Armed Forces, Economy, Foreign Policy, National Security, Internal Environment

Thursday, June 6, 2019

“Bhookhe Bhajan Na Hoye Gopala”

“Bhookhe Bhajan Na Hoye Gopala”

The Balakot-fuelled ultra-Nationalist pitch, along with the utopian Hindu Rashtra dream acted as steroids to mask BJP’s lack-lustre performance, and won it a thumping majority. While the BJP Top Brass’s euphoria has waned now, many fawning TV anchors are still experiencing orgasmic raptures as they rave about their dead accurate forecasts of the electorate’s mood. Perhaps, for the next elections, the EC could consider declaring results based on prophecies of oracles from Republic, Times Now, Zee News, Aaj Tak, CNN News 18 and India Today news channels, and save the Nation crores in election expenses.
The mood of the top hierarchy of Modi 2.0 is appropriately more sombre, as it gets down to business. It is aware that this time there may not even be the usual honeymoon period when the people patiently give time to the new regime to settle down. For Modi 1.0 that period ran much longer until the demonetization hara-kiri. People’s expectations now are very high and their patience is running low. GDP growth has slowed down; investments have dried up; Banks’ NPAs have risen to record heights; NBFCs are in crises, and industrial growth is virtually negligible. Adding to the Govt’s worries is the late and likely-to-be deficient monsoon, with 42% of India’s land area already reeling under drought.
The alacrity with which the new Govt released the ACTUAL unemployment figures, which it had been obfuscating all through the pre-election period, clearly shows its great anxiety on this account. It has thus admitted to the true situation, and in the process set the Base level very low, so that even marginal increases in employment generation in future could be touted as great progress. However, it is well aware that this time gimmickry and fudging of economic data and performance figures will not work.
I believe Bhakt Sur Das is credited with the words “Bhookhe Bhajan Na Hoye Gopala”. This should be a clear reminder and a warning to the NDA Govt that no amount of artificially generated Narratives on Nationalism, Hindu Rashtra, real or concocted internal and external security threats, populist schemes and seductive promises will assuage people’s hunger, wants, and expectations. Ram Mandir will not be a substitute for real and substantive progress on all fronts, and a marked amelioration of the peoples lot.
I am inclined to believe the Prime Minister’s exhortation to carry along all communities and sections of society, as a course-correction. Lack of communal and social harmony will be very detrimental for economic recovery and hence the signal to tone down the communal rhetoric, which has already served its electoral purpose. But, has the signal emanated from Nagpur, from where strident voices are already clamouring for early construction of Ram Mandir? Will not the militant Hindutva outfits queer the pitch for the Govt? Even if the PM is earnest, will he be able to take firmer steps against the hotheaded cadres, even at the risk of alienating his base? Doubtful. Once you have mounted the communal tiger, it is difficult to dismount.
As for the Opposition, BJP’s thumping victory ought to be a blessing in disguise. Even if it had somehow formed a Govt, how long would it have lasted after inheriting such enormous economic and social problems? With their disparate agendas, bloated egos, unrealistic ambitions, and in the absence of even a common minimum programme, they would have ended up as the Janata Party, and sent into oblivion. Now, the shoe is on the other foot. It is the NDA Govt, which has to deliver, not only by rectifying the several faux pas of its previous tenure, but also by meeting the heightened expectations of the people. Having been given an overwhelming mandate, it cannot have any excuse for non-delivery. It will have to perform or perish.      

