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Running Down Bibi

March 9, 2015

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited by Republican Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of the US Congress. He is the only other world leader to have addressed a joint session of the US Congress thrice after Sir Winston Churchill. This high profile address to the joint session did not go down well with the Democrats and President Obama set it aside as ‘rhetorical’ and ‘nothing new with no solutions’. I must add here that the speech by the Israeli PM was as regards the Iranian nuclear threat and the proposed US-Iran nuclear deal where Tehran would pursue ‘clean’ nuclear energy for civilian purposes and would abstain from enriching uranium to weapon grade. The speech came close to the Israeli elections and was seen by many as a political grandstanding by the Israeli leader for political gains back home and amongst the Jewish community in North America (most have dual citizenship).

The critics of Bibi (short form for Benjamin) call him a war monger and a man who has been crying wolf for almost twenty years now. Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat leader and former Speaker was aghast at Bibi’s ‘insensitivity’ that Americans were foolish enough to believe the Iranians blindly. There was a rally in Tel Aviv the other day – the ‘million hands’ rally where around 20,000 people gathered. The rally was organized by the vocal Left parties of Israel. Former Brigadier Generals and other retired officials of the Israel Defense Force and Mossad addressed the rally. Their grouse was that Bibi was hell bent on ruining relations with the United States and with Arab countries around the region. President Obama refused to meet PM Netanyahu or even chat with him on the phone and the White House spokesperson explained that as the visit was near Israeli elections it could be seen as interference in internal affairs of a friendly country.

It must be recalled that when the Iranian leadership managed to bring around the US to making a nuclear deal they were feted as heroes on their arrival in Tehran. It was a victory of sorts for the Iranians as a nation. Why was there such tumultuous welcome to the Iranian delegation if they did not see it as a ticket to the nuclear club? The Shiite clergy led by Ayatollah Khamaeini has also vowed publicly to ‘exterminate’ Israel and a nuclear Iran is a veritable threat to the region. Is Israel the only nation that is concerned? The answer is a most definitive ‘no’! The Sunnite nations like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Oman and others are equally concerned if not more.

The Saudi leadership has close ties with nuclear Pakistan. It is said that they funded Pakistan’s nuclear program. If Iran goes nuclear they will surely ask Pakistan to share the technology or just hand over a few nukes as deterrence. The other more interesting fact is that Lockheed Martin have sold two THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Air Defense) anti-nuclear batteries to Oman and the UAE. These come at $2 billion. Saudis are also interested in these anti-nuclear missile shields. A third is being tested and will be deployed in Saudi Arabia shortly.

The question that begs to be answered is: If the White House was so sure of Teheran’s pious intentions when it comes to pursuing ‘peaceful civilian nuclear energy’ then why is it allowing sale of such advanced anti-nuke technologies as THAAD to countries of the region? It just does not add up. A nuclear Iran is a threat to the region and to world peace and this is an undeniable fact. Obama’s policy of engagement with Teheran on the issue of nuclear energy therefore does not make sense.

From the Israeli point of view, an Iranian nuclear shield to Hamas and Hezbollah could mean that IDF will not be able to operate against these radicals freely. If Hamas and Hezbollah cut loose the existence of Israel is in real danger. It is an ‘existential threat’ to Israel as Bibi has pointed out time and time again. Critics are running him down that he has been painting this doomsday scenario for the past twenty years now. The fact of the matter is that Iran is inching towards being a nuclear weapon state. And as the head of the Jewish nation of Israel it is his responsibility to ensure safety of his citizens which he reiterated in DC. Bibi is saying what others are saying too. Is there any Jewish leader in Israel or the US that supports a nuclear Iran? Absolutely not! Then why run down the Prime Minister for spelling out the truth?

The problem is not with what Bibi is saying. The problem is that American leadership sees Iran as a pit and the disastrous Carter policy and the resultant 1979 Iranian ‘revolution’ is still fresh in the minds of most Americans. They do not want to take on the Iranians head on. Obama is loath to take any direct action against the Iranians. He is therefore trying to use the IAEA and other agencies to ensure that Iranians do not pursue weapon grade uranium enrichment. Perhaps the American president also reckons that the Iranian question be stalled for the remaining couple of years of his term and let the incumbent president deal with the problem. It is the way US presidents have dealt with the burgeoning fiscal deficit of the US – kick the can down the road.

Remarkably, the Israeli leadership is also keeping its options open. They are factoring in a situation where nothing happens during the remaining time of the Obama presidency and wait it out till the next president comes. Hopefully for them there will be a Republican president the next time around – more amenable to Israeli concerns.

