Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is PM's FDI card akin to Modi’s Developmental model?

Does Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh share
something similar? Both pushed to the corner – one for riots and the
other for alleged corruption and both try to find a game-changer in FDI or
development model.

This write up is coming at a time – at the suggestion of my good friend
Jacinta Dsouza - when the country is debating the pros and cons of Foreign Direct Investment vis-à-vis the economic reforms.

Moreover the challenge is to explain in first person the factors those led to pen the book ‘Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth’. Incidentally, this being my third book on broad Hindutva related issues after ‘Godhra: A Journey to Mayhem’
and ‘Ayodhya: Battle for Peace’.

I am often asked, whether there’s any special reason?

Of and on, my contention is when a journalist decides to write a book,
you ought to be sure that either he is excited about the subject. He
likes it or he is annoyed with it, disturbed with it. In my case, the
book on northeast ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’ comes under one
category. I love northeast region, where I was born and brought up.

The communalism on the other hand, really disturbs me. I am not saying Hindu communalism only. It’s about all.

The Godhra carnage, then post-Godhra riots all of it left me angry. So, came my first book on Gujarat and I was surprised that my
first book was not on northeast India.

About this book, I think the simple provocation was to try to break
some of the knots of the cobweb embroiled about Narendra Modi himself.

Undoubtedly, the story of Gujarat in last 10 years has been the story
of Modi.
Thus, the making of Brand Modi definitely deserves a closer look with
all its merits and albeit, also the demerits.

Today, to talk about the dynamics and complexities of Gujarat state
and the Hindutva politics of Modi has perhaps become more important
now than ever before especially in the context of forthcoming assembly
elections where in Gujarat’s most talked about chief minister will
seek his re-election.

The polls could also decide whether Modi will be the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate in 2014 parliamentary polls.

But as the currency these days in on FDI and reforms, I will try for a
while focus on these issues.

Gujarat in more ways than one reflects that story of multi-pronged
development and the liberal economic policy. Many are already
comparing Gujarat’s phenomenal success with the select manufacturing
hub of China; but the irony is not lost on many.

Although, the Indian development pace is much slower than China’s;
even in late nineties Gujarat had equaled the growth rate of China.

The developmental phases of Modiland notwithstanding the negative
publicity of the state administration since 2002 have many people
baffled. There are a few questions too --- as I examine in the book
‘Modi to Moditva…..’; can Modi really redefine the state’s and more
importantly his own reputation?

I also pose a rather mystifying question, “Can it keep the balance
with the traditional culture of Gujarat, its religious bias and the
unprecedented benefits of economic liberalization?”

In course of my work for the book, I did come across the obvious that
India’s reforms in 1991 under Dr Manmohan Singh as the finance minster
have come in compartmentalized forms.

In the absence of reforms in the administration, police and judiciary,
the new rules were enforced by an old system, and the mismatch has led
to weak enforcement.

The competition in presence of multiple players say in telecom could overcome
weak enforcement. This appears to be a
factor responsible for the success of equity markets and telecom but
the same story was not reaped in the oil and power sectors.

Many would argue that in a complex society like ours and in multilayered polity
of democracy in India, the consensual process of reform is important
for success. There is no doubt in the last two decades the policy
makers, the ministers and the law makers either in state assemblies or
in parliament, have spent time listening to groups, business chambers
etc before embarking on major policy changes.

So did even a supposed autocrat Modi. But his success story also underlines that ‘out of the box’ thinking is highly advisable. Here was a chief minister,
who despite the bad press, to the industry has always remained a
‘vanguard’ of not only change but someone who stood for what he said.

When Modi invited Ratan Tata after the latter’s Bengal misadventure,
at least the corporate honcho knew that Gujarat would embrace his
project. …this calls for some credit for the state chief minister.

A senior socialist based in Faizabad in UP, I interacted with in
course of my work on the book, actually said something sensational
putting me into a track to ponder about his point of argument. He said
Modi should be considered as an “injured tiger” - caged and pushed to
the wall by constant vilification.

