Punishment to Al Jazeera journalists: Saudi vendetta against Muslim Brotherhood

BY SAEED NAQVI

Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt were given severe sentences because that is the way the Saudis wanted it. The Qatari channel was always an eyesore to the Saudis but was recently being tolerated, even encouraged, by Riyadh for the limited purpose of stalling the Arab Spring.

A channel built on liberal, democratic values owned by the Emirate of Qatar is a colossal contradiction in terms. But despite the contradiction, its credibility was far in excess of CNN and BBC which is why the Saudis first enlisted its support for the Libyan operations which, for a while, overlapped with the Syrian operations too.

When Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani dethroned his father in 1995 as the Emir of Qatar, the Saudis were very cross. It was a bad precedent and violated the etiquette of Kingdoms and Emirates in the region. The new Emir survived a coup attempt. Osama bin Laden’s war on the House of Saud against the stationing of American troops in the land of Islam’s holiest shrines provided an opportunity for Qatar to host CENTCOM, the great US war machine. Saudi Arabia was upstaged again.

Then came the ultimate affront. Qatar launched Al Jazeera, again thwarting a Saudi initiative. Saudi king Fahd’s cousin, Khalid bin Faisal al Saud’s Orbit Communications had entered into an agreement with BBC. The BBC was in urgent need of finances to boost its World TV operations launched hurriedly because CNN International had stolen a march by covering Operation Desert Storm in February 1991. CNN’s Peter Arnett was launched as the world’s principal war correspondent from the terrace of Baghdad’s Al Rasheed hotel at a time when John Simpson was still running around Baghdad with a satellite telephone for BBC radio.

BBC’s arrangement with Saudi’s Orbit Communications collapsed within fifteen months because Riyadh would not allow the network to telecast a documentary on “beheading” as a punishment in the Kingdom. Immediately, Qatar clasped BBC’s hand and launched Al Jazeera.

After 9/11, when the Western media launched their major propaganda offensives in the process of covering the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Saudis were a hundred percent supportive. But Al Jazeera struck a discordant note. It began to project the other side of the story. It became the sole outlet for Osama bin Laden’s exclusive interviews. Viewership grew exponentially. This was also the time when newborns in Afghanistan were named Osama as a matter of pride. This unnerved the West.

My good friend, the late Fouad Ajami, an unlikely Neo Con, wrote editorials damning Al Jazeera. Colin Powel was livid. Al Jazeera offices in Kabul and Baghdad were bombed. The channel’s principal correspondent was jailed in Spain, of all places. But its popularity kept soaring, for these very reasons.

In fact, Western high handedness conferred on Al Jazeera something of a halo. It looked like a David surrounded by a range of Goliaths, further magnifying the anti US-Saudi sentiment in the region.

Despite his adverse chemistry with the Emir of Qatar, Saudi King Abdullah sought Al Jazeera’s help in stalling the Arab spring. It had by February 2011 taken a toll of western friends like Hosni Mubarak in Cairo and Zain el Abedin Ben Ali  in Tunis.

Why was Al Jazeera’s credibility so avidly sought? Because Western electronic media had exhausted all its credibility in the West Asian wars since Operation Desert Storm and post 9/11 occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. The Western media’s coverage of the colour “revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon also strained its credibility.

So singularly lacking in credibility was the Western media in the military operations in Libya and Syria, that Al Jazeera’s help was sought to shore up some credibility.

Western networks and social sites had carried so much exaggeration and downright lies on both, Libya and Syria, that at the earlier stages it was proving difficult to whip up a peoples movement inside the two theatres of operations.

The US was working on new technologies to dissemble in the midst of military operations. James Glanz and John Markoff of the New York Times wrote: “The State Department is financing the creation of stealth wireless networks that would enable activists to communicate outside their reach” in countries like Iran, Syria, Libya, Iraq.

After a cruel end to the Qaddafi saga, and the stalemate in Syria, the Saudis found that the Qataris were punching above their weight, trying to mediate between the Taleban and Kabul, linking up the Muslim Brotherhood strands in Egypt, Turkey and Hamas – in each instance upstaging Riyadh. If there is one group the Saudis are even more paranoid about than Iran, it is the Akhwan ul Muslimeen or the Muslim Brotherhood which is ideologically opposed to the institution of the King in Saudi Arabia. Hence the Saudi’s instant support to Abdel Fattah el Sisi’s coup ousting Mohammad Morsi and the Brothers.