There is a pattern in how President Obama operates. The man tries to avoid a direct conflict. The situation in Ukraine is another example of how the American president has tried to avoid committing himself to a problem. It cost Ukraine Crimea.

The IDF and Israeli intelligence will have a task at hand to ensure Iran does not reach the threshold. It is a delicate situation in the Middle East.

The other question that begs to be answered is: Why does Tel Aviv look to the US for its security? The present dispensation at the White House has veritably said that Israel’s security is not their responsibility. Israel has said time and time again that it might carry out military operations unilaterally if the US shies away from doing what they ought to be doing. They have purchased a fleet of long range F-15 fighter jets and it can be expected that they are ready for a plethora of military scenarios. If the US is not concerned about Israel’s security and does not see it as their responsibility then the American leadership should say so clearly. To Obama’s credit and as a small victory of sorts for Bibi the American negotiators are now insisting that Iranians put a 10 year moratorium on nuclear research which Tehran has rejected outright. Bibi rattled the cage in Washington and it shows.

India is also concerned about Iran’s nuclear program. India sees Iran as a counter to Sunnite Pakistan and we have close relations with Tehran. And yet we have been threatened by Tehran more than once. India is uncomfortable with the possibility of a nuclear Iran. The Modi administration has close ties with Tel Aviv. Lately, on his trip to New York to address the United Nations the Indian Prime Minister met not only Bibi Netanyahu but also his Saudi counterpart. This is a paradigm shift in Indian policy. Israel is not short of friends. And then there is no problem that does not have a solution. Could Tel Aviv look East for its problems? India understands the situation better than what their Western friends do. India has mid-air re-fuelling capacity and its Su30MKi are monstrous fighting machines capable of impressive payloads. Just a thought!


Biking around Varanasi Part III: The other falls – Windom Waterfalls

November 2, 2014

The biker in me woke up again. Its an itch, and when you have an itch you have to do something about it. So I put on my helmet, my dark glasses, my gloves, stashed a few clothes and a towel in my backpack, thrust my Nikon P520 on top of the heap, zipped the damned sack and was off on my Yamaha SZR – the beauteous, dependable machine.

Foliage around the falls

Foliage around the falls

Had heard a lot about the Windom waterfalls but never been there. I am a curious man. They say curiosity kills the cat but with me, curiosity makes me get out and explore. The usual forgettable roads greeted me as I pushed towards Allahabad. From Rohania the road was better. And when on the Varanasi – Allahabad highway I was touching 70-80 kmph. When I increased the throttle a tad further the bike began to wobble a bit so I got the message and slowed.

To reach Windom Falls you don’t need to touch Mirzapur – you just take a left turn and move further on. The damned falls are just a furlong from the road, which is quite amazing.

A side view of the Windom Waterfalls

A side view of the Windom Waterfalls

Windom is no Rajdari as there are no sheer falls. I mean there is no cacophony of tons of water falling from a height – no, these are gentle falls. You don’t get a shiver down the spine looking at the awesomeness of Mother Nature. Here Mother Nature is at her caressing best. These are the kind of waterfalls that are gentle and soothing. You can have a luxurious bath without fretting about the possibility of slipping and going down hundreds of meters.

I was a tad disappointed by what I saw. The image I had of the place was quite different from what I found. Nature is beautiful and so is the Windom waterfalls but there is no magic in there. Maybe the magic is in the serenity of the place. I could not appreciate the place also because of the litter all around. The place is strewn with disused paper plates, cups and soda bottles. Such places of tourist interest must be spick and span. The place smells and the garbage around cannot be ignored. You cannot appreciate a place when it is smelly all around. Narendra Modi’s Clean India campaign has definitely not reached Windom Falls. The place is unique if we keep it well. There are hordes of school children every week end and sometimes even on week days. It is strongly recommended that one visits Windom on week days to avoid the mad rush there.

The Vindhyas around Windom

The Vindhyas around Windom

True to my expectation there is a Dak Bungalow there. I was told that it was built by the British in 1914. It has two huge rooms and a hall. I was further informed that it can be booked for Rs1000 per day for a room in there and that includes meals. I could not quite understand where one can book the rooms in this beautiful timeless structure,

The funny part was that there were two plaques on the walls outside with almost a dozen names of people who contributed to the building of the wall around the Dak Bungalow. I mean, the guys who built the Bungalow remain anonymous and those who built the wall around it jostled for recognition! I felt shamed!

