivaji’s army. Malojirao Ghorpade, the last prince of Mudhol, is said to have gifted a pair of these puppies to King George V who christened them Mudhol Hounds. Himachali Hounds, sheepdogs from the snow mountains, are massive mastiff-like dogs with thick fur which protects them from the cold. The lean and mean Rajapalayams, hailing from the town of the same name in Tamil country, had aided the Polygar heroes such as Veerapandiya Kattabomman against the British after Tipu of Mysore fell in 1799. “The next time you think of raising a pet dog, consider bringing home one of these Indian breeds,” Modi told his listeners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trust Modi to fill even a kennel with national spirit. “At a time when Atmanirbhar Bharat is becoming a mantra of the people, how can any domain be left untouched by its influence?” he asked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: As a prime minister whose tenure depended on outside support of the Congress, Deve Gowda often had to call on Sitaram Kesri who headed the party in 1996-98. Among the several grouses that Gowda had against Kesri, which led to their break-up, was that Kesri used to let his many Pomeranians roam free in the room even when the two were talking matters of state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Sep 03 15:49:15 IST 2020 turbans-and-tailor-made-tales <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The fans of neither of them would approve of this, but I am finding more in common between Jawaharlal Nehru and Narendra Modi. As this column discussed three fortnights ago, both have been practitioners of personal diplomacy. Here’s another. They share a love for good clothes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though his mentor wore only a loincloth and was called a half-naked fakir by Winston Churchill, Nehru loved to dress well. When fellow Congressmen faulted him for wearing a suit to Europe in the 1930s, he told them to imbibe Gandhian values and not imitate Gandhi’s garments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nehru looked dapper in his achkan with a rose in the buttonhole. In summer he wore a jacket to which he lent his name. Modi has cut it to his size and stuck his label; now it is called Modi jacket. Nothing wrong. Rulers should draw strength, sustenance and style from their predecessors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Gandhi lent his name to the khadi Congress cap, Nehru made it a politician’s trademark headgear. The association between neta jis and the khadi cap peaked during the Morarji Desai era, but it began to vanish from political pates in the Rajiv era. Probably, Rajiv’s outburst at the Bombay AICC centenary against power-brokers gave it the knockout punch. New-gen netas dumped it into the dustbins of history and confines of pocket cartoons. Today it is worn mainly by Congress Seva Dal volunteers in white khadi, Rashtriya Swayamsevaks in black woollen, Maharashtrian elders in general and Anna Hazare in particular.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dressing well seems to have been a family trait with the Nehrus. Motilal was quite a dandy; Indira and Rajiv dressed appropriately. She looked the Bharatiya naari with her sari over the head on political occasions in India, but charmed world leaders in sleeveless blouse and dapper hairdo when abroad. Rajiv proved that the heavens wouldn’t fall if an Indian PM wore a western suit or jeans and t-shirt. He wore kurta-pyjamas while politicking, bandhgalas while banqueting with statesmen, suit and tie to school reunion, and jeans and t-shirt on holidays.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like the Nehrus, Modi loves to be seen in good clothes. Once he took it too far, when he wore a monogrammed suit that earned him a Malvolio image. Rahul Gandhi called his government suit-boot ki sarkar and that cost Modi the Delhi elections a month later. His wardrobe has sobered down since.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi also loves jazzy headgear. His I-Day addresses are becoming the talk of the town from Toronto to Timbuktu, not only for what he says but also for what he wears on his head. For his first address, he wore a polka-dotted red turban; the next year it was an orange with shades of blue, red and green. In 2016 he donned a tie-and-dye turban in pink, red and yellow; 2017 saw him with a yellow and red headgear that had golden embroidery and a tail longer than Mandrake the Magician’s, but shorter than Lady Diana’s wedding gown. In 2018 he donned an orange-and-red one with a tail, and last year it was a red-and-orange leheriya turban with a tinge of green.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This year, Modi appeared in an orange-and-yellow Rajasthani safa with a tail, said to have been sent by one Sujansinh Parmar from Tapi in Gujarat. Parmar, a farmer, has made turban-rolling a hobby, and has gifted fancy headgear to Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and Rahul Gandhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Following the European custom, Congress leaders used to leave their caps in the hall before entering the viceroy’s room. Once Lady Irwin happened to pick up Motilal’s Gandhi cap which he had left in the hall while calling on Lord Irwin. It wore the label of a fashionable London hatter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Aug 21 13:33:08 IST 2020 licence-to-make-licence-to-kill <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>No fighter plane has come in with a bigger bang than the Rafale. TV anchors and studio strategists spent hours waxing eloquent about its capabilities—a lot of it real, a lot more yet to come with India-specific enhancements, and still more imagined. Many called it a game-changer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the olden days, there were separate planes for separate jobs. There were heavy bombers, interdiction bombers, interceptors, air superiority planes, ground attackers, short-range fighters, long-range fighters, spy planes and so on. Each type was designed, built and armed for specific roles. The current trend is to have more multirole planes and a few specialist planes.</p> <p>The Rafale will be our first multirole bird. By all accounts, it is the most agile multirole fighter that money can buy—it can perform dogfights, drop bombs, and shoot missiles air-to-air or air-to-ground. The French know how to pack a first-class punch in every plane.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have been buying warplanes since the 1960s, and never ever have we bought a dud. Our tiny Gnats stunned the world when they shot down US-made Sabrejets in 1965; our MiG-21s shot holes through the roof of the governor’s house in Dacca in 1971 with more precision than what the Americans achieved when they shot a missile through the window of the Al Jazeera office in Kabul in 2001. The MiG-21, and its Biz (now Bison) version from which Abhinandan Varthaman shot down an F-16 last year, have proven to be the most enduring fighters ever made in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our MiG-23s and MiG-27s were neighbour’s envy and owner’s pride—airplanes that could fold their wings and turn around in mid-air like birds of prey! Our pilots became Scarlet Pimpernels of the skies when they flew half a squadron of the super-secret MiG-25, the fastest and most elusive airplane ever made, one that could not be reached by any known missile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We got the Jaguars, the meanest interdiction bombers which the Chinese think can still cut deep into the treeless Tibetan territory. Then came the MiG-29, the beastliest air superiority fighter which has bested F-16s in several NATO wargames. And there are the French Mirage 2000s, flying with their delta wings which look like pretty skirts but packing awesome power. And finally the Sukhoi-30MKIs that can stop dead mid-air, swoop up like a cobra, and also can deliver an atom bomb anywhere across the Eurasian landmass from Wales to Vladivostok.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All these planes were game-changers in their time. So will be the Rafales, provided that we get them in sufficient numbers of squadrons. As of now, we have got five planes and have contracted to get 36.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What the critics ask is: wouldn’t we have to knock at the doors of the French again when we need more? Indeed yes. The members of the Narendra Modi government’s defence acquisition council would have been reminded of this when they approved two fighter buys only a month ago. With the Chinese breathing fire across the Ladakh Himalayas, the council was, on July 2, constrained to order 21 more MiG-29s and 12 more Sukhoi-30MKIs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The order for the Sukhois has gone to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited thanks to the Narasimha Rao and the Deve Gowda governments. While negotiating the original Sukhoi deal, they had also got the technology and licence to make the planes in India. The order for the MiG-29s has gone to Moscow because, when the Soviets offered the technology and licence as well the planes in the 1980s, the Rajiv Gandhi regime said: No thanks; keep the licence, we will take only the planes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Aug 06 18:05:43 IST 2020 work-from-home-or-the-house <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu are caught in a dilemma. How they will solve it should tell us a lot about the success or otherwise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Don’t get me wrong. The lords of the two houses of Parliament are not being asked to pronounce judgements on issues of bandwidth, internet speed, mobile penetration or patronage to Mukesh Ambani’s Jio. Those are issues being handled by officials in the ministry of information technology who tell us that half of “we the people” of India are linked to the net. Jio Ho!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Birla and Naidu have a different task. The two gents have to decide how they will hold the monsoon session of Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With a Covid-19 lockdown, an economic breakdown, and a military drawdown being negotiated in Ladakh, the monsoon session is expected to be thunderstormy. Already, Congress non-president Rahul Gandhi has been tweeting fire and fury on Modi and his government, though most other opposition leaders are keeping their masked mouths shut.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How Modi will weather this monsoon storm is none of Birla’s or Naidu’s business. Their problem is how to hold the session itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a pandemic wreaking havoc in the country, and the virus is in no mood to vanish, vaccine or no vaccine. The Indian Council of Medical Research has given a deadline of August 15 to scientists to make a vaccine, ostensibly for Modi to announce it from the ramparts of the Red Fort. But wiser men of science say vaccines take their own sweet time to evolve, and that anything forced out from the test-tubes before time would end up like being Gandhari’s children.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the houses cannot wait till the cows and the cow-poxes (which made the first vaccine) come home. Article 85(1) of the Constitution says, “The President shall from time to time summon each house of Parliament to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit, but six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Six months is 180 days, give and take a few days. Now, the budget session ended on March 23, and so the monsoon session ought to start on or before September 19—that is not just parliament protocol but the law. The Covid-19 protocol has it that people have to be physically distanced from one another. With 543 honourable MPs in Birla’s house and 245 in Naidu’s, neither knows how to seat them even a metre apart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When they run out of laws, rules and norms, law courts and legislatures look to precedents. But neither Kaul &amp; Shakdhar, who are the Manus of Indian parliamentary practice, nor Erskine May, who is the master of Westminster practices, is of any help. When the Great Plague of 1665 killed a quarter of Londoners, the British Parliament adjourned to the safer environs of Oxford. Not possible for us, with the whole of India being unsafe. But the staff have checked the enormous halls of the Vigyan Bhavan as a possible venue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another option is to improve on what the US Congress did when the Spanish flu hit them a century ago. They closed the public galleries. Birla and Naidu are thinking of seating a few MPs in the galleries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A third option, being explored, is to have a webinar-style session. Several parliaments have already gone digital, partly or wholly. A few rules will have to be amended, which they can do in one sitting and then adjourn to their homes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But are our MPs ready? More importantly, is the National Informatics Centre, which runs the government’s digital ops, ready? Therein lies the test for Digital India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Jul 23 15:09:25 IST 2020 perils-of-personal-diplomacy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The fans of neither of them would approve of me saying so, but Jawaharlal Nehru and Narendra Modi have certain things in common. Both have been practitioners of personal diplomacy, and both paid the price for being too trusting in their dealings with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First about personal diplomacy. It is that in which heads of states and governments not only meet and mingle in person, but also haggle over matters of bilateral trade and border truce. Left to diplomats, these issues would get entangled in red tape, locked up in round brackets and square brackets, and tripped over commas, colons and communique prose. Issues can be sorted out better, so say the champions of personal diplomacy, if the principals develop a personal chemistry between them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is generally held that Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated personal diplomacy in modern times. He got Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin to meet him a dozen times in less than four years during World War II, at times in such odd places as Malta, Yalta and Casablanca. In the pre-jet age, that must have been some summiteering! And we talk of Modi and Xi Jinping meeting 18 times in six years—in Wuhan, Mamallapuram and elsewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Europeans, who thought they were wiser to the world and its bad ways than the upstart Americans, had traditionally abhorred personal diplomacy. Their statesmen, save for oddballs like Lloyd George who had tried the personal touch and failed, used to scrupulously leave dealings with foreign powers to ministers and ambassadors. Even Lord Palmerston, who had achieved name and fame as one of the greatest diplomats of the 19th century, left deal-making with foreign powers to the foreign office when he became prime minister. So much so, British diplomat Sir Harold Nicolson wrote at the start of World War II, that frequent meetings between world leaders “should not be encouraged” and that “such visits arouse public expectations, lead to misunderstanding and create confusion”. Don’t we know how A.B. Vajpayee’s Agra summit with Pervez Musharraf had raised hopes and then flopped?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem with personal diplomacy is that the odium is greater if things go wrong. As Dean Acheson, who was secretary of state to Roosevelt’s successor Harry Truman, cautioned, “When a chief of state or head of government makes a fumble, the goal line is open behind him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is what happened to Nehru and Modi. Nehru had no foreign minister throughout his term, and handled much of the diplomacy by himself. He loved the company of world statesmen, and believed he could talk them into making a fairer world order that he had fondled in his idealistic mind. Modi has had foreign ministers, but he loves to handle much of the diplomacy himself, and bask in the glow of camera lights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both started with a deep admiration for China—Nehru for its civilisational greatness and for the historical struggles that its people had waged against conquerors, and Modi for China’s miraculous modernisation and material progress in the post-Mao era. Nehru saw in China a potential partner in his plan to rouse an Afro-Asian resurgence; Modi saw in China a partner to shape an Asian century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both made the cardinal mistake of believing in the terms of summit-level endearment—Nehru in Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai and Modi in the Wuhan and Mamallapuram bonding. The bottom line in diplomacy is: trust but verify. The comrades in China may profess communism, but their strategic instincts are as expansionist as those of the Songs, the Mings and the Qings who ruled the Middle Kingdom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jul 10 11:44:34 IST 2020 blunting-a-brahmastra <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>India is waiting for two brahmastras. Both have been on the anvil for long. One is a Bollywood multi-star fantasy. Its makers say it will be a blockbuster, and will give Baahubali a run for its money, muscle and magic, with some characters shooting fire from their hands. (No handshakes with them, corona or no corona.) The film, delayed by Covid-19, is set to hit the screens in December.