Media lies: Basra fell 17 times says BBC Reporter

BY SAEED NAQVI

My first encounter with Western propaganda was during the Sino-Vietnam war of February 1978.

I was in Beijing as part of the media team which had accompanied Atal Behari Vajpayee, then India’s Minister for External Affairs. Deng Xiaoping, who had warned he would teach Vietnam a lesson, carried out the threat without taking Vajpayee into confidence, although other non-aligned countries like Yugoslavia were informed.

The Indian delegation, faces in the lower mould, cut short what was billed to be a historic visit, and left for home after that mandatory shopping in Hong Kong.

I applied for permission to visit the front. The Chinese promised they would try. Two days later they said a visit to the war front was not possible. I rushed to Bangkok where the ever helpful Abid Hussain (who retired as Ambassador to US) introduced me to a scion of the distinguished Bao Dai family who obtained for me the priceless visa for Hanoi in a jiffy. In Hanoi the all powerful Secretary General of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Xuan Thuy, arranged for me to be driven to a vantage point on the hill with a commanding view of Lang Son where the most decisive battle of the war was fought. The celebrating, rejoicing soldiers in Lang Son confirmed Vietnam’s victory.

The Indian Express front paged the Lang Son datelined story in which it was clear that Vietnam had won. Ranjit Sethi, who was in our Beijing mission sent me an ecstatic note but Defence Secretary, Sushital Bannerjee, was more cautious. Was I sure of my facts because the Western media was saying quite the opposite?

I countered: “How could the Western media say anything without having covered the war from either of the fronts?” I was the only foreign correspondent in Vietnam. The Chinese had refused.

It was clear the triangular strategic balance Kissinger had sketched, Washington-Beijing-Moscow, was not going to be allowed to be wrecked by the media. The new US ally during the cold war, China, was not going to be exposed to negative publicity for being defeated by a country which had just a few years ago driven the US itself out of Vietnam.

A huge question mark was placed on my Vietnam-victory story which otherwise was a scoop. Even my editor, Sri Mulgaokar was more inclined to accept the Western version than one having been put out by his own reporter. It took years for global conventional wisdom to change: Vietnam had, indeed, won the 1978 war.

The Western attitude of simply ignoring a version not to its liking was effective largely because of considerable indigenous preferential support for the foreigner’s point of view.

Birth of the global media with the CNN’s live coverage of operation Desert Storm in 1992 was gingered up by advances in techniques of media management. Many of us in Baghdad speculated war may not take place because of the American’s post Vietnam aversion to body bags on TV screens.

So, the Anglo American combine took care to hide the body bags “totally from view”. The monopoly of TV coverage was with CNN’s Peter Arnett on the terrace of Al Rashied hotel. By the time of the Intifadas, Bosnian and Serbian wars and occupation of Iraq, BBC World Service too was in full cry.

With each war, the technology for propaganda has been consistently refined, as in Libya and Syria. In Afghanistan and Iraq Al Jazeera exposed the Western media’s lies. Leaders of the free world bombed Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad, a fact Ragge Omar, the once star BBC  reporter cannot ever forget. “We reported the fall of Basra 17 times, each time a lie”, says Omar.

By the time of the Libyan and Syrian action, Qatar had made up with Saudi Arabia in solidarity of monarchies. So BBC and CNN tried to minimize damage to their plummeting reputation by quoting Al Jazeera and Al Arabia distortions.

Now comes the scandalous case of the satirical programme Parazit supposedly telecast from Teheran to lampoon the regime. The programme actually beamed from LA, is totally financed by the US government. Go on your youtube and you will find Hillary Clinton being interviewed on Parazit. Indeed, CIA Chief David Petraeus says future wars will be in the Information Space.

What space for a credible media now?

Meanwhile, everyone is catching on, including the Wall Street protestors.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

How U K Sinha became SEBI Chairman?

BY ARUN AGRAWAL

One has to admire this former IAS officer for increasing his annual emoluments from Rs 6 lakh per annum to Rs 2.01 crore per annum (a rise of thirty three times) in less than a year and then to Rs 4 crore. He earned around Rs 10.5 crore in four years as head of UTI Asset Management Company (UTI AMC), while the chief justice of the country earned less than Rs 50 lakh during the same period. And then became the chairman of SEBI.

First the story in brief

Sinha was a joint secretary in the Finance Ministry. He was appointed to the post of Chairman of UTI AMC in violation of government policy and JPC recommendations. He joined the company on deputation for two years, resigned when the government refused to extend his deputation, then used his position in the company to extend his appointment and give himself a salary hike with retrospective effect to include the period under which he was under deputation as a government servant.

