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Dancing in the dark

From darkness, can there be light?

Three arterial power lines in northern India failed and plunged approximately 700 million people from 21 states and UTs into total darkness.  Rail and air services were disrupted, miners from Jharkhand and Bengal were trapped in coal mines, and the common man was slow-roasted under an unforgiving July sun.  And as this catastrophe unfolded, Union Minister for Power, Sushilkumar Shinde, moved out of office and took over as India’s new Home Minister.  It was business unusual.

Congress spokesman Manish Tewari attempted to assuage public anxiety by claiming that there was no power crisis in India.  He’s right, of course.  There wasn’t a power crisis in India, there just wasn’t any power.  Here, it would be unfair to blame the state of affairs only on Mr. Shinde.  He has, after all, only done what his predecessors have been doing since Independence.  Which is nothing.

But the massive power outage not only accentuates (if any accentuation was necessary) the dilapidated state of infrastructure in India, but also highlights its impact on India’s national security.  How would we, for example, be able to deal with military conflict on our western border, or an unfolding terror attack in New Delhi in such a situation?

To be sure, grid failures are not an uncommon phenomenon.  Massive power outages have after all, affected the U.S.’s East Coast and Southern California in the recent past.  What is unique here is not so much the crisis, but the UPA’s mishandling of the response.

Simply, the crisis is reflective of the UPA and the state of governance (or lack thereof) in India. Yes, Mr. Shinde’s transition to the Home Ministry had already been made public a few days ago. But surely a calamity of this proportion demands the resolute commitment of the incumbent minister to see the country out of the catastrophe.  In almost any other country in the world, political transition would have been deferred in order to resolve the crisis.  But not in ours, apparently.  Exit stage right, Mr. Shinde. Enter stage left, Mr. Moily.

It is quite remarkable that the UPA leadership felt no compelling need to ask the incumbent Minister of Power to stay on and resolve what is now being referred to as the “world’s worst power outage.” National interests are, after all, subordinate to party interests in this day and age.  It is even more remarkable that the UPA appears to be disinterested in even projecting an illusion of leadership to the people of India.

As is the UPA’s wont, they have said nothing about the crisis, their plans to resolve it, or the political transition in its midst.  The Prime Minister himself has had nothing to say about this, or any other crisis affecting the nation under his watch.

The French philosopher Tocqueville famously remarked that in democracy, we get the government we deserve.  It would be worth remembering this when general elections come a-calling in 2014.

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On Anna Hazare’s fast

“Something is rotten in the state, but…”

Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death campaign against corruption has inspired commentary and discussion in mainstream media and on social media platforms.  NDTV has wholeheartedly thrown its weight behind Mr. Hazare’s campaign.  RTI activist and Magsaysay Award winner Arvind Kejriwal vowed to turn Jantar Mantar into Tahrir Square.  And film actress Priyanka Chopra called the campaign “an uprising.” Jantar Mantar has metamorphosed into a celebrity congregation, just like Wankhede Stadium had on April 2.  But how many have actually read the draft of the Lokpal Bill?  How many really understand what the Lokpal is, and what such an institution means to our democratic republic?

But away from all the demagoguery and rhetoric, writers and bloggers are asking the tough questions that those on the bandwagon have found too inconvenient to address.  Of these, articles and blogposts by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Offstumped and Reality Check India deserve special mention (as does Mr. Mehta’s 2010 essay, “What is Constitutional Morality?”)

The intellectual bedrock to some of this discussion can also be found in Alexander Hamilton’s treatise on the Constitution and the Republic. Below is an excerpt from his writings in 1794:

But, without entering into so wide a field, it is sufficient to present to your view a more simple and a more obvious truth, which is this: that a sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.