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other is the Indian Army’s Brahmastra Corps, officially called XVII Corps. A corps, with two or more divisions under it, is an army’s largest fighting formation and is commanded by a lieutenant-general. Corps numbers are traditionally given in Roman numerals, unlike division, brigade and battalion numbers which are given in Arabic. Companies are numbered ABCD.</p> <p>But the numbering is never in order. After 1, 2 and 3 divisions, they may have 39 or 57. The generals will tell you that this is to respect the unit’s tradition and to confuse the enemy, but I guess they do it to confuse their own military accountants.</p> <p>Let us cut the numbering nonsense and talk about the corps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Corps are of two kinds, going by their tactical task—pivot corps and strike corps. Pivot corps are defensive in nature; they hold ground against the enemy. Strike corps are offensive in posture; they capture enemy land.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the corps that the Indian Army has deployed against China are pivot corps. The Brahmastra Corps, proposed when China began showing its fangs after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was supposed to have been India’s first mountain strike corps. The proposal was critically examined at the service headquarters, the chiefs of staff committee and the National Security Council.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, like General K.V. Krishna Rao persuaded Indira Gandhi to build border bridges and roads in the 1980s, General Bikram Singh used his persuasive powers and presentation skills to pester the peace-loving Manmohan Singh and A.K. Antony to sanction it. They yielded in 2013 (much to the envy of the Indian Navy which was asking for ships that could strike Shanghai), and also okayed two new mountain divisions under the two already-existing corps who are our guardians of the east against China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For once, the Chinese commies saw red. Two new divisions and a new strike corps of 90,000 men on the Indian mountains was worse than what they had ever war-gamed or bargained for. They protested loud, but all those remained cries in the mountain wilderness, as we quietly set up the corps headquarters at Panagarh in West Bengal, and raised its first division there itself. It got light guns and heavy-lift helicopters. Grounds were cleared on the hills for helicopters to land with cannons and troops. Plans were also laid out to raise the corps’ second division at Pathankot in Punjab, to scare the Chinese from Ladakh side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then something went wrong somewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, the Brahmastra Corps is as good as a phantom formation. No one knows whether it exists and in what shape, though we see its apparitions now and then. Like Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s capital shifts, its headquarters was shifted to Ranchi and then back to Panagarh. The Pathankot division, which was to come up in 2017-2018, is now on the backburner. Many say, shelved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three explanations are being proffered. One is that the Army is doing away with large formations and shifting to small battle groups in American style. Another is that raising a corps is too costly. A third is that there has been a rethink on the strike corps idea, and it has been put on the backburner in a bid to mend ties with Beijing post-Doklam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If that be the case, shouldn’t we have a rethink on the rethink, post-Galwan?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Jun 25 16:56:50 IST 2020 vvip-flights-wings-commandeered <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Our top three VVIPs—the president, the vice-president and the prime minister—have been flying around the world in Air India One for several years. The tickets issued to the VVIPs and to every person in their entourage mention the flight number as AI-1.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, they still issue printed ticket-books for VVIP overseas flights—those pretty little floral-print multi-pagers, complete with bright red carbon-copy sheets, which easily slide into a gentleman’s inner coat pocket or a lady’s little clutch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Actually, there is no single aircraft designated as Air India One or AI-1. Whenever any of the trimurtis wants to fly out, our flag carrier would convert two (one as standby) of its best Jumbos into executive jets, with prefabricated cabins, conference rooms, secretariat space, confidential communication consoles, working desks, lounge sofas, beds, curtains, carpets, magazine racks, metallic nameplates et al. There would be separate seating space for aides, delegation members, security men and for the media, too (not on Narendra Modi’s flights).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The flight, and not the aircraft, is given the call sign Air India One. The outfitted aircraft is ground-checked and flight-tested several times before it is stamped fit for taking the VVIP load. This whole mantling and dismantling would take Air India a few days, even if the actual VVIP trip is only a one-day dash to Thimpu or Timbuktu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All this is going to change. There will not be any need for outfitting the plane every time a VVIP wants to fly out. India is getting a special airplane for the prez, the vice and the premier. (No prize for guessing who among the three will be flying it more.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To be precise, it will not be one plane but identical two. Two machines, bought from Boeing, were given to Air India two years ago, but have since been sent back to the maker for outfitting them with missile protection suites. One of those, we are told, is a high-intensity laser suite that will misguide any man-portable missile flying towards the plane. Most of the missile-killing will be done automatically, without the pilot or the crew knowing anything about it. The gizmo will simply neutralise the incoming missile, and then tell the pilot, “Honey, I killed a missile.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The flight is slightly delayed. Boeing was scheduled to deliver the two outfitted 777s in June, but has now asked for time till September, citing Covid-19-caused delay in getting the work done.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No heartburn. In these physical distancing days, our VVIPs are sitting pretty at home. Narendra Modi has not done any globe-trotting since mid-November, after he came back from Brazil. Since February end, no Bharat yatra either (though domestic flying is on the Air Headquarters Communication Squadron’s Embraer executive jets), save a day trip to Kolkata and Bhubaneswar on May 22.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Diplomacy has gone digital. Modi had a digital pow-wow with Australia’s Scott Morrison last week. Politicking is physically distanced. Buddy Amit Shah has been addressing Bihar’s voters without stepping out of Delhi. “Do gaz doori bahut hai zaroori,” says Modi. That’s two yards away—more than an arm’s length at which he keeps Nehruvians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The loser in the bargain is Air India. Even before it loses the status of being the flag carrier, it will lose the honour of being the flag-bearer carrier. After the outfitted 777s arrive, they will be deregistered from Air India and registered with the IAF. Air Force pilots will fly them, but Air India Engineering Services Ltd will be looking after them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What would they call the flight? Not Air Force One, please. That’s Donald Trump’s. How about IAF-1?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jun 12 13:58:59 IST 2020 bayonets-from-lhasa-to-ladakh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Which is India’s southernmost point? Most people would say, Kanyakumari. Don’t we say, Kashmir to Kanyakumari?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Quiz buffs and trivia tyrants know it is not. The southernmost point, they will scream, is Indira Point in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>OK. Lock kar diya. Now, which is India’s northernmost point? Going by ‘Kashmir to Kanyakumari’, it must be in Kashmir.</p> <p>No longer. After the statutory coup executed by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah last August, the northernmost region over which the Union of India’s writ runs is Ladakh. Ladakh is now a Union Territory, not part of Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>OK. Ladakh ko lock kar diya. But where in Ladakh? Answer: Indira Col.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before anti-Nehruvians and WhatsApp historians take to troll, twitter and digital drivel, let me make it clear. Indira Col is not named after Indira Gandhi. The name was given in honour of Goddess Lakshmi, by Fanny Bullock-Workman, a doughty American who explored Siachen in 1911-12 along with her husband, long before Indira was born to Kamala and Jawaharlal Nehru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Col means mountain pass or la, as in Nathu La, Chorbat La and Bilafond La. There is even a Colonel’s Col, further west of Indira Col. Turkestan La is sometimes called Colonel’s Col, after the legendary Colonel Francis Younghusband who explored the region in 1889.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All our current strategic games with China started with Younghusband whom Lord Curzon sent with “bayonets to Lhasa” in 1904. Historians and strategic thinkers are still divided over the gains accrued from that mission, but the Chinese still get nightmares about it. They think that India can still invade Tibet as easily as Younghusband did a century ago with just about 3,000 troops. It is another matter that we, in India, don’t think so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest round of the Sino-Indian strategic game is being played in two places in Ladakh, on the banks of Pongong Lake and in the Galwan Valley. (Galwan is named after Gulam Rasool Galwan who guided Younghusband and several other explorers in the late 19th and early 20th century.) The stand-off at Pongong may well be a diversionary tactic; the real threat could be to Galwan Valley and beyond, up to Indira Col. If he gets it, Xi Jinping’s belt-road will roll around Siachen, which the Pakistanis are also coveting, and farther to central Asia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not the first time the Chinese have tried to take Galwan. It was here that Major Shaitan Singh and his 140 brave Kumaonis fell in the battle of Rezang La, the fiercest of 1962.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: In the last instalment of this column, we had met William Moorcroft, who had explored Kailas-Mansarovar and sent he-goats and she-goats separated in two ships to England. According to mountaineer-writer Harish Kapadia, Moorcroft was also the first to explore Siachen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1821 he passed near its snout and acknowledged its existence, writes Kapadia. In 1835, G.T. Vigne approached it from the west trying to reach Bilafond La, but never guessed the existence of a large glacier across the divide. In 1848 Henry Starchy ascended ‘Saichar’ for two miles. In the same year, Dr Thomas Thompson reached the glacier, followed by F. Drew in 1849-50. E.C. Ryall sketched the lower part in 1861.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1889, Younghusband approached the area over the Urdok valley, looking for a crossing into the Indian subcontinent. Following a side valley of the Urdok glacier, he reached the foot of Turkestan La. “He felt that this was the main axis of the Karakoram. His explorer’s instincts were correct but, in [the] absence of maps, he was not sure where he was standing. His belief was finally confirmed by Dr T.G. Longstaff in 1909.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu May 28 17:59:46 IST 2020 blundering-in-the-Himalayas <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If there is one poem that all diplomats should be made to read, it is Robert Frost’s Mending Wall. It is about a wall that ran between the poet’s apple orchard and his neighbour’s pine farm. The rubble on the wall often came loose in winter, and the neighbour insisted on mending it every spring.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Frost may have inspired our first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru with his “miles to go” lines, but from Mending Wall, it appears he was as lazy as a toad. He just could not fathom why the wall had to be kept intact. After all, “my apple trees will never get across, and eat the cones under his pines.” Neither of them had cows that would stray into the other’s farm. Yet, the neighbour insisted and doggedly repaired the wall every year, always saying “good fences make good neighbours.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has been a bit like Frost—neglecting the work on our boundaries. And Nepal has been like the neighbour—insisting on mending them. Or so it seems from what Nepali diplomats say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India and Nepal have been good friends most of the time (except on rare occasions such as when Hrithik Roshan opens his mouth, or S. Jaishankar dictates articles of other people’s constitutions). Like all good neighbours all over the world, the two countries have been having minor border brawls on occasions—mainly over the Kalapani issue that is now more than two centuries old. But the feud rarely came in the way of trade, travel or even troop recruitment of Nepali Gorkhas into the Indian Army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his 2014 visit to Kathmandu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed with his counterpart Sushil Koirala that their foreign secretaries would “work on outstanding boundary issues, including Kalapani and Susta”. The Nepalis say they have since been asking for a date, but Indian diplomats have been dragging their feet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, our border road-builders, who work under the defence ministry, have been busy as bees. Wanting to do their bit for our pilgrims’ progress to Kailash-Mansarovar, they have been building a shortcut at 17,000ft from Dharchula in Uttarakhand to Lipulekh on the Tibet border. Not only did they build much of the road, but also got their minister Rajnath Singh to e-open it on May 8.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hardly had Rajnath signed out of the weblink when all hell broke loose in Kathmandu. The road has been built through our land, protested Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali. He summoned the new Indian ambassador, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, and gave him an earful. That was quite an affront, especially since some of Kwatra’s predecessors had behaved much like viceroys, as former foreign secretary Jagat Mehta had admitted once.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all we know, the Nepalis may be seeing ghosts where there are none. The road may actually be running through our apple orchard, and not their pine farm. Even so, should we not have, as a good neighbour and the bigger of the two, convinced the Nepalis of that?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now the South Block says, we will talk after the lockdown is lifted. But the Nepalis are not listening. They are thinking of sending armed guards to the disputed stretch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A minor crisis! But one that could have been avoided.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: The first European who explored Mansarovar, William Moorcroft, had also taken the Uttarakhand route. He travelled all across the Himalayas, often in disguise, in the early 1800s, seeking good horses for the East India Company and pashmina goats to be taken to England.