The largest democracy in the world is known for its vibrant and robust parliamentary system. The Parliament of India serves as the cornerstone of democratic governance, where elected representatives deliberate, legislate, and shape the nation's future. With the proposal and construction of a new parliament building underway, it becomes essential to understand the significance of this development. This essay explores the multifaceted importance of a new parliament building in bolstering India's democratic processes, enhancing functionality, accommodating growth, and symbolizing the country's commitment to democratic values.
A new parliament building brings significant benefits in terms of functionality and efficiency. The existing parliament building, constructed during the British era, is over 90 years old and is struggling to meet the demands of a rapidly growing democracy. The current structure faces challenges in terms of space constraints, technological upgradation, and modern amenities required for effective legislative functioning. The new building, equipped with advanced infrastructure and technology, will create an environment conducive to efficient lawmaking, debates, and committee discussions. It will provide state-of-the-art facilities, including modern communication systems, acoustics, and digital infrastructure, thereby fostering a more dynamic and productive parliamentary experience.
As the world's largest democracy, India has witnessed significant growth in population and political representation over the years. The existing parliament building has limited seating capacity, restricting the number of representatives who can participate in legislative proceedings. The new building, with expanded seating arrangements and additional committee rooms, will accommodate the growing number of elected members, enabling broader participation and diverse representation. This expansion will ensure that the parliament remains inclusive and reflective of India's diverse society, promoting inclusivity, and encouraging meaningful democratic engagement.
While the existing parliament building holds historical significance, its preservation can be challenging due to limitations in retrofitting and modernization. By constructing a new parliament building, India can strike a balance between preserving architectural heritage and embracing contemporary needs. The new building can incorporate elements that pay homage to the past while embracing a forward-looking design. This approach enables the nation to preserve its historical legacy while ensuring the functionality and sustainability of the parliament.
The construction of a new parliament building serves as a symbol of India's commitment to democratic values and its aspirations for the future. The physical manifestation of a modern and technologically advanced parliamentary complex showcases the nation's progress and the importance it attaches to democratic governance. It demonstrates India's ability to adapt to changing times while upholding democratic ideals. The new building will not only be an architectural marvel but also a beacon of transparency, accountability, and inclusivity, inspiring citizens and reinforcing their faith in the democratic process.
A new parliament building can play a pivotal role in promoting public engagement and civic awareness. The construction process itself can serve as an opportunity to educate citizens about the functioning of the parliament, the significance of legislative processes, and the importance of their participation. Once completed, the new building can incorporate visitor galleries, interactive exhibits, and educational programs to facilitate public access and understanding of parliamentary proceedings. This approach fosters a sense of ownership and empowers citizens to actively engage with their elected representatives, fostering a culture of informed participation and accountability.
The construction of a new parliament building in India holds immense significance for the largest democracy in the world. It represents a commitment to functionality, growth, preservation of heritage, and the promotion of democratic values. By enhancing efficiency, accommodating growth, and symbolizing progress, the new parliament building becomes an architectural testament to India's democratic spirit.
It is expected that the strength of the parliament from 2026 will go up significantly high from the present strength of 545 seats in the Lok Sabha and 250 seats in the Rajya Sabha, the new parliament building is capable of accommodating over 1200 M.P.’s hence it has a futuristic vision.
The top dignitaries presented on the occasion have issued statements.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi: "I am honored to inaugurate the new Parliament building, a monumental achievement for our democracy. This state-of-the-art structure represents our commitment to democratic governance and will provide a conducive environment for efficient lawmaking. The new building reflects India's progress, embraces technological advancements, and accommodates the needs of our growing nation. It is a symbol of our collective aspirations and our resolve to strengthen democratic institutions for the betterment of our people."
President of India, Smt Draupadi Murmu: "The inauguration of the new Parliament building is a significant milestone in our democratic journey. This iconic structure stands as a testament to our unwavering belief in the principles of democracy, inclusivity, and progress. As the custodian of our Constitution, I am confident that this modern facility will foster meaningful debates, shape sound legislation, and uphold the values enshrined in our sacred document. It is a proud moment for our nation as we embrace a new chapter in our parliamentary history."
Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Om Birla: "The new Parliament building is a testament to the growth and dynamism of our democracy. It provides us with an enhanced platform to deliberate, legislate, and serve the people of India. This architectural marvel ensures a more inclusive and participatory legislative process, accommodating the increasing number of elected representatives and promoting diverse voices. I am thrilled to witness this inauguration, and I am confident that the new building will elevate the functioning of our esteemed institution."
Leader of the Opposition, Rahul Gandhi: "While inaugurating the new Parliament building, we celebrate the essence of democracy and the power of dissent. This momentous occasion serves as a reminder that democratic institutions are vital for a vibrant and inclusive society. As we step into this new chapter, let us uphold the values of transparency, accountability, and unity. Together, we can ensure that the new building becomes a space for robust debates, constructive dialogues, and collaborative decision-making that advances the welfare of our citizens."
Chief Justice of India: "The inauguration of the new Parliament building marks a significant milestone in India's democratic framework. It symbolizes the importance of separation of powers and the role of the legislature in upholding the rule of law. This modern infrastructure will provide lawmakers with the necessary resources to fulfill their constitutional duties efficiently. Let us remember that the true strength of our democracy lies in upholding the principles of justice, equality, and constitutional morality."
The statements from key figures reflect the unanimous acknowledgment of the new Parliament building's significance in India's democratic landscape.
By Prashant Tewari, Editor-in-Chief
India has already suffered a great deal of damage because of freebies. Unfortunately, all the regional parties, and to some extent, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, indulge in irresponsible populism and mad welfarism. While there can be justification for free education and healthcare, there can be no justification for the distribution of grinders, washing machines, television sets, laptops, subsidised pilgrimages, free electricity, and farm loan waivers.
Freebie culture is blamed on political elites only however, bureaucrats drafting policy are left scot-free. The Judicial system conveniently ignores its responsibility to correct the course since it will displease the political class and of course, the media will never discuss the issue since the government advertisement inflow will be hurt. The poor taxpayers of the country enjoy the visual site of watching their own elected government ripping hard-earned money to be distributed to large sections of the population seeking the comfort of sitting at home since the government has no vision to generate employment for a dignified living. It is all about failed governance and bribing voters to overcome this monumental failure.
Real income growth of the bottom 30% of Indians slowed down from 1992 when India first began ‘opening up’ and ‘liberalising’ its economy by encouraging the private sector. Since everyone has a vote, that means politicians cannot ignore them. This is why they must promise income support or subsidies, whether in cash or kind. These sops ensure that a majority of Indians can stay afloat in a fiercely difficult economic environment. Without this, they might throw governments out of power, or even begin to question what media and public culture feed them. A democracy that is controlled by a corporate-dominated ruling class requires popular support for its rule to continue. The sops and freebies to the poor buy the requisite votes. It is a small price that India’s affluent have to pay to ensure the economy continues to disproportionately reward them.
The political parties in India try to outdo each other in luring the Indian voters with assorted goodies called freebies. This trend has gained more momentum in recent times with the political parties being innovative in their offerings as the ‘traditional free water and electricity is no longer sufficient as election goodies. The political dialogue built around freebies is fraught with danger as it shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree. The unviable pre-election promises adversely affect the informed decision-making by voters. This calls for fixing the gaps in the design, execution and accountability of freebie culture.
In fact, the country has already suffered a great deal of damage because of freebies. Unfortunately, all regional parties, and national parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress, indulge in irresponsible populism and mad welfarism. While there can be justification for free education and healthcare, there can be no justification for the distribution of grinders, washing machines, television sets, laptops, subsidised pilgrimages, free electricity, farm loan waivers, and so on. It is not that nobody earlier warned against the consequences of populism. It is a “race to the bottom” and “a quick passport to fiscal disaster.”
FREEBIE THREATENS TO HURT INDIA’S STORY
The results are for all to see. A recent RBI study said, “We can identify a core subset of highly stressed states from among the 10 states identified by the necessary condition i.e., the debt/GSDP ratio. The highly stressed states are Bihar, Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal.” GSDP is the state GDP. The states with the highest debt-to-GSDP ratio in 2021-22 include Punjab at 53.3%, Rajasthan at 39.8%, West Bengal at 38.8%, Kerala at 38.3% and Andhra Pradesh at 32.4% whereas the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act recommended a debt-to-GDP ratio of 20% for state governments (40% for the Centre) by the financial year 2022-23. This level of debt is extremely concerning and is largely the result of committed expenditure and subsidies under populist schemes coupled with slow growth in revenues.
Most of the states, however, post a healthy picture of their finances which is aided by the fact that much of the borrowing that funds these freebies happens off-budget, beyond the pale of FRBM tracking. The States borrow on the books of their public enterprises, by pledging future revenues to the State as a guarantee. Effectively, the burden of debt is on the State exchequer, albeit well concealed. The debt-GSDP ratio of Punjab is the worst — and worsening. Instead of being concerned that the state debt to GSDP ratio has not gone below 40% for the past 6 years, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government instead announces that around 51 lakh households won’t pay any electricity bills from September. This is in accordance with the AAP’s election promise of 600 units of free power per billing cycle starting from 1 July 2022.
A case in point is Latin America which provides key learning lessons on populist politics. Populism was active during the 1920s through to the 1970s, when the working poor united behind icons like Brazil’s Getúlio Vargas and Argentina’s Juan Perón over their dissatisfaction with industrialisation. Populist governments resorted to inflationary financing to grant benefits to the poor. By the 1980s, uncontrolled public spending resulted in excessive fiscal deficits, unsustainable public debt and intractable inflation. Latin America’s ‘Lost Decade’ followed. Growth, at 5.6% in the 1970s, shrunk to 1.3% and stagnated for another decade. By the 1990s, inflation had reached 1,000% in countries like Brazil, and the poor suffered exponentially. Large economies including Mexico, Argentina and Brazil languished, and up to half of Latin Americans slid into poverty. It will augur well for India and its political stakeholders to imbibe the lessons of Latin America and how the first generation of fiscal reforms introduced in Latin America introduced political stability in the early 2000s. Going down the same path as Latin America may result in a ‘lost decade’ for India also.
CORRECTIVE ACTION AND STEPS
The problem with freebies is a political one; the way out is simple: all parties (at the Centre and the State level) sit down together and draw a list of don’ts, a negative list of things that none of them would do. With states running astray, it is the responsibility of the Centre to work together with States to advocate fiscal conservatism while ensuring States still retain their freedom in the spirit of Federalism. This requires the Centre to walk a tightrope and requires strong visionary leadership at the helm. More emphasis and confidence should be placed in the legislation already in place to check fiscal spending which is the FRBM Act.
Judicial Intervention: Constructive debate and discussions in parliament are difficult since the freebie culture has an impact on every political party, whether directly or indirectly. Therefore, judicial involvement is required in order to propose measures.
ECI Model Code of Conduct: The Election Commission of India can anticipate enforcing the Model Code of Conduct for Guidance of Political Parties and Candidates effectively to regulate election manifestos in order to prevent the manipulation of informed voter behavior.
Since getting elected is not a license to kill, the elected representatives must not act arbitrarily. The system of monarchy and practicing democracy have a clear distinction wherein in the latter system, the leader is accountable for all the actions while in the office including the finances and its management. In India, many regional and even national leaders consider themselves the incarnation of god. The reckless way these leaders spend public money is just unacceptable in an orderly society and there have to be reasonable restrictions to be imposed on them while they systematically corrupt the society by offering freebies over quality governance, so as to safeguard the macro interest of the society and the growth of the country.
Soon after the capture of Kabul by the Taliban the radical outfit announced that the regime in Afghanistan would be based on Shariat leaving no one in doubt about the return of the Emirate of 1996. This comeback was happening through a sure and steady process marked by some tactical statements from the Taliban, hastily interpreted in many quarters as signs of political maturity, about the safety of foreign nationals, amnesty of the government employees who served the Ashraf Ghani dispensation, and assurance to the international community that Afghan soil would not be used to launch any covert offensive against any other nation.
Having achieved its mission of taking charge of the country in quick time, the Taliban held its hands at the Kabul International Airport only to see the completion of the evacuation of US and NATO personnel -- it showed its true colours by clamping down on the exit of Afghan nationals from the country. Its leaders, meanwhile, were initiating moves to give shape to the future government.
Taliban has expectantly firmed up its grid with Pakistan and China already and is beginning to repressively handle the domestic scene where significant changes had occurred over the two decades since its ouster from power in 2001, mainly by way of the rise of a new Afghan generation of men and women who had tasted freedom, entrepreneurship and international exposure.
The desertion of Afghanistan by President Ghani and the bulk of Afghan national security leadership in the face of the rapid advance of Taliban insurgents, has shown the reality of the intrinsic hold of Islamic radicals on the country, backed so explicitly by Pakistan establishment and the ISI-sponsored militant outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Haqqani network.
For both the US and India, the two largest democracies, a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan poses a long-term threat but apparently for the Biden administration dealing with China as the rising superpower is taking precedence over the slide of Afghanistan back into the hands of Islamic radicals.
It is now coming out that the US administration made an error of judgment first in choosing for Doha peace talks with the Taliban representative who, for vested political interests, conducted that exercise totally at the back of the Afghan government of the day, flouting all strategic logic, and then in relying on Pakistan's mediation in those negotiations as an 'old ally' -- in complete ignorance of the fact that in the 'war on terror Pakistan was all along in league with the Taliban-Al Qaeda axis to serve its own long-range interest in Afghanistan.