After making over Rs 10 crore he was appointed to the post of SEBI chairman. This is a story of how those who have usurped power through questionable means combined to further their cause, irrespective of the colossal damage they do to the institutions. What is tragic is that the lessons of the two securities scams which resulted in setting up of JPC have not been learnt. Just when SEBI was gaining credibility due to its series of orders holding the powerful corporates accountable, it was decided to hand over the chairmanship of SEBI to Sinha.

Details on Sinha

1. As joint secretary, Banking and Insurance, U K Sinha ensured that the chairman of SBI, Bank of Baroda, PNB and LIC (from now on referred as four financial institutions) were indebted to him for either their appointments as chairman or cover up some scam or some favour that they needed from the Finance Ministry.

The above mentioned four financial institutions each owned 25% of the shares of UTI AMC, which manages all the mutual funds of the UTI. They were joint owners of UTI AMC due to the recommendation of the JPC, set up on the collapse of UTI. The JPC had recommended that UTI should no more be owned by the government to dispel the notion that the government would bail it out in case of a future collapse. That is how UTI came to be owned jointly by the four financial institutions under an agreement with the government.

2. Sinha, IAS and joint secretary (Banking), ensured that he was the only choice of the four public financial institutions for the post of UTI AMC chairman in January 2006. The appointment was in gross violation of the crucial policy laid down by the government and endorsed by the JPC which went into the securities fraud of 2002. The extracts from the  JPC report:

“Government has stated that a professional Chairman and Board of Trustees will manage UTI-II and that advertisements for appointment of professional managers will be issued. The Committee recommend that it should be ensured that the selection of the Chairman and professional managers of UTI-II should be done in a transparent manner, whether they are picked up from the public or private sector. If an official from the public sector is selected, in no case should deputation from the parent organisation be allowed and the person chosen should be asked to sever all connections with the previous employer. This is imperative because under no circumstance should there be a public perception that the mutual fund schemes of UTI-II are subject to guarantee by the Government and will be bailed out in case of losses.”

The above text is the last para of the JPC recommendation. It shows that a specific commitment was made by the government and the same was endorsed by the JPC and hence was a policy decision. The final recommendation was a key in context of preventing future scams.

The accepted policy was knowingly violated by Sinha, the four financial institutions, and all others involved in his appointment on three counts and needs to be enquired into.

Sinha was not a professional of the investment industry. In fact he was not even an amateur, given his degree and experience of investment banking. The post was not advertised and Sinha did not sever his connection with his previous employer but joined on deputation.

3. All the erstwhile members on the Board of UTI AMC resigned and a new Board was reconstituted. These members were handpicked by Sinha to do his bidding. Sinha and the new Board took charge from 13/1/2006 with Sinha’s term being limited to two years, ending on 13/1/2008 on account of his deputation from the IAS.

The remuneration of Sinha at the time of appointment till January 2008 was as follows: Basic pay at the rate of Rs. 23,450 per month with effect from April 29, 2006 which is as per the scale advised by the Government of India.

Other perquisites:

  • Dearness allowance at the rate of 50% of the basic pay received from the Company
  • Dearness pay at the rate of 41% of accumulated amount of basic pay and dearness allowance
  • City compensatory allowance at the rate of Rs. 300 per month
  • Provident fund equivalent to 10% of basic pay
  • Rent free furnished accommodation with free use of all the facilities and amenities, such as air-conditioners, stove, geysers, gas, electricity, water etc. etc etc.
  • He will be required to obtain prior permission of the central government before accepting any commercial employment, including directorship of companies, within two years of demitting office on retirement on superannuation, expire of tenure, resignation, or any other reason.

The above disclosures were made in the prospectus filed with SEBI by UTI AMC in January 2008, which shows that till January 2008 there was no increase in salary.  And later he managed to get salary increase effective December 2006. This retrospect revision of salary raises many question as it is timed at almost the same time when the government had refused him extension and asked him to revert to parent cadre in Bihar. Did government refuse extension on salary issue? Or on any other ground? This is not in public domain, but either way it shows impropriety.

4. Within a month of his appointment, on 6/2/06, Sinha set up an HR Committee on remuneration payable to Directors and other key management personnel. This committee deliberately included Sinha, whose salary was fixed at the time of deputation so that he could give himself a handsome hike by camouflaging it as industry related hike.

