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Thursday, May 16, 2013

What is Salman Khurshid Up To?

The aphorism ‘No nation has friends, only interests’ and its variations were attributed to the former French President, Charles de Gaulle and the English Statesman Lord Palmerston. Some believe it predates even these politicians. An article in Time Magazine (May 9, 1955) obliquely attributes it to the English Statesman. For now the authorship of the aphorism is not the issue but whether Indian politicians were / are wise enough to pursue the course defined by it. Surprisingly, India’s foreign policy from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru has functioned at complete variance from the wisdom the aphorism advocates. Another interesting feature is that although Indian Prime Ministers in general seem to have a penchant for the foreign ministry, probably because it helps them to frequently fly abroad and rub shoulders with other world leaders, Nehru never let go of the foreign affairs portfolio. He was his Foreign Minister throughout his tenure as Prime Minster from September 2 1946. He relinquished both the posts only when he died on May 27 1964. The following article was originally published in South Asian Idea (SAISA), the official website of the South Asian Institute of Strategic Affairs as, ‘What is Foreign Office Up To?

Does the Indian government have a strategy to counter the latest Chinese incursion deep into Indian territory on April 15? If it does, it is shrouded in mystery and obfuscation. The first reports indicated that the Chinese penetrated ten kilometres inside from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and pitched tents. The government finally admitted that they intruded nineteen kilometres. (Dr.!) Salman Khurshid, the dermatologist heading the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) described it as a spot of acne on the India-China relations! Such expressions appear colourful in sophomore essays or university debates. However Khurshid is neither a sophomore nor was he writing an essay for a college magazine.

The recent incursion is not the first (more than 200 Chinese incursions into Indian territory have been reported since 2008) but what made it disturbing was, this time around the Chinese did not indulge in a niggling in-and-out inroad but seemed to have come to stay put. Equally disturbing is the Indian response which seems to be following the disastrous course of the 1962 script.

One would like to forget what happened in 1962 but for the indelible scar that the humiliating defeat left on India’s collective psyche. There were varying versions of what went wrong. There was an extreme view projected by the then undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) which overtly functioned as the Chinese fifth column. The left wing Chinese sympathizers in the academia and their fellow travellers in the media did their bit to cloud the picture. Several generals of the defeated army added to the cacophony by offering self-serving apologias.

Then there are accounts of foreign journalists like Neville Maxwell (1970. India’s China War). An Australian national born in London and educated in Canada, Maxwell was The Times’ foreign correspondent in Washington for three years, before being posted to New Delhi as the paper’s South Asia correspondent. Though extensively researched, the book appears to have been written to absolve Britain of any responsibility for the mess it left behind. In an article he wrote for Rediff in 2002, Maxwell observed that ‘[t]hrough the early 1950’s Nehru’s covertly expansionist policy had been implemented by armed border police…’ (Rememberinga War).

Even his worst enemies would not have credited Nehru with an expansionist mindset. Quite the reverse; he was hugely enamoured of China and its culture and wanted its friendship not enmity. (The CIA documents mentioned below confirm this.) He meekly acquiesced when the Chinese usurped Tibet, although Sardar Patel warned him years earlier, about Chinese ambitions over it. Patel foresaw that the disappearance of a buffer state between India and China would only fuel the latter’s expansionist ambitions further. The Chinese proved Patel right. In 1956-57 they quietly built a road to Aksai Chin and occupied it. It was a monumental failure of the Indian intelligence but the Indian government came to know of it only in 1958 according to secret CIA documents declassified in 2007.

Isn’t 2013 a poignant parallel? With all the technology and spy satellites that are available to them, the Indian intelligence agencies (again) failed to notice the Chinese creeping in till they pitched their tents nineteen kilometres inside India. That is not all. There are ground reports that the Chinese have been nibbling at Indian territories for years and altering the contours of the borders. 

Nehru first denied the Chinese incursions into Indian territories (as Khurshid now seeks to minimize it) and when it was no longer tenable to do so informed parliament that the Indian army was asked to ‘throw the Chinese out’. The Chinese fifth column in the Indian polity latched on to that phrase and claimed that it hurt the Chinese pride and in a way triggered the war. After the war, the Indians were left with only shame, not pride! There is no dearth of Chinese sympathizers even today. Academics of the JNU variety argue in television debates that the incursions occur because of differing perceptions about the border. They never pause to ponder why, because of similar differing perceptions Indian troops do not wander into China? Isn’t it precisely because, it is not a settled and demarcated border it is called the ‘Line of Actual Control’ and not an international border?

Maxwell had access to the ‘Henderson Brookes-Bhagat Report’, an Operations Review of the debacle, commissioned by Gen. J. N. Chaudhuri, who became the army Chief after the war. The report is still classified and not available to the Indian public. Nehru revealed more about the Indian army’s capabilities to the Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai (trained in military and intelligence matters) by taking him on a conducted tour of Indian ordnance factories than the Henderson Brookes-Bhagat report conceals from the Indian public.   

Maxwell and others opine that the Indian army was forced to take on a more superior army in terms of training and equipment. But the war was probably lost in the minds of the generals much before it was on the ground. There is the old saying that ‘The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton!’ (It may be an uncorroborated version but a veteran of the war whom this writer met in a train journey said that the Chinese were not as well equipped as it was made out to be. They carried one rifle for four to six soldiers.) The generals hoped till the end that Nehru would somehow find a diplomatic solution to the vexed border problem. He failed them and they failed him.

