Relevance and Future of AAP -An Offspring of Outraged Sensibility by Delusional Leaders

India – the land with 5000 years of history of corruption, deception and exploiataion- has also been breeding ground of short lived revolutions- the revolutions in a saucer. In post freedom period, India had Jai Parkash Narain who called upon Army to revolt and result was two years of national emergency. Then there was Mr. Clean- Mr. VP Singh who defeated Rajiv Gandhi and withon eight months disillusioned his starry eyed followers. And now Kejriwal who describes himself as an anarchist. Such short lived revolutionaries flash like a comet , but do have a transitory effect.
During the Sixties, the students’ movement exploded across developed countries. After a dozen years of full employment and steady growth, students took to the streets to fight the Establishment. The elders were bewildered. At first they ignored, then abused the students, but soon they found that this was new politics. They conceded defeat. The anti-Vietnam War movement prevented Lyndon Johnson from seeking a full second term. In France, Charles de Gaulle had to resign his presidency. The Prague Spring made a mockery of the Soviet Union’s fake charges against Alexander Dubcek.
Yet, few of the then leaders entered politics. Jerry Brown, the Governor of California, is one, but he has dynasty on his side. Danny Cohn-Bendit, the hero of Sorbonne, is now a European MP. Movements that were effective in throwing off big regimes melted away once the objective had been achieved; as one generation graduated, the next one could not care less.
India has an assembly line whereby political parties recruit students for their student wings and these ‘leaders’ try to get to the top. I cannot recall many top leaders who began in student politics, but there are some names. In the Congress, you don’t need to be a student leader, you are born into a leading family and that alone is necessary. Rahul Gandhi’s Gen Next team is all yuvarajs and no aam aadmi.
Movements which rise on the spur of the moment and harness public anger do sometimes throw up leaders. The student heroes of the JP movement, Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Nitish Kumar, are now veteran politicians, though one should not remind them of their idealism when young. Movements thrive on constant pressure, total action and a lot of suffering for the devout. They move away from one topic to another. They have no patience. As one slogan during the LSE troubles of 1968 said, ‘When you concede our demands, tomorrow we will think of new ones’.
But what about the Aam Aadmi Party? Here is a movement which is refusing to become a party. To its surprise, it has become a government about to celebrate its first month in office. Within that short time period, its fortunes have waxed and waned faster than its own actions. The dharna outside Rail Bhavan tried many a Delhiwallah’s patience. People began to write Arvind Kejriwal off on January 20, but by the 21st, he had effected a nifty retreat and survived to fight another day. It was the retreat rather than the dharna which was a clever ploy. This man will not go on fast unto death like Anna Hazare. He knows his weaknesses and knows how to leverage the small power he has. He will, I have no doubt, begin to govern properly one of these days. But where is the hurry? He has a tight window till the general election and needs to stay in the public eye continuously. It is not as if previous new governments taking power had set a 100-day programme or done much of note even by the end of their first year. The established parties were gleeful when they saw citizens being inconvenienced by Metro closures and thought the people would begin to go off AAP.
This is to misjudge the game Kejriwal is playing. People have lost faith in the institutions of government thanks to UPA and so, if Kejriwal does not behave like other CMs, no one will blame him. It is normal ‘dignified’ behaviour — getting in and out of lal batti cars, with dozens of security personnel, jobs for their supporters and contracts for their financiers — that people resent. This is the big sea change that the Congress as well as the BJP cannot fathom.
The BJP has an outsider at the top, a chaiwallah whose status brings tears of laughter and contempt to the pristine Brahmin eyes of Congress leaders. Narendra Modi still has much to pick up from Kejriwal if he is to win and rebuild trust in institutions. He must remember that the Janata Party, which came to power in 1977 at a historic moment when India’s first experiment of Fascist rule was defeated, failed because the winners could only contemplate their navels.
Two things were manifestly clear. The first was, unsurprisingly, the sentiment against the UPA. Anti-incumbency is all too common in democratic polities. Continuation of incumbents beyond two terms is normally unhealthy for a democracy. In many polities, there is a two-term limit for incumbents, for an unbroken hold over power often leads to arrogance and corruption. The enormity of anti-UPA anger is all too obvious.
The second trend was also unmistakable. The AAP was experiencing a wave in urban India. India’s political conversation had changed. When a polity experiences a wave, conventional political analysis cannot be undertaken. Will the APP get only 8-10 seats, or 50-60? We simply can’t be sure. All we can say is that waves can be exponential, engulfing much that comes in the way. But waves can also crash. Especially after the Rail Bhavan dharna, we not only need to ask how far the AAP will go, we also need to inquire whether the
AAP wave will abate in the next three months. Let us first understand why the AAP rose so rapidly. The AAP managed to combine the support of the urban elite and the urban masses. Normally, mass politics and elite politics dance to very different tunes. The AAP has brought them together. Playing only the middle class game has inherent limits in a country where the underprivileged are still the vast majority. But attending only to the poor, while politically attractive, often leads to reckless fiscal behaviour, which in turn engenders economic and political problems. If one can put the two together and begin to extend it to rural India, a solid foundation of new politics can be created. That is the great promise of the AAP.
After over two decades, the urban middle class appears to be enthused about politics. It has lined up to acquire AAP membership. When you learn that membership lines have formed even in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, places where the AAP was least expected to attract attention, you know a wave is emerging. Funds have also poured in. Equally important, the AAP is going for clean and accountable financing in a polity where campaign finance is murky to the core. Businessmen are writing cheques. Some have joined the party.
Who would be hurt most, if the wave continued? The Congress will in any case go into an eclipse in May. The BJP was to be the biggest beneficiary of the anti-incumbency anger, but the AAP is threatening to split that vote in urban India. In UP, Rajasthan and Haryana, the semi-urban vote, too, might be shared. Moreover, a partial rural penetration of these states cannot be ruled out.
The BJP never had a lion’s share of the rural vote. Its fate is made or unmade by the urban vote. It slipped badly in 2009. According to Pradeep Chhibber and Rahul Verma, political scientists at Berkeley, there were 216 urban and semi-urban parliamentary seats in 2009. Of these, the Congress won 95, and the BJP 55. According to conventional political analysis, that was to be reversed in May 2014, until of course the AAP burst on the scene. Even if the AAP gets only 20-25 seats, which Delhi, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan can provide, it might make it very hard for Narendra Modi to get 180 seats, now widely viewed as necessary for attracting enough allies to form a government.
Would this analysis hold up now? More generally, under what circumstances can the AAP wave crash? A Rail Bhavan fiasco is not enough to write off the AAP, but it certainly suggests what could be one of several routes of waning.
The most important signal the Rail Bhavan dharna sent is this: it can wean the urban elite and middle class away from the AAP, while keeping the urban poor base intact. The urban poor may savour a dramatic political attack on the police, which harasses them routinely. But losing the urban elite, or middle class, will be suicidal. This class is a source of finance for the AAP, also a source of future leadership, and a reason for media fervour.
Why might the urban middle class be upset? One issue is clearly pad ki garima (behaviour appropriate to the office held). A chief minister cannot be the chief protester. He and his cabinet are supposed to govern, not cause chaos. The argument that Delhi’s police should be under the elected Delhi state government has genuine merit. Since Delhi Police reports to the Central government, not to the Delhi government, the locus of elected political power and the locus of police administration are severely misaligned in India’s capital. The misalignment is also a reason for why it is hard to tackle criminality in Delhi, once it raises its ugly head. But the battle for seeking a better alignment of the political and the administrative cannot be waged on the streets. A less chaos-inducing, more governance-friendly and politically creative means must be devised.
At a deeper level, the Gandhian inspiration of AAP politics calls for serious rethinking. Gandhi’s use of civil disobedience was very infrequent. Only the issues of gravest significance required that mode of protest. A dharna, too, requires systematic prior analysis before it is undertaken as a mode of non-violent protest.
The AAP’s notion of direct democracy, taken from Gandhi, also needs to be subjected to deeper reflection. Is direct democracy feasible? Arvind Kejriwal’s idea of janta durbar was laden with grave danger. What if a stampede had taken place and a score of citizens had died? The AAP wave would have started waning right at that moment. Luckily, no stampede took place, but could the possibility have been ruled out? Getting governance closer to citizens is a worthy goal, but the means have to carefully thought through.
Finally, as the AAP works on its national manifesto, it might wish to avoid some more danger signals. Ideologically, at this point, the AAP is a coalition of extremes, as is often the case when movements rebelling against the standard notions of politics emerge. Probity and accountability in politics are the AAP’s signature themes. In a polity that has scaled new heights of corruption and where citizens empowered at the time of elections feel powerless after the elections, these themes are a source of enormous popular excitement and attraction.
But the AAP also contains some extreme left-wing elements. They have supported Maoism and a plebiscite on Kashmir in the past, positions that the AAP, if it wishes to grow, might want to keep a consistent and safe distance from. In an intellectual sphere, such arguments can be debated. But in the political sphere, they are a kiss of death. They can provide easy gifts to the opponents. Can one imagine Modi roaring that the AAP consists of deshdrohis (a party of treason)? Again, the urban middle class will exit the party.
Finally, the term “socialism” is likely to be very attractive to several in the AAP, but if it becomes the centrepiece of its economic manifesto, it will also bring doom. Socialism as an ideology has lost its meaning in the 21st century; especially in India, some of the worst forms of government conduct emanated from a socialist state, which also kept the masses poor; and as a purely pragmatic matter, the so-called aspirational millions and the urban elite, who have flocked to the AAP, have no taste for socialism any more.
Putting together the urban elite and middle class on the one hand and the urban poor on the other is the AAP’s greatest immediate promise. Keeping that coalition intact is also the party’s greatest challenge.
Lok Sabha Election 2014 is likely to be the most important election ever held in India, and likely to remain so till India completes 100 years of Independence. This is so for various reasons. Even before the presence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the winds of fundamental change — both economic and political — were sweeping across India.
For at least the last decade and a half, the most important parameter in elections has been the performance of the incumbent party in elections. This performance has consisted, mainly, of two criteria; first, did the economy perform well during the tenure of the incumbent government; and second, was the leader (chief minister or prime minister) perceived to be corrupt or not. Obviously, there have been detours around this theme, and most importantly in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections when, despite good performance, the NDA lost.
If proportional representation was in existence today, the AAP would gain near identical seats to the BJP and the Congress. If proportional representation was in existence today, the AAP would gain near identical seats to the BJP and the Congress.
The road to Election 2014 has now become curved with the advent and Delhi success of the AAP. With the AAP’s intention to contest at least 300 seats (maybe even all 543) in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, the Congress and the BJP appear to be a worried lot. This discomfort stems from the huge surprise “victory” of the AAP in the recent Delhi elections, where the Congress suffered a massive thrashing by the jhadoo. It is not that the AAP won, but that everybody else lost; hence, victory is in quotes. Ultimately, the question on everybody’s mind is, “How many seats will the Aam Aadmi Party win in 2014?”
Regardless of the seats it might win, the AAP might hurt either or both of the major parties or alliances. The fact remains that the AAP is an important force in the forthcoming elections, especially in terms of the vote share it will be able to obtain. Its overall effect is analysed in this first of two articles; vote shares in the first part, and the all-important seat “estimates” on Saturday (January 25). It bears emphasis that the estimates are not forecasts; these estimates are not based on opinions or opinion polls, but rather on assumptions generated by India’s electoral history.
Conventional analysis looks at swings in vote shares. A near equivalent way of looking at vote swings is via vote “give-ups”. The vote for a new entrant like the AAP has to come from the existing pool of voters; from an existing Congress, BJP, regional party or independent voter. “Existing” here is defined as the 2009 election. The “give-up” of vote share is the percentage of vote share lost by a party with respect to its previous election performance. For example, if the Congress obtained 40 per cent of the vote in a constituency in 2009, then a give-up of 40 per cent to the AAP implies that in that constituency, the Congress will obtain only 60 per cent of the vote, that is, 24 percentage points, and the AAP will gain the remaining 16 percentage points from the Congress.
All analysts are constrained by history — there is no parallel to the unique formation of the AAP. There have been instances of new political parties pulling off surprising victories (for example, N.T. Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh in 1983); however, hardly any regional party has gone on to make an impact at the national level.
What give-up can we expect from either the Congress or the BJP to the AAP? And will both be the same? What about the possibility that there will be give-up from an AAP voter to a BJP voter — the Modi effect? Recall that the Delhi opinion polls had suggested that at least a third of AAP voters might vote for Modi.
Looking at past assembly elections in terms of give-ups of the Congress party, Arvind Kejriwal’s sweeping victory over the Congress is one of the highest on record, with an average give-up of 39 per cent, that is, out of every 100 Congress 2008 voters, 38 voted for AAP in 2013. In case of the BJP, the give-up was only nine out of 100. In case of the remainder (BSP and independents), the give-up was 50 out of 100. Historically speaking, in terms of assembly elections, the Delhi Congress give-up was one of the worst in history, the worst being the 60 per cent give-up to Asom Gana Parishad in the 1985 Assam elections. For Lok Sabha elections, the worst Congress give-up was in 1996, when, on average, 24 out of 100 Congress voters voted for other parties. (Note that, in the 1977 debacle, the Congress give-up average was 19 per cent.)
This provides us with a historical basis for analysing AAP possibilities in 2014. The attempt is to construct scenarios that guarantee the AAP the largest possible share of theoretical votes. Towards this end, the following assumptions are made. The Congress gives up a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 40 per cent of the vote share obtained in the 2009 election. If the Congress did not contest a seat in 2009, the AAP obtains zero votes from the Congress in that constituency; if it obtained 60 per cent of the vote share (as it did in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk (CC) constituency), and the assumed Congress give-up is 40 per cent, then the AAP obtains 24 per cent of the vote. In addition, in this base estimation, the AAP obtains 10 per cent of the BJP vote. In CC, the BJP obtained 34 per cent in 2009, so the AAP’s vote share goes up to 27.4 per cent; finally, the independents and third parties yield 50 per cent to the AAP; so the vote share of the three major parties (the Congress, BJP and AAP) in CC is 36, 30.6, and 30.4, respectively. The surprising conclusion, in this scenario (replica of the Delhi assembly 2013 give-ups), the Congress wins in Chandni Chowk!
Of course, different give-ups will yield different results; in the above example, if the Congress gave up 45 per cent of its vote share, and the BJP 15 per cent, the AAP would win in Chandni Chowk. These variations are experimented with in12 different simulations of vote shares. Seven of these simulations have the following range of assumptions — the Congress give-up: 30 to 35 per cent; the BJP give-up: 0 to 10 per cent; and other parties give up an average of 20 per cent.
The results are revealing. The average vote shares obtained by the three parties are all very close to each other. The chart reports the national vote shares of the two major parties for all elections since 1989. However, and this is where AAP votes in 2014 may meet electoral reality, there is virtually no meaningful relationship between the vote shares and the seats obtained by each party. In 1989, the Congress obtained one of its largest vote shares (37.7 per cent), and yet obtained fewer seats than in 2009 (vote share of 26.1 per cent!). As is well known, this lack of a relationship is due to two factors — most importantly, the first-past-the-post electoral system and coalition politics. The latter may have made us forget the Lahiri-Roy formulation of IOU (Index of Opposition Unity) over the last two decades. By making it a three-party/ coalition fight, the AAP’s entry brings back IOUs with a vengeance.
An alternative electoral system prevails in many European countries and in some developing countries, for example, Brazil. This is the proportional voting system, where seats obtained are proportional to the vote obtained. If this system had prevailed in India, then in 1999, the Congress would have formed the government. (As it happened, the Congress got its lowest ever seats — 114 — in 1999).
This provides a perspective on the “projected” vote shares for the three parties in 2014, and the seats they will obtain. The projections suggest that it will be a very close fight, given our assumptions, for votes. On average, the AAP obtains the lowest at 17.7 per cent, the Congress 18.8 per cent, and BJP the highest, at 19.1 per cent. So if proportional representation was in existence today, the AAP would gain near identical seats to the BJP and the Congress. But with the first-past-the-post system — wait till Saturday’s article. Hint: IOU makes a big dent to common assumptions about the AAP’s seat popularity.
The world according to AAP
In ultra-fast hurry mode, the world has learnt a lot about the Aam Aadmi Party in the last few months. The party has opined on subjects well beyond its area of responsibility and expertise, for example, foreign policy, and well within it, for instance, policies on water, electricity, law and order, and how to run a government (from the street or from the office). The media and glitterati have been chattering about the AAP even at dinner. The Congress seems to be caught in the AAP headlights like an ultra-frightened deer. Before one could say copycat, the two states ruled by it — Haryana and Maharashtra — have already announced power cuts along the socialist vision lines of the AAP in Delhi. Mercifully, they haven’t gone the full hog with subsidies for the rich as per Arvind Kejriwal’s dictatorial water policy in Delhi.
Should the AAP be getting this much attention since, at best, it is leading a government with outside support in the small state of Delhi? Obviously not, except for the fact that there is considerable speculation about the impact of the AAP in the national elections a few months hence. It is in this context that the AAP’s actions of recent days have to be considered. By leading a protest march against the Central government, the AAP may not have won hearts and minds, but it has surely won all the TV ratings. One hypothesis that deserves serious discussion is to what extent the media and journalist savvy AAP calculated that the national exposure guaranteed by the protest led by the mad anarchist (not mine but Kejriwal’s and the Union home minister’s words) may not have been so mad.
The results of two opinion polls — India Today and CNN-IBN — have just been released, and both point to more hype than substance in the projections of the AAP as even a semi-major force in Indian politics. Among the major states, the AAP receives a national vote share of 4.6 per cent; excluding Delhi, its national vote share drops to 3.9 per cent. In terms of seats, the AAP receives five in Delhi (both polls) and four outside Delhi (IT poll, with CNN-IBN not making any seat projections). To put this in perspective, the BSP received 8 per cent of the national vote share in 2009, and the CPM-CPI together received 5 per cent. And recall that a political party is considered a “national” party only if it receives more than 6 per cent of the vote in at least four states. Even after all the news, publicity, moral superiority and arrogance, the AAP will fulfil these criteria (according to the opinion polls) in only three states: Delhi (48 per cent), Haryana (17 per cent), and Gujarat (12 per cent).
Both opinion polls were conducted before the AAP’s mad escapade. It is possible its popularity will go down; it is also possible, but not likely, that its popularity will go up post the madness. But the analysis of vote shares presented on Friday (‘When AAP meets IOU’, IE, January 24) was made on the basis of generous transitions (give-ups) of other parties’ voters towards the AAP; give-ups that resulted in a very large vote share for the AAP, upwards of 17 per cent of the national vote.
Going by the mood in the media and among disgruntled Congress voters, maybe this utterly theoretical and simulated 17 per cent vote share was what was being looked at.
The table documents the give-ups of the Congress, the BJP and regional parties to the AAP, and the corresponding seat shares. These give-ups are radically different (and higher) than those revealed in opinion polls, that is, a Congress give-up of 30-35 per cent and a BJP give-up of 0 to 10 per cent. Most opinion polls pre and post the Delhi election concluded that somewhere between a third and half of Delhi AAP voters would vote for Narendra Modi. Ace psephologist Yogendra Yadav, one of the top three leaders of the AAP, concluded in an AAP survey that about a third of its voters were likely to shift to the BJP. As a conservative calculation, it is
assumed that this fraction will be as little as 10 per cent. The calculations assume that the AAP contests every seat in all the big states (524 seats in total) and obtains votes in each of these constituencies. Neither the Congress nor the BJP have contested every constituency in any election, so this is an ultra-extreme assumption.
The opinion polls suggest that the Congress give-up will only be 7 per cent and predicted the reverse of give-up, again, to the BJP of 26 per cent. These assumptions add up to the simple fact that the deck has been heavily stacked in favour of the AAP — an overestimation of AAP votes to well beyond the dreams of the AAP. The likelihood of such give-ups actually occurring will be the blackest of Black Swan events.
Opinion poll results — a seat share for the AAP in the 5-9 range. The AAP vote share, as reported above, is less than 5 per cent. Second, Row 1: If the Congress loses 30 per cent of its 2009 vote share and the BJP holds on to its 2009 level but shows no improvement in votes, the result is a near replica of the opinion polls — a seven-seat projection for the AAP. This despite the fact that the assumed vote share for the AAP is about 12 percentage points higher (around 17 per cent) than indicated by the opinion polls.
The most favorable to the AAP, but a historically “unlikely” scenario, is when the Congress gives up 35 per cent of its vote share and the BJP gives up 10 per cent in every constituency. Obviously, this will not happen, for in some constituencies it will be much more, some a lot less. But the constant average does hint at the likely outcomes. In this scenario, the AAP gains 14 seats nationally, six of which are in Delhi. But, and this is an important caveat, the AAP margins of victory in the Delhi seats are razor-thin — they range from 0.2 to 1.2 per cent of the vote, with an average margin of victory of only 0.5 per cent.
Unlikely scenarios are reported as well, for example, the Congress loses 30 per cent of the vote, the BJP loses 10 per cent to the AAP but, in turn, receives 10 per cent of the aggregate AAP vote (the Kejriwal-to-Modi conversion). This aggregate includes the votes received from third parties, etc. In this scenario, the AAP ends up gaining only one seat nationwide.
In elections, anything can, and sometimes does, happen. The AAP defied all odds to win handsomely in Delhi. This regional feat has been achieved by many in-state elections. Rarely, actually never, has a debutante party gone on to translate a regional victory into a national one. It is a difficult task. Despite building in very favorable assumptions for an AAP victory, it is difficult to get the party to score in double digits on an all-India basis. The odds, and the gods, do not seem aligned much in the AAP’s direction.

