09 December 2013

What the 2013 results mean for 2014

8 pm, 8 December 2013


What the 2013 results mean for 2014

Siddharth Varadarajan

The results of the 2013 assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are out but those looking for clear pointers towards how the next general election will play out are likely to be left scratching their heads.

The Bharatiya Janata Party turned in a spectacular performance in Rajasthan and wrested the state from the Congress. It has retained Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the latter with a significant increase in its seat share. But in Delhi, the BJP failed to properly ride the wave of anti-Congress sentiment, yielding crucial political space to the Aam Aadmi Party and falling short of a clear-cut majority.

That said, this '3-and-a-half to zero' verdict in favour of the BJP and against the Congress is no mean achievement and is significant for what it tells us about the state of the two national parties in these four states. Taken together, the four account for 72 Lok Sabha seats, of which the Congress had won 40 and the BJP 30 in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. If the current trends carry forward to 2014, the Congress will lose all 7 Delhi seats, and perhaps as many as 17 seats from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, giving the BJP a net gain of 24.

The truth of the matter is that both in these states and at the wider national level, the Congress is in retreat and its saffron challenger is clearly ascendant. But that still does not leave us with a clear sense of what will happen overall in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Before the current round of state elections, there were three big questions that needed answering.

First, is the Congress party under the stewardship of Rahul Gandhi capable of reviving its flagging fortunes? The answer today is a resounding 'No'. Sunday's results have surely put paid to the notion that the Congress vice president is capable of producing a miracle that can banish not just the dysfunctionality of the party's organization but also the unpopularity of the Manmohan Singh government. Whether he is declared his party's prime ministerial candidate or not, the Congress's electoral fate seems more or less sealed. As for his promise of taking a leaf from the AAP's playbook and moving away from "traditional politics", I'm not holding my breath.

The second big question for which we were looking for answers was whether the BJP under Narendra Modi's leadership is likely to capitalize on the Congress's abject condition. Here the picture is a little complicated. The 'Modi effect' is present - it would be foolish to deny that - but its impact is neither uniform nor decisive.

The BJP's victories in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are handsome, and no doubt the appeal of Modi to a section of the urban electorate contributed to the inherent strength that Shivraj Chouhan and Vasundhara Raje Scindia brought to the campaign. And yet, the scale of the victories here is not unprecedented, either for the BJP or indeed the Congress. The Congress swept Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in a comparable fashion in 1998. And Uma Bharati won 173 seats for the BJP in MP in 2003 when Modi was not even a blip on the horizon. Crediting the "Modi Wave" for the BJP's wins in these two states on Sunday thus appears a bit of a stretch, though it has clearly affected the margin of victory in Rajasthan. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP vote rose dramatically - up by 8 percentage points - but this was thanks largely to the return of Uma Bharati to the party's fold.

Indeed, when we turn to Chhattisgarh and Delhi, the Modi effect appears totally absent. Not only did his hectic campaigning in these two states fail to give the BJP a big boost, the fact that he was not able to convince a third of Delhi's urban anti-Congress electorate to choose his party over the Aam Aadmi Party is surely a sign that the Gujarat Chief Minister's popularity and appeal cannot be taken for granted.

Indeed, the Delhi result has underlined the fact that Narendra Modi is not the only face of anti-Congress sentiment in the country.

The third big question in Indian politics before Sunday's results was whether there is still space for a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative at the national level. After the performance of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, the answer should be obvious.

But just because the AAP has emerged as an alternative to the two big national parties in the National Capital, does this mean that similar space exists elsewhere? If that were the case, why have all efforts to build and consolidate a 'Third Front' floundered in the past and failed to even get off the ground in recent years? The reason is because what has historically been known as Third Front has been little more than an artificial and even opportunist grouping of political parties with no vision of an alternative politics. The AAP, on the other hand, seems to hold out the promise of a new political vision. Its methods of mobilization have the potential to alter the grammar of Indian politics and the issues it has taken up seem to connect with ordinary voters in a much more fundamental and systematic way than anything the 'Third Front' ever attempted.

The AAP is likely to use its spectacular performance in Delhi as a springboard for the 2014 elections, where it stands a good chance of making inroads in urban and semi-urban areas across the country. In many states, the Aam Aadmi Party will eat into the anti-Congress vote and undermine the BJP, which is looking to use Modi to make gains in cities and towns. But whether the AAP has the capacity to wage the kind of campaign it did in Delhi will depend on its ability to build broad alliances and coalitions with social movements and smaller political formations in different parts of India. Many of those who form the AAP's "natural constituency" have so far preferred to watch from a distance rather than join its efforts. Now that the Aam Aadmi Party has proved its credentials, that is likely to change.

Story first published: December 08, 2013 19:59 IST

11 September 2013

Making News

Palash DavĂ© profiles brothers Tunku and Siddharth Varadarajan— editors, writers and scholars—who, while following seemingly different paths, are often on the same page From: THE INDIAN QUARTERLY, JULY-SEPTEMBER 2013

25 June 2011

NSG ends India's 'clean' waiver

New guidelines bar ‘sensitive' nuclear exports to countries outside the NPT ...

25 June 2011
The Hindu

NSG ends India's 'clean' waiver

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on Friday adopted new guidelines on the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology that will effectively nullify the “clean” waiver India received from the cartel in 2008 as far as the import of enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology (ENR) is concerned.

The decision was announced from Noordwijk, the Netherlands, where the 46-nation grouping held its 2011 plenary meeting. The NSG “agreed to strengthen its guidelines on the transfer of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies,” a formal statement blandly noted.

Though the guidelines have not been made public yet, the draft text makes it clear that the group will exclude countries which are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and which do not have a full-scope safeguards agreement allowing international inspections of all their nuclear facilities.

Prior to this, the NSG had a catch-all requirement of full-scope safeguards — in paragraph 4 of its guidelines — for the supply of any nuclear equipment or material.

The only additional requirement for ENR exports — as contained in paragraphs 6 and 7 of the guidelines — was that the suppliers were asked to “exercise restraint” and to ensure that any supplied equipment or technology not be used to enrich uranium beyond 20 per cent.

The NSG's September 6, 2008 ‘Statement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with India' waived the full-scope safeguards requirement of paragraph 4 and expressly allowed ENR exports, subject to paragraphs 6 and 7. In adopting its waiver, the NSG said it was acting “based on the commitments and actions” on non-proliferation undertaken by India.

But on Friday, the cartel tore up that bargain, adopting a new paragraph 6 specifying objective and subjective criteria a recipient country must meet before an NSG member can sell ENR to it. The very first of these is NPT membership.

Since all nuclear exports to the only other countries outside the NPT – Israel, Pakistan and North Korea – are already prohibited by paragraph 4, this provision in the guidelines was expressly designed to target India, to which the restrictions of that paragraph no longer apply.

When the U.S. first floated the guidelines in November 2008, Indian officials privately complained that the NPT provision would amount to a “rollback” of both the NSG waiver and the fundamental American commitment to ensure “full civil nuclear cooperation” with India.

Confidential U.S. embassy cables published by The Hindu last week quoted Shivshankar Menon, now National Security Adviser, and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao protesting the draft ENR rules.

Last week, a senior Indian official told journalists that the government “has deep reservations about any move by the NSG that prevents the transfer of these technologies ... that will dilute the ... exemption that was given in 2008.”

Ironically, the U.S. insists that its support for the ban on ENR sales to India “in no way detract(s) from the exception granted to India by NSG members in 2008.” The reality is that an entire category of nuclear items which NSG members were allowed to sell to India as a result of the 2008 exception can no longer be supplied.

“Before voluntarily placing our civilian facilities under IAEA safeguards,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured Parliament on August 17, 2006, “we will ensure that all restrictions on India have been lifted.” What he didn't bargain for was that some restrictions, once lifted, might be imposed again.

24 June 2011

Government cold to CAG's quest for new powers

For the past two years, the CAG has been pushing the Finance Ministry — its nodal ministry — for crucial changes in the 1971 Audit Act. To no avail ...

24 June 2011
The Hindu

Government cold to CAG's quest for new powers

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: The United Progressive Alliance government may have shown a willingness to draft a new Lokpal Bill, but it is dragging its feet on a proposal to strengthen the public institution that has done so much to expose wrongdoings in public life: the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG).

For the past two years, the CAG has been pushing the Finance Ministry — its nodal ministry — for crucial changes in the 1971 Audit Act. The accounting watchdog's concern is that its mandate to summon files and examine the way public monies are spent has not kept pace with new modes of governance that have emerged, especially since liberalisation.

Weekly reminders

In 2010, the CAG sent concrete proposals for amendments to three broad areas, but the government is still mulling over its response. This, despite getting formal reminders on an almost weekly basis.