The blot of 2002 had created a sort of a crisis for him. Fortunately for Modi, said my friend, he had no choice but to prove his mantle in administration and
that too for development.

Were it not for Modi having to confront a full-scale war against him
by the rival politicians and the secular brigade, it is unlikely that
Modi would have pushed his developmental card so hard and decisively.
May be, may be not!

(Enough of praising the own ‘kid’, the book in this case. Look for the
page turner ‘Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth’ by Nirendra
Dev (faithfully yours) and published by Manas Publications, New Delhi.

Well, some other highlights of the book include:

What’s common between Congress chief minister of Manipur Ibobi Singh
and the controversial Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi

What did Narendra Modi say after Vajpayee-Musharraf Agra Summit failed?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Demystifying 'big ticket reforms' drama of Dr Singh

Obviously, demystifying Manmohan Singh’s ‘big ticket reforms and FDI in retail’ could lead one to take a closer look at Indian political scene.

It will not be wrong to describe it as a desperate act of a student who has not studied the entire semester and wants to top the class by burning mid-night oil.

It's as if the government has come out of Rip Van Winkle slumber. The Washington Post article headlined "India's 'silent' Prime Minister becomes a tragic figure" has sort of given a jerk to Dr Manmohan Singh.

He has got back his spirit - a replica of 2008 when he dedicated himself full time to seal the Indo-US nuclear deal.
The pact was ensured but contrary to his promise, Indian energy sector still is waitng for that revolution.

On a different plane, now, post exit of Mamata Banerjee, on the face value, the government has managed to survive ostensibly with the support of highly unpredictable Mulayam Singh Yadav’s support and of course Mayawati’s BSP.

Moreover, these two cowbelt leaders - essentially caste (and of course often pro-Muslim) players are not known for strong left-oriented anti-reform stance of Mamata.

So far so good!

The government survives; and if it survives the country can expect more reforms --- on pension and insurance sectors to start with.

This has given Dr Manmohan Singh the fresh lease of life. One expected this confidence would be reflected in his rare address to the nation. But his speech
that day had sparked off rather angry reactions.

The comment - money does not grow on trees from an economist who has served with World Bank, who as Prime Minister is more known to have sided with Americans, American interests than the inflation-hit concern of his poor countrymen, actuall comes as an insult.
People have reasons to feel hurt.

Not many Congressmen have been able to defend him so far on this. The next day in high security Vigyan Bhavan, a shirtless lawyer, allegedly owing allegiance to Lalu Prasad Yadav’s party RJD, shouted slogans at him.

Perhaps the message is getting clearer that people are anguished with corruption as well as on the typical know-all ivory tower expert views of the Prime Minister.
“Yes, Prime Minister, "money does not grow on trees". That is why governments must spend wisely, not on programmes which are designed for specifically for looting in the name of the public,” commented our good friend and senior journalist Mahesh Vijapurkar from Mumbai on Facebook.

Real polity is tougher and more complex. Ultimately, Dr Singh is not just the ‘ceo’ of UPA; his party has to win election.
In Kerala, the Congress chief minister is set to oppose FDI.

The party, which stormed back to power in 2004 unseating a well-performing Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime on Aam Admi slogan, today stands isolated from the man on the streets.

Rahul Gandhi does not inspire Congressmen any longer. A family loyalist like Salman Khurshied says the crown prince role has been 'cameo'. These would make Congress depend more on Mulayam Singh, someone harbouring strong Prime Ministerial ambitions.

BSP is eyeing to play its own game and has asked Congress to show detachment from Mulayam to bank on her support.

The Congress MPs are themselves not sure whether FDI retail will ensure their victory. A section of Congressmen in Bengal and also outside are exploring the idea of hobnobbing with mass leader like Mamata Banerjee - even in states like Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.

There is a possibility of split in Congress rank and file and thus, the general election could come by 2013.

In the meantime, FDI will remain on a table --- to be utilized as economic reform tool only in about 2 years from now!

A political counsellor attached to an embassy in Delhi, recently said,
"the announcement of FDI in retail by Prime Minister Dr Singh is only aimed towards foreign countries and MNCs. What happens to FDI retail hype if all or most states oppose it -- that too on the eve of elections".