Government is frequently and aptly classed under two descriptions—a government of Force, and a government of Laws; the first is the definition of despotism—the last, of liberty. But how can a government of laws exist when the laws are disrespected and disobeyed? Government supposes control. It is that Power by which individuals in society are kept from doing injury to each other, and are brought to co-operate to a common end. The instruments by which it must act are either the Authority of the laws or Force. If the first be destroyed, the last must be substituted; and where this becomes the ordinary instrument of government, there is an end to liberty!

Those, therefore, who preach doctrines, or set examples which undermine or subvert the authority of the laws, lead us from freedom to slavery; they incapacitate us for a Government of Laws, and consequently prepare the way for one of Force, for mankind must have Government Of One Sort Or Another. There are, indeed, great and urgent cases where the bounds of the Constitution are manifestly transgressed, or its constitutional authorities so exercised as to produce unequivocal oppression on the community, and to render resistance justifiable. But such cases can give no color to the resistance by a comparatively inconsiderable part of a community, of constitutional laws distinguished by no extraordinary features of rigor or oppression, and acquiesced in by the body of the community.

Such a resistance is treason against society, against liberty, against every thing that ought to be dear to a free, enlightened, and prudent people. To tolerate it, were to abandon your most precious interests. Not to subdue it, were to tolerate it. Those who openly or covertly dissuade you from exertions adequate to the occasion, are your worst enemies. They treat you either as fools or cowards, too weak to perceive your interest or your duty, or too dastardly to pursue them. They, therefore, merit and will, no doubt, meet your contempt. To the plausible but hollow harangue of such conspirators you cannot fail to reply, How long, ye Catilines, will ye abuse our patience?  [Alexander Hamilton, "Tully Papers, III." August 28, 1794]

Unquestionably, something is rotten in the state.  That corruption is rampant is undeniable.  The debate here though isn’t whether or not we must fight against corruption, but how we should address it.  It is time for us to step back and reflect on what such an unabated encouragement of moral chauvinism means for the current and future state of our democratic republic.

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“If India can’t even build a bridge…”

If the world can’t even feed its children, can it send people to the moon?

Sadanand Dhume’s article entitled “Debacle in New Delhi” was published in Foreign Policy recently.  In the context of the fracas of the Commonwealth Games about to held in the Capital, Mr. Dhume’s article asks, “[h]ow can India be a superpower if it can’t build a bridge?” (an apparent reference to the collapse of a bridge near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium).

A couple of days ago, Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione questioned the safety of India’s nuclear plants, again, against the backdrop of “India’s” apparent inability to build safe bridges (though, to be fair to Mr. Cirincione, he later apologized for making the comment, having been roundly pilloried by one and all).

The Games are a complete and utter mess.  This is true.  Anyone and their brother will hurl at you figures showing how much India has spent over and beyond its original budget.  Stray animals roam the streets.  Trees are being cut like they went out of fashion two years ago. Roofs collapse,  so do beds.  And Mani Shankar Aiyar is running out of people to attack.

But is this India’s fault?  Did the same entity that built the bridge that collapsed also make India a power?  Many writers on the subject are painting with very broad strokes.

India is a power today not because of its government, but because of its private enterprise.   In fact, one of the unfortunate repercussions of the meteoric rise of India’s private sector is the singular incapability of the government to keep pace with the fillip provided to India’s global profile by its private enterprise.  India, many say, grows not because of its government, but despite it.  True, were it not for economic reforms instituted by the Congress, beginning in 1991, India’s private enterprise would not have succeeded like it has. But the government of the day chose to liberalize the economy only when faced with the possibility of bankruptcy.

These are issues that India — and the rest of the world — have always been well aware of.  India’s government is severely challenged to govern an India of 2010.   The inefficiencies in government are well known — a bloated cabinet,  archaic civil services, decrepit police services, lack of adequate parliamentary oversight, the list is endless — add in corruption and large levels of public apathy, and you have a recipe for disaster. To a large extent, when “public” governance was unable to affect its citizens, “private” governance stepped in.  Had a consortium of India’s companies been entrusted with managing, building and delivering the Commonwealth Games project, perhaps the situation might have been different.  This is all water under the bridge now.