 

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Japan Becomes Centerpiece of India’s Strategic Outreach

Imagine the lush green North East of India of seven provinces. It is that part of India, that remains barred to outsiders. To enter some parts of this land of pristine glory, even Indians need a permit and they cannot buy property there. China is of course at the forefront of forign Countries that is barred from any activity officialy. And now Japan is being invited there. The yen for the Japanese yen and the power game has helped Japan come back to the land from where it was thrown out in 1942. As India and Japan ramp up their bilateral relationship, India has invited Japan to invest in and build overland infrastructure in areas which are generally out of bounds for Chinese investments.
India and Japan used the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to dramatically expand the scope of bilateral cooperation to include the politically sensitive northeastern states of India, areas where Chinese investment or projects are actively discouraged. Japanese companies will have the opportunity to help the development of the northeast specially to build roads, and aid agriculture, forestry and water supply and sewerage in these states.
China claims Arunachal Pradesh as its territory, which has aggravated border tensions between India and China. Security agencies have also long tracked Chinese weapons assistance to militant outfits in northeastern states. It has taken India many difficult years to calm down these hills, but China remains a significant security threat.
For India to invite Japan to build infrastructure here is a huge political statement. In 2007, China opposed an ADB loan for development works in Arunachal Pradesh describing it as “disputed territory”. The last time the Japanese were in India’s northeast was during the second world war, when they worked with Netaji Subhash Bose’s INA to confront the British in Nagaland.
Japanese companies have also been invited to help develop a new port in Chennai, which would be used to improve India’s sea-route connectivity. India assiduously keeps China out of port development because they constitute India’s critical infrastructure. Japanese assistance for Chennai port is also aimed at giving teeth to a new sea-based route that would start in Chennai, and end in Dawei port in Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region. The port is being developed by Thailand.
In 2012, Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra had promised PM Manmohan Singh that Thailand would pump in a massive $50 billion into Dawei, making it a bigger investment than China’s in Gwadar or Hambantota.
The development of a new port in Chennai would serve to connect the industrial centres of southern and western India with southeast Asia. In addition, Japan’s investment in the Bangalore-Chennai industrial corridor would find easy outlet from Chennai.
In the larger strategic matrix, this would help in building an alternative supply chain network, giving Asia a viable alternative to the China-dominated networks currently in play. The India-Japan team for economic projects is ultimately placing pieces together to build a multi-polar Asia, a declared strategic intent of both countries.
Japan and India have agreed to work together to develop infrastructure in other regional countries as well. This would have the double benefit of being a power projection for both countries in South Asia, it could be an effective counter to the Chinese juggernaut. For India, this would be an added advantage because it always falls short in delivering quality infrastructure by a moribund public sector system. An injection of Japanese funds and expertise is just what India needs.
As part of the trilateral dialogue between India, US and Japan, a trilateral highway linking India, Myanmar and Thailand (the ambitious draw it further to Hanoi, Vietnam) is likely to see more Japanese and US interest. This is an India-led project due for completion in 2016, but by itself, India is unlikely to make the target.
In Sri Lanka, where India is working hard to squander its hard won gains, it has invited Japan to help develop a huge thermal power plant in Trincomalee. Foreign minister Salman Khurshid recently inaugurated the project, which India has promised would be a better, cheaper power project than the one developed by the Chinese in Norachcholai.
India and Japan could also jointly develop the strategically crucial oil terminals in Trincomalee. In retaliation for India voting against Sri Lanka in the human rights council, Sri Lanka has threatened to take away some of the oil terminals from India. A joint development project with Japan would solve many issues with Colombo.
Buried in the agreements between India and Japan are a promise by Japan’s JICA to help India’s Export-Import Bank develop more attractive funding packages for Indian projects in regional countries. India always loses to China because Beijing offers finances at very attractive rates, which India cannot. India reckons that with Japanese help, it can up its own game in the neighbourhood.
In the power play that is quietly underway in Asia, India has made Japan the centerpiece of its strategic outreach. What would be the response of Dragon lying in wait in India’s north? Wait and watch.

Your Style of Drinking Coffee ?

