Prem Shankar Jha


ISIS rolled into Iraq in 200 pickup trucks on June 9. Had the US unleashed its air power then; had it even left the Iraqi government with a credible air force when it quit Iraq, ISIS’ convoys could have been blown to smithereens in the open desert in a matter of hours. But Obama dithered, put the blame on Malki for alienating the Sunnis of the north-west, raised the bogey of getting entrapped in an age old Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict, and did next to nothing.

Two and a half months later ISIS’s ranks have swollen, by some estimates, to 50,000 fighters. It has entrenched itself in Mosul, Tikrit, Fallujah and Ramadi, captured the Baoji oilfield and murdered, raped, and pillaged on a scale that has not been seen since Pope Innocent III’s crusade against ‘heretical’ Cathars of southern France in AD 1209. But Obama is still dithering.

Obama is dithering because ISIS cannot be defeated without denying it safe havens in Syria, and this, as General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint chiefs of Staff pointed out on August 21, cannot be done without the cooperation of the Syrian government. Obama is unwilling to concede this not only because it would be an admission of the monumental folly of his towards Syria, but also because it will put him squarely at loggerheads with Israel. Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not bothered to hide his opposition to the destruction of ISIS. On June 22, when Obama briefly toyed with the idea of enlisting Iran in the defence of Iraq, Netanyahu went on MSNBC’s Meet the Press programme and said: “When your enemies are fighting each other, don’t strengthen either one of them. Weaken both. By far the worst outcome that can come out of this is for one of these factions, Iran, to come out of this with nuclear weapons capability. That would be a tragic mistake. It would make everything else pale in comparison.”

Obama got the message. So, he swallowed the huge insult of James Foley’s public slaughter, forgotten his own condemnation of the genocide in Rwanda last February and, except for declaring Iraqi Kurdistan off limits and protecting the Americans in Baghdad, doggedly refused to react to the hideous videos of mass slaughter and individualized throat-cutting and beheading that ISIS posts daily on its websites to attract the psychopaths of the world to its banner. Instead, in a much awaited press conference on August 28, he made it clear that the US will not oppose the birth of a Wahhaby ‘Caliphate’ in Northern Iraq and Syria. US policy would continue to focus on ‘making sure that ISIL does not overrun Iraq and on ‘degrading ISIL’s capacity in the long run’. To do this he intended to ‘devise a regional strategy … with other partners, particularly Sunni partners, because Sunnis, both in Syria and Iraq, need to feel that they have an investment in a government that … can protect them … against the barbaric acts we have seen in ISIL”.

In plain language he still wants only to ‘degrade’, not destroy, ISIS. He wants to do this with the help of the very same gulf sheikhdoms, and the same regime in Turkey, that have created, and continue to support the Wahhaby brigades in Syria by pouring billions of dollars into arming a virtually non-existent ‘moderate FSA’ with heavy weapons, including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles that the US and EU had specifically proscribed, And he pointedly made no mention of Syria or Iran. Obama thus announced a continuation of the very same policies that have created ISIS, without saying a single word about how he intends to make them work differently in the future.

Is this lunacy, or is there a more sinister explanation? Regrettably, the answer is the latter. There is strong, if not clinching, evidence that ISIS, and Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in particular, are the West’s own creation. When ISIS ‘turned rogue’ and rolled into Iraq, the US suddenly found itself at loggerheads with its greatest friend and ally in the region, Israel.

Baghdadi’s possible links with the West first surfaced on July 15, when a Bahrain newspaper, the Gulf Daily News, published an interview allegedly given by Edward Snowden to IRNA, the Iranian New Agency, in which he disclosed that Baghdadi had been recruited by the intelligence agencies of three countries, the US, UK and Israel to “create a terrorist organization capable of centralizing all extremist actions across the world.” The plan, code-named Beehive, or Hornet’s Nest was designed to protect Israel from security threats by diverting attention to a newly manufactured regional enemy, ISIS. Baghdadi, the Paper claimed, had been given intensive military training, along with courses in theology and speech for a year by Mossad.

Time magazine trashed the story within four days. It pointed out that ‘No mention of a “hornet’s nest” plot can be found in Snowden’s leaked trove of U.S. intelligence documents’, reminded readers that IRNA had been found to indulge in regime-inspired fantasy in the past, and disclosed that even the editor of Kayhan, Iran’s most influential newspaper, had found the story strange because Snowden had fled the country long before the plot had germinated. But Time’s refutation is not conclusive. First, Snowden has not denied giving the interview. If it is a fabrication then it is difficult to see why someone who gave up his country and his freedom to serve the cause of truth, should now choose to become party to a lie. Second, Snowden blew the whistle and cut himself off from his sources on June 10, 2013. This was eight weeks after Baghdadi became Emir of ISIS, and therefore up to 18 months after the plot, if one exists, was hatched.

As it turns out, the ‘Hornet’s nest’ story is not necessary to prove western connections with Baghdadi. When ISIS posted a video of Baghdadi addressing a congregation from the pulpit of the grand mosque in Mosul it set off a worldwide hunt to identify him. Photo analysts found him very quickly, but in the most unexpected of places – talking animatedly to Senator John McCain at a secret meeting with five ‘moderate’ leaders of the Free Syrian army who had been specially assembled to meet him, at Idlib in Syria.

McCain’s visit to Syria had been organized by Salim Idris, self-styled Brigadier General of the FSA, and the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American not-for-profit organization that is a passionate advocate for arming the ‘moderate’ Free Syrian army. There was no room for a mistake because on May 27, 2013, when McCain met him, Baghdadi had been he had been on the US State Department’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists with a reward of US $10 million on his head. He had also been the Emir of ISIS for the previous six weeks and of ISIL for the previous three years.

Nor was Baghdadi the only wolf in sheep’s clothing at that meeting. Among the other ‘moderate’ Sunni leaders SETF had also included Mohammed Nour and Ammar al Dadhiki, aka Abu Ibrahim. Nour is the spokesman of ‘Northern Storm’ an offshoot of the brutal Jabhat Al Nusra, the Syrian branch of al Qaeda, whose brutality was a byword in Syria till put in the shade by ISIS. Dadhiki is one of its key members. Only days before Nour’s meeting with McCain, Northern Storm had kidnapped 11 Lebanese Shia pilgrims on their way to Iraq.

Did McCain know that the leaders he was meeting were not moderate Sunni rebels but some of the most murderous and bigoted terrorists in the world today? Probably not. But the same cannot be said of the organization that took him there, The Syrian Emergency Task Force. SETF had worked closely with Idris to set up the McCain meeting, so it had to have known who was being invited to it. It also knew perfectly well that on the ground in Syria no one was bothering to make the hairsplitting distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ rebels that it was feeding to Kerry, McCain and hundreds of other policy makers in Washington. When, a fortnight after McCain’s visit, a terrorist leader named Abu Sakkar cut out the heart and lungs of a Syrian soldier and took a bite out of the latter for the benefit of global viewers. Idris belligerently defended his inclusion in the FSA, and asked his BBC interviewer, Paul Wood:“Is the West asking me now to fight Abu Sakkar and force him out of the revolution?”

Yet only two months later its then political director Elizabeth O’Bagy felt no compunction in writing, in a massively influential op–ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that John Kerry quoted to the US Congress: “Anyone who reads the paper or watches the news has been led to believe that a once peaceful, pro-democracy opposition has transformed over the past two years into a mob of violent extremists dominated by al Qaeda;… This isn’t the case … Moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces, and they have recently been empowered by the influx of arms and money from Saudi Arabia and other allied countries, such as Jordan and France”.

Why is SETF willing to stop at nothing to destroy the Assad regime? The answer again comes back to Israel. There is a close, but undisclosed, relationship between SETF and the America Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), Israel’s premier lobbying organization within the US. Till it was ‘corrected’ in 2013, one of SETF’s email addresses used to be “” The “” URL belongs to the Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Florida whose academic goals notably include “inspiring a love and commitment to Eretz Yisroel” .

The origins of its executive director, Mouaz Mustafa, are obscure, to say the least. His biodata on the SETF website says that he emigrated from Syria to the US when he was 15, but the details of his working life show that he became an aide to Congressman Vic Snyder when he was only 19, the age at which most Americans finish High School. He then worked with Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln, till she lost seat in 2010. On 17 April 2011, possibly after a short visit to Cairo, he became the executive director of a newly formed lobbying group, the Libyan Council for North America. This was a month after the West attacked Libya. He ‘moved on’ again in September 2011 to the newly constituted Syrian Emergency Task Force (again as its executive director), only days after the fall of Tripoli. At that point he was only 25. One doesn’t have to be a Washington Beltway insider to know that he could not have done all this without very powerful, covert support. Mustafa has spoken frequently at meetings of AIPAC, and is a regular contributor on the website of the Al Fikra Forum, which describes itself as an “online community that aims to generate ideas to support Arab democrats in their struggle with authoritarians and extremists”. But according to its email address it is an affiliate of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. WINEP is a think tank set up by AIPAC. Its home page sports a link to the Fikra Forum’s website.

Mustafa is a regular speaker and discussant at WINEP. On July 22, 2014 WINEP released (and probably financed) a film titled Red Lines: Inside the Battle for Freedom in Syria which portrays the lives of Mustafa and a female activist – Razan Shalab As-sham. During the discussion that followed Mustafa said: “Helping Iran to provide security in the region is the worst possible idea, because what happens then is that you make it possible for both Sunni and Shiite extremis to develop deep roots in the region. What we need to do is to help the people, who don’t want to be ruled by the Iranians and don’t want to be ruled by the extremists, and they are there.” . Benyamin Netanyahu could not have put it better.

Israel is the only country in the world to whom it simply does not matter what happens to the rest of the Arab world so long as it somehow enhances its own security. In the mid-nineties a consultant group formed under the aegis of the American Enterprise Institute submitted a Plan for ‘furthering peace in the middle east’ to then Prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Its key recommendations were for Israel to work for the destruction of Iraq, ‘roll up’ of Syria, and isolate Hezbollah in South Lebanon prior to destroying it. The way in which a majority of the members of the group were inducted into the George W. Bush administration and succeeded in bringing about the destruction of Ba’athist and sternly secular, albeit tyrannical, regime of Saddam Hussein has been well documented elsewhere and need not detain us. It is the sequel that concerns us now.

Within two years of destroying Iraq, Israel realised that it had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Whereas Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been an impenetrable buffer between Iran and Lebanon, Maliki’s Iraq was an open chute for arms to flow from Iran to the Hezbollah. To Israel, this chute, which it called the ‘Shia crescent’ became an arrow pointed at it’s heart. As Hezbollah grew ever more powerful Israel panicked. In 2006 it directly attacked Lebanon and the Hezbollah in order to destroy the latter’s tunnels and arms, much as it is doing to Hamas in Gaza today.

But that operation proved a diplomatic and security disaster, for Hezbollah emerged from it even stronger than it had been before. Since then Israel has lived in mortal fear of the Shi’a cresent. Getting Iran to foreswear the development of nuclear weapons was no longer sufficient. The pipeline to the Hezbollah had to be cut. There were only two ways—destroy Iran or destroy Syria. Iran, however was a far larger and more powerful country than Iraq and even George Bush shied away from attacking it. There was no mass hysteria, moreover, such as had seized the American people after 9/11, to capitalize upon. But Syria was small enough to be ‘doable’.

So in 2008, two gentlemen, Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary in the State department and ardent Zionist, who had served two terms in Israel, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s powerful ambassador to the US, concocted another Plan. This one, called without a hint of irony ‘A Plan for furthering Peace in the Greater Middle East’, proposed breaking the Shia cresecent by creating a ‘Sunni crescent’ that would start in Turkey and end in Jordan. The stumbling block was Assad’s Baathist, secular and fumblingly authoritarian Syria. But 70 percent of Syrians are Sunnis. So three quarters of the Plan, which eventually found its way onto the internet in 2012, describes in chilling detail how to use religion, and for some strata economic discontent and pecuniary inducement, to rise against Assad. In 2011, when the Arab Spring began, 51 television and radio stations located in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, had been beaming Salafi and hate propaganda against Assad to the Syrian people for the previous two years.

Israel came within a millimeter of achieving its goal after the gas attacks in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus in August last year. On August 27, alongside the full text of Kerry’s speech committing the US to bombing Syria for crossing Obama’s Red Line on chemical weapons, the right wing Times of Israel published two reports that detailed precisely how Israeli intelligence inputs had proved crucial in making up Washington’s mind. A third, more ominous, report gave details of how Benyamin Netanyahu not only hoped that this would be a precursor for a US attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but also intended to use the precedent it would create to launch the attack on his own.

But contrary to Kerry and Obama’s robust assertions to the US Congress and the media, the US had substantial amounts of evidence in August that the Syrian army had not used chemical weapons at Aleppo and Damascus in March and April 2013, and that not only the Jabhat al Nusra but also the then nascent ISIL had the capacity to produce Sarin. Faced with the prospect of being accused of again manufacturing evidence to start a war, both Cameron and Obama found ways of resiling from their commitment to bomb Syria. Israel therefore found itself robbed of ‘victory’ when it was already in its grasp.

Obama’s initial willingness to cooperate with Iran, and therefore by implication, with Syria, has thrown Netanyahu and his government into something close to panic. But its knee jerk reactions are further endangering Israel’s security. Its invasion and six week long pigeon-shoot in the open air prison called Gaza is a case in point. Netanyahu used the pretext furnished by the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three teenagers from the West Bank as a pretext for launching his attack. But six weeks after it began it is apparent that his real aim is to destroy Hamas root and branch and terrorise the unfortunate Gazans into never cooperating with it again.
But Hamas has stoutly denied that it kidnapped the teenagers. As for their murder, it is not only out of character for Hamas which has regularly kidnapped Israelis only to exchange them for Palestinian prisoners, but also suicidal. On the other hand ISIS has claimed over and over again, that it killed the teenagers as a reprisal for Israel’s killing of three of its members last December when they were about to enter Israel, but Tel Aviv has ignored these claims. If ISIS is indeed partly its creation then its reluctance would be understandable.