This is the anti-climax of the second generation reforms inuntiated by our scholarly Prime Minister, who can be easily described as an 'over estimated economist and under estimated politician'.

The FDI drama is a good diversionary strategy of a shrewd politician, who loves to give indirect message that he is a reluctant Prime Minister. The target is to take people off the 'Coalgate'. But this is too late and too little.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jaswant Singh and Indo-US calculus

Having spoken about the possibility of having Jaswant Singh make a come back as the external affairs of India in the previous blog, perhaps I have provoked enough reactions among the readers, my patrons.

A few of them mailed me in private putting across their points of view. Well, my contention is I was only trying to debate Jaswant Singh’s role as country’s foreign minister in the crucial period of Indian diplomatic history when post-Pokhran 2 it faced near isolation globally and especially from the United States.

This was the time, mind you, US President Bill Clinton’s first reaction to his close team in the White House was: “we are going to come down on those guys like a ton of bricks”.

Thus, it is given to the credit of Vajpayee-Jaswant team that things were put on correct track at later stage. My humble suggestion is we should not mix up this episode of Indo-US history and the ‘dialogue’ Jaswant Singh had with Strobe Talbott with other issues particularly the Jaswant’s supposed mishandling of negotiations after the Indian Airlines plane was hijacked to Kandahar.

Now, when we come to Jaswant-Talbott ‘engagement’ as suggested by the latter in later stage – by his apt title of the book ‘Engaging India – Diplomacy, Democracy and the Bomb’ (a Penguin publication) – there is need to focus on some plain speaking that Jaswant did often at the cost of displeasing the American leadership.

Here’s an instance. Stressing on the point of ‘futility’ of any purpose in US pampering Pakistan, Jaswant Singh had at one point of time remarked:

“We realize that you’ve (US) invested so much in that relationship (with Pakistan) that you don’t know how to disinvest”. Jaswant Singh had also pointed up to Talbott that “we (India) held out the hand of friendship (to Nawaz Sharif), and we got a fist in the face”.

A reference to Lahore bus trip and then Kargil.
In fact, there have been occasions when Jaswant in mid-1999 had also suggested to his American negotiator that Pakistan was heading for a coup.

In fact, Indian government had strong inkling of Gen Musharraf taking over soon – but New Delhi was always more cautious about a regime under Musharraf because he has been the “moving force behind the Pakistani incursion and who would be even more intractable on Kashmir and everything else if he emerged as Pakistan’s new leader”.

Talbott also admits in his book that ‘Jaswant was fatalistic about a coup” in Pakistan but added :”there was nothing either India – or, for that matter, the United States could do to stop it, all we could do was not provoke it”.

Moreover, around that time the government of India under Vajpayee in the run up to the parliamentary polls – immediately after Kargil - did not drum up the war-cry. This can be debated because NDA’s victory became easier in 1999 due to Kargil.
Jaswant himself had told Talbott “we could have exploited the crisis”.

Well, moving over these, one must take note of Jaswant’s another point blank statement made to the US negotiator.

“You are playing yesterday’s chess match….The game now is for energy from a region that is falling increasingly into the hands of the forces of radical Islam….No one has had a much experience with Islam as India. You must work with us (India) more in waging our common struggle against these forces”.

Finally, things really changed in Indo-US context since these dialogues.

Today, India is held high as a partner in the comity of nations. It is not without good reason in 2010, all five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the United States, China, Britain, Russia and France — came calling on India extending all round friendship and cordial relations.

In 2011, Indian foreign policy engine room drew satisfaction during the year when they saw in what is seen as the “stepping up the rhetorical pressure” on Pakistan.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did some plain speaking urging Pakistan to act immediately against the military groups and powerful Haqqani network. “You can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours,” Hillary Clinton had said almost endorsing India’s years-old stand point.

In fact, Dr Manmohan Singh’s regime benefited in initial years of these bonhomie and robust Indian economy. Dr Singh exploited the improved relation Indo-US to the hilt in 2008 during parleys on Indo-US Civil Nuclear deal and in 2009 polls. Congress leaders can claim brownie points when they taunt Jaswant Singh for Kandahar.