Coffee is the world’s second most popular drink after water, with over 2,611 billion cups of coffee consumed daily worldwide. Within this framework, each one of us still has his/her own way of drinking their cup of coffee.
Having a good cup of coffee is more than just about milk or sugar; sometimes it is a whole ritual passed on from mother to daughter, from father to son. From the Ethiopian countryside where coffee was first discovered, to the baroque cafes of imperial Europe and the office streets of Tel Aviv, coffee has adapted to almost every culture, infiltrating even tea-loving countries such as India and UK.
Coffee drinking habits differ from one country to other, from culture to culture, in terms of the blend composition, coffee format (instant, mix, roast and ground, capsules), roasting and grinding level, and preparation method.
Each country has its specific coffee preferences, and my partsking of coffee in diverse places has provided me with insights about coffee consumption in the countries I visited.
Serbia – Bitter and strong
Serbians are in love with coffee. Coffee is part of their history. They drink 3 cups of coffee per day and their preferred coffee is black roast and ground prepared in a kettle (the “Turkish style”). They like a special blend of coffee named “Rio Minas” due to its provenience, and it is a bitterer, stronger coffee taste and fine grinded.
The morning coffee is a ritual in Serbia; almost every family is having its black cup of coffee before breakfast or anything else. The house should smell like coffee and the perfect cup of coffee would have thick foam in the kettle.
Recently, young Serbians have started to drink “coffee mix” type of coffee during the afternoon, because it is a sweeter, milder coffee: 3in1, 2in1 (instant coffee plus sugar and powdered milk). Still, the morning coffee remains black R&G, no matter if you are young or old.
Romania – Roast and ground
Just like their neighbors, Romanians also love the roast and ground coffee; more than 80% of the coffee consumption is the roast and ground one. They drink an average of 2 cups of coffee per day, usually one in the morning and one in the afternoon, but no later than 5 p.m. The preferred blend of the Romanians is a mix of bitter and aromatic coffee (Robusta and Arabica), medium ground and roast. They usually add sugar and only few of them add some milk.
Just like in Serbia, the “Turkish” way of preparing coffee in a kettle is the most common one in Romania. Making coffee in a kettle, taking the time to boil the water, adding the coffee in the right moment and keeping an eye on it until it is ready, while enjoying the smell of coffee in the kitchen, all represent a very dear ritual for a lot of Romanians.
Poland – Special aroma
As we move closer to Western Europe, in Poland, the at-home coffee preference is almost equally split between roast and ground and instant coffee. There is a “polish” way of preparing coffee, by just pouring hot water over one or two spoons of coffee in the cup (either instant or roast and ground). Some of Poles add milk in their coffee. The Arabica type of coffee is the preferred one, due to its special aromatic and refined, less bitter taste.
South India – Coffee in a Steel Container
In South India, you get hot scalding sweet, yet fragrant coffee in small steel tumblers. It is mostly Arabica coffee brewed in a typical Indian style and has ample quantity of sugar and milk.
Israel – Hot water, small glass
Moving on to the Middle East, significant part of the Israelis prefer drinking instant coffee at home and many of them are going out for either ice coffee when it is very hot, or cappuccino and latte. Still, part of the population, mostly men, loves strong Turkish coffee in the morning- roast and ground, very finely ground, with a bitter, strong taste and aroma.
As coffee shops become increasingly popular in the countries where we operate, coffee specialties are more attentive to the consumption habits of consumers, from cappuccino, latte and macchiato to frappe and various flavored coffee beverages.
The linkage between tea and coffee consumption
We noticed that in countries where tea consumption is high, the preferred coffee type would typically be instant, maybe because of the similarity in the preparation method: just adding hot water to the coffee. Russians are among the tea lovers, with more than 75% of the population drinking instant coffee, mostly freeze-dried (granulated instant coffee). They drink an average of 2 cups of coffee and almost double the number of tea cups per day.
No matter how different we are, how our history and local culture vary, our love for coffee has no boundaries. It is the most common denominator. When it comes to coffee, we are all big fans, everywhere. Coffee is an important part of our life, and so many beautiful and memorable moments are formed over a cup of coffee, that I am sure each one of you has such a moment to share!
And if you wonder what good coffee tastes like, an old Turkish proverb says “Coffee should be black as Hell, strong as death, and sweet as love”.
Now tell me, how do you drink your coffee?

Oral or Anal Sex Makes You a Criminal in India

Indian is still living in dark ages, with laws that are not commensurate with present day concepts. These laws reflect the social norms of an era that has long been over and represent an outdated psyche. The recent Supreme Court judgement upholding that homosexuality is a crime has deeper implication. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines Unnatural Offences as:
“Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment of life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend up to ten years and shall also be liable for fine.”
Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section. And the punishment, imprisonment for life or up to ten years, is non-bailable.
Perspective: This law pertains to 1860, where the churches did not allow divorce or termination of pregnancy as that was the mindset of the legislature and the churches at that point in time (India at that time was ruled by the British at that time).
Go fully comprehend the the deeper implications of this law it is essential to decoding/interpreting the law. And we find that:
Carnal: To do with flesh or body
Unnatural: Any kind of sex other than the one done by a man and woman from the front is termed unnatural, i.e. both ‘Anal’ and ‘Oral’ sex are equally punishable as they are equally unnatural. This will make all gays, lesbians and most Indian men and women criminals.
Other provisions in law to secure people against sexual harassment in society:
1. Women, whether wives or live-in partners, are protected against any kind of sexual abuse in the Domestic Violence Act. However, so far in India, marital rape is not a crime which means sexual relationship between a husband and wife post-marriage is an admitted position of law.
2. All forced sex is not allowed and the concerned victim is protected under the Sexual Abuse Act.
Delhi High Court had de-criminalised the Section on the basis that every individual has a right to his or her sexual preference in a free democratic society, so long as it does not harm anybody.
However the apex court the Supreme Court has said that this law is in a document called the IPC and the laws are laid down by legislature, so they have sent it back to Parliament to define the law. They have not criminalised it. They have said that while the High Court may have given their views, it is not for judicial interpretation and should be decided only by the legislature.
Right to Life: Article 21 of the Constitution of India- states that every individual has the right to life, so far as he or she is not doing anything that is a disgrace to society or causing harm to anybody. That you have the right to live your life independently so far as it does not cause a nuisance to society. It also gives you the right to live your life with dignity.
Effects of criminalising Section 377 on society
A real-life incident: Parents knew that their son was gay. They still married him off to avoid social embarrassment. This boy has sex with his newly-wed wife where she becomes pregnant and then the gay side of him takes prominence and he starts dating his male friend. She catches him red-handed.
This automatically raises several very pertinent questions like :
1. Should a parent marry off a gay or lesbian child knowing fully well that they are ruining the life of another person to whom they are marrying their child to? Is it fair for the parents to get a gay or lesbian child married off just to save their own faces in society?
2. Can a spouse not blackmail his or her partner once they discover them to be bisexual? It will make all bisexual men and women criminals.
3. Technically, it can be argued that just like anal sex is unnatural, so is oral. Does that not make most men and women in India who have oral sex criminals?
4. The law is silent on the detection of who can be termed gays or lesbians? Do they need to be caught in the act? Can just an individual proclaiming that he is gay make him a criminal? The act is open to interpretation, the effect of which will be blackmailing, extortion and most commonly corruption.
Argument for it to be de-criminalised:
1. 7-13% of Indian adults are homosexual and indulge in this as a voluntary sexual preference.
2. Most Indian men and women indulge in oral sex that will make all of them criminals.
3. The current law makes the offence unbailable and can put them behind bars for life, but so long as it is a voluntary act based on an individual’s sexual preference and does not harm another person, is it not going too far to term them criminals?
4. It will lead to blackmailing and extortion by the police. People will do it behind closed doors as they will not have the courage to come out and admit to their ‘unnatural’ sexual preferences. That will add to health hazards.
5. It will lead to harassment by spouses and unmarried lovers on discovering their partners to be bisexual or on having oral sex.
6. It could lead to entrapment and sting operations against the politically powerful and the rich to blackmail them.
7. Above all, Indian Constitution allows for the right to life under Section 21. This section violates that basic right. In addition to the right to life, it also violates our fundamental rights to liberty, equality and privacy. Liberty because it comes in the way of individual choice, equality because it discriminates against a certain class of people, and privacy because it seeks to regulate what we do behind closed doors. The only tests are: Is it non-consensual, and does it disturb public peace?
The outdated laws are an anachronism and there is an urgent need to amend them, or better still throw them in garbage bins.

India’s Disastrous Foreign Policy & Diplomatic Services Analyzed

Thank heavens this year is done. In 2013, Indian stiffed their friends, failed to deliver as a global power, and frankly, the country’s neighbourhood is worse off. For Indian foreign policy, this has been the most painful year in a very long time, because it exposed the lack of political leadership at a time when it was sorely needed. It is important to see why 2013 was the most disastrous year in Indian diplomacy and why.
Sri Lanka, arguably India’s best friend in this region and a really important pillar of India’s national project of expanding its strategic space was let down spectacularly by India. PM Manmohan Singh cravenly gave oxygen to narrow interests when he refused to attend CHOGM. By persistently voting against Sri Lanka at forums we would slam in a heartbeat if they targeted New Delhi, India has shown quite comprehensively it cannot be relied upon as a partner.
New Delhi hasn’t been honest enough to admit that the fishermen problem is because Indian fishermen are crossing the boundary, Indian fishermen engage in environmentally degrading fishing practices. Sri Lanka is ripe for picking by China, and we helped it. Our policy on Sri Lanka is being dictated by Tamil diaspora pressure groups, though we would scream bloody murder if others chose to leverage Sikh or Mirpuri diaspora against India.
Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh is fighting one of the biggest battles of her life. She has staked much on the India relationship and done much to take out terror cells that threaten both Bangladesh and India. India had made Bangladesh a big project and our officials spread out Indian goodies for Dhaka. But New Delhi failed at the heavy lifting — PM could not convince the Assamese or Bengalis that a land boundary pact with Dhaka was in India’s interest. This will hurt the only constituency in Bangladesh we want to save.
And yes, just before elections must be the best time to stiff Bhutan. Weeks before its July elections, India, for a reason no one yet understands, stopped subsidizing kerosene and cooking gas. It may have been just incompetence, but everyone believes India was punishing Jigme for an “independent” foreign policy, particularly his outreach to China. What were we smoking? Possibly hashish of hubris.
Hamid Karzai has depended on India in ways the world cannot imagine. As he stumbles into the great unknown of 2014, where he will be battling Pak-sponsored terrorists without NATO, he now knows he cannot actually depend on India to give him the weapons he needs. The government is reportedly worried about what Pakistan would think!
In his decade as PM, Manmohan Singh has never been able to convince India that his Pakistan policy was more than about a personal visit to the land of his birth. So we cut off talks periodically, because the government believes the only other option is war. This is lazy policy making. Thankfully, Pakistan, mostly its own worst enemy, regularly lets India off the hook.
The fact that we apparently get caught off-guard by events in our immediate neighbourhood cannot be good. Maldives is a case in point, where we scrambled to get them to hold a credible election, losing a massive Indian investment by GMR on the way. We even promoted a suboptimal envoy from Male to consul-general in New York, where as boss to Devyani Khobragade, his lack of leadership has been stunning to say the least.
L’affaire Khobragade was only the latest blow to the US-India relationship which has been on the skids for some time now. Barack Obama’s stunted vision and India’s political paralysis have proved to be an unbeatable combination in killing much of what was achieved between Singh and Bush.
In 2005, a visibly elated Manmohan Singh stated on his way back from Washington, “The nuclear deal will be as important for India as the economic reforms were.” As his government collapses in a heap, it’s the same nuclear deal that has caused much of India’s troubles with the world. The nuclear liability law succeeded in strangling nuclear investment from not only the US. Russia, India’s oldest pal, hit Singh with supplier liability clause and the French are making similar noises. Meanwhile, India’s own nuclear industry is choking to death because they find it impossible to meet the liability provisions. The US can take heart — it isn’t just them we’re after.
There are rays of light, and they were all in Asia. Despite the Depsang incursion, which may be described as a low point, the incident showed that India could hold its own against Chinese grand strategy. It also exposed internal differences within China’s monolithic set-up, always a good thing for neighbours. A third consequence of China’s strange actions, in Ladakh and East China Sea, is the beneficial effect it has on the India-Japan relationship.
This was the year when the India-Japan relationship took flight. The emperor’s visit to India has a significance way beyond the commonplace. Japan will continue to regard India through a US prism, but that’s fine. In his more loquacious moments, PM described the Japan relationship as “transformational”. India needs Japan by its side as it transforms itself both as a nation, an economy and as a global power. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be India’s chief guest on Republic Day, a wonderful opportunity for India to show that it can walk the talk on a vital investment.

