Monday, September 29, 2014

No PMO's Parror, Swaraj stands tall... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ Setpember 28, 2014

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No PMO's Parrot, Swaraj Stands Tall with 'Maximum Outcome, Minimum Visibility'

Sushma Swaraj

Diminutive she may be, but indomitable she certainly is. External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, perhaps the shortest in terms of height in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet, has been setting an example for the rest to look up to, as she charms the world with her tireless but discreet diplomatic missions to various international capitals. While Modi has positioned himself as India’s most effective leader, Swaraj seems to have adopted the principle of maximum outcome with minimum visibility. In advance of Modi’s Madison Avenue address, the Big Apple had acquired saffron hues; Modi’s cut-outs were giving the skyscrapers competition and banners adorned with his smiling visage became the leitmotif of what promised to be a historic visit by a leader, once demonised by the same hosts who are hero-worshiping him now. But it is Swaraj’s persuasive iron hand in the velvet glove diplomacy—she chastised Pakistan for spoiling the talks by meeting with separatists—which reveals her training as a lawyer and educationist with the motto that the more you speak, the more attention you get. In Manhattan, Swaraj graciously allowed TV channels and photographers to capture her on camera with foreign guests, but refused to deliver one-liners to reporters hungry for sugary or bitter bytes. She is one of the five women ministers in Modi’s Cabinet. Yet Swaraj is following the leader in creating records.
She is India’s first female foreign minister since Independence, with the exception of Indira Gandhi, who for a brief period held the portfolio when she was the Prime Minister. Swaraj is also the first Indian woman foreign minister to lead her country’s delegation to the United Nation General Assembly, as well as being part of the Prime Minister’s team during his entire stay in the US.
In fact, for the first time, two women, Swaraj and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, who appear to be made for each other, lead the Ministry of External Affairs. They also seem to be perfect partners in delivering perfect diplomacy. Most of the time, they have been travelling together, strategising against India’s foes and partnering to project Modi as a global leader with a ‘vision and mission’, causing much dismay to those South Block mandarins who pose as walking encyclopedias of global statecraft.
Modi landed in New York with a purposeful agenda and a list of targets to achieve, while Swaraj had a clearly defined assignment. Unlike the previous foreign ministers, who were cocktail party captives of pin-striped diplomats, spending more time sightseeing and raising toasts with the high and mighty in global financial capitals, Swaraj’s meetings were restricted to those who matter and can contribute in helping her restore India’s stature in international politics and the global economy. Modi’s unspoken objective is to acquire the global status, which India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru enjoyed. Nehru, along with Marshal Tito of undivided Yugoslavia, forged an alliance of non-aligned nations to engage the contradictions of a bipolar world divided between the US and USSR. But now the world is divided by money and not ideology. Since India is where the fast buck starts, Modi is leveraging his economic ecology to place it in a better position to dictate international economic and strategic narratives. He has wisely chosen his political colleagues to aid him in this, instead of superannuated and supine babus or inane intellectuals sponsored by dubiously funded think tanks. Swaraj’s mandate is to network with both powerful and not-so-powerful nations. During her 10 days in the US—the longest ever visit by any foreign minister in recent times—she was expected to meet over 100 ministers from over 40 countries. While Modi spent his time impressing his fans and half-a-dozen heads of states, Swaraj was sorting out thorny issues with smaller but politically significant countries. For Modi, it was a visit to establish his superiority and triumph over a country that had treated him as a pariah. Hence, both leader and follower had defined their itinerary and objectives to achieve the maximum impact with minimum labour.
Swaraj was spending almost 10-12 hours every day to meet her official commitments. It was not a coincidence that she met foreign ministers from other nations, who could help further India’s current and future interests. Within a few hours of her arrival in New York, she met with seven of them. She had longish parlays with Philip Hammond, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Norwegian foreign minister Borge Brende, and Greek deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos among others. She didn’t leave out India’s neighbours and African leaders either. She met her counterparts from Sudan and Maldives. Her idea was to cover all continents and regional economic groups like BRICS, G4, IBSA, the Commonwealth and SAARC. She met ministers from West Asia to understand the contours of the ongoing conflict in the region. Her confabulations with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at the UN headquarters ended the military stand-off on the Indo-China border following intrusions by PLA soldiers. During all her meetings, she chose to speak extempore except on occasions when formal introductory speeches were required. Those who attended her events confided that they were yet to come across another person who could pick up the subtle nuances of complex diplomacy in such a short time. Since the Prime Minister always sets the tone and tenor of diplomacy, it was left to Swaraj to articulate Modiplomacy, at the same time without sounding like the PMO’s parrot.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, September 22, 2014