The official silence is not surprising given that audit reports have become something of a political hot potato. The capital was rife with reports of corruption in the telecom sector, for example, but it was only when the CAG report on the 2G spectrum allocation confirmed the scam that the government was forced to act. The latest audit report to set off a political firestorm is on oil and gas production sharing contracts, with the CAG's leaked draft saying Reliance Industries was shown “undue favours” in its KG basin operations.

The KG report is still being finalised, but its long-gestation period — work began in 2006 — and tentative conclusions reflect the weakness of the audit mandate. The Petroleum Ministry dragged its feet in giving documents (despite having asked for the audit in the first place) and private companies refused to share relevant information. The CAG now wants this situation rectified.

The first amendment it is seeking relates to the speed with which government departments respond to audit requests. Crucial audits get delayed because ministries aren't obliged to respond within a specified time frame. Just as the Right to Information Act gives ordinary citizens the right to get an answer to their questions within 30 days, the CAG wants a similar deadline for official responses to its queries.

The second change pertains to the mandatory disclosure of finalised audit reports. Governments delay the tabling of reports which are politically inconvenient. The CAG's audit of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation was not tabled in Parliament for a year. And the Maharashtra government held on to a report for 18 months because it contained adverse comments on Vilasrao Deshmukh, tabling it only when the CAG threatened to have it released through the Governor.

With these examples fresh in its mind, the CAG wants the law to specify that governments must immediately table reports submitted while the legislature is in session, or within the first week of the next session, if submitted in between.

Finally, the CAG wants the 1971 Act to clarify its powers to audit new forms of government economic activity such as public-private partnerships and joint ventures, and new conduits of expenditure not envisaged when the law was first framed — such as the routing of money for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the National Rural Health Mission and the MNREGA through panchayati raj institutions and non-governmental organisations.

By some estimates, more than Rs. 80,000 crore is spent this way every year, beyond the reach of the CAG's regular audits. Because the CAG doesn't audit this expenditure, Parliament too does not get to review how well this money is being utilised.

22 June 2011

A bill to settle a terrible debt

For decades, the victims of communal and targeted violence have been denied protections of law that the rest of us take for granted. It's time to end this injustice...

22 June 2011
The Hindu

A bill to settle a terrible debt

Siddharth Varadarajan

In a vibrant and mature democracy, there would be no need to have special laws to prosecute the powerful or protect the weak. If a crime takes place, the law would simply take its course. In a country like ours, however, life is not so simple. Terrible crimes can be committed involving the murder of hundreds and even thousands of people, or the loot of billions of rupees. But the law in India does not take its course. More often than not, it stands still.

If the Lokpal bill represents an effort to get the law to change its course on the crime of corruption, the new draft bill on the prevention of communal and targeted violence is a modest contribution towards ensuring that India's citizens enjoy the protection of the state regardless of their religion, language or caste.

The draft law framed by the National Advisory Council and released earlier this month for comment and feedback is a huge improvement over the bill originally drawn up by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2005. The earlier version paid lip service to the need for a law to tackle communal violence but made matters worse by giving the authorities greater coercive powers instead of finding ways to eliminate the institutional bias against the minorities, Dalits and adivasis, which lies at the heart of all targeted violence in India.

The November 1984 massacre of Sikhs provides a good illustration of how the institutionalised “riot system” works. Let us start with the victim. She is unable to get the local police to protect the lives of her family members or property. She is unable to file a proper complaint in a police station. Senior police officers, bureaucrats and Ministers, who by now are getting reports from all across the city, State and country, do not act immediately to ensure the targeted minorities are protected. Incendiary language against the victims is freely used. Women who are raped or sexually assaulted get no sympathy or assistance. When the riot victims form makeshift relief camps, the authorities harass them and try to make them leave. The victims have to struggle for years before the authorities finally provide some compensation for the death, injury and destruction they have suffered. As for the perpetrators of the violence, they get away since the police and the government do not gather evidence, conduct no investigation and appoint biased prosecutors, thereby sabotaging the chances of conviction and punishment.

With some modifications here and there, this is the same sickening script which played out in Gujarat in 2002, when Muslims were the targeted group. On a smaller scale, all victims of organised, targeted violence — be they Tamils in Karnataka or Hindi speakers in Maharashtra or Dalits in Haryana and other parts of the country — know from experience and instinct that they cannot automatically count on the local police coming to their help should they be attacked.

If one were to abstract the single most important stylised fact from the Indian “riot system”, it is this: violence occurs and is not immediately controlled because policemen and local administrators refuse to do their duty. It is also evident that they do so because the victims belong to a minority group, precisely the kind of situation the Constituent Assembly had in mind when it wrote Article 15(1) of the Constitution: “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”.

How are policemen and officials able to get away with violating the Constitution in this manner? Because they know that neither the law nor their superiors will act against them. What we need, thus, is not so much a new law defining new crimes (although that would be useful too) but a law to ensure that the police and bureaucrats and their political masters follow the existing law of the land. In other words, we need a law that punishes them for discriminating against citizens who happen to be minorities. This is what the draft Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011 does. [PDF]

The CTV bill sets out to protect religious and linguistic minorities in any State in India, as well as the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, from targeted violence, including organised violence. Apart from including the usual Indian Penal Code offences, the NAC draft modernises the definition of sexual assault to cover crimes other than rape and elaborates on the crime of hate propaganda already covered by Section 153A of the IPC. Most importantly, it broadens the definition of dereliction of duty — which is already a crime — and, for the first time in India, adds offences by public servants or other superiors for breach of command responsibility. “Where it is shown that continuous widespread or systematic unlawful activity has occurred,” the draft says, “it can be reasonably presumed that the superior in command of the public servant whose duty it was to prevent the commission of communal and targeted violence, failed to exercise supervision … and shall be guilty of the offence of breach of command responsibility.” With 10 years imprisonment prescribed for this offence, superiors will hopefully be deterred from allowing a Delhi 1984 or Gujarat 2002 to happen on their watch.

Another important feature is the dilution of the standard requirement that officials can only be prosecuted with the prior sanction of the government. The CTV bill says no sanction will be required to prosecute officials charged with offences which broadly fall under the category of dereliction of duty. For other offences, sanction to prosecute must be given or denied within 30 days, failing which it is deemed to have been given. Although the bill says the reasons for denial of sanction must be recorded in writing, it should also explicitly say that this denial is open to judicial review.

Another lacuna the bill fills is on compensation for those affected by communal and targeted violence. Today, the relief that victims get is decided by the government on an ad hoc and sometimes discriminatory basis. Section 90 and 102 of the CTV bill rectify this by prescribing an equal entitlement to relief, reparation, restitution and compensation for all persons who suffer physical, mental, psychological or monetary harm as a result of the violence, regardless of whether they belong to a minority group or not. While a review of existing state practice suggests victims who belong to a religious or linguistic ‘majority' group in a given state do not require special legal crutches to get the police or administration to register and act on their complaints, the CTV bill correctly recognises that they are entitled to the same enhanced and prompt relief as minority victims. The language of these Sections could, however, be strengthened to bring this aspect out more strongly.

The CTV bill also envisages the creation of a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation. The authority's role will be to serve as a catalyst for implementation of the new law. Its functions will include receiving and investigating complaints of violence and dereliction of duty, and monitoring the build up of an atmosphere likely to lead to violence. It cannot compel a State government to take action — in deference to the federal nature of law enforcement — but can approach the courts for directions to be given. There will also be State-level authorities, staffed, like the National Authority, by a process the ruling party cannot rig. The monitoring of relief and rehabilitation of victims will be a major part of their responsibilities.

On the negative side of the ledger, the NAC draft makes an unnecessary reference to the power of the Centre and to Article 355 of the Constitution. The aim, presumably, is to remind the Centre of its duties in the event of a State government failing to act against incidents of organised communal or targeted violence. But the Centre already has the statutory right to intervene in such situations; if it doesn't, the reasons are political rather than legal. The draft also unnecessarily complicates the definition of communal and targeted violence by saying the acts concerned must not only be targeted against a person by virtue of his or her membership of any group but must also “destroy the secular fabric of the nation.” Like the reference to Art. 355, this additional requirement can safely be deleted without diluting what is otherwise a sound law.

The BJP and others who have attacked the bill by raising the bogey of “minority appeasement” have got it completely wrong again. This is a law which does away with the appeasement of corrupt, dishonest and rotten policemen and which ends the discrimination to which India's religious and linguistic minorities are routinely subjected during incidents of targeted violence. The BJP never tires of talking about what happened to the Sikhs in 1984 when the Congress was in power. Now that a law has finally been framed to make that kind of mass violence more difficult, it must not muddy the water by asking why it covers “only” the minorities. In any case, the Bill's definition covers Hindus as Hindus in States where they are in a minority (such as Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Nagaland), as linguistic minorities in virtually every State, and as SCs and STs. More importantly, persons from majority communities who suffer in the course of communal and targeted incidents will be entitled to the same relief as minority victims. If someone feels there is any ambiguity about this, the bill's language can easily be strengthened to clarify this.