Like the invasion of Lebanon, Israel’s attack on Gaza is bound to backfire. It has not only isolated Israel in the international community to an extent that was unimaginable only a year ago, but is probably the trigger for Jabhat al Nusra’s sudden seizure of the Syria-Israel border town of Quneitra. ISIS had already all but evicted Al Nusra from Northern Syria. Its shift to Syria’s southern border could signal a strategic decision by the leaders of Al Qaeda to leave Syria and Iraq to ISIS and focus on Jordan and Israel.

If this shift of focus has not already happened, it is bound to happen in the future. For as Salafi preachers repeat endlessly, their ultimate goal is to free Jerusalem and open al Aqsa, the second holiest shrine in Sunni Islam, to all true Muslims. So great is Israel’s panic that it does not realize that Ba’athist Syria is its last remaining bastion against the Wahhaby hordes. Once it falls, thousands of young people who consider themselves victims of their own governments and societies will flock to the banners of ISIS and Al Nusra for the final assault on Jerusalem. Once that happens, life in Israel, and much of the rest of the world (including Pakistan and India), will become truly ‘nasty, brutish, and short’.

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India’s 16th general election has been unique for many reasons. No previous election has been so relentlessly and exhaustively discussed; no previous election – not even the post Emergency election of 1977 – has aroused so much passion, so much fury; so much hope and so much fear. And in no previous election has the result been so completely a foregone conclusion. But almost no one thought that the BJP would get as many as 283 seats, a comfortable majority on its own, and that the Congress would be reduced to a pathetic rump party with only 44 seats.

These results have left the opponents of the BJP and the secular liberal intelligentsia in shock. But for the country this is not by any means an unmitigated disaster. Its most obvious blessing is that it will ensure a smooth and swift transition of power to the new government. Had the results been indeterminate; had the BJP found it difficult to form a government, there would have been a collapse of confidence in the Indian economy abroad and a run of dollars out of the country that would have destroyed whatever chance remained of a quick economic recovery.

That hurdle is decisively behind us. Investors, both domestic and foreign, have been quick to perceive this. That accounts for the 1500 point rise in the Sensex since the beginning of the current week, and the additional 800 point rise on Friday 16th. A billion dollars of foreign institutional investment had propelled the pre-election rise. Today Indian investors too, who had long shunned the equity markets, have begun to come back to it.

But it would be self-deluding to believe that with the election over, and a stable new government in place, we can go back to business as usual. India has entered new and uncharted territory in the development of its democracy. The first phase of development – single party dominance by the Congress party – was replaced by coalition rule in 1989. Most political Pundits had predicted that this would fatally weaken the centre and make India exceedingly difficult to govern. They were proved wrong. As a book being released in the US in the coming weeks, “Why India Matters”, points out, coalition governments took more hard decisions and propelled India much further up the radar screens of foreign governments than the Congress had been able to do in the last two decades of single party dominance.

But coalition democracy was built around two central poles – the Congress and the BJP – and the Congress pole has now collapsed. Whether we like it or not, therefore, we are returning to another phase of near–single party dominance with no conceivable combination of parties to form a viable opposition and put a brake upon its actions. And this single party—the BJP, is not the benign Congress of yesteryears. Not only does it espouse a radically different ideology from the Congress, but it has little in common even with the BJP of Vajpayee and Advani.

The leaders of today’s BJP are not from the Metropolis but the Mofussil. They are products of an internal convulsion within the BJP after its defeat in 2004 that saw the exodus of Vajpayee, Advani and virtually all the urbane and seasoned leaders whom the public recognized and respected a decade ago. Today, most of Modi’s core team are state leaders who have no idea how different, and how difficult, governing a nation of 1.27 billion people can be. They will have to come to grips with its bewildering diversity. They will have to learn, as Emperor Ashoka learned when he created a religious police to enforce his edicts and fatally weakened the Mauryan empire; as the Mughals understood from the very start, and as the British learned in 1857 after they tried to ride roughshod over Hindu and Muslim customs and beliefs, that India can only stay united if its rulers accept and respect its cultural diversity and religious plurality.

Vajpayee had tried to hammer this into his party and the RSS through a succession of four annual New Years’ Day “Musings”. Had the NDA won the 2004 election, he would have completed his task. But the NDA’s defeat became the springboard for a wholesale rejection not only of his closest colleagues in the BJP, but also of the philosophy of tolerance, and respect for diversity, that he had tried to instill into the Sangh Parivar.

There is reassuring evidence that Modi,like Vajpayee before him, has devoted a good deal of thought to this challenge, and has come to similar conclusions. As long ago as at the Hindustan Times Leadership summit in 2007, he had insisted that Hindutwa does not mean Hindu cultural, let alone religious supremacy but its opposite – a respect for India’s religious pluralism and cultural diversity. He has not made a single anti-Muslim statement throughout his campaign, and has rebuked those who have. But like Vajpayee when the NDA first came to power in 1998, he too will have to find a way of making the Sangh Parivar accept this definition.

Modi’s task, however, will be far harder than the one that Vajpayee faced a decade ago. For India is now in the dangerous middle stage of capitalist development that Europe passed through in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is the stage in which a relatively new, and still financially insecure, propertied class tries to tame growing class conflict by diverting the attention of the have-nots towards convenient scapegoats on whom they can pin the blame for their misfortunes. Europe chose Jews to be the scapegoats. The result was a rising, increasingly virulent, anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust.

In India, extremists in the Sangh Parivar have elected Muslims to be the scapegoats. If Modi does not reign them in India will, literally, have no future. For India is a world of minorities, in which the Muslims are only the largest. An attempt to impose cultural homogeneity upon them will lead to its disintegration.

The BJP’s absolute majority, and the decimation of not only the Congress but all the caste-based smaller parties of north India, has made Modi’s task more difficult, for it has removed most of the natural checks to cultural authoritarianism within our democracy. However, absolute majority has also created one silver lining: Absolute power brings with it absolute responsibility. For the last five years the BJP has played the role of a spoiler in India politics, constantly stoking religious and cultural animosities, disrupting the functioning of parliament and ensuring that an already weak Congress is able to do nothing. Absolute majority has put an unambiguous price upon that kind of irresponsibility. That road is now therefore a costly one for the party to travel. One can only hope that its leaders will realize this before they have had the time to do further damage to India’s social fabric.

The Congress has only itself to blame for its rout, for in the past six years it has given the country the worst government it has ever had. The list of its mistakes, and of the opportunities it has missed, is too long to accommodate in this essay, but one stands out above all others because of the misery it has inflicted upon ordinary Indians, and because it became the launch pad for Modi’s rise to power. This is the complete dog’s dinner it made of the economy.

In the last four years GDP growth has halved from 8.4 percent (in 2009-10), to a little over four percent in the past year. Industrial growth has collapsed spectacularly — a 16.4 percent drop from 14.5 percent in October 2009 to March 2010, to minus 1.9 percent in January to March 2014. This has devastated the economy. The construction industry is moribund: the skyline of Gurgaon and NOIDA in Delhi is pockmarked by the silhouettes of half-competed skyscrapers. The growth of real fixed investment has fallen by 80 percent from the level reached in 2010-2011. There has been only one large Initial Public Offering of shares by a private company for an industrial or infrastructure project, since Reliance Power’s 7,500 crore IPO in February 2008, and that too occurred as long ago as in January 2011. Over 200 blue chip companies, that had borrowed heavily or issued convertible debentures abroad, are staring a debt default in the face, because of the collapse of their share prices and the 40 percent devaluation of the rupee in the past five years. Within the country tens of thousands of small companies have gone quietly bankrupt, with no one even bothering to keep count. Data on employment collected by the National Sample survey and the Ministry of Industry suggest that at least 40 million job-seekers have lost, or failed to find, jobs and been deprived of a future.

Had the collapse been caused by forces beyond the government’s control there would have been misery but not the level of anger that they have shown at the polls in the past five months. This anger has been fed by the suspicion, that has hardened into conviction, that the government’s faulty polices were responsible. While they may not have understood precisely what the UPA did wrong, they have not believed its repeated assertion that the economic collapse had been caused solely by the global recession. If this was true, they have wondered, how did industrial growth bounce back in July 2009 within less than a year of the start of the recession when the global recession was at its height.

To industrialists, shopkeepers and workers unorganized sector workers, if not to Dr. Manmohan Singh’s legion of economists, the mistake has been obvious for three years. His government became obsessed with fighting inflation in order to retain its popularity, and did not realize that unlike the inflation of 1993-95 and all previous bouts of inflation in India, the inflation that began in the summer of 2006 was not driven by an excess demand but by global and local shortages of supply. From January 2007, therefore, it began applying the wrong remedy. It kept raising interest rates and cutting down money supply to lower demand when the cause of the price rise lay in a relentless rise in global commodity prices fueled by China’s voracious demand, by freakish weather conditions and limitless exports of vegetables and fruits regardless of what that did to domestic prices.
Not only did the government start raising interest rates as far back as January 2007, but it persisted in doing so for seven years in the face of unequivocal evidence that these had had absolutely no effect on the cost of living. Instead of giving price stability and economic growth all that the Manmohan Singh government gave the people was stagflation and despair. Untramelled power was therefore the Congress’ gift to the BJP, perhaps the last gift that it will ever be in a position to give.

Indian politics has entered uncharted waters, but these are not as unfriendly as many secular and liberal intellectuals believe. As of 7.00 PM on Friday, with the counting almost over The Congress’ share of the vote had fallen by almost 10 percent to 19.8 percent. This is huge and probably spells the end of the party as an all-India party. But 19.8 percent is 1.4 percent more than the BJP got in 2009. So the Congress is down but not necessarily out. Whether it will continue to decline will depend on its capacity to stay together in defeat and to realize that the slavish sycophancy that it fostered within itself by clinging to the so-called Gandhi-Nehru charisma has outlived its purpose and become a millstone around its neck.

Second and more important, the Aam Admi Party may have got only 2.2 percent of the national vote but for the poor and underprivileged it has opened the gates to an empowered future. Not only has it won four seats in Punjab, but starting with nothing in a totally alien town, Kejriwal collected 36 percent of the vote in Varanasi. And although it didn’t win in Delhi it retained 33 percent of the vote.
Indeed, had the regional and caste based parties known any history, and realized the danger that the combination of prolonged economic distress and a powerful orator promising immediate economic relief could pose to them, and had AAP got out of its nihilistic mood, understood the reasons for its sudden rise in Delhi, and planned its electoral campaign around a national platform of reforms that would empower the have-nots, the result of this election would have been far more balanced.

The Mayawatis Mamatas and Yadavs of the world may not have got the message before, but it is difficult to believe that they  have not got it now. This is that the days of fighting national elections on the basis of caste, creed and community are rapidly coming to a close. A Yadav or Kurmi or Chamar’s vote is not a party’s entitlement. It has to be earned. Throughout the electoral campaign Kejriwal and Modi had one thing in common – neither of them once appealed to the voter to caste his or her ballot for anything other than performance and justice. Therein lies our hope for the future.

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Exactly two years ago, on March 4, 2012 US President Obama told AIPAC, the premier American-Israeli lobbying body in the US “I have a policy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests”. Between July 1, 2010 and October 9, 2012 he issued no fewer than 12 Executive Orders strengthening the sanctions that had been imposed by the Bush administration on Iran. But on January 29 this year he warned the US Congress that he would veto any new bill that imposed fresh sanctions on Iran.

What caused this extraordinary turnabout?

According to the western media, it was the new Iranian government’s willingness to bend at the knees in order to save the Iranian economy. The sanctions had caused huge inflation, a catastrophic fall in the value of the Iranian Rial, a sharp slowdown in growth, and a creeping rise in industrial obsolescence. Ayatollah Khamenei had realised that this posed a greater danger to the stability of the regime in the long run than conceding to western demands on its nuclear policy. The elections and the formation of a markedly more liberal government under President Rouhani, had given him the face saver he needed to change Iran’s policy.

All this may explain Iran’s motives, but it fails to explain why President Obama should have changed his policy so radically. In particular, it does not tell us why, if sanctions were working so well, he did not administer one more dose to soften Iran a little further? All he had to do was to allow the bill already in Congress,to be passed.

According to the American Right, for whom attacking Obama is the second best game after baseball, he did not do so because he is chicken–hearted. But there could be another explanation and, on February 27, a large gathering in New Delhi, which included most of the policy making establishment and not a few journalists, got an inkling of what might be. This is a glimpse of another, more peaceful world: one that Obama had sworn, long ago, to bring into being but had almost given up hope of doing. The glimpse came in an hour-long speech Iran’s new Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif, organised by the Observer Research Foundation, in Delhi. International Relations, he said, cannot be a zero sum game. “The security of one nation cannot be built upon the insecurity of others. Yet this has been the paradigm of all politics during the 20th century. If you win then I must lose”.

This has led those who had acted upon it to defeat, not victory. “If we assess the success of policies by the achievement of goals then 85 percent of the wars fought in the 20th century have ended by making the initiators more insecure at the end than they were at the beginning.” To cite an example he revealed a long held Iranian secret: “when the US and EU first began to put pressure on us (to stop enriching uranium) we had 200 centrifuges. Today we have 19,000. Is this a victory or a defeat?” “there are many more jihadis in Syria today”, he went on to point out, than at the beginning of the civil war”. If the Jihadis win, If Assad falls, then the war will spread to its neighbours and all will be lost.

These remarks were in line with what Iran and Russia have been saying for several years, and what the West has reluctantly had to concede. But Zarif’s purpose was not to say “I told you so!” His remarks were a prelude to the delineation of an alternative paradigm for international relations. Negotiations, he said, had to start with a discussion of goals. “If you can find a common goal then the means to achieve it become much easier to decide.”

A common goal can only be found if both parties look for solutions that leave them better off than before. The US and EU wanted to prevent Iran from enriching uranium altogether. Iran would never accept this but the goal that it could share was to ensure that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon. This was because it did not want, indeed had never wanted, to be a nuclear weapons state.

This was because it was aware that the possession of nuclear weapons would make it less, not more, safe. “We enjoy conventional military superiority over our neighbours, but we do not underestimate their capacity to secure a nuclear umbrella if we try to raise this superiority to a strategic level. We would therefore risk losing our conventional superiority without gaining anything in return.” Iran, he concluded, was therefore fully prepared to make its nuclear programme completely transparent and subject to rigorous international inspection.