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But he blundered in his pashmina venture. Having bought hundreds of goats, he shipped the he-goats in one ship and the she-goats in another. Sadly, the ship with the she-goats sank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu May 14 17:44:41 IST 2020 siren-salute-to-a-divine-act <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When he took a siren-blaring cavalcade of 35 cars and 60 motorcycles around Gurdwara Bangla Saheb, Delhi Police Deputy Commissioner Eish Singhal did not know that the Prime Minister was watching. A few hours later, Narendra Modi tweeted a video clip of the show with the words: “Good gesture by the Delhi Police. Our gurdwaras have been doing exceptional work in serving people. Their compassion is appreciable.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Didn’t get the drift? Hang on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bangla Saheb is a principal gurdwara located in the heart of Delhi, just an arrow-shot away from the Parliament House in the south and Connaught Place in the north. When the gurdwara managers heard that thousands of destitutes were going without food because of the lockdown, they called them to the vast premises of the shrine and offered free food. They have since been feeding about 75,000 people every day. The shrine has also given away its guest houses and inns for the doctors and nurses in nearby hospitals to stay. The motorcade was just a gesture by the Delhi Police to honour the shrine and the spirit of philanthropy that inspired the devotees who fund the free food programme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not that other shrines are all shut up. Indeed they are shut for worship, but several temples, mosques and churches across the country have discovered that manav seva is madhav seva, and have been feeding the poor or lending their sacred spaces to run quarantine quarters, isolation centres, and treatment wards. The cash-rich few are donating funds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But not as universally as the Sikhs are doing. As the Prime Minister tweeted, the Sikh shrines “have been doing exceptional work in serving people”. While the Bangla Saheb is leading the way, other Delhi gurdwaras, too, are running langars or free kitchens for about 1.25 lakh people every day. So have been the gurdwaras across Punjab and most of north India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Free kitchens have been there in several Indian shrines, but it was Guru Amar Das, the third guru, who institutionalised it as part of the Sikh faith. Not only did he want the community to take care of the needy, but he believed interdining would break caste, class and communal barriers among devotees. Impressed, Emperor Akbar once sat cross-legged in a langar to dine with the soiled and toiling folk during Amar Das’s guruship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With all shrines being Covid-closed to worshippers, perhaps it is time other faiths followed suit. As Gandhi said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: The Bangla Saheb owes its origin to a similar act of kindness during an epidemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before he passed away in 1661, Guru Har Rai, the seventh guru, had ordained his five-year-old younger son Harkishen as his successor. Elder son Ram Rai contested this, and sought the intervention of Emperor Aurangazeb. Knowing that the Sikhs would refuse the summons, the ace diplomat Raja Jai Singh offered to mediate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jai Singh persuaded the guru to travel to Delhi as his guest, and stay in his bungalow in Jaisinghpura, then a suburb of Delhi near Raisina village, which was his fief. The adulation that the guru received on the way and in Delhi convinced the emperor that the Sikhs preferred him to Ram Rai. When a smallpox epidemic hit the city, the guru and his men began tending and feeding the sick populace. Soon the guru himself fell victim to the disease and died in 1664.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jai Singh donated the bungalow to the Sikhs, which they converted into a gurdwara. Folk history has it that the name Bangla Saheb is derived from the word bungalow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b><a href=""></a></b></p> Thu Apr 30 18:54:28 IST 2020 boor-on-silken-pillow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Some people are better kept as enemies. They make more trouble for you as friends. Donald Trump is one such.</p> <p>Only one and a half months ago, he had been feted in India much like a king-emperor, complete with a durbar in an Ahmedabad stadium. Now he has got buddy Narendra Modi in quite a spot over the export of hydroxychloroquine—an anti-malarial drug which is given as prophylactic to health workers handling Covid-19 patients.</p> <p>When Covid-19 broke out in China, India was among the first countries that took precautions. Modi banned flights from China even before the World Health Organization told him to. Most of Europe and America, apparently thinking this was another of the dirty diseases of the exotic east, went on with business as usual, singing away in the spring like the grasshopper in the Aesop fable.</p> <p>Not that we did not have choruses. Modi did make us play a few balcony scenes. Probably a few played Romeo-Juliets, too, in the candlelight shadows. Through all his sound-and-light pantomimes, Modi really worried that there was a reasonable chance of the disease spreading in India, too. With 130 crore people to look after, he thought he would hoard, much like the ant in the fable, a few million strips of hydroxychloroquine. After all, India produces two-thirds of the world’s stock, and no harm if we kept the bulk of it once.</p> <p>Europe woke up only after their princes, prime ministers and a few parliamentary worthies hit the sick bed, and a few thousand of the lesser mortals dropped dead. Even then Trump continued with his China-myna games, even calling the virus a Chinese virus.</p> <p>Only after the bug bit the Big Apple, and began killing thousands across the New World, did Trump cut the comedy. First he banned export of US-made masks to Canada and Latin America. Then he began what European buccaneers did in the age of the Spanish gold—hijack ships headed for other shores and take them to his own ports.</p> <p>French politicians accused the US of outbidding a consignment of face masks that had been ordered by France and loaded on cargo planes from China. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked his ministers to probe whether medical supplies meant for Canada had been diverted to the US. A German politico alleged that 2,00,000 masks meant for the German police were diverted to the US during a cargo transfer in Thailand.</p> <p>Then Trump heard that buddy Modi had banned export of hydroxychloroquine. In a Sunday morning call, he told Modi that he would “appreciate your allowing our supply to come out,” and that if Modi “does not allow it to come out, that would be OK, but of course, there may be retaliation.” That sounded much like Don Vito Corleone speaking, though one is not clear how much of it was what Trump actually told Modi.</p> <p>Poor Modi obliged. It is another matter that he would have, even if Trump had made a polite request through diplomatic channels. India has always gone to the aid of friends, and even foes, in need. When our coasts were reeling under the knockout punch delivered by the 2004 tsunami, our ships were sailing to Colombo and Male with food, clothing and tentage. When hurricane Katrina laid waste much of the American southeast in 2005, Manmohan Singh sent a gift cheque of $5 million and 25 tonnes of blankets, bedsheets, gloves, masks and lotions. When an earthquake hit Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in October 2005, we sent the Indian Air Force’s Ilyushin to Islamabad with blankets, tents, foods, and drugs.</p> <p>All those were given without asking, let alone threatening. But then, as a Danish proverb goes, a boor remains a boor even if sleeping on silken pillows.</p> Sat Apr 18 10:17:00 IST 2020 sorry-sir-they-want-some-more <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In his month-end Sunday Mann ki Baat, Narendra Modi apologised to the people for putting them all into this three-week lockdown. Those who have jobs and salaries didn’t need an apology. For many, it is a paid holiday spent watching TV, posting WhatsApp videos, playing board games, reading books or fighting with spouses.</p> <p>The apology was to the poor. “I specially apologise to the poor and financially weaker sections who would be probably thinking what kind of a prime minister is Modi,” he said. “It is possible that the poor would be angry with me for taking such steps.”</p> <p>Tendering apology, or seeking pardon, is not an Indian trait. Not Modi’s, anyway, as his critics would say. Most Indian languages have no folk phrase for ‘sorry’ or ‘excuse me’. Khed hain and kshama kijiye are there, but those are too artificial, urban and, as most people think, used only by TV news readers after their tongues slip. The first phrase in Hindi that many in the south learnt was rukawat ke liye khed hain. That was in the early days of Doordarshan when transmission used to be interrupted as frequently as we have commercial breaks these days.</p> <p>The terms may be there in our tongues, but not on our tongues—not in our popular culture, lingo, or native phraseology. Not that we are any less refined in manners than the westerners. In the west they drop these phrases at the drop of a hat, a teaspoon, or a hundred-dollar crystal vase. When they say sorry, it is not that they are really sorrowful, but only mean, ‘well, it happened; but don’t hold it against me.’ When they say ‘excuse me’, they are not seeking your pardon, but only asking you to stop what you are doing and listen to them.</p> <p>Why am I saying all this in these Covid times? Hold on.</p> <p>Modi tendered an apology because he sinned. Not only the prime minister but most of our rulers sinned—Central and state ministers, secretaries, department heads, MPs, mayors, city fathers, town councillors, and we, the middle class, too. With few exceptions, of course. We all went into a shutdown without sparing a thought for those who can’t shut themselves down.</p> <p>Not that India didn’t know of them. This column had listed a few and discussed their plight—cleaners, caterers, cooks, coolies, chaiwallas, cabbies, drivers, mechanics, sweepers, janitors, waiters, shop boys, sales girls, porters, parking hands, kitchen maids, parlour maids, paanwallas, peanut-sellers, ice-cream vendors, doormen, ushers, security guards, rickshaw-pullers.</p> <p>Many had come from distant hamlets that exist beyond the horizons of our imagination—Bengalis who cook for Kerala, Purvanchalis who scrub-clean Delhi and Mumbai, Oriyas who polish Surat’s diamonds….</p> <p>Soon after Modi called for a three-week lockdown, they began running away in hunger and away from hunger—some walking hundred and more miles and a few falling dead on the road. Indeed, Delhi’s city government promised them free rations and double rations, and UP offered money in their accounts.</p> <p>Where the regimes failed was in reaching out. Teams of teachers, municipal staff, policemen, health workers and NGO busybodies could have been sent around in jeeps announcing free rations, and where to get them. Camps could have been set up in schools, temple premises, gurdwara langars, churchyards, community halls, medieval forts (Delhi’s Old Fort was one such huge camp during Partition) and food courts of shopping malls. Vehicles could have been sent out offering them free rides to the camps.</p> <p>India has managed the Covid contagion fairly well. But is India failing its poor?</p> Sat Apr 04 14:37:28 IST 2020 care-in-the-time-of-covid-19 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided that Parliament will not be prorogued prematurely. The houses were scheduled to sit till April 3, and they shall sit till April 3, come hell, high water or coronavirus. “MPs should be seen doing their work when the country is facing a health scare,” he told his party MPs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Critics may say, Modi had Madhya Pradesh in mind. There his party is seeking an early floor test, whereas the Congress is putting it off citing coronavirus. Be that as it may, the message that has gone out is, our leaders will not be cowed down by coronavirus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not that they should rush in where doctors fear to tread. Reasonable precautions ought to be taken—the halls may be fumigated, the seats sanitised, the floors phenyl-wiped, members’ health monitored, lotions provided; no handshakes but only hand washes, no backslaps, and no lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So be it in society, too. Reasonable lockdowns may be necessary to combat infection. Work more from home, commute less; mail-order more, shop less; cook at home, eat out less; fly less, drive less. But in the long run, lockdowns may backfire, unless we can put social safety nets in place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Covid-19 may not kill even a fraction of what the Black Death did —it killed half of the people in medieval Europe. Or the Spanish flu a century ago which infected a third of the people in India. Modern science has found, or will find, ways to combat coronavirus. Vaccines are already on their way, though they may take at least a year to be developed, tested, proven and produced. But science already knows how to prevent—it is already saving millions and keeping them alive. Science will find ways to cure, too. Unlike what John Maynard Keynes said, in the long run we will not all be dead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But long-drawn lockdowns, and not coronavirus, may kill many more millions who live by serving us—drivers, conductors, mechanics, cleaners, caterers, cooks, coolies, chaiwallas, cabbies, sweepers, janitors, waiters, shop boys, sales girls, air-hostesses, pilots, porters, parking hands, parlour maids, paanwallas, peanut-sellers, ice-cream vendors, technicians, doormen, receptionists, ushers, security guards, rickshaw-pullers—the list is endless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you and I stop commuting to work, visiting restaurants, going to parks, sunning on beaches, taking cabs, going on holidays, visiting cinemas and attending concerts, they will lose their jobs. Their families will starve, or many may be forced into crime, suicide or revolt. They would be there not just as an industrial reserve army as Karl Marx called them in his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, but also as mobs of starving men who could join revolutions, ignite strifes, run riots or turn mobsters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Too alarmist? Perhaps. But already American gun stores are reporting a surge in sales—many of the well-off are buying guns fearing a spurt in burglaries and robberies in the age of corona penury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Europe and America tottered on the verge of a revolution in the 1930s, when the Great Depression threw millions out of jobs. Fortunately, there emerged two messiahs—an economist and a statesman. If Keynes professed economics of the welfare state, Franklin Delano Roosevelt handed out the New Deal by which governments spent money just to create jobs. The two men saved not only the capitalist order but also the western civilisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Till now in corona-panicking India, only Uttar Pradesh has thought of this. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has promised to put money in the Jan-Dhan accounts of all unorganised workers. Will other governments follow suit?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Mar 21 17:24:34 IST 2020 drop-the-party-gowns-m-lords <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>American judges wear political labels on the sleeves of their robes. They make no bones about whether they are Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, creationists or Darwinians, pro-rifle or anti-rifle, gay or grim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet when in 2016 Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg called presidential candidate Donald Trump “a faker” and a man with “no consistency about him,” there was so much criticism that one wondered whether the heads on the Rushmore Memorial too would give her a sermon from the mount on judicial restraint.