Monday, October 2, 2023

GANDHI: AN ICON OF PEACE & YET AN OBJECT OF HATE?

GNADHI: AN ICON  OR A SUPER SOUL?

   In recent centuries, no other man, or woman, has influenced human consciousness as profoundly as an English educated Indian Barrister - Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi - turned Mahatma or messiah. The title Mahatma given to Gandhi ji by eminent poet, intellectual and Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Thakur stuck as forename of the man who was later hailed as father of the Indian nation. 

    Gandhi Jayanti or birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, popularly referred as Bapu, has always been a very special day in history of independent India. Mahatma Gandhi has been acknowledged and respected by last few generations of Indians and others as an apostle of peace, an icon of truth, a practitioner of non-violence, a proponent of universal justice, and an advocate of compassion towards all living beings. 

    Still, he was not perfect. Many have always questioned him; some had even defied him. But, of late, few have charged Mahatma with malice. Social media of 2023 is full of hate towards a man who was once loved, adored and respected by generations of Indians and non-Indians in a way that no other man has ever been in recent history of human race. 

    Gandhi himself never claimed to be an embodiment of absolute perfection and infallibility.  

    He is believed to have always reminded people around him of his own follies. Despite receiving huge adulation during his life-time, Mahatam Gandhi never lost his psychological balance to behave like an incarnation of divinity. 

        No human can ever be absolutely perfect and infallible. Even the most brilliant scientists can't create an absolutely perfect artificially intelligent robot. Hence, expectation of perfection itself is flawed.

    It particularly sounds like a cruel joke when it comes from those who themselves appear morally, ethically and intellectually challenged and spiritually disabled.  

   It is true that Mahatma Gandhi's legacy was hijacked and usurped by people who had no respect for Gandhian principles.  In retrospect, inheritors of his legacy, who were not his biological progenies, were psychologically weak and insecure. They fiddled with democracy and discarded integrity to survive in power.

    Consequently, Mahatma, that Gandhi was, has been attributed with sins that he may never have imagined.  

 GANDHI: AN UNAPARLLELED MASS MOBILISER 

     The generation that had seen Bapu in blood and flesh and had experienced the phenomenon named Mahatma is almost gone. Hence, what we hear, read and understand about Gandhi depends upon who says and writes and with what intent. It also depends upon orientation and capacity of the listener or reader to interpret the same.  

    Probably, the larger social and political context of India itself has undergone such drastic transformation that it would require enormous cerebral energy to even attempt understanding Gandhi and draw right lessons from his life and ideals. 

    To be fair to Mahatma, despite all his flaws and imperfections, he remains peer-less as mass-mobiliser of recent centuries.  He was able to rally nearly one fifth of humanity against the most oppressive, unethical and formidable imperial power in whose domain sun never set. His example inspired not only his own followers, but many a times overwhelmed even his opponents. 

We live in an era, where people all across the world are scared to stand up for truth and justice or utter a word even against their own elected Governments in relatively open societies. Many dread the prospect of foregoing even minor comforts of life.

    His idea of Satyagraha -embodying truth, non-violence, courage and compassion - emerged as the most powerful political weapon of democratic politics. His principles and vision entailed universal and comprehensive well-being of entire humanity and malice towards none. No politician of mass leader had imagined and espoused something like this, which could unify entire human race. 

    Gandhi's ideals of peace and justice gave a big fillip to the very idea of decolonization and democratization. His impact on Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was more than visible, even though he himself did not contribute to the same.   

    Without Gandhi, world may not have experienced the phenomenon of either Martin Luther King, and his racial equality movement, or that of Mandela and his anti-apartheid movement. It is doubtful that without Martin Luther, an Obama could have reached anywhere close to US Presidency or without sacrifices of Mandela, abolition of apartheid was possible.  

  Whether peaceful movement helped India win independence or the British left India out of fear of Subhash Chandra Bose, and his impact on British Indian soldiers, is irrelevant discourse at this juncture. Of course, Azad Hind Fauz and Subhash Bose left a strong impact and generated fear in minds of the British. But Bose, despite all his defiance to Gandhi, had remained respectful towards the latter. Without a unifying mass movement that Gandhi ji spearheaded in a diverse and divided India, Bose or so many other freedom fighters may not have reached the stature or generated the impact for which they are known. 

GANDHI: A SOCIAL TRANSFORMER? 

    It is logical to contend that Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals helped relatively peaceful transition of post-colonial India towards a stable and relatively humanist democracy. We need to cover a lot of distance to build a society that Gandhi had envisioned. But still there is no other example in human history where such a diverse, plural and huge country, with such formidable challenges, has not only held together, defying predictions of naysayers, but emerged as one of the key stakeholders of the global order while staying an open society. 

    Ideals of Gandhi ji had a role in this. But Gandhi ji had also acted as a big unifying force, of course with some imperfections, shortfalls and failures. He did it both during his lifetime and even after his death.

     Most of the first-generation leaders of independent India were proteges of Gandhi ji. They could curb their personal aspirations for the sake of national good to a great extent.  It is true that Gandhi ji could not persuade a large section of Muslim leaders led by Jinnah. But it must be kept in mind that a significant section of Muslim leaders too remained equally committed to Gandhi ji and his ideals of peace, non-violence and universal fraternity among mankind.  

    Had India attained freedom through an armed revolution, or even a military campaign, we may have struggled to build not only a democracy but even political stability or unity. India has suffered in the past on account of hordes and hordes of invaders and even local oppressors.  Strategic myopia of domestic rulers and social decay and generation had built its own momentum. But yet resilience of its values and ethos were manifest in its spirit of defiance, regeneration and resurrection. Violence and coercion on their own are insufficient towards building a trust-based political order that we associate with open, transparent and stable states and societies.   

    French revolution of 1789 was probably the biggest landmark of its kind that fueled the idea of democracy in Europe. There is no bigger example of violent mass resistance to exploitative oppression and coercion by rulers. It had brought almost entire French masses together in fight for a just and fairer society and inspired nearly rest of the mankind. For the first time in recorded human history, it had reminded rulers of limitations of their power. 

    But what followed, in the immediate aftermath of revolution, was the worst possible orgy of violence in form of 'reign of terror". Luckily, rise of Napoleon and his military exploits helped the French stay cohesive for a while. But it took more than a century for France and Europe to transition towards mass democracy, enduring multiple convulsions like 1848 revolutions.  

        Africa, yet another home of Gandhi, where he had perfected "satyagraha" and "non-violent resistance" as political weapons, witnessed far too much of conflict and violence following decolonization. Yet, from Mandela to Desmond Tutu, to a host of idealist leaders, claimed to have drawn inspiration from Gandhi. White races had remained reluctant, for a long time, to relent their grip on resource rich states of the region and induced innumerable domestic squabbles and conflicts. But Gandhian ideals have helped fuel voices for truth and justice. British newspaper -The Guardian - had filed a report a few years back in which it had quoted many African leaders who described Gandhi as their spiritual grandfather. Hence, Mahatma Gandhi remains a powerful symbol of truth and justice even now.   

    It is true that violent partition of the country that accompanied independence, marked a big failure of Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals of truth and non-violence. A receding imperial force unleashed some of the dirtiest principles of covert mass warfare against Indian people and Indian civilisation. It ignited medieval Arab and West Asian identity-based xenophobia and hatred by Muslims against Hindus to script one of the worst man-made carnages, genocides and mass rapes in human history. 

    It created a monster way bigger than any Frankenstein that human mind could conceptualize in the form of Pakistan. Principal collaborator of the British designs in this direction was not an Arab or Turkic Muslim. It was a malignant lot of converts from Hinduism and Sanatan only - like Jinnah- who unleashed mass murders against followers of faith of their own ancestors.  

GANDHI'S SOFTNESS TOWARDS MUSLIMS: AN OUTCOME HUMANIST IDEALS 

    Gandhi's repeated gestures of protecting or even favouring Muslims had no malice. Gandhi never favaoured his own biological children. How do we expect him to act like a parochial Hindu? 

    Gandhi always indulged in practices that involved sacrifices on part of those who were closer to him. This is not considered fare in our era and time. But that was the era, where most respected elders of joint families often promoted their nephews and nieces at the cost of their own biological children.  

    This was a flawed notion. But it was probably necessary for protecting extended families in the prevailing values of that time. This was considered test of benevolence of family heads, who often made such sacrifices to keep their extended families together. 

    We have become wiser with passage of time. Families have become smaller and we acknowledge value of every life. We have evolved. We realise that such measures for fostering artificial cohesion was neither fair nor sustainable. 

    Fairness and equity are more important than appeasement and unfair concessions for keeping families and communities together. Because, there may not be a limit to sacrifice for a few. Simultaneously, no amounts of concessions, privileges and entitlement can satisfy people addicted to these. Besides, this is the surest route to cripple a society, nation and family and make them seriously vulnerable in a competitive world.    