To the leader of a country that had been at war for 13 years, lost thousands of soldiers and maimed tens of thousands more, and run up a gigantic domestic and international debt, only to find its interests more severely threatened than before, Zarif’s alternate paradigm could not fail to have been seductive. For only three months earlier Obama had found himself on the verge of launching an attack on Syria that would have virtually handed the country over to the US’ most inveterate enemy, al Qaeda, and its offshoots, made a jihadi influx into Jordan and Egypt inevitable, triggered a full scale civil war in both countries, and forced the US to send thousands more soldiers into battle to prevent a Jihadi takeover that would have put Israel in mortal danger.

This dismay he had found that Israel was nonetheless willing to play a dangerous game of brinkmanship in Syria in order to create the precedent it needed to drag the US into an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. He must also have realised that the Sunni sheikhdoms and two very insecure heads of government in Europe were also not averse to using the US to fight their domestic wars of survival. But opinion polls shown in the US had shown that only nine per cent of Americans favoured an attack on Syria, and Senator Ron Paul and several other legislators had written letters to their constituencies explaining why they intended to oppose the attack. Obama therefore realised how desperately tired Americans were with war. It was in these circumstances that he turned to the Russians to find a way out. Obama must have welcomed the new Iranian government’s peace overtures because these too gave him an alternative to war, but at the UN general Assembly Rouhani and Zarif unveiled the prospect of a wider cooperation to bring peace to the middle east. Slim as the chance may have seemed then, it was too important to ignore.

Zarif’s alternative paradigm sounds new today, but was first articulated more than a century ago, in 1910, by Norman Angell, a professor, journalist and later a Labour member of the British parliament. Angell wrote a book titled “The Great Illusion” which demonstrated, convincingly, that waging war had become a self-defeating exercise for the conqueror because, in an interdependent world, it destroyed the lines of credit and commerce upon which the creation of wealth rested. Angell’s widely acclaimed book did not stop the First World War, but its prediction that war would destroy the conqueror as thoroughly as the conquered proved chillingly true.

Angell was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1933, not coincidentally just after Hitler came to power in Germany. But the Second World War could not be stopped, and once more it was Germany that suffered the most.

In the past thirty years, globalisation has deepened economic interdependence a hundred–fold. Today it is not only commerce and credit but manufacture and information systems that have crossed national boundaries. So the cost of war has risen still higher. But the win-lose paradigm of foreign policy has not merely endured but staged a comeback after the end of the Cold War. The succession of pre-emptive wars waged and supported by the US have all ended by making it and the west less secure. They have fostered instead of ending terrorism, and have nearly bankrupted the US. A new paradigm for international relations, that is based upon creating win-win solutions to disputes is not only desirable but absolutely essential.

What is true of the west is also true for India. India began its voyage as a nation by expressly repudiating the win-lose paradigm. Panch-shila and non-alignment were expressly intended to buffer international conflict or, failing that, to minimise its fallout. But when the Chinese delivered the coup de grace to non-alignment in 1962 India was forced into the win-lose paradigm. It has remained trapped in it ever since.

In the three decades that followed the Sino-Indian conflict India’s foreign policy focussed almost exclusively on its neighbours, and the win-lose, zero-sum mentality expressed itself in a policy of bilateralism towards our neighbours. Predictably, given the huge disparity in size between us and our neighbours, it yielded very few dividends.

In the past two decades India has sought once again to break this mould by evolving doctrines like ‘non-reciprocity’, and offering preferential and free trade concessions to its neighbours. It has also reached out to ASEAN, Japan and South and sub-Saharan Africa. But the win-lose paradigm has endured. It is responsible to a considerable extent for the UPA government’s failure to make any headway in forging more stable and durable relations with Pakistan; it has gravely weakened its relations with Iran; it has all but destroyed India’s relations with secular Arabs, not only in Syria but Egypt and Iraq, and poisoned New Delhi’s perception of Kashmiri ethno-nationalism.

Its relations with Pakistan remain tense because too many policy analysts and media pundits in Delhi have publicly proclaimed that New Delhi is intent on increasing its influence in Afghanistan at Pakistan’s expense. It is afraid of openly supporting the Palestinian cause because Israel is its most reliable arms supplier; it is afraid of supporting Syria because it does not want to jeopardise the flow of oil and remittances from the Gulf sheikhdoms and Saudi Arabia; It has joined China and Russia in BRICS to support the creation of a multi-polar and democratic international order but is hesitant about deepening its strategic cooperation with them for fear of alienating the US. Today it cannot decide whether to build closer strategic relations with China, or join the US, Japan and Australia in ‘containing’ it.

The root cause of its timidity and indecisiveness is the belief that all of its choices are binary, and therefore that gains in one direction will necessarily involve losses in others. But its consequence has been to make India utterly incapable of giving a lead to other nations at a time of deepening systemic chaos in the international order, and universal confusion in policy. It has also made India the least trustworthy among the larger nations in the world.

India too, therefore, urgently needs to make a win-win paradigm as the guiding principle of its external relations. The starting point would be to base its foreign policy on principles and not expediency. The least this will do is to provide leadership in framing alternatives to military intervention, to a world that is no longer even able to discern where its interests lie.

No other country is better placed to do this, for India is not only a democracy, but a profoundly un-threatening one. It has an unblemished record in respecting its treaty obligations and the sovereignty of other nations. And while it may not be able to shower foreign exchange on hard pressed developing countries, it has two other invaluable assets – the largest food stocks and the cheapest supplies of life saving medicines in the world. No other country has better credentials or capacity to guide the world out of the morass in which it is trapped. In a nutshell, what India and the world need is another Nehru.

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When India’s ambassador Ashok Kantha presented his credentials along with 13 other ambassadors to Chinese President Xi Jinping last month, he was one of only three diplomats with whom the president held one-to-one talks after the ceremony was over. One would have thought that this was as unambiguous, a signal of the importance that Xi’s government attached to its relations with India, as any a government could have given. But what he told ambassador Kantha at the meeting was even more significant: he regarded furthering the India-China strategic partnership as his historic mission. What he wished to do was to move India-China relations beyond the bilateral context and deepen cooperation on regional and global issues.

Xi’s gesture was not an isolated one. India’s Republic Day reception in Beijing on 26 January was attended by Vice-President Li Yuanchao. Not only was this extremely unusual but, to the amazement of the European diplomats who were present, Li went on to deliver a short speech extolling the historic relations between China and India.

This too had followed a succession of overtures to India by the new government in Beijing, whose significance New Delhi either did not, or did not want to, recognise. These included China’s speedy withdrawal of its troops from the Daulat Beg Oldi sector in Ladakh after their initial intrusion; Xi’s declaration after his meeting with Manmohan Singh at the BRICS summit in Durban last year that he wanted to settle the Himalayan border dispute not “gradually” but “as early as possible”; and his decision, also communicated to Singh at Durban, to make India the first country that his Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, would visit on his tour of Asia in May.

Since then, Chinese participants at several seminars have mentioned Beijing’s desire to raise the bilateral ties to one of long-term strategic cooperation. But India has reacted to these overtures with considerable wariness. Only a day after Xi’s meeting with ambassador Kantha, New Delhi summarily refused to give Chinese aircraft permission to enter, or overfly, the Andaman Sea in search of wreckage from Malaysian Airlines’ ill-fated flight MH-370. Considering that the majority of its 240 passengers were Chinese, this was a callous thing to have done. But what was even more disturbing was the vociferous approval that the Indian public bestowed upon the government for its rejection. One anonymous military official summed up the national attitude when he told the South China Morning Post: “We don’t want Chinese warships sniffing around in the area on the pretext of hunting for the missing jetliner or anti-piracy patrols.”

The contrast between Xi’s overtures and this viscerally distrustful response is so striking that it is difficult to see how the gap in trust can ever be bridged. Yet, bridge it we must if we want to resolve our longstanding border dispute, and play a constructive role in the remaking of the chaotic international State system.

As the 1962 war had shown, our Himalayan border is an area where we are at a severe military disadvantage. Diplomacy is, therefore, the only way forward, but its success depends upon building a measure of trust. This is the ingredient that is missing in our relations with China. The reasons, as The Times of India noted on 24 March, lie in the border war of 1962.

To say that the Indian public, its armed forces and most of its policymakers remain traumatised by that humiliating defeat would be an understatement. But the reason why the trauma has endured long after the Chinese seem to have put it behind them is not just that we suffered a defeat, but that we have never understood precisely why the war took place. Indians remain convinced that China was the aggressor. It claimed 140,000 sq km of Indian territory across the entire length of the Himalayas, and had begun nibbling away at it as far back as in 1954. But in his widely read book, India’s China War, Australian journalist Neville Maxwell has squarely accused India, and then PM Jawaharlal Nehru in particular, of having started the war.

Maxwell has accused Nehru of being an “imperialist” who adopted a Forward Policy of defending the borders drawn in Tibet unilaterally by the British, and of trying to evict China from any territory it occupied west and south of these borders through the use of “non-violent force”. The Chinese, he claims, were slow to catch on to his designs and continued to believe, until as late as 1961, that he would negotiate the borders in the Himalayas peacefully. They were only shaken out of their stupor by India’s aggressive patrolling and establishment of scores of posts along its definition of the border. From this, Maxwell went on to declare India the aggressor in the 1962 war, and China the victim.

Indian scholars and analysts have tried to refute many of Maxwell’s thesis for more than four decades. But they have been severely handicapped by lack of access to the Indian Army’s report on the causes of the military debacle, written by Lt Gen Henderson Brooks and Victoria Cross holder Brig Prem Bhagat. Maxwell, on the other hand, was given a copy of the report, which he did not put out in the public domain, but used liberally to prove his thesis — a thesis that accepted the Chinese version of events as uncritically as it rejected the Indian.

Forced to rely upon anecdotal evidence to refute Maxwell, scholars such as K Subramaniam and Inder Malhotra have only managed to dent the edges of his assertions. As a result, Indians have never achieved closure on their humiliating defeat. Instead, as it happened to the Germans after their sudden, unexplained, defeat in World War I, the wound has continued to fester. Today, our incomprehension of the past is threatening to poison our future.

For Indians, closure will only come when they too have read the Brooks- Bhagat report and used its solid factual base to draw their own conclusions. But if the government had continued to have its way, the report would have remained in limbo, possibly forever. However, in February, Maxwell did the Indian people an inestimable service by releasing the first part of the Brooks-Bhagat report on his website. New Delhi’s immediate reaction was the inexcusable one of blocking his website. But, fortunately for us and our future, by the time it did so, several copies of the report had already been downloaded and are now available on the Internet. This has at last given the Indian people an opportunity to understand the past and put it behind them.

The report does not speculate upon the political causes of the war. Its mandate was solely to conduct an “operations review” of the causes of “the reverses suffered by the army, particularly in the Kameng division of the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA)”. Its terms of reference were to inquire into “what went wrong with the following: 1. Training; 2. Equipment; 3. System of Command; 4. Physical fitness of the troops; and 5. Capacity of commanders at all levels to influence the men under their command.

But Brooks and Bhagat concluded very early on that to carry out their mandate they needed first to examine the “developments and events prior to the hostilities, as well as the balance, posture and strength of the army at the outbreak of hostilities”. Their conclusions were so damning that they caused the report to be buried. The sections of the report now available to us give an insight into why this happened.

The report confirms that the war was indeed triggered by India’s Forward Policy and condemns it because it violated every canon of the art of war, and scaled new heights of ineptitude. But it also makes it clear that this policy was adopted only in December 1961. Prior to that, the Indian government had adopted a defensive policy that was intended to maintain the status quo in the Himalayas and avoid conflict to the maximum extent possible. In so doing, it also reveals the extent to which Maxwell had uncritically swallowed China’s version of the conflict in his book.

Till late 1959, the report points out, the Indo-Tibetan border was a dormant one. The army was not even involved in policing it — the task had been left to the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. But two violent clashes, in August at Longju on the western edge of NEFA, and in October at Kongka La on the Kashmir-Xinjiang frontier, turned it into a ‘live’ border.

The government’s task for the army was “to restrict any further Chinese ingress into Indian territory in Ladakh” and “to establish our rights of possession on our side of the McMahon Line and to prevent infiltration”. Both these directives were very far from the Forward Policy that, Maxwell claimed, Nehru had adopted in the early-to-mid 1950s.

Following the army’s assumption of responsibility for policing the border, the Army Headquarters issued an “intelligence appreciation” of the Chinese forces in both regions. This was followed by “operational instructions” to the Eastern Command in December 1959, and to the Western Command in February 1960. In Ladakh, the intelligence appreciation estimated that the Chinese would deploy one regiment plus a few tanks. Based upon this, the Army HQ concluded that any future confrontations would involve troops at no more than company or battalion strength. To counter the Chinese deployment, therefore, the Western Command was asked to deploy one brigade and two battalions of the Jammu & Kashmir Militia. In fact, the area was so remote that by the end of 1960, the Western Command had only been able to deploy one infantry battalion (one third of a brigade) and the J&K Militia.

In the eastern sector, the intelligence appreciation prepared in 1959, estimated that China had one division facing Sikkim and Bhutan, up to two regiments on the McMahon Line in western NEFA, and one regiment in eastern NEFA. However, it concluded that China was in no position to launch an offensive because it was still “consolidating its hold on Tibet”. So the Eastern Command deployed just one infantry division in NEFA. It also had a division in Nagaland, and two brigades west of NEFA, but given the vast distances, the mountainous terrain and the absence of roads, these were in no position to reinforce the troops in NEFA within any meaningful period of time.

The operating instructions to the two commands were also similar: establish posts; patrol the areas in between; show the flag, but avoid confrontations. In the eastern sector, the orders were explicit: there was to be no patrolling closer than 2-3 miles from the McMahon Line. There was to be no aggressive action on any count; if Chinese patrols were encountered south of the line, they were to be told to withdraw. The troops were to fire only in self-defence.

Maxwell cites India’s refusal of a Chinese proposal for a mutual withdrawal of forces by 20 km after the Kongka La clash as proof of Nehru’s imperialism, but the report suggests a different explanation. Kongka La was 65-80 km inside what India considered its territory. Thus, agreeing to a 20 km separation from this point would have been tantamount to ceding the rest of the territory to China. However, in practice, India did precisely that: except at one point (Demchok), it kept its troops west of “the Chinese Claim”, a line proposed by the Chinese in 1954 but not accepted by India. In addition, both countries took care to leave a wide gap between their forces.