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India too, some judges are crossing the lakshman rekha of judicial dignity. They are praising politicians so much as to give them the blushes. A few months ago, Justice M.R. Shah, then of the Patna High Court and now the Supreme Court, praised Narendra Modi as a model and a hero. Now, Justice Arun Mishra has courted controversy by singing paeans of the prime minister at a conference of judges and jurists from 20 countries, calling him a “versatile genius who thinks globally and acts locally”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PM may be all that and more. But should a sitting judge be talking like a political partyman? Judicial decorum expects judges to refrain from airing their political preferences. Naturally, several bar bodies and judicial busybodies came down on Mishra like tonnes of bricks and briefs, though the bar council asked them not to be so harsh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mishra is known to be a harsh judge. Critics say, he follows the law to its last letter, but in the process misses its spirit. The gavel of justice often turns into a sledgehammer in his hands. Literally so in his Maradu flats demolition order, and figuratively so in several other cases such as the one over telecom firms’ dues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nor is he new to controversies. When four senior most judges held an unprecedented presser in 2018, one of their grievances was that several politically sensitive cases were being sent to Mishra’s bench over the heads of his seniors. Next, he refused to recuse himself from a constitution bench that was re-examining his own judgment on land acquisition. A few weeks ago, he lost his cool in the court and threatened a senior advocate with contempt of court. Following criticism from the bar, he offered to “apologise a hundred times” with “folded hands”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Judges praising politicians is not a new phenomenon. P.N. Bhagwati, one of the champions of PIL, wrote to Indira Gandhi on her “triumphant return as prime minister” in 1980, that she had “become the symbol of the hopes and aspirations of the poor, hungry millions of Indians who had so far nothing to hope for and nothing to live for....” We do not know how many of his brothers squirmed on the bench.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One who did was Justice V.D. Tulzapurkar. “If judges start sending bouquets or congratulatory letters to a political leader on his political victory, eulogising him on assumption of high office in adulatory terms, the people’s confidence in the judiciary will be shaken,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the way, Bhagwati was one of the judges who had authored the infamous ADM Jabalpur judgment, which said that in times of Emergency, the state could take away a citizen’s fundamental rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Judges recuse themselves from cases which they had decided earlier judicially. But one judge had to recuse himself for having given legislative assent to a law that was being challenged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the Bank Nationalisation Act was being heard by an 11-judge bench in 1970, Chief Justice M. Hidayatullah recused himself because he had assented to the act when he was acting president. The bench headed by J.C. Shah struck down the act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Mar 06 14:31:39 IST 2020 in-trump-suit-warships-walmart-walnuts <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Our foreign office mandarins say, Narendra Modi invests a lot of energy in personal diplomacy. Don’t we know? He almost plucked out poor Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo De Sousa’s arm in a long and almost violent handshake last week. Britain’s Prince Harry had his hand held in such a grip that one could see marks on the back of the princely palm long after Modi let him go.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, Modi’s handshakes and hugs have an energy of their own, and they are going viral. The world is now waiting with bated, and virus-masked, breath to see how Modi will greet Donald Trump. Will he shake the POTUS’s hand for a longer while than he shook De Sousa’s? Or would it be a bear-hug, known in ancient India as Dhritarashtra’s embrace? After all, getting the US prez in a bear-hug isn’t such a bad idea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Handshakes and hugs are hot currencies in diplomacy. The world remembers several such—the minute-long handshake with which Deng Xiaoping received the young Rajiv Gandhi, commando-general Pervez Musharraf’s lunge-and-grab handshake with a demurring A.B. Vajpayee at the Kathmandu SAARC, Neville Chamberlain’s handshake of appeasement at Munich with Adolf Hitler, Harry Truman’s threesome handshake with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin at Potsdam, Elizabeth Regina’s gloved handshake with Martin McGuinness whose IRA had killed her favourite cousin Lord Mountbatten, and Trump’s own 13-second handshake with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Diplomacy is as much about such camera moments as about in-camera talks—about trade treaties, tariff walls and tank deals. It is when they have nothing to tell us about the in-camera stuff that our South Block worthies wax eloquent on symbolism of visits, significance of gestures, commonality of interests, time-tested ties, personal chemistry between the principals and so on. Imagine what would have happened if phrases like personal chemistry were used in the era of Leonid Brezhnev and Indira Gandhi. A few cluster bombs would have gone off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Take it from me, we will hear a lot about personal chemistry, body language and time-tested ties during the Trump visit. Because Team Trump is talking tough on a lot of trade-and-tariff stuff in-camera.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Calvin Coolidge famously said that America’s business is business. That was in the 1920s. But the presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama forgot it and have been leading America into global minefields— waging world wars and cold wars, brokering peace deals, containing the commies, balancing the Europeans, bankrolling the NATO, foisting tinpot tyrants, exporting democracy and policing the globe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three things hurt Trump and Co. One, all these are at the cost of Americans’ tax money. Two, America has been giving up much of its business to the Japanese, Chinese, East Asians and Indians for gaining strategic leverage in their regions. Three, many of the beneficiaries, claiming to be developing countries, have been getting away with higher tariff walls against American goods. All of them sell more to America but buy little from America. If they have the bucks to buy American warjets and warships, why can’t they also let in Walmarts, and buy walnuts, almonds, cheese and butter from America?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Trump declared in Davos two winters ago, “America is open for business.” For both guns and butter. Will Modi take both?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Not just hugs and handshakes, the world has also seen statesmen patting the hosts’ cheeks. Ayub Khan did it to Lyndon Johnson once. So did Dr S. Radhakrishnan when introduced to Mao in Beijing. Then he put Mao at ease saying, “Mr Chairman, don’t be alarmed. I did the same thing to Stalin and the Pope.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Feb 22 11:33:09 IST 2020 a-xanadu-in-new-new-delhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Like Kubla Khan who decreed a pleasure dome in Xanadu, Narendra Modi is decreeing a power dome in Delhi—a brand new capital complex inspired, in all probability, by ancient Indian architecture. Coleridge’s Xanadu was in an opium-induced daydream; Modi’s will be in optimum-spaced Delhi—a steel-and-concrete capital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let me get you into the picture. We have this Sir Edwin Lutyens-built Rashtrapati Bhavan atop the Raisina Hill, with North Block and South Block which house the prime minister’s office and the home, finance, defence and foreign ministries standing in attendance. Grand, stately, majestic, and imperial with an imposing equilibrium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Down the hill, on both sides of the Boat Club lawns, we have these pairs of buildings—Rail Bhavan-Vayu Bhavan, Krishi Bhavan-Udyog Bhavan, Shastri Bhavan-Nirman Bhavan and so on, which house myriad ministries and offices. They, too, add to the equilibrium of Lutyens’ grand plan, much like the salabhanjikas who stood on the sides of Vikramaditya’s throne steps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem is that these buildings, built by the central public works department during our post-Independence penury, are as much of eyesores as they would have been if those salabhanjikas had been vandalised by an iconoclastic Tamerlane. They look more like gargoyles than salabhanjikas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi wants to pull them all down. The Parliament House will stay, but as a museum. The prime minister’s house will move closer to Raisina. Newer buildings will house Parliament and the ministries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We Indians seem to be obsessed with pulling down and building anew. Other peoples found cities and expand them. Rome was not built in a day; once it was built it was never rebuilt lock, stock, and stone. The Greeks built a new Athens only after the Acropolis got ruined. Moscow, Paris, Vienna and all expanded naturally. London has remained where it is for two millennia, rebuilt once after the Great Fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi has been rebuilt, vacated and reoccupied often. No one has the exact count. The Delhi government website lists seven cities— Qila Rai Pithora, Mehrauli, Siri, Tughlakabad, Ferozabad, Shergarh and Shahjehanabad. Delhi Tourism lists eight including New Delhi. Hey, did someone say Indraprastha?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ask me, I would count more—the Tomaras’ Lal Kot, the Chauhans’ Qila Rai Pithora, the Slaves’ Qutb Complex, Alauddin Khilji’s Siri, Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq’s Tughlakabad, Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s Jahanpanah, Feroz Shah’s Ferozabad, Humayun-Sher Shah’s Dinpanah or Shergarh, Shahjehan’s Shahjehanabad, the Civil Lines from where the British ruled from 1912 to 1929, and New Delhi. There are more, if you count forts like Adilabad where, too, sultans lived. And we have not counted Indraprastha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi has also been abandoned and reoccupied. Muhammad bin Tughlaq force-moved the capital to Daulatabad, Bahlul Lodi to Agra, and Akbar to Fatehpur Sikri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi, thankfully, is not shifting out, but building anew. He wants his Xanadu to be more Indian than any other predecessor cities, but one cannot fathom why Parliament House has to be triangular. The circle is more Indian—Krishna’s discus and Asoka’s dhamma chakra were round.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Two buildings mar New Delhi’s equilibrium. The Parliament House, standing in the northwest corner of Rajpath, has no pair in the southwest. That is because a legislature was planned only after the 1919 Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms by which time the city plan had been frozen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other is Zabta Ganj Masjid on the south of Rajpath, built by the ruthless 18th century Rohilla chief Zabta Khan. (The area where the India Gate stands used to be called Zabta Ganj.) Even while insisting on equilibrium in his design, Lutyens did not want to hurt sentiments by pulling it down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Feb 07 14:43:54 IST 2020 an-overworking-president <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Older man succeeding younger man? Yes, that is what has happened in the BJP’s presidency. Jagat Prakash Nadda, who was working president and is 59, has succeeded Home Minister Amit Shah who is 55 and certainly was not a non-working president. Shah, if at all, would have been an overworking president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Age is a non-issue in politics. When it comes to older persons succeeding younger ones, you cannot beat the Congress. The presidency of the grand old party has been passed on from a youthful son to an ailing and ageing mother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no provision for a working president in the BJP’s, or the Congress’s, constitution. It was a “working” arrangement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The term “working president” suited Nadda well. His ability to slog is known even to his opponents. A month before his final law exam in Himachal Pradesh University, he had gone to jail for having road-blocked chief minister Virbhadra Singh who was ignoring the demand of a Bilaspur village for a secondary school. From the prison he appeared for 16 of his 20 papers and cleared them all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nadda’s anointment on January 20 was a tame affair. No fanfare. There was no other contestant, just like in the Congress most of the time. On the appointed day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah came to the party office, and spoke nice words about good old Nadda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even otherwise, you can rarely get a bad word from anyone in the party about Nadda. He is a nice man to know—learned, well-read and a good gent with no pretensions. Not overwhelming like Shah or Modi. More in the Kushabhau Thakre or Jana Krishnamurthi mould in terms of temper and demeanour, but with a better sense of humour than the two. He can mimic people, and make you laugh as Vice President Venkaiah Naidu does with his alliteration —that is, if he is in a good mood, which he always is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, few would be envying Nadda on his elevation as the 11th president of the world’s largest party. He does have a tough job ahead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An immediate challenge would be the Delhi assembly polls. The game was already afoot; he was anointed president on the day before the last date for nomination. Winning Delhi may be a tough call, but Nadda would have to improve on the party’s miserable 2015 tally of three seats in a house of 70. Having engineered the BJP’s Lok Sabha campaign in Uttar Pradesh, he may meet that challenge. Next would be the polls in Bihar, his birth state, where the alliance with the Janata Dal (United) is getting strained.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nadda’s biggest challenge would be the legacy of his predecessor. Shah had acquired such a larger-than-life image as a modern-day Chanakya that Nadda would find himself dwarfed in comparison.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Nadda has one great asset. He knows how to keep his mouth shut. Especially about himself. Modi judges you by what you have done; not by what you claim to have done—he once told a colleague of mine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His long-term challenge would be to ensure that the party remains the largest. Its legislative strength is intact, but its liberal parliamentarianism of the A.B. Vajpayee-L.K. Advani era is giving way to a politics of shock-and-awe and confront-and-combat. The economic downturn and the pursuit of policies of social strife may in the long run dent the party’s appeal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> The Congress, too, had a working president. When she felt bereft of political aides after the death of son Sanjay Gandhi in a plane crash, Indira Gandhi made veteran Kamalapati Tripathi the working president, but gave him no work. THE WEEK carried a mocking cover story on the arrangement, with a cover picture of the working president relaxing on a sofa with his feet up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jan 24 19:52:53 IST 2020 first-among-unequals <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>War is too important a matter to be left to the military, said prime minister Georges Clemenceau, who led France to victory in World War I.</p> <p>A handy quote that can buttress the case for civil supremacy over the military, but the line has been quoted out of shape by babus for keeping the brass hats out of government. By Jove! These mandarins who cannot tell a mortar from a machine-gun have been advising ministers on all matters military!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now Narendra Modi has restored the brass hats some shine. He has got them a chief of defence staff who will play four roles—give single-point military advice to the government, administer (not command) the nuclear forces, coordinate among the services and prioritise their plans, and ensure jointness in their planning, training and operation. No troops for him to command.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He will hold a four-star rank as the three chiefs do, and chair their meetings as first among equals. He will wear his parent service uniform, but his buttons, belt buckle and peak cap will bear the triservice crest which depicts the Army’s sword, the Navy’s anchor and the Air Force’s eagle. The shoulder patch will be maroon, and it will sport the Asoka lion and a triservice crest instead of the star and sword-and-baton badge. He will be driven in a car bearing four stars and a maroon triservice flag. He will work in South Block, live in 3 Kamaraj Marg, which very likely will be christened Defence House, and leave in three years with a good pension.