All of this can perhaps be traced to the American policy-making process that relied on the past and did not take adequate notice of the rise in the present, of a new global threat of terror that was using 'faith-based' motivation to unleash its power.
While the Muslim world would generally find it difficult to disown radical Islam, the Pakistan establishment already using Islamic extremism and militancy as an instrument of state policy was wilfully tying up with radical outfits of the Pak-Afghan region to serve its anti-India objectives and only pretending to be on the American side.
In the current geopolitical setting, India's friendship with the US has to be the bedrock for a united effort to safeguard the interests of the democratic world against the forces of dictatorship and fundamentalism. India is upfront in supporting Quad for safeguarding the oceans around us against Chinese aggressive designs.
However, for India, the hostile Sino-Pak alliance active on our borders would have the potential of multiplying the terror threat from Pakistan once the expected revival of the Emirate at Kabul was completed. India's security strategy has, therefore, to be a multi-dimensional one -- but essentially an approach of its own in which strategic friendship with US would of course be a major component.
India has rightly kept up its bilateral relationship with Russia on a strong footing -- Prime Minister Modi has spoken to President Putin and the two countries have established a joint mechanism for monitoring the situation in Afghanistan. We have to manage friendships with both Iran and Israel.
A lot of work has to be done in South and South-East Asia too. In a significant development, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval chaired a meeting of his counterparts from BRICS on Aug 24 and used the occasion to highlight the grave threat to regional security posed by cross-border terrorism perpetrated by state-sponsored militant outfits like LeT and JeM. In the Indian context, domestic security requires added attention because both Pakistan and China had the capacity of fishing in our troubled waters and in particular, tinkering with minority politics here.
Above all, defence on the borders, built up under the Modi regime on an urgent footing, has to be kept strong enough to deal with both open intrusion and any covert offensive of the enemy.
The world is reacting to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in three distinct ways reflecting the extent to which religion-based politics of violence was considered unacceptable. The US has not taken enough notice of Islamic extremism and radicalism having sway on Afghanistan and has opted to quit that country leaving it to the Afghans to handle their own messy situation -- its main security concern was that the Taliban should agree not to let Al-Qaeda operate against the US from Afghanistan again.
The US has drawn an unrealistic distinction between these two outfits and refused to see the global danger that Islamic radicals would pose to democracy itself. In another response, Pakistan found a way of defending the Taliban by contending that criticism of the latter signified Islamophobia of the West -- a line promptly endorsed by many sections of the opposition in India including the Left with an eye on the political support of Muslims.
Islamic militancy in the name of Jehad has not found effective opposition from within the Muslim world because the radicals are 'revivalists' advocating a return to the puritanical Islam of the period of the Pious Caliphs which no 'faithful' would oppose.
A distinct third reaction conditioned by the present global geopolitics is from Xi Jinping's China which had managed to reach, with the help of Pakistan, some sort of giving and take with the Taliban. Early on, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi met Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's political chief, at Tianji in China to strike harmony with the Islamic force.
Communist China finds itself on the same side of the fence as the Islamic radicals largely because of their shared political opposition to US-led West. This explains the extraordinary collision between a 'godless' regime of China and a fundamentalist Pakistan that did not see eye to eye with US on the 'war on terror'. India can see the deeper threat arising for the democratic world from a Pak-Afghan belt that was completely under the grip of Islamic extremism.
India's posture of sympathy towards Afghan refugees, apart from the Sikh and Hindu minorities there, strengthens its democratic credentials and status as a leader of the free world.
The comity of democratic nations has to have a good understanding of how Pakistan was able to harbour Islamic militants of different hues across the spectrum of faith, from the India-specific instruments of 'proxy war' like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Hizbul Mujahideen (HuM) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) fostered by ISI -- which would be on the right side of the US and for that reason earn the label of 'good terrorists' from the West -- to the Islamic radicals of Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIS as also their derivatives which emerged in a high profile after the victory of the anti-Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan conducted on the war cry of Jehad. These revivalist radical outfits carried a historical anti-West legacy and soon drew the wrath of the US when the 'war on terror' was launched in the wake of 9/11.
In the period of Pakistan's ambivalent conduct during this American offensive against the Al-Qaeda-Taliban combine -- the bunch of 'bad terrorists' for the US-led West -- it became increasingly clear that Pakistan had no problems with radical Islam and was, in fact, interested in replicating the success of Afghan Jehad in Kashmir. India will never forget that the first outfit of Mujahideen called Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA) which infiltrated the Valley in 1993 was a mix of the Taliban and would later become Jaish-e-Mohammad founded by Masood Azhar.
Even though -- because of the Taliban's ire against the West -- these terrorists had kidnapped a number of Western tourists, the Pak ISI instructed its protege, the HuM, to extend logistics and other help to the Mujahideen. Pakistan's close relationship with Al Qaeda-Taliban thus preceded the launch of the 'war on terror' -- having seen the ISI playing a pivotal role in the installation of the Afghan Emirate at Kabul in 1996 under Mullah Omar of the Taliban. In the present second conquest of Afghanistan by the Taliban it is public knowledge that Pak-fostered terror outfits, LeT and JeM, rendered ground support to the radicals against Ashraf Ghani's forces.
There is a new geopolitical context around the likely return of the Emirate to Afghanistan. The American acknowledgment of Pakistan's role as a 'helpful mediator' in the peace talks at Doha between the US and Taliban has strengthened Pakistan's say in Afghanistan and somewhat moderated the old antagonism of the West towards the Taliban -- giving the latter at least some semblance of international status to its future rule in Kabul even if securing a formal recognition for it remained problematic.
China, because of its all-weather friendship with Pakistan and a direct political conflict with the US, has extended its goodwill to the new Afghan dispensation under the Taliban on an understanding that it's own handling of its Muslim minority in Xinjiang would not be made an issue of.
Russia, with its memory of the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of Islamic extremists and radicals, would closely monitor developments in that country and certainly not allow any Afghan refugees to come in. Iran in the hands of fundamentalist Ulema would be willing to take a punitive line against the Afghan regime should the Taliban allow Shias to be targeted on account of the fundamental hatred of Sunni radicals against this community.
With Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country and the US opting to leave Afghans to their fate, India is left holding the torch of democracy in South Asia, demanding an inclusive rule in Afghanistan and activating UNSC against terrorism and violation of human rights in Afghanistan.
Since Pakistan will oppose India's presence and say in Afghanistan, India has to review its strategy of countering the cumulative fallout of a hostile Pak-Afghan belt. The exit of Sikh and Hindu minorities from Afghanistan under the fear of the Taliban would have the effect of hardening the relations between India and Pakistan.
Indo-US strategic friendship is needed for a global effort to mobilise the democratic world against the Communist dictatorship of China on the one hand and the advocates of Islamic extremism on the other. The Sino-Pak axis steering these two forces at the global level has to be flagged as the biggest impediment to world security. It is hoped the Biden administration will wake up to this new security scenario after its experience in Afghanistan.
India has to step up mobilisation through Quad, ASEAN, SAARC and the UN itself against this twin threat. While countering any aggressiveness of PLA on LAC, Indian security forces should not hesitate to take to punitive response against any Pak mischief across LOC. India is a world power now and Prime Minister Modi's reputation for taking strategic decisions that required political will is itself a deterrent for our adversaries but we have to go all out to build our defence and security capabilities. Somewhere this will be a boost for our economy as well.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau, article courtesy IANS)
Covid-19 has struck people from every walk of life. It has shaken India’s vast population and affected the economy, education, health care systems and also day-to-day normal life for the last year. Similar to many countries, India too undertook various strategic steps to control Covid-19 and implemented many national and state-level Covid-19 control measures. India has efficiently and effectively managed the emergence of the first Covid-19 wave. Although many epidemiologists and mathematical model experts predicted there could be a second or third wave of Covid-19 in 202 in India, political leaders and policymakers took such information very leniently and casually. The laxity to adhere to covid-19 protocols deviated in many situations across the country from the beginning of 2021. Critical analysis indicates that political and administrative machinery went into a certain type of overconfidence that India has achieved measures to control Covid-19. Such indications from political leaders have profoundly impacted the public and thus public diverged from adhering to covid-19 protocols. Recently, the top medical journal the Lancet wrote that Indian policymakers might have accepted the pandemic as an “endgame” in India once the first Covid-19 wave subsided.
Government machinery shall look beyond the political framework and political ideologies to face and manage national calamities and such pandemics. Political governments shall bring technocrats, political party leaders, businessmen, scientists, medical fraternity, bureaucrats, policymakers and public health experts together under one umbrella during this pandemic. Such efforts are foremost important to tackle the pandemic. It is worth mentioning how global partnership and amalgamation brought countries and organizations together beyond boundaries and borders to develop vaccines on the fast track. Collaboration between Oxford-AstraZeneca- Serum Institute of India, Pfizer-BioNTech and many others are some examples to mention about fruitful global collaborations. Although India has successfully made a couple of Covid-19 vaccines Covishield and Covaxin, logistic and vaccine drive did not catch the speed. There has been a slow process in the vaccine drive in India. Although India got world appreciation for supplying vaccines to more than seventy countries, India’s mass vaccination effort didn’t meet the expectation.
Declining of Covid-19 surge and the initiation of vaccination at the beginning of 2020 might have pushed the political administration to take things unconcernedly. Even top scientific journals like Nature viewed that Indian political governance shall listen to the scientists, medical professionals and public health experts when such a pandemic afflicts the country. Strong political will and political wisdom shall emerge to take up such vaccine drive as the top national priority. All political parties should accept the certain common mandate that political processions, festivals and public gathering functions should not be held. They should collectively accept the vaccination process for the public as the country’s urgency and priority. If political party leaders raise concerns and differences of opinion on India’s vaccine drive and on vaccines, the public may get into confusion. WHO scientists recently pointed out that mass gatherings and social activities might have contributed to a such sudden surge of Covid-19 in India. India began a vaccine drive on 16, Jan 2021 and countries might have initiated some weeks before that. After the vaccination drive began many political parties at centre and states started celebrating as India controlled the pandemic. After the onset of the vaccine drive, the drive began without acceleration. Emergency use of vaccines became non-emergency. Many other national and political issues became a priority over the vaccine drive. Notably, the Hon. High courts made a serious observation on election procedures in many states on violating covid-19 protocols. Although such events may be unavoidable, political parties shall understand that vaccine drive for the public is the need of the hour and important for managing and controlling Covid-19. Each state has been playing a different modus operandi in attacking the centre due to political differences and managing vaccination processes.
Political party members should fully adhere to the Covid-19 protocol and should exhibit exemplary gestures to the public. When politicians speak, support and propagate political rallies and mass gatherings, how public could follow the rules and guidelines? Political machinery across the nation shall come together and merge to work in totality against the national pandemic. Politicians and policymakers are good at comparing and boosting small achievements of Indian initiatives on national and global platforms. This type of comparison may not pay any benefit during a pandemic. Similarly, they may also analyse how other countries speeded up their vaccine drive for the public by procuring vaccines from other countries. India is the capital of vaccine suppliers in the world. Surprisingly, Statista reports as on May 20 in India only 3% of people got the second dose of vaccine and 10.9 % of people received the first dose whereas these figures may be ten times more in many other countries.
India could have vaccinated more people above 18 years of age, which may be better than many other countries if the vaccine drive could have initiated more aggressively in February. Now CoWin app is like Tatkal and is available for just 1-2 hours per day for vaccine booking. The public is almost in a frustrating situation to get vaccine slots even after trying for weeks through CoWin. This won’t serve the purpose of mass vaccination in India for control of the pandemic. In many rural areas, a digital divide exists with poor digital literacy and internet connectivity. We have the best IT technology service providers in the world and the government shall take the help of IT sectors to develop alternative apps or measures to speed up the registration process to cover mass vaccination in a short period of time. The establishment of “walk-in vaccine centres “across India could be an option.
Management of the vaccine drive by the government for such a vast Indian population could be discussed with all political party levels, management experts and other technocrats with help of well-established defence organizations and the medical fraternity without political differences. The time has come for all political parties to join hands to face a such pandemic. Covid-19 may be a wake-up call for all political parties to remove their political barricades and work together to curtail Covid-19 pandemic.
(The writer is Practicing Medical Scientist at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India. The views expressed are personal.)
Modi government's incompetence is largely responsible for India’s pandemic disaster, as infections and deaths mount at a terrifying pace in India, the prime minister’s team's culpability for the crisis has become startlingly clear. A literate leader might have saved India from this manmade disaster.
India’s healthcare system has collapsed under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic. The country registered more than 3500 deaths and nearly 400,000 infections daily, off- course the official figures are always inaccurate. Videos of crowded mortuaries and funeral sites, and grief-stricken relatives outside packed hospitals are circulating among middle-class Indians on social media. This is after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared victory against COVID-19 in Jan 2021. Addressing a virtual summit of the World Economic Forum, he sought applause for saving “humanity from a big disaster by containing the coronavirus effectively.” Three months on, India is the epicenter of the pandemic and completely on its knees. The country’s health care system is on the precipice of total collapse, patients are suffocating to death, relatives are scrambling for beds, the most advanced hospitals have been reduced to begging the government for emergency supplies of oxygen, and crematoriums blazing nonstop have run out of hospital room and cremation wood. Social media is inundated with agonizing pleas for help, leading to a thriving black market for oxygen and essential medicine has emerged, and a nationally acclaimed in 2015 by the International Monetary Fund as an economic powerhouse poised to overtake China is now lobbying for emergency foreign aid.