Let us now see the people who man our diplomatic service. We have a new border control mechanism between India and China. The joint secretary in charge of east Asia in one of MEA’s brightest. But the person concerned is already in charge of, take a deep breath all of India’s policies to China, Japan, the two Koreas, Taiwan, Tibetan refugees, and recently, Japan’s tsunami and disaster diplomacy. He’d have to be Superman at the very least, particularly because he has only about five junior officials working under him.
Another bright official handles Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, again with four or five juniors at hand. You don’t need an intimate knowledge of India’s foreign policy to figure out how important his portfolio is.
One person handles something like 10-odd countries in south-east Asia, including Singapore, Australia, Vietnam, all very important in India’s foreign policy priorities. Another solitary reaper looks after Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Maldives.
And its one official in charge of India’s US policy the US embassy in Delhi has something like 20 people only in their political section.
If descriptions of Indian foreign policy are peppered with words like “reactive”, “delayed” “lost opportunities”. I call it a severe lack of capacity that is constraining India’s foreign policy.
MEA’s mandarins can be the smartest people alive, but its impossible to expect them to ruminate on policy, strategic initiatives, all the while fighting fires everyday, several times a day, pushing files, answering parliament questions receiving dignitaries, assisting PM during summits, and then greeting returning Indians evacuated from the latest disaster zone in the world at 2 am in the morning before reporting for work at 9 am. And to then work out where India’s global footprint should be a decade from now.
India boasts of the least number of foreign service officers among the emerging giants. There are just about 900 IFS officers to serve India’s 120 missions and 49 consulates even as India expands its diplomatic footprint exponentially all over the world. Compare this to about 4200 in China, and 1200 in Brazil, Germany (6550), France (6240), Japan (5500) Singapore (867), UK (6001) and US (almost 20,000), and you know why foreign diplomats walk out of South Block with mixed feelings: are these guys just plain superhuman, or is the Indian foreign policy machine functioning way below potential? The latter, every time.
The IFS set up in 1946 as Jawaharlal Nehru’s pet project largely recruited people in his image for the first few decades from the right socio-economic classes, the right schools, colleges, the right reading and drinking habits. But IFS officers were also by and large “protected” from the rest of the country, and thereby from the Indian “power stakes”. From the beginning, it was the academically oriented, one with strong notions of serving the motherland, so to speak, or one with a yen for travel that opted for this service.
For the past couple of decades, the sheen has slowly worn off the private sector was more attractive, the tech sector had its own merits, the pay was low in South Block, bureaucracy was stifling, and travel was so much easier that if held little appeal. Besides, how many of the newer generation wanted to fly the flag in a flat in Papua New Guinea? And lets face it, Indian foreign policy only acquired texture and spark after the 1998 nuclear tests.
Two former foreign secretaries, Shyam Saran and Shivshankar Menon made a spirited pitch to increase the cadre, but Menon took the issue much further, and pushed for a union cabinet approval (in 2008) for doubling the posts of diplomats after their number dwindled to 4746.
Over the next 10 years the number will increase by 520 (320 from officer category and 200 among the staff). The 320 officers will be taken in over 10 years @ 32 per year. Currently, the IFS takes in 18 from the merit list. This will be increased by 8 every year. IFS (B) service will see 12 more promotions per year. The last 12 experts to be inducted by lateral entry will be the most difficult to digest, because the foreign service is positively allergic to outside influence. These may come from other services, army, experts with domain knowledge etc, but all the while acutely conscious of keeping the bloodline pure, free of contaminants like political “sifarish.”
But MEA continues to have a brahminical approach to recruitment people must come through that one-size-fits-all civil services examination, which throws up revenue officials, ordnance factory officials and foreign service diplomats.
Its time MEA started to do their own recruitment directly from universities and train people in the special skills a diplomat needs. That would give the new generation a fresh option to think about rather than the silly choice of IAS ? or IAAS? Or IFS? Or IF(orest)S?
Second, pay them more. A lot more. Make it a worthwhile career option for youngsters.
Third, outsource a number of non-core activities from diplomats. They shouldn’t have to greet returning evacuees. This is a country of a billion people. Surely we can find some sensitive souls to do this.
Fourth, train and re-train diplomats. Then refresh their training.
Fifth, create a cadre of diplomats specializing in economic diplomacy, people who wont treat private sector as if they’re some kind of infectious disease.
Sixth, get out of the dungeon called South Block. A brand new building, Jawahar Bhawan is coming up on Janpath. Its a great opportunity to clean up the clutter in South Block and get into organized quarters. It will significantly improve the conduct of foreign policy. South Block doesn’t even have clean loos, for god’s sake. And monkeys prowl with impunity.
The country’s premier foreign policy establishment is in dire need of a serious overhaul. There is urgent need for more boots on the ground. The current trickle should become a flood. Ask any ambassador, he/she will tell you only one thing: “I need bodies!” This idea of increasing the offtake from the civil services crop every year is, for want of a better word, dumb. I would just say a couple of things—create a separate exam for the foreign service within the rubric of the UPSC, if you must. The selection exam should have separate criteria, demand separate skill-sets and cast the net WIDE.It would, of course be better to catch youngsters directly from universities, IIMs etc. But its really important to catch them young. Quite apart from the fact that it would ordinarily take about a decade to bring these kids up to scratch in terms of vision, skill and craft, the younger you catch them, the easier it is for the system to avoid having an army of generalists. You could separate the “multilateralists” from the “bilateralists”, the negotiators from the administrations, the strategists from the action heroines (in the recent past MEA’s women have been at the front lines, whether in Libya, Lebanon or Ivory Coast) and build them up accordingly.  In this day and age, where diplomacy is less about how you hold your drink than about how you can negotiate through a global minefield in any given subject, specialists are what we need.
Being a diplomat is no longer about seeing the world and becoming a global citizen. It’s about pushing market access, pulling off resource deals, looking for opportunities, neutralizing opposition. Can’t have generalists doing this stuff.Catching them young has another upside. There is a healthy degree of competition from the younger bunch —they all know they have a shot at the top jobs in the ministry. That reminds me—the foreign secretary may be primus inter pares, but we really want more of those “pares”. If you see the average newcomer to the MEA, they’re well over 25. They don’t have a ghost of a chance of becoming a secretary and they know it, so they’re actually encouraged by the system to be under-performers.
Another interesting thought that came from a far-thinking diplomat—tie up with the army and navy. They have this short-service commission to lure good people as officers. After their stint, MEA could consider co-opting them as IFS officers as lateral entries. They have already been trained in the spit and polish of the armed forces; more often than not they’re well-behaved and disciplined. And they can fill an interesting niche at the intersection of political and military strategy, which is at the heart of say, our Indian Ocean diplomacy.
There will always be those who will say that MEA would be opening itself up for discretionary appointments, and therefore political favouritism. True. The answer to that could be drawing up of a set of objective standards and some strict oversight rules. But let’s not make the best the enemy of the good

 

America and Israel: A Fraying Bond?