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jolly good, but it looks like more thought has gone into matters of pay, perks, patches and paraphernalia than into how he will work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government says he will enjoy a first-among-equals status among the chiefs, almost at par with the cabinet secretary and above the defence secretary, who is below the three chiefs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Till now the defence ministry had four departments, each one lorded over by a secretary—the defence department under the defence secretary, defence production under another secretary, ex-servicemen’s welfare under a third secretary, and R&amp;D under the DRDO chief. Now, a fifth department, called military affairs, has been decreed for the CDS to lord over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Therein lies the anomaly. Among the secretaries, the defence secretary had been notionally a notch above the others, and he had been giving holistic advice, whatever its worth, to the ministry on all defence matters. He will continue to do that, and the CDS will confine himself to matters military. But then, if military comes under defence, wouldn’t the military adviser come under the defence adviser?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Capital acquisition (read big arms buys) will continue to be under defence, but revenue acquisition (small pieces including ammunition) under military affairs. Which means, the defence secretary will buy the cannons; the big chief will buy the shells. Ha!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wasn’t there a simple way out? Couldn’t they have made the chief of integrated staff, a three-star officer who has been in place for the last two decades, the head of military affairs?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps the babus, who make the rules, didn’t want it that way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: When the Anglo-Sikh war broke out in 1845, governor-general Henry Hardinge, still an enlisted soldier, couldn’t resist the temptation of being in the field. But commander-in-chief Sir Hugh Gough said having him around would create problems of command since Hardinge was his senior in army rank and in the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hardinge happily waived his right to the supreme command, and served as second-in-command under Gough. Needless to say, the duo won the war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jan 11 17:25:54 IST 2020 know-the-will-and-make-the-bill <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Will there be a citizens register or won’t there be? Amit Shah said in Parliament that there will be; Narendra Modi said on Sunday that he hasn’t thought of one. Looks like the protests have given the government second thoughts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No issue. This is the way things should be. When rulers feel that people don’t like a law, they should not enforce it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People ought to be ruled by people’s laws, not by the king’s laws—that is the sacred doctrine of law-making enshrined in the mandate of the Magna Carta. That was also the doctrine that the illustrious Iltutmish, the slave-turned first sultan of Delhi, conveyed to a fanatical ulema when he rejected its demand to impose Islamic laws on the Hindus. Yes, the seeds of the secular state were sown 800 years ago by a sultan in this sacred land of the Vedas and the Upanishads that professed the cosmic worldview, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How do rulers and lawmakers get to know what laws their people want? Indeed, a large and diverse country like India cannot hold Swiss-style referendums on every law. Referendums can also be sure shots for secession, or prescriptions for balkanisation, as the British learnt the Brexit way. As Benjamin Disraeli said a century and a half ago, “what we call public opinion is generally public sentiment”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What then is public opinion or public will? Political pundits preceding Disraeli had thought of it. Jean-Jacques Rousseau had said there was something called ‘general will’ which was not necessarily the majority will. When the majority will is imposed on society or on its minorities, it is not democracy but tyranny of the majority, said J.S. Mill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How does one get to know the general will, if it is not the majority will? In a liberal democracy, the general will is evolved in the form of a consensus obtained through informed debates and discussions. That is where Modi and Co erred. They did not get the citizenship bill or the NRC idea discussed or debated. Ideally, bills are put in the public domain weeks ahead for public debates from which law-drafters can draw informed opinion. Once a bill is introduced in the legislature, the wise men there should get time to discuss it, debate it or damn it. They may even send it to a committee where members shed their party loyalties, bare their true minds, exercise their brains, consult outside experts, give their objective opinions, and help refine the bill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>None of these procedures was followed while amending the Citizenship Act. The government used its majority to reject the opposition demands for scrutiny by a committee, and got the bill passed in a few hours. That was the fate of most bills passed in the last session. In 20 sittings spread over 26 days, the Lok Sabha passed 14 bills, the Rajya Sabha 15 and both houses 15. Fast work, but how much of legislative mind was applied?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One man who is worried is Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu. Can we institutionalise a system of legislative impact assessment? he has asked. They have in Britain, Finland and European Parliament, by which every major law is studied by law-drafters, lawmakers and others before it is introduced. Any takers?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Citizenship registers have always caused problems. Remember how one such register was forced by Augustus Caesar upon the Jewish minority who inhabited Judea. That exercise witnessed the birth of a messiah who gave up his life on the cross, but whose legacy changed Judea and Rome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Merry Christmas, dear readers! And a Happy New Year, as reckoned from the year of his birth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Dec 28 12:29:49 IST 2019 a-kilo-splash-in-the-eastern-seas <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi is credited with turning India’s Look East into Act East. One of his latest acts in the east has been to give an old Kilo-class submarine, Sindhuvir, to Myanmar. The boat was repaired and refitted recently at Vizag, and the Burmese are commissioning it on Christmas eve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The submarine has gone down well into the depths of the Burmese waters, but the transfer has not gone down well with others. The Thais, particularly, are pretty peeved, especially since this transfer happens close on the heels of another deal by which Myanmar got a few Shyena torpedoes. We will monitor the use of the submarine, said the Thai Navy’s deputy chief.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Easier said than done. On the surface, literally, the Sindhuvir may look like a gift horse. It is a 31-year-old Soviet-era machine, powered by a diesel engine. Two or three of her sister ships, all Sindhus, have met with accidents; one sank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But appearances are deceptive. Though scoffed at for her huge size, which is a giveaway for a stealth machine, the Kilo is too quiet a creature. In the depths, this pigboat stays as quiet as a church mouse. Newer technologies have come in, but the Kilo remains a mean machine in the depths. In a 2017 hide-and-seek game with the US nuclear sub Corpus Christi, Indian Kilo Sindhudhwaj fooled all US sensors, picked up the US boat on her Indian-made Ushus sonar first, and mock-sank the latter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Myanmarese, who have no submarine in service currently, will train on the old sub with the Indian Navy’s help, and then buy a couple of new Kilos from Russia. With those boats, they will “guard their maritime interests.” That is what has foxed the Thais, and maybe even the Banglas. Both have sea borders with Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All three are India’s good friends, and often send their ships to exercise with our Navy. Yet, the fact remains that there is a lot of churning happening under the eastern waters, with or without India acting east. All our friends are worried about the ripples that the Chinese are causing in the eastern waters, but none is willing to drop all her strategic anchors with India alone. Virtually everyone is doing strategic business with both India and China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at the Banglas, our closest and friendliest neighbours. They bought two ageing Ming-class subs from China three years ago, and four corvettes since then. Now they are building a submarine base at Cox’s Bazar with Chinese help, and another at Rabnabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Thais have many things going with us, but they are also building an underwater fleet with three Chinese-made subs. One boat is already with them; a second has been ordered and a third is planned. The Thais are also talking to the Chinese to buy a 20,000-tonne amphibious ship, and are counting on China’s help to build the 120-km Kra Canal which will make it smooth sailing for Chinese warships from the Gulf of Thailand into the Andaman Sea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In short, Act East is not going to be smooth sailing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Once in the 1990s, the US Navy showed interest in exercising with India’s Kilos. Within hours I.K. Gujral’s PMO was flooded with calls from Moscow and Teheran, pleading “please don’t”. Both were worried that the Americans would read the sound signature of the Kilos, and track the movement of their subs in the Black Sea and the Persian Gulf.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gujral understood, and told the Navy to keep the Kilos a hundred nautical miles away from the Americans. Miffed, the US cancelled that exercise. It took more than another decade for India to send Kilos for an exercise with the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Dec 13 12:20:22 IST 2019 poll-bonds-in-pandora-suitcase <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>British press baron Alfred Harmsworth famously said, “When I want a peerage I shall buy one like an honest man.” In 1905, he did get a peerage and thus a seat in the House of Lords as Lord Northcliffe, but we do not know if it was purchased.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seats in the Indian Parliament cannot be purchased with money, but it helps if you have lots of it. How else did Vijay Mallya get in? Leave it. We should be asking, how did he get out?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Corporates donate funds to parties and candidates who would serve their interests. Payments have been made in various ways and hues—cash and cheque, white and black, clean and dirty, over the counter and under the table, electronic transfer and manual hawala, secured in suitcases and tied in red tape. And now, the electoral bond.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Use or abuse of money power had always been the bane of Indian politics. Rich traders made and unmade kings and kingdoms in mediaeval India. Banker Jagat Seth bankrolled the Battle of Plassey. For the next one century, we were ruled by or in the name of a company. The freedom movement was bankrolled by native corporates. Post-independence, corporates funded parties that served their interests. When she found more cheques being issued in favour of the rightist Swatantra, Jan Sangh and Congress (O), Indira Gandhi banned corporate funding to parties. Funding went underground, or under the table.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The licence-permit raj thrived on the strength of suitcase gratification. Campaign cash began to be carried in huge chests in chartered jets and express trains. The lefties, too, did not lag behind. Trade union barons collected cash for them from workers, petty contractors, brokers, merchants and even factory-owners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajiv Gandhi lifted the ban on corporate donation to parties in 1985, but the cash chest culture continued. Several venerable political figures were ‘caught’ with suitcases of currency, the most infamous being the claim by big bull Harshad Mehta that he had carried crisp currency worth ₹1 crore in a suitcase into Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As corporate profits soared in liberalised India, poll costs, too, soared. Then came the hawala scam which singed several reputations. As a few leaders declared they would take money only in cheques, corporates like the Tatas floated electoral trusts. The Manmohan Singh regime gave legal sanctity to this in 2013 by amending the Companies Act so as to allow corporates to donate up to 7.5 per cent of the average of their previous three years’ profit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Campaign costs soared in the Modi era of laser dazzle and data analytics. Finally, Arun Jaitley’s 2017 budget unveiled a scheme by which anyone could buy a bond from State Bank during specific 10-day windows before elections, and donate it to any party. Having come through the bank, the money would be white, but companies do not have to tell who they are donating to, and parties do not have to reveal who had given them the bond.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government went ahead with the scheme overruling the objections of Election Commission and the Reserve Bank. As it was implemented, the 10-day window rule was waived, as also the rule that only profitable companies could buy the bonds. Shell companies, foreign firms and even those with dubious links are said to have bought the bonds and donated them to the ruling party. With neither the public nor the auditors coming to know of who donated how much to whom, the scheme has turned out to be as opaque as the old treasure chests and suitcases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What next? State funding of elections? Hon’ble members, please say aye.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Nov 30 18:13:07 IST 2019 no-ghosts-at-the-breakfast-table <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>India will not join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) because neither Mahatma Gandhi’s talisman nor Narendra Modi’s conscience would permit the latter to sign it. Bless both. If only Modi had applied the same tests before the note-ban three winters ago!</p> <p>Gandhi’s talisman, if you do not know, was a simple one. “Whenever you are in doubt (rarely with Modi), or when the self becomes too much with you (often with Modi), apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him.”</p> <p>We do not know which poor wretch’s face Modi recalled in Bangkok. It would have been tough, particularly in the company of suited-booted diplomats who had been haggling with the ten ASEAN tigers and cubs and five Pacific sharks. All the same, Modi did it, and that calls for a few rounds of applause.</p> <p>Proffered as the mother of all free-trade deals, with low or no tariff walls among the ten ASEANS and the rich Pacific five, the RCEP made great geopolitical and geoeconomic sense. A few partners are rich in resources, some in human skills, most in knowhow, and all in enterprise. Had India joined, it would have been the world’s largest trading block, consisting of half of the world’s population and a third of the world’s riches.</p> <p>Well, that sounds much like what Lord Amherst, that forgotten governor-general of India, claimed two centuries ago. That “the emperor of China and I govern half of the human race and yet we find time for breakfast”.</p> <p>The fact is, Modi would not have found time for breakfast if he had signed the RCEP. Chinese gadgets, New Zealand cheese and southeast Asian auto parts would have flooded the Indian market, sending tens of thousands of small businessmen into bankruptcy and many more farmers and cowherds to suicide. Not the faces of the poorest, but the ghosts of the poorest would have haunted the breakfast tables of Delhi’s rulers, much like Banquo’s ghost at Macbeth’s banquet.