India might have been spared this humanitarian crisis had Modi and his team not neglected their duties and vilified those who offered him, constructive counsel. He had the time, means, and access to expertise to prove the country against this inferno. As early as last November, a parliamentary committee had issued warnings of a second wave and urged the government to stockpile oxygen. But rather than bolstering India’s capacities, Modi used the virus to burnish his cult and pillage the country.
Last March, days after plunging India into chaos by announcing a nationwide lockdown with a four-hour notice, he sought tax-free donations for a fund called PM CARES to help the poorest of the poor, buy personal protective equipment and build oxygen plants across India. The equivalent of more than a billion dollars flowed into it during the first week. What did Modi do with all that money? Nobody knows and nobody is allowed to know. Because despite offering tax subsidies to contributors and using government organs to promote the fund, PM CARES cannot be reviewed by the state auditor because it is structured as a private trust.
As in so many of the pandemic’s worst-hit countries, this tragedy was avoidable and is largely the fault of a boastful and incompetent government. Yet, judging by the fate of other bungling far-right politicians such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, the U.K.’s Boris Johnson, Hungary’s Viktor Urban, and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may well suffer few political consequences for his devastating misdeeds.
Like those other leaders, Modi has spent more time diminishing the pandemic’s seriousness than combating it. In early March, even as cases in India rose alarmingly, he again boasted that the country would serve as “the world’s pharmacy,” churning out vaccines for developing nations. His health minister judged India to have entered the “endgame” of the pandemic. In a new cricket stadium named after Modi, tens of thousands of largely unmasked people turned out to watch matches between India and England last month. Many more unprotected people turned out for Modi’s recent election rallies in the state of West Bengal, and an estimated 3.5 million people attended, with the encouragement of Modi’s Hindu nationalist colleagues, the Kumbh Mela religious festival.
The result? Faced with a crushing caseload and an acute shortage of vaccines, India has stopped exporting doses and is importing new jabs from Russia. Indian states are desperately fighting over the supply of something as basic as medical oxygen. He has also survived, already, blunders that would have wrecked any other political career: demonetization in 2016, hasty GST implementation and a botched lockdown last year that caused the biggest and most desperate internal migration witnessed in India since 1947.
The current crisis does seem more serious than others Modi has faced. Until now, his claims for instance, that Indian airstrikes in 2019 killed scores of terrorists in Pakistan or that withdrawing almost all currency notes in circulation punished corrupt businessmen with an exception of his favorite Gautam Adani could never be adequately tested against reality, especially because Modi skillfully constructed each time an alternative reality with the help of loyal journalists and social media trolls. The facts of extensive death and bereavement among India’s middle classes, and shortages of hospital beds and oxygen, cannot be denied so easily; they require no external verification. Even an illusionist as masterful as Modi will find it difficult to spin them to his advantage.
An ex-bureaucrat revealed his ‘control freak’ nature, his deliberate bypassing of his ministers. Modi soon sized up his secretaries, not necessarily correctly, and his permanent scowl started sending cold shivers. He then resorted to his unabashed mode of operating through favorites namely PK Mishra and Ajit Dowal, both bureaucrats gave cabinet minister status, which demoralized other equally or more talented officers. The latter had not crawled to ingratiate themselves. Lightning transfers became commonplace, and the PMO controlled every appointment to senior posts, as well as to boards and committees. Though inputs were taken from the RSS, the Intelligence Bureau and the spy chief, the NSA, mattered more. Stalinist shadows grew longer and the headless organization’s suffered when appointments took years. Babus and businessmen, however, learned to fake everlasting loyalty and started wooing Sanghis.
But no government could function with just handpicked cheerleaders, and experienced bureaucrats stopped sharing their lifelong experience, out of fear, and the political savvy of ministers was treated with contempt. Modi's brilliant idea of 75+ retirement to remove experienced politicians from active politics backfired. He can tolerate 75+ PK Mishra and Ajit Dowal but he has an aversion to 75+ politicians. As the Cabinet system crashed and responsibility became opaque, India’s performance ranking in all internationally comparable indices started tumbling, every year. And the inviolability of statistics disappeared, as fudging began. Officers realised that only style and spectacle mattered, not substance.
Covid 19 broke the spine of an already badly slip-disced economy. Just because the home minister was/is Modi’s most trusted factotum, all decisions, even those well beyond its limited competence, were decided by the lathi-wielding home ministry, not the health ministry. Regular imperious edicts flowed, without consultation. Relief work has always been an integral part of Indian administration, but since the two leaders maintained an eerie silence on the plight of migrant workers, no relief camps came up to alleviate such an enormous human tragedy.
While every sensible nation planned the production, import and distribution of vaccines and oxygen several months ago, India's illiterate leadership backed by mediocre RSS ideological guidance woke up to issues like pricing, supplies and international obligations only a couple of months ago. Even simple arithmetic of supply versus demand was hardly understood, advice from specialists received lower priority and the regime let its defenses down.
The invincible ‘spell’ is finally breaking, but what we need immediately is a fire-fighting and imaginative response, not vengeance. Today, India has become the new global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with daily infections surpassing 400,000 per day and the official death toll—likely a massive underestimate—nearing a quarter of a million people. Hospitals are being overrun with patients, and the crisis is exacerbated by a devastating shortage of oxygen. The Indian judiciary has gone as far as threatening capital punishment for anyone caught trying to divert shipments of oxygen from around the country to affected areas. There have been dozens of deaths documented directly tied to a lack of oxygen. So, what happened?
Modi government suffered from “arrogance, policy paralysis, incompetence, and no efforts to learn from the past year.” A government with a religious fundamentalist ideology that has taken aim at minority groups and elevated a form of mediocre fascist Hindu supremacy has failed its people spectacularly.
Modi has also refused to negotiate with tens of thousands of poor farmers who began a mass occupation on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi last year in protest of new harsh privatization farm laws. While the number of farmers protesting declined during the annual spring harvest as they returned to pick crops on their farms, an estimated 15,000 still remain, and many more are ready to return if needed. “What choice do the farmers have at this point?”. “The farm laws will kill them in the next few years, and, heaven forbid, if the virus comes, it will kill them quickly. So, death is on both sides.
In spite of being the world’s largest manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccines, India has exported far more doses to other nations than were deployed internally. Modi has been accused of engaging in “vaccine diplomacy,” giving away millions of vaccines to other nations to shore up his international support. The “vaccine has been put on the open market with limited provision from the government to inoculate citizens.” In other words, poor Indians have to wait far longer to obtain the vaccine compared to wealthier Indians who can walk into a private clinic and purchase a dose.
In the meantime, Indians continue dying in numbers so large that the capital New Delhi glows at night from the fires of mass cremations. The state governments have let down the country badly. Health is a state subject, yet ordinary leadership largely propelled by the Mandal commission's aftermath with zero competence fueled the disaster. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh (post-Panchayat Elections), Rajasthan, and Gujrat state leadership remained clueless despite there being a gap of 14 months between the first wave and second wave. Delhi Joker's Chief Minister was crying for oxygen and medicine when the people started dying on the street. As the hashtag #ResignModi began trending to new heights, at least, Modi to save his face must sack his cabinet and PMO to bring fresh faces to tackle the crisis with a new approach and perspective. However, the narrative has consolidated with the large section of Modi supporters that “the government has failed on all accounts.”
(The writer is Prashant Tewari, Editor-in-Chief of The Opinion Express Group)
Whenever debates on criminalisation and its link with politics, memories will resurface about the not yet fully published Vohra Committee Report of 1993. Actually, the 12-page report prepared by Home Secretary NN Vohra names only fugitives Dawood Ibrahim, first parked in Dubai and now in Pakistan and late Iqbal Mirchi parked in London, and then talks about criminalization of politics in Bihar, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh without any naming any politicians. It also talks about the role of the narcotics trade, film world mafia etc without naming anyone in the signed first 12 pages of the report. It is well known that Vohra who later enjoyed post-retirement life of more than 25 years up to Governorship has annexed many unsigned intelligence reports, newspaper clippings and sensitive letters of many which name many big names.
Many portions of this unsigned annexure naming important politicians (one recently died) basically from the Western region and their involvement with Dawood Ibrahim, narcotics gangs, and hawala rackets are still available. Generally, the media avoided publishing due to its sensitive nature and this annexure is unsigned. Many Editors lost jobs for bringing out some of the portions of this annexure. A classic case was the termination of the late Editor Vinod Mehta for naming a big politician from Maharashtra for his links with Dawood Ibrahim. Not only Vinod Mehta lost his job, the newspaper owned by Times of India also closed down after this incident. We leave it to the guess of readers about the name of the politician, still controlling the affairs of Maharashtra.
Basically, criminalization of politics starts from election-winning techniques like booth capturing and retaining power by terrorizing the people to ensure the money collection. “In certain States, like Bihar, Haryana and UP, these gangs enjoy the patronage of local level politicians, cutting across party lines and the protection of governmental functionaries. Some political leaders become the leaders of these gangs/armed senas and, over the years, get themselves elected to local bodies, State Assemblies and the national Parliament. Resultantly, such elements have acquired considerable political clout seriously jeopardizing the smooth functioning of the administration and the safety of life and property of the common man, causing a sense of despair and alienation among the people,” narrates Vohra Committee Report.
The Report goes on: “An organised crime Syndicate/Mafia generally commences its activities by indulging in petty crime at the local level, mostly relating to illicit distillation/gambling/organised satta and prostitution in the larger towns. In port towns, their activities involve the smuggling and sale of imported goods and progressively graduate to narcotics and drug trafficking. In the bigger cities, the main source of income relates to real estate – forcibly occupying lands/buildings, procuring such properties at cheap rates by forcing out the existing occupants/tenants etc. Over time, the money power thus acquired is used for building up contacts with bureaucrats and politicians and expansion of activities with impunity. The money power is used to develop a network of muscle-power which is also used by the politicians during elections”.
The above two paragraphs of the Vohra Committee Reports neatly narrate the role of criminalization in Indian politics. Now let us back to the electoral violence. Since the introduction of the Electronic Voting Machine, booth-capturing violence is not happening since 2000. Thanks to maverick former maverick Election Commissioner late T.N.Sheshan for forcefully implementing Electoral Identity Cards and Electronic Voting Machines. But politicians are not fools. They devise new methods to grab power. Violence is perpetrated using the local anti-social elements to fear the electorate to stay away from voting, and money pumping to bribe voters still going on.
Elimination of political rivals
Elimination of political rivals is the worst in Indian politics, where Left parties have a say. This intolerant barbarism happens in Left controlled areas like Kerala and West Bengal and Maoist infiltrated areas of central India. Sadly though Left parties are sidelined in West Bengal politics, in the Trinamool Congress regime also this violence and elimination of political opponents are happening. It must be interesting to note that such barbaric methods are not happening in areas where BJP and Congress are strong. So we can attribute the origin of elimination of political enemy methods to Left parties which once even passed a resolution (famously known as the Calcutta Thesis) justifying the need for the elimination of “class enemies”.
There is another kind of violence still practiced in India. This is the violence or elimination of enemies within the party. Here comes the real role of the usage of mafia elements by politicians to eliminate their rivals within the party. Even terrorists, mafia underworld and ultra-Naxal gangs were used to eliminate the rivals within the party. Unfortunately, probes in these cold-blooded murders never proved due to the professional killings and alibis deployed with complete precision techniques. So still general beliefs on these murders remain as hear says without any proof. The famous film ‘New Delhi Times’ narrates this kind of elimination of political rivals from within the party.
Another such incident of big violence erupted inside DMK. In a tussle to become the party’s No: 2, supremo Karunanidhi’s sons Stalin and Alagiri went to street fights leading to the murder of Stalin’s supporter MLA Tha Kiruttinan in 2003. The brothers’ fight for supremacy in the party ended up in the burning of nephew Maran brother's newspaper office and burn to death of staffers. Alagiri lost his temper when Marans’ newspaper published a “survey” saying people want Stalin as the leader. After this violent incident, Karuanidhi ordered Dayanidhi Maran to resign from Union Cabinet in 2006.
Many big crimes involving politicians, and agencies are literally tied to their hands. Police are forced to act when public anger goes bigger. Many sleazy stories, and blackmailing also involved in the politically linked murders. These were many times stories for many action-thriller movies. Aspiring lady politician Banwari Devi murder, activist Shehla Masood murder, and journalist Shivani Bhatnagar murder cases are such full of sleaze involving many political leaders.
Sunanda murder case exposes the intricacies of politicians and IPL betting rackets. Sunanda was found dead in seven-star Hotel Leela within a few hours when she was going to expose her Husband Minister Shashi Tharoor and his IPL controversies in January 2014. It took more than a year for Delhi Police to register FIR and forced to chargesheet Tharoor only in 2018. Actually, Delhi Police was forced to act after BJP leader Subramanian Swamy approached Courts while all in politics and media were keeping criminals silence.
Smuggling, Narcotics rackets and Politics
Smuggling rackets and politicians are closely associated from time immemorial. From Mumbai underworld dons to fugitives to the latest Kerala’s UAE Consulate involved gold smuggling are the telling examples of this big syndicate. The government can if they want to curtail this smuggling and narcotics syndicates. But no one wanted and that is why India’s Customs Department is known as the most corrupt department. Corruption in Customs Department is always so bigger than in Police and other money-spinning departments and it is well known that politicians routinely get their cuts from these dreaded rackets which are capable of eliminating the people who stood against them. Smuggling is basically due to the Government’s hyped taxation and when the tax terrorism ends smuggling will be hit hard.
