gfiles magazine

February 12, 2016

A nation sanssecurity?

L’affaire Pathankot air base—a mess-up by the Punjab Police, Indian Air Force, National Security Guard (NSG), Indian Army and Defence Security Corps, all put together—evokes a sense of déjà vu. In December 2001, when the Indian Parliament was attacked by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorists, it was the untrained Delhi Police that took them on. The Army was hanging around with the then Defence Minister, George Fernandes, ‘commandeering’ operations from inside Parliament! In November 2008 (26/11), it was just LeT carrying out a series of 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai, killing 164 people and wounding at least 308.


Turning a blind eye

The word Vyapam conjures up Madhya Pradesh’s image as a state full of fake doctors. After all, the organised racket of admitting bogus candidates through rigged pre-medical tests had been going on for a decade before it was busted in July 2013. These admission tests are conducted by the Professional Examination Board or Vyapam—the Hindi acronym of Vyavasayik Pariksha Mandal. While 1,100 bogus medicos have been detected and their admissions have been cancelled, many more ‘Munnabhais’ have become practising doctors in the state. Add to this frequent allegations of corruption in drug purchase, siphoning of National Rural Health Mission funds, chronic absenteeism of doctors in rural areas, poor infrastructure of medical colleges, acute shortage of doctors and the unhygienic condition of operation theatres in district hospitals.


START-UP: A great idea?

Within the US, and in Europe and Asia, several states and nations have tried to create another Silicon Valley. All of them failed, to varying degrees. Clearly, the obvious reasons cited for the technology-related success in America’s Bay Area—such as a huge pool of educated people, access to venture capital, and a high-risk entrepreneurial culture—aren’t enough. More important, Silicon Valley, as was stated by an article in Scientific American, “has no monopoly on any of those features”. Most important, government intervention, as was the case in China where Beijing spent billions of dollars, cannot create an energetic and organic symbiosis between industry and research.



Bumpy road ahead!

PRIME Minister Narendra Modi has reiterated that his government doesn’t want to run and manage businesses, but act as a facilitator. If this is the case then the Start-Up India Action Plan (SIAP), with its 19 broad points encompassing capital, labour, incubation, industry-academia partnership, financial incentives, and handholding, is a non-starter. The reason: one of its lynchpin is the ‘Fund of Funds’, a corpus of Rs.10,000 crore to be set up by the government, where the state-owned Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) will be a co-investor, which will decide the venture funds to invest in, and whose representative(s) will sit on the boards of these venture funds.


Life of many hues

Vivek Agnihotri was only 11 years old (born on August 25, 1945) when he completed middle school in 1956. His father, Narain Prasad, a civil engineer in the private sector in Kanpur, wanted him to sit for the civil services examination and took him for an IQ test to a private institute to find out his propensity—whether for science, commerce or arts. In those days, a student was supposed to opt for a stream right after Class VIII.


Indian values, English sensibilities

Caught by the Police, a biography of Anandswarup Gupta, a 1939-batch Indian police officer who served as the Founder-Director of the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) in 1970, has many firsts to its credit.This, arguably, is the first biography penned by six persons—the late Anandswarup Gupta himself, his four civil servant sons, Ranjit Gupta, Harsh Gupta, Madhukar Gupta, Deepak Gupta, and only daughter, Meera Yog, a retired English professor.


Hot-line to God

When Morarji Desai finally became Prime Minister, at the age of eighty-one, most people thought he was a changed man, he had shed his angularities and rigidities; he was no longer the dogmatic man that he had been. At first glance, he did look a little mellowed, a little more accommodative than he had been in the late 1960s. But you had only to scratch the surface and the crotchety old Morarji popped out.



The cat is out of the bag

At last, the cat is out of the bag. What was driving diplomats around the world crazy is now making sense.Look at the unanswered questions first. What did Barack Obama and Narendra Modi discuss in the 'Chai pe charcha' on the lawns of the White House and again on the lawns of Hyderabad House, New Delhi? Why did Modi suddenly stop on his way from the washroom to his seat in a conference and hold the Pakistan Prime Minister in a diplomatically unbecoming half-embrace and mumble sweet nothings into his ear for as long as 120 seconds? Why did several heads of state decide to attend the global summit on global warming? Why did the ISIS target Paris?


Serenity in Sanchi

The ‘Great Stupa’ at Sanchi is the oldest stone structure in India and was originally commissioned by the emperor Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BCE. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its nucleus was a simple hemispherical brick structure built over the relics of the Buddha. It was crowned by the chatra, a parasol-like structure symbolising high rank, which was intended to honour and shelter the relics. It has four profusely carved ornamental gateways and a balustrade encircling the whole structure.