      There is no doubt that India needs firm rule of law and Indian secularism must not be equated with tolerance to Islamic radicalism. We need to find a mutually empowering equilibrium between Sanatan and Islamic values, beliefs and practice systems for a stronger India. A lot of scientific research on anatomy of human mind, human behaviour and evolutionary course of cultures is required alongside actions with integrity to reconcile these. Our Muslim friends must be persuaded that cannot go back to past and Hindu majority should be convinced that all Muslims are not terrorists and radicals. Islamic concept of Iztema may be useful in persuading or even forcing changes in obscurantist forces of Islam and Hindus too need a scientific reconstruction of their beliefs and practice systems.  

    A society that squabbles on follies or failures of the past, instead of learning lessons from the same, digs a hole for itself. Statesmanship is not about exploiting these fissures but about finding ways to building cohesion among societies and states in pursuit of comprehensive excellence.    

     GANDHI: NOT A FUZZY UTOPIAN BUT A ROBUST THINKER

    Mahatma Gandhi was not merely communicating through symbols and actions or simply mobilising masses. He has been acknowledged as a profound thinker and philosopher as well. His world view may appear simple and idealist. But it was based on robust intellect. Given normal human vulnerabilities to lies, deception and selfishness, most may find it too utopian. But these definitely constitute the bedrock of an ideal society.   

    Gandhi's truth, as popularly known, was not a weapon of the weak or timid. His truth required enormous courage and self-belief. Gandhi's ideal of non-violence was not the choice of a helpless timid. It required exceptional psychological strength not to get provoked. This remains relevant for all real and aspiring leaders at any level. 

    But somehow, one feels that his message of non-violence has been badly interpreted. There are many sources that suggest that Gandhi ji is believed to have told that when it came to prevent certain types of violence, especially from rapists and molesters who harm dignity and safety of women, even murder was justified.  He had maintained that violence was preferable over cowardice and in certain contexts violence may become necessary. But still he never faced such extreme and exceptional situation himself and hence it could never be tested.   

    Hence, Gandhian concept of non-violence is neither absolute nor a rigid ritual. 

    One also has to appreciate that Gandhi was a social reformer and not a Military General or a statesman wielding state authority. He never considered anyone as his enemy. He had repeatedly asserted this. To reach a psychological stage where you don't find even your worst detractors or haters as your enemy is simply super-human.

    Gandhi's ideal of trusteeship of public property pushes him closer to socialist ideals. But at the same time, it appears more in tune with ideals of both a healthy social order and even what we describe the most contemporary principles of corporate governance or corporate probity. 

    Only a great society, driven by the highest principles and practices of national or civilisational security has wisdom to invest in quality of human resource. From physical health of people to their education, skills and values as well as ability to harness human energy to both material and moral strength constitutes the bedrock of national security. Gandhi's emphasis on character building, besides cognitive and technical skills, could probably be a game changer. Education is not about memorising information. Education can be real tool only if it empowers people to do what is right for society as a whole or to stand up against what is bad for society.    

    Integrity and truthfulness remain eternally relevant for any great society. Without empathy, altruism and kindness we can never ever have social trust or social cohesion or even a healthy family or community. Violence begets violence. Gandhian philosophy of countering violence through non-violence was not about surrender of a meek with humiliation. What he said may have been relevant in a lawless society where he was seeking a wider transformation. But countering violence from a position of psychological strength and self-belief and not anger or revenge appears a stronger option. 

    Gandhi ji may not have had access to knowledge about working of human brain or role of genes, environment and social practices on human behaviour. We are far more aware today on these issues. But Gandhi ji's contribution did push us in direction of trust-based social order where all could thrive better. 

DOWNSIDE OF GANDHI

    Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest among the great. He was looking at world from his own unique vantage point. He was trapped in his own context and may be his own priorities. Hence, he too appears to have faltered. But these were  on far too fewer occasions and issues compared to most mass leaders. 

    Gandhi ji definitely does not appear fair to Subhash Chandra Bose. He may have sensed a penchant for a militant armed struggle in Bose. Hence, he wanted to keep Bose away from Congress. But as Mahatma and father figure, he was expected to stay fair and impartial. During Haripura Session of Congress in 1938 when Pattabhi Sita Ramaiah challenged Subhash Bose, Gandhi ji should have stayed neutral. His decision to throw his plight with Pattabhi  projects him in poor light. 

    The Charisma that Subhas Bose enjoyed, especially among youth of his time, was much bigger. Bose won the election but still Gandhi ji made it so difficult for Bose that the latter had to quit Congress and explore independence of India through different means. 

    Gandhi ji also kept quiet on judicial murder by the British of the most romanticist revolutionary and hero named Bhagat Singh. This lapse of Gandhi ji appears unpardonable for most Indians. There cannot be a more romantic ideal image of an innocent young man who decides to happily give up his life for the same cause for which Gandhi ji was spearheading mass movements. Gandhi ji's silence remains baffling and dents his saintly image. 

    This was especially after disclosure that Bhagat Singh was not involved in any murder and the bomb that he had thrown in the Assembly was only for drawing attention to important issues like passage of a draconian Public safety bill besides protests over Simon Commission, Govt inaction over Jallianwalla bagh massacre and killing of Lal Lajpat Rai by police. His actions had not killed or harmed anyone. Bhagat Singh became a more towering persona in death and left a profound impact in the process. 

    Gandhi ji is also seen as someone who made too many concessions to Islamist radicals and restrained and curbed Hindus far too much. From his indulgence with Khilafat to concessions to Jinnah and efforts to appease Muslims and tolerance to genocide by Muslims in Noakhali in East Pakistan and Kolkata in West Bengal to nearly whole of West Punjab and Sindh generated a sense of dejection and pain among large sections of Hindus and his followers. Many believe that Gandhi ji's decisions brought huge sufferings to Hindus and encouraged rabid Islamists with a sense of entitlement to slaughter Hindus and rape their women with impunity. 

    There is no doubt that Gandhi ji's presence gave a sense of security to Muslims in India. But he could not equally persuade Muslim masses either in India or Pakistan to refrain from violence. Even his comrades like Khan Gaffar Khan were largely rendered irrelevant in Muslim majority ideas of Pakistan.

        Alongside these, the most prominent politically family of India has been charged with usurping surname of Gandhi and virtually monopolized his legacy. Earlier also Gandhi ji was considered instrumental for overruling Congress party's internal decision to appoint Sardar Patel as Prime Minister of India and foist Pandit Nehru in his place. There may not have been any devious personal agenda in the same. But in retrospect, Gandhi ji also held responsible for all the ills identified with rule of this family and their associates.  

    Another issue that has invited controversy for Gandhi ji is his so-called experiments to test his own celibacy with much younger women, especially his grand nieces. This appears horrendous from our contemporary sensibilities. Whether Gandhi ji took consent from those young women are not is neither known nor relevant. But that was the era, when a great and even the most empathetic appears to have failed to show enough empathy. Yet we do not know the entire story but something of this nature whether correct or incorrect, remained wrapped up under the cover and none knew or spoke about these.  

  GANDHI: NOT PERFECT AND YET THE GREATEST MASS LEADER OF THE MILLLENNIUM 

     The extent to which Gandhi ji should be hailed as an icon of peace or treated as target fit to be vilified depends upon political orientation of individuals concerned. 

    But his ideals and practices do command a romantic appeal cutting across boundaries of state, civilization and culture.

    But Gandhi ji was a hardcore Indian and nationalist who was not liked by the West. Incidentally, the West never conferred Nobel Peace prize on Gandhi even though the same was given to his proteges like Martin Luther King and Mandela. One can say that Gandhi ji was disliked and distrusted by white colonial powers.  

    Gandhi ji lived in an era and what he contributed in the most selfless manner is exceptional and inspirational. We can neither reject Gandhi nor adopt his values universally. For an individual living in society, both means and ends need to be pure. But when it gets down to use of instruments by state for protection of entire the test of purity rests with their efficacy. 

    Gandhi is one of our greatest icons. He is probably most well-known too in recent times. But we have had far too many other icons too. We must not supplant Gandhi as the sole icon. Each of the icons from the earliest times have shaped and influenced our civilizational journey.  

     Gandhian principles must not be rituals. Whatever we do, we cannot be driven by anger or greed. If an Indian soldier kills a Chinese or Pakistani counterpart or a terrorist, it is a moral and otherwise duty. But after killing the enemy soldier or terrorists, Indians hand these over to family of deceased or perform their last rituals with dignity. Violence of a soldier or deception of a military leader or espionage master is a professional necessity, which too has to be performed without anger, hatred or greed. If a Gandhian state vanquishes the hell created by some criminal lackey of the white imperialists, it must be for ushering in civility and Gandhian society in that land. 