“The big smuggling Syndicates, having international linkages, have spread into and infected the various economic and financial activities, including havala transactions, circulation of black money and operations of a vicious parallel economy causing serious damage to the economic fiber of the country. These Syndicates have acquired substantial financial and muscle power and social respectability and have successfully corrupted the government machinery at all levels and wield enough influence to make the task of Investigating and Prosecuting agencies extremely difficult; even the members of the Judicial system have not escaped the embrace of the Mafia.
“Certain elements of the Mafia have shifted to narcotics, drugs and weapon smuggling and established narco-terrorism networks, especially in the States of J&K, Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The cost of contesting elections has thrown the politician into the lap of these elements and led to a grave compromise by officials of the preventive/detective systems. The virus has spread to almost all the centers in the country; the coastal and the border States have been particularly affected” narrates Vohra Committee Report on the role of big smuggling and narcotics trade syndicates,” narrates the Report.
Detailing the role of smuggling rackets, Vohra Report goes on: “It has been suggested that the menace has first to be tackled at the local level where the agencies of the State and the concerned Central Enforcement Agencies like Customs and Excise, Income Tax etc. would be required to take effective action. In cases where a crime Syndicate has graduated to big business, it would be necessary to conduct detailed investigations into its assets, both movable and immovable. It has been stressed that when such action is not timely and effectively taken, the lower functionaries of the concerned State and Central Departments/organisations start overlooking the activities of the crime Syndicates. To elucidate this point, the Director CBI has given the example of IQBAL MIRCHI of Bombay who, till the late 80’s, was merely a visitor to passenger and carrier ships to obtain liquor and cigarettes for selling the same at a profit.
“In the last 3-4 years, MIRCHI acquired real estate valuing crores of rupees; he has many bank accounts and has been paying lakhs of rupees to his carriers. The growth of MIRCHI is due to the fact that the concerned Enforcement agencies did not timely take action against him and, later, this perhaps became difficult on account of the enormous patronage that he had developed. If MIRCHI is investigated, the entire patronage enjoyed by him and his linkages will come to light. Director CBI has observed that there are many such cases, such as that of MIRCHI where the initial failure has led to the emergence of Mafia giants who have become too big to be tackled.
“Director CBI has stated that the main mode of communication/contacts of the Mafias operating at the international level is through telephonic communications. Referring to the useful leads emerging from the investigations into the activities of Dawood Ibrahim, a Mafia leader, the director CBI has stated that the effective monitoring of the telephone calls made from India/received from abroad would yield useful information and, for this being done, Government may grant sanction to monitor certain telephone connections”.
Role of Banks
Banks are always hesitant with the probe agencies in sharing details of the money movements. There are even instances of the Enforcement Directorate, DRI which are under the Finance Ministry complaining to the Ministry for resistance of the State Bank of India in sharing details. See, all these organizations come under Finance Ministry. This is the system created and the political boss is the sole answerable. We have seen former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley venting his anger against CBI when it charged top bankers for fraud. What poor probe agencies and their good officers can do in such Catch 22 situation? Many whistle-blower officers were kicked out and got all kinds of service punishments and some were even jailed for concocted cases.
“The assistance of Banks is an essential input. The Bank Managers can be placed under obligation to render reports on all heavy transactions and suspicious accounts to the Enforcement agencies. Such a practice obtains in UK,” said the Vohra Committee Report, which is not yet implemented for the past 28 years.
Rarely do big cases came up before the trial. Many cases landed before the Courts due to maverick officers. But here come the problems in the trial. Many big cases fail in the trial due to bad prosecution and corruption in the judiciary. There is a bizarre incident that must be referred to here. One smuggler and his brother now running India’s big law office in handling smuggling and tax evasion cases. The smuggler was caught and jailed at a young age and from jail, he passed LLB. Now he is running a big law firm handling such cases and a few years ago he was caught flying with the country’s Attorney General to Dubai.
From the above-mentioned incidents, how the system can be cleaned up? The only answer is for the electorate to select ethical political leaders who have the desire, capacity, and moral integrity not only to root out systemic corruption and break the nexus between politicians, officials, and criminal elements, but also to fully support whistle-blowers, worthy officers, and prosecutors in order to ensure justice is delivered at all costs. And there is a responsibility for the electorate while select credible leaders and to be vigil always.
(J Gopikrishnan is a senior journalist working with ‘The Pioneer’ newspaper)
The mayhem that took place in Delhi on R-Day has hurt the farmers as they have lost their bargaining power
After democracy was put to shame by unscrupulous elements in the garb of farmers and Nihangs (Sikh religious warriors) who hoisted the ‘Nishan Sahib’ on the Red Fort after laying siege to the iconic-building when India was celebrating its 72nd Republic Day, deep fissures have started to appear among different factions of the protesters who are now apparently pitted against each other. This means that the majority of the cultivators are not in favour of what happened on the fateful day when thousands of farmers stormed the Capital, vandalised public property, attacked policemen, ran amok on the streets and captured Red Fort. The protesting farmers allege that antisocial elements orchestrated the violence which was part of a “larger conspiracy” to derail the movement. With police hunting down the perpetrators of the violence, a name which is making the rounds is that of Punjabi actor Deep Sidhu who is being blamed for instigating the growers as well as changing the route. Sidhu is currently absconding.
The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) called off its protest from the Chilla border connecting Delhi and Noida. At the Singhu border, the two farmers’ unions protesting from separate daises blamed each other for the violence. The Rashtriya Mazdoor Kisan Sangathan and the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Lok Shakti) are also ending their protests against the farm laws. The unions have also called off the February 1 march to Parliament. As many as 25 cases, including those of rioting and criminal conspiracy, have been registered and arrests and detentions are the order of the day. The police claim that the protesters violated all conditions that were agreed upon by not following the predetermined route, starting the tractor rally before the scheduled time and by carrying firearms, swords and other weapons. With the widening differences and growing disagreements among the farmers, it is safe to predict that the protest will not last long and the farmers will have to return empty-handed. Although the Government has indicated that it will keep its communication channels open and its previous offer to put the three farm laws in abeyance for 18 months stands, right now it doesn’t seem to be a workable proposition for the farm unions who had rejected it earlier. With the growers’ unity in shambles, their leaders no longer find themselves in a position to bargain or exert significant pressure on the Government. And with that, a farmer’s movement which fought all odds for roughly two months now hangs by a thread, courtesy of the violence and mayhem caused by a select few who infiltrated their ranks. The real victims of the violence on R-Day are the farmers themselves and the movement that had united the country in their favour.
The Farm Divide
Whosoever wins this ‘war of prestige, the poor peasants will still remain at the receiving end
No matter who wins the tug-of-war between the farmer unions and the Government, the poor cultivators will continue to remain at the receiving end. Who are these tens of thousands of farmers protesting on Delhi’s borders for almost two months, demanding a repeal of the three new farm legislation and remunerative Minimum Support Price (MSP)? They certainly do not belong to the class of peasants that is neck-deep in debt and many of whom die by suicide every year as they see no option to bail themselves out of the vicious cycle of interest payments on loan by moneylenders. A majority of those camping at the interstate borders are big and upper-middle-class landlords from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh who are part and parcel of the strong arhatiya (commission agents) lobby, a community that drives the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee’s (APMC’s) mandis. These farmers constitute a sizeable chunk of the vote bank of various political parties who cannot afford to go against the populist stance taken by the community. Only the APMC-licenced traders are allowed to purchase produce from farmers within that particular APMC’s jurisdiction. This helps the cartel of traders and prevents the hardworking farmers from receiving a fair price for their produce. This is why, perhaps, the hectic parleys and several rounds of dialogue have yielded no result and the farmer leaders have even turned down the Centre’s offer to put the new laws on hold. The latest round of talks on Friday also remained inconclusive, with no date fixed for the next meeting. The growers remain adamant on the full repeal of the farm Acts and for enacting legislation on the MSP. The farmers have also raised doubts over receiving fair treatment at the hands of the members of the Supreme Court-appointed expert committee and termed it “biased”. On the other hand, the apex court has made it clear that the panel, tasked to submit its report after noting the farmers’ reservations, would proceed with or without their participation.
However, the farmers’ apprehensions cannot just be brushed aside. The NDA Government’s haste in finalising the three laws, the lack of consultation with stakeholders and the Bills’ passage in Parliament without thoroughly discussing and debating these ought to raise reasonable doubt over the Centre’s intention. Further, these laws were first introduced in June 2020 as Ordinances before being approved by Parliament in September by a voice vote. The farmers allege that the Centre has made laws for benefiting big corporate houses and is not concerned about the welfare of the peasants. It cannot be denied that by promoting private investment in the sector and allowing outside-APMC trade of farm produce, the Government will subsequently buy less from farmers, and it will eventually make the MSP system irrelevant. Further, there is no denying that India’s MSP system is the costliest Government food procurement programme in the world. It’s high time the Government and the farmers think about the pertinent issues impacting the agriculture sector. The Green Revolution has given us food self-sufficiency but chemical fertiliser-centric farming has also led to enormous health and environmental hazards, besides degrading the soil’s fertility. These harmful carcinogens have become embedded into our food web. Further, the introduction of hybrid and transgenic varieties of seeds and crops, just for the sake of increasing productivity and meeting the market demand, is a potent threat to indigenous varieties. These local varieties are naturally resistant to many diseases and pests, and are part of our rich genetic stock. Apart from focusing on eco-friendly agriculture, the Government must devise an effective policy to help the poor peasants who are in distress and who are always at the receiving end, no matter what.
Protesting farmers enter Red Fort, man climbs flagstaff to hoist flag
Deviating from the designated route for the proposed tractor parade, a section of protesting farmers entered the Red Fort on Tuesday and hoisted flags from some domes of the iconic monument in the national capital.
Pushed back by the police form the ITO in Central Delhi a section of the protesting farmers drove their tractors to the Red Fort complex.
The crowd swelled at the monument as some protesting farmers and 'Nihangs' (traditional Sikh warriors) were seen entering the Red Fort and hoisting a flag from the staff from which the prime minister unfurls the tricolour on Independence Day.
Earlier, a clash broke out between police and protesting farmers after the latter reached ITO and tried to push towards Lutyen's Delhi, prompting the force to resort to lathicharge and use tear gas shells against them.
The farmers who began their march from different border points, much before the time permitted to them for their tractor rally, reached ITO in Central Delhi despite the force denying them permission for it.
The Delhi Police had given permission to farmers protesting the three farm laws to hold their tractor parade on selected routes only after the official Republic Day parade on the Rajpath concludes.
However, chaos ensued as the farmers were adamant of heading towards central Delhi.
(Courtesy – The Pioneer)
Amateur, inexperienced and perhaps innocent late Rajiv Gandhi was crucified by a powerful cartel of middlemen leading to the destruction of India’s oldest political party. The present government and the proactive courts must order a re-investigation of the BOFORS SCAM to focus on exposing middlemen rather than the past ruling establishment because we felt that the Bofors scam triggered birth to a new class of “dalals” in India and they overpowered the crucial institutions, establishing India as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Though we are fortunate to have fiscally clean Prime Minister in the last few decades yet corruption is rampant in the country. Where it went wrong? The answer is simple, the country is held hostage at the mercy of middlemen operating in politics, bureaucracy, legal and media. The country is bleeding from corruption and the common man's misery continued unabated.
Against this backdrop, it is vital to explore the Bofors scandal that changed the politics of the country some 33 years ago in 1987. With revelations in 1987 by Swedish Radio alleging kickbacks in the purchase of guns for the Indian Army tremors started in Indian polity and press that shook the roots of the Congress regime under Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Unfortunately, there were several bigwigs cutting across party lines with incriminating links to this scam and they colluded to sabotage this case allowing several culprits to escape public scrutiny and legal prosecution.
Part 1: Background
A healthy democracy evolves through the legislature, executive, judiciary and media. The Bofors scandal in 1980s set in motion a process of decay in all the organs of democracy whereby they were compromised to save the guilty that were among the country’s powerful elite. It may well be that the allegedly guilty leader of the then-ruling party was beguiled by his cronies for their own vested interests. It is also true that propriety demands that a dead person should not be accused since he cannot respond and clear his name (We will strictly follow the convention). However, the country has a right to know the whole truth once it was established that money exchanged hands in the deal. Corruption in the defense establishment should be treated as treachery against the nation and it must be investigated under IPC and stringent NSA guidelines. In 2005, the Delhi High Court quashed charges against all other people who were accused in the Bofors case, including the Hinduja brothers who were also accused of being middlemen in the deal. The CBI plea against the High Court verdict was filed in February 2018 after an extraordinarily long delay of 13 years; it was rejected by the SC. The Court should have taken note of the fact that UPA I & UPA II were in power from 2004-2014, hence the question of an appeal in the top court during this period would have been impossible. However, one ex BJP worker and Advocate Ajay Agrawal had filed an appeal against the Delhi High Court judgment in 2005. The Supreme Court agreed to hear Agrawal's plea and the case is currently pending in the court. The Supreme Court told the CBI that it could make itself heard during the hearings on Agrawal's plea. Will the CBI under the BJP regime now file an Intervention Application (IA) in Ajay Agrawal’s case?