5. Sinha got his term extended for two years by a Board resolution on 17/9/2007, that is four months before his deputation from the central government was to end. The appointment was made well in advance to enable Sinha to defy the government in case the latter did not extend his deputation. The correct order was to appoint him only if the deputation was extended. The Board members and the four financial institutions were once again guilty of not adhering to the government policy of hiring a professional through an advertisement. This condition was further breached for a third time when Sinha was given a further extension.

6. Sinha approached the central government for extension of his deputation. The PMO put its foot down, denied him the extension as he had been on deputation for more than seven years and asked him to go back to his parent cadre..

7. Sinha, armed with the board resolution extending his appointment for a further two year term, defied the PMO and resigned. Obviously he had the support of the Finance Ministry in his defiance of the government as he had invested in the right people in the right place.

One of the conditions of his deputation from the IAS was that he would not take up directorship or commercial employment for two years after resignation without government permission. The moment Sinha resigned, the clause kicked in because he was now in a commercial employment.

And yet when Sinha took advantage of being clever enough of having extended his appointment through a Board resolution and later on defying the government by resigning when his deputation was not extended, one wonders why the government did not take any action and allowed him to continue?

One also wonders if the IAS officers have to give advance notice at the time of resigning and if so did Sinha gave notice or the same was waived? But what takes the cake is that Sinha could squat on a government controlled organization, treat it as his personal fiefdom and the government remained helpless!

8. After resigning from the civil service and getting his term extended through a Board resolution, Sinha got the new salary structure recommended by the Committee on remuneration set up in February 2006. Not surprisingly, Sinha got a hike from Rs 6 lakh per annum to over Rs 2 crore per annum with retrospective effect from December 27, 2006.

This retrospect revision of salary raises many questions as it was timed at almost the same time when the government had refused him extension and asked him to return to his parent cadre in Bihar. Did the government refuse his extension on the issue of his salary or some other ground? Either way it shows gross impropriety and the profit made by Sinha during the period of deputation needs to be disgorged.

It appears that the members of the remuneration committee were blissfully unaware of the JPC recommendation on UTI or the government policy. More importantly, it appears that they did not know that the pay of Sinha was fixed while he was sent on deputation. They did not even know the pay parity between other IAS officers and Sinha. They were also not aware of the salaries of the chairman of SBI, PNB and BOB, or the CEO of the AMC promoted by SBI, BOB, PNB and LIC.

The fact that the HR Committee on remuneration deliberately did not submit its report for two years that Sinha was on deputation — so that the government would not come to know of the hike in salary to crores and disallow it — shows that there was collusion in the fraud committed on the company.

That Sinha could defy the PMO, retain the chairmanship of the PSU and increase his salary to Rs 2 crore even for the period for which he was on deputation and for subsequent years needs to be admired and is worthy of national recognition for being the most clever bureaucrat that the country has ever known.

Sinha also ensured that all information about UTI AMC is not covered under the RTI Act by appealing against the decision of Central Information Commission to the Mumbai High Court in September 2008 so that the details of his scandal would not come into public domain.

That fact of the matter is that government has full control over ownership of UTI AMC as per share sale agreement. It was owned by four PSUs and CIC held that it was covered under the RTI Act. It is therefore not surprising that at SEBI Sinha professes transparency and then denies information under RTI on the investigative report on the Rs 513 crore Reliance Petroleum trading scam.

His emoluments for three months of financial year 06-07 is Rs 44 lakh, for 07-08 Rs 2.12 crore, for  08-09 Rs 2.15 crore, for 09-10 Rs 2.36 crore, and for 10-11 Rs 3.62 crores (upto 13/1/11). There is no disclosure in annual report as to how his salary of Rs 2.36 crore in 09-10 became Rs 3.62 crore in 10-11 (10 months only). Was it inflation adjustment or performance bonus for UTI having slipped from number one spot to fourth spot?

Sinha was paid Rs 10 cores 69 lakh for less than 50 months whereas the Chief Justice of India got less than Rs 50 lakh in the same period (the salary of CJI was increased from Rs 33000/per month to Rs 1 lakh/per month in Feb 2009). The above figures have been sourced from the balance sheet of the company.

If Sinha failed to comply with a major requirement of a scam affected organization then should he have been considered to be appointed as SEBI chairman? What then was the reason for the appointment of Sinha as chairman of SEBI given his above mentioned manipulations which were definitely in the knowledge of the Finance Ministry?