In 1960, possibly after then premier Chou Enlai’s failure to make Nehru agree to renegotiating the border, the Chinese began to build up their forces in both sectors. By October 1960, they had more than one division in Ladakh, including supporting armour, and had built roads and tracks to all their western outposts, greatly improving their capacity strengthen them at short notice. An even more striking imbalance developed in the eastern sector. By July 1961, China had three full divisions supported by armour and mountain artillery in NEFA, two in the west and one in the east.

In October 1960, therefore, the Western Command asked that its forces in Ladakh be built up to a full division. But instead, for reasons that the report does not analyse, it did not get a single additional unit of any size. In December 1961, therefore, the Western Command had only one regular and two J&K light infantry battalions without armour, without even mortars and medium machine guns, without access roads, supplied wholly from the air to face the Chinese forces in Aksai Chin.

Much the same story was repeated in the Northeast. In May 1961, the Eastern Command also submitted an Emergency Expansion Plan that involved raising five more divisions for different parts of the Himalayan frontier. But although it kept pressing New Delhi for more troops for the next two years, it got none. Therefore, to man NEFA’s 900 km border with Tibet, it had a single division minus a brigade that had, for reasons unknown, been detached and sent to Nagaland.

This was the grim imbalance in both sectors when the government decided in November 1961 to adopt the Forward Policy. The Army HQ’s directives required the Eastern and Western Commands to set up scores of new outposts and push patrols as close as possible to the India-defined border in Ladakh and to the McMahon Line in NEFA. But both the commands had to do this without a single additional soldier.

New Delhi’s instructions remained to avoid conflict and fire only in self-defence, but the Brooks-Bhagat report leaves readers in no doubt that the Forward Policy was, in military terms, both irresponsible and indefensible. In Ladakh, it increased the number of outposts to 60 and located most of them in positions that overlooked the Chinese road through Aksai Chin. This was a situation that Beijing was virtually guaranteed not to tolerate. It demonstrated this by setting up its posts opposite the Indian posts and frequently surrounding Indian posts. This led to five armed confrontations. The most serious occurred on the Galwan river.

In May 1962, overriding the objections of the Western Command, the Army HQ ordered it to set up a post on the Galwan river. When it was set up in July, it was immediately surrounded by 70 Chinese soldiers. The Western Command advised against supplying the post through a land route and doing so only from the air, but New Delhi overruled it once more and ordered it to use the land route. The supply columns were forced back day after day for four days. In all, the siege of the Galwan post lasted for 12 days.

In NEFA, the Eastern Command set up 24 new posts. Many of these were up to 14 days’ march from their bases. This created a logistical nightmare and put the troops at risk of death through exposure, disease and starvation. The Chinese responded by setting up posts opposite the Indian posts. This brought the troops into eyeball confrontation. By late summer 1962, therefore, the entire border had become a powder keg.

Although Brooks and Bhagat did their best to stay within the narrow confines of their terms of reference, they found it impossible to do so without shedding some light on why the government ordered an army, which had been enfeebled by being stretched ever thinner, to initiate hostilities against a vastly superior force that had all the advantages of terrain and logistics on its side. Its conclusion was damning: “Against all evidence of increasing military disadvantage, and all the warnings that the Chinese gave us by actions like those at Galwan and Dhola, the government had convinced itself that when forced to choose between going to war against India and withdrawing, the Chinese would withdraw. Their indictment of the Forward Policy approaches the heights of literature: The Art of War teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy not coming but on our readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking but on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”

In the end, it was New Delhi that provided the casus belli for the war. As part of the Forward Policy, the Army HQ had decided to set up a post at the tri-junction of the Bhutan, India and Tibet border, but in August 1962, it was informed by the Eastern Command that although the McMahon Line broadly follows the watershed, the tri-junction was not located upon it, but 3-4 miles south of it. Chinese patrols had been coming south of the watershed till the tri-junction shown on the maps, so New Delhi decided to move its Dhola post 4 miles north to the tri-junction on the watershed. However, to “avoid alarm and queries from all concerned”, it decided to continue giving it the map reference of the old tri-junction. On 8 September, the Chinese surrounded the Dhola post with 600 soldiers.

The Eastern Command’s immediate response was to send an order to the local units to “link up” with the Dhola post, i.e force a way through the Chinese encirclement. This was followed by a spate of top-level meetings, chaired by defence minister Krishna Menon in New Delhi and the army chief in Tezpur, Assam. At these meetings, the 33rd Corps, which had the immediate responsibility for NEFA, recommended sending two battalions to encircle the Chinese who were laying siege to Dhola from the south. But this sensible and realistic proposal was brushed aside at both the meetings and the army was ordered to clear the Chinese out, using force if necessary. When Indian troops attempted to carry out this suicidal order, they gave China the invitation to attack in strength that it was waiting for.

What should the Indian public and its representatives learn from the disclosures contained in the Brooks-Bhagat report? The most important is that China is not the aggressive, expansionist nation that two generations of Indians have been reared to believe. In Indian eyes, China committed its original act of aggression when it began to build a road connecting Tibet and Xinjiang through Aksai Chin in the mid-1950s. But the term “aggression” presupposes the existence of recognised, and clearly demarcated national boundaries. Aksai Chin, however, fell in no-man’s land between the Karakoram and the Kuen Lun mountain ranges where no recognised border existed. Based upon trade and travel routes, the Chinese considered the Karakoram range to be the traditional frontier between Ladakh and Tibet, but the boundary line that India had inherited from the British lay further east along the Kuen Lun mountains. Topography and hindsight show us that this alignment lost its raison d’etre the moment China annexed Tibet, for the British had chosen it with the specific purpose of blocking the valleys between the two ranges that could have given Russia easy access to Tibet, and thence to India and southern China, through Tibet. This alignment was, therefore, a product of The Great Game, and became history when China annexed Tibet.

It also became a claw stuck into China’s underbelly, for it lay athwart the road it needed to build to connect Tibet to Xinjiang. Given Aksai Chin’s importance to China and unimportance to India, the Ladakh border could have been settled easily through negotiation. But there is no record of the Chinese ever having formally raised this issue before starting to build the Tibet-Xinjiang road.

However, having secured its basic requirement, China went to great lengths to demonstrate its desire for a negotiated settlement. The lengths to which it was prepared to go were demonstrated by Chou when he virtually forced himself upon Nehru in New Delhi in February 1960, and went from one Indian Cabinet minister’s home to the next, trying to obtain a consensus. Nehru’s failure to take advantage of this extraordinary overture must be counted as one of the greater, and by far, the most costly, diplomatic mistake India has made. For the hostility that Chou encountered, and the humiliation to which he was subjected by ministers such as Morarji Desai, almost certainly triggered the rapid build-up of Chinese forces in the east and the west, that led Nehru and his advisers to adopt the Forward Policy.

But even then, the Chinese exhibited a strong preference for the use of “nonviolent force”. Thus they surrounded but did not attack the Galwan and Dhola posts. The message, again, was that they preferred to settle the dispute through negotiation, although the price would almost certainly be higher.

The report also reveals that the Chinese have been remarkably consistent in the terms they have set for a settlement. In Ladakh, the terms of the 1993 Agreement for Peace and Tranquility in the Border Regions, including the pulling back of troops by both countries to create a non-militarised border zone, are almost identical to the status quo that was established in 1960. This was also true of NEFA (now Arunachal) till 2006 when, without any warning, the Chinese went back to describing the whole of the state as a disputed are and calling it Southern Tibet.

By putting the blame for the war squarely upon the Forward Policy and, therefore, by implication upon Nehru, the report has also forces us to re-examine the prevailing belief that Nehru’s bloated sense of his own importance made it impossible for him to believe that the Chinese would ever attack India. This is simplistic to say the least, for it leaves out one crucial ingredient in the decision-making process: the role played by public opinion in tying his hands and leaving him with very few options.

The Indian public had never accepted Nehru’s tame acceptance of China’s annexation of Tibet, and was viscerally hostile to China. It had been enraged by the discovery of the Aksai Chin road, and alarmed by the incidents at Longju and Kongka La. The publicity that surrounded the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet and arrival in India in April 1959 and the stories of Chinese atrocities brought by his followers had rekindled the anger of the people. Inder Malhotra, who was then the political correspondent of The Statesman, has given a graphic account of the pressures that this generated upon Nehru:

“Before and during the failed summit, bitter domestic discord raged in this country, at times theatrically. Nehru had to brush aside strident demands that there should be no welcome for Chou Enlai throughout his stay. Despite the chill, all courtesies were maintained. But on the demand for the exclusion from the negotiations of his protégé, the controversial defence minister Krishna Menon, Nehru had no option but to yield. However, when Menon did manage to have a pow-wow with Chou Enlai, popular rage knew no bounds.”

The dangers that democracies face from ill-informed public opinion is, therefore, the second lesson to be learned from the debacle of 1962. Nehru knew that he had used up most of his political capital getting Indians to accept China’s annexation of Tibet. When China began to build its Tibet-Xinjiang road without even informing, let alone reaching an agreement with India, and when a spate of revelations of the oppression the Chinese had unleashed upon Tibet gained currency after the Dalai Lama’s arrival, he felt unable to concede any more ground.

Even at this point, Nehru wanted to do no more than establish a new de facto line of separation between Tibet and Ladakh. But finding himself caught between the renewed Chinese military build-up in Aksai Chin and NEFA, and a rising “bunker mentality” at home, he may have felt that showing the flag to establish red lines was the only option left, at least to buy time till things cooled down. What is more, had the Chinese Communist Party not entered a period of crisis at that precise moment, he might just might have gotten away with it.

What Nehru failed to take into account, and what Maxwell does not even mention, are the changes that were taking place within China that were pushing it towards a Grenada-style “small winnable war”. In 1959, the Great Leap Forward had just started, so the Chinese were content to stake out the territory they needed for the Aksai Chin road. But by 1962, it had failed.

China’s leaders had cut down tens of thousands of acres of forests for firewood, produced worthless junk in its backyard furnaces, and plunged an already poor country into famine. Lacking a national food market, Beijing had been forced to sit helplessly by as 16 million people starved to death. In 1962, therefore, Mao Tse-tung knew that the Communist Party’s Mandate of Heaven was in tatters and needed something to shore it up. New Delhi’s 21 September orzder to push the Chinese off the Thagla ridge must have come as a gift from heaven.

To sum up, the 1962 war was not a product of Chinese expansionism (if one rules out its annexation of Tibet). Nor was it a product of Nehru’s, ie India’s imperialism. It arose out of China’s attempt at consolidation. China tried repeatedly to nudge India towards a negotiated solution, but did not realise that no democracy could afford to negotiate from a position of weakness. On his part, Nehru was not the puffed-up peacock that his present-day critics make him out to be, but a visionary leader who failed to make his people accept his vision, fell foul of public opinion, and lost his capacity to lead the country at a crucial time on a crucial issue. The crucial error that both countries made was not to perceive the visceral link between foreign and domestic policy. China never understood how public opinion could impede the search for a negotiated solution; Nehru did not have the faintest inkling of how much China’s natural aversion to conflict had been eroded by the failure of the Great Leap Forward.

The 1962 war was a product of these failures, but these are failures typical of young nations. Both countries have learned immensely valuable lessons from it. This became apparent in 2009, when after three years of increasing acrimony, renewed aggressive patrolling and frequent intrusions across the Line of Actual Control, and an unambiguous ultimatum by China to prevent the Dalai Lama from visiting Tawang, it was then premier Wen Jiabao who took the initiative to meet Manmohan in Thailand, and arrest the drift towards a repeat of 1962.

What is even more significant, both governments realised that public opinion, inflamed by the international media, was the main impediment to peace and arrived at the brilliantly innovative decision to ban the international, and limit the local media’s presence in Tawang, while allowing the Dalai Lama to continue his trip unimpeded.

When India is on the verge of an epochal shift in its domestic politics, the publication of the Brooks-Bhagat report has provided the historical perspective that the next government will need to respond positively to China’s overtures.

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Oil, however, is not the only natural resource over which conflicts are likely to break out in the future. Another, even more dangerous, casus belli is water. Disagreements between upper and lower riparian states over their rights to river waters have sparked many wars in the past. Today, with the human population exceeding 6 billion, and per capita water consumption rising rapidly in developing countries, the threat of such conflicts is higher than ever. While solar energy cannot augment the supply of water, it can eliminate the main cause of conflict by making hydro-electric power projects redundant. It can do this by providing peak power far more cheaply, rapidly, and in an eco-friendly way, than either storage or run-of-the-river power plants. Nowhere would the benefits from this be felt more acutely than in the triangle of countries that share the waters of the Brahmaputra (Yarlung-Tsangpo river), China, Bangladesh and India.

The possibility that China might build dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo to divert some of its waters to the arid regions of the north was first mentioned at the first International conference of the Global Infrastructure Fund in Anchorage, Alaska in 1986. Although Chinese officials rubbished the idea as being impossibly expensive to implement, they did not rule out the possibility of constructing dams on the river to generate power. This ambivalence raised understandable alarm in Bangladesh and India but Beijing sought to allay their fears by assuring them that it intends to build run-of the river dams that will redirect, but not stop, the flow of its waters into India and Bangladesh.

These reassurances have not, however, prevented China and India from entering an undeclared race to capture the hydro-electric potential of the Brahmaputra river basin. Chinese writers began to air plans for harnessing the Yarlung–Tsangpo in 2005 but it is possible that India began to formulate its plans after the publication of a book by Li Ling in 2003 titled Tibet’s waters will save China. As the downstream riparian, India is hoping to establish first user rights to stake its claim to an uninterrupted flow of the Brahmaputra’s waters. In International law first user rights start upon the completion of a project, so the number of projects that India has signalled it will take up in the Brahmaputra basin has risen rapidly from 146 announced in a s ten-year Hydro-Electricity Plan unveiled by India’s Central Electricity Authority in 2007, to about 200 today. What is more a scramble has developed to start as many of these, as soon as is possible.