Thursday, May 9, 2019


With two rounds of polls remaining, it is almost certain that we are headed for a hung Parliament. Whichever be the constituents of the new coalition, it is also certain that we will not have to suffer another arrogant, reckless, and capricious Government, which bulldozed all democratic norms and subverted all the institutions.
It is mind-boggling how the PM’s larger-than-life image, albeit publicity-driven, has been so severely dented in just 2-3 years that he is being lampooned publicly. This should be a chastening lesson, not just for the BJP, but to all political parties that people cannot be fooled by false promises, communal polarization, diversionary jingoistic rhetoric or deceitful media manipulation.  
Regardless of which coalition comes to power, the new Government will inherit staggering problems. Massive unemployment, agrarian distress, a slowing economy with low gross capital formation and loss of faith in democratic institutions are just a few of them, which will need to be addressed on top priority.
In this post, however, I am not seeking to address specific problems or discuss various options. That will have to wait till the final elections results are in, and a new Government is installed. This post is intended to highlight some generic, vital issues that the new dispensation will have to tackle up front.
·      White Paper on State of the Economy. That the economy is not in a sound shape is quite well known. However, what is the actual state of health of various sectors of the economy is not clear, primarily because the BJP government has been obfuscating and concealing those details. The NSSO, which used to publish data periodically had been rendered ineffective and hence there are no reliable statistics available on various economic parameters. This has even hurt the credibility of our data in multilateral institutions, which used to rely on such primary data. Even the RBI, which ought to function autonomously, has often been arm-twisted by the FM to be less forthcoming, especially post-demonetization.
·     Restoring Credibility of Institutions. The credibility of various Constitutional and other important institutions has taken quite a beating under the current dispensation. This will need to be reversed on an urgent basis to restore the people’s faith in them and in the Rule of Law.
·   Transparent Investigation of all Deals and Wrong-doings. A large number of alleged scams, arbitrarily awarded sweetheart deals, shoddy investigation and suppression of serious crimes etc have taken place, which the Government ham-handedly abetted or concealed. All these must be probed and the guilty brought to book. This must be done in a totally transparent manner, without it appearing to be out of political vendetta. This is vital to restore the people’s faith and to send the message that no one is above the law, regardless of financial or political clout.  
·   Appointments to Constitutional Positions. Despite the Founding fathers clearly laying down norms for appointments to critical Constitutional positions to ensure separation of powers, most Governments have tried to fill them with cronies. This must stop, as many such appointees have been brazenly partisan towards the ruling dispensation. Parliament must enact a law to prohibit the appointment of SC and HC judges and senior bureaucrats to such positions within three years of their retirement to prevent their currying favours with the Government while in service when discharging their duties.
·     Rectifying the Ideological Tilt. A large number of appointees were placed in various official and quasi-official institutions, educational bodies, and even government offices who had an ideological background, which militated against the secular ethos enshrined in our Constitution. This is dangerous for the unity, integrity and communal harmony of the country and such elements need to be weeded out.
·     The Politicisation of the Armed Forces. This extremely dangerous trend has been seen recently. It will leave a devastating impact not just on the fighting potential, camaraderie and morale of the Armed Forces, but on the security of the Nation itself. This has to be ruthlessly curbed and reversed. Political and bureaucratic interference in the appointment to senior ranks too must end.  
·  Norms for Media. Never before in the Nation’s history, has our Media been so outrageously partisan as in the recent past. It is a crying shame for an institution, which is supposed to be a vital pillar of our democracy. This is a critical challenge since a balance has to be struck between genuine freedom of the press and some form of regulation. Ideally, it should be self-regulation and media should be judged for its independence in the court of public opinion. That, regrettably, is not happening. The government must evolve a consensus to have some sort of legislative or normative curbs on media ownership so that Media is not manipulated by convergent corporate and political interests. The public too must very emphatically call out and lampoon Media channels and anchors that try to fool the people with their partisan coverage.
Regrettably, in the past few years, our democracy has come close to being characterized as a banana republic, primarily due to the egregious trampling of all democratic norms by the current dispensation. It will be a challenge for the next Government that it does not succumb to the same temptation of unbridled abuse of power for electoral gains or personal profit. It will be an even greater challenge for we the people not to get carried away by politicians’ promises. We have to remain ever vigilant and must boldly question the wrong-doings of the high and mighty, whether in the Government or outside it.  

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Idea of Indian Nationhood is under Threat