At the end of the day, however, we need to be clear about one thing: India needs a law to protect its most vulnerable citizens from mass violence, its minorities. This is a duty no civilised society can wash its hands of.

07 June 2011

A weakness born of bad intent

The UPA government's unwillingness to act against the abuse of political and corporate power has created a vacuum which others are rushing to fill...

7 June 2011
The Hindu

A weakness born of bad intent

Siddharth Varadarajan

Like millions of others across India, I have spent the past week repelled by the spectacle of a weak government entering into improbable contortions over the naive and somewhat bizarre demands of Baba Ramdev. And when the “toughness” followed in the early hours of Sunday, it came in a typically cowardly fashion — with police action in the dead of the night against unarmed supporters who did not pose an immediate or even potential threat to law and order in Delhi. Kapil Sibal, the government's chief negotiator, said permission to assemble at the Ram Lila grounds had been granted for yoga exercises and not politics. But people in India have the right to assemble peacefully and to put forward political demands if they so wish. If tomorrow, the organisers of a classical music concert in Nehru Park put up a banner demanding a strong Lokpal Bill, will it be OK for the police to wade in?

The fact that the Manmohan Singh government swung from abject capitulation to unnecessary confrontation in less than 48 hours does not surprise me. Its credibility on the issue of corruption is at an all time low. The pressure it is under has blunted its political instincts. However, sending four senior ministers to the airport to welcome the yoga instructor-turned-upstart politician and then hundreds of policemen to extern him were both acts of gutlessness which the Congress party will find hard to live down. Particularly when the Baba was not even serious about the issue of black money.

Everybody with any sense agrees that corruption is a serious issue and that all efforts must be made to end the curse of black money. But it is meaningless and even nonsensical to demand the framing of a new law to confiscate black money when we do not know where this money is, how much it consists of and who it belongs to. If the authorities had this information, they would be legally empowered to seize the funds and place their owners behind bars. But the passage of a new law will not make the gathering of this information any easier. Either the Baba is not a very serious person or he has allowed emotion and his broader political ambitions to cloud his judgment. Which is surely not a good thing for someone well versed in yoga.

The problem of corruption is not simply one of law but of will. The hold of black money over the economic and political system of India cannot be ended so long as the government lacks the political will to actually crack down on the printing press which generates it: corruption. Defined broadly as the abuse of political and corporate power for personal gain, corruption is the glue which binds this country's political and economic elite at every level of governance from the block and district up to the Union. Corruption is not an abstraction. Every crore that a politician or bureaucrat may have secreted away as “black money” in Switzerland or elsewhere is organically linked to the tens of crores of rupees in both “black” and “white” money outside and inside India that businessmen generate by getting favourable treatment. Corruption was an integral part of the “license-permit raj” of Nehruvian socialism. But it has grown to frightening proportions in our liberalised free market economy. Politics and business have come so close together today that it is sometimes hard to tell the two apart.

Any serious campaign against corruption by civil society or politicians, Babas or babalog must zero in on the system which generates illegal gains for those with power, influence and money. Such a campaign must demand that action be taken against those individuals who have abused their authority or sought to subvert laws and procedures for personal gain. But Ramdev's campaign was not about this at all. Which was why the government was also quite happy to engage with him in what it knew would be a meaningless exercise.

While there is always room for legislative clarity in the definition of offences, the implementation of any new law will remain a prisoner to this lack of political will unless it allows for independent investigation and prosecution. A strong Lokpal Bill may help remedy the situation somewhat but only if the ability of the government to interfere with the investigation or punishment of well-connected individuals is ended. Here, it is instructive to see what happened in a recent case decided by the Lokayukta for the Delhi government, Justice Manmohan Sarin.

In the same week that the UPA government agreed to discuss the entire system of taxation, finance, administration and education in the country with Baba Ramdev, its stiffness of resolve in protecting a junior politician accused by the Lokayukta of abusing his authority seems to have passed almost unnoticed.

The case concerned a Delhi minister, Raj Kumar Chauhan, who sought to interfere with the tax inspectors even as they were conducting a raid at the premises of a private establishment. A complaint against the minister was filed by a senior IAS officer, Jalaj Shrivastava, who was a tax commissioner at the time. After conducting an inquiry, which included collecting testimony on oath from the officers concerned, Justice Sarin found that the minister had indeed abused his authority on behalf of a private party. But his recommendation that Mr. Chauhan be sacked and proceeded against was rejected by the President of India on the advice of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. Evidently, the MHA found Mr. Chauhan's explanation — that the telephone call he placed during the raid was nothing other than the routine expression of concern for a constituent — to be more credible than the exertions of the Lokayukta or of the upright bureaucrats who put their future career prospects on the line by becoming whistle-blowers.

The protection afforded to the Delhi minister, who is fairly low down in the Congress party's food chain, shows the extent to which the “system” is programmed to circle its wagons at the first sign of trouble. Even if one dismisses this example because the Lokayukta is still a young institution, what explains the continuation of Vilasrao Deshmukh in the Union Cabinet despite the Supreme Court holding him guilty of abusing his authority when he was Chief Minister of Maharashtra? Mr. Deshmukh had intervened on behalf of a usurious moneylender against whom some peasants wished to file a police complaint. Instructions to go easy were phoned in to the police station concerned, which diligently made a record of the call in its daily log book. A system that is keen to stamp out the abuse of authority — which lies at the root of all corruption — would ask Mr. Deshmukh to leave the Cabinet now that his culpability has been confirmed by the highest court. But, alas, the UPA does not run such a system. Mr. Deshmukh got promoted to a more powerful ministry. And instructions have been sent out to all police stations in Maharashtra that they should no longer make a record of every phone call they receive from ministers.

If Baba Ramdev were really serious about fighting corruption, he would have hit the UPA hard at the places it was most vulnerable instead of trying to build his own political constituency through shadow boxing against imaginary foes like the Cayman Islands and the 1000 rupee note. As for the Bharatiya Janata Party and RSS, which have tried to fire from the Baba's shoulder, the less said the better. Why is it that L.K. Advani, who was the second most powerful man in India for six years from 1998 to 2004, woke up to the problem of black money only after his government was voted out of power? If there is a lesson from the farce that has been enacted in Delhi this past week, it is this: there is no room for abstraction. Instead of demanding the “return of black money,” let us ask the government why it has not signed an agreement with Switzerland of the kind the European Union has for the repatriation of taxes that the Swiss levy on interest earned by foreign account holders. Instead of the death penalty for the “corrupt,” let us ask why the Prime Minister is so slow to act against ministers who abuse their authority. Let us push for a strong and empowered Lokpal whose recommendations cannot be thrown into the dustbin.

28 May 2011

Dateline Dar: Tanzania, India find 'South-South' ties in good health

Tanzania was the second stop in Manmohan Singh's first proper visit to Africa in seven years. My diary of a brief but memorable visit ...

28 May 2011
The Hindu

Tanzania, India find 'South-South' ties in good health

Siddharth Varadarajan

Dar es Salaam: Indian officials have spent the past week fighting off Western suggestions that they are in a race for influence in Africa with the Chinese. On Friday, their claim that India and China complement one another was endorsed by President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, who gave a concrete and unscripted example of how the specific skill sets the two Asian powers possess has worked to the advantage of his people.

Speaking to reporters at a joint press conference with the Indian Prime Minister on Friday, Mr. Kikwete said that Tanzania lacked the capacity to provide a whole range of treatments at home, including heart surgery and care for cancer and renal diseases. A few years ago, his government sent 29 doctors and nurses to India for specialised cardiac training and now they have returned and are performing open-heart surgeries in the country for the first time. The Chinese have pitched in with an offer to help build a 200-bed hospital. “So the Indians have helped to train our people and Chinese have helped to build the hospital where they will work”, Mr. Kikwete said.

From Apollo to space

Tanzanians spend nearly $80 million every year on medical treatment abroad, including in India, so when the Apollo Hospitals group from India announced its intention of setting up a specialty hospital here, the Tanzanian government jumped at the chance. The $150 million project will be a joint venture between Apollo, the Tanzanian Health Ministry and its National Social Security Fund, with the Tanzanians providing the land and building, and the Indian side the equipment and doctors. An MOU was signed by Apollo chairman Prathap C. Reddy in the presence of Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Kikwete.