The death of Sharon makes one rethink on US-Israel relationship. Why is this relationship floundering? Why is is that US that was a force to reckon with in exterminating Evil, is today tolerating it and also in the process deviating from the course of friendship established over the centuries?
It was 1948. World War II had ended three years prior. Adolf Hitler’s extermination campaign had killed six million Jews, with millions of Jewish survivors without a home country. The 1917 Balfour Declaration from Great Britain had promised support of a permanent homeland for the Jews in the land of Palestine. Momentum for the creation of a Jewish state began to build.
Despite opposition, President Harry Truman was determined to support the Jewish people. The paper continued: “The Jewish Agency proposed partitioning Palestine into two parts—one Jewish, one Arab. But the State and Defense departments backed the British plan to turn Palestine over to the United Nations. In March, Truman privately promised Chaim Weizmann, the future president of Israel, that he would support partition—only to learn the next day that the American ambassador to the United Nations had voted for U.N. trusteeship…”
“With only a few hours left until midnight in Tel Aviv, [Clark] Clifford [one of President Truman’s aides] told the Jewish Agency to request immediate recognition of the new state…Truman announced recognition at 6:11 p.m. on May 14—11 minutes after Ben-Gurion’s declaration of independence in Tel Aviv. So rapidly was this done that in the official announcement, the typed words ‘Jewish State’ are crossed out, replaced in Clifford’s handwriting with ‘State of Israel’” .
Being in such close contact, the U.S. and new Jewish state were able to nearly simultaneously announce the news. The official press release from Washington stated: “This Government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed in Palestine, and recognition has been requested by the provisional Government thereof. The United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel” (The National Archives).
It is interesting to note that, “President Harry Truman, an avid student of the Bible and its prophecies regarding the return of Jews to the Holy Land, was the first world leader to recognize Israel in 1948, a moment some Christians believe began a new prophetic era for events in the Middle East” (USA Today).
Over the intervening 65 years, America and Israel have moved forward as veritable brother nations. As with any familial relationship, there have been tensions, but both governments claim today that diplomatic ties have never been better.
Historically Strong Connection
Yet cracks are beginning to appear in the unique relationship between Washington and Jerusalem. The once unwavering alliance between the United States and Israel is showing signs of strain.
America and Israel have stood by each other—for better or worse—in times of peace and in times of war. This alliance has been especially significant for Israel given its hostile neighbors. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee notes that Israel has only been recognized by two of its 22 Arab neighbors. Through the decades, the pressures of wars, terrorist acts, differing religious ideologies, politics and conflicting personalities have tugged at the ties that have bound America and Israel. The relationship has weathered all storms that have crashed against its shores. United States presidents—from multiple parties—have long championed the special relationship with the Jewish people.
John Adams (1797-1801): “The Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation….[God] ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe….[which is] to be the great .essential principle of morality, and consequently all civilization” .
John Quincy Adams (1825-1829): “[I believe in the] rebuilding of Judea as an independent nation.”
Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921): Reacting to the Balfour Declaration, he stated, “The allied nations with the fullest concurrence of our government and people are agreed that in Palestine shall be laid the foundations of a Jewish Commonwealth.”
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963): “This nation, from the time of President Woodrow Wilson, has established and continued a tradition of friendship with Israel because we are committed to all free societies that seek a path to peace and honor individual right…”
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989): “Since the foundation of the State of Israel, the United States has stood by her and helped her to pursue security, peace, and economic growth. Our friendship is based on historic moral and strategic ties, as well as our shared dedication to democracy.”
George H.W. Bush (1989-1993): “The friendship, the alliance between the United States and Israel is strong and solid—built upon a foundation of shared democratic values, of shared history and heritage that sustain the moral life of our two countries. The emotional bond of our peoples…transcends politics…”
Bill Clinton (1993-2001): “America and Israel share a special bond. Our relations are unique among all nations. Like America, Israel is a strong democracy, as a symbol of freedom, and an oasis of liberty, a home to the oppressed and persecuted…The relationship between our two countries is built on shared understandings and values…”
George W. Bush (2001-2009): “The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul…”
Barack Obama (2009-present): “We stand with Israel as a Jewish democratic state because we know that Israel is born of firmly held values that we, as Americans, share: a culture committed to justice, a land that welcomes the weary…”
Diplomatic Dialogue
On the 61st anniversary of Israel’s Independence (April 28, 2009), President Obama described America’s ties to Israel: “The United States was the first country to recognize Israel in 1948, minutes after its declaration of independence, and the deep bonds of friendship between the U.S. and Israel remain as strong and unshakeable as ever.” In his 2013 State of the Union Address, the president said, “[America] will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.”
Some Israeli leaders have made similar statements. Ehud Barak, Israel’s former deputy prime minister and minister of defense, told CNN, “I think that from my point of view as defense minister [our relations] are extremely good, extremely deep and profound…administrations of both sides of [the] political aisle [are] deeply supporting the state of Israel and I believe that reflects a profound feeling among the American people…But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”
Over the last few years, military ties between these two nations have increased. In March 2012, President Obama affirmed that the United States will “always have Israel’s back” (CBS). America and Israel reportedly worked together to create the “Stuxnet” computer virus that damaged a number of Iranian nuclear reactors in 2010. They also unified “to develop sophisticated military technology, such as the David’s Sling counter-rocket and Arrow missile defense systems…” (ibid.).
In 2011, Israel—which only holds 3 percent of the Middle Eastern population—was the recipient of 25 percent of all U.S. exports to this region. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy estimates that since 1949, the United States has provided Israel with $115 billion of economic, diplomatic and military support. Israel also exports vital military technologies to America.
Signs of Strain
Despite statements by both countries about the strength of their bond, new challenges are testing the endurance of the alliance. Distrust is growing. Leaked documents show that the two countries may be spying on one another: “US intelligence agencies have carried out counterintelligence operations against Israel, a secret report published by The Washington Post revealed…”
“According to the report, Israel is the only US ally that American counterintelligence officials suspect of spying on the United States. The other countries listed as targets of counterintelligence operations are adversaries or rivals of the US” (The Jerusalem Post).
Israelis are becoming increasingly skeptical of whether they can depend on American support. For instance, after Hillary Clinton visited Israel in late 2012 as secretary of state, a Jerusalem Post poll asked, “Do you think the US has Israel’s back?” Only 15.1 percent of Israelis polled answered, “Yes, the US is Israel’s strongest ally.” Amazingly, 55.8 percent answered, “No, Israel cannot depend on the US.”
Over the past few years, two main points of contention have arisen: (1) construction of settlements in “disputed” areas that have been proposed for a future Palestinian state and (2) how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.
Settlement Issue
Amid a push by President George W. Bush’s administration to reignite stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the relationship between these two countries began to be tested. The U.S. and Israel started to publicly disagree with each other in 2008. During this time, Guardian reported, “The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice…accused Israel of undermining peace talks as Israel announced plans to build thousands more homes in settlements in east Jerusalem.
“Upon arrival in Jerusalem to help the faltering peace talks, Rice expressed her frustration at the Israeli housing ministry announcement of plans to build 1,300 more homes in Ramat Shlomo, a settlement on Palestinian land in east Jerusalem which was captured in the 1967 war…”
“Even as Rice was issuing her strongest criticism of settlement construction to date, Jerusalem’s city council unveiled plans to build 40,000 new apartments throughout the city, including units in east Jerusalem, over the next 10 years.”
In 2011, during a visit to Israel that included Real Truth Editor-in-Chief David C. Pack, and other senior writers, I stood at a high point in east Jerusalem overlooking settlement areas while touring the town of Ma’ale Adumim. The beautiful, perfectly manicured city of approximately 37,000 residents—complete with parks, schools and shopping malls—also contained half-constructed buildings. The apartment buildings had been dormant for many months after the Israeli government stopped construction in that area.
To Israel, settlement-building means providing housing for growing communities. To America and much of the world, these construction projects are a sign that Israel will not budge in peace agreement negotiations with the Palestinians.
In 2009, Mrs. Clinton, who was acting as secretary of state, clearly articulated that Washington “wants to see a stop to settlements—not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions…That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly” (The New York Times).
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting Washington in March 2010, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden traveled overseas to Israel. During Mr. Biden’s stay, Jerusalem announced that it would build 1,600 homes in east Jerusalem.
An article in The Washington Post at the time stated, “…it thwarted what was supposed to be a celebration of fresh negotiations on talks toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The Obama administration now says that failure to resolve the Middle East conflict is harming U.S. national security interests in the region.
“…Netanyahu ‘pushed the envelope with Obama,’ said Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli peace negotiator, referring to haggling over a full settlement freeze that had precluded a resumption of peace talks. Now that Obama has pushed back, Netanyahu ‘is worried and afraid,’ Beilin said.”
Today, the settlement issue remains unresolved. In August 2013, an article in The Hill reported, “The [U.S.] State Department…criticized Israel for approving new settlements on disputed lands on the eve of resuming long-stalled peace talks.
“Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the administration had shared its ‘serious’ concerns with the Israeli government following [the] announcement of almost 1,200 new settlement homes. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are set to resume talks in Jerusalem…after a preliminary meeting hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington…”
“‘These announcements do come at a particularly sensitive time, and we have made our serious concerns about this…announcement known to the government of Israel,’ Harf said. ‘We do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.’”
Waiting for a Green Light
The second point of contention between America and Israel is how to address the controversial Iranian nuclear program. Since Iranian leadership vowed to “wipe Israel off the map,” Israel has contemplated striking Iran’s nuclear sites. Thwarting Iran’s nuclear program is seen as a matter of survival for the tiny nation. Yet America is reluctant to bless an airstrike until it feels all other options have been exhausted. Israel believes that nothing else has worked and that the time for action is approaching. Mr. Netanyahu is seeking a U.S.-backed ultimatum to Iran to stop its development of nuclear weapons within a few months or military action will follow.
At the heart of the matter is weapons technology. Israel does not have bombs sophisticated enough to completely destroy Iran’s highly protected nuclear establishments. One nuclear fuel enrichment center (Fordow) is inside a mountain—200 feet underground. The only weapon capable of reaching it is a Massive Ordnance Penetrator. America developed it but is not yet ready to sell it to the Israelis.
A longer quote from an opinion piece in the Telegraph summarized the differences between the two countries in dealing with Iran: “Barack Obama may say that the United States supports Israel and will not countenance a ‘nuclear Iran.’ But most Israelis see Obama as lacking in that basic commitment to and sympathy for Israel that characterised American presidents from Truman through Kennedy to Clinton and George W Bush…”
“Obama’s deliberate coldness toward America’s traditional ally has not been lost on the Israeli public. He spoke in Cairo [in 2009] to the Muslim world, while avoiding a ‘balancing’ visit to Jerusalem…[and] humiliated Netanyahu during [a] visit to America (on the evening of their meeting, Obama left Netanyahu for more than an hour stranded in the White House while he dined without his guest). Nor will Washington’s overbearing tone be quickly forgotten…”
“Either way, most Israelis resent Obama’s arm-twisting, and it is by no means clear that Israel will soften the widespread desire to retain East Jerusalem while opposing the settlement enterprise in the wider West Bank…”
“The only action that could halt Iran’s march toward nuclear weaponry is a strike by Israel. Whether Israel can do so effectively without a green light and some assistance from Washington is unclear…”
“So far, Obama—like George W. Bush before him—has vetoed an Israeli pre-emptive strike. The Americans are fearful of the chaos that might engulf the Middle East and are aware of their vulnerability in the region. They assume that the Iranians would charge them with complicity, whether or not they were complicit.
“It is possible that Netanyahu hoped to reach an agreement with Obama based on a trade-off—Israeli concessions on the Palestinians in exchange for America agreeing to an attack on the Iranian installations. But Obama apparently offered Netanyahu nothing, while demanding everything on the Palestinian front.”
Since that time, Washington has been seeking a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue. President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani even shared a phone conversation—something that has not occurred between the leaders of these two nations since 1979.
Prime Minister Netanyahu cautioned U.S. leaders not to buy into this apparent improvement in diplomacy. During a United Nations General Assembly speech in October 2013, Mr. Netanyahu stated, “Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, even if we have to stand alone. Yet in standing alone, Israel will know that we will be defending many, many others” (The Jerusalem Post).
The question becomes: How much longer will Israel depend on America’s approval for its decisions? How long will Israel wait before it feels it must act independently for its survival?
Fraying Bond?
An article in Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in late 2012, “At a hearing of the [U.S.] House of Representatives subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, titled ‘Safeguarding Israel’s Security in a Volatile Region,’ concerns were raised over the potentially detrimental effects of the public rift between the Obama administration and Netanyahu’s government.
“Chairman of the committee, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), expressed his growing concern about the future of the U.S.-Israel security relationship, citing the administration’s ‘clumsy response to the Palestinian attempt for statehood recognition last September at the UN’ and ‘the most recent dust-ups concerning the status of Jerusalem in President Obama’s campaign platform’ as well as Obama’s unwillingness to meet with Netanyahu…on the margins of United Nations General Assembly, though the White House rejected these claims saying such a meeting was impossible due to scheduling conflicts.
“‘I fear we are sending conflicting messages, both to our friend and those of Israel’s enemies who may question our resolve,’ Rep. Chabot said. ‘And I think that would be unfortunate and potentially dangerous.’” The article continued, “Elliott Abrams, an official in George W. Bush’s administration and currently a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, presented testimony highly critical of the Obama administration’s policies. While admitting that the U.S.-Israel military and intelligence cooperation is ‘in very good shape,’ he went on to say that ‘our political relationship and cooperation are worse than they have been for many years, perhaps for two decades.”
The relationship is of utmost importance and insensate and personal ego or prejudice of president occupier of White House must not hold this relationship to ransom. This relationship is a major bulwark against terrorism and fundamentalism. Let the relationship be put on even keel.

 

Reform Act or Pandora’s Box

If leaders have lost their following, there should be a way to oust them. This is required since an representative democracy, including Canada’s parliamentary system, is ultimately based on the view that a nation’s citizens own their government, not vice versa. Even elected heads of government and their political parties can sometimes swallow their own governments in the absence of effective checks and balances. There is little doubt, for example, that some of the changes implemented in 1969 by Pierre Trudeau’s first government marginalized MPs beyond what is healthy in a Westminster-style Parliament.
Authoritarian governments of various stripes have emerged from initially fair elections, as with Nazi Germany after 1933, when the executive branch is able to subvert democratic rights. In a number of nations in central and Eastern Europe after 1989, and earlier in the Americas, democracies were restored or created by courageous citizens fed up with bad governance. Non-violent and strategic citizen protests were important factors in achieving democracy in a number of countries. South Africans, for example, did so in 1994 in favour of Nelson Mandela when they finally obtained universal suffrage.
What evolved in Canada during the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries was an Executive Democracy. Party leaders, chosen democratically by various combinations of party delegates and dues-paying members, thereafter function as quasi-dictators within their respective parties, challengeable by no one except party members at periodic national party conventions.

With his private member’s bill (Reform Act 2013), Tory MP Michael Chong has tossed a sputtering grenade into Parliament. The question is if it will be adroitly defused, amended into meaningless platitudes, or explode — essentially altering modern Canadian parliamentary practice. But in reality Chong’s proposal makes confusion worse confounded rather than being protective of democracy
The Chong proposal flies in the face of recent democratic expansion for leadership selection; it would make leaders less secure and hence less effective in advancing their policies. It would promote internecine political back-stabbing rather than caucus cohesion. In some elements, it is almost “American” (and thus un-Canadian) and, thereby, makes a reasonably effective legislative system less so. Bad idea; its time should be never.
The bill would:
⦁ Permit 15 per cent of a caucus to trigger a leadership review at any time. A secret ballot of 50 percent would remove the current leader and begin the process for selecting a new leader;
⦁ Remove the leader’s authority to oust (or readmit) a member from caucus; that power would be transferred to the entire caucus; and
⦁ Remove the leader’s authority to select a candidate for an individual riding. That authority would be restricted to the individual riding associations.
The very fact that a private member’s bill attracts such attention reflects popular dissatisfaction with legislatures. The 21st century has been frustrating for democracies. We have endured expensive, unresolved wars in faraway lands. We live dreading terrorist attack sequels to 9/11’s falling towers. We struggle with Great Recession consequences that, at best, are still millstones on our economies.
And legislatures bear the brunt of popular dissatisfaction. U.S. support for Congress is in single digits. In Canada, a popular majority believes the country is headed in the wrong direction. Although our political systems differ, both reflect populations closely split on leaders and policies.
Thus the Chong proposal epitomizes this frustration, but its provisions appear toxic, definitely not tonic.
One of the great strengths of a parliamentary system — and the Canadian parliament in particular — is that a party campaigns on a specific platform to which party members are committed. If one differs with key elements of the platform, one doesn’t support that party. Party leaders are selected through complicated, but increasingly democratic, one-person-one-vote mechanisms. The party leader becomes the parliamentary leader, and tenure has a cruel parameter: win elections (or at least significantly improve party position) or be defenestrated.
The most effective modern party leaders are schmoozer/extroverts. They constantly reach out to their caucus, ask “What are the boys saying?” and adroitly manage individual egos, strengths, weaknesses, and desires while still running an effective government.
But it frustrates the “trained seals” and “potted plants” on the backbenches of both government and opposition. Most MPs are ambitious and highly regarded professionals in their nonpolitical lives. Some have causes (tax the rich, prevent pipelines, protect the unborn) in which they believe passionately, but detract from leadership efforts to win the next election. And if given their heads, they can scuttle their party’s electoral chances, (see “Tea Party” activists) where political purity and electability don’t equate.
In practical terms, a law permitting 15 per cent of a caucus to call for a vote on the leader provides for open-ended discord. Fifteen per cent is a low threshold of discontent; it would institutionalize fractious dissent.
In practical terms, a law permitting 15 per cent of a caucus to call for a vote on the leader provides for open-ended discord. Fifteen per cent is a low threshold of discontent; it would institutionalize fractious dissent. There is no apparent limit on the number of such demands that could be made — one per parliament? Per week? The ballot is secret, so if the leader survives the vote — perhaps with a massive majority — retribution is more problematic, especially if the rule restricting the leader’s ability to jettison a dissenter is adopted.
One can sympathize with the desire that riding associations select the candidates. But one is naïve to imply that riding associations invariably reflect popular attitudes of party members rather than views of the most committed activists who can hijack the nomination process. The party leader’s ability to veto a riding association selection assures that his team runs coherently on the platform. One can be sure the Republican National Committee would have loved to veto the aberrant Senate selections in states such as Delaware, Missouri, and Arizona in recent elections. Or had the right to disqualify a Ku Klux Klan member such as David Duke in Louisiana’s 1989 legislative election.
The answer for dissenters is resignation: either resign from the party or resign oneself to trying again later. Chong took the correct approach in 2006 resigning his ministry rather than supporting the concept of Quebec as a “nation” within Canada. In practical terms, Harper’s move was adroit, helping sidetrack Quebec sovereignty efforts. Chong is principled, but again wrong.
Brian Mulroney, for example, held sufficient sway over party delegates at his own party conventions to avoid any effective challenge to his leadership continuously between 1984 and 1993. Voters in general, however, had meanwhile become so disenchanted that only two of 156 Conservative MPs were elected nationally in the general election of 1993.
Michael Chong, a Conservative MP from northwest of Toronto since 2004 and minister in Harper’s first government during 2006 (who resigned from cabinet on a policy principle), threw major challenges to each of the House of Commons party hierarchies late last year. His private member’s bill, The Reform Act 2013, would “strengthen Canada’s democratic institutions by restoring the role of elected Members of Parliament.” One feature gives a majority of caucus members for each party the capacity to fire their party leaders. It also removes from leaders their current power to veto the nomination of a candidate chosen by a local party constituency organization and to eject an MP from their caucus. Both of these are subject to abuse by leaders.
Chong’s bill corrects several flaws in our national party practices. The most important allows 15 per cent of any national party caucus to demand a caucus vote in which a majority vote, if carried, renders its leadership vacant (Thirty or forty per cent would probably be a more acceptable threshold.). This safety device, if activated successfully in the early 1990’s, might have saved Conservatives from their political near wipe-out in 1993 by removing Mulroney and giving a successor a reasonable chance of electoral success. Michael Ignatieff similarly could have been removed by a similar procedure by Liberal MPs in time for a successor to compete more effectively in the 2011 election.
“The U.S. Constitution created and maintains numerous checks and balances over the president. Canada’s executive branch, however, has grown much stronger without developing similar controls over prime ministers, party leaders and their unelected staff in our parliamentary system.”
The Labor national caucus in Australia used such a mechanism (termed a ‘leadership spill motion’ Down Under), available at both the national and state levels, to remove Julia Gillard as prime minister last year. Some observers say it was nearly done soon enough for Kevin Rudd to win against Tony Abbott and his Liberal party in their recent national election (A successful spill motion had removed Rudd as prime minister in 2010 in favour of Gillard). The New South Wales Labor party caucus has deployed spill motions twice in recent years in their state assembly to remove premiers who had alienated more than half of their own caucus members. Abbott in turn had toppled former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull in a spill motion to replace him as Liberal national leader. In short, vigorous leader accountability to their caucuses prevails across Australia.
Most of the opposition to Chong’s spill proposal comes from those who prefer our present iron rule of party leaders at both our national and provincial levels. Tom Flanagan of Calgary, for example, criticizes the spill device in Australia, saying that Labor was beaten nationally by angry voters for ousting Gillard, even though opinion polls made it clear that Labor with Gillard as leader would have elected fewer MPs than with Rudd.
The U.S. Constitution created and maintains numerous checks and balances over the president. Canada’s executive branch, however, has grown much stronger without developing similar controls over prime ministers, party leaders and their unelected staff in our parliamentary system.
It’s time for the winds of change to sweep through our Parliament Hill. Chong’s bill deserves support from all MPs concerned about the state of our parliamentary institutions and democracy.