Background: Mohan Guruswamy wrote investigative reports on the case to know the scam's political background and the business nexus behind it. Olaf Palme, the Prime Minister of Sweden was an influential and respected name in world affairs and had strenuously opposed the US war on Vietnam. He inspired Rajiv Gandhi to take the initiative on nuclear disarmament. The quid pro quo for facilitating Rajiv Gandhi's easy entry to the global high table was the purchase of the Bofors FH45 Howitzer. Palme was also facing re-election and his party's coffers needed topping up. The Indian Army’s Howitzer order would do the trick. The competition was shortlisted in to M/s Sofma of France, M/s AB Bofors of Sweden, M/s International Military Services of the United Kingdom, and M/s Voest Alpine of Austria. In the first six evaluations, the Sofma 155mm TR howitzer, with its extended range, was decisively preferred to the Bofors gun. Financial considerations also gave the French manufacturer what seemed to be an unbeatable lead. The donation by the Bofors Foundation at Karlskrona to the Swedish SDP is solid proof.
Losing this lucrative order made the Arun Nehru-led Austrian competitor Voest Alpine furious since it was confident of bagging it, largely because its product was the best gun and preferred choice of the armed forces technical committee. Austrian leader Eisenberger told the parliamentary committee that the funds they wanted accounted for were paid to the Congress party and that a kinsman of the Indian Prime Minister had received them. The Austrian government then advised the Indian government to have this money returned and close the matter. This was the first time the new Indian Prime Minister heard about the dirty game played by his known set of close people. He was furious. A very powerful Minister in his government was summarily sacked. Now a way was sought to set this account right. Bofors were required to close this hole. This was being arranged via a Swiss banker Francis Laffont. The route went like this. Bofors pays Laffont, Laffont pays Voest Alpine and the money already paid in India stays where it is. Eisenberger alleged that Voest Alpine's representative in Delhi, a man called Unterweger was Ottavio Quatrochhi's neighbor in New Delhi. Being expatriate businessmen, they became good friends and both were good friends of Rajiv Gandhi’s wife Sonia Gandhi and her sister Anushka’s then-husband Walter Vinci. It is a well-documented fact that Vinci was in the group of Rajiv Gandhi’s delegation which signed the Bofors deal. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy many times petitioned to Central Governments on probing the role of Vinci who got a major cut in the deal and later buzzed off from Sonia’s family.
As was the well-established practice then, Unterweger also cut a deal with Quattrocchi. What Unterweger did not know was that Quattrocchi had similar deals cut with Bofors and Sofma, the French howitzer manufacturer. When the Voest Alpine deal collapsed, Quattrocchi was required to close that account, as did the Congress party. So one more payoff stream was organised by Bofors to Quattrochi to close this hole. The Hinduja brothers took this to the next level. People like the Hindujas have friends in all parties and many countries. Lest we forget, it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee who wrote to then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao seeking closure of the Bofors case against the Hinduja brothers. And it was Srichand Hinduja who accompanied Vajpayee’s Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra to his meetings with then-British PM Tony Blair and then-French PM Jacques Chirac after the nuclear tests in 1998. Vajpayee and Mishra were actively canvassing for approval of the controversial proposed Hinduja power plant at Vizagapatam. Not surprisingly, even today the plant is under tremendous debt burden and the public sector banks are at high risk of losing tax payers money. Adding to the trouble, there is a massive litigation going on between the state government, state power regulator and the Hinduja’s.
So far, the Indian Government has been given two names by the Swedish journalists who are involved in the story. One is Win Chadha, a Delhi-based arms dealer who represents a number of companies abroad, including Bofors. Chadha has denied that he received any payments and claimed that he stopped representing Bofors in 1985 after the agreement between Rajiv and the then-Swedish premier Olof Palme that no middlemen would be involved. A photograph published in several Swedish dailies, which elicited amused comment in Stockholm, was that of a jubilant Chadha celebrating with champagne, with Bofors officials, after the contract was clinched. The other name given is that of Commander M.R.A. Rao, who used to represent Bofors in the late '70s, but retired from the arms business after Chadha's appointment. Moreover, there is a big hidden aspect in this Bofors saga. The kickback money paid to Quattrocchi and Walter Vinci came from a shell firm AE Services. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who was also Law Minister during 1990-91 and saw many prosecution files and investigators reports, repeatedly stated that M/s AE Service was first promoted by Congress leader P Chidambaram’s elder cousin and industrialist AC Muthaiah. Swamy many times demanded a probe into Muthaiah’s role in Bofor's kickback arrangement. However, CBI even during the BJP regime from 1998 to 2004 and till now in 2020 has kept silent on this fact. Even BJP leader Arun Jaitley, whose career brightened as Additional Solicitor General (ASG) in charge of the Bofors case during VP Singh's regime, always kept quiet on this aspect due to his proximity with Chidambaram. Like Jaitley, all BJP leaders kept silent on the role of the Hinduja brothers due to the latter's proximity to Vajpayee. The worst role in the cover-up was that of the Law Minister Ram Jethmalani who handled the files of Bofors in the law ministry and later against all norms of administrative and political morality, became the advocate of Hinduja Brothers.
Such is the sordid and nefarious saga of the Bofors case in which powerful businessmen and politicians cutting across party lines colluded to deceive the Indian public and nation.
Bofors Scandal – The murky tale of sabotage: Who are all responsible?
The real sabotage started in the Bofors case when the trial started in 2000. The corruption case came to light in 1987 and it politically finished Rajiv Gandhi though the subsequent investigation showed his innocence in person. The beneficiaries could have been his colleagues, close family acquaintances and surely the middlemen and corporate Dallas.
Part – 2
In 1997, Swedish Government submitted a box full of documents about the Bofors case to India. Journalist Chitra Subramanium, who first exposed Swedish Radio’s revelation of 1987 was present in the function of the box handed over to the Indian Ambassador by the Swedish Federal Bureau of Police along with other journalists. Defence Minister George Fernandez many times complained that Prime Minister AB Vajpayee never allowed him to touch this box or any of the Bofors files. Why? The answer is simple: the role of Vajpayee protégé Hinduja Brothers in the Bofors kickback would have been exposed. Now the question is where is the box handed over by Swedish Police to CBI? CBI never mentioned about this box in their charge sheet filed after five years.
Legal Battle: The charge sheet filed on October 9, 2000 by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the Delhi court of Special Judge Ajit Bharihoke, along with the detailed post-April 1987 record of the media investigation and other documents and reports to make two things clear. While there is nothing new in the claim made by the Hinduja Brothers about their "non-involvement in the Bofors case", a mass of multi-faceted documentary evidence and information gives the lie to this claim. On April 22, 1987, the respected Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN), quoting highly placed company sources in an original report, identified the Hindujas as recipients of the "commission" paid by Bofors in connection with winning the Bofors-India howitzer contract of March 24, 1986. The first irrefutable documentary basis of the Hindujas’ involvement in the Bofors-India payoff scandal came in the form of six documents relating to the PitcoMoresco: 'Lotus', 'Mont Blanc', 'Tulip' accounts track of 'commission' payments, amounting to nearly SEK 81 million, published and analysed in The Hindu of April 22, 1988 and June 25, 1988. Especially important were three transaction documents which made the link, "Pitco, c/o Sangam Ltd" and "Pitco, c/o Mr G.P. Hinduja Sangam Ltd.," for 1982 and 1984. By June 1988, the independent media investigation had acquired and published a large number of authoritative Bofors documents that gave the lie to the 'winding up', 'no middlemen', 'no commission', 'no Indian recipient' story. By late1989, a great deal of further evidence and information, notably from the Martin Ardbo diary entries and notes for 1987 seized by the Swedish police and from The Hindu investigation's interaction with the Hindujas had revealed the involvement of the Hinduja Brothers as lead actors in the crisis-management and cover-up. In fact, these developments strongly indicated that the Hinduja's role in the Bofors howitzer scandal went deeper than the role of anyone.
After a regular criminal case was registered by the CBI in 1990, this strategy of blanket denial continued with S.P. Hinduja and G.P. Hinduja reportedly claiming to the CBI investigators, as late as 1991, that "our family has never dealt with Bofors" and S.P. Hinduja going so far as to assert, in a newspaper interview published on April 14, 1991, that "we are not an appellant before Swiss courts on the Bofors matter." This unsavory chapter should have come to an end with the incriminating documents received in December 1999 by India's premier criminal investigation agency from the Swiss authorities in the execution of the letter of rogatory of February 7, 1990. But during a phase of pre-charge sheet jitters, the denial continued with new variants of the falsehood in desperate attempts to block and even derail the lawful investigation. No longer was it possible to deny the fact of Bofors payments into the coded accounts opened by a Panama-based front spelled as M/s Mc Intyre Corporation and M/s Mac Intire Corporation, or ownership of this 'M...' corporation (by whatever name spelled) by the three Hinduja brothers, Srichand, Gopichand and Prakash Hinduja.
The Bofors case, as investigated by the CBI, is about criminal conspiracy, bribery, criminal misconduct by public servants, cheating, criminal breach of trust, forgery for the purpose of cheating, and using as genuine a forged document in respect of the Bofors-India howitzer contract of March 24, 1986. The first charge sheet, filed in October 1999, was against the former Defence Secretary, S.K. Bhatnagar, Ottavio Quattrocchi, W.N. Chadha, Martin Ardbo, M/s A.B. Bofors for various offenses under the Indian Penal Code. The charge sheet against G.P., S.P. and P.P. Hinduja alleges that they were "party to the criminal conspiracy with Martin Ardbo and others during the period 1985-1987 and thereafter, in pursuance thereof, they also received commissions from M/s AB Bofors"; that the Swedish arms manufacturer paid the three brothers, through the 'M...' corporation, SEK 80.80 million; that although the Government of India had laid down a requirement of no middlemen and no commissions in the howitzer deal and Bofors had agreed, "in pursuance of the criminal conspiracy, the accused persons dishonestly led the government to believe that there were no agents and induced the government to part with" an amount that included "commissions," thus cheating the government and putting it to "a wrongful loss."
The supplementary charge sheet makes clear that in the CBI's professional judgment, there is abundant evidence linking the 'Arab-Tulip," "Lotus," and "Mont Blanc" coded payments (SEK 37.03 million, SEK 31.99 million and SEK 11.77 million) into three Hinduja Swiss bank accounts with the 1986 Bofors-India howitzer contract and the consequent payoffs. A CBI analysis of the nine discrete payments made by Bofors into the three coded Hinduja accounts between May and December 1986 showed that the payments were contingent on, and linked precisely to the advance paid to Bofors by the Government of India and the payments made on account of the actual delivery of the gun systems, ammunition and so on. The evidence is absolutely clear that these were 'commissions' in accordance with the 3 percent of the total contract value laid down in a Moresco-Bofors contract, as revealed to the Government of India by the Bofors officials.
The CBI charge sheet documents blocking maneuvers by the three Hinduja brothers in Switzerland, undertaken to prevent the Government of India from receiving the legal assistance requested under the 'dual criminality' provision. It also calls attention to the significance of the change of nationality by G.P. Hinduja in June 1998 and by S.P. Hinduja in April 1999; it found a direct link between these events and "the stages of execution of the Letters Rogatory in Switzerland. The charge sheet asserts that such conduct by the three Hinduja brothers "shows that they are also conspirators along with M/s A.B. Bofors." The three Hinduja brothers, two of whom have become U.K. nationals and the third has reportedly acquired Swiss nationality, have defied the CBI's summons and have, in effect, kept away from the law. They have been unable to come to India to attend to their substantial business interests and other matters because the CBI would, without doubt, have knocked at their door and taken whatever action, under the law of the land, that it considered appropriate in the interests of its investigation. However, they have cleverly put their fourth brother Ashok Hinduja to regulate the business interest in India. The CBI has also had a 'look-out' notice issued against the three Hinduja brothers which meant that had they landed in India; immigration would have alerted the CBI about their arrival. Once the charges are framed by the Special Judge and the action moves decisively to a trial, it could be a new and even more worrying ball game for the brothers from the standpoint of both personal and business interests. After the charges are framed, the CBI's leverage in making the intransigent accused submit themselves to the law of the land will increase considerably - with summons, warrants, legal sanctions against properties and business assets and extradition proceedings becoming theoretical possibilities and there could be a high cost to staying away notwithstanding the influence in high political places the Hinduja brothers are reputed to enjoy. It was during the UPA1 rule that Hindujas managed to kill the case in the Delhi High court. The Hinduja Brothers had access everywhere from Congress to BJP, to even regional parties like Samajwadi Party, too many journalists who purposely obscured their specific role and wrote only about unreachable foreign brokers.
In nutshell, Indian journalists concentrated on hazy, inaccessible foreign brokers and shut their eyes to the easily traceable links of Hinduja Brothers and AC Muthaiah’s role. It was somewhat similar to highlighting the responsibility of unreachable US citizen Anderson in the Union Carbide case while whitewashing the criminally negligent role of a local Indian group in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. And, at last, CBI buried the Bofors case in 2008 by filing a closure report when Ashwani Kumar was Director, who was close to Sonia Gandhi and died recently by committing suicide in mysterious circumstances. He was earlier Security In-charge of Sonia Gandhi when working in the Special Protection Group (SPG). In 2008 Ashwani Kumar was brought in as CBI Director by Sonia Gandhi bypassing persons shortlisted for the post and having done his job, he got a reward from his ultimate patron Sonia: the governorship of a state as a quid pro quo after retirement from CBI.
The subsequent behavior of successive Governments did indicate that while there is something to hide, they were not in agreement on what to hide. The Congress kept sheltering Quattrochi and the BJP was more intent on shielding the Hinduja brothers. The two roads crisscrossed and neither the truth prevailed nor did the law take its course. And to add misery to the wound, the perpetrator has recently complained about the rotten system of India in an international magazine. It is clear that the middlemen have destroyed the transparency in governance and the system works according to the wimps and fancies of the “dalals”.