Apollo’s plan is to develop their Dar es Salaam hospital as a hub-and-spoke model with smaller clinics in 14 countries across the eastern African region. Though the details of the project have yet to be worked out — including Apollo’s social obligations — President Kikwete said there would also be a training component so that Tanzania’s long-term health-care capacity gets augmented.

Speaking later at a function to inaugurate the India-Tanzania Centre of Excellence in Information and Communication Technology at the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology, Dr. Singh spoke about taking this capacity-building to the stratosphere: “I would specially like to announce our readiness to cooperate with Tanzania in the area of space technology and applications”, he said. Though he probably had satellites in mind, India should consider offering to eventually send the first African into space as part of its own manned mission project. Such an offer would fire the imagination of a continent that India regards as an emerging economic — and strategic — pole of the international system.

After Ujamaa

When Indira Gandhi came to Dar es Salaam in 1974, she gifted Mwalimu Julius Nyerere a peacock and peahen from India. There are today 14 peacock nests around the State House. The last time Dr. Singh came to Tanzania was in the late 1980s, when he was secretary-general of the South Commission, an independent body set up by the Nonaligned Movement with Nyerere as its chairman. Their exertions were, unfortunately, not as productive as that of Mrs. Gandhi’s poultry. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the advent of neoliberalism undermined this unique project of the Global South even before it got off the ground. Tanzania abandoned Ujamaa, its system of socialism, and India embraced liberalisation.

Twenty years later, however, even under the new economic paradigm the two countries have embraced, the need for South-South cooperation is being felt more than ever before. The only difference now is that the process is being driven as much by private capital as by the state, though often the two are in close partnership. Apollo officials told The Hindu that once their hospital project’s details are settled, they may consider approaching the Indian government for access to a part of the $5 billion line of credit which has been set up for Africa. Tanzania is also keen to promote investment in its agricultural sector. Millions of hectares are available for long-term lease and contracts have been signed with European and Saudi firms. But unlike in Ethiopia, these lands are not always vacant. Which is why the Indian High Commission has not encouraged Indian companies to get into farming here.

The city of peace

Wrapped around a natural harbour that is deep enough to allow massive container ships to gently sail at shouting distance from its colonial-era government quarter, Dar es Salaam is an attractive city that has all the charm of a bustling port without the menace and chaos one normally associates with cities like Mumbai and Karachi across the Indian Ocean. Traffic jams are a major problem — the bureau chief of the East African newspaper said he would rather leave for work at 6 a.m. than put up with a three hour commute. Amazingly, however, road discipline appears to be maintained at all times, even when cars are backed up for miles on undivided roads and the oncoming lanes are empty.

The 1990 report of the South Commission noted that because "the South doesn’t know the South … we have been compelled to commit our own errors, unable neither to learn from the experience of the others in similar situations nor to benefit from other’s positive experiences". Mr. Kekwete said he looked to India for technology and investment. Manmohan Singh graciously added that as Tanzania developed, he hoped Tanzanian companies might also come and invest in India. However, one thing Tanzania could offer to teach Indians right away is traffic sense.

27 May 2011

Dateline Addis: Manmohan invokes flour, power in pitch to Ethiopia

Clearly one up on India in terms of the facilities for simultaneous translation it provides to MPs; Ethiopia has over 80 languages. My diary from Addis Ababa ...

27 May 2011
The Hindu

Manmohan invokes flour and power in pitch to Ethiopia

Siddharth Varadarajan

The deadpan delivery was vintage Manmohan but the Prime Minister's speech to a joint sitting of Ethiopia's parliament on Thursday appeared to come straight from the heart. He spoke of India and the Horn of Africa once being part of the same landmass – paleogeographers call it Gondwanaland. He mentioned the Siddi community on the west coast of India who are of Ethiopian descent. And he cited “often overlooked similarities” in tradition and culture, including the use of fermented flour for making dosa in south India and injera in Ethiopia, to argue that connections between the two countries were deep despite being separated by the waters of the Indian Ocean.

The Prime Minister invoked history too, quoting Nehru's stirring call for solidarity with Abyssinia when Mussolini invaded the only African country never to be colonized. We in India can do nothing to help our brethren in distress in Ethiopia for we are also victims of imperialism, Nehru wrote in 1935, but we stand with them today in their sorrow as we hope to stand together when better days come. “I believe the better days that [he] spoke of have come,” Dr. Singh declared to applause from the assembled parliamentarians.

Ethiopia has since overcome many adversities, he said, and India too was in a position to make a difference. After reiterating India's economic commitments to the country, the Prime Minister turned to the realities of international power politics. India and Ethiopia were plural, diverse societies and both believed democracy and “respect for the free will of the people” were the only ways to solve their problems. “Similar principles should be applied in the conduct of international governance,” he added. In a veiled attack on Nato's bombing of Libya, he said the people of West Asia and North Africa have the right to determine their own destiny but that any international action “must be based on the rule of law and be strictly within the framework of United Nations resolutions.”

Though the Speaker of Ethiopia's House of Federation said Ethiopia was an emerging democracy and would like to learn from India's system, its Parliament is clearly one up on India in terms of the facilities for simultaneous translation it provides to MPs. As with all debates and meetings, Dr. Singh's speech was simultaneously translated into five languages: Amharic, Tigrinya, Oromiffa, Afar and Somalinya. Ethiopia has more than 80 languages and any MP who wants translations in her or his own language is entitled to it at Parliament's expense, a Parliamentary official told The Hindu. In contrast, the Indian Parliament has provision only for simultaneous translation between English and Hindi. MPs who wish to speak in any of the other Scheduled languages have to give advanced notice so that their speech can be translated for the other MPs.

A river runs through it

If India, which has several rivers running through it other than the Brahmaputra, is jittery about China's plans to build a dam on the Yarlung Zangbo's upper reaches, imagine the fear that Ethiopia's decision to dam the Nile must be causing in Egypt, whose entire civilisation and economy has depended on the uninterrupted flow of Africa's longest river. The Blue Nile originates in Lake Tana inside Ethiopia before entering Sudan and joining the White Nile at Khartoum for its final journey through northern Sudan and Egypt up to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Ethiopian government plans to build the Renaissance Dam some 40 km. from its border with Sudan. The project will store more than 60 billion cubic metres of water and generate 5250 MW of electricity, more than half of which Ethiopia intends to sell to Sudan and Egypt. In an effort to allay the fears of the lower riparians, the Ethiopians insist they will not use the water stored for irrigation. They also say the dam will help generate a more predictable flow in the Blue Nile, which is mainly responsible for variations in the main Nile. When the dam's plans were first announced, there were howls of protest from the erstwhile government of Hosni Mubarak. But since Tahrir Square, the new transitional dispensation in Cairo has adopted a more cooperative approach. Asked about the dam in his joint press conference with Dr. Singh, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia said his government had offered to subject the dam's design to scrutiny by Egyptian, Sudanese and international experts and that he hoped this transparency would end the controversy about the Renaissance dam once and for all.

A coffee a day

A handsome city spread out over gently rolling hills at an average elevation of 9000 feet above sea level, Addis Ababa is a bustling metropolis that has become the diplomatic capital of the continent thanks to the headquarters of the African Union being located here. The Chinese government is erecting a spectacular new building for the AU but the signs of construction visible in virtually every part of the city are testimony to the fact that Ethiopia is one of Africa's fastest growing economies. The temperature rarely rises above the mid-20s and when it does, a shower promptly cools the city. The only drawback is the pollution. Many of the cars and buses on the streets are second hand imports that are well past their prime. Though lacking the Italianate art deco architecture of Asmara, Addis Ababa has benefited from its brief encounter with European imperialism in one tangible way: a superb espresso, pulled from ageing Italian machines, can be had on virtually every street for the equivalent of about 25 US cents.

23 May 2011

In Manmohan's visit, a new emphasis on Africa

Six-day visit to Addis Ababa and Dar es Salaam sets the stage for a big diplomatic push into the continent ...

23 May 2011
The Hindu

In Manmohan's visit, a new emphasis on Africa

Siddharth Varadarajan

Addis Ababa: In the eight years he has been Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh has roamed the far corners of the globe but touched down on the soil of Africa only three times. This week, he will add two more African entry stamps to his passport — Ethiopia and Tanzania — with his six-day visit to Addis Ababa for the Second Africa-India Forum Summit and to Dar es Salaam, setting the stage for a big diplomatic push into a continent that is of growing economic and strategic interest for India and Indian companies.

In a statement released prior to his departure for Addis Ababa on Monday, Dr. Singh said Africa is “emerging as a new growth pole of the world” and that India's partnership with the continent based on the three pillars of capacity-building and skill transfer, trade and infrastructure development was a “living embodiment of South-South cooperation.”