Equal Opportunities Commission -Agent of Disharmony in India

The way to hell is paved with good intentions. The acts of ommission and commission of Indain governments- both at the federal and provincial levels – are designed not for easy and effective goverance; but for creating vote banks and are in facty a refinement of British imperialistic policy : Divide and Rule. The highlight of the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) as proposed by the Minority Affairs Minister K Rahman Khan is that any minority person feeling discriminated by an employer can complain to the proposed body. In other words, Indians are being instigated to become litigious in a very western way; this can only make it virtually impossible for any private and public sector establishment to recruit or promote employees.
The mischief has its genesis in 2005, when the United Progressive Alliance startled the nation by appointing the Sachar Committee headed by Justice Rajinder Sachar (retired), with a view to establish the ‘backwardness’ of the Muslim community and link the same to institutional discrimination at social, political and economic levels. The institutional remedy proposed by Rajinder Sachar was the proposed EOC. The Jain community and other groups are being included in the purview of the Commission in order to blunt the edge of the allegation that the EOC is being set up for Muslims only.
The rationale for the EOC rests on communal identity, which violates the basic character of the Indian Constitution. Worse, it seeks to freeze individual identity on the basis of religion alone; thus a minority citizen who believes that he/she is being discriminated against can approach the Commission on feeling that his/her ‘group’ is institutionally discriminated against. The then Minister for Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid had vociferously supported the idea of an Equal Opportunity Commission even though the Urdu media had pointed out that the Sachar Committee was unable to explain how the EOC would be different from the National Commission for Minorities.
The principal danger posed by the EOC is that it may promote a covert religion-based reservation in public and private enterprises. It may be recalled that Salman Khurshid had argued for including Muslims under Backward Communities; he favoured pressurising the corporate sector to give reservations to minorities in return for tax rebates. One of the arguments was that there was need for a ‘numerical balance’ between religious communities regardless of qualifications; which means reservation in proportion to population. This means that the police, administrative services, armed forces and public sector may have explained that a particular applicant was rejected on grounds other than religious identity.
The Sachar Committee claimed that Muslims were socially, educationally and economically deprived but could not prove the exclusive nature of Muslim deprivation as opposed to non-Muslim Indians. It specifically failed to establish institutional prejudice on the part of the State. In this connection, a glaring omission on its part was that it neither diagnosed the social-religious factors behind alleged Muslim backwardness, nor did it compare these with the socio-religious situation of Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, or Jains or others who are also regarded as minorities.
This is a serious lacuna that the UPA will have to explain when it justifies adding to the list of religious minorities in India, and including these in the purview of the proposed EOC. How can groups that have excelled in various walks of life by dint of merit and hard work justify approaching the EOC if they lose out in an honest competition? Where is the implied bias against Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and others (that the UPA is imputing) suddenly materialising from? These are questions that the Opposition parties must demand answers to before allowing the UPA to rip the nation’s social fabric apart in its quest to firm up vote-banks prior to the 2014 general election.
Hidden in its voluminous tome (page 239) is an admission of absence of data, ‘there are hardly any empirical studies that establish discrimination (of Muslims). Research in this area needs to be encouraged…’ Despite this, the Committee assumes institutionalised discrimination by presuming public perception of one community: Muslims need to prove on a daily basis that they are not ‘anti-national’ and ‘terrorists’; Muslims complain that they are constantly looked upon with suspicion. It claims that the distinct markers of Muslim identity – burqa, purdah, beard and topi – have been a cause of concern in the public realm; ‘every bearded man is considered an ISI agent.’
If we assume an iota of truth in these proclamations by the Committee, then an Equal Opportunity Commission cannot be the remedy. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that one minority person alleges bias, invokes the EOC and gets appointed in lieu of another protected minority, who then approaches the same EOC… This will make a mockery of the EOC and the employment market.
One may recall Sachar Committee’s divisive agenda was robustly resisted by the Indian Army when it demanded a head count of Muslim recruits. But so committed was Sachar to this poisonous agenda that he tried to pressure the Defense Ministry for the statistics. Only the nationwide furore this generated forced him to back down.
Most pertinent, however, is the fact that the Sachar Committee exceeded its brief by proposing the establishment of an Equal Opportunity Commission as its terms of reference did not warrant the constitution of any organisation for multiple deprived groups; its mandate was exclusively restricted to the condition of Indian Muslims. Now, to justify the EOC, the UPA is commandeering various listed and unlisted minorities into a preconceived paradigm of discrimination on the basis of unproven data about bias against Muslims! This approach of minority versus the rest poses a serious danger to the unity of the nation as it could aggravate minor irritations among groups living in close proximity into entrenched grievances. This is poor politics and shoddy leadership; those pushing the nation into such a quagmire must be removed from office without further ado.

America An Emerging Police State: What’s in Store for Freedom in 2014?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”—George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Vol. 1
In Harold Ramis’ classic 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, TV weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) is forced to live the same day over and over again until he not only gains some insight into his life but changes his priorities. Similarly, as illustrated in the book “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State”, the people in the emerging American police state find themselves reliving the same set of circumstances over and over again—egregious surveillance, strip searches, police shootings of unarmed citizens, government spying, the criminalization of lawful activities, warmongering, etc.—although with far fewer moments of comic hilarity.
What remains to be seen is whether 2014 will bring more of the same or whether “we the people” will wake up from our somnambulant states. Indeed, when it comes to civil liberties and freedom, 2013 was far from a banner year. The following is just a sampling of what we can look forward to repeating if we don’t find some way to push back against the menace of an overreaching, aggressive, invasive, militarized government and restore our freedoms.
Government Spying
It’s hard to understand how anyone could be surprised by the news that the National Security Agency has been systematically collecting information on all telephone calls placed in the United States, and yet the news media have treated it as a complete revelation. Nevertheless, such outlandish government spying been going on domestically since the 1970s, when Senator Frank Church (D-Ida.), who served as the chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence that investigated the NSA’s breaches, warned the public against allowing the government to overstep its authority in the name of national security. Church recognized that such surveillance powers “at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.” Recent reports indicate that the NSA, in conjunction with the CIA and FBI, has actually gone so far as to intercept laptop computers ordered online in order to install spyware on them.
Militarized Police
With almost 13,000 agencies in all 50 states and four U.S. territories participating in a military “recycling” program, community police forces across the country continue to be transformed into outposts of the military, with police agencies acquiring military-grade hardware—tanks, weaponry, and other equipment designed for the battlefield—in droves. Keep in mind that once acquired, this military equipment, which is beyond the budget and scope of most communities, finds itself put to all manner of uses by local law enforcement agencies under the rationale that “if we have it, we might as well use it”—the same rationale, by the way, used with deadly results to justify assigning SWAT teams to carry out routine law enforcement work such as delivering a warrant.
Police Shootings of Unarmed Citizens
Owing in large part to the militarization of local law enforcement agencies, not a week goes by without more reports of hair-raising incidents by police imbued with a take-no-prisoners attitude and a battlefield approach to the communities in which they serve. Sadly, it is no longer unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later, such as the 16-year-old teenager who skipped school only to be shot by police after they mistook him for a fleeing burglar. Then there was the unarmed black man in Texas “who was pursued and shot in the back of the neck by Austin Police… after failing to properly identify himself and leaving the scene of an unrelated incident.” And who could forget the 19-year-old Seattle woman who was accidentally shot in the leg by police after she refused to show her hands? The lesson to be learned: this is what happens when you take a young man (or woman), raise him on a diet of violence, hype him up on the power of the gun in his holster and the superiority of his uniform, render him woefully ignorant of how to handle a situation without resorting to violence, train him well in military tactics but allow him to be illiterate about the Constitution, and never stress to him that he is to be a peacemaker and a peacekeeper, respectful of and subservient to the taxpayers, who are in fact his masters and employers.
Erosion of Private Property
If the government can tell you what you can and cannot do within the privacy of your home, whether it relates to what you eat or what you smoke, you no longer have any rights whatsoever within your home. If government officials can fine and arrest you for growing vegetables in your front yard, praying with friends in your living room, installing solar panels on your roof, and raising chickens in your backyard, you’re no longer the owner of your property. If school officials can punish your children for what they do or say while at home or in your care, your children are not your own—they are the property of the state. If government agents can invade your home, break down your doors, kill your dog, damage your furnishings and terrorize your family, your property is no longer private and secure—it belongs to the government. Likewise, if police can forcefully draw your blood, strip search you, and probe you intimately, your body is no longer your own, either. This is what a world without the Fourth Amendment looks like, where the lines between private and public property have been so blurred that private property is reduced to little more than something the government can use to control, manipulate and harass you to suit its own purposes, and you the homeowner and citizen have been reduced to little more than a tenant or serf in bondage to an inflexible landlord.
Strip Searches & Loss of Bodily Integrity
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was intended to protect the citizenry from being subjected to “unreasonable searches and seizures” by government agents. While the literal purpose of the amendment is to protect our property and our bodies from unwarranted government intrusion, the moral intention behind it is to protect our human dignity. Unfortunately, court rulings undermining the Fourth Amendment and justifying invasive strip searches have left us powerless against police empowered to forcefully draw our blood, strip search us, and probe us intimately. For example, during a routine traffic stop, Leila Tarantino was allegedly subjected to two roadside strip searches in plain view of passing traffic, while her two children—ages 1 and 4—waited inside her car. During the second strip search, presumably in an effort to ferret out drugs, a female officer “forcibly removed” a tampon from Tarantino. No contraband or anything illegal was found.
Invasion of the Drones
As corporations and government agencies alike prepare for their part in the coming drone invasion—it is expected that at least 30,000 drones will occupy U.S. airspace by 2020, ushering in a $30 billion per year industry—it won’t be long before Americans discover first-hand that drones—unmanned aerial vehicles—come in all shapes and sizes, from nano-sized drones as small as a grain of sand that can do everything from conducting surveillance to detonating explosive charges, to middle-sized copter drones that can deliver pizzas to massive “hunter/killer” Predator warships that unleash firepower from on high. Police in California have already begun using Qube drones, which are capable of hovering for 40 minutes at heights of about 400 ft. to conduct surveillance on targets as far as 1 kilometer away. Michael Downing, the LAPD deputy chief for counter-terrorism and special operations, envisions drones being flown over large-scale media events such as the Oscars, using them to surveil political protests, and flying them through buildings to track criminal suspects.
Criminalizing Childish Behavior
It wouldn’t be a week in America without another slew of children being punished for childish behavior under the regime of zero tolerance which plagues our nation’s schools. Some of the most egregious: the 9-year-old boy suspended for allegedly pointing a toy at a classmate and saying “bang, bang”; two 6-year-old students in Maryland suspended for using their fingers as imaginary guns in a schoolyard game of cops and robbers; the ten-year-old Pennsylvania boy suspended for shooting an imaginary “arrow” at a fellow classmate, using nothing more than his hands and his imagination; the six-year-old Colorado boy suspended and accused of sexual harassment for kissing the hand of a girl in his class whom he had a crush on; and the two seventh graders in Virginia suspended for the rest of the school year for playing with airsoft guns in their own yard before school.
Common Core
There are several methods for controlling a population. You can intimidate the citizenry into obedience through force, relying on military strength and weaponry such as SWAT team raids, militarized police, and a vast array of lethal and nonlethal weapons. You can manipulate them into marching in lockstep with your dictates through the use of propaganda and carefully timed fear tactics about threats to their safety, whether through the phantom menace of terrorist attacks or shooting sprees by solitary gunmen. Or you can indoctrinate them into compliance from an early age through the schools, discouraging them from thinking for themselves while rewarding them for regurgitating whatever the government, through its so-called educational standards, dictates they should be taught. When viewed in light of the government’s ongoing attempts to amass power at great cost to Americans—in terms of free speech rights, privacy, due process, etc.—the debate over Common Core State Standards, which would transform and nationalize school curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade, becomes that much more critical. These standards, which were developed through a partnership between big government and corporations and are being rolled out in 45 states and the District of Columbia, will create a generation of test-takers capable of little else, molded and shaped by the federal government and its corporate allies into what it considers to be ideal citizens.
The Corporate Takeover of America
The corporate buyout of the American political bureaucracy is taking place at every level of government, from the White House all the way to the various governors’ mansions, and even local city councils. With Big Business and Big Government having fused into a corporate state, the president and his state counterparts—the governors, have become little more than CEOs of the Corporate State, which day by day is assuming more government control over our lives. The average American has no access to his or her representatives at any but the lowest level of government, and even then it’s questionable how much really gets through. Never before have average Americans had so little say in the workings of their government and even less access to their so-called representatives. Yet one of the key ingredients in maintaining democratic government is the right of citizens to freely speak their minds to those who represent them. In fact, it is one of the few effective tools we have left to combat government corruption and demand accountability. But now, even that right is being chipped away by laws and court rulings that weaken our ability to speak freely to the politicians who govern us.
James Madison, the father of the Constitution, put it best: “Take alarm,” he warned, “at the first experiment with liberties.” Anyone with even a casual knowledge about current events knows that the first experiment on our freedoms happened long ago. Worse, we have not heeded the warnings of Madison and those like him who understood that if you give the government an inch, they will take a mile. Unfortunately, the government has not only taken a mile, they have taken mile after mile after mile after mile with seemingly no end in sight for their power grabs.
If you’re in the business of making New Year’s resolutions, why not resolve that 2014 will be the year Americans break the cycle of tyranny and get back on the road to freedom. It is time for a second American revolution – the sooner, the better.