</p> <p>Many may wonder, why then did we engage in talks for full seven years if we knew it was gonna be a bad deal? The Congress and the BJP are having a free trade of charges over that. We have been telling Modi not to go for the deal, says the Congress. It was the Congress-led regime that started the talks, counters the BJP.</p> <p>Both are right and wrong. There is no harm in engaging in talks and trying your best to snatch a fair bargain out of a bad deal. It was right on the part of Manmohan Singh to have explored the deal; it is also right on Modi’s part to have backed out when he found it was going to be a China-heavy gang-up.</p> <p>Now what? Having found that we have little economic heft, our eastern neighbours will be lukewarm towards our Look East and Act East initiatives. Our diplomats will have to find newer ways of engaging them politically and strategically.</p> <p>Tailpiece: Lord Amherst was the first modern Indian ruler who acted east. He annexed Assam and waged the first Anglo-Burmese war.</p> <p>Amherst too had refused to kowtow to the Chinese. Earlier, as Britain’s envoy to China, he had refused to kowtow before the emperor, a ceremony which he considered degrading. His mission failed, but he returned with his country’s prestige intact.</p> <p>On his return, he called on Napoleon, then living in British-forced exile in St Helena. There, Napoleon gave him a line which is still quoted by strategic pundits: “Let China sleep; when she wakes she will shake the world.”</p> Sat Nov 09 12:31:55 IST 2019 to-siachen-with-selfie-sticks <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Soldiers in Siachen may soon get company. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has plans to open the stretch from Base Camp to Kumar Post for tourists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Think of this. Soldiers, freezing in the cold and feeling lonely at the top, being asked to pose for selfies with tourists. Cool!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Looks like the Siachen story is coming full circle twice over. The story started with Pakistan issuing mountaineering permits in the 1980s; is it ending with India issuing tourism permits in the 2020s? It started with a Col Kumar finding Pakistani litter on the hilltops; is it ending with tourists littering a post named after him?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For those who ascended late...</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Siachen had been unchartered territory till the 1980s. The icy heights had been left unmarked in the Line of Control maps agreed between India and Pakistan after the 1971 war. We had assumed that the lands further to the north, along with all the ice on the rocks, would be ours. Cheers!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One day in the early 1980s, climber Col Narendra (Bull) Kumar came across a few US-made maps in the hands of a European climber. The maps showed Siachen as Pakistani territory, and Kumar learnt that Pakistan had been issuing climbing permits to the glacier. Then came a spy report that Pakistan had ordered a few thousand snow boots from an Austrian company. A scout by Kumar and co found Pakistani cigarette butts and other litter on the hills, suggesting that Pakistanis had been frequenting the place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alarms bells rang in the Army HQ and in the PMO when the jigsaw pieces of the maps, boots and butts were put in place: Pakistan could be planning to annex the glacier. Indira Gandhi ordered a preemptive operation, and a full brigade with hardly any snow gear landed on the Saltoro Heights which overlook the glacier. The boys have since been sitting there like a Humpty Dumpty who doesn’t fall off the wall. All the Pak cannons and all the Pak men have not yet knocked them down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pretty peeved, the Pakistanis fretted, fumed, frothed and fired. The firing stopped with a deal in 2003. Today, there is no enemy to worry about but winter and rough weather, both of which, too, used to kill troopers till George Fernandes and A.K. Antony sent them snow-scooters, better tents, jackets, boots, pumped-up kerosine, hot meals and even chocolates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Peaceniks in both countries and elsewhere think that Siachen is the lowest-hanging fruit among the issues between the two neighbours. There is no historical baggage, no emotional dimension, no civilians involved, no political issue, no resources—so goes the argument.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are deluding themselves. The issue has been talked over several times, but the talks have got nowhere. Pakistan wants India to vacate the heights; India says it will if Pakistan recognises the positions where India has been sitting. Neither is willing to budge an inch. What the peaceniks ignore is a basic fact of military history: No country gives up territory willingly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, Siachen is not just a barren land with a glacier. The region and its nearabouts are the headwaters of several subcontinental rivers. And the whole territory, sandwiched between Pakistan-held Baltistan and Chinese-occupied Shaksgam Valley, is of great strategic value.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tourism idea also may trigger an avalanche of protests from the green lobby. As it is, the glaciers are melting with the globe getting warmer. Secondly, Siachen and its nearabouts are already getting filthy with more than 30,000 soldiers living there. Wouldn’t tourists, however few, add to the litter?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Oct 25 11:36:00 IST 2019 writing-on-the-toilet-wall <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Tenali Rama, the fabled jester in Krishnadeva Raya’s court, would have been a happy man, had he been alive this October 2. That day, India became open defecation-free. Or so spake Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p>What is the connection? One may ask. Hold on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rama or Ramudu, actually a wise man as all jesters in the courts of the orient and the plays of Shakespeare were, once told his king that the act of defecation was the most pleasurable of all physical activities. The king and his courtiers, who had cited everything from eating favourite food to fornication as the most pleasurable act, burst out laughing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One day Ramudu gave the king a hearty meal in his home and then locked him up, not letting him visit the toilet. His Highness literally went down on his knees begging to be freed. The royal ordeal went on for nearly an hour, at the end of which Ramudu let him visit the washroom. Then, after relieving himself to his heart’s and bowel’s content, the king conceded—yes, there is no greater physical pleasure than in relieving oneself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, for the act to be one of pleasure, it ought to be performed in private, and done with dignity. We all enjoy it every morning or sometimes more often depending on what we had eaten for the previous meal. But millions of Indians had remained deprived of this pleasure, this privacy and this dignity since millennia, forcing them to perform the act in public. When performed in public, there is no act that is more disgusting and more shameful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bluntly out, shitting had been a shameful act for several thousand Indians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is this shame that made us, the prude among the privileged and the toileted classes, invent newer and newer euphemisms for the act, the product and for the place where the act is performed. There are few words in the English language that have as many euphemisms as poop and latrine. For poop we have crap, shit, discharge, dung, excrement, excreta, faecal matter, faeces, manure, potty, stool, human waste, number two and many more. The shame of latrine has been covered up with toilet, water closet, WC, lavatory, outhouse, comfort station, privy, bathroom, washroom, restroom, gentlemen’s room, ladies’ room, men’s room, women’s room, and even powder room and cloakroom!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Think of the gross social injustice! Think of the millions who have to perform in public an act that we are ashamed of speaking about even in private. Gandhi discovered this pain and shame, and the gross injustice associated with it, long ago. He named and shamed India over faecal matter. His sanitation drive preceded his political movement. In South Africa he cleaned the toilets of his clerks; in India he often lived with scavengers. Saying “sanitation is more important than political independence,” he tried to toilet-train the masses, while also politicising them for the freedom struggle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the curse of open defecation continued even after the dawn of political freedom, constitutional end to untouchability and statutory end to scavenging. It is this curse that is now being sought to be lifted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s claim, made on the Gandhi’s sesquicentennial, may be premature. Critics may carp at it citing squatters on Mumbai’s train tracks or behind the bush in Bastar hamlets. Several thousand villagers may still have miles to go to answer the morning call; and India may have several more miles to go to claim its public spaces poop-free. All the same, there is no denying the fact that the Swachch Bharat Mission, despite its imperfections, has been one of the noblest welfare acts of the Indian state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Oct 12 11:18:11 IST 2019 cakes-wines-and-birthday-ladoos <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On September 17, Narendra Modi took a chopper to the Sardar Sarovar dam which was filled to the brim for the first time, prayed on the Narmada banks, visited the colossal Sardar Patel statue, worshipped at a village shrine, watched butterflies in an eco-tourism park, and declared the saffron-hued ‘tiger butterfly’ as Gujarat’s state butterfly. Relax he did finally, over a meal with his mother in Gandhinagar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Happy birthday, Prime Minister, though belated!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi has been celebrating every birthday differently. His first as prime minister, in 2014, was celebrated with a visit to his mother (she gave him 05,001; he donated it to Kashmir flood relief) and hosting a meal for Xi Jinping on the Sabarmati banks. The next was marked with a visit to an exhibition mounted in Delhi to mark the jubilee of the 1965 war. In 2016, he met his mother, and then went to Navsari where 989 lamps were lit as he distributed aid to differently-abled people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2017 birthday was also spent in Gujarat where he dedicated the Sardar Sarovar Dam to the nation, and then flew to Delhi where he called at the home of Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, the 1965 war hero who had died a day earlier. He celebrated his 68th with a visit to his Varanasi seat where he watched a film with children in a primary school, and worshipped at the Kasi Vishwanath shrine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manmohan Singh had quiet birthdays, but quite often he was on cloud nine. He was born on a September 26, and that is usually the date around which the UN holds its general assembly. More than thrice he was caught mid-air, flying to or from New York. His aides got him to cut a cake. We in the press (a media team accompanied the PM those days), too, used to partake of the cake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of the satvik elders of the sangh parivar view cake-cutting as a mlechcha western custom. They prefer the more Indian practice of offering ladoos. Yet lesser party mortals still cut and eat cakes in morsels. Delhi BJP boss Manoj Tiwari cut a cake for party workers at the India Gate on Modi’s birthday; Lok Sabha MP Meenakshi Lekhi cut a 370-kg cake in a Delhi suburb to celebrate Modi’s birthday and the scrapping of Article 370. The Madhya Pradesh Sindhu Sena cut a 69-foot-long cake in a Bhopal temple on Modi’s birthday. A Surat baker baked a 700-foot long cake of 7,000 kilos which he got cut by 700 ‘honest people’. One does not know which was tougher—baking the giant cake or getting 700 honest people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was seized by vishada yoga when he took a knife to cut a Modi birthday cake. The baker had moulded a Modi picture on the cake, and Sarma could not think of cutting it up. A case of having the cake, but not getting to eat it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not all PM birthdays are celebrated. Nehru’s became Children’s Day; Indira’s was declared National Integration Day but has since been forgotten. Vajpayee had it easy; he was born on a Christmas Day. Morarji Desai, who lived to 101, had the fewest birthdays. He was born on a February 29.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: This columnist once celebrated his birthday visiting three countries in prime ministerial company. I was in the press team of A.B. Vajpayee on a European tour. We left St Petersburg, Russia, after breakfast, and landed in Geneva, Switzerland, where the hotel staff had noted it was my birthday and had organised a strawberry cake. We crossed Lake Geneva in the evening to Evian in France, the venue of the G-8 summit where Jacques Chirac was treating all delegates to the best wines and cheese from every province of France.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No harm if I imagined it was all for me, and indulged, right?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Sep 26 16:46:58 IST 2019 carpetbaggers-in-the-cold <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>President Andrew Johnson purchased Alaska from Russia as real estate for the US in 1867. The deal was derided then, and called Seward’s Folly after Secretary of State William Seward who had negotiated it. But the gold-and oil-rich Alaska soon proved to be a wise buy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Donald Trump—wise guy!—thought he could clinch a similar deal over Greenland. But the Danes, who own the island, told him to go take a walk in the Arctic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all you know, the Arctic may soon be walkable. With the globe warming fast, the Arctic and neighbouring Siberia are losing about 13 per cent of the ice cover every decade, revealing metals, minerals, and possible routes to cart the stuff away. They are already talking of a polar route, far shorter than the Trans-Siberian Railway, between Europe and the Asian far east.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narendra Modi knows this, as do Trump, Putin and several world leaders. But Modi has been wiser than Trump. When he met Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, Modi did not offer to buy the Russian far east which borders the Frigid Zone of the north. He asked Putin, pretty politely, if he could lend a hand in digging and building in the wilderness. By all means, said Putin, without looking over the shoulder to see how Xi Jinping was taking it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Xi may be peeved, but Putin is pleased as Punch. Too many Chinese have been checking into his Far East, and poor Putin does not have enough Russians to populate the ‘icy wastes’. He ought to worry. The Chinese have a bad habit of debunking old sale deeds and cede deals, calling them colonially-imposed, and laying claims on neighbours’ lands as they have been doing across the MacMahon Line. Indeed, parts of the Russian Far East had once been ruled by the Yuans, the Mings and the Qings till the Chinese, miserably defeated by the British in the Opium Wars, ceded these lands to Russia in 1860.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new Russian owners threw out most Chinese who had been mining gold, diamond, nickel, lead, coal, gypsum, silver, zinc and later oil. The tsars—both the Romanov variety and the Stalinist set—had since been guarding and building the Siberian wilderness using gulag labour of slaves, prisoners and exiles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin has no such luxury of slavery. His people, free but few, have no interest in slogging in the Siberian snows. Vast tracts of eastern and northeastern Asiatic Russia are getting depopulated with mass migration to European Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So the Chinese have been coming again as coal-miners, gold-diggers and oil-drillers, but Putin would like to have a few others too, especially Indians and Japanese who too have skills and are willing to slog. That is where Modi walked in with a chequebook and asked him if he could lend a hand and a few billions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No different is the case of the icy wastes to the north. Unlike the Antarctic, there is no global treaty regime that guards the northern ice. Not that it is a free for all around the North Pole. The first claimants are the eight Arctic Council members—Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US—which have borders in the Frigid Zone. Then there are observers to the council, including India and China, who also have tremendous greed for resources and possess the skills to mine them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the way, India already has a foothold in both the east and the north—in the Sakhalin energy project in the east which is just a leap-frog away from Vladivostok, and in Himadri research station, opened in 2008, in the Arctic. And last year, we quietly renamed our Antarctic research house as polar research centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cold christening, right?