Here in the Ethiopian capital, India is evidently the flavour of the week with a cultural festival showcasing films like 3 Idiots and Sholay drawing capacity crowds. A large Indian business delegation — including industrialists with extensive Africa operations like Adi Godrej, Sunil Mittal and Sanjay Kirloskar — has been camping here for three days. A symposium of African and Indian editors was also held on the sidelines, with both sides undertaking to build a future media partnership.

Though many countries, including China, Japan and Turkey, have held partnership summits with Africa, the Indian initiative is the first to make it to a second iteration. One reason, perhaps, is the practicality of the forum summit, with the number of African countries limited to 15 as per the ‘Banjul formula' adopted by the African Union (AU). The AU through its own process chose the participants this time: Algeria, Burundi, Chad, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Namibia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Swaziland.

But Indian officials say any decisions and commitments — including an enhancement of existing lines of credit already totalling more than $5 billion — will be implemented across the 53-nation continent through consultation.

After the Africa-India event, Dr. Singh will have summit meetings with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania before returning to New Delhi on May 28.

India's stake in Africa's future

More than any other region, it is Africa that has to be a strategic priority for India. What we must offer is a partnership no other power is willing or able to extend to the continent...

23 May 2011
The Hindu

India's stake in Africa's future

Siddharth Varadarajan

A spectre is haunting Europe and America, home to the colonialists and cold warriors of yesterday, the spectre of an Africa — which they ruled and exploited for a century-and-a-half — now coming under the sway of rising powers like China and India.

Read any western account of the growing Chinese and Indian presence in Africa and chances are that the charge of ‘new colonialism' will figure somewhere. And if there is ‘new colonialism,' can new colonial rivalries be far behind? In this telling, not only are China and India sucking Africa dry, but the two are also said to be locked in competition with each other for access to Africa's mineral wealth and oil.

So central is the notion of an Oriental ‘Scramble for Africa' to the western mind that it is almost impossible to speak of India's presence in Africa without dragging China in as well. Consider this typical lede from a report on the forthcoming Africa-India summit in Addis Ababa, filed by the French news agency, AFP: “India will seek to expand its economic footprint in Africa, where rival China has made major inroads, at a second summit between the South Asian powerhouse and African nations this week.”

Like other spectres the West conjures up from time to time, the actual picture in Africa is not so frightening, least of all for the Africans themselves. “What they say doesn't make sense,” Oldemiro Baloi, Foreign Minister of Mozambique, told a group of Indian journalists in Maputo last month. “We did not fight for our independence just to shift from one colonial master to another. And India and China did not support our liberation struggle in order to enslave us.” The West doesn't like to be challenged but Africa has an interest in diversifying its partners, he added. “India is itself a poor country which has values based on solidarity and does not impose conditionalities or attach strings to its aid. Earlier, the western countries would complain implicitly about India and China but now they are more blunt. ‘Why is India doing this, why is China doing this?' And we say, because they are good, they are competitive.”

Though the tendency to see India and China as rivals in Africa is widespread, the fact is that the Chinese investment and trade presence are much larger. But there is another reason why the ‘rivals' frame may be deceptive: from the perspective of Africa, the two countries have core competences which may actually complement each other in many ways.

The Chinese excel in large infrastructure projects and have deep pockets while the Indians have an edge in ICT, capacity building and training and also emerging areas like agriculture and floriculture. The Indian ability to relate to Africans is also much greater, which is why non-Indian MNCs prefer to use Indians as managers for projects involving interaction with local officials and populations. The fact that India is a democracy, and a chaotic one at that, may mean Chinese companies steal a march over Indian ones. But India's democratic culture and consultative approach make it an attractive partner for African nations looking to enhance their own skills and capabilities. In other words, Africa is looking to do business with both China and India at the same time and there does seem to be more than enough room for both.

And yet, there's no reason for India to be complacent. As the African economy emerges, its politics stabilises and new opportunities arise, competition from around the world will be stiff. The world can look forward to greater supply of food, minerals and energy but Africa has the right to drive a tough bargain. India is well placed because of the unique set of capabilities it offers. At the same time, it must consciously avoid the path of exploitation other big powers before it have taken.

Thus far, India's engagement with Africa has operated at two levels. The first level is official, where the government has grafted on to the political goodwill built up over several decades some real financial heft. After pursuing regional and pan-African initiatives like the Team-9 framework for cooperation in West Africa and the e-network project, the first Africa-India summit in 2008 envisaged a line of credit worth $5.6 billion to be spent on development and capacity building projects. Least-developed African nations were to get preferential access to the Indian market and India also committed itself to establishing 19 centres of excellence and training institutions in different fields across Africa.

Side by side with this official thrust, the Indian private sector has also shown a willingness to invest billions of dollars in Africa. The Second Africa-India summit to be held in Ethiopia this week is likely to increase the pace of this engagement. There is talk of pushing bilateral trade with Africa to $70 billion by 2015, up from the current level of $46 billion. Cumulative Indian investments in Africa stood at $90 billion in 2010 and are likely to rise dramatically in the years ahead.

At the same time, there are several steps India needs to take to ensure the current momentum is maintained and even intensified.

First, India must ramp up its diplomatic presence in Africa. Indian companies and citizens will be more likely to work in countries where India maintains an embassy. And it would help if these embassies were robustly staffed by young diplomats anxious to make a mark rather than by those at the fag end of their career who see a tour of duty in Africa as a punishment posting and who have little or no interest in African culture and society.

Second, the government should consider establishing a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to pursue strategic investments and business opportunities in Africa, especially in sectors such as mining, infrastructure and agriculture. Such an SPV could harness the talent and resources that the Indian public and private sectors have to offer but which their managements are often unable to utilise in overseas projects in a timely manner for a variety of reasons.

Third, the SPV or some other official entity must pay attention to corporate social responsibility issues connected to all Indian FDI projects in Africa, especially since many of them might be in countries where domestic regulatory frameworks for workers' rights and environmental protection are inadequate or dysfunctional. As public pressure in India makes it less easy for Indian companies to cut corners at home, some of the motivation to invest in Africa might be linked to their belief that they can get away with dodgy business practices there. India has a strategic interest in ensuring that Indian companies operating abroad act responsibly and must come up with an appropriate monitoring mechanism.

Fourth, there must be a strict audit of all monies disbursed through the Lines of Credit for Africa. Two years ago, there were reports of questionable dealings in the subsidised export of rice to a number of sub-Saharan African countries. With Indian credit lines now running into several billion dollars — the eventual beneficiaries of which will be Indian companies and suppliers to whom recipient governments are obliged to buy from — there must be complete transparency in the process from start to finish.

Fifth, a greater effort should be made to build on the domain knowledge and cultural equity that the Indian diaspora across Africa has in abundance about local business conditions and customs. It is estimated that there are as many as two million people of Indian origin living in Africa. Though the bulk of the diaspora is in countries like South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria, Indian businessmen and even teachers and professionals can be found in virtually every African country. For a variety of reasons, these communities are not so well integrated within the political and cultural milieu of their host countries. But the more economic and cultural interaction there is between India and Africa, that could well change.

Sixth, the “commerce of ideas” that Mahatma Gandhi envisaged the future relationship between India and Africa to revolve around should be made a central element of Indian policy. The 2.2 billion people of India and Africa share many problems and could learn from each other's experiences in resolving these. Promoting partnerships between the media and academic communities might be one way to do this. Innovative work in the field of handicrafts has just started and the rich field of cultural interaction has remained practically unexplored. As much if not more than business deals and lines of credit, it is this commerce of ideas which will provide true depth to the emerging partnership between Africa and India.

04 May 2011

Osama's killing will not affect India-Pakistan talks

Despite the initial outburst of triumphalism from New Delhi over the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani cantonment town of Abbottabad, the Indian government is not going to allow the al-Qaeda leader to scuttle the dialogue process with Islamabad ...

4 May 2011
The Hindu

Osama's killing will not affect India-Pakistan talks

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: The fact that Osama bin Laden found refuge in a Pakistani cantonment town may add more rhetorical punch to India’s charge that Pakistan has become a safe haven for violent extremism but the first-order effect of his killing on the bilateral relationship is likely to be negligible.

After all, India’s recent decision to rekindle the dialogue process was taken in full knowledge of the fact that Islamabad remains unwilling or unable to act decisively against the different jihadi groups that form part of the “syndicate of terror.” These include, of course, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its leadership, who were responsible for the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai.

For two years, the Manmohan Singh government kept the dialogue process suspended in the hope that this would help force Pakistan to act. The strategy worked at first but turned out to be a weak instrument the longer India persisted with it. Worse, the blanket refusal to talk meant India was unable to push for gains in other areas such as trade and commerce and confidence-building measures.