  • Was the emolument of Rs 3.6 crore the reason for his appointment to the post of SEBI chairman?
  • Was it because by removing him from the post and rewarding him with the chairmanship of SEBI, Jitesh Khosla, brother of Omita Paul could be appointed to the post of chairman UTI AMC so that he too could earn the same salary?
  • Or was it because the Reliance Scam of Rs 2000 crore on account of trading fraud had to be settled for less than fifty crore after his appointment?
  • Or was it because of the Sahara scam of Rs 27,000 crore?
  • Or was it because the takeover code was to be manipulated in favour of the promoters?
  • Or was it because the government feared that an independent, fearless, honest and competent SEBI would unearth the money laundering scams in which some of its own members were involved?
  • Or was it all of the above factors?

The fact remains that the government refused to learn the lessons from the earlier stock market scams (1992, 2002 and 2012?), and choose to dismantle a regulator that for the first time was professional and had gained the confidence of the investors (Indian and foreign).

The capital market is a highly complex subject having huge impact on the economy. It cannot be left to the mercy of amateurs and interlopers posing as experts and to do so is inviting a third scam from which it will be difficult to recover.

The world over the stock markets are getting discredited due to lax regulation. The Occupy Wall Street Movement has gained global support despite regulators having prosecuted offenders and put them behind bars for decades. This is in sharp contrast to the cover ups of our market of which Sinha is an example.

For the record, the emoluments of Sinha at SEBI is Rs 36 lakh. Will the government consider giving him parity of Rs 3.6 crore that he earned at UTI?

(Arun Agrawal is the author of the book Reliance: The Real Natwar. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap)

Syria, Iran and the Balance of Power in the Middle East

By George Friedman

U.S. troops are in the process of completing their withdrawal from Iraq by the end-of-2011 deadline. We are now moving toward a reckoning with the consequences. The reckoning concerns the potential for a massive shift in the balance of power in the region, with Iran moving from a fairly marginal power to potentially a dominant power. As the process unfolds, the United States and Israel are making countermoves. We have discussed all of this extensively. Questions remain whether these countermoves will stabilize the region and whether or how far Iran will go in its response.

Iran has been preparing for the U.S. withdrawal. While it is unreasonable simply to say that Iran will dominate Iraq, it is fair to say Tehran will have tremendous influence in Baghdad to the point of being able to block Iraqi initiatives Iran opposes. This influence will increase as the U.S. withdrawal concludes and it becomes clear there will be no sudden reversal in the withdrawal policy. Iraqi politicians’ calculus must account for the nearness of Iranian power and the increasing distance and irrelevance of American power.

Resisting Iran under these conditions likely would prove ineffective and dangerous. Some, like the Kurds, believe they have guarantees from the Americans and that substantial investment in Kurdish oil by American companies means those commitments will be honored. A look at the map, however, shows how difficult it would be for the United States to do so. The Baghdad regime has arrested Sunni leaders while the Shia, not all of whom are pro-Iranian by any means, know the price of overenthusiastic resistance.

Syria and Iran

The situation in Syria complicates all of this. The minority Alawite sect has dominated the Syrian government since 1970, when the current president’s father — who headed the Syrian air force — staged a coup. The Alawites are a heterodox Muslim sect related to a Shiite offshoot and make up about 7 percent of the country’s population, which is mostly Sunni. The new Alawite government was Nasserite in nature, meaning it was secular, socialist and built around the military. When Islam rose as a political force in the Arab world, the Syrians — alienated from the Sadat regime in Egypt — saw Iran as a bulwark. The Iranian Islamist regime gave the Syrian secular regime immunity against Shiite fundamentalists in Lebanon. The Iranians also gave Syria support in its external adventures in Lebanon, and more important, in its suppression of Syria’s Sunni majority.

Syria and Iran were particularly aligned in Lebanon. In the early 1980s, after the Khomeini revolution, the Iranians sought to increase their influence in the Islamic world by supporting radical Shiite forces. Hezbollah was one of these. Syria had invaded Lebanon in 1975 on behalf of the Christians and opposed the Palestine Liberation Organization, to give you a sense of the complexity. Syria regarded Lebanon as historically part of Syria, and sought to assert its influence over it. Via Iran, Hezbollah became an instrument of Syrian power in Lebanon.

Iran and Syria, therefore, entered a long-term if not altogether stable alliance that has lasted to this day. In the current unrest in Syria, the Saudis and Turks in addition to the Americans all have been hostile to the regime of President Bashar al Assad. Iran is the one country that on the whole has remained supportive of the current Syrian government.