Making the leap

There is a great curiosity in certain circles about mystical experiences. Many claim to have had extraordinary paranormal experiences that they cite as proof of their spiritual evolution.A common word in people’s spiritual lexicon nowadays is samadhi, often seen as a certificate of mystical attainment. What exactly is samadhi? It is a certain state of equanimity in which the intellect goes beyond its normal function of discrimination. This, in turn, loosens one from the physical such that there is a space between oneself and one’s body.


Global pressures build up

THE steep correction witnessed by the market has shattered the myth that the Indian market will largely remain unaffected by what happens to the global markets. Despite economic macro-fundamentals remaining solid and, in fact, benefitting from softening commodity prices, no market can remain decoupled from what happens in the world. The other theory many analysts have been putting forward is that the steep correction has mainly been caused by global factors such as the Fed rate hike, the massive slowdown in China coupled with devaluation of the yuan and struggling commodity exporting economies, but the fact remains that local factors are equal culprits. The market has run up way ahead of fundamentals and, at 18 times its trailing 12 months earnings post-correction, is still pricier than most of its emerging market (EM) peers as also many of the developed markets.



Shah at the helm

bjp president for 3 years

Finally, Amit Shah has become the president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. It was not an easy walk for him, though. And his boss, Narendra Modi, did not take any chances and had many rounds of discussion with top RSS leaders. Sources disclosed that Nitin Gadkari was the first choice of the RSS, but he has emerged as a great loyalist of Modi. Besides, his family was not inclined to let him shift to the party, they want him to remain in the government. So Gadkari backed Modi on the issue of electing Shah party president. Jagat Prakash Nadda was also emerging as a consensus candidate with a strong lobby silently supporting his candidature. Modi’s experiment in Gujarat convinced him that this time Shah was the only choice. So Nadda’s name did not even crop up for discussion. Once this was clear, Modi’s job was easier. Shah has to induct new members to show that he has a solid team to run the party but it will be done after the Budget session as it is said that many dynamic ministers will be assigned party work. So, for the next three years, Shah is the unquestioned boss of the BJP. Wait and watch who moves out from the party and who is inducted into the Cabinet.


Capital culture

celebrating Uttarayana

On January 14, Lutyens’ Delhi had a different colour to it. The bungalows of some of the Ministers were decorated and lit to celebrate Makar Sankranti. The celebrations seemed to signal markedly that the BJP is ruling the nation. Makar Sankranti marks the transition of the sun into the zodiacal sign of Makara (Capricorn) on its celestial path. It’s believed that the sun ends its southward journey (Sanskrit: Dakshinayana) at the Tropic of Capricorn, and starts moving northward (Sanskrit: Uttarayaana) towards the Tropic of Cancer. It’s considered very auspicious among Hindus. Minister of Steel and Mines Narendra Singh Tomar celebrated with fanfare. Bhajan singers were invited especially from Gwalior. There was, admittedly, no VVIP or VIP culture evident: Tomar’s admirers and supporters were coming and meeting the minister. Secretary of Mines Balvinder Kumar, Secretary of Steel Aruna Sundararajan and SAIL Chairman PK Singh were present. There was seating for dining and typically traditional vegetarian food was served. Tomar personally supervised the arrangements. Walking distance away, at Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road, M Venkaiah Naidu was celebrating Makar Sankranti in the august company of Narendra Modi with half the Cabinet in attendance. Lutyens’  Delhi seems to be witnessing a change of culture!



Electing a President

the race begins

July 2017 will be another significant and momentous moment in the history of the country as the elected representatives of the people will elect a new Rashtrapati. Discussion and speculation have already started. There is a long list of veteran leaders who are being mentioned as probables. In BJP circles, LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi are at the top of the list. Advani and Pranab Mukherjee are contemporaries in politics as both joined the Rajya Sabha in 1969 with a difference of six months. But if political circumstances take on a new dimension, the ball may fall in another’s court. The decision will, of course, all depend on the RSS and Narendra Modi. Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal is also a strong candidate. He has travelled a long way in politics after outwitting Surjit Singh Barnala, Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Jagdev Singh Talwandi. Sharad Pawar, a tall leader from Maharashtra, who started his journey at the age of 38 as Chief Minister of the state, is emerging as another strong candidate. He is a master networker and, after Charan Singh, is the grassroots farmer leader. Another veteran who is also in the reckoning is Dr Karan Singh, a most competent political figure who also possesses knowledge of the Vedas and Upanishads. Pranab Mukherjee, known as a master strategist, may be a second-term aspirant. But after Dr Rajendra Prasad, no President has been given the second term though an exception can always be made. The mist will be cleared in the days to come.