Modiplomacy has hues of Nehruvian .....Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ September 21, 2014

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Modiplomacy Has Hues of Nehruvian Model Abroad and of Indira Gandhi at Home

So far India has heard and seen the Modi Mantra and the Modi Model of Governance. Now we see PM Narendra Modi’s ability to play diplomat by keeping diplomats away. He has always been told “a diplomat tries to arouse the nation whereas a politician lulls it to sleep”. Last week, he reversed the role, literally. While senior Foreign Service officers were lulling themselves and mulling over Indo-China policy, Modi set a few precedents for future diplomats to follow. He inspired his countrymen by making his Chinese guests keep aside fatuous formalities, and engaged them in a new diplomatic genre which displays the maximum but delivers the minimum. Modi converted the visit of Xi Jinping, China’s most power leader, with his elegant wife Peng Liyuan into a stellar marketing event. Though Xi’s visit was at the Indian president’s invitation, Modi ensured that the focus remained on him alone. From the selection of gifts to the dinner menu, everything reflected the unique Mo-Diplomacy. Most state visits are meant to fill diplomatic attendance registers. Many agreements are signed, numerous speeches are delivered and many discussions take place for analysts to give their verdict, which often turns out to be mere chimeras. Xi’s India sojourn, however, was one with a visible difference. Besides being a visual delight, it created global ripples for its timing and tenor. Since Modi has no inhibitions about calling himself a Gujju businessman, he won the hearts of China’s first couple with classy cuisine and a delightful dress circle in Ahmedabad. He replaced ping-pong diplomacy with swing diplomacy, leaving people all over the world guessing about the direction and impact of the Gujarati swing. Modi always thinks of new ideas for governance, conducting dialogues with ministers, corporate leaders and now foreign dignitaries. He sees symbolism and gestures as more powerful, effective instruments to achieve objectives than delivering formal speeches in purple prose. Ever since Modi took over, he has been engaging foreign leaders on his own terms. He is the first Indian PM to hardly ever use written notes for speeches when dealing with international visitors. He knows there is no better weapon than one’s own language to put counterparts on the defensive. For the past few months, Modi has interacted with over two dozen world leaders and has addressed as many meetings, but always in Hindi. His supporters take pride in claiming that Modi is the man of the moment whom the world is waiting to hear, even though it may not understand his language or politics. Modi believes in breaking records and conventions. Besides creating history by winning a parliamentary majority by a genuine non-Congress party for the first time, he has many innovations in diplomacy to his credit. Here are some unique examples of Modi’s swing diplomacy:
• Modi is the first Indian PM who has invited all SAARC heads to attend his swearing-in ceremony. He sprang a surprise on the foreign office by suddenly announcing his decision to unprepared diplomats, as the gesture involved engaging hostile neighbours like Pakistan and the not-so-friendly ones like Sri Lanka and Nepal. But Modi was quite clear in his mind. He wanted to start his innings, not as a PM who just favours peace in the neighbourhood but also one who acts to reclaim India’s regional leadership. With his first move, he disarmed his rivals.
• While his predecessors would always seek to begin their stint with a meeting with the global powers, Modi chose to embrace India’s neighbours to create a club of his own. The idea was to ensure that India would like to work with them in international affairs. Hence his diplomatic itinerary started with Nepal, Bhutan and later Japan.