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Sep 14 18:46:34 IST 2019 off-with-the-guard-and--other-spg-tales <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Special Protection Group will now have one VVIP less to guard. The home ministry has cut Manmohan Singh off the SPG’s charge. He will now be guarded by the CRPF in Z+ category, much like Mukesh Ambani but with one difference. The tycoon pays for his security; the taxpayer pays for Manmohan’s and other VIPs’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Z-plus security, with 55 guards including ten Black Cats, is given to those VIPs (except prime ministers and their close kin who are SPG-covered) facing the gravest threat. Next comes the Z category with 22 guards including five Black Cats. Y category worthies get 11 guards including two Black Cats; X category have two armed guards and no commando.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narendra Modi’s security czars have been scaling down the security cover associated with our VIP culture. They have banned beacons from most car-roofs, and cut the number of cops on guard duty. Manmohan, quiet soul, has no complaints. His daughters had themselves cut the SPG tail long ago. He had never asked for security for prestige, nor asked it to be withdrawn for publicity. V.P. Singh used to make a hue and cry in the 1990s, seeking to be “freed” from SPG cover. The law then was that you had to be guarded, tailed, covered and secured by the SPG for ten years after ceasing to be prime minister; no way you could shake them off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The SPG was raised following Indira Gandhi’s assassination through an executive order (statutory status came in 1988) during the Rajiv Gandhi era, originally for guarding incumbent prime ministers and their kin. Thus Rajiv, though facing threat from Lankan Tigers, had no SPG cover after he demitted office. He roamed the badlands with just two cops; sadly, one was killed with him in the blast at Sriperumbudur where he was campaigning in the 1991 polls. Ironically, the election itself was caused by two constables. Read the tailpiece.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>P.V. Narasimha Rao got the law amended so as to cover former prime ministers and their close kin for ten years from the day they quit office. That saved him, in less than five months of demitting office, from the embarrassment of walking into Delhi’s trial courts as an accused in a cheating case. On a plea by the Delhi Police that they could not secure the crowded court complex which was teeming with criminals, constables, clients, court clerks, and lawyers, the Supreme Court ordered that the trial be moved to Vigyan Bhavan, a stately venue for international events.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That order, by Justices M.M. Punchhi and K.T. Thomas, had some interesting observations about the relationship between a guard and his charge under the SPG Act. The SPG, the court said, would have to guard him, even if he were sent to prison. Though the order did not say so, it was interpreted that if a protectee were to be sent to the gallows, the SPG would have to guard him till the hangman’s knot tightens on him. “...[T]he protectee is a protectee all the time, as long as he keeps breathing...,” said the court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A.B. Vajpayee got the Act amended again. He scaled down ex-prime ministers’ cover to one year, but renewable every year if intelligence agencies saw danger. With that went the SPG cover of H.D. Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral and their kin. But the home ministry continues to see threat to Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi enough to warrant SPG cover.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: In 1990-1991 Chandra Shekhar was reigning as prime minister with outside support of the Congress, after V.P. Singh had resigned. One day, Congress workers caught two strangers lurking around Rajiv’s home. They claimed to be Haryana cops sent to guard him, but the Congress alleged that they were the regime’s spies snooping into their leader’s home, and pulled down the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Aug 30 11:49:56 IST 2019 a-tale-with-a-stink <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Winston Churchill once compared Neville Chamberlain to a “town councillor who looks at national affairs through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe.” The quote has been attributed to several other British prime ministers and their critics including Lloyd George, Anthony Eden and Harold Wilson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, PMs ought to do just that—be like a town councillor and look into municipal drainpipes, from the right end and the wrong end. Narendra Modi’s PMO is doing just that, and rightly so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Didn’t get it? Wait. There is a stink in this tale.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s Swachh Bharat will be five years old this October 2. In the last five years, mountains of muck have been removed, covered or brushed under the carpet in India that is Swachh Bharat. Ten lakh village homes and six lakh town houses are said to have got their first toilets; five lakh common latrines have been built in slums and shanties. The folk in six lakh villages claim to have none amid them who walks into the great outdoors with a mug in the morning, so claim 4,000-odd towns and cities. Three out of five villages have some means of removing waste, and 76,000 town wards have 100 per cent door-to-door collection of waste bags.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But where does all the muck go? Therein lies a sordid tale, a tale with a stink. Yes, we are getting our homes, hamlets and towns cleaner, but neither Mother Earth nor Mother India is actually getting any cleaner. We are not even sweeping the dirt under the carpet, but moving it from our homes to our neighbour’s backyards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at Delhi. The capital city is getting scrubbed and cleaned better these days than it was five years ago, but more waste is now getting dumped in the Ghazipur landfill in the city’s backyard, a stone’s throw from the Uttar Pradesh border. So much so that the dump has grown into a mound almost as tall as the Qutab, Delhi’s iconic monument, and is growing far faster than Everest to become the tallest monument in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Think of it, good people of Delhi! This monument of stink will still be there, centuries after the forts, towers, palaces, citadels and condominiums built by the Tomars and the Tughlaqs, the Mamluks and the Mughals, the Lodis and Lutyens, and the DDA and DLF have gone to dust like the city built by Ozymandias. This vast heap of waste would outlast everything that man has built. Even after “the whole world turn[s] to coal,” this toxic dump would “chiefly live”, as George Herbert wrote about virtue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, the evil that men do lives long after them—so would plastic, paper, PET and polythene. A plastic shopping bag we throw away may take 20 to 50 years to rot, a plastic cup 50, an aluminium can 200, a glass bottle 500, and a plastic bottle 700.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indians are said to be generating 62 million tonnes of waste a year, of which 15 lakh tonnes is e-waste, 5.6 million tonnes are plastic, 0.17 million biomedical waste, and 7.90 million tonnes hazardous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now the PMO has asked the government’s principal scientific adviser K. VijayRaghavan to get to the root of the stinking problem, and find out how the existing muck can be removed and recycled, and how the everyday waste can be treated. The ambitious idea is to achieve zero landfill. There will be an 18-month pilot project, and then land and funds will be allotted to the selected companies for testing their tech solutions. They could do anything with the rot—biomine (using microbes to extract metals), build roads, generate gas or power. Just make clean wealth from waste.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s quite a clean sweep. Cheers!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Aug 17 12:12:16 IST 2019 idioms-and-phrases-a-reddy-reckoner <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>An astrology magazine from the south sent a scribe during the 1998 polls to collect horoscopes of leading Delhi politicians for preparing articles on their electoral fortunes. Most leaders gave theirs happily, some slyly, but “Jaipal Reddy threw me out of his house,” the reporter told me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaipal was a quintessential liberal, a leftover from the age of reason. His politics was centrist, his worldview eclectic, his vision catholic, his temper scientific, his beliefs secular, his bearing benign, his mind intellectual, his speech scholarly, his diction Deccani.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaipal lived by his principles, but never imposed them on others. India had a few like him who were active in the 1990s—V.N. Gadgil, Surendra Mohan, Madhu Dandavate et al—all men of principles, but not dyed-in-the-wool idealists. They played pragmatic politics, yet held their personal principles high.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They kept their honesty to themselves and survived. As oil minister, Jaipal had the temerity to resist the Ambanis’ unreasonable gas share demands and rising stakes in Bharat Petroleum, but kept quiet when Manmohan Singh moved him to science and technology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Survival instinct made him return to the Congress two decades after he left it during Emergency, and having been India’s most formidable anti-Congress spokesman of the 1980s and 90s. There was no way he could compromise with the right, even though it was led by the affable Atal B. Vajpayee whom Jaipal described, in a brilliant Parliament debate, as a softliner compared to L.K. Advani, who was a softliner compared to Murli Manohar Joshi, who in turn was softliner compared to Uma Bharti, who in turn was...</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By then, the Janata clan was splitting with its warlords pulling in different directions. Jaipal stayed on for a while after everyone left, as a spokesman without a party, as a voice without a body.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I wasn’t close to Jaipal; he knew me only as one of the several scribes who were covering the Janata crises of the 1990s. Yet, when I likened, in a 1999 article in THE WEEK, his staying-on in the fading Janata Dal to the grin that remained after the Cheshire Cat vanished in Wonderland, he called me to convey his compliments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was Jaipal. He loved language and literature, especially figures of speech—idioms, phrases, proverbs, alliteration, oxymorons et al. He lived as an oxymoron—an ‘honest politician’. His “humungous fraud’’ charge against Vajpayee led to much heartburn among the BJP benches, and disruption of the house once.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaipal loved to brief the media—once or twice sitting on a sentry’s stool, placed under a tree on the roadside in front of the PM House, to brief us about the crises that had engulfed the Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral regimes after the Congress withdrew support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaipal was a political reporter’s delight. He would take our calls at any hour unless he was asleep, in his bath or was digging into the thesaurus, a copy of which was kept in his every room. If he was asked for a comment, he would ask: “Off the record, or on record?” Off the record he would give news; on record he would give a good quote. If he didn’t want to comment at all, he would give a new phrase coined by him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Once Sushma Swaraj, peeved at Jaipal’s strong words against the BJP, got even with him. “I went to a bookshop and came across a book titled A Thousand Insults,” she said. “When I went to the bookshop next, I found the book updated to A Thousand More Insults. I don’t know who wrote the book, but I know who reads it—Jaipal Reddy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Aug 02 15:45:16 IST 2019 yoga-a-fashion-statement-now-thanks-to-health-icon-pm-modi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Who is India’s topmost health icon? No, none of those surgeons with golden knives who bill you a million for a gall-bladder removal. Nor any of those YouTube fitness gurus who tell you to eat red onions in one video, and would be eating their own words in the next.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s topmost health icon, says the leading preventive healthcare platform GOQii, is Narendra Modi. In GOQii’s annual listing of ‘health influencers’, Modi has beaten yogi-turned-tycoon Ramdev for the second time in a row. Actor Akshay Kumar, who has a black belt in taekwondo and pretensions of being the Bruce Lee of Bollywood, is placed second, followed by Ramdev. Then there are a host of film stars, cricketers, starlets and sportspersons, most of who have been brand-ambassadoring for health products.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Modi was instrumental in instituting the International Day of Yoga 2015, which is now observed globally,” says the GOQii report. “He is not only keen on improving India but keen on improving the health and fitness of Indians as well. Despite all the tasks at hand, the 68-year-old still manages to stay fit.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Don’t we know? At 68, the gent is fit as a fiddle, and flies a few thousand airmiles every now and then, beats the jet-lag, speaks into radios, poses for photos, reads files, holds meetings, addresses rallies, cracks jokes, coins acronyms, performs yoga, promotes yoga videos, contests polls, pounds Pakistan, mollifies China, talks to Trump, thumps a 56-inch chest, rules over a sixth of the human race and yet finds time for breakfast and to fast for Navratri. Hats, caps, turbans and topis off to you, sir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yogis in India have been performing asanas since the days of Patanjali, and yoga has had several illustrious practitioners in the modern times from Vivekananda and his mentor Ramakrishna to B.K.S Iyengar. Theories abound about Jesus Christ having come to India and learnt hathayoga, but we have not heard of anyone here who walked on water like the Nazarene did. Remember, Lord Ram hired the services of ferryman Guha to cross the Ganga, and contracted an army of Vanaras to build a bridge across the sea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have also had prime ministers who practised yoga. Nehru did it every day but kept it all to himself; except getting photographed upside down once or twice. Indira had a yoga guru in Dhirendra Brahmachari, but it was his non-yogic activities that attracted attention. Morarji Desai is said to have practised yoga, but it was an another health fad, an abominable one, that he promoted more. Incidentally, the yoga institute that the Brahmachari set up in Delhi has since been named after Desai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yoga has had hundreds of such illustrious and not-so-illustrious practitioners, but none had promoted it like Modi has. Modi got the UN to declare June 21 as the International Day of Yoga, and has been galvanising Guinness gatherings of yogis on the Rajpath ever since. As had been written in this column earlier, Modi’s asanas on the Rajpath have caught the imagination of the masses in mother India, and the fancy of foreigners in vasudhaiva kutumbakam. Yoga is now a fashion statement among India’s new-gen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece: </b>What Modi is to yoga, Rajiv Gandhi was to jogging. Rajiv made jogging a fad among India’s youth, and organised mass marathons down the Rajpath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajiv’s run, too, had its element of nationalism. ‘Running for the country’ became a fashion statement in the 1980s, especially with the slogan ‘Mera Bharat Mahaan’. Patriotism was merchandised into jogging shoes and branded wrist-bands in Rajiv’s India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jul 20 13:01:32 IST 2019 of-common-man-and-vip-brats <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Who coined ‘aam aadmi’ as a political phrase? Arvind Kejriwal may claim political patent but, strictly speaking, Sonia Gandhi should have got the political copyright. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was going to town, as also to the polls in 2004, claiming to have made India shining, she cocked a snook at him and asked: “Aam aadmi ko kya mila?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It became the catchphrase of the 2004 election, and the Congress romped home. But later, when Sonia asked her partymen to fly economy class, Shashi Tharoor scoffed at the suggestion as having to fly cattle class. It was much later that Kejriwal filed a patent with the Election Commission and appropriated the phrase for his party. Smart Alec!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, give the devil his due. Even as a chief minister, the guy has been trying not to behave like a VIP. He still dresses like a clerk, and drives a Wagon-R with no red beacon on its roof. Can you believe, the car almost got stolen once?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The aam aadmi or the common man had been there much earlier, too. The British had put him on a London bus and got him accepted as a legal phrase across the Common Law countries. They call their aam aadmi the Man on the Clapham Omnibus. R.K. Laxman portrayed him as an elderly clerk in a government office who sees everything but never speaks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now Narendra Modi is beginning to speak and act for him. Four years ago, Modi had got Nitin Gadkari remove beacon lights from most VIP cars and, in a Mann Ki Baat address, called for an end to the VIP culture. The problem was that he came up with some other funny acronym in place of VIP, and no one took it seriously.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now Modi is walking the talk. In his first address to the NDA leaders in the Central Hall of Parliament after his re-election, Modi asked fellow-politicians to learn to stand in queues like the common man and Manohar Parrikar. (To be fair, Modi should have mentioned Gadkari, too, who has often been caught standing in queues.) “The country hates VIP culture,” Modi told fellow-politicians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, prime minister! If there is one thing that the Indian middle class resents more than having to pay income-tax, it is having to suffer the VIP culture. People resent being stopped on the roads for VIPs to pass, and hate to see them jump queues, delay flights, and behave boorish in public places as did the brat of an MLA in Indore recently. The guy, son of one of BJP’s topmost leaders in Madhya Pradesh, was caught assaulting a civic officer with a cricket bat and obstructing a lawful demolition of a building. Obstructing an officer from doing his duty itself is an offence. Assault compounds it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What compounded the sin was that the guy has since been bragging about it, and so has been his father. Then, when he was released from custody, his chelas organised a gun-salute for him. Cheek!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That really got Modi’s goat. He came down heavily on the MLA, as also on his indulgent father and his gangsters. “Don’t care whose son he is,” Modi fumed at a parliamentary party meeting, and even called for such brats, their patrons and their lumpen cheerleaders to be thrown out of the party. Way to go, prime minister!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But beware of the contrary, too. The PM’s gesture shouldn’t be seen as empowering the bureaucrats vis-a-vis the elected reps. After all, babus can be worse boors than netas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Roads in Communist Moscow were said to have had separate lanes for VIPs to drive hassle-free. The apparatchiks justified them as intended for keeping the common man’s lanes free from VIP roadblocks!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Can you fault the logic?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jul 05 15:01:20 IST 2019 modi-approach-towards-china-appears-to-be-matured-now <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi-2 seems more moderate and mellowed than Narendra Modi-1. He is waving more white flags these days, than red rags.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Listen to what he told the opposition: Your words will matter more than your numbers. Pretty Nehruvian! As Rajni Kothari once observed, Nehru gave the opposition more respect than their numbers commanded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s foreign policy, too, is getting circumspect. The rough edges are getting polished. In 2014, he had got the Tibetan ‘prime minister’ and Taiwan’s mission head to his swearing-in. The sight of the two T-chiefs was red rags to the Chinese. Ties with China swung like a pendulum, from a dhokla lunch with Xi Jinping on the Sabarmati banks to a military standoff on the Doklam plateau. It needed much delicate diplomacy at Wuhan to avert a showdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi does not look inclined to taking such risks this time. His approach appears to have matured. With a former career diplomat as his foreign minister—an old China hand to boot—we may now see quite a lot of nimble-footing with the Chinese.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We had a glimpse of it at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Modi met the rest of the Shanghai gang there, who were all praise for the Second Belt and Road Forum that Xi had hosted in April. Not Modi. He agreed with Xi and the rest on other issues—ending the dollar reign, denial of market access, and such other, but kept away from the chorus of praise over the Belt and the Road.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi also did a bit of diplomatic plainspeak (pardon the oxymoron; diplomats cannot speak plain English). Connectivity projects, he told Xi, should be “transparent” and “inclusive”, and should respect the “territorial integrity” of others. He meant two things. One, Xi should not get his poorer neighbours, who live on the sides of the Belt and the Road, into debt traps by making them sign contracts whose terms and conditions are in small print. Two, Xi should not build roads, bridges, factories and power lines for Pakistan on territory that is India’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese, too, seem to be getting off the high Mongol horse which they have been riding down the Belt and the Road. ‘Inclusive growth’, they are finding out, cannot happen if it excludes India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘Inclusive growth’ was the overarching theme of the Second China-South Asia Cooperation Forum held last week in Yuxi City in Yunnan Province, where this columnist, too, was invited to speak. Once a hub of the southern Silk Route, Yunnan is emerging as the hub of the Belt and the Road to south and southeast Asia. It is linked, or getting linked, by road to Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and even Kolkata, by rail to the entire Eurasian landmass, by waterways to Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, with gas pipelines to Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, and through data lines to India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Xi has four sub-projects for South Asia—a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor, a maritime Silk Road across China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, a trans-Himalayan corridor linking China, Nepal, Bhutan, India and into the Indian Ocean, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Which ones have a chance for getting India’s nod? No prizes for guessing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: Fiction-writers often borrow real place names for their work. But Yunnan province has a place which has borrowed its name from fiction. Claiming that James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon, which talked of an imaginary land called Shangri-La, was inspired by Zhongdian in Yunnan, the Chinese have renamed the county as Shangri-La, just to attract tourists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is like naming a real town in Karnataka as Malgudi. Any ideas, Kumaraswamy?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jun 22 18:17:14 IST 2019 punch-in-a-shrunken-pack <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When it came to campus selection, Narendra Modi was most fair. He picked up two of his top four cabinet hands from Jawaharlal Nehru University, the campus that has been reviled by many of his party colleagues as a breeding ground of dissenters, seditionists, traitors, anarchists and communists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By Kannagi and Tiruvalluvar! Both the JNU ‘selectees’, Nirmala Sitharaman and S. Jaishankar, are of Tamil origin. Tamil Nadu didn’t give the BJP a single seat, yet Modi picked two Tamil-speakers for his cabinet. Bravo, prime minister, that’s being fair, twice over!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fairness has already paid dividends. The first controversy that the government got into was over the proposed new education policy that would have given primacy to Hindi, a language that many in the north wrongly claim to be the national language of India. (It is not; it is only the official language of the Union, a status it enjoys along with English for all purposes.) As Tamil Nadu politicians and public breathed fire and brimstone, the two ministers tweeted truce terms in Tamil. That doused the fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ministries are myriad in the Union council, and all the cabinet ministers are considered equal. But as in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, some are considered more equal—the ministers of home, finance, foreign affairs and defence, who have their offices on Raisina Hill. Along with the prime minister, who is the first among equals, this foursome form the cabinet committee on security. Two of the four in this cabinet are Tamil, and are JNU alumni.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi has not only tried to be fair, but has also given more political ballast to the council. If he had packed his old team with 19 members from the Rajya Sabha and given 12 of them cabinet rank, this time the entire ministry has only 11 upper housies of whom six—Nirmala, Piyush Goyal, Prakash Javadekar, Dharmendra Pradhan, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Thaawarchand Gehlot—are in the cabinet. Jaishankar, and Ram Vilas Paswan, who has served in the cabinets of six prime ministers, may join them in the upper house. After eight wins, some of them with record margins, and two defeats from his Hajipur, Paswan has ended his long Lok Sabha run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi has also put more of his cabinet colleagues through the electoral wringer. Ravi Shankar Prasad and Smriti Irani, who were upper housies, have come into the Lok Sabha this time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi talked of minimum government and maximum governance last time, but ended up with a jumbo council of 75 ministers, 27 of them in the cabinet. This time, he has shrunken the kids to just 57, two dozen of them in the cabinet. Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj were kept out for not being well; Uma Bharti and Radha Mohan Singh for not having done well; Suresh Prabhu, Maneka Gandhi and others, who are well and did well, for reasons known to Modi alone. A bird from Deendayal Upadhyaya Marg says J.P. Nadda and Rajyavardhan Rathore may get top party jobs—one in Delhi and the other in Jaipur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PMO, too, has been given more ballast. The national security adviser has been invested with a cabinet rank, for the first time after Vajpayee’s man Brajesh Mishra left. But Ajit Doval is still one feather minus. Brajesh had also held the post of principal secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailpiece: All eyes now are on two men in the PMO. Principal Secretary Nripendra Misra is 74, and if Modi applies the age cut-off of 75 years to the bureaucracy, too, he may be succeeded by Additional Principal Secretary Pramod Kumar Mishra next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That will be continuity with change—literally, nominally, and nomenclaturally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jun 08 18:28:16 IST 2019 when-world-rulers-take-a-break-from-work <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When cares of governance wear them down, most world rulers take a break. They go caving or climbing, biking or for beach fun, fishing or freaking out. Narendra Modi has added another—meditation on the mount.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem is that the gent cannot do a thing in silence and solemnity. Not even meditation. On the day his Varanasi seat was going to the polls, he took a chopper to Kedarnath, where he went round the shrine clad in a gown with a train and treading on a red carpet. Then he crawled into a cave, and slipped into a brahma-dhyaanam with his spectacles on and cameras flashing. Admirers called it a spiritual retreat; critics called it an electoral drama; sceptics dismissed it as tomfoolery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several of the world leaders have fixed retreats and holiday homes. The Brits have the mediaeval Chequers, a “house of peace and ancient memories” gifted by Lord Lee of Fareham “to England as a thank-offering for her deliverance in the Great War of 1914-1918 as a place of rest and recreation for her Prime Ministers for ever”. That reads more like the writing on a tombstone than on the wall of a weekend home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>US presidents have their Camp David in Maryland. The Clintons and Obamas went also to Martha’s Vineyard for sunning and beach-biking. Russian presidents have dachas on the Black Sea. Even the Pakistanis have hideouts in the mountains of Murree.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Often, work also gets done at these getaways. Theresa May got her cabinet to Chequers where she made them agree to her Brexit plan. It is another matter that the plan remains a chequered one a year later. Jimmy Carter brokered peace between Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin in 1977 at Camp David, and got them a Nobel Peace Prize. Bill Clinton made a similar bid in vain with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in 2000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vacationing can be politically costly, too, as Mikhail Gorbachev found out. The glasnosting Soviet supremo was holidaying at a Black Sea resort when conservative Commies staged a coup in the Kremlin. Boris Yeltsin kicked them out and got him his presidency back, but forced him to sign away the Soviet Union.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s rulers do take breaks, but have been wary of public gaze. Nehru got himself snapped in swimsuits a couple of times; his legatees are paying the price for the ‘indecent exposure’ now. Anti-Nehruvians are faking those photos to show him as a Lothario.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indira loved to get away, often to look at flowers and catch up with her reading. A day before she fell to assassins’ bullets, she had flown to Srinagar to see the chinars in bloom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajiv broke the stigma that politicians had been associating with personal vacations. He flew to the northeast in jeans and T-shirt, a camera in one arm and Sonia on the other. He took her and the kids snorkelling in the Andamans and lagooning in Lakshadweep. Modi has labelled these, uncharitably, as vacationing on warships.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vajpayee loved his retreats and getaways. He spent a New Year’s Eve on the lakeside at Kumarakom musing over Kashmir, Ayodhya and other issues. From Manali, he reflected over the legacy he was leaving behind. On overseas trips, he used to spend a day without work, resting, reading or sightseeing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Only Manmohan packed his 365 days with work. His aides don’t recall him having taken a break, except when down with a cough, cold or flu. His idea of a break from work was to ask for a cup of tea with biscuits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tailpiece:</b> Morarji Desai was one who boldly posed for cameras half-naked. Once he posed in swimming trunks at a poolside. On a visit to Kovalam, he was caught swimming in the sea wearing beach clothes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat May 25 15:41:45 IST 2019