I then made the mistake of taking the wrong road back home. I took the Mirzapur-Chunar-Varanasi road and that was a bone crusher. I had heard that the road was bad but did not know it was so bad. I mean there were hardly any pot holes on the road – there were ditches. Wonder how it would be in the monsoons. The balance of the Yamaha saved the day for me so many times, worked like an Off-roader. Not surprised India has the highest accident rate in the world. On such roads the best of the best will have a fall or two. I was lucky I came back safe. The journey back home was a nightmare. It was a relief to be back in my digs.

Another itch another day another place around Varanasi – for sure!

Divided they fall

October 20, 2014

The recent Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections have been a bonanza for the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). They have got an absolute majority on their own in Haryana and done remarkably well in Maharashtra with 123 seats in a house of 288. BJP’s gamble to go it alone in both Haryana and Maharashtra seems to have paid off, or has it? While in Haryana with a clear majority of 47 seats the BJP is set to form the government in Maharashtra the story is slightly different.

Prior to the elections, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance broke and then the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress Party alliance also came to an end. In the former, BJP led by their party president Amit Shah gambled that they would be able to clear the half way mark on their own, in the latter, it appears that Sharad Pawar and others top leaders of the NCP reckoned that they would be dragged down if they aligned with the Congress especially after the drubbing the Congress received in the Lok Sabha elections. In Maharashtra at least, both the BJP and the NCP got it all wrong. NCP has its stronghold in the Vidarbha region and Congress too has roots in the rural hinterland of Maharashtra from the times of YB Chavan.

It is true that the presence of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi did not stir up the masses. Their rallies were more of a formality than any real substance! The man who single-handedly carried the Congress to a tally of 43 seats – 2 more than the NCP was the Congress Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. The man worked tirelessly and his efforts paid off. Is the NCP ruing the fact that they broke the alliance with the Congress? Had it not been for Prithviraj Chavan the Congress would have been somewhere in the 20’sHad the Congress-NCP alliance remained intact it could well be that BJP and Sena would not be anywhere near the kind of results that have come about.NCP and Congress together are a formidable force in Maharashtra and they have a history of building cooperatives, educational institutions and other infrastructure that the common man is still reaping the benefits from and therefore they have a committed voter base. Conversely, BJP and Sena have done little for the people of Maharashtra and Sena is basically a Mumbai based outfit. Had the Congress and the NCP fought together they could well be near the halfway mark though their tenure was more of misrule rather than any real governance.

The flip side to the argument is that the BJP and the Sena missed a trick when they failed to retain the alliance. Had the BJP and the Sena fought together they could have crossed the 210-220mark and marginalized both the NCP and the Congress to the periphery. Today the situation is that BJP has won 123 seats and the Sena has won 63 seats and both are wondering as to what to do next – waiting for the other to make a move. This is a major dampener for both the rightist outfits. For the BJP this is a positive in that they have shown their growing clout in Maharashtra politics.

Narendra Modi worked tirelessly and had more than 30 rallies. Critics went to town running him down claiming that the PM should be in office rather than out canvassing for the party. Clearly they have not gotten out of the Manmohan Singh era when the PM would be a bureaucrat pushing files. Then they wondered why the PM is not a political person, now when we have a political leader as the PM they say why he is out talking to the people. This is absurd and this really is criticism for the sake of criticism.

It appears that the BJP supreme leader PM Narendra Modi has a distinct dislike for Sena chief Udhav Thackrey. The man cannot stand Mr. Thackrey. Modi and Amit Shah it appears calculated that BJP would be very near the majority and the Maharashtra Navnirmaan Sena would be in double figures and they would form the government together, decimating Shiv Sena and propping up MNS as its counter. While their calculations about the BJP were almost right the MNS failed to deliver and won only one seat. Now the BJP has the option of either aligning with Udhav’s Shiv Sena or take outside support of the much maligned and overtly corrupt NCP who offered unconditional support at the very outset. While Modi would have no hesitation in taking support from the NCP – he and Sharad Pawar share personal rapport, the image of the NCP and Ajit Pawar is such that the BJP will look silly if they did so. It would be so much more of the same.

Shiv Sena is demanding that Udhav Thackrey be made the CM. That is unpalatable for the BJP. The BJP CM candidate Devendra Phadnavis is a light weight as compared to Udhav Thackrey BJP failed to cross the half way mark also because they did not have a declared CM candidate to begin with and when they did it was too late and the lad was not a known figure. Modi and his charm could do only so much and no more, which is no mean feat anyway.

The BJP has little choice but to swallow their pride and go back to Shiv Sena. Because there is another possible scenario where Shiv Sena takes the support of both the NCP and the Congress and forms the government. If the BJP prevaricates and wastes time they may have to face a situation where while they are the single largest party – they might still be sitting in the opposition. Muscle flexing by the BJP should be limited taking into the view that in politics anything is possible and the innate gravity of power leads to strange bedfellows. There cannot be a political vacuum.