Haven’t the Americans met their Waterloo in Vietnam and the Russians in Afghanistan in spite of their vastly superior arms and equipment? Therefore the inferior quality of arms and equipment was not a valid argument for the defeat in 1962. Similarly, China’s numerical superiority of arms and equipment is not a valid argument for inaction in 2013. The rule is to be able to stare the enemy in the face. As an emerging economy and aspiring world power, China has as much at stake as India. 

There was a view that Nehru’s overweening ambition to win a Nobel peace prize was at the back many of his political decisions which resulted in disastrous consequences. One hopes the present leadership would not consider trading off national interests for some elusive personal monument for itself! The nation will not approve it. Therefore Salman Khurshid should keep the nation informed about his game plan for securing the safety and integrity of the nation. More importantly the nation would like to have an assurance from the Defence Minister that his armed forces are fully capable of securing the nation’s safety, security and integrity. 

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Random Reflections On The Karnataka Election 2013

If one were to name a singular failure of the intelligentsia, the politicians, the sociologists and finally the sanctimonious, ‘know-all’ media that comprise the opinion-shaping organs of the world’s largest democracy, it is its failure to build a cohesive national spirit. For, sixty five years after becoming a democratic polity, we still vote as castes and communities; ethnic and religious groups.

Unlike the Americans, Brits, Chinese, French or Russians we do not think, act or behave as a nation, like Indians. We think as vokkaligas, and lingayats; forward castes and backward castes; Hindus and Muslims; Bengalese and Biharis; Kanndigas and Marathis but certainly not as Indians.

Compared to these considerations, probity in public life or its converse, corruption appears to be a non-issue in Indian elections. This was earlier observed in AP in 2009 when the then YSR government accused of corruption on a gigantic scale not only comfortably returned to power but contributed 33 MPs to his party to form a government at the centre.

The reason could probably be that corruption only affects the middle classes. The poor do not mind whether the government is corrupt or not as in any case their lot remains poor. If someone provides them their daily necessities and a few other freebies, that would be all they want. Throw the poor some crumbs. The late YSR understood this principle and deployed it with great success. His philosophy was ‘I and my cronies would loot the state and none can question me as long as the people vote me back to power.’ He warded off all accusations of corruption with the hide of a hippopotamus. If in the process the government bankrupts, so be it!

His bête noire CBN, left out of power for two terms learnt his predecessor’s lessons well! It is early days yet to predict if he would or could come back to power in 2014 but to service all the freebies he has been promising during his recent 3000-km padayatra the state budget may be woefully inadequate. The freebies he promised would consume the revenues of the entire nation. To be fair to CBN he did not face any corruption charges when in power.

For the rich it is a closed circuit. ‘I can, and pay for services; I recover my costs and some by swindling the public.’ They need corruption and it needs them. It is a self-reinforcing loop.

The BJP, which laid great store by probity in public life, floundered when its tallest leader in the state, B.S. Yeddyurappa blundered. In the 1990s, its leader L. K. Advani, an accused in the Jain Hawala case resigned his parliament membership and stayed out of public life till his name was cleared. Its Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee sacrificed his 13-day government in 1996, by losing a vote of confidence on the floor of the Lok Sabha by a solitary vote. If his floor managers did what the Manmohan Singh government did at the fag end of its first term in 2004, he would not have had to go to the people again. Atal Behari Vajpayee had sacked Buta Singh, a minister from a politically sensitive community when the Supreme Court indicted him in the JMM bribery case.

B.S. Yeddyurappa nullified about forty years’ of hard work and clean public life with greed for some small peanuts. When there was a demand for probing mining licences, in a fit of foolish or inverted bravado, he included his own tenure in the terms of reference he ordered. That was his undoing. He was one of the few Chief Ministers who had to resign on grounds of corruption and sent to jail based on a report filed by the state Lokayukta. The High Court later rubbished the report. For the record, the report of the former Karnataka Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde, also indicted two of Yeddyurappa’s predecessors, S. M. Krishna and Dharam Singh both of the CongressWhat was Yeddyurappa charged of in the Lokayukta report? He was charged of allocating a paltry 10 acres of land to his family members. He did it, as many of his predecessors did, under the Chief Minister’s discretionary quota. An indiscretion perhaps, for a leader of a ‘party with a difference’ but it can hardly be termed corruption. His son was accused of accepting a paltry Rs 10 Cr as a donation to a trust he was running as quid pro quo for getting him some mining leases.

The BJP did act by replacing Yeddyurappa as Chief Minister but by the time the damage was done. The anti-BJP media selectively went to town with Yeddyurappa’s alleged corruption and the stigma stuck. The reason for qualifying the media as anti-BJP is because it spared the two former Congress CMs indicted by the same Lokayukta report. The BJP could not effectively counter the campaign. Here is a lesson for the BJP to ruminate on its media management or look for a media organisation of its own. 

The lesson: don’t under-estimate the power of media. There is a corollary to the lesson: don’t over-estimate the power of the social media. The social media may be able to discipline the mainstream media to a certain extent but it can’t be a substitute for hard work on the ground. 

The manner of his exit rather than the exit per se must have angered Yeddyurappa. A faction within the party which wanted the party to brazen out corruption charges (as the Congress does often) raised false hopes in him. But a more martinet faction within the party wanted him out at least till his name was cleared by due legal processes. A miffed Yeddyurappa walked out of the party, formed his own outfit and proved to be the BJP’s nemesis at the hustings. His exit split the party’s votes and reduced its tally in the Vidhan Sabha to a third of its former strength. In the process, he rendered himself irrelevant in the political scheme of things in the state. He might yet learn his lesson and yearn for a homecoming as many others before him have done both in the BJP and its arch-rival, the Congress. For the nonce, he has had his revenge for a real or imaginary slight he suffered in the party.