The trigger for this BlogSpot is a close friend’s disagreement with my apprehension that the very idea of Indian Nationhood is under threat. He argues that it is a canard being spread by those opposed to Modi Ji, and he buttresses his argument by asking whether I saw lynchings or mayhem in the streets during my stay in India last year. No, I didn’t see that. However, an undercurrent of polarization and intolerance was certainly palpable compared with my previous visits, as were intimidation by Right-wing trolls and brazen muscle-power by its cadres and supporters.
Undoubtedly, there was also a sharp divide in all sections, even among the so-called intelligentsia, on the sharp pro or anti-Modi binary - nothing in between. More glaring was the wily masking of the forceful Hindutva rhetoric with the subtle, yet potent Nationalism label. Of course, the ploy was to define Nationalism ad lib and exploit it for everything, as and when required to shore up the original goals.
It was also clearly discernible how the original shrill ‘persecuted Hindus’ Narrative was toned down by embracing other emotive issues. One would recall how almost two years before the 2014 polls, social media was deluged with tales of atrocities against Hindus over the centuries, about the demographic invasion through prolific procreation by Muslims and Christians, love jihad, questions as to why terrorists worldwide are only from a particular religion, while ignoring the fact none was from the 172 million Muslims in India, and charges of Muslim appeasement. PM Manmohan Singh was denigrated in the vilest of terms, but the most abusive posts were directed against the Nehru-Gandhi family, with even attempts to trace their Muslim origins several generations back.
While the strategy worked and Modi was elected with a sweeping majority, much to the dismay of the Right-wing ideologues, BJP polled only 31% of the popular vote. Clearly, most Indians rejected the aggressive Hindutva stance, and hence a course correction was warranted. Then started a concerted image-building campaign by highlighting the softer nation-building agenda of the RSS (it even tried to snare Pranab Mukherjee). Hordes of ‘motivational speakers’ including many Veterans were hired to influence impressionable minds in schools and colleges. Numerous ‘right’-minded experts on economy etc and military experts filled TV panels on friendly channels to sing praises of the regime’s measures – even demonetization. Opposing views were shouted down, trolled or labeled anti-National.
How can I assert all this so definitively, you would ask? Contrary to popular belief that Right-wing strategy is formulated in Nagpur, a substantive role is played by the Hindutva organizations and ideologues among expatriates, especially those based in USA. More importantly, the financing of IT companies that control the trolls, the legions of motivational speakers, opinion makers and experts, and all other components of the campaign is taken care of by the deep pockets here. And tongues loosen up when single malts go down. Let us leave it at that.
Let us get back to the question as to why I feel the very idea of Indian Nationhood is under threat. Notwithstanding all the tactical flip-flops of the BJP (Mandir, go-raksha, NRC, polarization, and now Nationalism, soft rashtrawad etc) due to the electoral dynamic, the core agenda remains the same. It is no secret that the RSS has always been unhappy with the secular basis of our Nation, as enshrined in the Constitution. The ultimate goal remains the same – Hindu Rashtra – attained either de jure through Constitutional amendment or de facto through muscular intimidation, ghar wapsi, or Goebellsian indoctrination till the remaining Hindus fall in line.    
Religious polarization is dangerous. Once the genie is released, there is no turning back from the hell it creates. Recall how our parents used to say that when the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS on one side and the Muslim League on the other, first introduced their communal rhetoric in the 1930s, most people dismissed it as mere jockeying for positions by the politicians. How it turned into the communal holocaust of Partition was quite unexpected. Who suffered? Not the politicians on either side, who got plum positions. It was millions of innocent people caught in the communal frenzy.
I, as an infant, was one of those millions. My mother and I caught near fatal diseases during that ordeal. My father, the scion of one of the richest families in the entire district, started as a railway coolie carting coal in wheel-barrows at eight annas a day. He rebuilt his life and retired as a very senior Govt official. Same is the story of millions of others affected by the Partition. And yet, not once did my parents teach us to hate Muslims. All they said that it was a tragedy triggered by politicians, but foolishly gulped by gullible ordinary people who ended up paying the price.
Who paid the price for the communal polarization in Punjab in the 1980s, or in the Babri Masjid riots and the Gujarat carnage of 2002? Surely, in the 21st Century India, we the people cannot fall prey to the games politicians play for their own selfish ends. Let me ask another question. Why is it that you would find hardly any religious bigot among all those actually suffered during Partition or other upheavals? Why most of the Hindutva zealots are from those States, which were not directly affected? For them whipping communal frenzy is more a chauvinistic bravado than any genuine religiosity. They seem to seek an adrenalin rush from a communal riot as tamashbeen, as if it were a WWF fight.
Finally, as to the question why I should not be unduly apprehensive since I did not see mayhem on the streets. Such a complacent attitude can be disastrous. The British realized it in 1857 when the bubble burst, or the entire Indian subcontinent when it was overtaken by communal frenzy in 1947, and which madness culminated in Gandhi Ji’s assassination. Early in 1984, did we foresee the traumatic events that would follow later that year? It was ultimately the exceptional maturity and wisdom of the Sikh community that brought back Punjab from the brink, and saved our Nation from unraveling.
Let us not, therefore, forget the lessons from History. Communal and caste polarization is a clear and present danger, which is recklessly being fanned by politicians. There is immense pent up anger and frustration not just because of the hate-mongering environment, but also from real problems of unemployment and farm distress.  It is like a tinder box, which even a small spark can set off. Mayhem on the streets will surely follow. It is imperative that we citizens emphatically defeat the selfish politicians’ divisive agenda. 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Why Modi Ji’s Deflection to External Security is Disingenuous