Lastly, Raj Thackrey and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena must be ruing the fact that they failed to cobble an alliance with the Shiv Sena when Udhav and his men came calling after the BJP-Sena alliance broke up. Both MNS and the Shiv Sena target the Marathi Manoos. Their target audience is the same. MNS did cut into Sena’s votes reducing their numbers. And that was their only achievement. They won only 1seat and their very existence is under a cloud. Had Sena and MNS fought together they could have possibly crossed the 100 seat mark. For Udhav and his Shiv Sena the one bright spot is the utter failure of the MNS to make a mark in these elections. MNS could well be writing their own political obituary. That is no solace for those who wanted Udhav as the CM. The division between the cousins is a political opportunity lost. Remarkably the Majlis-e Ittihad ul Musalmeen or the MIM has won three seats and is a threat to those parties who overtly and covertly depend on Muslim votes for their political survival.

It was undiluted ambition that drove the parties apart. And now political compulsions and the need to form a government will again bring some of them together. It is amazing how the electorate teach the political parties and leaders lessons time and time again and how they fail to learn from their experiences. The Rightists are at the top for now. They will be watched keenly by the people as to whether they deliver.

Pakistan taken by surprise

October 9, 2014

There has been incessant firing going on in the RS Pura sector of the Jammu region along the India-Pakistan border for more than a week now. More than half a dozen civilians have dies including a 10 year old girl child on the Indian side. The difference this time has been that Pakistan Rangers and some non-state actors alongside them have targeted civilians. This has not happened before. Indian border police, the Border Security Force (BSF) retaliated in good measure. It is reliably learned that more than a dozen civilians have also perished in firing on the Pakistan side.

It is the timing of the ceasefire violations that has made many sit up and taken notice. The firing from the Pakistan side started soon after Indian Prime Minister returned from the US. The closer US-India ties made Islamabad nervous. American tilt towards India is a development that they cannot digest. Besides Modi-Netanyahu meet means an axis between India-Israel and the US. Now that is anathema for Islamic State of Pakistan. Palestinians in Gaza had captured and killed three Israeli teenagers and the response from Tel Aviv was massive. Pakistan deliberately tried to provoke India by firing at civilians and wanted to see if India had the resolve to strike back. Under the previous government in New Delhi invariably Indian forces backed down after some rudimentary response. This time it has been different. Mortar fire has been matched with mortar fire. The lethal Bramhos missile systems have been deployed along the border by India and firing from Pakistan has been matched by overwhelming fire from the Indian side. One Pakistan army spokesperson on the BBC found it incredulous that Indians are not stopping at all. The truth of the matter is that this government at the Center has given the army a free hand, their ammunition stocks have been replenished and the soldiers have been told to give Pakistan a reply they won’t forget in a hurry.

Reports are that 80-90 Pakistani posts have been destroyed and there have been heavy casualties on the Pakistan side. While it is true that Arnia in Jammu region has turned into a ghost town, across the border Pakistan is finding it difficult to match Indian response. The resolve of the Indian security forces and their overwhelming reply has made Pakistan think. They do not know how to react to Indian army and its firepower. It is true that Pakistan is not Gaza but then India is no push over either. Prime Minister Modi has said that everything will be okay in a day or two. Clearly the man has been in touch with his Western counterparts. Remarkably the US has censured Pakistan from moving its F-16 fleet from its base without American approval. Pakistan’s hands have been tied. On the other hand Indian Air Force is ready for action if there is a need to neutralize enemy positions that are a tad bit obstinate. Indian armored divisions and tanks are also on stand-by. Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley has said that the Indian army will do its job. He has also indicated that there shall be no talks till there is peace on the borders.

Pakistan has requested for a flag meeting but the Indian side has refused pointing out that there shall be no such meetings while there is still firing going on from the Pakistan side. Indian position is that Pakistan must stop firing for India to silence its guns in response. This is something new for Pakistan and they are finding it hard to deal with the situation. It is said that there are some 450 terrorists waiting on the other side to cross over to India. But with the kind of response that has come from India it appears that the dynamics have changed and Rawalpindi must be having a rethink. Pakistan knows that they cannot afford a full scale war. They are rubbing their eyes in disbelief that India is refusing to back down. They do not want to stop firing as that would mean they have bowed down. It is a precarious situation. The dynamics have changed in the region and Islamabad seems to be living in the past. This government in New Delhi has made it clear that they shall not tolerate any nonsense from Pakistan. This is something new for Islamabad as they have seen India show restraint every-time they upped the ante. I will not be surprised if India uses air power to target some Pakistan positions. Pakistan does not have the wherewithal to respond to India adequately.

Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitely also said at the start of the skirmish that India will respond ‘adequately’. This is typical Indian understatement. While it is unclear and unknown what the casualty of the men in uniform is on either side I will not be surprised if Pakistan has suffered some major blows this time around. US has remained a dispassionate spectator and rightly so.

The Indian position clearly is that Pakistan must learn to back down. It also means that Pakistan should think at length before firing on Indian positions, especially at its civilian population in future. Will Pakistan understand the message is yet to be seen!

Addendum: Pakistan is falling back on being a nuclear weapon state to halt India in its response to their devious designs. The truth of the matter is that Pakistan nuclear arsenal has computer encryption that are with the Pentagon. Which veritably means that Pakistan cannot use its nuclear arsenal without American approval. The 1998 Chagai Hill nuclear tests were signature Chinese. Will they exhort the Chinese to use nukes against India from their soil? Now that is farfetched.

Modi’s visit to the US – beyond the hoopla

October 3, 2014

Chants of “Modi, Modi’ rent the air wherever Indian Prime Minister went. An ecstatic Indian Diaspora had gone berserk. Some had traveled hundreds of miles to have a glimpse of the man. The Madison Square Garden show was fit for a rock star. The four day visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US had clearly been a success.

Narendra Modi’s address to the Indian Diaspora in the Central Park and later in Madison Square Garden overshadowed the business end of his visit. The Indian Prime Minister was clearly trying to sell the India story when he mentioned India’s Mars mission, Mangalyaan again and again. But did he have to sell India to the Obama administration at all? The American regime has an ear to the ground. They diligently do their home work. They knew the man and what he had in mind. The Modi visit to the US was a success any which way one looks at it. Modi did what George W Bush and Manmohan Singh had envisioned when they signed the Civilian Nuclear Deal. What most people do not understand is that the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Deal is not just about building nuclear power plants in India to help in its energy needs it is an all-encompassing deal that gives both nations the leverage to cooperate in a myriad of issues from defense to intelligence sharing to education and agriculture. Manmohan Singh had the will and the foresight but did not have a personal mandate to take forward what he had envisioned. Narendra Modi on the other hand is a political leader with a mandate and the will to take forward what was started by his predecessor.

What went unreported was Modi’s meeting in New York with a powerful Jewish group, the American Jewish Committee. I have yet to see pictures of that crucial meeting. Narendra Modi, it is reported that Mr. Modi pointed out how Jewish community has never been targeted in India and India abhors antisemitism. The Indian Prime Minister then met the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the two had extended exchanges including the one on the Iran question. Mr. Netanyahu invited Mr. Modi to visit Israel. Will the Indian Prime Minister choose to visit Israel anytime in the future is a moot point. If indeed he does, as he might, the political and strategic fallout’s will be remarkable. For one, India will be taken more seriously by the Middle Eastern countries and we might find real friends and partners in the region including Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was also scheduled to meet Mr. Modi soon after the Indian Prime Minister’s meet with the Israeli PM but Mr. Abbas chose to leave early and the meeting could not happen. These developments are crucial to understand the import of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to the US.

The Indian media tried to highlight the ‘differences’ between India and the US on certain issues, most notably on WTO and climate change. No two nations can agree on everything. The two leaders understood that. What the media did not highlight was the fact that Indo-US defense pact has been signed for another ten years. While the Indian PM was in America the US military was having joint exercises with their Indian counterparts in Uttarakhand. The Indian navy has signed a pact with the US, which veritably means that Indian navy will man Indian Ocean and beyond with their western counterparts. While Modi met American CEO’s which was much publicized, what went unreported was that the US had committed $41 billion investment in the next three years., which is much more than what Japan and China have committed together. India and the US will jointly develop anti-tank missile system called the Javelin. Modi was very keen that US defense industry make India their manufacturing hub as a part of his ‘Make in India’ initiative. It appears that some American companies have agreed to seriously look into what the possibilities are on that front.

That the two nations have agreed to share intelligence goes without saying, remember India is one of the few countries in the world with the state of the art AWACS system in its armory – the ultimate force multipliers. India and the West have been sharing intelligence for long but now the ties will be deeper as anti-terror front will be opened by the two nations and the West will actively help India in its efforts to fight terrorism, including Red terror. Indian National Security adviser, Ajit Doval met US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Mr. Doval extended his stay to the US by a couple of days to have extended talks with his American counterparts.