The pace of planning and implementation has also picked up in China. Citing the need to cut down CO2 emissions the 12th five year energy Plan, unveiled in 2012, shifted its emphasis back onto giant hydro-electric projects once more. Chief among these is the exploitation of the hydro-power potential of the Yarlung–Tsangpo. In all, China intends to build 40 dams on the river and its tributaries. Of these 20 dams on the Yarlung–Tsangpo are expected to generate 60,000 MW of power while 20 smaller dams upon its tributaries are expected to generate another 5.000 MW. Eleven of the 20 projects on the Yarlung–Tsangpo are to be located between its source and the Big Bend where the Brahmaputra turns northwards, executes a huge ‘U’ turn and falls from 3,500 metres on the Tibetan plateau to 700 metres, in the undulating hills of Arunachal Pradesh in India. These will generate 20,000 MW of power. The balance, of 40,000 MW will be generated from the Big Bend. The plan, put forward by ex-Premier Li Peng’s family-owned corporation, the Three Gorges Dam Company, is to build a vast tunnel under the ridge that separates the two arms of the Big Bend, and divert 50 billion cubic metres of water a year to the south-eastern slope where it will fall over nine cascading hydropower dams to generate 40,000 MW of peak power. India, for its part, plans to generate 22,000 MW from two large dams on the Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh and 10,000 MW from dams on its tributaries. In all therefore the two countries plan to generate 97,000 MW of power from this tiny region of their respective countries.

Such ambitious but conflicting plans were bound to have a political fallout. Its first indication was an abrupt announcement by the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi, that China considered the whole of the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of Tibet. This was a complete reversal of it’s earlier position, developed in a succession of bilateral negotiations since 1994, that China was prepared to settle for a substantial modification of some parts of the existing temporary boundary, called the Line of Actual Control. What gave the announcement added significance was that it was made on Indian television three days before President Hu Jintao paid a state visit to India. The announcement took the Indian government by surprise and was followed by three years of rising tension along the border. China began to refer to Arunachal as “South Tibet”, and to its principal monastery at Tawang as Tibet’s second most important monastery after Lhasa. It also began to deny visas to Indian offiicals who were serving in Arunachal Pradesh. The tension was not defused till there was a meeting between Premier Wen Jiabao and Prime minister Manmohan Singh designed specifically to prevent its spilling over into military conflict, at Hua Hin, Thailand in October 2009. However, if the hunger for power and water continues to grow, the respite this meeting gave the two countries could prove temporary.

All this took place over plans that were little more than engineers’ dreams. And the dreams have kept growing larger. The Big Bend region is one of the least known area of the world. In all some 360 dams are to be built on slopes with as much as a 70 degree gradient, at the meeting point of three of the youngest and most unstable mountain ranges of the world. But neither China nor India have made even a rudimentary assessment of the impact that tearing down billions of cubic metres of rock and earth to build dams, tunnels and roads, and storing millions, in some cases billions, of cubic metres of water in will have upon the stability of the earths crust in this region.

This neglect is deliberate, for both governments are fully aware that the Himalayas have seen a succession of the most severe earthquakes in recorded history. Four of these, measuring 7.8 to 8.9 on the Richter scale occurred within a span of 53 years between 1897 and 1950. The first and last occurred just 53 years apart in the region immediately south and west of the Big Bend in the Brahmaputra. The 1897 earthquake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale (equivalent to the explosion of 7.6 million tonnes of dynamite, or a medium sized hydrogen bomb) and caused widespread damage and loss of life in what was then called upper Assam. It was caused by the build up of pressure as the Indian (tectonic) plate pressed against the Shillong Plate, a part of the far older Eurasian Plate. The quake occurred when the former shifted 11 to 16 metres as it dived under the latter, over a stretch of 110 kms, along what is known as the Oldham fault. This is one of the largest tectonic shifts recorded so far. Its effects were felt through the entire earth’s crust over this length.

The 1950 earthquake was the severest recorded in the Himalayas. It occurred at Rima, Tibet, not far from the site of the 1897 ‘quake. Measuring 8.7 on the Richter scale it is one of the ten most severe earthquakes in recorded history. Its epicentre also lay on the fault line where the Indian continental plate smashes into the Eurasian plate and dives beneath it. Survivors from the region reported mudslides damming rivers and causing them to rise high when these broke, bringing down sand, mud, trees, and all kinds of debris. Pilots flying over the area reported great changes in topography, caused by enormous land slides, some of which were photographed. An aftershock of this earthquake, a long way to the west of it, was severe enough to register 8.6 on the Richter scale and caused avalanches and floods that destroyed swathes of forest in the Mishmi and Arbor Hills.

Earthquakes in the Himalaya regularly cause landslides that block rivers, causing them to rise till the pressure of the stored water breaks through. The result is a flash flood downstream that causes havoc among the villages and towns that lie in its path. The 1950 earthquake and the 8.6 magnitude aftershock that followed caused avalanches that blocked several of the tributaries of the Brahmaputra. One such dyke in the Dibang valley broke quickly and caused relatively little damage. But another, at Subansiri, broke after water had collected behind it for 8 days and unleashed a 7-metre-high wave that submerged several villages and killed 532 people. In all, the 1950 earthquake killed more than 1500 people in Assam. Geological studies, including the radio carbon dating of sand found on the surface, have uncovered at least one other giant earthquake in the same area that took place in 1548 and two earthquakes in the central region of the Himalayas, that were severe enough to break the earth’s crust all the way to the surface. These occurred in 1255 and 1934.

The 1934 earthquake, which measured 8.1 on the Richter scale and had its epicentre about 10 kms south of Mount Everest, devastated north Bihar and Nepal and killed at least 30,000 people. This occurred before any dams had been built. The dykes that were overwhelmed were of mud and broke in a matter of days. But earthquakes of this magnitude will almost certainly break concrete dams as well. For the Richter scale is a logarithmic scale. An 8.1 magnitude earthquake releases three times as much energy and an 8.7 magnitude releases 23 times as much as a 7.8 magnitude quake. Should any of the proposed dams crack during an earthquake or an ensuing flood, the colossal wave of water, mud and boulders that will be released will kill millions and completely devastate the areas of Tibet, India and Bangladesh that lie in its path. The overwhelming majority of deaths and damage will take place in India and Bangladesh.

India got a foretaste of this some years ago when a flash flood in the Yarlung-Tsangpo, caused by torrential rains and landslides, wiped out an entire island in the Brahmaputra, killing nearly all who lived on it. Chinese hydrologists knew that the flood would occur but did not warn their Indian counterparts. India got another foretaste of what can happen in June 2013 when three days of torrential rains in the valley of the Bhagirathi river, one of the two main tributaries of the Ganges river, caused landslides, that blocked a tributary and destroyed the entire town of Kedarnath when the mud dyke broke, killing between 5,000 and 10,000 people in a matter of hours. Over the previous twenty years the hill slopes overlooking the Bhagirathi valley had been ravaged by the construction of dams and tunnels for the Tehri hydro-electric project, the second largest in India. The rains therefore brought on a catastrophe that many had feared, but hoped would never happen.
The Tehri project has a generating capacity of only 1,000 MW, one fortieth of what the 9 dams at the Big Bend will have, and almost one hundredths of what India and China intend to create in the region. Twenty years from now, when thousands of explosions of dynamite, that have been used to build tunnels for 240 or more power projects, have loosened billions of tonnes of earth and the population has increased tenfold, the entire region will be a calamity waiting to happen.

The Solar alternative

China has become the lowest cost producer of solar photovoltaic panels and heliostats in the world, and India has begun the construction of the largest solar PV power station in the world (4000MWe), as well as the largest Solar thermal power station in Asia (250 MWe). But neither country’s government has grasped the fact that every step they are taking down this road is making their hydro-power development plans redundant For in Spain, a solar thermal power plant that began to supply power to the grid in 2011 has shown that China and India establish 97,000 MWe of generating capacity on less than 10,000 km2 of land. This sounds like a lot of till one realises that it is only one twentieth-fifth of the land area of the Thar desert (that straddles India and Pakistan), and is only a fifth of the land that the Indian government has already reserved within its part of the desert for the construction of solar power plants. It is also barely two-thirds of one per cent of the land in the Gobi desert of China.

The technology is incorporated in Terresol’s 19.9 MW Gemasolar plant at Fuentes de Andalucia. This plant was approved in February 2009 and came on stream in May 2011.It is the first solar plant in the world that is designed to provide power throughout the day in exactly the same way as coal fired plants do today. To do this it stores enough of the sun’s energy, collected from 2650 heliostats in a mixture of potassium and sodium salts to generate power for 15 hours a day using the stored heat alone. Round-the-clock solar power has become possible because this combination of molten salts loses only one per cent of the stored heat in a day. In an average year, therefore, stored heat generates 5475 hours of power while direct sunlight is required for only the remaining 1025 hours, or less than 3 hours a day. Gemasolar is thus generating 129 GWh of power per year, and supplying 110 GWh to the national grid.

It does this from 304,000 sq metres of heliostats spread over 185 hectares of ground. Assuming that the power generation plant takes up another 15 hectares, Gemasolar requires on square km of land on an average for every 10 MWe of generating capacity. Thus the entire 97,000.MWe of generating capacity that China and India are aiming for in Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh can be set up on 9,700 km2 of land.. This sounds like a lot of land but it is less than a quarter of the area of the Thar desert in the Indian state of Rajasthan that the Indian government has already reserved for solar power plants in the second phase of its National Solar Mission. It is also less than one per cent of the land area of the Gobi desert in China.

The Gemasolar plant demonstrates that solar thermal power has many other advantages that make it far more economical than hydro power. First, unlike the Three Gorges dam project that took just under 12 years to complete, the Gemasolar plant came into operation 27 months after it received the go-ahead from the Spanish government. This means that power will be available ten years sooner with solar power plants. In those ten years it will generate additional GDP, and therefore additional savings for investment. Second with power available for 6,500 hours a year every megawatt of installed solar capacity will generate 50 percent more power than the Three Gorges power plants, whose maximum plant availability has been 4,360 hours . It will also be double of the power that India extracts from its 1500 MW Nathpa Jhakri power plant in Himachal Pradesh, in the western Himalayas.

Solar power can meet the need for power at peak load times that hydel power is designed to meet, in as little as two years. Concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) plants can supply power whenever it is demanded. What is more, thanks to the steep fall in the cost of solar panels triggered by China, they can now do so at a substantially lower cost. This has not been immediately apparent because economic appraisals measure only the initial capital cost and the number of hours the plant is able to deliver. They almost never take the cost of delay into account because this is a social cost borne by society and not the investor. Yet this is by far the largest and most important of the three costs .

Comparing the true costs of various energy from various sources

It is not easy to make best practice estimates of the cost of generating power from different sources of energy, specially if they are to be found in different countries. To make this possible, the table below uses the bare capital costs estimated for thermal, nuclear, hydro and solar power in the US, in April 2013, and running costs and Plant load factors found in china, India and Spain .
Comparison of economic cost of alternative power sources. 2013


Thermal     Nuclear      Hydro       Solar
Cap cost/ MW capacity(US$m)           3.246           5.530        2.936      7.3143
Plant Load Factor (hrs/yr)                  64002           78842      28932     6.5004
Cap cost per MWh($)                                  507                701          1014          664
Construction period(yrs) 5                           8                  10                2             55
Net saving foregone 6                               1,350           2,970          4050             0
True Cap cost per MWh ($)7                 1,857            3601            5064         664


  1. Capital cost based upon the technical specifications of the Gemasolar 19.9 MW central tower CSP set up at Fuente de Andalucia in Spain, which came into operation in May 2011.
  2. These PLFs are the actual experience in India. The PLF for nuclear power plants is that achieved in plants that have not experienced difficulties in obtaining uranium.
  3. Based upon price of heliostats prices quoted by Chinese suppliers ($120 per sq.m)and the assumption that these account for half of the total cost of the solar thermal plant. One American supplier is also offering these at $126.
  4. PLF based on 15 hrs of supply per day from stored heat and 3 hours from direct sunlight being delivered by the Gemasolar plant.
  5. Actual construction period at Fuentes de Andalucia was 2yrs 3 months.
  6. This is calculated as the saving out of additional GDP that is foregone during the longer gestation period of the project. In India the GDP in 2011-12 was $1.5 trillion and the saving rate was 36 percent. These ratios have been applied to all the four types of plants
  7. This is row 4 + 6.

In the above table the ‘private’ cost, i.e. the bare capital cost that appears in the investor’s balance sheet, of delivered power (MWh) from different sources is given in Row 3. The ‘social’ cost, i.e. cost to the nation is given in row 6. This is the private cost plus the savings out of GDP foregone through the non-availability of power to the country during the construction period of the project, beyond the earliest date on which the power can be supplied by the technology with the shortest gestation period, i.e solar power. Needless to say, this is only that part of social cost which can be readily calculated in terms of GDP foregone. It does not include less measurable but equally tangible costs, such as employment foregone and damage to the environment.

The table shows that while the ‘private’ capital cost per MWh (excluding operational costs) is lowest for coal-based power plants, it is only 30 percent higher for a solar thermal plant. This difference disappears entirely when we add their operational costs, which are highest for coal based and lowest for solar thermal plants. However it is when we look at social costs that the chasm widens. The social cost per MWh of solar thermal power is one eights of the cost of hydr-power and one third that of coal based power. All of its other benefits – benefits that can save human beings and most other species on the planet from extinction – are additional to the economic benefits calculated above.

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India’s 16th general election will be the most important that it has held in its 66 years of independence. It will also be the most dangerous. For Indian politics is in the midst of a gigantic 90 degree turn away from the politics of caste and entitlement, towards the politics of class. If this is shift is not managed well, it has the capacity to destroy the democracy of which we have been justifiably proud for the past six decades.

If one were to judge from the spate of opinion polls that have been held in recent weeks, the euphoric statements of media anchors, the surreptititous realignments being made by regional parties, the failure of a Third Front to be born, and the swelling return flow of foreign financial investment, the results of the coming general election are a foregone conclusion. The BJP and its allies are bound to win; Narendra Modi will most probably be India’s new prime minister; industry friendly policies will once again be adopted and growth will pick up once more. To say that virtually the entire propertied class of India , not to mention foreign governments and investors, are praying for this to happen would not be much of an exaggeration.

There is only one fly in this ointment. It is the Aam Admi Party. At present most people consider the AAP to be not much more than a fly, for it has fought elections only for the Delhi State Assembly – hardly the typical state or constituency in the country. That may be why the opinion poll published last week by NDTV, the most reliable of the many that have been published so far, has given it only four seats and given the NDA 232.
But the AAP is not a fly. A more apt description would be a dark horse in a dark room. One senses its presence; one suspects it may be larger than it seems, but since one cannot actually see it, one does not know how large it is or how fast it is growing.