Even though the Prime Minister and some of his advisers understood that a change of tack was needed, they remained wary of how the Opposition and the wider body of public opinion would react. The contrived outcry which followed the abortive Sharm el-Sheikh initiative of July 2009 delayed the much-needed reset for another year. Ironically, when Dr. Singh’s government finally indicated — after the Thimphu meetings this February — that it was ready to move forward on the full spectrum of issues, there was hardly any political criticism. Perhaps the Opposition had better issues to target the Prime Minister on, like the 2G scam, or realised, in the wake of Governor Salman Taseer’s assassination, that the dysfunctionality of the Pakistani state was not necessarily India-specific. Either way, the dialogue is back and there is hardly any public controversy about this despite Pakistan not fulfilling all of India’s oft-repeated pre-conditions on 26/11 and terrorism.

This new strategy of engaging Pakistan has opened up the possibility of quick progress on ‘side’ issues like trade, even as progress on the core issues of terrorism and Kashmir is fated to remain slow, contingent as it is on the level of trust the two sides have in each other. Thus, at the recent meeting of Commerce Secretaries in Islamabad, for example, both sides announced their intention of taking steps that will ramp up two-way trade.

India is unlikely to make the mistake of allowing Osama bin Laden to sabotage this win-win process from his watery grave in the Indian Ocean. Apart from economic gains, greater trade will gradually enlarge the constituency of those in Pakistan who have a stake in the normalisation of relations with India. Even on the Kashmir front, the resumption of backchannel talks and the revival, obviously under a new name, of the ‘Manmohan-Musharraf’ formula, are something New Delhi can look forward to.

When the whole world, post-Abbottabad, is drawing its own unflattering conclusions about the Pakistani military establishment, there is no need for India to strike a triumphalist note about Pakistan being a sanctuary for terrorists. What the U.S. did on Monday may have been effective but it remains a second-best solution to tackling terror on Pakistani soil. The fight against the entire syndicate of terror has to be waged by the Pakistani police and security forces, acting under the complete control of the civilian government there. This is a message India needs to emphasise to the U.S. and other allies and friends of Pakistan and it will be most effective if delivered with tact and restraint.

03 May 2011

A fork in the road for the U.S. in South Asia

President Obama can call an end to the Fourth Afghan War and allow the Pakistani Army to fill the void, or he can shift tack and push for an end to the alliance between generals and jihadis that lies at the root of the region's terror complex.

3 May 2011
The Hindu

A fork in the road for the U.S. in South Asia

Siddharth Varadarajan

In tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad on Sunday night, America finally seems to have got something right.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were the result of a catastrophic intelligence failure in which different American agencies failed to connect the dots. In response, the George W. Bush administration launched not one but two wars, first in Afghanistan and then Iraq, but did not manage to capture or kill the mastermind behind those attacks. The military sledgehammer produced collateral gains and losses for the U.S. — regime change in Kabul and Baghdad but thousands of body bags too, military bases in the cockpit of Asia but international opposition and even opprobrium as well, a bonanza for its arms and contractor industries but also a fiscal deficit which helped pave the way to a full blown financial crisis.

While counter-terrorism gains such as the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were almost all intelligence driven, the preoccupation with a military approach to the ‘AfPak' region has produced the single biggest liability for Washington: a toxic dependence on the Pakistani army. GHQ, Rawalpindi's associations and entanglements with terrorist groups ensures the “war” being fought remains unwinnable. No amount of tinkering at the margins, no Petraeus or McChrystal plan, no proposal of rehabilitation and reintegration of the Taliban, has helped the Pentagon overcome this fundamental flaw.

Patience wearing thin

Though the U.S. gave Pakistan a very long rope, signs that Washington's patience was wearing thin have been multiplying in recent months. As the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and GHQ happily played both sides of the ‘war on terror' game in pursuit of their own long-term political and strategic objectives, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was quietly distancing itself from its unreliable Pakistani counterpart. The Raymond Davies affair — in which no less a person than President Barack Obama saw fit to intervene — brought this decoupling out into the open in a particularly dramatic fashion. The Abbottabad operation is also likely a product of America going solo on Pakistani soil.

Last month, Admiral Mike Mullen openly accused the Pakistani military of collusion with the Haqqani network and other terrorists operating in Afghanistan. It is safe to assume he laid this charge in full knowledge of the fact that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, a town north of Islamabad that is a stone's throw away from the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul. The fact that the world's most wanted man could remain undetected in a small town crawling with soldiers and officers suggests either a high degree of dysfunctionality within the Pakistani system or, worse, a high degree of collusion. Plausible though the first option is, most Americans inside and outside the administration — not to speak of officials and lay persons the world over — will likely believe the second.

Mr. Obama was gracious enough to say in a general sort of way that America's “counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding” but a senior administration official who briefed reporters later on Monday was blunt about the limits of that cooperation. “We shared our intelligence on this bin Laden compound with no other country, including Pakistan,” he said.

Pakistan and Afghanistan

Where do U.S. relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan go from here? Indian officials fear there will be growing domestic political pressure on Mr. Obama to declare the ‘Fourth Afghan War' over and accelerate the drawdown of U.S. troops in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. But just because the U.S. is waging a war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is no reason for India to fear its departure. At stake is what remains to fill the void. The insurgency in Afghanistan can only be defeated by strengthening the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), on the one hand, and expanding economic opportunities for the country's peoples, on the other. Unfortunately, the former has only recently become an American priority and even then, Washington remains unwilling to allow the ANSF to develop critical assets like an air force. As for development, it is contingent on security and stability, both of which have proved elusive.

If the Pakistani military has run with the jihadi hares even as it has hunted with American hounds, it has done so in anticipation of Washington's eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan. At the same time, this cannot be an argument for the indefinite extension of the American military presence in that country — especially when U.S. troops and aircraft have killed a large number of innocent civilians. Ten years on, it should be clear that the problems in Afghanistan do not have a military solution, at least not one the U.S. can deliver. What America can and must do, however, is to choose its friends wisely and to use its economic and political clout to ensure the Army's nexus with jihadi groups in Pakistan is weakened and destroyed. If indeed the ISI was kept in the dark about Abbottabad, this is a bad augury for the Pakistani military. But unless the U.S. is prepared to go further down that fork in the road, the terrorists who are already preparing themselves to take bin Laden's place will continue to find fertile ground inside Pakistan.

25 April 2011

Rush in now, repent later

A transparent assessment of the costs and risks associated with India's ambitious nuclear plans must be made before any ground is broken at Jaitapur or elsewhere...

25 April 2011
The Hindu

Rush in now, repent later

Siddharth Varadarajan

You really have to hand it to the nuclear industry. In any other sphere of the economy, a major industrial disaster is likely to have adverse, long-term financial consequences for the company or companies whose product or activity was involved in the accident, regardless of actual cause or legal liability. Thus, the people of Bhopal may still be paying for the poisonous gas which descended over their city in December 1984 but Union Carbide became such a toxic brand that it eventually went bust. Last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has also blown a large hole in the profits of BP. But under the perverse economic logic of the nuclear industry, disasters like the one unfolding at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan only mean more business for the world's biggest atomic energy vendors.

According to Dan Yurman, a consultant for firms connected to the American nuclear industry, two giant nuclear consortia are forming to manage the clean-up of the Fukushima site. “The first consortium is composed of General Electric and Hitachi, with support from Exelon and Bechtel. The second group is led by Toshiba which is partnered with the U.S. branch of Areva, the French state-owned nuclear giant. Babcock & Wilcox and The Shaw Group are part of the Toshiba team,” he writes in his excellent and authoritative blog, Nuke Notes. Incidentally, cleaning up isn't really their core competence. GE, Hitachi, Areva, Babcock & Wilcox and Toshiba are all in the business of building components for nuclear power plants.

In case readers have failed to spot the irony, let me be blunt about what's going on here. First, you get paid to sell a reactor in a foreign country. Then, under an international liability regime that is explicitly designed to favour you, the entire burden for site remediation and victim compensation in the “highly unlikely” event of an accident is shifted on to the plant operator. Finally, if and when that “highly unlikely” accident does occur, you are not only insulated from any financial claims but you actually get paid even more handsomely to come in and help clean up the mess!

Exactly how much money are we talking about? Yurman estimates the cost of decommissioning the six reactors at the site could be as much as $12 billion and would take more than a decade to complete. “Industry experts agree this won't be an ordinary job of tearing down a safe and cold reactor. For instance, to remove the spent fuel from Unit 4, a giant superstructure will have to be built around the devastated secondary containment structure to safely load the hot fuel assemblies underwater into special transportation casks.” Indeed, so lucrative is this project that the two consortia — which consist of companies that otherwise fiercely compete with each other for contracts and projects — “are reported to be having exploratory talks to combine forces.”