Upper House in the limelight

political lobbying increases

Get ready for some political battles. The upcoming months of April and June will see 76 members of the Rajya Sabha retiring. The Congress and BJP both have to decide whether they want grassroots, heavyweight political leaders or those who are good at “managing Delhi” only. The first signal of the changing political scenario will be felt when nominated members Mani Shankar Aiyar, Javed Akhtar, B Jayshree, Mrinal Miri and Balachandra Mungekar retire in March. The ministers who will retire this year from the Upper House are YS Chowdhary of the TDP and Nirmala Sitharaman, M Venkaiah Naidu, Piyush Goel, Suresh Prabhu, Chaudhary Birender Singh and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, all from the BJP. Naidu, who is a member from Karnataka, would like to come back from Andhra Pradesh. The total dynamics of the seat arrangement will change in Uttar Pradesh as there are not many MLAs from the BSP and Congress; the SP will get most of the seats. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar will have to take some crucial decisions as his three comrades, Sharad Yadav, KC Tyagi and Pawan Varma, are retiring this year. As per the state arithmetic, the JD (U) can get only two seats so one wonders who will be ejected. The Congress too will be in a spot as its deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, is also retiring from Rajasthan this year. Though Ram Jethmalani is also retiring from Rajasthan, he does not have a chance in the given political set-up. Anand Sharma’s case will be interesting as he is not a mass leader. He spends most of his time attending the Delhi durbar. He is a persona non grata in his own state, Himachal Pradesh, as he is at loggerheads with Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. The Congress has to decide his utility factor. Tough choices ahead.



Sebi top post up for grabs

A fierce battle is on to grab the post of Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi). Incumbent chairman UK Sinha’s term comes to an end in mid-February. According to sources, the selection panel headed by Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha has shortlisted candidates who include State Bank of India Chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya, former capital markets Joint Secretary Thomas Mathew (now an Additional Secretary in the President’s office), IDFC CEO Vikram Limaye, former Chairman of the Forward Markets Commission (FMC), Ramesh Abhishek, Competition Commission of India member MS Sahoo and current Sebi whole-time member Rajeev Kumar Agarwal. Now, at the last minute, the government has reconstituted a search-cum-selection panel so as to include a representative from the Prime Minister’s Office. While the panel, headed by the Cabinet Secretary, will continue to have the Economic Affairs Secretary, the provision of the Finance Minister nominating up to two persons as members has been done away with. In the earlier set-ups, there was no member from the PMO. It does seem as if Modi is aware of the hobnobbing for the selection for the coveted post. Among the selected candidates, one is politically very influential and has connections with the Congress party and is still working in an important post. Another candidate was allegedly involved in the NSEL scam. It’s learnt that one influential lady in the government is lobbying to install her proxy. Apart from the bureaucratic and political lobbying, big business houses are also working for their own candidates. It’s going to be tough to choose an independent and competent individual.



Violating the rules

Punjab has faced two terror attacks–Dinanagar, in July last year, and the more recent one on the Air Force base in Pathankot–in about six months. The two incidents prompted an analysis of the working of the Punjab Police. The Home Ministry is worried about the way the Punjab government is handling the state police. It is revealed the Home Ministry has indicated caution is in order about a tendency to appoint promotee police officers to head most districts of Punjab on posts earmarked for Indian Police Service (IPS) personnel. This is allegedly in violation of rules. In all of Punjab’s eight border districts, including Pathankot and Gurdaspur, no single direct recruited IPS officer has been posted either as Senior Superintendent of Police or Commissioner of Police (SSP or CP), according to sources. Only three directly recruited IPS officers are working in these positions in Hoshiarpur, Bathinda and Muktasar. The state has 141 IPS officers, including promotees, working in different posts against the total strength of 172, according to the Home Ministry. Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal’s stand is, Don’t question the appointments, let the DGP decide who is the best person to post where. But everybody knows how a DGP works in the state. The rule of the Home Ministry states, “the state government is supposed to take permission from the Centre for posting of a non-cadre officer in cadre posts beyond three months.” But Punjab has never sought such permission.