    Hence, without Kautilyan principles of Dharma or protective cover of  Kautilyan State, Gandhian principles can't survive. But without Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals, world and society would indeed be a dangerous and unsafe place for all. Hence, we must progress, howsoever incrementally, towards a Gandhian society protected by a Kautilyan state. 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

BBC AND HINDENBURG MUST BE IGNORED BUT INDIA NEEDS SERIOUS INTERNAL DISCOURSE & REFORMS

    Over the last two weeks, two incidents have dominated the discourse in Indian media. One concerns controversial BBC documentary indicting PM Modi of Gujrat riots of 2002. The second concerns Hindenburg report on an Indian tycoon whose wealth has meteorically risen over the last few years defying all logic.  

    Reaction in India’s political and media space has been on the expected lines. People have taken positions depending upon their political loyalties and personal preferences. Entire public domain resembles a psychological or propaganda warzone. 

Under these conditions, I am not sure how an attempt to place a sane perspective in public domain shall go down. 

    The timing of BBC documentary after two decades of a forgettable incident certainly arouses suspicion. It has reopened wounds that had healed over time. Given the track record of BBC, and certain forces in the Western world, especially those known for supporting Pak linked organised crime networks, it would be fair to suspect that the documentary is not driven by noble professional intentions. It has attempted to drive social and political wedge in India and undermine credibility of its institutions, including the apex court. But at the same time, I do not endorse panic bans. Ideally, our institutions and credibility should have been strong enough to prevent something like this. Simultaneously, a strong Supreme Court of India could have hauled up BBC to deter such psychological warfare.  

    While it will be disaster for political dissidents in India to seek solace in such malicious propaganda by a media institution whose sections have always been under influence of Islamic organised crime networks, it will not serve our interests if we ignore deficiencies in our own institutions. Ideally, the twin attacks must inspire our stakeholders to come together to address our deficiencies in this direction. However, it looks improbable at this stage.  

    Over the last few decades or since independence, India has been facing a pernicious psychological warfare from sections of Western media and even their state establishments. They have always sought to put India on the same pedestal, or at times even lower than, as the Pakistani state controlled by a notoriously criminal Army. The objective appears undermining and scuttling rise of a powerful democracy. This is not to say that we do not have strong pockets of support in these states. Unfortunately, most Western democracies themselves have been divided. It is influence of slush funds and lobbying as well as larger organised-crime networks on some of the Western democratic institutions that is worrying.   

    From the turn of 21st Century, there had been noticeable abatement of hostility from the Western states. This is largely due to protests in these states over increasing disclosures of Pakistani involvement in terrorism and organised crime in their territory in the wake of 9/11 attacks. However, the situation is far from satisfactory. Simultaneously, the world has increasingly witnessed a difference in the quality of Indian and Pakistani diaspora. The latter has dominated prisons and ranks of organised crime, whereas the former have been gainfully contributing almost everywhere to economic and technological empowerment of host nations.  

    Over the last many centuries, Islamic identity has been frequently abused not only by hardy marauders but even neo converts to Islam to unleash violence, terrorism, extortion and crime against so-called non-Muslims. Near complete exodus of non-Muslims from Kashmir or prior to that complete cleansing of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan have been cited as examples of violent parochialism inbuilt in Islamic practices on the subcontinent. These have been backed by pernicious propaganda to paint Hindus negatively all over the world. Indian state remained a moot spectator not only to what has continued to happen against non-Muslims in Pakistan but also in most Muslim majority areas of independent India.

    It was extension of same tendency when 59 Hindu pilgrims were burned alive in a train in Godhra on Feb 27, 2002 without any provocation. The perpetrators had the audacity to do so even in an overwhelmingly Hindu majority state where a Hindu nationalist Government was in power. It would be insane to claim that the Government of the day had colluded in a pre-planned gruesome killing of these train passengers, as state police had failed to detect and prevent. 

    This was not an isolated incident. Terror attacks from Mumbai (1993) and Surat (1993), besides violence in the Kasmir Valley (since late 1980s), had built a momentum of their own. A strong clandestine infrastructure of Islamist terrorism and organised crime networks had come up in different countries as well as in different parts of India, including the economically important and peaceful state of Gujrat. Innocent civilians were regularly killed in such attacks.  It is no surprise that India had remained the second most impacted state by terrorism as per Global Terrorism index (GTI) since 2001. 

    The Godhra train carnage had outraged people in the state. Tempers were running high as Indian state had appeared incapable of protecting Hindus from violence in name of Islam. Ideally, the Indian state should have acted promptly and arrested all the culprits involved in this mass murder and launched a massive hunt for such Islamic terrorism and crime networks in the state and beyond. Probably our institutions were not strong enough to do so. 

    The media reports stated that the then Gujrat Government had sought reinforcement of security forces from neighbouring states and Government of India. Bureaucratic procedures and political considerations appear to have delayed the process. These gave opportunity to malignant sections of society to take law into their own hands. Whatever happened was a shameful chapter in history of India. It was one of the rare episodes in independent India where spontaneous gangs of thugs came up killing scores of innocent people. But it would be unfair to assume that Muslims alone were killed in this so-called retaliatory violence. Against 790 Muslim killed, 254 Hindus were also killed. However, none of the Western or even secular media at home have ever highlighted this fact. Would 250+ Hindus have been killed if the entire state machinery was partisan and 90%  Hindu population of the state were communal? 

    The rampaging mobs did not spare even some of the high-profile privileged Muslim families who had traditionally enjoyed wider respect and influence in their localities. This was reminiscent of attack on wealthy Hindus in West and East Pakistan before partition. But the scale was much lower. Such failure of police institutions drew immense flak from all concerned including their Hindu friends and civil society groups. There were some gruesome attacks that could have been easily avoided and social cohesion could have been protected. Despite such allegedly state-backed violence against Muslims, vigilante and criminal groups were also able to do the same thing in name of their Muslim identity against Hindu families right under the nose of a "biased" police institution. Efforts were made to use these episodes for political gains. In the process, the larger failure of the state and even pain of ordinary masses - both Muslims and Hindus - never received due attention.

Another unfortunate part of 2002 episode was emergence of a few criminals and rioters as mass heroes and saviours of people. Some of them have joined politics even though a large number of them were indicted and sentenced.  But on a positive side, a large number of Muslims have also been in the inner circle of PM Modi. 

    There is absolutely no justification for any mob-killing of anyone- whether a Muslim or Hindu. It was shameful that our police institutions failed to protect innocent train passengers and subsequently they looked the other way when approached by Muslim civilians for help. Malignant lot in Indian police and security forces have had a long history. Some of them have been suspected of collaborating with organised crime networks linked with Islamist groups and act otherwise only to protect their turf or themselves. But large sections of them definitely protected all people irrespective of their identity. But a credible democracy like India needs absolute levels of impartiality and efficiency from its police institutions. 

    Political opponents of Shri Modi, who was Chief Minister of Gujrat at that point of time, targeted him individually. As head of the government, he was responsible for collapse of state institutions. But none of the agencies could ever establish his direct role in abetting violence against Muslims. It is pertinent to mention that a different political party had ruled at the centre for 10 years. Rather, it was his resolute handling of the episode that helped near complete elimination of well-entrenched organised crime cartels in Gujrat. No major communal violence ever recurred in that state. People praised him for securing public spaces and eliminating crime. But the damage had already been done. 

    It was a Catch 22 situation for the Indian state.  Enemies waging all out covert war against India seemed to be mocking: “Heads I win; tails you lose”. If the CM had allowed the situation to drift and terrorists to have their sway, he may have been doomed. If he acted decisively, he could still be discredited with charges of excesses. 

     But people of India gave him a resounding mandate. The Indian state has also been able to significantly fend off sustained covert war from Pakistan, which was eventually exposed globally over its complicity in terrorism and organised crime. Simultaneously, several clandestine cartels are believed to have quietly changed their colour in quest of state patronage, without which they just can't survive. They are suspected of sabotaging any transition to real rule of law for which reforms in political parties and criminal justice system are unavoidable. Indian PM has consistently spoken of these, but such strategic reforms are nowhere on the horizon. 

    Dysfunctional and subverted institutions have remained a long-term reality in India. These have given rise to powerful forces with strong vested interest in status quo. Most astute politicians have been cautious in dealing with them to avoid risk of public disorder and unmanageable levels of turbulence. But visionary statesmen do find ways and means to address such difficult challenges.  A robust security and dynamic criminal justice system is a fundamental necessity for a stronger India. 

        Simultaneously, corporate sectors all over the world have been battling varying degrees of erosion in integrity and transparency. Only the means and methods have varied. Congressional Research Committee of United States to various Nobel prize winning economists have alleged that mega corporates have rigged the entire regulatory capacity of state even in the West. Ill-effects of unrestrained privatisation or unhealthy nexus between politicians and corporates, to the detriment of collective interests of the communities, is a global reality. However, the entire process is too discreet and sophisticated in the West compared to what we have in India. Democracies need to find an answer to this both for the sake of their credibility and optimal governance efficiency.  