There is good reason for this. Prior to the uprising, the precise relationship between Syria and Iran was variable. Syria was able to act autonomously in its dealings with Iran and Iran’s proxies in Lebanon. While an important backer of groups like Hezbollah, the al Assad regime in many ways checked Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon, with the Syrians playing the dominant role there. The Syrian uprising has put the al Assad regime on the defensive, however, making it more interested in a firm, stable relationship with Iran. Damascus finds itself isolated in the Sunni world, with Turkey and the Arab League against it. Iran — and intriguingly, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — have constituted al Assad’s exterior support.

Thus far al Assad has resisted his enemies. Though some mid- to low-ranking Sunnis have defected, his military remains largely intact; this is because the Alawites control key units. Events in Libya drove home to an embattled Syrian leadership — and even to some of its adversaries within the military — the consequences of losing. The military has held together, and an unarmed or poorly armed populace, no matter how large, cannot defeat an intact military force. The key for those who would see al Assad fall is to divide the military.

If al Assad survives — and at the moment, wishful thinking by outsiders aside, he is surviving — Iran will be the big winner. If Iraq falls under substantial Iranian influence, and the al Assad regime — isolated from most countries but supported by Tehran — survives in Syria, then Iran could emerge with a sphere of influence stretching from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean (the latter via Hezbollah). Achieving this would not require deploying Iranian conventional forces — al Assad’s survival alone would suffice. However, the prospect of a Syrian regime beholden to Iran would open up the possibility of the westward deployment of Iranian forces, and that possibility alone would have significant repercussions.

Consider the map were this sphere of influence to exist. The northern borders of Saudi Arabia and Jordan would abut this sphere, as would Turkey’s southern border. It remains unclear, of course, just how well Iran could manage this sphere, e.g., what type of force it could project into it. Maps alone will not provide an understanding of the problem. But they do point to the problem. And the problem is the potential — not certain — creation of a block under Iranian influence that would cut through a huge swath of strategic territory.

It should be remembered that in addition to Iran’s covert network of militant proxies, Iran’s conventional forces are substantial. While they could not confront U.S. armored divisions and survive, there are no U.S. armored divisions on the ground between Iran and Lebanon. Iran’s ability to bring sufficient force to bear in such a sphere increases the risks to the Saudis in particular. Iran’s goal is to increase the risk such that Saudi Arabia would calculate that accommodation is more prudent than resistance. Changing the map can help achieve this.

It follows that those frightened by this prospect — the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — would seek to stymie it. At present, the place to block it no longer is Iraq, where Iran already has the upper hand. Instead, it is Syria. And the key move in Syria is to do everything possible to bring about al Assad’s overthrow.

In the last week, the Syrian unrest appeared to take on a new dimension. Until recently, the most significant opposition activity appeared to be outside of Syria, with much of the resistance reported in the media coming from externally based opposition groups. The degree of effective opposition was never clear. Certainly, the Sunni majority opposes and hates the al Assad regime. But opposition and emotion do not bring down a regime consisting of men fighting for their lives. And it wasn’t clear that the resistance was as strong as the outside propaganda claimed.

Last week, however, the Free Syrian Army — a group of Sunni defectors operating out of Turkey and Lebanon — claimed defectors carried out organized attacks on government facilities, ranging from an air force intelligence facility (a particularly sensitive point given the history of the regime) to Baath Party buildings in the greater Damascus area. These were not the first attacks claimed by the FSA, but they were heavily propagandized in the past week. Most significant about the attacks is that, while small-scale and likely exaggerated, they revealed that at least some defectors were willing to fight instead of defecting and staying in Turkey or Lebanon.

It is interesting that an apparent increase in activity from armed activists — or the introduction of new forces — occurred at the same time relations between Iran on one side and the United States and Israel on the other were deteriorating. The deterioration began with charges that an Iranian covert operation to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States had been uncovered, followed by allegations by the Bahraini government of Iranian operatives organizing attacks in Bahrain. It proceeded to an International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran’s progress toward a nuclear device, followed by the Nov. 19 explosion at an Iranian missile facility that the Israelis have not-so-quietly hinted was their work. Whether any of these are true, the psychological pressure on Iran is building and appears to be orchestrated.

Of all the players in this game, Israel’s position is the most complex. Israel has had a decent, albeit covert, working relationship with the Syrians going back to their mutual hostility toward Yasser Arafat. For Israel, Syria has been the devil they know. The idea of a Sunni government controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood on their northeastern frontier was frightening; they preferred al Assad. But given the shift in the regional balance of power, the Israeli view is also changing. The Sunni Islamist threat has weakened in the past decade relative to the Iranian Shiite threat. Playing things forward, the threat of a hostile Sunni force in Syria is less worrisome than an emboldened Iranian presence on Israel’s northern frontier. This explains why the architects of Israel’s foreign policy, such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak, have been saying that we are seeing an “acceleration toward the end of the regime.” Regardless of its preferred outcome, Israel cannot influence events inside Syria. Instead, Israel is adjusting to a reality where the threat of Iran reshaping the politics of the region has become paramount.