As of this moment, we can only guess where the AAP is going, because the AAP itself is still feeling its way ahead in the new, and alien, territory of electoral politics. But small or large, it has already shifted the arena of political contestation, and begun to redraw the conflict lines in Indian democratic politics. The most radical change it has wrought is to introduce class conflict explicitly into Indian politics. Closely related to this is its decision to forego traditional appeals based on caste, creed and ethnicity, and base its own appeal solely upon issues of governance.

The AAP’s manifesto for Delhi fully reflected both departures. “The AAP will make no promises to you. Instead it will ask you to make a promise. This time you will not cast your vote on the basis of kinship. You will forget caste; you will drive away the distributors of alcohol and money’. It listed 35 areas in which reform was urgently needed and spelt out 201 specific reforms. But it warned the people that they would achieve very little if they did not participate in all aspects of its implementation and monitoring. Its final paragraphs were: “AAP has not come to ask you for your vote. If there is anything we ask of you, it is to have faith in yourselves; and to listen to the voice of your soul. This election is not about the victory or defeat of political parties; it is about victory or defeat within ourselves. In front of the voting machine, we must think of the future of our children, the future of our city and our dreams for the future of our country.”

This is not the language that voters have been accustomed to.

In the 90 days since the Delhi state elections Kejriwal’s political credo has evolved. Initially it did not contain an explicit element of class. His attack was on corruption, crony capitalism and a clientelist democratic system – evils that the professional middle class is every bit as opposed to as the poor. But in Delhi he found that the response to his party had come overwhelmingly from the white collar and working classes. A study of voting in the slum colonies of the city showed that all but two had voted overwhelmingly for the AAP. What is more, most of this vote had come in the last two hours of voting – the time when the working class usually votes. As a result his statements and actions have become explicitly geared to mobilising the ‘have-nots’ – those who have either not benefited from the acceleration of growth in the past two decades, or have become its victims through a loss of land, income, status or security.

Kejriwal’s 49 –day experiment with government in Delhi is widely regarded as a mistake that has cost him credibility among his own supporters, not to mention the wider electorate. In the India Today conclave of March 7, former police commissioner of Delhi, Neeraj Kumar, read out an SMS that jeered at Kejriwal savagely for having ‘run away’ from the challenge of running a government. But in retrospect it is beginning to look like a brilliantly calculated move designed to expose the sham that democracy has become, by showing how readily all political parties sank their differences and joined hands to repel boarders the moment they sensed a threat to their monopoly of power. He seems to have succeeded because an instant (and no doubt wildly inaccurate) opinion poll carried out by a TV channel within hours of his submitting his resignation showed that if an assembly elections had been held then, 67 percent of the respondents would have voted for the AAP.

In the weeks since he resigned as Delhi’s chief minister Kejriwal’s assault on the crony capitalist state has become more focussed. He has simplified his message by rolling the Congress, the BJP and Big Business into one easily recognisable bundle. And he has personalised this bundle by giving it a set of names – Narendra Modi, Mukesh Ambani, Adani. While intellectuals may disapprove of this facile and overtly populist stratagem, its impact on the ordinary public cannot be wished away. Kejriwal is building his party and (one hopes) his alternative model for democracy, upon the pent up anger of three generations of Indian’s who have been preyed upon mercilessly by a corrupt and criminalised State. The Delhi elections showed them that they did not have to suffer its depredations helplessly. Today they need symbols to attach their hatred to.

How far Kejriwal will succeed in mobilising the have-nots of Indian society remains the biggest enigma of this election. AAP has fought elections in only one small and atypical state so far. From its runaway success we can deduce that it has the capacity to mobilise a substantial chunk of the urban blue collar, white collar and professional vote in every large city. But logic can take us only that far. Beyond that we are in the land of intuition, where one person’s guess is as good as another’s.

But in his bid to polarise politics around class Kejriwal has other allies, of whose existence he is only dimly aware. The best of them is the Congress Party. In the past four years the UPA government has gratuitously destroyed India’s growth by relentlessly raising interest rates in a futile but pig-headed bid to stop inflation. As a result industrial growth has all but stopped for the past two and a half years. Virtually the entire propertied class is therefore living in mortal fear of bankruptcy and is flocking to the banner of Narendra Modi.

Barring a handful of exceptions, the members of this class are not against the reforms that Kejriwal is pushing. For, if anything, they have suffered even more at the hands of the predatory state than the poor. But in the past four years they have seen the collapse of India’s dazzling growth; they have seen orders shrink, sales slow down, inventories pile up and the cost of maintaining them rise relentlessly as the Reserve Bank has pushed interest rates ever higher. They have seen the rupee crash, industry stall, small companies close down by the tens of thousands, and the golden future for their children, they had taken for granted till just the other day, disappear in smoke. Today they are flocking to Modi because he has a proven track record of being industry-friendly, and because the BJP still contains ex-ministers who steered the country out of its previous recession (1997-2002) and know how to do so again.

To them, and to the 10 million or so young people who have entered the labour market every year for the last four, and found that there are no jobs to be had, Modi is a saviour. Anything that jeopardises his ascension to power becomes a direct threat to them. This is the other half of the rapid polarisation between haves and have-nots, that is making the coming election unlike any other that we have held in the past 65 years.
This polarisation is already well advanced. In the December state assembly elections, the BJP’s vote rose by nine percent in Madhya Pradesh, but the Congress’ vote also increased by 6 percent. The rise took place at the expense of third parties and independents who lost three quarters of their share of the vote. In Rajasthan 8 of the BJP’s 12 percent increase in vote came at the expense of third parties, and only four percent from the Congress. In Chhattisgarh too both parties increased their share of the vote at the expense of local parties and aspirants.

But the eruption of the AAP is speeding it up. For the Delhi elections showed that where there is an alternative to both the Congress and the BJP, the have–nots will prefer to vote for it. Should this happen, the next election will not yield a stable government, confidence in India’s future will crash once more, foreign exchange will rush out, and the rupee will tumble to depths never dreamed of before.

It comes as no surprise therefore that today, as Arvind Kejriwal prepares to take on Modi in Varanasi, the possibility that the AAP will cut severely into the ‘Modi wave’ has begun to force heads of Indian and foreign banks and corporations to rethink their options. In the coming weeks this uncertainty will percolate into India’s middle bourgeoisie and speed up its rush to the security offered by Modi.

There can be little doubt that the BJP under Modi will be able to revive India’s growth. But it is equally certain that he will give short shrift to the dream of accountability and equity that AAP has awakened in the vast urban and rural masses. In the weeks that follow the disappointment of defeat and the loss of hope will percolate from the large to the small towns, and from there into the villages. Modi’s blatant disregard for Muslim sensibilities will further alienate large sections of that community.

In the coming years, therefore, three powerfully explosive forces, that are separate and still largely dormant today will coalesce to create a more dangerous confrontation than any India has known. There are the Maoists, the disaffected urban working class, and the Muslim underclass. The further this polarisation progresses the less space will it leave for democracy to function. For democracy needs a middle space of uncommitted voters who can bring about changes of policy and government by shifting their vote from one party or coalition to another. The guardians of this middle space are the members of civil society, and the flagbearers of civil society are the media. Today the extent to which the collapse of economic growth and the acute insecurity it has created in the propertied classes has erased this middle space and endangered civil society can be gauged by the openness with which the media—TV in particular – is backing Narendra Modi. This is why Kejriwal’s attacks on the media and its links with Mukesh Ambani have created no sense of outrage, except in the media itself.

Had the emerging polarisation been even-handed – had the new Left that is being born had a clearly articulated programme that addressed the well-grounded fears of the haves as well as the have–nots, the coming election would have seen the birth of a new, deeper, and more responsive phase of Indian democracy. But today, the regional parties that could have created this Third Front against the BJP’s Goliath we have only the AAP’s David. And, however welcome Kejriwal’s call for honesty and accountability may be, his party is in no position to offer, on its own, the alternative that India‘s large, endangered middle class so desperately needs. Only a Third Front, that is prepared to make common cause with Kejriwal, and simultaneously reassure the Indian middle class that it will get the economy moving again, can halt the rush to Modi that has begun today. But the formation of such a front requires the perception of a common threat. And, as the bickering over seat allocation among its potential members has already shown, the putative members of such a Front have no inkling of the storm that lies ahead.

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NEW DELHI: Tarun Tejpal, the founder-editor of Tehelka, has been charged with “sexual harassment, physical contact, advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures, rape, rape by a person of a woman in his custody taking advantage of his official position,wrongful restraint and wrongful confinement”. These charges have yet to be proved, but Tejpal has already spent 80 days in jail. He has done so because despite his surrender of his passport and willing cooperation with the police, he has been denied first anticipatory bail, and then bail.

Instead, the Goa magistrate’s court sent him to police and then judicial custody, routinely extended the latter every ten to 12 days and finally rejected his bail petition on January 21 on the sole, unsubstantiated accusation of the investigation officer that he had tried to intimidate her.

Tejpal is by no means the first victim of this gross abuse. In 2000 AD following operation West End, the sting operation conducted by Tehelka, that caught BJP leaders taking bribes from soi-disant arms dealers, the NDA government launched an all-out attack on the magazine—then an e-journal. Among those whom it arrested on trumped up charges of insider trading and share price manipulation was Shankar Sharma, the founder and head of First Global, one of the most dynamic of the new generation of financial companies that was coming up in Mumbai. His crime was that he owned 13 percent of the original share capital of Tehelka.

Sharma too spent three months ‘in judicial custody’ in Tihar jail before being released without any charges being filed against him. During the years of harassment that followed the police raided First Global’s offices 25 times. SEBI forced it to close, destroyed its client and revenue base, and cost its 216 employees their jobs at the height of the 1997 – 2003 recession.

The NDA government’s attack on Tehelka was even more relentless. In 2000, having been caught with its pants down, it did not arrest Tejpal. Instead it embarked upon a slow strangulation of Tehelka that had, by the time the government fell, reduced its staff from 105 to 15, and left Tejpal personally in debt to the tune of a crore of rupee. Even that did not slake the then government’s thirst for vengeance. When, under immense media and public pressure, it set up the Venkataswami commission to investigate the bribery tapes, it included a clause in the terms of reference – ‘term D’ – that required the commission to look into “all aspects relating to the making and publication of these allegations.”

Only the veteran lawyer and columnist A.G Noorani noticed the enormity of its implications for press freedom: “Never in the half-century of the Commission of Inquiry Act 1952” he wrote, “has anybody been asked to probe the credentials of those who made the charge”.“If this move is allowed to pass muster the press will effectively be muzzled. Anytime it publishes an exposé, the government will retaliate by setting up inquiries not only into the truth of the charges, but also into the motives, finances and sources of the journal which publishes them.”

It is against this background of vendetta that the Goa government’s treatment of Tejpal needs to be examined. It is important to remember that the alleged victim did not register an FIR with the Goa police. What she asked for, in not one but two emails to the managing editor Shoma Chaudhuri, was an apology and ‘closure’ of the incident. It was the BJP government of Goa that decided to register an FIR suo moto.

The charge it levelled against him was not of sexual harassment; not of sexual molestation; not even of sexual assault, but of the terribly violent act of Rape. It was able to do so because parliament had changed the heading of “sexual assault”, given to the amendment bill to cover its widened definition of sexual crimes, with the word ‘rape’. This highly emotive word provided the Goa government, and the BJP’s leaders in Delhi, with a convenient mantle of concern for women’s rights and security, under which to re-launch its vendetta against Tejpal.

The timeline of the BJP’s statements and actions, both in Delhi and Goa, exposes the virulence of its campaign. On November 21 when Tarun Tejpal’s apology, and his resignation from Tehelka for six months, first hit the press the Goa Chief Minister, Manohar Parriker, said “ Progress of the inquiry will depend on whether the complainant registers a complaint. Because it is a body offence, the complainant has to have a role. Unless I have a complaint, I cannot prove guilt.”

But it took him only 24 hours to turn turtle: at 2.20 PM on November 22 he told Times Now that ‘a crime was a crime’ and that he had instructed the police to go after the culprit. Three hours later he told the same channel that Tejpal was the culprit. Three days later, on November 25, he made a remark to NDTV that was not only biased but vulgar: “Someone told me that this man (Tarun Tejpal) is saying that it is consensual. I wonder what he must have done within four minutes and that too in a lift.” Two days later he accused Tejpal publicly of being a “ Congress Stooge”. So much for the BJP’s impartiality and objectivity!

What made him turn turtle? The answer is a Facebook posting by Arun Jaitley on November 21. Jaitley not only pointed out that Tejpal could be accused of rape under the amended law, but that managing editor Shoma Chaudhuri could be charged with abetment, pressurising Tehelka journalists and tampering with evidence. He thus laid out all the grounds for the Goa government’s change of heart and the denial of bail that followed. In the next seven days a host of BJP leaders made 19 statements demanding punishment for Tejpal and/or Chaudhuri. In Delhi a BJP MLA led a mob that defaced Chaudhuri’s house and car.

But these public attacks tell only half the story. For behind the smokescreen they have created, the Goa police has also refused to present at the bail hearings evidence in their possession that could have mitigated the accusation of rape and inclined the magistrate towards granting bail. Among the many grounds presented by his lawyers but ignored by the judge, two stand out. The most important is that the CCTV tapes of the Hotel show that Tejpal and ‘the victim’ were in the elevator on the evening of the alleged molestation not for four minutes but two minutes and nine seconds. The second is that the “victim’s’’ accusation that Tejpal’s family visited, and threatened, her and her mother is an outright falsehood. For an email she sent the same evening shows that the visitor was her erstwhile closest friend, Tejpal’s daughter Tiya. The email thanked Tiya for her visit, but it took her only another 12 hours to change her story and claim intimidation. One can only wonder why.

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A year ago, a judge of the supreme court issued a quiet warning, in the author’s hearing, that making the new rape law too stringent could defeat its purpose by making conviction even more difficult to obtain than it already is. Data published in the Times of India in February, recording a decline in the rate of conviction in rape cases in 2013 have begun to vindicate his foreboding. The case of rape lodged by the Goa police against Tarun Tejpal. The founder-editor of Tehelka, will be the first to be prosecuted under the new law on rape. Since it will set judicial precedents that will bind judges in similar cases in the future,it is imperative that lawyers, judges and policy makers subject its application to the strictest possible scrutiny.