    If we adhere to the strictest levels of probity and integrity, probably no mega corporate entity anywhere in the world can come clean. Some of the local detractors of PM Modi have been flagging that crony capitalism has been a longstanding reality in India but the scales were never that high and mode never so direct. We all know that crony capitalism and opaque political funding share a symbiotic relationship. Many political and corporate leaders have admitted in private that high levels of integrity and transparency were simply not viable in our ecosystem. This is neither a new nor an isolated phenomenon. With onset of strict anti-graft laws in the West, Indian corporates run the risk of being targeted by their global rivals over such soft underbelly. Sharp decline in stock prices of such entities, directly hits average consumers or investors for no fault of theirs. Govt is duty bound to protect such people for which it needs to build a much broader consensus and understanding among various stakeholders.  

    I have always maintained that an economy of our size cannot afford so many billionaires. Such sudden rise in wealth of any individual does not appear possible under normal circumstances.  Real economic strength of a nation like ours does not rest on number of mega corporates and billionaires. It needs a larger culture of industry, enterprise and innovation where several smaller enterpreneurs rise on the strength of innovation and excellence in multiple niche areas. 

     Under-performing institutions and deficient criminal justice systems have remained a perennial reality in India. But at the same time, India is the only stable democracy in the entire post-colonial world whose rise is often linked with larger stability and security of this region and beyond. Hence, both BBC and Hindenburg reports do not deserve the kind of attention that they are enjoying. But we shall ignore need for serious reforms in both political parties as well as corporate sector of India, only to our own peril. These reforms are not luxury but critical necessity for optimising our economic strength and external security.   

    I am also posting a clip of part of a lecture of Jan 2020 during which I had emphasized on centrality of reforms in political parties and private sector.     




Tuesday, January 10, 2023

TURMOIL IN BRAZIL: LESSONS FOR DEMOCRACY

 

Rioting in Brazil Over Disputed Electoal Results

The ongoing turmoil in Brazil over disputed electoral results is a stark reminder of fragility of the entire idea of democracy in most parts of the world. It appears increasingly unsustainable in countries with long traditions of authoritarianism, heavy clout of corporate leaders or organized crime networks and deficient mechanisms of rule of law. 

Barely a week after incoming President took office, violent supporters of his predecessor and right-wing populist former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the main city centre in Brasilia. Wrapped in yellow green colors of national flag or official jersey of Brazilian soccer team, they shouted slogans in favor of their fatherland and liberty to claim their rioting as acts of patriotism to salvage the nation. They tried to avoid confrontation with police by shouting at them “may God bless you and prevent you from attacking us patriots”

Protestors vandalised Presidential office building - Planalto Palace, Congress and Supreme Court premises and occupied the main public square in the area, in what appeared a clear replay of insurrections at Capitol in Washington DC two years back. Security forces claimed that by the evening of January 8, they had cleared all government buildings from rioters, arresting nearly 1200 of them and charging 700 of them with violence. But thousands were on the run following five hours long pitched battle with the police. The incident has scarred democracy in Brazil and invited world-wide condemnations.

These attacks have been described by sections of media as the biggest assault on rule of law and democracy since 1964 military coup that had deposed the elected government of President Joao Goulart a.k.a. ‘Jango’ of Brazillian Labour Party. It took 21 years for this Latin American behemoth to transition to what is described as 6th Republic since 1985 through protracted negotiations with Military leadership that had led to enactment of 1988 Constitution, which came into force on Jan 01, 1990.

A Planned Insurrection?

Available media inputs suggest that the so-called mass-eruption in Brasilia was not spontaneous. Rather it was well-planned and well organised. Social media posts have been detected inviting “patriots” to take part in this march with promises of free food and free bus rides. Bolsonaro supporters, from countryside and other cities, had started milling around the protest venue as the weekend approached.

There are videos of Bolsonaro instigating violence by urging his supporters to take arms much before these protests. In fact, there are far too many indicators suggesting that more than a year back, he had expressed apprehension of elections being rigged to deny him a second term. Many Brazilian experts had predicted in 2021 itself that in case Bolsonaro lost lections, he could act like Trump to debunk results, cry foul, and incite his supporters to take up arms to overthrow democracy.

One such video of discussion of 2021 by David Rockefeller Centre of Latin America, captioned as “The State of Democracy in Latin America” is available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3YVP1Shpyc.

Bolsonaro did not disappoint such predictions. Once he lost elections, he skipped inauguration ceremony of the incoming President Lula. Rather he left the country and camped at a location in Florida in the United States and kept drumming up charges of stolen election results. He not only kept quiet when the riot was building up, he rather actively abetted it. There are also videos, though one does not know how authentic, where he describes Brazilians as martial race, urging them to take up arms or spurring even military to take over government. Even his supporters demanded military takeover to prevent Lula from returning to the helm after 12 years. He showed immense reluctance to even condemn the violence initially. Later when he did so, he only disapproved of invasion of public buildings but added qualifiers that protests were part of democracy. In the same vein, he also went on to charge his opponents of organising unlawful protests in the past to overthrow democracy that needed to be investigated. 

Brazil's Record On Democracy

Brazil has never been a model democracy. As per leading institutions like freedom House and V-Dem, Brazil ranks much lower on parameters of democracy, governance, social peace and corruption perception compared to its smaller neighbour like Uruguay, Costa Rica and Chile. This is despite its early foray with democracy and republicanism that commenced way back in 1889, when a cartel of coffee planters of Brazil, who accounted for nearly 65% of the world-wide coffee output, had overthrown 67 years of independent monarchic rule that had parted ways with imperial homeland of Portugal in 1822.  

Frequent disruptions of democracy, with phases of authoritarianism and military dictatorship, have hindered rise of robust institutions and traditions of participative governance in Brazil. But following last transition to democracy in 1985, Brazil had shown immense promise. At the turn of the Century, as the biggest South American state, and the fifth largest in the world, accounting for more than half the population of the continent, Brazil was hailed as one of the rising major economic powers along with China, India and South Africa.

With its formidable economic and military prowess and world-wide influence, Brazil was expected to play a stabilising role in the region and spearhead the larger process of democratisation in whole of Latin America. The region is known for fragile democracies and weak institutions. We already have serious conflict going on in Peru where dozens have been killed. Democracy deficit has resulted in serious misgovernance, with transnational organised crime cartels perennially influencing politics in many neighbouring states and sparing virtually none. Under these circumstances, political stability and efficient governance in Brazil gains significance for security and stability of the entire region.

          Tumltuous Journey Of 6th Republic

The 6th Republic in Brazil has had a somewhat tumultuous journey so far. The first President– Tancredo Neves of Brazilian Democratic Movement - who took over in 1985, following negotiated transition, fell sick even before taking oath of office and died soon. Democracy took some time to take off as the transitional era, from the term of Acting President and Neve’s Deputy - Jose Sarney- until the inauguration of new Constitution in 1990, continued to be governed by authoritarian Constitution of 1969.

The first President who got elected under the new Constitution in 1989 and took office on Jan 01, 1990– Fernando Collor de Mello – had to resign in 1992 following charges of Corruption. His Deputy Itamar Franco, who served remainder of the term until 1994, has probably been the only President in the history of Brazil who enjoyed reputation of a gentleman leader with unquestionable records of personal integrity besides delivering well on governance front. He stabilised economy and democracy both and accommodated various shades of political forces in the cabinet. He abdicated office after completion of the tenure as the new Constitution did not allow an incumbent President, even if he or she served part of the tenure, to run for re-election.

Franco’s successor Henrique Cordoso, a noted academic and politician with a left of the centre orientation, had come on reputation of his sound performance as Finance Minister under Franco. He had mixed results on governance and democracy with some of his pro-poor policies receiving popular endorsement but he struggled on many and few backfired. But before completion of his first tenure, he got the constitution amended in 1998 and got re-elected for another 4 yr term from Jan 1999 to 2002. This was first major tinkering with the new Constitution by an ambitious leader that came too soon in a nation that had barred an incumbent President to run for re-election, fearing return of dictatorship.

 Subsequent Presidents Luis Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), who is again back at the helm, kindled great power aspirations for Brazil through faster growth rate during his tenure but with a tinge of rampant corruption. He was later himself indicted on corruption charges well after he demitted office and was sentenced and had to spend some time in prison.  He eventually succeeded in overturning the verdict by citing the bias of prosecutors and came clean on all charges. His successor Dilma Rousseff faced more ignominy, when she was impeached during second year of her second term on corruption charges only.

There is a strong possibility that even Bolsonaro too may face similar charges at some point of time in future. There are already few cases against him and Lula is likely to institute more. Bolsonaro's fall from grace is not likely to do any good to his future. 