Opinion Express explained the players involved in the sabotages and why it is vital to expose middlemen and corporate Dalal’s and to delink politics from the subsequent investigation; it was an international conspiracy to desterilize the country via middlemen. The same practice is almost repeated in the Rafale fighter jet deal wherein the opponent pressed the accelerator to defame the government and the middlemen continued to enjoy the cream.
The conspiracy, timeline & Road Ahead:
The special investigation team has said that 'Rajiv Gandhi’s name appears not as a beneficiary but because as Prime Minister and defense minister, as he was involved in one of the swiftest government decisions ever of awarding hefty defense contracts". One is at a loss to understand what was wrong with it. It was for the government and the defense ministry to decide how quickly they needed the equipment and simply because the government took a quick decision in clinching the deal, it does mean something was fishy about it. Generally, it is said that delay and red tape lead to corruption but here SIT people strangely took a different view. R.C.Sharma who succeeded Joginder Singh as CBI chief has publicly remarked, there is no evidence to blame Rajiv for the Bofor's pay-offs. The press has a view that Sharma was close to Congress in general and Sonia in particular.
Especially in arms deals, agreements are signed between two countries but it is common practice that it is helped along the way by some individuals called middlemen or brokers who are generally expert negotiators. It was Rajiv Gandhi who insisted with the Bofors that no middlemen should be employed and Bofors issued the 'no middlemen' certificate to India. Rajiv earlier in his talk with Olaf Palme discussed the no middlemen condition with him and the Swedish Prime Minister gave his word on it. Later Olaf Palme was killed under mysterious circumstances and Rajiv went to Stockholm to attend the funeral of Palme. Then the new Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson and told him that he had recorded his decision on the file approving the award of the contract for the Howitzer gun to Swedish company Bofors subject to certain certifications from the Swedish government regarding the financial terms of the contract. That all anybody received any money from Bofors, it was purely a legitimate business deal between that person and Bofors; and Rajiv was neither aware of it nor had he to do anything with it.
The Hindujas having a wide network of international business are also said to have a hand in the Bofors commission money. It was reported that the Swiss authorities have told CBI informally that the Hindujas made the mistake of channeling money from other deals through the same account into which the Bofors pay-offs were transferred. The Hindujas are worried that their Swiss account would expose many of their illegal gun deals in Iran and Contra Rebels. Therefore, since 1991, the Hindujas have been protecting their Bofors account by imposing legal hurdles in the form of appeals and so on.
From the maze of information available from the CBI investigations into the Bofors scandal, one thing becomes clear the Bofors paid money by way of commission or winding up charges to some intermediaries who had something to do professionally in such deals and the linking of Rajiv Gandhi's name in such transfer of money is a politically motivated attempt to tarnish his image and also to put hurdles in the purchase of necessary weaponry for the Indian Defence Services.
The Hindujas are among the alleged recipients of the pay-offs in the Bofors scam. The details of Hinduja's Swiss account were released by the Swiss authorities in the second installment of papers but it was followed up with no action. AB Vajpayee was alleged to have close links with the Hinduja brothers, and it is said they have done intense international lobbying for Vajpayee to project his image. Vajpayee was the guest of honour at the inauguration in Mumbai of the Indus-Ind Bank owned by the Hindujas. Earlier he had been a guest of honour at the Diwali banquet hosted by the Hinduja brothers in London. It was said Vajpayee often listens to Hinduja's advice on the formulation of India's economic policy. No one seems to be worried about such connections but everybody linked Rajiv Gandhi with the alleged receipt of money by Hinduja from Bofors. On the contrary, the probe should have also focused on Vajpayee Hinduja links to target Rajiv Gandhi. This relationship suited both: Vajpayee was politically rewarded and Hinduja got away from a confirmed corruption case conviction. The Bofors scandal was a political ghost created by the international destabilisers of India. Later, some Indian politicians and a group of sensation-mongering journalists gave it disproportionately demonic dimensions with a view to discrediting Rajiv Gandhi. The final conclusion is emerging from the investigation that the middlemen in the deal were acting as the double agent; this is the conclusive outcome of the investigation. They certainly made money in the transaction and then conveniently shifted to the other side to defame the political adversary by using selective leaks in the press from time to time and taking business advantages from their new political masters.
The road ahead: Unlike the old Atal-Advani soft BJP, the present Narendra Modi-led BJP government is relentless in dealing with white color criminals no matter how high and mighty. Apart from the Ram Mandir movement, people’s anger on the Bofors scandal and various scams of the Congress era was a significant factor for the surge of the BJP. Given its unquestioned commitment to bringing about a corruption-free India, it becomes the natural duty of this Government to undo the cover-ups in the Bofors case. And the present government must think of setting up an SIT to investigate all the defense deals and purchases during the UPA period 2004-2014 as corruption was rampant during that time.
The Supreme Court rejected the appeal of CBI in 2018 (citing the Swedish investigator’s revelations) with advice to club the petition with the pending Ajay Agarawal case. It is imperative for the present Government to investigate the matter without any political witch-hunting and delinking the name of Rajiv Gandhi from the process to avoid giving political colors to the investigation. The Bofors Scandal was exposed 33 years ago and Swedish Police gave a box full of documents 23 years ago to CBI. The country has waited for over three decades to know the truth of the matter that has ruined the political life of many prominent leaders and in the process has established new alternative leadership based on the “Bofors politics”. Today, the sanctity of the four pillars of democracy is in crisis because the process that started with the Bofors scandal has vitiated our democracy and spawned so many subsequent frauds and scams. One can't help wondering as to how many subsequent cases of corruption would have been avoided had the Bofors scam not provided a veritable template to the Kalmadi's and Rajas that followed. The pride of 1.3 billion countrymen, our defense forces and their valour, demand a just and definitive denouement to this protracted murky saga of treachery to the nation. It is high time that the CBI intervened in Ajay Agrawal’s petition in the Bofors case pending before the Supreme Court with complete details of documents in the box given by Swedish Police in 1997 to reinvestigate the case and bring guilty to books. India must eradicate and punish “Dalals” from the system to leap-bound herself at the global level and lead the new world order. The onus is on the present Narendra Modi government and hyperactive Supreme Court of the country to order reinvestigation in the case without any political overtone and present correct facts to undo the damage done by middlemen by giving them exemplary punishment for breaking the backbone of the vital institutions of this glorious country. It will act as a strong deterrent to the operating middlemen community and certainly, it will clean the toxic system.
By Prashant Tewari Editor in Chief of Opinion Express with India’s most well-known Investigative journalist J Gopikrishnan.
Taiwan is a part of the geographical area of operation of India’s Look East Policy (LEP). Although India does not recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state, its functional and people-to-people contacts with Taiwan are explainable under the LEP. Besides, India’s economic activities are on the rise in the vicinity of Taiwan. Though commercial in nature, India’s presence in the South China Sea, along with improvement in its bilateral relations with Asia-Pacific countries — especially in the realm of politics and defense cooperation — is of strategic significance. In the overall strategic context of the region, increasing functional ties with Taiwan without undermining the support of the one-China Policy would be a stiff challenge requiring clarity of vision and skilled diplomacy. Thus, it is imperative for India to have a much better understanding of Taiwan, and the Asia-Pacific region.
In the author’s view, functional ties/cooperation and people-to-people relations could make a separate category without attaching any diplomatic, political or strategic meanings. The main attributes of this category can be listed as below:
Its unique geographical location and political situation would also contribute to India’s understanding of the Asia-Pacific region. Taiwan is situated in the middle of the disputed waters of the South and the East China Seas. Considering the continued threat from the People's Republic of China (PRC) to its national security, Taiwan not only has a natural interest in the modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China-Japan tensions, and the dynamic of Sino-US relations but also a natural expertise on them. Taiwan and China have a historical and cultural affinity, but political and strategic distance. Strategically, Taiwan is close to the US and figures in Japan’s security considerations. It is obliquely mentioned in the US-Japan Defence Guidelines, 1997. But the US and Japan’s support for PRC’s One-China Policy has set a limit on their relations with Taiwan. Thus, Taiwan is not fully open to either of the major regional players. This situation leaves it marginalised and dissatisfied with every major power in the region and makes it a neutral interpreter of the region’s politics. India could tap into this consultative potential of Taiwan.
Functional cooperation with Taiwan is even more valuable. Taiwan is a thriving and industrialised economy that is closely integrated with the international economy. It is amongst the world’s leading exporting and importing countries. It is the leading producer and manufacturer in the world in foundries, IC packages, blank optical discs, mask ROMs, mobility scooters/powered wheelchairs and chlorella. If the products made by Taiwanese companies outside Taiwan are also taken into account, the list of products commanding a high share in the world is even longer. Notebooks, Tablets, LCD monitors, IC packages, motherboards (System & Pure MB), WLAN CPEs, cable modems, and digital blood-pressure monitors are a few examples. Apart from electronics, Taiwan’s agro-industries, particularly food processing, maintain international standards. It also holds a high rank in the international rating by agencies like the Institute for Management Development (IMD), Business Environment Risk Intelligence (BERI), the World Economic Forum (WEF), and the Heritage Foundation. Its business environment, research and development, and innovation are recognised worldwide. (Data relating to all these is available in the tables at the end of this monograph). Further, Taiwan’s education system ranks quite high. For instance, fourteen Taiwanese universities in 30 disciplines are on the list—compiled by the QS World University of the UK—of the top 200 universities in the world.1 India could become an important destination for Taiwan’s new Go South policy for diversifying Taiwan’s a trade and investment basket. India could also become an alternative to China for many Taiwanese companies in view of rising wages and costs in that country. In fact, a regulated flow of skilled labour from India can help overcome the problem of high costs in Taiwan itself. Taiwanese FDI can contribute to India’s manufacturing, infrastructure and other sectors. India and Taiwan make a case for mutual benefit by being substantial complementary economies, as India’s computer software industry complements Taiwan’s computer hardware capability. India’s demography, with a more than 300 million strong middle class, offers an economic opportunity for Taiwanese entrepreneurs. India is also one of the leading suppliers of natural resources. It can be a gateway to South Asia, and even West Asia, for Taiwanese companies. Further, like Taiwan, India too has a reasonably impressive record of achievements in science and technology. For instance, India has gained international recognition in the automobile, electronics and space science sectors. In education, India has internationally recognised institutes— like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). Besides, there is sufficient space for co-operation between the two countries in the spheres of culture and tourism. This monograph deals with Taiwan as it exists in the world today. It does not deal with the legal question, of whether Taiwan is an independent state or a Chinese province. Despite its ambiguous diplomatic status, Taiwan remains an important factor in the East Asian security scenario. In spite of the Cross-Strait relations in their best phase, the solution to the Cross-Strait conundrum remains elusive. Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have signed 19 agreements related to functional areas since 2008. However, a formal political dialogue or a peace agreement that the PRC is pushing hard for is not in sight. Taiwan does not appear inclined to yield on the question of sovereignty. Any formula that would downgrade Taiwan’s international standing is unacceptable to both Taiwan’s political class and the common Taiwanese. Contrary to Chinese expectations, the prospects of economic cooperation and integration have not made the Taiwanese amenable to Chinese claims over Taiwan. Similarly, on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan’s unification with China continues to be a powerful reference point for Chinese nationalism. China still has its missiles deployed against Taiwan. Moreover, it is yet to renounce the use of force as an option to resolve the Cross-Strait problem. This reinforces Taiwan’s perception of China as a threat to its security. Finally, the US, the security guarantor of Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) 1979, continues to maintain diplomatic ambiguity over the Cross-Strait issue. Therefore, any conflagration in the volatile waters of the Taiwan Strait could result in a US-China face-off.
Taiwan is also a part of problematic territorial claims in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Its claims overlap with those of China and are ignored by the other concerned parties. Taiwanese claims mostly address the domestic constituency. It appears content with the practical arrangements for resource-sharing. A good example is its fishery pact with Japan in 2013. However, since these claims stoke popular sentiment in Taiwan, it is difficult for the Taiwanese government to ignore public opinion on these issues. Therefore, overlooking Taiwan in the regional security map would bring pressure on the US alliance in the region, of which Taiwan is a part. Taiwan successfully drove this point during the standoffs between Japan and China in the East China Sea over the Senkaku/ Diao Yu islands in 2012-13 through its diplomatic maneuverings. In fact, the Japan-Taiwan fishery pact has effectively made the dispute tripartite and implies that Taiwan is a player in the dispute. In May 2013, the government of Taiwan conveyed that diplomatic recognition or not, it is capable of taking care of its citizens when it flexed its economic muscle against the Philippines over the killing of a Taiwanese farmer-fisherman by the Philippines coastguard.
Finally, accelerated interaction and cooperation in functional areas between India and Taiwan would, in the long term, also contribute to increased mutual awareness. Cross-Strait unification would not be the only eventuality in the dialectics of Cross-Strait relations. Whether Taiwan would eventually unify with China, the status quo would persist, or some other form of Cross-Strait relations would emerge, is difficult to predict. Studying and engaging Taiwan is important irrespective of the scenarios because each scenario will shape the regional security dynamics in its own way.
India’s big corruption cases and their aftermaths
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many ongoing major corruption cases are delayed and the Accused people might be relieved. Be it the 2G case appeal in Delhi High Court or former Finance Minister P Chidambaram involved bribery cases in INX Media and Aircel-Maxis deals or politically sensitive National Herald case in trial courts and its linked appeal cases by the Accused persons Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in Supreme Court on tax evasion and Herald House eviction. Now CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) sought a daily hearing in the 2G case appeal in Delhi High Court citing the retirement of the current Judge Justice Brijesh Sethi on November 30.