As for the $12 billion required to pay these companies for the clean-up, where is such a huge sum likely to come from? From the victims of the accident, the Japanese people, who else! “The Japanese government is said to be considering a form of receivership for the Fukushima site which would allow taxpayer funds to cover clean-up costs and pay compensation to people forced to evacuate their homes within the 13 km government defined danger zone around the plants,” notes Yurman.

As far as the Indian debate over nuclear energy is concerned, the unfolding Fukushima scenario poses an urgent challenge on three different fronts: estimating the true cost of nuclear power, assigning liability in the event of a nuclear accident in a way that is both equitable and efficient, and ensuring the highest possible standards of safety and regulation. As of today, despite the government's ambitious plans for the construction of 20 or more nuclear reactors across the country, there is little or no clarity or transparency on these vital issues.

The Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement — which paved the way for actualisation of these grand targets — led to intense political divisions at the time it was being negotiated but the debate over the optimum energy mix for India must be conducted independently of those fault lines. The deal may have been sold to the Indian and global public as a cheap and green solution to the country's power shortage but its primary economic utility today lies in presenting our planners with a wider set of energy options. A door has been opened for India to access nuclear material and technology which was unfairly denied to it in the past but any decision to walk through that door and fill our shopping cart must be based on a sound cost-benefit analysis.

Post-Fukushima, we now know, for example, that the cost of clean-up in the event of a “low-probability” event must also be factored in to the equation. Once the $12 billion bill the Japanese taxpayers are going to be saddled with to permanently entomb the highly radioactive reactors there is retrospectively fed into the cost of electricity that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) generated over the years, the true per unit tariff is likely to be much higher than the figure TEPCO worked with when the decision to build the reactors was originally made.

Here in India, the Planning Commission should now go back to the drawing board and ask itself whether it still makes financial sense to produce electricity at any given location through large and expensive imported reactors when there may be cheaper options available over the medium term. It may still be that nuclear energy makes economic sense but it is vital that the decision we take be based on a realistic assessment of actual and probabilistic costs over the entire life cycle of a nuclear plant.

As for liability, the Manmohan Singh government owes a debt of gratitude to those who criticised it during last year's debate over the controversial liability law. If the watered down version had been passed, as the American nuclear industry was insisting, our leaders would be running for political cover today.

Fukushima is a confirmation of the need for tough liability legislation, especially since the cause of the accident lay, at least partly, in deficient design. As the 16 leading nuclear scientists who recently sent a letter on nuclear safety to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General noted, “It appears that, in the siting and design of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plants, an unlikely combination of low-probability events (historic earthquake plus historic tsunami leading to loss of all electrical power) was not taken sufficiently into account." Rational liability laws are essential for ensuring the nuclear vendor pays adequate attention to safety in coming up with his designs. Optimum safety can only be built in if the vendor is forced to internalize the cost of an accident, something liability laws in Japan and elsewhere do not do. The Indian law is an improvement over the prevailing global model but post-Fukushima, many will argue for its further strengthening.

“We are confident that only nuclear power that avoids being a threat to the health and safety of the population and to the environment is acceptable to society,” the 16 nuclear scientists, including Anil Kakodkar, former head of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), said in their letter. They added: “It is necessary to ensure that national nuclear safety regulators in all countries are fully independent in their decision-making on nuclear safety and to assure their competence, resources and enforcement authorities.”

Unfortunately, India today has no such body of regulators.

Even on paper, the “autonomous” Atomic Energy Regulatory Board cannot remotely be called “fully independent” since it reports eventually to the Atomic Energy Commission, which, in turn, is chaired by the head of the DAE. As Prashant Reddy, a research associate at the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata, has noted, “This is like making the Securities & Exchange Board of India [SEBI] responsible to the Bombay Stock Exchange and then expecting SEBI to function as an independent, autonomous regulator.” The government is understood to be working on a proposal to create a truly independent regulator for the nuclear industry but what eventually emerges from its internal review process is anybody's guess.

Meanwhile, the decision to push ahead with construction activity at Jaitapur and other places has evoked a strong negative reaction from local communities. Opposition parties like the Shiv Sena may be trying to exploit people's fears but the government's failure to be open and transparent in its conduct at the grassroots level is what has created fertile ground for protest. Radioactive pollution, in the “low-probability” event of an accident, has a half-life of hundreds of years. Will the skies fall upon us if Jaitapur and other projects are put on hold for a fraction of that time, so that citizens at large — and the concerned local communities — can be convinced through argument and debate that putting up nuclear plants in their backyard is a safe and economical way of generating electricity?

24 March 2011

Odyssey Dawn, a Homeric tragedy

Two games of domino are under way in West Asia and North Africa, one of mass struggle against U.S.-backed regimes, the other of military intervention aimed at co-opting or defeating the popular revolts...

March 24, 2011
The Hindu

Odyssey Dawn, a Homeric tragedy

Siddharth Varadarajan

Muammar Qadhafi may be a threat to his own people but the bombing of Libya by France, Britain and the United States demonstrates beyond doubt that these three imperial powers are a threat to international peace and security.

With its overdeveloped military capabilities and astonishing levels of political cynicism, the West's drive to intervene in the internal affairs of the North African republic has been remarkably smooth and swift. Thanks in no small measure to a ‘global' news media with an inexhaustible capacity to serve as cheerleaders for war, U.S., British and French ordnance has started raining down on Libya barely weeks after the civil war there began. The West's latest adventure has also been helped along by the naivety of liberals and leftists, last seen in action during Nato's aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999. Of great help, too, has been the opportunism of the Arab League, all of whose members, without exception, run regimes that throttle the voice and rights of their own citizens.

Though Brazil, Russia, India, China and Germany abstained when the sanction for intervention was put to vote in the United Nations Security Council last week, it does not absolve them of their failure to mount an effective political challenge to the drive for war. Since these countries knew the consequences of this irresponsible course of action, they should have moved quickly to mobilise the African Union, of which Libya is a part, so that the “regional” imprimatur for war which the P-3 fabricated with the help of the League of Arab States could have been countered. Russia and China should also have insisted that they would veto the resolution if any attempt were made to push it through without the Security Council first hearing a comprehensive report on the situation in Libya from the Secretary-General's Special Representative.

We know from the absence of concrete or credible media reports on mass civilian casualties that any delay caused by a high-level external political initiative would not have led to a humanitarian catastrophe. Ironically, journalists from the West and other Arab countries had free access to eastern or “liberated” Libya, for at least three weeks prior to the U.N.'s authorisation of force. This was the period when Col. Qadhafi's use of his air force first prompted western calls for a no-fly zone. Despite this, the death toll of combatants and civilians the journalists in eastern Libya reported was not that much higher than the total number of civilians killed by the Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt.

The decision to attack Libya is wrong on three grounds. First, the motive is not humanitarian but political and strategic. Second, it rests on dubious legality. Third, the intervention, because it is poorly conceived and ill-thought out, is likely to cause more harm than good for Libya, its people and the wider region.

Let's start with the motives. The ‘responsibility to protect' doctrine which morally underpins the attack on Libya is still not a part of customary international law but even its advocates must agree that the selective and politically expedient invocation of R2P robs the doctrine of its normative force.

Why does only Libya get attacked or referred to the International Criminal Court and not other countries? If there is one country in the Middle East which has threatened international peace and security for decades and which, even as these words are being written, has launched its air force, yet again, against a defenceless civilian population, it is Israel. Yet never have the cheerleaders for the war on Libya argued in favour of a mandatory no-fly zone to protect the Palestinian and Lebanese people from Israeli airstrikes.

Two years ago, just before the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States, the Israeli military killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Unencumbered by high office but with an election victory securely under his belt, Mr. Obama could easily have said something to urge the Zionist regime to back off. He famously said and did nothing and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his silence. When a U.N. report authored by Judge Richard Goldstone of South Africa catalogued the war crimes Tel Aviv had committed during that war, the U.S. used its diplomatic clout to ensure the matter never came before the Security Council. Had it come, of course, any proposed action — such as a Libya-style referral to the ICC — would have been vetoed in the same manner as the U.S. vetoed the recent 14-1 draft UNSC resolution condemning Israel for its illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories.

Elsewhere in the region, civilians have been killed in Bahrain and Yemen, both client regimes of the U.S., drawing only mild public criticism even as every effort is made by America and its allies to bolster these undemocratic regimes militarily so that they can suppress the aspirations of their people.