Two sets of issues are raised by the way it has been framed and handled so far. The first is the conformity of the law with the principles of natural justice. More specifically it raises three questions: is it justified to club everything from an indecent sexual proposal to the forcible violation of a woman’s most private self under the single, frighteningly emotive rubric of ‘rape’? Can a defendant be allowed to unknowingly incriminate himself? And can a defendant be tried twice for the same crime?

The second is the conformity of the investigative procedure to the principles of fairness and equity. More specifically, do the police and the courts treat the defendant as innocent until proven guilty, even when the burden of proof rests upon him? Do they therefore respect his right of habeas corpus and seek to deny these to him only in exceptional circumstances? Do they adhere to the principle of full disclosure when they gather evidence, or do concealment and surprise become weapons for obtaining a conviction? How the courts ensure that these principles – of justice, equity and fairness – are safeguarded will determine the shape of Indian justice for years to come.

Treating unwelcome verbal and physical sexual advance on an equal footing with the brutal act of rape can only happen when the law makers do not have a feel for the language in which they work. The difference this can make was highlighted 22 years ago during the confirmation hearings of current US Supreme Court Judge, Clarence Thomas, who was accused by a junior lawyer in his chambers, Anita Hill, of making frequent offensive, and sexually loaded remarks to her. Thomas was publicly humiliated, and came within a hair of being rejected, but even his most determined opponents did not suggest that what he had done to Anita Hill could be described as rape.

As for the issue of self-incrimination, it is obvious from the tit-bits the Goa police has released to the media that the prosecution’s case relies almost entirely on Tarun Tejpal’s letter of apology to the ‘victim’. That letter was neither a deposition nor a confession, but was a private correspondence between him and her. It was not written or signed before the police, let alone recorded by a magistrate. Is it even admissible in court? Can any self respecting system of justice allow a defendant to incriminate himself for herself? These questions need to be asked because, while the details of the law differ from country to country, the repugnance to self-incrimination is universal wherever the Rule of Law prevails. Self-incrimination, except in the form of a properly recorded confession, is expressly forbidden in the US under the Miranda Act which requires courts to throw out any statement from a defendant that has not been prefaced by an explicit warning that anything the defendant says can, and will, be used in a court of law.

The third question, whether a man (or woman) can be tried twice for the same offence, arises because the ‘victim’ did not seek redress in court. Instead she chose to do so through an in-house process in which she appealed to the managing editor, Shoma Chaudhuri, to be the judge. Chaudhuri heard both sides, took a decision in favour of the plaintiff and awarded a punishment to Tejpal that she felt was appropriate to the crime. Tejpal’s public apology and the humiliation he suffered, was part of the punishment. The victim was within her rights to consider the punishment too light, and to say so in as many words. But, as her emails clearly show, she also stated that she wanted a ‘closure’ of the issue through the in-house process that she had set in motion.

In rebuttal it can be pointed out that all countries allow a defendant to be tried for the same offence twice, once under civil and a second time under criminal law. In Tejpal’s case it can be argued that the in-house procedure was a civil one, while the case launched by the Goa police is a criminal one. But it can as easily be argued that the offence he is charged with is criminal and not civil. Describing sexual molestation as a civil offence because it was not adjudicated in a court and not prosecuted by the police is stretching the definition of ‘civil’ way too far.

The new law has yet another disturbing feature: It allows the publication of the name and alleged misdeeds of the defendant but forbids disclosure of the name and antecedents of the plaintiff. While the guarantee of anonymity is intended to give women the courage to speak out, as the decline in rape convictions last year shows it may also have bred a degree of irresponsibility.

This asymmetry also creates a presumption of guilt that not only allows the prosecution to create bias through the media but also take liberties with investigative procedure that would not have been in a case where the defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty and can advance his or her version of events through the media too. The Goa police and magistrates’ handling of Tejpal is a case in point. The Goa police denied Tejpal bail repeatedly on the plea that it needed time to collect evidence. But the charge-sheet shows that the two key pieces of evidence upon which its case is built – Tejpal’s letter of apology and the CCTV film from the hotel, have been with it from the first day of the investigation.

The police also claimed that Tejpal had to be kept away from witnesses because a member of his family had already tried to intimidate the victim and her mother. But Tejpal’s lawyers claim that even if the Goa police accepted this allegation when it was first made by the ‘victim’, it soon found out that it was false because on the evening of the alleged intimidatory visit the ‘victim’ had sent an email to Tejpal’s daughter, her close friend at that point in time, thanking her for visiting her and her mother earlier on the same day.

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In a few days the 16th Lok Sabha will be prorogued and the UPA’s – basically the Congress’ – ten year reign will come to an end. With that will end the most tragic period in independent India’s history. Tragic not because any catastrophe has befallen the nation, but because during this period Indians got a brief glimpse of affluence, a brief taste of global respect, and a brief view of a more secure future, only to have all three snatched away from before it ended.

This is not India’s first lost decade. There was another between 1965 and 1974. But that was triggered by events outside the government’s control – two successive droughts in 1965 and 1966 and two wars in 1962 and 1965. The Indira Gandhi government’s response deepened the economic crisis these caused and slowed down growth even further, but it was not responsible its onset.

In sharp contrast, most of the wounds of the past decade have been self–inflicted. In 2004 Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government bequeathed to the UPA a country whose economy had just recovered from a five year recession and recorded an 8.1 percent rate of growth in 2003-4, the highest the country had known. It had demonstrated India’s nuclear weapons capability, weathered the storm of sanctions the world had unleashed upon it, forced the US into its first serious dialogue with India, and made it rethink its policies towards Pakistan and Kashmir.

It had pushed through Kashmir’s first truly free and fair election in 2003, in the teeth of universal scepticism, a Hurriyat boycott, and determined opposition by the National Conference, and shown Kashmiris that they could make Indian democracy work for them. It had decisively won the Kargil war and, two years later forced Pakistan to reconsider and all-but-abandon its proxy war, using ‘non-state actors’, against India. It had then held out a hand of friendship to Pakistan in 2003, symbolically from Srinagar.

It had signed the Islamabad agreement with President Musharraf in January 2004, brought lasting peace on the LOC in Kashmir and begun the detente that led to the almost consummated Manmohan-Musharraf Delhi Agreement on Kashmir in 2005.

In the realm of economic policy it passed the Fiscal Responsibility and Budgetary Management Act and reduced the Centre’s fiscal deficit to 2.5 percent of the GDP before handing over to the UPA. It halved interest rates between 2000 and 2003 and set off the boom in the stock market that continued, almost without interruption, till January 2008.

All that the UPA had to do, when it came to power was build upon the foundation that Vajpayee and the NDA had built. It began well, but then gradually allowed everything to fall to pieces.

In its relations with Pakistan, it dragged its heels over negotiating the details of the four point plan for settling the Kashmir dispute, ignoring warnings that Musharraf was losing power within his own country, till the Judges crisis took power out of his hands altogether. It also came close to settling decades long disputes with Bangladesh over the Ganges basin waters and the demarcation of the border, but then failed to live up to key commitments, leaving Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League government vulnerable to attacks from the BNP and the Jamaat-i-Islami.

It persuaded the Maoists in Nepal to rejoin the mainstream of democratic politics but inexplicably withdrew its support from them just when their moderate, pro-India, leader Prachanda needed it most.

In 2013, when Prime minister Manmohan Singh pulled out of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Colombo, he humiliated the Sri Lankan President Rajapakse and severely damaged a relationship with Sri Lanka that had taken more than a decade to rebuild after the IPKF debacle. In order to appease Tamil nationalist sentiment in Tamil Nadu, he threw away the considerable capacity India had built for influencing Colombo’s policy towards its Tamil minority.

India’s two year tenure of a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council was perhaps the most undistinguished of any in the post cold war period. Its hallmark was an unending search for ways to avoid taking a stand on key international issues that would offend the US, Europe, and the Islamist sheikhdoms of the Arab world. At a time when these countries were launching unprovoked wars upon sovereign members of the United Nations and thereby destroying every pillar of the UN charter upon which a multi-polar world order could be built, India never once voted against them. Instead it abstained in the Security Council as they planned their assaults upon Libya and Syria, and voted with them on non-binding general assembly resolutions to show that they did not need to take its abstentions in the Security Council seriously. It justified this to itself by claiming that it was taking a ‘balanced’ position when balance was the last thing that a world headed for chaos needed from a large, rapidly growing and uncommitted middle power.

Within the country it came within a hairsbreadth of ending the deep alienation in Kashmir, but then took a series of decisions, starting with the crackdown upon Kashmir in August 2008 and ending with the surreptitious hanging of Afzal Guru, that made it infinitely deeper. As if that was not enough, after having made a catastrophic mistake in promising separate statehood to Telengana, it did not have the courage to admit it, and rammed the division of Andhra through the Lok Sabha after throwing its opponents out of the house in the last days of its last session when it had already become a lame duck government.

But none of these failures has come close to matching its ruin of the economy. In 2004, the Congress inherited a nation was growing at more than 8 percent. Today that growth rate has slipped well below 5 percent. Industrial output grew by 8.4 percent in 2004-5 and rose to 13 percent in 2006-7. In April to December 2013 it contracted by 0.1 percent. Non –agricultural employment has been the main casualty. According to the 66th round of the National Sample Survey, this grew by more than 37 million between 2004 and 2009. A partially overlapping set of data collected by the ministry of Industry shows that between April 2008 and March 2013 it rose by only 2.3 million. This suggests that more than 30 million job-seekers failed to find jobs. Another, more recent, survey by the NSO has shown that rural womens’ employment has also fallen by 9.1 million.

Indian industry has taken a terrible beating. Relentlessly high interest rates have ensured that there has not been one IPO (Initial Public Offer) of shares in the last four years. Instead large industrial houses have been moving their investment in what a Singapore based industrial consultant described as ‘a Lemming–like rush’ to Indonesia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and elsewhere.

India’s road, rail and power infrastructure remains as starved of investment as it was a decade ago. Today not only are its bottlenecks even more forbidding to foreign investors than they were in the 1990s, but these have become the biggest hurdle to the diversification of agriculture out of cereals into high value fruit and vegetable crops. A simultaneous liberalisation of exports of the latter, under the mistaken impression that the free market cures all evils, has fed food price inflation and kept the cost of living index rising by more than ten percent a year for the past four years. This combination of joblessness and a relentless, supply side, inflation has created the mounting sense of insecurity that has proved the Congress’ undoing.

All this has happened not because the government was corrupt, or short-sighted, or sold out to the industrialists, but because of weakness and ineptitude. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in its attempt to achieve ‘inclusive development’. In the last decade it has quadrupled the annual expenditure on rural development and social welfare. There are now more than 80 schemes under which the rural poor have a right to the largesse of the State. But India has slipped down three places in the UN’s Human Development index.

Within the nation the balance of power between centre and states has tilted so far towards the latter that India is beginning to look dangerously like it did under the later Mughals. The UPA has enacted statutes on tribal welfare and land acquisition that predators in the state governments have contemptuously ignored or circumvented. It has enacted Rights to Food, Education and Employment that have built a permanent deficit into the central budget and will bankrupt the treasury.

It has set the dangerous precedent of allowing Mamta Bannerjee, a state chief minister, not only to sack a central minister but also choose his successor. As if that were not enough it has allowed her to veto an international agreement with Bangladesh over the sharing of the waters of the Teesta river. Today, as the Coalgate scam showed, there is hardly a central subject left on which the centre feels it can act without first securing the assent of the states.

The Congress is not solely responsible for this all-round deterioration. In India’s relations with its Pakistan, for instance, the weakness of governments in Islamabad is at least as much to blame. In an era of coalition governments it is also a moot point how far any central government could have kept the states in check. But there is one common thread that runs through all the changes described above for which the Congress party is solely to blame. This is a lack of statesmanship, and of decisive leadership, at the epicentre of government. This has given India a dysfunctional government.

In the last two years it has become fashionable to say that UPA-1 ruled well and to heap all the blame for its ineptitude after 2009 upon the prime minister, but the real damage was done when Mrs Sonia Gandhi led the Congress to victory in 2004, but then created a dyarchy by refusing to become the prime minister and appointing Dr Manmohan Singh in her place. Although she did this with the best of intentions the confusion it created in decision-making sowed the seeds of the ineptitude that has virtually paralysed the government in recent years.

This has made the last decade one of good intentions betrayed by sloppy implementation and oversight; of promising starts seldom carried to fruition, of opportunities missed and challenges ignored. In 2008 the Congress party almost buckled under the pressure of its ally, the Left Front, and decided to let go of the Indo-US nuclear deal rather than risk its withdrawal of support. Only late in the year, when President George W Bush’s tenure was about to end, did it muster up the courage to call the Left Front’s bluff. By then it was almost too late to get the 44-nation Nuclear Suppliers’ Group to accept the deal. It was only Bush’s tireless calling in of favours that made the NSG lift its embargo on the supply of dual use technology to India.

At the BRICS’ Delhi meeting in 2012 India joined Russia and China in strongly criticising NATO’s intervention in Libya and Syria, but failed to vote with them in the Security council. In the same year Delhi could not prevent Dinesh Trivedi from resigning as railways minister when Mamta ordered him to do so, but it could have made it clear to her that it would cost the Trinamool Congress a seat in the cabinet.

In September 2012, when RBI governor Subba Rao refused to heed finance minister P Chidambaram’s agonised pleas to lower interest rates after he had effected cuts in subsidies that would reduce the central and state deficits by around Rs 100,000 crores in a full year, the prime minister should have sided with his finance minister and forced the RBI to fulfil its tacit promise of July. Instead he did nothing and succeeded only in deepening the recession in industry.

In the end the decision-making vacuum at the Centre has consumed the Congress itself. Six years of relentless belt tightening, with only a small break at the onset of global recession, has given the poor neither growth nor price stability. It is their rage at being cheated of a future that the Congress has begun to feel today.

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The peace conference on Syria that began on January 22 in Geneva was not even a day old before two huge spanners had been thrown into its works. Iran was dis-invited from the conference at the last moment, and 55,000 pictures allegedly showing Syrian government forces torturing and killing 11,000 civilians were leaked to The Guardian and CNN. These developments expose the titanic behind-the-scenes struggle that is going on to derail the conference. The reason is that it has ramifications that go far beyond the future of Syria.