In corruption cases, what we see is generally the backdoor games in the trial stage, after the public attention fizzles out later. A classic example is the Bofors case. When you look at the timeline of the past 22 years, politicians from Congress and BJP wanted to save their preferred accused persons in the Bofors case. Congress leadership wanted to save Ottavio Quattrocchi and BJP leadership of the late 90s wanted to save the Hinduja brothers. These two are the major kickback money distributors. Still, the case filed by Adv. Ajay Agarwal (BJP’s candidate against Sonia Gandhi in the 2014 Lok Sabha election in Rae Bareli) against the CBI closure report is pending in Supreme Court. Bofors scam was a turning point in Indian politics that smashed out the Congress party’s single-party regime in India. The scam linked to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s family collapsed the prospectus of the Congress party which was having 425 MPs in Lok Sabha and got reduced to 195 MPs in the 1989 General Election, leading to the united Opposition from BJP to Socialists to Left parties led India’s first coalition Government.
Congress party’s downfall started with the exposure of the Bofors scam in 1988. There were a lot of twists and turns in the Bofors case and the opposition lost steam on the matter after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, leading to the return of the Congress party which remained in power up until 1996. Though BJP led Government came to power from 1998 to 2004, the situation has not changed. BJP’s Law Minister Ram Jethmalani became an Advocate of Hinduja Brothers, who was part of the gang of middlemen in the Bofors deal. Next Law Minister Arun Jaitley was also not keen on the matter though he was the Additional Solicitor General in the case in 1989. Jaitley many times said publicly that he drafted the chargesheet in Bofors. Next Congress-led UPA Government, simply forced CBI to close the case.
Still, the main petitioner Ajay Agarwal’s appeal against CBI closure is pending in Supreme Court. In 2018, CBI made a curious petition to Supreme Court to revive the case on a flimsy angle. The flimsy angle was based on a revelation in 2018 by a retired Swedish Police Officer in the newly launched Republic TV Channel. Fun is the same CBI filed closure and facing the appeal of Ajay Agarwal against closure in Supreme Court filing a petition based on a Republic TV saying that they are going to probe into the new angle aired in a TV channel. Anyway, Supreme Court trashed CBI’s new flimsy funny petition and still, Ajay Agarwal’s petition is pending. Don’t know why Ajay Agarwal lost interest.
After Bofors Scam, Jain Hawala Dairy Scandal shook the Country. Actually, this whole episode started with the arrest of a JNU student from Kashmir in connection with the money trail from terror-linked outfits in late 1990 by Delhi Police. The money trails lead to the Hawala operator's Jain brothers in Delhi and the Police got a long list of names from diaries kept by them. Obviously, the case got frozen for 3-4 years due to the names in the dairy ranging from so many politicians. In 1994, the diary names were exposed in the media, ranging from LK Advani to many politicians and Cabinet Ministers. Still, people say names in the diary were leaked by the top leadership of Congress and BJP to settle their internal rivalries. Activist and Journalist Vineet Narain, and lawyers Ram Jethmalani and Prashant Bhushan approached the Courts. Meanwhile, as usual, Ram Jethmalani switched the side to save Advani and became his Advocate and won the case. The Case got collapsed after Supreme Court said that mere naming in diaries can’t be treated as evidence. Though the case collapsed, the outcome was a landmark Judgment popularly known as the Vineet Narain Judgment which changed the entire structure of CBI and ED and got the Supreme Court’s monitoring and strict norms for the appointment of officers in these probe agencies.
After the Hawala Diary scandal, two corruption cases rocked the country. One was Tehelka Magazine’s sting operation on Defence deals. It collapsed then ruling BJP’s President Bangaru Laxman, who was caught on camera accepting a few lakhs of rupees. He was convicted and later out on bail he is no more now. Recently in August 2020 another accused Jaya Jaitly, who was the companion of then Defence Minister George Fernandez was convicted by a trial court along with former military officers. Somehow she was lucky to manage bail from Delhi High Court in the evening itself, while other accused are still languishing in jail. How she got bail on the same evening from High Court is a matter of debate. Sometimes justice is delivered on seeing the face. Tehelka Magazine exposed how pliable are people in politics and bureaucracy, and the army. The sting operation exposed how BJP first time landed in power pliable in deals. The Defence Minister’s companion and BJP President were caught accepting money in the sting operation.
After this Tehelka’s reporter, Aniruddha Bahal 2006 exposed a big sting operation through his website Cobrapost. This sting operation actually shook the Parliament revealing how MPs were taking money for asking questions. This exposes exposed how questions and matters were raised by MPs by taking money from Corporate Houses and their rivals. After an internal probe, Parliament expelled all the nine MPs caught in the sting operation. This was a black chapter in the Indian Parliament.
Mega scams rocks Congress-led UPA Government
The first major scam that rocked the UPA Government was Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam from 2009. The CWG Scam was started by a movement called India Against Corruption (IAC) which was essentially blessed by RSS, and supporters of spiritual leaders Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev. At that time main Opposition party, BJP was in shambles due to their electoral defeat in May 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Congress-led UPA got rattled and shaken in the 2G Scam followed by Coal Scam.
The CWG Scam was limited to the role of the Games Committee Chairman and Congress leader Suresh Kalmadi. Actually, then Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer was against Kalmadi and his displeasure letters leaked into the media became the Scam. Interestingly, though the budget of the CWG was more than Rs.75,000 crore, the scam allegations were only limited to Suresh Kalmadi (might be his stars not correct at that time) who had spending power of below Rs.1700 crore. He also picked fights with big media organizations on advertisement allotments in the Games. Anyway, all jumped on him on purchases and the CBI case was registered and was in jail for some months. The case is still on trial and expected to take more than 2-3-4 years to finish. That is our system in the judicial process.
Interestingly two big cases related to CWG were later closed by CBI. One was regarding Rs.15,000 crore worth of construction of flyovers in connection with the CWG in Delhi in 2010. The over-expenditure in the construction of the flyovers (Barapullah Flyover) was pointing to none other than then-Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. The second one was a much bigger scam of about Rs.35,000 crore spent on the construction of CWG Village. The builder MGF Group was so close to Sonia Gandhi’s family that and case reached nowhere and ultimately CBI closed the case. Now CWG cases are limited only to Kalmadi and small cases against Municipal officers in the long trial stages.
The 2G Scam
The Congress-led UPA Government collapsed because of the 2G Scam which was highlighted by “The Pioneer” newspaper through continuous series of 100s of reports from December 2008 leading to Telecom Minister A.Raja’s resignation in November 2010. This case changed my career prospects as a Journalist. I am always thankful to my Editor Chandan Mitra and Bureau Chief Navin Upadhyay for assigning this mega work, where God smiled at me. This was the first case where the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) fixed the role of Corporate Houses. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan deserve full credit for their legal fights which ultimately collapsed the mighty Sonia Gandhi-controlled UPA regime.
So many good things happened in the Country due to the 2G Scam expose. The Supreme Court verdict of February 2012, cancelling all 122 licenses and subsequent Presidential Reference led to the auction of all natural resources. This Judgment also affected the Coal Scam cases and auction of Coal Mines. From the auction of Telecom Spectrum alone, the Country during 2010-2016 earned Rs.3.6 lakh crores in the exchequer. The 2G Scam led CAG to find other scams like Telecom AGR hushed up revenues which now found the payment of Rs.1.65 lakh crore by telecom giants to the public exchequer.
However unfortunately criminal cases in the 2G Scam collapsed in the trial court. I am not commenting on the very very bad Judgment passed by the trial Judge OP Saini. His Judgment acquitting the scamsters is so bad in law and laughable. Now CBI and ED have approached the Delhi High Court for a speedy hearing in September 2020.
As the trial court, Judge Bharat Parashar was a bold Judge many are convicted in the Coal Scam including the former Coal Secretary HC Gupta. However, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh escaped from the Scam, as CBI decided to shut his eyes. Manmohan Singh was summoned by the trial court but he managed a stay from another Bench of the Supreme Court. Why CBI did not challenge it? For certain things, you don’t have answers.
Niira Radia Tapes and CBI Director Ranjit Sinha’s case
Controversial lobbyist Niira Radia’s conversations made tremors in many sectors. There were more than 6000 conversations, though only around 500 conversations landed in the public domain. From Ratan Tata to who is who in industry, media, bureaucracy and politics got hit in the Radia Tapes expose. Supreme Court in late 2012 Ordered CBI to probe into 12 matters of corrupt practices mentioned in the tapes. However, the case lost steam after CBI reported back to the Court that there was no criminality found in these conversations. The Court also did not pursue the matter on findings submitted in a sealed cover.
Another biggest shocking incident was in late 2014, the CBI Director Ranjit Sinha was caught meeting many 2G Scam and Coal Scam accused Corporate tycoons. This was exposed by certain good officers in CBI by verifying tainted Ranjit Sinha’s visitors’ book kept at his residence. Supreme Court’s 2G Bench had removed Sinha from the cases and Coal Scam Bench had ordered a probe into Sinha’s dubious activities. Even after the Supreme Court indicted, Modi Government did not take any action against the tainted CBI Director. CBI has not yet filed FIR in this regard against its tainted former Director.
Cases against Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and P Chidambaram
After winning the 2G cases in Supreme Court, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy went ballistic. He got Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in the National Herald case. His exposure in the Aircel-Maxis scam led to the fall of former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who during the probe got trapped in another bribery case known as the INX-Media case. All these cases are in the trial stages which are expected to take 2-3 years in the judicial process. The Income Tax case in the National Herald case and Herald House eviction cases are pending in Supreme Court. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi lost in all forums and their appeal is pending before the Supreme Court. Enforcement Directorate has attached the Mumbai and Panchkula properties in the National Herald case. Now we have to wait for the normal working of courts after the Covid-19 pandemic is controlled.
A lot of scams were exposed during 2012-2014. One of the KG Basin loot where Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Group was caught. Another was the humongous scam in the Civil Aviation sector where the main culprits were Jet Airways and Tata Group. Somehow Prashant Bhushan’s case against the illegalities in Reliance Jio not became successful. The case ended with an open tussle in Supreme Court between then Chief Justice of India TS Thakur and Prashant Bhushan, who later walked out from the Court. The merits of the case were lost in the war of words between the two. Certain high-flying cases end up like this in a mysterious way.
Corruption in Judiciary
For a long time, there are allegations of corruption in the Judiciary and they reached nowhere. The simple reason for this is the only action available against High Court Judge and above is possible only through Impeachment by Parliament. Only once a retired High Court Judge was arrested was in September 2017 in a medical college scam. CBI took a bold step to arrest retired Judge IM Quddussi which ultimately led to the culmination of the controversial press conference by the senior four judges of the Supreme Court in January 2018. Four senior-most Judges Justices J Chelameswar, Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and Ranjan Gogoi conducted a press conference expressing displeasure on the style of functioning of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.
Retired Justice Quddussi was caught fixing case and handling bribery with a case involving a medical college listed in Supreme Court. Justice Chelameswar ordered for senior-most five judges to probe rather than probe by CBI. In his Order, Justice Chelameswar said how CBI officers are capable to deal with a case involving the role of certain Judges in the Supreme Court. But the next day, Chief Justice Dipak Misra took over the case illegally or not as per custom and diluted the matter. This was the trigger of the four Judges' press conference against the Chief Justice of India. This incident shows the grey areas and rotten side of the Judiciary.
It is not easy to probe into the corruption in the judiciary. It is not easy in the lower level of the judiciary also though the Police are empowered to register cases. Once a district-level Judge was arrested by CBI in a bribery case of allowing bail in a Bellary mining case. Some Judges in District and subordinate levels were punished by the High Courts and ended up termination of their service.
In the 2G case, the ED has come out with the report that a week before the controversial acquittal judgment, the stock prices of the companies owned by the accused persons were shot up multiple times. Somehow no action was taken.
BJP and AAP became the beneficiaries of the anti-corruption movement that started in December 2010. In politics, so many twists and turns will be witnessed. In November 2013, AAP-led Arvind Kejriwal came to power in Delhi State with the help of the Congress party which they opposed for the past two years. The AAP was formed against the corruption of the Congress party and in the 2015 and 2020 Delhi Assembly elections; it is a well-known fact that AAP got the support of Congress in sidelining BJP in Delhi.
BJP which came to power in May 2014 was not keen on fixing the corruption cases to its logical conclusion. There happened many deals under the table. There were open attempts to derail the cases against Chidambaram and in 2G cases by certain people in power. Many Officers dealing with corruption cases faced all kinds of hardships. Subramanian Swamy was sidelined in BJP and Prashant Bhushan was removed from AAP. The worst was the dilution of the Prevention of Corruption Act by the BJP Government.
My experiences in studying and reporting corruption cases have taught me many lessons. The main thing is whoever comes to power the Corporate Houses somehow control them. Politicians may lose jobs but the Corporate Houses, the bribe givers remain as the politicians we elect lack the courage to tackle these buccaneers. What we need is an educated and vigilant public and fight against the corruption is not like an item is like the items to be delivered immediately like in fast food counters. The fight against corruption is a long battle and one should not lose heart during the setbacks. We have to remember that in the end truth and only ultimate truth will win – Satyameva Jayate.