BJP claims that the result of this election is a foregone conclusion, and it will beat its 2014 record. It argues that Modi Ji has performed exceptionally well on all fronts – be it economy, job creation, agricultural and industrial growth, social welfare schemes, communal harmony, foreign policy or security. So, where is the doubt?
If that were so, then why BJP and Modi Ji himself are in panic mode? Why the anxiety to deflect the focus from actual performance to Nehruvian era follies and National security? Why the repeated brazen and disgraceful violations of the Model Code (NaMo channel, NaMo movie, Modi’s Army etc), which a pusillanimous EC is unwilling to stop?
Even their focus on National security is deceitful because security is not confined only to the external dimension. In fact, the INTERNAL DIMENSION of security is far more important, since only internal stability and cohesion can provide the strong foundation to boost National strength in the external dimension.
Even a cursory analysis of the internal dimension will show that Modi Ji’s performance has been dismal. Thus, Jumlebaji becomes essential to divert attention.
I am pasting below a graphic showing various elements in the Internal Dimension of the comprehensive National Security Paradigm presented in my book “Citizens and Soldiers Keeping India’s Tryst with Destiny”. There is ample statistical and anecdotal evidence in my book on each of those elements, which substantiates my contention that the performance of the NDA Govt in the past five years has been poor. Even a layperson will come to the same conclusion by assessing Modi Ji’s performance on all those elements shown in the graphic.



Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs

I am NOT as shocked by Yogi Adityanath’s outrageous dubbing of the Indian Army as “Modi Ji ki Sena”, as I am by the amoral and inexcusable silence of Modi-Bhakts within the Veterans community over this abomination. Are they so indoctrinated and steeped in his Bhakti that they have betrayed their allegiance to the Armed Forces, and indeed to the Constitution itself? Or, are they so fearful of Modi Ji that they have chosen to condone yet another among numerous blows to the honour and dignity of Faujis inflicted by him, his Raksha Mantri, and several other Chowkidars in the BJP hierarchy?

It is perfectly legitimate for Veterans to have personal views either in favour of Modi Ji and the BJP, or against them, after carrying out an objective analysis of their policies and performance. However, what is galling and betrays a lack of moral courage, is when they remain silent about their various misdeeds, especially against the Armed Forces, while at the same pouring scorn and ridiculing the Opposition at every opportunity.

Sadly, it is not just the Indian polity, but even a glorious, apolitical and secular institution such as the Armed Forces that have been polarized sharply in this highly vitiated electoral battle. This is dangerous. It will leave a lasting impact on this institution, which will be highly detrimental for the Nation’s security. Regrettably, the BJP, in its electoral desperation, is being very reckless in this regard.    

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Choice in 2019 Elections

A feeling of desperation and panic is clearly palpable in the BJP. One can sense it in the shrill outbursts of their spokespersons on TV, the angry rants from their trolls and Bhakts on social media, and the repeated resort to “what about…” of the Congress era dating back to Nehru, when they are asked about failures of the Modi regime.   
It also manifests in the increasing resort to gimmickry (e.g. main bhi chowkidar), abusive name-calling of the disgusting sadak-chhap variety, high-decibel pseudo-Nationalism, and dubbing all who question Modi as anti-National and Pakistani agents.  
Chowkidar Modiji himself is leading this muscular response, fully aware that constant harping on National security, Balakot, ASAT etc alone can divert attention of the voters from the acute farm distress and unemployment problems, as well as the uncomfortable questions about various scams, including Rafale.   
BJP has cleverly intimidated the visual and print media into brazenly toeing its line. So, Nationalism is stoked and people’s problems are sidetracked. Likewise, the RSS and BJP have succeeded in dousing the clamour for the unfulfilled Ram Mandir promise, on which emotive issue it rose to power. It has thus been able to control the narrative substantially.
But, do TV debates and social media interactions really sway voters significantly in this age of 24/7 media bombardment? People’s minds are already made up, and the shouting bouts on TV serve only as amusement. Social media interactions on the other hand have become too toxic even between family and friends.
Elections are decided not by the urban middle class, but by millions of poor and under-privileged people, for whom everyday existence is a struggle. So, will the poor farmers overburdened with unpaid loans, or millions of unemployed youth really feel ecstatic and enthused when Modiji talks about his great achievements in Balakot and the ASAT launch? It might stir up their patriotic fervour for a few moments, but soon their hopeless situation in the ‘real world’ would engulf them again.
The Nation also carries deep scars on its psyche due to polarizing hate-mongering by the rioting, lynching and moral-policing cadres of various outfits under RSS tutelage.  Countless victims as well as millions of passive, but outraged observers too will now have an opportunity to give their verdict as to what sort of a Nation and society they want.  
I therefore feel this is going to be a landmark watershed election. Do we want a pluralist, secular and equitable society that our Constitution guarantees, or do we want a rabid majoritarian polity, an ever-increasing gap between the rich and poor, where the rich and the powerful subvert the rule of law and all institutions that are supposed to protect individual rights and dignity?