While Mr. Modi was in the US the Americans signed a treaty with the new Afghan government on extending the stationing of around 10,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Mr. Modi had remarked in his address to the Council on Foreign Relations that the US must not hasten withdrawal as they did in Iraq. The US is looking at close cooperation from India in training of Afghan forces and other strategic issues in the region.

The troika of Japan, Australia and India working closely with the US in Indian Ocean region has been worked out. This is a huge step forward and with Philippines and Vietnam joining in, American plans for the region seem to be sewn together.

On the nuclear front, India has assured that the liability clause will be worked out so that American companies along with their Japanese counterparts will have the freedom to bid for various nuclear power plants that India has planned to overcome its growing energy needs.

It appears that the two nations have also decided to work closely to fight terrorism. Not that they did not have mechanisms for the purpose but the difference is that Modi and his team seem to have specific demands to neutralize enemies of the Indian state who have also targeted westerners. The question of fighting terror was endorsed by the Americans.

Indian media was obsessed with whether India is a partner or an ally of the US. The truth of the matter is that US is cooperating more closely with India than with many of its NATO allies. Whether India is a partner or any ally is more a matter of nomenclature than any real import. The sum and substance of the Modi visit to the US was to renew Indo-US ties to the levels Singh and Bush had envisioned and beyond. It was not for no reason that the American President accompanied Modi to Martin Luther King Jr’s memorial. President Obama could see that Indo-US ties had turned a corner. Modi’s US visit was a watershed of sorts. The shared values and world view of the two nations as also their overlapping strategic interests were bound to manifest in the Indian Prime Ministers visit. Till now American President Barack Obama had no plans to visit India in his remaining term. Modi has invited him to visit India. With the new warmth between the two nations that will ‘define the 21st century’ as President Obama remarked, he just might decide to visit New Delhi again.

Modi’s Asian diplomacy and his upcoming US visit

August 18, 2014

The Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi is scheduled to make an official visit to the United States of America sometime at the end of September this year. President Barack Obama had invited Mr. Modi to visit the US soon after the Indian Prime Minister took the oath of office. Since then the two sides have been working on the modalities of the visit as can be expected.

On his part, the Indian Prime Minister has started his diplomatic initiative by visiting India’s immediate neighbours. He visited Bhutan in mid July and laid the foundation stone of Bhutan’s Supreme Court which will be built by Indian assistance. He also laid the foundation stone of a 600 mega watt hydro-electric power station which will feed demand in Bhutan and in India.

Bhutan is a close ally of India and perhaps the only one. The 1948 treaty of friendship and cooperation is the bedrock of India-Bhutan ties. The treaty gives India the responsibility of ensuring security of the tiny Himalayan nation and to decide on its foreign affairs. Bhutan made the transition from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy in 2008 and the King is still revered by the people of Bhutan. There is high unemployment and a growing national debt. Mr. Modi met both the King of Bhutan Jigme Kesar Wangchuk and the Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay. There is a growing Chinese influence in Bhutan and China wants to have an embassy in Thimphu to begin formal diplomatic exchanges with this vital nation. India is not comfortable with the idea. Modi’s visit to Bhutan is being seen in India as his attempt at securing India’s neighbourhood. Generally the Bhutanese people do not clap as clapping is seen as a gesture to ward off evil spirits but when the Indian prime minister addressed Bhutanese parliament the Bhutanese legislators clapped repeatedly. Mr. Modi’s message of friendship and brotherhood went down well with the people of Bhutan. That he wants India secure by reaching out to immediate neighbours became clear when he made Kathmandu his next stop.

Narendra Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Nepal in17 years. Nepal has been struggling with Maoist insurgency for long. His speech to the joint session of Nepalese parliament went down well with the legislators and he received a standing ovation. The man is a good orator especially when he speaks in Hindi. He announced a $1 billion line of credit which will be in addition to the other existing lines of credits. China has overtaken India as the largest trading partner of Nepal. Modi by this largesse perhaps tried to rectify the anomaly. He emphasized India’s resolve to help Nepal with what he called HIT formula. He explained that HIT was Highways, IT and Transmission. India plans to build roads, give internet connectivity throughout Nepal and ensure that there is power in every Nepalese household. The power trade agreement could not be finalized and that was a letdown for the high powered Indian delegation. He proposed a rail link from India to Kathmandu and a bridge over the river Mahakali which will ease connectivity between the two countries. He met Nepalese PM Sushil Koirala and President Ram Baran Yadav. It could be said that Modi’s Bhutan and Nepal visits were also an attempt at get acquainted with the norms of international diplomacy and testing the waters.

