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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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Where do we go from here?

The people of India have spoken.  A clear mandate for the UPA government has been given.  While this blogger doesn’t consider the verdict to be optimal (considering UPA’s unforgivable lapses in security and foreign affairs), the decisiveness of the victory is pleasing because it allows a less fractious Central government to go about its business.  The mandate against the BJP is very clear — the people don’t want any part of their divisive politics.  A campaign that was overshadowed by the venom spewing bigotry of Varun Gandhi was only bound for failure.  Uttar Pradesh has told Mayawati what it thinks of her self glorifying statues in Lucknow.   And Prakash Karat stands amidst the shattered pieces of his non-ideology.

Where does India go from here?  The Filter Coffee has repeatedly drawn attention to the dilapidated state of our local law enforcement forces, and national and border defense mechanisms.  They need addressing immediately.  When Chidambaram took over as Home Minister, he instituted a few changes, come cosmetic, some concrete.

The Congress must stop pretending that it is tied at the hip to the Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amendment) Act and work with the Opposition to construct a meaningful anti-terror law for the nation.  Our local law enforcement agencies need money, equipment and training.  Our national forces face severe shortages in equipment, which can only be addressed by correcting India’s defense procurement mechanism.  The shackles need to be loosened from our intelligence agencies.

India faces two immediate threats with regard to terrorism, from the Maoists and Jihadi groups.  With regard to external Jihadi threats, there are some elements that India can control and some that it can’t.  However, the Maoist menace is well within India’s realm and decisive action is needed to eliminate this plague that has consumed a third of India.

On the foreign affairs side, the Subcontinent is on fire.  Sri Lanka has found itself an effective counterweight to India in China, and its dismissal of India’s pleas was the most telling aspect of this relationship as war against the LTTE drew to a close.  Similarly, India lost the plot in Nepal during the UPA administration and as tensions continue to rise between the army and the Chinese backed Maoist government, India has a great opportunity to play the honest broker and demonstrate to that nation that India wants peace and stability in Nepal.

The United States is blowing a sigh of relief that the month long elections in India are at an end.  Obama’s immediate concern is to get India to focus on the Af-Pak issue.  The repeated calls for India to reduce troop levels along the western border are as absurd as they are misplaced and the UPA would do well not to wilt under American pressure as they have so often done in the past.

With Pakistan, India must continue to use every tool at its disposal to pressure that country to dismantle not just “terror” infrastructure, but specifically the Punjabi-terror outfits that target India.  The Pakistanis must be pressed to ensure that those responsible for 26/11 are brought to justice.  Pakistan’s “investigation”, as farcical as it was, is now a casualty of all the attention to the existential threat that country faces today.  Above all, the UPA must impress upon Islamabad that for India to show any interest in rekindling the “peace process”, there needs to be very credible action from Pakistan on both dismantling terror infrastructure armed at India, and bringing to justice those that were responsible for 26/11.

The mandate for the Congress is conclusive.  Manmohan Singh can either show the country that he can act convincingly to address the challenges that face us, as he did in 1991, or he can falter and stumble from one embarrassing embroilment to another as he has done over the past five years.  The ball is in his court.  What’s it going to be, Mr. Prime Minister?

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Terrorism in India: A Cold Analysis – Part II

(Also see: Terrorism in India: A Cold Analysis – Part I)

In the first part of this two-series article, I reviewed the government’s response to the November 25, 2008 Mumbai Terror Attacks, specific intelligence and coordination failures between State and Central agencies and armed forces, the political fallout in the aftermath of the attack, and the government’s responses to addressing an impotent internal security apparatus. In this article, I will examine what needs to be done by the government of India if it wants to demonstrate that it is committed to securing the lives of its citizens.

In response to the terror attacks, the Indian government is planning to increase the headcount of the National Security Guard (NSG) and establish centers in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai.  The second item on the government’s plan of action involves establishing a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) along the lines of the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Based on the “Combating Terrorism” report issued by the Second Administrative Reforms Committee, the FIA will be established as an agency of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and will be responsible for investigating federal crimes, including organized crime, terrorism, sedition, trafficking in arms and human beings, etc.

What else can India do? The past couple of days have made it particularly painful to watch Indian news channels or read Indian newspapers. Uninformed jingoism, poor grammar and unhinged newscasters have made following the coverage of the aftermath truly agonizing. On Times Now, for example, I was never quite sure if I was watching news coverage of the terror attacks or a trailer for Mission Impossible IV. If the media is to be believed, the Indian army is about to launch punitive assaults on Pakistan any time now. I hate to break this to them, but their mouths are writing checks their government can’t cash. India will not fight Pakistan, because to do so would be to write your own death certificate, along with that of Pakistan’s. Does this mean we lie down and take a kicking? Not necessarily. If India is serious about the security of its people, here are things that it should do:

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All Karat, no stick policy seldom ever works

Prakash Karat

Prakash Karat

The inevitable has happened. Prakash Karat and his red army have stormed out of the ruling coalition. This is just fantastic; now they can disappear into the bottomless pit of obsurity from whence they came. For three years, the Communist Party of India (CPI), with 50-something votes, has held India hostage. Since independence, CPI’s dictum has held sway in only two states – Kerala and West Bengal. However, since the formation of the UPA, the whole nation has had an opportunity to experience the obnoxiousness of this party. My general opinion is that when alliances are formed with no commonality in ideology apart from an antipathy towards a third party, that alliance is tenuous and bound to fail. The CPI in India today exists not to expound the principles of communism or Marxism, but to oppose capitalism and any alliance with the United States. Similarly, when the Congress threw its lot in with the CPI for no reason but their mutual dislike of so-called communalist parties, that alliance was bound to fail. And fail it did. Karat submitted his decision to withdraw from the ruling coalition today, and asked President Pratiba Patil to ask the Congress to prove it’s majority in the Parliament.

Even in a country where political two-facedness is de rigour, the barefaced hypocricy of the CPI is astounding. Representing India, Karat traveled to our northern neighbor to pucker to the Red bottom. Then he suggested that a partnership between India and the US was designed to “encircle China“. I’m tempted to ask why he’s so concered about the security of the country that invaded India in 1962. So what if this hypothetical Indo-US nexus were true?. If he were half as concerned about India’s energy security as he apparently is about China’s strategic security, India may have already been brought back into the nuclear mainstream of the world. One only has to look at the state of affairs in West Bengal and Kerala to gauge the leadership capabilities of the Left. West Bengal has suffered from decades of economic stagnation and widespread poverty, while Kerala earns most of its revenue from foreign remittances from the Middle East.

The Left’s farcical drama continued, with Mayawati, the leader of the Samajwadi Party, a CPI ally, claiming recently that the Indo-US nuke deal was “anti-Muslim”. That Mayawati has actually read the “123 Agreement” between India and the US is slightly less believable than the implication that she is capable of reading anything at all. Clearly, if she had read the agreement, she would have known that the proposal was to transfer civilian nuclear technology to India to help the country meet it’s overwhelming energy demands. How that translated into being anti-Muslim, only Mayawati will be able to explain.

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