Agenda for the nation?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was busy in January, interacting with all the Secretaries to the Government of India. Most of the Secretaries were hard at work preparing presentations and were burning the midnight oil. The first round of meetings was held on January 12.  Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as also Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog Arvind Panagariya, besides all Secretaries, were present. After the interaction, the Prime Minister formed eight groups of Secretaries to run India. The subjects on which the groups have been set up include ‘good governance–challenges and opportunities’, ‘employment generation strategies’, ‘farmer-centric initiatives in agriculture and allied sectors’, ‘education and health–universal access and quality’, ‘innovative budgeting and effective implementation’, ‘accelerated growth with inclusion and equity’, ‘Swachh Bharat and Ganga rejuvenation’ and ‘energy efficiency and conservation’. It has also been decided that one Secretary will act as a rapporteur in each group and moderate the group meetings. It is learnt that Modi was happy with the various presentations and asked questions and made suggestions. Now it has to be seen how the ideas and presentations from the board room are injected into the system so that India can be transformed.



Dalit bashing in Prasar Bharati?

Is Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar now targeting the Director-General Doordarshan? Someone on the verge of superannuation after a spectacular career is reported for “insubordination and incompetence” to the Secretary in Ministry of Information & Broadcasting Sunil Arora. Lal Rosanga, D-G Doordarshan, comes from the Mizoram and has risen up the ranks. He is known for his professional acumen but has been constantly derided by the CEO in open fora. Many senior officers confide that the CEO has often denigrated the dignified DG. Sources reveal that he has even taunted him innumerable times for not using ‘good English.’ Sources say that the showdown seems an after-effect of a lady adviser getting booted out for intemperate language and unruly demeanour that caused strike in Doordarshan last year. The DG had refused to induct incompetent advisers, who were not allowing competent professionals (read government servants) to perform official duties. She caballed with the CEO and got officers suspended, resulting in strike. The protest march even went to the residence of Arun Jaitley, Minister for Information & Broadcasting. But the story does not end here. The CEO has more than once made casteist remarks against the DG. While a section of staff is gearing up to approach the concerned forum and seeking immediate intervention of the Chairman, the letter alleging insubordination is also being seen as serious intrusion into the professional arena. There are reports that the CEO is targeting the North-Eastern region to embarrass the Central Government keeping in mind the volatility in Arunachal Pradesh and coming elections in Assam! Earlier too, he had attempted to rope in another Dalit DG, a known Hindi litterateur, and failed.



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January 11, 2016

Is the third global war round the corner?

For the past seven decades, since the end of World War II, global leaders, defence policymakers and military experts have speculated about how, when and where World War III will happen. The when and where is immaterial today; given the hundreds of hot and dangerous spots across the globe, it can happen anytime, anywhere. The how, though, is still relevant. During the Cold War, it was felt that the new global war would be instigated by one of the two superpowers, America or the Soviet Union. The Cuban missile crisis was a prime example of this mindset.



World War III: myth or reality?

Peace is the greatest illusion today. The whole world is a battlefield. There is no place in the whole physical or virtual world put together that you can call totally peaceful.
As many as 185 out of a total of 196 countries in the world today are currently engaged in some form of armed conflict, civil war, insurgency or other forms of violent unrest. There are only less than a dozen countries in the world today that are not involved in any violence or conflict within or outside their borders.



Possible scenarios Flashpoints on the globe

Albert Einstein was once asked what he thought the future wars—more so World War III—would look like. This is what he had to say, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
Ironically US Army Chief of Staff Gen Omar Bradley also had a similar comment to make in a discussion with some bigshots about future wars and how they would be fought.



Climate justice served


Few things have generated as much interest worldwide as the climate change negotiations in Paris in December 2015. Seldom in the history of the modern world have over 150 heads of state and government got together as they did on November 30, the day the fortnight-long high-voltage, high-decibel negotiations commenced. Le Bourget, an erstwhile airfield, was converted into a convention complex to host the 40,000 delegates that had registered to witness what could be a historic compact or catastrophe. The shadow of Copenhagen loomed large and so did the manoeuvres of the developed countries and the aspirations of the developing world.



A metropolis in deluge

For once, Prakash Javadekar has spoken as a true Union environment minister. Though couched in diplomatic language, he has made one point clear–the recent deluge that devastated India’s fourth largest metropolis with a population of 10 million plus was neither caused by nature nor was it a ‘climate change event’ as being touted by the Government of Tamil Nadu and its cohorts.


Pollution politics

New Delhi and Beijing are among the most polluted cities of the world. The quality of response that the two political systems have provided to the crises is a sad commentary on the efficacy of a democracy in the art of combatting emergencies. When Bejing was declared the most polluted city of the world, it inter alia declared a red alert, closed its schools, shut down the thermal plants, and imposed restrictions on plying of diesel generators and vehicles.