On Jluy 31st 2014 the American Secretary of State Mr. John Kerry arrived in New Delhi to meet his Indian counterpart Mrs Sushma Swaraj. He was accompanied by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and other officials. India has decided not to ratify the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). Ostensibly Mr. Kerry came to reason with the Indians on TFA but apparently it did not quite work out. The other purpose of his visit was the Indo-US strategic dialogue. Indian leadership is hesitant in calling the US a strategic partner. The irony is that at the ground level India and the US are cooperating very closely strategically whether it is in the Indian Ocean or in Afghanistan or for that matter in trade and commerce. His remark in Hindi- Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (Together everyone grows), which is a slogan given my Mr. Modi went down particularly well here in India.
The US and NATO need India in Afghanistan as they begin to withdraw by the end of this year. All this came up in the Indo-US strategic dialogue and John Kerry was effusive in the close ties between the two nations. Curiously, at some point in time the US Secretary of State remarked that India did not need to choose between the US and China. Although the Indian media chose to more or less ignore this statement those in the know could see where this was coming from.

Later, Mr. John Kerry met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Clearly the Secretary of State and his delegation were working on the modalities of the upcoming visit of the Indian prime minister to the United States.
It is not only the Indian and US sides that are working on the upcoming visit of the Indian prime minister to the US. Mr. Modi himself is keen to see some tangible results from his American trip. Before he flies to Washington DC he will make a trip to Japan – an old Indian friend and partner. Japan is the fourth largest trading partner of India and Japanese investments are increasing with every passing year. However, it is the civilian nuclear deal that is uppermost in the mind of Mr. Modi. After the Fukushima disaster the civilian nuclear deal was put on the back burner. The Indian prime minister is very keen to ink this deal as this will be vital for Indo-US civilian nuclear deal to move forward. Most American companies in the field of nuclear energy have Japanese partners. The US is losing out on crucial business in India because India and Japan have not signed the civilian nuclear deal. If the nuclear deal between Japan and India is signed during Mr. Modi’s upcoming visit to Tokyo, India and the US could then go ahead with multi-billion dollar business between the two countries in the field of civilian nuclear energy. Russia and France have won orders worth millions of dollars while the US has been left out. The success of Mr. Modi’s visit to Japan will be crucial to the outcome of his visit to Washington later in September.

It can be safely assumed that President Obama and PM Modi should have extended talks when they meet. There are a host of issues that will come up as both are meticulous in what they do and both are leaders of the masses. It will be interesting to see how the visit by the Indian PM pans out. There are going to be defence deals, talks on regional security, trade and commerce and India’s role in the region, not to mention the two nation’s resolve to fight terrorism. It is going to be a comprehensive dialogue between the two leaders. Two outstanding orators reaching out to their audience at home and abroad should be interesting. Mr. Modi is from the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party and does not carry the Socialist baggage. He is also seen as a doer and a decisive administrator. He is being wooed by other western nations too – especially France and Germany. Will he come up to the expectations of the West? The man understands the need for India to attract foreign investments, especially in the manufacturing sector as he emphasized in his speech on India’s Independence Day. Increasing poverty and joblessness in India can be countered only by more investments from within India and abroad he made clear in his speech. Will Mr. Modi’s visit to the US be a watershed of sorts and a turning point in the growing Indo-US ties? His US visit will be keenly watched around the globe.

A Paradise called Gaza?

July 26, 2014

The recent Israel-Palestinian conflict has seen more than 1000 Gazan Palestinians killed – most of them women and children. The Israeli onslaught was in retaliation to three Jewish teenagers being killed and burnt by Hamas. An outraged Tel Aviv vowed to exterminate Hamas. The Israeli charge is that Hamas terrorists (Palestinians call them fighters) hide behind women and children and thus they get caught in the crossfire. Israelis were seen cheering their military raid and bomb Gaza homes and establishments and Gazans were seen cheering rockets being fired at Israel only to be neutralized by the Iron Dome which was financed and provided by the United States.

It is true that Israel of today was Palestine of yesteryears and many Palestinians remember living in houses that are now owned by Israelis and are now a part of Israel. Should the Palestinians renounce their claim on what was their land? I do not suggest that for a moment. But I also do not understand the use of violence in an attempt to get back what was theirs. For one, Palestinians will have to learn to live and accept the reality of Israel. Israel cannot be wished away. No one can deny the right of the Jewish people the Promised Land. The answer for the Palestinians is to fight for their rights in international forums including the United Nations in a peaceful manner. Violence has given the Palestinians only blood and tears and nothing else. Innocent women and children have died. It has been a one long tale of death and destruction. Hamas and Hezbollah ‘fighters’ may look macho with Kalashnikovs and ammunition belts strewn all over their selves but the truth of the matter is that they have not got the Palestinians anywhere near what they want – a state of Palestine. Their use of violence has left many fatherless, many mothers without their sons and daughters and many babies orphaned. And when these young men who are part of Hamas and Hezbollah die they do not go to ‘jannat’ or paradise but leave behind them old parents who long for their darling son who they have lost. Parents want a happy family not one that has scars of death and destruction. It is silly to accept the death of young men and women fighting for the rights of their Palestinian brothers and sisters with the solace that they have gone to Paradise.