Saudis by now have squeezed as much of the Al Jazeera lemon as they could in Libya and Syria. During days of Saudi co-operation with Qatar in Libya and Syria, Al Jazeera entrenched itself in Egypt too. The House of Saud barely tolerated the burgeoning romance between the Brothers and Al Jazeera.

The day Morsi fell, Saudis placed $10 billion in Sisi’s treasury and purchased for themselves the right to eradicate Muslim Brotherhood and its support base. The harsh punishment meted out to the Al Jazeera’s journalists, is in effect Riyadh getting even with the “cheeky” Emirate of Qatar on that score.

(Saeed Naqvi is a 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)

Modi must re-engage and shape the historic changes in West Asia

BY SAEED NAQVI

“Jup raha hai aaj maala ek Hindu ki Arab
Barhaman zaade mein shaan e dilbari aisi tau ho
Hikmat e Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ki kasam
Mar mitey Islam jispey kafiri aisi to ho”

Arabs are chanting the name of a Hindu,
Just look at the heart winning prince among Brahmins,
Behold the statesmanship of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru,
World of Islam lies at the feet of this non believer, free of sins.

There is a great deal to despair about Nehru’s legacy, but another occasion for that. Here, the poet is spot on, eulogizing India’s first Prime Minister as he led the newly independent nation, charting a course that was more or less equidistant between the power blocs.

In effect New Delhi leaned more towards Moscow because it happened to be geographically nearer home. Also, in the early aftermath of decolonization, socialism, not capitalism, was the fashionable creed. That free enterprise was required as an ingredient in the early stages of nation building was recognized. What was accepted, therefore, was a “mixed” economy.

As leader of the non-aligned and the Afro-Asian bloc, Nehru was more equal than others, even above Gamal Abdel Nasser. The grouping consisted of 52 Muslim countries too. In all of these Nehru and India were respected a notch above the rest – Indian civilization trumped religious differences.

There is an exquisite irony involved in the verse I have translated at the outset: it was written by Raees Amrohvi, a Pakistani. It was composed at an early stage of our relations when a compulsive hostility was not the guiding principle of policy towards each other.

There are several points to note here. Despite the fact that Pakistan was a theocratic, Islamic republic, there was no Pakistani leader Raees could think of and which the Arab world was familiar with. The national movement under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership had boosted Indian prestige way above religious denominations. It is the cobwebs of our minds which have allowed Hindu-Muslim complications to multiply.

Groupings did come up which were hostile to India but these did not derive strength from an Islamic bond. For instance, New Delhi cast a wary glance on the Ankara, Teheran, Islamabad axis. But neither Ataturk’s Turkey nor the Shah’s Iran (or even Ayub Khan’s Pakistan, for that matter) were attached to Islamism. It was an American sponsored axis in the context of the cold war.

It is generally not recognized that Organization of Islamic cooperation was a grouping of pro west Muslim states which, under Western prodding, tried to embarrass New Delhi on issues like Kashmir. This was almost always neutralized by deft diplomatic handling. At the Casablanca summit of the OIC in 1995, Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao allowed Kashmiri leaders like Moulvi Mohammad Farooq to attend the summit. Their attendance was not even noticed by the summiteers.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 caught India in a bind. The departure of the Soviets from Afghanistan caused the spare, Jehadi energy to turn upon Kashmir. Jobless Jehadists also found their way to Egypt, Algeria and beyond. West’s sponsorship of Jehadism in Afghanistan in the 80s is still extracting a heavy price.

American triumphalism after the Cold War expressed itself in the biggest military expedition since the Second World War. Operation Desert Storm in February 1992 was followed by the occupation of Iraq in April 2003. Between these dates was 9/11 leading to the occupation of Afghanistan in November 2001.

These developments were accompanied by saturation TV coverage. The newly created global media beamed images mornings and evenings. The world watched in its drawing rooms the defeat of societies like Afghanistan and Iraq and a relentless targeting of terrorism, with Muslims in primary focus. This became part of 24X7 TV in India as well. Islamophobia infected India too. That is why the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 was India’s first communal catastrophe boosted by a global anti Muslim atmosphere.