• To make Gujaratis realise that he hasn’t forgotten them or their interests, Modi became the first PM to welcome the President of China not in New Delhi but in Ahmedabad, and the first PM to do so in a state capital.
• To drive home the point that he is not against the corporate and private sector, he became the first PM to welcome a head of state at the door of a privately owned five-star hotel outside New Delhi.
• Though it is not officially admitted, Modi created the unique convention of giving a personal touch to Chinese President’s visit by arranging it on his own birthday in his own state. No world leader has ever thought of such a novel idea of beaming and bonding.
• If that wasn’t enough, Modi is the first PM to host a lavish state dinner on a riverfront. Xi was served a 50-course Gujarati dinner, along with elegantly choreographed entertainment. About 50 guests, including Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, attended the event. It was meant to create the ambience for a softer tone for the hard bargaining which followed during the official talks on the next day in New Delhi.
• Modi used his PM status to swing three agreements with China, involving billions of dollars for Gujarat. Never before has a PM presided over the signing ceremonies of MoUs for investment in numerous local fields.
• Modi replaced formality with informality, which is anathema to conventional diplomacy. By taking Xi for a leisurely walk along a specially curated Sabarmati riverfront, Modi set the tone for a personal bonding—rare between a Chinese president and an Indian PM.
• Modi sprang yet another surprise on the Chinese first couple with a Gujarati swing. He himself sat with Xi, and later requested the couple to amuse themselves on the swing so that he could swing a favourable deal for a promised $20 billion FDI in India. Xi appeared so impressed by Modi’s sartorial flair that he decided to wear a Nehru Jacket during his riverfront stroll.
• Since the Chinese First Lady takes pride in promoting Chinese brands and music, Modi ensured that Smriti Irani, the minister-in-waiting for the President, gave as a gift a Gandhi Charkha to underscore the importance of the Mahatma and his fight for Indian-made products. It was both a symbol and  warning that India would promote its hand-woven fabrics and prevent China from dumping its sub-standard products on our shores. Modi also ensured that Xi was the first Chinese president to visit the Sabarmati ashram and sign the visitor’s log.
It was obvious that Modi wanted to shift the headquarters of diplomacy from New Delhi to Ahmedabad for this big event. Even the official MEA spokesperson candidly admitted, “It’s no secret that the PM is very keen that India be showcased beyond Delhi. He has made it amply clear that the beauty and magnificence of India beyond Delhi should be seen by visiting foreign leaders, and we are beginning that process with President Xi’s visit.” But it wasn’t just about showcasing Indian beauty and magnificence beyond Delhi; Modi wanted to be the master of ceremonies himself. If Xi had landed in New Delhi, the spotlight would have been on the magnificence of Rashtrapati Bhawan and Hyderabad House. In Gujarat, it was Modi and the Sabarmati riverfront all the way, in all the frames. He is the only Gujarat CM who has visited China five times. He was determined to pay back his former hosts in the same manner and style which was accorded to him. Above all, with his manners, methodology and mechanisms, Modi has defined the road map for converting INCH (Indo-China) into MILES (Mega Indian Long-term Engagement Strategy). Indian Prime Ministers have always taken unusual interests in international relations and Modi is no exception. But there is a difference. Modiplomacy is acquiring the hues of the Nehruvian model abroad and that of Indira Gandhi in domestic politics.
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, September 15, 2014