Democracy, development and corruption have converged in Brazil. Judiciary has been selectively assertive but has not remained immune to influence. Further, local and global ecosystem have made it extremely difficult for Brazilian democracy to preserve integrity of its institutions, provide a robust governance and a strong mechanism of rule of law. A country that is so rich in natural resources and with its vast size and fairly large population, it is crying for efficient governance to translate its great-power potentials into reality. 

Manifestation of a Global Trend: Lessons For Democracies

Recent developments in Brazil are indicative of a larger global trend of erosion in integrity and credibility of democratic institutions, notwithstanding some exceptions and few variations. Elections have turned into high stake battles for warring elite not only in arena of politics but also corporate sector, sections of military and probably those in the grey world who probably need state support for their survival and clout. Hence, the phenomenon of populist leaders seeking to build their personality cult needs far closer examination and evaluation. Exploitation of nationalist or identity sentiments have potential to generate such levels of mass frenzy, at least among their supporters, that can knock out rule of law from list of key governance priorities. This can reduce democracy into arbitrary rule by elected dictators. Simultaneously, emotive strength of nationalism and identity provide a brilliant cover to deflect popular attention from governance failures and corruption.

The most striking feature of the Brazilian protests have been initial police reluctance to crack down on the rioters. Sections of Western media have suggested that Bolsonaro had been seeking to cultivate cartels within the security forces. While key figures in military or police who were part of the erstwhile military regime have faded out but progenies and proteges of those stalwarts continue to retain significant clout due to sheer inner dynamics of these institutions. Bolsonaro has been rather soft on military and security officers who have been found indulging in excesses or violating rule of law or what some would suggest a suspected nexus with regional crime cartels to run various shades of grey world operations. Eventually sanity prevailed and security forces could bring situation under control. But a lot of damage had already been done by that time. 

Political options that Brazilian democracy offers may not be ideal. Both Lula and Bolsonaro have been accused of corruption and knocking out their political opponents through ruthless manipulation of institutions. Rule of law and robust governance capacity automatically become a casualty under these conditions.  Besides, rising influence of China, through a set of local collaborators, and clandestine clout of organised crime syndicates further ensure continued decline of Brazilian democracy and sustained pilferage of its economy, especially the rich natural resources. 

Such phenomenon reinforces my belief that democracies need to re-discover themselves to optimise their latent and real potentials. Legitimate political, economic and social stakeholders in democracies need to work out a mechanism to address their differences, if they genuinely care for comprehensive and sustained defence of universal access to freedom, equality and opportunities. Otherwise, despite an outward fa├žade of democracy, even larger states, with not so robust institutions, run the risk of being controlled by a combination of local and global cartels to the detriment of collective interests of their communities and even the entire nation. There may not be easy answers in this direction.  Brazil appears too fractured and divided at this juncture, where robust institutions do not appear sustainable. It needs to heal internally for which both incumbents of state and society need to contribute. It shall also require exceptional statesmanship from incoming President Lula to negotiate a combination of highly complex internal and external challenges threatening his nation at this juncture. 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

LOOKING AT UKRAINE WAR FROM INDIAN PRISM

INDIAN EXPERTS ON THE WAR    

Discussions in India's intellectual spaces on Russia-Ukraine war were initially focused on humanitarian evacuations. Subsequently, most Indian experts appeared more anxious to express solidarity with President Putin led Russia, rather than evaluating the entire issue objectively, even from the perspective of strategic interests of Russian state and its people. 

     Looking at the entire issue from New Delhi, closer ties with Russia and Israel appear critical for India's own security as well as long-term security and stability of this region and beyond. Simultaneously, India's friendship with the West, and especially the United States, is equally important for India's existential interests as well as strategic security of the United States. However, there has been an apprehension that China's burgeoning economic, military and technological prowess may compel the United States at some point of time to abandon Asia and Indo-Pacific, especially if the costs of defending this region, or even maintaining presence here, could become unsustainable.

 China's military and technological surge appears unstoppable at this juncture. Simultaneously, internal fissures in US democracy, including its position even on critical foreign policy and security issues, appears more than glaring. In long run, China definitely threatens the United States and its allies. But in the interim, it is possible that the United States can work out a tactical understanding with China to avert a direct conflict.  

    On the other hand, India is uniquely positioned to consolidate ties with West Asia and Africa as well, including Islamic nations. It continues to enjoy immense goodwill in the region. The entire equilibrium places India in an unparalleled position to pursue its great power aspirations, if it can optimise its internal governance institutions. 

The dividend of better understanding between the West and Russia at one level and Israel and Arab world on the other may harm military industrial complexes of the West but provide an unparalleled impetus to technological and economic upsurge for the entire mankind. India's rise will not only provide the biggest antidote to both Islamist radicalism and Chinese authoritarianism but also act as the biggest catalysts to peace, stability and innovation, benefitting the entire mankind. 

    I believe that the Russia-Ukraine war is not of mere academic interest to India. A depleted and weakened Russia, dependent upon China, shall be disaster for India. It can multiply military-security threats from China. However, the dynamics of Chinese political system is such that it is bound to breed conflict with both Russia and India. With 10 times more population than Russia and similar advantage in economic sphere, China possesses the capacity to virtually gobble up Russian land and natural resources, at least substantially if not entirely. Though internal systems of China are likely to crumble once the bottled-up pressure of mass oppression explodes. This is inevitable at some point of time. 

    Such an outcome has potential to generate exceptional instability and volatility in the region. This would dwarf the instability and volatility that we witnessed on fall of Soviet Russia in early 1990s.   Though the world has recovered from the same due to stability provided by leadership of strongman Putin. But his de-institutionalization of Russia and decimation of all opponents, besides creation of an army of loyalists through a caucus of oligarchs - at the cost of sustainable progress of his own country-  doesn't augur well for future of this great civilisation. 

    Most discourses on Ukraine war in the intellectual space of the West appear driven by an urge to humiliate and vanquish President Putin and Russia. West has done huge disservice to both democracy and Russia by giving an impression that it was consistently trying to undermine and destabilise Russia. It has also been suspected of engineering colured revolutions in Russian backyard to change regimes. These moves appear more focused on weakening Putin and Russia rather than ushering democracy in these parts of the world. These have backfired and further strengthened Putin and impeded Russia's transition to genuine democracy. In retrospect, the entire approach also appears flawed and tactical. It plays into hand of China. Russia could have been a much lesser danger even to the West than Xi led China.  

    India has to impress upon the West that an isolated and weakened Russia, dependent upon China, is as much threat to the West as India. Russia has to be weaned away from the Chinese influence and it should be nudged on the path of democracy. This will definitely help stability and security of the existing global order. However, this is not going to be easy. India has ignored provocations and taunts by the Western media that has been least respectful, or even receptive, to Indian sensitivities. But Indian state must harness its goodwill to break the impasse in US-Russia ties. 

    During yet another discussion on a Hindi channel named APN, I was shocked by observations of a retired Indian diplomat. He insisted that India must stay away from Russia-Ukraine dispute. His words were: "doosre ke jhagde mein hamein kyon padna hai?" (Why should we get into quarrel of others). This is the precise psyche from which India must extricate itself, We are in a different era where any development anywhere in the world impacts us in one or the other form to some degree. The war of attrition between Russia and Ukraine, despite helping us in the interim on oil bills, threatens to shift an already disadvantageous geopolitical equilibrium further against us. 

I call an approach of isolation from Russia and the West as strategic myopia. At one hand, we aspire to become global leaders, and at another we are reluctant to engage others or reform ourselves internally, to secure our own existential interests. Our great power aspirations must not rest on goodwill or mercy of the world or discretion of fortunes. We have to pursue it ourselves as a state and society        

LOOKING AT THE LARGER PICTURE

    Ukraine has suffered enormously in the ongoing war.  But Russia too has not been able to escape the devastating consequences. Military losses and setbacks have embarrassed Russia and generated a lot of resentment internally. People have been quiet on economic hardships but loss of youthful population and wasted economic opportunities is going to haunt Russia for a long time. 

    President Putin has been outsmarted by the NATO strategists this time. Probably, it is complacence that bred overconfidence this time. NATO or the United States seem to be winning the battle for the time being. But a victory here is likely to push them to an imminent loss in a larger geopolitical war. 

    Ever since pro-Russian Ukrainian President Ynaukovich was ousted through a mass uprising in 2014, the NATO-Russia confrontation had been on the rise. Russian victory over Crimea and its annexation, in a genuinely short, swift and decisive battle bolstered the image of invincibility of Putin. He had successfully avenged humiliation over ouster of a pro-Mocow regime. But his failure to win the current war, despite having initiated the same, appears a self-goal. Many believe that he was provoked into this trap by the NATO strategists.  

    There are far too many indicators to suggest that President Putin went into the war without adequate preparation. None of his advisors and associates could probably muster enough courage to point this out. Early this year, there was a video that went viral on social media in which the President Putin was seen rebuking his intelligence Chief. The latter had mildly tried to suggest that Russia needed more preparation to win the war.