The altered world situation did warrant a total recasting of foreign policy. But instead of reordering foreign policy according to its lights, New Delhi allowed an impression to grow that it would follow American lead in foreign affairs.

In this frame of mind, New Delhi agreed to the proposition that it would help the US administer the Kurdish north of Iraq. Ships were loaded with military hardware, troops were in readiness to travel to northern Iraq. New Delhi was willing to partner the US in the occupation of Iraq. Yes, it is true.

Only Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee kept his counsel. He was opposed to the expedition and he made his opposition known in his own way. On April 9, 2003 he saw Saddam Hussain’s statue being pulled down in Baghdad’s Firdaus Square. Vajpayee drew a conclusion exactly the opposite from his cabinet. On April 18, he arrived in Srinagar. Remember, after the December 13, 2001 attack on Indian Parliament, Indian and Pakistani forces were in a posture of collision. But he surprised everybody by holding out his hand to Pakistan. An awesome power has arisen, he said. All local quarrels must be ended for greater regional cooperation.

Not only was Manmohan Singh not able to demonstrate comparable spine, he turned out to be the most obsequious of all Prime Ministers, even after the unipolar-world-moment had passed.

This is the state of play when Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes charge. So far he has sketched a balanced design in Foreign Affairs. He must also place West Asia on his radar because this vital part of our near abroad is in rapid change. A new West Asia is emerging. We must engage at the highest level and help shape this change, taking heart from Raees Amrohvi’s optimism many moons ago.

(Saeed Naqvi is a 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)

Iraq Hostage Crisis: Diplomacy and INS Vikramaditya

BY RSN SINGH

The abduction of more than 40 Indians by the jihadis belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) is the most significant development during this Sunni surge in Iraq and the region. Of all the extra-regional countries having geopolitical interests in the region, India’s stakes are the highest.

In the recent years, Iraq has emerged as the second largest supplier of crude to India. This primarily was engendered by the US sanctions on Iran, which from being the second largest supplier, after Saudi Arabia was pushed to the fourth. The shift from Iran to Iraq has arisen mainly out of our compulsions of accommodating the US strategic imperatives in West Asia.

The capture of the Iraqi oilfields by the ISIS jihadis is a major setback to the energy security of India. It may be underscored that Iraqi crude supply to India was on a ‘nomination’ rather than ‘open bid’ basis.

It must be stressed that India is the fourth largest energy consumer in the world. The energy import bill of the country has been spiraling because of increased demands and various other avoidable factors such as NGO imposed slowdown in coal mining. Despite huge reserves of coal, in the last fiscal year, India imported coal worth $14 billion. Nuclear power projects have also been affected by externally funded NGO activism. For India’s energy basket the overwhelming dependence on oil imports is likely to persist at least in middle term perspective.

For energy deficit country like India, even an increase in $1 per barrel price of crude oil, can have an impact of Rs.25,000 crores in the budget. As per the Hindustan Times, dated 19 June 2014, an increase of one dollar the subsidy bill goes up by Rs.7,500 crores. Therefore, the increase in oil prices, which is likely to go upto $120 a barrel can have a deleterious impact on the new government efforts to bring down inflation.

Some analysts aver that there is a conflict between Indian interests and the Saudi interests with regard to oil prices. For India’s economic stability the price of crude needs to be at $98 per barrel or below. On the contrary, India’s largest supplier Saudi Arabia has the compelling interest of maintaining the price at $104 per barrel, below which its budget deficit could become unmanageable. Thus, the Iraq crisis severely impacts India’s crude imports from its largest and second largest supplier.

The question of the abduction of more than 40 Indians may not remain confined within the geopolitical space of Iraq. It has ramifications for the estimated seven million Indian expatriates in the Gulf region. The objective of the ISIS is to establish an Islamic caliphate in the region. It has not only Northern Iraq under its control but also a swathe of territory in Syria. If the momentum is not checked, these jihadis may well make the Gulf Sheikhdoms capitulate, as most of these country entities have little capacity to meet the  jihadi onslaught without external assistance. If the lives or well-being of the Indians are jeopardised by the ISIS, the Gulf States may not be in a position to ameliorate their condition. It could well trigger an exodus.

Economically too, the consequences could be severe for India. The seven million expatriate Indian workers are a source of remittances amounting to $30 billion per year. Therefore, the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) are not only principal source of India’s hydrocarbon imports but will remain critical to India’s wellbeing.