Floods Have Made Bond between J & K ... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ September 14, 2014

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Floods Have Made Bond Between J and K and Bharat Stronger, Article 370 Notwithstanding




Irony is the constant companion of contradiction. So far Jammu and Kashmir has enjoyed special status under Article 370. Last week, its people realised that a separate constitutional identity was no guarantee against nature’s fury. When the state structure—created under Article 370—collapsed like ninepins, it was the Union of India comprising all 29 states and seven Union territories which rose in unison to save its most splendorous geographical entity. The rest of the nation just forgot that a large number of locals from the Valley, including members of the ruling parties and separatists, were against the Indian state. For the past 65 years, they have been waging a war to retain J&K’s special status on paper only. They have been silent on the forced ethnic cleansing which drove Pundits out of the Valley. They have kept quiet when innocent Army personnel and helpless Kashmiris were killed in terrorist attacks. Over 90,000 people have lost their lives in the state during the past 25 years. Yet, India has been doling out grants to Kashmir, enabling it to compete with other states in terms of development. But the funds have only made a few people rich and rest of the state poorer. A special category of citizens who are the actual beneficiaries of the special status are the ones who are indirectly fuelling the fight against the abrogation of Article 370. But as the flood situation worsened, even hardcore supporters of separatists cursed the special status. All of them were looking to the Indian Army, Central government officials, PM Narendra Modi and his minister in the PMO, Jitendra Singh, to save them from apocalypse. It has taken a tragedy of immense proportions to turn J&K, an integral part of India, to become an inseparable member of Bharat Parivar. Despite Article 370, Srinagar was “taken away” from CM Omar Abdullah by the rapacious flow of water and his government was “totally inundated”. A team of officials led by Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami and Indian paramilitary forces ultimately prevented the devastation of a state and its people. The PM also dispatched IAS officer Ajay Kumar Pradyot to Kashmir to set up a system to track missing people and trace them, in the manner he did in Uttarakhand.

When 20,000 personnel drawn from the defence forces, equipped with modern communications systems and other equipment, were evacuating people, the local administration led by its young and acerbic CM was conspicuous by its absence. None of its two dozen ministers, 90 IAS officers and over 100 IPS officers were seen in action. Instead of asking his ministers to go out and save the people, Omar sent six of them to Delhi to demand money. He wasn’t even able to control stone-pelting by hired separatist goons to sabotage relief operations. Normally, in such a situation the CM, Chief Secretary and DGP take direct charge to minimise casualties and damage to property and livestock. Instead, Chief Secretary Mohammad Iqbal Khandey and DGP Rajendra Kumar were looking for safe havens from floodwaters, for themselves and friends. It is possible that most of them couldn’t step out of their homes due to excessive flooding. But none of them had any clue or plan in place to deal with natural disasters. Surprisingly, the website of the J&K Police defines the force as a “saga of sacrifice and courage”. But not one of its members was in sight to prove the slogan right.
The stranded inhabitants of the Valley chased away local politicians belonging to regional parties and even the Congress. They were genuinely upset over the total failure of the state machinery to rise to the occasion. J&K enjoys the dubious distinction of having one of the lowest GDP growth rates in spite of huge Central grants. What really takes the cake is that the state not only has a full-fledged Cabinet minister for flood control, Shyam Lal Sharma of the Congress, but also has a well-appointed office of J&K State Disaster Response Force in Srinagar. Set up in 2012, it has two battalions headed by an Inspector General of Police assisted by a Deputy Inspector General of Police. State leaders have been claiming that they had never expected such a large-scale disaster. However, in February this year, Omar himself had warned of such an eventuality. His government had hosted a two-day ‘State Level Conference of Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation’, which was addressed by him. At the meet, Omar spoke about the growing natural threat faced by the state and wanted the Centre to pay special attention. Experts from the National Disaster Management Authority also participated and gave their views on pompous-sounding subjects like ‘Overview of the Incident Response System and Disaster Management Architecture in India with Special Focus on vulnerability of Jammu & Kashmir’.
In reality, neither did the state government nor Kashmir’s permanent agitationists bother about the slow and steady degeneration of governance. All of them, including the Congress and National Conference, were more interested in keeping Article 370 on the statute book for the sake of preserving their vote banks. In the process, the safety of the state and its people became the casualty. For the past three decades, enormous time and energy has been wasted in debating the autonomy of the state, the role of Indian Army and human rights violations. In fact, the politics of the state revolved around keeping Kashmir deprived of the fruits of growth and prosperity, which the rest of India was witnessing. Any attempt by the Centre to connect Kashmir with other parts of country by road and rail were foiled by extremists. Even power projects were targeted and outside workers killed and kidnapped. For Kashmir’s short-sighted leaders, keeping the state in abject poverty and illiteracy was the instrument used to widen the gap between the state and the rest of India. Unfortunately, it has taken a loss of over 300 lives and property worth thousands of crores to drill the point home that India takes care of even its most truculent states. For all Indians, J&K remains their most cherished heaven on earth. The existence or absence of Article 370 is meaningless and J&K and Bharat were never separated at birth, and shall never be. By cruel irony, the floods have only made the bond stronger.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com;Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, September 8, 2014