Amateur Ontario Human Rights Commission : Get Your Act Together or Quit

The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHRC) decision to ban “Canadian Experience” as a requirement for a job was made as a result of careless and very ill-informed research. Its results will almost certainly be another assault on Canadian workers. The decision should be repealed. As of July 15, 2013, the OHRC decreed that employers who require “Canadian Experience” for jobs could be violating the Ontario Human Rights Code.

In other words, an employer under the Human Rights Code must consider all work experience – Canadian and international – when assessing if someone is suitable for a job. Employers who require such experience have to make a strong case to be exempted. Here are some reasons why the OHRC decision should be repealed :

(1) The introduction that the Ontario Human Rights Commission provides to their work indicates that, in approaching the “Canadian Experience” requirement, the OHRC operated at a sloppy, ill-informed and almost amateurish level. For example, the OHRC says at the beginning of its preamble to its “Policy on Removing the Canadian Experience Barrier” that Canada is seen as a country of opportunity, peace and democratic governance and had attracted many highly-skilled immigrants who had greatly enriched Canada’s culture and economy. However, Canada had “an aging population, shrinking birthrate, and shortage of skilled labour”. The latter statement implies that the OHRC believes that immigration would solve problems caused by an aging population and a low birth rate. However, the federal government’s own research in 1989 had shown that immigration would not. In fact, the government’s research recommended that Canada find a Made in Canada solution instead of looking to immigration as a solution. So why is the OHRC saying the opposite? It seems it was content to parrot what the immigration lobby told it. It did not do its homework.

(2) The OHRC claim that Canada has a shortage of skilled labour has been repeatedly questioned. The government’s claim that such a shortage exists in a number of occupations has been shown to be, if not outright fraud, then very close to it.

Currently, Canada has close to 1.6 million jobless. Even if Canada had a shortage of skilled labour, it does not have a shortage of labourers. In other words, one obvious way to get skilled workers is to make our own labourers skilled, not to import such workers. The OHRC does not even mention this option..

(3) The OHRC is incorrect in saying that immigrants had greatly enriched Canada’s economy. No doubt, some had made significant contributions. However, the OHRC concludes, “Canada relies on the contributions of immigrants for its economic well-being”. Again, if the OHRC had done its homework, it would have realized that The Economic Council of Canada had studied what effects immigration had had on Canada’s economy in every decade since Confederation. The conclusion they reached was that immigration had not produced any significant positive benefit to Canada’s economy.

So why is the OHRC saying that immigrants have greatly enriched Canada’s economy and that Canada relies on immigration for its economic well-being.? Obviously, the OHRC parroted the immigration lobby instead of doing its homework.

(4) Then, unbelievable as it sounds, the OHRC says “In the modern global economy, immigrants with foreign experience can increase Canada’s international competitiveness by enhancing the country’s “diversity advantage.” Since almost no other country has elevated “Diversity” to the level of a national goal, probably because the very idea sounds foolish, if not idiotic, where in this world is the evidence that other countries can increase their international competitiveness by enhancing the country’s “diversity advantage”? Again, instead of repeating the claims made by Canada’s immigration lobby, the OHRC should have tried using some common sense.

(5) The OHRC then gets into a serious problem with its reasoning. It states, “… it is a major concern when recent immigrants to Canada face high rates of both underemployment and unemployment. Statistics Canada reported that between 1991 and 2006, “the proportion of immigrants with a university degree in jobs with low educational requirements (such as clerks, truck drivers, salespersons, cashiers, and taxi drivers) increased.” Even after being in Canada for fifteen years, “immigrants with a university degree are still more likely than the native-born to be in low-skilled jobs.”

From this, the OHRC concludes that Ontario employers’ requirement for “Canadian experience” has to be removed. Here’s a fundamental that the OHRC does not understand : Canada’s immigration intake should exist to serve Canada. Contrary to what the immigration lobby says, Canada’s intake should not exist to serve immigrants. In other words, Canadians come first. Yes, Canada is discriminating. But Canada is doing so because if Canada does not stand up for its own people and give them preference in hiring, what country will? The OHRC should have realized that the reason many immigrants were not doing well, was probably because many should not have been brought here in the first place. Failing to get to the root of the immigrants’ problem and instead making Canadian workers suffer even more demonstrates that the OHRC has not learned to think for itself.

(6) The OHRC’s failure to confront Ottawa on Canada’s immigration intake is outright negligence. The OHRC hypocritically holds itself up as a champion of justice by bowing to the immigration lobby and to immigrants. The point is that if the OHRC were really interested in justice, its pursuit of justice should have started with mainstream Canadians. In not admitting this, the OHRC is acknowledging that it is doing the work of the immigration lobby.

(7) When the OHRC cuts the throats of Canadians so that foreign nationals can get jobs here, it is committing a complete perversion of justice. Ironically, Human Rights organizations, in championing globalization views, are imitating the actions of the world’s multinationals. Human Rights organizations are increasingly supporting a borderless world where so-called “international justice” takes precedence over national justice. In fact, marginalization of the employment needs of Canadian nationals (its mainstream population) seems to be perfectly acceptable to the OHRC.

Ontario has about 40% (13 million) of Canada’s population (34 million). What it does on many fronts is often imitated in other provinces. Those actions are sometimes imitated by other countries. The example that the Ontario HRC has set on the “Canadian Experience” issue is shameful. Canada’s other 9 provinces, its territories and other countries should not imitate the OHRC’s amateurish, ill-informed work.

The OHRC ends their statement with a list of “Best Practices”, that is, advice to others. Here’s some advice (best practice) for the OHRC : Get your act together or vacate the offices you occupy.

 

2014 Foresees Closer Sino-Indian Ties

2014 will hopefully be a year of changes, but it will also be a year of ‘commemoration’. The world will remember that a hundred years ago, the Great War (as World War I is known in Europe) began. It saw more than 20 million dead (casualties of Indian soldiers alone are said to be 50,000). 2014 will also mark the century of the Simla Convention during which the border between India and Tibet was demarcated by Sir Henry McMahon, India’s Foreign Secretary and Lochen Shatra, the Tibetan Prime Minister. Despite the fact that the Chinese are today contesting the famous Red Line, it remains the border with Tibet in the North-East.
One should also not forget that 110 years ago, the Tibetan Government in Lhasa signed a Convention with British India, which inter alia says: “The Tibetan Government undertakes to keep the roads to Gyantse and Gartok from the frontier clear of all obstruction and in a state of repair suited to the needs of the trade…” The idea was to open the Himalayan borders and facilitate the free circulations of goods and people.
Though for the next 50 years after the signature of the Lhasa Convention, trade flourished, it was brought to a halt in 1954 (60 years in 2014!) with the infamous Panchsheel Agreement through which Nehru abdicated India’s duties vis-à-vis Tibet (as well as India’s legitimate rights); a monumental blunder still haunting India. Since then, the Himalayan borders are sealed with disastrous consequences for the Himalayan people.
Interestingly, in the wake of the Younghusband expedition to Tibet in 1904, the young British Colonel had sent a fact-finding mission, led by Capt. CG Rawling to Western Tibet to explore the possibility to open ‘trade routes’ between British India and Tibet.
I recently came across Rawling’s report in which the captain of the Somersetshire Light Infantry describes what needs to be done by the Government of India to open up (and secure) its borders with Tibet. Rawling says: “Western Tibet is by no means a closed country to the natives of the southern slopes of the Himalayas, and these people pass in and out by many paths and many passes.”
He reports that the route from Srinagar through Leh in Ladakh, up the Indus Valley to Gartok, and then to Lhasa, was the main road in Western Tibet. He asserts “this road is mainly patronised by Ladakis, Kashmiris, and men from Chinese Turkistan”. Today, it is closed to local people, as well as Indian pilgrims wishing to visit Kailash/Mansarovar. The opening of such a road would immensely benefit the pilgrims by making their journey to the sacred mountain and lake shorter, safer and easier; despite regular appeals by the people of Ladakh to the Governments of India and China, Beijing, for its own reason, adamantly refuses to reopen the traditional route.
Then Rawling cites the paths from Kulu over the Shangrang-la, into the Chumurti country [in Tibet] ‘and from thence to Gartok’, the former important trade mart in Western Tibet, but also from Simla, up the Sutlej valley to Shipki, in today’s Kinnaur district of Himachal to Gartok.
In 1904, another route took the traders and pilgrims from Badrinath over Mana pass (17,890 ft.) to Toling, on the main Gartok-Lhasa axis. Indians and Tibetans could also travel from Almora through Joshimath and Niti village and then over the Niti pass (17,000 ft.) to Gartok.
Can you believe that 110 years ago, these routes were used on a regular basis; in Kumaon, some traveled from Almora through Milam, (north of Munsyari in the Pittoragargh district of Uttarakhand) and over the Unta Dhaura pass (17,590 ft) to Gartok. Finally, others did the journey from Almora, up the Kali river valley, over the Lipulekh pass (16,750 ft.) to Purang in Tibet and Gartok. It is the route still used every year by the Ministry of External Affairs Yatra. It is one of the most difficult to journey, but the only one China has agreed to provide to the Indian pilgrims (despite the 1954 Agreement which stipulates 6 passes).
Rawling affirms: “It is absolutely necessary that one or more good roads be constructed along trade routes from India into Tibet”. Today, 110 years later, most of these roads are closed (except for 2 which have been reopened on a small scale in the 1990s).
After giving more details on the trade opportunities and the length and difficulties of each route, Rawling recommends: “the immediate completion of the Simla-Shipki road. This should be taken in hand at once”. He explains that: “The construction of the Almora Lipulekh road is most important, as it strikes directly at the main road of Tibet, that between Lhasa and Gartok; besides leading straight to Manasarovar and Kailas Parbat.”
The captain further advises the Government of India: “As soon as [these] two roads are finished, the Niti pass road should be made, and as it can be done at a small cost, it will well repay the expense. The completion of this road will enable the traders and pilgrims to enter Tibet by one route and return to India by another.”
Can you believe it, 110 years later, it has hardly been undertaken, though it was (and still is) of great strategic importance for India: A glance at the map will show how every district of Western Tibet will be reached with ease by traders from India if these paths are turned into roads.
When one knows the poor (to say the least) state of the road network in the Indian Himalayas, one can only be angry at the successive Indian Governments which have neglected for so long the development of proper communication in the border areas, whether in Ladakh, Himachal, Uttarakhand or Arunachal.
In 1904, the Captain had advised: “Both for political and commercial reasons, I consider it advisable to construct these roads with as little delay as possible.”
In the meantime, on the other side of the Himalayas, The People’s Daily announced that the track-laying process for the Lhasa-Shigatse railway had been completed and the line will be opened to traffic in 2014. The Chinese newspaper asserts: “Its construction was started in 2010 and the total length of the railway is 253 km.” The People’s Daily draws a parallel with the construction of Metok highway which ended “the history of China’s last [county] inaccessible by roads”. The Communist mouthpiece adds: “the high-level [sic] highway connecting Lhasa and Nyingchi has been under construction.”
While trade with Tibet is not anymore the first preoccupation of Government of India, some of these 110-year projects should be taken up by the Border Road Organisation for defense purpose. I dream of this Great Leap Forward for 2014.It should not be so difficult. After all, India and China are brother: aren’t they?