There has been much emphasis on India’s ‘Look East Policy’ but it needs to be be balanced by the ‘Look West Policy’. India’s trade with Asia is expected to reach $100 billion shortly, but may cross double this mark during the same period with the GCC countries. There is great potential in the Gulf for sourcing FDI, which remains underutilized.

The evolving geopolitics in the region seems to be headed towards a deep and unbridgeable Shia-Sunni fault-line. This is bound to have an impact on the Muslim population in India. This fault line has taken murderous form in our neighbourhood in Pakistan.

This dire situation in the region has been the consequence of US intervention in Iraq by way of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’. Following ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ in Afghanistan, most of the Al-Qaeda had melted with the core leadership moving into Pakistan and some to Iran. However, the US intervention in Iraq, in effect provided safe havens and recruiting ground for the Al-Qaeda in the Sunni dominated North. Even as the debate rages regarding the nature of the ISIS, the basic fact remains that it belongs to the Sunni-jihadi discourse engendered by the US invasion of Iraq.

Subsequently, the Al-Qaeda type groups proliferated when the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ descended on the region. This curse of the Spring made the institutional capacities of eminently functional states weak, thus  imparting impetus to jihadi groups and discourse. In Syria, the Al-Nusra, a group owing allegiance to Al-Qaeda found indulgent benefactors like the US and Turkey. The Russian intervention in Syria foiled the US and Saudi Arabia’s designs of toppling the Assad regime. The US did not take kindly to this slight. Meanwhile, the tentative US-Iran rapprochement has compelled Saudi Arabia to harden its Sunni discourse in the region.

The ISIS cannot sustain without external aid and abetment. Whether the design is to create a permanent cleavage and create two distinct Shia and Sunni regional blocks in West Asia, is not known, but its possibility cannot be ruled out. It cannot be denied that the US posturing towards West Asia has undergone dramatic change since the country has struck massive ‘shale gas’, propelling the US as potentially the largest exporter. This gas can only find market, if it supplants crude oil.

These are the larger energy games being played out in the West Asia. Nevertheless unlike the West, India has more than economic stakes in West Asia. It is religious, social and civilizational as well.

The present hostage crisis, therefore should be accordingly dealt with. One cannot intervene in a sovereign state without invitation, as it has long-term consequences, specially in context of West Asia where long term energy imperatives are involved. Nevertheless, a mix of diplomacy backed by demonstration of military muscle (not intervention) can achieve the desired results. What good is INS Vikramaditya for, if it cannot support Indian diplomacy at this critical period and that too in the region.

(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)

Subverted Generals, crooks and arms lobby

BY RSN SINGH

The recent controversy generated by the affidavit filed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the Supreme Court related to a case of promotion of one Lt Gen Dastane to the appointment of Army Commander, drew some strange characters ganging up to decry the former Army Chief Gen VK Singh. They were on an overdrive to endorse the affidavit, which labeled a particular disciplinary action initiated by Gen VK Singh against his subordinate during service as ‘illegal’, ‘malafide’, ‘premeditated’, etc. At the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), the same affidavit was filed by the outgoing UPA government, which, as is widely known, abhorred humans with integrity. The same affidavit was repeated under the new dispensation. The government changed, but not the ‘arms lobby’! The same arms lobby which boasted having bought a service chief and ‘the family’.

On the television channels, this ‘arms lobby’ again fielded its spin doctors. The attack this time on VK Singh was fiercer than during the age row. Even some old Generals waiting at the departure lounge of life were roped in. Their unfounded tirade was based on two very convenient themes, ‘morale’ and ‘image’ of armed forces. It is another matter that each time these characters opened their mouth, given their own record, the image and morale of the armed forces plummeted.

The Controversy

The latest controversy essentially revolves around a ‘Colonel’ posted in 3 Corps. This Colonel, if the media, locals and civil authorities are to be believed, had developed stakes in every undesirable activity ranging from extortion to drug-trafficking. The networking abilities of the Officer was desperately sought to manipulate media and the people during Gen VK Singh’s ‘Date of Birth’ controversy. He was sent on ‘temporary duty’ to Delhi on the tax-payers money several times to setup a conglomeration of crooks in the media, the army, politics and the bureaucracy. These characters by now are familiar faces.