[J Gopikrishnan is a Journalist working with ‘The Pioneer’ newspaper]
Even before the Covid 19 catastrophe, Emperor Xi Jinping decided that 2020 is the year to establish the Chinese century. American think- tank predicts in 2019 the Chinese GDP was already larger than the USA’s GDP and by 2030 it could be up to 70% larger. As a share of Global output, China would grow to 32% from 20% currently, as opposed to the USA declining from 16% to 10%. In terms of Global Market capitalisation the Chinese would grow to 25% from 5% in 2019, whilst the USA would decline from 40% to 18%. China’s share of global exports would rise to 18% from 12% whilst the USA would be static at 8%. The above forecasts were supported by massive Chinese investments in Education in the fields of Mathematics, Science, Technology, and Medicine and rapidly improving the quality of education. Starting with the 1980’S the Chinese successfully got the world’s manufacturing supply chain to relocate to China, and was truly the “factory of the world”. From a pure labour arbitrage offering, they created world-class infrastructure (Cities, Roads, Ports, and Airports) to support it. The top 2500 corporates outside China all had a business presence in China. This aggressive export-led growth model allowed the Chinese to radically improve per capita income, and in the process also create a massive domestic consumption engine. A 40% domestic savings rate supported the huge developments that happened on their Eastern Seaboard. Till 2012 the Chinese government was sitting on Foreign Exchange Reserves of close to $5 Trillion. Over time Chinese labour had become a very skilled workforce, moved up the value chain and was no longer cheap. China now imports/consumed 45-50% of virtually every commodity in the world even though more than half of it was re-exported.
Chinese leaders till 2012 had made the country keep a low profile, hiding their strengths, whilst they relentlessly gained market share from the world. Asian growth engines Japan and South Korea had also felt compelled to move/make tangible manufacturing investments in China. The Chinese had mastered the skill of acquiring the world’s IPRs by any means. Their Chinese Communist Party(CCP) command and control structure had also silently expanded their Foreign Ministry with requisite resources to create a Public Relations repository in every- major country, to manage the national discourse on any prickly subject in their favour. This three-decade profile started changing with Xi Jinping’s ascension to Chairmanship in 2012. The Chinese strategists now started believing that the Middle Kingdom deserved to rule the world. They changed the nomenclature of the 21st century from being an Asian century to a Chinese century. They mapped that post-2008 Global Financial Institutions were weakened, substantially dysfunctional and lacking leadership. They unleashed a project of achieving complete Chinese dominance in the manpower of every multilateral agency and United Nations body in the world. Chinese students were encouraged to study overseas and many were persuaded to join these organizations, so many FBI investigations are now showing made instruments of government policy.
The collapse of the USSR in the 1990S and the profligacy of the US financial sector in 2008 had left a leadership vacuum in many areas. Xi Jinping moved rapidly to occupy the vacancies. China needed to secure its supply chain as it neither produced adequate food for its population nor was endowed with manufacturing or energy raw materials. Chinese leadership wanted to avoid supply-side shocks and created strategies to acquire assets surreptitiously. They moved rapidly to fund every country and project that the World Bank or the rest of the world would not find viable. The Chinese wanted to eventually acquire the underlying asset and default was hence a preferred option for them. This juggernaut covered 150 countries and nearly $5 Trillion in loans/investments. The new Chairman had successfully overinvested the Chinese USD reserves and left his country very vulnerable. They desperately needed their Dollar engine (Foreign Direct Investment, Foreign Portfolio Investment, and Foreign Currency Loans) to keep firing quickly to recoup their position, or alternately fast-track their long-term vision to get global trade out of the dollar and into the RMB.
Unluckily for the Chinese two things changed the landscape in 2017. President Trump had won the US election and was a wildcard that the Chinese read wrongly. Secondly, the world economy started topping out, and growth started stalling. The Chinese engine was not designed to handle economic contraction. Fault lines in the domestic economy are led by huge nonperforming loans in domestic state-owned Enterprises. Ghost cities started appearing, as domestic demand stalled, whilst domestic real estate started going belly-up. The country was overbuilt and no more infrastructure spending was needed.
Trump started the trade war and insisted that the Chinese reduce the Trade surpluses. President Xi erred massively in not giving Trump a cheap victory, and getting the Americans riled. American strategists had clearly war games that the days of the USD hegemony were numbered, and if their political dominance was to be extended, a war with China was not an option, the only question was timing. By a strange coincidence, the two technology hardware giant’s USA and China were tangibly dependent on Taiwan for their Semiconductor underbelly. Taiwan has a dominant share in the Semiconductor foundries globally, and both the USA and China are dependent on them. The Americans had anticipated this and a JV with the Taiwanese would go operational in Arizona in 2023. Till then any military threat to Taiwan would be an attack on its technological dominance, an intolerable thought for them. Democrat Presidents had soft-pedaled on the one-China policy, and the Chinese had succeeded in getting away with their wish lists. The Americans had celebrated access to a large consumption market but landed up creating a rival.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in manpower terms is the largest standing armed force on the globe. The PLA and CCP moved fast to upgrade weapon systems, stealing blueprints and buying where they could not, theoretically, they were a lethal strike force. However the navy is their Achilles heel, and they lack best-in-class aircraft carriers and submarines. This limits their ability to protect their interests spanning 150 countries. 75% of Chinese oil still moves in tankers through the narrow Malacca Straits. To reach the Arabian sea by land they invested in bankrupt Pakistan by constructing the CPEC which links Xinjiang to Gwadar Port and is a dedicated economic corridor. They also engaged east European and European countries to construct the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for creating dedicated freight corridors to 50 European cities. In the process, they have de-risked their trade supply routes, but their oil buy routes lie exposed. The nightmare for China to achieve dominance is that Indian land illegally occupied by Pakistan is being used by CPEC and India reacquiring PoK by use of military power could render their $66 Billion investment in Pakistan useless, blocking the oil supply. The Chinese realized that economic sanctions against Iran had crippled the proud country with 15% of the world’s oil, needed investments, and so decided to bust sanctions on Iran imposed by the United Nations (they were party to imposing them). China and Iran signed a 25-year Trade and Military alliance in June 2020. China has bet on the USA exiting Afghanistan in 2020, and by using the Pakistani’s to install a puppet regime in Afghanistan, they could take a pipeline from Iran to Xinjiang. In turn, the Chinese have to pump in the equivalent of $400 Billion into Iran’s development, which they can crank their RMB economy to deliver. Where does that leave the Pakistani’s?
In the interim President Xi got the CCP to appoint him as the leader for life and emerged as an emperor. The CCP decided that by its 100th anniversary in 2021, they would stamp themselves as “numero uno” in the world. A few pinpricks remained: Taiwan and Hong Kong as independent democracies were an eyesore and raised aspirations of the good life in mainland Chinese youth. They had to be acquired by coercion or force at the earliest. The South China Sea had $5 Trillion of the supply chain that transited the route. China laid claims to territories/islands of all its neighbours and started constructing artificial islands as missile bases. They started bullying and humiliating Australia since 70% of Australian mining exports are bought by China. Singularly none of the Asian countries could take on China, but many could exact a heavy toll if it came to conflict. The Chinese flirted with conflict with all their neighbours using “wearing down” tactics.
The success of this gambit hinged on the continuity of their trade with the USA, heavily skewed in their favour. President Trump not getting an early trade war win, upped the ante, imposing a $250 Billion annual hit on China. Chinese perhaps felt that US corporations would not listen to their government and continue business as usual. They floated a trial balloon by abrogating the agreement with Hong Kong which would have lapsed in 2047, and suppressing protests with brute force. Then they ostensibly colluded/ manipulated the WHO and unleashed the Covid 19 pandemic on the world infecting every- country on the planet. This collapsed world economies and has created a very strong anti-China sentiment. It has resulted in fast-tracking the creation of the Quad, an alliance of the USA, Japan, Australia and India to take on the Chinese. UK, France and Israel are openly in support of the Quad, whilst Vietnam, Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and South Korea have alerted their armed forces for battle readiness. In the Chinese camp are North Korea, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey with anti-India squeaks may emerge from Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
With China designated as world enemy number 1, even Joe Biden has ratcheted up the anti-China rhetoric, lest President Trump steals the thunder and a potentially lost election by a war with China before November this year. The Indian and Chinese armies are facing off across 3400 Km. border and a tense peace prevail currently. The Middle East has so far stayed quiet, but by default will have to choose sides as a Shia Iran and a Sunni Pakistan and Turkey side with the Chinese. It is an uneasy time for the Saudis and the UAE. It is ironic that the OIC and its 54 member countries including the ”Turkish caliphate” maintain a studied silence on China incarcerating nearly 3 million Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
The Koreans however had seen this coming two years earlier and Samsung had moved an $18 Billion annual capacity out of China to Vietnam. Japan has incentivized its corporations to exit China totally. USA and UK have banned Hauwei telecom with immediate effect to secure data for national security. India has banned Chinese Telecom equipment and Apps with immediate effect. There is a very strong anti-Chinese imports movement starting in India and may set an example for the world to follow. China’s partners in BRI and in Africa are resenting the usurious conditions in their loan agreements. The Americans are shutting off access to their Capital markets to the Chinese, and the cancellation of the Hong Kong treaty will kill the USD supply route to China. The Chinese Balance of payments is negative for the last few months, and days of surpluses are now a memory. They still need to buy food and oil and commodities.
Even nature seems to have conspired to ruin Emperor Xi’s timing. China is being ravaged by the worst ever floods in the last 100 years with 29 of its provinces impacted, and the survival of the showpiece three Gorges Dam is under threat from heavy rain which could affect nearly 400 Million people as downstream cities including Shanghai could be impacted. Scams like fake Gold collateral have shaken China’s $5 Trillion Shadow banking industry as the Kin- gold default is by a powerful former CCP member. It also puts a question mark on the credibility of China’s domestic gold production which is part of its National Reserves, as to how much of it is gold-plated copper. Will anyone in the world now ever trust a Chinese certification of gold? This scandal has seriously damaged China’s plans of having a partially gold-backed alternate currency to replace the dollar.
The world now sits on a powder keg in the midst of the Covid crisis. Funnily it is China’s 150 debtor countries (especially Pakistan) that must be praying for a fall and dismemberment of their Lender, for them to escape losing their sovereignty which they have so negligently mortgaged. President Trump and Emperor Xi now have gone too far for either of them to back down without losing their crowns. For Trump, it’s just an election, but the world knows what happens to deposed Chinese dictators. The South Asian countries all want Tibet to regain its independence after being annexed by the Chinese in 1950 so that they all get their freshwater security back.
Meanwhile, the domestic market collapse will force Emperor Xi to take a few more hasty decisions. China’s banking regulator has advised domestic banks to be prepared for sharp rises in bad loans once the Covid moratorium period is over. It has guided banks to conserve capital by not paying dividends and bonuses. Three Chinese banks have collapsed in the last three years, and 15% of the financial sector is supposedly past a high-risk stage. Tax revenues have grown under 5%, and budget deficits exceed 11%. The season of discontent for 1.4 Billion Chinese has arrived. China created the BRI to use the surplus capacity in its construction materials and equipment sector, and to keep Chinese labour occupied. Experts estimate that this project needs another $5Trillion over the next five years to complete it. The money given to 150 countries cannot be recalled. The Hong Kong door may be closed by the Americans if push comes to shove. The FDI and FPI flow post-Covid may flow outwards. China’s $10 Trillion foreign debt is realistically supported by $2 Trillion of reserves. With the Balance of Trade going negative, even diehard Chinese supporters are a highly nervous lot. If China’s trading partners do not agree to settlements denominated in the RMB, a run on the currency is highly possible.
It is a serious reason to worry for 1.3 billion Indians. Already, we were facing an economic downtrend for the last three years, the GDP growth rate is gradually slipping towards the 5% mark and Covid 19 has destroyed a large section of the economy permanently. Xi Jinping has taken the Chinese virus as an opportunity to attack its neighbors to distract the world’s attention from the pandemic. Now it is India’s turn to return the gesture to China. This crisis offers a tremendous long-term strategic advantage for policymakers to deal with Chinese threats permanently. India must immediately recognize Tibet and Taiwan as sovereign countries and allow them to run official embassies in India and vice versa, this will open the floodgate for several countries to follow in the footsteps of India in shaking up Chinese hegemony globally. Secondly, India must supply subsidized arms and military technology to Vietnam and Philippines to create multiple fronts for China and its PLA in response to what China is doing by arming Pakistan to be used for India in a proxy war. Thirdly, India should take a lead in Indo pacific command with the USA, Japan, and Australia to choke the Chinese trade route; it will hurt PRC and its ambition to be a global economic leader. Fourth, India must use weapons and its army on a regular basis when it is spending billions of dollars on armed forces and weapon procurement. Countries like Pakistan, Nepal and others must be fearful of the consequences if they plan to go against the interest of India. Lastly, restrict Chinese import of nonessential goods by imposing tariffs and focus our attention on building a formidable self-reliant economy with a target of $10 trillion by 2030 to face hostile China, this threat is permanent and China should be treated as a permanent adversary even when the times are good. India and the world must escalate the information warfare to expose the draconian CCP and its oppressive regime working against the interest of native Chinese. The dilemma for the Xi-led CCP is what they tell their domestic audience. In the age of the internet, you can censor but not hide. News spreads like wildfire with every citizen carrying a smartphone. Do the Chinese need to beat the war drums to transfer the blame for their miscalculations? The world scenario is evolving every week, and 2020 threatened to be a very long year indeed.
(Prashant Tewari Editor in Chief Opinion Express & Sanjit Paul Singh Managing Partner S&S associates)