A momentous turn in western policies towards the Middle East is underway. Till only weeks ago Iran was a rogue state; Syria was a brutal family run dictatorship allied to Iran, and the Hezbollah in Lebanon and therefore a sworn enemy of Israel and the west. Russia and China were spoilers intent upon propping up anti-west regimes in a senseless prolongation of cold war hostilities. Israel was the west’s staunchest ally in the Middle East, followed closely by Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates its principal providers of oil and military bases in the Middle East. Despite several hiccups the Arab world was still regarded as a victory for the democracy over dictatorship and a vindication of the west’s export of democracy and human rights to the rest of the world even if this was being done through the barrel of a gun.

These beliefs now lie in ruins. The west has belatedly realized that however oppressive the dictatorships in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria may have been, the alternative that stares them in the face – militant Islamist theocracies spawning Jihadis in ruined economies, is infinitely worse. Its intervention in the ‘Arab Spring’ has been an unqualified disaster. Instead of strengthening its hold on the middle east , it has come close to delivering it into the hands of its most inveterate enemies. And it has been led down this self-destructive path by its own supposed allies—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey – which have been playing their private power games with western, notably American bullets.

President Obama is the first western leader to perceive the trap into which the west has fallen, and reach out to Russia to forge a joint strategy for recovery. Their joint efforts have begun to bear fruit. Syria is close to completing the handing over of its chemical weapons and factories to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and is about to sign the Chemical weapons convention of 1992. Iran has taken its first essential steps to halt the enrichment of uranium with the fissile isotope, U-235, to the 20 percent. The Geneva II peace talks are designed to chart out the next steps in the stabilization of the middle east, and once more, the key to this is the restoration of peace and a secular, preferably democratic, government in Syria.

But the weight of past mistakes and misperceptions hangs heavily over the conference’s outcome. The chief obstacle to this is the west’s demonization of Assad as a butcher of his own people. So successful has this been that Obama is now hard pressed to explain his sudden volte face. This has already cast a pall over the conference for, to maintain a semblance of continuity in its policies and defend the correction of its past perceptions Washington has joined Britain, France and Israel and their Sunni Arab allies to keep Iran out of the conference, and to insist that Assad must relinquish power to a transitional government before they agree to stop supplying the rebels with weapons.

These moves, on the very first day of the conference, had already cast a pall over its prospects, The release of e 55,000 photographs depicting torture and murder, allegedly by Syria’s security apparatus, could well lead to its premature end. It is therefore imperative to examine whether Assad really is the demon that the international media have made him out to be over the past three years.

The case it has built against him runs as follows: First, within months of succeeding his father Hafez Al Assad, in 2001, he had promised to turn Syria into a democracy but reneged on it repeatedly in the ensuing ten years. Second, he has run a brutal dictatorship that has felt no qualms about turning its guns on its own people’ Third his regime has committed innumerable human rights abuses culminating in the use of chemical weapons against its own people.

Finally it is the excesses of his own regime that have triggered the uprising of his people, drawn thousands of Jihadis from all over the world to Syria, and inflicted untold misery on his own people. The west must therefore end this war, no matter how, in the interests of the Syrians themselves.

Did Assad go back on promises of democracy?

Syrians whom I interviewed in October 2012 in Damascus, however, had a different story to tell. Assad had sincerely wished to start the transition to democracy a decade earlier, but was forced to postpone the changeover repeatedly by the growing turmoil in Syria’s neighbourhood —the US’ invasion of Iraq in 2003; the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri and the concerted bid to force Syria out of Lebanon in 2004; Washington’s decision to break diplomatic relations with Damascus in 2005; Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006, its blockade of Palestine in 2007, and its bombing of Gaza in 2009. Faisal Al Mekdad, Syria’s vice minister for foreign affairs and its former permanent representative at the UN, summed up Assad’s dilemma as follows: “Each of these events reminded us of the need for unity in the face of external pressures and threats, and forced us to postpone democratization for fear of setting off fresh internal conflicts and forcing adjustments when we could least afford them’.

According to Bassam Abu Abdallah, a professor of International affairs at Damascus university, these external pressures did not make Assad entirely abandon the quest for democracy. It did, however, limit his reforms to devolving more administrative power to local government and lifting restrictions on press freedom. The most significant development of this period was a regional conference of the Baath party in Damascus in 2005. This conference drew up the blueprint for the sweeping democratic reforms that Assad has enacted in 2011 and 2012.

Was there a spontaneous protest and was it peaceful?

Despite the rethinking that has begun on wisdom of the western intervention in Syria it remains axiomatic among western journalists that Assad brought the civil war upon himself. Syria had been convulsed by a spontaneous movement for democracy, that the Assad regime converted into an insurgency by using overwhelming force against the peaceful demonstrators. But Syrians I talked to in October 2012, and resident diplomats concurred, that there had been no spontaneous popular upsurge against the regime in Syria, and that the civil war was a fructification of plans for regime change that had been hatched much earlier and brought forward because the opportunity provided by the ‘Arab Spring’, and western liberals’ ecstatic response to it, was too good to miss.

Damascus first became aware of the conspiracy when trouble broke out on March 18, 2011 in Dera’a, a small city astride the Syria – Jordan border. A peaceful demonstration demanding some political changes in the local administration and lowering of diesel prices turned violent when shots were fired killing four persons. The international media, led by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, and the Riyadh-based Al Arabiya television channels immediately accused Assad’s forces of firing into the crowd to disperse it.

The Syrian government’s version of what had happened was entirely different. The first shots, it claimed, were fired on March 18 but not by the police. They were fired by armed men who had infiltrated the procession and, at a pre-determined moment, begun to shoot at the security police. That is why, of the four persons killed on that day, one was a policeman. However, according to Dr Mekdad, what convinced the government that the Dera’a uprising was part of a larger conspiracy was what happened when the police sent for reinforcements. Armed men ambushed one of the trucks as it entered Dera’a and killed all the soldiers in it.

The Syrian government chose not to publicise this for fear of demoralizing its soldiers, But a careful search on the internet did provide indirect corroboration. Suleiman Khalidi, the local correspondent of Reuters, reported on March 23 that 37 bodies had been brought to the Dera’a hospital till then. The number was intriguing because all news reports had been unanimous that 13 civilians had been killed till March 23, so where did the other 24 bodies come from?

Incontrovertible confirmation came a month later when ‘peaceful protesters’ stopped an army truck outside Dera’a and again killed all the 20 soldiers in it. But this time they did so by cutting their throats. This was the sanctified method of killing that the ‘Afghanis’, as the Afghanistan-returned Jihadis were called in Algeria, had used to kill more than ten thousand villagers during two years of bitter insurgency after the First Afghan war. It was to be seen over and over again in Syria in the coming months.

The Syrian government again chose to remain silent, and the only whiff of this event in the media was a rebel claim that they had captured and burnt an armoured personnel carrier. But in Damascus the US Ambassador, Robert Ford, told a group of Ambassadors that included the Indian ambassador, that the Syrian insurgency had been infiltrated by Al Qaeda. He had come to this conclusion because, in addition to cutting throats, the insurgents had cut off the head of one of the soldiers.

Who killed Whom?

As the civil war intensified and the killing of civilians skyrocketed, the insurgents, now labeled and recognized by the west as the “Free Syrian Army” followed a set pattern of attack: This was to descend without warning on small towns, Alaouite villages and small army and police posts in hundreds, overwhelm them. After they surrendered, the insurgents would kill local officials, civilians they deemed to be pro-Assad and soldiers who would not desert to them, and claim that these were in fact deserters whom the government forces had executed after a successful counter attack. Two such episodes captured worldwide attention in 2011.

In Jisr al Shugour, a medium sized town in the northern border province of Idlib, the international media reported, based upon rebel claims, that the government had brought in not only tanks but also helicopters to bomb the town from the air- the first resort to air power against ‘protestors’. When some soldiers, who were disgusted by the indiscriminate carnage, attempted to defect the Syrian troops killed them. The indiscriminate firing forced civilians to flee to nearby villages. Some crossed over to Turkey.

This claim captured the headlines in the western media for days, but the story pieced together by a diplomat whom the Syrian government took to Jisr-al Shugour when the town had been recaptured, was however very different. In the beginning of June 2011 some five to six hundred fighters of the Free Syrian Army suddenly laid siege to the town for 48 hours. When the army sent in reinforcements the rebels, who had mined a bridge on the approach road blew it up as a truck was passing over it, killed the soldiers and cut the only access to the town by road. Two days later, when they overwhelmed the garrison, instead of taking them prisoner they killed all of them, many by cutting their throats, threw their bodies into the Orontes river, and later posted videos claiming that these were army defectors whom the Syrian forces had killed.

This was corroborated two months later by a resident of the town who came the Indian embassy to get a visa. According to him between 500 and 600 rebels had descended upon the town from Turkey. On the way they stopped a bus, shot six of its passengers and spread the word that army had done it. Many people believed them, were enraged and stood by as the hunt for fleeing soldiers and supporters of the government began. Some joined in the hunt. In all, he said, the number of soldiers and government supporters killed and dumped in the Orontes was not 120 but close to 300. This was the first of dozens of similar war crimes by the FSA.

Till the end of May the Syrian government’s frequent assertions that it was the rebels who were opening fire first, forcing the state forces to return their fire, had been treated with disdain by the western media or simply ignored. But it too was vindicated when Hala Jaber, a British journalist with a Lebanese father, the Diplomatic correspondent of the Sunday Times and a two time winner of human rights journalism awards, described precisely how violence on the scale of Deraa was unleashed upon the city of Ma’arrat –al Numan, not far from Jisr-al-Shugour.

“They came in their thousands to march for freedom in Ma’arrat al-Nu’man, a shabby town surrounded by pristine fields of camomile and pistachio in the restive northwest of Syria.

The demonstration followed a routine familiar to everyone who had taken part each Friday for the past 11 weeks, yet to attend on this occasion required extraordinary courage.

The previous week four protesters had been shot dead for trying to block the main road between Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo, the country’s largest city. The week before that, four others were killed.

So enraged were the townspeople at the blood spilt by the Mukhabarat, or secret police, that intermediaries had struck a deal between the two sides. Four hundred members of the security forces had been withdrawn from Ma’arrat in return for the promise of an orderly protest. The remainder, 49 armed police and 40 reserves, were confined to a barracks near the centre of town. By the time 5,000 unarmed marchers reached the main square, however, they had been joined by men with pistols.

At first the tribal elders leading the march thought these men had simply come prepared to defend themselves if shooting broke out. But when they saw more weapons — rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers held by men with heavy beards in cars and pick-ups with no registration plates — they knew trouble lay ahead.’

Demonisation intensified – Houla and chemical weapons

February 2012 was a turning point in the Syrian civil war. Bashar Al Assad held a referendum for the Syrian people to endorse the new, democratic constitution that he had promised to the Syrian democracy movement at a conference held in Damascus in the previous July, and the Syrian army recaptured Baba Amr, the FSA’s stronghold in the city of Homs, after a four month siege.

This twin setback forced a change of strategy upon Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and their western backers. From February Saudi Arabia started shipping arms openly to he FSA and offering vast bribes – salaries ranging from %100 to $3,000 a month to Syrian soldiers and officers to desert from the army and join the FSA. On the other, they ramped up the effort to demonise Assad till no one in the west would dare to have any dealings with him again.

The first major effort occurred four months on May 25 2012. Reports appeared almost simultaneously in several international media that Assad’s army and Shabiha irregulars had massacred 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women, using knives, hatchets and guns in the villages of Houla and Taldou, close to Lattaqia in the north of the country. The timing of this massacre was suspicious because it occurred within days of Syria’s first ever multi party election under the new constitution. But based on these reports, supposedly by eyewitnesses, 11 western countries, Japan and Turkey expelled Syria’s ambassador and the UN security council set up an independent commission of inquiry into the massacre.

Only later did it emerge that all of these reports had been based upon the statements of a single supposedly 11 but probably 8 or 9 year old boy, and that several other eyewitnesses had given detailed, graphic accounts, which showed that the killers were Islamists belonging to the so-called ‘Free Syrian Army’. A detailed investigation by a European Citizen’s group, published in May 2013 revealed that five groups of the FSA that had taken part in the massacre. By then, however, the damage had been done.

Inspite of this, as the summer wore on the pendulum continued to swing in favour of the government. By October 2012 it was the FSA that was on the run. Its fragmented leadership was incapable of coherent action and the trickle of deserters from the Syrian army had all but dried up. Its cries for help from a direct intervention by the west on the Libya model grew more shrill. It may not therefore be a coincidence that October was the month in which Israel ‘s satellites ‘discovered’ that the Syrian army was mixing the chemicals normally held separately that together produce Sarin Gas.

Thus was planted the seed of the diplomatic –cum-propaganda offensive that first trapped Obama in December 2012 into promising to attack Syria if it crossed the red line of using chemical weapons, and then culminated in the Sarin gas attack against civilians in the Ghouta on August 13 last year the precise day on which a UN team of inspectors began its investigations into two earlier allegations of gas attacks in Damascus and Aleppo that, by then, had been all but proven to have been launched by the insurgents.

The last throw of the dice

By then however, behind the screen of rhetoric defending its past actions, the US had seen through the game. It knew that the Syrian National Coalition which had replaced the Syrian National Council as the west’s chosen vehicle for replacing Assad, was anything but a coalition; that al Qaeda and its affiliates had taken over the war against Assad and a moderate FSA was a fiction; that its Arab allies were arming the Jihadis with wire-guided anti-tank missiles and surface to air heat seeking missiles against its express wishes, and that Al Qaeda was using the war in Syria to re-invigorate Al Qaeda in Iraq.

With enormous courage therefore, Obama has turned US policy around 180 degrees from confrontation towards cooperation, from military pressure to diplomatic peruasion. A new era is trying to be born, therefore, in international relations. But this turnaround has left Israel and the Gulf sheikhdoms especially vulnerable. The 55,000 picture assault on Assad’s regime unveiled, with a by now familiar accuracy in timing, could therefore be their latest attempt to using the military and diplomatic might of the US to continue down the road to war and destruction. It could be their last throw of the dice.

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