Meanwhile, true to his wont, in December 2011, this Officer and his team was accused of raiding a house of a contractor in Jorhat and committing dacoity. The CM of Assam spoke to the then Army Chief Gen VK Singh urging timely and fair investigation. The Court of Inquiry let off this Officer and his accomplices with little or no punishment, compelling the victim to approach the Gauhati High Court.

Even a more serious crime committed in March 2010 by this Officer and his team, surfaced in 2012. They allegedly killed three civilians in Northeast in ‘cold blood’, a fact vouched for by his subordinate Officer. This crime occurred clearly during the period when the said Corps Commander was not in-charge. Nevertheless, when this was exposed in media and elsewhere, the new Corps Commander was directed by the Army Chief to conduct a thorough trial and punish the guilty in accordance with the Law.

Given the services rendered by this Officer in the DOB issue, the inquiry ordered by the Corps Commander was perfunctory. Considering the seriousness of charge, like murder, the perpetrators were given insignificant punishment. The then Army Chief held the Corps Commander responsible for this deliberate shielding.

Subsequently on advice of the Discipline and Vigilance Directorate (DV Directorate), and the Judge and Advocate General Branch (JAG), the then Army Chief imposed a ban on the Corps Commander. A ‘Show Cause Notice’ was served. Having failed to respond in the stipulated time, the Corps Commander asked for extension, which was duly granted. This Commander, however, had other designs and proceeded on leave only to rejoin after Gen VK Singh’s had retired. Very upright and courageous Officer indeed.

When Gen VK Singh retired, the DV ban in respect of this Commander was lifted at astounding pace despite opposition from quarters in the DV Directorate. Till then the chair of Army Commander waited for this Officer.

The outcome of the DV ban review was therefore ‘prejudged’ and ‘premeditated’!

Meanwhile, another contender for the Army Commander’s post, Lt Gen Dastane filed a case in the Armed Forces Tribunal taking the plea that during the period that the appointment of Army Commander was vacant, he as the senior most Officer was the rightful claimant.

The affidavit filed in the Supreme Court did not attract any attention during its journey to the AFT. No sooner it arrived at the Supreme Court under the new dispensation; it was leaked to one newspaper, known for masquerading deliberate leaks as ‘investigative journalism’. A lawyer-cum-politician, whose amorous adventures the world has been witness to, asked for Gen VK Singh’s resignation. Another politician with amorous links across the border demanded Gen VK Singh’s head.

Gen VK Singh in reaction tweeted “If unit kills innocents, does dacoity and then head of organization tries to protect them, should he not be blamed? Criminals should go free!!’

The General was absolutely right and if I were in his place, I would have reiterated the tweet every fresh morning, because the continuance of dacoits and criminals in the Army is cancerous to the ‘morale’ and ‘image’ of the organization.

Tainted Generals must stop preaching

During this overdrive by the ‘arms lobby’ to engineer the ouster of Gen VK Singh from the Cabinet, a former Army Chief made a massive grandstanding. He spoke about the thorough procedures followed in selecting Army Chiefs and how people of best caliber and character reach that position. General Sir, does it include Gen VK Singh, and what is your take on the supersession of Lt Gen SK Sinha?

General Sir, tell the country, how is it that two Army Chiefs tried to appropriate houses meant for Kargil Widows?

General Sir, how is it that an Army Chief vies to be the President of a club in Delhi after retirement and his illustrious son finds India too backward to absorb his genius in business, and decides to settle in France?

General Sir, since when has this Tatra theft been going on? The money that could have utilized for more pressing needs of the Army was siphoned. How is it that it did not come to the notice of other Army Chiefs? Were they in league with the ‘arms dealers’?

General Sir, the Indian Army has been starved of a 155mm gun, to the extent that Bofors guns and ammunition was flown from Eastern theatre to Western theatre during the Kargil conflict to make up the shortage. How is it that none of the Army Chiefs told the government and the people of the country that we have the ‘transfer of technology’ for Bofors for which the country paid during the 80s. The Indian Ordnance Factory has now produced prototype of these guns and the trials are more than encouraging.

General Sir, how is it that no one has taken responsibility for Kargil? Instead the senior officers shamelessly awarded themselves after the conflict, for what was a failure of operational and tactical intelligence. Where was the operational genius of the Generals in fighting a war, wherein the attacks were mostly frontal?