Copyrights do expire. Gandhis must...Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ September 07, 2014

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Copyrights Do Expire. Gandhis Must Rediscover Congress to Stay Politically Relevant

There cannot be a more opportune time for both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to dust the shelves of history, and pull out the gilded volumes of The Discovery of India written by Jawaharlal Nehru. The book could help them rediscover not just themselves but also their party—the Indian National Congress. The time has come for the stakeholders of the jaded 128-year-old outfit to rediscover and reposition itself. Since the Gandhis are the only shareholders, they have to devise a perfect and effective marketing strategy to reclaim the territory lost to Narendra Modi. If they feel that they can achieve this by  confining themselves to inaccessible, fortified homes and offices, they are likely to lose even more than what they can imagine. Congressmen want the Gandhis to lead from the front and not retreat into citadels. Their gestures and actions during the next months will not only decide the party’s future but also the political relevance of the Gandhi Parivar. Sonia acquired an iconic status after winning power for the Congress in 2004 and 2009. The Gandhis have always been recognised as national leaders. Now with the arrival of Modi on the national scene, Sonia has to score a dramatic comeback to retain her pan-Indian identity and exalted status.
The Congress has gone though many splits, climbed many hills and descended myriad valleys. But the party has never faced such a threat to its very existence. Even after 110 days of its worst defeat since Independence, the High Command is still prostrate with shock. The body language of the leadership and middle-level functionaries doesn’t reflect the resolve needed to stage a comeback. While the BJP has undergone a generational change and an ideological overhaul, the Congress is struggling to keep its flock together. Generally, the political war should be between the ruling party and the Opposition over issues and institutions. But the Congress appears to be at war with itself. The Gandhis are conspicuous by absence, yet the party keeps its faith in the Gandhis. A majority of workers feel that only a Gandhi can revive the party. But they are hugely demoralised by the internecine strife among senior leaders who are busy seeking various posts like the Leader of the Opposition and chairpersons of various parliamentary committees instead of agitating against the ruling party by finding fault with its governance. A former minister, known more for indiscretion than performance and was sacked for his objectionable conduct, lobbied so hard to grab the chairmanship of a panel by incessantly hounding the High Command that other more qualified young MPs were ignored. A large number of former ministers and senior functionaries cut sorry figures when they continue to behave as if they are still members of the ruling party, and fail to accept that they have lost not just power but credibility too. A bunch of defeated and defamed Congressmen pose a mammoth challenge to the party leadership by unashamedly seeking positions of power in the organisation. Perhaps this damaging environment has forced over a dozen young Congress officebearers to demand the purge of those who were responsible for the rout of 2014, but are unwilling to quit their lofty perches. A party general secretary demanded that anyone above 65 should retire from active politics. A month before, some state leaders had raised their voices against Rahul, holding him responsible for the collapse of the party structure.
Sporadic rebellion against the leadership is not unprecedented, especially after the party had lost a decisive election. The Congress genetically is an outfit of power-seekers. The party lost its independent character after Indira Gandhi faced down the powerful challenge from the party’s original freedom fighters. If they got India independence from the British, Indira Gandhi got liberation from them and created a portmanteau of loyalists who worshipped her like a deity. Since then, the inheritors of her political genealogy have been building and rebuilding a party of a quantity of followers, but few leaders of quality.
It is not surprising that despite the party’s humiliating defeat, no disgruntled Congress leader has demanded Sonia Gandhi’s resignation. They still feel that she is the only one who can revive the party’s sagging morale and nudge her son to be more politically proactive. For the past three months, they have been expecting a major organisational reshuffle—both at the Central and state levels. They were also expecting Sonia to tour the states extensively to address grassroots workers. In fact, she was working on a revival plan and had planned a Bharat Yatra accompanied by new set of officebearers. But she couldn’t take on the oldies. Even in the selection of various officebearers, she was advised against experimenting and just stick to the well-tested Congress principle of obliging every caste and region. For example, she was forced to appoint 72-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge as the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha only because he was a Dalit. Many effective senior leaders like Veerappa Moily and Kamal Nath were ignored. For the past 112 days, she has been meeting people from various parts of the country, but has refrained from calling a formal meeting of state leaders. Her supporters and admirers are equally baffled by her inaction in revamping the party machinery in the poll-bound states of Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and J&K. All of them have the sinking feeling that the High Command has accepted defeat in these states even before the elections have been formally announced. In addition, there are no serious talks about forging regional alliances to stop the Modi juggernaut from making a triumphant entry into these states. All of them are currently ruled by the Congress or in alliance with a local party. The party has formulated no strategy to fight the by-elections in various states like Uttar Pradesh. It has decided not to seriously participate in any of the 12 by-polls. The reason is quite a revelation. The party, which still rules around half the number of the country’s states and has held sway over India for over five decades, is short of funds. If this is indeed true, then it reveals yet another equation changing within the party. Those who are capable of funding the party and collecting huge amounts are not passing the dosh on to headquarters, but are keeping it with themselves to finance the elections of their supplicants. It is a clear signal to the Gandhis to undertake the long political journey to rediscover the Congress, which still swears by them, stands beside them and sacrifices for them. After all, copyrights do expire and royalty also ends.
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, September 1, 2014