     Inbuilt constraints of the authoritarian governance model of Russia have also been exposed during this war.  Russia had also failed to factor in the tough resistance from Ukrainians and alleged covert support that they have received from the West. 

    NATO's eastward expansion is also something that the West is not able to discuss with candour amongst itself. The West should have tried to push democracy in Russia more through persuasion rather than coercion, deception and clandestine regime changes. A genuine democratization of Russia could have provided bigger safety net for security of the West. 

    But that appears improbable at this point of time. For persuading Russia or others to democratize, the United States has to fix its own internal democracy, which it appears shy of addressing. Simultaneously, expanding asymmetry of power between China and India is another factor that has been denting desirability of democracy and open societies, notwithstanding appreciation for the same. 

    It is widely believed that capitalist greed of United States has created a monster in form of authoritarian China.  A small cartel of people led by an insane narcissist, domestically accountable to none, but with access to exceptional financial, technological and military prowess, threaten the entire world. They appear capable of marginalising even the United States in few years at least in Asia, Eurasia, Africa and Far East. 

    TEST OF GLOBAL DIPLOMACY AND LEADERSHIP    

    An early conclusion of war, at this juncture, appears too distant given the level of distrust between the two sides. Any mediation by any power appears fraught with serious possibilities of failure. Mediation and facilitation more often require complex technical skills, besides trust of contending parties. While India enjoys high degree of trust of both Russia and Ukraine, but it is possible that neither United States nor China could be interested in putting their weight behind India or a bonafide peace deal. Besides, Indian diplomacy's technical expertise and experience of mediation in such complex conflicts is quite suspect. Hence, a progress in this direction is possible but it is not going to be easy.  

    Many Western analysts have contended that the Russian failures have severely dented the aura of invincibility of President Putin. Some assess that he may have to explore a smooth exit from political space of Russia. Alternatively, there could also be an abrupt end of his regime, which appears difficult the way he has decimated all opponents and even alternatives to himself. 

Surreptitious regime changes forcing transition to election process has failed in far too many contexts. Political stability in Russia appears not worth the risk of instability that the West supported coloured revolutions had brought in. Of course, at some point of time Putin has to retire. Someone acceptable to the west and Russia has to assure Putin of a safe retirement and stop comedian turned hero Zelensky to restrain his bravado. But this is not going to be that easy. President Putin has established himself as custodian of Russian pride. West has to act with immense generosity whereas India has to stretch all its potentials and capacities to push peace, not as an act of altruism or charity but a critical necessity for creation of a geopolitical equilibrium that ensures its security.   






But as long as Putin remains at the helm, the threat of a nuclear attack, howsoever minor, remains a reality. The world has already paid a high price over Russia-Ukraine war. It will test resilience of global diplomacy and leadership to extricate the mankind from potential threats of a further escalation of this war that has already taken a heavy toll.   

Monday, November 14, 2022

A WAR THAT HAS PRODUCED MANY LOSERS BUT NO CLEAR WINNER

    Daily Russian poundings over the past 9 months has witnessed large-scale loss of lives and public infrastructure in Ukraine. Russia has also suffered setbacks. Its strength has been dented by unexpectedly high military casualties besides impact of Western sanctions. The whole of Europe battles serious economic crises alongside energy shortages. The entire developing world is anticipating an impending food and energy catastrophe. India and Asia worry alteration in geopolitical equilibrium, paving way for unrestrained Chinese hegemony in the region, that is certain to threaten their security. United States runs the risk of being replaced as the most preeminent power in Asia and Europe by the China. The gains for China, as of now are more potential than real. Hence, the world is in middle of a war that has not yet escalated to its optimal potential but has produced more losers than any clear winner.

This is a different war and efforts to draw parallels from history is more likely to hinder our understanding and ability to face the same. 

LOOKING AT FUTURE FROM THE PRISM OF PAST

 On October 26, I was in a live TV discussion on Russia-Ukraine War at platform of an eminent Hindi channel. My fellow panelists included a well-known and articulate retired Ambassador, a retired General of Indian Army and a retired Historian, with specialisation on Eastern Europe and Russia.  They had nearly two decades more experience of the world than me and naturally I have always been deferential to such elders and their wisdom. However, intellectual integrity has at times forced me to take contrarian  position and defend the same but with an open mind.  

In course of this particular discussion, the retired Ambassador questioned my understanding of diplomacy and warfare, over my following observations: 

1. President Putin's strategy was failing as Russia was forced to make far too many tactical retreats and recalibrate its strategy a bit too often, despite enjoying huge military superiority over Ukraine; 

2. With shift in momentum, the Russian troops could struggle to hold on to some of their territorial gains;  

3. A good strategy of war must get a quick and decisive victory at minimal costs and negligible collateral damages;

4. More the war prolonged, the Russian dream of Kievan-Rus reunification shall become distant, if not unachievable; and 

5. A victory in a prolonged war, involving heavy human and material costs, feels more like a loss;    

    I had held on to my position on that televised discussion even in face of insistence by my three elderly co-panelists that Russia was winning the war. They cited the duration of the first and second world wars to contend that wars have their own momentum. They dismissed my idea of short, swift and decisive war as imaginary. 

    Sadly, they forgot that the world has evolved far too much since the second world-war era. We are living in a far more integrated and technology driven world, which has potential for more devastating consequences in a much shorter time. Even in that war, the aggressor or the principal initiator of the war - Germany - had paid heavily for its grave miscalculations. Despite its huge military and economic strength on eve of the two mega wars, Germany faced a debacle that pushed it back on most parameters of national and societal power by centuries, even though it inflicted massive collateral damage in others as well.  

    Here the war was initiated by President Putin. He has been careful to avoid attacking NATO countries. His adventure is not comparable to Nazi Germany. But Russian failure to win the war in a short time as well as its military and economic setbacks have dented its image of invincibility in the region.   However, this was not the first time that this particular Ambassador had verbally attacked me. I recall in a discussion he had been very aggressive towards another retired Ambassador who was a few years younger to him. During a TV discussion on Sri Lanka in 2020, he had repudiated my assessment that Rajapaksa brothers would not be able to resist Chinese pressure and the resultant consequences for the island nation could be too bad. The YouTube video of that discussion is still available on the web and what transpired in Sri Lanka since then is very well known.  

I find the problem with our traditional experts lays in their over reliance on history to assess the present or look at future. 

UKRAINE BLEEDS, RUSSIA STRUGGLES AND THE WEST GETS A FALSE SENSE OF VICTORY:

    During this discussion, as well as discussion on this subject on other platforms, I have maintained that Russian setbacks since September 2022 indicated that it shall struggle to hold on to some of its territorial gains. Even though Ukraine is in no position to defeat Russia or deter sustained onslaught by Russian artillery, missiles and Air Force, Russia appears incapable of securing an outright military victory in foreseeable future.  The entire Kievan Rus region has suffered irreparably.   

  Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff has been quoted by media in early November that nearly 200,000 soldiers have perished in this war. Ukraine and Russia have faced similar number of military casualties. We may dispute accuracy of these figures but cannot deny massive military casualties impacting both sides. Ukrainian President Zelensky himself had conceded in June this year that Ukrainian was suffering daily military casualties to the extent of 700-800. Simultaneously, there are indications of unexpectedly high military casualties even on the Russian side. Moscow's official data about military casualties stood at 5937 by early September as per a BBC report. However, large-scale military recruitments and images of large number of women searching their dead sons, husbands and brothers have been visible on social media.  

    Simultaneously, by mid-November 2022, Western sources have estimated Ukrainian civilian casualties around 40,000. The war is also believed to have generated 15 to 30 million refugees as per credible media channels in the West. Official UN records indicate that 7.8 million refugees have moved into different parts of Europe. They are mostly from Ukraine but a small component among them are Russians. There are no credible figures available on total loss of Ukrainian public infrastructure. The assessments have varied anywhere between US $ 300 to 800 billion. Ukrainian economy has shrunk by 39%. Rebuilding is going to cost too heavily. However, no one knows as yet when the war shall end. On the other hand, Western sanctions have failed to entirely cripple Russia.  But it would be too naive to deny economic and human impact of the war on Russia. 

    In recent months, Ukrainians have struck Russian positions with exceptional lethality, destroying their tanks, aircrafts and even sea vessels, with help of Western satellite imagery, surveillance and latest precision strike weapons. These have exposed relative obsolescence of military firepower of Russia, notwithstanding their strengths in areas like rocketry, missile technology, including rocket and jet-propelled hypersonic missiles, fighter aircraft, including advanced strategic bombers among others. But in many areas, they have lagged behind both the West and China, especially in advanced electronics and precision strike weapons.