General Sir, will you now share with the country that in Operation Parakaram, we lost more than 1200 men in laying and recovery of minefields. These casualties were more than what we suffered in 1971 war.

General Sir, will you cross your heart and say that you would have prevented the Sukhna deal, if you were in chair?

Age controversy of Gen VK Singh

All the retired Generals, who are detractors of Gen VK Singh, should be asked whether the DOB mentioned in their respective ‘identity cards’ was correct? If they maintain NO they should be sent to jail, and if they say YES, then they should be asked that how come DOB in respect of General VK Singh reflected in his ‘identity card’ can be treated as wrong? They should also be asked on what basis a rapist recently was declared ‘juvenile’? These detractors mislead people on the media by saying that the Supreme Court did not uphold the General’s contention of his DOB? Can any of these frauds share the judgment with the people of buttress their case?

Well, Gen VK Singh while filing his nomination paper for Lok Sabha mentioned his date of birth 10-May-1951, the date he has been unwavering about in face of severest of trials. Will these frauds challenge it in the Supreme Court? One can imagine the sense of fair play and justice, when these frauds were at the helm.

Generals and Politics

The ‘arms lobby’ employed its agents to deter Gen VK Singh from joining politics. A vicious and sustained media campaign was launched. Some former service chiefs began to pontificate in the media about the undesirability of General’s joining politics. They had to be reminded that the first Army Chief Gen Cariappa had fought elections on Shiv Sena ticket from Mumbai. They had to be reminded that 72 percent of the presidents of the United States have been from the Armed Forces.

These pontificators had no qualms about vying for ‘Governor’s Office’. Most of them could not make it because of the limited number of vacancies in the Northeast. They have no qualms about their illustrious predecessors becoming Governor, a thorough political animal. They have also no self-respect in accepting Ambassadorship of low priority countries. Two of these detractors, who tried to ingratiate themselves to the previous regime, were shameless enough to reach the BJP headquarters seeking sinecure once the constitution of ‘Veteran Commission’ was announced.

The detractors then began to predict that Gen VK Singh would not win the election. The arms lobby did everything to ensure his defeat. Once he won by the second highest margin in the country, they began to lobby for his non-inclusion into the Cabinet.

Conclusion

The inference regarding the reach and the cruel purpose of the arms lobby can be drawn from the insinuations with regards to the recent developments in the Indian Navy. There were series of 13 accidents, including two submarines, all on the shore. Self-proclaimed experts attributed it to ‘age related problems’ of the inventory of Indian Navy. The accident of the submarines, it was said was due to faulty batteries. The Navy Chief resigned. He is yet to open his mouth. After 49 days, an Officer superseded his senior and found himself as the Naval Chief. This Officer has not served as FOC-in-C. By sheer osmosis of the personality of this Officer, all ‘age-related problems’ of the Navy have disappeared. The ‘Line of Succession’ is in place and so is the behaviour of naval inventory.

The mélange of people that the ‘arms lobby’ had assembled to vilify Gen VK Singh in the recent episode was bewildering. It included former diplomats with no locus-standi, a retired General, who refuses to age gracefully and has been thrashed comprehensively in the recent elections and a publisher of a defence magazine who thrives on advertisements by foreign arms manufacturers. A journalist, who earlier had pulled out a drunken diplomat from the winter of his life to extract a statement: ‘VK Singh is the worst Army Chief, India had’, was again on an overdrive. The compulsion of this drunken diplomat, it is believed was that he too had been the beneficiary of the well-oiled Tatra theft circuit.

(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)

The Gandhis must vacate for an Opposition to take shape

BY SAEED NAQVI

After the vigorous opening speech in the Lok Sabha by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi’s rump of a party looked even more battered and bruised.

The most reassuring news for them since the May 16 election results is spread across three columns of Time of India: Gandhis will personally probe the poll defeat. In other words the regular system of the famous A K Antony committees to investigate Congress defeats is being discarded.

Antony, an acute Gandhi loyalist, never in the course of his numerous probes, turned the search lights on his political masters. But this time he may be left with no room for maneuver. The Gandhis will be on the dissection table. Reports of irreversible poor health may be leaked. What better way to stop the leak than sink the very idea of the Antony Committee.