By Connecting with the Young, Chacha Modi ...... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/ August 31, 2014

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By Connecting With the Young, Chacha Modi Could Create an India of His Dreams

Modi is a message. Even his sworn enemies concede that. But he is also au courant with the medium to disseminate his message in real time. His colleagues are surviving by flirting with fair-weather opinion-makers and media mavens. On the other hand, the PM is thriving by setting up his own mechanism for connecting with India. In the past 100 days, Modi has proved that he can reach out to maximum people with minimum interaction with the media. He doesn’t miss any opportunity to convert his gestures into a publicised event. From Independence Day to Teachers’ Day, every date provides him an excuse to reach out to target audiences all over the country—schoolchildren, bank officers, jawans, youth and government employees. His obsession with technology and social media has made him the only world leader who connects with people directly, making conventional media redundant. It may sound like a coincidence, but there is a method in his methodology.

Last week, he was back on stage with another out-of-the box idea. His eyes are set on future voters as well—India’s children. India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday on November 14 was declared as Children’s Day so that he could speak to the young. He would ask the Delhi government to gather over 1,000 school kids at the national stadium and interact with them at teatime, thus earning him the sobriquet ‘Chacha Nehru’. But Modi isn’t bothered about projecting his birthday. Instead, he had a recent epiphany about how to reach both children and teachers simultaneously. HRD Minister Smriti Irani has directed her ministry to convert Teachers’ Day on September 5 into a ‘Charcha with Chacha Modi’. A planned dialogue with 100 handpicked students from Delhi schools will last for over 100 minutes, to be telecast throughout. States have been directed to provide not only TV sets in chosen schools but also Internet connections in remote areas so that all schoolchildren can watch the PM answering questions from kids. Though states are yet to provide the total number of the children audience, the HRD ministry is confident that it would set a world record in which a PM would be watched by over 1,900 million schoolchildren.
All these are not just attempts to reach out to future voters and to mesmerise adolescents with the Modi Mantra. The idea is to force states to connect every school with the rest of the country and the world. It will also help the PM to interact with the most active section of the population. For Modi, connectivity is a matter of faith. Creating records is his mission. Like a star athlete, he takes pride in hanging medals on his 56-inch chest. Last week, his administration created history again. It is perhaps for the first time that any Indian government has implemented a scheme within two weeks of its announcement by the PM—the Jan Dhan Yojna. Calling it an attempt to ensure financial inclusion, the finance ministry launched the scheme on August 28 by opening over 1.8 crore bank accounts for over 60 per cent of Indians who have no access to banking facilities. He also announced 1.5 crore free insurance policies. This means massive business for banks, insurance companies and mobile operators. Earlier, Modi sent out emails to senior bank officials, asking them to take active interest in opening accounts under the scheme. Never before had any official received a personal communication from the PM. A senior banker confided that but for the PM’s personal intervention, the banking system wouldn’t have come together to successfully conduct such a massive exercise in a single day.