Kejriwal Epitomizes All Wrong with Indian Politics

Elections are to a large extent partly popularity contests and partly driven by narrowly defined individual self-interest expressed in a group setting. The popularity contest is peculiarly of the kind what is known as a Keynesian beauty contest where the individual votes not on her own assessment of the suitability of the candidates but instead on her beliefs about the others’ assessment of the candidates. That makes it quite possible that the winner of elections is not really the most competent but instead is one who has been able to mold public perception in his favour. This is true of all elections in general but more so in so-called developing countries where personalities matter more than issues. Personalities dominate over issues primarily because issues are harder to evaluate than personalities. Note it is personality and not character which drives the calculus of choice. That fact is illustrated by unending examples of characterless elected officials.

I make these general remarks to provide the context for my assessment of Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party. To me, Kejriwal epitomizes all that is wrong with Indian politics. That is saying something when you consider that Indian politics is riddled with stupidity, dynastic succession, public corruption, insane populism, crude factionalism, blatant pandering, naked dishonesty, extreme selfishness, myopia and other repulsive features. The major concern that I have with the AAP and its leadership relates to its agenda.

It began as a coalition of people fighting against public corruption. Public corruption, we must remember, is a phenomenon that is directly linked to the government. There cannot be public corruption without an active involvement of the government. Public corruption arises out of a combination of power that wields control, and a lack of accountability and responsibility. If this basic feature of the problem of public corruption is not understood, all actions to eradicated corruption or even to curb it is going to be not just futile but could make the problem much worse. That lack of understanding by the group called “India Against Corruption” was the glaring problem with it. It led to the quite mindless proposed solution of creating yet another layer of government with even more control and even less accountability to fight the problem of public corruption which, as I note above, is because of too much government, not too little. It is akin to bringing more gasoline to put out a raging fire.

Regardless of motivations good or bad, all do-gooders are at some level people who want control over others. The desire to control and direct others is present in all to some degree but it reaches saturation levels in those who are convinced that only if they had greater control over people would the world become a better place. This tendency finds its most potent expression in politicians. It is cynically said that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. It can also be that the first impulse of an over-controlling person is politics. They want power but they justify it by claiming that personally they are not power-hungry but want it only as a means to fix the problem.

As if it was not evident during the IAC days, Kejriwal’s ambition and motivation became obvious when he and his cohort of hangers-on decided to start AAP. His basic mindset is not too different from the mindset of those whom he appears to be fighting against. The ones in power got there on the same promise to people — deliverance from the misery of daily existence — and here was AAP going to deliver the people from the control of a rapacious government. AAP will fight the monster by becoming a bigger monster. To make such a promise and be believed requires a lot of guts, and of course a gullible public that cannot see through even the most blatant of deceptions.

The public is gullible. There isn’t a nicer way to say it. The public has been electing venal politicians for decades and I don’t see any reason to believe that suddenly it has become smarter and is not going to be taken in by glib promises made by fast-talking charlatans. Certainly politicians do get voted out but the ones that get voted in are no different in any meaningful sense. It is a different bucketful but it is still drawn from the same cesspool as the one before.

Ambitious, opportunistic, manipulative, authoritarian, self-aggrandizing, controlling: these are descriptive of people you don’t want to share a table with perhaps. Yet those are the characteristics of all successful politicians. But a good politician is more than that. A good politician is one who fundamentally understands what the public good is, knows what needs to be done to achieve it and is motivated to work for it. It is a matter of objectives, intelligence and diligence.

I don’t see Kejriwal as a good politician. He is clever and evidently very shrewd but not intelligent enough to understand the nature of the problem that he proclaims he will solve. Part of this inability arises from his background as a civil servant. Bureaucrats are trained to believe that controlling others is the key to solving problems. More rules, more regulations, more controls – these are the instinctive reactions of bureaucrats to any and all problems.

It was a bureaucratic mindset that created the notorious license-quota-permit-control raj, much beloved of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty led Congress. It created the monster of public corruption that devours the poor and keeps the economy shackled. Kejriwal does not understand the root cause of public corruption. To my mind, that’s the first strike against him.

The second strike against him is closely related to the first. Not being content with just fighting corruption, he expanded his horizons and set a socialist agenda. Every time socialism has been advanced as the solution for poverty, it has only deepened poverty. This generalization is without exception. Why has socialism failed? Because it denies people freedom, and without freedom people are unable to produce what is needed to live decent, productive lives. Socialism imposes the will of a small set of people on the rest. Socialism is a recipe for disaster.

India had the double misfortune of first being entrapped by British colonialism and then escaping it only to fall into the deadly embrace of Nehruvian socialism. India went from British Raj 1.0 to British Raj 2.0. The transition was easy since the state machinery of extractive and exploitative policies was created by the British and readily adopted by Nehru and his descendants. The rulers of post-independence India continued the dysfunctional rule of India. It was not as if they were unhappy with the way things were; their major concern was that they themselves wanted to rule instead of the British.

The same type of transition is what India has in store if, god forbid, Kejriwal and AAP are able to come to power. The transition will be this time from Nehruvian Socialism 1.0 (aka British Raj 2.0) to Nehruvian Socialism 2.0 under the new AAP dispensation. The entire machinery is in place, waiting for new operators. Once again, it is not as if Kejriwal is unhappy about the way things are done – total bureaucratic control of the people – but rather he would like to be the one in control.

Truth be told, there is no danger that AAP will get to govern India at the centre, even as a coalition partner. The danger is that it can spoil India’s chances of moving out of Nehruvian socialism. AAP has nuisance value and the Maino-led UPA/Congress is well aware of that. It will now attempt to use AAP to scuttle India’s chances of getting out of poverty. They know that a segment of the middle-class urban voters are seduced by idiotic notions of a “clean government by sincere people.” This segment will not vote for the UPA/Congress but to prevent it from voting for a Modi-led BJP, it would promote Kejriwal.

Here’s how that strategy would work. The UPA/Congress has bought and paid for a significant chunk of the mainstream media journalists. These will be instructed to talk up Kejriwal and provide him wall to wall media coverage. This will deflect attention from the prince and his little band of merry men. Voters have a short attention span and even shorter memories. Since the Modi versus Gandhi has already been called in favour of Modi, the new fighter the Congress will push into the ring against Modi will be Kejriwal. The Congress is a past master of the game and will fund the AAP to make sure that the BJP loses even if the Congress does not win.

Kejriwal is the willing useful idiot that the Congress/UPA was looking for and the Delhi voters have obliged. It is all karma, eh?

How is AAP different? No Way!!!


When Anna Hazare held rallies against corruptionI was there with my children and extended family in tow. I was not naive enough to think that a Jan Lokpal Bill would magically eradicate corruption. Like many others, I went because someone finally gave voice to our frustrations. Someone said that we needed to unite and fight against a terminal, all pervasive ill. Someone was brave enough to lead the way. That someone was called Anna Hazare, not Arvind Kerjiwal. This is a critical distinction to make, for while Anna’s world view may have been idealistic, his intention and commitment was never in doubt. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Kejriwal anymore.

Kejriwal was a creation of Anna’s movement. He broke away later to set up the Aam Admi Party (AAP) and fight the battle on the electoral front. At that point, Anna, Kiran Bedi and others distanced themselves, but he still enjoyed the support of many passionate and well-intentioned people, who dreamt of a corruption-free India. I believe that many of these people continue to work in good faith. However, my belief does not extend to their leader and many of his key aides. I no longer trust either their motives or their affirmations. In the following sections of this article, I will explain the reasons why.

The beginning of disquiet

As the Aam Admi Party started it’s public outreach, it was like a breath of fresh air. Volunteers went from house to house, reaching out to constituents. They telephoned citizens and introduced themselves. Not surprisingly, many citizens were bowled over.

Unfortunately for AAP, with outreach came heightened interest and scrutiny. Thus, when Kejriwal told Delhi residents that he would halve electricity tariffs and provide free water, the alarm bells rang. Where was the money for the promised goodies going to come from? Were they going to increase taxes to pay for these or were they planning to cut back on certain public services? Were there any practical solutions to problems, or a roadmap for governance? There have been no convincing answers to date other than vague promises on introducing Jan Lokpal or worse, promising things that can only be implemented by the Central Government.

Most supporters admitted that while these aspects were troublesome, they did not dent Kejriwal’s or AAP’s image. The party was new and there were bound to be initial teething issues. People hoped that AAP would learn the nitty-gritty of governance as they went along. After all, Arvind Kejriwal was a committed man of conviction.

The onset of disillusionment

Further scrutiny of his worldview brought out other worrying things. For instance, Kejriwal has made a statement that the Batla House encounter was fake. This was strange since the Delhi High Court and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) gave clean chit to the Delhi police. Moreover, the issue had already been long exploited by vested interests and had no connection to Kejriwal’s core issue of corruption. With this unnecessary meddling, the anti-corruption crusader suddenly seemed like a vote-bank player rather than an inexperienced idealist. Many began to accuse him of appeasement politics.

Next, there came a bigger shock that confirmed the suspicion. Kejriwal went to Bareily to solicit support from Muslim cleric Maulana Tauqueer Raza, who is infamous for issuing insane fatwas, including a bounty for beheading Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen. He has also been imprisoned on charges of fanning communal flames. The move caused a furore. Kejriwal then claimed that he was unaware of the cleric’s history and had merely met him since “he is a respectable person in the town”. Meanwhile, his party members refused to appear on TV debates to discuss the matter.

Were people to believe that Kejriwal went to Bareily to meet a man without basic research? Is this how he will run Delhi? Was he not playing vote-bank politics by soliciting support on the basis of religion? By avoiding debate, was his party not being undemocratic (a charge they have leveled against other political parties)?

At the end of the controversy, Kejriwal opted to stand by the cleric. Thus he transformed from crusader into a glib, seasoned politician. Yet, for some, Arvind Kejriwal remains a man of conviction.

Usual politics begins

As citizens started asking questions, there were also murmurs from within the party. AAP member Rakesh Agarwal held a Press conference to air his grievances about his party’s functioning. The meeting was stormed by slogan-shouting AAP members. Was this the signal for how democracy was going to function under AAP?

Then abuses by party members made headlines. In an election rally, AAP member Rajeev Laxman abused Home Minister Sushil Shinde, while their candidate Shazia Ilmi stood by and laughed. After the video went viral and there was an outcry, both apologised. Recently, at an AAP concert, singer Vishal Dadlani used abusive lyrics for rivals as leaders looked on. Was this pattern the party’s blueprint for decency and decorum in politics?

Now, the party is besieged by a spate of stings, which raise questions on their methods of fund raising. While I am not entirely convinced about the stings, the party’s response to the matter has been disappointing. This has led AAP member Nutan Thakur to resign. AAP has also been accused of giving tickets to tainted candidates. Is this an auspicious start to ethical politics?

Where is the difference?

One could argue that once Kejriwal chose the political path, he and his party had no choice but to play by the general rules of Indian politics. That is a fair point, but it then destroys the claim of being different from the rest. It no longer allows AAP to pretend that they are some kind of goody-two-shoes, social service organization. Kejriwal becomes just another politician, heading yet another political party. Perhaps this is what his mentor Anna Hazare and his erstwhile colleagues from India Against Corruption had feared and why they have publicly distanced themselves from him.

The gradual erosion of differentiating factors is a critical problem. As the new kid on the block, AAP is high on enthusiasm, but low on experience or a clear agenda. It’s appeal lies primarily in a perceived higher moral ground, and its credibility rests solely on trust. In his eagerness to gain power, Kejriwal has pushed his party into murky waters. That has raised questions on credibility. Once AAP is bereft of credibility, does it really have anything left to offer? In the absence of trust, can Kejriwal still claim to be a committed man of conviction?