But as the former external affairs minister and importantly Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ‘man for all seasons’ said, the calculus of human lives was involved. Well, perhaps Jaswant deserves some kudos.

And if not; there are merits in appreciating what Talbott said: “Jaswant advanced his nation’s interests and sought to harmonise US-Indian relations”. Now, ask Dr Manmohan Singh and the Congress regime: if Washington Post and Time magazine today find fault with them and their regime, should they blame Jaswant Singh’s mishandling of plane hijack drama?


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Can Jaswant Singh make a comeback as Foreign Minister of India?

This piece is going on web at a time when grapevine in Lutyen’s city is about possible cabinet reshuffle. The buzz is that S M Krishna might be replaced by Shivraj Patil.

Don’t believe? Well, I also don’t. I would hate this to happen!!

But if Prathiba Patil can be made President of India and after a shocking defeat Shivraj can be handed over home, mortals like us can only stare up and blink helplessly as Sonia Gandhi mocks at 130 crores.

One is perhaps writing this piece little too late or even little too early. BJP’s onetime stalwart and once expelled Jaswant Singh has crossed his prime long back and ostensibly in more ways than one.

With Atal Bihari Vajpayee out of scene, the ‘man for all seasons’ too has fallen out of the radar.

Having lost vice presidential polls in 2012, and at the ripe age of XX he is now all set for retirement. Jaswant himself had announced that he would not contest Lok Sabha election again.

But as he lost the vice presidential election, only a die hard optimist would be happy that perhaps he still has a chance to return as country’s foreign minister.

But can he make it to the post?

Possibly yes, if BJP makes it in 2014. There are conjectures too, what happens if BJP is compelled to concede to give up prime ministership to Nitish Kumar, would Jaswant Singh make it as External Affairs Minister again.

Well, he might not be counted among the best of India’s foreign ministers, at least by country’s secular brigade but in framing India’s relations with the United States in the new millennium, his role cannot be forgotten.

Congress has lampooned enough at him for Indian Airlines plane hijack fiasco and sought to rubbish Jaswant’s contribution in re-establishing a workable relation with the US aftermath Pokhran-2.

Obviously, one is guided by his stellar performance as Vajpayee’s chief negotiator with Strobe Talbott, the trusted Bill Clinton point-man for Indian region.

At least Jaswant should be given some credit, of course besides Vajpayee himself, for taking a “journey” with the American leadership “guided by a sense of power and pride that India is not subservient to anyone and we (US and India) speak as equals”.

In the words of Talbott himself, “Jaswant was as hardheaded and tenacious an advocate for his government’s position as I had ever encountered”.

In his revealing page-turner ‘Engaging India’ where Talbott takes readers to the ‘backstage’ of a most suspenseful diplomatic drama, he has very high opinion of Jaswant Singh and describes him as “pragmatic and recalculating”.

He even distinguished Jaswant and L K Advani saying, “to me differences between him and BJP hardliners like Advani were real, not tactital. Jaswant represented a more sophisticated, less militant, but no less firmly held view of Hindutva”.

In fact, Talbott is to be believed, Jaswant and his team during the negotiations had given the US diplomats much tough time. “The danger with the Indians was that they would wear us down. They had their game plan ready and would stick with it”…. unlike Pakistanis, who Talbott says had no game plan.

Talbott also pays tribute to Jaswant’s diplomatic mantle saying, the Vajpayee’s Man Friday like probably the former Prime Minister had the “ability to keep the substance” of talks confidential while creating the impression that the both sides were getting along well.

Well, diplomacy is definitely about certain amount of ambiguity – at least till the final call is taken. And in terms of Indo-US relations, these were all relevant. It’s perhaps the irony of this country that Jaswant Singh might not make it as the external affairs minister again while S M Krishnas would make it and survive.

Thelikes of Shashi Tharoors and Jaswant Singhs would come and go and perhaps lament in some corridors that the basic intra-party democracy itself is lacking in India, at least in his Congress party.