Dileep Premachandran’s article in The Guardian argues that the Commonwealth Games fiasco shows all that is wrong with sport in India.  Actually, it shows all that is wrong with government in India.  The question that needs to be asked is, what will happen after the games conclude (by some miracle, without incident).  Heads will roll, no doubt, but not of those that matter.  Temporary public outrage will subside, and return to its default position of apathy — we’ve seen this script before.

Even if public anger didn’t subside, by some miracle, and is reflected in subsequent elections, is there a national party in India that can replace the UPA?  And even if such a party existed and was voted into power, would it have the courage and political will to institute the kinds of sweeping reforms necessary to bring governance in India into the 21st century?  And if it didn’t, would India’s citizens even care?  There are no easy answers.

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Peace process, redux

What will Manmohan Singh’s legacy be?

In the U.S., the President spends his second term contemplating his legacy and how history and America will remember  him.  In India, it appears that our Prime Minister, who may or may not bow out before the next general elections, wants to leave behind a legacy of peace between India and Pakistan.

It is a noble vision, and one that has preoccupied many a past Indian Prime Minister. But it is also unsustainable given that Pakistan’s Military Jihadi Complex (MJC) remains structurally adversarial towards India.  This is a reality that India has had to live with for over sixty years, which no amount of cricket, Bollywood, mangoes or poetry has been able to obscure.

Even as Nirupama Rao prepares to travel to Pakistan next week as a precursor to S.M. Krishna’s July trip, there are several indications that Pakistan’s MJC plans to step up attacks in India.  Prior to the Pune attacks, the JuD held public rallies (اردو) in Lahore and Muzzafarabad, which were attended by the whos-who of the jihadi umbrella, including Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, Syed Salahuddin and Abdul Rehman Makki.  JuD held another public rally on June 14 in Lahore, where Indian, Israeli and American flags were uniquely treated to a “chappal ki pooja.”

At the rally, Hafiz Saeed accused Israel of trying to convert Pakistan into a “barren land by constructing dams on its rivers.”  What is or isn’t part of madaaris curriculum may be debatable, but it should be pretty apparent now that  elementary geography doesn’t feature in any meaningful way. The absurdity of Hafiz Saeed’s accusation however, illustrates how symptomatic Kashmir was (and the “issue” of water now is) to the root cause of Pakistan’s unwillingness to live in peace with India.

And Matt Waldman’s report ( PDF) , while doing a decent job in highlighting the ISI’s relationship with terror groups, is found wanting in its policy recommendation, at least where India is concerned.  Mr. Waldman falls for the same tired argument of a “regional peace process,” and U.S. involvement in resolving Kashmir.  As The Filter Coffee has blogged before, the argument is fallacious.

The UPA’s vision for peace with Pakistan can last only as long as the lull before the next terror attack in India.  Pakistan’s unwillingness to abjure terror combined with the fact that civilian government neither crafts nor implements foreign policy in Pakistan essentially means that nothing has changed.  When will the Indian government realize that merely talking to Pakistan can’t be a  tenable solution for peace in the subcontinent?  If the UPA hopes to secure India, then its efforts are best directed towards strengthening the country’s internal security, while ensuring a capacity to challenge terror infrastructure where it stands.

You cannot seek peace with an entity when that entity’s idea of peace involves your dismemberment.  Instead of suffering grandiose visions of Indo-Pakistan peace, Mr. Manmohan Singh would do well to focus on leaving behind an India that is capable of defending itself at home and deterring the designs of those plotting to hurt India from abroad.  Indeed, it will be a legacy worthy of a man who, as a Cabinet Minister, laid the foundation for India’s meteoric economic rise.

http://chellaney.spaces.live.com/Blog/cns!4913C7C8A2EA4A30!1057.entry
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