Iran is, of course, used to psychological campaigns. We continue to believe that while Iran might be close to a nuclear device that could explode underground under carefully controlled conditions, its ability to create a stable, robust nuclear weapon that could function outside a laboratory setting (which is what an underground test is) is a ways off. This includes being able to load a fragile experimental system on a delivery vehicle and expecting it to explode. It might. It might not. It might even be intercepted and create a casus belli for a counterstrike.

The main Iranian threat is not nuclear. It might become so, but even without nuclear weapons, Iran remains a threat. The current escalation originated in the American decision to withdraw from Iraq and was intensified by events in Syria. If Iran abandoned its nuclear program tomorrow, the situation would remain as complex. Iran has the upper hand, and the United States, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia all are looking at how to turn the tables.

At this point, they appear to be following a two-pronged strategy: Increase pressure on Iran to make it recalculate its vulnerability, and bring down the Syrian government to limit the consequences of Iranian influence in Iraq. Whether the Syrian regime can be brought down is problematic. Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi would have survived if NATO hadn’t intervened. NATO could intervene in Syria, but Syria is more complex than Libya. Moreover, a second NATO attack on an Arab state designed to change its government would have unintended consequences, no matter how much the Arabs fear the Iranians at the moment. Wars are unpredictable; they are not the first option.

Therefore the likely solution is covert support for the Sunni opposition funneled through Lebanon and possibly Turkey and Jordan. It will be interesting to see if the Turks participate. Far more interesting will be seeing whether this works. Syrian intelligence has penetrated its Sunni opposition effectively for decades. Mounting a secret campaign against the regime would be difficult, and its success by no means assured. Still, that is the next move.

But it is not the last move. To put Iran back into its box, something must be done about the Iraqi political situation. Given the U.S. withdrawal, Washington has little influence there. All of the relationships the United States built were predicated on American power protecting the relationships. With the Americans gone, the foundation of those relationships dissolves. And even with Syria, the balance of power is shifting.

The United States has three choices. Accept the evolution and try to live with what emerges. Attempt to make a deal with Iran — a very painful and costly one. Or go to war. The first assumes Washington can live with what emerges. The second depends on whether Iran is interested in dealing with the United States. The third depends on having enough power to wage a war and to absorb Iran’s retaliatory strikes, particularly in the Strait of Hormuz. All are dubious, so toppling al Assad is critical. It changes the game and the momentum. But even that is enormously difficult and laden with risks.

We are now in the final act of Iraq, and it is even more painful than imagined. Laying this alongside the European crisis makes the idea of a systemic crisis in the global system very real.

(Syria, Iran and the Balance of Power in the Middle East is republished with permission of STRATFOR)

Reliance lobbyist gives fake address in Lutyens Delhi

BY VK SHASHIKUMAR

The Kerala Police have asked their counterparts in Delhi to verify the antecedents and residential details of TG Nandakumar, a corporate lobbyist with alleged links to some members of the judiciary. The address he gave for his mobile connection  in Delhi — 9810561283 — is a non-existent one, but is just one letter of the alphabet away from a real address in the high-security Lutyens zone where judges have stayed.

While submitting proof of residence for his mobile connection, Nandkumar apparently gave AB 9A, Purana Quilla Road, New Delhi 110001, as his residential address. AB 9A does not exist. But AB 9 does. How did Nandkumar get away by giving a misleading address? Among others, former J&K Governor Jagmohan and high court judges have lived here.

According to Mathews J Nedumpara of the National Lawyers’ Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms, Nandakumar is seen by legal circles in Kerala as someone who has access to several judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court.

In an earlier report in Firstpost, we had documented the clout and connections of Nandkumar, as alleged in Nedumpara’s various complaints to various constitutional authorities, including some sent to the president of India and the chief justice.

Authoritative Kerala police sources have confirmed that the concerned mobile service provider has already shared the necessary details on Nandkumar’s mobile number. The registration documents of Nandkumar’s phone number apparently show the AB 9A address indicated above as his. The billing address is different from the residential one.

Kerala Director General of Police Jacob Punnoose confirmed that he has requested the Delhi police commissioner to verify the location of the residence and telephone number, but he declined to give details.