      Over the last few weeks, scenes of mass jubilation, especially following Russian withdrawal from Kherson, and warm welcome extended to advancing Ukrainian troops by local people, including ethnic Russians, have conveyed a clear message. The so-called nationalist support base of President Purin appears under threat for the first time. Some of his staunch loyalists on social media have been openly critical of the Russian war strategy, especially its abject withdrawal. The possibility of use of tactical nuclear weapons remains a reality even now. But the image of invincibility of Russian artillery and airpower in Ukraine stands thoroughly exposed. At this point of time, Ukraine appears incapable of pushing the Russians beyond the East bank of Dniper or Dnipro River. Stalemate is likely to continue in many areas. But absence of a decisive victory for Russia itself is being hailed as Ukrainian victory.   

    Meanwhile, despite inability of both Russia and Ukraine to conclude the war, a trust-driven peace talk is nowhere on the horizon. Ukrainian President probably thinks that he has wrested momentum and, hence, has put impractical conditions for talks. These include restoration of all areas captured by Russia as well as ouster of President Putin from Russian Presidency. Russia, under President Putin, is unlikely to concede defeat or accept losses.

               Simultaneously, the net outcome of war shall decisively tilt the balance of entire global geopolitical equilibrium in favour of China. It shall increase Russian dependence on China and provide the latter with unfettered access to vast land and natural resources of its mauled and depleted northern neighbour. I doubt the resultant outcome shall suit the strategic objectives of the West, especially the United States and its allies.   

                                                                                                                   (To be continued)

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Russian Invasion of Ukraine (Vol.1): Significance of the War

 Significance Ukraine-Russia War

As Russia-Ukraine war completes 100 days with no end in sight and Ukrainian President himself conceding that ‘Russian forces had captured one-fifth of the territory of Ukraine’[1], consequences of the war are more than visible. Food and energy prices are soaring world-wide following sanctions and dislocation of supplies. Horrific images of the dead civilians and large-scale destruction of cities, towns, farmlands, villages, neighbourhoods and public infrastructure in Ukraine suggest that soon very little may be left in Ukraine to re-build. On the other hand, Western sanctions, imposed in five tranches, seem to have had done little to shake Russian determination on Ukraine. Rather enterprising middlemen are raking moolah out of distressed Russian crude sale at one level and overall shortages on the other. Some are already eying lucrative post-war reconstruction opportunities in Ukraine.

Russian forces appear to have established almost full control of industrialised Donbass region, capturing almost all key cities in a campaign that has been excruciatingly slow yet steady. Ukrainian forces have put up determined resistance, even recapturing small number of habitation in an area, where Pro-Russian local militias had already     been controlling a significant area including controlling Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Occasional counter-attacks from Ukrainian sides reflect resilience of the resistance that the Ukrainians have put up so far as well with possible intelligence and otherwise support from the Western sources. Going has definitely not been as easy and smooth as the Russian side may have anticipated. Russia to give up on its earlier strategy of possibly toppling Zelensky by encircling Kyiv and overwhelming Ukraine from all sides.

Large-scale casualties and destruction is going to leave bitterness that may persist much longer, if not forever. These may fracture the common civilizational identity of erstwhile Russian empire or the former Soviet republics that the President Putin was seeking to restore. Many Western analysts have described graphic depiction of war miseries in media as setback for Russia and victory for Ukraine in larger information warfare. A few friends in strategic community East Europe have observed that it may appear a moral victory for the United States and the Westers Europe as they succeed in their  objective of inflicting a big blow to President Putin’s aspirations to regain territorial integrity of ‘Kievan Rus’ (or Kyivan Rus) and establish pre-eminence of Russia in all the territories that had once been part of Czarist Russia and erstwhile Soviet Union. But flawed strategy of President Putin and his inability to usher in genuine democracy in Russia is equally responsible for this humiliation of almost entire Eastern Europe.

East Europe and West Europe had always been two separate civilisational entities and there has always been some degree of competition between the two, notwithstanding their own internal tussles, turmoil and conflicts. Ukrainians have paid a huge price in terms of loss of human lives and large scale despoilation of their land. It is indeed difficult to differentiate Ukrainian and Russian blood as there has been huge intermixing and for a variety of reasons ethnic Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Germans etc who constituted population of Ukraine around or before first world war have learned Ukrainian language and assimilated into a common Ukrainian identity. A significant section in the East have retained their exclusive Russian identity and President Putin had charged Ukraine of carrying out genocide against them. Unfortunately, over 25 million Russian speaking people had suddenly become foreigners overnight when 15 Soviet Republic had turned independent following fall of Gorbachev. Their relationship with their non-Russian speaking states remains complex and tenuous.  

But the larger human and material const that Ukraine has paid to gain popular sympathy is probably far too high. Further, Western strategy or support for the Ukraine or leadership of President Zelensky is not going to alter the eventual outcome of war, even if alters geopolitical equilibrium of the region. These are only going to stretch the agony, pain, trauma and losses for people of Ukraine manifold.  Other in the region absorbing refugees or impacted by disruption of supplies in some form or the other are also going to suffer to varying degrees. 

President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has shattered the belief that conventional wars were either unlikely or no longer needed in an increasingly interlinked and integrated world. This War has also exposed the vulnerability of the larger freedom that the mankind has substantially enjoyed from the war since the middle of 20th century. Overall military costs including Western aid and spurt in military spendings of most states in the region is going to witness decline in share of public investments in human development and social-welfare projects world-wide. These can permanently distort the trajectory of progressive evolution of democracies all over the world and plight of masses may deteriorate all over the world.

In the event of failure of his so-called grand agenda of Putin, probability of his taking recourse to desperate measures, periling security of both his own people as well as that of others, appears a reality. Though the world has so far ignored the potential threats of nuclear war by Putin and his associates, the spectre of even biological, chemical or a limited nuclear war remains on the horizon, albeit quite distantly at this stage. They have consistently reminded, if not threatened, the world about potential consequences of a limited nuclear war. Yet there is no worthwhile global initiative or leadership that appears capable of halting this war to usher in an early and sustainable peace or even ceasefire.

  We are already witnessing far reaching consequences of this war where few are enriching at the cost of the rest. These include miseries of people in Ukraine and families of the Russian soldiers as well as people suffering to varying degrees due to dislocation of food and essentials. The pace and scale of devastations, combined with larger implications for global geopolitical equilibrium, peace and security, far more exceeds consequences of several prolonged skirmishes, border conflicts, sustained counter-insurgency or anti-insurgency operations or military interventions as well as a few prolonged wars like the one between Iran and Iraq in 1970s that the world has witnessed over the past few decades. Russia, a direct party in this war, has not only been a top nuclear power but also one of the biggest producers of oil, gas, grains and fertilisers. Russia and Ukraine, together, have been described as bread basket of the world.

Rapid assessment report of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) had assessed, soon after Putin’s invasion, that this war would lead to: a) escalation of cost of food items globally, exposing several nations in Asia and Africa, as well as a few even in Europe, to supply shocks; b) limited disruption of transportation of container cargo; as well as c) increase in oil gas prices impacting larger investment, inducing instability in financial markets and squeezing real income in many developing nations etc.[2]

These assessments have turned out to be correct by the end of May 2022. Prices of many essentials have risen in most developing nations and disruption in global supply and investment chains seem to be leaving their impact quite significantly. UN Secretary General Guterres observed on June 03 that ..”the conflict has already taken thousands of lives, caused untold destruction, displaced millions of people, resulted in unacceptable violations of human rights and is inflaming a three-dimensional global crisis – food, energy and finance – that is pummeling the most vulnerable people, countries and economies,”[3]

(To be Continued )

Friday, May 27, 2022

A CRITICAL TRIBUTE TO NEHRU: THE VISIONARY FIRST PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA

 

On his 58th death anniversary, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, appears a highly polarising and controversial personality. This was not the case a few decades back when I was studying in a university in the national capital named after him -   Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU). But even during late 1980s and early 90s, Pandit Nehru was not a very popular figure even in a premier University that was named after him. But he was definitely not hated or despised by any standard. 

We are the largest democracy in human history with free speech enshrined in our constitutions as a fundamental right. But I don't remember at any point of time in my entire life, at least from mid 1970s since when I remember things clearly, that  one could either admire or criticise  a big leader or even disapprove of his/her decisions at any public platform, without losing  goodwill or inviting some retribution. Today, strangers, if not bots, are waiting to pounce upon anyone on social media with all kinds of vituperative diatribe over any divergent perception on an issues or even a leader. 

Nevertheless, in the best interest of democracy and governance, decisions of every important leader, howsoever great, must be open to impartial and enlightened public inquest or intellectual scrutiny. One must never be insulting or prejudiced in such exercise. But an honest venture with candour shall certainly helps build better perspective on governance and democracy. 