That the mother and son team have undertaken to probe the party’s rout implies that their leadership was not flawed, that the fault for the debacle lies elsewhere. The decision also implies that atleast the Gandhis believe there still is a party under their leadership, intact.

Senior leaders have been charting their own course. As soon as Commerce Minister Anand Sharma sensed rout, he obtained from Sonia the permission to represent the Congress at President Zuma’s inauguration in South Africa. Earlier Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid requested the Egyptians to let him see Luxor as India’s Minister for External Affairs.

Shashi Tharoor, with eye always on the main chance, began to publicly wish Narendra Modi were his leader, inviting a rebuke from Mani Shankar Aiyar who went on to say on TV that “Rahul should be allowed to do the good work he is doing”.

The greatest security for the Gandhis, one which will keep them on their perch, is that there is no life left in the rump to ask questions. Those who could have asked questions, like Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia, have been kept outside the paddock. The simple principle of dynasties is: the crown prince must not have a challenger. The queen must never be upstaged. Even for the job of the President of India she could only settle for the lackluster Pratibha Patil.

The truth is that the make-belief shrouding the last days of the Gandhis cannot last very much longer. Their saga is not likely to end in tragedy. Tragedies require a quality of heroism which is missing here. Their’s is shaping up to a pathetic end. Are they really waiting for another rout in the state elections?

It is very easy for Sonia Gandhi to blame the spectacular defeat on scams, the party’s inability to communicate, unmotivated cadres, debilitating bipolarity at the top, unidentifiable leadership, a formidable list. Will she ever admit to herself that she was badly advised by a concentric circle of advisers who did not have their fingers on the pulse?

It will be an act of great courage to face the unbelievably harsh truth. Never has a political family been so universally hated, despised, loathed. This was part of the energy which became a wave for Modi.

Sonia Gandhi must reflect (the young man seems incapable of any reflection) how adoration in 2004, when she refused the Prime Ministership, turned to such undiluted disgust by 2014.

From the very beginning, the Congress President demonstrated her inability to distinguish between loyalty and sycophancy. Remember Oscar Fernandes weeping inconsolably because “Madame” had refused the crown. And the dim Renuka Chaudhury let loose upon chat show audiences as some sort of a Congress intellectual. She too was rewarded for having wept copiously at “Mam’s” refusal of the crown.

From the very outset, Sonia Gandhi was credited with charisma she never had. PV Narasimha Rao had brought the party down to 140 seats in the 1996 elections. Sonia Gandhi never improved on the party’s dismal performance. In 2009, when the Congress bagged 209 seats, the credit was placed at Rahul Gandhi’s door for having generated a great youth surge. The solitary beneficiary of this faulty diagnosis was Omar Abdullah. His father’s candidature as Chief Minister was set aside in deference to the “youth surge”. Omar proceeded to have a ball by setting up a lavish bungalow in Lutyens Delhi and became a commuting Chief Minister with remote control.

The leader of the youth brigade, Rahul Gandhi, kept the Congress, opposition, captains of Industry, the media, on sixes and sevens with his hare brained schemes about a new system of selecting candidates. Even if Congress leaders saw great merit in Rahul Gandhi’s pearls of wisdom, the nation, 65 percent of which is populated by under 35 years of age, saw through the rubbish. The drubbing they have administered in these elections will keep the Gandhis against the ropes, gasping. If they do not chalk out an exit strategy for themselves and, in a dazed state, wait for the state elections, I am afraid they are waiting for a knockout punch. It would be nice if the Gandhis make way gracefully. The country needs a focused opposition.

After the Babri Masjid debacle, PV Narasimha Rao called a Congress session at Tirupati in 1993. The party elected a Working Committee not to Narasimha Rao’s liking – Arjun Singh, Sharad Pawar, Rajesh Pilot and so on. Willfully, he found reasons to annul the AICC results. Well, the Gandhis must hold similar elections and, unlike PV, abide by the results. Otherwise they will be trapped like sparrows in a movie hall flapping against the giant screen in full public view.

(Saeed Naqvi is a 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)

Something is NOT right with the Modi Sarkar

BY SHAILESH RANADE

By lunch time on 16 May 2014, Indians who had voted for change had some hopes. By breakfast time on 27 May 2014, those hopes were partially eclipsed by some strange appointments.