“While investigating a complaint filed by Jomon Puthenpurackal against Nandakumar alleging that his signature was forged by the latter to level serious allegations against an advocate who was selected by the collegium of judges to become a high court judge in Kerala, the Crime Branch wing of Kerala police found that Nandakumar had taken a telephone connection after showing a particular residence.

“On preliminary verification, the Kerala Police suspects that the residence address seems to be misleading as the address is in a VIP area. I have forwarded the information to the police commissioner of Delhi for verification,” said Punnoose.

“It’s not fair on my part to comment on the case at this stage. We are closely monitoring the developments in the case. I can assure you that our team is doing their best in the investigation.”

It was during a raid conducted by the Kochi crime branch at Nandakumar’s residence that the police came across several pieces of information on the lobbyist, including the Delhi mobile number and the residence address that could be fake. The investigating officer alerted Vinson M Paul, Additional Director General of Police, Crime Branch, who, in turn, briefed the DGP.

According to Crime Branch sources, after receiving the report from the Delhi police, the Kerala Police will register a case of forgery and impersonation against Nandakumar, if warranted. Last Friday (11 November), the Kerala government ordered a vigilance probe on the transfer of the State Data Centre to Reliance group by former Left Democratic Front Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan.

This came on the heels of an investigative report in Firstpost which exposed the shenanigans of a “corporate broker” (Kerala’s political scrap may uncover India’s judicial “fixer”, 7 November 2011).

The Khaleej Times published from Dubai, which has a substantial readership of Malayalees in the Gulf, reported on 14 November that “there have been allegations that Nandakumar, who claimed he was a paid consultant of Reliance, had facilitated the (data centre) deal, which allowed the private company access to several vital data. Many felt that Reliance could use them to further their interests in the state…”.

(This article was first published on Firstpost on November 21, 2011)

Why such a thin audience for Pilger

BY SAEED NAQVI

The War You Don’t See”, a stunningly honest portrayal of the deceptions of modern warfare kept a small audience at the India Islamic Centre riveted earlier this week. The film is by one of the best known war correspondents, twice winner of Britain’s journalist of the year award, John Pilger, who introduced the documentary and answered questions. The thin attendance, therefore, was both a surprise and a pity.

Half the audience, a modest total of about 50, had received no invitations. True the Indian Express had published an interview with Pilger some days ago but had given no indication of a film show. There were no advertisements, no posters, no notice. Did the organizers have cold feet? Were they warned by the funding agencies?

One expected the precocious Indian electronic media to be in some token attendance to see a film of great relevance today. Not one showed up.

Since it was the Islamic center, one thought Muslims would be there in full force since they are being hammered everywhere in wars Pilger exposes. Yes, there was an apostate Shia in the audience, but no Muslims. Some Muslim countries have long arms but I doubt if they have the sophistication to be able to manage attendance at the India Islamic Centre. Whatever the reason for this apparent indifference to a remarkable piece of journalism, a great deal of guilt lies at the door of our profession – journalism.

Not only are we incapable of the sort of journalism which has placed Pilger at the top despite the establishment, but we even shy away from an instructive film just in case our presence is cited as evidence against us! Or, is it, that we are afraid looking into the mirror?

Pilger traces media manipulation to the first World War when “embedded” journalists first made an appearance. The great ideologue who set into motion the propaganda industry was Edward Louis Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud who moved to the US from Vienna, became a journalist and applied his uncle’s psychoanalytical concepts and extended them to crowd psychology.

Little wonder, Bernays served President Woodrow Wilson’s administration on the committee in Public Information during World War I. He was responsible for promoting the idea that America’s war efforts were primarily aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe”.

Since the word “propaganda” acquired a negative connotation because of its use by the Germans during the war, Bernays blazed the trail of what the copycat world describes as “Public Relations”.

The most powerful idea is one which, when in control of the mind, leaves no room for curiosity about its source. It has become an organic part of the life of the mind.

Take this nugget from Bernays: “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”

Quite incredibly, Bernays lived as long as his ideas enclosed the so called free minds. They are still in full gallop. The man died in 1995 at the age of 103! Repeat age of 103!

Sometimes there is very little difference between state control of the media and the promotion of a delusion about a free press. This delusion leaves yards of space for “engineering consent”. It might in these circumstances be fair to ask whether a cuckold is better off than a witness to infidelity?

In the case of colonized minds, the tragedy is two fold. Bernays, however perniciously, was serving the interests of the United States. But whose interest is the great Indian media serving when it allows itself to be co opted into the Bernays framework?