During my days in JNU, leftists not only dominated the intellectual discourse on the campus but virtually bullied, mocked and intimidated the rest. They often mocked Pandit Nehru, describing his vision of socialism as fake, insincere and utopian. This was prior to collapse of communism in 1989. This was the time, when even the remotest association with Congress Party or BJP, or for that matter any centrist party, was considered a stigma on JNU campus. I remember during 1988-89, Congress Party had arranged a series of cultural programmes to mark birth centenary of Pandit Nehru. But I doubt it had any positive impact at least in JNU.   

Interestingly, certain shades of socialists, opposed to Congress Party in 1980s, hailed Nehru as their own icon.  They showed enormous praise for Nehruvian socialism, even while opposing and condemning Indira Gandhi over her assaults on democracy during the famous "Emergency" era  and eroding and scuttling integrity of nearly all institutions. Some of the elderly and towering socialist leaders like late Shri Chandrashekhar ji and his associates cited Nehru's five-year plans, or his initiatives to build s strong public sector and institutions of learning, his leadership of post-colonial Afro-Asian world to resist “neo-imperialist, neo-colonial hegemonic agenda of the United States” in 1950s, without capitulating to Russia, as hall-mark of great leadership.  

They particularly praised Pandit Nehru’s vision of a modern and scientific India, which in their opinion were manifest in Bhakhra Nangal project to IITs to steel plants to atomic power projects etc. We hardly talk about Bhakhra Nangal today, but I was told that it was inaugurated with festivity and joy, befitting a national festival. They opined that these were so very difficult to conceptualise in the atmosphere prevailing in the immediate aftermath of independence. 

Many politicians who were young in 1950s and 1960s, had mentioned that despite all its claims to promote democracy, the United States had refused to help India with steel manufacturing technology or any heavy engineering industry or technological modernization plan on which Nehru ji was very keen. Later suspicion of American hand in killing of Homi J Bhabha virtually confirmed Indian apprehensions of  American hostility. With John Foster Dulles vindictive policy of 1950s that those who were not with America were against it, was yet another indicator of American disdain towards India's autonomy and independence in conduct of foreign policy.  Under these circumstances, Nehru appears to have handled initial challenges of governance and geopolitics so very well.  

But these admirers of Nehru also criticized the latter's overly anglicized ways, his stance on Tibet, his follies over Kashmir and of course the debacle that he invited in the war with China in 1962. They identified the root cause  of these failures in Nehru's patronizing and self-righteous approach that bordered on some degree of narcissism. Yet in hindsight, his narcissism was far less malevolent compared to not only Mao, Stalin, Khrushchev or even Churchill but also likes of even Tito, Nasser, Sukarno and Nkrumah, who were suspected to have clandestinely eliminated/oppressed some of their key rivals.  

Nehru's financial integrity, as per all available records, was impeccable. Unlike Jinnah, who was committed to excesses in luxury and sensuous indulgences, Nehru led an austere life. This was despite having seen luxury and comfort that his father had once provided for. His association with several women were well known. But that was the case with nearly all men in power of that era, in almost every part of the world, varying from Churchill to Mao.

 

Nehru was thoroughly committed to governance and remained fairly impartial in dealing with of most his colleagues. Chinese betrayal in 1962 had left him shattered and he made no bones about it. In the last interview of his life, which I have inserted in this blog, he was unequivocal that India had to become a strong military power to repel Chinese threat via Tibet. Even at the height of his soft corner for China, he never hesitated in giving shelter to young Dalai Lama.




 Source: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=nehru%27s+last+interview&docid=607999303091500460&mid=733C6AD9FEBFFABB87B4733C6AD9FEBFFABB87B4&view=detail&FORM=VIRE


When India, with its rich civilizational heritage, gained independence as a vast and yet fractured nation, with a set of challenges that were far too complex and  yet humongous, it needed an exceptional and towering leader to preside over the initial phase of tumult and uncertainty. Even if Nehru was not the perfect choice, he was certainly one of the best options that the country had at that point of time. He had several strengths but also a share of follies. How Subhash Chandra Bose or Sardar Patel would have acted is a hypothetical proposition. But these leaders did appear more decisive, forceful and realist on several parameters. But Bose was not there and Sardar Patel passed away prematurely. 

There was no dearth of a galaxy of brilliant leaders even in cabinet of Pandit Nehru or outside. Nehru did occasionally support even those who were opposed to his views but in few cases, he did appear vindictive. I am not citing specific examples only to avoid controversies. But I doubt that there was any leader in any part of the post-colonial world at that point of time, who was better. We can argue that as the first Prime Minister, he could have done more. But this is an endless debate.   

Subsequent researches, incorporating some de-classified military-diplomatic documents, demonstrate that Nehru ji was least receptive to the then military, security and diplomatic establishments of the country. He over-rode institutional wisdom on several issues of critical importance.  Deadlock in Kashmir in 1948 or Chinese intrusion in Aksai Chin in 1950s or abdicating offer of a permanent seat in UN Security Council in favor of China or ultimately being surprised by the Chinese attack in 1962 are some of the examples in this direction.

It is debatable whether such lapses emanated from Nehru's romanticist view of the world that he had nurtured as an idealist freedom fighter under the patronage of Mahatma Gandhi. He lacked adequate exposure to geopolitics and security issues or one can say the very principles and practices of statecraft and warfare. Alternatively, he had remained distrustful of incumbents in those very military, intelligence and diplomatic institutions, who until sometime back had faithfully served an external colonial master, helping in oppression of their own people. 

Nehru in his bonhomie with Mao in 1950s, failed to appreciate Chinese or Maoist psyche emanating from long uninterrupted tradition of deceptive warfare and diplomacy. Mao was a top guerrilla warrior, adept in overwhelming bigger adversary exploiting their trust and complacence. Nehru had virtually given up on North-East India during the Chinese war besides letting down troops with deficient supply of essentials. He probably acted far too naively in dealing with Islamist radicals, as if they were liberal Muslims.  

But a great  leader cannot hide behind these excuses. Sardar Patel too had no exposure to statecraft. But he acted with such levels of realism, pragmatism, integrity and vision – in uniting 500 plus princely states, including difficult ones like Hyderabad and Junagadh among others- that could pale even the most seasoned governance and statecraft strategists. 

Leaders cannot be omniscient. But they must optimally harness all their resources, including their associates. With all his strengths and good intent, Pandit Nehru could not sufficiently trust his own associates and he probably remained far more than the first among equals in his council of Ministers. He trusted his own wisdom and decisions far too often, ignoring his associates. This contributed to a great visionary and idealist flounder on some major issues of strategic importance. 

         But today, Nehru is no more and India and the world and the larger context and sub-contexts of governance and geopolitics have significantly transitioned. United States is the closest partner of India, notwithstanding India's refusal to directly condemn Russia for invasion of Ukraine. India- China competition and rivalry is likely to stay forever. Successes and failures of Nehru offer huge lessons in leadership, politics, governance and geopolitics and diplomacy.  The biggest criticism that Pandit Nehru faces is on introduction of dynastic politics in India. Probably, it never happened during his own life time. It was Lal Bahadur Shastri who had succeeded Pandit Nehru but following his unexpected death in Tashkent, Indira Gandhi took over premiership with help of some clever courtiers, who had intended to exploit her naivete. She outsmarted all of them and turned out to be exact opposite to her father on tolerance to dissidence or even corruption. But it is pertinent to ask, what were the rest of Congressmen & women doing? 

Even today, the Nehruvian idea of egalitarianism is neither fake nor irrelevant. An extreme inequality in society disturbs its strategic equilibrium, undermining the quality of cohesion and competition and consequently the capacity of a society evolve and flourish optimally. Today, China with 109+ highly profitable public sector companies in the list of Forbes Fortune 500, has demolished the myth of inefficiency of public sector. Ability of these companies to invest in R&D without worrying for immediate returns, has helped  China surge ahead of even the United States in many critical areas of fundamental research. Yes, we need to avoid obtrusive controls of the kind that the Soviet Russia and erstwhile communists practiced, killing innovation and excellence and choking output of their societies. 

Nehruvian model sought to retain people's control over mega companies and major resources without curbing freedom of ideas, initiative and enterprise. The model could have been refined alongside transformation of larger ecosystem to foster higher quality of trust, collaboration, competition and excellence. 

But it is time Nehru is liberated from partisan, acrimonious and politically discordant discourses. His lapses must be remedied and  his contributions need to be consolidated upon. But this is possible only if his great grand children set an example of some self-sacrifice. Their presence at the helm of Congress Party, by virtue of sheer birth in a family rather than any accomplishment as well as their association with dishonest courtiers, amounts to the biggest indictment of Nehru as harbinger of nepotism, favouritism, dynastic entitlements and corruption in every sector in contemporary India. 

Pandit Nehru's great grand children can emerge as powerful agents of change to redeem not only pride of  their own great grandfather but also help India realise its optimum potential as a state and society, that Pandit ji had envisioned. 


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