Today, there is much hypocritical hand-wringing in Arab capitals that the western coalition's military campaign has gone beyond the original ambit of enforcing a ‘no-fly zone.' In fact, the text of UNSC resolution 1973 of March 18, 2011 is clear and unambiguous. Enforcement action in support of a no-fly zone is only a part of the wider use of force that UNSCR 1973 permits since the resolution “Authorizes Member States … to take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

Anyone familiar with U.N. matters knows that the crucial words in the resolution are “to take all necessary measures.” In the past, those five words have been enough to launch a thousand ships and missiles to distant shores and there was no reason to imagine that France, the U.S. and Britain would be restrained in interpreting and implementing their mandate this time round. Since the insurgent forces are operating in “civilian populated areas,” any military attempt by the Libyan authorities to re-establish control over the country can legitimately be considered a trigger for the West “to take all necessary measures.”

The problem with UNSCR 1973 is not the in-built ‘mission creep' but the fact that it is ultra vires. No resolution can violate the principles and purpose of the U.N. Charter. Article 2(7) is quite explicit: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” Customary international law recognises that a sovereign state indulging in genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity cannot hide behind the shield of domestic jurisdiction but it is far from obvious that the Libyan regime — odious, undemocratic and violent though it undoubtedly is — has engaged in acts which cross that threshold. There are civil wars and international conflicts where the number of civilians killed by belligerents has been much higher — Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza — but the international community has not treated these as war crimes worthy of intervention. In the absence of some reliable metric, then, UNSCR 1973 cannot authorise something that the U.N. Charter explicitly prohibits.

Turning from law to politics, one might still conceivably argue that some “higher purpose” justifies the western bombing of Libya if there were a reasonable expectation of a happy ending. Like the West's other wars in the wider region, however, its latest misadventure seems destined to run aground. The Iraqi and Afghan experiences demonstrate that establishing a new state, even in situations where the old regime is overcome quickly by military means, is a difficult process. The U.S. is a distant power and can afford to play games with the lives of other regions. But France and Britain will pay for fuelling instability and violence across the Mediterranean. The highest price, of course, will be paid by the people of Libya who have surrendered the initiative for change within their country to the U.S. and its allies and agents. Like the Iraqis who foolishly welcomed the American invasion of their country in 2003, the Libyans who wanted Operation Odyssey Dawn may well end up taking part in a tragedy of Homeric proportions.

How India blinked on U.S. inspections of PM's jet

Wary of political fallout, New Delhi asked Washington to stay quiet on the fact that it had shifted the goalposts of the sale agreement

24 March 2011
The Hindu

How India blinked on U.S. inspections of PM's jet
‘India wary of image of U.S. officials tramping around head of state’s plane’

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: Three years after issuing a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) on Boeing aircraft that India was buying for use by the Prime Minister and other VVIPs, the United States unilaterally foisted an amendment mandating intrusive annual end-use inspections of them by American personnel.

When the Cabinet Committee on Security approved the purchase plans in September 2005, it was on the basis of an LOA that did not require physical inspection of the highly sensitive aircraft. But in May 2008, the U.S. handed over to the Indian side a number of changes to the LOA, including a requirement for annual Enhanced End-use Monitoring inspections of the Large Aircraft Infrared Counter-Measures (LAIRCM) the planes come equipped with.

The LAIRCM is a self-protection suite that allows the pilot to take counter-measures if the aircraft comes under attack while in air.

According to a cable sent to Washington on May 5, 2008 from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, the Indian side strenuously objected to the American demands when they were first made. In a meeting with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense James Clad in May 2008, Ministry of External Affairs Joint Secretary Gaitri Kumar “raised Indian concerns over what it perceived was the ‘reopening' of the LOA for the Boeing VVIP aircraft India had agreed to purchase in 2005, specifically mentioning the ‘intrusive' end-use monitoring (EUM) agreement for the protection suite India was now being asked to sign as problematic. We don't mind if it is recast for some financial or technical thing,' she stated, ‘but to insert an EUM requirement retroactively and say if you don't agree we'll put it in storage, that would make our people flip'.” (152359: secret).

That India eventually agreed to American monitoring of the aircraft is already known, even if the details were never made public. But the Embassy cables give an unprecedented insight into the tug-of-war that followed the demand. The cables also reveal the “creative wording” the two sides used, in which India agreed to give U.S. inspectors annual physical access to the LAIRCM on the planes but the politically explosive term of “on-site inspection” was replaced by “on-site review.”

NSA’s appreciation

According to a cable sent on May 29, 2008 (155930: confidential), the amended LOA was initialled that day. In fact, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan expressed his “appreciation for the text's creative wording, such as using ‘joint consultation to include an on-site review' in lieu of ‘on-site inspection'”, because of “political sensitivities… over the principle of on-site inspections.”

The Indian side, however, remained wary of how the story would play out once it became clear that the government had allowed the U.S. to arbitrarily alter the terms of the aircraft deal. India made it clear on the day of the initialling that it wanted no public discussion of the fact that the goal posts had been moved. “Following [Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Mitchell] Shivers' expression of empathy for India's perception that the U.S. had added the EUM requirement after an initial LOA had been signed in 2005, Foreign Secretary [Shiv Shankar] Menon noted his appreciation but asked that there be no future reference to any ‘shifting of the goal posts,' rather that the entire deal had just been a continuum of discussions,” the cable, sent under the name of U.S. Ambassador David Mulford, recorded.

Other cables track the meetings Mr. Mulford had with Mr. Narayanan and Mr. Menon in the run up to May 29 in order to convince the Indian government to agree to that shift.

More than the substance of on-site inspections, the Indian government was worried about the public reaction to American inspectors getting access to the Prime Minister's plane, American officials dealing with the matter of end-use monitoring for the VVIP Boeing jets concluded. On May 14, Ambassador David Mulford met Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to discuss the matter and “urged him to begin ‘sensible negotiations' to resolve the enhanced end-use monitoring (EEUM) arrangements for the VVIP jets quickly (153810, May 14, 2008, confidential). The cable quotes Mr. Menon saying he had been through the proposed amendment and that he felt “there are ‘no insurmountable difficulties in reaching an understanding that would meet your requirements and ours'.”


Though Mr. Menon “found the amendment ‘reassuring,' because the details that it laid out [for keeping the LAIRCM secure] mirror those that the Indian government also wishes to enforce”, Ambassador Mulford wrote. “We have a huge interest to make sure it is well protected — not just by us but by others — and we have no problem with high standards, the Foreign Secretary stressed. At the same time, notes the Ambassador, “Menon also pointed out that, because the aircraft attracts high-level political attention, the presentation of the inspections regime needed rewrQing [sic]”.

Mr. Mulford ended his cable with the following comment: “At no point in the conversation did Menon reject inspections, and he appeared resigned to on-site verification, as shown by his acceptance of a site visit by negotiators. The problems that the Foreign Secretary saw in the US' proposed amendment dealt primarily with the cosmetic presentation it seemed, which he believes gives the impression of associating the VVIP aircraft, and by extension the Indian Government, too closely with the U.S.”

The Indian stake

In a meeting with Mr. Mulford (155283, May 23, 2008, confidential), the NSA “agreed that the Indian government had a stake in protecting the LAIRCM's technology, and he recognized that if the U.S. and India prolong negotiations over the EEUM, ‘our Prime Minister will not have a plane'.” But, he insisted, “We need to work in a manner that provides comfort to both sides.” Mr. Mulford ended his cable with the observation that “As Narayanan makes clear, on-site U.S. inspections of the prime minister's jet make the Indian government pause”. The risk, he wrote, is “that the UPA government's opponents might use the image of U.S. officials tramping around the Indian head of state's plane to garner votes in the upcoming general elections”.
Such an image “fits into the campaign messages already espoused by the opposition BJP, which accuses the government of an overriding weakness, and the Communists, who denounce the growing friendship with the U.S. But our willingness to resolve the issue in New Delhi at a high level could help alleviate the Indians' anxiety and point the way towards a middle ground that protects both the LAIRCM and the UPA government”.

Text of EUM note, initialled on May 29, 2008

May 28, 2008

Proposed EUM Note for Indian VVIP Aircraft:

“Pursuant to section 40A of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), as amended, the USG will accomplish end-use monitoring for the defense articles and defense services transferred in this Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) as set forth in this note and the specific Enhanced EUM physical security and accountability requirements annotated in the note to this LOA titled ‘Unclassified AN/AAQ-24(V), Large Aircraft Infrared Counter-Measures (LAIRCM) System (Revised).'

“At least annually, at the request of either party, at a mutually acceptable date, India and the USG will execute joint consultations, to include an on-site security review of the transferred articles and related security and custody procedures. India agrees to make available inventory and accountability records it maintains to U.S. personnel conducting end-use monitoring. The provisions of this note apply only to LOA IN-D-QJD and to no other transfers with the Purchaser or any other country or international organization.” [155930: confidential, May 29, 2008].

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)

In the print edition of The Hindu, this story was split in to two. The URL of the second part is here.