Palestinians should see what they have and make it the land of their dreams – a paradise – ‘jannat’. They have Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank and they have Gaza. Why wait for young Palestinians to die to get to ‘jannat’ why can’t all Palestinians live in ‘jannat’- Paradise?

Yes, Gaza and parts of Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank can be turned into a modern day Paradise if the Palestinians were to show some resolve. And the one basic resolve will be to shun all violence. Palestinians should tell the world that they abjure and abhor violence and as a step in that direction they should destroy all weapons that they have in public display. There shouldn’t be even a revolver in any Palestinian home. Not even a stick. Palestinians have fought for more than 60 years and have got precious little in return except for body bags. This rejection of violence is not because Palestinians are cowards but because they are brave and intelligent. Hamas and Hezbollah should become social organizations which they claim to be anyway. Once this small step but a giant leap is taken things will begin to automatically fall in place. The Islamic nations have been helping Palestinians for long with arms and ammunitions and financial aid. Now the people of Gaza and Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank must insist that they will accept aid only for developmental purposes. They will have to plan Gaza. They will realize that tunnels between Egypt and Gaza are used only for smuggling and a new thriving Gaza has no utility for such clandestine structures. The Gaza economy has to be above board and not surreptitious. If this were to happen the siege on Gaza will automatically be lifted by Israel and they will understand that it is useless to monitor everything that enters Gaza.

The world has been magnanimous with the Palestinian people and it will be even more eager to help Palestinians were they to ask for aid for the purposes of setting up kindergarten, schools and colleges. Agriculture could be mechanized and Gaza strawberries could find place in European markets. It is said that when the roads get bad one can safely assume that one has entered Palestinian part of West Bank. This should change to when the roads get better one can assume that Palestinian quarters have started. Palestinians should show the Muslim world what can be achieved by a people and a nation if one has the right priorities. The burgeoning Palestinian enclave of Ramallah can be refurbished such that this overpopulated place could be well planned and with modern amenities. Palestinians could be the show piece of the Muslim world. A desalination plant with adequate capacity could ensure enough potable water for the whole of Gaza, a power plant to serve the people such that there are no outages in Gaza; education and enterprise instead of guns and war and destruction; immaculate roads and parks and gardens with fountains instead of rubbish and garbage and filth; companies and workforce and jobs instead of idle talk and meaningless wait for aid and alms from all and sundry; elderly and children playing in these parks and gardens instead of cowering from possible Israeli raids and fretting about the welfare of their young sons and daughters. The priorities of the Palestinians have to change – a 360 degree turn is required. And if they have their priorities right, the whole question of the Middle East will have a different connotation altogether. Educated Palestinians will walk with their heads held high in international forums and in seminars and research theatres around the globe. They will be feted and celebrated by all and sundry.

If indeed Palestinians surge ahead with a constructive mind-set the Jewish people will begin to look at things very differently. They will have no choice but to look at things differently. For one, the huge ugly walls that demarcate the Jewish settlements from the Palestinian quarters will begin to look stupid and Israel will have no choice but to bring them down. There will be a healthy interaction between the Palestinians and the Jewish people. Israel may even decide to help Palestinians in their quest for growth and prosperity. The economy of the region will boom. There will be peace and tranquillity all around. Babies won’t cry to sleep, parents won’t fret for the safety of their sons and daughters and young men won’t need to keep looking behind their backs for a possible attack.

If the Jewish people are traditionally hardnosed businessmen they also have a tradition of philanthropy. Jewish people know how to share. I am not suggesting that they will part with their land and property. But they will be more accommodative and will try and understand the Palestinian point of view. If Gaza could be prosperous and progressive and an example to the Arab world such that it becomes the envy of even the Israelis then the war against Israel would have been clearly and decisively won. There are many ways to look at a situation. A constructive and wholesome approach to a problem is what is required. There is no heaven and no hell. It is what we make of our lives which decides’ how we want our lives to be. The young who have died fighting Israel have just left us. It is silly for anyone to believe that they have gone to Paradise. Give them Paradise here and now. It is for us to give them a rainbow life. To believe that they have gone to Paradise is escapism.