State of Defence Preparedness

ASAT is indeed a technological milestone. Geopolitically too, it sends a signal worldwide.

It was inevitable that Chowkidar Modiji, with his penchant for usurping credit, would unabashedly grab Media Headlines, the EC's Model Code of Conduct notwithstanding.

But, despite all the hoopla and boasts about Modiji's so-called "muscular" approach to National security, almost all Strategic thinkers and experts point out the following serious failures or deficiencies on his watch.

1. Modiji ceded strategic space to Xi at Wuhan and gave too many concessions, without any matching response. China's intransigence on Masood Azhar, opposing our entry into NSG, and its continuing inflexibility on the border issue, especially on Arunachal go to show that Xi outsmarted him. 
2. Pakistan continued to sponsor terrorism in J&K despite Modiji's overtures to Nawaz Sharif. Pathankot, Uri, Amarnath Yatra, Srinagar etc showed that we were caught napping and reacted quite haphazardly. 
3. Despite the surgical strikes of 2016, Pakistan's terror sponsorship in J&K only increased and culminated in the Pulwama carnage. 
4. If Balakot was meant to send a signal, Pak signalled back with greater alacrity by sending its fighters across the LoC. We lost a MiG unfortunately, and even the episode of Pak returning our pilot let Pak derive great mileage in the eyes of the world. 
5. To the world, this exchange also showed the gaps and limitations of our so-called conventional edge over Pak, in air power at least. 
6. Conventional wisdom dictates that one should never boast if one has no intention or capability of following through. So, why thunder to a cheering electoral audience, "Ghar main ghus kar marenge", when a single message from Trump (which any strategy expert would tell you was bound to come) leads you to simmer down and back off like a "bheegi billi". 
7. There have been very serious Intelligence lapses over past four years, including the recent smuggled RDX used for Pulwama carnage. Yet, NO accountability has been fixed. It seems Doval is indispensable for Modiji, not for his primary Intelligence and National security duties, but for other 'political' purposes.
8. Modiji's policy on Defence is oriented more for Global consumption, and image-building abroad, than upon strengthening our Defence forces at home, which have very critical gaps in modernization and capacity-building.
9. These gaps have actually INCREASED on his watch with the Defence budget being reduced progressively in real terms over past four years. 
10. The much-delayed restructuring and reforms recommended by a host of committees like K Subhramanian's KRC, the GoM, and Naresh Chandra Committee have been put on the back-burner. Another very dangerous trend is the politicization of the Armed Forces, especially in hand-picking pliable officers for senior positions who will not question the Netas and Babus. 
11. It has been the misfortune of our Defence Forces that they have invariably gone into battle ill-clad (1962) and ill-equipped as compared to our adversaries. Yet, they have always carried the day with their valour, though at a terrible cost to lives and limbs. It is acknowledged worldwide, "it is the man behind the gun that matters". And yet, Modiji's RM, Chowkidar Seetharaman seems hell-bent on wrecking the morale and self-esteem of our soldiers in her numerous policies - all of which have gone against Faujis vis a vis civilian Babus and CAPFs. It is widely believed among the Defence personnel that she has the tacit approval of Modiji and Jaitley, both of whom are not favourably disposed to Faujis for various reasons. 
12. With all of the above, the damage to the Armed Forces in terms of HDM, defence modernization, infrastructure and morale is far too serious to ignore. The public, which is very empathetic and supportive, is unfortunately not aware of all this. Since all citizens are stakeholders in National security, they MUST RAISE THEIR VOICE, and call upon the Govt to arrest, and reverse this dangerous slide. Surely, the Nation cannot afford another 1962 like debacle.