As we all know, the reality or the pretense, of the endgame in Afghanistan is of crucial importance to India. Already, an India-Afghan strategic partnership agreement is in place. The Afghan-US agreement is being dragged on by the Loya Jirga and the entire Afghan establishment.

Why? Because the Americans are unpopular and the Indians are not. In fact if an Indian TV team were to travel across Afghanistan, it would have friendly reception almost everywhere except some knotty junctions of conflict.

And yet Western TV crews, along with their Afghan stringers are all over the place. You might argue that Western crews have the entire NATO war machine helping them out.

Frankly, the great advantage of being an Indian journalist is the access Indians can have on all sides – occupiers and their victims.

And yet the Indian media prefers to be under the Bernays canopy, even avoiding an excellent evening that might have jogged the mind about the grand delusions we nurture about our freedoms.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Rahul will wait as president of ruling party or of Opposition?

BY SAEED NAQVI

Ever since Indira Gandhi centralized political power and proceeded to be distant, pundits have not been very convincing they have a grip on political information, leave alone wisdom. Thanks to the inaccessibility of the present Congress “High Command”, the situation these days is even worse.

A report by Amitabh Dubey on the way the cookie might crumble within the Congress Party has caused pundits to carry neatly folded clippings of the document and make appearances at parties with the sort of glint in their eyes which comes from knowledge.

Universal credibility was accorded to the report because he is the son of Suman Dubey, Rajiv Gandhi’s schoolmate. No surprise, then, that Amitabh knows Rahul Gandhi quite well.

As Director of London based Market Research Consultancy, Trusted Sources, Amitabh is required to keep investors, who are his clients, posted on important political events in India. Heaven knows how the story leaked to the Economic Times.

The inside page story on October 30 carried the headline: ‘Rahul Gandhi as PM will galvanize Congress says his analyst friend‘. The repeat on November 5 had a different heading: ‘Rahul Gandhi to take over as Congress Chief in weeks‘. Then on November 6 “Rahul Gandhi now needs to rewrite campaign”. The first sentence in this story was: “Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, who is expected to take over the reins of India’s Grand Old Party shortly……………..”

Just when the Pundits had begun to greet each other with that I-told-you-so bravado, the chairman of the Congress Media department, Janardhan Dwivedi, who occasionally knows, said something which was neither a confirmation nor denial of Amitabh Dubey’s appraisal, just a statement to keep the issue, and himself, in play.

Dubey’s report for his business clients had also hinted that Manmohan Singh may be on his way out by 2012, when the crucial UP elections are due. The implication was that a more dynamic Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister might impact more positively on the Congress outcome in UP.

Alternatively two other reliable candidates mentioned were Defence Minister A.K. Antony or Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar but the first was “too slow” in taking decisions while the second had “no administrative” experience. Names of Pranab Mukerjee and P. Chidambaram were mentioned with the rider that the open spat between them may have “hurt their chances”.

Dwivedi answered media queries in these words: “there is no suspense about it. He (Rahul) has a role, which is increasing constantly. In natural course, his role will go on increasing. This is what Congressmen want and this is what in their opinion is natural.” He then tosses the political googly: “Congress President Sonia Gandhi is here to lead the party and she will decide what to do and when.” This does not contradict earlier stories, only places the coronation cap in Sonia Gandhi’s hand.

The Congress sometimes divides itself into three coteries even though the principals, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi are by themselves mostly in one huddle.

Sonia Gandhi’s unfortunate health is no longer a mystery. What is not known is her ability to cope with the workload Congress Presidentship requires, now that the election season is opening up. It makes immense sense for the family and well wishers for Rahul Gandhi to be strategically positioned to step in just in case Sonia Gandhi’s health requires him to.

This, it turns out, is Rahul’s best bet for the time being until the UP elections are out of the way in March 2012. Should the party do as well as some leaders like Digvijay Singh expect it to, Rahul’s time will have arrived to lead the party in the 2014 General Elections as Prime Ministerial candidate.

But the swollen ranks of pessimists on that score within the Congress may tend to obviate that possibility.

In which case Rahul follows his mother’s formula: Heads, I win; Tails, you lose. That is, I remain leader either of the ruling party or the one in opposition. I am only 41, I can wait and watch. And build the party.

For a party which is squeamish even about carrying out minor cabinet reshuffles, I don’t see how people are contemplating high voltage drama like looking for a Prime Ministerial change in such perilous times.

So, the Prime Minister stays on even as his detractors rub their eyes in disbelief, astonished that “The old man hath so much blood in him!”

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)