It is now quite clear that Dr. Manmohan Singh (MMS) was never the Prime Minister of India. He only sat on the Prime Ministerial chair. He was defeated in the only general election he participated in 1999. The BJP’s main theme during the UPA’s 10 year rule was that MMS was never elected. But Mr. Narendra Modi conveniently discarded this principle by appointing two defeated Lok Sabha aspirants as cabinet ministers. There are still some who are not even Members of Parliament.

A cursory look at the Union Cabinet does not generate much confidence. It does not give Indians much hope. It is felt that there is not going to be any realistic change. Most ministers are first timers who have no clue of what their ministry is about. Some citizenry argued that the Aam Admi Party members were like drivers with a learner’s licence. Modi’s cabinet very much resembles the AAP group.

There is no doubt that Narendra Modi is a proven administrator and well qualified to be the PM. In fact, he is the only PM material today this country has. He may have governed Gujarat from Gandhinagar effectively. Can he do the same for India from Delhi? India in 2014, is not a one man show. It is impossible for Modi to pay attention to all of India even if he were to work 24 x 7 x 365. Professional and able aides can make his task easier.

The Union Cabinet has 46 ministers. With the sole exception of Modi, the only other minister who can professionally handle his ministry is Dr. Harsh Vardhan as Minister for Health and Family Welfare. The first off the block, to criticize this Modi ministry was Ms. Madhu Kishwar who came down heavily on Ms. Smriti Irani and her lack of qualifications to head the HRD Ministry. Kishwar has a valid point. A person who has no clue about higher education cannot obviously be her own minister. She will have to depend upon the same vile bureaucrats who have not done any sensible work for decades.

The next high profile target is obviously Mr. Arun Jaitley, who is a lawyer by profession and currently holding the dual charge of Finance and Defence. It is any body’s guess where a person who was running from court to court till recently was educated in finance and defence matters. His first test was the affidavit presented in the Court by his own MoD. Whether the MoD bureaucrats consulted him or not is another matter. As the Defence Minister he has to take full responsibility for this shoddy and terrible work. It is unbelievable that a government affidavit slams another minister in the same government. The Defence Minister has flunked badly. The Finance and Defence ministry cupboards are full of UPA skeletons. Is Arun Jaitley a plant of the previous regime? Why is Modi a party to this? What are Modi’s compulsions? Is any external power involved?

How about the Minister for Ganga Rejuvenation? For someone who works in fits and starts, is Ms. Uma Bharati even suitable for a job that is likely to last over ten years. Modi has a dream to bring the Bullet Train technology to India. The new Railway Minister from Karnataka would not even know the width of a broad gauge railway track, let alone the horsepower of a Rajdhani diesel engine. Delhi and its surrounding areas have been affected by severe power cuts in recent days. The Union Power Minister is a professional chartered accountant. Can he even understand how power is generated and a few technical terms in power management? He has already started blaming the previous government. How is he different from his illustrious predecessor Sushil Kumar Shinde?

As PM, Narendra Modi has huge human resources at his command. Gen VK Singh is a professional soldier and would be the ideal person to clean up the MoD. If the unelected could be made ministers, why leave out Dr. Subramanian Swamy, who is a trained economist. Many of his pre-election ideas may, now, not be implemented when the budget is presented. Surely, other professionals like Arun Shourie and Elattuvalapil Sreedharan too could easily have been brought into the Cabinet. The era of generalists is over. Unless ministers and bureaucrats are professionally qualified in their duties, nothing much is likely to change. The ministers need to be in charge and must question their bureaucrats regularly. This is possible only if they are one step ahead of the bureaucrats. If political pressures are putting Modi into a corner, then the least the PM can do is to include these experts as secretaries or advisers to the government. The Modi Cabinet must be professionally smart.

Narendra Modi swept to power largely on the basis of promises. Doling out ministries to ill qualified persons is not the way to the common man’s heart. There is no doubt that the PM is an innovator and people earnestly wish him to succeed. It is his ministers who are likely to let him down and ground his ship. A couple of incidents and unnecessary blabbering in the last two weeks prove this. One could argue that the Modi Cabinet is alike a toddler who is learning to walk. Well, the toddler has already fallen a couple of times and broken a few bones. A limping toddler may not have a very bright future when surrounded by enemies.

(Shailesh Ranade is a Guest Blogger with the Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)