Modi’s passion for connectivity was evident when he launched the government portal mygov.nic.in on July 26. It is meant to encourage people to write to him directly about various issues and propose solutions. Since talkative and argumentative Indians have opinions on everything, Modi saw an opportunity to be exploited in this predilection. Any ordinary citizen in any remote part of India now has direct access to the PM. Later, he issued a directive to all government employees to provide their email ids to their ministries in case he wished to get in touch directly. On the face of it, all these exercises appear to be just about the government communicating through a new technology-driven medium. But actually they involve creating a massive data bank, which Modi is putting together to access without government help in the future. According to his techie aides, the PM himself has access to over four crore mobile numbers, email ids and personal details of ministers—both at the Centre and in the states—as well as of party workers. This info-treasury is a powerful instrument in his hands to keep track of the performance of party office-bearers and ministerial colleagues. Modi would also be able to do course corrections. It is intriguing that he hasn’t junked the practice of placing the PM’s picture on every Central government advertisement, an exercise started by the all-powerful Indira Gandhi, who, too, was equally aggressive in establishing direct contact with the people.
A loner by lifestyle and a workaholic by nature, Modi is perhaps the first CM who fought as a PM candidate and won an unprecedented mandate. He earned it by being a frequent flier and maximum talker. According to websites, Modi addressed about 425 rallies in 28 states, covering 5,800 locations from September 2013 to May 2014. He flew and drove for 300,000 km and spoke to over four crore people. He conceived an unusual interactive programme by organising Chai Pe Charcha, which was distributed live through 3D projectors at 400 locations. As if connectivity with domestic audiences wasn’t enough, he set yet another precedent on the day of his swearing-in. For the first time, leaders from SAARC countries, including a hostile Pakistan, were invited to participate in the function of installing India’s PM. As Modi completes 100 days in office this week, he would be known as the most formidable human data bank connected to the most powerful and fastest server with unlimited memory. For Modi, it is not a chair in South Block but information which is power. Will he use it to create the India of his dreams or demolish those who stand as roadblocks in his way to become the most powerful PM the country has ever had? Over to Chacha Modi.
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, August 25, 2014

PM Must Choose his Words ..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/ August 24, 2014

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PM Must Choose his Words and Weapons in Dealing with Pak and its Missionaries

Nawaz Sharif,Abdul Basit

For a while now, all Pakistan envoys posted in India have been nothing more than remote-controlled megaphones. Their mission is to blare out the bluster of their ventriloquists in Islamabad and they are rarely switched off. Conventionally, a diplomat is expected to convey even the nastiest news in the nicest manner. But Pakistani diplomats are trained to convey to India the meanest messages in the foulest fashion. Recently, when the elegantly balding, sharp-nosed Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, made a plea to include separatist leaders as stakeholders in the K-dispute, he gave an ugly face to diplomacy. His provocative contention was a direct intervention in India’s internal matters and violation of conventions. Despite a stern warning by India’s foreign office, he held meetings with self-styled Kashmiri leaders who have been rejected by the people of their own state. A section of Indian diplomacy firmly believes that most Pak high commissioners have been used to unintentionally sabotage dialogue between the two countries. Or was it an attempt to prevent the visit of Indian diplomats to Pakistan, who would have gathered first-hand information about its paralysed government? Opposition leaders like Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri are making it impossible for beleaguered PM Nawaz Sharif to function as head of the government. Hence it is a mystery as to who could have advised Pakistan’s foreign secretary to continue the dialogue with Indian delegation? Was it a move on Basit’s part to destroy India’s democratic milieu? After all, every Pak envoy is known for hosting parties replete with biryani and sufi concerts for Delhi’s cultural, social and political influencers who would then sing the same tune as the quarrelsome quwwals in Islamabad.

Otherwise what was the logic behind Basit’s move in invoking the right of those responsible for creating trouble in the Valley? By his action, Basit has defied Indian democracy. He has challenged the right of democratically established Indian institutions to decide on how to deal with hostile elements. Predictably, an envoy representing a failed state struggling to save its identity is trying to deflect international attention from the crisis at home. It is unclear whether he speaks on behalf of Pakistan’s elected government or some invisible parallel power centre. Democratically elected leaders hardly share the vocabulary exhibited by Basit. His speaking style resembled extremists like Hafiz Saeed and others better. While his symbolic political masters back home underplayed India’s decision to call off the Secretary-level talks on August 25, it was Basit who was painting India as a warmonger.
Basit and his predecessors have been liberally misusing diplomatic immunity by not only engaging with anti-India elements but also trying to infiltrate the capital’s high and mighty club. The Pakistani establishment always chooses suave high commissioners whose cosmopolitan charm makes them trophy guests in Delhi’s drawing rooms. During the past three decades, envoys like Abdul Sattar, Riaz Khokhar, Ashraf Jahangir Kazi and Salman Bashir were so effective at networking that none of those invited to the high commissioner’s residence would ever utter a word against their hosts’ direst diatribes. With huge funds at their disposal, the envoys were able to create pressure groups in India who would parrot the Pak point of view on cross-border dialogue. In the past 25 years, Pakistan’s top diplomats have directly or indirectly facilitated the participation of hundreds of powerful Indian opinion-makers in seminars, symposiums and similar fine-dining gabfests organised by think-tanks funded by unknown sources in Pakistan. It is possible that some of the frequent fliers to Islamabad and Karachi from India have strong feelings against the continuation of dialogue with the perfidious neighbour, but there are many others who refuse to find fault with terror activities sponsored by non-state actors from across the border. The Pak High Commission in Delhi has become the preferred rendezvous for all those who have either been convinced about or mesmerised into believing in Pakistan’s cause. Last week when Basit spoke about “stakeholders”, he found support from many internationalists from India, including corporate leaders, all of whom have been strongly building a case for enhanced cultural, economic and sports cooperation between the two countries. Surprisingly, none of the beneficiaries of Indian munificence—at home and in Pakistan—have ever spoken against terror camps in PoK and Pakistan. On the other hand, they were able to influence the Indian establishment to grant Pakistan ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status by ignoring the fact that border violations have been plenty in past two years. According to a latest report, over a dozen terrorist training camps are actively operating from PoK and other parts of Pakistan. What is worse is that there is no progress on India’s demand to hand over its known enemies like Saeed and Dawood hiding in Pakistan. In a widely televised press conference, however, Basit let it drop that his country is also a victim of terrorism and that over 1,500 civilians have been killed by terrorists. He conveniently forgot that the killers were Frankenstein’s monsters created by Pakistani agencies like ISI.
The response to Basit’s outburst only reflects that though the colour of the Central government has changed, its organs remain unwilling to strike or challenge the defiance of Pak diplomats. Knowing PM Narendra Modi’s style and intentions, he would have sent Basit packing, along with his team and taken the broom to pro-dialogue moles in his own establishment and the party. According to media reports, even External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was kept out of the loop regarding cancelling the dialogue. It is a fact that Swaraj has been pushing for a hardline approach against Pakistan, even when she was Leader of the Opposition. The new leadership, however, has realised that the primary reason behind the delay in the settlement of the Kashmir standoff emanates not from the political leadership but from diplomats and non-state actors who have a greater stake in the continuity of confrontation between the two countries. Even Western powers like the US allow that any settlement between a prosperous India and a peaceful Pakistan would end US machinations and destabilise its strategic interests in South Asia. Modi began well by inviting Sharif to his swearing-in. But Sharif and his establishment have returned the gesture with bullets and barbs. It is for the PM to choose his words and weapons in dealing with India’s nefarious neighbour and its missionaries and mercenaries in India.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla